Thoughts about Family While Writing

Photo by Nicole De Khors

I just returned from Florida to attend my uncle’s funeral. He was 95 years old and totally devoted to family. He leaves a huge gap for all who knew and loved him. I may write about him someday but right now I am still processing his passing.

In Florida, I saw and connected with relatives I hadn’t seen in years. All of us used to live in Rhode Island but now we are spread out in different parts of the country. Of course, we still share our connection as well as beautiful family memories. If only we could all live near each other once again. Fortunately, I keep in touch with many of them through Facebook and feel they are still a part of my life.When I saw my cousins’ children, whom I hadn’t seen since they were toddlers, I instantly recognized them because we share pictures and tidbits of our lives on Facebook.

No, this isn’t a Facebook ad. I only want to emphasize how much I appreciate the blessing of connecting with family even though we are all busy and live in different places.

Actually, I have been steeped in memories of relatives for the past few years. You see, another uncle has been occupying my thoughts. In my next novel, one of the characters is afflicted with leukemia. This beloved uncle passed away from this disease in 1983 and while writing the story, my thoughts kept turning back to him, his wife, their sons, the sons’ wives and the grandchildren. Memories of family Thanksgivings, cookouts, and other get-togethers have been on my mind. While I was growing up it never dawned on me these days would end and we would all move on to new stages in our lives, no longer having opportunities for visits throughout the year. I cherished these memories while writing, even though my novel has fictional characters that have no connection with my relatives.

This is one of the reasons I find writing so rewarding. Though my uncle’s leukemia was a tragedy for him and our family, writing the story has returned me to those days. When we all got together, my sisters and I would take turns sitting on my uncle’s lap and he would shower us with attention. When one of his sons had a daughter, my uncle would light up whenever he saw her and she became the center of his existence. He loved to joke and I remember his wide, generous smile and the good feeling all of us had to be around him. His wife, my father’s sister, was sweet and whomever she was speaking to, she made that person feel they were the most interesting and important person to her. She was smart and talented and always down-to-earth. For years she looked like she never aged. Like her husband, the family was everything to her.

In my next novel, I emphasize the importance of family above personal ambitions and individual pursuits. Life with its unexpected twists and turns doesn’t always go as planned and there can be much heartbreak and disappointment along the way. But I strove to make the responsibility of caring and supporting loved ones paramount while on life’s journey, modeled after my own family and relatives. Truly, our memories are what makes us.

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The Florida School Shooting Tragedy: Some Thoughts

(Photo by Nicole De Khors)

May the souls of those who perished rest in peace.

The nation is once again reeling after the recent high school Florida shooting tragedy which left seventeen people dead. In the aftermath come the questions: why did this happen? How do we prevent this from happening again? Theories abound: banning guns, more security in schools, make mental health care more widespread and accessible, etc.

All of these measures have merit: Enforce tougher background checks for those who want to buy a gun, increase security in the schools and provide more counseling and resources for those who are troubled and going through a rough patch in their lives. But there is one I would like to discuss in this article, which is to reduce the amount of violence in the media.

When I watch television, I am frequently repulsed by commercials for upcoming movies. Actors are constantly shooting at each other. I once joked to my family that if these brave, macho actors were dealing with these situations in real life, instead of fighting, they would be running for their lives. What happens is people get desensitized to violence—after all, they see it in the movies, on television shows, the news, books, video games, sports, etc.

And who are the most impressionable? Young people. They grow up immersed in this violent culture and some become convinced it is the only way the world will pay any attention to them.

Out of this tragedy came many heroes, people who showed tremendous bravery and even sacrificed their lives to protect others, but I am sure everyone would agree that it would be much better if these school shootings could be prevented in the first place.

Much work has to be done. Unstable people should not be allowed to buy guns, counseling should be available for all, every student has the right to be safe in school and the media has to stop its glorification of violence.

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Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a Scandal reads like a story ripped from today’s headlines: a prominent man is accused of sexual harassment. I couldn’t put the book down—I actually felt edgy when I wasn’t reading it, almost like the story was an addiction.

Taking place in England, a tall, handsome, charismatic politician named James Whitehouse, a man from the upper echelons of society, is accused of raping one of his parliamentary researchers. Most of the novel centers on the trial while in between there are flashbacks from his youth at Oxford University. Unbeknownst to him, the prosecuting attorney, Kate Woodcroft, who is from a working-class background, spent her first year of college at the same school and remembers him well. The reader soon realizes how well and why this case now dominates her life.

The defendant’s wife Sophie also plays a pivotal role. She too attended the same university at the same time her husband and the attorney did and she is also from a privileged background. The novel focuses on her feelings about her husband and whether she will stand by him and keep their family intact.

What struck me most about the novel was the superb writing. Author Sarah Vaughan’s use of language and the story’s editing were top-notch. The pacing was also phenomenal, making it difficult to put down—as a reader, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next.

The topic of sexual harassment is timely, and from reading the story, I couldn’t help thinking about how men and women can take measures to avoid this situation in the first place as well as how to prevent a working relationship from going a step further.

