Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Open Letter To The NRA

     I have a few things I thought I would share with the NRA, the first of them being: please don’t shoot me.
     Oh, I know you have your guns only for self-defense. But you see, I can’t help noticing that your definition of self-defense is rather liberal, if you don’t mind me using that word. It’s not that I’m against the right of people to own guns, it’s just…well, I’m against the idea of some people owning guns. I think everybody, including card-carrying members of the NRA, know somebody that they wish didn’t own any guns. And therein lies the problem, the mixture of guns and idiots. Which leads me to my next point.
     I know gun owners are afraid of people with guns. And truth be told, having a gun is probably about the best way of protecting yourself from other people with guns. Except, maybe a bullet proof vest. Yeah, come to think of it, it’s doubtful you’re going to shoot the other guy’s bullet out of the air, so the vest would be your best line of defense. It might have helped President Kennedy. He would have felt the bullet hit the vest and he could have ducked before the second bullet got him. But to be honest, I don’t think he could have prevented his death had he been packing on that fateful day. As I recall, there were a lot of secret service agents and Dallas police officers all around him and they were all carrying guns.
     I know what you’re thinking (said Dirty Harry), a gun can’t prevent a crazy person from shooting, but it may make most people think twice about drawing a gun when they realize you might be packing. The idea is to out-crazy the crazy guy, out-bully the bully. If you have a gun and show you aren’t afraid to use it, nobody’s going to mess with you. I think this might be a good strategy. If I were going to pick a fight with someone and had to worry about whether that person was carrying a gun, I’d probably find something else to do. Being dangerous and scary can definitely help you get out of a dangerous situation.
     I’ll tell you where dangerous and scary don’t work, though: when you’re trying to promote the idea of responsible gun ownership. I know you’re all a little scared by the likes of Nancy Pelosi: to tell you the truth, she kind of scares me too. And I know black kids with hoodies make you a little nervous: there’s just no reason for them to be in your neighborhood. But whatever fear you may have that weaponless libtards are going to take you guns away just remember one thing: you have the guns. You don’t have to act all crazy and dangerous. You know why? Because you are the guys that have the guns, and everybody knows it. And we don’t. Just remember that every single one of those people that you’re worried about taking guns from you doesn’t have a gun. They don’t even like guns. And when it comes down to it, the police and the army probably are not going to want to take your gun from you because they like the whole idea of guns as well. Honestly. We need people with guns to protect us from other people with guns. We need the guys in the white hats to stop the guys in the black hats (and hoodies). And the crazies, too. Somebody’s got to protect us from the crazies. And that’s where most of you gun lovers have it all wrong, allowing Ted Nugent to do the talking for you. You see, he’s one of the crazies. If there was ever a poster boy for gun control, Sweaty Uncle Teddy would be it.

     You might as well ask the guy from Colorado with the Red hair to speak in defense of guns.

     I know you’re afraid of your government too, and again I don’t blame you. They have guns AND body armor. But check out what unarmed protestors did in Ukraine against armed pro-government police:

     There’s bravery without a gun. And you know what? It worked.

     Seriously, though, I believe that guns aren’t the ultimate answer to security. That’s going to come from trusting others a little bit. You can trust me, I’ve never shot anyone I’ve never fired a gun in my 48 years of life. And even though I’ve never had a gun I’ve never been shot. And if some day I am shot, I’m willing to be it’ll be by a gun owner.
     All I ask is that you don’t hate us just because we don’t have guns. I will run to your defense even without a gun if I ever see you in trouble. And if the government takes your gun from you, I’ll write a letter to the editor defending your right to have a gun fetish or any other kind of fetish you care to have. And if you’re more afraid of my words than I am of your gun, perhaps the pen is indeed mightier than the sword and perhaps you ought to abandon your guns for a keyboard.

     Don’t shoot me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Strange Case of the Haunted Garage

A little something I wrote:

