Today’s rant on Facebook…

Yesterday, while checking posts on my social media, Facebook did a pop-up that hit my angry button, and I fired off this post:

Facebook just asked me to donate to help Nepal. Did Nepal send any money to help after Katrina?

I think not.

Apparently, that struck a nerve with my friends, because I received a number of startled responses, beginning with one that said, tentatively, “umm…you know that Nepal is actually pretty dirt poor, right?” and continuing with some from people who know me less well “And if people only helped those who helped them first, then no one would ever get help. It has to start somewhere.” It continued with some posts that ranged from faintly accusatory to concerned to humorous: “Loving one’s fellow-man should never start with “what’s in it for me?” Not ever.” and “That does not sound like the Warjna that I know. Did you hit your head? Do you have encephalitis? Were you hacked?” and “I’m going with hacked for $200, Alex, er, Alan….

At that point I realized what I had done, and decided I should explain. I posted the following, and I’m posting it here as well in hopes that my point will continue to resonate and put out positive vibes of education:

Sorry. Perhaps I should explain.

First off, yes, I know that Nepal is dirt poor. That comment was sarcasm.

Second, I have no real problem with helping others in disasters. I do that myself when I can, whether it is donating to the Red Cross or reaching out a hand to someone in a parking lot.

What I do have a problem with, and I have said this in my posts time and time again, is that we Americans _as_a_culture_ tend to open our purses for every other nation on the planet, and fail to help our own.

Are you aware that there were people still living in FEMA trailers more than FIVE YEARS after Katrina? That there are people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas today that still have no homes of their own?

We’re all “Let’s send money to Nepal,” “Little children are starving in Africa,” “Japan had a tsunami,” and all the other disasters, when there are little children starving right here in America. When there are veterans living on the streets–if you can call that living. When people with mental illnesses are turned out of hospitals and treatment centers because there is just no money to help them.

Isn’t that a disaster?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t send money to help others outside our borders. I’m just saying we should be sending equal amounts to help people here at home. But there is a stigma to being poor in America that we don’t attach to the poor elsewhere, and that is a shame and a crime. That somehow the poor of America did it to themselves by being lazy and unworthy, and therefor don’t deserve help.

Perhaps I’m a bit touchy on this subject, because it hits close to home. I know some of those people in New Orleans. I have–or had–friends there, some of whom had to leave their beloved homeland and go elsewhere just to find a job and a home. And I have other friends right here in River City who asked to borrow a tent so they could camp out somewhere, because they had no job and no money.

But if anyone is offended by my words then perhaps they should stop and really think about why they are offended. Perhaps it is because my words hit too close for comfort.

Am I wrong, thinking like this? I don’t think I am.

To the one who told me, “And if people only helped those who helped them first, then no one would ever get help. It has to start somewhere,” I’d like to point out that America has been sending aid overseas for a hundred years or more. We have been sending help first. Where is our help, when we won’t even help ourselves?

To the one who said, “Loving one’s fellow-man should never start with “what’s in it for me?” Not ever.” You’re right, it shouldn’t. And that’s not what I said, and it’s not what I’m saying. I’m not even really asking those nations who have been helped by us to help us now. I’m asking US to help us. I’m not even asking us to help us FIRST, I’m just asking us to help US. And it would be nice if we did so in at least some proportion to what we send out.

The comment about this not sounding like the Warjna he knew–that was a sincere note of concern. And he was right, sort of. I usually manage to edit and filter so that my comments don’t come off the way it did. He’s used to more like the rest of this post. Sorry for scaring you, brother.

“…hacked for $200, Alex, er, Alan….” Good one!

*sigh* End of rant. Wish it was the end of the problem.

Depression, frustration, aggravation…

I’ve recently had a horrifying experience. One that has, however, confirmed in me that my true passion and avocation is writing. Sorry if this post is kind of a downer…

We writers all have our doubts, even writers like Chuck Wendig, great and wonderful and entertaining and creative and (are you listening, Chuck?) established and PAID writers. We all have those days when everything we put our hands to is drek. Horrible, awful, meandering, pointless drivel. Days when we’re sure no-one in the world would read more than the first two words before their eyes go up in flames while they’re screaming for the brain bleach.

Then there are days when The Muse, whichever one chooses to patronize us, comes up and lays the smackdown on us and the Magic happens. All those words, all smooth and sleek or broken and glittering like shards of glass, all those words that somehow on any other day never in a million YEARS could we have said them in just that way.

The Magic.

Those are the days I live for, as I’ve said in a previous post. Those are the days that make it all worthwhile, everything, the pain I’ve been through, the heartache, the anger. Those are the days when I know that all of that went into that one, beautiful, perfect piece of beauty. And that’s okay.

Life hasn’t been fun recently. I lost my job almost five years ago, and haven’t worked (for pay) since. Can’t find a job. Running out of money fast now. (Don’t think about that. It will all work out, it WILL.)

In fact, it hasn’t been fun since—yes, really—the turn of the century. Isn’t that the oddest phrase to use? True, though. 2001 was 9/11. My home town. People I had worked with, or at least who worked for the same company I did.

