Saturday, December 23, 2017

Alternative Christmas Presents + "A Very UnCONventional Christmas"

If you just want the condensed Amazon review, you can get it here.

Originally, my plan was to re-post the review of the Christmas book, along with another review of a more recent Osborn book, but that didn't work out. So, this is the format we have.

In other places, I have discussed my aversion to Christmas, and the possible agents for change in the way I think about the holiday.

I was going to expand on that a bit now, but I changed my mind. I will mention that this morning, I read Old NFO's blog post, "One to think about," which is a very sweet Christmas story, with all the appropriate classic elements. I hope you will click on the link and read it, particularly if you want, or need, a bit of Christmas cheer.

In recent years, I have requested that anyone who wishes to provide me with a Christmas present should make a donation to those with real needs.Here are my suggestions for this year; I posted them fairly recently, but here they are again.

1. Walter Strickland & Vids for Kids. Walter Strickland is a former professional wrestler, now doing other things. For a great big guy, he has a very tender heart for kids. This year,  assisted by the people at Retro Rewind Collectibles and Games, he collected and donated video games for Christmas presents to kids who might not get anything else. The games have already been shipped, but the cost of shipping and handling required Walter to dip onto his household fund. If you can send him a few bucks via PayPal, even $3, it would help. Help a big guy bless some little people!

2. Andi Keenan Therapy Fund. Young wife and mother Andrea (Andi) Keenan suffered a stroke in August. Being a young and healthy person, she was not correctly diagnosed for two weeks, and treatment was delayed. They are paying for her physical therapy out of their own pockets, since they fall into that category of working folks who cannot afford insurance. Any donation will be helpful; as of the end of November, over $18,000 had been raised, with a goal of $25,000. The IRS taxes GoFundMe as income, so they are trying to raise enough to pay for the treatment and cover the taxes on the donations.

3. City of Refuge Programs.  Atlanta area outreach. No matter WHAT touches your heart, they have a ministry you can get behind. Job training. Housing for families in crisis. Providing educational support to inner city kids. Medical care. Just click on the link, pick ONE of the several ministry opportunities, and send them a few bucks. Or a LOT of bucks.

Now, here is the review of the book:

 The Division One Alpha Line is approaching Christmas, and there are some unusual circumstances.

One of the NON-unusual circumstances is the well-executed and witty cover, a comment I am inserting at this particular point because if i don't I'll forget it, and this whole word processing thing is just a fad. Why copy and paste to a better location, when it interrupts the flow of ideas? Or something. At any rate, the cover design is by one Darrell Osborn; I believe he and the author are known to take personal liberties with each other as a medium of exchange.

I hope you see what I did there, because that IS one of the unusual circumstances. Partly because Agents Echo and Omega are the top dogs in a pack of alphas, and perhaps for other reasons, there are nasty rumors floating around about the nature of their relationship. Since they both have history which prevents clear perception of relationship possibilities, they have not hurled themselves into each other's arms, and the filthy-minded simply refuse to believe that things are as they appear. She's gorgeous, they think, so he MUST be sleeping with her. And since he is sleeping with her, that MUST be the only reason she has the job.

Well, sorry to tell you nasty, nasty little creeps, but their relationship is held in check by the author.

So there.

In addition to the lies, rumors, and innuendo, Echo and Omega discover there has been a major security breach. Their first clue? Getting ambushed by children. Seems that the hottest toy this Christmas is a thinly-veiled Division One replica, with look-alike agent action figures, blasters, and so forth. And a movie is in production.

Oh, my! Who could be behind such a dastardly plan to expose the most secret of all secret agencies?

Yeah, well, the answer IS "bad guys," but I'm afraid I just can't get more specific than that.

Spoilers, ya know.

Nicely Tuckerized in the story are several figures who are Known Associates, and no damage is done to the reputation of any. Although: there is one scene in which the determination of one character to do a thorough job causes him to get repeatedly brain-bleached.

For the record, it takes place at a science fiction convention, which is the 'CON' hidden in the title. I've never attended one of those, but I have been to a large number of professional cons, and being brain-bleached is NOT, by far, the worst thing a behind-the-scenes person may expect.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, December 15, 2017

"The Last Closet," by Moira Greyland

You can find my Amazon review of the book here. If you go there and find it helpful, I would appreciate your clicking the helpful button.

Moira is an angel. See the Halo?

By now, most of us know that even beautiful women can have problems with self-esteem. For many, that's because the ONLY thing they were valued for was their beauty. Intelligence, creativity, athletic ability: none of that mattered because they were beautiful. So, they grew up thinking that was all they were good for, and began to live in dread that one day, their looks wouldn't be good enough.

It's a common story, and it's a sad and troubling story.

It's not Moira's story, though.

She wasn't valued for her beauty. She was hated for it, and even more, she was hated for being a girl. It was never a secret; her parents told her how worthless she was, and how worthless she would become. 

Her mother was the celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her father was a famous coin authority, Walter Breen. And they both abused her, mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually,; they neglected her as well, depriving her of food, forcing her to live in a filthy, bug-infested pigsty.

They were progressive, you see. Material things didn't matter. And they both believed they were doing absolutely the right thing.

" mother told me she had tried to beat me to death twice and she had “locked herself in a closet” to stop herself from killing me. ... I was appalled both by what Mother told me, and why: Mother wanted me to sympathize with her over what an evil child I had been, and how terrible her life had been while she was caring for me."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4699-4702). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  
The insanity of that statement leaves me shaken. Her mother, referred to as MZB, actually was bragging to Moira about what a tough time she had, raising such a brat; and that she had made the great sacrifice of restraining herself from killing her young daughter.

Her father, Walter Breen, was a known pedophile. He molested her from an early age, and raped her at age five.
"My father believed that early sexual experience would create gay children by helping them get in touch with their “natural homosexuality.”"

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 955-956). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  

He went to his death, believing that having sex with young children was the right thing to do; his motto was "sex before eight, or it's too late."

He refused to accept any boundaries, not even when it came to bathroom privacy. He customarily walked around the house naked, and pressured others to do so as well.
"His insistence on nudity made me feel uneasy, because I was aware of his sexual interest in everything which breathed, and I was afraid that one day I might breathe around him."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4405-4406). Castalia House. Kindle Edition. 

Her mother sexually assaulted her as well, fondling her  while she was trying to take a shower; nearly drowning her once when a very young Moira refused to perform a sexual act on her.

"I felt so filthy and so soiled because of what had happened to me. I irrationally thought that anyone would be able to tell by looking at me that I had been defiled."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4709-4710). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  

I could not understand how this person could be alive, must less well-functioning, after all the abuse. There was NO ONE in her environment who was supportive of her. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I often refer to strong Christians in our families as the reason that we were able to survive adversity. But Moira had no one like that. At first, her parents rejected all forms of religion; later, they both became very active neo-Pagans, holding ceremonies in their home. Finally, they were ordained by one of the 'clergy' who brought young boys to the house to be used as sex slaves; they named the church they created "Gnostic Catholicism," and continued in their depraved ways. In no case did they ever provide her with any of the spiritual tools needed to offset the abuse and neglect. Thus, I was amazed to come across this passage:

"I had quietly become a Christian a few years before. When Jesus came to me speaking in a small, still voice, He told me that I was His and He would take care of me. I couldn’t tell anyone, of course."
Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 3232-3234). Castalia House. Kindle Edition. 
This is the ONLY resiliency factor I have found in her life. She does have a staggering intellect, but was placed in substandard schools where she was rejected by other students and even teachers for being so smart; so, brains MIGHT have helped, but overall, it appears that it was just another thing that separated her from others.

