Saturday, July 26, 2014

First Look at Darkness Internal Issue 2!

The next issue of Voluted Tales' The Darkness Internal, created and edited by this here guy right here, is soon to go live. In the meantime, below is the cover image (not a final version) of the next issue. As always, I am very proud of the work being presented. This time, however, I had some input on the cover's concept.

I am very pleased to see that artist Terry Pavlet took my vague notion and made it something really eye-catching!

Here it is:

I will also a link when the issue goes live.


For those interested in reading the final installment of the Catholic and Buddhist posts, don't fret none. It's a'comin'!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Catholic & a Buddhist Walk into a Nursing Home Part II: The Special Section

(Continued from Part I)

Having left the woman who had been pleading for death behind, we made our way deeper into the nursing home, in search of the next person on the list. Dazed by our recent experience, we walked in circles in the hallway for a few moments.

My wife sucked up her tears and said, “This isn’t my suffering; it’s hers.”

Together we walked back into the main lobby, where one of my wife’s favorite patients sat in the window, as usual. Her husband who only has one arm sits with her all day and they stare out at the day as if on the cusp of joining it. Despite having dementia, she can be surprisingly lucid and her attitude is always positive and upbeat.  That includes this visit, during which she admitted to having been feeling a bit down the past few days.

She and my wife agreed it was likely due to the abrupt temperature changes we’d been experiencing and more pleasant small talk took place afterwards. Sometimes the husband would chime in with words that didn’t sound quite like words, his bemused expression more distant than that of his wife.  I looked over and saw a woman coming towards us, smiling. She had been at the counter next to us signing in. She was also the daughter of the couple we’d been talking to.

She too had been to church that morning, happily sharing the message she’d heard about monitoring our words and actions when it comes to dealing with others.  She was a positive force in a negative place and, perhaps selfishly, I was grateful for her presence so soon after the woman who’d been pleading with us to let her die.

My wife and the daughter hugged once they’d concluded Communion, both of us still stunned by the revelation that she was 62 years old. We’d thought she was in our age group. And her mother, whose appearance indicated no older than early seventies, is nearly ninety.

We went to the dreaded second floor next, the one with the special section of advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. One lady in particular holds a special place in my wife’s heart because she was one of the first patients she connected with when she first started her ministry and because the woman looks like she could be a relative. She’s been in hospice care for months and comes and goes as far as awareness is concerned. This time she was very aware and very much into taking the host.  I had to stay behind for a few minutes and make sure she didn’t choke before rejoining my wife in the patient lounge.

This was where some of the worst patients were located. Elderly men and mostly women sitting in wheelchairs, staring off into nothing, drooling, spitting. But not all of them.

While my wife was busily doing her best to pray for and with a woman who barely registered her presence, I had gained the attention of a couple old ladies who, shall we say, were in enough possession of their faculties to have the following conversation:

Lady#2- Now that’s what I like right there. Big and tall!

Lady #1- Tell him.

Lady#2- What? No!

Lady#1- Go ahead. Tell him what you like.

Please let this pass, I thought. Please let this pass.

I knew it wouldn’t; I’d had this experience at too many nursing homes in the days my mom was trapped in them to expect any other result except what happened next.

Lady#2 said, “Stop it. You’re crazy!”

Lady# 1 reached over and tapped my arm. I pretended not to understand what she said next, prompting her to repeat herself.

With a raised eyebrow and a smile that was probably sultry when she was younger, Lady#1 said, “She said she likes them big and tall like you.” She leaned in closer. “I like it too!”

I laughed nervously. “Thank you.”

Now she was holding onto my wrist with all her strength which was, surprisingly, pretty impressive.  “Do you have any brothers?” she said.

“No, I’m an only child.”

“You’re an only child?” She glanced over her shoulder and leaned closer to me. “Any cousins?”

The young medical assistant who had let us through the security doors walked over, covered her mouth with her hand, and asked if Lady#1 was bothering me.

“No, she’s fine.” Aside from her aggressiveness, this was nothing new.

“Yep, I have some cousins,” I said.

“You do, huh?” She pulled me in closer. “Well, bring ‘em! Bring ‘em all up here!” She laughed, but not in a way that meant she was joking.

The medical assistant said, “I’m so sorry, sir!”

I forced a chuckle and disengaged my wrist, following my oblivious wife to the next woman, whose dementia was so advanced she had to wear a bib due to periodic spitting. She had no idea what was happening and, after a quick prayer, we moved on to Lady#3.

She was sitting in a wheelchair off the beaten path.  As we approached, she looked up at me and said, “Hello, Father.”

My wife said, “Oh, no. He’s not a priest, he’s my husband. He’s helping me with the Communion. Would you like to take Communion?”

Lady#3, whose eyes had been half shut, seemed to come to life as she looked me up and down. “That’s your husband, huh?”

“Yes,” my wife replied.

“Good-lookin’ man,” Lady#3 replied. “GOOD-lookin’ man. Mmmmm-hmmmmm.”

