Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bah Humbug?

"Bah, humbug!"

It's already starting. Every Christmas season, we hear the same complaints.

"They start the advertising earlier and earlier!"

"They're just trying to get us to spend more money!"

"Christmas has become about commerce and not about family and love!"

This is new to you? People act as though there was some magic Santa dust that floated around coating everything in happiness and joy as far back as whenever their childhood took place that has somehow disappeared into a cloud of greed and Grinchy mock-cheer.

You remember how Christmas "used to be" in the "good old days." You remember watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer every year as your house got greener and redder every day and the neighborhood began to glow in yuletide electric light. The one neighbor that you all complained took it "too far" created a pulsing tribute to holiday happiness that although you disapproved outwardly, you couldn't wait to see. The tree went up the day after Thanksgiving, you picked it out yourselves, and you merrily watched "the Grinch's heart grow three times that day" more religiously than The Ten Commandments on Easter.

News flash! Rudolph is still aired each year, as is the Grinch--in fact you now have a movie version to choose from--and neighborhoods seem to be just as brightly lit as ever before. The bulbs are just a bit more energy-efficient and actually better for the earth.

And if you think those violent Walmart rushes 'twas the night before Black Friday are a sign that commercialization has ruined the holiday since you were a child, replacing Santa with Mattel and elves with those stupid Walmart smiley faces, I have three words for you. Cabbage. Patch. Kids. Have you forgotten the violent commotion during those Christmas shopping seasons back in the 80s as the last of those little ugly bastards were sold off the shelves?

You sit back and watch A Christmas Story pine-treeing for a better time, a more innocent time, a time when love and family came first and commercial greed was tucked away under the tree skirt or in a stocking somewhere. You forget that the movie was set in the 1940s on the verge of WWII and on the heels of The Great Depression. So much for innocence and lack of commercial greed. Wasn't it the greed of the 1920s that brought about all that we see in that movie? America was already long gone. And the whole story revolves around a kid who thinks all is lost if he doesn't get the exact one perfect gift that he's been hoping for. The story could easily be set today with much the same results. In fact, many think the movie is set in the 1980s when the film was released. Bah humbug?

The commercialization of Christmas and loss of spirit we whine about today was actually alive and well over 100 years ago. It could be heard as the gentle subtext in the words "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" way back in 1897. In 1947 we needed a Miracle, with an address no less--34th Street in Manhattan--to renew our faith in a holiday corrupted by the commercial tyranny of Macy's. The cynic should not forget that Santa and shopping were synonymous even as far back as then. And that Grinch we watch every year to renew our spirit was necessary because of the greed and lack of charity Dr. Seuss saw ruining Christmas way back in 1957.

I want to let you in a little secret, haters. Christmas hasn't changed. You've changed.

I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but you're not kids anymore. It's as simple as that. Christmas "just ain't what it used to be" because you don't believe in Santa, you now have to supply the gifts while paying the bills, and when you wake up on December 25th, all your problems and issues that plague you all year long don't magically disappear. Ask your parents and their parents and their parents if they're still alive. Ask every generation that's ever celebrated Christmas. Of course it's not the same. You're not the same. But you now have the power to make it not just the same, but better.

Don't be selfish. Don't wallow in no Santa bringing you magic gifts and the whole world not turning to snowflakes and stars on tops of trees. Create that experience for your children. Do you want it to be like it was when you were child? Do it. Was there one part of Christmas you think could have been better? Fix it. Tradition and spirit don't just magically happen, people create them. Make it mean something. If you don't like the commercialization of the holiday, why the hell are you in that line at midnight Thanksgiving night with mace in your purse? Slow down, appreciate the special moments you create with your family, and give the bah humbug a rest.

If you think you can't afford a "proper" Christmas because of "today's prices" and "today's economy," just think back to that family in A Christmas Story. On the tail end of a depression, on one income, with a furnace acting up, they pulled it off. None of the gifts under that tree were very expensive, but they meant something to those kids.

So enjoy your family, enjoy the gifts you do have, not the ones from Mattel or Sony but the ones you create yourself in the hearts and memories of your children.

Oh yeah, and don't shoot your eye out!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

A poem in honor of the one day, if I had the chance, I would go back and erase...

Ten Years

Ten years of heartache. A nagging limp or chronic breathing condition. A child, now an adult, wondering why Daddy still hasn’t come home. Rage. Non-stop cranes and jackhammers rebuilding a grave. Still forgetting that she won’t be there when he rolls over. Guilt. Replays on screens. A recorded voice announcing, “Let’s roll.” A message from Afghanistan.

Ten years of life. Ten years of freedom. Ten years of beauty from sea to shining sea. Ten years of camaraderie, generosity, and service. Ten years of love. Ten short, fearless years.

Ten years ago they attacked the fabric of our lives. That fabric endured, wiping our tears, dressing our wounds, streaming across our skies in a brilliant red, white, and blue, announcing to all:

We will not give up.
We will not give in.
We will not die.

Ten years later, the souls of the fallen still whisper to us through glorious stars and stripes…

Never forget.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Writer's Block My Ass!

Who the hell do we think we are?

We writers, we sit around acting like our writing is possibly the most important thing that could be done on the entire Earth ever. Earthquakes are rocking the East Coast. There's wars devastating countries from Libya to Afghanistan to places most never even think about or see on the news until someone makes a movie. The economy has been swirling around in the toilet for three years waiting for someone to finally flush us into the next Great Depression. Armageddon is basically staring us in the face, but to us writers, writing the next great American novel, a poem worth reading, or even our own freakin' memoir (talk about conceited) is "oh, so important" that we yell at our kids and spouses when they "just don't understand," we blog, tweet, and update our statuses with constant updates on "how the new project is coming along," and when we're struggling, when we can't think of how to get from point C to L without compromising the meaning of A or B, we retreat into the oldest, most pretentious excuse for lack of production ever conceived by humankind...

Writer's block. What the hell is that? Seriously? When Congress is faced with the toughest questions ever posed to the race of man on this Earth, and they get together and argue it out for months and come up with a compromise that pisses everyone off, we say they are a lazy, "do-nothing" Congress. But when we can't figure out how to have our protagonist steal from his mother without compromising his likability, we call it writer's block.

