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The Bridge You Unfriended

Dear Old Friend,

I call you old friend not because of the decades between us, but the decades our friendship has endured. I was but five years when my dog died under your care. I still remember that night, Bubba quivering in his dog house; the heartworm treatment turning fatal. Bubba, the large, loving Saint Bernard–German Shepherd cross left my life too soon, but you stepped in. My parents befriended you and you them, either by remorse or mutual respect, and you became a fixture in my life. Afternoons at your lake cabin, river rafting trips in Oregon and Idaho, picnics, bar-b-ques and fun runs. You gave me my first summer job at your veterinary clinic and taught me your simple technique of backing up a trailer. I was there to house-sit for you and babysit your nephews. I attended your wedding and you mine. I visited you and your wife after you had brought your daughter home from the NICU. The pride in your eyes, your voice to share that part of you with me I still remember. And I have followed you and your daughter throughout the decades. I have celebrated her accomplishments because of you. And you kept tabs on me and my family in our military moves around the country, the birth and growth of my boys, and my husband’s many deployments to war-torn nations. And when my oldest son graduated high school last June, you honored him with an unsolicited gift.

Just a year ago, you told me it might be better to get the Corona virus early on before the hospitals became full. We laughed then. But Covid-19, politics, and the media have shifted the world.

A few months ago, you chastised me for sharing an article about the rise in depression amongst student-athletes in the lockdowns. I, a mother of two teenagers–a college freshman revoked from his last nine weeks of high school and a high school sophomore, an outstanding student-athlete who needs his friends, his teams to connect – did not direct the share to you, but my concern you despised. You chastised me, telling me to “quit whining about football. Is it really that great?”

#Letthemplay

No, it isn’t, Old Friend. And yet, it is. Our youth are everything, and sports connect adolescents, reinforces, strengthens their mind, bodies, and characters. It is the mechanism in which children without great family lives learn of familial beauty, of the other parents and coaches looking out for them, of defending their brothers and sisters on the line. In sports, our youth work toward something greater than themselves.

All children have suffered from the lockdowns and online school. Teenagers are succumbing to suicide. But you refuse to acknowledge that our youth sacrifice for you and your generation. Instead, in some defensive denial, you tell me to take my kids skiing and parasailing.

Out of respect, I never called you a “baby-boomer”, but you are one. Just another selfish boomer who would sacrifice the future to eek out of a few more years. And what has happened over the last year has been only to serve you and your generation, Baby-Boomer. You lade decades of debt upon the future generations so you can lounge about your house, unconcerned of a pandemic.

My respect for you plummeted over those days. But I let it be, moving beyond, because my focus is not on you but of my family, protecting, shoring-up, and reinforcing my sons for the upcoming challenges.

But then you struck again, months later, messaging my husband. Your message was simple, unprovoked, but displayed your selfishness. You told my husband, a retired military officer with over twenty-six-years of service, who has deployed to many foreign countries, who bled for our country, who has picked pieces of his fallen brethren off the wind scoured sands of the middle east, who has been shot at, still suffers from his encounters with eight improvised explosive devises, and has killed in the name of your freedom. And you told him his view of freedom was “paid propaganda” and it was time to “unfriend” him.

#Freedomiseverything

Unfriend him? You and your wife unfriended us both and canceled decades of memories. You struck at our hearts, me and my children, my husband and his sacrifice, and retreated to your castle on the hill, discarding everything that was our old friendship. The cancel culture, the cancer, has spread, infecting you. Just a year ago we worried about the virus, (laughing again) but the danger lied in your very soul.

You live a charmed life, Boomer, never sacrificing for something beyond yourself. Keep safe, and may the view from solitude be beautiful. For you will be alone in the world, and your time short. Remorse will not mend bridge you unfriended.

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Bring in the Year of the Ox

The bells have tolled around the world. The new year arrived. Away with 2020, the cycle of a bursting pandemic, social unrest, and an unruly presidential election. We may curse that year in tongue, and the memes will follow for cycles. Those 366 days are behind us though not gone, but their passage exposed the landscape of society and government and painted the future. The colors are subdued – the banal gray of raw fleece. The shepherd dogs surround us, nipping at our heels so we not stray from the flock, barking at us that we are not smart enough to evade the wolves alone. And we believe them, huddled in the corral. We are rewarded with a handful of grain on occasion, which we take eagerly as we starve, hoof deep in the muck. But those dogs – our leaders and the mainstream media – herded us into the paddocks for branding. We are no more than sheep in this new year.

In the archival of the Chinese year, 2020 was a Rat – a cunning creature, adaptable, prolific, and innately tough. But rats are also brutal. They kill and eat their own when the population cannot be supported. If you have read some of my previous posts or even my fantasy series, you know I often address overpopulation and the trajectory it is taking us. From a statistical aspect, it is easy to criticize our numbers. They are just numbers; most people do not give a care about the count beyond their day. But those numbers are invading, surrounding us, choking us, thinning the fabric of society. From a human vantage, it is more challenging to say some of us need to go and less need to reproduce. But we do keep reproducing, just like the rat but without any means of population control. The vast majority of our population is not cunning or innately tough. We are soft, long gone from manual labor and survival skills. Many are mouth breathers, who blindly follow directions without a critical mind. Most couldn’t survive without society. We are weak, nothing like the rat.

