Thank you for visiting!

You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bullies and the Myth of the Fair Fight-

Take only your fair share. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Say 'Please' and 'Thank you.' These are a few of the ideals of a socialized culture. Much like the ideals of chivalry, they are more ideal than real. They can be adopted, and for the most part they are. Except by bullies. And maybe some business people. And politicians.

For the sake of social order, which is held by many as somewhat better than chaos, most people adopt at least some of these rules over time. They may just be play acting, or simply parroting the words and mimicking the actions, but for the sake of order that is often enough. We even have a myth about fighting. Fight fair. Don't gang up, and don't bring unwarranted force into the battle.

Bullies, by the way, love a fair fight. They will, of course, bring back-up and a force significantly greater than their opponent. The fair part just assures that the person to be dominated doesn't bring their own back-up or overwhelming force. Unfortunately, more or less decent young people are taught the fair fight rule, and strive to comply even when confronted by unfair forces.

Do people really want to end bullying? Then eliminate the fair fight rule. Teach young people how to form alliances, work as a team, and how to bring overwhelming force to a battle. Bullies won't want to engage where the risk of loss is much more than no risk at all. It is hard to intimidate an individual if that individual is part of a group committed to severe and decisive retaliation.

I enforced the law in a jail setting for twenty years. I never fought fair. Oh, I followed policy and procedure in executing force. That is not the same as a fair fight. Those guidelines allowed us to work as teams to bring about the primary goal; end violence. We did that with pro-active and overwhelming force. The term 'fighting crime' is not just a descriptive metaphor.

It is possible to fight well, and decisively, without being 'fair.' A bully sacrifices any expectation of fairness when they use intimidation or excessive force without cause. Working out personal issues using the weak as a punching bag is not a viable cause. Violence is justified if it is used to end violence. To do so, it must be quick, decisive and overwhelming. Then the violence must end.

Bullying cannot be ended through meetings and slogans and songs. Bullying will only end when young people are armed with the tools to avoid intimidation, manipulation and violent subjugation. They must learn the art of combat, the art of teamwork, and vigilance. With discipline and training, anyone can learn to avoid being a victim.

Will there be blood and broken bones? Probably. Definitely more so than with songs, slogans and meetings. There will also be pride, strength and order. Hopefully, there will be reformed bullies, as well.

Here's to you, kid. Break a leg. Literally.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The King of Carpets and the End of Time-

I am fascinated by people I symbolize by the title "King of Carpets." The King of Carpets is an imaginary construction on my part representing those motivated and focused people who take their opportunities and with focused energy build an empire. Perhaps it is just an empire of floor coverings, but it is an empire.

I think I am fascinated by such people because I am not at all like that. Why am I not like that? Why can't I see that becoming the greatest floor covering distributor in the tri-state area is a worthy purpose? I actually know why I am not like that. It has to do with the End of Time. Not the actual end of time, of course. I haven't yet been there. It is the End of Time as I perceived it in my youth.

Imagination is a good thing, for the most part. Imagination has allowed us to build the modern world. It is a better world than the world of the past, unless you imagine that the past is better. Or course imagined pasts are generally imagined lacking some of the problems of the past, like war and pestilence and plagues and starvation. Other than that, the past was pretty good. I imagine that modern life is better.

When I was growing up I read a lot, and imagined more. I eventually learned that the Universe was winding down, cooling toward a long, cold death. Yep, that's the destiny of Everything. Energy exchanged until it all runs down. Black holes and dark dwarf stars. Nothing living. Really, really cold. Of course, later the model changed and there is some possibility that the Universe will collapse into a singularity. Really, really hot, and amazingly small. In either case, not much of a future.

An imaginative child exposed to this can assume that there is no purpose to anything, if these are the two likely  ending scenarios. Why put a lot of effort into becoming the King of Carpets if everything either grows unbelievably cold or collapses into a tiny hot point? Obviously this child needed counseling, but nobody could understand what he was talking about.

The King of Carpets cannot be bothered by the End of Time. Really, who has time for that? Sure, those carpets are destined to pass away, as is the money made from selling them. Still, the big house, fast car and wide screen television are worth some effort. Being the greatest floor-covering distributor in the tri-state area can get you this stuff. Anyway, the burning and freezing comes well after the cancer and Alzheimer and the long, cold sleep. Perspective is everything.

So the imaginative kid rendered unmotivated by the looming End of Time billions of years in the future never became the King of Carpets. I.. er, he probably bought a carpet or two from the King of Carpets, but he never built a textile empire. He did manage to build a pretty decent life, in spite of the prospects of absolute zero or the unimaginable heat of a collapsed singularity.

He even managed to engage that imagination beyond apocalyptic scenarios. He read a lot of books, most of which were works of imagination. He wrote a few, as well. He spent a little time toying with the Kings of Mundane Aspirations by drawing their focus outward toward bigger things. Did you know that doing that can make them mad? Not a good career move, by the way. Amusing, but not really a good idea.

