Sunday, December 29, 2013

Question Your Assumptions

It’s hard to have a good argument anymore. People no longer seem to have the time to put thoughts together in an articulate manner. So rushed are we to get as much accomplished as possible, we tend to put our minds on auto pilot. When a button is pushed by someone else’s statement, we go into a pre-programmed mode, unleashing a whole series of assumptions based upon the simplest of statements.

I try to have fun with this tendency. Actually, my first response is to get angry over it, but it wouldn’t do any good. So I tend to post comments on Facebook like: “The fact that the media is overwhelmingly liberal is proof that the free market doesn’t work.” It’s not a statement that anyone can actually agree with, as it seems to offend everyone’s ideology, whatever it may be. It is a paradox, or koan, something to slow down the thought process, make people aware of the assumptions they make and question their validity.

People tend to develop certain ideas early on and never question them. They shape the way we see our lives, determine the paths we follow. That’s not in and of itself a bad thing, but it can limit us. Many people are able to go quite far with limited perception, but where exactly is it taking them? Many people are running a marathon without once stopping to figure out where the finish line is.

And that is exactly the point. It seems rather foolish to follow a path set for oneself as a child without taking the occasional break to reassess the situation. But biases formed early on cause people to do exactly that. They heard something when they were young that made sense to them, and it led them towards a political or religious or whatever viewpoint that defines any argument for them henceforth. It builds around them a world of ideas, with laws every bit as demanding as physical laws. When a certain word like “abortion” or “taxes” is mentioned, it releases a whole lot of associations that may or not apply to the circumstance at hand.

A person’s worldview may be quite accurate, but it never is a substitute for reality: there will always be some discrepancy between the two. When we forget that the ideas we have are merely that, when we forget to question ourselves and our assumptions, we lose the ability to react to unique situations. We become like mollusks, dragging around with us a shell that confines and limits us. We are living beings capable of always growing and progressing, but we run the risk of falling into ruts that determine in which way our living energies are employed.

It is easy enough for the individual to fall into ruts of his own making, but it is easier still for people to fall into ruts designed for them by others. There have always been those who are interested in determining the way you think, and the machinations for propaganda have never been so sophisticated as they are now. Vast sums of money are spent in order to shape the way you cast your vote, even more money spent on assuring that you become a good consumer. It is the rare home that does not have a television or several raising the children, despite the parent’s best intentions. The message, whether it comes from Coke or from Pepsi, is that you need to drink more soft drinks that decay teeth and cause diabetes.

Most of us believe we are not being fooled or manipulated in any way. We all are proud of our individuality, even though we express it in more or less the same way with only minor differentiation. Some of us root for the Broncos and some for the Steelers, but we’re all watching the games, all being implanted with the same commercial messages every few minutes.

Commercial culture is a more dominant mindset than perhaps any the world has ever known. While the church may have ruled the Middle Ages, it did not preach to us in our homes, did not follow us to work. Nor did it employ psychologists to determine which subconscious buttons to push. We are prey to a propaganda machine George Orwell could not have imagined, and yet most of us don’t even realize it’s there, or else believe that we are immune to it. But we are sheep in wolf’s clothing, imagining ourselves to be rugged individualists rather than the pack animals we really are. The great majority of us are not even aware of the subconscious workings that determine our actions, and most of those who are aware are actively employed at making money off of it.

Try this: take your most basic assumptions, and look for a different way of seeing them. Try taking a left the next time you assume you are supposed to turn right. Turn your television to a different channel than the one you are used to, or better yet, turn it off and permit yourself to be alone with your thoughts. If you’re working hard to further your life, make sure the direction you’re heading is the one you’ve chosen, not one that has been chosen for you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Influences Part 2: Erich Fromm


Looking back on the individuals I consider influences, it’s hard to choose someone more influential than Erich Fromm. No writer of fiction was he, but a psychologist who wrote books of social psychology. A brief summary of his works and ideas are in order.

While being at least agnostic and probably an atheist, Fromm appreciated the wisdom which arose from the world’s great religions. He was a scientist who realized that the intellect cannot provide man with the ultimate answers to his existence, that those answers were to be found through direct experience. He explained the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from The Garden Of Eden as the human experience of developing an awareness of mortality. Man, having eaten from the tree of knowledge, is now more than an animal and is thus cut off from his animal connection to nature. Permanently exiled from the Garden of Eden, he must find a new relationship to nature, allowing for his intellect and all his human qualities. This is a difficult journey, one which we are often willing to turn from, to return to a simpler state, to regress to our childish nature. But there is no turning back, and attempting to do so makes for an inability to face life on its terms, leading to neuroses and the limiting of our human powers and qualities. Life is a constant state of being born, we are constantly growing and becoming what we are to the utmost of our potentiality.

According to Fromm, Love is the only answer to the human condition of separation, the separation of man from nature as well as the separation of the child from the parent. And as each individual is confronted with the human condition, so too are societies confronting the same issues. Societies are sick or healthy to the degree that they enable the individual to grow both independently and as loving members of the society. Indeed, Fromm would claim that humans who do not learn to become individuals, to become themselves, are incapable of truly loving others. The person who is not developed loves incompletely. He sees the beloved either as he would an all-giving mother or as a possession to be owned. Neither way does he perceive the other as a human being, and so will always be deluded, never feeling comfortable in a relationship.

Fromm, who studied under Freud, describes the individual’s ability to relate to the world around him according to his growth as a person, or maturity level. If a person has not progressed beyond his relationship with his mother (i.e. a helpless child who must be nourished), he feels helpless. If he has not progressed beyond his relationship with his father (i.e. the need to accomplish in order to earn his father’s approval), he is uncaring and unable to relate to his own emotions. In a parallel manner, primitive man worshipped a mother god, one who he could not influence but did not judge him. As civilizations evolved, humanity began to worship a male god, one who set forth rules that, if obeyed, would enable the person to find favor with his deity. But the mature individual is one who does not seek to make of god an image, either male or female. To him, God is the personification of all goodness, one that can be appreciated through direct experience, but never defined by something so small as the human intellect. Thus, the ultimate revelation of religion is a nameless God, as described in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, it was a sin even to mention the name of God. Similarly, Fromm quotes Lao Tzu, who says, “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”

With these thoughts giving a basic background to the human condition, Fromm then went on to interpret modern societies. He differed from most of those in his field who believed a healthy individual is one who is able to fit in well with the society in which he exists. Fromm believed that fitting into a society that was not healthy or sane was not a satisfactory response for a sane person. And writing as he did in the 1950’s, he found any society that accepted the possibility of nuclear war was not sane.

If anyone is interested in his works, I’d recommend The Art Of Loving as a good entry point, followed by The Sane Society. I found it difficult giving a synopsis of Erich Fromm’s ideas, so infused are my own by them. I do them scant justice in this brief summary.

I usually am greatly humbled in my attempts to further the ideas of people such as Erich Fromm, knowing that intellectually I will never be able to contribute the effort and talent they posessed. But if through my work I can shine some light upon those who have influenced me, perhaps I am doing some good. And in one respect I have something that Erich Fromm did not have—a new era upon which to apply the insights of people much more intelligent and insightful than myself.  His stamp upon my writing is inescapable to anyone familiar with his work. His thoughts apply even more today than they did when they were written, an idea that is disturbing but speaks to his genius.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Paying Attention In A World Of Distractions

Psst. Is there anyone there? I was just wondering if the sight of a block of text would send people running, just wondering if people actually took the time to read anymore, or if exciting visuals are required to capture the attention of people on the internet.