We have become sheep to our governments, to the technocracies. They manipulate us with fearmongering, govern with executive orders, play games with politics, control economies, craft narratives, ignore our questions and stimulate us with grain that will ultimately starve the herd. Economists and critical minds know the inflation that will follow these stimulus checks, bonus unemployment, free PPP money. Nothing is free. We and our offspring will be paying your neighbor’s new, massive Sony flat screen for years through increased taxes. I repeat…WE will pay for his television. And our economy will collapse soon as it has been shored up with cheap money.

But the mouth breathers clamor for more. And there are so many of them that the politicians use their numbers to stay in office and encourage more by allowing immigration to go unchecked and ignoring the swelling population count. And they feed the mouth breathers, weakening mankind and this country.

Put on your facemask, mouth breather!

Baaaaa…more grain if your please, good master.

Only if you vote for me.

The year of the Metal Ox begins February 12, 2021. According to the Chinese zodiac, people born in this year are patient, diligent, strong, determined, and not influenced by others or the environment. They are incredibly patriotic and have ideals and ambitions for life.

Those qualities need to surge across this nation, that we team together to break down the corral. Fear the loss of our freedoms in the United States, especially after the very recent actions of Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. The great narrative painted by the MSM on January 6th has been used to silence citizens of this country. Books were the great liberators of minds. Guns were the great liberators of men. They are trying to take away both. Our freedoms are in jeopardy.

Let us not be sheep. Let the strong and cunning band together. We must replace our government with each opportunity, vote in new officials and cast out the manipulators. If there is an elected official in office for more than ten years, they serve not our country but another power; the weight of a pocketbook can be demanding. We must demand transparency, freedom of choice. Do not force a rushed vaccine upon me and say it is safe. Do not require me to wear a mask to protect others; they should protect themselves. The chaff must fall away. Critical-thinking minds must germinate and aspire. Hard work should be rewarded. Lethargy should suffer natural repercussions. Businesses must reopen to rehire so our citizens can feed themselves. Only then can we stand again in green pastures.

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Waging a War against Crickets

Writing connects my thoughts to our world, a process to consider the subtle grains of society, to weigh the truths and sum the implications. But the process isn’t compulsory; I finished my first book before I realized its theme, realized how I viewed the surrounding landscape. And that moment came in 2012, capturing me, controlling me as arduous traffic on I-5 in the state of Washington, driving me in one direction. And in that linear train of thought, I realized, “there are a lot of us! How many more can this road carry?” Our population increase is a basic fact, not earth-shattering for most. But as I measured the long-term ramifications – rate of increase, environmental impact, and limited resources – I delved further. “We almost need a large, natural disaster to cull our numbers.” A cruel thought, I agree. My loved ones would not be immune to such an event, nor would I want such suffering for others. But I had already subconsciously acknowledged that dichotomy; it is laden in the parallel stories between my two protagonists: One who strives to protect the natural world so that some may thrive, and the other who would do anything to save her loved ones from the coming storm.

The world is in change. 2020 made that blatant. Social unrest, a pandemic, global climate change. Our comfortable lives have been stirred but not shaken. If you do not see the change, I ask you to look again, to gaze beyond the mountain of next week, peak through the manipulating chaos of our media, to ponder how the coming years and decades will unfold.

The Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, a think-tank in Melbourne, Australia believes climate change will be the end all of human society. In their analysis dated May 2020, they depict planetary and human systems failing by 2050 when large areas of the earth have become uninhabitable because of increasing and compounding atmospheric temperatures. Ecosystems will collapse, including the Artic, coral reefs, and Amazon rainforest. Scarce water resources, desertification, rising sea levels will force a billion people from uninhabitable areas. Another two billion will face scarcity. Agriculture will suffer and fail worldwide. And so global strife comes, tearing down nations and international order. Chaos follows, and society inevitably fails. It’s not the end; humanity will survive. Post-apocalyptic stories will become reality, but capitalism, institutions, and moral norms will go by the wayside.

At this point, dear reader, you huff, “post-apocalyptic stories! This is all just fantasy.” In my books, it is – half of the world has already suffered the end while other half lives blissfully but racing toward the same fate. But the think-tank’s analysis did something great in their tale; they made it relatable. They compared the world’s existential risk management response in the Covid-19 pandemic to that in global warming.

China first denied the Coronavirus outbreak, suppressing information that allowed the virus to go global. Then most of the world leadership procrastinated, taking a wait-and-see approach in both risk assessment and mobilization, until it was too late to suppress the virus. Now mitigation is the only option. The hope is herd immunity ultimately defeats the virus whether by natural transmission or a vaccine. And we have placed a lot of faith in that vaccine. Modeling of herd immunity prior to any vaccine illuminated a grim picture early on, but leaderships redacted those largest dangers, choosing middle of the road information to make public, and kicking the imperative can down the road.