The Strange Case of the Haunted Garage

The story I am about to relate was something I witnessed when I was young boy. Although that was many years ago, the memory of it is still clear, clearer than most of my childhood memories. Perhaps it is because I have repeated the story often over the years.
I am tempted get inside the mind of the character in the tale, to surmise his thoughts as the unexplainable events occurred. Perhaps he felt his very sanity was to be questioned, or maybe he was one who believed in the supernatural and blamed some spirit for his predicament. Maybe he just felt himself to be a victim of circumstance, as we are all from time to time. But as was merely an observer of the events that occurred, I shall simply tell what I saw and let the reader imagine what was going on in this man’s mind as the story progresses.
The story begins with a man who drove to his daughter’s house to check on things while she and her daughter were on vacation. Perhaps he was there to do some minor repair for them, I can only speculate. He appeared to be at the upper end of his fifties, with gray hair, a white t-shirt, and arms that no longer carried the muscle of a younger man’s. Unlocking the door to the house he entered and vanished from sight. After some minutes in the house, he walked back outside and, for some reason, felt the need to check on the garage. He hit the button for the garage door opener that was on the inside wall of the house and the door slowly opened. He walked into the garage, looked around (for what, I do not know), then went back to the house and hit the button to close the door. All was well until the door got to the bottom, at which point it went up again.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? “No problem,” he thought, “I’ll…” Pardon me, I am putting thoughts into his head when I have no way of knowing what he was thinking. As I have stated before, I was merely an observer to his experience and will stick to reporting only what I have seen with my own eyes.
The man was either retired with a lot of time on his hands or else he led a rather uneventful life, because this event to him appeared as a challenge. He checked the concrete along where the bottom of the door would ordinarily meet, making sure there was no obstruction. He checked the tracks, rubbing his finger on the inside to feel out any potential cause for this occurrence. This being before the days of electronic eyes, he didn’t have that issue to worry about.Discovering nothing, he went back to the house and hit the button again. Again the door went down until it reached the bottom, and again it raised back up. Not having any other recourse, the man hit the button again, with the same result. The process was repeated several more times until the door finally stayed down. For a second. Then up again it went. The relief that briefly flowered upon the man’s face quickly turned to increased frustration. The look appeared more and more desperate with each successive attempt. Each try made the door stay down a little longer: two seconds, three seconds, 5 seconds. Each attempt brought a faint look of satisfaction to the man’s face, only to increase his look of perplexity as the door again made its ascent. But he was undeterred. He appeared blessed with an unusual amount of patience as he went through the process over and over again, checking the door, the tracks, and everything else he could think to check. Lesser men would have detached the door from the opener and left the problem for his son-in-law. But whether it was from kindness or boredom, he was willing to stick it out far longer than the average guy.
In time, just as things were beginning to look hopeless for the man, just when it seemed he could take no more, the door closed and stayed closed. Not just a few seconds this time, but for well over a minute. He stood at the window of his daughter’s house and stared at the door as if expecting it to rise at any moment. When at last he was satisfied that it would stay down he breathed a visible sigh of relief, he finally locked the door of the house and shut it. It was but a fraction of a second from when the house door shut that the garage door open. The man pulled the house keys from his pocket, opened the door, and began the trying process again.
Moments passed, moments of alternating hope and frustration for my neighbor’s father. It was warm that day but I have to believe the sweat on his brow was caused by more than just the heat. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, he began to once again believe that the damned door was not going to budge. Again he waited, this time for a couple of minutes. Again he locked and shut the door to the house.
The garage door stayed down.
There was no relief on the man’s face this time, just a look of bewilderment. He had won the battle, but it was apparent in his body language that he felt no triumph. And just when he got into his car, started it, and put it into reverse…frustration etched itself into every feature of his face.
How could this be happening? Surely there was some malevolent force toying with him.
He eventually made it home that day. God knows what made him come back the next. God knows what prompted him to open the garage door and begin the process all over again. He should have known not to mess with it, should have known when he was beat.
So far I have reported to you all that I witnessed of the man’s ordeal. Now let us draw the curtain back a little further. Let us, as Paul Harvey would say, tell the rest of the story.
My neighbors were going on vacation for two weeks. My parents being trustworthy friends, our neighbors left them the keys to their house in case of emergency. Oh, and the remote control for their garage door opener. I don’t know why they felt the need to do so, but they did. So when my friend Shane and I were sitting around my house one day and my neighbor’s father came to check on the house, an idea occurred to me.
Honestly, I don’t know how the man didn’t hear the squeals of childish laughter as he wondered what was happening with the garage door. I know it was cruel but his stubbornness was such that we could have played him out further if we’d wanted to. At some point pity took over.
Oh, and the next night? Well, I was so pleased with my performance I felt it necessary to make confession to my parents. They tried to behave in a scolding manner, but I could tell they were almost as amused by it as I was. So much so that when my neighbor’s father came over the next day I asked them if I could do it again. Their reply was something along the lines of “Well, okay, but just once.” I did it a few times, but my parents had at least a little better sense than I did.

The moral to the story-if there is one-is this: there is usually a perfectly good explanation to the most unusual experiences, but sometimes it’s just best to walk away from situations such as this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Novel A Or Novel B?

I have two different books inside of me just aching to come out. And while I love them both it really is a good deal of work to finish either one of them. Therefore I'd really love some input on which one I should write first. My last post gave you a taste of the one, now I'll give you a look into the other. Please help me decide:

     “Mindy? Are you okay?” It was her mother, her voice betraying bits of accent from her native Italy.
     “I’m fine, mom. It’s just a fly. I killed a fly.”
     “There’s someone here to see you,” said the voice on the other side of the door, sounding more as if she were asking a question than giving information.
     “I don’t want to see anyone.”
     “It’s Dave. He wants to talk to you. He’s come all the way from Wisconsin.”
     Mindy froze. She wasn’t ready to talk, had no desire to try to explain what she couldn’t understand.
     “I don’t want to talk to him. Not now!”
      “What’s the matter, Mindy? What happened to you?” Mindy recognized her mother’s sad voice, the one she sometimes used when hoping to elicit pity. But there was no affectation in her mother’s voice now, Mindy heard the legitimate concern.
     “I’ll be okay. I just need to work through a few things. I just need some time to myself.”
     There was a moment’s silence before her mother resumed.
     “He’s come a long way, Mindy. He just wants to talk to you. It might do you good.”
     Mindy was about to become insistent in her attitude, but stopped herself short. She had no desire to put her mom through anything more than she already had, had no desire to have a war of wills with her.”
    “Okay,” Mindy said, “send him up.”

