Thursday, October 10, 2019

Grief


This is just a brief addendum to my previous post. It is the grateful acknowledgement of another pain I have not had to endure.

You will have to look closely at the photo above to see that those blue balloons are attached to party hats. I took this picture in the cemetery next door. That particular section is reserved for babies and toddlers who have passed over.

On a gloomy, rainy day, I drove into the cemetery to take Sgt. Thomas Tibbs for a walk, but the balloons grabbed my attention, and I pulled over long enough to snap the shot. Then I got out and went to investigate.

Beneath each balloon was a festive party hat, and beneath each hat was a small, sealed envelope, protected from the rain in a clear plastic bag. All the baby graves had a similar envelope, save the grave up front, the one that is frequently decorated with toys. The same one that was piled high with fresh snow one day last winter. (No, it doesn't snow here. At least, not at this elevation. But we're an hour's drive from the mountains. Someone had gone up and brought down enough snow to make a mound three feet tall and nearly as wide.)

The envelopes were addressed to the parents of the deceased: "To the parents of Isaiah" ... "To the parents of Sarah Lynn" ....

I couldn't help it. My curiosity got the best of me. I slipped open one of the ziplock bags, hoping to see what was inside the envelope. But they were all sealed.

You are left to your imagination, as I was.

But the parent 'hosting' the party for departed young souls was clearly reaching out--in grief, in kindness, in empathy--to all the other parents who were experiencing the same loss.

Weird? Amazing? Compassionate? Loving? Yes.

Thank you, Universe, that in this life, I have never shared that experience. All of my children, all of my grandchildren, are well and healthy.

May it be so until I draw my last breath... and join the others for the party.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Pain


Last night as I was trying to pop some frozen fruit out of an ice cube tray, my hand slipped and my right thumb smashed into the counter at just the precise angle to bend the nail back so far it bled. It hurt enough for me to make continual guttural sounds, possibly blaspheming, for about ten minutes. (I don’t remember what I said or if I said anything coherent. I just remember it hurt enough to require some verbal response.) It was tender for the remainder of the evening, but my only inconvenience was not being able to quickly unlock my iPhone as I couldn’t use my right thumb print to do so.

That pain, that smashed thumb pain, was nothing like what I’ve been experiencing for the past three weeks.

I don’t know what I did. It might have been a yoga position performed without adequate stretching. It might have been sitting in an awkward position for too long. But three Sundays ago I woke up with pain in my hips radiating down my left leg and into my calf. After I returned from my usual dog walk with Sgt. Thomas Tibbs (because why wouldn’t I go?), I could hardly walk. I ended up on the floor on my back, knees pulled up, breath coming in moaning sobs.

The pain in my calf from the irritation of the sciatic nerve felt as if a dragon had sunk its talons into the back of my leg and would periodically squeeze just to remind me it had all power over me.

For the first few days, I barely functioned, spending most of my time on my back, a heating pad beneath my hips. After an appointment with my doctor, some time on an oral steroid and copious amounts of Ibuprofen, I slowly—ever so slowly—began to feel some relief. I am still recovering, but in the last few days, I’ve been able to walk Thomas again, which is one activity I simply can’t live without.

That pain, that sciatic nerve pain, was excruciating. But it was nothing like the pain a friend is going through now as her husband, recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease, begins to decline. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling. The two are inseparable soulmates. They’re my age, so they should be looking forward to another 20 or 30 years together. Instead, they are trying to maximize the handful of years they may—or may not—have left. Outwardly, she is still smiling, still maintaining her strength, her warmth, her tender care of the man she loves. Inwardly…. As I said, I can’t imagine what hellish heartbreak she’s experiencing.
Pain is relative.

I will confess that as I began to spiral downward into the vortex of pain my sciatica produced, I felt myself on the edge of despair. I had to summon all my strategies—reading good books, talking to good friends, hunkering down on the floor with Thomas or curling up on the couch with the kitties—so that depression didn’t take me over. I kept wondering how I would survive if this issue with sciatica became my new normal. How would I cope with the harshness of the world at large if I couldn’t walk my dog out into the quiet countryside and center myself?