If I were a Christian, I suppose I’d say the prayer she welcomed afterwards hopefully wiped out the sinful lustfulness in her heart!

Frankly, I was eager to leave what I now saw as the “horny section” of the nursing room. As it turned out, the most emotional experience still awaited us both.

(To Be Concluded)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Catholic & a Buddhist Walk into a Nursing Home Part I: Pleading For Death

To paraphrase the insane, enormous woman on the reality show about trading wives, I’m not a Christian. I’m also not a Catholic. I’m a Zen Buddhist and have considered myself one for two decades, despite no longer practicing. My wife, however, is both a Christian and a Catholic (Yes, they're Christians, too) and she is also a Eucharistic Minister. What that means is, she takes what Catholics call the “host,” more commonly known as Communion wafers, to those who cannot visit church and participate in the ritual.

Actually, these are people who can’t participate in much of anything because they’re elderly nursing home patients, many of whom are in the throes of various forms of dementia. The Catholic Church is huge on charitable acts to those who are suffering, one of several traits they share with Buddhists. In addition, this particular church is run by Franciscan monks, men like Pope Francis, whose devotion to those in need is both admirable and intense.

Each week, my wife delivers the host to these unfortunate elderly people, and I have been going with her of late to make it easier both logistically and emotionally. Buddha spoke of having compassion for those who cannot escape suffering, and this certainly qualifies.

I’ll be honest: In the beginning, I didn’t quite understand the point beyond maintaining religious commitments to those who belonged to the Catholic Church. Having grown up Protestant, I’d taken Communion in a few Lutheran churches, but its significance, while high, was not as important in those churches as it was in the Protestant churches I attended. I didn’t know that for Catholics, the belief is that these wafers as we call them literally transform into the body of Christ.

I’ll be even more honest: That kinda creeps me out. I’m pretty sure most people who were raised Protestant feel the same way. But that’s not important. What matters is that, for these tragic individuals, it’s a link to their past when they were still young and vital and even aware enough to participate on their own. Watching how they respond to the ritual is proof enough of that.

My previous trips to this particular nursing home were difficult for me; my mother spent a few years in three different ones due to Type 1 Diabetes and complications brought upon by it. She was only in her early fifties and a clinical psychologist, so the staff tended to regard her as a mentor. They also knew I was going to be there too often to pull any shit; not that they would have. It helped that some of them also had crushes on me, I suppose.

By contrast, these people (mostly women) are old and confused and some seem to have been deposited there like expired food waiting to be thrown away for good. One woman, Nettie, expressed her utter loneliness when she said no one ever comes to see her. That brought tears to my eyes, but the most recent trip was a whole different story.

We go from room to room based on a church supplied list.  There are two floors, including a section where special access is required because of the mental state of the patients there. Sometimes we “luck out” and find several of the listed people in the lunch room. Today, as we walked in, my wife spotted two of the women she normally visits.  The first one took Communion like always, graciously and cooperatively.  The next one was a different story.

My wife had to confirm and re-confirm this was the correct person; she didn’t look like the same woman from before.  She seemed older, more withdrawn.  Once her identity was established, my wife asked her if she wanted to take Communion.

“Please!” the woman yelled. “Please!”

“You do want to take Communion?”

“Please!” she repeated. “Please! Please!”

“All right,” my wife replied. “We’ll start with a prayer.”

“Please let me die!” the woman yelled.

My wife’s eyes filled with tears. Mine did, too, and I looked away as the woman kept repeating the phrase. Even during the prayer, she kept saying it. She didn’t want to take the host, either, which is their choice, but my wife couldn’t just walk away. She started telling the woman what a wonderful person she was and how God loved her. The woman stared at her with eyes filled with intense understanding; far too much to be dismissed as someone with Dementia.  She grabbed onto my wife’s hand with all her might and stared into her eyes as the words “wonderful” and “love” and “good” filled the air.

She said it again, this time with less conviction but still enough to show she meant business.  “Please let me die!”

My wife told her she understood.

“No, you don’t!” the woman yelled.

“You’re right, I don’t,” my wife replied. “I only understand that you’re suffering.” She hugged the woman, and the woman leaned her head in.

That was only the beginning of a day filled with sadness, reminders of mortality, and even a few dashes of humor.

(To Be Continued)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Don't Write For Free.

That's right, I don't. What does that mean exactly? It means several things, and I've gone to the trouble of bullet pointing those things  below:

  •  I don't send my work to entities that promise "exposure" in an era where any simpleton with an internet connection can obtain the same.
  • I don't contribute my work, non-fiction or fiction, for free in the hopes that my other work will be purchased by people who...just read my work for free.
  • I don't do gimmicky giveaways of my work in the hopes that it will act like a gateway drug and magically inspire people to buy whatever else I've written. If they aren't willing to spend .99 on a short story, they aren't my readers, they're bargain shoppers.
  • I don't have my work published in anthologies and magazines so you as a reader can tell me you don't feel like buying the whole thing and wonder if I would be a lamb and just send you an emailed free copy of my work.
  • I don't work for next to free, meaning idiotic offers such as $1.00 per thousand words are unacceptable and laughable.
  • I don't submit work to collections based on who else is in it, i.e. "This well-known author is going to be in it so that means others will read yours, too! YAY!"

