Saturday, November 19, 2016

Random Thoughts Part 22

Perhaps it is not so much the pointing of guns but the pointing of fingers that is most to blame for many of the tragedies in the world today. After all, where the finger points, the gun inevitably follows.

I do not fear guns so much as I fear weak arguments. I have never been threatened by a gun but am assailed by weak arguments on a daily basis. Strong arguments stand on their own, guns cannot operate on their own. But weak arguments require guns in order to prop them up.

If you are unable to understand why other people can be so damned stupid, then you yourself have room for improvement.

It is impossible for both sides in a war to be right, but it is quite likely for them both to be wrong.

People are scrambling to find something safe they can hold onto, and they have chosen gold as the safest investment. As for me, I choose faith in my fellow man, in humanity.

To work within the system is to support the system.

You may never live long enough to discover who you are, but by the time you reach middle age you will hopefully realize who you are not.

People who wish to control your behavior give you only one option. People who wish to control your thoughts give you two choices and the illusion of choice. However many choices you are given, if you do not feel that you are in control, you must find one more.

When we have pushed our intellectual pursuits to their furthest, we find ourselves ultimately lacking in our ability to finish the quest. The human mind, regardless of whether that person is a genius or simpleton, sooner or later must hit this point. It is then that we find we have nothing to rely on except our core values.

Sometimes not having a choice is the most liberating feeling of all.

I can’t wait for the day when computers take over the jobs of computer programmers.

Hope. A hundred years ago the poor worked their lives away in the slim hope that they might become part of the 1%. For those who realized it was an impossible dream, still they worked for those same 1% in the hopes that their efforts would entitle them to a reward in the afterlife. But the religion that exists now gives humanity a different sort of hope. Now the workers are taught that if we all do our part, we can perpetuate the human species by advancing our technology enough that we can enable our 1% to travel to some other planet capable of sustaining life before we have destroyed the one we were given.

If you value a flag more than the values it symbolizes, you are no different than those who worship statues rather than the god they represent.

Abandon the systems that seek to rule you. Seriously, walk away from them, give them no more of your attention. Turn off corporate television. Avoid corporate media. Do your best to avoid eating corporate crops, drinking corporate beer, or reading books published by the big publishing companies.

I cannot change people. Even the greatest of artists cannot hope to do so. But perhaps I can get them to stretch a little, grow so that they are larger than they were, their reach a little further than it was, so that they are able to connect with others more than they otherwise might have.

How can we find stupid to be amusing when it is exercised by dogs but so frustrating when humans exhibited the same stupidity?

Art is the medium through which new thoughts, perspectives, and attitudes are brought into the world.

I grew up in the 70’s, an era where the media—books, comics, television shows, movies—had a great amount of sympathetic villains. The generation that followed not only had unlikeable villains, even the heroes were little better.

Nothing would be so informative or contrary to nationalism as reading the history books of other nations.

Countless people have demonstrated that it is possible to achieve incredible success through visualization, positivity, and unwavering belief in their dream. It is time for us now to work together using these principles to advance shared goals. We must envision a healthy, working, happy, viable future and we must not allow any negativity to prevent us from achieving it.

Never place a flag ahead of the ideas it is supposed to represent, nor put ideas before the people they are supposed to serve.

There are so many ways of looking at the world that you have never considered. Don’t look negatively at those who have views different from your own, especially if they are willing to consider your point of view.

You have no idea how many people will reach out to you once you leave yourself open to them.

Let us constantly ignore the things that divide us and rather optimistically reach out in terms of the things that our important to ourselves.

Core values tell us not to kill. Cleverness provides us with exceptions. The more clever we become, the less principled we are.

My greatest fear is that we will permit our worst human attributes to play themselves out with the assistance of our greatest technological achievements.

I am on the side of those without weapons facing those who are armed, I am on the side of those without against those who have, and I am on the side of those who obey what their heart tells them over those who do what authority tells them.

The further you set your sights, the less turbulent the way will seem.

God saves a lot of people from self-destructive behavior and I’m glad for that. I just wish He could save them from being self-righteous assholes as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Explanation For The Way The World Is (An Excerpt From The Association)

If you're like a lot of people right now, you may be asking yourself what the hell is going on, how can the world be so messed up? This little section from my book The Association which I wrote a few years ago may help you understand:

“But I don’t get—“

“There is a lot you won’t get right now.” The voice came from the television screen, which had been positioned so that everyone in the room could see the image of Russell, and he, them. “That is the very essence of seeing beyond the collective consciousness, to be made aware of just how much you do not know. The artificial world that surrounds us is filled with answers we believe we possess. It is important that you hear what is being said now. Understanding will come later.”

Russell continued, his voice sounding thin through the television speaker, “What you need to understand now is this: every era, every culture, suffers under the delusion that it, and it alone, has a correct understanding of the world around it. They are, all of them—to a great extent—wrong. Generally, a society clings to the simplest narrative it can find to explain the world outside and its relationship to it. It stumbles upon it rather clumsily, each of its members working more or less blindly, unaware that they are working towards a common purpose, cells oblivious to the organism they are part of. As long as this narrative works, it doesn’t matter how accurate it is. Life went on for those who believed the earth to be flat. Newtonian physics explained the universe quite well for centuries. The problem is that no story adequately explains reality. Eventually, the differences between perception and fact tear apart the perception. Eventually, every society is undone by its inability to correctly grasp life as it truly is. Like a building that sooner or later crumbles due to some weakness in its infrastructure, every society collapses by the sheer weight of its own incomplete understanding of itself.”

As Russell spoke, Dave noticed that Doug was quite willing to let him speak for the group. While Doug was in some way the leader of this group, he deferred to Russell as one who had the greater understanding.

“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 ark where we are safe from the storms of a great ocean, but the ark 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 narrative. 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. We begin to accept as fact what we once realized was only a perspective. Why mess with or question what is working so well?”

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

“At any rate,” said Russell, “the very success of our present generation 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 often persecuted, martyred.”

“And now?” asked Mindy.

“Now? Now they simply do not exist.”

“Don’t exist?”

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

“What you describe sounds like what could have happened in the Soviet Union,” said Dave. He was not trying to argue, didn’t believe he was in a position to argue. But he did seek to understand, and so was unafraid to question. “Or Europe under the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. But life isn’t like that now. Nobody can control the information we receive, nobody can control the way news is reported. We’re free, in our country, at least. I mean, more free than most.”

“You tend to overestimate the role of force in such matters,” said Doug. “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 sheep in wolves’ clothing,” laughed Johnny. “All products of a Madison Avenue campaign that makes us think we’re acting in our own best interests when all the while we’re part of the machine.”

Doug was about to continue, but Johnny was just starting. It seemed as though, while they were all speaking from a shared pool of knowledge, each of them had their own interpretation of things. Dave was curious what Izzy might have added to the conversation.

“A century ago, all houses were made individually,” Johnny continued, taking his turn at attempting to explain. “Then someone standardized the process in order to make them easier to build, and suddenly we all end up living 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 who were put into their roles could be interchangeable. Of course, to buy the standardized products made by standardized workers, the system needed standardized consumers. 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 concept was predicated on the idea that mass production called for mass consumption, material goods were sold as the cure for all our ills. Have a headache? Take an aspirin. Insecure about your place in the world? Buy a fancy car. Tired from working too much? Take a pill or buy a comfy chair to relax in.

