Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pictures Found While Researching My Newest Novel

I've developed the habit of looking at countless pictures in order to help me get a feel for the subject matter that goes into my novels. I think it started in Perchance To Dream, but it really became necessary when I began writing not in the present but of events that took place 100 years ago. I needed to describe an era I had never experienced, and I needed to get a feel for it. I also read a considerable amount and watched movies that were both from and about the time, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

My point is, the search for images leads to interesting discoveries. I thought I'd share some of the more unusual ones with you. They are not only oddities, but they might also give you an insight into the book I'm writing (no name, as of yet).

Here is a painting of Mary and Jesus. Gaze at it for a moment, and let me know what you think:

Yes, the blonde-haired Jesus is a little odd, but not too much so considering Europe's bias in favor of a European Jesus. But the artist of this particular one is Adolph Hitler. As I don't consider myself a student of art, I'm unable to give an intelligent opinion of the work, but I'd appreciate any comments.

The rise of Hitler was a gradual one, having its roots in the first World War. Germany was a defeated nation, a people that had spilled the young men onto the battlefield only to have them returned old in spirit and infirm in body. Postwar Germany, like other nations, had to adapt to millions of men who were bearing the scars of war. Below are shown the many attachments available to those who lost a hand or hands in the war. Not pictured are the spoon and fork attachments that helped amputees in the simple task of eating.

The reparations demanded by England and France for their losses in the war were more than Germany could cope with. Desperate to continue to make payments while keeping their economy afloat, The Weimar Republic did what so many others have done: they printed more money, devaluing their currency in order to delay for a time dealing what were impossible demands. What began as an unwise response quickly spiraled into an insane situation, as inflation hit the Germans in a way it never has anywhere before or since. 

Money became so useless people used it as wallpaper and even fuel for the fire. Rather than saving, people rushed to spend their money as soon as they were paid before it became useless. Seeing no future, people began to live for the moment. They spent their money on cocaine and drinks at strip bars. People who had saved their whole lives found they had nothing, while those who spent recklessly discovered their debts easily forgiven. 

Hitler believed that since he was a symbol to the German nation, that he was married to the German nation, and thus never married his longtime love interest, Eva Braun. She was always kept in the background, never mentioned and only incidentally photographed. This photograph being a rather unusual exception. Here we see Eva Braun in black face. Given the extreme racial policies of the time, this seems almost a harmless bit of fun by comparison. Yes, it expresses ignorance, but it does not demonstrate the willful hatred her beloved showed for virtually every ethnicity that was not Germanic. It was more an imitation of what Al Jolson and others in America were doing.

Here's the Eva Braun who caught Hitler's eye:

Hitler eventually did marry Eva Braun, but not until their very last day alive. Hiding in their bunker, the Soviets bombarding Berlin, Eva Braun and Adolph Hitler were married underground, only to commit suicide a short time after.

Nothing says Christmas so much as eggnog, sharing presents, and swastikas. When the Nazis came to power, everything was co-opted. Everything needed to reflect the ideals of the Third Reich. Nothing was sacred except the party and its leader: 

A couple of propaganda posters, basically saying that Jews and communists will destroy the world if you do not support Hitler's fight against them. Yes, it's propaganda and evil propaganda at that, but you can see how it could be effective.

Just want to give some idea of the size of the rallies that took place during the Nazi era. It must have felt wonderful to be part of a crowd so large and so uniform. Deep within all of us is a desire to belong to something larger. This is actually a very beautiful thing, but it unfortunately can be manipulated into becoming a very bad thing. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Random Thoughts, Part 25

Another set of truth missiles aimed at the heart of preconceived notions and complacency. Little tablets that, once ingested, will open your mind to new perspectives...and a few attempts at humor.

My problem as a writer is that—whenever I meet someone for the first time—I immediately invent for them a personality and background that are invariably more interesting than the ones they possess. And confirming this character to be uninteresting after a few minutes of conversation, I decide that they are unnecessary to my story and begin devising ways to kill them off.

