St. Augustine tells us that all sin is disordered love. Socrates had a more basic approach to this question. He said that no man seeks what is bad because he thinks it is bad. He seeks it only because he thinks it to be good. It is his nature and his habits that are disordered. People, even nature itself, are fallen. Bent. Distorted.
St. Thomas Aquinas goes further, explaining that hatred is caused by something that which is the deprivation of good, that is, by an evil. Is caused by something that hinders us from attaining a good. It would seem, though, that hatred itself can be a hindrance to achieving a good. It can be that evil which deprives us of good.
What could we possibly love, even in a distorted way, that would attract us to hatred?
To continue the parade of philosophers, I’m reminded of Aristotle’s definition of anger. He says that anger is a pain caused by a real or apparent slight, accompanied by a pleasure at the thought of potential revenge. He brilliantly accounts for that self- lacerating joy we experience when we embrace wrath. We love the rush of it all: the fist- clinching self-righteousness, the clear-eyed vehemence, the puff and bluster that leaves us victorious and alone.
As with all evil, hatred is ultimately self-destructive.
Life in the DMV – that’s Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to you out-of-town folks – has improved dramatically this month. My day job has gone to 80% telework, meaning I only have to go into the office on average once a week. This pay period, I’m checking both boxes by teaching a 2-day class, so I’ve been enjoying a week and a half long telework binge, falling right after 2 weeks of vacation. Getting up at 6:15 to get on that train was almost novel enough to be fun.
The novelty wore off, however, by the time I reached Union Station, transferred to the Metro and stepped off into a cool 71° but a soggy 98% humidity. I moved to the right and rode the escalator up to the surface, willing the sweat to stop trickling down my back.
Halfway up, a burly young man in black pants and an unbuttoned white Oxford bustled by carrying a disheveled satchel and muttering something about “those of us who grew up in the country.” Guess only City Slickers ride the escalator.
Almost as quickly as my ego jumped to defend my apparent laziness, I realized that moral judgments about escalator riding were not foreign to my character. And though I’ve never voiced my thoughts, I’ve certainly been guilty of basking in smug superiority while striding up in the fast lane.
It’s easy to do, jumping to conclusions. Your mind and body are in a hurry to get to work, you’re uncomfortable and generally not thrilled about the process. The whole exercise is about taking shortcuts: avoiding traffic, deciding whether the MARC train or the Metro will be the best bet this morning, shaving angles as you walk obliquely across streets and around buildings. Stands to reason that one’s mind would fall into the same rut. That guy standing on the escalator? Must be lazy. Lacking in ambition. Or just pathetically out of shape, a consequence of said laziness and complacency.
Metro Riders, too, play their roles. The guys in paint-stained work pants and boots carrying hard hats. Women in business skirts and tennis shoes reading their Kindles. The summer interns, hoping they’ve dressed the part. The scented oil hucksters, bandoliers of multi colored bottles across each shoulder, smoothly peddling their wares through the car. The panhandlers’ various poses: ingratiating, pathetic, confrontational.
Alerted to this somewhat shameful process of categorization, I look at myself, as introverts are want to do. What do people see? The tailored pants and Brooks Brothers shirt, the more casual slip-on leather Skechers. The service academy ring. Slightly balding and slightly receding gray hair. The leather courier briefcase. Do I really look that put together? Where am I in all this?
Maybe in my sunken eyes they can see the four kids at home, clothed, fed, housed (if compactly), guided, cajoled and loved. Maybe my slight stoop betrays the tuition bills and the months of rent my tenant owes and the divorce debt. Maybe they can discern in my rigid stance the work before me this day – teaching for the first time in 6 years. Maybe my hurried gait implies impatience or anger or worry or drive or purpose or inertia.
Taking the time to observe, to see the possibilities that just graze the surface. Sometimes the morning commute is a writing exercise in itself.
I just digested a rather dense essay that speaks to some of the themes running through my forthcoming book, Displaced: A Darkening Path. In this essay, Russell Hittinger, who holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and is Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa, traces Catholic teachings on how people live in the contexts of family, polity, and Church, and how these teachings have responded to competing ideologies. You can find it here.
Hittinger explains that the Church has long held that a person must live justly within the domestic, political, and ecclesial societies to achieve human happiness. He then traces the threats posed to family, political life, and religious institutions by the French Revolution and – in our times – by both the cultural revolution of the 1960s and what Pope Francis has called the techno-economic revolution of the global economy and global communications.
