Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas2011

            Christmas is probably my least favorite holiday of the year.
            Some will read that and wonder what kind of scrooge I must be to say such a thing.
            It’s not that I don’t like the idea of Christmas. I do. I like it very much. My heart is always deeply moved as it ponders the possibility of peace, joy and harmony between us individual human beings and between races, classes and nations of people. It’s a wonderful and beautiful concept, a model, really, of how we ought to see and treat each other every day. And the underlying belief, the foundational belief that the divine has pulled down and will continue obstinately to pull down the barriers you and I throw up every day makes the heart swell with humility and gratitude.
            Christmas, to me, memorializes a magnanimous gift of the divine, a gift so obscure in its origin and so outrageous in its scope that it defies our puny understanding, a gift lavished upon us without regard to whether we’ve been naughty or nice. It memorializes a gift which we cannot consume but which, instead, consumes us.
            So, yes, I like the idea and the promise of Christmas. I just don’t care much for what we’ve done with it. Christmas is a season of the heart, a season when the heart is especially encouraged to listen beyond its own selfish beating to hear the soft, sweet song of the divine. I’m not going to subject you to a rant about how we have taken this season of the heart and turned it into an orgy of consumption. I will content myself with that mini-rant and tell you a story. You may have heard it before, but I’ll tell it again.
            This is a condensed and simplified version of what became known as the Christmas Truce. During the week before Christmas, 1914, during the First World War, at various points along the battle lines British troops in their trenches heard singing coming from the German trenches on the other side of the no-man’s land – the killing zone – which separated them. They recognized the songs as Christmas Carols. The British troops began to sing carols, too. Before long the opposing troops were shouting Christmas greetings to each other. On Christmas Eve men on both sides eased out of their trenches and joined their adversaries in the no-man’s land. In the center of the killing zone, they laid down their weapons, shook each other’s hands, exchanged simple gifts of food and cigarettes and sang Christmas carols.
            All were soldiers, men who were doing their duty to their respective nations. That which united them: their common Christianity, was able to unite them for only a few hours. That which divided them: their common humanity, sent them back to their trenches and back to their devoted efforts to kill each other.
            There is an element of deep sadness in that story. But there is an element of hope, too. Warring factions laid down their weapons and opened their arms to their enemies. Yes, it was brief, but it could never have happened at all, never in a million years, if the spirit of Christmas had not briefly taken sole possession of the hearts of those men. There is much hope there.

            I’m not going to wish you Merry Christmas or happy holidays. I’m going to wish you a season of the heart. If you have that, you’ll have the others.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Illegal Drugs - Dancing with the Devil

            This is not an easy issue. I’ve tried to put aside my biases and previously conceived ideas and to look honestly and dispassionately at this issue and all I can say is, sometimes you have to dance with the devil.
            Are you watching the aptly named ‘Border Wars’ on the National Geographic channel? If you aren’t aware of the war going on along the US/Mexico border, you need to get your head out of the sand. Every day cartels in Mexico attempt to ship huge amounts of marijuana and other illegal drugs into the US to feed the insatiable American demand. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry. It funds a shadow government of thugs and terrorists. Innocent men, women and children in Mexican border towns are unable to go about their normal lives for fear of being caught in the frequent cross-fires between rival drug gangs. I hope you won’t brush this off like one man I heard who said, ‘Well, that’s a foreign country’. His callous attitude left me speechless. Don’t brush it off. It isn’t a matter of there being cartels in Mexico and none in the US. The difference is that they’re more organized there. When criminal groups in the US start organizing and consolidating, as they surely will – the huge financial potential guarantees it, we’ll see dead bodies pile up in our streets, too.
            The illegal drug industry is a gushing faucet pouring billions of dollars out of this country every year and putting it into the hands of monsters who use it to buy political influence and to secure their murderous regimes. Why can’t we extract one of the fangs of that monster? Why can’t we remove marijuana from the list of illegal drugs?
            For the record, I don’t partake. This is not a self-serving position. Tobacco is my drug of choice and it kills more people every year than all the illicit drugs combined. And it’s legal. I say we should legalize marijuana. Standardize the THC content, educate the public as with the recent successful anti-smoking campaigns, regulate it like we regulate alcohol, and tax it.
            Is this a question of morality? Yes. Absolutely. Admit that we live in an imperfect world and that our choices are usually between imperfect alternatives. If you admit that you’ll begin to see that this is a question of whether it is more immoral to legalize marijuana or to continue to fund a vicious, murderous, criminal element. It’s impossible for me to see the issue as a choice between good and bad. I can only see it as a choice between bad and horrendous. We made that choice with alcohol, which may be a more dangerous drug than marijuana, and we made it with tobacco, which certainly is. I haven’t heard the term in years, but when I was a kid the tax on alcohol and tobacco was called the ‘sin tax’. It was accepted that people were going to consume substances which could be harmful to them. It was accepted that sometimes you have to dance with the devil.
            Moreover, we would all agree that our government has a moral obligation to protect its citizens, to provide for each of us a reasonable expectation of safety and security. But the policy of criminalizing marijuana has created a growing atmosphere of danger and insecurity, especially for poor inner-city communities. If we continue blindly down this path we can only make the situation worse. The argument could be made that, in order to protect its citizens, the US government has an obligation to legalize marijuana so as to deny gangs and cartels the opportunity to consolidate and become more firmly established institutions in this country. I sigh deeply as I hear myself saying that we should give government further institutional control, but in an imperfect world we have to choose between evils, and this is a lesser evil than allowing cartels to seize that power through bribery, coercion and murder.
            What if marijuana were legalized? Put emotion aside for a moment and consider the practical benefits. 1) It would partially disarm a powerful criminal element both in Mexico and in the US. 2) It wouldn’t be a shot in the arm for American farmers, it would be a transfusion. 3) It would pare down the government bureaucracy and save taxpayers millions of dollars. 4) The tax revenues would be a welcome addition to suffering local, state and federal coffers. 5) It would keep dollars in this country instead of shipping them to foreign hands.
            It’s a difficult issue. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to make these choices. In a perfect world this wouldn’t even be an issue. This isn’t a perfect world. I come to the end of my argument and I realize that this isn’t, after all, a question of whether or not we will dance with the devil but a question of whether or not we will choose to dance with a lesser devil.
            Don’t stop here. Study the issue. Why is marijuana illegal? How many drug related murders occur in the US every year? How did Prohibition contribute to the rise of organized crime (the ‘mob’)? These are a very few areas to get you started. And remember William Drummond’s observation: “He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dares not reason is a slave.”

