How to Tell The Damn Story Summer Series, Part 1: Inspiration

‪Today I would like to share a podcast I do. @How to TELL THE DAMN STORY Summer Series” launches today with @BlackjackAD (Alex Simmons), @caseengaines, @herhymeswithme (Toney Jackson), and I discussing inspiration, focusing on how we get it and use it to create. Totally free. All are welcome. ‬


Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, #comedy, #inspiration, comics, fiction, film, Independent film, independent publishing, pop culture, Pulp fiction, self-publishing, teaching, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Neil Young, Ironically

Neil Young has been contributing to pop culture with great songs full of catchy hooks and deep meaning for sixty years. Sixty years! Respect, right? To continually contribute positively to society for six decades is a truly memorable feat that others might crave, but Neil did it. You might even say Neil Young deserves to be on the #mountrushmore of rock songwriters…

Nope, that’s not Neil…

Still missing Neil…

Oh forget it!

Let’s try this another way. Neil Young should be celebrated for his great songs. The first thing we notice is that they have great hooks. Two examples that may come to mind are “Like a Hurricane” (who doesn’t want to be powerful like a hurricane?) and “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” (c’mon, that’s an anthem for success and power and greatness, am I right or what?).

But those of us who listen to Neil know it’s his lyrics that really make the song memorable. One reason is that they often offer a message significantly different than one would glean if they only skimmed, like, the hook. For example, “Like A Hurricane” might seem to be about power and supremacy, but if we consider the lyrics, the truth is very different:

Here we see that the speaker wants to love the person being addressed but instead needs to be somewhere safer, apparently due to the damage that person brings to the relationship. How devastating!

And then there’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” a title so winning people might put it on a list of songs to play before major events to get the crowd psyched.

But you would never use this song that way if you understood that the hooky chorus is ironic and actually serves as a blistering critique of failed leadership. Worse, the lyrics spell out those failures:

Wow, devastating lyrics that depict the many horrendous government failures at the time of its release. So we see the irony that the chorus sets up in contrast to the lyrics. Blistering and intelligent and easy to catch, if you bother to listen, of course. So blistering, in fact, that if the song was used to set the tone for a major event, it would be humiliating for the star attraction. I mean, she or he would know the meaning of songs used to represent them, right? The star would know at least that much, yes? Surely, they would because otherwise the reaction of the informed public would be laughter at such a buffoon. Who would willingly set themselves up for that? And imagine if such a clown stepped on a rake in this way while standing, say, a national monument? Can you imagine the national reaction?

Well, I am glad that didn’t happen. Happy birthday, America!

Posted in #comedy, #election, #NeilYoung, #POTUS, #reading, #Trump, #voting, #WeThePeople, America, black lives matter, politics, pop culture, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Gift to America When We Need It Most

Here we are on the cusp of an Independence Day celebration during a surge of Coronavirus cases, widespread unemployment and economic horrors, ongoing wars (remember them?), advancing climate change catastrophe, and the Black Lives Matter movement fighting for actual substantive change, wanting real freedoms for people of color.

Disney’s timing couldn’t be better. Ladies and gentlemen, during this weekend that celebrates the myths we’ve been sold to strengthen the noble and worthy Idea of America, the Mouse Empire gives us …Hamilton.

I won’t engage with naysayers who might argue minutia of historical “fact” because my heart and soul are too busy dancing. Hamilton offers America the answers we need to the key question of all our current plights.

Right now, what does America need most?

Belief in the Idea of America. Hamilton has this so thoroughly it swells the heart.

Knowledge of who we are. Hamilton reminds us by blending the best elements of our troubling history with American diversity, showing us the path we all need to take out of the darkness and into the light.

Joy in our shared roots. Hamilton makes those roots our own. All. Of. Ours.

History. We need to truly know our past to finally confront who we were/are if we want any hope of becoming who we are meant to be.

Education. Schooling is a central theme in Hamilton, this celebration of the American Possibility. And it needs to be a priority for all of us, with significant increases in funding to improve every area of how we cultivate intelligence in our country. An educated populace may scare the hell out of politicians but it is this country’s best hope for both our survival and advancement.

