The Past is Prologue

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Found a home for my short story “Terminator Too.”

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/

Lots of good stories in this zine, for those so inclined…

 

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Writing: The Art of War

Laughter Over Tears

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A Tale of Two Cities is apropos to what I want to say here. At least the first line, that is.

I think some of the best advice and worst advice my parents ever gave me was to say, “Keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds.”

This was after they realized that my special interest in life was writing. Meaning that I wanted to be a writer. Which, I guess, must have been almost the same as me saying I wanted to ride bulls in the rodeo or apply to Clown College.

Gasp. Oh, God. Oh, no. We have one of those kids. Not Michael J. Fox from “Family Ties,” the savvy young Republican. The other kind. She’s going to suffer. She’s going to die a horrible death. Look at Poe. Look at John O’Brien. Look at Sylvia Plath.

No–wait a minute. Poe didn’t kill himself…

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Unrepentant

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Time travel. Romance. They go together like Bogie and Bacall, thunder and lightning, mashed potatoes and gravy.

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. And I’ve read quite a few. But then one day I stopped reading them. Because I was sick of them.

Something deep inside began to balk against the knight or highlander or king’s soldier or Earl’s wide shoulders and strong thighs and muscles for days living on a 6’ frame.

How good was nutrition back then? Not very! Did they have kale? An overabundance of quinoa?

Why is the heroine always 25 with amazing green eyes or amazing blue eyes while the male has piercing blue eyes or piercing gray eyes or piercing gold eyes?

How does the heroine get away with showing her cell phone to people and not getting burned at the stake, like, immediately afterwards?

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I’d like to write an anti-romance time travel novel.

Instead of reading about a 22-year-old with pert breasts and amazing blue eyes, I want to hear about the 45-year-old who’s really stiff ‘cause she quit yoga recently due to a rotator cuff tear.

This woman will not touch a necklace, a ring, a locket, drive her car into a fog, fall and hit her head, open a box, put on a scarf, and end up in the 1200s.

She will be a scientist/inventor, build a time machine, and be transported to the 1200s by accident after a test run.

This woman will not get a ride on a horse with a man in a kilt and, while attempting to get more comfortable, snuggle her bottom into his groin, inadvertently turning him on.

She will be a bodybuilder. A 45-year-old bodybuilder with a rotator cuff tear. And she will not fit on the horse. With him on it too.

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She will NOT go back to England or Scotland or Ireland and begin to understand Old English or Middle French because of having conveniently studied it in college.

She will not understand what anybody’s saying. Ever.

Which will cause a lot of problems and almost get her killed. Or at least probably jailed. Until they decide to hang her. Especially after everybody realizes she’s a woman and not a man (because she’s a bodybuilder).

But someone sympathetic to her situation and, of course, intrigued by her, will, at the last minute, keep her from the pyre.

At least she will have the sense not to pull her cell phone out and show it to anybody.

As for him, her romantic counterpart, I’ll have her go back to Shaka Zulu’s time maybe. Shaka Zulu actually WAS 6’2” back in the 1800s.

The creator of a revolutionary warfare style, he unfortunately became unbalanced after mother died, demanding a certain amount of mourning, and evidently murdered 7,000 people he deemed insufficiently grief-stricken. He was assassinated by his half-brothers.

Perhaps my muscle-bound scientist could travel to 1800s Africa and influence Shaka away from being such a mama’s boy.

Xiahou Dun—General Who Calms the Waves. Who wouldn’t want to get to know someone with a name like this? Can you imagine bringing him home to meet the folks, saying, “Mom, Dad, this is General Who Calms the Waves. You can call him General WCW.”

220 AD, serving under warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han dynasty, Dun was a soldier who enjoyed the arts on the side and had scholars tutor him, led a frugal life and used his excess wealth to help the needy.

My heroine’s modern sensibilities and, of course, humanitarian outlook would certainly inflame this guy’s primal instincts, wouldn’t they?

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Raja Raja Chola was one of the greatest sovereigns of 10th and 11th century South India, a valiant conqueror, empire builder, quixotic yet grounded administrator, and patron of arts and letters. Nickname: Raja Raja the Great.

Folks, meet Raja Raja the Great and (let’s say) Monica Raja Raja the Great. After a whirlwind of electrifying turmoil and emotional warring between her and Raja, he would eventually accept her as his Principle Assistant and First Wife and Equal Partner.

