Reflections of Two Weeks Past – Helping Others

Since Christmas is just around the corner, I decided to focus blog on helping others today.

As a computer applications instructor, I am often given the opportunity to help others.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been working with Catholic charities to begin preparing their people for other jobs.  Here in Las Vegas, is very difficult for people to find jobs.  So many people are out of work.  And, because so many individuals who live in Las Vegas were employed by the casinos, many of them never had a need for working with the computer.  So, my responsibility is to help these people get back on their feet — help them find themselves once again.  For many of these people, it’s tough to understand where they fit in an office.  I would say that 50% of my students are career changers.

Changing careers has got to be the toughest thing you can do.  You’re attempting to pick up new skill sets, and head out into a market, already saturated with individuals who are very familiar with these software applications.  You, the person who was out of work, has to be as competitive as they are.  I cannot tell you the number of times that I have a student coming in to my class, and discovering just how much they really do not know about working with Microsoft or Adobe applications.  And I am there to help them pick up the pieces, or to help them discover what they’ve been missing in their repertoire.

The past two weeks consisted of Microsoft office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook) during the first week, and employment development in the second week.  It has been a grueling two weeks, not only for myself but also for my students.  I will admit I am tired.  I think it takes just as much out of me as it does my students.  But my reward was the feedback that I got for my students how they felt that they had learned so much in such a short amount of time.  Many of my students that I had for the past two weeks were college graduates.  Some had bachelors degrees.  Some did not have any degrees at all but the overall complement but I was given was how I was better than any teacher that ever had, now you may think I get a swelled head from the compliments.  Not a lot of pay in being a teacher — but I have found over the years that might pay off, my true pay comes in the form of the sense of accomplishment as well as a warm feeling in my heart that I’m finally doing something right in my life.

I don’t know if any, my students are going to end up in any of my stories.  My guess, is that one day one of them might.  Perhaps all of them will find themselves in one of my books.  I guess, only time will tell.  For now, it is time for this writer to go to sleep.

A Serious Quandry

I seem to reached a temporary impasse.  I’m at a point in my story that seems to be dredging up old feelings.  I guess I had forgotten why I had written the story.  This chapter that I’m working on, deals with the thoughts hurts and the feelings that we sometimes buried deep inside of ourselves.  It is a part of ourselves that can be ugly or transparent.  The problem with the transparency, is that it actually hides more sinister thoughts.  The interesting thing about us as a species is that there really is evil inside all of us.  The only difference between many of us criminal, is that we are able to sequester those thoughts — hold them at bay.  I thought what I would do, is to share with you the original text from the original story.  If you’re wondering what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to translate the poetry into workable prose.

The four did not feel as though he was honest to say

They had only to dine with him as penance to pay.

So being hungry, to him their assent they gave,

He smiled, and threw something blinding that lit up the cave.

In an eye blink the four found themselves in a tremendous hall

As his minions attacked from four sides – them all.

Quickly, they were tied up and trussed up to wood poles,

From the ground a huge fiery pot rose with hundreds of bowls.

Golendor arrived in dwarfish red sheen,

To laugh at the group in a pot‑bellied scream.

“You fools,” he cried out in raucous mad laughter,

“Sahame bids you welcome to the now and hereafter.”

At that did the dwarf become the panther‑beast,

Whose claws and teeth glittered in the fire’s light of the feast.

The four struggled vainly against their tight rope,

Which only grew tighter as they fought against hope,

Until Rosenet realized that this couldn’t be,

And remembered what was said by Humbalt and Pyridee.

Both of them felt that this was a place of bad dreams,

Perhaps this was the weapon of Golendor’s schemes.

For what ropes would tighten no matter how hard you tried,

To free yourself, even if you were strong and alive?

So if to awaken was all he had to achieve,

Then all he had to realize was that his dream was make‑believe.

He suddenly awoke in a dank, musty cave,

The other three struggled, dozing in a heap.

To awaken each of one, a sharp prod he gave,

With a snort and a yawn, they all broke from their sleep.

