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Remembering Outbreak

Sadly, I don’t own the movie anymore, but for awhile Outbreak (1995) starring Dustin Hoffmann, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, was my favorite disaster movie. Contagion, made in 2011 I thought kind of meh in comparison. Hoffmann’s really not much of a leading man, in my opinion, but I think he shines in the role, especially as it’s not so much a story about a worrisome viral outbreak, as it is a tale about corruption.

I think with the current Coronavirus outbreak going on, we can all see just how many of our politicians use situations like this to gain more power and money, often with little care for their citizens. With their mouths they say they care, but their actions often go against that.

In the film, a deadly virus escapes from Africa in the form of a cute monkey being sold on the black market. The monkey ends up in California, escapes, and subsequently starts infecting the people he comes across. One of the best scenes in the movie, comes with Patrick Dempsey, clearly sick, on an airplane with other passengers. Germaphobes everywhere will have nightmares, as they also will from a movie theater scene where they show how the droplets from coughs and sneezes spread everywhere.

Offhand, I don’t remember how deadly the disease in the movie is, but am pretty sure it is many orders of magnitude higher than the current virus we are dealing with. In Outbreak, panic is truly justified, both from the CDC and from the average person. Despite that, though, the fictional Americans in this movie would hardly recognize the Americans of today. I think they would be baffled at putting the whole country–whole countries–on lockdown for something with symptoms not much different than the yearly flu. For the town that gets put in military lockdown and quarantine, those who are still healthy would be scratching their heads at how quickly we current Americans all acquiesced to a much wider quarantine. These days are strange days, and I wonder if all flu seasons hereafter will be different. If people will now actually stay home when they are sick and if employers will mandate them to do so. Hey, maybe we’ll all get more sick days to use. Maybe, though, it will be a mandated yearly loss of freedom of movement, gathering together, and the like. Many people are worried this will be the end result.

The best thing about the movie is that they find a cure, not a vaccine, which oddly people seem to equate to a cure, but an actual cure. Here we all are being encouraged to wait on a vaccine that will be ready well after we’ve all been exposed, when the virus has multiplied into many different strains, and, well, you get the idea. For many, this seems like a fear psy-op initiated by the media. I tend to agree. The numbers just don’t seem to justify the response, and there’s almost no analyzing of the data: For example for Italy, how many were and are older and already had compromised immune systems and underlying health issues? This matters because these are people who should already be self-quarantining almost all the time, but especially during times of the year when sickness tends to go around. Does it really make sense to restrict the movements of everyone who has a healthy immune system? Our current “science” will tell us it makes sense, just like they tell us the only way to protect these people from other diseases like measles is to vaccinate everyone, no matter any adverse effects of immunization on otherwise healthy people. Another thing I’m curious about from Italy: How many infected and/or dead are actually Chinese workers from Wuhan? I have heard they imported quite a lot of workers from there in the past year or so.

I have been waiting for the numbers of infected to rise, for hospitals to be overwhelmed and the like, because I don’t want this to be a psy-op, I would rather it be real. Awful as it sounds, it’s far more frightening to me if it’s fear pushed on us to get more power. I would much rather deal with a truly deadly virus than a hoax fomented by people salivating to bring the world to its knees. Real or not, the panicked reaction is almost impossible to go against. This is peer pressure at its finest, a real-life Stanford Experiment playing out right in front of us.

At the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffmann saves the quarantined town from getting annihilated off the face of the earth. Thankfully, we are nowhere near calling for the deaths of sick people, yet we are almost callously sentencing quite a few of our fellow citizens–healthy and sick–to very dire straights should we let this forced economic collapse continue. Every year there’s a dangerous disease out there, spread like a cold or flu–sometimes it just is a bad cold or flu. Are we really going to stop our lives every time flu season hits? With something like Ebola that has a very high death rate, to stop everything would be justified, but this… We didn’t do this for Ebola. We didn’t do this for SARS or Zika, or swine flu, or any other outbreak from recent memory.

Whatever the truth is, I know God’s in control, but sometimes I’m not sure what to pray for: An end to disease or that we wake up from this spell we’ve been put under? Probably, it should be both.

For a different perspective on this whole outbreak–I am not the only skeptic–checkout Del Bigtree’s Highwire show and Amazing Polly, both on Youtube. Del, especially, in his most recent show from yesterday goes through quotes from many doctors who also think the freakout just isn’t warranted. Also weird that the freakout continues despite clear forms of treatment showing quick results. If this is a bioweapon, as some claim, it’s not a super effective one, but that wouldn’t be the point, would it? No, if it were a bioweapon, manufactured by the evil people of the world, it’s just enough, just enough to keep that fear going, for the next time. A next time that may never happen, but now will always be a collective fear until it fades and a new fear trends.

This all reminds me of a couple of short stories I wrote considering Totalitarianism. They are below. Happy reading.

A Society of Health (written in 2010)

“Aaachoooiee!!”  Alyssa Taylor sneezed mightily into a tissue from the box on her desk.

“Bless you.”  Raymond Bins, her coworker said as he tapped away on a computer spreadsheet.  “Coming down with something?”

“I think it’s allergies.  Ever since we moved here––”

“Who sneezed?”  Ariana Blight stepped ferociously around the office partition.  She looked a bit like a crow with her tiny, birdlike frame, black sweater and pants.  Her dull gray hair was pulled tightly back into a bun that rested heavily on top of her little, wobbling head.  

Alyssa raised her hand.  “Guilty,”  She smiled sheepishly.  “Sorry, I know my sneezes are so loud.  My daughter always says I sound like a firecracker.”  She drew back into her chair as the older woman stepped up to her, the woman’s beady eyes bright with anticipation.  