I don’t know. My story would probably bomb. Badly.

But I know one thing.

When given the chance to return to her own time, my heroine wouldn’t think twice.

Love is grand and all that, but who in their right mind would really choose to remain in a time where a splinter in your finger could easily become a raging infection that Neosporin would have taken care of in two seconds back in the 21st century?

Although my heroine, Monica, would no doubt hightail it out of there the first chance she got, she would also probably do her damndest to talk her guy into coming into the future with her. She would help him adjust, help him get a job. They would work it out somehow.

Khawza2trainer3And although I may rail against all the usual elements of time travel romance, pooh-poohing perfect beauty and a selfless willingness to abandon all that’s familiar for “someone who finally ‘gets’ them”, somewhere deep down, I understand and I forgive them.

Because I still remain, in my heart of hearts, an incurable romantic, a sentimental ideologue. A fool, a stooge, a sucker. An unrepentant lover of love.

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Joe Vampire, by MJ Gardner

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“Joe Vampire,” MJ Gardner’s sequel to “Evelyn’s Journal,” offers a well-paced, straight-forward and often humorous look into the pros and cons of being undead.  As the relationship between Joe and Evelyn deepens, it simultaneously grows more complicated. And while Joe seems to be on the road to recovery, it also feels precarious somehow, like we’re nervously watching an inexperienced tightrope walker make his way over a yawning chasm.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to see Evelyn becoming “more” vampiric in nature, like in the way she seduces and steals blood from Joe’s roommate and friend Carter without giving it a second thought that he’s his roommate and friend. We’re also introduced to older, more dangerous vampires and finally learn the answers to some ongoing mysteries.

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Above all, though, Evelyn and Joe’s existence together is like a long-distance relationship, and one wonders if it will last. Her undead state becomes a point of contention, so he’s constantly seeking the warmth of live human flesh, flaunting his promiscuity with both sexes, a familiar pattern from his past.

As the discord between them becomes unbearable, Joe falls headfirst off the wagon, in more ways than one. And although the ending is gloomy and somewhat ambiguous, it also accurately depicts how someone like Joe, an ex-addict with a crappy past but a good heart, would be tormented by angst and indecision when thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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Yeah, yeah: vampires, vampires, vampires. It reminds me of the scene in “Robocop” when Boddicker comes into the room saying, “Guns, guns, guns,” like, “been there, done that.” But there’s a vulnerability to Gardner’s writing that pulls one in, and she addresses topics that one generally doesn’t find in vampire fiction like race, interracial relationships, and gender fluidity, all of which are handled with sensitivity and add new dimensions to an otherwise worked-over undead genre.

Hopefully, maybe…we’ll see what happens to Evelyn and Joe in another book….hint, hint!

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Heaven and Hell

 

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So here’s the thing about adoption and being adopted: it’s a mixed bag.

I was adopted when I was a year and a month old. I’ll elaborate on why over a year went by before I was snatched up by someone in another post, ’cause that’s a whole different arena.

Anyway, once you’re taken in by a family, if the people who adopted you clue you in early on, you basically go through most of your life with two opposing thoughts:

Boy, was I lucky that someone wanted me bad enough to bring me into their life.

Boy, was I unlucky that it had to come to that.

How does one hold “luck” in one hand and “unlucky” in the other and somehow have them coalesce into a coherent, balanced philosophy?

And is it even possible, since they’re completely opposite ideas?

It seems like life on this plane of existence consists of duality anyway, doesn’t it? Good and bad, light and dark, hot and cold and variations of the same.

I feel like I spend my days fighting to return to some kind of center between opposing elements and extreme interpretations. It’s the Goldilocks zone. And I spend my time losing, searching for, and rediscovering that space, that feeling, that moment that’s “just right.” But mostly losing, it feels like. And I spend some days, if I’m being honest. Definitely not all days and not even many days. Some days.

Some people call it being in the moment, and it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. But sometimes when I manage to get there, when I’m actually “in the moment,” nothing else seems capable of invading that space. Because in this moment, right now, this Goldilocks zone that feels just right, there is no past and no future. There’s just now.