“And since manufactured goods were what our paradigm did well,” again inserting his own perspective, Johnny added, “questions of spirituality were of little use. What good was meditation or contemplation or prayer when the real problems of the world were halitosis and waxy yellow build up?”

“So you’re suggesting the industrial revolution created monsters?” asked Dave, incredulously.

“No, he’s saying that it caused us to forget them, for a time.” It was Russell who answered. “If we did not wholly forget them—because, after all, not seeing something does not make it go away—if we did not forget them then we did not perceive them as clearly as we once did. But if we were distracted from such monsters, it was only for a time. The walls of our perception kept them from us, but the cracks are already beginning to show.”

“Don’t forget, Dave,” said Doug, “that what other times may have called spirits, demons, ghosts, are merely their description of what they perceived through their own perspectives. In truth, they may have seen such things more clearly than our generation does, but they are inexact descriptions that show the bias of their times. The past had numerous absurd notions. They’re just a lot easier to see when one is not in the midst of them.”

“So you’re saying the paradigm that our age has been built on has seen better days, is that it?” asked Dave.
 “You think we’ve built as high an edifice as we’re going to build on an imperfect foundation. So what are we supposed to do about it? What do you expect from me?”

Doug was in charge, once again. While Russell and Johnny had knowledge and opinions, it appeared that Doug was the one with a vision. “Dave, you know what it feels like to be free, do you not? In order for you to have developed the ability to see in your dreams, you must have transcended your personal biases, the calcified thought processes that adulthood gradually builds around our life force the way a shell forms around a snail. You know the feeling, of emerging from the protective cocoon, and the fear of a world outside that is so much larger than your little mind could ever understand. You have experienced the joy and fear of the fall as you’ve leapt from the perch of 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 at the same time. 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 fears will walk around in broad daylight. You two have witnessed this, to a small degree. You have seen a group of people summoning powers beyond their ability to control. But this is nothing compared to what large groups of people could do.

“The second 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 willing to admit somewhat to a lack of certainty, but in times such as are to come, the rigidity of their cages will be unyielding. But their very beliefs, devoid of the spirit of believing, 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 hundred people, he could not conceive of the evil that could be done by an entire country.

“You speak as if such things happen with the rise and fall of every society,” said Mindy. “I don’t recall reading about any of that in my history book.”

“Many things are lost in the passing of a people’s belief system. They are lost and fallen to the wayside, sometimes to be rediscovered centuries later by people looking to plug the gaps in their own imperfect models. But mankind has always had an answer to such times as we are now approaching: kill. Kill to the best of your ability. Kill until the stress is relieved, until the energy is spent 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 weapons that humanity would not survive such bloodletting.”

“A new world is coming,” said Doug, “but we must first survive the dissolution of the current one. With the breakdown of all our current 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 do you expect we can do about all of this?” Dave couldn’t begin to fathom the implications of such knowledge, if such things were true.

“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, or a total breakdown will occur. 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 rather than what their prejudices and misconceptions lead them to believe.”

“We need to understand the world as it is,” said Russell. His meekness seemed to momentarily vanish. “As much as possible, we need to expand our understanding of reality in order to begin to build the next paradigm on as solid a structure as possible.”

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

“Because we can see, just as you can see, in our limited ways,” said Doug.

“Because nobody else is doing anything,” added Johnny.

“Because if we don’t, someone else will decide for us,” said Russell.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Book Of Ashavan on Amazon Kindle

I did a lot of research and included a lot of historical facts in the writing of Seven Stones. Believe me, I will never attempt to correlate the timeline of a novel with historical events again. One such piece of history I came across was a book written around that time that played a somewhat important part in the novel and the Seven Stones series. At the time I wrote it, I had merely come across rumors about a book written by the Magician named Ashavan, but was unable to locate a copy of it or even find proof that actually existed. Today I chanced upon this on Amazon:

 I have no idea whether the contents are real or not, but if anyone has Amazon Prime and can read it without having to pay for it I’d appreciate some feedback on what they think of it. I’m guessing it is a mix between The Tao Te Ching and maybe something written by Madame Blavatsky, but I have no way of knowing for sure. The things that are written about it are intriguing enough that I shall no doubt cave and spend the money on it, though I am skeptical of what I will find inside.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Random Thoughts Part 21: The All-Donald Trump Edition

Great minds inspire us. By basking in the light of genius, we are able to lift ourselves from the mundane existence we have been living and aspire to something greater. We are all warmed by the fire and in turn are able to light our own candle from it. Donald Trump is one such person, and has been the inspiration for a sudden flourishing ideas and observations for this, the 21st installment of Random Thoughts:

What toxic environment do we live in that Donald Trump seems to some like a breath of fresh air?

The media is fond of calling Trump a genius for his ability to get their attention. But it has nothing to do with Trump’s genius—which weighs about as much as Kardashian talent—and everything to do with the media being morally and intellectually bankrupt. You might as well speak of the genius of Honey Boo Boo or the genius of a Jerry Springer show guest.

The absurd reality that Donald Trump might actually be the next president of the United States makes the idea of a third party candidate being elected seem not that far-fetched.

If presidential candidates were required to pass a junior high civics exam, Donald Trump would have been eliminated by now.

Obama has caused divisions among the races, but if we vote for Trump he’ll take care of them.

I feel I’ve never censored myself. Sure, I’ve shown a certain amount of tact and compassion, but I don’t think I’ve shied away from speaking the truth when necessary. I’ve even said a few things that could have been taken the wrong way in my eager desire to speak the truth when it was unpopular. But I’ve never called Mexicans rapists and murderers. I never disrespected prisoners of war or the parents of soldiers who were killed in the service of their country.

Not even in Sodom or Gomorrah did they revere people who forcibly evicted widows in order to build gambling dens.

Donald Trump is not Hitler but that doesn’t mean we can’t draw comparisons where appropriate.

If Trump is not as dumb as he appears, then he is even more evil than he seems.

Should Trump become president we may grow to appreciate just how useful an obstructionist congress can be.

Donald Trump has announced his intention to build a wall against reality and have the elves pay for it.

The media has been so busy reporting that Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential candidate of a major party they have forgotten to mention the Republicans are the first major party to nominate a monkey.

The difference between Donald Trump and Jerry Springer is that Springer has experience in governing.

Donald Trump will never go too far on anything in the eyes of his supporters because lemmings have no concept of what "too far" means.

Vote for Donald Trump or else he’ll go back to contributing to the Clintons.

Imagine for a moment just how unliked Trump is that many Republicans are actually saying they are going to vote for Hillary.

Donald Trump is the William Hung of presidential candidates.

Remember when we thought Dan Quayle was too dumb to be vice-president?

I give it 3 months after Trump is elected before we see his mug up on Mt. Rushmore.

I wouldn’t have believed it possible to have less respect for Scotty Baio than I already had.

What, wasn’t Charlie Sheen available?