“What, what happened?” asked Pyridee,

Egarot stammered, “I couldn’t get free.”

“As strong as I am, I could not break the rope,

I had begun to give up all hope

Until Rosenet pulled me away from the pot.”

Humbalt let out a slow breath, “So strange a dream,”

“Rosenet had his unicorn’s head, but the body of a man, so it seemed.”

“To pull us all from the grip of Sahame,

And bring us to this cave away from his game.”

“But is it all over?” asked Pyridee in fright.

Perhaps Golendor’s power comes only from the night.”

“Yes,” quipped Humbalt, “Perhaps we’re asleep,

A dream in a dream could bury us deep.”

“Oh no,” hissed Egarot.  “An eternal slumber.

We would be lost, in Golendor’s dreamland forever encumbered.”

“How can we leave,” Rosenet whined,

“This cave is a room that’s a hole in my mind.”

“Well, that’s it!” cried Pyridee,

“Don’t you see?”

“All we’ve to do is to think our way out.

Remember the passages are inside, then out.”

But then suddenly, she was held by the creature, Golendor,

His powerful arms wrapped around her pinning her to the floor.

“Quickly, Rosenet!  Think our way out!” shouted Pyridee.

“Before Golendor does something, hurry.  Hurry, please!”

Swift as a flash, Rosenet used his dream legs,

To carry them out of the cavernous dregs.

His mind set free, he kicked at Golendor,

Only to kick against a rock on the floor,

The trio of friends jumped upon his broad back,

As he ran like the thunder to find their way back.

And like the wind, his mind raced forward to a faraway light,

A beacon that led them all out of their plight.

And sure as an arrow he flew to it’s core,

‘Til the countenance of a woman rose up from the floor.

In the center of the prison called Golendor,

A mind‑scream shouted in the ears of the four,

And they suddenly realized it was the spirit of Circe the witch,

Who saved them all from their prison – black as pitch,

And find themselves running did the four come to enter,

In a forest of orange and reddish‑dark trees in a center,

Of a land where the sun was as green as the leaves,

Of the land where they should have been.

For wish they did of lovely green trees,

Instead to face the form of Sahame once again.

“Aarghh!” he roared in his disdain.

“I cannot believe you passed Golendor’s reign!”

“But here you’ve to find yourselves out of this land.

With no maps to guide you or even Circe’s hand!”

“I’ll have my revenge on you Atlantean man

Or I’ll die in hell before you ever leave this land.”

So shaken were the four by the quick change all around,

That they wandered for a time before even one made a sound.

And look all around this strange land did they quell,

A feeling of dread that they’d never break this spell.

Writing to be Understood

I asked a friend of mine to take a look at my website today, and was surprised to receive feedback that what I had written gave the impression that I was some starving, no name writer.  To date, I have been published in 17 magazines and have compiled over 25 manuals in the past seven years.

Another comment that my friend made dealt with my description of a writer as a person who was sitting in the corner of a bar or restaurant dutifully recording what our eyes see.  Due to my friends comment, I now feel I need to elaborate with a story or two — moments in my life that led to publishable short stories.

Perhaps I should talk about the New York club in San Jose, Costa Rica.  The year was 1983, I had some time and decided to plan an excursion to the capital city of San Jose.  I went alone, more of a side trip that lasted all day.  I did not have enough currency with me, so I stopped into the bar to see if the bartender knew of any place I exchange my money.  One of the patrons in the bar happened to mention that the appliance store across the street could change my money.  The patron decided to escort me across the street to the appliance store, since the store owner was a personal friend of his.  He introduced me, and I gave the owner about $150 to exchange for Costa Rican currency.  One thing that caught my eye in the owner’s office was a photograph of him with a younger man in fatigues, the owner sporting an AR–15 assault rifle, and the younger man armed with a Russian-made AK–47, the photograph obviously taken deep in the Costa Rican jungle.