     Dave soon appeared, acting in that self-conscious way he had, attempting to dance around whatever negativity she might possess.
     “How are you, Mindy?”
     “Okay. I’m okay. I just have to deal with some things by myself.”
     “I know it’s been hard. We’ve been through some unbelievable things, had to accept realities we’d rather not have to deal with—“
     “You think that’s what this is all about? Because I’m scared? Damn right I am, but I’m not scared of what will happen to me, I’m afraid of what I’m capable of doing.”
     “I miss you, Mindy. Maybe you’re having doubts about yourself, but I trust you. Doug too. He’s worried about you, so is Izzy.”
     “Yeah, well Doug may trust me, but I don’t. I don’t trust what I’m capable of doing. I don’t trust the whole situation. And I don’t know if I trust Doug, either.”
     “You haven’t answered any of my calls or texts. I was worried.”
     “I told you, I need to be alone, to figure things out. I don’t trust myself. I wouldn’t have let my mom let you in, but I…”
     “You what?”
     “I was afraid to argue with her. Afraid that if I disagreed with her too strongly I would just alter her thoughts until she did what I wanted.”
     The look in Dave’s face showed compassion that longed to be shared, but Mindy had no strength for that. She needed to distance herself from him and everybody else she cared for, was afraid of the connections she would make.
     Dave paused for a moment before speaking, looking around the room at the items of her past. He had been her older brother’s friend, had never really been in her room before. She felt exposed, as though he was reading her past and her vulnerabilities in the items that were in her room. He had penetrated deep into her sanctuary, and she would have got angry if she trusted herself to permit such a reaction.
     “I know what you’re worried about. You have a power and you’re afraid to misuse it. But nothing’s really changed. You’re still the same person, you’re just a little larger, that’s all. It’s like becoming a grownup: it’s scary, but you have to do it. You can’t run away from who you are. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”
     “That’s easy for you to say,” Mindy said, and she permitted herself to tap into her anger slightly. “You have the ability to see things in your dreams. You don’t have to worry about others, you just have to worry about yourself.” No, it was not anger, it was passive aggressiveness, a way of being cruel while insisting to herself that she did not have the power to hurt.
     “Power is what you make it Mindy. As soon as I tell others what I see in my dreams, they become involved in my problems too. I’m responsible for others, responsible for my actions, just like you. You have to be thoughtful and cautious. You must use every bit of knowledge and wisdom and emotion, everything you are, to make sure you don’t abuse it, that you use it in the right manner. But you can’t deny it. You can’t pretend you don’t have power.”
     “Yes I can. Just watch me.”
     “You’re part of this world. You can’t cut yourself off from it. You have love, perspectives, desires. You can’t let them go to waste. You can’t sit on the sidelines for fear of getting hurt.”
     “You think I’m worried about getting hurt? No, I’m worried about hurting. I’m worried about using my abilities wrong, of using them for personal gain, or using them without realizing I’m using them at all.”
“I know, Mindy. And I know it’s hard. But it’s what being a grownup is about. There are a lot of people walking around in the world afraid to come out of their chrysalis, afraid to be the person they have the potential to be. But the world isn’t going to be what it can be if those who have the power to change it stay in  their childhood bedroom in their parent’s house.”
     This angered Mindy, and the anger she had not permitted herself before she now allowed to surface. Her temper had always been her relief valve, and it felt good now to allow it to rise up in her.
     “What the hell do you know? Did you even come here by yourself or did Doug send you?”
     Dave looked uncomfortable. “I’m on my way to see a performer, a balancing act, in Indiana. But I came here because I care for you. You’re not being honest with yourself if you don’t realize that.”
     “Get out!” said Mindy, restraining herself from screaming only so that her mother wouldn’t get involved. “Get out,” she repeated, and Dave made his way slowly towards the door. She didn’t know at that moment if she was actively walking him towards it or if he was going under his own will, and she didn’t care: either way, she was proving that she was right. She didn’t want him to be there. No, that wasn’t true. She wanted him there, she just didn’t want to deal with reality, didn’t have the strength to look her predicament straight on. She just wanted to hide, to live in a world of her own making, filled with stuffed animals and frilly drapery.
     Before Dave left, he turned to her and said, “I love you Mindy. I love you and I need you. We all need you. Yes, Izzy and Doug and the others, I don’t care if you want to hear that. Hell, maybe the whole world needs you. You’re a part of it, even if you don’t feel like you want to be. In the end you’re going to realize that. You don’t want to look back at life and see all the times you could have been a part of it and weren’t.”
     Dave left and Mindy slammed the door behind him. He was always too quick to give in, Mindy thought. She turned and fell on her bed, a jumble of emotions she was too afraid to iterate. Around her sat a variety of stuffed animals, glaring at her the unique personalities she had created for them. But they were merely items of cloth with plastic eyes. Whatever emotional links she had with them were merely the creations of her mind. She looked at her stuffed penguin she had named Percy, one of the oldest and dearest possessions of her childhood. The wear he exhibited demonstrated the amount of time she had spent with him. She stared at it and familiar emotions welled in her as all the personality she had invested in it came to memory. But it was only her imagination that had given life to Percy, he had no real or life of his own. She felt betrayed by that, felt betrayed by the fact that she could care so much for him and yet he would never love her back. All these years she had pretended that he was an old and dear friend. All these years she had believed in a friendship that never really was. Even as she grew old enough to put aside such ideas, she never really denied such feelings. She may have put childish ideas behind, but she could never go so far as to deny them. She simply put him aside, but the story still existed in her somewhere. Somewhere deep inside of her was still that child who believed, and the best her adult self could do was to not think about it.
     But now she was face to face with her childhood friend, and she felt betrayed by the idea that he would never love her back, that it was he who pretended, that it was he who abandoned her. Anger welled again as she felt as if someone had ripped away from her a childhood friend, but she realized there was no one to be angry at. And that’s when the anger turned to grief, as she realized her absolute powerlessness in the face of life. Whatever power she had, it would never get her her heart’s desire. Whatever power she had was more likely to hurt than help. But, after all, it was not really her power she was afraid of, it was her lack of it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