Those who think people like Donald Trump shouldn’t be permitted to run the government should really question why we permit people like Donald Trump to run our economy.

Donald Trump is the flower on the plant the Clintons have dutifully watered for decades.

When my son was growing he would often try to justify his bad behavior on the actions of others. I had to constantly tell him there was no excuse for bad behavior. I’m glad I didn’t have to raise him in the era of Donald Trump.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Novel Seven Stones Is Free On Kindle And Elsewhere

If you're one of those people who enjoys reading novels on electronic devices, my book, Seven Stones is available for free. I must confess I have a hard time reading on my Kindle, but perhaps if there were more books such as this one out there I might adapt to it more readily :) Anyway, here are links to my FREE book on Kindle and Barnes and Noble. If you have some other device, I urge you to look for it, because it is out there. I really believe in its message. It's not preachy, but it is honest, despite my best attempts to entertain and amuse.

Kindle Version:

Nook Version: 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I Did It And I'm Doing It Again (How I wrote a novel: grandiose thoughts and perhaps some guidance from one who has gone before)

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog on what my next book would be about and how I wanted to begin it. You can check it out here:

I only had the barest of ideas, but seeing as how I had already written 4 books before, I felt confident enough to share what little I had with the faith that it would grow to become a full-length novel. It was an act of bravado, a writer’s equivalent to pointing to right field and telling you I’m going to hit one out of the park. It has taken a little time, but I have delivered on my promise. Weighing in at over 100,000 words, it is my largest novel to date. The name of it is Shell Shock, and you can check it out by clicking on the image of the cover somewhere to the right of the screen.

I share this with you for two reasons 1) To plug my new book, both because I am very proud of it and also because writers have to promote themselves if they expect to sell any books and 2) I thought it might be instructive on how a novel is started from modest beginnings and grows to become something one can be proud of and (hopefully) sell many copies of. You see, before I had written my first novel, I viewed the process as both mysterious and miraculous. So hard and rare had it been for me to actually complete a short story, I never really believed myself capable of writing a novel, could never visualize how it was done.

I know the answer now, or at least an answer that works for me. And the answer is to trust in the process and work on what is in front of you without worrying unduly about the questions you don’t presently have answers for. Work and trust. It’s pretty basic, and I’m willing to bet it works on a whole lot of things besides writing.

In my earlier attempts at writing I would write when the muse was upon me, only to become thoroughly frustrated when the flow suddenly ceased. I had no idea she could be prompted, enticed to continue onward when she appeared reluctant. I did not realize that a first draft could have holes in it, that a character could change names halfway through or become different people or change their motivations in order to fit with the narrative when the narrative had changed. I had always quit a story the moment that a problem arose I could not immediately solve.

But you see, some problems are more difficult to solve than others. Some problems you have to think about for a while and you can’t afford to stop the whole process just because of some small snag. Move along to the next thing, leave a question mark (?) in the text to remind you on your next look-through that you have a continuity problem, and eventually an answer to those insoluble problems will come to you. It may come when you are in the shower, mulling over your book while listening to the radio. It may come while you are walking the dog, or when you are half asleep in bed. The point is, it will come. It will pop into your consciousness, and instantly you’ll realize there was some tremendous answer to the question you had been asking.

It’s weird, but that’s how it works, for me at any rate. I know some people who outline their whole novel before they start to write it, but I’m pretty sure they’re aliens or liars. Perhaps they are lying aliens, the point is I cannot even conceive of doing such a thing. My attempts at doing so have only made the work more difficult. It might work for you, but since my way works for me, I’m just going to assume it is the best way possible since it is my way and it works.

So having briefly discussed how I have gone from a want-to-be writer of books to an actual writer of books, let me once again offer an opening scene for my next novel, which will be the third and quite probably last in the Seven Stones series, of which Seven Stones was the first and Shell Shock the second. The first 2 books dealt with World War 1, so my third (Sudden Storms is a working title, one I hope to God won’t be the actual title) book will deal with post-war Germany, which as we all know, is also pre-war Germany since the events of that era led to World War 2.

I envision a passing train with car after car filled with paper money, all but worthless. The post-war inflation in Germany was greater than was ever seen before or since. I’m not sure exactly why this scene grabbed me, it just popped into my head and immediately I said “this is it”. It speaks to the mass-insanity that societies are susceptible to. It demonstrates how we build our civilizations not on solid and real objects or ideas but so often we build our entire world around something as valueless as money printed on paper. Such a concept requires buy-in from society at large or else it all just goes to hell. It ties into the first chapter of my book The Association, which you can check out for free on Amazon (just click on the book cover, again to your right).

There is something about the idea of having to bring a wheelbarrow full of paper money to the store to buy a loaf of bread that terrifies me more than fire-breathing dragons and I don’t know why. Perhaps because it signifies the breakdown of the rational world as we know it, that however much we believe we can construct a sane world that works according to scientifically observable laws, there are forces beyond that we do not understand nor control.

Of course, it will not be too long afterwards that those same railcars will be used to transport human beings to labor camps and extermination camps. There is that somewhere in the background of everything. But I’m determined not to focus on the Holocaust: there’s been too much written and said about that by now. In fact, I intend to sidestep the war itself, except in passing. Instead, I want to explore the ideas and the spiritual yearnings that somehow led to the events of World War 2. Because no matter how incredibly horrible things ended up, I believe that evil is merely the twisting of normal and healthy desires. That for me is horror, something that was intended to be good becoming something very bad.

So I will avoid the darkest aspects, the events from 1941-45, those events that most people are already aware of. But that doesn’t mean the book will not stare into some incredibly dark places, nor will it seek to deny the reality of the evil of which humanity is capable. But I seek to find answers to such evil, hope even in the darkest of places. Because if I can’t, what is the point of dredging up such awfulness?

I’m worried I’ve set myself one hell of a task on this one, but it’s one I look forward to tackling. I seek answers, or else I seek hope, in which case I’ll have to create my own answers. I’ll see you in a year and we can discuss what I’ve come up with.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My New Novel, Horror Films, Self-Pormotion and War

See that little image over there to the right of the screen? It’s right below where it asks for you to subscribe to my mailing list (which I’m sure you've already done so that you can get notices of new releases and sometimes free stuff. It’s really worth it and I promise not to bother you more than once or twice a year). That picture of a book cover with the title Shell Shock signifies that I have released my 5th novel. Quite a small and unassuming little image, hidden away on an almost unknown blog-site.

And yet to me it signifies the result of all my spare energies for over a year now. It signifies a heck of a lot of research into areas that showed in gory detail some of the bleaker aspects of humanity. That’s what I do, I stare into the abyss and try to bring forth hope from it. I think that’s the essence of the horror genre, at least for me: to stare into the darkness and see something other than what our fears awaken in us. To shine the light into the dark places rather than turn away and pretend the darkness doesn’t exist.

Horror to me is not a means of distracting myself from reality. I remember as a child peering through slightly-parted fingers at many a movie that both terrified and excited me. Perhaps my favorite story was that of Frankenstein. The story has been told many times and often the creature was not always called Frankenstein, but the similarities were there. A scientist, who is blind to everything except his ability to do what no one has done before, creates an abomination. Through genius and hubris he brings to life something God and nature never intended. The creature, ill-equipped for the world, becomes a monster through no fault of its own and must be destroyed.