After thanking the owner and the patron of the bar, we made our way back to the New York club.  I offered to buy him a drink.  Several hours (and many highballs) later, I soon found that I was in the company of a former Army captain.  He had a lot of interesting stories to tell — about the jungle, about the seedier side of San Jose, as well as tales of lakes hidden deep in the jungle harboring many secrets, including a new secret that he embellished in his drunken fervor.  My new friend bragged that only a few days before he had tracked, ambushed, and executed a pair of drug dealers.  To support his claim, it was not long before a much older man sauntered into the bar, and told him in Spanish that if he kept talking about his deed, he would likely end up dead.  My new friend nodded, then excused himself, and followed the older man out the door.

My stint in the Navy took me to places that many people would not even dream of going.  Perhaps I could talk about the time that I was in Hong Kong, in 1985.  I’d found a very interesting bar called Susie Wong’s.  Whatever I would find myself in a new city, and out alone, my first instinct — after purchasing a drink at the bar, was to find a nice seat against the wall, so that I can see everyone that walked into the bar.  As a writer, unless you meet a character, you need to develop the ability to observe.  It is these moments of observation, that can give you ideas for your stories.  As a writer, especially a fiction writer, you’re better off watching than getting involved.

That day, I was noticed by a gentleman with an Irish brogue.  He told me his name is Gordon McClintock, and that he was a financial planner.  I didn’t know why, but there was something about a story that did not ring true. One of the first questions that Gordon asked me was if I was an American.  I told him yes, I was.  Mr. McClintock made a decision to elaborate about how bad the American government operated.  He continued to talk about the ugly American, and how I should be proud of my heritage.  At that point I decided to buy him another drink.  After his drink but delivered to the table, I asked him why he felt such hatred for the American government.  And he prattled on for another hour, defending his words — meanwhile, I was pressing him with drinks.  It took about three hours for Mr. McClintock to crack, but I did finally get the truth out of him.  After about the 10th drink, Mr. McClintock began to change the subject, and talk about all the goings-on in the bar that we were now in.  Gordon related vivid details of assassinations, murders, and brawls that were a regular occurrence in the bar (especially at night).  His next confession, was the reason why he was in Hong Kong in the first place.  Gordon McClintock, it turned out, had been a member of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) , a well-known terrorist organization of the time.  Mr. McClintock also admitted that he was married to the daughter of a Chinese Triad chieftain.

When I am relating or true life stories, not fabrications.  However, if it were not for these moments in my life, if I had not been in the corner of the bar, being quiet and unassuming, these characters for my stories would never have come to mind.  And so my friends, I have always lived for moments like these — those precious times in my life that provided me the fodder for my now published science-fiction stories.

Moving Away from Writing

I’m moving away from writing today.  I wanted to discuss my classroom students a good teacher learns from your students the day you stop learning is the day you stop teaching.  I’m writing this log using voice recognition software to save some time.

I’ve been given the opportunity to help people change their lives for the past five years.  I cannot describe what a feeling of satisfaction that brings me.  The pay’ s nothing to scream about, but the rewards teaching and helping people outweigh the lack in pay.  The only thing that can measure up to this feeling of satisfaction is the immense pleasure  I am given when I write.  Writing for me is more than just a habit.  It is a way of life.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to not know how to write.  Yet, many of the students that I teach are not blessed with this ability.

It is my hope that one day at least one of my students read this blog.  I hope that they understand or perhaps they come to understand what it’s like to write.  The sense of accomplishment, the diligence that it takes, and the effort to create the perfect story is always locked in the back of your mind.  I often listen to music when I write, it’s not so much soothing music that I look for, but music that evokes pictures in my mind.  It is as if the music that I am listening to creates a symphony of words in my mind.  The story, the characters, plot, all seem to come to life my mind.  It is as if the entire book from start to finish is pre-mapped and ready to be placed on paper or in my word processor.

It is interesting that what I’m writing still seems to move back to my writing, even though my title for this post is “moving away from writing”.  Well, it is getting late.  I only give myself one hour to complete my writing tasks before I go to sleep.  So for now, I bid you good night.

