Thank You For Your Concern

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Walmart complaining about some policy or other that was in the news (I honestly don’t remember what it was I wrote about). Their letter back to me — 8 months later — can be boiled down to the five words in the title of this post.

To put it in modern parlance, they ghosted me.

No problem, it’s fucking WallyWorld…could you ever expect anything different?

So, today, I read a news story from my old hometown about fire evacuations.

Wait a second…my parents are in that evac zone!

A call, then.  My dad doesn’t answer, so I try my mom…

“Hi mom, I was just checking…” I say.

“We’re waiting at a restaurant.  Thank you for your concern.”  Click.

Hold on…

Did my own mother just ghost me?!?!

Holy shit, has my life come down to this?!

Uhhh…

Look, I’m a writer.  Words and motivations and twists are a part of every thought I have, every single day.  But nowhere in those thoughts did I get ghosted by my own mother!

Crap, I knew my family didn’t necessarily like the kind of stuff I write here, but that there is some dark comedy…even for the black sheep of the clan.

On the other hand — to turn this post into a writing bit — can we, as writers, ever overestimate the impact of family relationships?

One of my favorite thought-exercises on this comes from British history.  To set the scene, Richard, Duke of Aquitaine (who we would later call Richard the Lionheart) rebelled against his aging, failing father in order to seize power.  Richard won.  He won, but his own father’s last words to him still resonate, even today, “God grant that I live long enough to have my revenge on you.”

Henry didn’t…live long enough, that is.

It is not, however, those words that truly illustrate the power of the familial relationshipS.  No, that power comes from a scene that came after Henry’s death.  It took a while, but once Richard arrived at the family crypt at the abbey of Fontevraud, history tells us that he went in alone to be with his father’s corpse…

What went through his mind?  What was he thinking?

Henry II had been the most feared warrior and king of his age.  Of Henry it had been said, “it is hard to wrest the club from Hercules’ hand.”

Richard had wrested that club…from his very own father.

What did he think, standing in that crypt, alone with his father’s body?

Was he ashamed?  Afraid?  Angry?  Did he dream of surpassing the deeds of the man an entire continent feared?  Did he question himself?

Yeah, crap like that is why we write.  We write to explore situations and dynamics.  We write so we can try to find the universal truths in the lives and actions of others.

We write, to be bluntly honest, so we can have our fun with situations like that.

We write even if we get ghosted by our moms…

Memorial Day is More Than Pandemics and Politics

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  It doesn’t feel like it, not in this terrible year, but nor does it feel like the normal facade of cook-outs and three-day weekends and other mundanity.

Even now, even today…

6CF962AA-3326-4234-A532-EE72B142A6C5Strike that.  Especially now, especially today, we have to take the time to remember just what this day means.  Just why it is more than tiny little flags someone else stuck on a grave in between hot dogs and runs to the store for more beer.  Unfortunately, I have this fear — more of a certainty, to be honest — that this Memorial Day, and all that it means, will be lost under the cloud of COVID-19, political hatred, and the brewing unrest and discord that hangs over it all.

IMG_0720So I sat down to write a post about Memorial Day.  I sat down to use my own words and knowledge to put a drink on the bar (you can read about the origins of my use of that phrase here) for those we have lost, then I realized I was just repeating myself.  Instead of doing that, I am going to break one of my semi-rules and repost here something I wrote a couple of years ago.  I’m going to repost it because it still works…and it stills carries all the meaning in the world.

I Have No Words

I’ve never heard the drums of war.

I’ve never lived the reality of combat.

As a writer, and as a student of history, I try to learn and to understand, but that understanding is merely intellectual. I know the truth as it has been told to me, but I have no true understanding of the reality.

For this Memorial Day post, I am not going to use my own words. My own words are as inadequate as they are disconnected from that reality. No, instead I am going to use the actions and words of those who know.

From Lieutenant Bob Kerrey, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart:

“Too often, Memorial Day becomes just another three-day weekend, a holiday that marks the beginning of summer, the opening of public pools, the excitement of children who know that the school year is about to end.
The holiday doesn’t have to be this way. It can be more. And it can be more with just a little bit of an effort. You don’t have to give much to get a lot.

If you have not suffered a loss, think of someone who has. Consider what they gave. Consider what they are giving now.

In my case, I will take a few minutes to quietly remember the men I knew who died before this day had a meaning for them. They were too young, too free of terrible memories, too unburdened of wondering if they were good men.”

