Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day Meditation. Sort Of.

Let me BRIEFLY dispose of the hippopotamus in the mud puddle before he does something tasteless.

The elephant in the living room is long since gone from MY house, but the hippo does make an appearance twice a year, sometimes three times. I do not particularly begrudge him the space in the mud puddle; in fact, he is the only one who uses it, except for the Moose, when he gets a rash.
It's just that when the hippo is ensconced in the cool, soothing, gludge, he has the nasty habit of getting what used to be referred to as 'the vapors,' and it splatters.

So, here is me, driving the hippo out of the mud puddle:

Father's Day ceased to have much attraction to me after 1975. Up until then, my GrandDaddy Paulette was alive, and he was in loco parentis. 
(That does not mean that he was a crazy parent; in means he was acting in the place of a parent; for the first five years of my life, he was the adult male authority I interacted with every day.)
And, for reasons that MOSTLY departed with the elephant when I drove him out of the living room, I was pretty much done with Father's Day after 1975. There were notable exceptions, but the general rule was that I didn't like Father's Day.

THIS IS A MAJOR, HUGE, GIGANTIC POINT: Be clear on this: it was the HOLIDAY I objected to, NOT being a father. There is no role I have taken on in my life that I have loved more than being a father. People say, 'being a grandparent is much better than being a parent, because when you get tired of playing with them, you just hand them back.' Well, I understand that perspective, and those ARE nice moments when the parents return from their date night, and baby-sitting is over, but otherwise, the statement is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I love being a grandparent! But, here's the analogy that comes to mind:
'Being a grandparent' is to 'being a parent' in the same way that 'taking your best friend's older sister to senior prom because you didn't have a date' is to 'going with your fiance to pick our a wedding ring.' 
And since I love being a grandparent SO MUCH, that may tell you a bit about how much I love being a father. That role certainly has changed as my bio-children have become adults, but it's still a badge I wear with pride.

And yet, for reasons, I didn't like the Father's Day holiday, and let the people around me know that.

Then, some few years ago, it changed. I had the great good fortune to find my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA,  shortly before Christmas of 2010, and we met face to face for the first time on that day. That was also when I discovered that she was not the Starter Kit wife, the one with no options. Nope, she came fully equipped, with every option package, and chief among these were 6 year old Kenneth and 4 year old Alicia (plus some adult children). Yup, I wasn't just going to be getting a wife, I was getting an entire new family to raise!

Daunting, at first. However,  within a very short time, I was thoroughly converted to the idea.

In June 2012, it was Kenneth & Alicia's first Father's Day as my own. Children's Church at Liberty Church, where we attend, had helped all the kids prepare a special gift & card. I found out about it, and started my customary grumble about not wanting to observe the day.

Vanessa got my attention, by getting a firm grip on my right ear, and pulling me into a private area behind some pyracantha hedge, where she proceeded to explain it to me in a way I could understand.
"You listen to me, Pat Patterson! You are going to stop this talk RIGHT NOW about not liking Father's Day. I don't CARE if you don't like Father's Day! This has NOTHING to do with what you like and what you don't like! Those children have made you a gift, and you are going to be GRACIOUS and THANKFUL and show them HOW MUCH YOU APPRECIATE IT! The next words out of your mouth had better be "yes, ma'am" or I am going to be upset with you! Do you UNDERSTAND?"
Well, all of a sudden, I DID understand, and so I said "yes, ma'am," and I complied. I should mention that she held me by the ear during the entire discussion, and that each exclamation point or capitalized word represents her rhetorical style of twisting my ear and/or pushing me further into the pyracantha. It's an amazing tactic for helping your fellow conversationalist clarify their thinking. This is what I looked like after our conversation:

So, that's how it happened that I began to be able to feign appreciation for the day, and over the last six years, not actively dread the day. And, when my children or grandchildren give me a Father's Day card, or an email, text, or phone call, I really DO appreciate it. It also doesn't bum me out if, acting on  instructions given in prior years, they allow me to pass the time in peace. I throw no interpretation on either approach, other than to be grateful.

And that is true contentment: to be thankful and satisfied with what you have.

A late edit:
Caleb Gramling, the son of one of my oldest and dearest friends, sings this song, which is the prayer for almost every father I know.


Peace be on your household.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Do You Dare to Live? Sarvet's Wanderyar, by J. M. Ney-Grimm



Warning: this blog post may contain items which may be regarded as spoilers.
I do not intend them as such.
However, the author, J. M. Ney-Grimm, has written so clearly about a core crisis in our lives that I HAVE to talk about it.
And so,  I return to my blog, which has been neglected for months. This is where I talk about the things that really matter, in addition to writing wildly ridiculous stories.

First, the background.

