Monthly Archives: March 2016

Wars: The Star Kind and Those Less Noble, by Doreen Smith Goodwin



Star Wars is back and not a minute too soon. The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise, will open in December. With it comes familiar faces, heart-stopping special effects, and a storyline that unfolds amidst a war almost biblical in its length and breadth.

My excitement doesn’t stem from a belief that the The Force Awakens will live up to the tremendous hype surrounding it. On the contrary. After a string of disappointing Star Wars movies, I expect very little from this latest iteration. Nonetheless on opening day or soon after, I’ll add this Star Wars saga to all of the others I’ve seen. You see, I am bound by a creed and it dictates that I must see the movie. Loosely translated, my creed states that “all sci-fi is good sci-fi” so I have little choice in the matter. Most recently, I actually saw the universally panned movie Jupiter Ascending and during my lifetime, I’ve willingly sat through a host of “sci-fi gems” along with other movies that were too awful to recount.

I hadn’t adopted my creed in 1977, the year A New Hope, the first Star Wars installment was released. Like most young women just stepping into adulthood, my sights were set on adventure, romance, and fortune. Without a guiding star or a map instructing me how to obtain my heart’s desires, I flitted from one experience to another; eyes open, forever hopeful. When A New Hope made its debut, sci-fi had yet to capture my attention. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure sci-fi with its ubiquitous hostile aliens was something weird and not worthy of serious attention. Star Wars changed all of that for me.

Much has been written about Star Wars as a game changer–how it transformed the movie industry and moviegoers forever but my Star Wars story occurred in a movie ticket line in a suburb far, far away (actually it was just outside of Chicago). My mother and I decided to see the movie on a whim. Naturally we knew about the movie and the hype surrounding it but on that particular day shopping topped our agenda. We were eating lunch at a trendy restaurant when Red and I decided to find out what all the hoopla was about. I can still remember briskly walking towards our destination, turning the corner of a building blocks away from the theater and running smack into a wall made of people all waiting their turn for a piece of cinematic magic.

Always game for an adventure, my shock soon dissipated and I quickly caught the excitement of the people around me. We were in for something spectacular and historic — and everyone in line on the opening day of Star Wars felt the magic permeating the air. Two hours later, the line had only moved about one block and a bit of the magic was wearing off. That’s when my mother declared there was no way that we were going to stand in line all day. “Follow me,” she commanded, and like the dutiful daughter I was, I followed knowing that no good would come of this.

Nicknamed Red, as much for her fiery personality as her auburn hair, my mother had a long and abiding distrust for laws and authority figures. Red never missed an opportunity to point out the injustices of the world to her four children or more appropriately, subjects. Whether it was the police, hypocritical preachers or teachers, no one in authority was to be trusted. Always a quick study, I soon learned that there were societal laws, the kind I learned in school, and Red’s laws and there was no doubt in my young mind that survival depended on how well I followed the later. So there I was, on that fateful afternoon, following my mother into a possible blood bath, certain humiliation, police arrest or worse.

Time stood still for me as I contemplated the circumstances that found us in the front of the line surrounded by an angry mob. The response from the crowd had been predictably swift and savage. “Who do you think you are? You can’t cut in line.” “Somebody get the police!” My mother, on the other hand, was in her element taking on each opponent one insult at a time. All I could do was maintain what I hoped was a steely composure, unreadable and therefore potentially dangerous.

These strangers were standing up to my mother and actually shouting at her, I thought. Was it possible that this defiant mob could accomplish what no one else had been able to do? Was the magic of Star Wars operating outside of the theater? This “force” the movie trailers talked about; could it make her concede her mistake, listen to reason, walk away to fight another day? A large, red-faced man was the self-appointed mob leader. He stood directly in front of Red pointing his finger in her face demanding that we leave now or else. Like a badger facing a much larger foe, his anger only fueled hers and Red leaned into his face making it clear that she would not budge other than to proceed towards the ticket booth. The situation was beginning to spiral out of control. Just then, the line miraculously started to move. Apparently, the theater employees sensed a riot was brewing and wisely decided to open more doors to accommodate ticket buyers.