If the flag you raise is one of defeatism and negativity, only a morbid few will rally to it, and they will never accomplish anything.

It is society that gets to decide who is the blasphemer and who is the prophet. But it doesn’t matter, because they stone them both.

A library is a sacred place where the voices of the ancients can still be heard if we but give them the required silence.

A prophet is merely someone who rises beyond the warring factions of his day and proclaims a pox on both houses. He sees beyond the narrow framework within which the opposing factions tear at each other like rats in too small a cage. He sees what must be done while those who claim to be leaders see only the struggle for power.

When we find that the only answer rationality and the intellect can provide is death, then the only option is to open ourselves to spirituality. The precise job of the intellect is to define reality, and in defining, it limits what it defines. Reality is winnowed away until the spirit is lost, until possibilities unforeseen are lost. It is necessary from time to time for the individual to transcend the intellectual world he has fashioned, rediscover with the eyes of a child what he no longer sees with wise ones. A society too becomes trapped in its perceptions.

The goal is not to change minds but awaken them, not to make people believe but question. For in questioning, they shall find their own path to truth.

Our memories of the fields we played in and the house we lived in in our youth seem so large. And yet when we visit them when we are older they seem so small, not at all as we remember them. So too does the future seem. It appears to the child as a field so large we could never hope to traverse it all, but the adult slowly begins to see the fences appear on the horizon, until at last the old man sees only the smallest of gardens.

If war created peace, wouldn’t we have it by now?

It is impossible to be in 2 places at the same time, but by fixating on where you think you should be or want to be, to the point where you do not live in the moment, it is possible to be in 0 places at once.

Be careful what you call progress. Be certain before you call something inevitable. So much that is bad for us is accepted by us because of those two words.

Calling something inevitable is just another way of calling yourself powerless.

People strain too hard to see miracles, set the conditions under which they will accept the reality of a miracle too high. Miracles are all around us, they are daily occurrences. Miracles occur with every new sunrise and in every speck of life, no matter how small. If we cannot see the miracle of life, of living, we have lost the very reason to go on living.

If you are a smoker, just remember every time you inhale you are choosing smoke over oxygen.

Ask yourself what technological advance you most hope to see and then ask yourself what technological advance you most fear. Does your hope outweigh your fear?

If ever it was a good idea to hold up those who create much as heroes to be admired it is no longer the case. Perhaps a century or more ago, when scarcity existed, those who converted nature into product had their use to society. Today we must learn to hold up he who consumes little as the model to be emulated.

The secret of life is to live joyfully an existence which requires the utmost seriousness and provides us with death and hopelessness as the ultimate end.

Happiness is an elusive prey one can pursue but never possess. While it is a criminal act for someone to step in between you and your pursuit of happiness, it is a greater crime to expect another person to be responsible for your own happiness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Road I Travel

A Drive To Work

(If you are a writer, you write about anything you experience.)

I now drive 40 minutes to get to work every day. As an environmentally inclined person, I feel bad about that, but I do need to make the house payments. And despite the fact it takes a bite out of my day, I enjoy the ride. It’s through rural areas, and a good stretch of it is along Lake Michigan.

What I notice most is the number of dead animals lying on the road: deer, racoons, skunks, opossums. Once, society took the time to remove the bodies from the road, but now we leave them there. We no longer have the resources available to do such things, no longer have the political will to do much of anything. Everything that is done is done through the market now, and the market doesn’t care about animals, dead or alive.

Perhaps it was only ever a matter of cosmetics anyway. Perhaps we were just lying to ourselves about how a technologically advanced society treats the natural world. We didn’t want to know what our need for speed was doing to the rest of God’s creatures, or the planet, so we hid the evidence. And now that we have come so far, we no longer care. We’ve grown used to it, like the factory farm I drive by that smells of animal waste, where semi-trucks daily haul out milk in shiny metallic tanks to be packaged in little cardboard containers imprinted with pictures of cows in a pasture.