When Frodo and Sam were stuck on the side of Mount Doom, staring death, failure, and the end of all Middle Earth square in the eye--they hadn't eaten in days, had nothing to drink, and were weighed down with the burden of the single most evil fashion accessory ever to be spewed out of a black valcano of doom--did they sit around in their boxer shorts staring at Facebook and Twitter yelling at their wives to leave them alone while they "worked." No. No, they didn't. Even a fatass like Samwise Gamgee picked a dude up and hauled his ass up the side of a goddamn mountainside to destroy that mofo. That's getting something done. Writer's block my ass!

What about the soldiers risking their lives for our freedom. Think of those guys sitting there planning how to take down Osama bin Laden. Seems impossible right? Impenetrable fortress. Armed guards. No guarantee he's even in there. The only real sources of intel being some of the most despicable humans in the world. They tell us he's hiding in caves humping camels one day and that he's ordering Dominos in his bunny slippers in a mansion the next. What the hell? Give up, right? Forget that, right? Sit back and claim to have intelligence block or espionage block or international diplomacy block or whatever you want to call it, right? Hell's to the no! You fly a freakin' helicopter into his back yard, break down the goddamn doors, and shoot the bastard no matter which one of his wives tries to stand in your way. That's right. You get 'er done! Writer's block. Are you kidding me?

So, when you're sitting on your couch in your robe with fourteen different tabs open on Firefox, setting up your NFL fantasy football, reading book reviews of all the books on your "list" that you know you'll never get to, updating the world on your revolutionarily important progress on your flash fiction piece, sorting through your inbox full of agent rejections, and cataloging your internet porn while Microsoft Word is still open to the same page of your novel it was on three days ago, don't blame writer's block. Writer's block is not why you can't get your conflict to be complex or your character to be complex or your plot to be complex. It's because you're being fucking lazy. Close Firefox, retreat into the natural born creativity that's gotten you this far, think of all the people out there that can't afford to not work and blame whatever-it-is-they-do-for-a-living block, and write another chapter for crying out loud.

Writer's block, indeed!

Now that I've given you that inspirational kick in the pants, it would probably be a bad time for me to tell you I wrote this blog because I'm having writer's block working on my novel, right? Just asking.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Here's the scoop. I'm 22,000 words into a novel that seems to be going nowhere. I've just finished an MFA program where I churned out two novels that I'm currently peppering agents with. No leads as of yet. I've got an idea I can't shake from my mind, but it's nothing like anything I've ever written. I am most certainly at a crossroads. Not a Britney Spears "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" kind of crossroads either.

I took a little break from the aforementioned train wreck novel, a project that's even boring me to write, so I'm sure readers wouldn't be able to stand it, and wrote a couple flash pieces and some prose poetry. When I went back to it, hoping some time away and a fresh outlook would help me ressurect it. No dice. It seems worse now than ever. As bad as, say, Britney Spears acting in a movie about a girl that's not a girl but not yet a woman.

I think I'm going to kill it. It's about a murderer, so that would be fitting. What does that leave. School is about to start, so time to write will be limited. Do I take a break from larger projects, maybe do some reading for inspiration, write some more stories and poems, and let the new ideas simmer to make sure they are up to my standards before setting off to write a time-wasting 22,000-word steaming pile of crap? Like, you know...Britney and all that.

The big idea, the one I've been waiting for, the one that I can't stop thinking about, happens to be a dark, cyber-punk, epic adventure novel--something I've never even thought about attempting. I blame The Marbury Lens, along with various metal lyrics, for drumming this bad boy up. Can I write something like this? What qualifies me? And to complicate things, the new idea will only work in third person, I think, and I've only done novels in first person. I'm not sure I can be omniscient. It sounds so daunting.

My first instinct is to read. There are the Collins books--The Hunger Games and the like--that could be a good starting point. But do I want to risk replicating instead of innovating? And what if I'm just getting swept up in the distopian novel hullabaloo and only think this is my greatest idea ever? What if I'm subconsciously just trying to capture the lightening in the bottle that distopian YA has created and by the time I write it, the whole genre is passe. Like ex-Mouskateers making it big as pop singers.

But I'm pretty sure this is the story I want to tell, not because it's in, but because I'm obsessed with the idea. It's more of a classic throwback to things like Conan the Barbarian, The Lord of the Rings, and even some Star Wars. My future isn't about technology; it's about retreating into superstition and post-apocalyptic self-preservation. A little Mad-Maxy maybe with a tinge of fifteenth century Eastern European blood bath? It's hard to describe. All with a boy from modern times as the protagonist stuck in this future world of despair. And he gets there without time travel--how cool is that?

So, part of me wants to mull this over more, read a bit in the genre, try some things out in flash fiction and poetic forms, especially with third person narration, and attack this next summer when the idea is fully encrusted in my artistic sensibility and I have time to devote to it full time. But part of me wants to strike while the iron is hot. Let my vision and imagination just run wild and guide me. Capture the primitive violence of this experiment in the primitive and violent pages of this novel. Could it even be a series? A movie?

My mind is getting a cramp just thinking about it. If you have any advice or thoughts on the subject, please share. If you have any suggested reading based on what I've just shared concerning this project, please share. If you have anything at all for me, please share. Thanks!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Write Time to Right

The sun creeps up over the horizon, sending a beautiful orange rippling over the lake. Sitting on the rocker on my wraparound porch, lazy cat by my side, I fire up the MacBook Pro and open a blank word document. A bird sings a merry song to my left. A deer rustles out of the woods to my right and looks me dead in the eye before saluting and diving back, inspiring me toward the days first work of flash fiction. I cut through the dew and the New England October chill with a large cup of Dunkin white hot chocolate. My big boy coffee. Creativity brews like morning java straight through to lunch. Alone I conquer the worlds I create. Alone I thrive.

Yeah, right!

Of course YA Highway's road trip Wednesday asked when I LIKE to write. So with that in mind, I've told the truth. That's how I imagine it. That's how I'd be most productive. The fact of the matter is, this little fantasy is just that. It's impossible. Reality bites.

First off, my house--with no wraparound porch--overlooks a pond, not a lake, and until the dead of winter, my view is completely obscured by trees and pricker bushes. It's nice enough--sure beats the two bedroom apartment in New London--but a New England retirement treasure it is not. Unfortunately, October only lasts thirty-one days, and my cats are indoor only. I can't afford the white hot chocolate daily, and the birds just yelp and shit on my deck furniture. The MacBook Pro was a fantasy, too.