The carnival atmosphere quickly returned as the mob’s attention switched from us to the beckoning lights of the theater lobby. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as we silently made our way inside of the theater, the magic slowing returning….

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 16: The Fortune Cookie


Rain’s Mystery Man had unmoored her, and set her adrift in a stormy sea of orgasmic waves. Her ecstatic participation in this tight yet out-of-control Tango would have left her real-life mother scandalized, shaking a fierce finger in her face. Scandal be damned!

As their dance ends, Rain’s Mystery Man gently gathers her in his arms.
The unobtrusive Westminster Quarters begin to chime as a gentle reminder that the eight-hour visit is coming to an end.

Their faces had lightly touched during this whole time. Their lips had grazed each other’s lips during this orchestrated dance frenzy. Now, locked in a magnetic embrace, their breath mingles and their souls ride the currents of their sighs. Rain’s Mystery Man buries his face in her neck, the stubble of his five o’clock shadow producing a friction that draws Rain even closer to him. She wraps her fishnet-stockinged right leg around his left leg and her fingers, wending their way through his thick hair, pull his face to hers. Their lips meet so slowly, the sweet softness yielding to a hypnotic draft of a magic elixir to be both inhaled and sipped, whose fill could not be had.

Entranced, her Mystery Man whispers, “It’s time to go…,” and reluctantly leads her out of the darkening dance chamber, down the glass hallway where the snow shimmers outside against a deep purple sky edged with pink and gold. From time to time, they stop and kiss, then tear themselves apart to continue on to Rain’s room.

Mourning her impending loss, Rain feels emotionally exhausted. She is wracked with sexual urgency and addictive longing, and at the same time, buoyed by the hopeful elation of falling hopelessly in love. Overwhelmed, all she can do is want this man more than she’s ever wanted anything or anybody in her entire life.

Once inside her room, Rain’s Mystery Man helps her out of her clothes by pulling the hem of her black cocktail dress upwards, gathering the dress in his hands as they glide teasingly up her sides and guiding it over her head with tender care, slipping her shoes off each foot, peeling the lacy panties and the fishnet stockings down her legs, and unhooking the black push-up brassiere.

Rain doesn’t question his assistance, but keeps going back for more kisses which he doesn’t resist. He tries not to stare and distracts himself by putting her little black lacy underthings back into the lingerie drawer.

Rain follows him and plasters herself against his back, nuzzling her face into the nape of his neck. Realizing she must be cold standing there in all her splendor, he turns around to envelop her in his arms. Her naked body, grateful for the heat radiating through his black suit, revels in the delicious texture of his suit against her bare skin.

How he gets away from her, she does not remember, but once again Rain enjoys the feeling of his hands helping her into her little white chemise. She watches him with helpless desire as he hangs up her dress and puts her shoes neatly back on the carpeted floor of the closet.

He returns her gaze with such longing. Sighing, he walks Rain to her bed, which feels so fresh and welcoming. She lies down and her Mystery Man smooths her chemise before bringing the coverlet up to her shoulders. He spreads her hair out onto the pillow, lies down beside her, and kisses away her tears until she floats away to her transfer.

Morgana wakes herself up giggling with titillation, embarrassment and excitement. She is smiling so much her face aches before she fully realizes why.

Morgana had learned about sublimation in her high school sex education class. Way back then, dancing, especially the dances they learned in gym class, was considered to be a good substitute for sex (well, OK, not THAT good!). In particular, she remembers enjoying the Greek Misirlou and the Italian Tarantella. But now, knowing what she knows about the Tango, she can see why it wasn’t taught in high school gym class–it would have been like throwing gasoline on smoldering embers.

Taking a deep breath, she sits up and stretches, feeling remarkably energized. Remembering that she is going to the hospital today to see Jack in his new room and to talk with his doctor about his new regimen of care, she looks at the clock and is relieved to see that it’s only 6:00 am—she has plenty of time before leaving for the hospital.