There were lessons to be drawn from such stories, lessons that have always stayed with me. One important lesson I learned from such stories was that the monster was not really the monster, that he was an object of pity who may have harmed others but did so not because he was evil but because he was misunderstood and ill-fashioned for the world he was brought into. I could even feel pity for the creator of such a being, because his intentions were ambitious and noble, though they were taken too far.

The other lesson I learned from the Frankenstein story—whether the monster went by the name of Godzilla, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Fly, or countless other movies—was that the use of technology always brought with it unintended consequences, that there were powers too great for man to control. They warned against the perils that our technological progress would bring with it, warned against the sin of too-great pride and self-importance.

Pity for others and humility in oneself. Not bad lessons to be learned from works of horror. You see, not all horror stories need be escapist, in fact the best ones aren’t. The best ones don’t end up distracting you from what you fear but causing you to look at what most frightens you so that you can overcome it. That’s what I try to write, about real-life problems we would rather not face head-on. That’s where horror lurks in real-life, in those problems we stuff into our subconscious because we don’t feel brave enough or strong enough to overcome them. They become monsters there, always lurking in the darkness to pounce upon us in our moment of weakness. I deal with them through fiction so that perhaps the reader will dare to chance a peek at them even as they cover their eyes. That maybe what we fear is not insurmountable and we are in fact capable of perceiving it for what it truly is and perhaps even be stronger in the end for having dared.

But I’ve strayed far from my original intention, which was to announce the release of my new novel, Shell Shock, and have you sign up for my mailing list. For all of my high-minded talk, I’m still just a writer who’d like to be read and perhaps even rewarded a little for my efforts, however modestly. But there is more to it than just that, as you will see when you crack open one of my books. The monster I deal with in Shell Shock is war, and it kills more than Jason, Freddy, Godzilla, Dracula, The Wolfman, and every-zombie-that-ever-was combined. There’s an element of Frankenstein in it too, in that man has managed to create horrors with technology he never should have toyed with.

While I have employed supernatural aspects in Shell Shock, I assure you the horror is all too real and 100% man-made. And if we try to avoid it, if we shove it deep into our sub-conscious, it will fester and grow in the darkness until one day it eats us in our sleep.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What if?

What if today we decided to act not upon our fears, our hatred or our ignorance but instead acted in love, faith, and an earnest desire to know the truth? What if we were to stop hiding and face the world as it is, knowing that however dark the situation might be, we can still bring to it our own light for others to see, however humble it might be?

What if, when we fall short of these goals, we permit ourselves to forgive ourselves? And when we fail, what if we were to get back on our feet, brush ourselves off, and begin again, a little wiser from our failures? In that way we would also be able to forgive others who have disappointed us, knowing that to err is human. We would then not need to believe that every time someone acted in a way that disappointed us we need take it as a personal affront. They are human, we are human. We are imperfect but capable of much good despite our imperfections. In short, we could believe in others and ourselves more than we have ever allowed ourselves to believe before.

What if we continued to focus upon a great and glorious future for mankind, knowing there is no other path that does not lead to darkness? I know, we’ve been down that path so many times and so many times we’ve been disillusioned. But that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? The path towards victory is littered with so many defeats both big and small. But it would be cynical and lazy for us to say it is hopeless to try. It is disingenuous to say we have not had our successes in making the world a better place. Perhaps we are not where we intended to be but that doesn’t mean we are not on the path. We have no way of knowing how much further we have to go but we are pretty aware of what the cost of failure will be. But knowing the dangers and the costs of failure, we need not dwell on them. If we are to succeed, we must set aside our concerns of such things and concentrate on moving forward.

The start of any accomplishment begins with a commitment. The start to a better world requires that we make a choice, and then pursue it without wavering at every small setback. The climb is rough, no doubt. But the view from the summit will be beyond any imagining.

To turn away from the fight is to turn away from the sacrifices of those who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of giants, we have in our reach the dream Martin Luther King Jr. knew he would not see but worked so valiantly and faithfully towards. So many have given their lives so that we could be where we are now, people who had a bright shining dream of what humanity is capable of, what we can be, will be someday, because we appreciated their efforts, their vision, their love of life.

But we must see such greatness within ourselves as well. We must see that we are all made of the same stuff as our heroes. They possessed nothing that we ourselves do not have, which made their accomplishments all the more remarkable. They were not idols to be worshipped but role models to be emulated. We all have a role to play, we all must do our part. Also, we must accept that others will do their part. Perhaps they need us to be their role models. Perhaps we can influence them. We must not wait around until we are certain everyone is doing their part, we must trust, we must believe. For only in trusting and believing will we ever have the strength to do our part.

This is not some adolescent fantasy I am putting forth, but in fact the very blossoming of our most mature human attributes. We’ve already tried the simplistic desire for a better world. The 1960’s was a time when we tested our immature beliefs in a better world. It has failed, it will always fail. That’s because we need to approach humanity’s future with all of the attention and commitment that we use when approaching personal goals. We must look out for each other the way we look out for family because in a very real way we are family to each other. Every day we have the opportunity to play the role of father, mother, sister or brother to those we meet.

Perhaps it is the very brightness of the possibility that causes some to turn their head away. Sometimes we are afraid to dream because we are afraid of failing. The cost of failure is so very great. The reward for success, too, is immense. We fear to begin, fear the task that is placed upon each of us as individuals. We are mere children, being pushed to stand on our own two feet. We often become frightened and wish to regress, wish to allow our parents to take care of us. But we have no parents, have no institutions nor benevolent leaders to do the hard work for us. We must do it. Ourselves. Each must stand on his own two feet.

But not alone. Each of us has each other. Each of us has a world of caring, loving, adults willing to not merely take care of their own interests but also to take care of the greater society of which we are all a part. We will each of us stumble, but others will be there to help us up. We will each of us see others stumble, but we will not permit their weakness to be a reason for us to despair or desert the path. We will find the strength within ourselves to set the example for others, even as we will surely find so many reasons to find inspiration in the actions and behavior of others. Of this one thing I assure you: you will find others whose work, effort, faith and bravery will humble you, will make whatever efforts you have put into this life seem light. But it need not be a competition, rather it will be a process of learning and discovery. We learn from the good in everyone, appreciate and celebrate the good deeds and accomplishments of the humblest among us.

Is this not a worthwhile way to live one’s life? Is this not the kind of world view that would bring out the best in all of us? What more valuable things can we pursue in life than peace, love, and understanding? Yes, the idea comes from a somewhat naïve era, but it was a very idealistic one. It was an era that was unafraid to reach out and explore new ideas, break new ground. The ideas that were born of that era were born weak and vulnerable, but they were born. Since that time, they have been battered and abused, been subject to all the nastiness that the world has to offer. They have been tested but still they endure. Though born puny and helpless, they have survived and grown stronger despite what the world has attempted to hurl at them. They survive, and they survive because they are strong and they are true. Peace. Love. Understanding. Hope, too. Let us add that because perhaps there was not enough of that the first go round. And lastly, let us add faith. Faith is the critical piece. Faith is a choice and we must choose. Faith is the piece of the puzzle only adulthood can give. Faith is commitment. Faith is living one’s life in accord with one’s beliefs and principles. Faith is choosing the road that leads to where you want to go and abandoning lesser avenues.