Creative Intelligence. Hamilton mixes highly developed skills in writing, rapping, singing, dancing, staging, costumes, lighting, production, casting, and so much more, all in the service of showing us an America we can have: diverse, equal, unified, and shining brighter for all of it.

Hamilton is the Idea of America applied with intelligence, style, energy, pride, and belief, offered to all of us (okay, maybe not all of us yet, we need to subscribe to Disney, but that may be easier than getting Hamilton tickets was). And in this transcendent musical, the Idea of America is celebrated to send us forth with a positive message that echoes through our land today in the best aspects of BLM and gay pride, and programs to feed the poor, and among the best of our police, and in the best efforts of teachers. That message reminds us all that the Idea of America is meant for…

We The People.

Each and every one of us.

We are so much stronger together than we are apart. Hamilton is the spectacular result of what the Idea of America has afforded us so far. Imagine what we can accomplish creatively, intellectually, scientifically, economically, spiritually, and yes, even politically, if we cast off our self-created limitations and move forward together, truly together, for the first time in our history.

Enjoy Hamilton this weekend, brothers and sisters, and then dream of what the Idea of America means for each of us as we weave our life’s thread into the grand tapestry of America.

God Bless America. Please. We really need it right now.

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The Cutest Infestation – A Horror Story

By Christopher Ryan

We really didn’t notice until we were quarantined, and by then it was too late. They had won.

In Before Times, we were busy going to work, getting kids to school, commuting to college, the gym, the mall, the movies, the restaurant, NetFlixing and Chilling, going to bed. All the while, they were moving in, burrowing under our world, breeding, infesting.

And then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly we were mostly home, mostly together, mostly … bored. After a while, we began to look out the windows like lonely puppies trapped behind pet store glass. And that is when we saw the monsters roaming free, claiming our land, our lawns, our trees, our world. They were everywhere, outnumbering us easily.

We had seen them before, of course. Rushing to or from our cars, we’d notice one and think, “How cute.” Such fools. By the time we were desperate enough to look outside our own quarantine, we were forced to admit, “We have been overrun.”

In our own back yards we found the proof. So. Many. Holes. That is when we realized these adorable antagonists already had labyrinths below ground. They had assumed control. They had assumed control.

There we stood, each of us a version of Captain America at the end of Avengers: End Game, limping amid the devastated battlefield, facing hordes of horrors we could hardly see.

And then it happened.

“On your left.”

One by one, the hawks arrived, circling high above, and then swooping down. They began to stay low, sit on a fence, or a branch, calling to fellow hawks, gathering their forces … to feast.

The horror movie shifted. We were no longer the scared stars, we were the audience. And those precious little invaders were the hapless protagonists, on the run, fleeing for their lives as a silent, swift-moving shadow bore down on them, closing in, stealing them away never to be seen again.

There was almost a twist ending. I was sipping an early morning cup of tea, on my bench, outside my house, once again enjoying my lawn (okay, my son has taken ownership of the lawn, but still, very nice), and a chipmunk scooted by.

“Oh no, they are still in contr-”

From around the corner, majestically spread wings soared down in a wide arc, plunged to the ground, rose, then were gone. And so was the lovable little beast.

All hail the food chain.

Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, #comedy, #infestation, #chipmunks, fiction, film, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Rob Reiner Saved My Life

Carl Reiner has died, and I offer my condolences. Not because I know the family or even ever met any of their talented tribe. I offer my sympathies because, without ever meeting him, Carl’s son Rob Reiner (he of directing and producing fame), saved my life.

Years ago, I was close to breaking through in Hollywood.

Or so I thought.

At the end of a screenwriting course, I was selected from among the thirty or so students to continue with five others. From that group, my screenplay was selected for “development with the course creator” a Hollywood producer who “had a project in the development with Schwarzenegger.” I can admit now that I was swept in by that with no further proof necessary. Turned out to be true, but, ultimately that was beside the point.

The real lesson was to come and it taught me that in some cases I was a slow learner.

This producer would meet with me every time he “flew in from Cali” so we could work on developing the script together. After each meeting, I would do a significant rewrite. On spec, having already paid him for the courses.

We met 15 times.