            Light a candle.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bring Jobs Back

            When I started on this post, my mind went almost instantly to consumerism and, while I see unbridled consumerism as related to the exporting of manufacturing jobs, the issue here is more straightforward: how do we turn off the faucets that are pouring money out of the country, so I’ll save my rant against consumerism for a future post.
            Did you see the recent series, ‘Made in America’, on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer? A crew went into the home of an American family and removed everything that wasn’t manufactured in the US. When they were through, the house was completely empty. Well, almost. There was one lonely little bouquet of artificial flowers – not the vase, just the flowers.
            A friend who shares my concern about the state of affairs in our nation told me that there are fewer than twelve million manufacturing jobs in this country. The population of the US is about three hundred million. Yes, there are other types of jobs, but manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. As manufacturing jobs were being taken, we were assured that other types of jobs, especially technical, computer related jobs, would replace them. That hasn’t happened. It’s unlikely that it will.
            The effect of this wholesale exporting of jobs has been to impoverish us. 1) The incomes of millions of people disappeared, along with the taxes they used to pay. 2) The property taxes formerly paid by the businesses to local governments, taxes that helped support law enforcement, emergency personnel and schools, dried up. 3) The money people spend on goods manufactured overseas, everything from clothing to major appliances, leaves this country and no longer circulates within the community. 4) People who want to work cannot find jobs.
            What happens when we ship off our tax base? A recent TV show chronicled the sorry condition of our infrastructure: roads, bridges, water lines, sewer lines, etc. are falling apart and there’s no money to repair them. The deterioration of the infrastructure seems to parallel the exporting of jobs. Are they related? I can’t say for certain that they are, but it sure is an interesting parallel.
            Why were jobs shipped out in the first place? Personally, I wonder if they weren’t shipped out to punish and, ultimately, to destroy labor unions. I’m not a big fan of labor unions. In my view they occupy the same position as big business, big finance and government on every level – they are necessary evils, necessary because people seem incapable of controlling the compulsion to screw other people for profit.
            Anyway, we were told that manufacturing jobs were shipped out to save money, so that we, the consumers, could save a dime here and there. Well, we saved those dimes – where are they? We aren’t richer; we’re poorer. We’re poorer because jobs and the income they provided have vanished, poorer because the taxes that used to help support local services have departed, poorer because what money we do have is spent on foreign goods and, therefore, cycled out of our communities forever.
            What’s the downside to bringing manufacturing back? For the life of me, I can’t think of one thing. It may slightly increase the cost of manufactured goods, but the few studies I’ve seen are split on that issue. American workers do make more per hour than their foreign counterparts, but American workers are famously efficient. A recent study said that Chinese workers are 30% as efficient as American workers. In practical terms, for every 100 finished parts an American worker turns out, his Chinese counterpart turns out only 30. But does it matter that we pay a little more for American-made goods? It is, after all, bringing jobs and income, investment and taxes back home where they will benefit us and our posterity. And it will put people back to work. People want to work. As I understand it a woman’s sense of self-worth revolves around her family, but men peg their sense of self-worth to employment. A man with no work will soon question his worth as a man. I’ve been there. I know. Put him to work.
            What can you and I, individually, do to bring manufacturing jobs back? We can stop buying foreign made goods. Christmas is coming. How many gifts can you purchase that were made in the US? We can tell the managers at the big box stores that we want, nay, demand, American-made goods. Don’t tell them once. Tell them repeatedly.

            Light a candle.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Turn off the petroleum faucet