I have faith, in myself, and in you. I have faith in us, in humanity. I have faith because it is the only serious, mature answer one can have to the serious problems that face us. Doubt will not save us, it will only lead us back to the same bad habits that have brought us to this dangerous point we are now at. Doubt born of fear makes us abandon the idea of unity, makes us fracture into warring tribes that destroy rather than create. Doubt leads us to create walls rather than bridges. It is a juvenile reaction to the very real problems that we must deal with as mature adults. It is time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pig Ethics

People today claim that we are now a nation without morals. A nation not only without morals but utterly lacking in ethics, principles, pride, shame, or standards. That is not true. We are not lacking in any of those, we have merely replaced the ones we once had with new ones. In place of communal values, in place of religious values, those sort of values passed down to us from generation to generation, we now have capitalist values. They are what Jack London referred to as pig-ethics, an ethical code that dictates that whatever pig can eat the most from the trough is the winner.

Let’s strip it of all makeup and finery, let’s remove the lipstick from the pig. Pure and simple, they are the ethics of the capitalists. It is the ethics of profit über alles. It justifies everything in the name of making money, opposes all values that stand in the way of profit. There is no human interaction they do not wish to make a financial transaction where someone can profit. Letting you hold your child after he or she is delivered? There’s a charge for that.

That’s why the common well has been replaced with bottled water. It is why women fifty years ago were urged to use formula rather than breast-feed. It is why marijuana is illegal while pharmaceutical companies rush to make synthetic equivalents.

The idolatry of capitalism—idolatry, it is the most accurate word I can think of to describe our relationship to capitalism—states that anything is justifiable if it was done in the pursuit of profit. Evict an old woman from her home? Hey, she was standing in the way of a business deal. Deprive health care to a child? Look, if we didn’t, the whole system would break down.

We believe that it is only under this ideology that industry can prosper. It is only by this ideology that spirituality can remain unpolluted by do-gooders and well-wishers. Not only do we need to believe in capitalism, we need to believe in it unconditionally. We need to strip from it any other consideration in the same way Hitler wished to strip from the German bloodline any traces of impurity. This will be the surest way of preserving our environment and our natural resources. It is the answer for everything.

Why do we think this way? Because capitalism is not merely an economic system, it is a values system. We cannot be capitalists without accepting the values of capitalism. They seep into our religious ideals, they affect our art, they even affect family life. We live in a society where both parents work away from their children and expect people to raise them for money. We expect commercial television to amuse them but instead it indoctrinates them into being good consumers. We are unable to give them the time and attention we know they need and so instead we buy for them the things television is telling them they need.

Take a look at look at Donald Trump as the perfect example of capitalist principles in their purest form. He is a success because he has money. There is no other reason for calling him a success. Absent money or the ability to create money from business transactions, what does he add to humanity? Does he expand human understanding? Does he do good for the environment or contribute to the arts? There is no other reason why people would invite him to party let alone consider him worthy of the presidency. In every way he personifies the crude values corporate television displays for us. People, especially females, are commoditized, their value measured in the same manner of a cut of meat in the butcher’s window.

Not only does capitalism not factor in human values, it doesn’t even factor in human beings. So long as a person does not have money, he does not exist. Democracy is based on the idea of one vote per person but capitalism states that we vote with our money. And if we have none, well I guess we’re not allowed into the voting booth.

Capital doesn’t mind if a person is replaced by a machine. If the job can be done more cheaply, so much the better. Capital doesn’t care if all people are replaced by machines while billions starve outside the artificial environment of supply and demand. Machines, after all, are much more reliable than people, much more suited to the system capitalism demands. Capital doesn’t care if it is funneled into the hands of a few wealthy individuals, doesn’t care if machines are used or if people are turned into machines. Humans have no more implicit value than animals do in a capitalist system, and a quick glance of a slaughterhouse video on YouTube will give you some indication of how much animals are valued. In fact, people are worth less than animals in a capitalist system because nobody is willing to pay money for chopped up people the way they do ground beef. Only the unborn have value, and that for their stem cells.

The mineral worth of the human body is approximately $1. That, to capitalism, is the value inherent in a human life. Beyond that a person must either have capital or be capable of producing capital for someone else. If one has capital, he is therefore a part of the system even if he does nothing good for anyone else. If one has capital, he is admired, even if his insatiable need for more disproportionately uses and poisons the limited resources of our planet.

Will capitalism and the free market have a part to play in the world to come? That is not the question we should be asking. The question is, if only the values and interests of the free market are given voice and power—and that is increasingly becoming the case—will we even have a future at all? If the health of our economy is measured by how much fuel we burn up and by how much we are able to consume, what kind of future are we headed toward?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shell Shock: A Final Passage Before Its Release

This passage relates the horrors and madness of World War I, a horror from which we have yet to draw the appropriate conclusions:

He had read The Star Rover not long ago, a recent novel by Jack London. London had described a prisoner bound tightly by a device not unlike the one he had about himself now. The severity of his constriction forced the character in the novel to turn inwards, explore the universe within and find liberation. Whether it was insanity or revelation, he felt his capacity to rise above the body Dr. Crenshaw had sought to restrain.
Some part of Doug knew the causes for his mental state. It was some mixture of hypnotism, drugs, electric shock, and the constriction of the jacket. But the combination was squeezing him out of the body he was intended to inhabit.

Free from any identity, he was more aware of a larger consciousness. He was more than an individual. He sensed the group consciousness that existed within the asylum, like the blood of a community that dripped from solitary souls and coalesced in a draining pool.

A mass of traumatized soldiers existing in an institution that sought to cure what it did not understand. All the power of the analytical mind attempting to understand its shadow, the unconscious. The cold, calculating logic of science seeking answers to the random death and destruction of modern warfare. To that end they applied powerful drugs and electrical currents to force men to conform to the rules science sought to apply to realms it had no business contemplating. Doug could feel it, the effects of war upon the human psyche, upon its very soul. It was an illness, a bacteria that fed upon the spirit, spread like a plague throughout humanity. It tore apart men’s psyches as it did their bodies. It was not merely a phenomenon but a living, screeching demon.

And doctors sought to understand it! Better they should send witch doctors to help mend soldiers whose souls were blackened by war, men sent to deal with the problems of a world incapable of solving its own spiritual darkness.

He felt it, isolated cells containing truths no one wanted to know. For the world to hear what they had to say would be to admit the truth of its own sins. These inmates were the sacrificial lambs sent to the holocaust to appease an unholy god. They alone looked into the darkest depths of humanity’s soul, they alone were not permitted to look away. They found what redemption they could in the love of their comrades, and when they came home no one wanted to know what revelations they had seen.

