Monday, January 28, 2013

You can make good money...

I love my parents. And I am about to tell a story that could be perceived as being critical of my Mother. It was not her intent, or mine that is the point. It is just what happened. And what I learned.

I grew up in a rural community. This gave me lots of experience with hard work and down to earth people. Good folk. Good work. And good times.

After graduating high school I needed to earn money to get myself to college. I took jobs doing more construction work and became a skilled drywall hanger. I learned to make nice flat walls, ceilings, and take them from bare studs to attractive rooms with paint.

It was hard, back breaking work. It paid better than bailing hay and walking beans. And I was good at it.

A few weeks before I was planning to leave for college, my boss, and friend took me aside. "Roy," he said, "If you stick with me, in a year,  you will be able to hang out your own shingle as a contractor." I was being given a great honor. This man was offering to mentor me. To take me under his wing and teach me his business.

But I dearly hope the absolute fear that I felt didn't show on my face. I was going to college. I was not planning on doing hard, back breaking work the rest of my life. I may have been really good at hard labor, but it was a means to an end, and not a career.

So I went to college. After college, I was looking for jobs. (I had jobs during college too.) Because as a responsible husband and father, I needed to put food on the table and a roof over that table, I grabbed a short term jobs in ... construction.

I worked hard all day, and searched for employment in my area in the evenings and weekends. One day while discussing this, my loving mother came up with this. "You can make good money doing drywall. Have you considered focusing on that?"

I understand that she was just trying to be helpful, but my wife and I both burst out laughing. There was no way that I was simply going to lower my sights to point at the ground I was standing on. I had bigger dreams.

Now let me say. I really love and enjoy opportunities to get my hand dirty and build something from time to time. I am pretty handy when it comes to fixing things around the house and helping my neighbor in a time of need. But I am not a drywaller. I am many things, a computer programmer, a writer, a teacher, a husband and father. But a temporary job I had while I was starting out does not define me.

From time to time, mostly during our budget summits, my wife or I will still quip, "Well you know, you can make good money drywalling." It still makes us laugh. And I remember the boss that offered to mentor me as a contractor with fondness whenever I am doing any home repair.

As I look at these two events, I see that both my boss, and my mom were trying to be supportive and helpful. But I also see that they were missing the plan, and not really valuing my own goals. I may not succeed all the time, but I try to ask people what they want and where they see themselves going before I offer them career advice. Or life advice.

The point is that you need to have a plan. And you need to understand that there may be detours along the way, but don't let a detour, a job, or a well-meaning friend displace the plan.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tommy's Gun

Tommy watched in dismay as the officers cuffed his father and led him to the squad car. He watched them drive him away as he held his mother. Part of him told him that he should have felt shame at this.  He was after all, 14 years old and considered himself a man.

Later that night he and his mother talked about it.

"Your Dad believes he is doing the right thing."  His mother tried to explain.  "He believes that it is a bad law, and is willing to disobey it as his last protest against it."

"But they took him to jail."  Tommy complained.  He tried to keep the childish whine out of his voice that always seemed to be lurking in his throat when he got emotional.  "And no one even cares."

"People care."  His mother consoled. "We care ,and we are people. Dad is doing this for you and your sister more than for anyone else."

Her last comment confused him. He had heard these things before. Why is parents did something, like make him go to church, or read certain books even though the school library no longer had them for students his age. "Its for your own good." Or "Because there are things that you need to know."  Were the answers to many of these questions. And really, Tommy didn't resist. It was kind of fun to buck the system by commenting and referencing things even his teachers didn't know in class. It gave him and his sister reputations as kind or nerdy rebels. And he got some respect from that.

But he didn't know what he would tell his friends at school tomorrow.  How could he explain that his Dad had chosen to go to jail before surrendering his gun. They had taken the guns from them anyway. And they thought they had them all. But they only knew about the ones that his Dad had purchased, not about the one he had inherited.

Tommy knew that this was really his own gun. His Dad had explained that to him once when he was very young. He had taken him out at just eight years old, and taught him how to hold it.  How to aim it, and how to hit a target with it. It was a small 20 gauge shotgun that his father told him had been passed down from father to son for generations, and now it was to be his as soon as he was old enough to legally own it.

The gun had come into the family long before the government had started to track firearm sales, or require registration. And his ancestors including his father had carefully never registered the weapon. It was part of the family, and one doesn't register members of the family.