First Words Of A New Novel

The beginning of a new novel. Feedback is welcome:

     She walked the dirt road toward the cemetery, carrying a shovel and a machete. Although the sun was near to setting, the earth still contained enough of its heat to burn the bottoms of her bare feet. Sweat stained the simple white working shirt she wore, sleaked the ebon skin that was made even darker by years of labor in the hot Southern sun. But the steadiness of her step betrayed no weariness or hesitation.
     It was a long walk to the cemetery, but it no longer felt enough of a distance to those who lived in the workers’ houses on the plantation. There was a new fear now, even greater than the fear their master provoked. The master’s cruelty had stretched beyond what they were forced to endure in the fields. His reach had gone beyond punishment, beyond even the taking of his workers’ lives. There was hope once that whatever laws governed this country might come down upon Mr. Delavois, that such cruelty would be noticed even when so much cruelty was permitted or ignored. But Mr. Delavois could not be tried for murder: they had tried him once and he walked away a free man. They found him innocent even when seven people had testified to the beating he had given Old Man Jackson. They found him innocent even though the jurors could sense the evil he radiated.
     It is difficult but not impossible to convict a man of murder when the body is never found. But a jury simply cannot convict a man of murder when the body still walks the earth. When old man Jackson shambled through the courtroom doors, they had to let Delavois go, even though Jackson’s whole family had seen him buried in the ground. Delavois could murder with impunity because he had the ability to bring his victims back to life.
     She continued on, her feet kicking up the dust of an unusually dry and hot summer. The tears in her eyes did not disguise the determination in her stare.
     The master had killed her husband, it had been no accident. Nor was he murdered for some misdeed or crime. He was murdered because the master needed fresh servant to do the deeds that the living could not be persuaded to do. The dead did not last forever. They decayed as the dead do. And the stench they emitted after a while was worse than that of a normal corpse.
      Delavois had killed her husband, but she would make sure the crime ended there. She would strike out against his unnatural power with all that was human in her and it would be enough. She would climb the summit of what a human was able of in order to do what must be done.