“Do you have a cold?”

“It’s…just allergies.”  Alyssa exchanged a glance with Raymond who had stopped typing.  “This building is so full of dust…”  Ariana continued to inspect her, bending low enough to look up her nostrils.  “Is everything all right, Ariana?”

“You have mucus,”  She pointed to the left nostril.  “There.  It appears yellow, not clear.  Blow into this.”  The small woman brought forth a crisp handkerchief from the bowels of her sweater.  Laughing a little, Alyssa obliged.  Raymond rolled his eyes and made crazy signs that the old woman couldn’t see.  It had never been clear to them what exactly Ariana’s job at the company was, but she always seemed to know everything about everyone.  Ariana fearlessly opened the handkerchief and proceeded to inspect the leavings.  “As I thought. Yellow, going on green.  You, Ms. Alyssa Taylor, have the beginnings of a very bad cold, an infection.”

Alyssa shrugged.  “You know, I did feel a bit off yesterday, but I thought it was the weather.  And my allergies get so bad this time of year…”  She trailed off when she saw the glinting triumph in the older woman’s eyes.  “Is there a problem?”

Ariana Blight pulled a small flip-top notebook out of a sweater pocket.  She proceeded to read:  “United States Code, Title Forty-Two, Chapter Two, Section Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen:  All persons shall take precautions to prevent the spreading of the common cold.  Subsection D, Four:  Any person expectorating or sneezing in a public place shall be examined for infection.  If infection is found, said persons are duty-bound to report to the nearest Health Center and receive treatment.  Upon refusal to do so within one hour of infection report, said person may be subjected to a fine of One Hundred Dollars or up to Thirty days in the local quarantine cell.  Subsection D, Twenty:  Any and all persons failing to comply with this Chapter shall be labeled as a Spreader of Disease and a criminal under this Title Forty-Two.”  

“What?”  Alyssa blinked up at her.  “I don’t…I’ve never heard…”

“They didn’t publish it, you see,”  Ariana whispered softly, leaning over her.  “Only passed it, our wonderful…New Congress.  Now, let’s come along down to the office Health Center, shall we?”  Alyssa sat there blankly.  “Ah, and Raymond…”  The crow-like woman filled out a yellow slip from her pad of paper, ripped it off, and handed it to him.  “The citation number, should you wish to pursue legal action in the near future.  Being around her nine hours out of the day, you are the likeliest to suffer from her…negligence.”  Raymond took the paper and paled at its contents.  “Of course, should you also come down with said infection and fail to address it immediately, you will be issued a citation as well.”

Mottle Knows Best (from 2010)

Mrs. Mottle scurried after her neighbor, Rose.  Rose stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and turned around with a grimace.  “Following me again, Mrs. Mottle?”  She put one hand on her hip.  “Let me guess, block party meeting this evening?”

“We are a social group.”  Mrs. Mottle said, taken aback at Rose’s fierceness.  “We get together and talk about the happenings in the neighborhood.”

“Gossips, the lot of you.”  Rose tapped her heels impatiently.  “I’m due at the office in twenty minutes.  If I arrive late and someone else grabs up the spot, I’m blaming you.”

“Me?”  Mrs. Mottle’s heart fluttered.  “Rose, you are so irritated at me when I’m only trying to help you…for your own good!  They may take you away!”

“What?”  Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward.  “What did you say?  What have you been telling the block party, Mrs. Mottle?  Only too happy to ‘report,’ aren’t you?”

Mrs. Mottle realized she’d said too much.  “N-no, of course not, dear.  We’re only here to help!  I would never get you…in trouble, but for your own good, it––”

“Then what is it?  What did I do this time?”

“Rose, you must understand that I have your best interests at heart.  This morning,”  She sighed, “Now prepare yourself…this morning your shower was seven minutes.”  Mrs. Mottle looked up hopefully only to find Rose staring down at her open-mouthed.  

Rose crossed her arms.  “And?  I’m waiting for the punch line…”

The younger woman laughed shortly.  “Oh, Rose, why, you’ve forgotten!  The new edict!  Now let me see if I remember it straight, ‘all citizens are responsible for their water use.  To go beyond the recommended five minutes for a shower is shameful and a waste.’ So you see––”

“Oh, shut up!”  Rose pulled her handbag up higher on her shoulder.  “What does it matter if I take a seven-minute shower?  What does it matter if I take a twenty-minute shower? I’m paying for it!  We have entire oceans at our disposal, and, apparently you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy spying on people, it has rained cats and dogs every evening for the last eight days!  Oh, and another thing!  You think the Higher-Ups really care about these things?  You think the block party does?  Damn it, Mrs. Mottle!  Can’t you see what they’re doing?”

“Of course, Rose, but Practical Science states––”

“Ha!  As if PS is ever practical!  Or right!  One day eggs are good for you, the next they’re bad!  Why, I saw an article just the other day on the evils of fruit!  Fruit!  You know what it is, don’t you?  They want us to eat only that dog food for humans they keep manufacturing, while the Higher-Ups feed on steak and wine!  Oh, I can’t believe I let you rile me up this early in the morning!  Good day, Mrs.  Mottle!”  Rose tromped off in her heels.