But sometimes surviving comes down to a matter of perspective. I hurt. And the pain immobilized me physically. But it was nothing like losing a loved one. When I couldn’t get out to buy groceries, a friend brought pizza. Another friend came by to socialize and to reassure me that I would get better with time. I never lacked food or shelter or love. How can I not see myself as incredibly blessed compared to those in the world who go hungry daily or live in constant fear for their lives due to war or oppression?

Perspective is everything.

This morning, for the first time in weeks, I walked with my good dog on a quiet, dusty road far from the bustle of the city. We inhaled the autumn-crisp air and watched the sun slowly rise in the east as the birds began to flit around us and chatter. My hands on Thom’s leash were freezing, but my heart was warm. May this gratitude continue, even if I am once again immersed in pain.



Friday, September 13, 2019

Subconscious as Superhero

These are my fleshed out notes from a talk I presented to the High Desert branch of the California Writers Club on September 14, 2019.


This talk is the result of a long email exchange between author Michael Welker and myself. Michael wrote Blockbuster Blueprint, and if you write fiction, it's a how-to book you definitely need to have on your shelf. Michael is also a former student of mine. He's one of those whiz kids who knows so much about everything it's hard for him to focus on the one thing that he wants to pursue that will change the world in a positive way. He's currently living in Japan and working for Universal Studios, but his plan is to retire when he's forty.

Anyway, Michael and I have kept up a regular email correspondence since he graduated high school in 2003. At some point a few years back, we were both chastising ourselves for not spending more time on our professional writing, and we asked each other why. At the time, Michael happened to be studying neuroscience. Not in college. Just recreationally. Because he was interested. When I was in college, I majored in literature but I minored in psychology. So, between the two of us in our email discussions, we came across some steps that have worked for us to enlist our subconscious minds in making us more productive as writers.

Three years ago, I was so happy to be able to start saying I was "retired." Until I got to thinking: No, I'm not. I'm not retired; I've just transitioned to my dream job, which is writing full time. From home. In my pajamas. You are not retired, either, if you're writing.

I want to change your brain about that.

Of those of you who are... self-employed as a writer... How many of you are writing 1,000 words a day?

Why not? Go ahead, think for a minute of all the reasons you're not writing a thousand words a day.

I want to change your brain a bit.

More specifically:

Help you change the story you've been telling yourself so you can be more productive in your writing.

This time, I'm hoping you'll be able to include your own personal superpower in that story.

What I say today will sound a bit like New Age-y Hocus Pocus. It's not. It's based on neuroscience, which is the science of how your brain works.

I just ask that you listen and keep an open mind.

Having said that, let me say this:

The Buddha said: Our lives are shaped by our minds; you become what you think.

Have you ever written the beginning of a story or the first chapter (or three) of a book but then stopped and never finished.

What did you tell yourself when you didn't finish? 'When I get time, I'll get back to that.' 'When I figure out what happens next, I'll get back to that.' 'When I edit what I've already written and I'm satisfied with that, I'll get back to that.'

Sound familiar?

My personal favorite is: "When I get time...." I've been keeping a personal journal since college. Some years ago, I spent the summer re-reading my journals back for ten years. And let me tell you, I had ten years' worth of long, repetitive journal entries--written out in cursive--wherein I complained vociferously about not having enough time to write. Seriously. See where this is going? 'I would write that novel if I only had time to write'—I WROTE REPEATEDLY FOR TEN YEARS.

Why is this?

Our subconscious minds are protecting us, sometimes in a gentle sweet way, and sometimes viciously.

My current dog, Thomas, is a cattle dog mix. If we are hiking, and he senses something that he perceives as potentially dangerous, he leaves my side and walks directly crosswise to my path, attempting to gently turn me away from danger.  This is quite different from the behavior of a dog I once had and loved dearly. Alex Haley was a Rottie-Chow mix who was, most of the time, a huge, lovable, shaggy puppy. Unless a stranger came around, at which point he would bark! bark! bark! to try to keep me protected from the danger he perceived.

To both dogs, this was just doing their job as loyal canines, but in different ways.

Your subconscious does the same. It protects you.

In psychology, this is called a defense mechanism, and this concept has been around a lot time. When your subconscious wants to protect you from something that will cause you anxiety, it throws up a defense mechanism.

I don't want to spend time explaining defense mechanisms if you're unfamiliar, and I'm not an expert on them anyway, I just find them fascinating. With a simple online search, you can find out a lot more about them.

