Lies, Secrets, and Ozark. Does the Ending Fit the Crime(s)?

We all have our secret vices, and one of mine is watching various less than stellar shows on the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Pure escapism, the various series usually feature detectives, spies, and likeable criminals trying to stay one step ahead of the law. My most recent addiction, that recently aired its last episode, is Ozark.

 I’ve got plenty of company. This week Ozark is the most watched series on Netflix and by estimates, the last week of February had four billion people streaming episodes in just one week!

But I have to admit, several of the episodes gave me nightmares. And I was very disappointed in the way the series ended. So first, I have to explain for anyone who has not watched it, what I think the show is about although I’ll concede every viewer will have their own interpretation.

Set in a resort town in central Missouri on Lake Ozark, the Byrd family has been sucked into an elaborate money laundering scheme for a leading Mexican drug cartel. Seemingly a normal upper middleclass family composed of a mild-mannered husband Marty who happens to be a brilliant accountant (Jason Bateman), a pretty blonde wife Wendy with a previous career in liberal politics and public relations (Laura Lindley), a blonde haired teenage daughter Charlotte who is a competitive swimmer and good student (Sofia Hublitz), and a middle school aged son Jonah(Skylar Gaertner)who is a nerd like his father; their lives are in danger if they don’t produce enough clean cash to satisfy their drug lord.

 I mention the hair colors because it underscores the tropes used in the plot line. A respectable family is corrupted by the almighty dollar. Viewers are expected to root for the white Anglo-Saxon Byrd family as they attempt to stay one step ahead of their dark-skinned Hispanic overlords.  But wait, complications arise when in order to accomplish their goals they must use everyone else in the community to get what they must have—a way to launder money.

The Byrd Family

The Byrds, who have moved to Missouri from suburban Chicago consider themselves superior to the locals, but often find themselves outsmarted. As the series evolves, Wendy Byrd reveals herself to be a ruthless sociopath. Capable of easily charming males with her flattery, women are more difficult opponents. Her main foil is Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), a fourth-generation member of a “white trash” family cursed by a predisposition to violence and crime. Ruth’s desire for a stable family, initially blurs her clarity of vision in evaluating the motivations of Wendy and her husband Marty. Eventually she sees them for what they are, smooth operators, and she attempts to forge her own path. The community, however, is small. It’s hard to elude the Byrds’ influence.

One by one the Byrd children and husband Marty Byrd recognize Wendy’s selfish behavior and lack of moral compass. Repeatedly they attempt to break free from her spell, but they never quite succeed.

The last four episodes could have been a reckoning. (Spoiler alert, do not read further if you don’t want to learn how the series ends.)  Both my husband Peter (who was watching the series with me) and I, expected Marty and Wendy Byrd to be killed. Just about everyone else they crossed paths with was killed, including the drug cartel overlord.

Marty had enabled Wendy’s behavior. He helped hide the bodies. They deserved retribution. As one character, the FBI agent Maya Miller ( Jessica Frances Dukes) described them, they were pure evil. But instead, when confronted with one of their many crimes by a private investigator, they attempt to buy him off and when that doesn’t work, their son Noah arrives with his sister Charlotte and a loaded shotgun.

The End.

Another murder? Another cover-up? A confirmation of the malevolent nature of an entire family. I suppose there are no happy endings. Just confirmation that we’ve arrived at a place where greed and self-preservation are accepted.

No wonder I can’t sleep. I’m planning to go back to watching one of the predictable Jane Austen style romantic series. At least no one dies.

Follow Nadja Maril on Twitter at SN Maril. Read one of her short stories, You Meet the Strangest People Hitchhiking here.

A Scary Reality for Women in a Politicized America

It can be as ugly as a group of boys reaching out to reach for a women’s crotch, on a dare, as she’s walking down the street. A sense of privilege, a lack of respect for a female’s autonomy.

At age sixteen I was too intimidated to say anything when our family dentist squeezed my right breast, before he inspected my teeth. Incidents like this happen in some shape or form to every woman in America sometime in their life.

One thing I’ve learned with age is the importance of speaking out to record what you’ve witnessed.

Don’t assume because we have more women in leadership positions that women are now respected. They’re still being judged by a different standard: too emotional, too temperamental, too high pitched.

We are not treated as equals. As with the other “minorities” in our culture, women have to be smarter, more attractive, and accomplished than their competitors.

Progress has been made, but with every step forward, there are also steps backwards.

The recently leaked Justice Alito Supreme Court opinion that basically overturns the 1973 Roe vs. Wade opinion is one of those backward steps.

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

If a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, is she guaranteed the right to terminate the pregnancy? If she is the victim of incest, emotional abuse, or trauma, does she have the right to choose what health choices are appropriate for her?

If a woman’s right to privacy, guaranteed by the 14th amendment of the United States constitution, is interpreted by the current Supreme Court as not considered pertinent—women in the United States will no longer be guaranteed the right to make their own decisions regarding their health care.

This is scary. It is about to become a reality. The right to privacy as guaranteed by the 14th amendment is about to be taken away.

The forthcoming Supreme Court decision politicizes a woman’s personal health decisions. And it specifically discriminates against lower income women who do not have the money, time and means to travel to a medical facility that will be able to provide the care she chooses.

Shame on the politicized supreme court justices. Shame on the politicians who approved their appointments.

Our country was founded on freedom of religion and a separation of church and state. The religious values of the extreme right are not held by the majority of Americans.

If you care about the future, pay attention and vote in the mid-term elections.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril.

Coloring Inside the Lines or Outside the Lines? What Works for You?