She surprises herself by lying down on the carpet on her stomach and then pushing herself up into a cobra pose. She’s a little stiff, but it feels great to loosen up all those vertebrae. Ahhh…

Remembering to reverse the stretch, she rolls over onto her back to bring her knees up to her chest. Another good stretch! She struggles to get her legs up in the air. Ugh, she thinks, this is going to take some doing, but she manages to do it anyway. Thinking she’d like to get her hips off the floor and attempt something resembling a shoulder stand, she rocks on her back until she succeeds. Not a great shoulder stand, but it’s a valiant effort. She holds the pose as well as she can with her legs flailing in the air until she feels as if her innards are going to slide downwards into her throat. After a minute or so, she relaxes the pose, bringing her feet back down to the floor with a loud thud.

She sits up and feels quite positive about this inauspicious start to what just might be some kind of daily exercise routine. You’ve got to start somewhere, she thinks, so why not right here and now? Good enough for starters, she gets up and thinks that tomorrow she will not be as ungainly as she is today. Feeling kindly towards herself, she imagines an upward trajectory of progress.

One leisurely bubble bath, one steaming cup of rich, black coffee and one crunchy toasted Asiago bagel (without butter) later, Morgana blow dries her hair, actually getting it to curl under into what her mother used to call a “Page Boy.” So encouraged is she by this unexpected result that she locates her old tube of lipstick, some still-viable mascara languishing at the bottom of her dresser’s last drawer, and a never-used, little free sample of blush that she’d picked up while racing through the cosmetics section of a forgotten department store. The three beauty aids bond as if they are a seasoned Special Facial Ops Team. They all do their magic.

Now the clothes–always a problem!

The trouble was that nothing ever looked that good to her, and then when she’d try it on, it looked even worse. Ugh! How she hated shopping for clothes! Sometimes, she’d spend a whole day trying things on, then buying something she wasn’t crazy about just to have something instead of nothing. Then, either the thing grew on her and somehow became her favorite article of clothing, or it kept a low profile, hunkering in the shadows at the back of her closet until she’d given it to the Salvation Army with the tags still on it some five or ten years later.

She digs the blue pants back out of the closet, and then remembers a white sleeveless top she never wears because she hates to expose her flabby arms but it occurs to her that she can pair the otherwise nice-looking top with an almost-tailored, light-weight, short black jacket. Her arms will be out of sight since she shouldn’t have to take off the jacket until she changes into a whole other outfit.

Done and done! She puts the bangled earrings back on, steps in front of the mirror and has to admit that she looks pretty sharp—actually a lot sharper than yesterday.

“Yowzer!,” a word she never says, springs from her mouth. And she laughs!

Walking into the hospital, she feels slightly nauseated by the familiar smells but ignores the sensation. Locating Jack’s room, she is greeted by a nurse who is doing some medical housekeeping chores. Jack looks well enough, but of course, he is still sleeping, or at least his eyes are still closed.

“Hello, my name is Morgana. Jack, here, is my husband. I’m here to meet with Rocky and someone from Jack’s care team.”

“Good morning, Morgana. I’m Rosie—Jack’s day nurse. Rocky should be back momentarily,” says the nurse, as she bustles around. Have a seat and make yourself comfortable. He shouldn’t be too long.” Rosie pat-slaps Jack on the face and says loudly, “OK, Jack, don’t forget to behave yourself!”

On the overhead TV, The Today Show’s Hoda and Kathie Lee are giggling away and swilling huge pours of Chardonnay, providing a good-natured banter that Jack could have withstood only by swilling huge pours of Chardonnay himself; otherwise he would have poked all the wrong buttons on the remote until he’d shut the TV off and flung the remote clattering onto the coffee table in a burst of pissed-off annoyance and headed back down to the basement to commune with his best friend, that rotgut Boney Stalker Scotch.

Standing at the side of Jack’s bed, searching his face for any signs of life, she sticks her hand in her jacket pocket and pulls out two little slips of paper from a fortune cookie. One says, “Life as you know it will change,” and the other slip says nothing—it is blank. It all comes flooding back to her:

She’s wearing that same black jacket just a few months before. They had just moved into their new apartment after having downsized from the house they’d lived in for so many years while the kids were growing up.