In the just right space, it seems like all disparate philosophies and/or perceptions melt away. The edges melt away, the boundaries overlap. Unlucky becomes lucky, lucky becomes unlucky. I’m both and I’m neither, aren’t I? And they’re one in the same.

Wouldn’t dualities, strong emotions, opinions, perceptions and projections cease to exist and/or become interchangeable in this weird, magical space? Two sides of the same thing become one thing, because even in a world of duality, duality is just a word and definitions of words are a man-made construct.

So in the null space, minus the constructs, if I’m lucky and unlucky at the same time, I can’t feel sorry for myself or be happy for myself. It’s like that expression people have when they sort of give up trying to explain something that’s too complicated or maybe  isn’t worth over-thinking: It is what it is. In the Goldilocks zone, everything just is what it is.

The next goal, I guess, is attempting to stay in the just right zone longer than randomly and briefly, which is next to impossible without intense concentration and practice and, I would even say, training. Hey, I’m not ready to be a zen monk yet. I think I love chocolate too much. I think ranting about Trump is healthy, and I’m not ready to stuff it down inside and just say, “It is what it is.”

“Why don’t we leave him alone and let him do his job?!” Why? He won’t shut the hell up on Twitter. He won’t leave us alone. And do “his job”? Define “job”! Don’t get me started!

(See? I would have been kicked out of the monastery already)

In the end, back to the original thing, I’m glad I was adopted, of course. And, musings on duality aside, I would even consider myself one of the lucky ones. Luckier than many. My gratitude is deeper than anything I could ever adequately express.

But beyond the original thing, the adoption, the bigger thing looms: Is it true what the Buddhists say? That life is suffering, and suffering comes from simply existing? And the way out is being mindful of all the things we use to torture ourselves with? Which is, evidently, words, definitions, perceptions, opinions, expectations.

Well, my opinion of Trump will probably never change. Not in this life. And I will always expect chocolate to taste really, really good. But it’s good to know there’s things that can possibly be done to neutralize a sort of undefined, perpetual purgatory.

Maybe Freud would say I’ve only found a way to neutralize my anxiety. But if it’s real and not just denial or suppression or rationalization and it succeeds in a profound and meaningful way…well, I’d like to see if Freud has a better answer.

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Eating Noise

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I bet you can’t guess where I was last Saturday. And the Saturday before that. You might think: The DMV? Workshop for Beginners? (For what? Does it matter?) A carnival?

I’ll give you a hint. Here’s what always happens.

There’s a steady trickle of familiar and unfamiliar characters.

The woman with paperwork amassed around her; paperwork which can’t exist without her fingers plumbing their depths, caressing their edges, rearranging their order, thus gifting all around her with a ceaseless rustling like the wind through dry leaves. Except it’s not the wind. And there are no leaves.

The man with a notebook of indecipherable code who intermittently scans the pages between remaining glued to his laptop, drumming on the tabletop, and randomly emitting a low, throaty moan.

The elderly couple having a pleasant conversation in outside voices until they settle down nearby, she wearing slippers, he with pink headphones and a Hello Kitty logo on his computer. (They seem frail and somewhat sweetly eccentric, but if I were a cop I’d still search their apartment or house for bodies).

Someone asking a question as loudly as if they were standing in the middle of an AC/DC concert (or The Killers, say, for people who weren’t alive yet during AC/DC).

The resounding KA-KLUNK KA-KLUNK KA-KLUNK of a woman operating a three-hole punch with the dedication and abandon of one who has existed on their own planet for eons and is unaware of any other intelligent life elsewhere in their universe.

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Okay, I’m sure you probably guessed it already. Yes, it’s the library. The days of silence, the days of the schoolmarmish woman glaring and saying, “Shhhh!” are so far dead and gone, one wonders if they actually existed or it was only one’s imagination.

Why do I keep going back? Because I manage to actually get some writing done there, regardless of the zoo-like environment. Away from the demands of home, forcing myself to just sit in one spot. In hard wooden chairs that someone from 1900 designed for the orphan asylum. After a massive amount of time with severe writer’s block (I don’t care what people say; writer’s block IS REAL) I pushed—shoved, RAMMED—through and finally made some headway.

It hurt, too. It felt like strapping on my seatbelt and then deliberately driving my car full speed into a wall. But it worked. I guess the imaginary bone-jarring, artery-slicing collision jolted something back awake. I don’t know.