Her neighbor looked sorrowfully after her.  Little did Rose know the danger she was in.  Two more strikes and she would have to be put in rehabilitation…for the common good, of course.  Mrs. Mottle didn’t like her task, but the important thing was that the laws be kept.  Rose was always going off about the “stupid, ridiculous, impractical laws that made real living impossible!”  Mrs.  Mottle didn’t think that was for them to judge.  That was for the Higher-Ups, the people who knew better.  She wasn’t sure at that moment why they did know better, but surely they must, as they were in charge.  She must inform the party of Rose’s seven-minute shower.  The young lady puffed out her chest.  They would talk it through.  They would come up with a solution and show Rose how her thinking was wrong.  It was only a matter of time.  

Life As a Story Addict (Part 2)

Last time I went through some of the pitfalls and downsides to a story addiction, especially a fiction addiction. Addictions of all sorts basically come down to this: Something else takes over our lives and gets in the way of our relationships to God, family, friends, and neighbors; gets in the way of our financial goals; gets in the way of how we spend our time; in the way of our health, physical, spiritual, and mental; and lastly, gets in the way of being the best person we were born to be. Me addicted to caffeine or staying up all night to watch six hour-long episodes of a drama I just have to finish, is not the best me. It’s a me that’s hyper, tired, cranky, and down due to lack of sunlight and sleep.

Addictions vary widely in how harmful they can be, however. A severe drug or alcohol addiction can immediately impact a person’s behavior and thinking, while something like too much caffeine, for most people takes a much larger dose and longer time period to show evidence of harm. The great thing about being human is that we have a lot of control in the choices we make in our lives. We can choose to change an addiction from something negatively affecting us, to a positive pursuit. When it comes to story, for example, a young woman who spends her youth with her nose stuck in romance novels may one day be a best selling romance novelist. She still has that passion, but has turned into something she masters, not the other way around. This is why I call this blog A Life of Story, rather than An Addiction to Story. A passion for good stories leads to good things.

The biggest benefit of loving stories is that stories are largely the way humans connect. Though they may not say it, many people are delighted to have listeners and readers of the stories they want to tell. They are anxious to share, whether it’s the old man telling that big fish story one more time, or the mom pealing with laughter over the funny thing her toddler said. For teller and listener, this is a learning and bonding experience. Everyone has at least one great story to tell, as they say, but once one starts listening to people, really listening, one finds they are telling that story or parts of that story almost 24-7. That story is them in some way.

So many story addicts are also writers. This is great, they are attempting to turn their addiction into a good thing. Some are more successful than others, but nearly all simply find peace in writing down the stories they want to tell, often even if no one wants to read them. It’s a bonus if someone does want to read them, and the general public thus has reams and reams of stories both online and off to read, and often for free to boot.

Reading or watching stories, whether fiction or non, are also a great way for people to “travel” in their minds without actually physically traveling. It’s also a way to communication without actually directly interacting with the creators of the stories. We don’t think about it often, but it’s really quite an interesting phenomenon that I can read Crime and Punishment many years after Dostoevsky’s death and still be connecting with him and his thoughts. Some people may want to go see China, for example, and may never have enough money or opportunity to do so, but they can read stories about China, watch movies set in China or made by the Chinese film industry, and if they’re really adventurous they can make China a part of their own story by taking up Chinese cooking or dancing, or language skills. In my own love of Korean dramas and a previous addiction to Bollywood movies, I’ve picked up quite a few phrases in both Hindi and Korean. Stories area great way to learn knew skills or introduce oneself to a potential career or job.

Lastly, stories can be helpful in our spiritual lives. Most of the world’s religions have a creation or origin story to tell, and that directly impacts how a person sees the world. For me as Christian, I know that God created me, that he is a righteous and holy God who demands perfection, but also a loving God, who, when humanity failed to remain perfect, sacrificed himself, his own Son Jesus Christ as a payment for that sin. Instead of trashing the world entirely, God instead decided to save it by great pain and sacrifice on his part. I don’t begin to understand it, but I believe that it’s true because the Bible, tells this story of sin and redemption over and over and over again. This is God’s big fish story, and for believers in him, the greatest story ever told. Story addiction often causes me to sit down and read the Bible. I just want to read the story of Job or Esther or Daniel one more time. Jesus himself spoke in parables, fictional stories with a heavenly meaning or lesson. Our God is a great lover of stories, too, and it’s amazing that we can connect with him in that way, whether by reading the Bible or listening to it read in church. These stories tell us we’re not alone in our sin and weaknesses, that even the best of people, like the apostle Peter, still mess up, but that God is always there to give us a helping hand. Plus, he encourages us to not let the addictions rule us, to not give the devil a foothold, but to always hold firm to the truth. And the Truth is the greatest story ever told! I just think that’s pretty awesome for Christians to consider.

Prayer and living with purpose are the best ways to fight any addiction, or at least to turn it into a beneficial passion. We need a plan of action and spiritual support in that plan. In some cases we are simply too affected by the story or drug or whatever it is and our plan of action has to be to drop it entirely. I had to give up Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series at book 3 because all I was doing was reading, reading reading those books and it was exhausting and hard to focus on everything else in my life. I think story addiction is a kind of addiction that can be made into a passion and a pursuit rather than a monster ruling over me. Along with prayer, my plan of action as I get older is threefold: 1. Limit my consumption of fictional stories, either limit the time spent or be more discerning with the content. 2. Work on my own stories more. I love storytelling and have so many stories I want to tell, and sometimes my desire to read other people’s stories gets in the way of this. 3. Spend more time with people. Okay, this seems like it would counteract step 2, but all the steps work towards the same goal, staying away from addiction, and connecting with people is one of the best ways to do that. Step 2 is a little tricky, because I could very well become addicted to my own fictional stories, so that time, too, should be and must be limited. Oh, I should add a step 4: Always tell myself the truth. As in, it’s ten o’clock, put the book down, it’ll be there for you to read again tomorrow after you get plenty of sleep.