I have this memory of sitting outside on the grass, waiting for a country auction to begin. A warm summer day, my mother sat on a white folding chair studying the mimeographed catalogue. From my vantage point I could see two other children, who like myself had been given coloring books. I watched them, to see which crayons they’d choose.

Carefully, the girls outlined the inner silhouette of the picture they selected with a pointed blue crayon. The line was dark and certain. One girl worked on a picture of an octopus and another a dolphin. Within they lightly filled in more blue, never going outside the lines.

Meanwhile, I looked down at my own work. The bunch of grapes I’d exuberantly colored had strokes of purple beyond the fruit’s edges. The red apple in the picture merged into the grapes. My work looked messy. Their work looked neat.

Photo by Eren Li on Pexels.com

Maybe, I reasoned, I should try their technique. The initial outlining within the lines was helpful. The limitation to slight and even pressure, however, was boring. Plus everything started looking the same.  I liked the way thick, dense color looked on the page. I had fun experimenting  with swirls and cross hatches.  So I came up with a compromise, initially set perimeters and then experiment within.

This approach works with all creative forms.  Writers, this is what a creative prompt is all about. It sets out a challenge and you experiment with words and sentences.  Sometimes, by limiting yourself you discover new ways to express your art.

A Beautiful Traditional May Basket Made by one of my Neighbors

This morning, while putting together a May Basket, I thought about the merit of coloring within the lines, in other words following protocol because a May Basket is supposed to be created with a basket. The problem, I have no suitable basket.  I could have gone to the store to purchase one, but the rest of the year it would be taking up storage space and I have a very nice watering pot my daughter Alex gave me a number of years ago that looks lovely with flowers inside.

So I decided, to use the watering pot and set it on an upside down wastebasket made of rattan. I knew this would disqualify me from being considered for a  neighborhood May Basket prize, but as my garden flowers are limited, I decided to go with something fun. The title of my May Basket, yes I named it, is “Victory for Ukraine.” The use of the upside down basket below, enabled me to hang a few wilted flowers upside down with a Russian flag while triumphantly above in the watering pot, flowers thrive and Ukraine flags wave.

It made a few people laugh. And several people have taken pictures.

All around the little city where I live, Annapolis, residents have assembled May baskets to display in their doorways to celebrate the arrival of spring. The day has been damp and gray, but folks have been walking around enjoying all the flower displays.

Writing prompt: write a scene from your own childhood and do not use the verb “to be.” If you succeed, try it again from the viewpoint of the other person, other than you, in the scene.  Experiment. Have fun.

Follow me on Twitter @ SNMaril.  

Trading Places as a Literary Device on a Freaky Friday

If you are lucky enough to have a daughter, you know that sometimes the relationship can get stressed. No matter how much you have in common, the generational difference of twenty, thirty, or forty years can cause a big divide. Perhaps you’ve found yourself imagining, if she can only see it from my perspective. Meanwhile, said daughter is probably thinking the exact same thing—maybe.

Well, that’s the premise of Freaky Friday, the name of a children’s novel, several movies, and most recently a musical show, just opened at Colonial Players in Annapolis, Maryland. My multi-talented friend Jane Elkin invited me and my husband to the invited dress rehearsal last night and it was the first time we’d sat inside a theater since the onset of the pandemic two years ago.  Writer, singer, actress, teacher Jane is one of several ensemble players who assume multiple roles while the mother Katherine and daughter Ellie in the story are played respectively by Jamie Erin Miller and Abbie Smith.  

 This show was performance ready in the spring of 2020, but was put on hold due to the Coronavirus. A number of the original high school students performing in the show, no longer available, had to be replaced. Whether they stepped in on relatively short notice or have been waiting for the show to open, the entire cast—veterans and newbies—are outstanding.

 This is an exuberant musical with complicated dance choreography performed miraculously in a small theater in the round. My favorite musical numbers were set in the high school and featured dancing atop desks in the biology lab and a competitive work-out in the gym. If you love musicals like I do, and you live in the Washington D.C./ Baltimore region, weekend performances run through May 15th. https://thecolonialplayers.org/index.php/the-season/current-season

As I remember, the 2003 film version of Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, is quite different, so I did a little research.

Freaky Friday, was initially a comedic children’s novel by Mary Rodgers published by Harper & Row in 1972. The thirteen-year-old daughter Annabelle is a willful tomboy who wakes up in her mother’s body after wishing she be freed from her mother’s bossiness. The book focuses on Annabelle’s experiences and viewpoint as she attempts to manage life as an adult.

Three Freaky Friday movies were made in 1976, 1995, and 2003. The first two were made by Disney Studios and retained the original daughter and mother names from the novel. In the 2003 version, the names are changed to Tess and Anna. A major difference in the film adaptations when compared to the children’s novel, is the addition of an outside influence to precipitate the physical switch of the two bodies. In one case it is a magical amulet, and in another it is a Chinese fortune cookie. Both mother and daughter characters in the film versions must grapple with what it means to be younger or older and have a different set of responsibilities and challenges. The daughter is sixteen with hobbies and romantic interests while the mother is a professional with romantic interests of her own.

Children’s Novel

In 2018, Disney adapted the story again into a musical, changing the names to Katherine and Ellie. The transformational vehicle is a magical hour-glass. The mother is a caterer planning her own wedding. The daughter, holding anger from her father’s death three year’s earlier, is struggling in school and anxious to participate in an evening scavenger hunt organized by a boy she idolizes.

Mark Twain successfully used the trading of identities in The Prince and The Pauper (1881) when two young men who look remarkably alike decide they want to experience life in a different socio-economic class. In his subsequent novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) it is the setting that changes, as a 19th century young man is magically transported back to the time of King Arthur.

