The Writer’s Lament

I’ve written more or less since I was nine years of age. At least that’s the last recorded memory of it. Before that I told stories to whomever would listen and often just aloud to myself — bouncing a ball in the back yard to give my hands something to do. I’d sing parts of it to the forest and to the wind, letting my voice ride its waves. Speaking to the universe or god or the source but no one else.

I remember as a small child sitting on a wood pile telling my younger brother a story about people wandering distant lands and battling ghosts. And my close friend, Marcy Gow, a few houses down, would trade tales with me in our back yard. We’d tell tales of refugees being lost in a hurricane or at sea.  Sometimes we would just trade ghost stories and urban legends until we scared ourselves silly.

My parents grew weary of watching me tell these tales aloud to the air and the poor weary soul who happened upon them unawares, and gifted me with a type-writer, an electric type-writer, all the rage on my thirteenth birthday. Computers didn’t enter the picture until I was much older. Prior to the type-writer, I wrote my tales in multi-colored ink across the pages of three-ringed notebooks. I remember thrusting these epics onto the unwary friends of my parents and occasional relatives in the hope of readers. It rarely went well. I was no prodigy, no hidden talent, I was quite awful to be honest.

I remember the first time a teacher, I think it was in the eighth grade, praised my work to a class. I was thunderstruck. As a child my writing was often scattered and difficult to read, I flipped letters, often writing them backwards as if my mind felt the need to write the words inside a looking glass. Reflections of thought, not real, and hardly clear to anyone other than me — unless of course you happened to be on the other side of the looking glass.

Later, towards the twelfth grade, after millions of papers being rewritten and given lackluster grades, my English teach praised my work stating that the sentences with pluses next to them were bits of genius. I was over the moon. And in college, I fought with the written word, the structured sentence to find a way to communicate my thoughts upon the page. Hitting criticism, not always constructive at every turn. After rejection, after rejection, after rejection, plays, poems, stories, constructive critiques, literary analysis, book reports, reviews, letters to the editor, articles…which sometimes got printed in the school newspaper, but most often not…I finally, finally, got a story that won, second place, and it was that tale that got published in the literary mag. I used the scant $200 bucks that I won to pay off the bank, in which I was overdrawn at the time. No one in my family could read it — it hit too close to home. It was a story about a man who traveled constantly dealing with his dying mother, while traveling home on a plane…it reminded all who read it of my father, and his mother…and it had been called “Just a bunch of clouds”. The older men who reviewed all the works submitted to the contest, instantly identified with it and loved it on the spot, but alas, it was the fourth revision, hardly the first — the result of  a creative writing course I took.

In the years that followed, I have written over twenty short stories, possibly more, one loses track after a while, and at least five to six novels. Only one was ever published and I did it myself. I sent them to publishers and to agents across the wide earth and they often said the same things…”we like your writing but your story needs work, or it doesn’t thrill us, it can’t be marketed, it can’t be put on that nice neat shelf…why not write a murder mystery or a cozy, something we can easily sell. Do you have anything else? Anything that I would love enough to sell?”

So bereft and desperate for readers , I jumped online and into a fandom and wrote meta on a cult television serial about a girl who slayed vampires. Over 500 pages worth, and watched in awed fascination as hundreds millions touted my work, asking permission to  publish it on their varied sites. One told me that sometimes people are better at meta than fiction.  I would love to say it was good, but alas, no. Filled with typos galore and rough and raw to the core. I wrote it raw, with scant edits. At one point I turned one meta into a scholarly paper, spent hours and hours on it, complete with footnotes and endnotes in the hopes of a scholarly publication, a little acclaim, but alas, it was denied, with barely a comment or even a response…ignored.  I was not accepted into this exclusive club.  A lawyer not a scholar, go thee to the devil. Banned to the outer reaches of fandom, to write meta to those who could not afford the scholarly prose.

So, I gave it up and chose to focus on writing a book. I wrote and wrote, and once done, submitted to many a critic…and got burned. Finally sent it to an editor, and indpendent one, not associated with a publication , and paid by my father who used her to edit his own work…but he told me that she was fair, and had critiqued his work. He felt I needed a professional, not the amateur friends that I’d consulted online and off. Who for the most part failed me. And this editor surprised me, proving her worth, providing a rigorous and constructive line edit.  She also loved my work, far more than she liked my father’s, but she advised me to publish it myself, in this age of mass marketing, it was unlikely I’d fit that nitch or be able to market it to the masses.  And alas, she was right.

One editor told me it should be a straight up murder mystery — as if there weren’t a million of those already on the market. Each a carbon copy of the last one, airplane reads, my father called them — quick and easy, and forgettable as last night’s meal.  Saying nothing. Another said much the same – get rid of the conversation about the loony tunes characters, more action, more plot, less character — that sells…the episode of the week on the latest cop buddy tv show. I read so many of these stories in high school and my twenties, I could recite them by heart.

As I write this, I’m reminded of my a creative writing prof, long dead, who told me once that if you expect fame or fortune or applause from writing, stop now.  Write if you have something to say. No other reason. He told me. And he was right.  Do not expect applause. Be surprised if someone reads you. Do not expect to make much money, find something anything to pay your rent. Write because you have to, not for money. His ghost speaks in my ear, I see his face across from me, wrinkled and spotted, with two blue eyes piercing. He looks like an old gnome, a troll come to life, sitting across from me now…telling me to be patient and to write because I simply have to write. And readers will come…if doesn’t matter how many.

Writing is an art form, a hard won technique that you practice day by day, often getting it wrong before you finally get it right, and it takes its toll. It’s blood sweat and tears, it’s not social. The time spent writing is time spent away from family and friends, and loved ones; it is not a social enterprise. It’s wrangling commas and parenthesis..and critics who always find that one typo or word that you forgot.  And it seldom provides awards and the awards it does are more often than not on the undeserving. Or so it seems. Writing is a jealous art. It’s a lonely practice. One that you sneak time at, either on the train or late at night.  After work or at lunch, while others play or skate or talk.  But for those of us who do it, we do it because there’s nothing else.

Each word, each phrase, we stick upon a page, hoping it sticks and makes sense. Pulling them out from thin air, wrangling them into a sentence, weary of the commas and punctuation required to make them make sense.

Writing, to write is our breath, our spirit , our song..who we are, who we have been and who we will become. Whether it is good or read, doesn’t seem to matter all that much. It is our music and the way we blend and to a degree dance with the universe. To not write is like a death, and when we are writing we are dancing and swinging with the stars. When a story unfolds upon the page through my fingers it is magic…it’s a runner’s high at the end of a hard won marathon..even if there are no readers or spectators on the other side. But like all writers..I crave the readers, whether they get if for free or pay the price, it’s no nevermind to me…I just want them like a child craves sugar and candy and playmates to share it all with on that lonely rainy day or a sunny one in the middle of late August.