 In short, if it can't at least buy me a cheeseburger, I ain't interested.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Article About Banned Books that Yahoo...Banned.

Below is an exact copy of an article I submitted for publication to the Yahoo Contributor Network. I have been cranking out articles for them for the past couple months, all of which were accepted and published until now. For some reason, this one was deemed unacceptable by their standards.

I am posting the article here because I'm curious to know what exactly was the issue. Below the article is the editor's response to the piece and below that are the sections of their submission guidelines that most closely relate to the rubber stamped feedback I received:

Every year, a list of banned books gets circulated and those who find the very idea abhorrent tell everybody they're going to read those books just because they have been banned. Unlike in the not-so-distant past, books that get banned are no longer being withheld from adults who might find them interesting. These days, it's kids who suffer the most.

This phenomenon isn't limited to the Bible belt or the Midwest either. And while the majority of those with a vested interest in suppressing the written word tended to be right wing in the United States, that is most certainly no longer the case. It's becoming increasingly as common to hear parents decrying a book selection for their kids because they portray racism as it is to find objections to sexual content. So-called "political correctness" is just as much a motivator for censorship as prudishness.

In response, an observation known as "Banned Book Week" sprung up in an attempt to expose what they saw as the sheer stupidity of censorship. On the organization's website, they write, "Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries."

Reasons for book banning range from finding subject matter offensive to avoiding controversy. Millions of parents are apparently so afraid of their children reading such books that they feel the need to prevent them from doing so. The very Freedom of Speech that allows writers to create works they choose is also used to curb the reach of those works in favor of such vagaries as "Christian decency" and "racial sensitivity."

To ban a book is to also ban an idea and, often, a truth. It is the act of thought control many of its proponents are the first to speak out against when it's happening in a way they don't sanction. Limiting access to important and controversial written work is tantamount to societal blindfolding, a crippling act that has developed a culture of sub-literate, provincial loudmouths who think opinions are as good as facts. So, why is it ultimately good for society?

For starters, the mere act of banning something increases interest in it. That might not be true amongst the Mormons of Utah who feel justified in watching non-studio approved edits of Hollywood films, but most people want to know what all the fuss is about. Why, they wonder, is that book no longer on the required reading list? What could possibly make it so objectionable?

One of the reasons libraries must never go away is because they stand as the vanguard against censorship and selective release of information. If parents in a staggeringly ignorant move decide Mark Twain's fiction is racially insensitive or encourages rebellion, kids can go to their library and decide for themselves.

It's never too early to learn critical thinking, regardless of what many Americans believe. Even a child has the capacity to observe and record and interpret…with help. Instead of suppressing that, we should be encouraging it and helping it along.

The other reason book banning is a boon to society is even more vital, and it's surprising that those so hot to do it haven't picked up on this yet. Banning books keeps the written word at a high level of importance. Perhaps many religious Americans know better than to try and eliminate the perception of written words being important because they know how that would make their insistence that the Bible or whatever religious book they follow is the most important a bit less acceptable.

While people are still actively engaged in book banning, that means books still have the power to inspire, instill, change and even outrage readers. True, many of these people have never read the books they want to see gone, but again their actions inspire others to do so.

Whoever said, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right" had the right idea. As long as people still care enough to go after books that make them uncomfortable, that means books haven't become dusty relics without purpose. How can that not be beneficial to society?

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we cannot publish this content because it contains language, references, or ideas deemed inappropriate by Yahoo! Contributor Network. We encourage you to consult our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we cannot publish this content, because it contains language, references or ideas deemed inappropriate by Yahoo Contributor Network. We encourage you to consult our Submission Guidelines for more information.


Don't go "there." Examples of content we won't publish or link to: Anything pornographic, threatening, obscene, defamatory, or abusive; hate speech; anything that encourages illegal or discriminatory conduct; anything containing potentially offensive generalizations about a group of people; anything that promotes online gambling sites; anything that infringes on the rights of a third party; anything that constitutes or encourages cyber-bullying. This list is not exhaustive. (We recognize that many of these descriptors are necessarily subjective, but in order to maintain a library of great content that’s safe for all Web readers, we will apply these standards at our sole discretion, as necessary.)

Don’t rant. We welcome your authentic personal perspective, but we ask you to avoid using an extremely negative tone. Criticism should be thoughtful and measured, should make clear distinctions between opinion and fact, and should cite sources when appropriate. If you just need to vent, your personal blog is a more suitable venue. Never let frustration lead you to factually misrepresent any individual, product, business, service, or other entity.

On the off chance I didn't include a relevant reason for the rejection based on the editor's remarks, click the hyperlink above and read the entire thing. I did. I still don't see it.