Every time a writer pens a story, they put themselves into the mindset of the characters they are creating. See the world, if only for a few moments through someone else’s eyes, and you gain both empathy and knowledge.

So, here’s a writing prompt: Describe a conflict between two characters. Maybe they’re fighting over an object. Why is that object so important to them? What will they do or say to get it? Give yourself twenty minutes and set what you’ve written aside. Now, write the same scene again from the other character’s perspective. Try it again and change the setting location.

Balancing the opposing interests of two characters is something I was grappling with in my short story The “C” Word. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Follow me at SN Maril on Twitter. If you have any favorite writing prompts, I’d like to hear them and thank you for reading.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

With a Little Help From My Friends

This past weekend, I entered a piece of my writing in a contest. Generally, I’m not a fan of writing contests but sometimes to get my adrenaline going, I need a deadline. Writing contests have deadlines. To participate, you are charged a substantial fee—$15-$40.  Thus, a commitment to sending in only what you feel is your superior work, is essential.  

 If you read the fine print, you’ll learn that only a handful of finalists are actually read by the nationally acclaimed judge, an author who has a long list of publication credits and has won several awards . The other several hundreds of submissions are cast aside in a process that slowly culls the entries until in theory, the very best remain. So who is doing most of the reading? I’d like to imagine they are discerning writers and editors, but I don’t know for certain. And even if the contest “readers” are not rushing through virtual stacks of manuscripts, tastes vary tremendously.

That’s where the friends come in, friends willing to read your writing and give you honest feedback.  Whether you call them alpha readers or beta readers, truthful reactions  to a manuscript give a writer a better understanding of what is successful and what needs revision. The more people that read your work before you submit it to a contest or for publication, the more likely you are to find the flaws and have the chance to improve your work.

Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet, means the reader is viewing an early draft of a piece.  A beta reader is giving editing feedback on a work in progress that has already been thoughtfully revised and edited several times.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

One of the significant benefits of participating in a writer’s workshop is the immediate access to feedback from all the other students. This only works, however, IF the other students are committed. I’ve been in workshops where the feedback has been generous and insightful. I’ve also encountered individuals who barely read or comment on the work of their peers. The latter are cheating themselves, because by understanding what is working and not working in a manuscript, you indirectly learn about the writing craft. Thus, when you take the time to give feedback to a fellow writer, you are actually helping yourself. So if you are serious about writing, take the time to read and reflect on the work of both accomplished writers and student writers. What do you like and what don’t you like?  Are there ways the piece could be improved?

Friendship can mean many things. To me, it means an awareness of those around us, the willingness to extend out your hand and help someone else. On a global scale, I look at the citizens of Poland who have willingly opened their borders and taken Ukrainian refugees into their homes. They see people who need help and as any friend would, they are helping them.

Like many writers, I often want to immediately share a story I just wrote.  Often I read it aloud, and just the process of saying the words will make me aware of mistakes and inconsistencies. If my husband is available, I’ll read it to him and he becomes my alpha reader. Once in a blue moon he’ll say, Good. I can’t find anything wrong with it. More often he’ll say, I think it needs work Nadja.

If he is not in the building and I share it with no one, I’ll set the piece aside and read it again the following day or better yet, the following week. Maybe I like what I wrote. Often as not, I begin having doubts. Maybe this piece isn’t so good, I say to myself. What was I thinking?  The best outcome, is for me to take my favorite paragraph or sentences from the piece I am disappointed with and begin again.

So, if you do not have the luxury of several people willing to read your work, just by letting it sit a while and forgetting about it and reading it again, you become the alpha reader.

I am grateful to have several writer friends (beta readers) who are willing to read my work when asked, if their schedule allows. I try to return the favor whenever I can.  One of the benefits of a Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing, is the opportunity to bond with other writers in your program. Five of us, all women, entered the Stonecoast low-residency  program focusing on literary writing in the winter of 2018 and we graduated in the winter of 2020 prior to the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic. We still stay in touch to share our writing and support one another.

I’ve also met fellow writers through classes, friends, and conferences in Maryland where I live and developed close friendships. We want each other to succeed and we’ll gladly help each other.

Writing is a solitary profession. If you do not have specific assignments, it’s easy to procrastinate.  Deadlines and goals are one way to keep you organized.  If your ultimate objective is to produce work that others will want to read, submit for publication and occasionally enter a contest. But first you’ll want to give it a test drive. Readers, alpha or beta, provide an outside perspective. Friends, they’re important and appreciated. So thank you to all my writing friends. I couldn’t succeed without you.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Read my piece “Family History” that was published by The Journal of Compressed Literary Arts, a work that evolved as a result of feedback from my writer friends.

Writing a Story, What Pictures Tell Us and What They Leave Out

Photographs help us remember what something looked like when it becomes hazy in our mind. They can be powerful writing prompts. Multiple times I’ve been in writing workshops where old photographs or pictures clipped from magazines were used as a launching point for a writing exercise.

Look at the picture and describe what you see, the instructor will say.  Then, imagine what you don’t see.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing science fiction or memoir, a photograph can get you started because often it’s what’s unsaid that gets you going.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

If it’s a photograph of a person, describe who they are, their desires, their passions. Were they secretly wishing they could scratch their ankle or daydreaming about a trip to the mountains? If it’s a photo of a place, what is going on inside the buildings or behind the trees?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

A picture can become a starting point for inquiry. You look at a photo of a flower and wonder who planted the flower.  Or how long it basked in the sun, before its petals began to unfold.

Start with a picture, but don’t limit yourself. A prompt is defined as an act of assisting or encouraging. A writing prompt is like a launch pad. Maybe you’ll like what you’ve written and maybe you won’t.  Maybe you like one sentence.  Take that favorite sentence and start again from there.

