Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11: "It's going to be a lovely day" is a statement of faith, not fact.

I had completed 10 years as a middle school counselor. That fall of my 11th year, as a matter of good mental health, I knew that if I were to have the proper attitude at work, I was going to have to choose that attitude and have it in place before I parked my truck in front of the school.
It wasn't going to come easy. On the home front, my much loved first-born son was gone away for college. I was just coming off a spiritual high, from leading a team of well over  one hundred men in an intense weekend of spiritual self-examination in a Christian renewal retreat. As often happens, when you come off the mountain top, aggravations present themselves; My first piece of mail upon my return home was a notification that my check had bounced at my son's college book store.
But the point that I was clear on was this: if I allowed the joys and frustrations of working with 1100 young men and women  in the 7th and 8th grade, their parents and their teachers, to determine my attitude, I was toast.
So, that August, during the week of teacher planning before the students arrived, I turned to American gospel hip-hop singer Kirk Franklin. He had recorded a cover of Bill Withers' most excellent song "Lovely Day" which was adapted lyrically to be a love song to the Beloved, Jesus, rather than to the beloved, your significant other. The music line had a perfect part for my bass voice, and with a bit of experimentation, I determined just where I needed to start the music so I would be singing through the rest of my commute, with the song ending as I pulled my truck into a parking place. Then, at the end of the day, I'd replay the song, so I was returned to my little family with the stresses of the work day cleared out of my mind. It was a great technique.
And that's the way it worked, every day! I would energize myself in the morning, and re-energize myself in the afternoon, and I was able to handle all the hassles that come from pulling hundreds of pre-teens from four different elementary schools, out of their accustomed relationships and making new demands on them. It worked!
And the last time I played that song was a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. September 11, 2001, as a matter of fact.
I had an awful day that day. I had developed an expertise in school crisis management, and I used every bit of it that day. I won't go into the details; you all had to live through that day and you know what you had to do to cope. As the school counselor, I had the task of helping teachers and students process the intolerable unbelievable. And finally, the interminable school day was over, with two planes into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, and Flight 93 in a field in Western Pennsylvania.
I had been carried along by my duty, until I got in the parking lot, and then it was just me. I didn't know, none of us knew, what that day was going to mean to us, but the first thing I found out was that my discipline of singing, and believing, 'It's Going to Be a Lovely Day' just wasn't going to work. And I put away that cassette tape, stuck it into the glove compartment, and drove home in a silence broken only by my sobs.
But we all have ways of signalling when we start the process of healing. For me. that day came a year later. I had found the Kirk Franklin tape a few weeks earlier, while looking for something in my glove compartment. I wondered, even then, if I was ever going to be able to listen to the tape again. Some liquid had spilled over the tape at some point in the year, and I wasn't even sure it would work. So I decided it was time to get better, and I went out and bought the album on CD.
And on September 11, 2002, on my way into work, I played "It's Going To Be a Lovely Day" on my way in to work, and sang along with it, and let the tears come when they wanted.
Lots of bad stuff has come my way in the days since, but I have found nothing that would disprove the idea that the greatest single factor in my attitude is my choice. YMMV. Peter Grant introduced me to The Lonely Libertarian, and her Friday, August 28 blog post includes a cartoon which demonstrates my attitude toward those who ask us to cheer up in the midst of disaster, without regard for what we are experiencing. I TOTALLY understand that. And yet, I'm a firm believer that it's not what happens to us that determines our character, it's how we respond to the happenings.
And so I sit, old, fat, crippled, and loved. And today, September 11, 2015? It's going to be a lovely day.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Civil disobedience: does it cover County Clerks?

So, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is in jail for refusing to issue a marriage license for a gay marriage. She says it is against her religion to do so.
In her absence (she's been in jail for a day) the marriage licenses were issued by a deputy clerk. From jail, she proclaimed that those licenses weren't worth the paper they ere printed on, because she is the only one who has a right to issue the licenses, and she's not going to do it.
The question it raises for me is not whether a person can choose not to comply with a law they find to be inappropriate, but whether a person in a position which provides a public service can choose to gum up the works.
I took a QUICK look at the concept of civil disobedience. I discovered that one of the earliest written expressions of the concept is in Sophocles' play Antigone, written around 441 BC. In the play, the woman Antigone chooses to flagrantly disobey King Creon's order to leave her dead brother unburied, even if it costs her life. There are all kinds of tricky Greek issues, if I remember correctly from discussion in philosophy class in 1971-2, but the idea here is one of 'who should we obey? The law of man, or the law of the gods?'
Now, it was pretty evident (to me) that the context of those philosophy lectures was primarily one of promoting resistance to the draft. As college freshmen, we were particularly tuned in to the draft lottery; it was all we could think about or talk about. I lucked out; my number was something ridiculous, like 356. Others in my dorm were not so lucky. It became a moot question for me, personally, as after a year I had worn out my welcome with the institution, and they invited me to discontinue my enrollment. I looked at other options, and in a fit of contrariness, I enlisted in the Army. It was a good choice for me.
But, I had a year of campus rebellion and a philosophical foundation, and so the concept of civil disobedience stayed with me. Fortunately, I came of age after the primary legal and judicial barriers to civil rights had been breached, and my protests were limited to picketing the Georgia Farm Bureau for migrant farm worker's rights, and another protest at a nominating convention for the Georgia Democratic delegates to the '72 convention. Ummm....I really don't know why I was in that last one...
But in neither case was I ever at risk of arrest, because what I was doing was protected under the laws of our country.  
My civil disobedience activity since then has been limited to an article in the veteran's newspaper at the junior college I attended after discharge from the army. In the article, I stated that not only did we have a right, we had a responsibility to disobey laws we found to be unjust. And, of course, I referred to Thoreau.   (I'm going to ignore the work by Shelley, because I think he was a jerk.)
Here's what Thoreau advocated, in part: you must refuse to support the laws which are immoral, and that includes non-payment of taxes, which go to the government which instituted and carries out those laws. Furthermore, you have an obligation to clog the system. Make them put you in jail.
Now, here's the government's position: "That's all well and good, Henry, but we have a country to run. You see, Henry, you and your fellow man are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights., and to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving just powers from the consent of the governed. So, when you refuse to pay yer frakken taxes, you are preventing us from securing the rights of yer fellow man. So shut up. Go to jail? If you MUST, but get out of the way, in any event."
So, how does this apply the the Rowan County Clerk? You cannot DEFY the government and be a PART of the government at the same time. The options for you are these: do the job you were elected to do, or resign. No one is MAKING you issue those permits. You don't HAVE to. BUT: you do NOT have the right to overturn the positions established by duly appointed judges, appointed by duly elected officials. If the matter is that offensive to you, then raise up a standard, get a constitutional amendment, but do not abuse your position.,
And have a nice day.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Alma Boykin's 'Elizabeth of Donatello Bend', and Life Isn't Fair.

I am gradually developing a book review/blog format. I have to separate those two things, because I talk about stuff in my blog that don't really appropriately fit into a book review. Here's what I think is the best format: I review the book on Amazon first, then I copy that review into my blog. However, the blog-specific material, I add in FRONT of the Amazon review. Umm, that's what you are reading  right now, by the way: the non-review stuff. Warning: minor rant ahead.
The other day on Mad Genius Club, the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess talks about the split between popular, escapist books and books which feature nasty people doing nasty things without retribution. In that essay, she points out that authors do not have a captive audience.
That's not fair. I WANT a captive audience. I want a HUGE captive audience. Why don't I HAVE a huge captive audience? Well the answer to that last is simple: the 'captive' part doesn't exist, and the huge part is theoretically possible, but my writing is not known outside of we few. The most popular blog post I ever made gathered 510 hits; there were two more, on controversial topics, that were in the 300 range, and one, on a topic that tore all of our hearts out, that was in the 200s. I have lots in the 100+ range. But mostly, if it's on a topic I'm not pushing on other people's facebook pages, I get 50 pageviews on a good day.
I've got to go further, though, and explain WHY I want a huge, captive audience:  I am reviewing WONDERFUL books, with great characters, great storylines, marvelously well written, and (gulp) in a lot of cases, nobody appears to have heard of them, either.
This is ridiculous. Haven't you ever found yourself thinking 'there's nothing for me to read?' Now, I always have SOMETHING to read. I've got a downstairs book, and an upstairs book, and I keep an ancient copy of 'Profiles In Courage' in my truck. But there have been times when I wanted something NEW to read, and didn't have anything. If you are a conspicuously consuming reader like me, then you know the joy of discovering a previously unknown-to-you writer, who has written prolifically. Book after book after book, just waiting for you! CHRISTMAS TIME, BABY!
Well, see, THAT'S why I want a huge captive audience. I'm finding these GREAT books, and as far as I can tell, based on the number of Amazon reviews, they just aren't selling a lot of books. THAT'S NOT FAIR!
Let me give you a couple of examples:
John Van Stry. Now, fortunately, he IS getting a bit of attention now, but not nearly enough. I count 12 books, and only four of them have what I would regard as a decent number of reviews.
Laura Montgomery. Four books, and they are all EXCELLENT, and her max # of reviews? 19.
Sabrina Chase. Thirteen publications, by my count, and only ONE of her books has hit 51 reviews.
JL Curtis. Three books. Now, his AVERAGE is a little better, but maybe that's because his genre is different, I don't know. What I do know is that everybody who ever enjoyed watching a Jimmy Stewart Western  would love the Grey Man.
Look, I could go on for pages of this. But here's my point, once again: IT'S NOT FAIR!!! These writers should be having to open up new BANKS to keep up with their pictures of dead white men on green paper.
Sigh. I've got to write more. Maybe I could do what George r r Martin did, and include a mention of wimmin with nekkid boobs in every blog post, and then kill their family.
And now, here's the Amazon review a GREAT example of WONDERFUL work thus far ignored:

In my review of the first book, Elizabeth of Starland, I pointed out that the author has made me aware of two  conventions when writing about hero-women by violating them.
In the first place, Elizabeth isn't drop-dead gorgeous. She has a big nose and no chin, and she keeps her mousy brown hair chopped off short. In the second place, she has a really rough time with her menstrual cycle.
I haven't yet decided whether her plain features are a real problem for her or not. She has adamantly refused to develop an infatuation with anyone, and that might have been more of a problem if she had hordes of suitors.
As a landowner with demonstrated military skills, Elizabeth has to raise and train the men on her land to be militia, and then to lead them into war. That's when her cramps hit, it seems.
Both of these characteristics serve to make her a real person; someone was commenting about growing tired of the 'hero-engineer' who can fix anything and invent anything; that's not Elizabeth. However (!), she DOES know how to read a map; she also knows how to provision an army in the field, and she knows how to select competent subordinates who can provide training to her troops. She also keeps in mind always that her troops are primarily farmers, and she owes them the right to return to their homes and families so that the crop can be gotten in.
She encounters all sorts of resistance from her peers, who refuse to even consider placing themselves under her command. In one case, the artillery commander has near-fanatic religious beliefs about artifacts from the Landers, who colonized the planet from Earth. That causes him to explicitly forbid Elizabeth from establishing sentry posts near some lander ruins, and it costs them when enemy snipers attack.
The most stinging and unfair treatment of Elizabeth comes at the hands of the son of her neighbor, an impetuous young man who has never been in combat, yet fancies himself to be a great warrior. Will he get his comeuppance?
There is more than a hint that Elizabeth may have a suitor, despite her unfortunate appearance. Nothing is ever made explicitly clear, but the emperor's younger brother, the Archduke Lewis, is certainly in her vicinity a lot, and he writes her a lot of letters.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Blogging Under the Influnce(s), and why that's important

This post is about blogging under the influences, but let me first recap for you.
Prior to sometime in May, I was blogging almost every day. Most of the blog posts were based around book reviews, but there were some exceptions. For example, I reviewed a book called "Dirty Money: Confessions of A Stripper," but that was not so much a book review as an attempt to find meaning in the death of a friend of the family, a beautiful young girl who worked as a stripper, and who died from a form of pneumonia that attacks people with impaired immune systems. I also wrote a three part series about tolerance, some Hugo posts, and a couple of Amazon-related posts.
And then my laptop croaked. And then my back-up laptop became unusable. If there is ANYONE who regularly writes a blog with the virtual keyboard on a tablet, you have my respect, because I can't do it. I ordered two NEW laptops, only to find that they were such a hot item that they were backordered. So, I canceled the order, bought a wireless mouse and keyboard, and have been using that since then. BUT, I'd lost my rhythm.
Now, I WAS doing more than sitting at home and not writing. We took a wonderful mini-vacation, and I read to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock,GA, while she drove. She found out that she loved the writing of Dave Freer in 'The Road to Dundee,' but was even MORE surprised (I was too) to find that she absolutely LOVED Amanda Green, writing as Ellie Ferguson, in the Hunted series. I wrote that last review-blog post on July 25.
NO reviews after that, although I was still reading. And only four blog posts, for the entire month of August.
Now, I am not like the I. L. O. E. (Insane Ladies Of Evil, a title I just fabricated),  a group which includes Sarah, Amanda, Pam, Cedar, and Kate, who have full time jobs, run a household, go to school write books, and plan to take over the world and ruthlessly leave it alone. My work-outside-the-home days are sadly over, due to incapacitating illness. I do have some minor human-related tasks, such as raising grandkids, and being head-over-heels in love with my wife, but my only REGULAR scheduled activities are going to church and medical appointments. I have no excuse for not filling the time productively by writing, and, as I said in my brilliantly incisive post of Tuesday, March 3, this is a highly meaningful task for me. It allows me to use my talent for writing, and help authors by providing feedback.
So, if all I have to do is write, and if it is so important to me, why am I not writing?
The only thing that matters is how I fix it. And, thus we come back around to the title: Blogging Under The Influences. There are four, and I'm going to list them in order of ascending importance.
1. Dexedrine. I was diagnosed 23 years ago with attention deficit disorder. Once I researched the topic, suddenly an awful lot of my past behavior made sense. Once I had the diagnosis, I could then proceed with treatment, which was stimulant medication. I also was able to fully implement any number of coping strategies that I had learned, but had been able to use only partially, And it made a difference. I was 39 years old when the world changed for me.
After I was forced to retire in 2007, I stopped taking my ADD meds. It no longer made sense to do so, since, at the time, there was literally NOTHING I had to do. Why be focussed on doing nothing? So, I quit. Last year, I started taking the meds when there was something I needed to do that required alertness and focus, such as go to church. And today, because I need to blog again plus do two other things, I took the med, and sometime in the next 30 minutes, it will kick in. That's the least important influence.
2. Caffeine. Do I REALLY need to talk about how caffeine is a needful influence for writers? I thought not. Now, due to some other medical issues, I'm a one-cup-per-day guy. So, I want that one cup to be the best cup ever made in the world. Why waste time on cheap crummy coffee? Alas, Vanessa occasionally falls into the trap of buying stuff on sale; I have no objection to saving money, but I do so hate to waste my single cup on thin, bitter brew. I can buy a pound of Jamaica Blue Mountain for $51.99 that will last me a month,:
That's only $1.70 per day. I think I'm worth it. So, that is the second influence, and it's also trivial. Now we get into the heavy stuff:
3. Authors. The reason I started writing reviews, and the reason I revived my blog, was primarily to provide authors with feedback. I have an old crappy story about how I submitted a short work for review to an online group and my only feedback was 'Looks fine.' Yeah. That was it. For all I know, I may be the greatest American writer since Mark Twain, but we'll never know that, will we? Because I don't HAVE to be in order to make a great contribution, and my contribution, until my mind is changed forcibly, is to review the work of others. Listen: if you read a review of mine, you'll be reading a positive review. You know why? It's not because I like every book I read, and it's not because I'm incapable of doing slash work. It's partly because if I read a book I don't like, I stop reading it and go to something else, but mostly it's because if I come across something that just isn't my cup of tea, I contact the writer and hash it out. Sometimes it's a simple matter of preference. Sometimes it's because the work sucks. I spend more time on a work that is awful than I do with a work that's good. It's because I feel it is essential to give the author clear and concise feedback, and give them a chance to respond. Of the four influences, this one is a constant. And now to my last influence:
4. My home group at church. In the ancient Methodist Church (late 1700- early 1800) these were called class meetings. It's rather like a support group; it's a small number of people who get together each week apart from the service for study and fellowship. They are also who I have elected to be accountable to, when I'm not doing something that I need to be doing and want to be doing. So, next Sunday, they are going to ask me three things, which I have asked them to hold me accountable on: Did you write? Did you get the emissions certificate on your truck and get it registered? Did you make it to the gym? There are no sanctions imposed by the group; this is just like the accountability exercise in the writing group Amanda wrote about . So,now that I can say that I did my writing for the day, it's time to go get that emissions certificate on that raggedy old truck.

Hey, I just noticed the date! I got out of the Army 40 years ago today! Woot!