Alas, as a writer struggling to make it with a full time teaching job, which includes advising both the school paper and the yearbook, two young children demanding time, and limited funds, I have to make due. So when do I really write? Ugh.

Summer is the easy answer. I'm unemployed for lack of a better word all summer, so there's ample'd think. But with the children and other facts of life, it sure doesn't seem like it. My routine goes as follows. Wake up. Eat breakfast. Brush teeth. Sit at computer checking facebook, email, Twitter, etc. Send out 1000 emails to my editors at the paper and yearbook. Figure out what's trying to derail that program and stop it. THEN, I set to writing.

My daughter has been going to Girl Scout camp this summer, so only my son is home, but so is my wife, and he's kind of docile until after his nap anyway--the kid loves to sleep--so that is when I go to town. Will it be a blog? Some chapters of novel number three? Revisions of number two? Submitting to agents? Some prose poetry? Flash fiction? Who knows. Whatever happens, happens. Most days I try to take a walk when baby boy naps with his mom, and maybe when I get home I churn something out, the residue of the inspiration I got walking through scenic Niantic, CT. By the time he wakes up at about 2:30, that's it. Inspiration's gone. I'm a dad then until bed time. After their asleep, it's time to work on ideas and lessons for the upcoming school year--which usually turns into working on something for the journalism program.

When it's not summer? Not so good. Basically, there's weekends, but often I have papers to grade and publications to proof, and on and on and on... Writing during the school year is hard. I tend to try and knock my big works out during the summer and revise them bit by bit during the school year. Other than that, a flash piece or two might pop out and a bunch of poetry. But still, that's some writing coming, and a novel every twelve months is quite prolific if I do say so myself.

So, in short, in my perfect world, my life would be that first paragraph. I wanna be that guy. I imagine after lunch in that fantasy world I'd play golf and then spend the evening playing Madden on PS3. But until that day comes--and I'm a big enough romantic to still think it will once I'm a published author and the kids are away at college--I think I'm doing pretty well for myself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sell Out?

"I'd love to read more as soon as you get rid of the incest." Sure, in most of our daily lives, having less incest is typically a good thing. Unless you've got a Play Boy Bunny sister you've never met lurking out there somewhere, I'm guessing having no incest at all is at the top of your daily goal list. And to be sure, I've never met anyone with "have sex with my sister" on his bucket list. But when your entire novel is based on a pair of teenage twins coming to grips with their incestuous secret and their feelings about one another, the quote above is hard to process.

So when I sat across from an agent who I liked a great deal after her panel presentation and certainly respected the opinion of and heard those words, I should have been devastated. The fact is, however, I anticipated such a conundrum from the beginning. Daniel Asa Rose and I had already discussed this possibility and ways to get around it. Step-sister? Adoption? Just an inner lust without action? All could work. But by eliminating the edgiest content in the novel, am I a sellout? Am I throwing away all of my artistic integrity to get published and make a buck? Certainly some would see it that way.

My response? I don't think so.

First off, my desire to get published has very little to do with making a buck...or a quarter or penny for that matter. The dream isn't about money, it's about widespread global adoration and validation--duh! Actually, the truth is that nobody can be confronted with the ideas in the novel and struggle with the moral ambiguity presented in it unless they read it. And in order for anyone other than me, my wife, my brother, a close friend, and a few people who read part of it and give up or never get back to you after begging for a chance to read it (you know those types...we've all got 'em), it has to get published.

Secondly, I think I've found a way to make sure a good portion of readers will still be uncomfortable with the subject matter and will still be forced to contemplate those same issues. They will kiss (in a drunken haze), which will still enable Allan, the protagonist, to be ostracized for his incestuous thoughts. He will still be attracted to his sister throughout, and he'll even fantasize about her and a world where they can be together forever happily. It just won't happen. Even in the original version he didn't end up with her and realized he was confused about his emotions, so the results are still the same without them actually doing the deed.

In the end, readers will get the same effect without getting myself blacklisted. Like most things in life, it's perfectly fine to have a twisted thought, we all have one from time to time, but acting on it is just unacceptable. Probably as it should be.

And as for that agent, I'm hoping once I'm convinced the changes are just right that she'll be interested in representing me. I really liked her and can easily imagine working with her on starting my career. I got a second opinion, and it was basically the same anyway, so no resentment. For now I'm making the changes to The House on Bittersweet Trail while she digests my query for Scout's Honor.

So have I sold out? I'm interested in hearing what y'all have to say.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Post-residency Blues

Although I only made it to three days of Western Connecticut State University's MFA summer residency, I'm still feeling that bizarre culture shock I can only refer to as "the post-residency blues." Yes, back to real life, where we have to deal with muggles who don't know what it's like to "open a vein," as the immortal Don Snyder once put it, in order to perfect your craft and create your art. It almost seems as if each time we return to Danbury, it's as if no time has passed at all, like stepping through the wardrobe once again, as if we were just dreaming the rest of our existence and just woke up in the lobby of the Maron ready to be full-time writers again, if only for a few days.

This time had a particularly bitter-sweet feel for me, as I am now a graduate and the reality is that while many will continue to return for the atmosphere, camaraderie, and insanity that is The Rez, many, due to finances and/or geography, will not. I fear I may have seen some of my dearest friends for the last time. We'll keep in touch of course. Facebook, blogs, email, and I'm even on Twitter now, but something will just not be the same. There's no way to fully replicate what that one week twice a year means for our writing and our friendships.

This was my fifth residency. That's less than five weeks I've spent with these folks, yet they're just as much a part of me as those I've known my whole life. How does something like an MFA program residency bond us so closely? Is it the shared suffering of the tortured artist? The unity created by a common enemy (you know just what I mean)? Or is it something more? I think it has to be the way writers are wired. We're screwed up people. That's all there is to it. It's hard to find anyone messed up enough to share our messedupedness with out there in the real world. Or is it The Rez that becomes our real world, and the surreal life of everyday struggles simply gives us strong enough doses of other people's reality to share in the work we will go on to create because of what we've learned and accomplished at WestConn?

