Sunday, May 31, 2015

Seven Stones (Another Tidbit)

Here is a sample of today's writing:

     “Ah, Doug, I do need your help. I could not do this without your help. Not to put things too unkindly, but you are the walking stick I need to aid me on my travels. You help to keep me balanced and on the right path. But failure and success are labels placed upon people’s lives the way a child values winning a game whether or not they have to bend the rules in order to do it. But life is not a game and the rules cannot be bent without repercussions that prove damaging later on. We must play the game for all we are worth, and we must play it fairly. We play and lose and play again, over and over. We lose and we pick up and start again a little wiser. We learn the game a little better in the playing, learn lessons for the next game. And should we lose today it is only a step towards the winning of the larger game. We move our piece on the board on step at a time, but it is all part of some larger process.”
     “So we’re all pawns in some giant game played by powers beyond our imagining?”
     “Our bodies, perhaps, but we are all a part of that will which moves the pieces on the board. Once we get beyond the idea that we are nothing more than the physical pieces, we realize we are forces, each and every one of us.”
     “I’ll be honest with you, Ashavan. It scares me when you talk like this. I don’t think I want to be some vague force without shape or substance.”
     Ashavan laughed. “Fear is what keeps you a block of wood on a piece of cardboard. Once you see, then fear is left behind in the game piece you used to think was you.”
     “What is it you hope to accomplish, then?”
     “To be myself, to follow my desires to the best of my abilities. That’s the only end worth shooting for. Success and failure lie beyond us, they may be signposts that direct us, but they are foolish goals in themselves. To truly be who I have been made to be, made myself to be, ah, that is the only mission worthy of all the life that flows within.”
     Doug could not stay too long in the ideas that appeared to now be Ashavan’s native climate. And too, he wondered if it were not his purpose to keep Ashavan’s thoughts closer to the ground.
“But what do we do now? What’s our next move?”
“The jewel of Europe has been found. And within it is the accumulated selfishness and corruption of the stones. It alone lies as a barrier to the possibility of a world united. Not the Pangea which I had earlier imagined. That was the foolish perceptions of a man who understood little. No it is a unity of purpose, not of geography. It is what your friend Catherine was searching for in her own little way. It is what Evangeline was trying to accomplish in a divided way, what all the stones divided have been attempting. But each facet sees but a little, and in attempting to unify what lies within its grasp, stretches the greater whole. Think of it, we are a globe of little nations, each of them grasping as organisms trying to strengthen themselves. Each of them sees itself as an idealized state. The United States sees its manifest destiny is to stretch from sea to shining sea, believe it is God himself who has ordained it. Where we go now, we see a Serbia whose ideal boundaries spill over into the perceived boundaries of many other nations. Each nation overlaps the other in its vain perception of itself. Each sees unity within itself, each member believes himself part of something larger. But in their division they tear at the larger fabric. It is only in the unity that they will find the answers to their longings, only then that they will truly understand what it means to be part of something larger than themselves.”
     For a moment Doug could almost sense the stone that lie somewhere within the folds of Ashavan’s jacket. He could almost imagine he could see it in his breast pocket and suddenly he fancied he saw it not in Ashavan’s pocket but in his chest, a glowing light that pumped the life through him. And there was a glimpse, just a glimpse, of understanding.
     The glimpse of understanding seemed to open up something inside Doug, created a vent in whatever it was that differentiated who he was and everything that was outside of him. A door was opened—just a crack—and through it he could see an outside, a whole universe that was new to him. And even as the door closed he knew there was something out there, that he would never quite see things in the same way ever again. And that was okay. The world had not changed, he had. He was now just a little older, a little wiser. He had sacrificed nothing of himself in the deal. He had merely grown.

     From thoughts that were high in the air, he gradually returned to thoughts of his immediate surroundings, of the sound of rail cars endlessly turning again and again, too often to worry about, too steady to be of interest. They turned unendingly in the same circles but in their seemingly pointless revolutions that only brought themselves back to where they had begun, they managed to move the train across a continent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I Thank You And Pass On What You Have Given Me

     I share this not to dwell on the problems I have had in life, but as a way perhaps of helping others. When I look back it is to remember how far I’ve come and how it’s possible to rise above those things that can hold you back.
     Nor do I wish to use my own modest success in overcoming my own difficulties as a cudgel to beat those who may be in a state where they are in need of help or are not succeeding. I appreciate that everyone’s story is different. I write this in the hope that it might help others to find the answers they need to find, the support everyone needs at some point in their lives, the belief in themselves that allows them to be the people they want to be, need to be and deserve to be.