Imagination obsessively embracing either Universal or personal mortality is not wholesome. Ignoring it is even less wholesome, but it really isn't a good focus. Balance. Yes. Imagination should embrace balance. So, I imagine that the imaginative child who too much embraced the End of Time might say something like, "Use your imagination, but use it as a tool. Create. Build. Sell carpets, or write books. It may all burn or freeze in the end, but in the now is where life happens. Imagine, but not too much."

So, if you are or aspire to be the King of Anything, I say, "Bravo." If not, imagine something. Read, think, create, and imagine. Do stuff. Do little things. Do big things. Do everyday things, and some things that nobody else would do. You don't have to be the best. Just your best. Imagine a Universe where the best goes on forever. No freezing. No burning. The best. Forever.

Be the King of Now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Case of the Missing Rule Book-

It was around my junior high (now called Middle School) time of life that I began to realize that not everyone was playing the Game of Life by the same Rule Book. I could not recall receiving my copy, and so absorbed my idea of the rules from my parents and others close to me. That, by the way, is how we all learn the rules, such as they are.

Now at that time I began to feel a bit cheated. I had an innate fondness for clear rules, and the fact that not everyone was playing by the rules I had defined for myself was a bit grating. I began seeking the missing Rule Book. I looked to Science, but found rules there only applicable to the study of Things. People seemed to me to be greater than Things, so I quested on. I needed rules to live by. That quest led me to the nebulous realms of Religion and Philosophy.

Our family did not follow a particular religion in my growing up years. There were vague remnants of Christianity in our mix, but they were more of a tint than a full coloring. Coming of age in the late 1960's and early 1970's, I of course gravitated toward the popular popularization of Eastern Religions. My quest, however, was ill-defined. I drifted, like a leaf in a stream.

In the Army I met a fellow who followed Jesus in a fashion I had never seen. His level of commitment drew me to him, to learn what was the source of this passion. I was shortly after that swept up in the Jesus Movement. I relish the memory of that experience. I got, in a sense, the Rule Book I had been missing.

With the passage of time I learned that the Rule Book was not universally understood and applied, even in something so seemingly monolithic as Christianity. For some that can drive them from a particular faith. I know of many who were so driven. In my own case it drove me to think about the whole thing, and try to come up with something to hold it all together.

I would love to be able to share the set of rules I have come to understand, to present you all with a Rule Book that covers everything. I have not found such rules. I have, over time, come to understand the guiding principles that form my own life, but they are not really rules and not necessarily transferable. At least, not transferable in the form of a Rule Book.

When I dabbled in Philosophy I gained a lot of insights from philosophers, and was especially drawn to the philosophers who tried to build  systems of rules that explained everything. I longed to be that philosopher who came up with a universal system adopted and held in high esteem by everyone, but I failed. I know you are surprised, but I failed. Yet in failing I honed a way of thinking that runs rather joyously along the borders of Reason and Mysticism.

I am the result of a long flow of genetic materials coming together at a particular time, influenced by a culture which is itself the consequence of a long and convoluted flow of history. So are you. So are we all. So many influences, some determinant and others malleable. It is a river flowing, an unending dance. We swim with or against the current, but are all swept away.

Obviously, metaphor has come to be the core of my philosophy, such as it is. We only come to know the portion of the river that is flowing around us. We only learn the steps of the dance as we go along, learning from and teaching the other dancers as they flow like a river around us. We are swept along, for a time. Swept along.

Can anyone in the midst of the flowing waters know the River as a whole? Many will say they do, but I doubt the truth of that. Yet we can all find the flow of the River where we are, and swim with it, using the currents and eddies. Can anyone in the midst of the Dance know the Dance as a whole? I think not. Yet we can take our place in the Dance, interacting with the other dancers and adding to the whole.

It is obvious that this is the place where God would come into the picture. Indeed, in my own experience He did. Were I writing this with an evangelistic intent, I would introduce God as I have come to know Him and encourage others to know Him, too. That, however, I choose to save for another time and another writing. Here I am painting with metaphor, drawing analogies.

Hardly definitive, these analogies. Yet perhaps they may prove constructive. Who can know what one word or deed might bring about in such a mighty River, such an intricate Dance? Cooking meals. Raising children. Working at the task at hand. Even writing and telling stories. They are all part of the flow of the River, and steps in the Dance.

Rules are good. They are like the banks of the River, the fundamental steps in the Dance. They are part of the whole, but not everything. No, not everything. Go with the flow, and dance like nobody is looking. Take what you need, and add what you can. Try, and fail. Try again. Succeed. Imagine. Create.