 

 

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Wrinkles in Time

I saw A Wrinkle in Time  today at the movie theater and while I watched, I was reminded of my Aunt Audrey. Audrey Koenigsberg Amos.  She died at the age of fifty-nine years ago. If she’d lived, she would have been 76 or 77, two years older than my mother.

In some respects, Audrey was the family member that I identified with the most, there’s always at least one. An aunt, an uncle, who just somehow gets you, and you identify closely with in return. Every birthday and every Christmas, Audrey sent me books. Others sent me things like clothing or stuffed animals, or nothing more than a card. I have a large extended family, with more aunts and uncles than I can sometimes keep track of, not including the great-aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, along the way. It’s odd to think about — since I see them so rarely, and up until the internet, only knew what was up with them through the occasional Christmas card or letter, or my mother – who has an uncanny way of keeping track of everyone. Don’t ask me how. I think she knows magic. Her mother was much the same way — so it is obviously genetic.

Anyhow, when I think about my Aunt Audrey, I think about books. I remember when she came to visit us in Kansas City and brought with her a large collection of books. For hours she and I would sit and discuss the books. Sitting on the floor of the dusty attic space of her parents home, surrounded by various novels she’d chosen to regal me with. Such as the one about the female alien ship Captain (that resembled a human/cat hybrid) who was protecting a human male on her ship by CJ Cherryh. Or the woman who was chosen to ride a Dragon to fight an alien menace in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, or Bilbo Baggins who had an epic adventure in the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. In that hot, dusty attic, we’d sit for hours until someone drug us away chatting about the books. Behind us was an old weathered green couch and beneath nice hardwood floors.

She’d tell me what was in each and every one of those books, as if she knew each tale by heart. Carefully laying them in front of me like sacred tomes or pieces of treasure.

My mother tells me that when they were children, Audrey would whisper stories in her ear at night as they were drifting off to sleep. Weaving tales of adventure and romance through western and fantastical landscapes that existed solely in her sister Audrey’s head.  Much as I did with my younger brother on various trips, albeit not at night or so my brother had told me. She even wrote a few short stories here and there — one that my mother recalled vividly, entitled “Miserable Thin Skin”.  It was about a woman in in a mental ward who had this lovely dream — the story was the dream, and then she woke in the mental ward and thought, dreams have such miserable thin skin.

Audrey like myself would escape inside her head, into the lore and tales she told, or the stories she read. She loved stories, with a fervor few can understand. As a sixth grade librarian, for just the sixth grade, she would come across new  children’s science fiction and fantasy writers as well as old one’s and send these books to me. I remember opening them up as if I were getting some priceless jewel.  (Some people collect jewels, some priceless works of art, I collect books much as my Aunt Audrey did.)  It was Audrey who introduced me to science fiction and fantasy, somehow she found all the books with the female heroines, and at one point even, was able to get me into contact with science fiction and fantasy writer, who answered my questions for a sixth grade school book report. It was Zelphia Keatley Snyder who wrote children’s fantasy and horror tales. And I think she also got me a response from Madeline L’Engle, whose books she sent to me for my birthday one year.  Audrey was a born story teller, whether it was through her crafts, or just in letters or retelling the plots of books she’d read. Sometimes she’d tell them better than the author did.  She introduced me to so many science fiction and fantasy writers, such as L’Engle, Ursula Le Quinn, and CJ Cherryth, and Ann McCaffrey and Andre Norton. Women writers, while in school the only one’s I’d often found were male voices, my Aunt found the female ones.

As previously stated, she was a librarian for the sixth grade. This was in Vegas, where apparently they had enough students to have a school that was just made up of sixth graders. I didn’t find it as odd then as I do now. She didn’t like Vegas, but she loved the West, the desert, the red rocks and redder sand,  the Indians or Native Americans (she called them Indians back then) and their culture, more importantly their myths and stories. Later she moved to West Virginia with her husband, but I think if she had her druthers she’d have stayed out West or in Liberty, closer to her Mom.

I remember her telling me stories that she’d heard from the Indians that she had chatted with, or about her crafts. Sometimes the latest romance novel or science fiction story she had read. It was through her that I discovered Madeline L’Engle. And I can’t help but think some of my love of stories and telling them comes from her as well?  My Grandmother, Granny, used to tell me that I reminded her of Audrey, something that always worried me. For Audrey to my young person’s way of thinking was alone in the world, adrift and afraid of change. Stuck. But when I look at her now through older eyes, I see a woman who managed to survive for the most part on her own terms.  She was happy. And while she was too afraid to do some of things I have done, she was brave enough to do many that I haven’t.

At any rate, when I saw Wrinkle in Time today, I heard my Aunt’s voice echoing through the voices of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, because it was my Aunt who told me the story before I picked up the book and read it. My Aunt who sent it to me. Much as I now send the books that I read and enjoyed to my niece, through whose eyes, I’ve begun to understand my Aunt’s deep love of me. Having no children of her own, my Aunt in some ways adopted me much as in my heart, I’ve adopted my niece.  We do that, I think. And my niece reminds me a great deal of me, just as I suspect I reminded my Aunt a great deal of herself, although my niece is stronger, braver and wiser than I me, and I think perhaps my Aunt felt the same about me…whether it is direct or not, our DNA, or better yet our spirit, who we are, lives on through our siblings’ children not just our own. Or through those that we touch and love in various ways…even if it is merely by gifting one of them a book on their birthday. A book such as Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, like I did for me niece one year and my Aunt did for me years ago.

 

 

The Bead Woman

Few people read these posts, and maybe that’s why I write them. The feeling of being a bit lost among the vast amount of content on the internet, unseen, except for the few  souls who happen upon my words.  In that way, I suspect, I take after my grandmother, my maternal one to be exact, who disliked being the center of attention and preferred sitting in her armchair or out in a folding chair staring at the desert, among the cacti as she beaded her Indian necklaces and medicine pouches.

Granny lived to the ripe old age of ninety-one. She died in early 2009, don’t ask me the month since I can’t recall it.  I’d seen her a scant four months prior on her ninety-first birthday, and one moment she knew who I was and the next she hadn’t a clue. She told me that I reminded her of someone, who I’d never heard of, some distant relative or friend lost in the mists of time. I could see it in her eyes, a blue that is reminiscent of the robin’s egg blue of the sky outside my window panes. No memory of me. She didn’t know who I was. So when she finally passed, in an odd way, it was a relief, for she seemed mostly gone anyhow.