Not that I’m judging anyone. I too feel the lure of distraction. We are surrounded by it these days, and concentration requires the lack of it. But distraction is just that, it is never a good thing. Distraction is the world catching us by our weaknesses, playing on our baser desires for instant gratification because the things that give us deeper rewards require more of us than we are willing to give. Take that last sentence, for example: it was long enough to test one’s limits of attention. Are you still there?

The world turns at a speed undreamed of by past ages, and there is always something to take our mind off anything that is too involved. Indeed, if there is one thing the communication age has achieved, it is the providing of a never ending source of distractions. I worry about this, as I wonder if people are still capable of deeply thought opinions. Not at work, of course, we do what we have to do when it comes to bringing home a paycheck. But if we are never without distractions, are we still capable of and—perhaps more importantly—willing to think long and hard about anything?

I ask this question as a concerned citizen of the world, but I also have personal reasons for asking this. As a writer, I wonder if anyone is still interested in reading nowadays. Perhaps more importantly, is anyone still interested in reading fiction that may cause you to have to think a little bit? Is anybody interested in the deeper problems of human existence, those unanswerable but still fascinating questions that were asked by the likes of Lao Tze and Socrates millennia ago? Again, I am not desiring to judge, I merely would like to know if there is a point to the whole blogging and writing thing. I find myself susceptible to the desire for instant gratification, feel myself drawn to pictures of puppies, but there is still something uniquely gratifying about delving deeply into some subject of interest.

Perhaps it is a matter of too much information. We are given so much that we feel the need to take only the most satisfying of what comes our way, never willing to spend too much time to get to the heart of the matter. Just think, people used to have to get up to turn the channel on a television.

As for me, I must confess that with my introduction to the internet my reading has curtailed somewhat. Of course, there are never clear answers to questions such as these. There are many reasons why this is so: I have a great deal more obligations on my time right now, sandwiched as I am between people both older and younger than me who need my assistance. Also, I seem to be devoting all of my free time to writing nowadays. But I have found writing to give me the same satisfaction that reading always has. I am able to think deeply about issues that are important and cannot easily be understood. I cannot fast forward to the end to see how things turn out, but am forced to experience the journey as it comes. My appreciation seems to be heightened by a more leisurely pace, and I am able to plunge the depths of a few things rather than skim the surface of everything. But what about you? Are you still here? I’d really like to know.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bits Of Me In The Amazing Morse

I think the art of writing fiction is to pull from genuine emotions and experiences and then write a story around those emotions and experiences. As far as The Amazing Morse stories go, there is a good deal of me in them, but it is so mixed in with pure imagination that the reader could easily confuse the two. So just since I’ve had people confuse one with the other, I thought I’d share a few examples of real life that found their way into my first novel, The Amazing Morse.

I found myself sitting in my little carpeted-walled cubicle at work one day, and it dawned on me that this was it, this was my life. This wasn’t a dress rehearsal, it wasn’t something I was doing for the moment, this was my life! All those childhood dreams of being an astronaut, a baseball player, a writer, none of that was what my life was all about. The panic set in and it set in hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot worse jobs, but I always knew they were just something that got me by until my real life began. But I was trapped now with all the responsibilities that being an adult with a family brings. Life is supposed to magical, and here I was with all of the magic drained away, leaving only the sensible and practical.

This was a strong emotion and I wanted to share it. I’m rather proud of the story I built up to go around it, a magician who was not doing what he loved. He had a phobia of contained spaces, and so could not be an escape artist like Houdini, and therefore did not believe in himself enough to pursue his dreams. Dave Morse could have been nothing else but a magician.

In another part of the book, I have Dave recollecting something he’d heard a concert pianist say about performing and relating it to his performing magic on stage. There is a freedom performing an art that one is well practiced in, even when repeating the same trick or piece thousands of times. One feels connected to a flow, similar to what Michael Jordan described as being in “the zone”. The description of playing a piano piece where all the notes are written and yet bringing one’s own emotion and interpretation to it is from my own experience. While certainly no concert pianist, I have had the opportunity to develop a certain amount of technique on the piano. I had one glorious summer of being laid-off and I played my piano at least two hours every day. I got good enough with a fair amount of pieces that I found myself watching my fingers play while not being conscious of moving them. I can feel the same feeling sometimes while writing, when my thoughts fly and my pen or my typing hurry in pursuit. It is a wonderful feeling to have, like finding a beautiful place in nature where one can sit and contemplate and simply be.

There is also an experience that I had which I included in The Amazing Morse. While driving down the road with a friend one day, he noticed a little sign for a psychic, or a fortune teller, or something on that order. My friend, Kevin, and I always seemed to find the unusual when we were together. Intrigued, we talked each other into going in. Stepping inside, I had the most unsettling feeling go right through my body as though a wave went through me and took some part of me along with it. To this day, I can’t explain what that was about, but it has stayed with me. That was the very first kernel of story, around which everything else grew. A visit to an odd looking psychic (she really was rather odd-looking) that seemed to cause a change in someone. The story grew slowly as it gathered both from my life experiences and my imagination. And that is what I have found writing fiction to be, both reality and fantasy. But then again, so is life.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wednesday Is National Write A Book Review Day

I hereby declare December 18 to be National Write A Book Review Day. If you have read a book in the last month or so that has really connected with you, I encourage you to write a review of it. There are ample places to post it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. I don’t think there’s an author alive that wouldn’t be flattered with a reader thoughtfully sharing opinions of his or her book. Not only that, the vast majority of authors really depend on positive reviews to spur sales.

I’m not asking that you write a glowing review when you really don’t mean it, but a thoughtful one would be nice. Perhaps upon writing a thoughtful review of a book, you may come to realize the care and craft that went into the story someone has worked hard to create, perhaps you might come to appreciate aspects of the story you did not before notice.

Again, it is not my place to tell you to refrain from writing a negative review, but at least keep it objective and fair. I recently read a review of a book called The Three Kitties That Saved My Life that said: “I am not a cat lover and so as far as I was concerned the author could have left that part out and that was over half the book.” I really don’t think an author deserves a bad review because the reader doesn’t like cats. And if you don’t like cats, maybe you shouldn’t be reading a book with the word “kitties” in the title. Similarly, I recently got a bad review (the reviewer gave me 1 star but said he would give me minus zero if he could) because he was disappointed that what I had clearly labeled as a “very short story” was not a full length novel. This on a free download.


But I digress. Reviews are the bread and butter for a writer. True, writers would like to make some money as well, but if that was their primary concern, they wouldn’t be writers in the first place. Writers write to make an honest connection with others, to let others and themselves know they are not alone in their thoughts and observations. So let your voice be heard this Wednesday and make an author happy in the process.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"I Was Spider Boy" or "Yes, That’s My Severed Head Lying On The Table"

My mother awoke one day to discover that there was a coffin in her basement. Not only was there a coffin in the basement, but a body without a head, two heads without a body, and a giant spider. Technically, it was merely the illusion of a headless body and two bodyless heads, but the coffin was pretty much a coffin.

