Mark Howell's - "Soundings"
Sunday, March 18, 2012

It was in 2007 that Kim T. Gordon, herself a performer, challenged her fellow board members of the Key West Woman's Club -- founded in 1915 to benefit every sector of the community -- to "create a terrific night of music starring Key West's favorite performers and help people here who are struggling."

So was born the Woman's Hope Concert, now in its sixth year. The success of the concerts has allowed the club to raise and give away about $100,000 to groups in need, including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition, Samuel's House, WomanKind and the Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys.

This year, for the second time, 100 percent of the proceeds of the night will go to the Cancer Foundation. The Woman's Hope Concert on Friday, March 30, at 8 p.m. at the Tennessee Williams Cabaret Theater features an all-woman cast including Kathleen Peace, Melody Cooper, Christine Cordone, Valerie Carr, Raven Cooper, Maj Johnson and Kim Gordon, joined by special guests Ruben Navarro, Cliff Sawyer and Rich Simone. The band has Mike Emerson on guitar, Linda Sparks on piano, Joe Dallas on bass, Dave Parker on drums and vibes and jazz harpist Scott Marischen. The emcee is funnyman Randy Thompson.

Tickets are $45 to $65 from www.keystix or the theater box office at 296-1520.

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Before Mercy Gonzalez Hiller and the late Patty Day started the Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys just over a decade ago, there was no safety net whatsoever for cancer patients in Monroe County. The situation was increasingly critical for patients attending a breast-cancer support group run by Mercy and Patty. With one income turned off and the spouse preoccupied and overwhelmed, most patients' families were in free fall and many women were faced with having to quit treatment. Nobody seemed able to help.

Finally, Mercy and Patty each wrote a check for $100 and began their cancer foundation.

One hundred percent of the foundation's money is volunteered. It has no building, no staff, just one phone. One hundred percent of its funds goes directly to patients who need help.

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Mercy Hiller, 54, is administrator at 21st Century Oncology in Key West. Founded 18 years ago by Dr. Stephen Krathen originally at Lower Keys Medical Center, the clinic relocated to 3426 North Roosevelt Blvd. in 2006 and was renamed after Martha A. Gonzalez, Mercy's mother who died of cancer at the age of 57.

(Martha fell sick just as her husband's company changed its insurance policy and she was denied coverage for a preexisting condition. The family's funds were gone in four years.)

The facility today has a staff of five: a physician, two radiation therapists, a front-desk clerk and a billing clerk. As well as administrator, Mercy, with a degree in radiologic technologies, sees herself also as a therapist, nurse, social worker and janitor. "We totally treat our patients as family," she says, and the prevailing atmosphere is uplifting.

According to the National Cancer Center, an estimated 229,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2012. One in 31 women will die of the disease.

But Mercy does not concede an epidemic, instead she sees a tremendous improvement in lifesaving technology. A new machine now configures three-dimensional images of a tumor, allowing just the tumor to be treated and sparing all healthy tissue.

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The Costa Concordia was not the first cruise ship in modern times to hit rocky bottom. In 1992, the QE2 struck a granite outcrop that tore a 74-foot gash in her hull. But instead of sinking like the Costa Concordia, the ship was able to sail to the nearest port and discharge her passengers uninjured. In dry dock in Boston could be seen the Corten steel plating of the QE2's outer hull smashed upward into a 100-foot long nave where the ballast and freshwater tanks had been. The cost of repairs was equal to the construction cost of the 114,000-ton Costa Concordia's entire hull.

"The risks of allowing so vast a ship [Concordia] so cheaply," writes Russell Seitz of Harvard University, "were made plain when she rolled over. Instead of crumpling stoically inward on itself, her tinfoil-thin hull split like a sardine can, leaving only the providential proximity of Isola di Giglio to prevent a downmarket replay of the Titanic."

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As of this year, more than 250 people in the United States, convicted of a variety of serious crimes, have been exonerated by the use of DNA, many of them after years in prison and even the threat of execution.