Sarvet is mentioned briefly (IIRC) in "Winter Glory," which is the first work of Ney-Grimm's I encountered. It tells the story of her mother Paiam and her father Ivvar, in a time when they have grown old and mostly grey, although they do retain most of their vitality. It is a wonderful story that tells the truth: old people can fall in love, mightily, and can be counted on not to be twerps about it, unlike the star-crossed lovers, the terminally stupid Romeo and Juliet.
If it did NOTHING else than point out the truth that old people can love JUST as authentically, if not more so, than the young and reckless, it would be enough.
However, it also an excellently crafted tale of fantastical life in a mythic Northland. And if THAT was all it did, it would be enough.
But, in the middle of the book, Ney-Grimm tosses in an insight into the working of the human heart that was so succinct and poignant, that I had to set the book aside, and meditate on it; and then, I presented it to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. She was also rendered temporarily immobile by the power of the words.
From the POV of Paiam:
"Ivvar had laughed and pulled his jacket from his rucksack, wrapping it around her while she gaped in surprise. She’d felt so cared for, so safe. And hated it, because under that safety, she felt vulnerable. If he could make her safe, then he could make her unsafe, too. **I wanted my own strength, not his.** Borrowing strength felt risky.
And so she picked a quarrel on the way home."
Ney-Grimm, J.M. (2015-11-12). Winter Glory (p. 82). Wild Unicorn Books. Kindle Edition.
And now, returning to the purpose of this post: Maybe 70 years before the setting of "Winter Glory," we have a prequel in "Sarvet's Wanderyar."

Nearly 15 years old, Sarvet lives with her Sisters, in a community of women. At regular but infrequent times, the Sisters are host to the Brothers, who live some distance away in a community of their own. Except for these special holidays, there is no interaction between men and women; boy children stay with  their mothers, only until they are old enough to join the Brothers in their home.

The book begins with the morning of one of the special holidays, Other-joy. There are a number of events to be celebrated this day, and one of them is the 'linking' ceremony, which we would call a wedding. Following the linking, the couple lives together for a month, then return to live in community houses, to be united only at the designated holidays. (I may have some small part of the details wrong, but that's the basic idea.)

Sarvet is too young to be a candidate for the linking ceremony, but will progress through other ceremonies for a few years until she is eligible.

However, there is a problem.

Sarvet had a birth injury that has made her lame, and causes her chronic pain. Her Birth-Mother, Paiam,  is adamantly opposed to the thought of Sarvet progressing further along the ceremonies of maturity. In fact, Paiam opposes all physical activity for Sarvet, and has attempted to forbid her from participating in the life of the Sister House by insisting that she be removed from the roster of chores requiring anything other than the most sedentary of activities. Sarvet hates this approach, and wishes that she could be defined and celebrated for all that she IS able to do, and not by what she can't. It does take her more effort to walk, and running is impossible, and yet Sarvet has learned coping skills that allow her to perform many tasks, even if it takes her more time.

Sarvet is not without allies. Lodge-Mother Johtaia, the head of the Sister House, has used her authority in small ways to make her life easier. However, a showdown, which no one really wants, and yet everyone seems to be conspiring to make happen, will take place very soon.

IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE EXPOSED TO POSSIBLE SPOILERS, THEN STOP READING NOW. I WILL NOT GIVE AWAY PLOT POINTS WITHOUT CAUSE, BUT I AM GOING TO DISCUSS THE NATURE OF THE CRISIS SARVET FACES, AND WHICH I BELIEVE WE ALL ARE LIKELY TO FACE AT SOME POINT.

WHAT FOLLOWS IS MORE IN THE NATURE OF PHILOSOPHY OR THEOLOGY THAN A BOOK REVIEW.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!



By the way, the section above the warning is what comprises my book review of  "Sarvet's Wanderyar." If that's all you seek, then turn back, or click here.

Sarvet is an adolescent female, but the life crisis she experiences isn't limited by her age, gender, or her culture. I believe she has come up against the primary Question. She is experiencing it as "How do I stop all this (emotional) pain I am feeling," but I think that's just a symptom. I think the pain is what drives us into ASKING the Question, which I think is some combination of  "Who am I? What does it mean? How am I to live?"

Her physical limitation, and her mother's reaction to it, have driven her to develop certain coping mechanisms. Some of those, especially those related to her non-working hip and ankle, remain functional; she still needs to use a special movement, and certain specific muscles, in order to walk. True, it usually is a painful walk, but she has learned to accept the pain, and to push through it.

However, the coping mechanisms she HAD to develop to protect herself against her mother's anger and rejection have become a problem for her. They have become SO powerful, that she finds herself mentally and emotionally including her mother in everything she does. This is the case, even if her mother is not present. In her youth, Sarvet HAD to develop the habit of anticipating her mother's reaction; and now that she is approaching some sort of independence, she discovers that she is carrying her mother's rejection around with her, and in that way, her mother is STILL influencing everything she does.