Explanations are in order. At a young age, my brother Tom had fallen under the spell of Houdini and had set out to follow in his footsteps. What began as a modest collection of small props and magic tricks soon spread its tendrils throughout the basement. In one corner sat a guillotine, in another sat the levitating woman illusion. At the back wall was the cage where he kept his doves. Any self-respecting magician needs some live animals in his act, you see. But when my brother informed our mom that he was picking up a few more illusions, she did not–could not possibly–anticipate what would soon be sharing our home. Our basement officially became a magic room/freakshow.

The equipment he brought home needed an actual living person; a headless body was not very impressive unless it actually moved. Likewise, the head-on-swords only really came alive when the head could speak a few words to the audience. Before Houdini met his wife, his brother acted as his assistant. Since my brother did not at this time have a significant other, I, at the age of 10, was pressed into service and was let into the Brotherhood of Magicians as my brother’s helper. I took props from him when he was done with them, and took care of the doves after he produced them from a flaming pot. I also became the Spider Boy and the Head that sat in a box on a table.

I learned the secret to every magic trick my brother knew. Our debut performance was at my elementary school, performing for the Brownie Troop. This gained me a bit of celebrity status amongst the girls at my school, but the status soon faded when I refused to tell how any of the tricks were done. To this day I have never given away any of the secrets entrusted to me. So don’t ask.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Sleep of Reason

Here's a very rough go at the beginning of my new book, The Sleep of Reason, the third in The Amazing Morse series. Expect typos. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated:

Two figures stood waiting like cameos in the porch light of a house that was built in another age for another mode of existence. The building had been made for one of Baraboo Wisconsin’s most notable citizens, a man of wealth and prominence. Everyone who walked past this house would surely have known him, at least through reputation. Somewhere, his name is still etched upon plaques that attest to his donations to parklands, school extensions, and stained glass windows of a local church.

But few in the town now have any memory of the man. Even the imposing house in which he lived seems to have become so familiar with age that it was barely noticed, and the current owner was able to live there in relative anonymity. Time had weathered the house, exposing some its imperfections, but for the better part granting its benediction for its ability to endure.

A decorative iron gate surrounded the property edge, which was lined inside with evergreen shrubs that stood ten feet high. The evergreens, neither meticulously trimmed nor altogether abandoned to nature, permitted only glimpses of what lay beyond, and those only to a person brazen enough to make their curiosity obvious. Such a person might have seen the front door open, allowing the visitors entrance.

A door made of timber from virgin forests long vanished opened easily on brass hinges a hundred years old. Those who had crafted these items crafted them with the thought that future generations would see and admire their labor. What they made was made to endure. What they made was made with pride, with a connection to the craftsman whose knowledge had fed theirs. What they made was made with the conviction that it would outlive them and speak well of them. Their spirits would in some way live on in the works they had created, regardless of whose name was etched into the plaque placed upon it.

Dave Morse and Mindy Virgillio entered at the bidding of Doug Slattery, their employer at the magic shop and now, perhaps, a leader in more important matters. The November wind sought to enter as well, but Doug slammed the door quickly, forbidding entrance to the winds of change and gusts of the moment that were always seeking admittance into this sanctuary of abidance.

Passing through an anteroom lit by a chandelier that betrayed a few cobwebs, they entered a large room that was not unlike Dave and Mindy’s living room, though on a grander scale. But while Dave and Mindy’s apartment was of necessity filled with props and equipment they used in their act, this room was large enough to have collector’s items tastefully spread around the room, magic memorabilia that enhanced the d├ęcor rather than dominating. Amidst the Victorian furniture which was the only kind that would have belonged in such a house were fine details, proofs to those who would know that Doug was a serious collector and connoisseur of all things magic.

Upon one wall was a large poster of Carter the Great, promoting his vanishing elephant act. Upon another wall was a Houdini poster, advertisement for his famous Milk Can escape. Below the poster, barely noticed between a settee and a large table, sat a smaller milk can. Knowing Doug, Dave knew it must have been one that was used by Houdini’s assistants to fill the larger milk can that Houdini escaped from. (Tom’s comments).

Dave would have liked to lingered longer in the living room to inspect what was there, but Doug led them on towards a large wooden door, which he opened by sliding it into a wall thick enough to easily accommodate it.

Beyond was a room that was evidently used as Doug’s office. Here, things were less orderly, with piles of papers, books, and magazines piled atop props and tables. Large bookshelves built into the walls were stuffed with books, the better part of them as old as the house they inhabited. Such was the cluttered disorder of the room that neither Dave nor Mindy took notice of Johnny, a fellow member of The Beyond Show, seated behind a large desk. It was not until he rose to surrender his seat to its rightful owner that Dave noticed him. The various tattoos that covered Johnny’s face acted as a sort of camouflage, disguising the natural features of his face. “Welcome,” said Johnny, with an unmistakable British accent.

“Please, have a seat,” said Doug. “I’ve taken the liberty of inviting Johnny, as well as Russell, who will be joining us via Skype,” he said, gesturing to a television screen with a man that appeared awkwardly on the screen.

“Nice to meet you,” Dave greeted the man on the TV screen. The man seemed unable to meet Dave’s gaze, even through the distance that technology provided. It seemed that a certain youthfulness clung to the man, although close scrutiny revealed that he might be older than Dave’s twenty-eight years. Perhaps it was his boyish discomfort that made him seem younger than he was.

“Russell is not a part of The Beyond Show,” said Doug, “but he is an important part of what we do. Some day you well may require the unique talents he possesses.”

Doug walked behind a desk that was large enough for planning a military campaign and began to fix himself a drink from a mini-bar, offering the same to the others. Mindy declined, but Dave felt a certain obligation to accept the offer.

“Izzy won’t be with us today,” said Doug, referring to the man who had recently accompanied Dave and Mindy on a journey into the supernatural, accompanied them, they later were told, at the instruction of Doug Slattery. “He’s attending to some…business for me.”

“I suppose some answers are in order,” said Doug, handing Dave a glass that tinkled with ice. “Of course, you must realize that answers are a rather difficult commodity to come by when dealing with matters such as these. And the answers that most approach the actual truth will be the most difficult to comprehend let alone believe. Even more than that, the answers that will best answer your questions are ones that you will be most resistant to. They will be the ones that attack some of your most basic assumptions of life. But what I can provide for you, I will. Please, ask away.”

Dave was unsure of how to go about with his questioning. He was unwilling to aggravate Doug Slattery, and yet he was unwilling to place his trust in a man who seemed to be keeping secrets from them.

“What do you want with us?”

“You have certain abilities. I have need of people that can see things others do not.”

“But how did you find out about that?”

“You have your abilities, Dave, and we have ours. You see things you couldn’t possibly know in your dreams. We, too, have certain capacities. Although in your case, it was a bit of an accident. I had been made aware of the talents of a woman called Jennifer Hodgson, and I sent someone down to learn more about her. From what I’d discovered, her talents seemed quite impressive. So I sent one of my best men in the hopes of recruiting her. Sadly, he never made it back alive.”