            There’s still a lot of wealth in this nation. A part of me wants to focus on the real wealth in the US: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, right to trial by peers. You know the list. This is the true wealth of this republic.
            But my focus here is on financial wealth, of which there is still a huge amount. I want my children, step-children and grandchildren to have access to the benefits I’ve enjoyed all my life. I have no problem with sharing wealth with nations and peoples in need. It would be unchristian not to do so. What concerns me is that the wealth of the nation is being squandered. We’re flushing the financial hopes of the next several generations.
            Every day we send billions of dollars out of our economy to purchase foreign crude oil. Yes, it’s essential to the modern world, every nation needs it, but it is a finite resource. There’s no question but that if alternative fuels aren’t developed, we will find ourselves at war with China and/or India for access to crude oil.
            Will my grandchildren pay with their lives because I refused to remove my blindfold or was just was too damned lazy either to curtail my use of petroleum or to help find alternatives?
            Petroleum is a necessity, but are there viable alternatives? Gasoline may be the most obvious petroleum product, so let’s focus on that. Can we either control our insatiable appetite for gasoline or find a viable alternative? The answer to the first is, probably not. We’re addicted to the freedom gasoline gives us, so controlling our appetite will be difficult, but the good news is, there are workable substitutes.
            One has to applaud the advances made in developing alternative fuels. You’ve heard that some are converting used frying oil from the local fast-food joints to diesel fuel. Some are trying to produce gasoline from algae – pond scum. Electric and hybrid vehicles are more common. Very cool, but is that where we want to be down the road?
            I remember the gas crisis of the early 70s when OPEC turned off the faucets. There was near panic worldwide. The US felt the crunch immediately and we only imported about 25% of our petroleum needs at the time. Today we import 75-80%. Ordinary people complained and moaned but, when OPEC turned the taps on again, we went back to our previous uncaring attitudes. But one nation felt the pain and decided to do something about it. Brazil turned to ethanol. Today, ethanol powers the majority of Brazilian automobiles and they don’t have to import it. They grow it and refine it, keeping their money at home. I don’t know if Brazil is energy independent, but it’s a lot closer to it than we are. And as a little side note, your gasoline engine could be converted to use ethanol with a few minor modifications.
            There is a movement in the US to use more ethanol, but the effort seems half-hearted and, I believe, misguided. It’s half-hearted because ordinary people aren’t behind it. It seems that the prevalent attitude is, so long as there is gas at the pumps and enough money to buy it, most people don’t give a hoot. It’s misguided because when we think of ethanol, we think of corn, and corn is a poor choice for ethanol. First, it creates competition for a staple food item which drives up the price of the thousands of food products made from corn. Second, it’s inefficient. For every unit of energy used to convert corn to ethanol, only one and one-half units of energy are produced. The net gain is only one-half unit. In Brazil they use sugar cane. The benefits are: first, it doesn’t create competition for a staple food item and, second, for every unit of energy used to convert sugar cane to ethanol, seven units of energy are produced. The net gain is six units. That’s incredible.
            So, why don’t we grow sugar cane and refine it? Yes, it grows here. My dad grew it and had it made into molasses. We don’t grow and refine it because there’s no one behind the effort. We can’t import ethanol from Brazil because the US government import tax is so high that it removes the economic viability. I guess that’s done to protect the interests of big oil, who only care about their bottom line and don’t give a sick rat’s behind about you and me, or about our country, so we are forced to continue depending on foreign oil.
            But is ethanol is the answer? It might be used as a short term measure, but the long term answer, in my opinion, is hydrogen.
            This isn’t science fiction. Hydrogen powered vehicles are being driven already. They don’t pollute. The exhaust emission is – water. You could order one tomorrow. The problem is, you can’t refuel it. Critics say it would be too costly to set up the necessary network of hydrogen refueling stations. It’s a Catch 22. So long as there are no hydrogen powered vehicles, no refueling stations will be built and so long as there are no refueling stations, no one will buy a hydrogen powered vehicle. I say it’s too costly not to set up those refueling stations.
            How can it be done? Here’s a thought. Every state in the nation has a fleet of vehicles. What if a state could be persuaded to convert, as much as possible, to hydrogen powered vehicles and to set up the necessary refueling stations state-wide, stations which would also be available for public use? And what if the US postal service changed over to hydrogen powered vehicles and set up refueling stations, also available for public use?
            What are the benefits? 1) We decrease the demand and competition for crude oil, which means it’s less likely that your grandchildren and mine will be sent to die for it. 2) We keep our mobile lifestyle. 3) We cut way back on the amount of pollution entering the atmosphere. 4) We keep our money at home to benefit us, our children and our grandchildren and, if we build the vehicles here, we create jobs. 5) We can look back on our lives and say we stopped being part of the problem and became part of the solution.

            Light a candle.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Light a Candle 2

            I watched a nature show about seasonal cycles in some part of Africa. The rainy season brings such huge amounts of water that the rivers flood and water spreads out over vast stretches of land. The fish do what fish do: they follow the water looking for food. Then the dry season sets in and the water in the wet-season lakes drains back toward the main rivers, and every year, large populations of fish are cut off and stranded in small, rapidly evaporating pools. There were pockets of drowning fish packed gill to gill in three inches of mud. Their fate was to bake in the sun or become easy meals for any passing predator.
            I remember the late 50s and the 60s and the sense of pride and optimism shared by the majority of US citizens. That was when the US was the major manufacturing nation in the world. We made all manner of things, and made them with pride. Moreover, the US was the major farming nation in the world.
            Money used to flow in. Now it flows out.
            Whereas huge amounts of money used to flow into the US and smaller amounts flowed out, now the trend has reversed. Huge amounts of money flow out for foreign petroleum. Huge amounts of money flow out for apparel and other manufactured goods. Huge amounts of money flow out for illegal drugs. Yes, I’m including that because the amount of money flowing out for illegal drugs is staggering.
            Not only does this huge outflow serve to impoverish us, it goes into the pockets of groups and individuals who have no love for the US. We’re funding the wars against us. I saw an interview several years ago with a cocaine exporter from Colombia. He said he was happy with his work because he hated the US and hoped he was helping to bring it down.
            That’s the big picture. The local picture is similar. Every US town has a multitude of national chain stores: Walmart, Kmart, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Home Depot, Office Depot, and the baker’s dozen of grocery stores. The bulk of the money we spend at these stores flows out of the community. Yes, they pay wages and property taxes which puts money back into the local economy, but that is a trifle in comparison to the amount of money that leaves the community, never to return.
            Isn’t one remedy to stop sending our money out of our communities? Can’t I buy at least a portion of my groceries at the locally owned grocery store or from the farmer parked on the side of the road? Can’t I buy shoes and clothing made in the US, if I can find any? Can’t I buy goods that are manufactured locally, or regionally or nationally? If I can’t find it made in the US, do I really need it? And why am I supporting businesses that outsource their customer services to foreign countries?
            Don’t be sidetracked by the claim that we’re a global economy. We’ve always been a global economy. That used to mean that wealth flowed in. Now it means that wealth flows out. We need to turn off those faucets before they drain us dry.
            Remember the rainy-season illustration above? I have this fear that, if we don’t turn off those faucets, my children and grandchildren will be like those fish, trapped and drowning in an economic mud puddle. It’s already happening in small towns nationwide. It doesn’t have to be that way, does it?
            In future posts, I’m going to give my two cents worth about the three gushing faucets I mentioned: petroleum, manufacturing and illegal drugs. You and I can save this nation, we can turn the tide, but we have to wake up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chains of Events