She DESPERATELY wants to be free of her mother, but the desire itself is a sign that she is still a slave.

Now, in the story (SPOILER) a miracle happens, in that Sarvet encounters mythical beings with the ability to heal. It is in that process of healing that she discovers the implacable problem, which I have called  the Question:
"Letting go is letting her in, and I won’t!”
She was scared to expand, scared to claim the fullness of bounty available in a life, scared to expect fun, scared to expect pleasure. I snatch when chance presents an opportunity, but I don’t seek any out. I’m a beggar at the gates of living, just like my mother, and .  .  . I do not have to be!
“Receiving a gift is dangerous, but barring out risk in fear .  .  . is the greater loss.”

J.M. Ney-Grimm. Sarvet's Wanderyar (Kindle Locations 689...764). Wild Unicorn Books.

I have said that this section is philosophy, and not a book review. However, I MUST point out the brilliance with which Ney-Grimm has set up this crisis, in the presence of the mythical beings with the power to heal.
(SPOILER) Earlier, Sarvet was in a conflict with her Birth-Mother, and her Lodge-Mother instructed her to ask for her heart's desire.
So, Sarvet did, (not gonna tell you what that was! Ain't spoiling EVERYTHING!)
And her Lodge-Mother gasps, and tells her to ask for something else!
What an absolute kick in the head! You get told to ASK, by an authority, and you risk all by asking, and they deny it! Not the sort of thing that makes you want to take an emotional risk again, is it?
And that is just exactly the risk she is asked to take.

While most of us will not find ourselves in the presence of mythical beings with the power to heal a birth injury, I believe ALL of us will find ourselves in what is fundamentally exactly the same crisis, IF WE ARE FORTUNATE! We will be forced to see that something that we NEEDED as a defense against our adversaries has become the WORST adversary. Although it started as something to help and support us, now it limits and constrains us. And, IF WE ARE FORTUNATE, we will be asked to let go of that defense, and we will NOT be given a guarantee that the outcome will include our safety.

Letting go of that constricting defense may, in fact, expose us to more pain. Remember, “Receiving a gift is dangerous.” But the alternative is, at best, to be slowly strangled emotionally by the defenses we HAD to put in place to shield ourselves from being hurt.

Now, perhaps my language has not been as brilliantly illuminating as Ney-Grimm's, and you have no idea what is the nature of a crisis as described. My use of the term ' the Question' makes you think of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but that's about it. So, let me give you the three examples that come to mind in my own life. There may have been more than three of these, but these are the crisis points that I immediately thought of:
1. My conversion to Christianity in 1973.
2. My admission of alcoholism in 1988.
3. My offering myself in marriage to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, in 2010.

It would take too much time to explain to you exactly WHY those three times were such a crisis point, but I hope you will believe me when I tell you that in each case, it WAS a crisis, and it WAS a tremendous risk, because I had no guarantee it was going to work out for me, So far, all three HAVE worked out, but at the time I committed, I didn't know that. All I knew was that in each case I felt as if I had to get better or die, and either choice was acceptable to me.

And THAT, I believe, is what what Ney-Grimm has expressed so beautifully in this book. With 65 years of experience as a human being, two graduate degrees in counseling, and 30 years in recovery, I am HIGHLY endorsing this book for its' insight, AND it is a great story, too; not a bit of preachiness to it. Yes, message fiction works, IF you are the kind or artist Ney-Grimm is.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018: A Fast Day, Despite the Cookouts

The denominational church I grew up in is Protestant, and we didn't follow the church year celebrated by our more liturgical brethren. We observed Christmas and Easter (including Palm Sunday) with decorations and special programs, including a living Nativity scene, an Easter egg hunt, and special music. 

The MOST special music programs I recall were those which featured the little kids. Not only were they utterly charming, with their sweet little voices singing 'Silent Night' and 'Away In A Manger', but it gave us older kids a chance to act goofy, by making faces at whatever small siblings were in the program. It was nearly-free monkeyshines, too; the little ones were so cute, even as they waved back in the middle of a song, that our parents never snatched a knot in us, as they were wont to do on other occasions.

Secular holidays, like the 4th of July, were observed, as was the semi-secular Thanksgiving. The other days and seasons in the church year. we ignored.  We had no Advent, no Epiphany, no Ash Wednesday, no Lent, no Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and definitely no Pentecost, because the Pentecostals were just....strange, at least to my family & church group.

At age 19, as a heathen with a solid Sunday School background, I joined the United States Army and was shipped off to Germany. There I encountered a different kind of church, where the congregation consisted mostly of first-and-only-term enlisted men, half of whom  (like me) found God after the strength and variety of drugs available had stomped our brains flat. This almost-underground church met in barracks rooms and mess halls, and ran shuttles to other bases where coffee houses, Bible studies, and evening worship services were held for the benefit of the spiritually-minded trooper. And I attended my first Pentecostal service, and once my heart started beating again, I discovered I rather enjoyed the energy.

