On a lighter note…and a darker background

Hello. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Please forgive the somewhat darker keyboard image. It may seem a little moody, but it’s simply providing more contrast with the verbiage that runs across the middle in front of it. Some day I’ll find a WordPress theme that I don’t feel compelled to fiddle with.

Two other things

  1. I have a new Twitter account that you’re more than welcome to follow if you are so inclined. It’s going to focus on writing and written stuff. There may be an element of grouchiness at times, witness the pinned tweet about writer’s block.
  2. I’m on track to have my next crime novel available as an ebook by the end of July. Here’s to not being derailed yet again! Join my email list and you just might get a free copy. (You will for sure if you’re among the next 10 to join the list).

Write on.

B.J.

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Final words about jury duty, a Boulder murder trial and vicarious trauma

My recent summons to jury duty came as I was nearly done writing the manuscript for North of Grand, my second crime novel. Having no idea what was on the docket, I tweeted something to this effect shortly before leaving home for the Boulder County Justice Center:

Reporting for jury duty. Potential fodder for a new crime story?

I deleted it soon after learning about the nature of the case.

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Pixabay image

As it turned out, I wasn’t among the first 44 individuals to be questioned during voir dire, so I expected to be done soon. I was wrong. Several people in that group were excused for various reasons so other names, including mine, were drawn from the pool of dozens of prospective jurors.

One of the prosecutors asked if I thought I’d be a good juror, and why. I said yes. I mentioned that I had a longtime interest in the workings of the justice system, that I’d served on a jury in a criminal trial in the past and had covered police and courthouse beats at times as a reporter.

I also mentioned writing crime fiction, just in case that might be important to anyone. The prosecutor smiled and asked if I would be using the case at hand in a story. Not directly, I said, adding that listening to real courtroom dialog again and seeing how people interact certainly could be useful in some way.

Eventually I found myself one of 16 jurors who were sworn in to serve on the panel. We could only wonder about which four of us were alternates until after the lawyers’ closing arguments. I was among the final 12 tasked with reaching a verdict.

During the three-week trial it was difficult to focus on much of anything else. I fell farther behind where I had hoped to be on my new manuscript. No urgent day-job deadlines loomed but I was able to do a few tasks some evenings and weekends.

It became almost impossible to walk by my suitcase in the basement without seeing things I cannot unsee. A touch on the shoulder or a bit of pain in my hip brought to mind the sight of a reciprocating saw and other cutting tools that were used to dismember the body of young Ashley Mead.

After reading the guilty verdicts in the courtroom and releasing us from jury duty, the judge asked us to meet with her in a conference room. She thanked us, answered a lot of questions, and asked us for feedback about the experience. We learned that there is something called vicarious trauma, and that the county would pay for two counseling sessions for each of us. The judge gave us a list of several professionals who would make time for anyone within 48 hours, and she encouraged everyone to contact one of them soon. I know I wasn’t the only juror to take advantage of the offer.

Now that the trial is over, I’m back to work on my day job, where there is no bailiff to say “all rise” before I enter a room. It’s good to be inconspicuous again.

I am also back working on my new manuscript, the second crime novel featuring Detective Red Shaw. There was no trial in Blood Solutions, and there will be no trial in North of Grand, but it will be a better story for the delay.

I did move my suitcase just a little farther back in the space under the stairs to the basement, recognizing as I did it that hiding it completely would be futile. I do trust that the images it brings to mind will fade with time.

That’s one of the positive things I can think of right now. Another is that the trial is history and I don’t feel compelled to write another word about it.

B.J.

A few words about a murder trial

Imagine being plucked from your day-to-day routine and plunked down in a jury box for three weeks.

Imagine what you see and hear as prosecutors try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered, disemboweled and dismembered the mother of his child, stuffed her headless, limbless torso into a suitcase, and dropped it in a dumpster in another state.

Suppose you can discuss this with no one, not even your fellow jurors, until the appointed time comes to deliberate.

That time came for me yesterday. The trial ended a few hours ago. The jury on which I served found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and three other charges.