            I’m one of those people who believes that things in life happen in the correct sequence. Whether we label them good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate, they happen in the sequence which will be most beneficial for the inner person. I don’t know if that sounds fatalistic. I don’t think of myself that way. I’m upbeat and optimistic. I believe we have to work our butts off to achieve what we want and although what we get may not be what we envisioned, it will be what is most beneficial for us.
            I was reminded of this again recently when a friend with the right connections agreed to put a copy of “What Rough Beast” into the hands of the book reviewer for a major newspaper. And I mean a major newspaper, as in a circulation of a million or so and possibly a nationally syndicated circulation of several times that. Do you have any idea what impact a favorable review from such a person would mean? In short, a favorable review would mean, WOW! And that’s putting it mildly.
            My friend was careful to remind me that there are no guarantees. I know that. First, there’s no guarantee that the book reviewer will actually read the book. Book reviewers, especially those who work for major publications, are inundated with requests to be reviewed. They have to set priorities and decide what they will read and when. She may or may not decide to read “What Rough Beast”. Second, there’s no guarantee that, if the reviewer reads the book, she will like it and publish a favorable review.
            You know what? I’m not worried about either of those two things. I’m not worried that the reviewer might not read it, and I’m not worried that she might not like it. I am thrilled to death that a friend is going to bat for me. That’s a very special feeling.
            I may have shared this next bit before. If I did, I’ll repeat it. Repetition is one of the privileges of age. I wrote “What Rough Beast” twenty years ago. Yep. Twenty years ago. It was the first of four novels I wrote between 1989 and 1993. A number of people read “What Rough Beast” and liked it. I sent it out to publishers but it didn’t get any traction, as they say. After awhile, I put it down. The mid 90s was a time of spiritual, emotional and financial turmoil in my life, and I stopped serious writing. The stories didn’t stop telling themselves to me, I just stopped trying to write them down. But the urge to write, the urge to tell stories, is something that can grip you relentlessly, and three years ago I started writing again.
            This sequence of events spanning twenty plus years is not what I would have chosen, but it is what it is, and I believe it will turn out to be the most beneficial one for me as a person. And that’s a really good feeling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Light a Candle

            I’ve been around for a few years, and I don’t remember so many people being so put out with the state of things. Many aren’t just ‘put out’; they’re down-right mad. I’m trying not to join the cadre of the angry, but it’s hard. I believe the current mal ease which is so prevalent among us is the result of frustration, frustration and the intuitive fear brought on by the realization that we, as individuals, are not nearly as self-sufficient as we thought we were.

            You and I are totally dependent upon outside forces. Operative word: totally.
            We have so little control over those forces that we can only admit that we are little better off than the flotsam that drifts upon the sea, carried wherever the tides would take it. We’re told that we have control; that we can vote. Well, I’ve voted for forty years and the same empty smiles and empty promises that were in office forty years ago are still in office today. Yes, the faces have changed, but that’s about all. The average person in this country is not better off today than forty years ago. We’re worse off. And the scary thing is - worse still is in the offing.

            We’ve been led all our lives to believe that the powers that be are kindly disposed toward us, but we see with increasing clarity that they are utterly disinterested in the wellbeing of us as individuals or in the wellbeing of that class of millions of hard working citizens we call ‘the middle class’. They are interested in one thing and one thing only: their personal bottom lines, and if you don’t contribute to that bottom line, well, then you can go to hell.
            For my part I believe the real purpose of the recent soap operas in the halls of congress between the one side and the other is to divide the people and to focus our attention on peripheral issues so that we won’t see the real problem with this country.

            What is the real problem with this country? The problem is the scarcity of men and women in positions of power who hold dear the precepts of justice and equality which were espoused by our founding fathers. The problem is the scarcity of men and women in power who actually care about the people of this country. Personally, I’m convinced that we could fire every member of Congress, go town to town across the country picking people at random to fill their positions, and those chosen at random would do a better job for the people.
            Abraham Lincoln said, in his Gettysburg Address, that this is a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. I don’t know if that was true in 1864. Today we are, more and more, a nation of the very rich, by the very rich and for the very rich.

            Here I am, doing what I didn’t want to do. I’m cursing the darkness. It’s better to light a candle that to curse the darkness. I want to view the present situation as an opportunity for relevant change which will benefit my children and grandchildren and raise anew this nation as a symbol of justice, freedom and equality. But what can one person do?
            I can be a squeaky wheel. With this post, I just started on that road. Maybe you’ll be a squeaky wheel, too. When there are enough squeaky wheels, when the noise gets loud enough, someone will have to listen. There is a fundamental truth that we must understand and take to heart. Those in power over us may disrespect us, disregard us and discourage us. They may try to divide us against each other and divert our focus to trivial things, but at the end of the day, they deeply fear an unhappy populace. An unhappy populace is not good for the bottom line. So if the sound of squeaky wheels gets loud enough, things will change.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Changing gears