Life as a Story Addict (part 1)

Ever had the experience of spending half of your day running around town, trying rental place after rental place, or library after bookstore looking for a certain movie or book that you just HAD to see or read now? How about skipping work or school to catch the latest release? How about being so lost in a good book, you don’t hear the doorbell or the pot on the stove boiling over? Stories are addicting, more so for some than others, and it is an addiction I have struggled with my whole life.

Stories are generally how humanity operates. It’s part of our basic operating system as people and how we get from point A to point B. Story telling is involved in cooking and recipes, project planning, package delivery, budgeting, insurance, and so on and so forth. Not only that, though, storytelling is a part our souls, a way we express our thoughts, and a way we relate to the people around and also to our Creator.

There is a big difference, however, between the everyday stories we need to hear and tell, and those that come out of our imagination, the fictions we make up. Modern life is awash in fictional stories to become immersed in, from TV shows to movies to novels to manga, and to even headline news. These days we also have near-instant access to any piece we want to read or show we want to watch, as long as we’re able to pay. For an addict like myself, these stories are too often instant fixes that I have to employ a lot of willpower to resist or I may not be able to pay my bills or put food on my table.

I’ll get to the good stuff later on, but I wanted to contemplate the bad first, or the dark side of story addiction. For a good story, I’ll do a lot. For even the promise of a good story, i.e., the blurb on the back of cover, I will plunk down my hard-earned money to end up all to often being disappointed. Sometimes, and I shudder, it is the opposite, where the story is great and there are five more seasons or twelve more books to go and I am tempted to buy and watch or read all of them in one fell swoop.

Spending money on addiction is child’s play. We’ve all done it, whether it’s on coffee, alcohol, new bags, new clothes, cars, and what have you. It’s a very basic part of an addiction, but it’s not really what makes an addiction so, so awful. The awful part about a story addiction is that one begins to replace one’s real life for a fictional one. Not true! You may say. Maybe not for you, but I have done ridiculous and despicable things all under the sway of a compelling story.

How did this addiction begin? I learned to read early and quickly started tearing through books of dubious moral quality. As I got older, this only increased and was a continual push and pull between and my parents. We like to think that books or movies don’t really affect us that much, but they can affect us in ways we barely understand. Let me explain the spell at work here:

A basic example can easily be found in the news, which is so often exaggerated from any side, political or not, to be considered if not outright fiction, very close to it. The people reading and watching stories from say, the Left side of politics have a world view drawn from what they consume. Same for the Right. It’s one of those “plank in the eye” examples, because everyone on one side just knows that the other side has been somewhat brainwashed in what they believe to be true. And that is often true. What the accusers fail to see, though, is how they themselves are under a similar spell, how they themselves are not thinking for themselves or questioning either. We are all to some degree seeing clothes on an emperor that he’s just not wearing. Some people see purple spandex, some a business suit, but it’s all a spell woven together by the media.

How did and does the spell work for me? As a teenager I not only had my nose in a book constantly, which was bad enough, but got seriously–seriously–addicted to watching movies, where I just had to watch them all the time. Where I would offer to walk on foot the ten blocks to the convenience store to rent a movie I just had to see and that I thought my family just had to see. During an ice storm. By the end of college, I was so enamored with Hollywood, their stories, and the actors, that I often considered what they had to say as people as vitally important. They were authorities to me, and a definite idol in my life. A common view they all shared was negativity and disdain towards God, his son Jesus, and his followers. A constant drum beat that I did not agree with, but nevertheless continued consuming at breakneck speed. I am old enough now that Hollywood’s stories have little hold on me anymore as I have developed a lot more discernment in what I watch. They are once again just stories or movies, but I’m sorry now that I spent so much time watching them and giving so, so much of my money away to those people.

It gets worse. There were times in the past that movies had such a hold on me that I would pick the movie over the people in my life. A good friend traveled from out of town to see me, but when she came to my house, she found out that instead of waiting to see her and catch up with her, I had instead gone to a movie. A stupid movie. And I knew full well she was coming over. Another time I was with friends and felt such a compulsion to see this superhero movie one more time in the theater, that I left the bar we were at, borrowed my friend’s car, went to see the movie all by myself, and then came back later to return the car, and only to return the car. When I say that stories, and in particular, movies cast a spell on me, I’m not kidding. Nowadays it’s easy to see the signs, but still a struggle for me to resist the pull to watch, watch, watch.

An exciting story–not necessarily a good story–can be a drug. Take the Twilight series, for example. It was impossible for me to put that book down, it was that interesting to me to find out what happens next. And it’s a story I barely think about now and will never read again, but while reading it, I just had to keep reading, I couldn’t stop. There were plenty of other things I wanted to do, daresay needed to do, in my life at the time, but I could not stop reading. If you are a reader, you’ve probably read a book at some point that is like playing an arcade game–you just can’t stop turning pages, just like you can’t stop putting more coins into the machine. And while that’s a credit to the storyteller, for the addict replacing their actual life by living in this story, it’s just one more day lost. One more day they could have spent with family or friends, or outside enjoying the weather, or planning for the future. Or even finally getting that story that they wanted to write written. The cool thing is, often with really good quality stories, they actually send you back into reality. You want to take a break from them, to contemplate the themes and concepts and consider how they match up to real life. I’m finding this while reading Crime and Punishment again. I can’t sit and read it all day, though it is great writing and a great story. The Classics are all like this, good stories and writing, but you don’t feel like you’re on crack or something while reading, and there’s a life in them, for lack of a better word, that stories like my own Trolls for Dust or Twilight cannot hold a candle to.