Well, after Tommy's father watched the President speak about making our country safer by having all firearms turned into the police, and that those that didn't voluntarily surrender them would have them seized, he did the only thing that he could do.  He took Tommy's gun, and carefully concealed it in their basement.  Tommy knew right where it was. He thought his mother also knew, but she hadn't been there.  His Dad had told him never to talk about it so that no one could overhear.

And then they came for him. It had only taken a week to get to his Dad. When they came, his Dad said he wouldn't give them up.  And they arrested him.  Searched the house, and took the guns they could find. And they had a list of what they were looking for.

The next few weeks were a bit hard.  His dad was in jail, and everyone knew why. Most people didn't talk about it. But the teachers at school did. It was like they were required to call out kids with parents that were non-compliant and tell everyone how tough it must be to have parents that didn't understand or didn't care about public safety.  

Tommy didn't know how to handle this the first time it happened. So he just stood there while the teacher went on telling everyone to be nice to him because he was having "problems at home."  Gee thanks teacher, that makes it so much better now that I will think anyone being nice is doing it because they feel sorry for me.  Thanks a lot.

After he had a chance to think about it, it made him angry.  So the next time he was singled out, he struck back.

"Tommy, will you come up front please."  His teacher, Mrs. Higgins asked him.

"Yes, Ma'am."  Tommy replied.

"Tommy, I know that things have been tough for you lately. And I want you to know that you can always come and talk to me about it, if you feel like it."  She said to him.

"Thanks, but things are fine at home."  Tommy replied. He was angry, but tried to keep it out of his voice.

"Really? I heard your father refused to comply with the gun safety laws and got arrested for it."  Mrs Higgins commented getting back on her plan. "I know that must have been hard to watch. But your home is so much safer now, don't you think."

"No. I don't think we are safer." Tommy contradicted. "I think we are just the opposite."

"But don't you know that guns are dangerous?"  Mrs HIggins was confused now. "Guns kill people. On accident and in the hands of the wrong people, can be used for so much violence."

"Our guns never killed anyone, and I don't think anyone in my family is one of these 'Wrong people' you are talking about."  Tommy was getting a bit angry now and couldn't keep if from showing.  "Or are you saying that my father was a violent man?"

"Tommy, you need to calm down or I will send you to the principal's office."

"Hey, you called me up here to humiliate me. How is any of this my fault?" Tommy asked rhetorically.

"Thats it, young man."  Mrs. Higgins stamped. "You can think about this little outburst in detention."

And so Tommy got a reputation as being a gun safety denier.  Everyone knew that guns were just too dangerous for people to own.  And as the weeks went on, there were more and more reports of guns that had escaped confiscation being used to kill people, used in robberies, and other acts of violence.

The news on the radio and TV kept talking about it. But the way they talked about it was like it was the gun that caused the crime. The gun that turned an out of work mechanic into a gang banger, or an mentally ill homeless person into a murderer.  If there just weren't any guns out there, these problems and acts of violence would go away. But Tommy kept thinking that many of the victims in these stories could have protected themselves if they hadn't been disarmed.

The next week Tommy found himself in the school counselor's office.

"Do you know why you are here, Tommy?" Mr. Forrester asked him.

"Well, I got this note from one of my teachers." Tommy searched for an answer. "It said to come here."

"Sure." Mr. Forester smiled. "And do you know why you got that note?"

Tommy was afraid that he might know why, but he was hoping that he was wrong. "Not really. Why don't you tell me and then we will both know."

Mr. Forester's smile froze a bit. "Well, you have been acting out a bit in classes and making non-compliant comments about gun safety."

"Its a free country."

"Well that may be true."  Mr. Forester continued. "But we can't run into a crowded theater and yell, 'Fire!' just because its a free country."

"What if there is a fire?"  Tommy countered. "Could we yell 'Fire!' then?"

"I suppose."  Mr. Forrester was still trying to keep smiling. "But that is just an example. What we are talking about here is public safety. And school policy. Its the school policy to prohibit rhetoric that promotes breaking the law. And the school honor code is pretty clear about public safety. Don't you agree?"

"I think we both know that I don't agree."  Tommy sighed. "So are you going to give me more detention too?"

"Why would you ask that?"  Mr Forrester said, trying to sound nice and using his, 'I'm on your side.' voice.

"That seems to be what the teachers do around here when you have a different point of view."

"I think that statement is a bit extreme."

"Well, you can think what you like." Tommy continued. "But when a teacher or counselor asks me my opinion or feelings on our latest gun safety laws, they don't want to hear my thoughts or feelings, they just want me to say what they, the teacher or counselor, thinks or feels. And that seem like its wrong."