Memories can be faulty. Our recollections from early childhood are often reinforced by our parents and grandparents telling us stories of what we did and showing us pictures from when we were young. I don’t remember being particularly close to our family dog, a beagle named Goliath that we called Golly. But multiple photos of me with Golly at age four and five, show something different.

We live in a visual society where the amount of attention a beautiful picture receives, far exceeds the audience reaction to well chosen words. Just post something on social media and note how many more reactions you’ll get when your posting includes a dynamic photograph. This is sad news for a writer. And I am a writer who experiences the world in a very visual way.  An image provides immediate messaging, but prose or poetry can convey a sensory experience that engages cerebrally all five senses.

If you are wondering which of the five senses dominate your perceptions, try this simple exercise. Quickly without editing, spending no more than 10 minutes, write down a description of a place you love. Read it over and take note of how many times you mention what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, and what you feel. The majority of humans primarily focus on the visual, but add in odors, tastes, textures, and sounds and your description becomes more engaging.

Instead of a photograph for a writing prompt, try using a piece of music. What stories does a particular melody evoke? I love writing about food because I can draw on taste, smell and texture all in the same paragraph. Write about an activity that focuses on the physical, such as hiking or swimming. Push yourself to experiment and you’ll discover new ways to express yourself.

Pre-Pandemic, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and took extensive photographs to document our adventures. After showing off the photograph albums a few times, they sat on the bookshelf collecting dust. The next time, after returning home from Tanzania, I decided to write stories inspired by what I’d experienced. Every so often I’d remind myself of visual details with the photos. Works of fiction, they intermixed visual observations with spiritual and cultural issues.   

The possibilities for writing prompts are endless. Writer’s block can afflict anyone at any time. Sometimes a pause from writing is helpful. But when you’re looking to begin again, consider gazing at a photograph.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Check out one of my fiction pieces “Perfect Picture” in Potato Soup Journal.

The Secret Ingredient in Good Chicken Soup

My son-in-law asked me for my recipe for chicken soup. I started to recite some of the ingredients I’d used to make my most recent batch and then realized that each time I make a pot it’s a little different. Maybe it wasn’t about what I put into the soup, but how I made it.

Whenever a friend or neighbor was sick, my mother in the Jewish tradition of performing good deeds, would put together a care package that included a large jar of homemade soup, usually chicken.  A busy professional, who practiced networking long before the term was ever invented, when my mother made soup she set  her ambitions aside and focused on creating a nourishing broth.

 Soup making cannot be rushed, she would tell me. You must let the pot simmer over a low flame for at least a day. Both the bones and the meat, have their attributes, but the more chicken, the richer the soup.

As in the folktale of “Stone Soup”, when an entire village contributes ingredients to create a kettle of soup that begins with water and a stone; a chicken soup is enhanced by what is added both physically and emotionally.

Fundamental ingredients are pieces of chicken, fresh parsley, garlic clove, onion, carrot, celery.  Back when I was a child, markets sold packages of chicken backs and necks, specifically for making homemade chicken broth.  I rarely see chicken backs and necks sold separately, so I either use the carcass and leftover meat from a whole chicken or purchase a couple of packages of chicken legs to start the broth.

The broth part of the soup is made first.  Some carrots, celery and onions are important initially to create a flavorful broth and more pieces of chopped carrots, celery and onions can be added later along with whatever else you like and have available.

To degrease the soup, let it cool, put it in the refrigerator and the fat will congeal on the top. My mother used some of that fat in the making of matzo balls in place of oil, giving them a richer flavor. Remove any bones and skin. Cut meat into small bite size pieces.

If you prefer a clear broth, strain out the vegetables and meat. Otherwise, enhance your soup with egg noodles, zucchini slices, peas, string beans, potatoes, rice, or matzo balls.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Give yourself plenty of time. Keep the kettle on simmer and sample on the hour until the taste makes you smile.  If you just can’t get the broth to taste rich enough, there’s no shame in adding a chicken bouillon cube or two, depending on the volume. The basic nutrition is there, and you’re just enhancing flavor. However, realize that if you do add bouillon cubes go very light on the salt or eliminate salt all together.

Everyone’s version of chicken soup is slightly different, but if it is homemade it does contain magic. All that care and time the chef spent, the love they put into it, is transmitted in the broth. And that, my friends, is the not-so-secret ingredient.

Follow Nadja Maril on twitter at SN Maril. Read her essay “Love in the Kitchen” published in Pareidolia Literary Magazine here.

Our Worries Shift. It’s the Small Things That Count.

          

Two years ago, I rebooted this blog with the intention of documenting life during the pandemic. I wrote about our fears and worries about getting Covid-19, the changing political landscape, and my journey as a writer.

Now a war has erupted in Europe, with bombs being dropped 15 miles from the border of a NATO country, Poland. Russia, specifically Vladimir Putin, seems determined to conquer Ukraine, under the pretense that because it was once part of the defunct Soviet Union, it should be part of it again. In the United States, most citizens are outraged that the sovereignty of an independent country is being challenged with brutal and savage attacks on unarmed men, women and children. An entire country—farmland, hospitals, churches, homes, factories and historical sites—all are being decimated.  We’ve imposed sanctions on Russia and sent aid to Ukraine while pledging not to directly involve US troops in any type of military operation.  Still the possibility of a World War III looms, as I recall my history lessons outlining the events that led up to World War II.   Anything can happen. Life is precious.