And it slowly dawned on me that his contributions were vague and progressively less useful, starting with his suggestion that we want to trim all the fat so the pacing really moves (loosely paraphrased – it has been years), to ramping up the lead, increasing the peril, and so on. And like any hungry writer, I would dive back in, trimming fat one rewrite, ramping up the next, increasing peril after that, until I had done twelve rewrites. At that point, even I was glimpsing the truth through the dream.

At meeting 13 I requested specific editorial comments to finish this project up, and he told me I had to make sure every line leapt off the page. I pushed him for specifics and he told me, “Well, I don’t want to write your script for you.” Concerned that I had insulted the only producer ever interested in working with me, I nodded, went home, and made sure those lines were a leaping.

Meeting 14 was more of the same, except he was quicker to cut off my questions with his “Well, I don’t want to write your script for you,” followed by news that Schwarzenegger was about to choose between the script he was producing and a possible Terminator sequel. The message was I was either onboard with this guy, working my ass off on spec rewrites, or I would miss being part of his glory.

Before meeting 15, I read an article about a screenwriter who was working with Rob Reiner and thought he had handed in a masterpiece until Reiner started asking detailed questions about every aspect of the script, from thematic ideas, to why a character would use specific phrasing on a certain page. The point of the article was Reiner forced a better script out of the writer by demanding a logic, a reason, and a reality for every word of that script. After reading that article, I knew the truth: Rob Reiner had just saved my life.

We met in this guy’s ridiculously modern hotel and he brought me up to the restaurant for breakfast. I only ordered an English muffin and tea. His order was elaborately detailed, and every additional demand just made me think “bullshit” a bit louder in my head. And then he heard the soft rock playing in the background, and told the waiter to turn it off.

“But, sir, our patrons enjoy the music in the morning,” the waiter explained.

“I am having an important meeting, and I want it off, so turn off the music.”

“Sir, I do not have the authority to do such a thing.”

“Either turn it off or bring over the manager and I will have him turn it off!”

I excused myself, left the tea, English muffin, and charlatan at the table, and walked out. Lesson learned.

These days, I am lucky enough to work with real editors who ask real questions and make me reconsider specific choices I have made, expose habits I need to address, and help improve the work. These talented people are blessings.

Nobody should want to write your tale for you, but professional editors make you craft your story better than you thought possible.

Avoid fakers, and embrace real editors, folks.

And thank you, Rob Reiner.

Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, #comedy, film, pop culture, teaching, writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Alex Simmons’ Blackjack: A Quiet Coup

By Christopher Ryan and Alex Simmons

There are only two cars on the street. One is running. A driver sits behind the wheel and another man is standing outside.

They are talking. All around them the streets are deserted. All the stores are closed up in this very well-maintained ghost town.

“You have to stay, Charles,“ the man on the street insisted. “We both know this town needs the bank to survive.“

“There is no town,“ Charles argued. “It died when they all snuck off.”

“We’ll bring new folk, start again,” the other said. “We can’t let them win. But we need your bank.”

“I don’t own the bank, I just run it for the money men. And now they want me running some other bank in some other town. You should get out too, there’s no one left to sell real estate to. You need to get to some other town, this one’s dead.”

With that the banker drove off.

The realtor was left in the empty town waiting on a car coming down from a distance. When it arrived he saw that the luxury vehicle was long and sleek, a limousine. It stopped near him and one of the back doors opened. A proper lady stepped out, shocking the realtor when he realized she was black.

“You never told me you were a Negro,“ the realtor said.

“From my research you are in no position for it to matter,“ she replied.

She took a check from her pocketbook, held it up. “The full amount, as we negotiated, as per the contract signed by both of us. For all the properties and businesses, as we discussed. Now either you want to take this check and salvage something of your career, or you can stay here alone and enjoy poverty.“

“I don’t like it, no, I don’t like it at all. Give that check to me,“ The realtor demanded.

“I’ll be reviewing the portfolio of deeds, and a rather large ring of keys before this check leaves my hands.“

“Not if I just knock you to the ground and take it myself,“ the realtor threatened, moving towards her.

The limo’s other rear door opened and a giant of a man emerged, huge Colt revolvers strapped on each hip.