He felt it, a thousand souls in anguish, augmented with the insanity that had existed at Barrett Greens Asylum since its inception. He felt, sensed it, saw it and smelled it. My God, the smell. He was surrounded by the hell experienced by others. The collective consciousness of those who had been bathed in war and would forever carry its stench.

He was floating again, gazing down upon a scene created from the synthesized subconscious of those residing in the asylum. He stared at what appeared to be a deep gash of a wound with vast amounts of blood spilling from it. Then the picture slowly altered so that the slit was the opening of a mouth, surrounded by red lips that smiled at him. The smile was terrifying, a red laugh of one whose lips were stained by blood. The mouth seemed to open and he felt himself falling towards it as it waited to devour him as it had so many others. Within the mouth he could see the desecrated bodies of others it had already chewed up and ingested.

As he neared it he saw he was falling to the earth, as if the earth itself meant to swallow him up. At last his senses adjusted until he understood what it was he saw, a trench hastily dug into the earth, a field of red poppies in bloom about it.

His senses floated slowly downward, until like fireworks exploding, they shattered into myriad pieces and fell to earth. Each of them an individual in the vast war machine that sought to grind them into the same pulp.
He was a thousand soldiers, each experiencing the same hell, each intent on survival at all costs, like gladiators in an arena. He was an underage boy who had lied to a draft board that was willing to look the other way in order to meet its quota. He was a father of seven children, who had joined in order to provide the steady income he could not find at home. He was a million men, each with a story and a reason for living. Each of them called to him, wanting to tell him his story, a story they dared not even tell themselves. The voices pulled at him, overwhelmed him until he accepted their invitations to look for a moment from each of their eyes.

Nearby birds chirped, while somewhere down the line distant artillery could be heard. The heat of a mid-morning sun had already started its work of drying the muddy ground and puddles that formed in the 
cratered earth.

His clothing was soaked from last night’s rain, unbearably sticky in the sun’s rays, his feet rotting in boots that never dried.

In front of him, had he dared look, were the bodies of his comrades who died in their last attempt at overcoming the enemy, their bodies not yet retrieved from the battlefield. So thickly did they line the ground he felt he could walk from his trench to the enemy’s without ever stepping foot on bare earth. Behind him, not more than twenty yards, were the graves of those buried from the attack before that. The trench itself had been dug through some previous graveyard, so that here and there in the trench a rotted limb or scrap of clothing could be seen in the wall, dead comrades still unable to flee the battleground.

A cloud of flies rose and drifted its way toward him in the stagnant air. They carried with them the stench of the corpse they had been feasting upon. Upon the dead soldiers armies of insects fed and bred. Flowers grew upon the shallow graves, receiving nourishment from the dead. Rats too feasted and grew fat on the carnage. Everywhere those that fed on death ate at soldiers whose lives were wasted on futile attacks.

Further down the line, where the sound of shelling was deafening. Soldiers gripping their legs tightly, the noise so loud that communication with one another was impossible. Each soldier was left alone with his own thoughts, each as isolated from each other as if they were locked away in dank dungeons. There was no action to perform to increase one’s chance of survival, one only had to endure. Looking at other soldiers he noticed them all shrunken within themselves, crying like children with no mother to comfort them.

Still further down. The call to go over the top is given, and thousands crawl out the trench they had up until then been afraid to peer over. They run into a barrage of machine gun fire, a hundred yards away from the enemy trench. They run until they drop one by one or dozens at a time. They run until all that they are is a single soldier who by some miracle of fate is left standing. He runs alone until he is caught in the barbed wire in front of the enemy’s trenches. There he sits, unable to move, awaiting the bullets that will silence the terror that is screaming in his soul.

His consciousness is in touch with the stories of all who have experienced the horror of it all. One after another they seek to tell their tale. Each screaming to be heard, to be free from the isolation the war has inflicted upon them, each a private hell. No one can understand except those who have been there, those who know. No one would ever permit themselves to understand, no one would ever willingly look.

The stories played themselves out in his mind, one after another, a limitless supply of witnesses to the ultimate madness. Each vying for his attention, each wanting to bear witness to what he had seen, voices crying out in an attempt to make themselves heard over the exploding bombs.

The noise inside his head increased. He could hear the screaming of soldiers until it became as loud as the artillery, until it became the artillery. The fear that welled up inside helpless individuals became so strong that it created a means of making itself heard. It created institutions to give itself voice, and these institutions contrived the weapons that gave them power.

But the weapons that gave power to some became the instruments of torture to those who had to face such weapons, until an ecosystem of death, not life, was created. Here the blood of soldiers dripped from bodies to collect in shell holes. Here was a chaos without explanation—one could experience but never give meaning to it. One could never understand why one’s brother died while another survived.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shell Shock-Another Sample

Here are 1,200 words I wrote tonight, fresh of the press. Totally unedited, so please don't mind whatever mistakes there might be.

A cannon sounded from somewhere far behind the German lines, the start of a bombardment to weaken the Allied lines. Soon a hundred other cannons echoed the first. And before the last was done the first was firing again. The bombardment would last an undetermined amount of time, a day or more. A sleepless twenty-four hour time where there was nothing to be done but endure.

It was a prelude to an attack. The goal was to soften them up, to destroy every bit of them they could, to blow up the barbed wire and machine gun posts that would hold up and cut down any charge. The bombing continued drowning out any other noise. There was nothing to do but listen to the explosions as they blasted earth that had already been blasted many times before, to pray if one could still believe in a God that listened to the prayers of soldiers.

Steve crawled into a small hole dug into the side of the trench, large enough only for one man. Each of them would be on his own now. There was nothing any of them could do to help another, save tend to their wounds should a shell fall too close.

It was times like this Steve prayed for courage. But his fear distanced him from any chance at real communion with either his own thoughts or feelings or some sense of an outer divinity. But he knew his prayers were merely a way to distract his thoughts from the reality around him. They were no different than the babbling of an inmate in an asylum, the repetition of empty phrases that were nevertheless useful in soothing his neuroses.

His prayers went absent-mindedly on as his mind disconnected from his surroundings. He was losing himself, cutting off the outside world in order to protect his mind from the fear that sought to overwhelm him. The bombs continued to fall but never did they establish any kind of rhythm, never did they fall when expected nor cease from falling when he felt he could take no more. Sometimes, as he sat in his dugout clutching his knees to his chest, he tried to will the bombs not to fall, as if he merely thought hard enough he could have some control over the world in which he was forced to live. He would pray and try to will away the destruction that always threatened horrors still worse than those he was living through.

But prayers and mental distractions could never keep away the dark thoughts for long.

He had seen bodies, too many to count, that had been near the spot where a shell came to earth. He had seen men, some he knew, lying lifeless, their bodies in contorted positions that might have been humorous had it not been so real. He had seen bits and pieces of men lying all about and it all seemed so arbitrary. How does a man’s arm get torn from his body and still look to be in good shape?
Other times a man could be killed by the mere force of a blast, so that he looks perfectly okay and yet something vital deep within has been stopped.

The thing was, the first time he had seen a man torn apart by an explosion it affected him viscerally. But now he had seen it so many times, it was only some new spin upon the standard death by explosion could make him react in the same way, and there were only so many different ways a man could be scattered by the force of an explosion or by shrapnel. The others, those who died in ways similar to those he had seen before, well their deaths just seemed to accumulate in his subconscious, never bothering to register in his conscious mind.