The former revolution shook the ground under the three necessary societies, upending political forms, subverting the Church’s authority and slackening familial ties with measures like no-fault divorce (yes, Napoleon started that).
The revolutions of the last 50 years have made out these necessary societies to be all but optional. Marriage and children, political action and affiliation, and religious devotion are now seen as mere lifestyle choices rather than frameworks within which a person may discover and then become what he was made to be.
Throughout these events, the Church has sought to teach “in light of a non-negotiable principle . . . that we are domestic, political, and ecclesial animals who achieve perfections by rightly dwelling in the perennial societies.”
“But,” Hittinger concludes, “sowing and harvesting the daily bread of this social principle remains a difficult labor.”
For Frank Smith, the protagonist of the Displaced series, these ties are at best duties he begrudgingly fulfills. At his worst, he disregards or wantonly violates them.
And that’s only before his world falls apart.
It’s official! Volume I is headed to the presses.
So, hey there. Again, it’s been a LONG time. I won’t float any excuses your way. Life happened in a big way, but rather than dig too deeply into it, I’ll leave it at, “Mea culpa.” But not really. It’s been a great year and a half.
It’s good to be back, back writing and back blogging. In the past, though, I’ve used these pages more as overt advertisements – Hey, did you hear about this Book? – than as invitations into my life and experiences. If my writing comes from anywhere, it comes from my life. Not that the characters are people I know. But the abiding themes – suburban alienation, the distracting weight of the modern world, the reality of sin and all that it entails – these themes do emerge from a life lived…fully? I’d like to think so, at times. Often it’s more about the moments lost than the moments seized, though. And so it goes…
And so, a new direction. I’d like to use this space simply to observe and comment. If my writing has any merit, then I think it’s in the perspective it takes. An honest one, I hope, and true in important ways. But, as Mr. Darcy says, I am not to judge my own performance.
Oh, yeah. Vegas.
I’m vacationing with my lovely fiancée, Mia, and while she finishes up some work, I’ll take some time to register…
Parallel universes exist, and in plain sight of one another. Walk into the posh, almost Gilded Age lobby of Mandalay Bay and you see the chic couple gliding along side-by-side, he in his shear dress shirt, tasteful jacket and polished shoes, she in her little black dress with hair that evokes from my dated imagination images from Alberto VO5 commercials form the 90s. Crossing behind them is the lost and lumpy mid-western man in t-shirt, cargo shorts, striped socks and running shoes. Three twentysomethings in jeans and concert tees sip frozen drinks from half-yard long plastic cups. Mia and I buzz past, variously in beach wear, nightclub duds or Strip-walking comfort clothes.
In this dessert oasis there is a dearth of water fountains. It is an oasis without respite, unless you can pay for it. We buy water by the case.
I wonder how many MGM movies are set in Las Vegas, given that MGM owns, like, half the Strip. Some quick research reveals: Aria, Bellagio, Vdara, MGM Grand, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Delano, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Excalibur, Circus Circus and Luxor. Are you kidding?! So, how about the movies? Brief research was unproductive, but I’d love to know, so please share.
I can see why celebrities fall prey to drugs in these precincts. There is so much to do and to see. The first night we arrived, we were up until 1, as in 4 by our East Coast bodies’ clocks. And up again at 6:15, as in working hours back East. Then the gym, the pool, the sights, dinner, a show, more sights, another antemeridian bedtime and up again before the sun. Day 2. Or is it Day 3? You get the point. Imagine the added draw of fame- and fortune-driven parties, adoring fans clamoring to see you at your best, and the paparazzi always in tow. Now imagine the pressure to Keep Up. Need a boost? It’s the red ones, right? Or is it the blue? Wired from that latest rooftop rave? That’s what those Xannies are for. Bored despite – or because of – the intense, insistent distractions? Try a little E. “Isn’t this thrilling? This is thrilling, right? It’s SO thrilling!” Yup, I can see how some mistakes are made.
Vegas is immense, both in size and imagination. The tram and bus system are a must, even for (moderately) young and quite fit folks like us. The Strip proper, from Mandalay Bay to Encore, is over three miles. Add another to get to Stratosphere and another two to make it all the way north to seedy-kitschy-fun Fremont Street. From my Strip-view hotel room, I see a pyramid and Sphinx, Eiffel Tower (half-scale, but still massive and very cool), the tops of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty (again half scale and again cool) and the turrets of a cartoon-like medieval castle. And tower after tower of hotels space. Mia read the other day that it would take a person over 400 years to sleep one night in each room.