“I would think carefully before breaking state and federal law if I was you,” Arron “Blackjack” Day growled. “You entered into a signed contract. While it may be comfortable behavior for you, reverting to crime now, well, that will prove to be a problem.”

The realtor’s quivering eyes traveled up and down the black man’s muscular physique. He outweighed the white business leader by at least 100 pounds of pure power and clearly carried at least four weapons; the Colts, what appeared to be a shotgun slung over his shoulder, and a very large knife sheathed in his boot. Defeated, the business man handed over his attaché case for inspection. “You’ll find it’s all in there,“ he said. “Review until you’re satisfied.”

The woman was thorough. She kept the realtor waiting until she was absolutely sure every document was included, signed, and in proper order, and then she checked the large key ring to ensure she now has access to every store and house, as well as the bank and the realtor’s own office. She even had a key to a small police station. When she was satisfied, she handed him the check.

“Pleasure doing business with you.”

The grumbling realtor climbed into the only other vehicle in town and sped off with one final glare.

The two impressive human beings stood in the center of town and took it all in. Finally Arron Day turned the woman and asked, “Are you sure this is going to work, sis?“

“Not everything is solved with bullets, brother,” Mary Day said. “When cousin Jenna called about what was going on around here between the crooked business deals and the Klan, I knew calling you in guns blazing would just make things worse.“

“Thank you so much for your faith in me,“ Arron joked, “But I agree with your assessment. Guns would have only brought more guns. Your plan, however, seemed pretty extreme.”

“All the black people in town were being victimized constantly. It was second nature to most of their white neighbors. That isn’t freedom, that’s elaborately disguised torture, and ultimately, just another form of slavery. And they were financing it because white people controlled everything.”

“Not a unique situation.”

“True, but Jenna and her neighbors had a solution I believed we should support. They just wanted control of their own lives rather than start a war.”

“Not easy to achieve.”

“It only took a few months of them moving out to live with relatives for this town to fold. Without black folks spending money in those white businesses where they were abused and overcharged, each and every one of them went broke.“

The siblings looked to the south. In the distance a line of cars and trucks were approaching in a kind of caravan.

“This is my favorite part of the plan,” Mary said. “Now they come back, buy back their homes at a fair price from Jen, who’s going to act as the realtor. We have Mr. Wilson, who is a whiz with numbers and money. He is going to run the bank. Mr. John’s going to run the hardware store and Abe’s going to operate the grocery. Black owned businesses supported by black townsfolk, who work and help run the town. This is an opportunity.”

Arron scanned the horizon, searching for signs of trouble. “And when the Klan arrive?”

“They will discover that this town is protected by a big and strong black fully deputized fb police force made up of all those veterans who came back from the war and couldn’t get a job and now will have a career, a piece of the dream they will fight for.”

“And why are you and I, of all people, doing this?“

“Because we can help them while all this gets established.”

“You mean I can shoot a bunch of racists when they ride into town with guns and torches.”

“Little brother, please let this be a lesson for you,“ she said. “When the social contract isn’t being upheld by one side, the other side has to find a way to become the leaders they are looking for.“

“I’ll believe it when I see it,“ the infamous Blackjack said.

“You’ll believe it when these people prove that no matter what others say about them or us, we all have a right to a piece of the American Dream. How we use it can make all the difference.“

Aaron Day hugged his sister and then straightened his shoulders and walked toward the realtor’s office. “Let’s get to work.”

Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, #reading, #WeThePeople, America, black lives matter, Book lovers, digital publishing, Faith, fiction, independent publishing, love, politics, pop culture, Pulp fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

For all the white people who were butt hurt because they didn’t know about Juneteenth

If you were one of the many white people in America who found yourself saying, if Juneteenth is such a big holiday why didn’t I know about it? Well, I have a few answers for you. And if you were saying, why haven’t I ever been invited to any Juneteenth celebration, I have a few answers for you as well.

If you didn’t know about Juneteenth you have got to reflect on your education because someone is not teaching you all about true American history. I know, you went to a good school. So did I. Now is time to think about why “good” is a relative term.

If you didn’t know about Juneteenth even though you have “a black friend”? Maybe it’s time to reflect on the term “friend” and also think about the conversations you have had with this friend and the questions you have asked them about their lives, their culture, and their existence.