     Growing up was hard for me, at least my high school years. I could indulge in navel gazing and work through my history in order to explain exactly why that was, but it’s important really only to me. The point is I found myself in high school with no friends and failing or nearly failing every class I had. In short, I was a screw-up.
     Seeing as I was a screw up, there was no shortage of people who would ask “What’s wrong with you?” or “What’s your problem?” But that never helped me because I was already asking those questions of myself all the time. I had no critic harsher than myself. I didn’t need someone to tell me to toughen up. What I really needed was someone to tell me to loosen up. I needed someone to tell me that life wasn’t purgatory, that happiness was a viable goal and that if I screwed up, if I failed, I was allowed to forgive myself and try again. You see, I never really gave myself the opportunity to succeed. I demanded perfection of myself, and if I fell, I told myself it was because I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t strong enough. And demanding perfection meant I was never going to be good enough, because I was never going to be perfect.
     I don’t know what made me fall into that trap, I really don’t. But somehow I ended up repeating the same negative processes over and over. Whenever I met a new person I would automatically believe that they saw the absolute worst possible version of myself. If I seemed to make an initial good impression, it only heightened the discomfort I felt as I awaited the total collapse that I was sure to make.
     When someone is doing as poorly as I was in school, a visit to the guidance counselor is inevitable. I was shy to the degree that having to talk to anyone was painful enough, having to talk about myself was worse, and having to confront the facts of my inability to cope with my own life was almost unbearable.
     But I was fortunate. I had a counselor who was nice. Nice seems such a neutral word, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. When you’re a fifteen year old screw up, nice can mean the world to you. And Mrs. Feiler was nice. Mrs. Feiler, I still remember how to spell her name. “It’s relief spelled backwards,” she once told me. Funny what you remember 34 years later.
     At any rate, I hated having to go in front of people and explaining why it was I was a screw-up because I myself didn’t know what my problem was. I could only tell people that I’d try harder next time and try to give the vibe that said, “Yeah, I hate me too.” That was the best I could do, self-hatred. I figured I was worthy of it.
     But see, Mrs. Feiler was a kind and caring person. She saw things in me that others didn’t or chose not to because the possibility that I might actually have potential would have required some real effort and commitment from them. She would see that I carried around books that weren’t school books. She saw I had interests that school and apparently no one else was addressing and we would talk about things that mattered to this kid that didn’t matter.
     And then, one day, in the lengthy process of trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, she said these words: “You’ll be okay”. Just like that. God knows how she knew I’d be okay, or even if she really meant it, but she said it. And it stuck. It stuck somewhere deep down in me. Oh, it didn’t show itself right away, but it never left. Somebody believed in me. Somebody planted a seed of faith in me that grows until this day. And that’s all it took, just a few words from a single person.
     Thank you doesn’t cut it. And I don’t want to paint one individual as some great hero, but she was to me on this one day. I hope she can appreciate that she played such a role in this wonderful adventure that is life, that she did something that is considered by someone as profound and life-changing.
     But as I said, thank you is not enough. I want to go further than that. I want to pass on what she gave to me. I want to show her that her kindness and concern goes far beyond an individual act of kindness, that everything we do has echoes and repercussions far beyond the individual that started it. Not that such a thing can be accredited to any one person. For the part you played, Mrs. Feiler, is the link in an immense chain, of something larger and more beautiful than any of us can imagine yet can feel in our hearts once the light has been lit.

     So to all of you out there, I wish to share with you what was once shared with me. I believe in you. You are not a bad person, you are not a screw-up. I may not approve of some things you have done, but I don’t believe you are condemned to repeat the failures of your past. It won’t be easy, it wasn’t easy for me, but the journey is worth the effort. You are part of this whole human race thing and you have a part, a necessary part to play in it. Believe, achieve, and pass it on.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Church Of The Market: An Exercise In Sarcasm

     The lesson to be learned is this: no matter how well-intentioned you are, your attempts to make the world a better place are futile. Worse than futile, because your foolish meddling will actually make things worse.
     The world is what it is and the iron-clad laws are firmly understood. Nothing you can do will change it. Any attempt to help the plight of your fellow man will only deprive them of the most important quality they posses: their animal urge to survive by whatever means necessary. It is only the threat of being swallowed by the economic abyss that will compel humans to be the creatures they are meant to be. Receiving a handout or a hand up will never help them learn the essential lesson of life, that we are each alone in this world.
     Fortunately there is hope for all of us, a path we can take that can and will lead us to a golden future. Here is the good news we can all take to heart: Each of us, acting individually and selfishly as consumers, can change the world! Yes, you the consumer have the power to change corporate America’s behavior. You can save the rainforest and increase wages for underage sweatshop workers in Bangladesh simply by making the right choices when shopping. All you have to do is vote Coke or Pepsi and the giant wheels of industry will turn at your request. The world is constantly improving as a result, daily becoming more and more perfect because of the choices you make while at your local Walmart.
     You see, there is true magic in the world, the magic of the marketplace. More powerful than Harry Potter’s wand or Gandalf’s staff, it is capable of sprinkling fairy dust on your purchasing decisions and making dreams come true. Behold the Dinamita Dorito. 