Dave shivered at the memory of it. “An older gentleman? Short, thin, bald?”

“You knew Alan?”

“I saw him. In a dream.” Dave couldn’t repress the memory, couldn’t keep the images of the old man’s dismemberment from appearing in his mind’s eye. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“He was a good man,” said Doug. “He had three children and several grandchildren.”

Dave sat silent for a moment, not wanting to disrespect the old man’s sacrifice. But his questions were too important to silence for long.

“And that’s what you want us for? To pick up where he left off? To do your work for you, whatever that is, until we encounter a similar end?”

“If I’d known the danger involved, I never would have sent him. I would have gone myself. But there are unavoidable risks involved with the ability to perceive what others do not. And whether you choose to join with us or not, you will not be able to avoid similar situations.”

“I’d just as soon forget the whole thing, if you don’t mind. Not to sound rude or ungrateful, but I don’t want to see things in my dreams. I want to go to bed knowing that I’ll be able to sleep without nightmares that don’t go away when I wake up. I don’t know what Jennifer Hodgson did, but she gave me that power, and I’d just as soon be rid of it. Any chance you could help me do that?”

“You misunderstand,” said Doug. “But that’s to be expected. You’re still relatively new to this. When I said you see things others don’t I wasn’t talking about your dreams. Your dreams are merely an offshoot of your ability to perceive. Ms. Hodgson was able to share with you her capacity for extra sensory perception precisely because you were already ripe for such a thing. You were already seeing beyond the collected paradigm of the society you lived in, so it was only natural that you were able to make use of powers beyond the collective paradigm.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Furthermore, I don’t think I want to understand what you’re saying.”

“Oh, but you do. You want to see, or you would not see at all and we would not be having this conversation. You have seen past the parameters that have been set for you by the culture you live in, and it has pushed back the limits of what is possible for you. Power follows perception. No one can do something they cannot conceive.”

“But I don’t get—“

“There is a lot you won’t get right now.” The voice came from the television. “It is important that you hear what is being said now. Understanding will come later.”

“What you need to understand now is this: every era, every culture, suffers under the delusion that it, and it alone, has a true understanding of the world around them. They are all of them—to a great extent—wrong. Generally, societies cling to the simplest narrative they can find to explain the world outside and its relationship to it. As long as it works, it doesn’t matter how accurate it is. The problem is that no story adequately explains reality. Eventually, the differences between perception and reality tear apart the perception. Eventually, every society is undone by its inability to correctly grasp life as it truly is. Like a building that eventually crumbles due to some imperfection in its infrastructure, every society collapses by the sheer weight of its own incomplete understanding of itself.

“What you are witnessing now are glimpses of the larger world beyond the smaller dome that encapsulates our current cultural understanding. The cracks in our imperfect little bubble reveal things we cannot even comprehend, things we have sought to protect ourselves from. We have built for ourselves a little arc where we are safe from the storms of a great ocean, but the arc is not capable of protecting us forever.

Sensing Russell had said what he wished to say, Doug continued: “When a certain manner of thought is working for a group, those within it are quite willing to see the world through the parameters of the existing paradigm. Thus a successful paradigm tends towards a sameness of thought, for who can argue with success. In the last century or so our society has achieved unprecedented success. Never in the history of the world has a paradigm led to such advancement of the human race. And success, as it always does, leads to an unwillingness to have a different opinion. Why mess with what is working so well?”

“More than an unwillingness.” It was Johnny’s turn to have a say. “An intolerance for opinions that differ, more like it.”

“At any rate,” said Russell, “the very success of our present civilization has led to its inability to perceive of different ways of looking at things. In past ages, in other cultures, people that perceived reality differently than the rest were persecuted, martyred.”

“And now?” asked Mindy.

“Now? They simply do not exist.”

“Don’t exist?”

“There is no place for alternate views to exist. Who can argue with success?”

“The situation you describe sounds like Soviet Union or Europe under the Catholic Church in the middle ages. But life isn’t like that now. We’re free, at least in our country. I mean, more free than most.”

“You tend to overestimate the role of force in such matters. Or will, for that matter, or even awareness. People assume that since there is no dictator that sits over us that we are all free to be individuals. But we’re not. Maybe we don’t realize it, but we’re not.”

“We’re a bunch of sheeps in wolf’s clothing,” laughed Johnny.

“A century or so ago, all houses were individually designed,” it was Johnny again. It seemed that although they were all speaking from a pooled share of knowledge, that each was interested in coloring it with their own perspective. Johnny, Doug, Russell, they all had their distinct take on the concepts they were putting forth. Dave was curious what Izzy would have added to the conversation had he been present. “Then someone standardized the process so we all came to live in cookie cutter houses. And with modern automation came mass-produced goods. To produce such goods, tasks were broken up into simplistic little blocks so that the people that were put into their roles could be interchangeable. Of course to buy the standardized products made by standardized workers, the system needed standardized buyers. It didn’t do any good to mass-produce an item when you had many people desiring many different things. So you needed to market to the masses, create a common desire for everyone. And since the whole idea was predicated on the idea that mass production called for mass consumption, material goods were sold as the cure for all of our ills. Have a headache? Take an aspirin. Insecure about your manhood? Buy a fancy car.”

“And since manufactured goods were what our paradigm did well,” again, inserting his own perspective, Doug added, “questions of spirituality were of little use. What good were meditation or philosophy when the real problems of the world were halitosis and yellow, dingy teeth?”

“So you’re saying that the industrial revolution created monsters?”

“No, he’s saying that it caused us to forget them…for a time,” this time it was Doug. But only for a time. The cracks are already beginning to show.”

“And what are we supposed to do about it?” asked Dave. “What do you expect from me?”

“Dave,” Doug was in charge once again, “you know what it feels like to be free, to finally release yourself from the cage of safety you created for yourself. You know the fear of the fall as you’ve left behind the safety of your paradigm, prison, home, shell, rut…whatever you want to call it. Imagine an entire society, an entire world, experiencing such a feeling all at once. Imagine a world where all the belief systems break down at once. The dangers are twofold. One, that people will stare into the depths of things their minds aren’t prepared to comprehend and their deepest darkest fears will walk in broad daylight. You two have witnessed this, to a small degree. You have witnessed a group of people summoning powers beyond their ability to control. But this is nothing compared to what large groups of people are capable of.

“The other concern is that you will have the true believers, those who cling to outmoded forms of belief for fear of what lies beyond. Their lack of vision will be just as dangerous. They will close their minds to even the most obvious of truths because they cannot allow their simple beliefs to be challenged. In calmer times, believers are able to admit to ambivalence, but in times such as are to come, the rigidity of their cages are unyielding. But their very beliefs devoid of the spirit of belief will make them victims of malevolent forces. Again, you’ve witnessed such circumstances, though only on the smallest scale. Imagine a nation of true believers.”

Dave cringed at the remembrance of the events on Devil’s Island. If such nightmares could be produced by a mere 100 people, what could a nation do?

“You speak as though this happens with the rise and fall of every society.”

“Yes. And all past ages had an answer for such times of stress: kill. Kill to the best of your ability. Kill until the stress is relieved and new societies are able to build themselves up.”