I remember her though. More vividly than one might expect, her voice still clear in my head, like a pesky but endearing ghost who doesn’t quite go away. This past week, a friend talked about how her grandmother had saved her life — and in some ways, mine had done the same. To be clear, Granny or Gran is my maternal grandmother…fifty some years my senior. When she was fifty years of age, I was born. She would be 100 years old,  if she had lived.  In some respects my mother reminds me of her and vice versa, they both have that uncanny ability to accept people and to a large extent life as they are  without many complaints or conditions.

Granny aka Erma Burke,  grew up on a farm, outside of Liberty, Missouri.  She rode on the back of a horse to school each day.  I know because she told me, and she hated that horse. Apparently it wasn’t as fun or comfortable as it may seem. She’d have rather walked or been in a school bus. And she remembered being happy to get an orange for Christmas. They were poor. Her father was a kind man, but not real smart with money often giving it away without much thought. And he and her mother, Moss Burke, had four daughters. The last of which, and Gran’s least favorite of her sisters, died early this year.  Gwen, Erma, Meryl and Johnny. Gwen was the eldest, and I knew her and my great-aunt Johnny the best of the bunch.  Both died long before my grandmother did.  She outlived her husband, her eldest daughter, her son-in-law, two of her sisters, and her parents. Yet, she complained little and when I did, would remind me of various family members who had it far worse — they were usually her sister Johnny’s kids. She’d drag me to their birthday parties and various other celebrations. When I resisted, she’d tell me, “if I have to go, you do too.”

“But why?”

“Because I want the company. And if you don’t come, I won’t forgive you.”

In short, she made it rather clear I’d no choice in the matter.

When we visited, Granny used to knit beads together into delicate and intricate patterns, few  could replicate. I tried once or twice, she even taught me, but somehow my fingers couldn’t quite knit them the way she did or I just didn’t possess the patience. In Hilton Head, South Carolina, at the nursing home she’d lived in prior to her death, they called her “the bead lady”, with her wide assortment of beaded jewelry, which she made the old way, the “Indian Way” she used to call it — complete with a mistake hidden somewhere in the design. “To keep the bad spirits out, and to honor nature, which is beautiful in its imperfections.” Making Indian (Native American) jewelry, medicine bags, earrings, etc – with fingers so twisted with arthritis, that it almost hurt to watch her. She’d chat as she did it. Telling me how she learned by watching the Hopi Indians out west in Arizona and Nevada. They’d share methods with her, and explain how to do it. She was curious and a natural artist, she took to it quickly, able to see patterns in nature and more to the point, able to recreate them either through a pencil or with beads. The beads she bought at Quartzite, Arizona — a flea market that stretched for miles without end. Selling everything under the sun. She sold her jewelry there with her daughter, Audrey by her side. Shooting the breeze with the neighbors, as Pop and my Uncle Earl threw horseshoes down the way.

Erma Burke Koenigsberg, her married name, loved the desert, with its barren reddish brown landscape, cacti, and wild thorny flowers. She felt at home there, somehow, this old gal from Western Missouri. Her bones didn’t hurt, and the sky split into a variety oranges, pinks, and purples as the sun sank down low on the horizon. She’d replicate these vistas in her work, often a lone cactii or Indian on a horse in the background.  I can still hear her Missourian twang in my head, how she’d say Io-way, instead of Iowa, and Missoura instead of Missou-ri.  Or talk about the Indians and their stories, their lore, and their religion, which in some ways she embraced more than her own.

She called people folks, homey and close. And when I’d worry over something she’d reply and still does in my head from time to time, when I’m anticipating the worst, for worrying was something she understood all to well,  “You never can tell, Little Johnny may have died and then fell in the well.”

I don’t remember asking what that meant. Perhaps I did? But I don’t remember the answer.

Anyhow, I remember my Granny stitching those necklaces and pouches together, with painted vistas in beads shining back at the viewer.  She did it partly to pass the time, partly as a challenge. She had beads of every color and stones of every shape and size.  They sat organized row by precious row in little plastic containers, along with eagle and hawk feathers, silver and gold hooks and chains, and precious stones such as turquoise, amethyst, and tiger’s eye. The Hopi taught her back in the Sixties and Seventies as she toured the West with her husband in an RV, seeing the National Parks and interacting with the locals. In the late eighties and nineties she taught the children of the Hopis, since many of them had long since lost the art.  She loved the Indian culture and their art, it spoke to her, and to her they were Indians, although often she’d call them by their tribal names. In her collection were baskets, blankets, and dolls made by them.

I remember a lot about my Granny, such as going to a restaurant and eating French Silk chocolate cream pie, renting action films from the video store, and reading mysteries and thrillers. I also remember reading Tony Hillerman novels and watching nature films  such as The Bear, which she adored, and Westerns. And that whenever I’d visited her she had books, lots and lots of books to read — not great literature, but fun stuff, romance novels, thrillers, and mysteries. We’d trade back and forth. She read like lightening — finishing a book in a day, sometimes two. Forgetting it soon after.

Whenever I visited my grandparents, they had books. I remember in the 1980s, I’d visit around Thanksgiving, just for the weekend. They lived about forty-five minutes to an hour away.  I’d go up into their attic room, pick out a stack of books, and read them during the weekend. They’d ask how far I got. We’d visit. They’d share stories of their days on the farm, working with the cattle, driving the trucks, when my Grandfather was called the flying Dutch Man. He was the Dutch Man, my grandmother told me,  because he was German and a lot of people confused that with Dutch, and flying, because he drove fast and well over the hills — to the point that his truck appeared to be flying. This was back in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

There’s so much to say, and it feels like I’m rambling now. The memories flooding into one another as I type. I have so many stories, and yet they feel blurred somehow, hard to recall clearly.  It wasn’t until her 90th birthday that she had an actual birthday party. I remember her telling me this in a small little voice filled with wonder. Her birthday fell on the day after Christmas, so it was often forgotten and  my grandmother was the sort who didn’t like to impose or make a fuss.

I don’t quite know where I’m going with this. Or why I felt the need to write this now when I am actually working on writing something else. Also it’s past seven pm and I need to make dinner and lunch for tomorrow.  It feels like a ramble of sorts down memory lane, a possibly maudlin one. Except to say even now, my Granny is always with me. Her stories, her smile, her voice… I hear her voice in my head at the oddest times. She told me once that the way she handled things, got up and struggled through was just took it a day at time.  “I got up this morning,” she’d say. Or, “this is another day that I’m thankful I am alive. I can see the sun, feel the breeze, look at my roses. Stitch a few beads into a necklace or a medicine patch or a dream-catcher to keep the bad dreams at bay…and that is enough. Oh and you are here, and we can have pie.”