For all the book’s merits, author Vaughan relies on the stereotypical one-dimensional wealthy, privileged man feeling entitled to commit despicable crimes without remorse. In reality, their psychological make-up is often far more complex. The female characters are much more sympathetic and relatable. The topic of sexual harassment is not going away and unfortunately, the very nature of the “he said, she said” crime makes it immensely difficult to prosecute. In order for the accused to be declared guilty, the evidence must prove a crime has been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. A tough case all around, yet its complexity makes Anatomy of a Scandal a compelling read.

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President Trump and the Autism Community

Following President Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30th, the Autism Society Public Policy and Advocacy Newsletter wrote about their concerns regarding the President’s failure to mention any policy initiatives for people with autism and other disabilities in terms of housing, education, employment and other supports. Members of the Autism Society fervently hope the President will include aid for job training, family supports, and health care for these citizens in the upcoming government budget, which is scheduled to be released to the public in a few weeks.

The newsletter included an alarming proposal from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), which called for reducing penalties for nursing home violations of health and safety standards.

Although President Trump is trying to reduce the government budget in an effort to cut taxes and boost the economy, he cannot sacrifice the needs of the country’s most helpless and vulnerable citizens. Nobody asks for disabilities and families already struggling to provide for their special needs loved ones do not need additional challenges. If the President is committed to helping families, he ought to include those who must take care of loved ones with special needs as well as those residing in nursing homes.

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An Eye-Opening Discussion: A Community Conversation: Modern Slavery—Global to Local

I have been researching and attending events related to human trafficking ever since writing and publishing my novel True Mercy. Still, when I attended a discussion entitled “A Community Conversation: Modern Slavery—Global to Local” at Seton Hall University, I gathered a great deal of new information. Slavery/human trafficking concerns everyone whether we realize it or not. It is occurring throughout the world, but many are surprised to find out it is also happening in cities and suburbs across the United States.

Before I relate the eye-opening information, first I would like to list the event’s speakers.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (Hamilton, NJ) is serving his 19th term in the House of Representatives and is the author of the comprehensive legislation, “ The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (PL 106-386).” This is a federal, multi-agency approach to prevent slavery, protect victims, and punish traffickers to the full extent of the law. He gave his talk through telephone conferencing.

Ingrid Johnson is a registered nurse and a member of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She has worked tirelessly in the cause of human trafficking awareness ever since she rescued her daughter from the clutches of human traffickers fourteen years ago.

Dr. Bernard Freamon is a professor of legal philosophy specializing in Islamic Jurisprudence and Islamic Legal History. He teaches at Seton Hall School of Law. He has written extensively on human trafficking/slavery in Asia and Africa. Dr. Freamon is currently working on his latest book, Possessed by The Right Hand: The Problem of Slavery in Islamic Law and Muslim Cultures.

Kate Lee is the Administrator of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Co-Chair of the NJ Governor’s Advisory Council Against Sexual Violence. She has organized numerous conferences and workshops to raise awareness.

Robert Boneberg is the Coordinator of the Slave-Free Community Project and is the Co-Chair of the Slave-Free Commerce Committee of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

The five speakers made the following points:

  • There are an estimated 21 to 46 million slaves in the world. There are many different forms of slavery. They include slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, sex trafficking, and debt bondage.
  • Approximatley 15,000-18,000 slaves are imported in the U.S. annually. They comprise of sex slaves (50%), and others, including slaves in domestic service, business enterprises, and agriculture.
  • In regards to slavery around the Indian Ocean in Asia and near Africa, human trafficking is a continuation of what has been happening there for the last 3-4,000 years. Efforts to eradicate slavery in this part of the world have been a failure.
  • There are three reasons slavery is still happening in the world: 1.) Migration-People are migrating around the world in a manner never seen before. Criminals take advantage of this by trafficking people escaping their countries. 2.) Climate disasters— Traffickers again take advantage of people escaping natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. 3.) Conflict—Militant Muslim groups like ISIS take slaves.
  • Women from Mexico and African countries have been trafficked in various parts of New Jersey, according to arrest documents .
  • One way to eradicate slavery is to pay attention to the products we buy. The US Dept of Labor has identified the following products that are often made by child or forced labor. Among them are coffee, fruit, nuts, cotton, chocolate, rice, gold, and footwear.
  • Red Flag: If one sees a young person getting gifts that are inappropriate, that may be a sign that a person may be trying to lure them into trafficking.
  • Slaves are very cheap now because of migration. They are considered disposable people. It is more expensive to fly to Haiti than to buy a slave in Haiti.
  • There are more slaves today than ever before in history.
  • Approximately one quarter of them are children.
  • Approximately one fifth are in sex slavery.
  • Approximately 15 million people are in forced marriages.
  • There are approximately 58,000 slaves in the U.S.
  • Traffickers make approximately $150,000,000,000 from slavery per year.

The meeting concluded with speakers telling audience members that only when people work together can slavery finally be eradicated once and for all.

If you suspect slavery/human trafficking is taking place, do not attempt to rescue that person yourself. You may be putting that person in even more danger. It is best to call the following number:

National 24 hour hotline 1-888-373-7888

or Text INFO or HELP to BE FREE (233733)

Join in the fight to prevent slavery!

Website:  http://slavefreecommunityproject.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/slavefreecommunityproject/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/slavefreecommunityproject/

YouTube Channel:  ow.ly/xF4M30hAlZX

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/SlaveFreeCP

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