And anyway, I’m already used to all the sounds and interruptions. As long as I can recapture my train of thought again, I’m good. And now I look forward, sort of, to low throaty moan and Hello Kitty and rustling leaves. ‘Cause sometimes it’s not just noise. Sometimes I can touch it, hold it, eat it, make it something else, make it mine.

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“Evelyn’s Journal” by MJ Gardner

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For readers who would like to deviate slightly from the usual vampire tales out there, Evelyn’s Journal departs just enough to make it stand out from many others. Told from the point of view of a 17-year-old mixed race girl who has lived at her private school almost her entire life, Evelyn enters into a physical relationship with her 50-year-old piano instructor which eventually leads her into the supernatural world of the “undead”.

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At first it was hard for me to relate to Evelyn or see her as sympathetic since her character is coldly analytical and emotionally detached from the world. Severe abandonment issues and lack of love have left her bitter and emotionally cut off. She’s even initially abandoned by her creator and consequently forced to survive as a new-born vampire on her own.

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But as she makes her way through the world and meets various people, her emotional depth and ability for compassion widen and deepen. Ironic, considering most of her growth happens after she’s undead!

Another fascinating component includes her being mixed race and what that entails. I rarely run into discussions of race in vampire fiction, except on a very shallow level, so this to me was a unique road to travel down and was integrated meaningfully into the story.

The entire tale is told in a brisk, no-nonsense voice that mirrors Evelyn’s academically trained, detached mind. The pacing is good and the end contains a satisfying resolution, although it seemed somewhat anticlimactic to me. Did I want it drawn out more? More hands-on violence from Evelyn herself? Maybe. Or possibly, I’ve seen too many movies! It was still a good catharsis and overall a fast and addictive read.

I think vampire lovers AND nonlovers will enjoy this tale of suspense, passion, violence, buckets of blood, psychological battles, and ultimate metamorphoses.

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LOST ANGELES

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I was reading a fellow blogger’s post recently about Heloise and Abelard, and I feel extremely lightweight talking about “La La Land”  compared to the fascinating mini-treatise focused on the 12th century’s version of star-crossed lovers who predate Romeo and Juliet by hundreds of years.

But what are you gonna do? “La La Land” exists. It got huge crowd reactions and was an Oscar darling. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

Ryan Gossling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia are sorta star-crossed, too, in their own way, like Heloise and Abelard. Just minus the nobility. And the scholarly pursuits. And the nunnery. And probably nobody will be talking about them hundreds of years later.

SPOILER ALERT, by the way, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Do not read on!

And anyone interested in taking a more in-depth gander at the famous couple from the blog I mentioned can pop in here: https://tinyurl.com/yb9e4ede, and thank you to the author!

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When I was a kid, I was a HUGE fan of musicals, but somewhere along the line I outgrew them. I can’t pinpoint when this happened. I just know that one day I looked up and if I was watching a movie where people suddenly broke into song, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough. My patience, my tolerance for the lighthearted, at least in that fashion, had died a mysterious and flinty death. My tastes had switched from the likes of ‘The Sound of Music” to “Shaun of the Dead,” and so knowing this, I did try to keep an open mind while viewing the movie.

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Immediately from the opening scene, however, I knew the brutal demise of my love of musicals, of the inconceivable which bordered on sweetness and joy, instead of that of dark humor and sarcasm, was alive and with me still.

The word “magical” seemed to be key where this movie was concerned and there were some enchanting moments like the Griffith Park “dancing among the stars” scene and a sometimes sunny, sometimes soulful soundtrack that followed the characters around, lending a whimsicality to even the most banal of activities.

But I attributed these scenarios to the universality of shared experiences rather than anything to do specifically with L.A.; the intense dopamine-enhanced sensation of new love, the incandescent view of the city at night, the ultra-brightness of the sky when dreams are still possible.

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Mia’s giant Ingrid Bergman wall painting, the ghostly mural of old Hollywood stars on a building, a pool party taking place on a bright sunny day, and Mia’s job on the movie lot were nice touches, evoking the *feel* of Los Angeles in a visually pleasing yet predictable way.

I thought maybe “out of towners” really fell for this movie, seduced by the romantic images. Maybe merely being an Angeleno prevented me from absorbing the Los Angeles + wonder connection. I don’t know. To me, it really is a lost city, having little or no solid identity, little or no loyalty, even, to itself. At least one comment rang really true when Sebastian said, “They worship everything and value nothing.”