        So while the spread of the coronavirus has subsided and is beginning to become considered by some scientists more of an endemic than a pandemic; we have other things to worry about.  Two weeks ago I was fretting about nuclear contamination as the Russians set fire to a Ukrainian nuclear plant.  This week Russia is asking China for some kind of assistance to counteract the economic hit they’re experiencing on the global market as well as the possibility of military supplies. It’s scary when the world powers start taking sides.

One thing most people can agree on is the depravity of Russia’s actions. Our previous President Trump 2016-2020,  initially said that Putin “was smart” in his actions to enter Ukraine and declare the Russian army were “peacekeepers.”  Hopefully every American can agree that Putin is a liar who has only one agenda, to expand Russia until it resembles the former USSR and to create as much discord in the United States and other free western nations as he can.  And as far as the discord goes, the operatives who utilize social media platforms to advance hatred and divisiveness have done an excellent job.

Those who lean more towards the right, are blaming the rising gas prices on President Biden rather than on Russia.  Gas prices are complicated and the war in Ukraine was the most recent excuse to escalate the price at the pump, but it’s also related to inflation and it’s the global pandemic that has stalled supply chains and reduced productivity escalating prices.

Yes, everything including food is more expensive. How quickly we forget when our supermarkets had empty shelves. Instead of being happy that once again we can go to the store, dine at restaurants, socialize indoors with friends, I’m hearing complaints about the need to economize. In Maryland, the crocuses and daffodils are in bloom and the previous Sunday we had a  St. Paddy’s Day Parade!

We all have our different ways of dealing with stress. I escape into my own little world by creating a new recipe. My husband Peter went a little overboard this week buying too many mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers, so I’m musing over what I’m going to put inside some stuffed peppers while using up leftovers so nothing goes to waste.  I wrote a little flash piece about a cake I baked over the weekend and I’m having fun with the sentences. The sun is shining today after unexpected snow on Saturday and a walk always clears my head.   

So I close this week on a positive note despite the doom and gloom of war. I hope everyone reading this will keep positive thoughts in their hearts for the people of Ukraine and send financial support if you are able– here are a few organizations: International Committee for the Red Cross Razom, NovaUkraine and Revived Soldiers Ukraine .

A Good Bye Putin Fairy Tale

The world is a sad and frightening place right now. Each time I turn on the news, I hear about the war in Ukraine. So to make myself feel better, I wrote a story which I’ll share with you

“It will be easy,” Putin the Powerful assured his oligarch friends. “As soon as our troops get near the capital, that little scoundrel will hop on a plane and flee. And then we’ll march in, restore order and Ukraine will be ours.”

The following week, however, Zelensky the Brave opted to stay in Kyiv and fight. People around the world started wearing badges of yellow and blue, boycotting Russian goods and  singing the Ukrainian anthem:

Glorious spirit of Ukraine shines and lives forever.
Blessed by Fortune brotherhood will stand up together.
Like the dew before the sun enemies will fade,
We will further rule and prosper in our promised land.

 “This is terrible,” Boris, the rich oligarch, said to his wife, Anya . “They’ve shut down the air flights, frozen our accounts.  Now we can’t enjoy our nice penthouse on Park Avenue. And I know how much you were so looking forward to taking the grandchildren there to watch the St. Paddy’s Day Parade.”

 “Can’t you do something?” she said. “The servants are all complaining how they can’t afford to buy a loaf of bread, the ruble is so worthless. They’re asking for their salaries in Crypto.”

Throughout the Russian Federation, the privileged were having similar conversations. Meanwhile the few non- government controlled media outlets were being shut down and thousands of citizens were being arrested for  expressing opposition to the Ukrainian invasion.

Boris paced in his $700 wingtips. “I’m working on it,” he said. “Ever since that stooge Trump didn’t get in the Whitehouse again, I warned them all that Biden would mend the discord with the European Union.  Invading Ukraine was not a good idea.”

Anya fingered her diamond necklace and sighed. “Well, you better do something fast. He’s liable to explode a nuclear bomb, considering how close he came blowing up a nuclear power plant.”

 “It’s true,” Oligarch Boris said, “And when our Russian soldiers come home in body bags, the sparks are going to fly.  We do have this poison.  If we could just get close enough to Putin, to put it in his tea… I think that’s why he makes us sit on the other end of that 30 ft. table.”                                   

 The  following week, head of the secret police stood to deliver his report to Putin, the Powerful. “ We’ve shut down all the media platforms, got rid of Facebook, twitter and the last of the independent broadcast stations,” he said, “ but I’m not sure how we can stop the letters.”

  “What letters?”

  “The ones they keep smuggling in from Ukraine. With the wounded. In the body bags. Letters to their relatives and friends in Russia.”

 “Well find those letters you fool. Burn them,” Putin snarled, “ Don’t stand here telling me about it. We can’t let the people know what’s really going on there. And if you can’t get the job done, I’ll have you replaced.”

 “Yes sir,”  he nodded, while all the while thinking,  another few weeks we’ll be ready to kill this tyrant the same way Putin always arranged to oust his own enemies.  Softly to himself  the Chief of police was singing:

Souls and bodies we’ll lay down, all for freedom, And we will show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation!

Souls and bodies we’ll lay down, all for freedom, And show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation!

Putin, on the other side of the room, was too far away to hear him. Giddy with his omnipotence, he was already thinking about which adjacent nation he planned to conquer next.

Follow Nadja Maril on twitter at SN Maril. Read a flash piece by Nadja in Gastropoda . Check out her author page

Searching for the Right Words When Learning To Tango

Our Tango teacher Julie was trying to find a word to describe that first moment just before you dance, when you establish a connection with your partner. It’s not a romantic moment, when you stare into one another’s eyes, but it is a moment of surrender.