Relevant to our purposes today: Your subconscious is either your villain or your super-hero. When you begin a project or have an idea but don't follow through, most likely it is your subconscious stopping you from this anxiety-producing activity, either in a gentle way—"Here, why don't you click over here and scroll through Facebook while that idea gels some more"—or in a more direct way by barking at you—"Why waste your time on that? No one's going to read it anyway. Remember what happened the last time you finished something and sent it out? Nothing. Nothing happened. And nothing will happen again. So why don't you grab a beer and turn on Dancing with the Stars?"

It's not the writing itself that produces anxiety—it's the potential finished product that scares us into stopping (or not starting at all).

When I wrote the prologue to Tainted Legacy, it was one of the scariest writing projects I ever undertook. That memoir is about my mother and her childhood and her beloved grandmother--who was, of course, accused of multiple murders--and my relationship with my mother had always been tenuous. What if I hurt her deeply? I put off starting for months--telling myself I didn't have time. And then one day I had to have work done on my truck, and I had to wait for it, so I grabbed a notebook and simply began writing the book. I wrote for over an hour without stopping. My hands never stopped shaking. But I knew better than to put that notebook away when I got home. I kept going. Three months later, the book was finished.

As for those people who say, "I don't care if it gets published, I'm just writing for myself, so I don't worry about that," okay, that's fine. But if you're saying that, you should know that it's probably "denial," a clearly defined defense mechanism. It protects you from ever having to suffer rejection.

Writers write to be read. That's the truth. You know why? Because we're sublimating.

Sublimation is a very positive, very effective defense mechanism. Writers take all the experiences that have caused them pain or anger or grief and they turn those feelings into poems and stories and novels and memoirs. It's very powerful.

So we need to write, and we need to write every day, and don't get me started on having the discipline to put your posterior in a chair every day because that's a whole other talk but trust me, you just have to.

Think about this:

If you write a thousand words a day, in 60 days, you'll have a novel.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward and a gazillion other novels, manages to write two books a year and still have time to ride her horse every afternoon. She's 64. By the way, she started writing full time in 1980. Pay It Forward, her first real commercial success, was published in 1999.

Author Douglas Clegg said: "I believe the great American novel will be written by someone who writes." Not the smartest, most educated person with an MFA from the best program, but simply the person who writes and writes and writes.

Consider that young Southern woman who wrote that one bestseller. You know, Nell Lee. We know her better by her middle name, Harper. Talk about the great American novel! To Kill a Mockingbird is still in print, sixty years after its debut.

How do we do that?

Harness your superhero. Make your subconscious work for you. It's that easy. You become what you think.

1. Decide that you're going to have a time and place to write—uninterrupted—every day (or six days a week or whatever).

Be reasonable but also be resolute.

Also be goal oriented. (A word of advice: Never use time as a goal. Use a tangible accomplishment: One page a day. (It's how a young lawyer named John Grisham wrote his first novel, A Time to Kill.) Five hundred words. A thousand words. Three paragraphs.

2. Show up. This used to be the hardest one for me until I heard Harry Cauley speak. Harry said something I immediately wrote down and I'll never forget it: Writing is one of the loneliest professions there is. No kidding. I'm older and single. My kids are busy living their best lives, and my grandkids are working or in college or both. I spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes the only people I talk to for days have fur on them. Scrolling through Facebook makes me feel less alone in the world. It is also a bottomless rabbit hole, a giant time-eater that calls to me early in the morning. After all, who doesn't want to look at photos of a friend's new puppy? Or kitten? Or grandchild? Or their breakfast plate?

3. Be aware that your subconscious is going to block you at every turn—because it's protecting you from anxiety—because WHAT IF you sit down and there are no words or what you write is terrible or what you write is wonderful but you can't figure out where to send it to get it published or you do send it out and it gets rejected? Huh? What if that happens?

4. Take a few really deep breaths.

5. Narrow your focus; you're not sitting in the writer's seat to consider what may happen in the future with this particular piece of writing. You're sitting there to express your true identity, to be your most authentic self. Be present in the moment and let that sink in.

Just as a side note here, I highly recommend ten minutes or so of meditation. Not the sort in which you attempt to reach Nirvana or 'clear your mind of all thoughts.' Writers are intelligent, curious, creative people; our minds are constantly awhirl with thoughts and questions and ideas. Meditation in the sense of allowing your brain to begin ignoring all outside distractions and focusing on the task at hand. What do you want to write today? Focus simply on that and nothing else in your meditation. Keep breathing.