It was only in his dreams that he became aware of the dead he had no time to notice in his waking moments. In his sleep they were given his full attention. They haunted him, though he did not know why. He had not killed them, did not wish them ill. Perhaps it was that they were jealous that they had been taken while he yet lived. Perhaps, being dead, they knew things he did not know. Maybe they stayed with him because they knew he was destined to join them.

In calm moments, on leave away from the front, he knew such thoughts were nonsensical. But here at the front, there was no sense, there was only madness. The laws of the other world, the one he had known his entire life, did not apply here. And the world he learned of here was encroaching more and more upon that other life, making it less real. The two worlds could not both exist. There could not be a world of forests when his eyes stared at the cratered wasteland that separated the warring parties. He no longer remembered what a tree looked like with leaves on it, could only visualize charred stubs that reminded him of the blasted men who had passed through this way.

It would only be two days before he rotated out of the front lines, but it was quite realistic that he would not live that long. And so his entire world was a hole in the ground and the raining missiles that were sent to destroy and kill.

It just started. It only just started. It would go on even when the sun had set, would perhaps continue until the sun rose again. And then the soldiers would come, hoping to sweep away all that opposed them.

The whistling of a shell brought his mind out of his dark thoughts and into his dismal present. It was close. But not close enough to be a danger, he decided after a moment. The anxiety that had risen in him began to recede somewhat. He heard it fall to earth and explode with a violence that raked his nerves even though he knew he was physically safe. Each bomb that fell added to the anxiety that never left him, just as each bomb did some damage to the Allied lines, their ability to defend themselves when the attack began.

Hours into the bombardment, he began to feel a degree of numbness. It was the most he could hope for, that the terror eventually surrendered to a certain emptiness within him. He felt a great weariness, as though he might be unable to stand up should the need arise. The intensity was too much for a human to endure for long, so that the body began to shut down. It was only the missile that seemed to approach too closely that snapped him from his torpor.

The earth shook when a shell hit nearby. It was at such times that the dead earth seemed the victim of the living, that all it wanted to do was lie peacefully but was tortured by the living. It almost seemed a cosmic dance, wherein the living allowed the dead no peace, while the dead claimed more than its share of those who sought to disturb them. It was hard to choose a side, hard to know whether it was life or death who was the enemy. It was getting hard to know what side he was on, which he was fighting for.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Shell Shock Cover Reveal

I haven't even finished the first draft for Shell Shock yet, but I've already got the cover, which I thought I'd share with you:

 As you can see from the covers, Shell Shock is a sequel to my book Seven Stones. It's unmistakable by the design, though there is no overt reference to it.

There is one more yet to come, though I have yet to come up with a name. I'll have to try real hard to have it as two words, both starting with an "S", as I have with my first two. Also, I'll try to have an "O" in the second word somewhere in the middle so my cover creator can place something inside it as she has on Seven Stones and Shell Shock.

My cover designer is the wonderful Elizabeth Mackey, by the way. You can see more of her work here:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Shell Shock Update

I've crossed the 90,000 mark on my newest novel, and while I'm not finished yet, I'm getting there. Here's a sample of what I've written today, with no real editing done to it yet.

Rothary climbed up on the fire step and with little thought or hesitation crawled out of the trench. Not far from him he saw the hole created by the mortar that had recently exploded, the crater still smoking. It seemed to be in the same direction of the wounded German, and so he made his way to it. Crawling the twenty or so yards, the occasional rifle fire sounding from both trenches, he rolled into the crater. Just in time, as he heard the sound of a flare being sent up. In a moment the sky was as bright as day. He clung to what shadows he could find in the depth of the pit dug by the mortar, the heat of the rocks and the earth making breath difficult.

The brief light faltered, making the night even darker than it had been. As soon as his eyes adjusted somewhat, he made his way towards the sound that had come to dominate his thoughts, fearful that another flair might expose him to the enemy.

The way was filled with corpses. Corpses and mere parts of corpses, so that he had to crawl his way over them to make his way forward. There was no path around them, it was a maze that must be crawled over rather than walked through.

More than one of the bodies he made his way around or over still had life in it. One breathed, quietly, as if sleeping. Another whimpered like a child with a fever. None of them mattered. It was the one he had shot that was the problem. It was he who had taken over Rothary’s mind, had replaced the fear with feelings stranger still. He called him on, beckoned him to see what he had done, promising to show him what he had become. They were connected. Whatever happened to the one affected the other. Whatever Rothary would do to the German would have repercussions that would be with him his whole life.

He crept along the battlefield—a man on a pilgrimage—in search of revelation. In the distance was heard some new bombardment beginning, a part of the larger war he was part of. But he was alone, now, just the German and he.

He located by his sound the man he sought. He was just one body in a sea of others, but his labored breath gave him away. Occasional gurgling sounds coming from fluid that was filling his lungs punctuated his breathing. He was nearing the end, but his body’s struggle against the inevitable stretched out the ending like a badly written play.

Rothary crawled alongside him, placing the man’s body as a barrier against any fire that should come from the enemy trenches. He looked into the man’s face, but like Cavanaugh’s, could only make out the barest of features in the dark night. Rothary’s sight only provided a framework for his mind to impress upon its own ideas of the man.

Just pain. That was all Rothary could see in the other. Whatever he had been in life had contracted into something so small as to be unworthy of being called human. Whatever he had been—husband, son, father—had drained from him with his lifeblood. This man who lay on a battlefield hundreds of miles from home was no longer any of that. If others in Germany believed he was, it was only in their imaginations. He was merely a dying man, an embodiment of the darker realities of life. He was not German or English, he was just flesh in its death throws.

And it was up to him to put an end to that pain that spread to all those in hearing range. Whatever regret he felt in shooting the man in the first place, he felt his duty now was to end the suffering. It was his duty as a soldier, as well as his duty as the one who had caused it in the first place.

He pulled out his pistol, placed its nozzle (?) pointing at the head of the other. He wanted to kill him, and he was still not sure why. Pity welled in him, but so did a hatred that may have been illogical but nevertheless was. War caused such feelings and he was not responsible for the war. Duty too spoke to him, about the need to do the job. He wanted to know, wanted to give this man’s death some meaning so that perhaps someday he could forgive himself, make sense of his life and move on when the war was nothing but a memory and a scar carved across the face of Europe. But more than anything he wanted to put an end to the horrible, gasping sound the other made. That was paramount in his mind. Rationalizations could be found later.

He stared at the other, his proximity that of a lover. He wanted to see, wanted to know, what it was he was killing. But the darkness kept the other in shadow, a mystery except for his agony: that, he understood too well.

This was not a stranger but someone he felt he knew intimately. He understood his fear, his hopes, his disgust with what he had seen. He was Rothary, he was no different than him. He was still asking questions as his finger tightened on the trigger, still hoping for answers. But as the violence erupted from the barrel of the gun into the other’s skull, he realized he had no answers. Nor did he understand why he had killed the other. He had no idea whether he had acted in fear or in hate, in pity or in despair. The gun fell from his hands as tears began to fall from his eyes. The breathing stopped but the horror it had induced did not stop. Nor would it ever. He would hear the sound of the other’s breathing as long as life remained in him. Each breath he took the other would be taking with him. Each breath he took would be torturous, would fill him with the loathing he had felt that day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Best We Can Do?