     Simple white crosses marked the graves of her husband and everyone in that area with a similar skin color. When she reached her husband’s plot—the ground still mounded on the fresh grave—she through the machete to the ground, took the shovel from off her shoulder. She was no less weary than usual. True, she had been given the day off to attend Jobah’s funeral, but her emotional state lefter her worse off than a full day’s work would have. But she would do what must be done, would dig up her husband before her master got him, made him one of his unholy servants.
     The first thrust of the shovel into the dry earth told her how difficult a task it would be. Although it was freshly laid earth that distanced her husband from her, it was rocky and dry. She would spend the better part of the night at her task of freeing her husband from the fate worse than death, ridding her fellow man of an abomination of Delavois’ creation.
     She would have to mutilate the corpse. She never allowed the thought to fully enter her thoughts but it was there, it was the driving force of her actions. She would have to so badly butcher the flesh of her husband that he would be of no use to her master. Only in this way could she insure that her husband might achieve some rest in death as recompense for his life of unceasing toil.
     And when she was done with the digging and the butchering, shoe would have to return to the plantation and give a full day’s toil so that her master would not know what she had been up to. But she would not be beaten, would not give in to this monster that thought himself above the rules of both and God. Nature itself would soon have to rise up against this affront to its laws, and she would be an agent of that uprising. She was of the earth, never felt so much so before now. She was but a small aspect of it, like a blade of grass in the wind. But she would make things right.
     Somebody had to make things right. Someone had to bring the natural world back into balance.
Her body was used to work, but the motions of digging were new to her, worked different part of her body than the ones she had built up. Physical pain began to make itself known amidst the emotional anguish that blanketed her being. It all built up into one big wall of agony that sealed her off from any chance of really living again. Her whole body felt like one big cauterized wound.
     She achieved a rhythm that set itself above any physical desire to stop. It was only when she needed to halt to wipe the sweat from her brow or change her grip that the desire to cease overwhelmed her. At such moments she rested shortly, wiped the horror from her mind, and set herself back to work. Work was something dug deeply into her spirit. There was a certain freedom to be found in slavery, a certain amount of dignity to be found amongst oppression. It was something deep inside a person that no outside force could entirely destroy. It was perhaps the last bit of her soul that was left.
     She was lucky they didn’t dig him deep. If it was colored folk they would have been certain to dig him as deep as they could, knowing he might come back. But colored people didn’t come here any more, not unless they had to. Delavois knew that, that’s why he had white people digging graves nowadays. Whites didn’t know anything about voodoo. Whites didn’t have to be afraid.
     She hit the wood of the coffin with the shovel. There was no relief in the reaching it, she knew the hardest work was yet to come. It still took a good deal of work to clear the lid of all the dirt on top of it. When that was done, she rested a moment, braced herself for the hardest thing she’d ever have to do.
She dug the shovel into the slim gap between the lid and the casket, increased the gap to nearly an inch. Then she dug her fingers into the gap, pulled away the lid as gently as she could.
     Darkness saved her from seeing her husband’s face with any degree of clarity. But she’d have to do her work soon before the sunrise. Nevertheless, she gave herself a moment to rest, a moment to gather what strength she had left. She stood outside the grave and contemplated a hatred that she had no time for, the grabbed the machete and jumped inside. She stood inside the coffin, the only place she could stand and deliver the necessary blows with sufficient force. She swung a blow at her husband’s neck. Crrrtch. Then another. With a fury that was misdirected hatred, she swung with all the force within her. The space was cramped and the work was long. Before long her mind detached from her actions until she scarcely noticed what she was doing.
     When she severed the head, she lifted it and sat it on the pile of dirt to give her more room to work. Next she went for the left arm, which was easier for her to reach. The pain in her arm and back pleaded with her to stop, but she knew that any respite would give her time to reflect on what she was doing. She switched the machete to her other hand and continued.
     Her first attempt to hack into the leg went askew, digging into his abdomen. The machete had hit the same spot as the wound that had taken his life. His insides burst open, and with it came a stench like the blossoming of a rotten flower.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Man, A Movement, And Another Man

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. It’s hard to think of a man in recent memory more deserving of a holiday. It is not only the success he had in bringing about greater racial equality that is admirable about the man but the way he went about it. He took the ideas Gandhi and Thoreau forwarded and used them to create a movement that will shine its light through history.

But as instrumental as Martin Luther King was in the civil rights struggle, it was at its root a mass-movement. Without taking anything from Reverend King, there were many, many heroes associated with the movement. In fact, each and every man and woman associated with the civil rights struggle was a hero.

We tend to forget the idea that each and every one of us has within us the ability to be a hero, if only to our children or those in our relatively small sphere of interactions. But the civil rights movement would never have been successful without thousands of individuals banded together and behaving heroically. Each member of the non-violent movement had to work within the constraints of rules regarding their behavior in order to send the proper message to the world. Those who opposed the civil rights movement would have been thrilled to see the violence of protestors as justification for their own violence.

Perhaps it is easier to see the accomplishments of a movement as the doings of a single individual, perhaps the human mind needs to break things down to simple symbols in order to understand. But in doing so we lose a really powerful message, the message being that heroism is not a job that is done by a few, the way some are dentists and some are musicians. The potential of heroism exists in each of us, needs to exist in a great many of us in order for a movement on the scale of the civil rights movement to be successful. That button from potential to actual must be switched on in order for the human race to meet the difficulties we face so they will be handled in a way that will make us feel good about what it means to be human.

Let Jim Zwerg be an example. Very few people have ever heard the name but he was as brave as any in the civil rights movement. A white guy from Wisconsin, he somehow got the call to be part of the Freedom Ride. When the bus pulled into Montgomery Alabama, it was ambushed and Zwerg took a beating that left him in a coma for two days. You can watch a 4 minute clip of what happened here:

Here is a message from Jim Zwerg:

The potential is in all of us. However much we may need leaders, the spark is in all our hearts and ultimately the responsibility is each of ours, all of ours. It may be frightening but you are never alone. As it is in your heart, so too is it in the hearts of every person you meet.

When you are afraid of that potential within yourself, when you are afraid that nobody will stand up for you when you have stood up for others, remember Jim Zwerg. Remember that there is a Jim Zwerg in every group of people. You don’t want to let Jim Zwerg down. He’s invested too much into the fight for others to abandon it. Remember that when you stand up for right there will always be a Jimmy Zwerg right there beside you. That potential for good is within you as it is in your neighbor. Martin Luther King did not magically show up to lead us all into the Promised Land. Rather, he looked deep into his heart and found there something we all share. If Martin Luther King led us, then he led us to the realization that we all can act in the manner that he acted. He led us to the realization that we MUST all act in similar faith and bravery in order to be the kind of people we truly wish to be. Do it for Jim Zwerg, for the Jim Zwergs that you know are out there, doing their part.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 3

Facts, like living things, have a value in and of themselves and demand respect. People who use them for their own ends and dismiss them when they are no longer of use will likely treat people in the same manner.