And here is what Covid-19 has taught us: Society is a construct. The economy is what must survive. In his hesitation for states to lock down their denizens and cripple the economy, President Trump declared that “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” The UK Prime Minister’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, outlined the government’s strategy, saying “Herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” Australia’s former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, also drew equivalence between economic recession and society’s destruction: “We either save avoidable deaths and destroy society or accept avoidable deaths and save society. The moral dilemma of our time.”

But how can the economy survive once civilizations fall?

Our leaders will continue to ignore global warming cues in order to maintain the economy until it becomes a knee-jerk reaction and we are past the tipping point of suppression and only mitigation remains. And we have seen how well mitigating Covid-19 as the second (or third) Coronavirus wave washes over the world. The surge is undeniable.

And as a caveat, the Yale’s School of the Environment believes the point of no return on global warming may come as early as 2027.

Once we understood that the Covid-19’s existential threat appears primarily for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, I felt we should have kept the economy open. Now this analysis correlates Covid-19 response to that of global warming, and I have to take a step back and ponder the argument. Is it really the same? Yes, I believe leadership response (procrastination to keep the economy going) has been equivalent. But let’s take the analysis from a perpendicular perspective. Could Covid-19 be a savior in the global warming war?

When we look back upon history, starting with the industrial revolution, we can correlate population increase to many of the world’s woes. The more of us there are, the more resources we consume, the more environmental damage we cause. We are a critical thinking species who have realized or invented means to advance society by strengthening our economy. We dig deeper, build taller, travel faster, and produce more to feed, cloth, house, and ultimately reproduce more. Our economy feeds our population.

So often I hear others deny global warming, deny science, arguing the increasing atmospheric temperatures are just part of Earth’s never-ending cycle, I respond with “There are so many of us. How could we not cause global warming?”

Many times, before and during the pandemic, I have asked our leaders why population control is not a topic worthy of addressing, even from a theoretical perspective. My questions always fall on the back of chirping crickets. None will address it. None wants to detract from a stance of forward motion. None wants to wage policy that will outwardly cause the loss of rights. Who will get reelected under that pretense? Yet, we are covertly being ushered toward the loss of our rights as the population mounts.

The other morning, I awoke to read that Pfizer’s vaccine for the Coronavirus is showing to be over 90% effective. That’s significant news for the old and infirm, so they may linger a few more years, fearing an end none of us can avoid. Science combats the pandemic and will be victorious because it now has the full backing of our leaders. Do our scientist have the resources to wage a war against global warming, to develop new technologies to decrease emissions and reverse the ozone damage. Will our leaders stop feeding the economical beast its grain? Maybe. Maybe if we help them. Maybe if we give up our rights as individuals, give up our land, our freedoms, and become part of a Utopian collective, crammed together in a hive of lofty micro apartments, siring more and more young, so the beast will not go starve. Are you ready for that?

Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.

Neither am I.

Amidst our societies, technology, and advancements, I often feel we have forgotten that we belong to the higher kingdom. Survival of the fittest still applies and is a necessity to maintain a healthy and lean population. Humanity’s syntax would have us protect, house, feed all, for if not, we should be ashamed to have lost our humanity. But this paradigm that humanity is above the natural order, that Utopia can exist, and in it, we will thrive is only hubris. Despite our critical thinking skills, our compassion, our love for one another, we are part of the wild kingdom. And if we are to thrive, to keep this world alive and healthy, we need to return to that majesty.

Since our leaders will not tackle policy on population control as it hinders the economy, I will ask again: could Covid-19 not be our savior and predator? Could it not help bring balance, cull our weak and infirm, strengthen our population as a whole? Without baby-boomer politicians fearful of losing their constituent base, our economies could have remained open, our children in school and athletics. With fewer people, our increasing impact on the environment could dampen, allowing more time to maneuver in the war on climate change. We should spend our scientific resources on that front, that vaccine, not on this pandemic.

Am I a monster for believing this is the right course of action? Have I lost my humanity to protect my freedoms? No. Even if we win the war against global warming and life goes on as normal, land, water, freedoms are becoming scarce. And new wars will follows. We must reset humanity in the natural order, otherwise living is a façade, and we become prisoners to society and grain to the glutinous beast.

Global warming will scorch the very fabric of society unless we can shift our economy and paradigm to match the tide of the coming war. Humans will reproduce, consume, and excrete, and just like Covid-19 infections have been exponentially increasing, so will our impact on the environment. But we have to make the change now; we cannot allow our leaders to procrastinate.

In thirty years, when the calendar rolls to 2050, I will be in my seventies, possibly facing the fall of civilization and the end of my time. So I do not talk to crickets for my own wellbeing, but for my sons and their children to come. For I have discovered the duality of my two protagonists within myself. In fantasy my soul thrives, but in reality, I wage a war so Earth and our children may thrive.

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We Come as You Are

The Covid-19 shutdown and impact to the economy has roughed us up. Add in some rioting, wildfires, and a presidential election, and 2021 can’t come fast enough. But the dismal truth is the drama will not end when the clock tolls 12:00 AM on January 1st. Normal is now social unrest, quarantines, and zoom. Because of the virus and overpopulation, people flee the urban centers for countryside freedoms, crushing the housing market with their financial resources and defiling peace with their attitudes.