Ultimately, she found affirmation through her singing ability, and later with her savant-level skill on the harp. And finally, beginning, I believe, in 2014, the world has affirmed her, by repudiating the treatment she received at the hands of her parents.

Alas and alack, there remain some morons. I read today a comment by the president of the Science Fiction Writers' Association, a certain Cat Rambo, which attempted to defer criticism of their devotion to MZB by invoking Donald Trump.

Donald Trump? What in the great green world does Donald Trump have to do with ANYTHING related to this story? Just how much power are people ascribing to him, anyway?

I had the great good fortune to watch online Moira's very first EVER public speech, to a gathering of Children Of Gay Parents (COG). In that presentation, as in the picture in this blog, the lighting gave her a halo. That was consistent with the power in her speech; she commented later that she was so nervous that she felt ill, but you would never know it by seeing how well she did. She was composed, a bit whimsical over the fact that the person introducing her pronounced her name wrong (it's pronounced MOY-ra, I believe), and she freely and honestly spoke of her own years of misery, suffered at the hands of her parents and their friends.

It's ONLY because I had seen her that I was able to keep reading her book. I kept encountering the most depraved incidents; in some cases, they seemed impossible. And yet, I'd research the most extreme example of pedophilia, and discover there was plenty of documentation to support it. The fact that Moira, today, is a reasonably functioning human being, able to give and receive love, able to perform beautifully in public, is the reason I was able to keep slogging through examples of the misery she faced on a daily basis.

I hope that she progresses in her healing. I hope that her voice is heard, and that there never, ever exists another community that is so willfully ignorant of the torture and exploitation of innocents.

And I hope the community of those who support her grows and grows, and that the community that wishes to cling to the idea that depravity is acceptable is exposed to the light, and vanishes.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review of "The Good, The Bad, and The Merc," Seventh Seal Publishing

This is mostly the same material you'll find on my Amazon post, which you can find here. It will also be reviewed on Goodreads sometime in the next several minutes.

If you read the review on Amazon, please click the 'helpful' button. I'm trying to recover from a rather harsh series of days starting in August and extending into November.

Close examination of my Amazon review reveals that I presented 10 'notable stories,' singled two out for exceptional praise, and said nothing about six. What's my justification for that?

It's all a matter of taste. None of those stories were awful; if they had been, I would have said so. It's certainly NOT a defect in the authors; I've read & reviewed work by most (if not all) of them in the past. Reading these six, today and yesterday, just didn't ring any bells for me. If any of the authors want to contact me to get any specifics, feel free, but I MIGHT not have anything to offer; it might be just an impression.

Reviewing anthologies is HARD. I couldn't review several of these short stories without giving away an important part of the plot, so sometimes, I just hinted. That being the case, I decided to limit my reviews to the stories I had the best reaction to. YMMV.

Now, here's the text of the four-star Amazon review:

 I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
As long as they keep writing books in this series, I will keep reading them. I like the fact that with the anthologies, we get to read the works of LOTS of authors, and I hope this is a trend that will continue. It might even help to bring back the short stories as published in the Golden Age, and hook new generations of 14 year olds.
Overall, this book seems grimmer to me than prior books. Lots more good guys get killed. Cliff hangers with unrevealed horror. That sort of thing.

Notable stories:

'The Beach,' by Phillip Wohlrab. It's good to see medics get some respect. I've wondered if the wonderworld of advanced technology and self-administered nanobots would leave any room for the field medic. The answer is YES, and an even greater need exists. Since the weapons are so deadly, an assault requires a LOT of medics. Everything has to be done right now, and too many are DRT. If we can get you stabilized and on the medevac, though, you are probably going to make it.

'Velut Luna,' by Chris Smith. I love this story, in every different set of clothes it wears. Snotty street kid, given a chance to do some good before they die or get sentenced for hard time. A family is forged out of the mild steel and hot flames. Particularly good scene here about the teaching taking place over slicing vegetables. I REALLY liked that scene!

'Keep the Home Fires Burning,' Jason Cordova. Tribalism in space, rotten intel, stupid team members, loyalty, and hope for the future of the clan. It's told in a series of flash-backs, but I had no problem following the story.

'Vvremya,' Mark Wandrey. Down-and-out team risks it all on one last throw of the dice. Some authors delight in doing horrible things to their characters. Is the Horrid Little Planet going to produce treasure? Make sure you read the fine print before you sign the contract !

'The Last Guardsman,' by Stephanie Osborne. He's the very last of his bloodline, but that's not a problem, because he just has this one tiny job left to do, and then he retires, marries, and has lots of kids. He's very mindful of the need to leave a legacy.

'Unto the Last - Stand Fast,' Robert E. Hampson. Unless I am mistaken, this story calls upon the memorable resistance of Swiss mercenaries who died protecting members of the French aristocracy in 1792 during the French Revolution. Somewhere around here, I have a picture of myself standing in front of the Lion Monument in Lucerne, Switzerland. Beside the appeal of this aspect of the story, I liked the combination of humans and aliens into a more-or-less unified church, complete with schisms.

'Under The Skin,' Marisa Wolf. The Depik are a race of assassins. They have the ability to become transparent to all forms of detection. In fact, they are TOO perfect; like Superman, they need Kryptonite. That appears to be contained in their aggressive family structure, which appears to serve driving them apart, rather than uniting them. And, they are cat-like, at least in this: they like to play with their prey.

'Angels and Aliens,' John R Osborne. Pastor Jim wants to know about God, and how aliens fit in with people in God's creation. That could be a real problem for a mercenary company, but Jim also has an uncanny ability to read people, and thus provide comfort in the format they need. Is there room for a theological discussion in the middle of a firefight? I would argue that there is no better time to discuss the meaning of the universe. This was truly a superb story.

'Life,' Chris Kennedy. Zeke is a slave. He was captured during the first Earth mercenary wave, known as the Alpha Contracts, although Zeke never heard that term. Instead, he's been doing slave work. After a gladiatorial contest gets the attention of his new master, he gets to work on biological solutions to life and death. He's a little bit weird, though; decades of hard labor captivity will do that to you.

'Lessons,' by Kacey Ezell. To the best of my knowledge, Kacey Ezell finds it impossible to write a bad short story. In fact, she can't do mediocre, or even good. Everything of hers I've seen has been brilliant; she finds a way to put us into the person of the universe's most frightening and loathsome beasties, and makes them something that we want to buy as fluffy toys for our grandchildren. "No, Eliott, don't pull on that string just yet. That makes her fangs grow, and she might bite you by accident. You can pull that string when you wear your welder's gloves, okay?' If I am not mistaken, this is another tale of the Depik race, the super assassins of the galaxy. In an attempt to weaken his rival, a semi-rogue Depik steals the newborn cub of his clan leader, and abandons her to die. Ezell makes us EXPERIENCE the physical and emotional pain the newborn feels at being abandoned. Instead of conveniently dying, however, the cub finds food, and a mentor. And she not only survives, she thrives. I don't know if the Depik have archived legends, but if so, there is likely a body of work dealing with the appearance of a savior/destroyer, who will transform the race into something unimaginable.

For one reason or another, these are the stories I found noteworthy. There are others that you may enjoy as well.

My one suggestion for improvement: include a Bestiary (or whatever term describes sentient aliens) with each volume of this series. I'm not obsessive enough to remember the characteristics of each race, just based on their name. My PREFERENCE would be a hypertext link whenever an alien race is on stage. And, if you REALLY wanted to blow us away, give us a picture along with the descriptions. And print up trading cards for sale. You KNOW there is game potential here, so you are going to have to do it sooner or later.

The Lion Monument
Lucerne, Switzerland

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Amazon Reviews, Inspired by Today's Mad Genius Club

Our Blessed Sister of Groovy Writing, Amanda Green, wrote the inspiratory post today over at Mad Genius Club.