Mr. Forester jotted down something in his folder. "I see."

"What is it that you think you see?"  Tommy queried.  He was not sure why, but he was feeling a bit aggressive.

"What?"  Mr. Forrester asked.

"What do you see?"  Tommy repeated. "And what are you writing down in that folder?"

"This is your school file."

"I know, but I can't think of anything we are discussing that has to do with my academics, so what are your writing down?  And what is it that you see?"

"Tommy, the types of behavior I am seeing indicate there may be certain types of abuse in your home."


"You have been subjected to some extreme views, and most likely physical abuse was used to enforce your adoption of these viewpoints to please your parent or parents and stop the abuse."  Mr. Forrester explained. "Was it your father or mother that hurt you?"

"My parents never hurt me."  Tommy objected.

"I see."  Mr. Forester commented again, and jotted something else in the folder.

The rest of the meeting with the counselor was just as productive.

That weekend there was a visit from social services.  Mother cried. And they took Tommy and his sister into separate rooms to be examined. They made Tommy take off his clothes to check for signs of abuse, and asked him about the bruises on his arm that he still had from wrestling some fence posts out of the garden. He could only guess that they did the same thing to his sister.

Tommy wished his father had been there.  But at the same time, was glad that he wasn't. They left, explaining that they would be making regular inspections.  Tommy, his sister, and his mother just sat on the couch afterwards and hugged each other for a long time.

The next week was just as painful.  And the next.

Meetings with the school counselor were pointless.  The man sounded more the fool every time he talked to Tommy. And the teachers went out of their way to make him look stupid, and gave everyone the knowing look of, 'See, this is what happens to gun safety deniers, they become stupid.'

It was the next week that the house of cards really came down.  Tommy was in the basement getting ready for bed when he heard a noise that he had never heard before, but that he immediately recognized.  The door had been kicked in. He heard his mother scream, and then tell them they could take whatever they wanted.

He could hear the whole thing clearly through the heating vents in the house.  They had always acted like an intercom between his room and the kitchen.

He heard a man laugh.  Then a sound like a slap.

"We don't want you, we want your girl.  Where is she?"

This was followed by more slapping, and more demanding.

Tommy knew what he needed to do.  He went to the utility room and started to carefully to retrieve his gun.  He could hear his mother weeping, but it sounded like they were done hitting her.

"Leave her. The girl is here somewhere.  Check the bedrooms, and don't forget the closets."  Came the man's voice through the venting again.

Tommy took two cartridges and loaded them into the shotgun.  Then he took a fist full of others and stuffed them in his pockets. He went to his sister's room and woke her. In whispers he explained what was happening, and then took her back to the utility room. There was a gap between the water heater and the underneath of the front porch.  Tommy helped her into it, and then closed the door.  He hoped they wouldn't find her there if he failed to stop them.

Then Tommy went to the bottom of the stairs and shut the door.  And locked it.  The noise alerted the men in the house and they called to each other and came tromping down the stairs.

Tommy could hear his mother screaming at them to leave, but he couldn't listen, he had to be ready.  He waited in a corner with good visibility of the door, but where they wouldn't see him first.  It sounded like there were three voices.

It only took moments for them to break down the basement door.  Then they came trooping into the room looking for his sister. Once they were all through the door, Tommy stepped out of the shadow and fired his first round into the back of the man closest to him.  The man crumpled and started bleeding into the carpet.  The others turned toward him.  One yelled, "Gun!" as if he were truly shocked to see one.

Tommy fired the second barrel.  Since he was not as close, the pattern spread a bit more.  The man closest to him clutched his face and screamed.  The man behind his was partially protected by his friend.  He grabbed his left arm and backed away.  As he did so, he tripped over a laundry basket and fell.

Tommy reloaded. The man clutching his face was trying to find the door by feeling the wall with his hand.  Tommy fired into his chest at close range and he went down and stopped moving.  Then he turned to the man backing away on the floor.

"Don't hurt me!" the man yelled. They were all wearing masks, but Tommy was starting to think he recognized the man’s voice.

"I know I'm not my sister."  Tommy replied. "But I think I can speak for her when I tell you that she doesn't want to talk to you."

Tommy raised his shotgun for the final round. He saw the man's eyes behind his mask get larger, and he held up his hand to says something more.  Tommy really wasn't interested in what he had to say. He fired once more at close range. The shot seemed so much louder than all of the others. It may have been the confines of the hallway, or maybe it was the effect of the adrenalin he was feeling.  Either way, he figured it was over now.