How else to explain such a thing than with words like magic or miracle? And would a world without Live Wire Mountain Dew be one worth living in? Such things would not exist if it were not for our participation in the only vehicle of social interaction that matters: the free market.
     Now the free market being a thing of magic, there is no way to try to explain it, we can only accept its magic and wonder in its miracles. One only has to witness the glory of ultra high definition 3D television to realize that it is the one true path for humanity to follow. Any attempt to undermine it or balance it with other forms of human organization would be unpatriotic, wrong-headed, na├»ve, hypocritical (Have you never eaten a Dorito?) and contrary to the will of God.
     Indeed, even to question the God-given right of the free market to determine the path humanity might take is a dangerous practice. Thoughts must take a back seat to the material marvels of market forces. For ideas are merely ideas after all, while 3D televisions are AWESOME!
     So put aside the thoughts that only serve to disquiet you. It’s best not to think about how, if we all are voting with our dollars, it means billionaires get billons more votes than most of us. It’s best not to consider that things like 3D television or the 30th permutation of a drug whose patent has expired exist not because we as consumers asked for it but because they make money for the producers. And never for a moment let it enter your head that those with the most power do not truly believe themselves in the great and holy market. Do not allow the idea to take root in your thoughts that the priests and prophets of the golden bull might themselves forget their religion if the opportunity to earn a quick buck came along at the expense of the freeness of the market. After all, it is the integrity of the system, not a love of money that compels our financial leaders. Their morality is beyond any suspicion we lesser mortals might possess, the proof being that they are rich and we are not.

     Such thoughts would cause the whole of our existence to come crashing down around us, and it would be you who is to blame. The free market needs your undying belief and, upon occasion, your sacrifice. For a great and giving thing the beast may be, but like any god it too requires sacrifice of its followers. So while there is nothing we Americans profess to love more than Freedom, sometimes it is necessary to abandon the lesser freedom for the greater. So let us abandon free thought for the sake of the free market. After all, faith requires it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Case For Libraries

     The world has changed and I seem to hear a lot of talk about what the future of libraries should be or if we even need them at all, seeing as how Google and Siri can answer all our questions. Of course, those who care—those who fondly remember libraries from their youth—are quick to defend their continued existence. After all, there is nothing quite like the feel of a real book in your hands. Plus there is the availability of high-speed internet for all of those who might not have a connection at home. And just to show we’re keeping with the times, let’s use these conveniently located public buildings as places where events can be held such as movies and family game night.
     I have my own suggestion for the future of libraries: it involves disco balls and techno music.
     If you mistook my sarcasm for seriousness, even for the briefest of moments, I understand. It seems as though there is a mad rush to convert libraries into anything and everything other than what a library should be. A library is a quiet place with books.
     Sure, many of us have memories of getting the glare from a librarian with her finger to her lips, demanding quiet. It seems like such an incredibly unhip thing to do in this day and age. But please remember there were times you were reprimanded for running around screaming in church, too.
     Librarians maintained a sacred temple for the holy silence. Children were expected to learn to control themselves, to observe a common tradition, to demonstrate that they were capable of respect in a world that has precious little of that. Adults too needed to show that the library was something different from a saloon. It was the place where the knowledge of humanity was stored and learned. Such a thing demands observance of the customs, a place like this is one where we should show reverence.
     The librarian shushed us because a library is not a place to voice our thoughts but to learn and contemplate the thoughts of the greatest minds of this and other eras.
     What good is book without a quiet place to read it? And in today’s world the quiet places are vanishing. There is little wilderness left, places where one can go and be alone without the sounds of others. Churches too no longer play the prominent role in society the way they once did. And even in our places of worship giant televisions have crept into these places of prayer and tranquility.
     The world needs a sanctuary for silence, a place where people can go and exercise their minds on concentrated thought rather than multitasking. The average person needs such a place when one cannot get your oil changed or a bite to eat without being inundated with television.
     It is only in a book, a real tangible book, where one can have solitude and total immersion. It is only with pages made of paper that a reader and a writer can truly come together and be of one mind. An e-reader might have its advantages, but it also has its distractions. An electronic reader is always tempting a reader with ideas of playing a game, checking the time, or connecting with social media.
     It is not easy to completely lose oneself in a book, but it is worth it. Like any other sacred practice, it requires certain rites be observed. And the primary rite for communion with the written word is solitude, the kind that silence best provides.
     That is the function of a library, its justification for existence. It is a place where the centuries may be bridged, hidden knowledge come to light, where we can come to know both our world and ourselves. There is no need to worry about what a library should be in the future; the world needs that place of intersection between silence and books more now than perhaps ever before.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Books, Free Books, and a New Book Cover

As the band Madness said, "something's always happening and it's usually quite loud". In my case, there's been so much happening that I haven't had much time to post lately. Here are a few quick updates:

First off, I'm giving away a couple paperback copies of my book Perchance To Dream. It is the second in The Amazing Morse series, but they are written to be enjoyed by themselves as well as part of something larger. To have a chance to win, you only have to follow the link:

Secondly, I'd like to let people know about a new release of a friend of mine and someone who has helped me on the book covers for my The Amazing Morse series. This book is already at #4376 on Amazon, so I need her help far more than she needs mine, but I'm proud to give her a shout out:

Lastly, speaking of book covers, here's a peek at what could very well be the cover for my next novel, Seven Stones, which I plan to have available in September. Artwork is by Elizabeth Mackey

As I've said, lots of things happening, so while it may appear quiet for a little while here on the blog, it is all leading up to something. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Daydream Believer And A Memory Of The Past

“There is no unstoppable force but time, no impenetrable object except that which separates us from the past.”

Please play the music as you read this post.

     I was nine years old and on my way from school to my position as crossing guard. I was moving quickly, intent on getting to my post before anyone else did. But more than that, I moved quickly because life was coursing through me. It was a day warmer than we had experienced for a while—the first real day of spring—and all of the world felt alive to me. The breeze, still cool but no longer biting, excited skin that was still sensitive, not yet numbed to the outside world by work and age.
     It was then that I first experienced it, the awareness of the miracle of being alive. Oh, surely I’d experienced the miracle before, experienced it in the way any frolicking young animal experiences it in the very movement of its body. But this was the first time I connected it to thought. I was alive and aware of the mystery of such a thing. And being aware, I felt more alive than I ever had before. I half-skipped, half ran down the road, and as I did so I sang, such was the intensity of feeling. The song was Daydream Believer by The Monkees, a song anyone of my generation will be familiar with, a wonderfully sweet, bouncy happy song.
     Special moments like that stick out in the memory. I’ll never forget that feeling of being young and having more energy than I had tasks to waste it upon, energy that seemed inexhaustible.
     Fast forward thirty-five years. I was coming home from work and heard the news that Davy Jones had died. Once again, anyone of my generation will know that he sang Daydream Believer. Hearing the news made me think back to the child who ran down the street on an early spring day singing a song that expressed all the joy in his heart. In that moment I realized that once again another of those impenetrable barriers that time likes to put between us and what we once knew and were had been erected. Never again would I hear this song and think of youth and new beginnings. Or rather I would, and then I would be reminded that it resides in that unreachable land that is called the past.
     You see, even though The Monkees as a band had already come and gone on the music scene by the time I was nine, the individuals were still quite young in the grand scheme of things. They existed in that world of endless possibilities and endless seasons, a world that only a child can see. There, things that get bad only get bad for a while before the natural order is resumed and everything once good is good once more. There are endless years in front of you for your favorite team to finally make the playoffs, for you to write that book and make that album and fight that war. There was time yet, time for The Beatles to get back together and make music again. Time for Greg Cook to recover from his injuries and become the quarterback he was destined to become. And the more the time passes the more remarkable will be the comeback when it finally occurs. All good things happen in the future.
     But then those events start to happen that make you realize that some things will never come to pass. John Lennon is shot and killed by a deranged fan and suddenly The Beatles will never be The Beatles again, except in memory. My uncle dies and I know I’ll never see him as long as I live. My grandmother’s home, the very heart and soul of a large and loving family, is sold to strangers who remodel it and strip it of its sacredness.
     They come ever more quickly it seems, the reminders large and small. The closing of a favorite restaurant. The final episode of your favorite show, the retirement of a favorite coworker, the house being built on the open lot that used to be your ball field.
     The older we get the more time takes from us. And as time passes and things become more dear, the harder it will be to say goodbye when the time comes. True, new things and people come into our lives to replace the old, but I’ve always been loyal and hate to think people are so easy to replace. In my heart I’ve never been able to let go. The people and things that have been dear to me will always remain so, even though I can never reach them except in thought and memory.
     But here’s the thing. I still feel that joy I felt as a nine year old singing a song on the first day of spring. And if that first moment of self-awareness made the feeling of being alive even more powerful, then the ensuing years of thought and reflection have made it more intense still. And like a child who loves his stuffed animal all the more despite the missing eye and the hole or two and the mange, perhaps I more fully appreciate that miracle of life that I first became aware of all those years ago. Only, occasionally, I need to be reminded that it can only be enjoyed when is fully in the moment. Because that’s the thing: we are given so many blessings we can never fully give back. We can only appreciate the moment as best we can. And when it is gone, do not grieve for it but embrace the time you have now, before it leaves to join all that has come before.
     Those memories we hold dear, let us not forget them but keep them as reminders of all the beauty and wonder that life brings our way.