Whatever it is, I can tell it's not ever going to be quite the same. Some day Claudine's slaps in the head will stop. Whitey's bruised foot will no longer be in my mouth. Perrotta's hard floor will be no more, as will Scott's heavy pour. I'll lose Marj as a partner in crime, and I'll no longer spend time wondering if Brian is our Yoda or our Darth Vader. Gilday's almost fiction recollections of residency capers will no longer be read to me. Margaret will cease to be the voice of reason. Rayzer's pink drinks have already disappeared. G-Marr will be just another pretty face on the facebook wall, as will Brophy's sunshiny, Disney, cartoon smile. No more sexual tension between Holub and The Mort, which we all missed this year already. Same to be said for Trudy and 3dlarz. It's all changing.

So while these past few days have been successful--I learned quite a bit about prose poetry, had more fun than I can remember, sang a duet with the worst rapper since Vanilla Ice, got some great feedback from an agent, and pulled off my first official public reading--there's a bitterness in my mouth. Not quite sure how to make it go away. But what I do know is that no matter what becomes of my writing career, I will owe it all to you guys, each and every one of those involved in this program over the past two and a half years. Thanks, and here's to life on The Rez.

MFAers, please comment with your favorite residency memory. Can't wait to read them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Got writer's block? I suggest you go for a walk...or maybe not. I'm currently 40 pages into the first draft of my third project--which I may have stumbled upon a title for today--and because of one little walk I now have a fourth. An overactive imagination may be key to a sustainable writing career, but it can also be a burden.

It really came from one little concept that struck me on my walk. Basically, I walked from my house to a little park with cute benches at the mouth of the Niantic River, just beneath the draw bridge, which is a bit of an eyesore. However, if you sit in the park on one of those cute little benches looking out on the river, the view is inspiring. And I mean that literally.

I found myself thinking about the Transcendentalism I teach in my American Lit classes, wondering why if mankind was ruining the beauty of nature, did this view look so much more interesting and spectacular with the little houses smattering the coast and dotting the hills on the horizon, not to mention the fleet of sail boats crowding the docks to my left. Sure the hills and the river would be pretty on their own, but it wouldn't be the same. Think of all those nautical paintings you've seen hanging in seafood joints. They're something special.

Then I pictured the boats and houses just stuck there on concrete or glass or gravel or something. Just plopped down in the picture without the green strokes of the hills or the blue ripples cascading across the river's skin in varying patterns. On their own, left only to the devices of man, they simply aren't spectacular at all. I had an epiphany. As is usual with most arguments, it isn't the artistry of nature or that of mankind alone that provides us with the most perfect look at beauty and inspiration. It's the balance of both.

Think of a beautiful man-made fountain with a cool sculpture without the flowers around it or the water to pour out into the main pool. Not nearly as inspirational--just dry, hard concrete. Bleh.

Then I thought of Boston. Though I love "The Big Apple," there's just something I find more aesthetically inspiring about "Bean Town," and it's not just the legumes. It's that balance of old, historical structures juxtaposed with a new, modern urbanhood that truly makes the city grand. You can gaze upon a rickety old church and graveyard with Paul Revere's dead body rotting six feet beneath your shoes with dilapidated cultural foundations crumbling all around, and if you tilt your head up just a few degrees, you can see a monument of modern economic domination towering above. One if by land, two if by sea, indeed! Lo! They've come by air!

I love these concepts. Everything in moderation is something we all sort of except as true, but what does that really mean. It's not just food, drink, and sex. It takes the old and the new. It takes tradition and impulsiveness.  Reality and fantasy. Conservative and liberal. Dogs and cats. You get the point. I often tell my students when there's a passionate argument where both sides are unwilling to budge, it's usually because both sides are wrong...and right. The answer is usually somewhere in the middle, or non-existent.

I want to capture this concept and show it working in the real world--and the imaginary. Think Anne of Green Gables and her Romanticism melding with Marilla's no-nonsense Realism. (Yes, I'm reading that book to my daughter now. What of it?)

Now, it's not just this concept that came to me out there on that hike. An entire plot, all of its twists, all of its characters...title and all, came to me on the half hour walk home from the point that had so inspired me. It wrote itself. It was an epiphany. And that's the title. Even a character's name. I love it when a plan comes together.

Now this blog is about the struggles and triumphs of an unpublished writer, so it wouldn't be right without pointing out that this poses a unique problem. As I said earlier, I'm 40 pages into my third full-length novel that I love oh so much and must, can, and will finish. So where does that leave me? I took a bunch of notes when I got home...on desktop stickies on my laptop. But will that idea still be as fresh and interesting to me in the year or two it takes to finalize this project? Well, let's hope.

If not, I can always go for another walk.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Train Wrecks

A fan fell to his death in Texas. I watched the video on YouTube. A few times. I'm such a sick bastard. I've also watched the video of that dude the song "Hey Man Nice Shot" was based on...some politician that blew his brains out on live television. I imagine the JFK assassination is one of the most watched videos of all time. So, why? Is it that "at least it wasn't me" feeling we get when we laugh at someone that just tripped and fell down the stairs? I thought about it, and then gave up. I don't know. But I can't stop looking at this shit, even if I regret it afterward.

When I was about seventeen I went to this party. There were like twenty or thirty of us crammed into this small living room in a "not-so-nice" part of town. There was a special room for the kids who were smoking "tree," which I avoided because I was such a goody goody. Anyhow, what happened is my friend Pat brought this video simply called "Sick." He explained it as a compilation of scenes from the most twisted scenes he or his cousin or somebody could pluck out of various pornos. We're talking some sick shit. We're talking a man screwing the body cavity of a frozen turkey, girls stuffing immense eels up their unmentionables--that's right, I said eels--guys with sheep, girls blowing dogs, you name it. And you know what, every single one of us watched this, laughing our asses off, trying to one-up each other with the best pun. We talked about it for months. A whole group of friends watched this with joy--not that we were turned on, but we had fun with it--and most people individually would never even admit to knowing such things could happen let alone watch it happen. Awesome.

How many times have you watched the video of 9/11? How many specials and documentaries have you watched on that horrible day? There's been three movies that I know of. It's started working its way into fiction. It's even been used as a small, off-hand plot point in movies. We're obsessed. Slipknot has a song called "Disasterpiece," and I think that might be the best way to describe these events in our lives that we obsess over but all agree are terrible. As far as creating a terrible tragedy, these shocking moments are the masterpieces. So perfectly awful, we can't help but gawk.

