Meet a Member: Norma Howe

Name: Norma Howe.

Where I live: Sacramento, Calif.

Where and when I was born: San Jose, Calif., 1930.

Family: Husband, Bob; six favorite children and eight unique and charming grandchildren.

Education: Public schools in San Jose; B.A. in English, San Jose State University.

Occupation: Staying alive, spreading joy wherever I go and dispensing wisdom and advice to those willing to sit still, shut up and listen. I’m an occasional author of novels for young adults and their elders, a total of eight since 1984.

How I got where I am today: One day at a time, and voila!

Where I’m headed: Oblivion, eventually. Before then, if all goes well, perhaps another trip or two (or three?) to Europe with Bob, the world’s best traveling companion. I may start another novel if I can’t help myself, although at times the whole process can be fraught with frustration.

Person in history I admire: Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) thought by many to be the true author of the Shakespeare canon — reason enough for admiration. Called the “greatest mystery in the history of literature,” it’s a controversy especially appealing to freethinkers, those of us not hampered by preconceived notions and willing to invest a little time and energy in the search for truth.

Two other people I admire greatly are Robert G. Ingersoll and Carl Sagan, not only for what they’ve done for the cause of freethought, but also for what I trust to be their sweet and gentle natures.

A quotation I like: For those difficult times when all else fails, it’s Euripedes: “He who submits to fate without complaint is wise.”

The rest of the time, I’ll go with Germaine Greer: “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”

These are a few of my favorite things:  Sharing the New York Times with Bob and kibitzing with the regulars at City Donuts. Dreaming about our adventures in Europe when I’m home, and dreaming about the comforts of home when I’m abroad.

I like collecting and cataloguing diverse and sundry objects for posterity from thrift stores and sometimes off the street, such as: English translations of Madame Bovary (19), Leaning Tower of Pizza (family joke), cheese dispensers (7), jigsaw puzzles of Venice (61), books and videos (hundreds) and advertising ashtrays (don’t ask).

Oh, and rereading E.B. White’s  little gem of an essay called “Memorandum” when life gets a bit too hectic.

These are not: The insidious emergence of writers doubling as entertainers. Want to sell books? Then be prepared to go out and push them, forgetting your parents’ old admonition against the disagreeable practice of “tooting your own horn.”

Go speak at schools, promote book signings, attend conferences, talk up teachers and librarians, wear funny costumes, make “friends” on Facebook and Twitter away the hours. The glory days of J.D. Salinger (and J.D., RIP) are dead and gone forever, and woe to those introverts who take up writing as their primary mode of expression.

On a completely different topic, I’m also peeved at myself for being overly judgmental of others, conveniently forgetting my concurrence with the words of Lewis Thomas in his prize-winning book, The Lives of a Cell: “The whole dear notion of one’s own Self — marvelous old free-willed, free-enterprising, autonomous, independent, isolated island of the Self — is a myth.”

How long I’ve been a freethinker: Since age 12. Urged on by a well-meaning but religious neighbor (Mrs. Mayfield, another RIP) to “seek out the Lord,” I tried to open the lines of communication by inviting Him to show Himself to me and/or give Me a sign. I told Him I would meet Him halfway, which, I thought, was the only fair thing to do. I even gave Him three chances, as honestly and sincerely as only a 12-year-old can do. You can guess the rest.

On that early foundation, a sturdy and steadfast bastion of freethought has grown and thrived throughout the years.
Why I’m a freethinker: I guess because I can’t help it!

Best way I promote freethought: By trying my best to write books that make kids think. My first — God, the Universe and Hot Fudge Sundaes — is listed in the 1990 Information Please Almanac under “Challenged and Banned Books” because it “pushes several items of the humanist agenda: death education, anti-God, pro-evolution, anti-Bible, anti-Christian, and logic over faith.”

As (atheist) George Gershwin said, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Freedom From Religion Foundation