And if you were wondering why you’ve never been invited to a Juneteenth celebration, here’s a few possibilities to consider:

White people and their long history of horrendous actions are the reason why a Juneteenth celebration is even necessary.

White people are largely responsible for every physical, psychological, spiritual, economic, and emotional scar Black America ever fought to be free of. We (and I am using the historic “we”which includes all of us no matter what your excuse might be -nobody gets off the hook here) are the ones who purchased them rather than treated them as humans, shipped them over in hellish conditions, stripped them of their language, religion, culture, families, and innocence, as well as their physical well-being, their names, and their identity We stole everything from them. And then we followed that up by working them to death, whipping them, calling them dehumanizing names, beating, and raping them. When that wasn’t enough we killed them.

So, having survived all that as a people, would you invite Jason Vorhees to your party?

And that is not really an exaggerated metaphor. Our ancestors spent over 400 years being monsters to anyone with another skin tone. We did. Out of greed. Out of fear. Out of lust. Out of deep-seated, handed down hate for The Other.

We earned our rep, we earned the exclusion. We should understand that the reason it wasn’t even on some of our radars was because we haven’t thought enough of our fellow human beings to make ourselves aware.

Feel uncomfortable yet? We should. We’re the reason they drink red drinks as part of the Juneteenth celebration. We spilled the blood they’re honoring.

And we’re still doing it. From taking almost nine minutes to murder a man over a question of $20 to killing them in their homes to stopping and frisking to calling 911 in a public park over a reasonable request, we are still the monsters that haunt their nightmares.

Every snub at work. Every skewered business, banking, real estate, and job market “policy” that fixes the game. Every casual exclusion, insult, and racist comment followed by “no offense”. Each unwarranted following by store security, and so much more.

Every coded political message and campaign speech. Every gerrymandered election district and voting requirement design to suppress votes of color.

God forgive us, we could go on for days.

We as a group have invaded every aspect of their lives and we have the hubris to wonder why people are fed up?

None of us are without sin, me included. Hate the way all this makes you feel? Think. How does it make them feel? How has it made them feel for over 400 years?

And it is on us. We need to change. Not review, investigate, take under consideration, or propose some steps to appease. We need change that reaches back to our ancestors (like the racists we have statues and portraits of). We need to reconsider iconography (no more fun with racist flags), holidays, names on buildings, streets, parks, etc.

Most urgently, we need to listen (and maybe really hear for the first time), look (and maybe really see for the first time), and learn that to be truly human is to embrace all of humanity as one.

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Where the Hell Have I Been?

I was going good there for awhile, writing to be fighting the quarantine blues like Cuchulain fighting the sea. And like that Irish mythic figure, the waves eventually overwhelmed me; the isolation of quarantine, the strain of lifestyle swept away, the crushing reality of such vast numbers suffering far worse, and so much death, while too many positions of power and trust were filled by empty vessels when leadership was so needed.

If I’m being truly honest, it was being forced to teach from a distance that stopped the blog. For twenty-nine years my day job succeeded to whatever extent it did by my ability to stand among students, look them in the eye, and pay them the respect of sharing whatever honesty and truth I have picked up along the way. Suddenly, like all teachers, I was teaching through a screen to too many black squares with white letters in place of living, breathing wonders.

The pandemic robbed teaching of its humanity. The effort to overcome that cavernous hole drained me of the energy I had for communicating like this.

For that failing, I apologize.

And so much has changed since last we spoke. America watched one too many murders of color and might finally be ready to learn and accept the fact that black lives matter. It is heartbreaking that it has taken over 400 years for one distant relative to recognize another and if people of color find it in their hearts to accept our late arrival to humanity after centuries of atrocious behavior, it will demonstrate a grace powerful enough to reshape the world.

But the truth is, the work isn’t theirs to do. The paler part of this race has been horrendous to every other expression of humanity. I am still not convinced that we know what we don’t know yet.

How many more, Lord? How many until we see each other as we’re meant to be seen? How long until we learn we need each other to survive our global shortcomings?

The clock’s ticking on all of this. We need to listen and learn and see and accept and act as one human race. Not others. Not superior vs inferior or hunters vs prey or overlords vs the rest.