I'm currently reading Murakami's "Coin Locker Babies." Boy did this guy get that. Maybe it's just Japan in the eighties got it, who knows. But from the first paragraph, we're seeing things we just don't even want to acknowledge exist. And it's told so naturally, as if these things happen every day. Well, they probably do, folks. Sad but true. The book even goes as far to make a comment about this phenomenon of which I speak. Murakami predicts reality televsion by having a man blow his own mother's face off in front of live television cameras. The result, his brother's album skyrockets on the charts and sells like there's no tomorrow. We love this shit.

I'm trying to capture that obsession with what we see in these train-wreck, rubber-necker moments in my new book. The only thing is, when we see these snippets in the media, we rarely know the whole story. Murakami shows that nicely in his book. We gawk at the guy that fell to his death at a baseball game, but do we even think about his family, what else he does. We will, someday when someone writes a feature about him or more likely there's a ninety second clip on Sports Center. But while he's falling, do we wonder what he was thinking, if he was trying to land safely, or if he was just flailing in a blind panic? What a terrible moment. And don't get me wrong, I'm just as bad. I watched it three times. From different angles.

My book will try to explore the real world behind the headline-driven media of today. Think the media's obsession with pinning Columbine on the video game and music industries. There's always more than meets the eye. In order to see anything, you logically have to be missing something else. There's always something behind what you're seeing. Who's to say which is more important. I'm excited about this book. I'm excited about the story behind the story. Keep gawking!

Monday, July 4, 2011

He's Baaack

It's been a long, long time. With my MFA in the rear view, along with my second novel, I'm ready to get back in the saddle and practice what I've been learning over the past two years--writing. Novel three has officially begun production, and I think it has the potential to trump anything I've ever written before...ever.

The hard part is getting used to the idea of writing something completely on my own, without a mentor. I have a dear friend who appears willing to be my first reader along the way, and my wife will certainly chime in once the first draft is done and ready to be read, but not having a professional, published, successful writer to read every word along the way is a bit frightening.

Or maybe it's liberating. This puppy's mine...all mine! Muhuhahaha! I feel like I've spent so much time on classes outside of fiction writing, and revising works I almost don't remember writing, that's it feels good to get cracking on a new project. I hope to finish a draft over the summer and then truly take my time plugging away at revisions with no artificial deadlines. I'm pretty damned determined, so I don't worry that I'll slack knowing there's no deadline. I just want it to get done, be perfect, get published, and see this puppy in print.

However, I'm not giving up on novels one and two. I have an agent meeting scheduled in August, and I'm sending out queries regularly hoping to catch some fish. I think I've gotten both novels to come as far as they can, but I continue to read and revise as needed. In fact, I'll be reading from my thesis at WestConn in August as well.

Either way, I'm excited about writing as much as possible, whether it be working on this new novel, revising the other two, or blogging right here. Yes, writing is a Bittersweet Trail, but it's one we love strolling down. So, with all apologies to Whitesnake, here I go again on my own

Saturday, February 5, 2011

America's Day

Where were you when you watched your first Super Bowl? Who were you with? I remember mine. It was Super Bowl XXI, Giants and Broncos, following the 1986 season. I had just turned 10, and I wasn't much of a football fan; in fact, I remember being annoyed by my father turning away from the Nascar races on Sundays to watch the Giants games. I was much more interested in watching Dale Earnhardt intimidate with his yellow and blue Monte Carlo than in a bunch of burly guys smashing each other to pieces.

But the Super Bowl was different. It just seemed so important to everyone, such a big deal, and watching my Dad sitting there living and dying with each play, I couldn't help but get caught up in it all. By the time the game ended, and Phil Simms was on his way to Disney World, I was an NFL fan for life, and the Big Blue blood that pumped through my father's veins finally began coursing through mine.

Though my memory of the game itself is a bit hazy and probably distorted by the images NFL Films has placed into my mind in faded glory, my memories of subsequent Super Bowls are crystal clear. Tomorrow will be my 25th Super Bowl. My Super Bowl XXV. That's 25 straight years of watching every play, every commercial, every half-time show of every game. That means something. The game means something. It was as clear to me that evening back in January of 1987 as it is today. Super Bowl Sunday means more than just getting to stay up late on a school night for a 10 year-old kid. It means more than just football. It means more than just a game.

Just think of the memories the game brings back for you. It's more than Mark Riepen tearing apart the Buffalo Bill's secondary. It's the whole family falling asleep on the couch except for you, the silly kid that was determined to see every second of the game no matter how big the blowout. It's not just Mike Jones's tackle of Kevin Dyson at the one yard line; it's the new apartment with no furniture in it and watching Montana scorch the Broncos on a lone mattress in the middle of the floor. It's not just wide right; it's the look on your father's face as he fought the urge to change the channel, barely able to watch the fate of his favorite team, now your favorite team, unravel before his eyes. It's Everson Walls frozen in time, jumping in the air with his arms raised high above his head. It's David Tyree pinning a ball against his helmet. It's Peyton Manning's "pick-6." It's all of this and so much more.

It's Whitney Houston's Star Spangled Banner while we wait for word from the Middle East. It's U2 memorializing the fallen in the 9/11 attacks. It's the little guy, the Patriots, completing the biggest upset since The American Revolution, staging a heroic comeback on a field adorned with a re-designed American flag Super Bowl logo, not quite numbing the pain of tragedy, but somehow re-uniting us all, as a nation, if for just one night. It's parents introducing their children to Paul McCartney and Tom Petty and children introducing their parents to Brittney Spears and The Black Eyed Peas.

The game provides a measuring stick for our lives. We can look back at each individual game and remember where we were in our lives, the triumphs we've had, the struggles we've overcome. It may be the only thing left that multiple generations of Americans can experience together and fully understand. A first down is always 10 yards. A touchdown is always 6 points. A hero is a hero. For one night only, it's all clear, defined, calculable. It all just makes sense.

Wars and loves come and go, but each year, we have the Super Bowl. Think about it. On what other night of the year are so many of us Americans doing the same thing at the same time for the same reasons. Experiencing the same emotions. Watching the same spectacle. All of our problems and differences are cast aside, and for three hours we're all Americans, all as one, all focused on something that seems so unimportant, but has become so essential to our society.