To me she was more than a Bead Lady, she was my grandmother, my mother’s mother — my best friend. And for some reason today I felt the need to share that with whomever happens to come by and read for a bit.

 

 

 

Ending America’s Love Affair with Guns

There’s a Beatles Song entitled “Happiness is a Warm Gun” which brilliantly equates Guns with sex and the endorphin thrill it creates. I know everyone is sick and tired of this topic. My mother told me tonight that I was ranting about guns on Facebook and that’s why people were dropping me. Perhaps. She added that other family members were also doing it.  So hopefully, you won’t mind if I continue to discuss it — and I hope this does not come across as a rant.

Midweek, I listened to a teacher friend of mine, who taught high school English in New York City, burst into tears as she related her feelings regarding the latest massacre. Keep in mind this was one of eighteen school shootings that had occurred in 2018 alone. Since Columbine, there have been approximately 50 school shootings with 141 dead. I don’t know if you remember Columbine? I do. I remember it because it happened in Colorado — not far from various college friends houses, and I’d gone to school in Colorado Springs.  Also because the show I was addicted to at the time, pulled an episode that dealt with a student who got depressed and decided to kill the students at his school. The heroine had been plagued with telepathy for that episode and was hearing his depressive thoughts but could not figure out who it was. At the end of the episode, she finds him and she states the following: “My life happens on occasion to suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it’s not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening.”

I wish they hadn’t panicked and shown the episode, instead they waited six months later for fear of pushing folks buttons. Because the episode shows that the kid, the shooter isn’t the villain. He’s created by us. Isolated and alone, he goes a bit crazy with his social awkwardness, and due to our societal view, propelled by media, that guns solve problems, picks up his Dad’s gun. The episode was entitled “Earshot” and it’s from the 1990s-2003 series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the title is a bit of a joke lost on many viewers at the time. At various points, the heroine states, “Guns, never useful.” The writer, Joss Whedon, studied Westerns and violence in Westerns and action films, Buffy in many ways is his personal commentary on the films and culture that he studied.

Anyhow, going back to the beginning of this blog post, this teacher’s tears tore at my heart and I felt myself become angry and defensive at what she said at the very end. “It tears at my heart, this boy who killed these kids, and the kids that he killed – this lost soul, so similar to so many of the children I’ve taught. And it is our fault. All our faults. We’ve sat and watched this happen and done nothing. The fact that this boy was expelled, suspended, and in his rage turned to a gun — due to his ROTC and White Supremacy training, due to a culture that worships guns. We let this happen, every single one of us.

Not me! I protested. I didn’t do this. I am not at fault. But, I started to wonder, am I? Are we?

As a child I used to watch Westerns, and played with guns. My mother’s toy cap-gun was given to my brother one year for Christmas. I think I played with it more than he did. She certainly played with it. It’s odd but my brother and I learned to despise guns from my father not my mother – whose own father and various relatives owned rifles to hunt. Her father and brother-in-law both had a handgun in their RV’s to protect themselves. My grandfather, for the record, was robbed a couple of times, and his gun never came in handy — since he was not home either time. And he only used his rifle to shoot pheasant.  One of my uncles, or mother’s brother-in-laws, shoots squirrels and raccoons with great pride in his backyard, he has over eleven acres, so no fear of any innocent neighbors being shot.  My mother came from rural Missouri, and her Dad owned a farm. They had guns to protect themselves and fight off predators.  They were raised with this mindset, many people are. But my Dad, whose family hailed from a more urban environment and who had a gun in the service, an AR-15, hates guns. Despise them.  He was a history major in school and wrote his thesis on the Philadelphia race riots in the 1800s. He discouraged our use of them, even the toy variety and it is through him that I learned not to like guns. My father does not see them as an engineering marvel or security or freedom. He saw them as a means to hurt others.  But he also taught me to make up my own mind, so I can’t say that my father really convinced me one way or the other.

I learned through other sources, such as the Western.  Which, I know is an odd source to learn from — but watching cinematic violence can teach you a lot as can books. I don’t know if anyone has seen or studied the great Sergio Leone Westerns or Sam Peckinpah, but both did slow motion violence, showing in graphic detail what guns do to the human body. Their movies are hard to watch because the violence is guttural not like most action flicks.  You feel it. And the people don’t survive.  You can learn a lot from studying the Western genre, and what it says about American culture.  For years, the American Western romanticized the gun, but along came the 1960s, and with it the Vietnam War, where for the first time war fare was televised and people saw real children, real women and men being killed daily on the national news.  In reaction, filmmakers like Peckinpah and Sergio Leone along with Francis Ford Coppola, began to comment on the violence in different ways.  Prior to that, in the 50s, when my mother was growing up,  there were television serials entitled “Have Gun, Will Travel” or movies featuring gunfighters as the ultimate hero. Few movies depicted a different vision. Even in the late 1970s, when Star Wars jumped onto the big screens, it featured gun battles between the characters, and the hero or the favorite was Han Solo, who carried a blaster and was always firing at something. He was a cool, rogue hero, with a shoulder holster, a gunslinger right out of the old west and we adored him. Movies and television in many ways romanticized gun violence much as they romanticized the criminals who used them, everyone from Billy the Kid, to Jesse James, to Al Capone to well Han Solo. America had a love affair with the gun and was proud of the guns it had created, such as the Winchester Rifle.

Skip ahead a few years, it’s the 1980s, I’m at Colorado College at the American Folklore House and I have a very interesting conversation with an army guy serving at a nearby fort who is dating a fellow housemate. The guy brings me his gun. He has me hold it. Shows it to me. It’s still warm. They’ve just gotten back from target shooting. They explain the adrenaline rush, the high from shooting things. And he explains to me that guns are harmless really — he used to shoot them in high school off the back of a truck in Western Kansas, at cows.  Not much different than tipping cows, I suspect. They’d get drunk, no one was around and they’d shoot at things. It was, he told me harmless. I was fascinated and horrified at the same time. I remember thinking little of it, afterwards.  This man was in the army, he’d gone through boot camp and he saw guns as cool as did all his army buddies. This was in 1987.