They say it is not the destination but the journey. And yet we struggle through traffic to wait in lines at the airport, only to go through demeaning searches and then be shoved into undersized seats. We have compromised too much, and so are unable to enjoy whatever destination it is we seek.

This is the sum total of the knowledge I have obtained in my thirty years of work experience: The ranting of an idiot, overheard by an intern and reported to his superior, will always spell trouble for the honest worker.

Only the very stupid are ever certain of anything.

Most animals sleep in a hole in the ground or hanging from a tree. Man alone has made for himself an elaborate resting place. And yet he is the only one to have developed the alarm clock to rouse himself from it, the only species to spend sixteen or more hours of each day away from it.

In the same way that youth is wasted on the young, retirement is wasted on the old. We should not grow old but young, to gradually increase into a naïve idealism rather than calcify into cynicism and disillusionment, to end our lives in the womb rather than the tomb. Our eyesight slowly growing keener, our skin becoming more sensitive, our appetite increasing as we rush to feel experience, keen in the knowledge that we truly must seize the day.

The world belongs to those with a single idea who are able to repeat it unendingly. You may charitably call them single-minded, but they are more often simple minded.

Where does alienation most manifest itself in our society? Whenever science, government, or business develops a really bad idea and we just shrug and say: “That is progress. It is unavoidable.”

Man has always sought to be a part of something larger and so has tried to change himself in order to fit that larger thing. What he seldom realizes is that he is a part of all that is merely by being uncompromisingly himself.

It takes a brave man to go to war, but it takes a nation of cowards to send him.

We tend to want to remake the world in our own image which why it is best to seek our own happiness. The best gift we can give others is to be happy.

The big events of our youth have profound influences on the rest of our lives. Similarly, the earliest events of our history (e.g. Troy or the American Revolution) play a major role in our society.

We build elaborate theories on a single narrow idea, like a pyramid balanced on a tin can.

In a sick society, no institution is untouched. No psychiatrist can diagnose the disease without being disbarred, no politician can point to the truth without being shouted down or gunned down. The poet, musician, filmmaker, or artist who attempts to define the problem will be ignored, left without a source of income or a way to have his work reach the masses.

Science is the process of obscuring the marvelous with explanations.

The mind can no more understand the heart than science can ever understand nature.

Stupid is never quiet. It is never modest, nor patient.

It is a fine distinction between permitting and promoting.

There is a third choice besides being busy and killing time, something profound.

No one has ever been paid to speak the truth. True, some people who speak the truth can wrangle out a living by doing so amusingly, but the real money is to be found in making lies sound good.

If you’re looking for the road to success, you only have to look behind the stack of excuses.

A child needs a parent or role model to believe in him, but to become a man he must learn to believe in himself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 2

It is easier for me to think up 1,000 ideas for a blog post than actually write a single blog, so here are some ideas worthy of a post that still work well on their own: 

Nothing is so much a barrier to success as a handy excuse.

It is wisdom to know who you are, but not to the point of excluding who you might become.

What kind of world are we living in that a corporation is given the rights of a person but not an unborn child?
Never in mankind’s history have we so fundamentally changed our means of existence with so little thought.

No society has ever been destroyed by giving too much to its poor.

What man, if his son asked him for a fish, would give him poison? Besides a Frenchman.

A memorial should be built to all of those who died in wars that were fought for false reasons.

Look at the physical if you will not look at the spiritual. Our stores offer a bounty of health foods, fresh produce from around the world, yet we eat junk food, we get fat. We have wealth without contentment. So too we have a glut of information available at our fingertips, yet we get stupid.

Feminism is not inherently bourgeois, but bourgeois feminism is the only one given voice in our society. That is why women’s issues discuss glass ceilings rather than dirt floors.

What kind of hell must one be living in in order to risk prison?

Our country is the only one that truly permits you to speak bad of your country, so you really shouldn’t say anything bad about it.

Good enough may be an acceptable end, but it should never be an acceptable goal.

Is love a state of being we aspire to or the action required to attain that state?

An individual may on occasion escape the consequences of his actions (karma), though seldom. A society, never. A culture, by ignoring its prophets, seals its fate.

We look for things or people that are incorruptible. There is nothing incorruptible, merely uncorrupted. We neglect the role we play. We value innocence, but only the kind we cannot alter. We throw mud at purity and mock it for its stain.

TV pollutes our minds and dulls our senses. It is a babysitter that molests children. And yet those who are on the television scream “first amendment” and “freedom of speech”. How is corporate control freedom of speech? And what rights did our forefathers grant corporations, anyway?

Perhaps the media may not always be telling you what to think, but it is always telling you what to think about.

We have to believe in free will, we have no other choice.

Vulgarity ruins a good conversation. One does not eat a fine meal in an outhouse.

When I was young and thought of all the things I was not, it felt like freedom. Now I think of the things I am not nor will ever be and it feels like failure.

How will children grow to become individuals when they are no longer ever alone but always attached to the group mind via the internet? And how will society avoid group think when we are always in a crowd?

It doesn’t have to be your fault to be your problem.

You are more likely to care about the woman whose child is sick from hunger if its cries keep you up all night.

Such is the world we live in that calling someone an animal is an insult, while calling them a machine is a compliment.