“But our world cannot accept that answer.” It was Johnny. “In times past, it was horrible enough. Now we have such tools that humanity would not survive such bloodletting.”

“A new world is coming,” it was Doug speaking, “but we must first survive the dissolution of the current one. With the breakdown of all our paradigms, where all our assumptions are tossed aside, we will need to find touchstones independent of logic and even knowledge. In the sleep of reason, we will not be able to have beliefs or even convictions until some sort of framework exists.”

“And what the Hell are we supposed to do about it?” Dave couldn’t begin to fathom the implications of such knowledge, if it were all real.

“We must contain what we can of it, as you and Mindy have already successfully done twice now. We must lessen the shock for society as best we can so that people do not retreat from one another, so that a total breakdown occurs. We must be able to allow people to see what lies beyond their present perceptions in a way that doesn’t cause them to contract. They must be led to open their eyes, to see what is.”

“And why us? Who elected you to do anything about this? What makes you think you’ve got answers?”

“Because we can see, just as you can, in your limited way.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Perception and Reality

Please watch the brief video before reading this blog—it makes my point far more convincingly than any argument could.

You’ve watched it? Good. Because the point I want to make is that people see what they want to see or are expecting to see. Our preconceived ideas shape how we interpret reality. Listen to any Republican talk show after a presidential debate and you will hear them say how their man trounced his Democratic opponent. Invariably, the same statements will also be made on the other side. The fact is that our paradigms determine how we perceive reality. If things don’t fit into our established norms, we don’t just fail to make the connections, we can be quite unaware of their existence.

The ramifications of this fact are immense. The most obvious implication is that we are only dimly aware of the world in which we live. Of course our accepted paradigm tells us that we are creatures of intelligence, able to reason our way to the truth of any matter. It’s a little lie we tell ourselves to make us sleep better at night.

The solution to this disturbing lack of awareness, or at least the closest we can come to fixing the situation, is to develop as many paradigms as possible through which to see the world. Any one paradigm has us looking at life from a single angle, which does not give us an accurate view of reality. It is only when we can develop different approaches to viewing the world and layer them on top of each other that we can have a sophisticated view of things. It is the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each of them separately experiences something different, but together they can get a fair representation of what is in front of them.

The world of The Amazing Morse deals with such issues. It examines many of the prominent paradigms of the day and points out the non-reality of things we so often mistake to be the undeniable, solid as the earth beneath our feet truth. It is important to constantly question the assumptions that we make about the world we live in, perhaps most importantly because the assumptions we have are so often made by others, others who do not have our best interests at heart. The paradigms of our age were the better part created by political spinmeisters, advertising agencies, and monied interests. We don't like to believe that our opinions are anyone’s but our own, but as the video shows, it is sometimes quite easy to miss the obvious.

In an upcoming blog, I shall discuss the paradigms of our day, those "truths" that are so obvious as to be not worthy of debate or discussion.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Of Mystery And Magic


I was never a magician, but as a youth I planned on becoming one. I was never more than a magician’s assistant, but I was a faithful one. My older brother was a magician, and in his younger days I was his helper. As his assistant, I was let into the secret of how each trick was done. But before he told me, I was made to swear the Magician’s Oath, which goes: "As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician's Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic."

Sort of silly, perhaps, but I took it seriously. Secrets used to mean something back when. Today, there is no such thing, it seems. A quick look on the internet can probably tell you the secret of any trick you’re likely to see on stage or off. But I never told a single magic secret. Our very first performance was probably my biggest temptation. We performed for the Brownie troop for my school, and every girl in my fourth grade class was suddenly interested in me, wanting to know how the doves appeared from a flaming pan, or how they disappeared just as quickly in a collapsing box. Perhaps it was a sense of duty, perhaps it was simply a desire to keep trade secrets. Or perhaps even at that young age I had some appreciation for a sense of mystery.

I won’t try to analyze my motivations as a child. But reflecting back on it, I still appreciate the idea of mystery and the guarding of secrets. It’s not that people don’t have a right to know the truth, but knowledge should be gained with a little bit of effort, not with a click of a mouse. Anything that is gained too easily is never properly appreciated. The receiver of truth must have the proper reverence for it in order for it to make its mark. And perhaps the world is better off when keepers of the secrets make sure they are given to those who can properly appreciate and respect them.

Something similar can be seen in the martial arts. Anyone who is interested can learn how to break an arm these days. A generation ago, a martial arts instructor had an interest in teaching a moral code as much as fighting techniques. An instructor would not advance a student who did not show the proper respect to his teachers and fellow students. I’m not sure if such a thing exists today, but surely much of the tradition has been stripped from the training.

If my examples of magic and martial arts aren’t convincing, then let us use romantic love as an example. Anyone with access to the internet can learn in graphic detail how babies are made. But this teaches little about the proper attitude towards creating life and nourishing it. The great mystery of love can easily vanish in the light of cold truth, as indeed it seems to have. If we look too closely into things, we can explain away all that might otherwise be beautiful and magical. Maybe it is not a matter of looking too closely, but a matter of how we look at things. If we look with reverence upon the things we should hold sacred, or magical, we can appreciate them for what they are. If we lack the reverence, we may also miss the magic. It seems that we are living in an age without magic, and I find that a pity. Without a sense of mystery, without a true sense of reverence for wisdom earned through effort, we risk abandoning the very things that have made us who we are, as individuals and as a society. Perhaps as individuals we won’t really notice, but I fear that as a society we shall all suffer from the lack of appreciation for mystery.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Love Of Knowledge: A Very Short Story

Professor Jeff Wilson, head of the archeological department, burst into the room, startling Professor Johnson. Johnson, head of the biology department, looked up from his computer screen into the wild eyes of his associate. The man with whom he had been working with for so long was scarcely recognizable.

“Oh God,” Wilson exclaimed. “It’s too much!” For lack of words or comprehension, Johnson could only stare at the maniacally excited man who strode about his office and rambled on without uttering a coherent thought.

“It’s all so clear now! It all ties together! Sunshine and pizza and dogs barking at the moon. It all makes sense! Every shred of it all pieces together.”

Johnson stood aghast as Professor Wilson prattled on hysterically about baby rattles and daggers, a movie he had seen in his youth about a giant gorilla and the interrelatedness of time and space. He spoke of inanities, yet Wilson could not help but see a certain light in the other’s eyes. He spoke madness, but he radiated vision. It was a disturbing incongriguity.

Wilson’s excitedness was such that Johnson was tempted to try to make sense of what he said. “Calm down,” Johnson said, “and try to tell me what you’re talking about.”

Forcing himself towards some sort of calmness, Wilson sat in the chair next to Johnson’s desk. He paused in his ramblings, and with a noticeable effort, tried to convey the revelations dancing in his head.

“There are no words,” he said at last. “It’s too big. Too grand. It’s life, it’s everything. And, and…”

Johnson had always known his friend to be a dispassionate sort of man. The only time he ever saw him excited was at the moment of discovery, and Johnson could only assume that this was the case now. They had been working for a while now on a project together. A unique bacteria was found within the body of a centuries dead mummy. Within a tomb laid hidden beneath the earth for countless ages, was this reminder of a civilization long turned to dust. Yet in that tomb this bacteria survived. It was alive. Despite the centuries and the death of all that surrounded it, this speck of live somehow survived. It was this find that came to involve Johnson. And it was this find, even more than the discovery of an unspoiled tomb, that had excited Wilson. It was a living clue for both professors, a way of bringing the past into the present.