 

In order not to come off as an inflexible curmudgeon by listing everything that didn’t sit well with me in “La La Land,” including the fact that ethnic people, apart from Ryan Gossling’s jazz buddy and Emma Stone’s mulatto roommate, were eye-poppingly missing except for intermittent scenes where they were dancing or playing jazz (in the same vein as the New York of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” 90% white enclaves buried in a city known for–even famous for–its tremendous diversity) I’ll describe what I did like about this movie.

I liked the ending. Not being sarcastic. I liked it when, years later, Sebastian remembers the night he met Mia, and instead of rudely shouldering past her as she tries to compliment his piano playing, he sweeps her up in a one-armed embrace, setting alternative events into play involving the love and success and life they should have had together.

It reminded me of the end of Diane Lane’s movie “Unfaithful” where, after everything that possibly could go wrong has gone wrong, she imagines the windy day when she first ran into Olivier Martinez’s character. But instead of getting together and having what would eventually become a disastrous affair, they help each other up, sort out their possessions, and, laughing, each goes their separate way.

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And in “La La Land’s” case, going their separate ways was probably inevitable, doomed from the start by self-doubt and precarious hope. Their desire to “make it” ended up being much larger than any feelings they had for each other, so Sebastian’s poignant “what if” imaginings seemed fitting and appropriate for a relationship not exactly shallow but definitely not penetrating deep enough, a perfect parallel for most L.A. life in general.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against dreams and hope and aspiration and dancing in the sky. But regret is something I can relate to, as can most people, whether they want to admit it or not, and so the core of the movie seemed to me like it was baked into the very end, and there it was the most romantic, the most possible, the most real.

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Balancing on the PC Tightrope: Stay Steady or BOUNCE THE LINE?

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I can’t imagine in this universe or the next not writing about politicized/non-PC topics due to either being an unknown indie author, an unknown traditionally published author or any other iterations involving a small or nonexistent following on social media and/or in the real world.

Author Melissa Eskue Ousley recently published an article on Book Daily on this topic, though, asking some penetrating questions:  http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1929116

It’s interesting to read people’s varying points of view on the matter. Some of Ms. Ousley’s writer friends said they wouldn’t have broached certain subjects in the past, but due to recent changing events (the Trump election) they’ve become more vocal. Other friends said they were bold before the election, so they weren’t afraid of losing social media followers.

Maybe coming from me this doesn’t mean much. I don’t know. It’s like that age-old question: If a tree falls in a forest but nobody’s there to see it or hear it, does it make a sound? I may say I’ve always been bold. I may say I would never keep my mouth shut for fear of “losing social media followers.” But, some might ask, would I be this way if I did have lots of followers? If I was making a nice living through my writing?

Even though I wrote a paranormal comedy that came out last summer, one of the topics I touched on was the very serious subject of racism. The protagonist is mixed race like I am and at one point, for example, she and her sister muse about the comments they used to get in school about their “mocha” colored skin, which usually came out as a “compliment” but still was, in the end, something everybody noticed and felt the need to comment on.

Conversely, later in life when the main protagonist is trying to make it in Hollywood, she isn’t, for some reason, “black enough.” And these are obviously fairly innocuous, bland examples; the tip of the iceberg,  in the duplicitous labyrinthine casuistry of bigotry and racism.

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I like to believe that, regardless of followings or book sales that may or may not ever increase in size in the future, that I will always be strong enough and courageous enough to share my thoughts and opinions on hot-button topics. Ms. Ousley concluded that she has become more and more vocal over time, probably turning off some readers and even getting angry messages from some. However, overall, responses were positive, and she’s even seen an increase in followers.

I do have a question, though. According to the article, the angry messages Ms. Ousley received followed her sharing photos and her views from the Women’s March. Now, without having seen her posts on this subject or knowing the content therein, I still have to ask: what could have been so offensive that people felt the need to write angry messages to her?

Going by the article from Book Daily, her tone seems gentle, very sensitive and sympathetic. I can’t imagine her blog concluding with something in all caps like, “MEN SUCK. WOMEN WILL RULE THE EARTH AGAIN,” or something equally inflammatory. So who knows where the anger comes from? You can’t please everybody, obviously.