I drew close to the chaplain assigned to the hospital where I was eventually stationed. He helped me, a LOT, when I needed it. The military chapel is non-denominational, but the chaplains are all ordained by a recognized denomination before they enter the service, and this chaplain was a Methodist. That's part of the reason that I joined the Methodist Church, a few years later, and a couple of years after that, I decided to give seminary a try. 

Seminary was a pretty horrid experience for me, but I DID pick up some truth while there. One I REALLY wasn't expecting was a profound love and respect for the liturgy. I found that saying the familiar words prepared my mind and spirit to receive the things of God, and I also found great value in reciting the same phrases that were being spoken in many languages all over the world, and in some cases had been a part of church worship for centuries. 

I also discovered that hymns had more than a first, second, and last verse. In fact, there are some hymns which MUST be sung in their entirety in order to deliver the message. Don't believe me? Well, read the words to "The Star Spangled Banner" sometime. The FIRST verse, which is all that you ever hear sung, has a dismal end.  It's not until the last lines of the second verse that the victory creeps in, and the third verse is a triumphant sneer at the vanquished enemy; but, it is the LAST verse, the verse nobody ever sings, that really makes my inner Patriot shout, and weep for joy and gratitude. I will leave the examination of the words as an exercise for the reader.

And one more thing that I learned, is that my religious education had been WOEFULLY neglected. As I mentioned earlier, my boyhood church observed religious and secular feasts. And the food and the trappings were good; however, you don't get the benefit of a feast if you have never had the benefit of a fast. 

The only fasts I knew anything about prior to 1978 included Lent, which I believe is the most common fast in the Christian Church. Also, when I was a boy, the Catholic Church had a practice of fasting from meat on Fridays. My only personal experience with Jewish fasts came in 1974, when  I spent all of Yom Kippur in the company of a Jewish soldier; today, I wish I had observed the fast with him. I am aware that other traditions also include fasts, but prior to my time in the seminary, these were all I had knowledge of.

Ignorance of the spiritual discipline of fasting is on my mind today. Just as my boyhood church had forgotten the fast as an act of spiritual discipline, it seems that my country has also forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. While I am always grateful to have my military service recognized, Memorial Day is not for veterans. Veterans have a day: it's November 11. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifice made by our honored dead. 

I do not condemn firing up the grill today for a cookout, but if that is ALL that Memorial Day means, it is a national, and personal tragedy. Not only that, but ALL feasts will lose a great deal of their significance if there is never a fast. It doesn't have to be a fast from food; it could just be a few minutes, taken from the doings of the day, to meditate on an appropriate thought.

Here is what occurs to me as the most appropriate thought; I hope you will take the time to read these few words, spoken 155 years ago:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham LincolnNovember 19, 1863

Peace be on your household. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Objections to New YouTube Firearms Policies


Kenneth turns 10, and gets a .22 rifle


Recently, YouTube was in the news because a number of channels featuring firearms info were given warnings, and even suspended, without just cause. After a short amount of squabbling, they said it was because they had recently put a bunch of people on screening duties who weren't familiar with community guidelines. And, they removed the strikes against the affected channels.

No sooner than THAT was over, and I'm talking about a period of a week, maybe, they posted some regulations regarding firearms content that they would no longer permit. Gun channels became upset, even the calm people.  I THINK some of the problem was just that the policy was poorly written; there were enough ambiguities that it could mean whatever they wanted it to mean. However, other aspects were clear, and ridiculous. Yes, there were some common sense items, too, but they were overwhelmed in the garbage. The following is the post I made on the YouTube Help Forum. I THINK you can find it, and comment, here.

YOUTUBE HELP FORUM POST STARTS HERE: 

The firearm policy is stated here ; there is a letter stating it will go into effect in 30 days, but I've lost my path to find it. I have DESIGNATED the text that concerns me.  NOTE: I am a citizen of the United States, and it is from that perspective that I speak.

Policies on content featuring firearms

YouTube prohibits certain kinds of content featuring firearms. Specifically, we don’t allow content that: 
  • 1. Intends to sell firearms or certain firearms accessories through direct sales (e.g., private sales by individuals) or links to sites that sell these items. These accessories include but may not be limited to accessories that enable a firearm to simulate automatic fire or convert a firearm to automatic fire (e.g., bump stocks, gatling triggers, drop-in auto sears, conversion kits), and high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds).
  • 2. Provides instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazinehomemade silencers/suppressors, or certain firearms accessories such as those listed above. This also includes instructions on how to convert a firearm to automatic or simulated automatic firing capabilities.
  • 3Shows users how to install the above-mentioned accessories or modifications.