In the 1990s, I went to law school and worked in the Kansas Defender Project for a summer. Two-three months total. It entailed visiting clients in Leavenworth Penitentiary on weekly basis.. I will never forget that summer.  One client was a professional hit man who worked for a drug cartel. He was in prison for killing twenty people for the cartel. There were heroine lines up and down his arms. His eyes were yellow. He got his gun legally. While he resided in New York, he’d gotten the gun in the Carolina’s and killed people down south. He had no remorse. He did not care that he killed these people. He just felt he had not been represented fairly and was claiming ineffective defense of counsel. I got his his transcripts and I read them and analyzed them.  Everyone who had a gun in this group got it legally not through the black market.  They were not being tried for illegal gun possession. I want to stress that. In the 1990s and roughly up to just a few years ago, all you had to do to get a firearm in New York or elsewhere, was go to a local gun shop or even your local Walmart, and buy it. Just show ID. It was no different than buying a bottle of wine. You didn’t require anything else. To get a license? Apply. But you did not require a license to buy a firearm. It has changed in New York City since then, but not elsewhere.

The second client I had was a bank robber on felony bank robbery, basically that means that he held up a bank with a gun and people were killed. It extended his sentence. He also obtained his gun legally. He was strung out on crack cocaine at the time and a drug addict. The gun was acquired in Ohio. At this time, my brother did a conceptual art piece in which he pretended to request “arms for the homeless” which is perfectly legal. He didn’t get into any troubles with the law or the press, until he revealed that it was a performance art piece in which he was depicting how easy it was to do this. Also people actually gave him money to obtain arms for the homeless. Interestingly enough, what people were most upset about was he pretended to do it — they weren’t upset about the fact that he was requesting guns for the homeless — well they were, but that’s not what caused him to get into trouble.

Prior to this, I sat in on a trial in Olathe, Kansas while working for the Kansas Public Defender Project as a legal clerk — the man was on trial for involuntary manslaughter. He had killed a man who trespassed on his property and was claiming self-defense under a Kansas Statute that permitted you to kill anyone who trespassed.  It was a painful trial, no one left it unscathed. The jury was hung, and the case dismissed.

During this period, I also did work with the Kansas and Missouri Legal Aid Society for Domestic Violence. I ran into countless cases in which women were killed by their husbands with a gun. In addition, I was friends with and spoke with a gun dealer in law school, who dealt guns for a living. We were friends. I liked him. I knew people who owned guns.

Then I moved to New York City, and on the news each night were reports of gun violence in various regions of the city. Years later, a friend told me that she moved out of her apartment because she got tired of listening to people firing guns off the rooftops. Just two years ago, the Governor of New York finally, after a lot of campaigning, managed to pass a rigorous gun control law, one of the few passed in the United States. To date gun violence has greatly decreased per capita in New York State. People are riding the subways late at night without fear. New York City has become safer than Columbia, South Carolina or Orlando, Florida as a result. It is safer than Kansas City, Missouri. I read the law, it requires various steps for registration. And prior — they gave people the opportunity to deliver their guns, no questions asked to various areas around the city.

Happiness is a Warm Gun.

John Lennon, ironically, was killed by a gun. He was at the height of his career, happily married to Yoko Ono and had not long before created the iconic song Imagine. A man, a crazed fan came up to him one day outside of his residence and shot him. JFK was killed by a sniper.  Ronald Regan was shot as was his aid, Brady, who unlike Regan suffered severe brain damage and as a result fought for the Brady Bill. And when I was doing research for a novel I wrote, I discovered to my own shock and dismay, what it was like to be shot by a gun. It’s not the quick death that television and movies portray, it’s painful and long. Below is a snippet from my novel Doing Time on Planet Earth that depicts some of my research on the matter:

 

Caddy looked down at the gun and back at him. She shifted her stance and turned the gun back on herself. “What if I shot myself?”

He was silent. Studying her. And she wondered how long he’d been there, watching, before he spoke up. A while, she guessed. She looked down at the gun in her hands, thinking there really wasn’t anything he could do to stop her. She had the gun. And it was pointed directly at her chest.

“Not sure I’d do that if I were you.”

“Why? Don’t tell me it won’t kill me.”

“Wasn’t going to. Will kill you. But you won’t like it.” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, knocked one out, lit it and puffed. “Lots of things will kill you though.” He studied the cigarette in his hand. “According to some nits, this will.” He glanced back at her. “The trick is finding the most pleasant method, unless of course you happen to like pain.”

“Pain?”

“Yep, pain. Gunshot wound to the chest, or actually gut from how you’re holding it, wicked painful. Slow too. Not instant. All your organs fall into your stomach acid and it eats away at them bit by bit.   Take’s a few hours, maybe more. Some poor slobs actually make it all the way to the emergency room first, before they kick it.”

“Fine.” She lifted the gun to her head. “How about I just blow my brains out, no pain there. Instant death.”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“Well,” he tapped the center of his forehead, “you got to aim straight to get the right place, aim wrong you just give yourself chronic brain damage. You’re alive, but you ain’t happy, and worse yet, you’ve lost the ability to end things.”

She moved the gun to her mouth.

“Shoving it in your mouth won’t work either, just make a bloody mess.  Knew a bloke once who did that and he just blew out the side of his jaw. Wicked miserable. Also disfigured.”

“What would you suggest then?”

“Throw the piece in the river? No? Right, then.” He strode over to her. She took a step back. “Hey, not going hurt you.” He opened his hands in a gesture she took to be surrender. “You the one with the piece, not me, eh?” She nodded and let him come close. Close enough that she could smell the musky scent of his cologne, which mingled with the leather and smoke. His eyes were dark in his face, too dark to make out the color even at this distance. Nose to nose. She shivered backing up. “Hey, no worries.  Not going to molest you.  Just going show you something.”

She held herself still, one of his hands hovered over her left breast, while his other gripped the gun.

“Now there are a couple of ways you could do it . You could,” he said, tugging at the gun, but she held tight to it, so all he managed was to get her hand to follow his, “hold it over your heart. Shoot twice, and bam, dead. Not instant. Packs a wallop though, feels a bit like someone punching you hard in the breast, hard enough you’d feel as if you’d fallen into that wooden planking below us. But not instant. Gunshots to the heart aren’t instant death – and they are wicked painful. About two, three minutes, feeling your lungs fill up with blood. Suffocating on it. Still, effective.”

 

The more I learn about guns and what they can do, the more horrified I become. And the more guilty I feel about my own fascination with them. I admit, I like action films, and adore noir and westerns. Like a lot of people, I enjoy a good action film, complete with explosions and shootouts. And the violence, the shoot-outs are prevalent in film and television – few, very few, don’t have them.  I remember a commentary to the old science fiction television series “Farscape“,  which was co-produced by the United States and Australia, and mostly filmed in Australia. In the commentary, the lead actor, Ben Browder stated that Australians looked and dealt with guns very differently than they did here. In Australia, they looked at them as a dangerous weapon and an anomaly, while in the US, it was barely noted. People, here, were just used to them. I never forgot that statement.

I keep coming back to what that teacher, my friend, who shall remain nameless, stated this week, so overcome with tears…that I found myself guilty for having none myself. She was sobbing. A complete wreck. And so was the other teacher in the room, a male teacher, one of her colleagues. And I wondered what can I do about this? Am I helpless? I told them I write, I don’t march, because I know people who love guns and they laugh at protestors and marchers.  So marching to me feels …ineffective somehow. I ‘m not sure this is any more effective. But I feel I can’t stay silent any longer. I can’t in good conscience state that I support guns, or support your right to own guns, or what I think of as instant pain — just as bad if not worse than cancer. You are owning an object that results in death or deep pain to another living thing. How can I possibly respect or allow that? How can anyone? Not with what I’ve leaerned. HERE is a link to emergency room and trauma specialists experiences with gun injuries. It’s not pretty. If  you love guns so much, perhaps you should spend a few hours looking at what a gunshot wounds actually do to a human body?

I dare you. I also dare you to envision what it would be like for you or someone you deeply care for, a grandchild, a child, a favorite pet, your lover, your parents, your aunts, your friends, someone dear to you, maybe even yourself to be the person who has been shot. We live in a country right now, in which people appear to have no problems with that.

I do have a problem with it.

So should you.

What are we? Helpless to end this? No.

We are not helpless. We can say no to guns. We can stop this. But we can’t do it alone. I can’t do it alone.  I need your help. We have to do it together.

I can’t stay silent any longer. I’ve stayed silent for over 20 years. I thought, oh someone will stop it. Someone will pass a law. Or maybe if we arm the teachers, if we have more security, if we do this, if we do that…but it has not worked. I watched The Wire, which depicted teachers armed with guns, and it did not work. It didn’t work in Baltimore and it has not worked in New York City.

The only solution is to heavily regulate guns. To have the courage to do what other nations and countries around the world have already done, to give up our guns. To abolish the amendment that provides us with the right to bear arms once and for all.

I have stayed silent. I can’t any more. I’m sorry Mom. But I have to write about this. If you think this is ranting, so be it. If I lose social media friends, over this?  I don’t care. I have to stand against the guns. I do not respect any one’s right to own guns. I can”t. I stayed silent for twenty years, I listened to gun owners for twenty years. Twenty years.  That’s long enough.

 

<b

A difficult conversation about Immigration

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Recently, my church or society, not sure what it is calling itself at the moment, has registered as a sanctuary site for illegal immigrants. And I’m rather proud of that, but feeling rather guilty because I can’t volunteer to help – for various reasons, which I won’t go into here.  And this post isn’t really about that.

Years ago, a creative writing professor told me something interesting, he said, after reading one of my short stories that I was interested in writing and exploring the difficult emotions, the painful ones, that most people didn’t want to look at. And well, that’s what I want to explore here.

As a caveat prior to discussing this — I am, roughly speaking, the descendant of immigrants. My maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother on my father’s side immigrated from Scotch-Ireland, his paternal grandmother from Belgium, my mother’s paternal grand-parents immigrated from Germany, her maternal one’s from Ireland. Neither are really into genealogy, they leave that to their siblings. Northern European Celt through and through. The privileged immigrant gene, although it wasn’t always that way. Back then, the Irish were hated, as were the Germans. It’s only been recently that the US has welcomed these nationalities to its shores. Africans were brought here against their will prior to the late 1800s (aka the Civil War and end of the slave trade) and many Asians fled here, much like my Irish grandparents to find a better life. It’s also worth noting that most of my co-workers and my friends are either direct descendants or immigrated themselves from places like Haiti, Russia, Poland, the Caribbean, and Asia. I know quite a few people from India at work and online. In fact, I currently live in an area that is inhabited by Indian, Russian, Caribbean, Italian, Latin American, Irish, Jewish, and Polish immigrants.

I say all this because I want  you to know that I have no issues with immigrants most of the time. But this week, I saw a side of myself that I didn’t like. I call it the demon. And in seeing it, I was able to understand and perhaps see the other side, the not so nice side of our country. And look at it from a perspective that made me realize that we need to talk about this as a nation, without hate, without insults, just find a way to listen, to question where we are coming from and see if we can find a way past it?

This week my boss requested that I provide a consultant (a hired gun) with a 14-15% raise for doing a good job. This man is an immigrant from India. He previously lived in Canada, and is working here under a visa.  He is an engineer. I am not getting a 14-15% raise nor are any of my co-workers. I live in a community that seemingly overnight has become all Bangladesh, India. They barely speak English. He barely did. They aren’t welcoming of people outside of their race or community. They speak in Bengali on the trains and sidewalks, and are covered head to toe in their traditional garb.  Exclusive is an understatement.  At work, I have various co-workers of Indian, Chinese, Hispanic and Russian descent , who do not speak English clearly.  You have to listen hard to understand them. Because for them, English is often their third or fourth language. They speak with heavy accents. They are for the most part, American Citizens, they just weren’t born here. It gets tiring. And my building super barely speaks English, his wife better than he does. They are from Poland. They speak Russian fluently, English is their third language.

And this week, I felt the frustration and rage begin to build. Why couldn’t people speak English fluently? I thought to myself. Why is this engineer from a foreign country getting a 14% raise, when I am getting barely 2.5% if that, and after five years, while he’s getting it after two? If he didn’t exist…if he went home, if they all went back to where they came from…I’d not have to compete for housing so hard, I’d not have to compete for work…why did the French come here and drive up prices in Brooklyn, when they weren’t here the area was more affordable — these evil thoughts, demon thoughts flooded my head, and I felt myself ranting, consumed with a painful rage. I remember ranting to my mother about it, and my mother said: “You realize that you sound like Trump.”

It was a wake up call. And I thought, what am I thinking? So I sat back, and put myself in this man’s shoes, in these people shoes, and really looked at them and myself. It wasn’t easy. And I realized, they were no different than me. Their existence had not made my life worse. If anything it made it more interesting. So the next day, I called up the man’s employer and we talked. Really talked about what this man did for a living. The man who wanted the raise turned out to be a seasoned engineer with a lot of experience in his field. He showed up on time, often before the others. And worked long hours. He’s not a technician. People less qualified than he was, were making far more. Also it was really hard to find good people in his field — there was so much demand for his type of work at the moment.  So, the market was dictating a raise. There just happened to be more need for people with his expertise. If he was Northern European, English, Purple, White, African, wouldn’t matter — it would be the same situation. It’s an individual asking for the same amount as his peers are making.  It had nothing to do with race. Race was irrelevant, it always had been. It always is. I realized that the way to save money is to reduce the fee the firm is making and redirect the amount to the employee doing the work.  I needed to separate myself, my ego, from the situation, it had nothing to do with me. It never had. And his existence did not make my situation any better or worse. He was just another human on this crazy planet trying to make things work.

I am not proud of how I felt or how I initially reacted. I’m embarrassed by it actually. It does not put me in the best light.  I’m sharing it, because I know that others feel this way. And I know how easy it is to scapegoat and to blame the other for our problems. To demonize. To generalize.  Too easy. Being a monster, apparently, doesn’t take all that much effort…but it hurts more. When I felt this way, I felt as if I was burning up inside. When I let it go…I felt better.

At times I feel as if I am living in a tower of babble, with a million languages going on simultaneously…and there’s no way I can understand a word being said.  I suck at languages, always have, so there’s that. Yet, weirdly, at other times, I do understand — just watching the other person’s body language. Today, I did laundry, and ran into a fellow apartment dweller, he’s short, and a POC, very nice guy. Hails from Conniecut. (A state I’ve never been able to spell for some reason). Came here in the 1980s. He said, that our apartment complex was like the UN, and added, this was a good thing. I agreed. I’ve lived in non-diverse areas…and didn’t like them all that much.

And I feel I need to say this —  I’ve never experienced anything but kindness from these immigrants. Recent to our shores. Or consideration. No matter where they are from. They have helped me. They have been kind to me. Some have befriended me when I had no one.  Total strangers. And they get along fine. Just keep to themselves, in their own little communities.

At night, in my neighborhood, near the subway stop, all the Bengali men congregate. They are very small men, at six foot I tower over them. Some are all in white, others in various pants and jeans. They talk in a combination of Bengali and English. They move aside as I walk past. They do not get in my way, they do not harass me. They are exceedingly polite. They do not insist that I change in any way. People have told me that Indian men are very sexist and misogynistic, but they have only been polite to me and respectful. I cannot complain.

New York continuously forces me to look at my prejudices and break them down. To challenge them. When I was feeling negative about Russians, the Universe and New York gave me a Russian immigrant to train and moved me into a building with lots of Russian immigrants, and I learned that I was an idiot and generalizing. Russians were no different than Americans or English or anyone else. Just people with an extremely thick accent. When I felt negative about Asians, I ended up becoming friends with several and discovered they were just people too, individuals, and again I was an idiot. My prejudices were paper thin pieces of confetti, full of holes, and would not hold water. I am ashamed to admit I have them, but I feel I need to throw them into the light of day if only to watch them blow away in the wind, and melt with the sunshine. Along with the rage and pain that often accompanies them, and isolates me from my world and those who live within it.

I don’t know if anyone will read this. If you do, I hope you will forgive me for my failings as I hope to forgive you for yours. I am trying to do better. To realize we are all human, sharing space in this troublesome world. I think living with others, regardless of their race, tribe, whatever, can be difficult but also beautiful. Like looking for and finding rainbows after a difficult storm, or being able to stand and look at a sunrise after a night plagued with vertigo. It’s painful and beautiful at the same time.  And I think it’s not always easy to see that. I am hoping for a day when it is.

Dear Mr. Ryan

It’s eight o’clock on a work night, and there are other things that I should be doing. But this won’t let go of me. I’ve never been able to explain why I write to others, but usually it is to express something that desperately needs to be expressed to another mind outside my own. And I have no idea sometimes where it comes from.

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I have never written to a politician before let alone the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I think the farthest that I’ve gone is a Kansas State Senator that I once interned with or those emails set up by others and you just sign your name, as if signing an online petition. I’m sure you have seen them.  But I felt I had to write you…even though I’m not one of your constituents, living in a state far far away from your own. In the wilds of New York, along the eastern seaboard.  But my parents met in your home state, not that it matters, or maybe it does. They met in Wisconsin, at the University there…they suffered through the ice cold winters, with the mountains of snow, my father a history major on a work-study scholarship going for a Ph.d and my mother a speech pathologist on a scholarship of her own…both from middle or in his case dirt poor middle class first generation Americans.

My father, like you, comes from a large Irish-Catholic family. His brother is a Priest. He went to school on the GI bill sending every dollar home. And his father was a carpenter, who barely made ends meet, working on the Pennsylvania docks during the Great Depression. While my mother shared a bed with two sisters, her house merely four small rooms, if that, and the shower in the basement that doubled as garage. Her father was a German cattleman, who ran his own trucking business. He didn’t graduate high-school, barely made it past the eighth grade, taught himself math and how to read, since he happened to be dyslexic.  They used to call him “the Flying Dutch Man” during the 1930s, and he would give loans to his workers and people he knew so they could survive the hard times. He hated Truman, loved Eisenhower. My father’s family fought for Roosevelt, and the New Deal, dirt poor and living off Welfare. His mother’s twin brother fought in the Great War, among the first inside the death camps, he was an ambulance driver, he was never the same after that. Seeing all those corpses…. My parents met and fell in love during the long Wisconsin winters arguing politics…arguing over Truman, who ended a World War with a nuclear bomb and fired a US General for trying to invade China.

But that’s not why I write you, not to share family history, but because I fear for our country for I can feel it roaring…the sound is deafening, can you hear it too?

******

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I don’t know how to write this. I’m no one really, just a single woman on the cusp of fifty, but I read the news today…and oh boy. This ban on immigrants fleeing their countries, much as my forebears, and I’m guessing yours as well fled theirs, but under far dire circumstances. Yesterday my mother told me a story about a family of Syrians, who had managed to acquire visas, and even had a new home and jobs set up in a neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Their community came to the airport to greet them, to escort them to their new home…their story reminds me of my great granparents, who fled Ireland during the Potato Famine, and settled into a Catholic community in Pennsylvania, with their six children. But unlike my grandparents, these Syrians, who were fleeing to save their lives, but also Christian, although it hardly matters,  were turned away. They were turned away, Mr. Ryan. Handcuffed like criminals and put back on a plane to face certain death…

Every week, it used to be every day, I see the Statue of Liberty sitting in the harbor of New York…and I remember visiting it with my Mom in 1992. I remember being proud. Proud of my country, who like no other, accepted the hungry, the poor, the disillusioned, the persecuted, regardless of their origin, struggling to be free.

I don’t know what has happened to that country? I remember 9/11. I walked beneath the sky as it rained down paper and dust, thick and brown. I remember the rage that filled me at an unknown enemy. And it was easy, so easy to hate…until I met a lawyer, Muslim, Pakistani, who greeted me with friendship, he had a visa, he was an immigrant. And each, day, Mr. Ryan, I ride the subway, and next to me sits a woman, dressed in full Muslim attire, only a bit of her face shows. She chats in her native language with a neighbor, and briefly smiles at me in greeting, saying hello..

At church, a man tells me,  the Sunday before our national election, that he teaches Syrian refugees how to speak English..volunteering his time, every Saturday, and the refugees, who can’t vote, admire you Mr. Ryan, and would have voted for Mr. Trump, because they believed you would make them safe and protect them…

*******

Dear Mr Ryan,

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this. Most likely not see it. But I feel I must write you. Even if it falls into the slush pile in your office. But my country is bleeding. Through the cracks in the pavement, I can see it. The land it is cracking and trembling.

I’m not sure if you have heard, but there is no drinking water in Flint, Michigan, poisoned by lead, and the water in Corpus Christie, Texas you can’t drink or wash in, due to oil spillage. In the Dakotas, the Native Americans are freezing trying to protect our water from a pipeline that was re-routed from a residential area due to fears of it contaminating the water. Meanwhile there are oil spillages in Pennsylvania, and the coal mines are killing the miners.

And this summer, Hurricane Matthew devastated Hilton Head, and the Carolinas. People on the islands lost their homes, after years of no hurricanes. You should see the debris, stacked up on the roads and highways, as FEMA trucks slug by.  Meanwhile the Artic ice caps are melting, and the sea levels are rising…

Can you see this? Do you care? I worry about our planet. I worry that in a few years, my home, my city, Brooklyn, will be under water…as will DC, and Philadelphia. While Oklahoma continues to be ripped apart by earthquakes, and tornadoes devastate Kansas.

*********

Dear Mr Ryan,

I’ve been told to pick an issue, but where to begin. I’ve never written to you before. I’m not an activist. I wouldn’t even describe myself as politically active…but I fear for our health-care system. It is not for myself that I write. My organization provides health care, although it barely covers my needs, it is there. I pay into it, so it’s not free. But no matter. I write for my family, for my friends who are on the Affordable Care Act.  While they admittedly hate the premiums it has saved their lives. My niece, my sister-in-law, my brother who run their own business, are on the ACA aka Obamacare, as is my cousin, who has a serious heart condition and recently survived a car accident. Then there’s the friend in Arizona, an old college pal, whose life was saved by it. If it weren’t for Obamacare she’d be dead. She’s a mess, and with the ACA/Obamacare is able to work as a health care provider and help others.

I fear what will happen when they lose it. They have pre-existing conditions. And then there’s medicare, so many people are on it, I will be on it in a short period of time, what will happen if you take it away? Please, Mr. Ryan, don’t take it away. I worry about my people, all the people, who are sick, or struggling…

I found out the other day that if it weren’t for Planned Parenthood, my sister-in-law may not have survived her childhood. It provided low income children with health care. It saves so many women and children, every day…Did you know that, Mr Ryan?

Mr Ryan, while I understand your objections to the abortion issue,  can I please tell you that after abortion was legalized there were less abortions, and no partial birth abortions done?  That with Planned Parenthood, women like my grandmother were given access to birth control. My grandmother had thirteen children, Mr. Ryan. She miscarried one and the other was still-born, she didn’t practice birth control and it almost killed her. And she debated a hysterectomy, because her church said it was wrong. But her doctor stated she would die otherwise.  It made her life a drudgery, and due to her low income status, and limited health care options, she and my grandfather were forced to do the unthinkable, place seven of their children in an orphanage. It traumatized the youngest. My grandfather had a broken arm and my grandmother a dangerous pregnancy…can you imagine, Mr. Ryan? Can you imagine their pain?  If Planned Parenthood had been around, if her religion, for she was Catholic, had allowed it..this may not have happened. My father wrote to the Pope at the time requesting he lift the ban on birth control – he was so angry..

*******

Dear Mr Ryan,

I fear for our country’s sanity. It is so divided. There is so much anger. So much bitterness. Every day, the news is worse. Yesterday, a mosque was burned to the ground in Texas. I fear the terrorists are winning, they are dividing us, they are pitting us against our allies and against ourselves…

Oh, Mr. Ryan, I fear for our world. It keeps me awake at night, twisting and turning. And each day, I look at those around me, and we put up a good front. Making phone calls. Marching. Or simply pushing ourselves through the daily routine. But there is so much anger. So much. I see it in the news…did you know Reuters News Agency has advised their reporters to treat the US the same as war torn and fascist countries around the world, and in particular in the Middle East?

******

Dear Mr. Ryan,

It’s most likely pointless to write you. I don’t know what to say, or what to write …anymore. My heart is aching. I see my friends, gay and lesbian, who finally gained the right to marry. And the poor transgender, stuck in bodies that feel like alien lifeforms, or being strictly defined as one gender, when in their soul they know they are another — unable to feel safe going to the bathroom in their home states. I’m straight, Mr. Ryan. I’m heterosexual. So this doesn’t affect me. Well, not exactly. Of course it does, because I love my friends who live across the planet, and I rarely see. And because if they aren’t free, how can I, how can we?

Oh, Mr. Ryan, if I could only get you to see? Sometimes I wish we could all crawl inside another’s skin for a day, just one day. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Think as they do. I in yours and you in mine, and oh what the world could be..if we could just walk a mile in each others moccasins, if just for one day.

Each day, I walk the streets of New York City and work elbow to elbow with surbanites from the Island, who fear the city’s grit and grime. In Manhattan, next to the subway, on 42nd Street, at 6am in the morning, there is a couple lying on dirty blankets and a makeshift mattress that has seen better days, with crudely worded cardboard signs stationed around them. “We are homeless, we are hungry, I was beaten up at a shelter, please give, we are saving to get off the streets…” They have nothing. No shelter, but a subway tunnel, no heat, but the grates below them, no food, but what the passerby’s provide…they are dependent entirely on the milk of human kindness.

Kindness, Mr. Ryan. Oh, I pray for kindness.

And I find myself thinking once again of those Syrian Refugees, who appear to have caused this…first Britain leaving the European Union, and now the US…and it calls to mind a passage from the Bible, and you’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Ryan, I haven’t studied the Bible recently…so this won’t be a direct quote. But somewhere in the New Testatment, doesn’t Jesus Christ state that when a beggar or person with no money, no country, fleeing for their safety comes to us, it is him, it is Jesus, and if that is so, how, I ask you, dear, dear, Mr. Ryan, can we turn them away? Without breaking our hearts and our spirits and the source of us all in the process?Oh Mr. Ryan, I pray you can hear me, even though you are so far away, and your email server is full, your voice mail appears to be broken, and your mail lies unopened on the floor..our hearts are breaking, and our country is burning, can’t you feel the flames?               .