Please understand, there are wonderful people who originate from the golden state, and plenty of jerks born and raised elsewhere. But for the perspective of this post, and the perspective of Oregonians, we are being overrun by immigrants from our southerly neighbor.

Our home in Southern Oregon for the last four years, our first home since leaving the military is now surrounded by Californians who can’t even make eye contact let alone wave hello. The newcomers installed power poles right in front of our house with an amazing view without a second thought or hint of remorse. Their jacked-up SUVs and trucks speed up and down our road. Where once we could hike from our home into the forest, ugly fences and orange no-trespassing signs bar our way. Overpopulation strangles our home. Rudeness strangles me; I cannot breathe.

Covid-19 shutdown taught many of us we need not work in an office. I took that lesson to heart, embracing technology to step away from this lifestyle, my 30-minute commute, the paper reams, time-wasting, archaic fashion of running a business that my business partner will not abandon. My partner needs to adapt or retire. I won’t be there to change out his printer ink cartridge anymore; he will retire. Baby-boomers are a selfish generation but a topic for another day.

We have only have one life to live, and my husband and I choose to break away from this overpopulated, rude neighborhood our country street has become. So we put our house on the market and had it under contract within 36 hours at more than our asking price (that is how crazy the market is here). We close in 9 days and still don’t know where we are going.

We have areas we love out-of-state, homes we have looked at in May and July. Most of those houses sold already (that is how crazy the market is in quieter communities). But I am optimistic we will find the right place. We will go where it snows…a lot. Most Californians can’t handle real winters. It will be green year round, wildfires minimal, and traffic a distant murmur. From my home office window I view the trees. From the porch I inhale the clean air. Motivated, I write consistently, world-building with vigor to see the end of that great story. I jog and hear only my footfalls on the road and the birds chirping in the distance. We hike from the house into the forest without being ambushed by no-trespassing signs. My son attends school in person with classmates and play sports because the state has not mandated safeguarding the old at the detriment to our youth (another selfish move by the baby-boomer generation).

There is adventure and peace in that place, wherever it may be, and hopefully community and friendship. And to that community, I promise we will not hang ugly power lines, fencing, and no-trespassing signs. We want to be part of your community, not change it. We will wave to you and with smiles, invite you into our home. I want to be your friend and neighbor. We come as you are.

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The Enemy Within

We are being manipulated. You. Me. Our emotions. Our nation. Regardless of whether you rally behind the Black Lives Matter movement or Back the Blue Line. We are soldiers in a civil war between the right and left, components of the political machine. One side is drawing upon your disgust for recent events, fanning the flames, so it may recover the control it lost in the last election. The other is trying to maintain control in unprecedented times. But both are firing bullets with their snarky comments and partisan media outlets. And you are a soldier in their war efforts.

The world is in change, flexing under a pandemic, seizing under our girth. We battle riots, face masks, exponentially rising infection rates, and endure shit for selection presidential candidates. While I am not a believer that this pandemic was engineered and released, I believe our politicians are taking every measure to see it benefits their agenda for November’s outcome. Same goes with the protests. But covert forces manipulate the riots into more.

We are in a civil war.

As of this post, Portland, Oregon has endured over 60 days of protests with most turning vehement by night. Two months of destruction, looting, graffiti, violence, public beatings. And the leadership’s apathy propels the moment. Why? Because the city’s leadership is left-sided, a lieutenant in that army, listening to commands. And Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor abides, allowing the city to morph into a war zone with skirmishes fanning out across the state. Who will vote for an incumbent president with rioting in their neighborhood streets?

Although Portland’s leadership appears apathetic or even supportive of the protests, what if the riots are not organic? What if covert forces were spritzing the flame with gasoline? Agent provocateurs sent into the peaceful movements to spark unrest, to induce others to turn their movement unlawful, violent. It wouldn’t be hard. Portland is a liberal city already steeped with angry millennials and seeded with Antifa – the perfect breeding ground for peaceful protests to turn into riots and then spread across the nation.

We are being manipulated at every level.

The rest of the US watches the destruction and violence from skewed perspectives. CNN vs. Fox News. BLM vs. the Blue Line. Blue vs. Red. The right vs. the left. We are a polarized nation. Some of us wanting the same freedoms that founded our great nation. Others believing the political machine’s every word. The Machine owns the media, influences social media, and commands the financial support of individuals and businesses who receive rewards for their contributions. Its power comes from maintaining control by drawing in votes for its candidates on election day.

And you are a soldier in the Machine’s army, whether the right or left, firing bullets on their behalf in this civil war as the Machine tries to sway sentiments and regain control. Your weapon? It’s the device in your hand. It’s the shares and likes. The machine wants you up in arms, in the fight.

The Machine lost control when Donald Trump was elected president. He was the outlier, not formed and fed by the political lobbyist. He’s not a career politician trying to win your vote with cheap money. Amongst his many imperfections, he is a breath of fresh air for Americans. But from day one, the Machine claimed collusion, scandal, and abuse of power, trying to revoke the choice this nation made for president. The left-sided politicians pitch tantrums like toddlers, grossly rude and irrelevant. The right wing is still dumbfounded about what happened in 2016.