Why these items are a problem.

A. (e.g., private sales by individuals). If the sum total of the concern YouTube has is preventing a private-party-to-private-party transaction, then SAY SO EXPLICITLY. The way this first paragraph is written (except for the highlighted parenthetical statement), it appears that legitimate companies doing business in accordance with ATF regulations may neither post videos, nor may links be provided to these legitimate businesses. HOWEVER: If it IS your intent to prohibit these businesses from posting videos or being linked, then make THAT explicit. The way it's worded is both confusing and disheartening.
 
B. and high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds). There is NO existing nationwide prohibition of magazines in excess of 30 rounds, nor is there any prohibition of belts holding more than 30 rounds. It is true that certain STATES and smaller jurisdictions have these restrictions in place, but for the majority of the country, these are perfectly legitimate.

C.  Provides instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazine. Taking these individually: Manufacturing a Firearm. The ATF has specifically stated that a manufacturer's license is ONLY required for a person who is in the BUSINESS of SELLING firearms. It is completely legal for an individual to manufacture a firearm for their personal use, or as a hobby. A substantial and totally legal business has sprung up to provide parts and instruction for those who choose to manufacture their own firearm, and there is ZERO evidence that these weapons have been used in the United States to commit crimes. Manufacturing Ammunition.  This is not a restricted or prohibited activity in ANY jurisdiction, as far as I know; I am one of the millions of hobbyists who reload ammunition. YouTube has served as an excellent resource for fellow hobbyists and competition shooters, and I would very much like to hear the justification for banning these instructional videos. Manufacturing high capacity magazines.  As stated above, these are NOT a restricted item except in a few areas. Again, I would very much like to hear the rationale for banning instructional videos on this topic. (Note: I've never heard that this is an issue)

Shows users how to install the above-mentioned accessories or modifications. Part of the problem here may be lack of clarity. It is absolutely the case that channels exist which demonstrate how to insert the completely legal high capacity magazines, which would be prohibited under this policy, and historical channels that demonstrate the operation of firearms which are belt-fed, also prohibited under this policy. This MUST be addressed. 

What ISN'T a problem.

A. Bump stocks.  Currently, bump stocks and other devices that increase the rate of fire vis artificial means are completely legal in most areas. However, legislation is pending which may change that. Therefore, I can understand YouTube's reticence to promulgate information about these devices. I think it's ridiculous for YouTube to take this action, but it is something I understand.
B. Homemade silencer/suppressors and conversion of semi-automatic firearms to fully automatic firearms.  The procedures for manufacturing items covered by the National Firearms Act are addressed here. Failure to comply is a felony, and thus I believe YouTube has a responsibility to take the common-sense step to prohibit dissemination of information which would lead to a criminal act.

SUMMARY
YouTube clearly states its' mission and values, founded on Four Freedoms: Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Opportunity, and Freedom to Belong. The Policy Regarding Firearms violates the second and fourth of these freedoms. By refusing to allow videos featuring activities which are not harmful or illegal, YouTube has capriciously hindered the Freedom of Information, thus causing potential harm who are in need of that information to safely engage in the shooting sports. While the information might be available elsewhere, that in NO way changes the fact that YouTube has palpably violated a foundational freedom.
Secondly, by implementing this policy, IMMEDIATELY after allowing poorly trained individuals to assign unwarranted strikes to gun channels, which action YouTube has apologized for and attempted to correct, YouTube is sending a message to the gun channels that they are not wanted in the YouTube community. I see no other way in which the gun channels could interpret these actions; the similarity in outcome, and the close proximity of time, speak of a plan, not an accident. In doing this, YouTube has clearly violated the Fourth Freedom, Freedom to Belong.

I call on YouTube to immediately suspend plans to implement the new policy, and to initiate meaningful dialogue with owner/operators of gun channels, in order to recover lost credibility. Failing that, I caution owner/operators of other channels that they, too, may be at risk for summary execution at the whim of YouTube leadership.

Well, that's the end of my case.  Don't know if it will have any impact. It did, at least, prove to me that I could write a bit, which has been a concern of mine for the last few weeks. I hope to get back to reading and reviewing soon.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Assassin, By Kacey Ezell and Marisa Wolf: CHARACTERS!



I reviewed "Assassin" on Amazon, and you can read it and vote on it HERE. The same review is also on Goodreads, but Amazon reviews need votes, because books need to be sold, so authors get paid.
(In the interest of supplying all references, you can read my review of "A Fistful of Credits" HERE, and my review of "The Good, the Bad, and the Merc" HERE.)
Developing a Character

I loved "Assassin" (loved them all, really), and you really need to read the review to know why. In my review, however, there were some things I left out, or only hinted at, and I'm gonna try to make those explicit here.