“We’re one but we’re not the same, We get to carry each other, carry each other. One.”

People of color have been carrying the burden of our shortcomings for too long. We need to be better, far better, humans than we have ever been before.

Let’s get to work.

Posted in #WeThePeople, America, black lives matter, politics, teaching, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Pandemic Plusses: A Moment for Another Group of Heroes

I have not been blogging for the past few weeks. No, I have not been sick (for which I am incredibly grateful), nor have I dropped into quarantine depression (yes, the limitations placed on our lives is frustrating, but with the healthcare heroes out there risking all for the greater good, it would be inexcusably selfish for any of us not to do our part). The reason I haven’t been blogging is simple – work.

I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and while I have always given my best in the classroom, distance learning has been a completely different dynamic that has reawakened the awe I have for my colleagues. Today, I want to pay tribute to these behind-the-scenes heroes who are quietly working harder than ever.

The phrase “homeschooling” has been used often during quarantine, but that is not what is happening. To be homeschooled, someone in the family does every aspect of educating family members, developing curriculum, creating lesson plans, meeting state curriculum requirements, monitoring attendance, interacting with students, assessing work, etc. What is actually happening is called distance learning, where our dedicated parents are monitoring and supporting, and often sitting with students as they do work developed, created, and sent by teachers. It has been a wonderful team effort and parents deserve a parade.

Teachers, trained to educate dozens of students at a time in the classroom, using all their gifts and training to take attendance while getting students seated, focused, and working, introducing new lessons and concepts while constantly monitoring for attention and assessing understanding, rephrasing on the fly, questioning to measure evolving comprehension, breaking students into pairs or small groups remaining mindful of classroom dynamics, interpersonal relationships, academic strengths and weaknesses, emotional needs and hazards, even if just having them turn to a partner and discuss, share, or compare. And they do all this while moving the lesson along, one eye on the clock to make sure everything planned and approved gets completed during that lesson.

They are also charged with ensuring students have all they need from Chromebooks to facial tissue to hand sanitizer to paper and pencils, while maintaining an orderly classroom, addressing misbehavior positively, supportively, and privately as they always move forward with the lesson, maintaining records for all of the above as well. Additionally, teachers are expected to continually assess students’ physical, social, and mental health, addressing any issues that arise while keeping each students’ privacy, as well as reporting attendance, any potential health problems, or potential student personal crises, all while respecting and maintaining privacy rights.

Teachers do all this and more in school on a daily basis.

Or they did.

These days teachers are being asked to do all that at a distance, utilizing technology they have just been introduced to and keeping daily track of all of it to ensure we are all moving forward, making progress, and maintaining a positive, quality academic environment.

And teachers are doing it. Mostly through their fingers. This amazes me.

And that is what I mean to celebrate today. What was once dozens of decisions, assessments, comments, and teaching per minute live in the classroom all has to be written out now, and posted, commented on, and emailed about. Students who do not attend class or submit work get emails, parents get follow up emails, and then there are calls home, all of it logged in, forwarded to guidance counselors and administrative supervisors.

I have almost 100 students and posted 2,000 grades over a three week period, the number of interactions rising to over 5,000 with comments on work and assignments and emails. Add to that calls, incorporating administrative directives, learning new technology and how it applies to students (for example, a Zoom meeting among adults is one set of skills, conducting Zoom class creates very different requirements and dynamics), lessons to recreate with videos, screencastify presentations, and so on.

And here’s the thing: teachers are doing all this, for each student, every day. The result is full days of work beginning well before the kids log on until way after they log out – just as school has always been. Somehow, teachers have increased their workload without leaving home and without complaining. With administration, they have creatively and dynamically recreated their physical school environment online, digitally, in the form is distance learning that seeks to conquer distance and make sure students know their teachers are there for each of them. And they developed it, evolved as needed, executed, assessed, adjusted, and raised their game every day while quarantined, from before we went into quarantine.

That is astounding.

But it comes with a price.

The teachers I know from two states and at all levels (pre-k to college) find that 1) they are working harder than ever, 2) would much rather be in the classroom with their students and 3) are profoundly exhausted by all this. And yet, none I know have bailed on these new job requirements. The same can be said for so many other professionals, yes, but this moment is for educators.