It is my belief that fiction story addiction is actually worse than being a dreamer. Dreamers may have their heads in the clouds half the time, but at least they are dreaming up their own dreams and their own stories. Fiction story addicts are spending their time in someone else’s world, someone else’s viewpoint. And if that someone else is a devil, while you’ve just given him a foothold, a great foothold into your life.

Really, I thought this article would be funnier, but I’ve finding it very sobering. So addicted to a story am I, that I will listen to the worst gossip, the most ridiculous conspiracy theories (you’re thinking of Q, but Q is actually far from ridiculous), and the most blatant liars, just to find out the ending of the story. Met this guy once who had every form of vileness spilling out of his mouth about ninety percent of the time, but he told good stories, and I would sit and listen to him while the people around me blanched from the terrible things he was saying. And all the time I knew that, but I just couldn’t let the story go. I didn’t believe his stories were true, but others may have thought that I did believe them. Nowadays I know to back away if I become so enthralled in another’s story telling that I am listening to things that gouge my conscience.

So, what’s the good side of all of this? The good side, in my opinion, is that story addicts, and in particular fiction story addicts, will listen. They’ll give you a listen, they’ll hear and consider your side. They’ll read your story. It may be all crap, but they will at least give you a chance. Right now I’m reading a story that I like, but the writing, although not terrible, is just not my style. But the story is good, so I’ll continue reading it.

To put this in an even more positive perspective, there are quite often times when the truth really is stranger than fiction, and someone, someone needs to believe you, or at the very least hear you out. That person might very well be a story addict. In an age where a media spell covers the land in lies, it may be story addicts that actually latch onto the truth and share it. But it’s not as if they are thinking outside of the box; no, they are following their story addiction. Like the Kennedy Assassination, for example. Every few years, I just want to read and watch stuff by Jim Garrison, the attorney who investigated the events, and watch movies like Oliver Stone’s JFK and just really wallow in the whole conspiracy. Over the years I’ve read and watched so many different theories about what happened, and the biggest take from it all is simply that the official story must not and cannot be true. That’s kind of as far as a story addict can go. The addiction is about consuming stories, not using them as a benefit for oneself or other people.

Next week I’ll consider more the actual workings of story addiction and some of the ways in which it does spur people to action in a positive way and also how the love of story connects to my faith as a Christian. As pathetic as some of my memories above are, a love of story tempered and put in its proper place can actually be quite a jewel in one’s life, just like an exquisite wine adds flavor to the meals of those not enslaved to alcohol addiction.

2020 Vision

It’s kind of cool that this year is 2020, which is also what we use to describe perfect or clear vision 20/20. Will this coming year live up to that name and bring clarity with it? Only time will tell, but it’s interesting that so many people are waking up to new and also old, ideas on health, nutrition, finance, business, politics, history, and so on. It’s a time for truth–well, at least some truths–to come back into the mainstream. The search for truth is also a search for purpose and so many of us see each new year as a new chapter to try again at being who we want to be and to meet the goals we want to meet, whether it’s losing weight, eating right, saving more money, and preparing for the future.

The past couple of months I’ve been a bit obsessed with checking out planners for the new year. After much debate, I settled on a $10 planner from Walmart that says 2020 in flowers on it, and also decided to keep using an small notebook I have for on the go. After checking out some high end planners that are very cute, my desire to get my finances under control won out–a good thing for my pocketbook.

Since new years are for trying new things, I thought I would splurge on a budget planner and for some reason I settled on a complicated one from The Budget Mom. The Budget by Paycheck Workbook is a tome, a hefty, doorstop tome, but if it keeps me fiddling with numbers instead of perusing shops and books on the internet, then I win. Also, it’s really not that complicated, but seems so at first. My favorite part is the calendars. The visual of seeing what days I need to pay bills or spend on certain things is great! It’s so simple, but writing it down really helps me focus and remember. It was a little pricey, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end. And I like her spunk and way of explaining things.

Another new planning tool I’m trying out in 2020 is a bullet journal. Never really knew what these were before and just started looking them up one day. Well, I am not very artistically talented, so my journal will likely not have any cool pictures and trackers, but why not give it a try and see if it helps motivate me in my writing? Plus, it is fun to at least try and be creative in a way other than writing stories. Again, I turned to Walmart to start and found a dot journal for $10. If I like bullet journaling, maybe I’ll move up to a Moleskin or Leuchtterm.

Finally, I have a regular journal from Barnes and Noble and made of leather. Since I am as terrible at keeping up with journals as I am at keeping up with planners, again, I’m trying something new: Journaling as if I’m writing to those I love. Hoping this motivates me to put down more than: Woke up, had coffee, went to work, read this book, watched this movie.

My vision for this year is to actually have a consistent vision for the year, and goals that come with that, especially for both writing and finances. Already writing things down more helps me pay better attention and remember those cool story ideas that flicker past and normally just disappear. Tracking both areas of my life will help motivate me towards results, not just getting by. Better planning will help be better use the gifts and blessings God has given to me. What’s your vision for 2020? Is it clear?

Dante, Health, Freedom of Political Speech

A lot of thoughts swirling around my head today. Some of you may have heard of the concept of being “red pilled.” Basically that’s just a quick way of saying a person has heard and/or researched and become to believe that the unofficial, other side, of the story is true. Many, many people are having this experience today in all aspects of life, and, honestly, I’m not sure where it’s going to end. It’s an exciting time to be alive. My thoughts today circle around this idea of waking up to the truth. It’s hard to talk to people about these things, and there’s still a lot of resistance to truly examining things in life: It’s tiring, you don’t know who to believe after awhile, and there’s always a little worry that you’re being fooled…again.