Did you know that when you are fully immersed in writing you are in what's called a "trance state"? You may think of it as being "in the zone," and you may have had one of those experiences in which you begin writing and everything else fades away and you look up some time later and realize you've been writing for three hours and you've missed lunch. The quickest way to enter a trance state (no, you don't have to wait around for it to happen) is to meditate.

6. Give yourself a mantra and say it aloud or write it down. My favorite: I'm just going to write one sentence, and I'm perfectly capable of writing a decent sentence. A neural pathway opens in your brain every time you speak an affirmation aloud. (There's some New Age-y hocus pocus for you.)

We used to call this self-hypnosis or the power of positive thinking: Repeating aloud the sentence "I am a non-smoker" is how one of my husband's quit smoking when all else failed. True story.

Use whatever works, and, again, be mindful of those subconscious messages. As soon as they pop up—"Why are you wasting your time?"—smack them back down with a positive affirmation: "My writing is an important part of who I am."

That's a great mantra! If you say that every day, it will become embedded in your subconscious mind. You'll find yourself inadvertently blurting it out at social gatherings. "Oh, Kay, Bob tells me you're a writer." "Yes, my writing is an important part of who I am." Oh dear! Where did that come from? My super-hero subconscious!

What's the story you've been telling yourself? That you're not good enough? You are. That you don't have time? You do. That it won't be perfect? It won't be. It doesn't have to be perfect. To Kill a Mockingbird is not a flawless novel. But it's beautiful and powerful and still in print after sixty years.

Our lives are shaped by our minds. We become what we think. Change the story you've been telling yourself. Unleash that superhero and feel the power!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Salinas: Part Three

I know, I know, it took me forever to post this last part (and I promise it's the last part), but I've been busy reading amazing books (In the Country of Women, News of the World) and watching the Gilmore Girls and having my heart broken a bit (don't even ask; it involves a dog). But I'm back. So here's what happened on my last day at the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas:

I met two wonderful men. Not one. Two.

The first being John Steinbeck himself:


Okay, that's not really John Steinbeck, obviously. (Look closely in the background and you'll see a photo of the real Steinbeck.) But there he was in the bookstore as a dozen or so attendees showed up early on Saturday morning for an event billed as "Coffee with Steinbeck." As we assembled, finding chairs and nodding to one another, he introduced himself to each one of us, asking for our names and where we were from, shaking our hands and saying, "I'm John." 

When everyone was settled, he began his talk by telling us that he couldn't stay long, that he had come from "literary heaven" and would have to return soon, but in his time with us, he wanted to answer any questions we might have about his books. He remembered our names and asked us, one at a time, why we had come to "his" center. The charming thing is, everyone played along.

"I came to see you, Mr. Steinbeck," I told him. "I read The Grapes of Wrath as a teenager, and over the years, I read the rest of your books because I love your writing. I couldn't wait to meet you." Everyone else gave similar responses, how a particular book of his had changed their life or made them see the world in a different light. He thanked us, humbly, sharing small pieces about how or why he wrote each book as we mentioned them. It was a magical hour that flew by and then he was escorted away quickly by staff because he had promised to give tours of "his" truck, Rocinante. (See previous post.)

Then I walked across the hall to hear another amazing man speak. If you read this blog often, you know how much I love dogs, so you can assume I would be drawn in by this recipe: writer + rescue dog + trip across America tracing Steinbeck's journey in Travels With Charley.

Peter Zheutlin (journalist and author of Rescue Road, a book about the long haul rescue work of Greg Mahle who drives dogs from the deep South to their new families in the North) decided to take his rescue pup, Albie, on a tour of America much like Steinbeck had with Charley. The book is titled The Dog Went Over the Mountain, and it is a memoir recounting Zheutlin's journey.

That morning in the Salinas Room of the Steinbeck Center, Zheutlin shared a PowerPoint presentation of his photos from the trip. Of course, he had me at "rescue dog," but seeing all those pictures of places I've been to and places I'm still longing to see, sweet Albie feartured in each one, made me envious of his trip. Everyone should take such a trip across this big, beautiful country, a good dog alongside as companion.