Morgana and Jack are sitting in the latest Chinese restaurant to be hailed by Johnny Funcheap, an on-line news blast of free or reasonably-priced things to do, places to go, and sights to see, such as restaurants, music venues, art shows or naked bike rides, to name just a few, all with some degree of quirk.

“The Moo Goo Guy’s Pan,” except for the name, is not obviously quirky. It seems to be just another Chinese restaurant in China Town, which she adores. She tells jack she will stick with a nice low calorie vegetable stir fry with brown rice, if they have brown rice—the real authentic places just have white rice.

Jack, on the other hand, just to derail her good intentions, as usual, orders a big plate of barbecued spare ribs as an appetizer. OK, so after she gets over her initial snit over his unwillingness to accommodate her, she acquiesces and takes just one spare rib and a big glob of sauce. Before she knows it, she’s eaten a quarter of the plate. Thank God Jack’s already hoovered up the other three-quarters, or it would have been even worse!

Then, of course, Jack orders their favorite, which she vows to not touch: General Tso’s Chicken, which is at least 1,300 calories and half a day’s worth of sodium! She knows from reading all those ladies’ magazines that you should run the other way at the mere mention of General Tso’s anything, especially if you’re already in bad health and/or trying to avoid a stroke or just trying to de-bulk your girth.

“Do you happen to have Boney Stalker Scotch?” inquires Jack.

“No,” says the waiter apologetically, “but we do have traditional rice wine. Would you like some of that?”

Not that Jack objects to drinking lighter fluid, but he really has his heart set on Boney Stalker. However, the word “tradition” speaks to him, so under the guise of wanting a cultural experience, Jack asks, “What’s your best traditional Chinese beer?” What he really wants to know is the alcohol content.

The waiter pulls the sticky, plastic drink menu standing sentinel between the bottle of soy sauce and the glass jar of plum sauce, and hands it to him with a slight bow from the waist. Jack considers the choices with the same gravity usually accorded to finding loopholes in the tax code. Morgana watches his eyes zeroing in on the beer with the highest octane level.

“I’ll try the 2400 Trigella,” says Jack in his most authoritative, discriminating voice, slapping the plastic menu closed with an air of finality. He hands the waiter the sticky menu. The waiter bows respectfully from the waist once again, and jimmies the menu back into its role as peacekeeper between the bottle of soy sauce and the glass jar of plum sauce.

As the waiter heads back to the kitchen, Jack tells Morgana, “You know, the Trigella is called ‘Boutzwa’s snooty cousin.’”

“Oh, yeah?” she says, not really interested, knowing that his sudden cheerful chattiness is only because he’s anticipating the imminent arrival of the beer. She already knows that all his knowledge of  is limited to what he’s just read from the plastic menu, but she engages him because it’s more fun than just watching him ignore her.

“Why’s that, do you think?”

He considers her question and then sits a little straighter and stares into her eyes as if to impart some very important information.

“Any beer maker worth their salt has a premium line, and this is Boutzwa’s!”

Morgana wants to see how long he can keep it up (the conversation, that is).

“So what’s so premium about it?”

The waiter arrives with the glass of beer that’s just been poured in the kitchen from a lowly can, and places it on the table in front of Jack. Ignoring the waiter’s polite bow, Jack takes a few noisy gulps of the beer, while Morgana thanks the waiter, seeing as how Jack is momentarily distracted from the niceties of civil comportment.

Warned by a rumbling from his stomach, Jack sequesters the resulting belch in his closed mouth and then opens his lips to release the belch as it hisses through his teeth. Morgana looks at him with disgust, but he doesn’t notice.

As if he is reflecting on the beer’s excellent ability to produce a belch, he regards the glass which he holds in his hand at an angle. Sounding like a commercial, he quotes from the menu, “This beer has a stronger, manlier taste.”

“Manlier?” she asks.

He finishes the quote by adding, “It’s a bit more malty than regular Boutzwa, but it’s kind of sweet, too.”