The Dante Chamber. I enjoy Matthew Pearl’s writing, though it is often quite gruesome. Due to gruesomeness, it wasn’t so easy to read his popular The Dante Club, but I got through it, as the murder mystery was interesting, the detectives were well known literary figures of the 1800s, and it was information on Dante Aligheri’s works, specifically his Divine Comedy, in which the poet travels through hell, purgatory, and then paradise. I was unaware just how obsessed some artists and writers are with Dante’s works, maybe not so much today, but in years past. The Dante Club dips a bit into that obsession, but The Dante Chamber really gives one the full concept, and…it’s tedious.

Christina Rossetti is one of my favorite poets, so I was excited to learn that she’s one of the lead detectives in The Dante Chamber. Despite liking her works, though, I really don’t know much about her or her life, just that she was a very religious person. I didn’t know that her father was so obsessed with Dante that it drove him crazy, and that her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, had a similar obsession. That’s where my interest in the story ends, though, because, on a mystery level, The Dante Chamber fails to deliver. Much time is spent in mulling over Dante, his works, obsessions with Dante, etc., but there’s little progress towards actual detective work, even from the very interesting police detective. Christina escaped from the obsession, that’s the key point, and I am glad for her. And although I’m sorry that both Robert Browning and Dante Rossetti lost the women they loved, I don’t really want to read a whole book about them dealing with their grief. I want to read a riveting and insightful murder mystery.

Read The Dante Chamber only if you’re really interested in Dante’s works and the obsession around it. The Dante Club was a lot better, in my opinion, as were Pearl’s other works, The Poe Shadow (my favorite), and The Last Dickens. Pearl is one of my favorite contemporary writers, but some of his stories are interesting, and some just not.

Health. Talk about an aspect of life in which it’s hard to trust! Health and what makes us healthy, from how much sleep we need, to the food we eat, is a topic that will we debated until the end of time. Every body has a different idea or opinion, and that makes sense, because every body is different. My body is not like your body, your body is not like your neighbor’s body, and so on. Red pills on this topic aren’t so much about learning new information as learning information that’s been purposely hidden over time, for various reasons, but many of them, strangely political.

My own red pill journey on this subject started with looking into vaccines. Much of true information on vaccines has been obscured or lost, or more alarmingly, deliberately pushed out of the proverbial town square by corporations with other interests in mind, namely money. Some would say it is vaccines making us so sick these days, along with other toxins in our foods and environment. After looking into people’s objections to the jabs, it has been difficult for me to say they are good for us, or at least as good for us as they are promoted to be. In trying to talk about vaccines with others, I realized quite quickly that many people don’t want to question them and prefer that what they have been told about them is the truth. It was the anger that surprised me the most, and I still don’t know what to make of it. My conclusion is that, generally, looking at the other side of the vaccine debate is something people must do individually. I can’t convince them one way or another. At most, I can point them to where to start if they do have questions and decide to start a journey that can turn one’s way of thinking upside down.

It was only natural that my next interest was looking into diet, and here, the truth, or at least the other side, has found some headway. Due to gluten and diary intolerance, people have become increasingly skeptical of the nutritional guidelines put upon us by the government, the medical industry, and others. After so long of not feeling well, many are trying out alternative medicine and alternative diets, and many of them are having success. Enter the carnivore diet, basically eating only meat and animal products, probably the opposite of the enshrined food pyramid and guidelines, as well as even the opposite of what people have previously done to say, alternatively beat cancer. It’s like a red pill for a red pill, and oh, so fascinating. I have been trying this diet–not full force–and I have felt better, had more energy, etc., but still there’s doubt with it, and ultimately it’s hard to know who or even what studies to trust.

Maybe vegans are right, for example. Or, maybe it’s better to eat everything in moderation? But, what does that even mean? Having equal parts of water, salt, and apples? It’s kind of a meaningless saying when it comes down to it. Eating animals products only, isn’t easy, either, because the goal is to have the best quality of these things, which aren’t often found at the grocery store, but that I hope someday will be. Anyway, it’s truly a brave new world that people like Frank Tufano on Youtube or Nina Teicholz with her The Big Fat Surprise book are opening up. They are only part of this next step in our nutritional awakening. Now, it’s generally agreed on by most that too much sugar is bad for you! That’s amazing, considering it was once promoted as being so much better than red meat or anything with fat in it. We are increasingly becoming skeptical of manmade, cheap food products that we now realized have little nutritional value and are often making us sick. With carbohydrates and/or grains, I’m seeing the same consensus, people are starting to acknowledge we eat too much of these things, and they are not, in fact, very good for us. A few years ago, the Adkins diet was popular, then shamed seemingly out of existence, and now many people are finding health success on little or no-carb diets like the ketogenic diet and the carnivore diet.

Because of the success of these alternatives, for me and others, it is increasingly difficult to trust that especially the medical establishment has the truth. We are now aware of how much money they stand to lose if their pill-based care should flounder, even if they are not yet aware of it. Here and there, the truth, or an least alternative views on healing and nutrition are being suppressed by what we can call Big Pharma, but I think it’s a losing battle for them. The more one tries to stamp something out, the more curious people are likely to be about it. Better would be to get ahead of the trends and present new research on the topics. Recently, there was an article about meat, vaguely indicating that we don’t really know if it’s good or bad for one to eat on a regular basis. While not exactly a white flag on the issue, it’s a warning cry to everyone that things may soon be changing. I don’t think people will be so upset at being lied to in the past as much as they’ll be eager to have the foods that will give them true health. This is where capitalism can be at its best: If the consumer demands high quality foods, even animals foods, unless we have a complete totalitarian government, things will change. We will find the quality foods coming back to the stores eventually. It may take a lot longer, however, for the idea of a pill fix or even vaccine fix to die out.