He retrieved his sister, and they found their mother upstairs.  She was so relieved but could barely speak. Tommy quickly ran a cleaning rod through his gun and put it back in its place. One doesn't leave a member of the family dirty after firing. Then he called 911 to report the break in.

As they waited for the police to arrive, Tommy started to feel really tired. He shed a few tears. It was hard to think that he had just killed three people. He hadn't seen their faces, so he wasn't sure who they were, but each time he closed his eyes he could see the terror in the eyes of that last man who had been about to make another plea for his life. He didn't know if he would ever be able to sleep again.

But at least it was over. He had protected his sister.

When the police finally got there, they started asking questions.  And Tommy started telling them what had happened. Then he realized what they were trying to get him to tell them. They wanted to know where his gun was.

"What?" Tommy asked, confused. "What difference does that make now?"

"Son, we need to take that gun." The officer stated. "Its a dangerous weapon, and might hurt someone."

"Have you been down stairs?" Tommy asked incredulously. "Of course it might hurt someone if they break into my house and try to harm my family."

"So you admit that there is a gun here, and you are refusing to surrender it?"

"I don't think I have to admit to anything."  Tommy said.

"We need that gun." The officer demanded.

"I don't have anything to give you."  Tommy replied.

"I am taking you into custody for refusing to comply with gun safety laws."  The officer stated and began forcing Tommy into a posture where he could be handcuffed.

"No!" his mother yelled.

"Stay out of this ma'am."  The officer instructed. "If I have to take you in as well, we will need to call social services to take your daughter."

Mom stopped talking then and just held onto Tommy's sister.

"It will be alright." Tommy said to her as they took him away. But they both knew that was a lie. It was not alright. It might never be alright again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Terrorism, Suicide, and Unresolvable Issues.

As some of you may know, I studied political science in college.  One day we started discussing terrorism. The class all agreed that terrorism is bad, but we had difficulty coming to terms with why any person or group would resort to it. It looked to us, as if it was the commission of violence for no purpose.

But that is not how the terrorist sees the act. He or she sees it as the last alternative open to achieve their political or other goals. Because it was the world of academics at the time, we reduced the process to an equation to determine if terrorism was the right choice for a given group of people or politics. But in English it is basically expressed like this.

"When all other, legitimate forms of effecting political change or achieving your political goals have failed or are closed to you, then terrorism, no mater how unlikely it is to achieve your goal, becomes the only viable option."

Basically, if you can't win, you try to make the other guy  or guys who are winning so uncomfortable, that they will decide letting you win is less painful.

Its not playing fair.

It is also a method of trying to resolve an unresolvable issue.

There is only one other option other than terrorism.  This option is suicide, or self destruction.

Lets take the emotions out of the dataset and look at the evils of pancakes as our issue.

In a case where a group of people want to wipe out pancakes as a food option.  They have this one, singular political and social goal. So their first stop is the legitimate avenues.

First, they get signatures and write legislators and try to get laws enacted to eliminate pancakes.  Of course this does not work.  When they finally get a ballot initiative, the public votes against it.  This avenue of achieving the goal fails, and looks hopeless.

Next, they may try to elect legislators that agree with them.  Or other means to change the government so that it is one that they can work with to achieve their goal of pancake elimination.  But the group is so small they lack the resources and the support to do this in an election,  or by a revolution.  This avenue of achieving the goal fails, and looks hopeless.

Depending on the area, and form of government, there may be a few other variations of how to make a law, or political change.  Lets assume that they try these as well, and all fail.  Appealing to the UN which normally will support all sorts of crazy agendas also fails.  It seems that all legitimate and accepted methods of achieving the goal are doomed to failure.

There are now two options. 

They could give up.  This is the suicide option. The movement of pancake extermination self destructs and ceases to be.

Or they could resort to unpopular and illegitimate means.  This is the terrorism option. Blowing up IHOP, hacking pancake supporter websites, getting attractive movie stars to go on talk shows to tell people how pancakes are to blame for all of the destruction. There are many ways to play this end of the game.

And if the anti-flapjackers are persistent, and if they hold out long enough, it is possible that people may get tired of the fight. And when that happens, political change is at the door, and pancakes are doomed.

There is a famous quote by Ben Franklin that goes something like this, "Politics is the business of compromise." But people seem to missunderstand how to apply this.  Compromise does not mean, one person starts at 1 and another starts and 10 and they meet at 5.  This is meeting someone half way.  And it is a compromise, but not the only one.