She comments there on THREE THINGS Amazon has changed in their reviewing program, and it is to that I respond. (She also comments on another item, which seems hinky to me, but I haven't read the source document yet.)

DISCLAIMER FOR AUTHORS: I am EXCLUSIVELY a writer of reviews (and opinions), and thus, I don't represent the author's perspective re: Amazon review policies. I'm gonna TRY to limit myself to plain, descriptive words, but since this happens to be an area I know a lot about, sorry. I'll try to be interesting, though.

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews.
Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews. 
ALL legit reviewers hated the pseudo reviews that appeared on Amazon.
The true offenders were referred to as 'coupon clubs,' and they were explicitly formed to vend reviews to merchants. Reviewers who participated in the  clubs were required to produce a certain number of 5 star reviews per week in order to receive merchandise or other consideration. While not technically illegal under the old system, it was abusive, in my opinion. Those were killed first; lots of reviewers had all their reviews removed. Wails ensued; nobody cared. I wish to point out that the villains were NOT those who were members of the coupon clubs! They were just taking advantage of an opportunity. The villains were the owner/operators of the clubs.

The NEXT practice banned was merchants contacting individual reviewers, and offering merchandise in exchange for a fair review. This was much more legit, but was also banned. In some cases, it was alleged that reviewers would then resell the reviewed items, and that was a part of the objection.
NOTE: while not quite industry standard, this IS a practice followed by numerous mainstream vendors; they offer a sample product to a reviewer, and as long as that is disclosed, nobody freaks out. In the case of low-dollar items, the reviewer usually keeps the product; high dollar items usually require the product to be returned after review.
ALSO NOTE: I accepted a few of these items myself. I always disclosed the transaction in my review. I only accepted for review things I would have bought anyway.
ALSO ALSO NOTE: Even though Amazon banned the practice more than a year ago,  I continue to get request from vendors to review their products just about every day. My Amazon page explicitly states I'm not interested. It doesn't seem to matter.

Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
From the reaction I saw in the Top Reviewers Forum on Amazon (RIP), this didn't seem to be a big deal. While there were some who insisted Amazon hated reviewers and they would never patronize them again, most people took it in stride. It seemed that almost everyone got it, that this was to prevent a recurrence of an abuse of the review system, where people were paid to review, and had nothing actually invested in either the product or in the integrity of the Amazon reviews. There was some discussion, I believe, on whether the membership fees would be counted in this, either Prime or Kindle Unlimited,  but that's it.
UNRESOLVED PROBLEM: It seems to me, and to others, that anyone who purchases an item ought to be able to review that item, regardless of the total amount spent on Amazon per year.
ALTERNATIVES EXIST: I have had one very well respected author tell me that she prefers a blog review of her book over an Amazon review. She says it makes a much better citation for her to quote a line from a review taken from the fabulous book review blog "Papa Pat Rambles," instead of a citation to an Amazon review. Thus, if you are one of those reviewers who are shut out of Amazon because of the spending requirement, create your own blog, and also post it on Goodreads. BTW, Goodreads will post your review on your Facebook page if you wish, and transfer the correct graphic, unlike Amazon.

Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'
This one is personal! I get ALL my reading material (almost all) through the Kindle Unlimited program, and it costs me $10 per month. And in return, I write a LOT of reviews. According to Amazon,  I've reviewed 489 items since I started reviewing, which was, I believe, July 6, 2014, with "Plant Life" by Cedar Sanderson. 

Here is the objection offered to the fact that KU items aren't granted 'Verified Purchase' status:
A. I PAID for the right to access these books.
B. Many writers have found that their income from KU rivals their income from purchases. In October, KU paid off with a per page rate of $0.00456. That's roughly $1.37 for a 300 page book, per read, paid TO THE AUTHOR.
C. In October 2017, Kindle Unlimited paid authors 19.7 million dollars. Anybody want to argue that 19.7 million for one month is inconsequential in publishing today? As one of the contributors to that $19.7 million paid out in October, I'd like a little more respect, please. Treat my reviews nicely!

A Final Note: My impression is that Amazon doesn't really want to bother with any hassles that come from posting reviews. People complain all the time, whether they are writing reviews, or they provide a product that is reviewed, or if they are an author who has a review given they don't think is deserved. For a period of maybe a year or so, I was following along in the Top Reviewers forum in Amazon, and often, found good information there (along with some psycho stuff).
Anyway, Amazon abruptly pulled the plug on the entire forum recently, and to the best of my knowledge, there is now no location (on Amazon) where reviewers can meet and exchange information. In the VERY brief period between the time Amazon announced the forum would close, and the actual closure (it was about 8 days, or something like that), people speculated that The End Was Near, and that Amazon was going to terminate the entire reviewing process. I tend not to believe that. I think it's just that the forums were a source of aggravation to them,and not providing them with value. Since then, I DID have one problem with a review not posting. I went through Customer Support, and it was resolved within 24 hours. So, there DOES remain some investment. And I think that the entire system is truly an Amazon feature, and not an Amazon bug.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Wish Stuart Could Save Al

I'm gonna say something that is likely to get people upset with me, and I regret that. I often wish people wouldn't get upset, and they probably often wish I wouldn't say things.

First, I cannot lay claim to being a fan or follower of Al Franken's career over the course of years and years. I had a brief exposure to his work in 1979 (I think, but it might have been 1980), because one of the more vocal kids in the church youth group I was leading kept quoting the punch line from his skit about the decade belonging to him. Then I think I saw only one more skit where Jane Curtain gave him sulfuric acid to drink, because he was such an obnoxious dork.

And that was the character he played: obnoxious dork.

A few years later, I discovered another of his characters: Stuart Smalley. Stuart was a sweet and gentle dork, who was a participant in a 12 step program for many different addictions, all of which Stuart either had, or participated in in case he might have them later on. I only saw a few of those episodes, which were shown in the early 90's I believe, and what I recall best about them is that at the end, the gentle-spirited guy with the sweater would look in the mirror, and repeat "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Then, in 1995, I saw the movie "Stuart Saves His Family," along with about fifty other people worldwide. In the movie, Stuart has had his public access cable self-help show cancelled, and is called on to help his utterly messed-up family, each of whom is utterly immersed in their own particular addiction. Stuart, supported by his 12-step sponsors, is able to reach out to his family members, and fortunately for the integrity of the movie, some get better, and some don't.

I liked Stuart. I understood him. I understood the repellant-attraction relationship he had with his family. And, since I was pretty new to recovery myself, hearing the little snippets of recovery wisdom proclaimed was nice, even with the pratfall humor attached.

So, that sums up my experience with Al Franken, prior to his Senate race. 

My next data bit came when he co-sponsored a bill with Republican Johnny Isakson, the senator from my state of Georgia, which made service dogs available for disabled veterans to adopt. 

I looked it up: In Congress, he introduced an amendment that would deny government contracts to companies that did not permit employees to take workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination to court.   

Itr is certainly true (there are pictures) which show him behaving like an obnoxious dork, pretending to sexually grope a sleeping woman. He's being a dork; that's consistent with his character. 

He hasn't tried to excuse his behavior, and there really isn't an excuse; he was being a dork. But, at the time of this particular bit of dorkiness, he was on a USO tour, to bring comfort to US troops in a war zone. And I, personally, am gonna give him a pass on this one. Why? Because he was in character, and because he took full responsibility for his actions when the person offended called him out on it, and she accepted his apology, and because he and she were both in that place at that time in order to entertain our troops. 

Other women have come forth to complain that he groped them in photo-ops; I have no read whatsoever on the accuracy and severity of those accusations.