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I actually don’t think an author can be separated from their views. We are our views and our opinions and these philosophies and leitmotifs are infused into our work. There’s a way to phrase our points of view, though, that doesn’t intentionally incite anger or come off aggressively as “the only possible truth.” I think there’s a way to be passionately vocal while at the same time keeping communication and the desire for catharsis in the forefront.

Admittedly, that’s hard to do sometimes, at least for me, like when it comes to Donald Trump. For instance, I posted a picture on Facebook either right before or after the election of Arkham Asylum and likened it to Trump’s administration.

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Yeah, some Trump supporters might have taken offense to that, and no, it’s not a benign call for a far-reaching catharsis. But in retrospect…it was also very prophetic, wasn’t it? Even Trump people, the reasonable ones, would have to give me a grudging nod at this point, eight months later…

And, no, saying “the reasonable ones” isn’t very “kumbayah” of me, either. But I’m referring to the Trump base here, like the ones involved in the Charlottesville mess. Not only the ones who were marching for…I don’t know what—against other people? Certain people? All people who weren’t them? I’m also referring to the ones who even said, after it was over, that they were “glad” that Heather Heyer was killed. Calling those with such a mindset “unreasonable”, I think, is the biggest understatement in not only this dimension but all parallel dimensions unto infinity.

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In summary to Melissa Eskue Ousley’s final question, “Do you think it’s okay for authors to share their political views, or is it advisable to stick to safe topics” for me it’s not advisable to stick to safe topics. Parts of my life, my family’s life, and our experiences haven’t been safe where racism is concerned, psychologically and even physically.

And racism itself isn’t really the problem. It’s simply an unlighted doorway leading to more questionable doorways; a pervasive mindset lacking empathy and inclusiveness, glutted with ignorance, frustration, and fear. Instead of addressing the fear, frustration, or lack of knowledge, it’s always easier to simply roll with the baser extremes. And when one is pulled down into baser extremes of existence, a tendency for intolerance of any kind—for sexuality, religion, what books to read—will be, in my opinion, an easier, shorter trip the longer one is immersed unquestioningly in that kind of limited consciousness.

In this fashion, my father, a dentist, was called a derogatory slur by police officers.

In this fashion, my mother answered the door of her gated-community home to a security guard who assumed she was a maid.

In this fashion, my brother was walking home from school one day and was stopped and frisked by the police.

In this fashion, after I went out with a particular guy a few times, his mother asked him, “Why are you dating that girl? You aren’t going to marry her.”

In this fashion, Trump was able to ask Barack Obama to present his birth certificate for the entire eight years he was president while almost no one brought up the fact that McCain was born in the PNZ while he was campaigning for the same position.

(To see a fuller account of this argument, go here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/07/there-was-a-very-real-birther-debate-about-john-mccain/?utm_term=.77508c34f43b)

And in this fashion, reality TV celebrity/real estate mogul Trump was elected president after running with a litany of fanatical, xenophobic, dogmatic, one-sided, fractious, sectarian, racist, and ultraist campaign promises that would have made Darth Vader feel unambitious and forgettable.

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So, in this fashion, regardless of any potential readership, any blossoming followers, any future ultimate successes, in the memory of past injustices, large and small, in the midst of all present injustices in full swing today, and steeling myself for all probable future injustices, angers, hatreds, ignorances, fears, pain, and suffering in the future, I hope I never stick to “what’s safe.”

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Beautiful Fantasy: Spartan Justice for All

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Where do I begin? Did I love the movie “300”? Yes. Was it based in reality? Somewhat. Here and there. Just put a little Wite-out on the ugly parts and blow up the good parts by 1,000.

Well, it’s kinda like how, over time, certain people and/or events become…let’s say…changed from what actually happened or who they actually were, and all of this becomes viewed, in time, through a distorted lens that’s only telling part of the story. Yeah, yeah, history is written by the victors. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Examples? No problem. Two that stand out in my mind are the Rhodes Scholarship and Margaret Sanger. When one thinks of a Rhodes Scholar and the associated scholarship, one generally conjures up benign brainiacs, geeks and nerds of Mensa or Jeopardy! qualifications, whose brains are bigger, synapses fire faster, or maybe are simply gifted in the retention of trivia and facts.