Still, I have to wonder what the next fad diet will be. Will that diet upturn everything that came before it? Sometimes it seems like nutritional and health red pills will never end. But every body is different, and I think that’s the trick, finding ways that people can really find out what works best for their own bodies. Should we eat for our blood type, for example? Or should we focus on foods grown where we live? There’s so possibilities that sometimes it makes my head spin. The awesome reality is, though, that largely our bodies do have the capabilities to heal themselves of many things, only they need the proper fuel to do so.

Freedom of Political Speech. This is getting long, but I really must continue, because it’s relevant for today. Even as a kid, I vaguely understood that America’s commitment to free speech wasn’t about allowing rude language or pornography. I knew it had a lot to do with politics and government. After watching the likes of Stephan Molyneux, moving on to reading Vox Day, getting clued in to Qanon, and in short order following and reading Neon Revolt, it has become clear to me that free speech is about politics more than anything else. People aren’t going to die on the field of battle in order to use the F word, but plenty might if it means they can question the rulers and authorities over them without, perhaps ironically, a death sentence.

Is free speech actually a myth? Perhaps. I can think of many things that I wouldn’t support freedom in, and I’m sure you can, too. I now think that freedom to speak one’s mind is tied to authority and how that authority behaves. Our first amendment was always about censoring the government’s behavior towards its citizens, but we often forget that. The difference in my view today, is that if we do indeed have the truth, it’s ok to insist on that and speak freely about it. We have as much right to insist on that as do those who would force, say, diversity upon us. It’s a change in thinking after being told for many, many years that the more conservative side of the spectrum must continually tolerate and give way to all manner of degeneracy. This doesn’t mean that the degenerate can’t speak their minds, but it doesn’t mean that we are allowed to say and stick up for the truth. Speaking the truth is vital, more important that trying to be “nice.” Allowing lies to prosper is not at all nice, nor loving. The truth hurts, but can also be the very best news in the world, as believers in Jesus Christ know.

If this sounds all very muddled, I’m sorry. I’m still thinking these things through, and I am by no means a genius. It has been alarming to see how those who proclaim inclusivity allow for everything except the truth, allow every view except the Christian one, and how especially online censorship against the “right” views, if you will, has skyrocketed. The truth will always be persecuted by a fallen world, but I think young people are confused by how quickly the Church as a whole is caving to worldly views and how much the “go along to get along” attitude is entrenched in, say, the Republican party. It has come to light that many of these seemingly “nice” organizations are merely in it for the money. Red pills, disillusionment. These people may not swear or use porn, but they are selling lies, which might be ultimately worse.

Enter, the chans, the wild west boards of the internet. They are places where people flock to talk about things they can’t talk about anywhere else. But at 4chan, and now 8chan, it’s a strange dichotomy, with free political speech in one part, and freedom of mudslinging, vulgarity, pornography, and the like, in other parts. On these boards is where Qanon, anon meaning anonymous, for everyone’s anonymous on the chans, first appeared, laying out question after question, getting people to research the history they thought they already knew. Q was reaching people already disillusioned by the “official story” of things. They saw that, for example, Donald Trump, was speaking truth during his campaign for 2016 and they saw how those elites in authority did their level best to make sure he wouldn’t win the presidency, even going so far as to promote physical violence against his supporters.

Q, whether real or someone playing a role, has hope as the goal. Is Q merely a rallying point for Trump’s supporters and his 2020 run? I don’t know, and I largely don’t care, because he or they, whoever they may be have incited many in the best way: to seek the truth, not just sometimes, but all the time. It is admirable in an age when we’re encouraged to question nothing and rely only on so-called experts and official stories. Now Q is certainly human and has faults, but if he, she, or they is bent on hoodwinking people, they are going about it in the worst possible way, as they continue to tell people to question and to research everything. Q also says to “trust the plan,” but I think few Q followers are putting absolute faith in Q. Mostly, they just want the criminals to be prosecuted and for all their crimes to see the light of day. They see Trump working on that, and those same criminals feverishly trying to stop him and the Q movement.

Because the mainstream media and powers that be have failed miserably at cutting off either Trump or Q, their fight now is focused on stamping out alternative views on the internet. This shows how weak their position is, and they, too, struggle with the freedom of speech aspect. They must be panicking, knowing their movement is rapidly becoming something Robespierre would approve, with little ability to stop it. And so, we have the very odd circumstance of 8chan possibly being set up with programmed characters posting there about shooting certain groups of people and then going and doing just that, all in order to get 8chan shut down. Odd, because manifestos and proclamations like that can be found all over the internet, but only the sites that speak political truth, or, rather, anti-progressive truth, are targeted to be shut down: 8chan, Gab, and the like.

So, 8chan got shut down for a time, and the owner, Jim Watkins, had to testify in front of Congress, and anons have been waiting and waiting for the site to be back online because that’s the only place that Q posts. Not only that, the original founder of 8chan has been trying to shut the whole thing down, using nefarious tactics. “Hot wheels” as he’s called, proclaims a cross in his twitter, but, like many who do that, is acting not befitting to that cross. In contrast, Watkins, who has been doing everything to his site get up and running again, has been singing Christian songs on his Youtube channel. Neon Revolt has the non-mainstream take on all of this, and you can read his article here. Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe it.