I'm not defending his behavior as appropriate. I didn't think some of his other comedic stuff was appropriate. But, I believe this guy gets it; and I have heard NOTHING that leads me to believe that he has used his position as senator to take advantage of anyone, nor that he has demonstrated  the profile of a systematic abuser. 

It galls me that he doesn't have anyone defending him, particularly no one from the left. 

If the voters of the state of Minnesota want to trash him because they don't think he represents what they want him to, let them do so. But despite the fact that he and I do not share the same  ideology:

I believe Al is good enough, and smart enough, and enough people like him for him to remain a member of the senate

Please, Al, don't resign.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas Might POSSIBLY Become Okay To Me

My family knows I'm the Grinch & the Scrooge & Bah Humbug.
Well, that's changing, maybe a little bit, and maybe you can help change it more.

My choice, though, and it IS a choice, is to stay Grinch.

A brief history on why I Grinch, and

A possible path out of Grinch-ness:

History, Part The First: Although it is all the rage today, in 1954 in semi-rural Georgia, it was the rare family with children that had been split by divorce. My older sister and I were the only two kids I knew of, that had that as a part of our lives, and thus we were the only kids I knew that spent Christmas in two places. The way I remember it, we would spend the days running up to Christmas at one parent's house; then on Christmas afternoon, the other parent would get us, and we'd spend some days there. Sometimes it was different, and instead of spending days, we'd spend an afternoon.

Summary: it was freepen weird and cumbersome and yucky for a little boy as he became a pre-teen.

Disclaimer: I'm looking back at these memories which are 50 - 60 years old, and the ACTUAL event may have been much different.

History, Part The Second: My kids didn't have to go through THAT, but they did have to go through my desire to give them everything in the whole world, coupled by inability to do so, due to not being wealthy. I HATED not being able to buy them anything their hearts desired; and, thus, it always seemed to me that Christmas was just a little bit disappointing for them. THEY NEVER EVER EVER SAID ANYTHING TO GIVE ME THAT IMPRESSION!!! This was all stuff going on inside MY Grinch head.
Now, SIMULTANEOUS with this perceived failure on my part to provide my children with every eye-brightening gift, I was able to observe from a distance families which DID have the ability to buy little boys and girls every gift, and frankly, that was pretty awful, too. Even if stuff didn't break, even if it lived up to all the claims made for it, Christmas became sort of an orgy of package unwrapping. After it was all over, no matter how much stuff had been under the tree, there was a STRONG element of 'Is That All There Is,' and it wasn't sung by Peggy Lee, either.

So, I find myself sentenced BY myself to a place between the Scylla of 'I'm too poor to buy you what you want' and the Charybdis of 'prodigious presents produces emotional poverty.'

Yes, those are mutually exclusive. Yes, this was something I did to myself. So what? I'm an American parent. It's what I have to deal with.

Anyway, as I became able to do so, I ignored Christmas, except for the religious celebrations. And I embraced Grinchness.

A path out of Grinchness, Part the First: The first time I met my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was Christmas Day, 2010.
I brought gifts with me for the children: a 1996 Olympic Security Swatch I had been given for being on that team; a pen/pencil wallet set; stuff I don't remember;
 For the grandchildren, silver Peace Dollars, wrapped in foil, with a promissory note to exchange for other gifts at their convenience.
For Vanessa, I brought the gift of my high school ring, and my dog tags. Even though this was the first time we met, I had already told her that when she asked me to marry her, I would say yes. That may seem strange to you, but it made perfect sense to me then, and still does now, seven years later.
So, in place of lots of Christmas memories I found unpleasant, I put this memory, and it has helped.

A path out of Grinchness, Part the Second: I do not need, neither do I want, any material goods. From children & grandchildren, I will joyously accept photographs and pictures drawn with crayons, and any pasty, goopy project completed at home, school or church. Beyond that, I request that anyone who wishes to present me with a Christmas present select one of the following:

1. Andi Keenan Therapy Fund. Young wife and mother Andrea (Andi) Keenan suffered a stroke in August. Being a young and healthy person, she was not correctly diagnosed for two weeks, and treatment was delayed. They are paying for her physical therapy out of their own pockets, since they fall into that category of working folks who cannot afford insurance. Any donation will be helpful; as of the end of November, over $18,000 had been raised, with a goal of $25,000. The IRS taxes GoFundMe as income, so they are trying to raise enough to pay for the treatment and cover the taxes on the donations.

2. Walter Strickland & Vids for Kids. Walter Strickland is a moderately aged young man with a heart for kids. He is accumulating, assisted by the people at Retro Rewind Collectibles and Games, donated video games for Christmas presents to kids who might not get anything else. His stated preference is donation of older video games you no longer play, but you can send him money, as well. Help a big guy bless some little people!

3. City of Refuge Programs.  Atlanta area outreach. No matter WHAT touches your heart, they have a ministry you can get behind. Job training. Housing for families in crisis. Providing educational support to inner city kids. Medical care. Just click on the link, pick ONE of the several ministry opportunities, and send them a few bucks. Or a LOT of bucks.

4. Pick your own. There are LOTS of places out there which would benefit from additional support.

Money is good, because green goes with everything, but it doesn't HAVE to be money. Scrounge an envelope, a stamp, a pencil and a bit of paper. Write a note, saying "I heard about your ministry, and it's great! Here's hoping!" If you can't write a better note than that, I would be surprised.

Don't do this in place of your regular giving; this is a Christmas special. And don't sweat it, AT ALL, if you are not able to do ANYTHING because of your funds. I have SO been there, and I GET it.

And do me the great good favor: if and when this blog post moves you to contribute to, or at least be GRATEFUL FOR,  one of these programs (or one of your own), would you comment to that effect on this post? Remember, I still don't like Christmas. But, I'm trying, about as hard as I can, to leave the Grinch behind. If my words have had an impact on your behavior or attitude, that might help.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mark Vonnegut, MD: Insanity. Managed Care. And Me!

I have written a review of this book on Amazon, which you can find here. Please do me a favor and mark the review as 'Helpful,' because I lost about 3000 points by not keeping my reviews up during the personal, family, and societal crisis of the past couple of months. 
In addition, if you don't WANT to read the supplemental personal commentary, go to the Amazon review and don't read this. Or, you can read the indented material below, which consists solely of the Amazon review.
Last preface comment: I'm trying to determine how many people are pleased to sign up for notification on the email gadget (top right). If that worked for you, could you send me an 'I got the email about your blog' message? My email address is PapaPatPatterson at gmail dot com.

Sometime in the past week, I posted in Sarah's Diner a note, saying that I was going to review, in the near future, two challenging books. Both of these were written by people with a first name beginning with the letter 'M,' and both of these people had parents who had been A-list science fiction authors. However, in a mostly impotent attempt to emphasize the value of the work itself, and not the 'child of Famous Author writes book,' as if that were the only value available and the progeny were limited to being a monkey on a chain, dancing to the organ grinder and collecting tips, I resolved NOT to mention the Famous Author.

Now, I must somewhat amend my position. In the first place, the author of THIS book bears the same rare last name as his father, so that's a dead giveaway. In the second place, SOME of the story (but not all)  is largely a function of the fame of the Famous Author Parent.

And in the third place, I eagerly purchased and read THIS book because I had read and purchased Mark's FIRST book, "The Eden Express," about forty years ago; and my initial interest  in that book was because I was, in fact, a huge fan of his father's works.

So, in this case, Famous Author Parent does have some bearing on the story, and thus, must be mentioned.

However, shortly into my perusal of Eden,  it didn't matter to me who Mark's father had been. His story was that of a semi-normal person, a part of the post WWII Baby Boom, who rejected the conventional society and tried something different. With friends, he started a self-sustaining subsistence farm, which was pretty much the ideal for drop-outs of that time. Things seemed to be going along beautifully, until he does not come down from an acid trip. It was the first of three psychotic breaks he experienced in a three month period in 1971.

 And that was a close enough parallel to my own experience that it was almost intimate; he was saying things that I had been thinking and feeling; however, he was doing it without shame, and with self-examination that I found to be impossible at the time. My difficulty, and his ability, to describe to others this cataclysmic interlude is likely due, at least in part, to the difference in our ages. Mark is six years older than I am, but I started using drugs earlier. Thus, I was 16 in 1969 when I had my first break; Mark was 24 in 1971 when he had his. He also had the structure and support (yes, I know that's a two-edged sword) of an inpatient hospitalization on each of the three occasions when the voices and delusions were overwhelming; I was given a shot of Thorazine and sent home.

And thus, our stories diverge a bit, but still hit some of the same high points. Mark accepted his insanity, took the medications he was prescribed, and talked to the professionals he was given to be his helpers. I, on the other hand, just stayed bughouse nuts for the next decade or so, but I hid it well. He and I both did some school; I did a hitch in the Army. We both got married (once for him, twice for me). We both started professional careers, him as a physician, me as a counselor. And, over a period of years, we both developed into alcoholics. And then, we both got sober.

That's why the book speaks to me so strongly.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon. If you already read that (and voted 'helpful') you can skip this.

Maybe forty years after reading his first book, 'The Eden Express,' I stumbled across this.
I had to have it, even though my budget doesn't really permit purchases, which is why I stick with Kindle Unlimited selections. This however, had to become an early Christmas gift I gave to myself.
His earlier book describes a somewhat confusing childhood, but then, it was a somewhat confusing time, and he had a somewhat confusing family. I've made myself a promise not to tout the name of his father, because the value of the story is not at all derived from any background views we get into the world of a Famous Author. Yes, those glimpses are there, and the book IS a must-read for fans of Mark's father, but this is MARK's story. The value comes from the compassionate self-observation of someone who has experienced a psychotic break, recovered, rebuilt a productive and professional life, and then gone freaken nuts one more time.
It may be a quote from 'The Eden Express:' "Insanity is a rational response to an insane world." No one who has experienced a psychotic break says anything like that. There is NOTHING as trivial as that statement when you are insane. He describes how a one-time acid trip triggered his psychotic break. I had a very similar experience, and it took over ten years for me to get completely free of some of the insane ideations that came out of that night. I was FUNCTIONAL for almost all of that time, but when I got fatigued, it was pretty easy for the bughouse-nuts thoughts to come creeping out. But, like Mark, I got better.
I started to say, there is nothing RATIONAL about losing your mind, but that's not true. It appears, from the inside, to be an extremely rational process. Mark addresses this as one of the most unsettling aspects of the break he experienced after a gap of 14 years. He found it rational, and he was utterly convinced of the logic and the pressing moral rightness and need to run down a hallway, and throw himself out of a third story window. He had been given the information, in his conversations with God, that this was a needful act if he were to prevent the death of his son. It was RATIONAL. It made perfect sense. And it did have a good outcome, in that he was finally hospitalized, where he could be medicated and helped through his own intentional self-induced withdrawal from alcohol and tranquilizers.
That's clearly what triggered the last break. Mark had gradually increased his tolerance to alcohol to the point that it took more to get him where he wanted to be, in a relaxed and comfortable state, and he had adopted a benzodiazepine as a supplement. When he realized his life was unmanageable, he stopped them both, cold turkey. It drove him nuts. That might very well have been me, too, had I terminated TWO psychoactive drugs at once. I never stopped more than one.
While the book is PRIMARILY linear, it's more like a grapevine than a pine tree. There is a bit of a kaleidoscope effect in his writing, which would not be the style to take, were he writing simply about his pediatric practice, or his problems with the state of medicine as is practiced today. However, the main story is how he struggled to put his life back together after having three psychotic breaks, and how he encountered his fourth, and what his life has been like since then. That is a story that accommodates some creativity in the prose.
I don't know if he could tell the story of his pediatric practice without including references to his mental health journey. I don't know if his passionate distaste for modern managed care would read so strongly, if he had not been a patient himself. However, I do know that if he wrote those books, I would want to read them. And I know that if he had been in my area, I definitely would have chosen him as my kids' pediatrician.

A message from Mark to writers and artists:

The reason creativity and craziness go together is that if you’re just plain crazy without being able to sing or dance or write good poems, no one is going to want to have babies with you. Your genes will fall by the wayside. Who but a brazen crazy person would go one-on-one with blank paper or canvas armed with nothing but ideas?
Vonnegut Md, Mark. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir (pp. 6-7). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  

Peace be on your house.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I think I Have Email Notifications Available Now, But I Lost Barbie

WARNING! This is NOT one of the reviews I have promised in which I review books written by people who have parents who were A-list science fiction writers.

Concerning those two forthcoming reviews, just to pique your interest, one of the authors is a male, and his name starts with the letter M. The other author  is a female, and her first name ALSO starts with the letter M.

However, I only include that to demonstrate that in a universe full of random occurrences, you are much more likely to accumulate a random grab-bag like that, rather than win the lottery. They probably statistical events of about the same probability, but the outcomes are far different.

Based on what I know about lottery winners, it usually ruins their lives.
Based on what I know about the two books by the authors 'M,' it is quite likely that you will be stressed and blessed, and perhaps through the books, you or someone you love, may be started down the path to be set free from crippling trauma.

That is NOT the purpose of this blog post, however.

THE LAST NAKED BARBIE IS MISSING FROM HER POST! 11 months ago, I wrote a poignant, sweet memory-post about the aging of my children, entitled 'The Last Naked Barbie,'  which you may read here. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I, have been involved in raising girls (and, yes, boys, too) for some 40 years, more or less, and our youngest resident female is now an adorable young lady of 11 years old, ensconced in middle school, and so we have had to regretfully, AND gratefully, close the books on certain sweet childhood rituals.

One of those was the presence of a dozen or so naked baby dolls in the tub and on the bathroom floor. Without making a big deal out of it, Alicia gradually stopped needing a bucket of toys to take a bath. Slowly, perhaps in the middle of the night when we couldn't watch them go, they seemed to migrate from the floor of the bathroom to her closet, where they will wait until a little girl needs them again.

All except for one. The Last Naked Barbie, as I explained on my blog of December 31, 2016,
"lies on her side underneath the bookshelf in the bathroom, her head twisted at an angle that would be uncomfortable for a human."
And, as I also explained in that blog, if I had anything to do with it, she was going to stay there forever, so I could remember all the times when my little girls needed help getting the soap out of there hair, or forgot to bring either a towel or clean clothes with them, so they needed me to conduct a rescue mission, throwing pajamas through a tiny crack in the door without peeking; Or the many, many times, I stood my Beautiful Princess Bess, age 4, on the bathroom counter, with her waist length hair towel dried, and I used the hot air blow drier to make her hair fly up in all directions as she gazed into the mirror and we both laughed at how beautiful and silly she was.

BUT: as it turns out, I DON'T have anything to do with it. Which is to say, I might have had something to do with it, but not everything.

Because sometime in the past couple of weeks, the last naked Barbie has disappeared from the floor under the bookshelf in the parents' bathroom, where it has rested for some time in excess of a year.
No foul play is suspected. Alicia Ann has had a couple of different young ladies over for a sleepover, we FINALLY (after 11 years!) have a new grandDAUGHTER, the third to accompany the nine grandsons, and we have also had sleep-overs by some of our youngest grandsons. While they tend to prefer their own, well-chewed sleep toys, I believe I would not distort 4 1/2 year old Heath's position if I were to proclaim that 'a lovey is a lovey,' and it's entirely possible that The Last Naked Barbie got grabbed up to provide a sleep companion to Heath, Eliott, Trey, or the beautiful little girl, Nyle.

For a week or so, I've been hoping that she would re-appear, but that's not the case. We had 21 people at the house for  Thanksgiving, and 10 of them were children, and might have rescued her from her cramped viewing of bathroom wallpaper, and she is lovingly ensconced in a bed, drawer, or closet somewhere. When she shows up, I will then have to make the decision : do I return her under the bookshelf in the parents' bathroom; or, do I rely on something else to make me appreciative of the joys of parenting a small child, as well as the joys of parenting an adolescent?

That's not a trick question, by the way. Every age contains parenting challenges, and every age carries parenting joys that you can't get anywhere else. So, whatever decision I make, I will NOT cling to the memories of being a parent to a little girl and little boy, at the expense of the joys of being a parent to a young lady and a young man.

BUT THAT'S not the purpose of this post, either.

I recently discovered that I get daily email notifications for SOME FEW of my favored blogs, but not from others. To pick one of my favorites that I have to chase after, Peter S Grant's blog, "The Bayou Renaissance Man,"  is CERTAINLY something I'd like to read and feed on in the morning, BUT, I didn't know how to make that happen. As it happens, I discovered that blogs printed on the WordPress platform send me emails with each new post. Two examples of that are Mad Genius Club, and Cat Rotator's Quarterly. And, blogs printed on the Blogger/Blogspot platform, do NOT send me an email with every new post. That includes Peter's blog and MY blog, this one right here, Papa Pat Rambles.

With advice from several people, I THINK I found out how to change that. Effective immediately, IF IF HAVE UNDERSTOOD AND FOLLOWED DIRECTIONS, there will be a Gadget in the top right of my blog post which says: 'Follow By Email:'

I THINK! I did it. See the arrows? That's where you enter your email address.

I've only gotten this thing put together in the last 2 hours, which included coffee, water, yogurt, bagel, and cat, not to mention narcotics and amphetamines for that well-rounded experience, so I'm asking for a couple of you (or a lot of you) to serve as freshman psychology students, and apply for the experiment, by entering your email.
Promise: The ONLY reason I am doing this is so you get a notification in your email when I post something.
So, if you would, enter your email into the box, and hit submit. Tomorrow I will post something else on the blog, and if this works like it's supposed to, you will get an email to that effect.
If you agree to enter your email, would you let me know by sending me an email to that effect at papapatpatterson at gmail dot com? Or, if we are Facebook friends and you prefer, you can contact me that way.

And it might take a couple of attempts before it's right, but it LOOKS like it ought to work.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Keeping up with other blogs: WordPress and Blogger

A few days ago, I asked for advice on how to keep current with the blogs I want to follow.
Some blogs sent me an email every time a new blog was posted. 
Other blogs did NOT.

As an example of a blog that DID send me an email every day something new was posted, I mentioned the Mad Genius Club, written by the conglomerate of people who know how to write and can explain it.

As an example of a blog that did NOT send me an email every day something new was posted, I offered Peter S Grant's fascinating Bayou Renaissance Man, where he shares wit and wisdom on pretty much everything that exists.

Well, today, I believe I discovered the answer to my question, as I was listening to the music of Gregor Joseph Werner, suggested as good Sunday music listening by the aforementioned Peter S Grant (see? told you: pretty much everything that exists).

The blogs I get an email notification for, are all Wordpress blogs. The blogs I DON'T get an email from, are Blogger.

When you post a comment on a Wordpress blog, you have TWO notifications boxes to check: 
"Notify me of new comments via email."
"Notify me of new posts via email."

Now, if you check that second option, even ONE TIME, you will forever get email notifications when new posts appear on that blog, until you change the setting.

Blogger, for some reason, doesn't OFFER that second option.

There are at least two ways to provide a sorry substitute for an affirmative notification, and I did them both many moons ago. 

One is to bookmark the blog; I've got a tab on my browser labeled 'Writing, Reviewing, and Blogs,' and that's where I store those bookmarks. To read the blog, I have to remember to DO it, and then to click two more times, once on the browser tab, then on the name of the blog. That's remember, click, click. Can you guess where the weak spot is? Yup. Remember.

And the second method I just discovered today. On my blog page dashboard, the left side of the page has options (most of which I never use) which can give you information about page views, traffic sources, etc, AND, if you scroll down, there is an item called 'Reading List.' 

I never paid any attention to it before, but today, since I was looking for a way to generate daily email notifications, I clicked on that, and BEHOLD! It contained those blogs to which I had subscribed, which used the Blogger platform just as I do, and which have never emailed me. To access the blogs this way, I have to have my blog open to the dashboard, scroll down, and click the selection. That's remember, click, click to open blog dashboard, scroll, click. And, once again, can you guess where the weak spot is? Yup. It's still Remember.

Having JUST discovered this feature this morning, I don't know if the Reading List will only contain blogs written on the Blogger platform, or if I can add WordPress or some other platform to my Reading List. I will attempt to determine that over the next week or so.

My goal, however, will be to see if I can find some way to have any blog I'm subscribing to send me an email. Someone suggested I apply to an RSS feed, but I've never done that, and don't know what it is or what it does. I prefer an email, because It's friendly, not intrusive, and I can ignore it if I want to, as I scan the list of similar emails.

And I may want to consider switching my platform from Blogger to WordPress.  If I am finding reading WordPress blogs easier, because it's just a click on an email, perhaps others have that same experience. And, since I've been blogging for four years, nine months, and one week, I wonder if I have accumulated followers? I know there are a small number who are following me, but there are a lot more readers than that. Four out of the last five posts I made (all except the one I wrote yesterday)  broke 100 page views, and one broke 360.  I'm wondering now if perhaps those numbers would be a little bit (or a lot) higher if I provided email notification.

It's an interesting thought.

Fellow bloggers: have any of you changed platforms? For those of you who use WordPress, do you think that platform brings you any other advantages/problems? Any other advice you can offer?

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Brief Post-Thanksgiving Meditation with the Beach Boys

I was watching a movie last night, and was impressed by the excellent background music. What first got my attention was the Allman Brothers' song, "One Way Out." Later, after more people got shot and beaten, and more great music, they played 'Sail On, Sailor,' and to my surprise, discovered that this song I've been listening to for 40+ years, and attributing to the Doobie Brothers, was, in fact, sung by the Beach Boys.

And then I waxed nostalgic for a bit.

First, I thought about the tragedy and perseverance of Brian Wilson, who was one of those few who have psychotic breaks triggered by drug use. Mark Vonnegut, author of 'Eden Express' and 'Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So,' is another, and there are many more.

Second, I thought about an article I read recently concerning the recent spate of sexual misconduct charges. The point of the article was that this was a logical consequence of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and really a small manifestation of the purposeful destruction of the family. Somehow, Third Wave Feminists (never heard that term before, but then, I am purposefully ignorant of modern culture) are to blame for this; although it seems to me that what they are describing as Third Wave is more a product than an architect.

Third, I continued meditating on memories of Thanksgivings Past. I hated them, as a general rule, starting around 1960, because they always seemed to be the occasion for visits to/by authority figures who seemed invariably to find fault with me. And the oven-roasted turkeys always resulted in dried-out white meat, which had to be salvaged by copious amounts of gravy. I suppose gravy-flavored straw is better than plain straw, but still...

My brother-in-law Chuck changed Thanksgiving forever for me, sometime in the early to mid 80s. He first introduced us to smoked turkey, and later fried turkey, which redeemed the bird as a food item. Thirty years ago this year, I cooked my first turkey in a smoker, and it was outstanding, so good that five adults and two children consumed almost the entire bird in one meal.

That 1987 Thanksgiving was also the occasion in which I received the third of the three wake-up calls, which confronted me with the truth that I was powerless over alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. Surprisingly enough, I wasn't drunk when it happened. It was the statement by a relative who was in the early stages of recovery from drug abuse that the fact that I still drank invalidated my claim to be a recovering addict. It made me take ALMOST the last look at my behavior, before I took my last drink about five weeks later.

I still don't like the holidays. I suppose I like them better than I used to; Thanksgiving is an occasion when I can truly be thankful for my sobriety, and I've outlived the worst of my critics. Being the host of the dinners also permits me to have influence over the guest list, and no one with a penchant for negativity is invited. And at age 64, I can plead infirmity and get away with it, when I'm tired of the conversation, and go sit in my chair without regard for whoever is still in the house; they can chat as long as they want, and go home with plates of food when they are ready to leave.

Or, we can do this:

Peace be on your household.

PS: Here are the Beach Boys performing the song, "Sail On, Sailor" in 2012. The harmonies still are moving.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of Happy Passing and "Minds of Men"

As you can see, this isn't only about St. Joseph. It's also about the book "Minds of Men," written by the amazing KC Ezell.

Amazing, you say?
Yes, amazing.

She flew helicopters in places where it mattered, and that speaks to my medic bones. My first company commander was a First Lieutenant who flew medevacs in Viet Nam, and drove a white Corvette, and had a gorgeous wife, and that sort of sets the stage for the way I feel about chopper pilots. (Umm...on the other hand, I also knew a staff sergeant, a former warrant officer chopper pilot in Viet Nam, who had more rows of medals than I could count;  he was as ugly and as pleasant as my next-to-last dog. YMMV.)

Her stories grasp the nature of being, and service, and I guess all that comes natural;  and what doesn't is something you learn when you are driving a truck through the air with the tracers reaching up for you, looking for the green smoke at the LZ and yelling for your crew chief to turn off those ***ing alarms because you are only going to bounce once, and we'll fix it when we get home.

I first met her as a character in John Ringo's series 'Paladin of Shadows,' only later discovering THAT person was based on a REAL one. Then, I read her work.

She writes stories of cheerleaders who carry guns, and are determined to have a life that matters.
She writes stories of terrifying choices, where there is NO good outcome, and it just doesn't seem clear where your path vanished.

How glad I am, to be well past the fires of youth, else I would SURELY have a crush on her; and she is married with two daughters. As it is, I look fondly and with pride on her, as one of my favorite children/grandchildren/Loyal Companions.

"Minds of Men" is Book One in the series 'The Psyche of War,' and it addresses the role played in warfare by women who have the ability to communicate telepathically. It's set in World War II, at a time when bombers launching from England to strike military and industrial targets had to manage their own defense, since there was no long-range fighter support available.

As a result, they took some terrible losses. Imagine flying straight and level during a bomb run, while flak and German fighters swarm the flight path: that's the sort of thing that the WWII B-17 crews experienced at this stage of the war. The first mission in the book reports the loss of 17 out of 30 B-17 bombers on a single mission.

And then a miracle happened.

Y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this, but: General Durant, the United States Army Air Force commander, is personally acquainted with the as-yet-not-public ability of certain women to communicate via telepathy. His wife is one of the ladies with that ability. The amount of institutional resistance that is thus avoided, is enough to permit the introduction of selected women with psychic abilities into the crews of many of the bombers still targeting the German war effort.

Evelyn Adamsen (Evie) is one of those women.

The story follows her through her introduction to the crew, and their immediate mission the next day. Her ability to reach into the thoughts of the crew is instrumental in gaining their acceptance, as is the practical value of her efforts while in the air. Bombing accuracy is increased, and she is able to to act as a sort of psychic medic when a crewman is wounded. (Speaking as a former medic: the FIRST thing you tell a wounded person is that they are going to be okay. Say that directly into someone's head? Any medic would give a body part to be able to do that.)

And the crew continues to fight the war, with Evie a full member of the team.

The bad guys have psychic women, too, although they use them differently. Not having read the book, they are unaware that they ARE the bad guys, a valuable trait when fighting a war.

German psychic Adalina Sucherin (Lina) serves as an interrogator, and is usually able to gain necessary information without resorting to the more brutal techniques advocated by her superiors. Driven to seek revenge on Allied forces by the loss of her family during a bombing raid, she welcomes the opportunity to serve alongside soldiers with a similar history. They form a specialized hunter-killer team, seeking out downed Allied airmen.

Evie and Lina's paths cross.

The book does NOT end with a cliffhanger; HOWEVER, it does include the promise of more to come, and some bits of that are even now in the process of being delivered.

And one of those bits is a short story I've been given the privilege to preview. I'm not sure it's up yet, but I will add the link and a synopsis when it's available. Until then, some backstory:

Joseph the carpenter, husband of Mary, and the earthly father of Jesus, has (at least) a double role as a saint. First, he is the patron saint of workers, which is entirely appropriate, since he was a skilled tradesman.

Secondly, he is the patron saint of happy passings. To clarify, 'passing' is a euphemism for dying; I don't know if it's a term Yankees are familiar with, but down South, when my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, references the death of someone, she says 'they passed.' So there's that.

Now: the 'happy' part. Joseph is not referenced in the New Testament after Jesus was 12 years old, when he went missing for three days in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52). Though we aren't given any specifics, the traditional interpretation is that Joseph died in the 18 years between that event and the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. The not-unreasonable assumption is made that when Joseph passed, he did so in the presence of Jesus and Mary.

Although my church tradition is sadly missing almost all of the appropriate honor due to Mary (an unfortunate side effect of the Protestant Reformation), I am yet capable of seeing what a fine thing that might be: to have your transition between this existence and the next witnessed and eased by the divine Son of God and His mother! Thus, the role of Saint Joseph as the patron saint of Happy Passings makes perfect sense to me.

And it is in this role that he is featured in the soon-to-be-released story in "The Psyche of War" series. It's a lovely story, and it has that distinctive KC Ezell touch of a nightmare reality which can only be endured by a firm grip on the transcendent. You MUST take advantage of her offer to provide the story to people who sign up for her mailing list! It will NOT be an onerous task, and the story is an item of high value.

Final note:
Ezell is pleased, but somewhat surprised, that I 'get' her work, and that I am such a fan. For that, I offer some Kipling and a picture, and an explanation.

The Kipling (from memory):

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God like a soldier!

And the picture:
SGT Eli Jordan Patterson, USA (Ret)
Picture taken April 2015

And the explanation

This is my first-born son. When he was wounded in Afghanistan in 2013, he was not left on the plains for the women to cut up.

Instead, KC Ezell flew a medevac mission, scooped him up, and took him for treatment; and when it was clear that he was broken, she flew him to the US Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and later flew him home.

Now, it was NOT KC herself, in person, that flew those missions, but that's because she wasn't on that particular duty roster that particular day. But it might very well have been her.

And whether it's hauling beans, bullets, or broken bodies, the guys with boots on the ground DEPEND on flyboys and flygrrrls, in order to accomplish their mission.

And KC stepped up, and said "I can do that."

Mechanics, avionics techs, medics, radiomen, cooks and clerks and the Sergeant-Major's band. Remember them on Friday, and wear RED: Remember Everyone Deployed, until they all come home.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On The Occasion of Kenneth's 13th Birthday

There is a lie, quite commonly circulated among parents, that as soon as kids turn 13, they immediately transform into soul-sucking vampires,  desiring nothing more than the immolation of their parents on the pyre of their own self-destructed bodies.