And I'm ALSO going to try to avoid spoilers. However, I'm going to consider as fair game the three prequels; I'm not going to TOTALLY give away all of the plot points on purpose, but if I have to in order to get my point across, I'll let you know in advance. With respect to "Assassin," however, I will strive to keep the secrets.

Umm, I would like to point out, however, that a reasonably perceptive reading of the prequels and the book will make some non-explicit plot points REASONABLE, if not evident. And with respect to my own perceptiveness, I must appeal to the Bard: "When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw" (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2). Now, because I feared I wasn't already being pretentious enough, I just googled the phrase so I could cite the reference. I hope you appreciate the effort. 

The three prequels. You really need to get these, by the way. In order of appearance:

In the Four Horsemen Anthology, "A Fistful of Credits," we are introduced to the hopeless gutter addict, Susan; the catlike alien race known as Depik, and a particular Depik assassin. We learn she is known as Reow (best approximation), and that she has a new litter of kits: 'Gilded Cage,' by Kacey Ezell.

In the anthology "The Good, The Bad, and the Merc," we get the backstory of Reow, and it's a doozie: 'Lessons,' also by Kacey Ezell.

In the same anthology, we are introduced to another Depik clan (Whispering Fear) and assassin (Arow): 'Under the Skin,' by Marisa Wolf.

The character of Dr. Susan Aloh. I was so struck by "Gilded Cage," that I devoted an entire blog post just to this one short story. Ezell describes the depths Susan has reached as a result of her addiction with breath-taking brevity; in fact, that MAY be the reason that others seem to have missed the horror in the story, and instead remark upon the intriguing nature of the Depik. But, look at this:

"I’d lost a lot of blood there at the end, when things had gotten really wild."

and

"I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my wasted hands underneath my armpits, letting them hide in the nest of rags that was all Ghat’s party guests had left of my clothing."

Two sentences, about a half page apart, and both of them qualify as "Wait. What?" intrusions on your reading. When I pull them out of context, and use bold-face type to highlight the worst elements, it's evident that this person is living a horror-story kind of life. I can't think of a better word than 'brilliance' to describe Ezell's craft, in the way she makes these throw-away lines (in the acting sense) by including them, without emphasis, in her description of the character and the scene. It is PRECISELY because these things are presented so matter-of-factly, and the character ACCEPTS them matter-of-factly, that we get the full impact of what has happened to her in the course of her addiction. "Sure, they ripped my clothes to shreds, then ripped my body to shreds, but what of it? I got some Good Stuff."

We discover, a little later in the story, that this dirt-encrusted gutter bum had once been one of the Earth's foremost authorities on xenobiology. In the Four Horsemen Universe, there can hardly be a more important role. The Alpha Contracts demonstrated that our existing war technology wasn't able to get the job done. We did not know even the most basic facts about the nature of our enemies, and if we had military tools that worked on them, it was strictly by accident. Earth's continued existence, and any possible prosperity, depends on the Mercs, and the Mercs REQUIRE the intelligence provided by Dr. Aloh and her colleagues.

SO: from essential person (although perhaps this isn't fully realized at the time), to hopelessly degraded addict; that's a pretty significant amount of character movement, isn't it? People at her stage of addiction have only one priority: ensure a supply of the drug. Death is not far away, and the idea is welcomed as a release from the constant struggle to secure a fix.

Had she been given a choice between life and death at this point, she would almost certainly have chosen death. However, a much more difficult choice is imposed on her: she is given advanced medical treatment which returns her to an optimal level of heath, detoxes her from her addiction, and THEN she is given a choice. At least, that's what it looks like on the surface. In fact, she is still impaired by her long-term addiction, a fact her captor later admits. So, while she is still without the ability to choose, she if forced to do so: she can live as a pet/slave/nanny, or she can die a painless death. She chooses not to die.

NOTE: Choosing is what people do. It's one of the primary features that defines adults, the ability to make a free choice, an informed decision. We don't allow children, or those who have been adjudicated incompetent, or people who are under the influence, to enter into contracts, because they are not capable of making an informed decision.

And neither is Susan, at this point. Although the drug is not in her system, and she is not suffering withdrawal, she has the long-established habit of being driven by one desire above all else: procuring another fix. She in no way, then, establishes herself as a 'real person' by this decision. The drug made her a slave, and for years, she thought the thoughts of a person who was a slave, and the removal of the drug from her bloodstream has done nothing to change her thinking from that of a slave. (***) And so, she chooses slavery. She is renamed Susa, and is presented to the kits, wearing the sigil of the clan.

But, her story doesn't end there, and it doesn't end in slavery.