Sure, we were all together when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We were all together for Operation Desert Storm. We were all together when the towers fell and our lives changed forever. But the Super Bowl, one insignificant football game, may be the only time we all come together, as Americas, for an amazing, fun, positive experience. Whether our team wins or loses, we make memories that will last a lifetime, not only in the stadium and on the screen, but on the couch and in our living rooms.

Perhaps it's because this single, solitary game represents all that makes us American. The struggles and triumphs, the underdogs and heroes, the excess and pageantry, all there on our television screens covered in the blood, sweat, and tears that made this nation great. And this year promises to be the greatest of all. In the enormous monument to American dreams that is Cowboys Stadium, the same field that hosts America's team on Sundays throughout the season, we will watch two of the most legendary teams in NFL history go to battle, pushing themselves to the limit to achieve their lifelong dreams. For one night, grown men will relive the innocence and possibility of childhood, and we'll all, as one, come along for the ride.

The Steelers and Packers--the epitomes of middle class strength, endurance, and toughness--will battle each other, reminding us of the blue-collar work ethic that made this country great. It's "MADE IN THE USA" at its finest. The hopes and dreams of all of us metaphorically represented by the gladiators we cheer for on the gridiron. It's an American tradition. A moment to share. It's Christmas without the credit card bill. It's more than just a game.

So tomorrow night when you're watching the game, sure, celebrate the touch downs. Celebrate the interceptions and the field goals. Celebrate the winner and the efforts of the loser. But also celebrate each other. Celebrate the memories. Celebrate strength, endurance, excellence, and striving to be the best. Celebrate tradition. Celebrate America. It's America's Game. It's America's Day.

Where will you be for Super Bowl XLV? Who will you be with? I will be with my wife--our 15th Super Bowl together. I will be with my daughter--still getting over the tragedy of her beloved Jets losing the AFC Championship game, but still excited for "The Big Game." She already has a sense for how the game is bigger than the teams involved. And I'll be with my son--too young to really understand, much like when I was too young and only half heard the chatter of Dan Marino choking against the 49ers back in '84. I'll be with my family, making new memories. Not just the memories that will stand the test of time in the NFL Films vault, but the memories that will last an eternity in the collective consciousness of America.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

State of the Onion

Digression!! (If anyone gets that reference, they get 5 bonus points should they ever find themselves in my American Literature class.) So I'm way off topic today and delving into the world of politics. My second genre in my MFA program was political speech writing, so I know of which I speak. I felt like today I would tell you exactly why Barack Obama is a genius.

Four words: State. Of. The. Union. First off, the "prom date" seating arrangement, keeping Republicans and Democrats mixed instead of sitting in their typical partisan arrangement, went very well. I think I might ask my students on the first day which party they identify with and then make a seating chart to force them to sit next to those they disagree with.

Sure, the symbolism was great, along with the purple ties by all three men filling our widescreen, HD, plasma televisions, but the practical results were more impressive. While the Repubs, of course, weren't impressed with the rhetoric in their post speech reaction, and some Dems met it with a luke warm reception, it was the undecided, moderate voters that Obama was looking to capture with this speech anyway. And that he did.

For undecided moderates watching at home, they were forced by Obama to make up their own minds on his ideas. In past speeches, a Republican leaning moderate, undecided voter could take his or her cues from the crowd. Which of Obama's ideas did I like? The ones where the right side of the isle stood and clapped. Which scared me? The ones that got liberal Democrats frothing at the mouth. The crowd could easily influence the opinion of the viewer at home.

With this seating arrangement, NONE of the lines came across as upsetting to the Republicans because we didn't know where or who they were. Every single idea he put forth seemed like it got applause from everyone because the applause came from all around the chamber. Viewers at home had to get the feeling the crowd loved his ideas; therefore, they should love them, too. Brilliant.

The other result was our elected leaders, men of conviction, intellect, and principles, didn't even know which ideas THEY were supposed to like. Never before have we seen our leaders exposed as such puppets before. No, they were a puppet show BEING PUT ON by lemmings. Here and there, you'd hear this Congressman or that Senator starting to clap on his or her own...and then awkwardly...silence. They were more confused than the teachers at graduation. Maybe they should have invited THEM to the rehearsals. Just sayin.'

Obama praised the hard work and dedication that led to Joe Biden, the scrapper from Scranton, and Boner, the whatever from where ever, getting the privilege of staring at Obama's bootie all night long struggling to see the special guests in the crowd through the President's ears. I think Boner almost cried. Not that making him cry is very difficult these days. He delivered lines about business that would have made Ronald Reagan cry, too. He sounded like a Democratic Republican. Let's cut every program we can possibly afford to cut, as long as they're not really important. Let's do this, but not that. Constantly placing himself right in the center of the isle on a night where isles finally didn't matter.

For one speech we forgot about all the divisions, and really did concentrate on what brings us together. Obama finally made good on the promise of not red states, not blue states, but THE UNITED STATES. Sure, this might have rubbed some the wrong way. Pelosi probably downed a few extra martinis afterward, and once Boner touched up his mascara in the bathroom, he probably went right back to wanting Obama's head of a stick. But what the American people saw and heard during that snippet of TV time was just what it was starving for--an end to the BS fighting and a look at what matters to all of us, bringing American back to the forefront of innovation, making us once again the center of the Universe. Together.

Then, it was over, and the Republican response was everything it shouldn't have been. Instead of riding the wave of bipartisan cooperation, instead of building off the hope, optimism, and forward vision of the President, they turned back to doom and gloom. It was 2008 all over again. Obama: YES WE CAN. Republicans: NO WE CAN'T. And in the tradition of Republicans underestimating the intelligence of the American people, they chose some sniveling little whiny bitch boy to annoyingly condescend to a camera, basically telling us Obama is going to bring on Armegeddon, and our kids are going to be living in a desolate wasteland where recycling their own urine is their only option for drinking water. (Enter Kevin Costner)

See, after Obama clocked Grandpa "Green Jell-0" McCain in the 2008 election, they named that idiot Michael Steele head of the RNC. See, "America's African-American community will automatically switch over to the conservative side because we named a black man our leader. That will show Obama." Their intended message--we are diverse, too! Their actual message--we believe African-Americans only voted for Obama because he was black, and they would totally dig us if we were black, too! Guess what, Americans vote based on policy and their beliefs, not color.