By the time dinner is over, Jack has downed four of these bad boys, one of which while she is in the restroom. It was a mystery to her how his stomach doesn’t burst, but it is rather capacious. If Jack had been a broader man, his stomach would not have seemed quite so prominent, but he was a tall, skinny guy, actually quite good looking—nice, thick hair, pretty blue eyes, strong hands, but his gut? Well, let’s just say it looked like he had swallowed a wrecking ball.

The waiter brings them the bill on a little plastic tray carrying some nice, big slices of orange and two fortune cookies.

Morgana takes the one closest to her, cracks it open and reads aloud, “Life as you know it will change.”

“Well, that’s safe to say! Every day is different from the last!” says Jack, as he reaches for the second fortune cookie. He places it delicately in front of him and then smashes it with his fist. There is a hush throughout the restaurant as the other diners turn to look at Jack. He picks the little tab of paper out of the crumbs, and examines it.

“Well, this one’s even worse than yours! Mine doesn’t say anything!”

The beer must be kicking in pretty good because the volume of his voice is beginning to attract more attention. Morgana nudges his foot with hers under the table as a non-verbal cue to get him to lower his voice, but he must not catch on because he kicks her hard in the ankle. She doesn’t react because she knows they are being watched. And just to give the gawkers something to look at, he sweeps the crumbled fortune cookie off the table and onto the carpet with the side of his hand.

Jack’s mini outburst draws more than a few dirty looks from the other customers, and everyone seems to be talking about them.

“Jack!” she scolds, whispering. “Please turn it down! And please be nice!”

As the waiter picks up the tray with their credit card, Morgana makes a request.

“Sir, could you please bring us another fortune cookie? My husband’s cookie had a blank fortune in it.”

The waiter returns with the credit card, the credit slip and one more fortune cookie, which Jack grabs and stuffs into his pocket.

Back out on the street, Morgana tries to act as if nothing had happened and tries to engage him in pleasant conversation, so she reminds him to open the fortune cookie.

He takes it out of his pocket and sputters, “This is such bullshit!” and he lobs it at a stray dog picking at some muddy French fries scattered in the gutter. The fortune cookie bounces off the poor dog’s head, and once he locates the cookie after a short, frantic search, he eats it, paper and all. Wagging his tail with gratitude, the dog licks his chops, savoring his good fortune.

“Jack! Why the hell did you do that? Was that really necessary?”

“Oh, cut the crap, Morgana! Forget the bullshit fortune cookie already, OK? Can you do that for me? Can you just get off my friggin’ back for five minutes for a change??? I mean, CAN you?”

She says nothing more, and the two walk in wounded silence back to their new apartment. Her ankle hurts where Jack kicked her. Inside, she’s seething with rage, and can’t believe that she’s got nothing better to do than to stay with this low-count blowhard. And whose fault is that? Why, hers, of course!

That was the same night that her life as she knew it was changed forever. And that was the same night that Jack’s fortuneless future began.
The Strokes, “Last Night”

To Be Continued in Chapter 17: The Mind Readers

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Filed under Proto-Novela, Science Fiction, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel

Karen Murphy: A Starry Night in Her Own Right


Karen Murphy is a local artist who lives in Shandon, Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband, Larry Rhu, a Professor in the English Department at the University of South Carolina, her two children, Sarah and Danny, and her countless artworks. Her one-woman art show was hosted recently by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Midlands, here in Columbia, SC. She is currently the owner and operator of her one-woman business enterprise, “Karen’s Green Garden Care.” On February 29, 2016, she agreed to an interview with Gloria Talcove-Woodward, a long-time admirer of her work. We both hope you enjoy this project.