—Quoted from “How I remember my lost military comrades” in today’s New York Daily News. Read the whole thing.

I wasn’t sure how to approach today’s post, until Lt. Kerrey gave me the idea. Below are the formal citations for several Medal of Honor winners, one from each service…every one of them posthumous.

9E6A169B-35E3-4F55-AEAA-185BC0FD1E30Commander Ernest Evans, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart
— Killed in action October 25, 1944 in the Philippine Sea

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Johnston in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Comdr. Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the Johnston, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.”

02E7682F-7CE5-4185-A483-4B74F35F1CE9Corporal Jason Dunham, USMC — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action April 4, 2004 in Husaybah, Iraq

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

32EEA3A4-2B54-4B49-BA84-94A9A2B68421Private First Class Anthony Kaho’ohanohano — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action September 1, 1951 near Chup’a-ri, South Korea

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano, Company H, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Chupa-ri, Korea, on 1 September 1951. On that date, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano was in charge of a machine-gun squad supporting the defensive positioning of Company F when a numerically superior enemy force launched a fierce attack. Because of the enemy’s overwhelming numbers, friendly troops were forced to execute a limited withdrawal. As the men fell back, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano ordered his squad to take up more defensible positions and provide covering fire for the withdrawing friendly force. Although having been wounded in the shoulder during the initial enemy assault, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano gathered a supply of grenades and ammunition and returned to his original position to face the enemy alone. As the hostile troops concentrated their strength against his emplacement in an effort to overrun it, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano fought fiercely and courageously, delivering deadly accurate fire into the ranks of the onrushing enemy. When his ammunition was depleted, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s heroic stand so inspired his comrades that they launched a counterattack that completely repulsed the enemy. Upon reaching Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s emplacement, friendly troops discovered 11 enemy soldiers lying dead in front of the emplacement and two inside it, killed in hand-to-hand combat. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 7th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”

48954FA8-0C46-452C-9FB6-C552CE83FFEECaptain Steven Bennett, USAF — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action June 29, 1972 in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam

“Capt. Bennett was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended segment of route structure. A large concentration of enemy troops were massing for an attack on a friendly unit. Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support but was advised that none was available. He also requested artillery support, but this too was denied due to the close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Capt. Bennett was determined to aid the endangered unit and elected to strafe the hostile positions. After four such passes, the enemy forces began to retreat. Capt. Bennett continued the attack, but, as he completed his fifth strafing pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile which severely damaged the left engine and the left main landing gear. As fire spread in the left engine, Capt. Bennett realized that recovery at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare for ejection, but was informed by the observer that his parachute had been shredded by the force of the impacting missile. Although Capt. Bennett had a good parachute, he knew that if he ejected, the observer would have no chance of survival. With complete disregard for his own life, Capt. Bennett elected to ditch the aircraft into the Gulf of Tonkin, even though he realized that a pilot of this type aircraft had never survived a ditching. The ensuing impact upon the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damage the front cockpit, making escape for Capt. Bennett impossible. The observer successfully made his way out of the aircraft and was rescued. Capt. Bennett’s unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.”

A10772B0-7E3C-45E9-AA55-14010FBA02F4Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, USCG — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
— Killed in action September 27, 1942 near Point Cruz, Guadalcanal

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as petty officer in charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

We Had It All…

What soundtrack do you listen to when you’re writing about the end of the world?

Err…check that.  The end of the world is easy — you listen to this.

But what about when the world shakes?  When it seems like everything is changing in the blink of an eye?

I don’t remember the moon landings.  I don’t remember Kennedy’s assassination.  I don’t remember the beginning — or the end — of WW2.  Hell, I don’t really even remember the end of Vietnam.  But what I do remember…

I remember the explosion of the Challenger.

I remember 9-11.

I remember the beginnings, and the ends, of both Gulf Wars.

90I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hoo boy, do I remember the fall of the Wall.  It was my first real adult memory, in fact.  The first world-shaking event that was real to me — which is saying something, given that I was a college kid at the time, bent mostly on mostly on drinking beer and meeting girls (not necessarily — but usually — in that order).

I watched the wall fall on TV.  I watched what I thought at the time — what we all thought — was a changing of the world, the emergence of a new future.  Hell, being a kid, I thought it was the end of the older generation, the end of our parents’ generation, and the emergence of ours as the true power…

We would be different, I thought.

We would change everything.

We wouldn’t fuck things up.  Not again.

And now, thirty years later, what do I think?