I don’t what actually to think about all of this, but it’s very entertaining and important today, as 8chan, or now 8kun is supposed to be up and running if not yet, within the hour. Will Q post? All the Q followers are wondering, me included. Not sure where this red pill ride will end, but it’s a lot of fun, even though it’ll make your head spin. For a Christian, all of the questioning and not knowing who to trust, only leads back to one absolute truth: The Almighty God, our Creator, and the good news of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior from sin, death, and the devil, is the only thing we can truly trust in this dark, messed up world. It is the truth that matters most, and many people are waking up to this, the biggest red pill of all time. We cannot save ourselves, no matter how much we might want to.

Unfinished Stories

This past weekend I made chutney, a spicy Indian relish you can make by chopping stuff up and pureeing it in a blender. Mint-cilantro chutney is my favorite, and homemade is oh so yummy. But that got me thinking about the word, chutney, and how once upon a time I started writing a story that included a town called Chutney.

Whatever happened to that story? It was exciting, epic, and intriguing. Truth is, I just got tired of it and totally ran into a wall with the plot, the myriad characters seemed neverending, as did problem of sticking to the point of the story: A point-less quest. The idea for the story came about after thinking about Lord of the Rings and how it was a worthy quest to take a ring that brought out the evil in people to a place where it could be destroyed. What would be an unworthy quest? How would that story play out?

What I came up with was a convoluted tale of a people enslaved, a long-lost princess, and a quest to save a despicable master and mistress. It was a long tale with some parts that were really good and others that, well, didn’t make sense. To this day it sits collecting dust in a binder in my office desk and will probably remain there until I finally decide to dump it.

One might think that a writer or author is defined by the stories they publish, but that isn’t the whole truth. What’s published is the proverbial top of the iceberg. The other ninety percent are all those stories and ideas either waiting to be finished or even destined never to be completed. Those incomplete stories tell of wishes, hopes, and dreams, plots and characters the author has visions for, but finds that either lack of will or ability defeats them. Some stories are simply bad ideas, but writers can’t let them go because something in the story touches their inner heart and soul. I have many such stories, and think about them from time to time, retelling them to myself in my head. No one will ever read them but me and God, and sometimes that seems a shame, but for a lot of artists, their art is mostly for themselves anyway, and wouldn’t mean as much to a larger audience. Much like diary entries, these stories or pieces of them remind us who we once were, how far we’ve come, and where we want to be in the future.

Then there’s those stories, unfinished at present, but ones we are planning on completing once we have more time to devote to them, time for more research, care, and attention. These are the jewels in a writer’s satchel–the possibilities of greatness that will someday be. Even with the will to complete them, time curtails a lot of these stories. An author’s life is cut short, emergencies and duties overwhelm the energy and resources they have to give to the budding tales, and other events and people demand the author’s time elsewhere. Life just gets in the way and sometimes manuscripts or poems or other works are found completed or nearly-so, unpublished and waiting away in dusty drawers or an old hard drive until someone should come across them. Most simply vanish with the passing of lives and history. Once in awhile, though, authors take the time to share these stories, ideas, and characters. They may share them with strangers on a sudden impulse, or with someone they love, telling the story out when they can’t yet write it.

I find it fascinating how my unfinished stories have changed over the years, how often the endings have played out in so many different ways depending on my mood, with new ideas popping up the older I get and the more I learn. How surprising, too, to remember a story I once was excited about, but for some reason forgot. Mostly, the forgetting part had to do with growing up. The unfinished ones I continue to hold onto are those that have stood the test of time in my mind. Those characters, storylines, and themes are crucial elements I someday want to share with the world, but I want to share them at their best, when I’m able to devote the most time and energy to them. Which ones will remain unfinished and which ones will be completed? Even more, what future stories do I have yet to envision?

Unfinished is exciting in some ways. Things are still in play, there’s still a “game” going on even if it’s under the surface. Life is not done being lived and adventures are still to be had, if only for a time. An artist is really only as good as the next thing they are working on, and we can never complete anything to perfection, so we’re always writing and creating more to try and try again. We continue on in imperfection. Never will we have our seventh day of rest because we know that even what we’ve already written or published still isn’t “good” enough. Unfinished stories, unfinished life. Exciting and tiring at the same time.

Hotel stories

I’m working on a couple of different stories these days, a sort-of medical thriller, and an intriguing idea for a Korean drama involving a hotel. Thus I have on my list to watch the new series Hotel de Luna starring IU, and a couple of older series about hotels: My Secret Hotel and Hotel King, respectively starring Yoo In Na and Lee Dong Wook. Probably should add Lie to Me to the list as it also involves a large hotel. As skeptical as I am about being able to do the Korean rom-com genre justice, it’s just too intriguing of an idea to let go of, kind of like Trolls for Dust was.

Speaking of Trolls for Dust, everything is looking well for focusing on book three in the series this fall. I’m excited to see if I actually will have enough material for book four or if I will choose to end it as a trilogy. I signed up to be in a couple of book fairs in Minnesota this fall, so will have more news up about that as we get closer to the dates. My plans to do more with the trollsfordust blog haven’t exactly materialized, but it’s on my list as a way to help brainstorm and get back into the series.

As for other dramas, I am finishing up Goblin for the second time and find it to be just as good, if not better than the first time, though a little slow in parts. Also, the soundtrack really makes the show even more magical, enhancing the writing and giving extra life to the various plot lines, my favorite of which is the romance between the grim reaper and the Olive Chicken BB.Q owner. I’d also forgotten how funny a lot of the scenes were and how they take the time to really show the “goblin’s bride” growing up, bit by bit.