It’s a constant – the Machine spitting venom, trying to sway America into doubting its choice – that with riots and plagues, the country will fare better back under its rule.

We are battling the wrong enemy.

Instead of fighting with the other side, we should continue to defy the Machine. We should rebel against the puppets or mouthpieces they gift as presidential candidates. When the two sides only offer us spawns from their loins, then the Machine controls us.

Don’t join the riots. Take a step back from the media and all it’s bullshit. Know that you are being manipulated, that we are being coaxed to be up in arms over current events, that those events are being manipulated to sway November’s outcome. Then vote for our nation’s freedom, for the battle raging around us only hides the enemy within – the political machine.

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Fearing Covid-19 and Staycationing Ourselves into Ruin

There is silence in this moment, freedom. No political bullshit, no opinions meant to conform me to another’s belief, no stanchions of social organization, masks, arrows, and markers on the ground, the culmination of distancing. In this quiet away from the Covid, I reflect upon the fear and our future. A pandemic would come again. It is a cycle that cannot be broken. We are not so smart to halt this enemy, so our governments forced us into the safety of our homes, shattering the world outside. Our economy is a fragile bitch. She wastes without our feed, undermining the foundations of our sturdy abodes. People are suffering. More will in the coming years. We have allowed our fear of death to change the world but not for the betterment of mankind.

Most people do not wish to die; we have lives to live, loved ones to care for, goals to achieve, lists to build and deplete. But in time, death will arrive at the doorway. For most people, their surety is not sound enough to accept a walk across the threshold. What is beyond, we will all discover someday. But this fear of Covid-19, that we must stay home to stay healthy, is so narrowminded. It has allowed our governments the argument to strip our freedoms, close public spaces. What will they take next to stymie the panic?

Sure, I do not wish to contract the virus, suffer from its razor claws around my lungs. I do not wish to lose my parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles from its veracity. But our desperation to save our loved ones will destroy so many more. It is spring. Farmers are shorthanded. Less fields are being planted. Livestock are being euthanized because processing plants are closed. Food shortages will follow. Despite our governments’ attempts, many businesses will shut their doors for good. Jobs will be lost and families forced from their homes. Our economy may collapse. Hunger, homelessness, crime, suicide, and domestic violence will surge.

We have flattened the curve, for now. But the virus is not going away soon. Once governments allow from our domiciles, its head will rear again and again. Scientists may come up with a vaccine but that is a minimum year out, plus the time it will take to inoculate entire populations. The virus will mutate; additional strains will emerge. We will fight this battle for years, decades, all the while eroding society.

By our definition of humanity, we must try to save the most lives, young and old alike. Though the young have succumbed to the virus, the old with underlying medical conditions are its staple, and I wonder if humanity is not in err. Are we sacrificing so many livelihoods, maybe entire societies, to give the old and ill a few more years?

As much as we have tried to erect steel and concrete grids to protect us from the wild, we are not exempt from its laws. Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest applies not only to evolution but existence. But somehow, we believe humanity supersedes, that nature’s rules do not apply to us, and we attempt to thwart her proxies. By saving the weak, the old, the infirm, and the idiots, we are breeding ourselves out of an existence. Humans have overpopulated. Losing three, five, ten percent is but a drop in the bucket and might do some healing. Less people means less pollution, more resources to go around, and fewer wars. Maybe the Earth and its life could take a deep breath after a good cleansing.

In cruising through Facebook, I ran across a recent post concerning the error in people wanting to get back to work and why we (as a society) must always try to protect people. We have them wear seatbelts; we seek cures for cancer. And our stay home, stay healthy governmental orders are of the same genre. But I disagree. Those seatbelts and cancer research are not to the detriment of society. The consensus in the post and its comments was that people were idiots for wanting to go back, that we should stay away from the danger, hide in our homes until the pandemic is finished. The statement that caught my attention, that I could not let be: “even animals know to run from danger”.

Yes, but even a spooked deer will run straight into traffic. Look further than the curve in the road. Your unemployment checks will not last forever. Our kids and their kids will spend their lifetimes paying for our staycation.

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Going the Extra Mile, Day after Day

As a distance runner since high school, I am partial to the individual sports where each person competes and whose performance may or may not contribute to a team score like wrestling, cross-country, and swimming. There is a lot to be said for the individual, the work ethics, the drive to face challenges alone, uncelebrated victories, and public defeats. I wanted to cover this topic after a day spent at my sons’ high school wrestling tournament. Both of my boys wrestle. One a freshman. One a senior. Both in their fourth year in the sport.

The senior loves wrestling, breathes the one-on-one nature of the match, the mesh of endurance, strength and technique required on the mat. He has realized what his body can accomplish. His confidence is impressive, his technique equates to an art. The way he can leg ride as wrestler, read his opponent’s position and shifts in body weight, and take control in a fluid manner. There were moments yesterday where he derived such momentous feats of turnover, dominating of the match in an instant and pinning his opponent seconds later. His growth as an athlete inspires. Yesterday he got as many wins as he did his entire first season of the sport. But he has put in the time, the extra practices, the extra runs, the sweat, the losses. Whether or not a win, each match has been a lesson. Some lessons he celebrated, some he took humbly, others upset the balance of his young psyche for an hour or two. He has earned his year of victories and based on yesterday, he will have many wins this season.