I leave the details to your imagination and the news media because for now I don’t have the words to describe the experience beyond this:

Whatever discomfort the jury felt, it was nothing compared to the horror that many others in that courtroom have been through and will remember with such pain and sorrow for the rest of their lives.

If I write about the experience again, in this space or elsewhere, it is simply my way of coping. Some questions are too difficult to discuss in person other than with my closest family and friends.

B.J.

 

When affordable housing doesn’t really mean what you think it means

In my neck of the universe, and likely in your own, words are prone to losing their meaning.

Take “affordable” as the most recent example of a word I once thought I understood. I looked it up just now to check and found this definition in my go-to online dictionary, Merriam-Webster:

able to be afforded

Well OK then. It’s just as I thought, but more vague than I remembered. M-W goes on to define affordable housing as housing that is “not too expensive for people of limited means.”

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Rendering of a wee-Cottage. (Boulder Creek Neighborhoods / Courtesy Photo)

Again, rather vague. What is “too expensive”? When do means qualify as limited?

Affordable is a relative term that can no longer stand alone and have any real meaning, but the news media and peddlers of sundry goods rarely qualify it as they should.

Take this story about the “wee-Cottages” coming soon to the southeast part of Longmont, Colorado. As if the hyphen and mysterious capitalization weren’t unreal enough, the story says these no-doubt-cute little places will be listed in the low-$300,000s. Presumably they are all at least temporarily affordable, because 27 of the 102 wee dwellings will be permanently affordable in the low- to mid-$200,000s.

Permanently? Nothing is permanent.

This is what affordable actually means in our little piece of Boulder County:

able to be afforded by some people but not by many whose means are actually limited

If a guy tells you something is “affordable,” ask him to complete the sentence.

 

Vultures circling, Denver Post calls for its own sale

Anyone who understands the importance of a strong, free press will be disturbed about the precarious state of journalism in Colorado.

So dire is the situation that the Denver Post today called out its owner, a New York City hedge fund, for yet another round of cutbacks. It called on Alden Global Capital to sell the newspaper to an owner that is “willing to do good journalism.”

The Denver Post has done good journalism for decades but is being starved of the resources it needs to continue. These are challenging times for most news organizations, yet many, including The Post, can and do remain viable if that’s what ownership wants.

The Post’s ability to fulfill its important role in the community has been diminished by round after round of greed-induced reductions in newsroom personnel. The latest cuts will further damage its ability to keep us informed.

I could go on, but read the newspaper’s own call for action and act accordingly:

As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved

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When message trumps spelling and grammar

Much human written communication is more clear if the spelling, grammar and punctuation are good.

Having said that, I will be embarrassed if you find a typo or other mistake in this post. If you do, feel free to mock me. I write and edit for a living, after all, so you should expect a certain level of quality in this space.

However, please think before you belittle anyone else over such details.

Sometimes spelling and grammar are simply not important.

Twitter users like to pick on poor spellers. Those pickers annoy me to no end, regardless of the pickee*. Their reactions to a Trump tweet a few weeks ago were typical.

Here’s one example.

Brian Klaas is a journalist, by the way. You can find my response here if you’re interested, but here’s a summary:

I don’t care that Trump can’t spell or punch letters on his phone without making a mistake. Millions of people are poor spellers. It doesn’t matter. The message matters.

Mocking a person over spelling in social media marks you as a snob.

For another example of what matters, take a look at Inmate Blogger, which I came across just the other day. Read a few of the posts by incarcerated men and women.

Some are polished and punctuated to near perfection.

Some are profoundly eloquent in their rawness.


 

* pickee: One who is picked upon. If it is not in your dictionary, it should be.

Homo sapiens in nature

Nature doesn’t exist
apart from us, Rabbit Mountain mule deerand we do not live
apart from nature.
It surrounds us, permeates us.
We are in it, and of it.

We are no less a part of nature than
chattering wrens and howling wolves,
flitting butterflies and buzzing bees,
mountain forests and lakes and raging
rivers and meadows alive with wildflowers.

Squirrels outside a window,
birds at the neighbor’s feeder,
mule deer grazing on a hillside
take what they need to live
while we claim to be wise.