2003 my Mother died of Alzheimer’s. The scariest disease of all the scary diseases in all the universe, because someone who was smart and witty and articulate—is not. Not ever again, never.

2005 I lost almost everything I owned in a house fire. (I won, though. My cats were inside, and they survived, every one.)

2006, after finally getting everything back in the house, (though not unpacked yet, no, of course not) we had a freak rainstorm that flooded the room where—yes, you guessed it—the stuff was stored. There’s the crime, there—the heaviest stuff, of course, was on the bottom. That would be the BOOKS. Gone. Mulch and mildew.

Then, health problem after health problem. Hammer blow after hammer blow.

November, 2012: Two car accidents, the second totaled both cars (not my fault!). Then, NaNoWriMo. I won, in spite of spending a week searching for a new car instead of writing. I won! What a high that was! By the gods, I could beat anything!

December 2012: Don’t ever say that you can beat anything, it tempts Fate too much. A week in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs. No job, no insurance. But I had my laptop computer, and by the gods I was going to write, dammit! NOTHING was going to stop me.

2013: More of the same old. Dad died in late October, but we couldn’t have the funeral until December, my brother couldn’t get her to Florida from Montana. I was too stunned to even understand why.

2014: one of my oldest friends went into the hospital after a fall, then into a rehab for physical therapy. She died three days later, very suddenly, of probably a massive stroke. I really mean very suddenly: I was there. She looked up in the middle of the conversation, said “Oh, no!” and fell over. Then: utter chaos. EMTs, doctors, nurses, machines, ambulance—she was already gone. She was gone before she fell. I saw her go.

2015: the last damn straw. After the fire in ’04, I and my cats went to stay with a friend while the idiots who were rehabbing my house did their thing (For 11 months!) One of my cats romanced one of his cats, and pregnancy ensued. Fortunately, only one kitten. She was my affirmation of life, so that’s what I named her: Ankhet. Egyptian for “a living female creature.” In one week she went from being an attitudinal fussbudget to an apathetic ball of fur in the bathtub. Kidney failure, the vet said. There were things they could do—but why? To prolong her life for another few weeks, with no quality? I had to let her go. I had my beautiful furbaby put to sleep.

Now, I don’t know what the hell it is about my doctor, but if I go see her any time I’m stressed, I burst into tears the second she comes in the room. Nobody else gets that response from me, just her. Enough is enough, she says, I want you on antidepressants. I don’t want them, I said. I’ve lived with someone who was clinically depressed. I had long-term friendships with two other ones. I know what it is, I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like, and that’s not what’s happening here. I’m stressed, and I’m grieving. That’s not depression. (Trust me, it isn’t!)

Okay, fine, she says. Then you’re going on anti-anxiety meds. Okay, fine, I said. I’ll try it. She calls it in, I pick it up.

Remember when I said it was the last straw? Back there, two paragraphs. Whoa, was I wrong! A couple of days into it, we noticed that I didn’t “fizz” so much while driving. Idiot cuts me off? Okay, I saw it coming. No reason to fuss. Moron makes a left turn from the right lane? No problem. I have decent reflexes. Hey, I’ve mellowed out! This is good, right? But I was clenching my jaw all the time. Awake and asleep.

Nearly a month into it, I realized something. Two somethings, really. First, that I was having real trouble finding words. Long, frustrating pauses while I tried to dig the damned thing out and finish my sentence. My friends said, yeah, we noticed that. What the hell is that?. And then, I suddenly realized—in nearly a month I had written not. One. Damned. Word.

Not one.

You all are reading this, right? You came here to read this stuff because you’re writers, and you liked some of the stuff I wrote before. And I had not been able to concentrate long enough to string two words together on paper. Think how I felt when I realized that!

You don’t want to see me mad. The Incredible Hulk got nothin’ on me. I got mad.

NOT. FUCKING. HAPPENING!

You are NOT taking away the most important thing in my life, the one thing that makes me ME.

I picked up the phone and called my doctor and said I quit. I’m done. She didn’t want me to stop, but I ‘splained it to her in words of one syllable or less. Not gonna happen.

Okay, fine. That was about a week and a half ago now. As you can see, I can string sentences together in a fairly coherent manner. It took almost a week. I’m now on a different medication (3 days) and my friends are watching out for me this time (not that they weren’t before, just that they couldn’t figure out what was going on the first time). And if this new stuff FUBARs, I’m over it. I have another alternative I’ll look into. We’ll see.

But like I said—if I had had ANY doubts at all about whether this writing thing was for me? No doubts at all, now. There is nothing more important to me than writing. Well, at least, as far as things that I DO. The cats are still more important, they depend on me, and my friends are right up there, but my friends are generally capable of taking care of themselves for the most part. If they call, I’ll come a-runnin’. Drop what I’m doing and go. But that’s a momentary thing. From now on, NOTHING gets between me and my writing.

No power in the ‘verse can stop me.

Not even me.