So after all the reasoned debate and the thoughtful media analysis of the Republican and Democratic campaigns, we have winnowed away all the lesser contenders so that only the worthiest remain, the two candidates undisputedly most qualified to lead our nation for the next four or eight years.

And yet I can’t help noticing that both of them have negative favorability ratings, at last look 54% for Hillary and a whopping 60% for Trump. This is unfavorable we’re talking about, one can only imagine what the actual percent of favorable impressions are, since there is undoubtedly a degree of undecided or neutral percentage points in there. Somehow the media never seems to tell us exactly what percent of us actually like either of them. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, because we’re not going to be voting for the one we like anyhow but rather we’ll be voting against the one we most dislike. But judging from the people I talk to, my estimate on likeability for either of them would be about 1%.

How did this happen?! How, in a nation of over 300 million people have we not been able to find two candidates we actually like, let alone even one? In any other sort of competition it would boil down to the best of the best. If it were a beauty contest, we’d almost all agree that the winner would at least be pretty. Were it an athletic competition, few would deny there was at least one of the best represented in the final showdown, the other perhaps being a merely “good” team that lucked its way onto center stage. But even good is better than what we have. Similarly, in any list of best movies the vast majority can agree that the top two are at least films worthy of viewing. You might prefer Casablanca, but you still have to give Citizen Cane its due. But when it comes to choosing a president we are incapable of finding two candidates who get a passing grade—a D-, for God’s sake—in the eyes of the electorate.

Once we get to this point, isn’t it logical to stop the debate about which of the two really bad candidates we want and instead discuss what the hell brought us to this point in the first place? What is wrong with our electoral process that we end up in this situation election after election? I know the pressure is on to vote against the really bad candidate (in your eyes) rather than the merely bad (in your eyes) candidate, but that is not the answer to the real problem, which is bad candidates. We’ve been down this road too many times and it has led to Clinton vs. Trump. Do you really want to play the same game one more time, kick the can down the road and wait and see what 2020 brings us? Go ahead, imagine the worst, the reality will be worse yet. Eighteen months ago I thought Clinton vs. Bush was the worst possible scenario.

Where else in our lives are we willing to accept such a choice? If you needed surgery would you go with the doctor less disliked or would you perhaps delay the procedure until a better option presented itself? If your toilet was broken would you choose the plumber in the Yellow Pages that displeased a mere 54% of his customers or would you not rather attempt to do the job yourself? Would you not demand better, would you not seek some other option than the two given you?

At what point do we refuse to play this game any longer? At what point do we stop moving our token along the path we are told we must travel and instead tip the whole damn board over?

Seriously, what’s wrong with us? Let’s put aside for a moment what is wrong with our candidates, because that question won’t provide us with the answers we’re looking for. Let us rather ask what’s wrong with us as a nation, as a society, when we cannot get two decent candidates. Don’t you think the first quality we would demand of a leader is that he or she should be moral and honest? Isn’t that what we used to revere in leaders such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? If morality is not a high priority for us in those we vote for, then we ourselves are not moral and we are lost as a nation. And if morality is not a high priority in who we vote for, there is no reason in bothering to listen to the self-righteous outrage that both sides hurl against each other. If you plan to vote for either of these candidates, can it with your moralizing.

Here’s the thing: we deserve better! But like a woman who’s been beaten down by one no-good man after another, we have forgotten our self-respect. And if we lose our self-respect, it further encourages the abuser to tell us how lucky we are to have him/her. The abuser tears you down, makes you feel like you can’t get and don’t deserve anything better. And you WON’T get anything better until you find it within you to demand respect, demand dignity. More than anything else, you’ve got to stop making excuses for the abuser. You have to see things as they are and stop accepting the narrative of someone who’s taking advantage of you. Only you can make that decision. They will never decide to set you free, they will never treat you the way you deserve to be treated on their own. Sometimes you have to walk away, be willing to face all of the terrible threats that they’ve been using to make you live a life of fear.

Abused people begin to hate themselves as their fear of the abuser overtakes them. Then they begin to hate and fear others. That’s what elections are about now: hate and fear. We no longer vote for what we want but against what we hate and fear.

There’s a word to describe such behavior: dysfunctional. The left and the right are like spouses who can’t stand each other and yet can’t justify their own behavior without having the other to blame. It’s a trap we are stuck in, but just like an alcoholic it’s up to us to change the destructive pattern we’ve created.

It’s up to you! The future of your country and most likely the world is up to you! Stop blaming others and accept responsibility. Stop believing that we just have to hate the right people and trust the right people and it will all magically fix itself. Reality is presenting us with some serious questions and you know deep in your hearts that the answer is neither Trump nor Clinton. This is what adults do, they realize they can’t hand it off to someone else and expect them to solve their problems. You’re the parent now, you’re the grownup. If you don’t do it nobody else will.

This is your country. This is your life. You can’t resign yourself to the two choices provided by others when you know, You KNOW, deep in your hearts, that neither presidential candidate is truly motivated by what is best for their country but instead by selfish concerns. You can’t pretend it’s okay, can’t pretend there are simplistic solutions to the crises our nation now faces.

We cannot play this game any longer. Even if you are too weak to avoid voting for one of these two candidates, at least spare us all your hate-filled diatribes. When you vote for what you feel is the lesser of two evils, don’t try to make others believe they are evil for not voting for your candidate. And for the love of God, don’t try dragging others into the cesspool with you. Because in the end it’s not about Donald and Hillary, it’s about you and me. We have to learn to get beyond the partisanship, and that means getting beyond the idea that we have to uncritically defend what is indefensible.

We’re better than this. America is better than this. Let us once more show the world the potential of the U.S.A. Let us act in a way that would make people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King proud, let us remember our heritage and strive to pass on to our descendents the best of what we have been able to create. Let’s show them that we’re not just another country that rose to great heights only to fall into complacency, decadency, greed, and violence.

And while we’re at it, let’s show each other we’re better than the politicians who represent us. Trump and Clinton are not candidates but bombs with lit fuses in a crowded room we try to hurl at the other side in hopes of injuring the other more than we ourselves are injured. Damaging the other side is not the same thing as winning. The bottom line is, fighting with the other side will never bring about the changes we need to make, it will only lead us lower in our death spiral. We need to find ways to compromise, and more than that we will need to work to understand and, yes, even love those who disagree with us.

It is not too late, but we cannot walk the same road that has brought us to this point. We feel we have no choices but we better start looking harder. Our continued conviction in failed patterns of behavior has brought us to this point and clinging to them further is like a drowning man embracing a boulder. You have a choice of boulders right now, and whichever one may seem bigger in your eyes at this moment, the option of letting go is the better choice. United we will stand, divided we will drown.

Hatred and fear. That’s what is guiding us as Americans now. We’re better than that. At least I hope we are.