How I write

As one moves through life, they pick up different things.  I pick up stories.  Not stories from other people mind you, but stories from my own imagination.  My stories are borne of my life, my travels, and the people I have met.

If you know about storytelling, some of the best stories were accompanied by music.  It has been surmised by many anthropologists that drums were used at first.  By the time we reach the ancient Greeks, we find that music was used as a background to enhance the story.  For so many years, music has shaped my life.  Would it interest you to know that I listen to music while I write?  Yes, music is the soul of my story, and my story is my composition.  Music allows me to compose vivid imagery, that like a negative, imparts itself in the mind of my reader.

There is not one person I have spoken to, who has not been able to see what I see as they read.  For me, it is that they can hear my song.  If you can hear the background of my story, then you can see the colors that I paint, the way the characters feel, the way the plot unfolds.  Because like life, my plots follow what must be — not good or bad, but what the way the story has to start, and end.

Anisse

Anisse is a shade of my oldest daughter (since the story was originally written for her).  My initial picture of Anisse was of a delicate princess with ebony hair, soft, delicate-looking skin, dressed in white.  After I had a chance to work with the character, I saw a young woman accustomed to riding horses, trained in working with weapons as exercise, graceful, yet strong.  Headstrong and filled with confidence, Anisse had to have a weak spot.  I decided that though for all intents and purposes, Anisse looks and acts like a teenager, she is thousands of years old.  Yet, Anisse has no idea of her real age, or anyone she has known.  Anisse is unaware that she has grown up time, and time again.  Watching those around her die of old age, while she retained her grace and beauty has been hard on her.  Taking a husband is out of the question, because ultimately, Anisse would watch him grow older and older, to finally die of age, while she would never age a day.

Anisse is an anachronism in her world, a veritable Methusaleh who seems never to age.  Unfortunately for Anisse, she will soon be cast out into the world to prove her mettle by recruiting an army to save her kingdom, or marry into the very kingdom that threatens to overrun the peace and tranquility of her own lands.

Rosenet

The father of Anisse and the husband of Pyridee, Rosenet is the son of Atlas and Circe, and a former unicorn to boot.  As a unicorn, he grows up in fear of his world, and unsure of where to go, or what to do.

I patterned Rosenet after myself. 

As a child, I grew up in a very strict household.  If I did anything wrong, justice was doled out by my father as swiftly and surely as lightning in an electrical storm.  My mother constantly complained that she could not handle me, and would complain to my father about what I did when he came home.  My mother’s favorite statement when I was growing up was “wait until your father comes home”.  That meant that I was going to get the beating of my life after my father came home from work.  Dad was in the Air Force, and had a nasty habit of using his metal buckle on me to drive his point home at times.  Other times, he would remove it, and slap me with it doubled over.  It only took a few years for me to dread my father coming home, or even spending any time with him.  My father also used “the corner” as a means of keeping me in check.  He would have me stand in the corner, facing a wall with my hands behind my back.  I can remember hours, facing the wall, a couple of times actually falling asleep standing up — other times my feet becoming numb as a result of standing for such a long time. 

As I grew older, my father gave up using his belt, and by the time I was in Junior High School (Middle School), he had resorted to using his hands and fists instead.  My father’s favorite statement was that I was going to be a “ditch digger” because he felt I did not apply myself.  My mother, on the other hand, always asked me why I couldn’t be like her friend’s son, or my sister, or anyone else that I knew.  It was questions such as these by my parents, that fostered a loathing for both of them.  My mother would not accept me for the myself, warts and all, and my father had given up on me long ago.

The household that I grew up in was very violent.  Dad just didn’t know how to react to what I did, and in frustration, lashed out the only way he knew how.  My mother already saw herself as weak and insignificant in those days.  Between the two of them, I grew insolent and unruly, to the point of having to leave home at the age of 14.

