Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Hell of a Year

2017 has been one of the most exciting, reward, and exceptional years of my life. The highlights included going on safari in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan India and getting within twenty feet of a Bengal tiger, cooking a meal for monks in a remote monastery in northern Thailand and then receiving their blessings, riding a camel for the first time, and also an elephant for the tenth time, walking five hundred and fifty miles across northern Spain on a spiritual pilgrimage, working to get my latest novel ready for publication by Dreamspinner Press, attended three wedding of nieces and nephews, and the lost three beloved friends.

Herman and I spent over four months abroad visiting five countries—Thailand, India, France, Spain, and Portugal. While at home, it was our first year with our dog Trek, a lovely soul who brings joy into our lives each and every day. And we had also shared our joy and heartbreaks with old friends and new throughout a hectic social calendar.

It was a year where, for the first time, I read many more non-fiction books that fiction. My tastes are changing, apparently. I read thirty to forty books a year, and I’m drifting away from fiction, preferring books about real events, political situations, and people I admire. It makes me wonder if my writing will follow that same trend.

It was a year of great blessings and greater heartache. Those three deaths came very close together at the end of the year. They hit us like dominos, before we could recover from the one, another hit, and another. Heartrending grief spread over a few dark months.

Surprisingly, our plans for 2018 are shaping up to exceed this past year. We have two trips scheduled for the first half of the year that will take us to at least seven countries—Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, France, and Spain. And once again, we are planning another five hundred mile pilgrimage, this time across France. My novel will be published in June, so I will be spending the summer working to promote the book. We don’t have a clue what the second half of 2018 will bring. Just planning the first half has been a full time job.

I’ll close out this year’s journal with a fervent wish that all my family, friends, and readers find love, peace and prosperity in 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Power of Religion to Hurt People

I’ve been reading Boy Erased by Garrard Conley. It’s a story about a gay son of a Baptist minister who got outed to his parents. They placed him in a conversion therapy camp to “cure” him, and so far in this biography, things are not going well for the young man.

It’s slow paced to the point of being numbingly boring. Yet, I find myself fascinated, not by the story line, but by the total Christian brainwashing this kid went through, and how much anguish and humiliation he suffers because of his absolute belief in God’s punishment. Being an atheist, I find it appalling that our society condones this brainwashing of innocent minds. I understand that Christians will, no doubt, turn that argument around to say that it’s being gay that has caused this person’s pain, not his belief in God. And there we must agree to disagree.

When I read stories like Boy Erased, I can’t help wishing for a world free from beliefs in Gods and Devils, heaven and hell, angles and demons.

Being an atheist does not mean one is unanchored to empathetic ideals. There are some things I’m absolutely passionate about—the Golden Rule, the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, the value of love and charity, humility and grace. One doesn’t need to be beaten over the head with a bible in order to live a compassionate life.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

I’ve Finished Surviving Immortality

Christmas came a few days yearly this year. I’ve completed work on a project that began over six years ago when I was struck with an idea for a rather challenging novel.

I wanted to write a story that pitted man’s greed against his thirst for violence. That premise and the ideas for a set of characters and circumstances knocked about my head for three years before I put pen to paper and began outlining my thoughts.  As the outline took shape—something I worked with on and off for over a year—the theme metamorphosed into a saga that pitted greed and violence against integrity and compassion. It took me a year to write the first, rather long draft. Then the tedious job of editing/cutting began. Last spring I complete my five rounds of edits and sent the story to my publisher, who accepted the story but had several excellent suggestions. So began the task of working with my publisher, which turned into three more rounds of edits.

I’m happy to announce that I completed the last round of edits today. I’m now finished with the writing/editing phases. Nothing left to do but the final proofread before it goes to print in June. I will send the manuscript back to my publisher tomorrow. Six years of thoughts and conflicting ideas and writing and editing and living with my set of characters has come to an end. I’m finally free to move on.

Now the work of marketing begins. It’s a task I’m not at all accomplished at. It’s the only task having to do with writing/publishing that I don’t enjoy. But it is a necessary evil. Before that begins, however, I’m taking some time off to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction from having produced a story I’m truly proud of.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Value Good Manners

Nothing brightens my day more than meeting a young person who speaks clearly, looks me in the eye, calls me “sir” (yes, I’m that old), and uses terms like “thank you” and “please” and “excuse me.” I feel better about the person speaking, and about myself. It also gives me hope for these younger generations. I try to encourage good manners with everyone I meet by setting an example. However, more and more—or perhaps I should say: the older I get—I find young people simply ignore me, or give me a clipped response and try to move on to something/someone else. So that when I do come across someone who displays good manners, it really shines out.

As the sign says, manners cost nothing, but they can mean so much.

I feel the same way when I meet someone who takes genuine pride in his or her work and who goes the extra mile. It seems like so many people simply want to get by with the least amount of effort. Nothing makes me cranky as quickly as standing in a long line at the DMV or the bank or a department store with only one window open while a bevy of three or four workers chat among themselves in full view of the waiting customers. I’ve always had a high work ethic, which in my view means giving everything—work and play—a hundred percent effort. Back in the day when I earned a salary, I wanted the bosses to know I earned every penny, and I wanted the customers to realize that as well.

If I sound like I’m being a stogy old man, so be it. I sound that way to me as well. At my age, it should be expected.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Take On The American Dream

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our country this year, trying to understand why a man like Trump could appeal to so many Americans. I keep coming back to what people want out of life, what the American Dream looks like in 2017.

In my year of reflection and study and talking to people, I’m sorry to say no blinding insights materialized. If anything, I was wowed by how modest people’s hopes seem to be. And although it is impossible for me—a reasonably affluent, gay, white man—to understand the challenges of other races, sexual orientations, and income groups, I’ve developed a strong opinion that these modest hopes hold constant across race, region, religion, sexual orientations, and income groups.

What I’ve come to believe is that it involves to six critical areas:

1) Economics: The idea that anyone willing to work should be able to hold a job that pays a living wage.

2) Health insurance: The notion that nobody should have to file bankruptcy simply because they, or someone in their family, got into an ancient or became seriously ill.

3) Education: Every parent wants their child to have access to a good education, and that means they should be able to attend college even if their parents are not rich. And in these days of dizzying technological change, adults also need access to colleges so they can remain competitive in the marketplace.

4) Safety: People want their families to walk streets free from criminals and terrorists. To go to church or a concert without needing to worry about some psychopath with an assault rifle.

5) Environment: People are rightly concerned about the world we are passing on to our kids. We all want clean air, clean water, and poison-free food. And we want to protect wildlife environments.

6) Quality time: Time to enjoy life with your family, and in old age, to retire with dignity and respect.

Yes, I know that if you ask people what they want, off the top of their heads they mostly want to be millionaires, drive Teslas, own a big house with an indoor swimming pool, and fly first class to the best destinations in the world. But when it comes down to real hopes, I believe they would be happy with the list above.

It’s not much to ask. And it seems to me that these basic hopes are not just the American Dream, but what families the world over hope for. I like to think that most people understand the government can’t solve all their problems, but the flip side of that coin is that government shouldn’t stand in the way of people helping themselves to achieve everything on that list. And although government can’t do everything, they can, and should, help every American achieve these goals.

My $0.02