Toys have typically been miniature versions of tools adults use. What can be said then of Grand Theft Auto?

The past will contend with us, the future remember us. We stand in the here and now, staking our claim on eternity.

Whoever dies with the most toys, dies a child.

Each man is an island unto himself. But though a sea of difference may divide us, an entire world of commonality lies beneath.

When we can no longer find something to believe in, we must become something to believe in. That is what it means to be an adult.

It’s hard to see the big picture when your eyes are always on the bottom line.

Ego warps truth in the same way that planets and stars warp space and time.

There is no greater thing than to be oneself, and it is never too late to do so.

I tried getting high on life but I couldn’t handle the side effects.

Sheep only need a single flock, but people need two: one to belong to and to make them feel comfortable, and one to blame all of society’s problems on.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Is Too Much Too Much?

I stopped in at the local supermarket the other day and found myself staring entirely too long at their selection of frozen French fries. I was involved in a decision making process that was way more involved than it needed to be. If there would have been only one choice available, I would have been in and out in a flash. But the choices were immense, and as long as I was going to spend my hard earned money, darn it, I was going to make sure I got the best option available.
And so I stared and compared. My wife is fond of waffle fries, so I reached for the bag of waffle fries. Except that I couldn’t help noticing the bag looked a little lighter than the other bags. Sure enough, you only get 20 ounces of waffle fries and you pay the same as you would for a 26 ounce bag of some of the others. Now granted, cost and quantity were not the only factors involved, but I figured I should weigh them when making my decision.
I would have preferred the spicy French fries, the Zesties, but my wife doesn’t go in for all the bells and whistles. So fortunately I didn’t have to decide between the Zesties and the Zesty Twirls. I was able to rule out the steak fries right away, but I then bogged down by competing types of crinkle cut fries. Same manufacture, but for the life of me I could not figure out what the difference was between them. It was at this point I realized I was taking entirely too much time to choose which French fries we were going to have with dinner that night, but I didn’t know how to get away; I still had to make a choice, unless I wanted to make them at home from actual potatoes.
So I took a few deep breathes and plunged back into the decision making process. It was then that I noticed that there were separate categories for fries. Those I have mentioned so far are all part of the “Premium” line of French fries. There were also three different kind of “Classic” fries, something called “Easy Fries, and also “Extra Crispy” fries. I found myself wishing I lived back in the days of the “Classic” fries, when three choices were all I had and every one of them was a classic.
Did I Mention the new “Bold and Crispy” line yet?
How about Tater Tots?
I realize they’re all just French fries. No need to go into a panic about French fries. And yet I found myself getting a little stressed out over the decision needed to be made. I started to think of all the work I’d already done that day and what I still had to do when I got home and I don’t want to disappoint my family by bringing home something they won’t enjoy.
I finally settled on a bag of French fries, I no longer remember exactly which one. I think I got the thin cut because my wife likes those best, but honestly, they’re a lot of work flipping over halfway through so they don’t burn on the bottom. Being half as big, there are twice as many to flip.
But what this has made me wonder is how much of our time and energies do we end up putting into making such unimportant decisions? We are given far more choices than we will ever need, more choices than are good for us. I somehow seemed to watch TV more when I only had a few channels to choose from. And back in those days, when I didn’t have a remote control, watching or not watching TV was a much more conscious decision.
Today we are given almost complete freedom, but this very freedom is perhaps the freedom of a maze. At every turn we are given options, but we somehow never seem to get beyond the box we are in. There is no exit from it, just a really big set of choices of turns we can make. When with a remote and a television, I seem to wander constantly from station, never leaving the decision making process. I always feel there is something better out there I’m missing. And yet I never seem to find any satisfaction.

Stay tuned as I will be expanding on this idea in my next blog post, on the ways to simplify and those who are willing to make our lives easier.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Flash Fiction With Reflections

Below is a piece of flash fiction with a explanation following. I think it could prove instructive to see all of the thought that went behind a 500 word story.

Life Is Beautiful

     Falling is about as close to flying as a human can ever get. Other than the final second, there is little difference. I can hear the air rushing through my ears, feel all of the sensation as it plays upon my skin. There is an intensity to it that I have never experienced before. Every single cell of me is alive, thrillingly, gloriously alive.
     It’s funny how extremity brings things into focus, slows the rapid flow of time to a near standstill. I appreciate now every scrap of life that has been given me, although scant moments ago life was something I was quite anxious to throw away. I realize now what a precious gift it is that was mine to do with as I chose. The simplest things fill my heart with the most exquisite joy: the endless waves lapping on the shore and the mysterious force that moves them forward. Birds spiral above me, fulfilling purposes I’ll never understand. I feel a kinship with them, feel a kinship with every living thing on earth. Even now I have time to ponder the mysteries of the universe. Funny how I lived a lifetime in darkness. Funny how I walked an endless path of routine.
     But now I experience life as it was meant to be experienced. The desire that I should be able to convey these ideas to the person I was a moment ago flits briefly through my mind until I let it go, realizing now there is no more time for regrets. What I could have or should have done is of little importance to me now. Every regret I have ever had flees from me like rats from a sinking ship.
     I have been given a gift. In the scant seconds since I decided to end my life, the beauty of life has been shown me. What damnation my decision headed me towards has been erased as I head towards my end. And I realize that whatever bad decisions we make are not the final answer. Life has always been short, been insufficient for all the things I wanted to do with it. It has always been about what to do with the time given to you. And in this final moment, I shall spend it glorifying what time I have left. My eyes take in all the beauty of the waters below me, the sun reflecting from a thousand facets the jewel that is the ocean. How far away now the darkness and despair that made me toss myself from the bridge above. It’s seems odd to say, but I was quite a different person back then. The seconds stretch in the intensity of my vitality.
      And for a moment I have experienced the miracle of life. Mysteries become obvious to me. The simple and the complex are aligned so that I see a grand order to existence. Answers appear that make my deepest questions seem quite absurd and small. The answers aren’t, never were, things you could find in a book. But now I—

I guess the first thing I want to point out is the enormity of time which seems to pass in what would actually be only a couple of seconds. It has been often mentioned that time tends to slow down when in a crisis situation. I’m thinking of the song Ballet of the Impact by Spock’s Beard but I’m sure there are thousands of examples. Seneca said Life is long if you know how to use it. I guess the point I want to make is that we can spend vast amounts of our lives not really living, and so when we look back on those stretches, we remember little of them. But those precious moments we feel truly alive we recall in great detail. It is a matter of quality mattering more than quantity.

Another aspect to this story is the human tendency to become stuck in a negative thought process and the dramatic circumstances that are sometimes required to shake us out of them. Life IS at its roots a miracle, but we can be so involved in the overarching flow of our own lives that we forget that we are a part of something much larger and that just to be a part of it for an instant is an awesome thing.

Somewhat tied to the last topic and yet different is the idea of redemption. It is never too late to change the road you are on. Sometimes we feel that it is too late for us, but what we are really saying is we’ve wasted a lot of time. But the past is the past. That is no reason to throw away the present.

Again related to the prior topic, it does not pay worrying about where you are not. It is what you have and where you are at right now that you have an opportunity to appreciate.

I am getting to an age now where more of my life is behind me than in front of me. Time is becoming more precious to me, where I do not want to waste a scrap of it on those things that are of no value to me. I can imagine when I am old that I will realize the moments of my life are like a handful of sand, a finite amount. When I get to that point, I do not wish to be in a panic worrying about what to do with them or wishing I had more. I hope to be able to savor them, to truly feel the amazingness of what I have lived through.

I hope my little blog post was worth the time it took to read.

P.S. Another Seneca quote for you: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Artistic Expression And Charlie Hebdo

Here’s a contrary post because contrary seems to be my middle name. And I’m not even old yet.

Every major news item inevitably carries along in its wake the knee jerk reactions of those who will never follow up on their espoused convictions. Sure, they may go to a candlelight vigil or more likely share something on Facebook, but whatever event triggers their reaction will be quickly forgotten when the next trigger-inducing event occurs.

I’m of course referring to the tragedy of the shooting in Paris yesterday. And I’m of course writing without fully understanding the situation since, while not yet old, I’m beginning to feel that if I wait to know everything I’ll never write anything at all.

But I know people died because of a cartoon that insulted Mohamed. I’ve seen it, it was horrible. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, nowhere near as horrible as killing people because of a cartoon.

It’s not really the events in Paris I wish to talk about, but the reactions that people have had to it. The general consensus is to rally around the artists who are brave enough to go out on a limb and say things at a risk to themselves. I guess that’s a good thing, I guess as an artist I’d like to know I can speak my mind without worrying if I’m putting my life on the line (I have three novels published, so I’m going to go and call myself an artist).

In the end, though, I believe that what an artist wants much more than support is understanding. When I make a statement, when I reach down into the deepest parts of me, I want to believe that what I have to say is universal. Not because I think so much of my abilities or myself, I just want to know that my perception of the world, stripped of as many biases as I can rid myself of, is a fairly accurate one. I want to believe that if I squint really hard I can get a pretty good sense of what it is I’m seeing. And if I can use art to convey accurately what it is I see, and if people respond by saying “yes, I see it too”, then I have performed a useful service.

But the last thing in the world I want is anyone’s support that wasn’t duly earned. I don’t want you to stick up for what I have to say because I am an “artist”. I don’t believe I have some God-given right to say or do whatever the hell I want, rather I have an obligation to say what I believe is true regardless of the price I will pay.

When I saw a Facebook friend share a cartoon of the artist in question, a very horrible picture of the prophet Mohamed, I initially had the urge to share it as a sign that my voice, that the voices of others, would not be silenced by the violent acts of extremists. But then I thought of the many millions of people I would insult, peaceful human beings who have nothing to do with ISIS or acts of terrorism. I can scarcely imagine what many of my Christian friends would say if such a picture of Jesus were shown to them. I can’t say I would ever create something like that, but if I thought it was my best way of expressing truth, I guess I would feel obligated.

So my point is perhaps this: if you wish to support the artists who have died for the expression of their art, then get to know and understand the art they have created. Artists are really no different from soldiers, in that they are willing to spill their blood for their cause. But the ultimate merit of the artist, like the soldier, is what they sacrifice for.