So, there's Obama being all youthful with his Just for Men suave hair and his basketball fit abs. "Let's just find a really young guy to put up there to compete. Then, surely all young people will vote for us!" Not gonna lie, that's, like, totally condescending. Just sayin.' You might as well run subtitles of the speech across the bottom of the screen with "hahahahaha" or "LOL" after each major point. The guy was a total wiener. Obama has more cool in his left fist bump than that punk has in his whole erector set. I felt like telling him to go back to his RPGs and leave us alone. I don't want a lecture from some guy that speaks fluent Tolkien Elfish or whatever the hell they call it. Way not cool.

And when young voters had just seen a room full of adults cheering and crying over a President being all presidential, casting himself in the light of Kennedy (there was a Sputnik sighting over the White House later that evening), and even getting his freakin' autograph afterward, do they want this loser whining about how his kids are going to inherit death and pain. I mean, they're all convinced 2012 is the end anyway. Can't we just give them SOME hope there will be a class of 2013? Geesh. It was a bad move and made Obama look even more brilliant.

So, in the final tally, Obama just won the 2012 election about 70-30 over anyone who runs against him. Game. Set. Match. Sure some Dems are going to think he should of pushed more liberal ideals, but they won't vote Republican anyway. It's about the moderates. The undecideds. And they want unity and jobs for crying out loud, and Obama has the long-term, big-picture ideas that will get all of that done. I guess we won't have a President declaring "I can see Virginia from my house" any time soon.

Looking for proof that even the Republicans agree he won big the other night? Arizona conservatives are actually trying to pass a bill that would force "all" candidates to present PROOF they were born on American soil before allowing them to run, questioning the legitimacy of our Executive Branch of government in wartime. How patriotic. They're getting desperate again!

In memory of Kieth's Countdown...."Good night, and good luck."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Too Hot for Tots?

As an author of young adult, cross-over fiction that is currently writing a novel with teens that have sex (lots of it), I find the discussion over MTV's show Skins very interesting. After reading the online posts, it seems the argument comes down to--primarily--whether this is an accurate representation of the way kids behave and if it encourages teens to act like these kids. This, of course, is idiotic at best.

This, like all works of fiction, is a representation of how THESE teens act. To say that it's not like this in real schools is ignorant. There ARE teens that act like this, and that's the story the writers are telling. Nobody says, "Don't watch Fringe because real FBI agents don't investigate people from parallel universes," do they? Did ER represent what it was like to work in a real ER? Is any show an accurate depiction of what is going on in the real segment of the population it depicts? Not often. I think Skins may actually be coming closer to presenting a certain counter-culture in today's schools than most of those other shows.

Furthermore, sex and drugs are a huge problem. In fact, where I'm from, the number of kids that smoke pot WITH their parents' permission is astounding. I think a significant population of even good kids smoke weed. It's becoming as common as smoking cigarettes in the 20s. Some governments are decriminalizing it and fully legalizing it. The hippies didn't just put down the pipe. As far as hard drugs, that's a much smaller group, but it's still there. The show doesn't say THE WHOLE SCHOOL is doing it, but this group of kids the show follows does.

If you're upset with the show, it's because you recognize it's reality and don't want to deal with it. Do something to fix it. It's out there. Watch with your kids and talk to them about it. MTV is actually doing you a favor. Now you don't have to find a way to bring up these discussions. MTV has done it for you. And Taco Bell? Do you know how many sex-crazed, pot-smoking teens LOVE late night runs to Taco Bell for "4th meal?" There's a reason so many young people are hungry at 2 a.m. It's hypocritical to sell them a cheesy crunch wrap supreme to cure their marijuana induced munchies and then not advertise to them on a show that shows kids gone wild. You think this is bad, you should watch the movie Kids and see what Chloe Sevigne was doing years before she ever did that hard core oral sex scene in Brown Bunny. I remember being a baseball banquet in Darien, CT where my wife commented on Darien High grad Sevigne probably sleeping her way into roles. A mother there said, "I can't believe that for a second. Not a nice, clean Darien girl." Can you say ignorance...or was it intentional blinder time for that lady? IT'S OUT THERE.

As for the sexy nudity by 17 year old actors? Depends on the rules of the state doesn't it? Some states have age-of-consent laws as low as 12. Which is another issue that deserves to be discussed. But the average teen girl loses her virginity at 16. I don't think that's some kind of epidemic. High school girls were putting out back in the 50's, too. Let's stop being hypocrites. We adults lost our virginity in high school (or at least tried very hard to do so). Our parents lost their virginity in high school. Their parents...on and on. This is a very small percentage of religious extremists trying to dictate their morals to all of us.

I know students at my school (where I teach) whose parents have had "the talk" with them and taken them to their family doctor to start them on birth control knowing what's going on with their kids and their boyfriends. But are there cracked out kids having dangerous sex with multiple partners. Yes. In most cases they have absentee parents who do drugs and screw everyone they know. The point? If you're a good, concerned parent, your kids will probably watch Skins and be upset just like you. If you're not, you're kids are probably doing what you're seeing on that wide-screen, HD, plasma television screen, and you should shut it off and get involved. Period. What you're really saying is having this show on TV makes you actually have to parent and deal with something you've been ignoring for years. They can see the same thing with their friends at school if they aren't already making their own real-life version of Skins in YOUR bedroom while your at you business meeting or dating yourself. And before you roll your eyes and gasp about today's youth, think back to the 60s, 70s, and 80s high school scene and remember all the sex and drugs happening then. YOU ARE ALL HYPOCRITES.

My final message--don't blame the messenger. Thanks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Can't Polish a Turd

How do you know when something you've written just can't be saved? You're writing along, spending months of your life creating that first draft, thinking all along you're writing the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. You finish, you show it off to the world--which includes like three people at first--and it bombs. You're expectations are shattered, and your book becomes the tale of two shitties: crappy plot and stupid gimmicks.

Suggestions come at you like "lose the ghost story," though that's the story's backbone, and "rewrite it in a different time frame of the character's life," though that defeats the purpose of writing it in the first place. So how do you know when it's time to put it in the scrap heap and forget about it? The passion for the story is gone. The character has been exercised. You have nothing left. So do you move on to another project, or do you pig-headedly plow forward trying to polish your turd?