What a naive little shit was I.

articleLargeI have friends who stood in Wenceslaus Square, alongside so many thousands of other, and shook their keys at the Soviet-backed government to tell them it was time to go…

I know a man, even, who was one of the last to sneak over the border between Czech and Austria.  One of the last to flee home and family to seek for more, to find a better way to live…

I have to talked to them all, over the years, about those fateful days three decades ago.  Over beers and over coffee; in peaceful chats and in heated arguments; in words pensive and wistful, and in words callous and cold; in every conceivable way we have talked about those days.  It matters, I think, that we were all roughly the same age when the wall fell.  Oh, we all lived vastly different lives — both before that point, and after — but we all had the energy and optimism that only really comes in those particular years of life.

With all our differences — with the vast gulf in experiences that exist between an optimistic child of 1980’s America and the bitter cynics who grew up under the Soviets — it turns out that we all felt the same: everything was going to change.  It was all going to be better.  

We were all naive little shits.

As a part of my twin emphases on languages and history in college, I studied my share of foreign relations.  I studied, mostly, how the US related with Central and Eastern Europe.  I studied Eisenhower and Kennedy, Stalin and Kruschev.  I studied Acheson and Kennan.  I studied Kissinger and Brzezinski.  I didn’t just study, I lived Reagan and Gorbachev…

None of that study, none of that knowledge, prepared me for the “end.”  None of it prepared me for the change, and for the hope of what could be.

Sadly, it did prepare me for what actually came next.

Next verse, same as the old verse.

If you dropped one of those guys I studied in college into the modern world, just how different do you think they would find it?  Oh the technology is different…the fringes of society are different…the culture is different…but the realpolitik?  George Kennan could step into the US State Department and feel right at home when he looked at the world situation.

*sigh*

I’ve said it before: humanity can — and presumably will — fuck anything up.

To a young college kid — to my whole generation, really — thirty years ago, we had it all right there in our hands.  We had optimism and hope, we had the future.

And look what we’ve done with it.

So, back to the question of the soundtrack…

I thought about a number of songs; about a number of ways to capture that feeling of three decades ago.  I thought about this, and even this.  I thought about a whole host of songs, in fact, both old and new.  I thought about them, but in the end there was only one choice, only one song that (to me) defined that time and those events even as they were happening:

The Eyes Tell The Real Story

I was writing a microfiction piece to post later this week.  Nothing new in that, although I haven’t been as good at keeping up with the whole “Microfiction Friday” thing as I should be.  At any rate, I had finished writing the piece and I was looking for a photo to go with it.

Hoo boy, did that search send me down a rabbit-hole.  I wanted a very particular picture — a particular timeframe, a particular composition, a particular subject…

But I framed my initial search too broadly.  I framed it too broadly, and I ran into a whole lot of “other” pictures.  Oh, not the BAD kind of “other”, but rather the good kind…the kind that gets us writers to thinking.  To imagining and projecting.  To writing.  Pictures that, like the old saying goes, say a thousand words.  Pictures that say more than that.

Private-Edwin-Francis-Jemison.jpgOne of those pictures truly stuck with me.  It still sticks with me.  It sticks with me because it tells an entire freaking novel

It’s not a comfortable picture, not when you look at it for a while.  And it gets worse when you learn his story…and his fate.

Private Edwin Francis Jemison, 1844 – 1862.

Look, child soldiers are bad enough, but look at that picture…really look at it.

You know what gets me?  It’s the eyes.  Those are the eye of someone who has seen death, of someone who has fought and feared and suffered.  They are certainly not the eyes of a boy, of one we should be able to call an innocent.

Shit, I write about 16-17 year old kids.  I write about them as addicts and thieves and prostitutes.  I write about them, when you get right down to it, as who they truly are: the inhabitants — the victims, really — of the society we have created…and are still creating.  Now, I write about them in terms of sci-fi, but the eyes in that picture are a reminder that the same damned thing has been happening for centuries.  Worse than that, it has been happening as long as we humans have been around…

I do sci-fi and fantasy.  I’ve never tried my hand at historical fiction, but…

…but, holy shit!  How can you look at that picture and not want to tell the story behind those eyes?!  How can you not want to use Private Jemison’s short life to tell the story of those kids who still get pulled into every war — into every disaster and problem — we can create?

We lure them…

IMG_0720We draft them…

We propagandize them…

We indoctrinate them…

Then we kill them.

*sigh*

Musical Note — I’ve used this particular song in a post before, but I can’t think of a single damned thing to better accompany Private Jemison’s picture: