April Showers Lead to May Flowers!

Odin shares more writing craft, articles, and news from the world!

April Showers Lead to May Flowers!
From a lovely hike and picnic that Katie and I took last week. California hasn’t looked THIS green in a long while!


It’s the end of April, which seems to have arrived in the blink of an eye. How has your month treated you? What stories have you collected through the last thirty days?

My month has been busy, with a trip to Yosemite, the last full month of classes for the MLIS degree, and my myriad other projects. That business is, in many ways, great: it means that I’m living. At the same time, struggling through health issues amidst a storm of work is its own difficulty.

For those who haven’t been keeping up: I’ve been experiencing severe lower back pain for most of this year. It’s recently begun to improve in marginal degrees, but still creates a daily slog. I’ve been lucky enough to discover the work of Dr. Stuart McGill, considered widely to be the world’s foremost expert on back pain. Hi book, Back Mechanic: The secrets to a healthy spine your doctor isn’t telling you, has become a gold standard for physical therapists.

I’m still working my way through the book after owning it for just a week, but there are a number of videos on YouTube that feature Dr. McGill and his work. I’ve also added in some body-weight traction, and that’s been a delightful stopgap as I work to slowly build a better platform for avoiding the triggers of my pain that have led to my current condition.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this whole process has been the absolute lack of knowledge from medical professionals I’ve seen for this condition! My general physician, who is very kind, very competent in their ability to be a nexus for treatment, has almost no deep experience with the issues that I face. Their opinion, based on back imaging, was “degenerative disc disease”—there is no such thing as “degenerative disc disease,” according to experts. And yet, this is an incredibly common diagnosis.

Looking at options for treating back pain, I frequently encountered recommendations for surgery, if the condition failed to respond to stretching treatments, painkillers, and rest. I encountered recommendations from medical professionals to focus on strength-building in my core and/or judicious daily practice of Pilates.

All of these recommendations? Wrong.

Now, because I’ve spent a lot of time around psudoscientific nonsense, I’m excessively careful about what I choose to accept as fact. In most things, I tend toward the overly-cautious, and allow experience and provable benefits to lead the way. Astrology, homeopathy, and energy healing aren’t going to solve the nerve pain in my spine. The problem is, neither is surgery. It turns out that most people who have surgery end up with results nearly identical to those who did not have surgery.

As for “strengthening” the core muscles? This misunderstanding (along with misapplied training methods) is actually one of the causes of injuries. Pilates, likewise, can have benefits… but many of its principle movements cause the spine to move in ways it’s not designed to move—thereby causing (you guessed it) even more injury and pain.

So, what now? Well, the road ahead is likely to be a fairly long one, but I’m appreciating the light at the end of this particular tunnel. Partly because I may be able to regain a pain-free life, and partly because I’m able to share this knowledge with people who are my peers in this experience of frustrated suffering.

The ultimate point? Don’t accept professional opinions without doing your own research.

The writing corner

I have a couple of articles out this week, both focused on pop-culture! Remember, you don’t need an account on Medium to read these! I share all of my articles as “friend” links.

Looking Back at Community Fourteen Years Later

The wacky little TV series that aimed a horizontal attack at problematic themes, and helped me stave off depression.

Best Travel Vloggers on YouTube

See, listen, learn: these vloggers will open your eyes to a new world!

The Mary Worth Syndrome

A recent talk with some people in the writing community led me toward the concept of the “Mary Worth Syndrome,” and it’s something I thought might be fun to explore here.

Mary Worth is a long-running comic about an older woman who offers advice to people on the commonplace social-emotional issues of their lives. I want to touch on the origins of the comic as well, actually, but my first focus is on the writing style. Here’s an example:

The habit of bolding text is something that anyone familiar with reading comics or graphic novels will recognize, but what happens in Mary Worth is that it becomes a frustrating tick of emphasis. It begins to look especially strange in a comic like this one, where the conversations being had are generally banal.

A piece of advice that young writers often receive is to try and let the words they are writing stand on their own. If you need to place emphasis with italics and bolded lettering, it’s probably because you didn’t write the sentence in such a way that the meaning and emphasis was clear. It’s a bad habit, a lazy habit, to allow text stylization to take the place of good writing.

Of course, like all “rules,” this is really more of a guideline. Once you learn to craft good sentences, by all means, add back some text styling. But it’s worthwhile to practice writing without those aids—lest the aid become a crutch.

Carol Burnett, queen of comedy, showcases her take on Mary Worth in this ridiculous little sketch below:

The origins of Mary Worth

If Mary Worth strikes you as a bit of a silly, soap-opera-y character, that makes sense. Her origination was in the Depression-era comic strip “Apple Mary,” which itself drew inspiration from the soapy audio dramas popular at the time.

Mary shares her sorrows with grandson Dennie. Artist: Martha Orr.

Created by a woman named Martha Orr, Apple Mary was a strip about a proudly independent elderly woman who is forced to sell apples from a cart on the street in order to provide for herself and her crippled grandson. In the way of these things, the strip eventually got bought out, and transformed (by male cartoonists and writers) into the threadbare excuse for a soap opera that it is today.

Apple Mary, for all its melodrama, focused on themes of economic hardship and the difficulties faced by those from lower social classes. When it became Mary Worth, all that went out the window.

One of the leads on the new team responsible for Mary Worth said as much in his autobiography:

Soon after our team took over, we changed the name of the strip to Mary Worth’s Family. Later, it took on its present title, Mary Worth. In her new role, the old street merchant [Apple Mary] obviously was not usable. So Ken Ernst gave her a beauty treatment, some weight loss and a more appropriate wardrobe.... We put her applecart in storage, where it will remain, even in the event of another economic slump. Our Mary has more timely things to do than peddle pippins.

Let’s look at that statement for a moment. A cartoon character intended as a means of exploring the hardships of the economically impoverished—an elderly, homely, grandmother (created by a woman, no less), was transformed by her new male design team. They “gave her a beauty treatment” that included “weight loss” and a more “appropriate wardrobe.” This made sense to them. After all, she had more “timely things to do” than struggle to support herself and her family.

Let us be clear, the Depression did not magically end. Millions were still destitute, clawing for scraps. What changed was that those huddled masses were suddenly rendered, by the new comic’s team, irrelevant.

Now, we’re left with a comic strip whose greatest legacy is spreading upper-middle-class “wisdom,” which we only have to look at Carol Burnett’s satire to see isn’t actually as wise as all that.

From the world

"I have always believed that libraries are essential to our society and the preservation of our democracy. They provide access to knowledge and ideas that are critical for personal and intellectual growth." -Nora Roberts

The same week that Nora Roberts made a donation to EveryLibrary Institute, her books were banned in schools in Florida!

Now she's challenging you to join her by participating in the #NoraRobertsChallenge by making a tax-deductible donation to fight against book bans and challenging your friends to do the same.

In the world of technology, things continue to be creepy. I’ve written about this before, but here’s a reporter from the Wall Street Journal taking a deeper dive.

A soundtrack of the Bay Area is being curated by the San Francisco Public Library, and a call is going out to local musicians to help supply tracks! The famous record store Amoeba will be part of the process of launching “Bay Beats” that will soon be providing “local talent with a platform for expanding their audiences and reach.”

Thank you for reading Halvorson Times. This post is public so feel free to share it.

Twitter was created by a man named Jack Dorsey. After helping his good buddy Elon Musk buy Twitter, Jack announced a new social network of his own devising: BlueSky. Look, it’s just another corporate money-making trap. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the terms of service.

Twitter - Term of Service
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods now known or later developed...

Bluesky - Terms of Service
By making any User Content available through the Services, you hereby grant to Bluesky and its subsidiaries, affiliates, licensee, successors, and assigns (the “Bluesky Parties”) an irrevocable, non-exclusive, perpetual, transferable, worldwide, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense (through multiple tiers of sub-licensing), to use, copy, modify, adapt, crop, edit, creative derivative works, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform and otherwise exploit in any media now known or hereafter devised, your User Content, in whole or in part, in connection with (i) providing the Services and Content to you and to others; (ii) promote and market Bluesky and our Services, including without limitation through Bluesky’s owned, operated, and/or branded social media channels.

Mastodon - Privacy Policy
Posts, following and other public information: ... Your posts are delivered to your followers, in some cases it means they are delivered to different servers and copies are stored there. When you delete posts, this is likewise delivered to your followers...
You grant BlyeSky an “irrevocable, non-exclusive, perpetual, transferable, worldwide, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense… to use, copy, modify, adapt, crop, edit, creative derivative works, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform and otherwise exploit in any media now known or hereafter devised.”

As a writer, I take terms of service pretty damn seriously—because there are more than a few scams out there trying to take advantage of innocent people just trying to share art and make a living. You all know, by now, that I’m a fan of Mastodon. Mastodon’s a social network that escapes a lot of the problems faced by the corporate-owned-and-controlled platforms. It’s a place where good community is fostered, and where the a$$holes are “defederated” (cut off from contact).

If you’re hankering for a new Twitter… just… don’t be gullible enough to think that BlueSky is the place to be. Please, please avoid the corporate systems as much as you can. The world needs you to make the better choice.

Halvorson Times is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Alright, this newsletter has gotten long! I’ll wrap it up here. :)

I wish all of you a wonderful week ahead. Please, comment, like, and share this if you found the content interesting!

And remember to go easy… or, if you can’t go easy, just go as easy as you can.


Subscribe for my regular newsletter. No spam, just the big updates.