            That grinding sound you hear is the sound of me changing gears.
            First, a brief update. I received the proof copy of “What Rough Beast” and put it into the hands of a proofreader. Errors and typos will be corrected, it will be resubmitted to the publisher and, if things continue on track, the book will be available in October. Also, my website is under construction. I don’t have a completion date but I expect it will also be in October. Now. Changing gears.
            I’m a writer and I want what every writer wants. I want you to read what I write. The whole point of starting this blog was to allow you to get to know me and my style of writing. It was to give you glimpses of my personality and of the way I view the world so you could decide whether or not you want to spend your valuable time and your hard-earned money on books that I write. Obviously, I wanted you to decide that you did.
            I’ve been holding back on you.
            I’ve spent a lot of energy during my adult life in constructing and presenting a certain image. What I’ve created is a Chris who cares too much what people think of him. When I was a child, a teen and a young adult, I didn’t care if you liked me, I didn’t care what you thought of me. I was who I was and you could take it or leave it. I changed when I entered the ministry. Ministers are required to think too much about their public persona. As the ‘face of the church’, ministers often find it necessary to dial back some of the intensity and be what people want them to be. That transformation required a lot of energy from me because I had to put a damper on my intensity. That was difficult because I’m a man with intense and passionate feelings about certain things.
            I feel passionately about meaning. I am incapable of going about my life and not digging into what it means to be a living creature. And I am equally incapable of allowing other people who don’t know ‘where I’ve been’ to impose upon me their definitions of meaning.
            Meaning cannot be divorced from the divine. I have an intense interest it the divine, and the divine has an intense interest in me.
            Relationships cannot be separated from either of the above. Our relationships with others are the reflections of ourselves in the mirror of our hearts.
            And I love people. Every human interaction is an opportunity to catch a glimpse or hear a whisper of the divine. Every human interaction is an opportunity to be a glimpse or whisper of the divine.
            I also have passionate dislikes. I hate people who use guilt and fear to manipulate others. I hate injustice; I hate its every face and form. I hate greed, in particular greed that is hidden behind a fa├žade of benevolence. And I hate apathy, especially my own.
            What’s the point of this? I’m changing gears. I’m tired of hiding behind the mask of myself. I’m going to let you see the unapologetic Chris, what he likes and what he doesn’t like. I feel compelled to do so. Originally, I just wanted to entice you to buy my books, but there are more important things than selling a few books.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A (tongue in cheek) Theory of Negativity

            I’ve been having a word or two with myself for not posting in awhile. In the beginning I committed to myself, and to you who give me time out of your day, to post at least once a week, and I’ve been lax. I can say that I’ve been writing a new story, editing an old story and doing re-writes on one in between, all of which is true. I can say that I took a long weekend to see my eleven year-old son who was visiting from France, a truly meaningful time for me. I can say that my time and attention have been claimed by a number of other things (like that cursed thing, work) which cannot be denied, and all these things would be true, but they would be excuses and not reasons for not posting. The reason I haven’t posted in awhile is that, recently, I’ve been under the sway of negativity – negativity in the form of dissatisfaction.

            Just about anything produces in me a negative reaction: government at every level, insurance companies, rich people, poor people, banks (don’t get me started on banks), you name it. I try to keep my mouth shut. I mean, people are discouraged enough without having to hear my negative two cents worth. I’m successful about half the time. Yesterday I backslid. Someone said that something was on sale at Walmart. The first thing out of my mouth was, “Walmart has financially impoverished every community it has entered.” And while that’s true of Walmart and every other big national chain, it was a negative comment.
            I wonder if my attitude has anything to do with male menopause. Yes, men go through a change of life, too. I wish they’d find another name for it, something unique to men, like testosteropause or something. Oh, well. That isn’t important.

            I don’t like being negative. I want to be upbeat and positive, but I realized something on my way home after work. The negativity caused by dissatisfaction is what has moved civilization forward.
            Yep. You heard it here first. Negativity is the catalyst that moves civilization forward.

            Okay. Here’s my reasoning. As children we heard it said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, but I beg to differ. I propose that every invention that improved life or made it easier came because someone was dissatisfied with things as they were.
            Picture it. Go back with me for a moment to a time in the ancient past. We can’t see in the utter darkness of the cave, but we hear the curses as some young mother stubs her toe, again, in the dark as she goes to soothe her crying child. “Why does it have to be so dark?” she might have said, to which her patient and long suffering husband may have replied, “It is better, dear wife, to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” To which she replied, “Candle? What’s a candle?”

            Ah hah. See my point? The negativity caused by our dissatisfaction moves us forward. With that in mind, I don’t feel quite so down on myself. I wonder where my dissatisfaction will lead me.
            Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Coincidental Divine

            I recently read a definition of coincidence that went something like this: a coincidence is an occurrence where the divine chooses to remain anonymous. That isn’t the exact quote, but it’s the gist. It’s an interesting point of view, but not wide sweeping enough for me. It’s my belief that 99.9% of our interactions with the divine are, for all intent and purpose, entirely coincidental. Let me give an example.

            In 1988-89 I worked for eight months at a facility for juvenile offenders. The boys, sixteen to eighteen years old, who were serving time in the ‘reformatory’ were not hardened criminals or violent offenders. One kid, for example, had gotten into an argument with his step-dad and, in a huff, had driven away in the family car. He often took the family car without asking permission, but on that occasion his angry step-dad decided to make a point and had the boy arrested for grand theft, auto. The charge stood and the kid was sentenced to six months. Some of the kids had been caught smoking marijuana and were doing time for that. They weren’t angels and a few were on track to become career criminals and deserved to be incarcerated, but mostly they were a rambunctious but not a violent bunch.

            One day I got into the lunch line behind three boys whose horse play was getting a little out of hand, so I called them down. One kid whirled around and pointed his napkin-wrapped flatware at my throat. It was a stupid teenaged bluff and I was in no real danger. Before I could say a word, the boy’s eyes flicked over my right shoulder and instantly took on a look of anxiety just before his hand jerked away from my neck and he turned quickly around.

            What the heck, right?

            I turned to my right to see another of the boys, one of the bigger, meaner boys, behind me. He just nodded nonchalantly at me and turned his attention elsewhere. But it was clear that he had given some signal to the boy in front of me, and that boy had desisted, most quickly, in his bluff.

            What had happened? I knew the bigger boy, it was a small group of kids, but we had not developed any sort of friendly bond. So why had he come to my defense? Maybe he had a kindly feeling toward me. Maybe he had an unkindly feeling toward the other kid, or maybe they were friends and he didn’t want him to get into trouble. There was a reason, there always is, but the reason doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is, in that brief moment in time, he was my guardian angel.

            Pure coincidence, that certain small group of people coming together in a given space at a specific point in time, brought together purely by coincidence, and one chose to be, and was tasked with being, a guardian angel. He chose, and he was tasked. To me, it’s the same thing. I think that’s how the divine works. Another person, I, was chosen to be reminded that the divine is at all times near, sometimes even in the guise of a big, tough juvenile offender.