I spent 2 years in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It was in Ann Arbor that I learned more about the world than I cared to know.  I lost my best friend in the winter of 1973.  He fell three stories into a cement stairwell, striking his head against a cement wall that surrounded the stair.  He had taken 6 thorazine, 7 stellazine, and 4 qualudes prior to his fall.  We were told that he probably did not feel a thing.  His funeral felt like a farce to me.  No one cried for him, even me.  I cried for him as the van I was riding in pulled away from the mortuary, feeling sad for the fact that his family did not even seem to care that he died.  His mother was dressed in a low-cut black dress, and fainted every few minutes.  His father, while busy catching his mother, did not seem fazed by anything going on, while his brother and sister played the entire length of the funeral.

Ann Arbor was a party town, and I learned how to party.  I experimented with psychotropic drugs in those days, not as an escape, but as an attempt to open my mind up to new experiences.  What I found was that I despised losing control of my thoughts, feelings and actions, only to become mired in trying to figure out what was reality and what was not.  I began smoking at 14, since my family was not with me to influence any behaviors.  I learned the gospel according to Doctor Eric Berne, and the New Testament as told by Fanita English, Thom Harris, and Jackie Schiff.  I took and passed written tests normally taken by college juniors and seniors for psychotherapy.  I was ready in one year for my degree at 16.  Ann Arbor had permanently changed my life; preparing me for the most turbulent years of my life.

By the time I was 19, I was responsible for getting my girlfriend pregnant, and I was on my way down a dark path.  I was afraid, not knowing what to do with my life.  My only recourse at the time was to join the military.  It was the military that gave me a course to steer by.  My problem was that I had a tendency to make the same mistakes over and over again.  I ended up staying in the military for 20 years, a veteran of numerous conflicts, and 3 failed marriages with 4 children from those unions.

If a person has never been in the military, they do not know how many of us (military) feel when we leave the service.  Many of us have problems adjusting to civilian life.  For many of us, the military is akin to being institutionalized for the major part of our life.  We don’t know how to take care of ourselves.  For those of us who spent a lot of time aboard ships, we don’t know how to cook very well, because we had food served to us.  Unless we were cooks, we might know how to fry eggs, toast bread, etc.  Finding employment is difficult as well.  I was a Radar Navigator/Intelligence Specialist/Missile Specialist.  I found out that I suck at sales.  The only thing I could do well at the time was type or teach.

Like the Rosenet, the character that I describe in “When the Cranes Return Again in Spring”, he is looking for a path in his life.  He does not know quite where he fits.  He thinks he has a family, but he is not certain of any facts.  He feels that he is being hunted by something, that he is constantly being shadowed, and that in short, his life sucks.  The character Rosenet, is a lesson in personal growth. He has to find himself, discover love, relationships, and how to survive in life.  It is not until the end of the book, that the reader discovers what fate has in store for him, and like the story of my life that I described, he must learn how to grow and blossom in a world that becomes very different for him, affecting not only himself, but everyone around him.

Talia

Talia is actually a new character.  I don’t really know what I envisioned at first.  I did know that I pictured a woman with a thick Celtic drawl, sporting a shawl as thick as her accent.  As I thought about the character, she began to take on more definitive form.  A woman with light brown hair, very smart, and very impatient with her ward.  Later, as Talia kept coming back to mind, I saw a portly woman with broad shoulders, and a disappearing waist.  Not literally disappearing mind you, but sagging and beginning to succumb to the ravages of age, like many of us experience now.

I also see Talia as a force to be reckoned with.  Protective and sassy, she has the mind of a tactician, and the patience of a tigress.  She has the ability to think tactically and strategically — more like a general on a battlefield, than a simple caretaker.  She is able to see the big picture, analyze it quickly, and make a sound decision.  I see Talia as the antithesis of a weak old woman.  She is strong, sturdy, and willing to go the distance for those she loves – even sacrifice herself for her ethics and beliefs.

The only problem at the moment in my story, is that the only time you really meet her is in the beginning of the story.  You won’t see her again until the 2nd book.  So, the question is:  Do I introduce her now?  Is this too soon?  She will be playing a major part in books 2 and 3, so is it right for me to introduce her to you?  Right now, though every writing bone in my body screams against it, I cannot help but keep her in.  It just feels like the right thing to do.