Afterward, Zheutlin did a signing in the bookstore--and sold out the limited number of early-release copies of the book his publisher had given him. (Did I mention that he is donating a percentage of the sales to animal rescue?) I hovered around until his wife began to look at me askance, and I had to explain that I was trying to get the perfect picture with Steinbeck's photo in the background to post on Instagram, at which point she jumped in ardently to do the same.



A dog show had been planned to follow Zheutlin's presentation, but only one dog--a glamorous white standard poodle--showed up to participate, so that dog walked off with a blue ribbon after performing several tricks for the small but enthusiastic crowd that had gathered.

After that, it was a beer and a quesadilla made with freshly grilled (while I watched), locally grown vegetables and a homemade (dear heavens, thank you) tortilla for me. Then I wandered back to my room to do some writing and plan my drive home the next day.

I'm already excited about attending the Steinbeck Festival next year. Who's with me?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Salinas: Part Two


Photo courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California

(You will find Part One of this narrative below this one.)

I arrived in Salinas on Friday afternoon and easily found the old Victorian home I would be staying in. I chose an AirBNB room because it cost me half of what I would have paid at a hotel, and it was located a half mile from the National Steinbeck Center. You know that old saying, “You get what you pay for?” It was exactly true in this situation. Enough said about that.

I met my hostess, dumped my stuff in my room, took a quick shower and changed into jeans, t-shirt and sneaks for my walk downtown. The Steinbeck Center is perfectly located at the far west end of Main Street. There’s a Starbucks across the street (there ya go, tourists), and it’s a classic Main street, with broad sidewalks, shops and restaurants.

Checking in at the Center was easy, and a minute later I was donning my Steinbeck Festival 2019 lanyard which would be my ID for the weekend. Six feet inside the door of the Center is the bookstore, and before I had even completed checking in, I’d seen something I wanted to get for my son-in-law (who loves Steinbeck, too, and I’m going to say “nearly” as much as I do), so that twenty minutes after checking in I was back at the front desk to pay for all the merchandise I’d purchased.


To kick off the festival, the organizers had planned a panel discussion (“Did Americans Ever Get Along?”) with some fancy folks (a Stanford prof, a Cambridge University prof, and Patricia Limerick, a University of Colorado prof—who was lovely and quite a hoot). I had time before that started, so I strolled down Main Street, found a great restaurant that served farm-to-table cuisine, and ate a delicious salad of fresh greens, roasted beets and goat cheese.

Then I strolled back in time for the Big Event—which turned out to be a bust, as far as I was concerned. The Salinas Room of the Center was packed with a couple hundred people by the time I got there, and organizers were bustling around, adding more chairs. I grabbed one near the back in case I felt compelled to duck out later—which I did. If you’re confused by the topic of the discussion, you’re not alone. Each year the committee chooses one of Steinbeck’s writings as the theme for the festival. This year, it was Steinbeck’s last book, America and Americans, a work as timely today as it was in 1966 when it was first published. The book is essentially a long narrative about our social history, how we’ve treated each other (not well) and what needs to change if we are to be successful as a nation (greater inclusion, less disparity in wealth).

But here were these three distinguished persons answering ambiguous questions about an already ambiguous topic from a moderator who was clearly, blatantly, not interested in what the woman had to say. When the discussion reached the point at which she volunteered to answer a question and the moderator asked her brusquely to hold her thought because he wanted to hear what the professor from Stanford had to say in response, I was done. I slipped out, strolled across the lobby to the museum where a wine and cheese after-party had been set up, snagged a glass of wine and chatted with the vintners.

Oh, the museum!

I just can’t describe it. If you’re a lover of Steinbeck, you just must go and stroll through and look and linger and read all the exhibits and see the displays and, in doing so, remember your joy in reading Cannery Row or Sweet Thursday or the agonized journey you shared with the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath or the wisdom you gleaned from East of Eden or the wanderlust you felt while reading Travels with Charley.

Rocinante is there. She is the good old truck with a camper shell Steinbeck drove across America with his dog, Charley. Actually, it was a photograph of Rocinante in Westways Magazine that started me on this journey. I couldn’t believe the old tank was still around—and parked in the museum where everyone could see her. (Actually, during the festival, for a price, you could buy a ticket to be taken inside the camper shell.) On a road trip to Missouri some years ago, I’d listened to Travels with Charley (read by Gary Sinise). I drove my beloved Dodge Ram on that trip, stopping at small towns. The only aspect missing, I thought at the time with great yearning, was a dog.