            The whole thing is just too cool to express, but you can see it working, if your eyes are open to the coincidental divine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Myth, fable, legend

            My position, stated in the previous post, is that, even though we try, humans cannot lead the divine in the dance of life. Here’s some of my thinking on that.

            We all have a general idea of the distinctions between myth, fable and legend. A legend, to me, is a story that doesn’t need to teach anything – ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. A fable is a story, often with animal characters, which is intended to teach a lesson – ‘Aesop’s Fables’. A myth is a story which is supposed to tell us why things are the way they are.

            My personal favorite is myth. I like the word. I like the way it sounds, the way it comes out of the mouth like a feather. And I like the way I understand it. Once upon a time, myth, to me, was the same as ‘lie’, but no longer. I did a research paper on myth back in the day, and the way I view the word and its function changed completely. I came to see myth, not as an ancient fabrication, but as a living thing. Myth has a function in life.

            I believe a myth is 1) a story which attempts to tell us why things are the way they are, and 2) a living story in that it can come alive to us and help us interpret ourselves and our existence. What does this have to do with the human tendency to try to lead in the divine/human dance?

            Theologians call it ‘original sin’.

            We’re all familiar with the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. It’s a myth, as defined above. It answers the question, where does evil come from? In my opinion, the insight the ancients were trying to share is usually lost on us because we get distracted by apples and snakes and debates over whether it actually happened or not. We get distracted and we miss the insight.

            In Sunday School, we were told that we are separated from the divine because of ‘original sin’. As a child, it made no sense to me that I should suffer because of something someone else did. As I grew to adulthood, it continued to make no sense to me, and I found no help from people who I hoped would know the answer. So, I came to my own conclusion. I think the key is in the temptation. Forget the garden, the snake, the fruit and the two naked aboriginal humans. Forget the question of whether it actually happened or not, and look at the temptation: ‘you shall be as god’. I believe we are separated from the divine by our efforts to take on the prerogatives and semblances of the divine, generally as it relates to other people.

            I read recently that one percent of the US population controls forty percent of the nation’s wealth. My first thought was, how can anyone need so much wealth, but it was a silly question. Wealth is power, and power lifts us above the ‘unwashed masses’ and allows us to ‘lord it’ over them. Power makes us ‘godlike’ in the eyes of our fellow humans. The poor bow before the rich, begging for a crumb from his/her table. (Give me a job, please.) The powerless idolize (which means to worship) the powerful. Ordinary people stand in line for hours just to catch a fleeting glimpse of movie stars and sports stars. (He waved at me!)

            Power is a temptation few of us can resist. It may be the most potent of all aphrodisiacs. And you can never have enough.

            So, here is where the myth of Adam and Eve comes alive for me and instructs me. Here I believe I can see the insight of the ancients because I commit ‘original sin’ every day, multiple times a day, every time I seek to lift myself, every time I chose to enhance my power, however little it may be, over others.

            The man from Galilee warned against that. He told us not to lift ourselves, but to lift others, especially the weak, the poor, the fatherless. He said, and this is important, that the divine would lift us.

            In our efforts to lift ourselves, we struggle against the divine. In our efforts to empower ourselves, we are trying to lead the divine/human dance.

            The ramifications are many and daunting. One could argue that even my desire that others read my words is a desire to be lifted, to be empowered. As I consider the ramifications, I feel like I’m standing upon a precipice, gazing into the immense gulf which separates me from the divine, a gulf which I myself have dug, and I feel the anguish of the ancient writer who said, ‘woe is me, for I am undone’.

            But then I sense a hand reaching out to me, and a gentle voice inside my soul says, “Would you like to dance?”

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dancing With the Divine

             A month or so ago, I said in a post that my novels are about people ‘wrestling with the divine’, and I went on to say that, in my opinion, ‘all of life is wrestling with the divine’. A couple of people asked for elaboration and clarification, and I shied away from it. I shied away because there are two things that are certain to alienate people: politics and religion. This post was never intended to address either one. But since that blog, I can’t seem to let go of the idea. My work requires me to drive a lot, which gives me time to think, and the divine/human interplay keeps teasing me to try to unfold little pieces of it. I can’t let go of it, or it can’t let go of me, which in my understanding are similar things, if not the same thing. So, I’m going to air a few of my thoughts about the divine. I have no objective, other than to put my thoughts down on virtual paper, which often helps me to clarify them in my own mind.
            I should make a couple of preliminary comments. First, I’m not a religious guy. Yes, I ponder the divine/human relationship, but I’m not religious in the traditional sense. Second, I’m not trying to sell anything here. I’m not advocating anything. I’m not evangelizing, proselytizing or any other sort of ‘izing’. I’m just sharing thoughts and observations. Third, I use the term, ‘the divine’, in order to avoid the names and titles we’re familiar with. I do that because ‘the divine’ seems to carry the least amount of baggage.
            So, having said all that, I’ll tell you that when my wife read the blog mentioned above, she took ‘wrestling with the divine’ to mean ‘struggling against’. And why not? We’re the products of our TVs, and ‘wrestling’ is two people in a ring, each trying to overwhelm the other. So when she made her comment, I was sure that others would have understood it the same way. While there are clearly times when we struggle against the divine, I would want to put equal emphasis on the element of the divine struggling together with us, struggling alongside us. So, I decided that I needed a new metaphor; I decided to change my metaphor from wrestling to dancing – dancing with the divine.
            When this metaphor came to mind, a memory popped up and wanted to be included. There was a country song popular not long ago that said, “life’s a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.” While that makes for a catchy lyric, and while it’s true in certain instances (we lead our children, we follow our leaders), I don’t think it’s true of that broad, wide concept we call, ‘life’. In my opinion, all of life is informed by the divine/human interplay, the divine/human dance.
            And we can never lead in the divine/human dance. We must always follow.
            It has been my observation over the years that those who are most unfulfilled in their relationship with the divine are the ones who think they can lead the dance. It’s not wholly their fault. We seem to have a proclivity for ‘leading’, so we get in line to hear religious leaders telling us that we can ‘name it and claim it’. We get in line when we hear religiously unaffiliated people advising us that, if we know ‘the secret’, we can call the cosmos to do our bidding. Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t that calling the divine to do our bidding? Isn’t that leading?
            If that’s how you choose to believe, I sincerely wish the best for you, really. As I said above, I’m not here to change your point of view, only to express mine. In my understanding, the human can never lead the divine. The human must always struggle to be attuned to the divine, to stay in step with the divine.
            But as we struggle to stay in step, the divine struggles alongside us.