The freshmen will learn about defeat this year. Not that he doesn’t have the abilities; he is a natural athlete and a two-time district champion in junior high school wrestling. It’s tough to combat some older wrestlers, both their physical prowess and experience. Those young men with maturity have learned what my freshman has not yet realized. It’s the same lesson my senior embodies. The time, perspiration, and extra miles must be invested. The end game isn’t about a single match.

As a runner at forty-one years of age, I can do what 95% of the population can’t. And to be honest, I love that feeling. I know how to cover the distance, pace myself, and take down opponents. But I was never a speedster. I am not graced with natural athletic abilities. Everything that I am, I built. I logged the hours, the miles, the workouts, pushing my body beyond its comfort zone.

Running teaches self-discipline, perseverance, and pacing not just on the trail but in life. Few successes come quick and easy. Accomplishing goals is about the long game, the determination, the work ethic, driving toward becoming better, whether it is toward a degree, a career, a book or two, or three. It’s not just one mile or two or ten or twenty that will enable betterment. It’s the sequence of workouts, the dedication, returning day after day to the plan. Individuals who can run three, ten, thirty miles without stopping learn how to overcome mental and physical discomfort, the suck of the mundane, to realize they can go places most people can’t. The hardest part about running is putting on your shoes. The hardest part about improvement is the resolve to continue, especially when the improvements are not yet there to celebrate.

Those lessons are not so apparent in team sports like football, basketball, and volleyball. I am sure other lessons are plentiful in those settings, but I am partial to the individual lessons. So often in life, we can rely only on ourselves, our skills, our dedication. Other people will ultimately disappoint.

Back to my freshman with the same years of experience as my senior but who will experience a different season. To be honest, it should be that way. The freshman needs to formulate the understanding himself. He needs to realize that it is his work that will make or break him, both on the mat and in life. He relies on the team setting to push his abilities, his competitive nature to make him run faster, jump higher, lift more when at practice. Unlike the senior, the freshman has not learned or is not yet ready to learn that it is the individual work and dedication that will make him better than 95% of the population. It is the workouts he undergoes when nobody is looking that will accelerate him into a winning year. Sure, he has already celebrated victories this season against younger wrestlers like himself. But it will be bouts against the junior and seniors where he learns how much more he will need to work beyond the scheduled grind. Everything comes easy to my freshman, the academics, athletics, and friends. Once he embodies the lesson about going the extra mile not once but day after day, he will accomplish goals both on the mat and in life.

The challenges, they surround us. We are a complex and splintered society with a constantly shifting paradigm. Navigating the requirements to develop as an individual and succeed in life is difficult. So many rules seem written in a foreign language or not documented at all. It takes dedication to research, comprehend, and then navigate the arena. And the playing field is thick and growing more competitive. With the increasing population, it will be even more challenging for my sons to succeed than it was for the previous generations. They must be a disciple to the lesson plan they formulate for wrestling. To accomplish goals, they must go the extra mile, day after day. To be successful, like the senior’s ability to read and utilize his opponent’s body weight, they should never miss an opportunity to shift a struggle to their advantage. The opportunities are few, the competitors many.

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Standing on the Outside

For the last year, I have been frustrated, spilling tears between periods of indifference. Over three years ago, my sons and I moved to a small town in southern Oregon. My husband transitioned twenty months later after returning from a duty assignment in the Congo and retiring from the military. In those years, I invited neighbors into my home, volunteered at the boys’ school, patronized local businesses, attended community events, joined a sports group, made gestures of friendship and invitations looking for connections but always found myself on the outside.

As newcomers to this small town, we answered lots of questions about where we came from. “Southern Oregon but my husband is in (or retired from) the military so we have lived all over.” “What branch?” they ask. And after I respond, they spin into an anecdote about a family member who is or was serving. Some acknowledge the challenges the military family faces – the deployments, moves, separations, injuries, etc. A few thank me for my husband’s service. But here is what wounds me: during my twenty months as a geographically single mom with a husband half a world away, no one, not a neighbor or acquaintance from school bothered to invite me over, invite me to dinner, or simply check on me.

There’s nothing bad about our town, except its wonky four-way stop intersection. It’s a spirited country community with three banks, two Mexican restaurants, a coffee shop, hardware store, and a bridge across its namesake river. The setting is beautiful, and it’s an easy thirty-minute commute for me to the office. The town has some tight bonds, cliquish parse, typical of small communities. Lots of old families, people who grew up together, whose kids have known each other since before kindergarten.