This lie is utterly and totally untrue, for three reasons:
  1. The transformation is not immediate. it takes anywhere from a few weeks to a year to take full effect.
  2. It starts before they are 13. 
  3. They do not desire destruction for its' own sake; they are just seeking independence, the way that a drowning swimmer seeks air.
If you can grasp the truth of item #3, you have a chance to see the teenage years as a good thing. Otherwise, you, and your kids, are likely to be in for some unnecessary and enormously painful conflict.

I speak from experience. I am 64 years old; I was 43 years old when my first-born son became a teen-ager.  I was 51 when my youngest bio-child reached that milestone.

And today, this very day, my son Kenneth (grandson, really, but he's my kid and I'm his Papa) has also reached the landmark. Today is his birthday. He is 13 years old today, and he left for the school bus this cold morning wearing shorts, a nice jacket, and a Red Hot Chili Peppers necktie knotted around his neck over his T-shirt.

So what is my advice to myself, having all this parental experience, plus three college degrees in counseling and psychology, and 16 years experience as a middle school counselor? What do I tell myself to do?

Well, the FIRST advice I give myself is to relax, shut up, and sit down; it's too late to do anything drastic. 

He's been my son since he was six years old, and before that, he mostly lived in a house full of adult and semi-adult women. So, from the beginning, I have been systematically pouring myself into him, attempting to make up for the years he wouldn't remember anyway, when I would have changed his diapers and rocked him to sleep at night and given him a bath. I missed that part.

Because we had missed a lot of important moments, at first, he simply didn't have a history of doing what he was told, particularly not by a male. He WAS the only male in the house when he was little, and with the high-energy adult and semi-adult women in his environment, he had learned that if he tuned everybody out, they would usually go on to something else and leave him in peace.

That wasn't going to work with me. 

So, I had to explain the rules, and the reasons for the rules to him. I was amazed at how fast he picked up on the program:

  1. First time obedience; 
  2. Logical consequences; 
  3. Spankings in case of wilful disobedience or physically dangerous behavior (although we didn't have any of that; it's usually just to train toddlers not to run into the street). 
Within a month, he was happily progressing along with the business of being a first-grade kid in the burbs, with a yard and a cat.

He stumbled ONE TIME in his behavior at children's church, when he refused to do what the teacher told him to do; she wisely brought him to us. I took him to the truck, explained that he was not permitted to be disobedient to ANY adult we put him in the care of. Then I paddled his behind, and sent him back, and he never had any problem at children's church after that.

He stumbled ONE TIME in his behavior at school. He had not yet learned that he COULD control his anger, and so when he felt he was being treated unfairly by the other students, he responded by telling them he was going to get a gun and shoot everybody. The school called me. I showed up for a conference with the principal, checked him out of school,  took him across the street, and explained that it was okay to be mad, but not okay to make threats (particularly since I have a houseful of firearms). Then I paddled his behind, and checked him back into school for the rest of the day. That was first grade. It took some extra work for him to learn things he could do when he was upset, but he never got into trouble for losing it again.

I taught him how to act in church, by telling him to watch me, and do what I did. If I stood up, he stood up. If I sat down, he could sit down. I was having some problems walking then, and I asked him to let me lean on him from time to time. It was good for him. It was good for me as well. Nothing makes a parent behave like knowing their kid has INSTRUCTIONS to do what they are doing.

In short, as I said earlier, I have been pouring myself into him. While I primarily identify as Redneck Biker, I am also a man of the Book. Because it is something I do, Kenneth also does Bible study. He handles the money at church, so he will understand about tithing. Because he is of an age, he has moved up from the children's church to a youth-led program, and because my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I participate in a church small group for mutual support, Kenneth (and his sister Alicia) have their own small groups that they attend at church.

And now he is 13, and I'm pretty much an interested bystander from this point on. I knew this was coming, and I thought I was ready.

But then, some things happened. 

I'm not going to go into all of them, because it's not all my story to tell, but let me sum up: by the end of August, I was beat down into the ground from a combination of health issues and events involving family members and other people I am close to; and I was also pretty disgusted by the way my fellow citizens rioted in Charlottesville, VA, and other places. I wrote about some of that in this blog.

And then, I get hit by two DIFFERENT health crisis within two weeks. And, at the moment the second crisis was happening, without knowing what I was going through, Vanessa FINALLY quit her job, which was absolutely the right thing to do, should have done it a month earlier at least.

And then, my brother in law became deathly ill, in a very short period of time. And my dear, dear sister had to make some hard decisions, with no guarantees; and they had to be made immediately.

And I want to make sure this comes across: while these hugely significant issues were going on with us, there were other people who are very important to us, who were also facing very hard times. And because I care for them, my emotions were jangling.

So, one Sunday, at her request, I visited my beautiful, sweet, gifted sister in Macon, who was daily sitting with her husband in the ICU. Afterward,  I stopped by for a visit with my beautiful and genius mother, in the pleasant care facility where she lives out her battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

And that afternoon, I pointed my truck north toward Woodstock, and if my emotional state came with a warning gauge, it SURELY would have been redlined. And I had no outlet for my stress.

Because I abused it so badly during my youth, I am denied the comfort many find in a relaxing drink of their favorite adult beverage. Same thing goes with ganja, man; it's not available as a solution for me. If I had been home at that moment, I could have gone to the range and taken consolation in poking small holes in pieces of paper; but home was miles and miles away.

So, I am proceeding north on the interstate, my emotions just racing away, just like an engine that is maxed out without bearing a load. It is an alien feeling to me; I have an IMPRESSIVE toolbox for dealing with stress; nothing, however, matched up with the circumstances of driving north on I-75 into Atlanta on a Sunday afternoon.  

And then something else happened.

Maybe it wasn't an intervention from God. Maybe, I just figured this out by myself. I know that I am an astoundingly wise person, but I don't think I am wise enough for the insight I got next.

I realized I was all  wound up, because I had all this emotional energy, and there was nothing I could do with it. Under normal circumstances, when I'm under stress, I quickly can identify the cause, and that almost always leads me to the necessary steps I need to take to resolve the problem, find acceptance, or just wait it out.

 And I have that skill set because I have DECADES of experience in solving the problem; not only theory picked up in a hundred classrooms, but 30 years of recovery from alcoholism, 34 years of being a parent, and every other type of life experience that has come my way.

Ready for the punchline?

I realized my dear son Kenneth was about to launch out on an emotionally churned journey, where he would frequently be living in a helpless, whizzing, buzzing emotional state, very similar to what I was at that moment experiencing. However, he would have no way of knowing if it would pass, or if he would be that way forever.

Somehow, I was able to make the connection between my momentary emotional state, to the life-cycle ride that Kenneth is going to be hopping on and off for the next few years (followed closely by his sister). I need to remember this insight: he ain't crazy, he's just disturbed.

There is a difference:
Several years ago, I was visiting my best buddy Mylon at his house one summer evening. As he and I stood talking at the back of my truck, a bug flew up my nose.
IMMEDIATELY I started yelling and jumping around, and slapping at my face, while Mylon just stood there, wondering what in the heck was wrong with me.
Seemed like forever, but it probably wasn't more than 15 - 30 seconds, before I was able to blast the critter out of my nasal passages.
Mylon thought it was funner than I did.
But it has given me a never-to-be-forgotten illustration of the difference between acting crazy and being crazy. Sometimes, I ain't crazy; I'm just disturbed.
And, on this occasion of Kenneth's 13th birthday, I remember how I felt with all those powerful emotions running through me, without having something to harness them to.

And as Kenneth struggles for his independence, I hope I will remember the difference between being crazy, and being disturbed.

And I hope that the love and wisdom and integrity I have poured into him since he was six years old will have been enough;
And that he (and I) will keep a sense of humor;
And that on occasion, now and in the future, he will allow me to be his friend.

Kenneth on his birthday three years ago
(on the way to the gun show)

Peace be on your household.