That’s it for now. More to come later..
Or: “What the Heck Have You Been Up To?”
Yes, it’s been awhile. But I have not been idle. As you can see from the word count on the right sidebar of the main page, novel number two is well underway, with a sequel planned, too. Sooooo….what’s this one about? Well, I’ll give you hint.
In a previous post, I discussed the process of character creation, and shared a fully-fleshed out character description for Jerrod Beams, main character of The Point of Escape: A 4-Hour Novel. Here’s the same kind of thing for a secondary character in Displaced, the first of a planned trilogy about a particularly hellish departure from Suburban Hell:
Name (Role): Mindi Overbeck Lane (Frank’s mistress)
Age: (DOB) 23 June 1981
Motivation (abstract want): Affection and relief from boredom
Goal (concrete want): A good lay and some pillow talk with Frank every couple of days.
Conflict (Preventing him/her reaching goal): Both are married and have jobs, which get in the way.
Epiphany (What he/she learns; how he/she changes): Nothing. She’s a static character, and other than unwillingly assisting the FBI investigators, she largely disappears from the story after the robbery.
General physical description: A hottie: slim and toned, but not petite (5”5’, 120 lbs), bleach blond (but well done) nice skin and teeth. Perfect nails. No kids, so her figure is still youthful. Her (ahem) intimate grooming is also carefully attended to, something her husband appreciates even as he fails to grasp that it’s not for his benefit.
Hometown: Pasadena, MD, now lives in Wheaton, MD
Relationship status: Married to John “Johnny” Lane. Mistress to Frank Smith.
Family background (parents, previous marriages, etc.): Grew up in the “Shithouse” side of Maryland, lower middle-class sprawl. Parents – Joe and Marla – are still together and have moved to a trailer park in central Florida. She visits only rarely. One sister – June – died in childhood.
Friends: She and Karen Lane will share a lunch date on occasion, usually at Karen’s suggestion (she mothers Mindi somewhat). Mindi has a few girlfriends, but, being childless, lacks the usual suburban social circle of fellow moms.
Relationship with men: She isn’t a serial adulteress yet, but will be. Men are sites of raw emotional and – what is much more – physical pleasure. She blames Johnny for her lack of emotional fulfillment, but he would complain just as much about her essential distance from him. Other men are evaluated according to wealth and – more importantly – physique. Playfulness, though, is also an important criterion (this may be brought out in a conversation with Karen about some man they both know).
Relationship with women: In general she is bored with them, having no lesbian proclivities and therefore no real use for the fairer sex. With Karen she opens up a bit, and appreciates the opportunity, but isn’t really equipped to enjoy the full benefits of emotional intimacy.
Education: High school diploma, continuing the working class family cycle.
Job: Administrative assistant at retirement home company headquarters where Frank Smith works.
Dress style: Office sexy (short skirts and low-cut blouses) for work, sexier on her own time. Her miniskirt, for example, raises eyebrows at the Lanes’ pool party, as does the bikini it covers.
Religion: Raised Lutheran, and her parents are still regular churchgoers. Mindi was never “religious” and stopped attending church when she moved out.
Attitude to religion: Some bitterness over her younger sister’s death, and the ways she saw others grieve and make sense of it. But this is in the distant past now, as she sees it. What remains is a distaste and, as said, bitterness that is unarticulated.
Favorite pastimes: Shopping, working out and – on occasion – bar hopping.
Hobbies: (is there a difference?) Vacationing in warm, beachy places. At least twice a year.
Favorite sports: She’s a runner, having competed in cross country in high school, but also does a good amount of resistance training. As a fan, she does the usual DC-area things, though having grown up in Pasadena, she’s an Orioles and Ravens fan.
Favorite foods: She loves all the bad stuff – chocolate and beer and fries… – but sticks to low-carb meals most of the time. Health conscious. A good salad with oil and vinegar is a usual lunch choice, eaten with the thought of how her body will look to her lover in mind.
Strongest positive personality trait: She is an enthusiastic lover, both in body and in voice.
Strongest negative personality trait: Essentially selfish. What can look to some like healthy self-care is really self-regard. She readily discards things and people who don’t meet immediate needs.