I searched my mind for the appropriate word and couldn’t find one. I even googled on the internet thinking maybe there’s a word in Spanish. Arrogantly I theorized that being a writer, surely I could locate a word to use, but still I am pondering what word would be the right word.

But maybe that moment I’m looking for to describe is not the surrender itself but the time preceding it. You stand directly in front of one another, your feet pointing towards their feet. You stand up straight and extend forward your heart. The two dancers together tilt slightly towards one another and I am reminded of a tepee.

We often think of Tango dancers gliding across the floor cheek to cheek, but dancers are different heights. In Argentinian Tango you line yourself up, ready to communicate via your core.  There is a slight push, a compression, established between the two dancers.

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

Each Tango teacher has a different approach to how they teach the dance. The ultimate goals that result in what appears to be a smooth effortless dance can be achieved by a multitude of routes. Close embrace, the approach Julie uses, takes full advantage of the physical connection between the leader and follower.

It is the follower who surrenders to the will of the leader. The leader decides where to move and what size steps to take. The follower receives their instructions from the compression established between the two dancers. The leader pushes ever so slightly forward and the follower mirrors their action by stepping slightly back.

My husband Peter and I are re-taking beginning Tango again. The coronavirus surge, the omicron created too long a lapse between practices. Besides which, there is so much to learn and think about, the most important component to master are the basics.

It’s the same with writing. The nuances and details of a sentence can be approached in a number of ways.  I finish a story. I think I’ve finished writing it and then I discover that maybe I can tell the same story a different way with a more satisfying result.

Three months ago, I thought I’d finished my novel. I’d revised it several times. Now I’m taking a slightly different approach and revising again, tossing out some pages and writing new ones. Do I feel sad? I’ve learned through the process, and I enjoy surprising myself that even better pages can emerge from the toil.

In this moment in time, when part of the world is at war and so much is in turmoil, It is a pleasure to contemplate on a word to describe the initial moment in Tango when you check-in with your partner. Perhaps it’s as simple as connect and appreciate the other person standing before you.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Read one of my pieces of creative writing about purchasing a dress for dancing.

How Many of Us are Paying Attention to What is Happening Around the World?

The Russians are Coming, was one of my parents’ favorite movies. Now, over 50 years later I know why. The film made light of what appeared at the time to be an imminent danger, World War III. A Russian submarine curious for a closer look at America gets stuck on a sandbar off the coast of New England and the reluctant Soviet crew are forced to seek assistance.It’s the Cold War era, 1966, a time of open political hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States.The Russian sailors mean no harm, but the natural reaction of the residents in the small town where the Russians land is to assume they must be invaders. Havoc and comedy ensue.
     Today in 2022, Americans don’t know what to believe are Russian President’s Vladmir Putin’s actual intentions. He keeps repeating he has no plans to invade Ukraine, but 150,000 Russian troops currently surround Ukraine’s borders. If you repeat a lie over and over again, will some people start to believe it is true?
     According to Western Leaders, an invasion by Russia into Ukraine is imminent—particularly now that the Winter Olympics in China have concluded. Several Ukrainians have already died in a preamble to what appears to be shells fired by Russian backed separatist attempting to goad Ukrainian soldiers to fire back.  The Russians have now recognized the legitimacy of two breakaway independent states within Ukraine. Thus far, the Ukrainians have not taken the bait. They don’t want to be invaded and they don’t want a war.
     As to what the general population of Russia wants, we really don’t know. Supposedly, the majority believe what their president tells them. A number of intelligence reports tell us that Ukraine is being portrayed on Russian TV as being overrun by fascists promoting anti-Russia sentiments and thus it is justifiable that Russia invade Ukraine to set things right. The Russian leadership like to reiterate that Ukraine was once a part of Russia. Is that justification for conquering a neighboring country? If you keep repeating a lie, some people may believe it is true.
     Half of Americans are not at all concerned about what goes on in Ukraine, Russia, or Europe. What they may not fully realize is that we live in a global economy and that the actions on the Ukraine border will affect the cost of gas, oil, and other goods.
     In the United States, Americans don’t necessarily believe what their president tells them. Approximately 30-40 percent of Americans don’t he believe our current president Joseph R. Biden fairly won the 2020 election. Thus, they feel justified in not listening to statements issued from the current White House. Some of these Americans also believe the Covid vaccines are harmful, masks do not substantially prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and that the threat of illness from Covid -19 has been exaggerated. 
     Meanwhile, Americans are astounded by China’s refusal to acknowledge they have violated basic human rights violations and targeted the Uyghurs and other Turkik Muslim minority groups in an effort to repress religious expression and cultural identity.  We wonder how the citizens of China can be so unaware of how they are being controlled and manipulated by their government. 
     With so many media platforms in the USA accessible to espouse controversial messages things can get very confusing. While we don’t always believe our government, who should we believe? Not everyone carefully vets the sources where they get their information. But something so obvious as 150,000 troops surrounding a country does give the appearance of a war about to begin. 
     In an effort to end on a humorous note, I’m going to mention another movie, recently released Don’t Look Up!, a dark comedy about what happens when we refuse to acknowledge what is obvious— a comet is about to crash into earth. But if you don’t look up and see it coming, maybe you can pretend it doesn’t exist.  
     It’s an allegory about our refusal, due to politics, greed, and ignorance, to do anything about global warming.  We’ve been experiencing scary weather patterns, floods, and fires for several years. We have a serious problem. It’s easy to laugh at others, but when it impacts the quality of our lives, maybe it’s time to look around.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Read my latest published piece of flash CNF on Gastropoda.