So there I was, wine glass in hand, staring at the Rocinante, steeped in the memories of that trip to Missouri, witness to the best parts of America, as Steinbeck had been. Oh, that I would have had a good dog as companion for that trip!

To honor Steinbeck’s love of dogs, one of the festival events this year was a dog show, entries open to the public, with the SPCA of Monterey County bringing adoptable dogs to the Center. But all that was scheduled for Saturday, and by the time I’d finished my half-glass of wine and sampled the cheese, grapes and crackers, I was ready to walk the half mile back to my room and fall in bed exhausted.


"I shall take my dog, and that is another reassurance that I am neither dangerous nor insane." --John Steinbeck

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Salinas: Part One

Photo courtesy of the Los Padres ForestWatch website

If you are a lover of good books + Nature + solid, suspenseful writing + birds of prey (or a combination of any of those), you might consider reading John Moir’s brilliant narrative, Return of the Condor. It’s educational (Moir is also a teacher of science in addition to being a fine writer), but it’s also tremendously engrossing.

I say all that as preface to this:
When I left Cayucos on the morning of August 2nd to head to Salinas (scroll two posts back to find that post), I made the decision to travel up the coast along Highway 1. I hadn’t done the drive in twenty years, but it had been so memorable the previous time, I wanted to do it again. [Side note: If you live in California, and you haven’t done the drive, get the hell up there. If you don’t live in Cali but are planning a visit, ya gotta go there.]

Driving up this coastal highway meant driving along the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, looking down to see waves crashing along the rocks and seabirds flying—for three hours, with no radio reception and no cell reception. If I had remembered to bring my iPod, I could’ve plugged it into my car and listened to my music library—which would’ve had me singing for three hours. But I’d forgotten it. So it was just me and the sea. And let me tell you, I loved every glorious minute of it, over the one-hundred-plus mile trip, through the mist and fog of early morning into the bright sunshine dancing across the surface of the water, blue all the way to the horizon on my left, tall trees and rolling green hills to my right. A bit of heaven, for sure.

As I drove, I frequently saw the shadows of big birds crossing over the top of the car. Along the coast, we have gulls and huge brown pelicans and ravens and peregrine falcons—the same as most coastlines. But in California, we also have—because of the controversial but now successful captive breeding program—California Condors, the biggest bird you’ll ever see in the wild. (They have a ten-foot wingspan. Ten. feet. Go ahead. Take a moment; try to imagine it.)

Reading John Moir’s book some years ago raised my awareness of the treasure that these big ugly flying dinosaurs are. (They eat the large dead aquatic animals that wash up on shore.) And it also made me aware that (now, finally) there are places in California where we can spot them—more and more, actually, as their numbers continue to recover.

So there I was, driving along, joyfully singing some tune a cappella, when I looked up at just the right moment in just the right spot to see two young but fully feathered California Condors riding the thermals above me. Booyah! Then I wasn’t singing anymore, I was shouting. I’ve been birdwatching since I was in elementary school. To have seen two of these gigantic creatures in the wild on such a day just tipped my joy over into the jubilee zone. Oh my goodness!! I felt incredibly blessed. In fact, I felt as if my ancestors had sent them as a sign: ‘Here ya go, girl. Be safe on your travels, and know that even though mistakes have been made, and the environment has not been cared for as it should have been, and you have often grieved that, we are here behind the scenes, trying to help make things right. Keep believing. Keep spreading the word.’

And so I will.

As you go about your busy day, please be mindful that there are creatures—big and small—that have been placed in our care. It is inherent in our own gift of life that we continue to be good stewards over them. Amen and amen.

Click on the title of John Moir's book in the first paragraph if you're interested in reading it. You can pick up a used paperback copy for about five bucks.

Or, if you just want to see more pictures of California Condors and learn more about them, click here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

PSA


I'm interrupting my previously scheduled blog post (about my further adventures in Salinas) to bring you a public service announcement. It's the same one I've made before... but bear with me.