Now, I've never tried to polish an actual turd. Have you? If you have, I'm assuming what happens is you just keep wiping away layers of human fecal matter to reveal more. So you keep polishing, buffing that sucker with all you've got (wearing rubber gloves and a surgeon's mask I hope) until there's nothing left but a brown (or green) smear on your latex covered hands. Then what? Do you have to start over again anyway, pushing out another turd?

But there might be that one time, when you're polishing away at yesterday's dinner in waste form, that you come across that stray piece of undigested corn--the kernel of truth. The kernel that you take and harvest and build a stalk of pure, unsoiled, non-turd writing that becomes the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. The next GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Okay, so Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities were British novels, and you're no Dickens, but you've got something you can work from; whereas, before you only had a turd.

So how do you know? Is there a way to know that there's a kernel deep within your turd of a novel that you can cultivate before you spend time, energy, and gag-reflexes on trying to beautify a giant piece of shit, ending up with nothing but a palm full of crappy residue?

I think you should just be able to tell. There should be a gut feeling. I'm worried I'm getting that gut feeling. That feeling that I just spent six months breaking off a turd that cannot be polished. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that when it's your thesis, and you only have three months to make it golden. Is there a fairy godmother out there somewhere that can turn literary turds to treasure, taking this book from poop to published? Doubtful.

I suppose it's time to stop whining and being the cliche tortured soul and actually get to work figuring this out, to start polishing my turd. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Civil War?

The holidays are over. It's a brand new year. And I'm back with my first post in a while. The class is over, so what do we write about now? Unfortunately, watching the news this morning sort of forced my hand. What is wrong with this country when we are shooting our elected leaders simply because they don't agree with us? Are we on the verge of a Civil War? Not the "two defined regions participating in a military conflict" kind of Civil War we fought in 1863, but the "small bands of conservative rebels out to take power through fear" kind they are all too familiar with in countries like Colombia. Not here. Not in America. Well...?

On a sadly ironic note, Representative Gifford spoke out against the vitriol being used by our elected leaders to drum up anger and passion in voters. She warned that there would be consequences if groups like "The Tea Party" continued using loaded language to rile up supporters. Someone should "assassinate him" has been uttered far too often in every day discussions about leaders, even President Obama. Where have we gone and where are we going? It's scary.

It was never like this when George Bush was president. No matter how much the Left, Center, and even the Right at times lashed out at Bush in hatred, it never got to this level. For some reason Obama has become a lightening rod for pure hatred of people who simply disagree with your beliefs. Take a look around! There are probably people at your job, at your school, in your own house that don't agree with everything you do. Your wife, your sister, your closest friends may not agree with what you believe. Do you hate them? No. You agree to disagree. Why, then, does this reality not trickle up into our political theater.

Elected leaders of the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth, there is a reason you are called LEADERS! When you lose, when the votes come in on issues such as health care, tax cuts, anything for that matter, the correct reaction is to be a good sport, shake the other guy's hand, and move forward. Drumming up hate in order to save face and stay in power is not the lesson I want you teaching my kid. I want my kids watching the player that watches the other team run out the clock in the victory formation and goes over and hugs the other teams quarter back, wishing him luck in his next playoff game. I do not want my kids watching the player that takes a pot shot at the other team's quarter back as he takes a knee just because he can. You talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.

Are we hypocrites, or what? Here we are hunting the planet for terrorists while we breed them right here in our country. Sure, we don't have organized groups looking to affect political change through murder and mayhem--YET! Many Americans look at the Middle East like they're some kind of backward, violent heathens since they raise, cultivate, and produce folks capable of such atrocities. Look around America, we're producing them here, they just have guns instead of hijacked jets. Our political discourse has elevated to jihadic levels right here in the good 'ole USA.

So what's the solution? Gun control? We have to think about it, but can't terrorist Americans looking to affect political change through fear simply get guns illegally or use even more dangerous weapons like 747s or anthrax? No, we need to stop trying to treat the symptoms and treat the disease. We need to educate, set examples, and change our ways. We need to preach tolerance.  For much too long we've thought of tolerance as a racial thing or maybe a religious one. It needs to extend to all areas where we differ as human beings. Religious tolerance, racial tolerance, political tolerance, handicap tolerance, sexual tolerance, gender tolerance--all tolerance. We need to realize that everyone is different, so no matter how terrible our lives may get, no matter how much we feel like we need a scapegoat, we cannot simply shoot everyone we don't agree with.

Now, I know what's going to happen. We're going to brand this guy a lunatic. We're going to say he had this problem and that. He was a loner. A recluse. He was on the verge of snapping since he turned 13. Whatever. We're going to use every excuse possible to turn our attention away from the real issues, to avoid examining our own demons. But that's not going to solve anything. Look deep inside yourself. The evil is there. We're all capable of atrocities if pushed far enough for long enough. The more we listen to the piss and shit being excreted from the mouths of politicians and political activists only concerned with power and their own personal agendas, the larger the chance more and more of these "lunatics" are going to be coming out of the wood works. How many have to die? How many leaders have to be targeted? How much pain and anguish need to be caused to families across the country before we learn? I know one "tragedy in Tucsan" is enough for me to try and affect change.

Two years ago, in an English class I was teaching, I had a girl wonder why we were debating religious and political issues so often when it was impossible to change anyone's mind, and we just kept going around in circles seemingly getting nowhere. The class seemed to agree. I didn't have an answer for her that day, but I went home and thought about it.

The next day, at the start of class, I gave a little speech. I told them that we lived in a world where pro-life activists have murdered abortion doctors and people with political differences hijack planes and drive them into buildings to make their points, a world where political and religious discourse has elevated to the point where people are killing each other over differences of opinion. I told them the idea isn't to change minds, but to voice opposing opinions without losing respect for one another. Without losing our heads. And to understand each other's side of the story without hatred or condemnation. The class was quiet. They were moved. They got it.

And I'd like to think that lesson will stay with them for the rest of their lives. This stuff can be taught, and it's up to us adults to do it. It's up to parents, teachers, and religious leaders to spread the word to our youth, to tomorrow's future. But most importantly, it's up to our elected leaders, the one's who spend their lives embroiled in this political discourse, to set examples--as leaders for God's sake--for the rest of us to follow. If not, we're only a few more incidents away from Columbia, from Civil War. I, for one, don't have the energy or time to fight one. So, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world" and start setting the example of tolerance...before it's too late.