By the time of  'Assassin,'  Susan/Susa has transformed her existence.  If you hold your head right, and squint one eye, and choke off most of the oxygen going to your brain, you might believe that because her living arrangements remain the same, she, therefore, remains a slave. However, the narrative does not support that interpretation. Her service to the clan no more makes her a slave, than her devotion to a task she loved as a respected professor of exobiology on Earth,  Without making things so sweet that we want to throw up a little, Ezelle and Wolf tell the story in a way that makes it clear that she is no longer driven by fear of punishment, or by a desire to fend off withdrawal, but is drawn by her love for her new family. This isn't a creampuff concept; it is strong enough to be, literally, liberating.

(***) Three weeks have passed between the asterisks. I hit an amazing block in my ability to write, or even read. Such is life. Not to worry,  I'm reasonably healthy, and regard it as just one of those things that sometimes happens.

However, I DID have a similar analysis planned for the character of Arow, the enigmatic Whispering Fear assassin, but today, I decided that I'm much better off if I simply refer you to the source material. It's much better writing than my analysis was going to be, anyway.

Along the lines of the liberating power of love, I find that I must point you to the excellent short story by David Burkhead, "Oruk Means Hard Work." The link to the book is at the top of this post, and you can find my review HERE.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nobody Talks Back To Me: SHORT!

Do they not hear and see, or just not talk?

Would those of you who have lively blogs explain blogging success to me? This is almost a request I would feel comfortable posting at Mad Genius Club, except it's not concerning income-producing writing.

I started blogging FIVE years ago, today. My first post had 18 hits. (They dropped off after that, but I was sporadic about posting for quite a while.)

Some devoted friends have subscribed to my posts. I can usually count on at least 50 hits.  Usually, if my post is interesting or amusing or relevant, I'll get 100+ hits. Anything above that is rare; my top five, without any undue promotion, were in the 500+ hit range.

I am utterly cool with this, although I do think my posts are mostly brilliant and more people would enjoy them if they read them. However: It is RARE that anybody ever comments on a blog post!

This was brought home to me in startling fashion after the hits started coming in for my blog post about my workable solution for prevention of school shootings. That's one I DID push, hard, by asking prominent people with popular blogs and columns to promote, and that worked. As of right now, it has been viewed 3594 times, which is well above an order of magnitude greater than the average number of  hits my blog receives. (And by the way: I'm not gonna push my future posts in the same way, unless I once again I come up with a solution to one of America's greatest problems.)

But, comments? Not so much. If you read all five of them, you'll see what I mean.

I ain't fussing; I'm just perplexed. It seems to me that I'm not really engaging the audience I do have. 

Maybe I should give away a toaster.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Solving School Shootings: I Did It

After it's over, massive services are available.

Unless we were lucky, we went to bed on Valentine's Day 2018 with another mass shooting on our hearts, instead of  images of flowers and candy. 

After I heard the news around 6 PM, I did enough research to get the basic facts straight, and then stopped reading and listening. The rumors and allegations were already starting to fly, and there wasn't going to be any more substantial and accurate information out there for some time. What I got was that a 19 year-old former student had killed 17 and wounded others; that he had been expelled from the school for disciplinary issues; that he had been banned from carrying a backpack on campus after making threats to other students; that he had numerous social media posts of himself with guns and knives, some of which included threatening language.

Since then, the only relevant information that has come forth is that he and a younger brother were adopted by a couple from New York when they moved to Broward County; that the father died 10 years ago of a heart attack; the mother died last November of pneumonia; that the firearm he used in the shooting was purchased by him legally.  Less relevant is the fact that he was living with the family of a friend from the high school; that they had the rifle locked up in a gun safe; that he was working and had gone to adult education classes.

There are MANY things on here I could comment on with knowledge, but I'm going to limit this blog post to the most important issue, which is that I KNOW how to solve the problem of school shootings, BECAUSE I HAVE DONE IT BEFORE. Not by myself, certainly, but I provided the person responsible for implementing the program with the necessary understanding of the problem, and the steps needed to provide a reasonable guarantee of safety.

Let me state the obvious: if the person who is responsible for making the safety arrangements does not know about the problem, they can't fix it. Yesterday, I saw that the school superintendent of Broward County stated he had not been aware of any problems with the student before yesterday. There is NO reason that a school superintendent SHOULD be aware of an individual student's record; there are 324 schools in Broward County, with an enrollment of 217,517 students. That's not where the responsibility lies for an individual school's safety. That rests with the building-level administrator, the school principal.

According to statements by students and teachers, they were well aware of the shooter's previous threats, and students at least knew of his bizarre and threatening posts on social media. Sometimes students know things, and they don't tell adults. However, in MOST (but not all) cases where something bad is brewing, as adult will know. Whether that is communicated to an adult who can do something about it is a function of effective communication between school, home, and community.