Johnson looked back up at his now stuttering companion and knew what he had done. This bacteria was unlike any known to biological science. To know more about it had become both men’s life work. Because of a need to know more that transcended mere professional curiosity, Wilson had infected himself. He had become the host of an unknown organism in order to understand what countless white mice had been made to know; mice that did not die but were never again what they were.

“You’ve done it, haven’t you?”

Wilson nodded his assent forcefully. It was as though he wished to communicate his thoughts, to make himself known. But every time he spoke, a stream of meaningless babble erupted from his mouth. Frustrated by his inability to communicate but still exhibiting the same inner fire, Wilson leaped from his chair and left the room.

By the time Johnson thought to go after him, Wilson was out of sight. Johnson headed toward the one place where he thought his friend might go—the laboratory where the bacteria was kept. He rushed to the lab, but found nobody there. He was alone with the bottle sitting on the table where Wilson had left it. He looked at the bottle and slowly the realization of what he would do came over him. A scientist’s first rule is objectivity: he must distance himself from whatever it is he is studying. But a scientist’s first love is to know, and love knows no rules. He scrambled around until he found a pen and paper, and began scribbling on the paper the last lucid thoughts he may ever know in his life.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela

Just a brief clip from my book The Amazing Morse to let the world know what I think of Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his passing. Although it is a work of fiction, it comes straight from my heart.

"He shuddered as he wondered what would lead a person to such a place where words like choice, freedom, trust, and kindness had no meaning. And then he thought of the Nelson Mandelas of the world, those who had willingly endured such environments, people who had such a love for freedom that they were willing to sacrifice their own for the sake of other's. Surely prison must be even more dreadful for such gentle and developed souls. He could not imagine having the kind of strength needed to make such sacrifice."

Yeah, I'd like to think I could have that kind of courage and heroism, but I pray I am never put to that test. I pray that I could perhaps act even half as bravely as Nelson Mandela. And I pray that there are others out there somewhere, willing to follow in his footsteps.

The following song has always made me think of Nelson Mandela. Maybe we can't all be the inspiration he was, but we all have a part to play. Lyrics start at 1:30.


Note: For best effect, please listen to video while reading this blog.

“You don’t want to go in the pool, there’s a Hunky in there!” The comment was directed at a young girl by a group of boys nearby. The young Hunky in the pool was my father. The term Hunky was an ethnic slur aimed at Hungarians. Technically, my father was Russian and Polish, but the term was often used pejoratively towards anyone of Eastern European descent. You see, at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the industrial revolution was in full stride and immigrants rushed in to fill the many factory jobs that promised them a better future. These immigrants, having made the daring break from the life they had always known, took whatever jobs they could find at whatever wages were offered. I think the first thing taught about a capitalist economy is the law of supply and demand: the greater the supply is of something in respect to its demand, the cheaper the cost. The result of such a massive influx of desperate workers into the job market must have severely cut the bargaining power of the workers that were already living in this country. The initial success of industrialization promised American workers a better life. But that promise was unkept when a new wave of foreigners took what people here thought was theirs. Ad to that the language and cultural barriers, and animosity inevitably arose. Ghettos sprang up around the nation, where people who spoke the same language, ate the same food, and worshipped in the same way tended to congregate. It is only natural that the new Americans were anxious to integrate, and I suppose it was only natural that the “Native” Americans were less than hospitable to them. I understand that, and I think my father did too. And yet the incident at the pool stayed with him, and he felt the need to tell me about it some fifty years after the event.
When I was growing up, Polish jokes were told quite often, much more than dumb blonde jokes are now. It never bothered me, nor did it bother my father, who was one of the first to pick up “The Official Dumb Polack Book”. The success of this book was followed by a sequel, followed by “The Official Dumb Polack/Dumb Italian Book, followed by the Dumb White Folks/Black Folks book. I’m not sure how far this went on, but I do remember the Irish being included at some point. I would often tell Polack jokes myself. If someone got insulted, I had as my defense my Polish heritage. But there were always some who took offense despite our shared ethnicity. After arguing my position, I would defer to their sensibilities.
Since early in my life I have been a collector. Comic books were not things to be looked at and then discarded, but part of an ever expanding whole. So it was with stamps and coins, always trying to add a new country to my collection. And so it was with friends, I have to confess. I would always ask a new found friend their nationality, hoping to add to my collection. A unique ethnicity added a little something to the particular person’s persona, added a little something to my perception of the world. So I swear to you that there was no racial malice when I did what I did. I don’t know my exact age, but I do remember I was in grade school, probably 8 or 9 years old. Children of that age sometimes flirt by exchanging insults, and this is what I was doing when I called Evelyn Lugo a Puerto Rican Pig. I didn’t know the meaning of the word alliterative at that age, but that’s what I was going for. When she quickly took offense to what I said, I immediately assumed it was the word pig that set her off. I tried to explain it away, tried to explain to her that she should not take that attitude with me, but it was to no avail. In an instant, it seemed that she had grown in maturity, as though I were talking to someone far older than myself. I truly did not understand the offense, but I understood that she was genuinely offended. Although I don’t blame myself now for my lack of understanding at that young age, I do blame a society that made a little girl grow up too soon. And as a member of that society, I recognize my responsibility to that young girl on a playground so long ago. Like my father before me, I understand and forgive, but it has stayed with me.
Perhaps need and greed shall always be with us. As long as they are, people will point fingers at those who speak, look, and act differently from ourselves. Ethnicity and nationality will be convenient diversions to the real problems of this world. But I am optimistic in this respect. I am reminded of something my older brother told me. In World War II, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union caused over 20 million deaths in the U.S.S.R. But in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Leningrad, the song Traumerei (Dreaming) is played continuously 24 hours a day. It is intentional that a song by a German composer is played here, a reminder that there is no ill-will towards the German people. I have tried to find a clip of it on YouTube, but there is nothing really suitable. I did, however, come upon this. Here is Vladimir Horowitz, a Jewish-Russian, playing Traumerei before a crowd in Russia in 1979. Many in the audience are of an age that indicates that they had survived the most brutal war that has ever plagued mankind. On many faces can be seen tears, but no anger or outrage. It will forever stay with them, yet they can forgive.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Don't Own A Cell Phone

I don’t own a cell phone. I’ll pause for a moment while you appreciate that fact. To be honest, there has been a time or two when one would have come in handy, but for the most part I am glad I don’t have one. It is a choice on my part, after all. I don’t feel obligated to have one just because everyone else does. Nor do I feel the need to have one just so people can contact me whenever they wish. I often feel that a cell phone is similar to what a prisoner out on bail must wear when he is on house arrest. Of course, whenever I try to call someone who I always see playing on their phone, it seems like I have to hire a bail bondsman to track them down.