            Next: why we try to lead the dance.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Update

            An interesting thing happened on my journey through last week.

            Last week, life served up for me a platter with a most interesting mix of the usual and of the unusual. There were the ordinary demands of life and family and one which was quite out of the ordinary. There were the typical issues of writing, re-writing and editing and a new issue which gave new urgency to my efforts. There was a manuscript a friend asked me to read critically, and last, but certainly not least, there was a small upsurge in my business, the business that feeds my family. In this economy, even a small upsurge in business is welcomed, no?
            Since the stated purpose of this blog is to follow my path to being published, here’s an update on that. This is the new thing which gave urgency to my editing and re-writing. Drum roll, please. Last weekend I received an email from a publisher who is interested in both ‘What Rough Beast’ and its sequel, ‘Taylor’s Kin’. Yee Hah! I was as giddy as a pre-pubescent boy with his first girlfriend. You remember those feelings. ‘She likes me. I think she really likes me. I know she likes me. Does she really like me? Oh, my. Now what?’ I don’t yet know the ‘now what’, that’ll depend on how things go forward from here, but I’m excited.

            Following closely on the heels of the publisher’s email was another from an IT guy I had been talking to. He is going to set up my personal website. I know, everybody has a website, but this one will be mine, and I’m excited.
            Without getting into the specifics of the unusual family and business issues, I’ll just say it was a week with many competing and sometimes conflicting necessities. As I picked my way through the week, trying to impose order on the chaos, I was reminded again of the various ‘persons’ who live in my head. Before you lift your eyebrows too high, let me remind you that you have them too: the inner voices that tempt, tease, instruct and direct you. I started keeping a loose mental notebook of my inner voices.

            One is the spoiled little boy. It’s a little embarrassing to acknowledge him first, but, like spoiled children everywhere, he’s the loudest and most insistent as he stomps his feet and says, ‘I want to write. Leave me alone and let me write what I want to write!’ There is a schoolmarm who looks over his shoulder and corrects his spelling, grammer (oops) grammar and punctuation. My wife, truly, just walked in and wanted to talk – nothing ground shaking, just talk. The spoiled little boy was not happy with the interruption, but the principal stepped quickly in and put him in time out so that the supportive partner could listen and respond. There is a time manager who suggests what I should do and when, and a business manager who tells me to watch my spending. I have a resident villain who is always at odds with the resident hero, and of course there is the town Marshall of the little town of Chris’ Head who tries to keep the peace. And there are others.
            Was there a point to all this? Not really. It started out as a simple update, but the spoiled little boy took over. So there. Pbttt.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friends

            “Who loves you, baby?”

            Do you remember that line? If you do, you’re revealing your age. It was Telly Savalas’ tag line in his TV cop show, ‘Kojak’. When was that? Oh, my. I think it was in the mid 1970s.
            I received another credit card application in the mail the other day – actually two – and that re-kindled the same set of questions that always pops up in my mind when I get that type of unsolicited mail. First, is there someone who gets paid on the volume of applications he/she sends out? I want that job. Okay, okay. Yes, I know that those things are computer generated and ‘never touched by human hands’, which leads into the second question: just how many computers (in how many companies in how many countries) contain my name, mailing address and other information? I’m a very private person, and I can’t help but suspect that it isn’t in my best interest for the world to have such easy access to that information about me. That leads me to the question of whether or not I could just drop off the grid. I have to admit that the idea of dropping off the grid sings its siren song to me on occasion. Sometimes I visit websites where they tell you how to make your own bread, generate your own power and construct your own dwelling. No more hassles with big government, big business or big money. But I don’t know if it’s even possible anymore in our high tech, computerized world to drop off the grid.

            A little self-serving plug here – ‘What Rough Beast’ presents a world forced off the grid, a world where all cultural and societal conventions break down. You’ll see it through the eyes of one man, Jonathan Taylor, as he struggles to survive the ensuing chaos.
            End of commercial.

            I was talking about credit card applications. Both of the applications I received used the same hook. They began by trying to entice me with the prospect of saving money. Who doesn’t want to save money, right? These credit card companies were offering to help me save money. This is all sinking in, isn’t it? Just how gullible do people think we are? A credit card company wants to help me save money? Right. That will happen when donkeys fly.
            But since reading is one of my weaknesses, I had to read a few lines. There was a crafty artfulness about it. It read like a letter from a friend, a friend who knows how I struggle from week to week to juggle the financial demands of life. Like a letter from a friend.

            It started me wondering, who are my friends? Certainly banks, credit institutions and their ilk are not my friends. Who would be beside me in a time of crisis? Who would I talk to if my world was crumbling down? And that made me think of Telly Savalas’s line.
            “Who loves you, baby?”

friends

            “Who loves you, baby?”

            Do you remember that line? If you do, you’re revealing your age. It was Telly Savalas’ tag line in his TV cop show, ‘Kojak’. When was that? Oh, my. I think it was in the mid 1970s.
            I received another credit card application in the mail the other day – actually two – and that re-kindled the same set of questions that always pops up in my mind when I get that type of unsolicited mail. First, is there someone who gets paid on the volume of applications he/she sends out? I want that job. Okay, okay. Yes, I know that those things are computer generated and ‘never touched by human hands’, which leads into the second question: just how many computers (in how many companies in how many countries) contain my name, mailing address and other information? I’m a very private person, and I can’t help but suspect that it isn’t in my best interest for the world to have such easy access to that information about me. That leads me to the question of whether or not I could just drop off the grid. I have to admit that the idea of dropping off the grid sings its siren song to me on occasion. Sometimes I visit websites where they tell you how to make your own bread, generate your own power and construct your own dwelling. No more hassles with big government, big business or big money. But I don’t know if it’s even possible anymore in our high tech, computerized world to drop off the grid.

            A little self-serving plug here – ‘What Rough Beast’ presents a world forced off the grid, a world where all cultural and societal conventions break down. You’ll see it through the eyes of one man, Jonathan Taylor, as he struggles to survive the ensuing chaos.
            End of commercial.

            I was talking about credit card applications. Both of the applications I received used the same hook. They began by trying to entice me with the prospect of saving money. Who doesn’t want to save money, right? These credit card companies were offering to help me save money. This is all sinking in, isn’t it? Just how gullible do people think we are? A credit card company wants to help me save money? Right. That will happen when donkeys fly.
            But since reading is one of my weaknesses, I had to read a few lines. There was a crafty artfulness about it. It read like a letter from a friend, a friend who knows how I struggle from week to week to juggle the financial demands of life. Like a letter from a friend.

            It started me wondering, who are my friends? Certainly banks, credit institutions and their ilk are not my friends. Who would be beside me in a time of crisis? Who would I talk to if my world was crumbling down? And that made me think of Telly Savalas’s line.
            “Who loves you, baby?”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Update

            I know this blog has taken little side trips away from the subject of getting published, but I chase rabbits. It’s a weakness, or strength, however you want to view it. The last time I posted about publishing, I was puzzling over whom to get to do the cover.

            Here’s an update. I contracted ‘locally’ for the cover for ‘What Rough Beast’, and that was the correct decision because the cover is absolutely terrific. It really is. It took less than two weeks of back and forth between the designer and me. That was much quicker than I envisioned, and I have to thank the designer because she was terrific and responsive and made the process a fun experience.
            Of course, one wants input on something like this. At work the other day I pulled it up on a computer to show to some friends. They gathered around the computer with gratifying interest. They took turns looking closely at it and made a point to read the blurb on the back. Altogether, it was most satisfying to see their interest.

            I asked my friends if the cover would entice someone to pick up ‘What Rough Beast’ and look at the back. The response was affirmative. Why is that important? Well, the cover of a novel, or any book for that matter, has one mission in life. That mission is to stimulate a person to pick the book up, but not just pick it up. The mission is also to motivate the person to flip the book over and read the back. It’s the ‘back cover blurb’ that sells books. Here’s a little bit of trivia for you. Researchers say that a person spends about three seconds looking at the front cover and between twelve and fifteen seconds reading the ‘back cover blurb’. The back cover blurb gives the prospective reader a little bit of information about the story and the main character, just enough information, one hopes, to tease them into taking the book to the checkout. With the help of a wonderful friend and associate, I have a killer back cover blurb for ‘What Rough Beast’.
            I’m so happy.

            I’m trying to figure out how to post the cover so you can see it. It really is good. It captured the sense of ‘What Rough Beast’ quite nicely. In the process of producing the cover, I met a nice person, the designer, and made a new friend, and that’s always a pleasant thing.
            Okay, so what’s left? I think I mentioned that I’m following the advice of a publisher who said, ‘create a readership and a publisher will find you’, so I’ll offer the book myself while I pursue traditional publishing avenues. I’m still talking to someone about setting up my personal web site. I have no idea when that will be a reality, but I hope it’s soon. I’ll keep you posted.

            Thanks for your time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day

            I’m proud to be an American. The source of my pride doesn’t spring from being a member of the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the world. It doesn’t lie in the myriad contributions Americans have made to art, industry and medicine. The source of my pride lies in words and the power of ideas.

            Which words? I’m proud to be a member of a nation which states in its founding documents that this will be a nation of equality, justice and freedom. Who are those promises addressed to? They’re addressed to ordinary people. They’re addressed to you. They’re addressed to me. Two hundred years ago a bunch of d*****d liberals decided to make a grand experiment, and they put forward the principles of equality, justice and freedom as the foundational principles of a new republic. Some of us have heard the words so many times that they have begun to lose their power. Don’t let that happen. Don’t let your familiarity with the words prevent you from seeing either the revolutionary nature of those ideas or of what our founding fathers did. What they did, for the first time in history, was to factor ordinary people into the equation of governance. Our founding fathers wanted to avoid the system that had been in effect in Europe for generations, the system whereby the privileged few controlled and dictated the lives of ordinary citizens. The effect was to re-value human life. That’s extraordinary. It's there that I believe we see the real American Revolution.

            I’m not blind. I know that we as a nation have, too many times, lost sight of and, therefore, fallen far short of making our lofty principles a reality for every citizen. There have been instances of gross inequality, instances of shameful injustice. There have been times when liberty was inappropriately denied, but the failure to live up to our values does not undermine the values. It only brings into sharper focus the tendency of individuals and groups to pursue narrow, self-serving courses. The principles are not sullied, and they continue to stand as beacons in the dark night of human enterprise and governance. We need those beacons just as much in our day as our predecessors did in theirs.

            Some say that your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness, and vice versa. For me, personally, that might be the fact that I’m an idealist. Even in my sixth decade, I still believe that the principles of equality, justice and freedom can be applied widely and evenly. Even though I see today in our nation what appears to me to be a gross inequality between certain segments, I’m an idealist, and I keep believing that someone else out there, someone with influence and power, also wants to uphold the promises which the founders of this country made to us and to our children and to our grandchildren more than two hundred years ago. Shouldn't the American Revolution be ongoing?

            Have a safe holiday.