About an hour south of Salinas is a small community known as King. In it, just off Highway 101, is a fairly large truck stop, and in the middle of the truck stop is a fairly small eatery called the Wild Horse Cafe. (Thus the rearing horse in the photo above.) This was where I stopped for breakfast at 8:00 this morning. You know when you walk in the door of a cafe of this type that if you see plenty of battered trucks outside and plenty of dusty boots dragged up to the counter inside, you're going to get some mighty fine breakfast (which I did, quickly and with salsa on the side).

You also know, in a place like this, you're probably going to see signs like this:


This picture says it all: "God, Guns & Guts Made America Free/Let's Keep It That Way" over a background of our flag, a bald eagle and a man toting a long-barreled gun.

I had already become aware of the shooting in Dayton when I checked my phone at 5:30a.m. for news. Since my son now lives in Dayton, Ohio, you can imagine what reading that news did to my heart rate, which only slowed down a little after he immediately responded to my text message to say he was okay. He followed that with, "Yeah, it's crazy; I've been to that bar before." That's when the tears came. No, it wasn't my son this time. But it could've been. And certainly, it was somebody else's son, somebody else's daughter.

By the time I sat down to coffee, scrambled eggs and home fries, I was determined to take as many deep breaths as might be necessary to get through my breakfast without crying in a small diner surrounded by strangers. Then the gentleman sitting in the booth behind me suddenly jumped up and shouted, "There's been another mass shooting! This one's in Dayton!" He held his cell phone aloft and looked around for a response, whereupon the gentleman sitting one booth away replied loudly, "And they wanna take our guns away? Not mine they don't."

Sigh. 

Not satisfied with that response, the phone wielding gentleman then approached three weathered crop beaters sitting at the counter and showed them the news. One of them glanced at the phone, then leaned into the anxious man's side and began to tell him quietly that he could not trust at all what he saw on the news. "A lot of times they just make that stuff up," he said emphatically.

I wish, oh how I wish, that I were making this up, that this were a fictional story that just came to me while I sat in that isolated diner losing my appetite.

Nope, not a chance. It happened just like that, folks. The first man finally sat down and continued to stare at his phone, occasionally blurting out further details as he continued reading about the carnage.

And I sat. I remained anchored. Time ticked by. What I wanted to say was, "No one wants to take your guns, sir, unless you have an AK-style weapon that you're planning on using to kill people who don't look or think like you." But I didn't. Like our lawmakers, I simply sat and did nothing.

So, since we're still not going to change anything in America in regard to guns, here's my advice:

From now on, whenever you travel to a public place, whether it's a mall or a school or a nightclub or an outdoor concert or a museum, always check for exits when you arrive, as I did this weekend at the Steinbeck Festival. I found the back door of the center easily, saw that it led to an enclosed patio, and determined that, with some effort, I could go up and over the wall if need be.

If you have young children, explain to them that if someone begins shooting, they are not to wait for you, they must run as fast as they can as far as they can away from the gunshots and not stop to look at anything or anyone. You can always be reunited with them later if you manage to survive. If you don't survive, well, the sooner they adjust to someone else looking after them, the better, I suppose.

If you're still of the belief that a man with a gun can be stopped by another man with a gun, please keep in mind that yesterday's shooting occurred in Texas, an "open carry" state. The perpetrator opened fire on women and children and old people. Where were the men with guns to stop him?

Speaking of that, decide in advance if you would really risk your life to save someone or you're just going to run. You'll lose critical seconds being indecisive. I will not forget the interview with the woman in El Paso who said, 'I was trying to help a very elderly woman, but she just couldn't move fast enough, so I left her behind, because the shooter was getting closer.'

I honestly had to ask myself how I would feel if my daughter sacrificed her life to save an old woman, which, believe me, I'm pretty sure she'd do, because she has this thing for old people, and she's pretty badass and stubborn--if she didn't take out the shooter with her teacher voice--"Put that [expletive] gun down right now!"--she'd find a way to help the old woman. But at what price? If the old woman survived, her family would have her for a few more years. If my daughter were killed, she'd be lost to her husband, her children, her eventual grandchildren, and a mother who would never know joy again.

But these are the moral dilemmas we must sort through in advance. Because when the bullets start flying again--and we all know it's only a matter of time before the next mass shooting occurs, maybe in your town, maybe in mine--we will not have time to consider escape routes or reflect upon who is needed more in this life. We will have a handful of seconds to react. We'd best be ready.