And then they get up from their “school space” and are instantly at home with all the family responsibilities that come with it. No speaking with colleagues in the hall or class room to bolster each other, no sharing jokes or pleasant conversation at lunch, no drive home listening to an audiobook or Nirvana at top volume to decompress. We log out and are instantly home, just like the rest of the quarantined world. And that’s how it is. So be it.

The price is that other things fall away, joyous things we no longer have energy for, time for, or the freedom to do. This virus has take from each of us, and forced us to make sacrifices, work as a community in ways we haven’t before, and assess our priorities. Without question, educators have risen to these challenges.

I am so proud of teachers who have done so much more to make sure our kids get everything we have to offer. I know this blog isn’t much but here is my standing ovation for each of you.

You are heroes in my view, and I thank you for inspiring me to get back to writing in this space.

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Pandemic Plusses: Who Defines “The New Normal”?

The struggle is real. I have started several blog posts over the last few days and couldn’t finish any of them. That is not writer’s block, that is fighting to get to the real. It is the only way I can write, no matter how ridiculous and over the top a piece of my fiction might be, I can write as long as I know or at least sense the truth of the story. Same with non-fiction.

I am struggling with the truth of now, I will admit that I am. On TV commercials and podcasts and tweets and blogs and emails, I keep hearing and seeing the phrase “the new normal” being used, and it haunts me.

I know, I know, it is just a phrase and we have much bigger concerns these days. But words matter. How people think about the world matters, fuels how we act upon the world, and it drives the writing I do.

Accepting our current challenges as “the new normal” has ominous implications. To accept the loss of our old reality (you know, from a month ago) and embrace this situation as how life Will now be has that lambs to the slaughter feel from where I am standing. If we accept this as “normal” how much further are we willing to go? Entire schools wearing masks in class? Weddings and bar mitzvahs and quinceaneras and funerals with everyone is masked and maintaining social distancing? Movies and concerts where only every fourth seat is sold?


Even Blade Runner and Road Warrior offered cozier futures than that. I cannot buy into this as “the new normal” and refuse to go so gently into that weird night. But I also acknowledge the terrifying wisdom of horror author Brian Keene, who suggests that whatever is beyond this, our recent past is only memory now.

So, as the curve seems to finally be beginning to flatten in the New York/ New Jersey area, which could be a sign of hope for the rest of the country, we need to ask, what sort of future are we willing to consign ourselves to living?

Are we okay with masks as a part of our every day lives? If the answer is no, we need to fight this right now.

Are we willing to say goodbye to concerts and live shows and movie theatres? If not, we must stay home, especially this week.

Are we ready to accept rolling months of the virus returning to gift us with overpopulated morgues and overwhelmed hospitals? If not, then we all, and I do mean all, must take every precaution to protect ourselves and each other by following all directives on gloves and masks and quarantines.

Are we ready to accept as “the new normal” large scale fear of The Other on levels we thought we had ascended from decades ago? Are we ready to it hate each other again, to scape goat each other until our society crumbles? If not, then we need to accept the simple truths this pandemic has so plainly spelled out for us:

  1. We are one race, diversely expressed, but one unified race.
  2. We must listen when nature and science speak to us, and heed their message promptly, for the good of all.
  3. We must think, on a global scale, about long range cooperation that benefits all.
  4. Political strategies have for decades been prone to being petty and divisive; we need to rise above that limited, tribal thinking, especially when we all need each other so much.
  5. We are stronger, smarter, and more productive when we are helping each other than when we work against each other.
  6. Capitalism has its merits, but profit for its own sake blinds the individual from seeing the whole; just because we can profit from a situation doesn’t mean we should.
  7. Moral capitalism better serves the human race’s long term goals.
  8. Moral and charitable actions should always be about the goal or focus of the act, not about shining a light on those performing the actions.
  9. ”The new normal” suggests the way things will be for the foreseeable future, and we should refuse to accept this as that way.
  10. We, together, can create the “the new normal” we want but we need to agree upon and commit to what that should be, and staying home is a good first step toward that new normal, not the new normal itself.
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