When I wrote for the Heroes

I write poetry. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s even pretty good. Then there are the other times…

I tell people that there are days when I sit down to write a poem, and it’s okay. Sometimes pretty decent. There are other days when I sit down and WORK on a poem. Fight for it, syllable by syllable, line by line, dripping sweat and anger onto the page to make it happen.

And then there are days—O gods of the holy Words—then there are days when The Muse comes up and smacks you with a two-by-four and it comes out your hand like thunder and glory. Those days are what I live for. Days when it doesn’t matter where you are and what’s going on around you. Because the space in your head is like that sudden silence in the X-Wing when Obi-Wan’s spirit says “Use the Force, Luke,” and you can do no wrong.

This was one of those. It was the end of December, 2001, after the fall of the Towers. The company I worked for had people in those towers. I had been born not far from that site. I was invested in that place on a personal level as well as that of a citizen of America, and a member of the human race. It was MINE. And that hurt and anger sat in my chest and closed my throat for all those months. Everywhere I turned were stories of the Heroes. The men and women on Flight 93. Those in the Towers that helped others get out first, and never came out themselves. Steve Buscemi, who stopped being an actor and went back home to be a fireman because that’s what a hero does. The men and women and dogs of the Search and Rescue. The construction workers. Stories like that. And most of all, the first responders of New York: Firemen, Policemen, EMTs, Doctors, Nurses. All Heroes.

It all sat there in my brain and in my heart, while I read Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, trying to understand what was happening around me. While I read Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, trying to comprehend the aftershocks, the shivers that were still within me. Knowing I had to write it out, had to say something, had to say it in a way that MEANT something, something not trite but true, in a way I had never written before.

There I was, reading The Gift of Fear in the middle of the lunch crush at Burger King. The place was packed; the music was blaring, people were shouting to be heard in their not-so-private conversations, and on the other side of the glass was the play area with kids shrieking and bouncing off the walls and windows.

And The Muse came. And none of that chaos could stop me. The words flowed out of my pen like blood and fire and gold, from start to finish, with never a stop. It was all there, all that I needed to say about them, and not one word was wrong. Except… I sat there and looked at it, and there was one line that didn’t scan, that bothered my sense of symmetry. I tried to fix it, and The Muse smacked me down and said, “Leave that alone! That’s exactly the way it needs to be!” And she was right (of course she was right!), because when the music came later—again, all in a rush—that line flowed as smoothly as all the rest, and that was the line that broke my friend’s heart and made him cry when I sang it for the first time, because I had gotten it right.

I sing this song twice a year at my organization’s events on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. And when they stand and clap and scream for me, I tell them NO. I make them sit again, and I ask if there are any Police officers in the room, or their families, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And then I ask if there are Military personnel, Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, EMTs; if their families are there, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And I tell the people to look around at those who are standing. I only wrote the words, I tell them. I only sing them. These are the people I wrote about. These are the people I wrote them for. These are the Heroes.

This is for the Heroes. Because this was all I had to give them.

The Watchmen

Every day they wake up
Every day they stand up
Knowing this may be the day
The last day they do –
They are the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they greet their friends,
Salute the warrior in each others’ eyes,
Every day prepare to fight the foe,
Prepare to hold the line –
To be the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they dance with death
Every day they smile and joke
While Death looks on, awaits their turn
Win or lose against a worthy foe –
Being the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Honor the banner
Of the Watchmen.

12/29/01 @ Varina Suellen Plonski

Dedicated to those in service to mankind – the U.S. Military, Police, Firefighters, EMTs and Medical personnel, their families, and all their support services, for being the line drawn in the sand.

What Do You See, What Do You Know?

They say that writers see things differently than other people. I don’t know that that’s true.

I don’t think that we see things differently. I think that we SEE. That maybe we pay more attention to what we see, that we pick up what we see, and handle it, and look at it from different angles. We don’t see differently, we see more. We look deeper than the surface. And then we apply our own observations, our own interpretations, our own emotions, as touchstones and litmus tests and whatever other tests to see if they look real, to see if they feel true. If they feel TRUE.

I haven’t ever had a “love of my life.” But I’ve loved. I’ve loved my parents, and I’ve loved my friends, and I’ve loved my cats. And yes, a special someone or two. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands, of books where people love and are loved. I’ve watched TV shows and movies and plays. And I’ve seen my friends go through the motions and the emotions. The highs and the lows and the devastating pain of losing a loved one. And so I know I can write about love. Because even though I have never felt that particular love in my own self, my heart knows how that feels because through my watching and my testing and my simply living—I encompass all these things.

They say “write what you know.” But oh, we know so many things that we have never experienced in our own selves. We are rich in experiences that have happened to others. From books, from TV, from movies, from plays. And in those things and the things we have experienced are the seeds to write what we have not.

I have never gone skydiving, but I have leaned against the wind in a storm and felt it hold my body up when I should have fallen. Felt it take my breath away even as it fills my lungs with elation. I have felt my hair whip across my face driving in the car with the top down. So when I see someone leap out of an airplane and spread his arms like wings I know what he is feeling. And if I know it, I can show it.

Write what you know. But remember that you know more than you think.