Why Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

One of my personal reasons for giving substantial presents on Valentine’s Day, decades ago, was that February was a great time to buy things. In between Christmas  and Spring, department stores ran clearances to thin out excess stock.  My Valentine’s Day gifts to family included items like robes and slippers, a cozy sweater, and a new set of sheets along with chocolates and poems.

2022, I’m an empty nester and I live in a world trying to work its way out of a global pandemic. Not many big box stores remain. Most people do their shopping online, which reduces the deep discount possibilities. Merchants are still motivated to reduce prices on seasonal goods, but prices are generally on the rise.  Consumers, however still want an excuse to give gifts.

And Americans are still giving gifts on Valentine’s Day. According to the National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day spending is up and will increase on average from $164.76 per person up to $175.41. Despite many Americans needing to find ways to stretch their weekly budget due to  approximately seven percent inflation over the past 12 months, precious dollars will be spent primarily on candy, greeting cards, and flowers— with the balance spent on that special romantic date night out.  The date nights should help the restaurant industry, but when the bill arrives at the end of the evening, consumers should brace themselves for the higher price tag. The cost of food and the scarcity of labor means an evening out is going to cost more.

Romance never goes out of style.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate Valentines Day. Consider marking the day by reaching out to some old friends you haven’t talked to in a while or baking a special dessert for your family.  Find a way to express your love.  I wrote about some of these things last year in 2021, so rather than covering old ground—I invite you to click here.  And by the way, have a fine Valentine’s Day.

The Rewards and Virtues of Writing Flash Prose

Keep it short. One of the first directives I received from publishers in the year 2000 was to try and keep the word count low and the picture content high. I was writing for newspapers and magazines which were expanding on to the web. Online publishing platforms were all looking for an audience. No one wants to scroll beyond the first screen view page, was repeatedly told to me.

We live in a culture promoting instant gratification. Limited time. Short attention spans. Twitter, initially limited to 140 characters and now expanded to 280 characters demonstrated the power of brevity. Initially publications thought they could use the space provided on their websites to run longer stories and add extra content. But in many instances, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. Publications accepting unsolicited creative writing submissions are often asking specifically for pieces that are short, preferably under 1000 or 750 or 500 words.

Creatively I like a challenge. Box me in and I will try to figure out a way to use the space within to my best advantage. That is part of the idea behind what has become known as flash literature. I say part of the idea, because just cutting something down in and of itself does not necessarily result in satisfactory piece worth reading.

Entire books have been written about the art of writing Flash Fiction and writing Flash Nonfiction. Peruse the internet and you’ll find a variety of definitions. In 2016 I took a class offered at St. John’s College in Annapolis taught by Lynn Auld Schwartz and got my initial introduction to writing Flash Fiction. We read pieces by authors that included Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel and Robert Olen Butler and we wrote and discussed our own short pieces. I became hooked, jotting down brief story ideas whenever I had the chance. They didn’t always work. Some stories that I’ve written—fiction and nonfiction— in the short form have taken years to refine. Lynn still teaches classes at introductory and immediate levels online. If you’ve never written flash before, it’s a good place to start.

The act of cutting away the unneeded components in a story, fiction or nonfiction, is an important exercise which forces the writer to consider line by line what is truly important. But in the process of doing this, you may discover, that you’ve left something out significant that will require you to dig deeper. This means that instead of subtracting words, you are adding them.

A word I like to use when contemplating short prose is distilling. Your writing job when undertaking flash prose is to extract the most significant elements of what you want to convey. If you are a chef, just think about simmering broth on a stove. The longer the broth cooks over a low flame and excess fluid evaporates, the flavor becomes intense. Time can help you assess whether you need to add a few more ingredients. A good piece of flash should be intense.

 Randall Brown, writer and Founder and Managing Editor of Matter Press and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts often uses the word compression when describing the attributes of a piece of flash prose.  Compression, pressing together the elements of a narrative in a manner that retains the story arc while intensifying the reader experience is one of the gratifying results of completing a flash piece. It’s another word I often think of as I write “flash”.

At this juncture I’m going to mention a few more magazines. Wigleaf, Smokelong Quarterly and Vestal Review, that specialize in Flash Prose although there are dozens more literary magazines specializing in the shorter form they also call Micro, and short short. Whatever name you prefer, hundreds of literary publications include various forms of flash prose in their publications. For a challenge, Jellyfish Review this month is asking for submissions of one or two lines (sentences) only.  

In journalism you lead with a hook. The first paragraphs ideally provide the Who, What, Where, and When. But in creative storytelling, the narrative can take a circuitous route. How skillfully can you distill your story into a space of less than 1000 words? The rewards if and when you can get it right are gratifying.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and read some of my short pieces: fiction and nonfiction in Thimble Literary Magazine, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, and  Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.

Take Nothing For Granted, Not Even Winter

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed last Thursday, January 28th, with interviews and stories shared across many media platforms. As I listened to the poignant tales of loss and survival, one theme kept repeating itself over and over—the appreciation for life’s everyday experiences most of us take for granted.  Even something as basic as taking a bite of saltine cracker or drinking a cup of clean water can be a sacred experience if you’re starving.

  Of those still living, who bear witness to the atrocities of the Hitler regime’s systematic attempt to erase Jews and “undesirables” that included dissidents, gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, and members of the LGBT community from Europe, their very survival was a precious gift. Nothing again could be taken for granted. Life, and all its experiences large and small, is to be savored and appreciated.

It’s a lesson we can all learn from in a time when so many are divided in their political views and our planet’s rising temperatures are raising havoc with weather patterns and food production.