A veneer of trees obscures much of the crops that grow behind them. Once I imagined vast forests lay beyond, now I know they are mere barrier walls for crops of corn to feed the cows to feed the people.

I reach the lake and soon I am driving past the closed nuclear power plant. Within its depths somewhere, God knows what is stored in God knows what kind of containers. There is no plan to deal with the radioactive waste, and so they sit and will gradually become forgotten about. It is part of our mental makeup to forget about things, no matter how important and dire they may be, if we don’t have a good way of dealing with them.

Not far past the mostly-abandoned nuclear station, I see several signs on people’s property warning about the health risks of wind turbines. I am incapable of understanding the degree of disconnect required to not notice the irony.

Working nights, I drive home in darkness. It seems I have encountered thunderstorms almost nightly this summer. I can never remember a summer so full of thunder. One becomes aware of such things when one has a skittish dog and a long drive at night.

I’ve become aware of the weather of late. It almost seems that nature itself has become unnatural. In late August, I noticed the moon was just a tiny sliver, but that sliver was more red than I ever remember seeing it. A harvest moon, I know, but still it seemed an omen to me. Perhaps it is just me. I know it is foolish to look for signs in the sky. And yet, the desire to do so is deeply imbedded in our species. Perhaps, like animals who can sense impending natural disasters, human beings too are capable sensing danger without being able to understand why.

Nightly I drive home and encounter the wildlife that must contend with traffic while crossing the road. I see a chipmunk speed across, a frog taking large jumps to cross as quickly as possible. I see a deer peering at me from a ditch, a couple of raccoons who, once committed, seem unable to turn back even with my car speeding right into their path. I brake and the disaster is narrowly averted.

My eyes are wide open, my mind alert. I do not want to hit anything, not even a frog. And yet there is something within me urging me to go faster. I need to get home, back to my life I’ve had to abandon in order to do my job to earn money to afford my car payments, car insurance, and gasoline. There is a subliminal urge too great for my conscious mind to control, and my foot applies a little more pressure to the gas pedal. Time is precious. I’ve calculated that driving even 5 miles an hour less should be sufficient to prevent an accident should something jump out in front of me, but somehow every time I look at the speedometer, I’m going faster again. Have to race my coworkers, have to beat them home, win the race.

What is wrong with me? Why do I love nature and yet not only drive so far to work, but drive so quickly from it? It is technology, it enables me to do what objectively I would never wish to do. It is like being home with a box of Twinkies: I would never imagine gorging myself sick on unnatural food, would certainly not go out of my way to do so. Ah, but if it is already there… If bad behavior is effortless and satisfying in the short term, it makes it far more difficult to do the right thing. If all it takes is pushing my foot a little harder on a gas petal, why not go faster? If gas is so damn cheap that I suffer little by polluting the atmosphere and endangering God’s little creations, it does make it more difficult to do the right thing. I do want to do the right thing.

The answer is to fashion a world in which it is easier to make good decisions. We’ve done a poor job of that. We’ve made a world where advertisement is constantly telling you to buy what you do not need, consume what is not good for you, trust in the system advertisers perpetuate. We are told that progress is our only good, and that progress means continually pushing further down on the accelerator.

We are, each one of us, driving down the road at too great a speed, heedless of the damage we cause to the natural world we ultimately rely upon for our survival. We must be reminded again and again that not only are we in control of the gas pedal, but we also have a brake.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Len Wein: Elegy For A Storyteller

I just learned of Len Wein’s passing today, and feel the need to say a few words regarding how much he has contributed to comics and to my childhood and my desire to become a writer.

The youngest of five children, I was always surrounded by the comic books my older brothers would buy. They were one of the coolest things a young child could be immersed in, and I leafed through them long before I was able to read them.

I handled them carefully. My older siblings permitted me to look at them, but only after making sure I would be careful with them. Comics by their nature are rather fragile things, prone to ripping or creasing or water stains left from drinking cups left on top of them. So from my youth, I was taught a reverence for comic books that most kids my age never knew.