It is not how all compromise works. One person starting at 1 and the other at 10 may also meet at 3 or 7 or 9 or 2 and still have reached a compromise. It is when one starts at 10, and the other at 1 and one or both parties refuse to move at all to accomidate or allow the other person or party to have any room for their view point, belief, preference etc.

Compromise is also not when one player says, "I'll meet you at 5." and then waits for the other person to be at 5 and wants to start negotiating for a new half way point. This is a compromise on only one side and is fake bargaining.

There are many ways to use this framework, but the only summary that applies universally, is this. If you don't think the other player or party will opt for the self destruct/suicide option, then you need to make room for them to exist.  Because the other option is terrorism. And that is a bad option.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why Do You Need A Gun?

In the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, the pesky little right to bear arms is recognized.  It's not created there, it is recognized.  And the government is restricted from making laws that infringe on this right. 

In the discussions of gun ownership, people often fall into two traps.  Trap 1; the government gave us the right to own guns.  Trap 2; you only need guns that are for hunting, and that you can hunt with.

These are both traps.

The Government Gave Us Rights

The government doesn't grant rights.  The Constitution and the Amendments give the government certain powers.  Everything else is retained by the people that own and have title to rights.  This would be the people. 

Guns Are For Hunting

The second amendment we spoke of earlier says nothing about hunting.  It is talking about arms, owned by the people or citizens to be necessary for the regulation of a free state.  This recognition is basically, if people can't defend themselves, then they can be oppressed.  Oppressed by thugs, gangs, crooks and governments.  The founders had personal experiences with all of these.  We have been lucky.  So so lucky.

Why Do You Need A Gun?

I was shocked when a friend of mine asked this question.  And I answered poorly.  It is a bad and manipulative question.  I know that he didn't intend it to be, it has just become part of the narrative.  But the answer is simple. I need a gun because I have the right to have one.

What if we asked, "Why do you need free speech?" or "Why do you need religion?" These questions should sound ridiculous.  They are.  So is the quesiton, "Why do you need a gun?"

We should be embarrassed to even ask. "Why do you need ..."  Because a right unused will soon be lost.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Writing is a process...

Sometimes I post stories.  Sometimes I post poems.  And sometimes I post views on politics, economy, family etc.  (Hey, its my blog.)

Most of the time these posts start out either as a story that I am writing, or a event that happens that gets me thinking.  I sit down, and most of the time, pound out the post in a few minutes, (like this one).  Sometimes I save a draft, and sometimes I go back to them.  Sometimes.

But this year, I am trying to write more stories.  And to do that, I have created a new process.

Old Process:

I have heard, "You have to write every day." from many many people.  And as an amateur author, this seems daunting.  I have a full-time job and a full-time family.  I have tried for years and carving out a time each day to spend writing just hasn't worked.

And just like a diet plan or exercise plan that is too aggressive or too invasive, I eventually give it up. It won't fit with my life, so it gets abandoned.

New Process:

I fell into this one on accident.  I was following the old pattern, and had put a daily writing plan into my calendar.  But it wasn't working.  I tried to adjust a few things, and slide the time around from day to day in and attempt to fit with life.

I was on the verge of giving in and up on the plan, when I did something unusual.  I deleted the schedule from one day out of the week.

That's right, just one day.  Instead of seven writing appointments, I had six.  And lightning struck me in the head.  I quickly realized that I didn't have to give up in despair, I could pick days that had time, and ignore the ones that didn't.

For me this plan is now a 4 day a week writing plan.  It was revolutionary!  It was bold! And it was practical!

And then lightning struck me again.

One day, sitting to write, I just didn't feel the bug.  My dialog was limp and squishy.  And to try and get myself in the zone, I re-read something from last week.

Then I started editing it.  And then I got excited.  I didn't have to do the same thing every writing day!

I now have one day a week that I allow myself to edit something I wrote at least a week earlier.  And my other days are designated as dialog days, descriptive days and action days.  I try to keep this mix going so that I don't fall into a rut and loose the bubble.

But I cut myself slack and don't necessarily write dialog on dialog day.  Not if I have the itch for action or description, etc.


So far, this new, more flexible plan has worked for me.  I am 10 chapters into "The Legend of Trees" and have a couple of short stories that are getting polished up.  And I get excited to move them from the WIP directory to my shared directory on my google drive so that my editors, (family) can read them and make comments and corrections.

(This also helps, because they know when I haven't been giving them more and ask me about it.)

Its all part of the process.