Losing my school newspaper: The mermaid conundrum

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After 65 years, our school newspaper is no more.

When I head back to school this year, something will be different. South Mountain High School, where I have been teaching for almost two decades, will no longer have a student newspaper. The Southwinds journalism classes, which have been in existence since the school was founded back in 1954, have been cancelled.

I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, professional publications all over the country are folding under the weight of the Internet, where social media “reporters” can post anything anonymously and without regard for reliable sources and veracity. As a former journalist, the thought is almost physically painful.

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In my journalism classes, I taught my students how to determine whether a story was true or a fabrication.

I will now show my age by saying that when I was a reporter one had to verify facts by obtaining three separate sources who would agree that the information was accurate. (Imagine that!) It was also necessary to write a balanced story, meaning that those with opposing viewpoints needed to be given equal time. Reporters did not take sides, except in instances where stories were clearly labeled as commentary.

Today, the networks force reporters to opine in order to fill commercial slots and to make sure their listeners hear only what they already believe to be true. We wouldn’t want folks to make their own decisions based on fair and balanced reporting, now would we?

But back to the demise of school newspapers. Note that I am not blaming my school administrators. They have allowed my journalism classes to exists for years with just a small number of students. Unfortunately, the word journalism implies that students must write and, sadly, most have no interest. I suppose I should be grateful that the Southwinds has managed to survive this long.

Still, while I realize I am biased, I can think of nothing more valuable than producing well-rounded adults who can think for themselves. What that requires is the ability to discern whether a story is true or a fabrication. My journalism classes did just that: identify a source, determine their bias by reading their mission statement or biography, and read their comments carefully before deciding if they are worthy of your trust. My motto in regard to using sources in stories is, “When in doubt, leave them out.”

But, perhaps, my time has passed. Maybe people are more comfortable thinking that whatever they already believe is right. And that, conversely, everyone else must be wrong. Certainly, the networks have determined that this is an extremely profitable methodology. So, why mess with success.

Oh, wait! If no one is willing to change their opinion based on truth, where are we headed? If that idea doesn’t give you an uncomfortable chill down your spine, I don’t know what will. But I am afraid for our future.

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Sadly, I always have students who believe in mermaids, because they’ve “seen” them on the Internet.

I’ll give you an example. My classes often begin with a discussion on what’s happening in the news. No subject is out of bounds. Every year the same topic emerges. Mermaids. I am not kidding here. I always have numerous students who argue with me claiming half-human/half fish creatures exist. I then provide the facts: Even warm sea water is too cold for humans.  They would die of hypothermia. Our skin would slough off after being in the water too long. Why are there no mermaid remains?

Yet, invariably, they smile and shake their Disney fairytale-infested heads. “But I saw one on the Internet, Ms. Montgomery.”

Eiee! Even when I explain that I’m a scuba diver and have spent a great deal of time searching for sea life around the world and have witnessed nary a sign of a mermaid, they disagree. Because they want to believe in mermaids, they do. Facts don’t matter. Not even when I point out the obvious fakery in their YouTube mermaid videos.

However, by the end of the school year, after pounding them on their sweet heads about verifying sources and having a healthy dose of skepticism when faced with dubious news stories, many do come into the light.

But my journalism classes are done. Who will teach them about truth now?

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

My interview with The Cosy Dragon

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The stories behind the books. Recruiting beta readers. Authors and social media. And some quirky facts about me. These topics and more are discussed in my interview with the folks at The Cosy Dragon book blog.

Take a look.

Interview with Anne Montgomery

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

The day I saw a spaceship

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Yes! I do believe in aliens.

 

“Ms. Montgomery, do you believe in aliens?”

Every year, at least one of my high school students asks the question.

“Of course, I do!” I say as if there could be no other reasonable response.

That confession is generally followed by giggles and a few nods here and there, confirming that I am not the only one who believes we are not alone.  I mean, come on, I grew up on the original Star Trek, enthralled by Captain Kirk and his pals, never noticing the cheesy effects and reveling in the idea that fascinating worlds exist “out there.”

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In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ray Neary willingly walked into an alien spacecraft. I always thought I would do the same.

Sometimes, I tell my students that if I were to see an interstellar alien craft I would wave my arms and shout, “Take me! Take me!” all the while recalling that long walk Richard Dreyfus took as Ray Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he stepped up the ramp and into a strange new future escorted by wee, big- headed creatures.

But, as it turns out, I was all wrong. Because one day I was in just such a situation, and let’s just say I did not react the way I had always envisioned.

Here’s my story.