The scholarship, however, is named after British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes, the founder of the De Beers diamond firm, a corporation which enjoyed a global  monopoly for many generations of exploiting/raping natural South African resources while treating its workers as much, much, much less than human. As the creator of the 1913 Natives Land Act, Rhodes’ brainchild would limit the areas of the country that black Africans were allowed (less than 10%) and this, along with altering voting laws, helped pave the road for apartheid.

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In the meantime, Planned Parenthood is still going strong today. I don’t think the average person even knows about Margaret Sanger when they think of Planned Parenthood. I know I didn’t. But when you hear about the “founder” of Planned Parenthood, you’re probably inclined to think, “Oh, what a forward-thinking lady. What a maverick!” since she was engaging in the struggle for women’s rights back in the ‘20s.

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A couple of years ago, Ms. Sanger was named one of Time magazine’s “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time.” But considering what the founder of Planned Parenthood contributed to the eugenics movement, it gives one pause, does it not?  Eugenics?! you say.

Yes. Eugenics!

In 1939 Sanger wrote in a letter to Clarence Gable: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.

It was nice of her to lend a caveat to her ultimate goal which was, most likely, not to exterminate blacks, but to definitely keep them from having more than an acceptable amount of babies, whatever that number may have been, as was evidenced in a video recently unearthed from 1947 of the intrepid defender of all womankind—ahem—I mean defender of most of—some of—the appropriate women—of Ms. Sanger demanding no more babies for 10 years in developing countries.

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So back to “300.”  Back to Sparta.

No one more than I loves the expression on Gerard Butler’s face as he’s proclaiming, “This is Sparta!”

But what’s the low-down on Sparta behind the cinematic majesty?

Well, it’s common knowledge these days that the Spartans were slave-owners, dominating who were probably the original inhabitants of Laconia (the area surrounding the Spartan capital). Although this population, called helots, greatly outnumbered the Spartans, an iron heel was kept firmly ground on their collective neck to keep them down.

Spartans, during their early training, did not have to go out into the snow and kill giant wolves as much as they were required to perform the equivalent of today’s gang drive-by in order to gain warrior status within the ranks. So instead of the lyrical representation of the half-naked boy facing down a wild animal, a more realistic scene in “300” would have been a testosterone-crazed 13-year-old shadowing an unarmed helot on his or her way to market in a rite known as the Crypteia, jumping said clueless person, and probably slitting their throat on the spot.

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Portrayed as a freedom-loving culture in the movie and in popular media today, what they actually only valued was their own freedom. Certainly not that of the helots.

And let’s take a look at Ephialtes, who betrays the Greeks by disclosing the location of a secret goat path to the Persians. Ephialtes is changed from a local Malian of sound body into a Spartan outcast, outrageously disfigured and later outrageously vengeful toward Leonidas and the warriors. Aside from the fact that Ephialtes was the leader of radical democrats in Athens and whose reforms prepared the way for the final development of Athenian democracy, his character is demoted to monster-like proportions in both body and mind, along with the general representation of the Persians as twisted creatures, malformed and debauched, offering up an endless supply of gigantic stampeding beasts and horrific ogres to do their fighting for them.

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Oh, well. It made for good drama in the movie.

At the end, in history, the Spartans knew they were gonna die. And they stayed. Graciously, they volunteered their own slaves. I can just see the Spartan warrior going, “Yes, and Thesius will remain behind also,” while Thesius does a double-take and drops the cape he was trying to mend in the dull light of a bloody sunset.

In the end, Spartan bravery isn’t in question. It looks like they had that in spades. But the circumstances that allow such a society to live and thrive, on one level at least, contaminate everything else that happens afterwards, don’t they?

Like the questionable “honor” of being dubbed a Rhodes Scholar.

Like the much, much less than egalitarian principles of an overly esteemed Margaret Sanger.

Like the founding of the United States with a constitution stating that “all men are created equal” except…it was really only men. And really only a certain type of man. And look where we are today due to that ignoble beginning…

It’s nicer to stick with fantasy sometimes. So for now I’ll sink back into the glory of “300” with its chiseled stomachs and call for honor, swirling with empathy and altruism for all the innocents and worthy of the world. Truly a beautiful idea. Really a wonderful, captivating fantasy.

 

 

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