  1. How would you describe the kind of art that you make?  Whimsical, playful, somewhere between folk art and fine art.
  2. What is your favorite medium and why?  That depends.  I draw a lot  in blank journals everywhere I go.  However, at the moment, I’m making robots and spaceships out of doodads I’ve collected through the years: nuts and bolts, coins, bottle caps, candy wrappers…
  3. How and/or why did you begin to make art?  I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid.
  4. What are your three favorite pieces of your own art and why?  For a while I was making shadow boxes and one morphed into a bar in Spain.  A sleepy cat was having a drink at the bar while an asymmetrical man was getting down on the grand piano.  Second, a drawing of a rushing river with ghostly birds under a tree full of living birds.  Third, a funky robot I made just recently.
  5. How do you know when a piece is really finished?  I have to be careful not to overwork a piece.  At a certain point I make myself put my work out of sight so I don’t ruin it.  Some of my best sketches took very little time to complete.
  6. What kind of reaction from people who experience your art makes you the happiest? and/or the saddest?  A knowing smile.  I feel disappointed when people don’t take a good look.
  7. Where do you get your ideas for your art?  Each new idea feels like a gift.  It’s a mysterious process.
  8. How do you deal with criticism?  It used to bother me but now I don’t expect everyone to “get” my work.  Instead I delight in people who are drawn to it.
  9. What are your favorite tools for making your art?  At the moment I  am in love with my hot glue gun.  Some former loves include Williamsburg oil paints and Kolinsky brushes, but in the end I always return to messing around with found objects.  They sit better with my miserly inner critic.
  10. Who are your favorite three artists?  Just three?  I have a thing for the Expressionist painters, Emil Nolde and Wassily Kandinsky.  And I love the way the American sculptor and printmaker Jonathan Borofsky defies boundaries.
  11. Which three artists would you like to be compared with?  The problem with being compared with other artists is that it feels reductive, like being accused of imitation.  That said, when viewers say my night sky drawings remind them of Van Gogh, what’s not to like?
  12. What is your favorite art movement (hyper-realism, surrealism, impressionism, post-modern, funk-pop, etc.)?  I love just about anything from the Art and Crafts movement.
  13. When are you most creatively productive?  Past my bedtime.
  14. What do you think of the difference between what you want to express and the viewer’s interpretation?  I think it is okay for  viewers to interpret work their own way, but my heart rises when they express an understanding of what I am trying to do.
  15. Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?  Let’s see.  Looking around my room there is a box labeled “Shiny, happy paper,” rocks, tesserae, wire of many colors, marbles, broken toys, bird houses,  nests, postcards, feathers, boxes…
  16. What is your favorite book and why?  I love the “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, because it shows how a good story can create new interest in distance injustices (in this case, how American media made a tyrant look like an ally).
  17. What’s the one piece of art from any other artist from any time period whatsoever that you could look at forever?  The Chrysler Building in New York City.
  18. What is your pet peeve with the art world?  Pretentiousness.
  19. What’s the one art show you saw that really surprised you?  In the early 80s I was quite delighted to stumble upon a Calder exhibit at the Whitney Museum in NYC.  I’d been doing a lot of wire sculptures when he was showing his famous “Circus.” Legend has it that when the curator met him at the airport and asked about how he’d shipped his work, he pulled out a roll of metal wire.  It was stored in his imagination.
  20. Where do you see your art going? Is it evolving, changing directions, becoming more eclectic, etc.?  It began flat, mostly drawings and collage.  Now it’s becoming three dimensional, sculpture with mixed media, including an art car.
  21. How and why did your begin your Art Car Project and what is its current status? I was inspired by the Button Man’s car that I saw at the State Museum. Shortly afterwards, I was talking about it with my cousin in North Carolina, who needed to find a home for his extra car and he sold me his Chevy Nova for $1. As soon as it found its way into the driveway, I started painting it. It was in the Mardi Gras Parade here in Columbia in 2013. It’s now been four years and my husband would like to have our driveway back. I’m hoping to either sell the car or donate it to ETV. It’s a 1988 and with a little TLC, it could run again, art and all.
  22. Got a picture of the Art Car? I thought you’d never ask!
  23. GetAttachment
  24. A quick recap of your work history.   I’ve had a couple of art teaching gigs but my longest period of employment was teaching fourth grade.  Fortunately, I was able to use art to teach history, reading, and math.  I used to let my students draw when I read aloud to them because it helped them focus and listen.  Afterwards they’d show me these wonderful cartoons they had created.  I have vivid memories of their illustrations of Greek myths.  Now I design, plant, and restore gardens.


Filed under Interviews