Having attended many new schools, my boys had no problem integrating, finding friends and activities they enjoy, standing out as scholars and athletes. And I followed, volunteering with the school, helping with team activities. I met other parents along the way. They learned my name, tell me they enjoyed my boys. And I came to know their kids, appreciating each one, following them through elementary, middle, and high school, the teen relationships and sports injuries. I love community storytelling, not the gossip, but growth of individuals that propels the whole. Following the multitude of stories, I learn of the relationships around me – families that share time beyond the typical after-school venue, moms who look out for each other, share time together. If I asked, some of those moms would help me out. But I am on the outside of the glazing, always looking in, hearing stories reverberate through the glass. It’s a hollow sound lacking warmth. As I press my cheek to the glass, so desperate to be part of the story, the storytellers wave to acknowledge me because otherwise it would be rude, but never opened the door. And this so contrasts my experiences in other new communities.

Military communities are so open and welcoming. We, as in military members and their families, know that we are all on the move. We will spend one, two, maybe three years in each other’s lives before one of us will undergo a permanent change of duty station. Sometimes our paths cross again. Most times not. The older families always invite in the newbies. And the cycle repeats. But there is no qualm about making connections and keeping the connections beyond moves and even retirement. We need that friendship and community because what we do as families is overwhelming and stressful. We need each other. As spouses, there are baby showers, bunko groups, and childcare sharing. We exercise together, help each other with employment, through deployments, and never does a spouse spend a holiday alone. Don’t let me fool you; military communities have their own cliques but they always bring the newcomers inside to touch the community’s heart.

Is my town so set in its cliquish ways that it could not open its heart to me? If I had spoken aloud that I needed a friend, would it have heard? Or cared? I am left doubtful. As an author, I posted in community forums, notifying residents that I was an award-winning, local author in need of honest reviews, giving away copies of my books, encouraging them to support all local artists. Nothing. No likes. No sharing, echoing the chirps of crickets in the background. I am on the outside. Silence tells me I do not belong.

Besides the conversations with my husband about this topic, this blog is about the closest I come to complaining. As an introvert, I don’t cry for help. I shoulder my burden and muscle through the days, the weeks, the years, bandaging my wounds when they weep. So I was excited to be invited to a Friendsgiving gathering by a work associate who also lives in my town. Last Saturday was my first social outing in the three years and four months since I moved to here. Who’s counting, right? I spent an evening around a campfire with some lovely and unique ladies who have known each other for years. They told stories, shared worries and health issues. I listened and shared a few of my own. But you know what originally brought them together? Their kids playing the same sports to a degree, but that they also saw our town as cliquish. And unable to break through that same glass pane I gaze through, they built a house of their own.

Will they invite me again? Hopefully. That would boost my moral and smother self-doubt that I am weird or lacking of social etiquette. But the point of this post is not to disparage the town; my experience could have occurred in any town, big or small. It is a great little community with amazing individuals, but collectively, they broke my heart. Perhaps I expected too much of the town, of my neighbors, my community. But isn’t that what community is for? Otherwise, the town is just a collection of commerce and homes. The theme I wish to convey is to be on the lookout for loneliness. The smile a person may share with you does not necessarily indicate happiness but their excitement that you just might open the glass door.

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Pleasure and Pain

I just finished Brian Staveley’s third and final installment of CHRONICLES OF THE UNHEWN THRONE. I’ve been reading about a book a year, and with my hectic schedule, it took me a few months to get through the last one. Staveley’s writing is poetic and imaginative. The story is engaging, adventurous, and epic, and I traveled right along with it for the past two years. In the third installment, THE LAST MORTAL BOND, Staveley’s theme prevailed. Experiences with pleasure and pain define our lives. THE UNHEWN THRONE is a very visceral story, lots of battles, wounds, blood, and references to lustful pleasure. And I considered whether life is so simply described by experiences of the flesh. It isn’t. Trivialities of the flesh is only the first step in the cycle of life.

Because they do not fit my lexicon, I wanted to rephrase the terms pleasure and pain into joy and sorrow. Sorrow is what I face, or fear of facing. Time sweeps by, and my oldest son will graduate from high school in the next nine months. Just yesterday, we had an Army recruiter at the house as my oldest wants to begin his first solo life step by serving in the military for a few years. And I keep thinking, this is it, we will never be the same. Our dirt bike adventures are probably done. It’s the rare weekend that everyone is free. Our family game nights are nearly extinguished. Soon he won’t be around to brighten the room with his smile, his laughter. And those thoughts – that reality – hurts, seizing my stomach, stifling my lungs, aching my heart. I am proud of all he has done and will do, but I miss him already – I miss “us”.

Sure, I have more pain in my life, loss of family though most members still live, past tragedies that rile their ugly heads, nip at my skin, and sear my soul. But my view of pain is sheltered. While in the spectrum of pain, sorrow focuses on the losses or potential losses of friends, loved ones, times. Describing pain as sorrow limits the theme to individuals who do not have to fight to live, those endowed with housing, warmth, consistent and plentiful food from a store, and good health, whose only physical pain might be a headache or hangnail. Sorrow ignores the life experiences of individuals who struggle to live, who are hungry, out in the cold, facing violence, health issues, and utter loneliness.