I watch people with their cell phones and I am reminded of my former addiction to cigarettes. I see people as they sneak looks at it when they know they shouldn’t be. I see them texting or chatting when they’re driving and I feel less safe as a result. I see them unable to concentrate for any length of time on any one thing because of the compulsion to take another hit off of their phone. I see them ignore those around them as they become absorbed in a conversation that reads something like: “really? Lol.” I see it in a way they do not because I am not a user myself. I see it in a family gathered together for a holiday meal, each of them in their own little world.

But I see it in them because I too have the same compulsion. When on the computer, I often find myself slavishly clicking to the Window where Facebook is the second I hear the ding. I don’t salivate, but I do respond. I find myself checking various accounts and sites over and over again, experiencing the diminishing highs, doing it more and enjoying it less. I’ve felt that feeling before, while sitting in front of a slot machine. True, when immersed in my little online realm I’m not losing money, but I am losing time I will never get back again.

People are cautious by nature, unwilling to deviate too far from what they see as normal so long as they are on their own. But put them in a crowd and they’re quite willing to go off on an extreme tangent together. If cell phones were a rarity and you only had one friend who was constantly pawing at one like Gollum with his precious, it would be pretty easy to say his behavior was abnormal. But now that everyone is doing it, nobody seems to have the courage to point out this new addiction that has spread like a plague in the last few years. I see mothers ignoring their children as they eat dinner at a restaurant, taking pictures of their lunch to share on Facebook with friends whom they have never met. I see people walking their dogs, completely oblivious of the joys that a walk outdoors can provide, or the cuteness that a dog exhibits in a hundred different ways in the course of a mile stroll.

Over 200 years ago, William Wordsworth said: “The world is too much with us.” I can only imagine what his reaction to life today would be. We are never free of the things, and so are never able to truly relax, never able to get to the mental state that provides us with the true feeling of being comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings. We are in a constant state of expectation, always dealing with the immediate, never having time to deal with anything in any depth. Our very consciousness is being altered. Not to sound old-fashioned or conservative or anything like that, but shouldn’t that give us pause? Shouldn’t we worry just a little bit when our ability to think at any kind of deeper level is being compromised? But of course, you say, I can function just fine. I don’t need my cell phone, I just like to have it with me at all times. Change the word “alcohol” with “cell phone” and see if your argument still stands. Or better yet, “my precious”.




I began writing this post yesterday and didn’t get around to finishing it (I was doing important stuff on Facebook). I arrived at work this morning to discover that a friend and coworker of mine had been fired because of his repeated abuse of the no-cell phone policy at my work. This father of two will not be able to provide his family with the kind of Christmas he had hoped to because of his need to share what was most likely a meme with his larger social network. Had he not been fired, perhaps the prior paragraph I wrote might have been different, but I suspect not by too much. Somehow, somebody put forward the notion that technological “progress” is inevitable and that it is futile to stand in its way and we all accepted it. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, but let Him also give me the courage to change the things I can. Prevailing wisdom states that every advance in technology is not only inevitable but for the better. But maybe, just maybe that’s not true. Perhaps it is just the constant propaganda of the cell phone manufacturers, who are only interested in pushing their next-gen phone. At the very least, we should be mindful of the changes that technology brings, cautious of what we lose in the exchange of old for new.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Is Freedom?

I’m not really sure what the word freedom means, but I know that it has something to do with Harley Davidsons and sanitary napkins. I know it’s something that we’re supposed to fight for and die for, so it must be important. I’ve also been told that freedom is a concept that never existed until the founding fathers of The United States of America decided it was of primary importance. I’ve often heard that freedom isn’t free, but that’s never helped me to understand it much. It seems that freedom always has corresponding responsibilities, which again undercuts the very notion of free. When you think about it, if freedom isn’t free, then what is?

It seems to me that every time someone tells you how important freedom is, that they are asking you for something. If patriotism is a scoundrel’s last refuge, then the concept of freedom is his first sales pitch. During the early days of the second Iraq War, we were encouraged to use the term “freedom fries” in place of French fries, in order to show our patriotism. Edward Bernays, marketing pioneer and nephew of Sigmund Freud, was given the task of increasing sales of cigarettes. His idea for doubling the amount of smokers was to market to women. Up until that time, there was a social taboo against women smoking. Cynical genius that he was, Bernays tied the idea of smoking to the growing women’s liberation movement. Using the term “freedom torches”, Bernays hired women to smoke cigarettes in public in order to link rebellion and freedom with cigarettes.

Now I’ve already admitted to not knowing what freedom is, but I know a thing or two about slavery, and addiction is just about the greatest form of slavery possible. That’s why pimps introduce drugs to their recruits, to get them used to not being in control of their lives. I was a smoker for many years, and I can tell you first-hand that the day I quit smoking was perhaps the most liberating day of my life. I still look back at the day I declared my freedom from nicotine, and that memory more than anything else gives me some appreciation of the word freedom. To think that some SOB would use the word freedom in an attempt to enslave half the world’s population is almost too horrible to imagine. And here again, I gain some appreciation of the concept of freedom. Because even the death that cigarettes deal to so many of those who become addicted to them is not as bad as the lack of control one experiences when one is a smoker. To know that someone or something has such control over some aspect of your life leads you to doubt your ability to control your life overall. In that sense, I can understand the sentiment of Patrick Henry when he said “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

Maybe freedom is just some adman’s pitch. Maybe freedom is a nebulous concept with no real meaning.

Then again, maybe freedom isn’t just a Madison Avenue invention. Perhaps it is such an important thing that those that wish to manipulate your emotions realize its strength and use it to control your behavior. Perhaps your freedom is the most important thing in the world. If that is true, then what exactly is freedom?

Hitler promised freedom from the communists and the Jewish conspiracy, and he delivered in a big way by killing every Jew and communist he could find. But freeing Germans from communism and an alleged international Jewish cabal did little to free them from Nazism. That’s the thing about freedom—you break free from one oppressor just to fall into the grip of another.

It can be an endless cycle, one in which we are all pawns moved across a board. Perhaps the most we can do to claim our own freedom is to be aware of the powers that push us back and forth. Take the time to get to know the world around you, get to know who is running the show, and who is trying to shape the way you think. And above all, be suspicious of those who tell you they are concerned about your freedom; it could very well that their only concern is their freedom to get rich at your expense. Freedom is in fact not free, the cost is constant vigilance, not so much of our borders but of our minds and those who would seek to shape them. There are people paid handsomely to get you to believe what you are supposed to believe, to make you see lies as truth, slavery as freedom. The key to freedom is knowledge, for the truth will set you free. One can be manipulated only as long as one is unaware. Once you know the truth, you will have not only the ability but also the desire to claim the freedom that was your intended birthright.

The Solutionist

Here’s an idea in its infancy, a mere babe in its swaddling clothes that could easily perish through neglect or disinterest. And yet the idea, though small as a mustard seed, has vast potential if people can find their way to it. It is not my idea, but already I think that just by my awareness of it, it has already grown somewhat beyond the sole ownership of its originator. See, that’s the thing; I don’t want to tell you what it is supposed to mean, rather I’d like to tell you what it means to me. And from there, you are welcome to share it with others as you see fit, allowing the basic idea to grow as people contribute to it.