One of the newspaper headlines I read this morning said, “Blizzard Spreads Misery Up and Down the Eastern Seaboard.” My eyes fixated on the word “misery.”  Here in Annapolis, Maryland we got a few inches of snow. but despite the necessity for an extra layer of clothes, I was grateful. The walk brought back memories of times twenty years ago when our children were young and one or two winter snowstorms here in Maryland were to be expected.  Schools would be closed, maybe we might lose power for a day, and we’d  break the monotony of cabin fever with a walk downtown to get a coffee or early dinner.

Losing power for days, doing without heat, unable to have access to needed medicines or medical care—that could be a misery. But because we haven’t had more than a dusting of snow for several years, I am taking pleasure in this small snow storm.

Admittedly one of my favorite childhood memories is a blizzard that hit Baltimore when I was approximately five years old and did knock out the power in our Mt. Washington neighborhood for a day or two. My memory is brief.  I remember sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace wrapped up in a wool afghan knit by an aunt or great grandmother. The orange glow of the fire was the only light in the dark house. My father decided that we would all hike in the snow to the nearest bus stop because he’d heard the buses were running, and make our way to a restaurant to have hot food. I  ran to the closet to find my  snow suit and galoshes. An excursion to a restaurant was something reserved for special occasions.

A walk in the high snow with the entire family. (My dad probably carried me part of the way.) A bus ride at night. Dinner at the famous Pimlico Hotel on Park Heights Avenue. ( The restaurant eventually moved to Pikesville and closed in 1991.)  I still remember the taste of the lean spare ribs flavored with what I speculate was akin to Hoisin sauce. I gnawed at that bone, savoring every morsel, and slept soundly that night.

What other things that we take for granted are slowly becoming unattainable?  The Pandemic and travel restrictions have limited our ability to confidently visit with family and friends. Each time I plan a visit or consider a social event, I weigh the health risks. Too crowded a venue or recent exposure to someone who might be carrying the virus causes me to ere on the side of caution and stay home. Like many, I long for the virus to be “under control”.  So when I do socialize or go out, it’s that much more special.

Glaciers are melting and eventually polar bears will be extinct if the global warming process continues. We may not be able to reverse the damage that has been done, but in the moment we can still appreciate what is left. I treasure the feeling of crunching snow beneath my boots despite my worries about slipping on the ice.  Winters are growing shorter. 

I try to choose behavior that helps one another and our futures, because nothing can be taken for granted.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Read my short story Red Roses in the Winter issue of Thimble Literary Magazine.

Masks Required and No Smoking– What’s the Difference?

Good News, the CDC (Center for Disease Control)  wants everyone to know that a booster shot will provide enough protection to prevent hospital visits, in the event someone contracts the latest version of the Coronavirus—Omicron.

Bad News, the virus continues to spread by people who may be infected but have no symptoms.

One way to curtail the virus from being transmitted is for everyone to wear masks indoors in public places. But many U.S. citizens consider enacting such mandates to be government overreach.

Photo by lehandross on Pexels.com

This got me to thinking about the no smoking laws prevalent in Maryland. Smoking is forbidden in the workplace, as well as in bars, restaurants, and gambling casinos.

Commencing in the 1970’s the science proving the health dangers of smoking was believed. The science showed that not only did cigarette smoking cause lung disease, second hand smoke from cigarettes also made people sick.

According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation’s website,, as of October 2021, a total of 28 states, along with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, have state-wide laws in effect that require 100% smoke free workplaces and/or restaurants and/or bars. These laws, along with local laws in other states, protect 62.3% of the U.S. population.

Nationally, the positive test rate for Covid-19 is approximately 24 percent. This means almost one quarter of the individuals who are experiencing symptoms or know they’ve been exposed to the Coronavirus will likely test positive for the virus. If not quarantined they will spread it to others.

Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, United States of AMerica

In Anne Arundel County Maryland, where I live, mask mandates are in effect by order of our health officer. The mask mandate, however was not supported by our county council. The following quote from Councilperson Nathan Volke sums up their reasoning, “Extensive voluntary mask wearing, gives me great trust in our County residents to make the best health decisions for themselves, their families, and our community.”

 

It’s a nice argument to say we don’t need these particular laws because we can trust the American people to do the right thing, but when I observe people’s behavior first hand they don’t always behave with consideration. If you (a nonsmoker) are dining outside at a sidewalk café and someone is standing nearby smoking, you’re in a quandary: should you ask them to move or should you try to switch tables? Maybe they’re so addicted to nicotine, anxious to get their fix they are not thinking about who might inadvertently inhale their smoke.  

wearing masks
Mask wearing was one of the first lines of defense when the coronavirus arrived in the USA.

The same goes for wearing a mask during the pandemic. The person rushing into the store to buy groceries might be in a rush and forgot their mask, maybe it causes their glasses to fog, maybe they don’t believe in science and think the coronavirus is a hoax—but the reasons don’t matter. The affect is the same, they are endangering the health of others.

To those who say that the government doesn’t have the right to intervene when the public health is at risk, I ask them to look at smoking laws. Restrictions on smoking has come to be accepted in many parts of the country because it is acknowledged that second hand smoke impacts the health of others.  It is true that a number of states, including Alaska, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kentucky have no statewide smoking ban, but within those states individual jurisdictions have various laws in place.

Public safety versus individual freedom, where do we draw the line? I would rather stand on the side of protecting the vulnerable, those who might get sick and possibly die. This is a virus that does not just attack the elderly, or someone else you’ve never met. Children, young adults and middle age adults have died from the virus. The coronavirus still poses a grave threat. But with some simple measures—masking, up-to-date vaccinations, frequent handwashing, social distancing—we can significantly reduce its spread.

            Elected leaders do your job. Look out for all Americans, particularly those most exposed to the virus, our frontline workers. It’s a matter of life and death.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril.

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