It’s autumn now. Little birds have been prolific, fluttering amongst the bank of dead wildflowers behind the house, and our kitty has been equally busy, leaving her hunting trophies on the back porch for us to admire. The other day as I was picking up after the cat, the finch’s de minimis form tangible but lifeless, wrapped in a paper towel, I was struck with contemplation. It must be a relief for him to no longer suffer from hunger, cold, fear, to just rest, released from any pain, to not feel.

But have I forgotten pleasure to be charged with such a melancholy thought? Did the finch not thrive in song amongst his flock and nature? Did he not know happiness? Do I know happiness? Is it the pleasure of being in close relationships, loving and being loved unconditionally or belonging? Or is it self-fulfillment of goals, dreams, aspirations? Is it a mixture? We cannot say pleasure spawns from comfort; there are many sheltered individuals without a care in the world living without pleasure, happiness, just breathing. But we could argue that sorrow only comes from joy – when the goodness shifts only to memories.

Along that dichotomous line of thought, some individuals endure physical strife but experience great pleasure – that even amongst the pain of living, they have found joy in severing the societal bonds that once strangled them. Perhaps those are the lives worth living, being challenged by the world. It is the extraordinary man or woman who can live on the fringe of society, suffering its epitaph, but rise above to find joy in the battle and the spoils. There is no flesh in that pleasure, only a flourishing soul.

Towards the final third of THE LAST MORTAL BOND, Staveley conflicts one protagonist with the choice of destroying the deities of pleasure and pain. The act would erase all suffering but also all joy from the world. In this, Staveley implies that pleasure is more than the flesh, that he ultimately means joy.

Physical pain is all encompassing, a strident discord of life, meant to protect or warn the body from danger. Joy reminds us why we endure that pain, that we want to live. One without the other is incomplete. But because I have known joy, I suffer from sorrow. And so, the cycle continues: flesh, fulfillment, sorrow, and the end. Hopefully, my end, when it comes, continues forward – a reminder to my loved ones to embrace joy because it can be so fleeting.

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The Joker is a Symptom of Society.

My husband and I used to frequent the movie theaters before we had kids, and then when the kids were old enough and good movies still common. Lately, the theaters offer a lot of remakes and superheroes or remade superheroes (Really? Another Spider Man?). And if not one of those, Hollywood patronizes us with mainstream scat popped of cupcake molds. They slather it with a little frosting, hoping to masquerade the crap below. I get it; originality in writing is risky in the big economy. Society likes to chew on the same themes and memes, because repetition doesn’t force individuals to think beyond the boundary of their knowledge. It’s the same reason young children like to be entertained with the same book or movie; nothing is more comforting than retreading steps to the same conclusion. While the Joker is a spin on an old tale – a prequel to Batman – don’t go to the theater expecting an action-packed DC episode, but do reflect how society’s indifference for the individual transforms Arthur Fleck into the Joker, a man we all fear.

The Joker is not about defeating good or evil. Or even combatting it. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of a man already struggling with mental illness who is injured, demoralized, and humiliated by society is both fascinating and painful to watch. Arthur Fleck begins the film as socially awkward but good-hearted man with contorted and cringey dance moves. Skipping the step-by-step erosion of a man’s dignity, I will tell you he is physically assaulted by both teenage thugs and Wall Street-type upstarts. He shows strangers kindness, but they rudely dismiss his company. Coworkers betray him. And he learns of his mother’s treason to his young, innocent self – most likely the catalyst to his mental illness. But the Joker’s transformation solidifies when Fleck’s role model publicly humiliates Arthur in his pursuit of a lifelong aspiration. Nothing is better than a viral laugh unless it is to the detriment of another.

Arthur’s life course is the recipe of suicides, mass shootings, and radicalizations. Let’s face it; life is hard. If the constraints of society do not inter us, then we are fighting to survive in a third world country. And we need to belong in this ugliness, to feel that those moments of connection with others are worth trudging through the mind-numbing sludge. But demoralized or isolated, as a pariah to others, few can resist the impact. Some escape the pain in one fashion or another. And others shift into something beyond societal boundaries.

All it takes are moments of kindness, communication, genuine reflection and connection with others. These drops of dust in the erosion of time are the nourishment of community. Just a smile, a shared laughed, or twin tears can bind us, propping us up for days, weeks, years. But when life is stupidly busy, it’s hard to find those moments. We take loved-ones for granted, overlook friends, and ignore strangers. Though we try, social media is not a substitute for authentic connection. Those ones and zeros only dissolve the glue of society, injecting it with anger. Instead, be present in the real world, look for that friend, that stranger, and engage in a conversation. In the world’s strife, find something common, and share in that commonality. Take an interest in another’s life, and maybe they will take an interest in yours. And for goodness sakes, a smiling emoji is not the same as a genuine smile.

When the Joker emerges from his streak of revenge, the city is in civil unrest. With riots, protestors, and flames surrounding him, the Joker stands atop a police car, and never did he dance so beautifully smooth. In the absence of all others, he had found a connection with chaos.

Toward the movie’s beginning, before undergoing the brutal attacks, Arthur is in his social worker’s office. She’s asking him routine questions, and he notes that despite her job, she never really listens to him for her narrative never varies visit to visit. And he asks, “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”

Yes, Arthur. Yes, it is.