One sunny afternoon in Phoenix, I returned home from school. I got out of my truck, closed the door, and happened to glance up at the sky. And there it was. The flat black object hovered in the distance. I watched for a few moments, trying to discern what I was seeing. Then my mouth fell open. I turned, looking for other people, but I was alone. I watched the object move silently,  looking unlike any conventional flying machine.

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The 1997 Phoenix Lights incident has never been fully explained.

Remember now that my city is famous for the Phoenix Lights, the 1997 UFO incident witnessed by thousands of people, perhaps the largest mass sighting of such an event in history, an occurrence that has never had a creditable explanation.

I was unable to move as the object traveled slowly toward me, getting larger as it approached. I half expected fighter jets to appear, but the sky was otherwise empty, save for some puffy white clouds.

Soon, I thought, I would have my moment. I might be offered the opportunity  “to go where no man has gone before.” Then I considered the alternative. Perhaps the aeronauts of said craft might just be hungry and grilled, red-headed human might be their favorite repast.

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I always believed traveling the universe with Spock and Kirk would be a blast, but maybe not.

I am appalled to tell the truth here, but as a former reporter I find I must. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and in the immortal words of King Arthur in Monte Python and the Holy Grail my brain screamed, “Run away! Run Away!”

Despite the fact that I was never blessed with running skills — ask anyone who knows me — I was poised to sprint faster than the aptly-named Usain Bolt. Then, the “alien ship” drifted down.

A black plastic bag blowing in the wind.

Later, after analyzing my response to this optical illusion, I was horrified by my cowardice. I wonder if Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would ever forgive me?

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my life passes before my eyes, I will see dolphins

The expression “I saw my life pass before my eyes,” is generally used by someone who has had a near-death experience. While I have no idea what may occur when the end nears, I have always liked that thought, as long as one only has to recall the pleasant events.

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Once, off St. Kitts, I witnessed four tiny juvenile  drum fish dancing  in a row before a reef

Sometimes, I consider scenes that might appear in my head when my time comes, and I find it is a rather Forrest Gump-esque list: The night at Girl Scout camp on an island in Upstate New York, snuggled in my sleeping bag, a cool breeze wafting through the pines, and lake water brushing up against the rocks. An elk in Colorado, maybe ten yards between us, his majestic antlered head and dark brown eyes freezing me in place, before he turned and disappeared silently into the forest. A dive in St. Kitts where I witnessed four tiny spotted drum fish, each no bigger than a thumbnail, long black and white fins waving as they danced in a row before a reef.

And now, I have a new vision to carry with me.  A few days ago in the sea off the north shore of St. Croix, we spotted three bottlenose dolphins from our dive boat. We quickly donned our scuba gear and descended to a shallow area white with sand. We knelt on the bottom and waited.

And waited.

Thirty minutes later, chilled from inactivity, we gave up, and swam away, perusing a group of coral heads down over the edge of the sand. Cold and tired we headed back toward the boat. The dive master, E.T., and I were the last in the water. We waited below the boat as other divers ascended.

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While diving in St. Croix we spotted three bottlenose dolphins from our boat, so we donned our scuba gear and dropped in to join them.

Then, E.T. grunted to get my attention. She pointed at three dolphins that swam directly toward us, their snouts dipping with each gentle push of their tails. The largest, a female perhaps eight-feet long, silvery-gray with a white belly, was escorted by two smaller males. The female eyed me and guided the others over my head. I could have reached up and touched her as they glided past. Then, she dove to the bottom and stuck her nose in the sand. She stirred up a white cloud, rolled onto her back and lay on the bottom, while the males playfully nudged her. Soon, she twisted, launched herself off the sand, and they disappeared.

We waited. And they returned, over and over playing before us. Then, the female stopped, touched her tail to the sand and straightened. I had always thought of dolphins as curved creatures, but she now stood perfectly straight, snout pointed toward the sky, fins out, a signal perhaps to the males who approached and straightened as well, clinging to her sides, motionless.

They appeared as a marble statue, majestic, magical, holding the pose above the sand, her bearing that of an empress. Then she twirled and the males followed. What came next can only be described in one way: dolphin sex. I felt like a voyeur but could not turn away. I will let you fill in the rest.

At one point, overwhelmed by the beauty, this gift I’d been given by the sea, I touched my hand to my heart. When I gazed at E.T., she had done the same. We stared at one another, knowing we had shared something special.

When we finally ascended, I was speechless. Those who know me would be astounded at the idea. And I am still unsure my words here do the experience justice.

downloadOn the boat, I hugged the dive master, a woman I had met just a few hours earlier.

“E.T., when I’m dying, I will remember this,” I said.

It was only then that I noticed the elegant tattoo she bore on her right hip: a dolphin.

 

The view my dolphin video click here: https://www.facebook.com/simeon.tolar/videos/10156002467296076/

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.