And at the age of six, it was time to buy my very first comic. On vacation, I walked a couple of blocks with my older brother to the local mom and pop store and had a look at the wonderfully over-stuffed comic book rack. I still remember the smell of them, blended with the aroma of assorted candies, popcorn, and bubble gum. Despite all the bright comics and recognized heroes on the covers, somehow my eyes were attracted to a comic with a large dark-green creature on the front. A muck-encrusted man-shaped monster, emerging from swampy waters.

I brought it home carefully, read it oh so reverently. At the age of six I could not have been able to read it all myself, and yet a comic book writer tells his story as much in pictures as he does in words. Besides, I had my older brother who read it along with me and was able to explain anything I did not understand. A legend, for me, was born. Another sympathetic creature the world did not understand, not unlike Frankenstein or many others any horror fan of the era would know. The monster who was not really a monster, who was actually more human than most of the people he encountered.

I followed the series as much as a child of my age and means permitted. I even went as far as to cut the cover off of issue #3 to hang up on my wall. But as for the first issue, I kept in as good a shape as could be expected of someone my age, always treated it as my most prized possession.

As I said before, most kids my age didn’t treat comics as carefully as I did. But if someone had a comic I wanted, I was willing to make a trade for it, even if it was not in top condition. Such was the case with Justice League Of America #101, written by Len Wein. To this day, the name Bob is on my copy of this amazing comic, the name of my best-friend’s brother. Again, the cover attracted my attention, but the story within was what so entranced me.

I had been familiar with the two separate teams of heroes, the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, had seen them team up to handle a crisis or two. But Justice League #101 had them searching for a third group of heroes, one whose very existence had been wiped from the memories of everyone. Second in a three issue story, this comic nevertheless became a favorite of mine. For years I sought out the rest of the story, which I eventually found in a $1 digest. It did not disappoint.

Flash forward to 1980, when I was 14. I was already reading Dostoyevsky and Hawthorne, but I still had a soft spot for comics. When I came upon the miniseries The Untold Legend Of The Batman, I already sensed it would be a classic. To this day it is still the definitive Batman story for me. It was written, of course, by Len Wein.

Wein later did some excellent work on one of my favorite comics, Green Lantern. He also turned to editorial duties when the Swamp Thing comic was resurrected to correspond with the dreadful movie of the same name. The comics were much better, beginning with very solid work by Martin Pasko, and then brought to an unbelievable level with the introduction of Alan Moore as writer.

And speaking of Alan Moore, Len Wein was there again as editor when Moore wrote the groundbreaking, seminal milestone that was Watchmen. It was an instant and widely recognized classic not just in comics but in fiction in general (I still prefer his work on Swamp Thing, but perhaps it is because I am so fond of the comic Len Wein created).

Lastly, at least as far I was concerned, Len Wein acted as editor of yet another of my favorite comics, All Star Squadron. As happened in my cherished Justice League #101, I was introduced to an entire cast of characters from the Golden Age of comics of which I’d been completely unaware. The past had come alive again, the deepest of archeological digs had taken place in order to have history’s mysteries retrieved. Generations had been bridged, and once again I had Len Wein, in part, to thank for it.

And this was just some of the work he did for DC Comics! There is a whole other story to be written about the work he did for Marvel Comics, but I’ll let someone who grew up reading those to tell you about them. I’ll just mention one name: Wolverine.

While I at some point outgrew reading comics (at least for a time), they—and most notably Len Wein—were at the foundation of my reading experiences, and you never outgrow your foundations. The vast panoramas he created, characters both sympathetic and inspirational, stories that gripped you on multiple levels, these will always loom large in the basement of my soul, the place where comic books are stored to be read on rainy afternoons. Heroism, justice, a sense of mystery and imagination, these were all things that were given to me by a man I was never fortunate enough to meet. I hope in some small way, Mr. Wein, my writing can give to others what you have given to me.