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The League of Women Voters of Florida is hosting a reception today at the Smathers Library on the University of Florida campus. The keynote address is Solares Hill's own Diane Roberts (see page 1 of this issue), billed a "writer and scholar who specializes in Southern culture." Roberts has a PhD. from Oxford University and is a visiting fellow in creative writing at the University of Northumbria in England, specializing in Southern culture. She also makes documentaries for BBC Radio in London, where she spends part of the year.

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The Studios of Key West is offering a writing competition inspired by National Novel Writing Month, which sponsors an international month-long novel writing project each November.

The contest, called "Writes of Spring," begins April 4 and runs through April 25. First prize is a full scholarship to a four-day Key West Literary Seminar Writing Workshop in January, 2013. Four runners-up will be awarded scholarships to workshops at The Studios and gift certificates to local restaurants.

All participants must register and be confirmed by The Studios staff in advance of the April 4 start date. Registration is limited to 25 persons -- first come, first served -- and is open only to residents of Monroe County (including part-time residents). A fee of $25 to cover program costs is required.

Full details on the competition, including registration guidelines, can be found at

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"Come with questions," says Key West poet and novelist Rosalind Brackenbury about her Sunday Salon from 2 to 4 p.m. today, March 18, at the home of Jane Gladson, 1175 William St. "I'd like to leave the format open to questions and answers," said Brackenbury, former literary editor of Solares Hill and author of numerous short stories, six poetry collections and a dozen novels including her latest, "Becoming George Sand."

"When I was young," she admits, "I didn't think about the readers. I didn't think I needed them. I was arrogant. Now I want a dialogue." Brackenbury closes her poem, "In Poems Used To," with this request:

...Now, I confess,

I need you, the reader, to be there

Tell me you get it, even

Feel the same; life flowing past us,

No detail too small, banal or frail to matter.

Tickets are $20 and benefit Literacy Volunteers of America. Call 294-4352 or 305-304-0578.

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Kirby Congdon's new collection of one-act plays, "Here We Are: More Plays," will be sampled at Sippin' Café, 424 Eaton St. today, March 18, between 5 and 7 p.m.

Congdon's latest plays, writes Doug Holder in Ibbetson Update, are "testament that he should be as well-known as a playwright as he is as a poet."

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In his autobiography, "Here Comes Trouble" (Grand Central Publishing, 2011), Michael Moore details what happened to him after he declared in his acceptance speech for the Oscar awarded to "Bowling for Columbine" as Best Documentary in 2003: "We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president sending us to war for fictitious reasons."

Glenn Beck said on TV: "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself or if I would need to hire somebody to do it -- no, I think I could." Bill O'Reilly said on Fox TV that he wished Michael Moore dead. (Neither broadcasters were ever reprimanded for these remarks.)

After then being stalked in the streets and publicly assaulted and his family residence in Michigan invaded, Moore hunkered down into seclusion until he was contacted by fellow writer Kurt Vonnegut, who encouraged him to learn from George W. Bush's own thinking: "If we give in to terrorists, the terrorists win."

On the advice of Vonnegut (who died in 2007), Moore then hired the services of a team of retired Navy SEALS, who moved into his home and accompanied him wherever he went.

It was a SEAL whose hand was pierced by a pencil while protecting Moore from a sidewalk attack. It was a SEAL who took scalding hot coffee in the face aimed at Moore by a businessman. Both the pencil attacker and the coffee thrower lived -- just -- to forever regret their impulse.

Moore describes how the SEALS, with just a half hour of training every day, turned his muscular-skeletal structure "into kryptonite." "I came back alive. I chose not to give up." And in his book, he issues a warning to the reader:

"If you take a punch at me now, I can assure you three things will happen. (1) You will break your hand. (2) I'm still working on my core and balance issues, so after you slug me I will fall on you. While you are attempting to breathe, please know that I'll be doing my best to get off you. (3) My SEALS will spray you with their own concoction of jalapeño spider spray directly into your eye sockets while you're on the ground. (SERMON ALERT) As a pacifist, please accept my apologies in advance -- and never, ever use violence against me or anyone else again."

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Quote for the Week:

All life is but a skull and

A rack of ribs through which

We keep passing food and fuel -

Just so's we can burn so

furious beautiful.

-- Jack Kerouac, 1949