There are plenty of rules out there, and plenty of rule makers. You can even make your own rules. As to a Universal Set of Rules for Everything, I am not so sure. I just don't think it is designed like that, this thing called 'living.' That is not such a bad thing. The River flows on, and the Dance changes over time. Perhaps so should the rules.

The Case of the Missing Rule Book is closed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Defining Your Dream-

Some people have a passion that captures them in their childhood, and shapes their endeavors and actions throughout their growing years and into adulthood. Mary Engelbreit comes to mind. She started her career in childhood, with a passion that continues to this day. She experienced unusual success, but can serve as an example of where following a passion can lead.

Other passions lead to other careers. I served for twenty years as a jail correctional officer, and dealt regularly with people who followed their passion for the immediate gratification provided through drugs. Unfortunately, that placed them on the wrong side of the law, and committed them to some very unpleasant lifestyles. So, passion alone is not a sufficient driving force.

Passion defined into a dream, which guides bold but careful planning, seems to me to be the ideal. Sadly, for me it was not that simple. I don't recall a lot of passions in my youth. Curiosity. Interests. A love of barbecue flavored potato chips and long hours of reading. Solitude. No cohesive dreams, formed by passions.

I have to assume that I was not alone in this lack of defining passion. So, it is necessary for at least some of us to 'define our dream.' We have to find our passion.

But, how? It is not taught in school. I am not sure that it should be. Compelling a child to define their dream before they have developed sufficiently to actually have one might be counterproductive. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" seems like an innocent question to ask a child, but for some it is a bit scary. Some children are not ready to consider such a defining question.

For some, such as myself, that lack of consuming passion and a definite dream can go on for quite some time. A lifetime, in fact. I found myself at one point in time doing some research on the matter. What do I want to be, now that I am grown up? The literature is sadly small. Small, but there are some things, such as this book. Give it a look.

One piece of advice from Barbara's book is to try stuff. Take on jobs with the plan to move on. Don't get locked in. Plan on changes coming throughout your life. Make career steps (and other steps in life) just that; steps.

Of course, many life choices not only create opportunities, but create limits. Starting a family is a big one. Family obligations are deep and abiding. That is not bad, however. Limits can often focus and define our efforts. Choices that shape our lives can be seen as guiding forces, rather than binding limitations.

One exercise that I find interesting is to think about what you would do if you had a million dollars? The larger model for this exercise is unlimited resources. In either case what you think you would choose can be a revelation. It won't necessarily define your career, or the other aspects of your life, but it can make clear you greatest desires. Finding ways to fulfill those desires will define your dream.

What if you are just getting started with this whole 'define your dream' thing late in life? Granted, later in life the number of years left in which to work out your dream is smaller, but the wealth of experiences can be of great value. You already have tried a lot of things. Even with a rather miserable set of experiences, knowing what you don't like or want can be very helpful.

It is easy to regret your past. Most of us do, at least in part. Some wallow in that regret, and even define their remaining years by those bad experiences. That is sad, and wasteful. Better to mine those past years for what wealth you can extract, and then leave the tailing behind. Use that wealth to build the future.

Barbara's book has more exercises, and other advice. It is not a mechanical system for defining your dream, however. It is just a set of tools. Each of us must work on our dream. It is a lifelong task. A wonderful task. What better way to spend your life than crafting and building it?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Finding Your Dream-

A number of years ago I suffered a bout of depression. A chronic depressive state I actually didn't recognize until other symptoms showed up. I sought counsel and also began my own research into managing depression. It was a valuable experience, and one I often tap for ongoing personal maintenance. One of the tools for managing the depression was to "start a project and see it through to completion."

That one resulted in a novel, a sequel, and a third volume, making it a series. The fourth volume is still in the works. These projects do, indeed, help to avoid the downward spiral of depression. In addition, it is fun! It would be more fun if the books were selling better, but that was not the goal of that exercise. The fact that I have at least a small readership is pretty cool. Very cool.

In another aspect of my recovery I had to examine some serious questions. Most of all, what motivated me? What did I want? What was my dream?

My greatest dream, I came to realize, was caring for my family. Unfortunately, I tended to do that with such a degree of devotion I failed to attend to my own needs. I had to learn that I was not Superman, I could not do it all, all of the time. I failed to take time to feed myself beyond just the intake of fuel for my body. I have gotten better at this, but it is surprisingly hard.

As I sit and write, I recognize that I have accomplished most of my goals. My dreams. Unfortunately, some dreams are poorly formed. Dreams can sometimes conflict, as well. Even well defined dreams can change over time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Dreams should mature and adapt to an ever changing world.

My own dreams evolved out of childish fancies and a propensity to simply let life happen and observe what takes place. It took me a long time and a number of accumulated responsibilities to help me find more cohesive dreams. On the whole it has turned out well. Not perfect, but then I don't know that I would recognize perfection or even find it appealing.

Have you found your dream? If so, is it what you expected it to be?