Here's what I did to prevent school shootings:
I was a middle school counselor, but my background was as a marriage and family counselor, and I also had extensive experience in working at mental health facilities. Based on my experience, I submitted a progressive plan for dealing with the lethal issues of suicide and homicide, based on the fact that there are four stages of potentially lethal thoughts; for convenience sake, I'm going to discuss the topic of suicide, but these apply also to homicide, with some modifications in the cases where authorities must be consulted. This was part of an overall Crisis Plan, which was developed over time with input from administration, counselors, teachers, community members, and outside agencies. 

FOUR LEVELS OF SUICIDAL CONCERNS
1. Ideation. Everybody, at some time, has had the thought that they wished they didn't have to live any more, even if it's only expressed as 'I wish tomorrow wouldn't come.' It's an expected part of being a person with emotions. This ISN'T something that needs a massive over-reaction! People need to be able to talk, and that was my job as a counselor. The intervention in this case was to provide an opportunity for the student to discuss their situation, help them find alternatives, and assure them that what they were feeling was normal, and that they weren't crazy. I also encouraged them to develop additional trusted adult resources. I notified parents, usually with the student present, assuring the parent that the student had not given me any reason to fear for their lives, but that this was something that they should talk about together, and seek help if they felt it was warranted.

2. Intent.  This is a statement by the student that they have a plan to kill themselves, and is much more serious than just thinking "I wish I was dead." This is NOT universal, and should ALWAYS be taken seriously. Safety has to come first, and the safety plan in this case is to contact the parent, and have them come pick the student up at school. They are to take them to a licensed mental health professional, and have a formal suicide evaluation done. THIS EVALUATION IS NOT WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR, even if the counselor has professional credentials, and that must be understood by all concerned. The student is excused from school, and will not be re-admitted until the school receives a clearance and appropriate guidance from a mental health professional. 
Modifications for homicidal, instead of suicidal intent: a lethal threat against another person, particularly when accompanied by the means to do so, is a crime. Therefore, in addition to the steps taken for a suicidal statement, legal authorities MUST be notified. In addition to this, it is likely that the school will take some disciplinary action as well, based on the specific circumstances. HOWEVER, school discipline is NOT a substitute for notification of the appropriate legal authorities, nor for an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional.  

3. Attempt.  Safety first! In the event that a student makes an attempt to commit suicide at school, secure the area, and emergency services are notified first. As soon as practical, parents are notified, and the provisions stated above in #2 are also implemented.
Modifications for homicidal attempt, rather than suicidal: again, safety first! Secure the area, notify the police and emergency services. Implement provisions stated in #2.

4. Completed act.  Grief and support services will be required, for students first and for faculty and staff as well. Crisis services as detailed in the school plan will be implemented based on the special circumstances. A written statement, appropriate for grade level, will be provided to all faculty and staff, and read to the entire student body by the building level administrator or their designated representative.

This system will effectively deter the majority of school shootings from taking place. (It cannot completely guarantee safety, and if someone tells you of a plan that can, they are trying to sell you something.) At the time we implemented this plan, I studied the responses of other school districts that had experienced school shootings, and in every case, one or two of these steps had not been implemented, usually failure to contact legal authorities and failure to require a mental health screening, prior to re-admission.

 It REQUIRES active support from the building level administrator first, and the backing of system-wide administrators second. My experience has been that MOST parents will comply with the requirements to have their child be evaluated, particularly when the school can offer a list of service providers, who will do the evaluation at no cost to the parent. However, SOME parents will resist, at which point the firmness of the building level administrator is essential. If necessary, it must be pointed out to the parent that failure to follow through with a required mental health examination is neglect, and must be reported to the Department of Family and Children Services. Very rarely, I have had to have the Sheriff's Department transport a student to the county mental health facility for an evaluation. If the building level supervisor is not fully supportive, or if system-wide administration prevents it, this drastic step cannot be implemented, and without this as a final option, the entire system falls apart. I had the great good fortune to work under a series of strong, proactive administrators for most of my career, with only one weasel in the bunch.  

There are other things required to maximize school safety. Restricted access to campus is important, but that isn't enough. There MUST be an armed presence on campus to act as a quick reaction force. People who have suggested metal detectors seem to be unaware of the 1998 killing of two police officers at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, where the gunman shot his way past the checkpoint. I operated a metal detector station during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and cannot possibly imagine a way to apply that technology reliably to the influx of a thousand students into a building over any reasonable period of time; in addition, the presence of metal detectors completely ignores the fact that a PERSON is required to intervene if a weapon is detected. 

There are other issues which I would like to address, such as the failure of our mental health system, and the futility of calling for additional gun controls. However, I've stated my main case: I KNOW of a plan which requires ONLY resolution on the part of school administration, and does NOT require any additional funding. And it works. 

Peace be on your household.