Here is a link to a blog post I recently read:

It goes beyond a simple question, actually. The author of that brief post is also the author of a book called The Solutionist, which can be found here:

The basic premise, if I may provide my own take on it, is that through working and communicating together we can make the world a better place by improving the processes we use in every area of our lives.

Again, it is a simple idea, but its simplicity does make it any less worthwhile. Most of us care about the world and the people in it and would like to do what we could to make it a better place. But most of us don’t do anything because we really don’t know where to start, or because we are really not sure which is the best way to go about it.

Well here is a place to start. As for the best way to go about it, let’s talk amongst ourselves and together fashion workable ways to solve the world’s problems. Which problems am I talking about? All of them, or at least whichever ones are important to you, whichever ones you think you can assist with. Here is a flag planted in the ground around which we can rally. Let’s start now and get the ball rolling. It can be done, we only need to have the belief required to begin the task. It is not a task any one of us can do alone, but it can be done when a determined group of people work together without personal agendas. It is not about one’s religion, politics, or philosophy, it is about changing the way we do things as a society in order to make the world a better place. It is doable, if we wish to do it. Let’s start today. The world's problems are not insurmountable, though it often can seem that way because we can not see above the ruts in which we are stuck.

As I said, this is my own personal take on the book and the idea of Joe Euclide. But I believe he would not claim the term “solutionist” to refer to himself alone, but to anyone desiring to find answers to the problems that face us today. And as I also said, this is but a single beginning, a rallying point for those interested in improving our world. Who knows what it could become? It has the potential to grow far beyond a simple blog, or a simple book. Where it goes is up to you, and to solutionists everywhere.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Amazon Sale of Perchance To Dream

Beginning November 26 at 8:00 a.m., my book, Perchance To Dream, will be on special promotion on Amazon for 88 hours. For the first 44 hours it will be available as an e-book for only 99 cents. For the next 44 hours it will still be discounted at $1.99. I urge you to check it out:

It's the story of a magician who comes to realize there's more to magic than pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Art Or Entertainment?



In an online group of writers of which I am a part, I read a thread about whether writing should be thought of as art or entertainment. I won’t share too much what others had to say, but I thought I might share my thoughts on the matter.

Why do people read? Is it to pass the time, to get some sort of thrill from it that in the end means nothing? Lets expand the question a little: why does one live, is it merely to try to derive some sort of enjoyment out of it, pass the time in the most pleasant of ways while we pass between one stretch of non-existence and another? Or do we desire some kind of meaning from existence? When we get to the end of our lives, will we be happy to say that we got through it being amused more often than not?

You may say it is unfair to compare life to literature. I will argue the point later, but please bear with me until I do. Many people do indeed go through life searching for one distraction after another. While there seems to be something to be said for having fun for fun’s sake, it doesn’t seem to provide enough in the long run. By the time we reach a certain age, most of us are looking for something more enduring than transient thrills. We want our lives to have meaning, we want our presence on this world to last beyond the brief moment of life that we get. So we seek to create, to accomplish, make things that will outlive us. We give birth to and raise children, desiring to pass along not only our genetics but also our values and hopes. And as fond as we are of our comforts and our amusements, we quite easily sacrifice them when we have a goal, a hope, or a child whose best interests we wish to advance. Even when we haven’t made the sacrifices ourselves, each of us thrills to the story of someone who has endured hardships in the name of a goal. And we cry and take to our hearts those heroes who have made the sacrifice of their very lives in the pursuit of goals that were bigger than the individual’s interest of comfort and amusement. So I would have to say that to the vast majority of humans life does have meaning.

Let us now get back to literature. Must it too have meaning? Because that after all is what art is all about to me, that it contains something more than the elements of a story artfully crafted to amuse a child or adult. My assertion is that, like food, a written work must do more than appeal to the taste buds. We know enough to at least try to refrain from eating a Twinkie because we know that while it entertains us, it does little to enrich us. And of course it is much easier to deny a child that Twinkie, knowing that while it may taste good, it does not possess the necessary healthful aspects that food is supposed to provide. We know that to be healthy and face life with the maximum of vigor, we should be careful about what we put into our bodies. But too often we neglect the fact that the mind too must be fed by organic, healthy “food” in order for it to act at peak efficiency.

I know, it all sounds so very utilitarian. Of course amusement has a place in our diet—it is the spice of life. But when we start eating Twizzlers for breakfast, we have lost sight of the concept of the occasional indulgence. When we read certain types of literature—which we freely admit are not art—exclusively, we deny ourselves the healthy aspects that reading can actually give us.

But isn’t reading supposed to be escapist? After all, the mere act of reading takes us away from more productive things we could be doing. I would respond to this by saying that reading a work of art does not take us away from life but in fact allows us to see life more clearly. If a book is written with a desire to speak truth, then the reader has an opportunity to broaden their appreciation for life.

Lastly, if life should have meaning, then all things should have meaning. Again, this seems like a heavy burden to place upon us little mortals, who have so little time on this Earth. But all the more reason to embrace the life we have while it exists. All diversions from life and the reality of the life we are living are like little deaths. String enough of them together and it’s not really living at all. In a sense then, art is life, or at least a mirror that allows us to see life as it truly is. We might be more amused to look into the mirror and see ourselves as princesses and mighty warriors, but we are better served, and perhaps happier in the long term, if we dare to look at life unflinchingly.
If literature, like life, should have meaning, then the book will continue to live on in the reader long after he has turned the last page.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Susan Boyle Meets Rocky Balboa

Buy my book! It's easy, just click on the cover that is situated to the right. And if you click on the cover of The Amazing Morse, it’s only 99 cents for the Kindle version.

Sorry, I’m not very good at marketing. I’m supposed to be engaging my audience, I’m supposed to talk about whatever’s hot at the moment. But really, all the work I do on Facebook, Blogger,, etc. is just a complicated way to get you to buy my book. So do us both a favor and just buy it now.

It really is a good book you know. I put all my efforts into my actual writing rather than in marketing or blogging. At least take a look at it—Amazon will let you read a bit of it for free—and tell me what you think.

I’m not looking to get rich, but I dream of being able to write for a living. As it stands now, I work full-time in a factory. You may ask yourself what a factory worker knows about writing novels, but therein lies the appeal. It’s a classic Rocky Balboa or Susan Boyle story, the story of a person who fought against all odds to achieve a dream. This is even more unlikely, it’s like Susan Boyle fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Like I said, I’m not very good at the marketing side of things. When I was in college, I started wondering what I was going to do with the English degree I was working on. I thought advertising was a natural fit, as it involved putting together convincing arguments. I even went so far as to do an internship with a television production company. It was there I learned such terms as “product placement” and “soft sell”. I really thought I could be good at that sort of thing. There was only one problem; it was evil. I didn’t want to use my hard-earned powers of persuasion to manipulate people’s minds and emotions, I wanted to show them the truth to the best of my ability. It was little different in my experiences with journalism. Again, it was advertisers before integrity. So I left the writing business for a time and found myself an honest job. But the 21st Century has offered opportunities to the independents in the form of self-publishing. I at last have a chance to put forth something I truly believe in. Give it a look. You have my word that I respect what I do too much to give you anything that would not be good for you. And when you someday see my book in someone else’s hands, you can tell that person how much you helped that writer get his break. Thanks.