Sense of humor: Crass and playful. Tones in down in public, though not enough. Known in the office for having a raunchy sense of humor just under the surface….or just above.
Temper: More simmering resentment than anger. Not the bubbly type at all. Choleric without the flashes of expressed anger.
Biggest fear: Being controlled.
Consideration for others: Means to various ends, including emotional. She isn’t Machiavellian, or at least not self-consciously so. But her actions are far from charitable.
How other people see him/her: Sexy, saucy, brash, playful, fun but not to be crossed or aspired to lightly. Some women resentfully whisper “Slut.”
Opinion of him/herself: That she meets all the needs for others that she wants met for herself: a friendly conversation with Karen or a sweaty, breathless romp with Frank.
Other traits, especially those to be brought out in story: She has great disdain for her husband and his suburban ilk; she does not hide the former, but makes a point of broadcasting the latter, a sort of proxy criticism. She would never think in these terms (she enjoys the freedom of childlessness), but some of her antipathy may stem from his inability to get her pregnant.
Ambitions: Unclear, especially as her pursuits “lack roots,” for want of a better term. She wants happiness, like everyone, but seeks it in unsatisfying places. At the story’s close, she is seeking a new lover in a bar.
Philosophy of life: Love me or leave me. Perhaps this is another source of her disdain for her husband, who just hangs on, moving in neither direction.
Most important thing to know about this character: She is in some ways the perfect mistress: hot, playful, low-maintenance, discrete, and somewhat detached.
Will readers like or dislike this character, and why?: They’ll be turned on but ultimately judge her unfavorably.
One-Paragraph POV Summary
What we had was the tingling rush of meat plunged into meat, and the lazy afterglow. A couple time a week: lunch hours, stolen afternoons, even a weekend or two when we could arrange some rouse or our asshole spouses got themselves out of the way. I loved fucking Frank. I loved being fucked by Frank. All the sweaty, sticky, aching, moaning, growling of it all. And I loved the way we would rest after, no burden of “Will this convince him to clean the raingutters?” Just that lovely loosened and chafed feeling. Sounds shallow, doesn’t it, just getting laid? And cheating? Yeah. Cheating. A. D. U. L. T. E. R. Y. I get it. But you have no idea the agony of the suburban life. The whole earn-spend-marry-procreate-dry up-die treadmill. God, what a life-killer. Enough to drive you to cheat. To drive you mad. I guess that’s what finally got to Frank.
Needless to say, this book is a little rougher and a lot darker than the previous one, though not so much as the previous paragraph suggests (Mindi doesn’t get to narrate, for obvious reasons). And I will tell you that despite treading a darkening path, the main character is ultimately led on a hopeful journey, and a hopeful theme underlies the whole. So, hope this sneak peek whets your reader’s appetite!
When I planned the launch of my new novel – The Point of Escape – I lined up several dozen advance readers. Each received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for posting a review on launch day.
Problem was, a good percentage of these folks ran into trouble when trying to post their reviews on Amazon. Either they were told they couldn’t post without buying the book (this isn’t true) or the link didn’t work for them. Many have called and emailed to say, “I tried but I can’t!” Bummer. Maybe you’ve had the same experience. This post will explain the best process.
So, the first thing is to have an Amazon account (if you already have one, then scroll down to “BUT WAIT!”). Setting up an account costs nothing, but is necessary to post a review (so is making a purchase of some kind; more on this below). Go to the Amazon homepage (www.Amazon.com) and scroll your mouse over the “Your Account” dropdown menu, and click on the “New customer? Start here” hyperlink that appears beneath the yellow “Sign in” button:
Fill in the information and click on the “Create Account” button.
You’ll be taken back to the Amazon homepage, but this time you’ll be recognized:
Now, at this point, you will need to buy something in order to be able to post a review. It can be a $0.99 ebook, or a $0.01 paperback, anything. Hey, it could be my book (the ebook version will only set you back $2.99). Amazon just requires that reviewers be customers.
Now, from any Amazon screen, type the book title into the search field, and click “Go”…
…which will take you to the search results page. The Point of Escape will be listed first:
If you look to the right of the ratings stars (note the 5-star rating for The Point of Escape, folks), you’ll see a hyperlinked number indicating the number of reviews posted, 17 in this case. Click on the link, and you will be taken to the Customer Reviews page:
Click on the “Create your own review” button, and you land here:
Scroll over the stars to select the rating you’d like to give the book, and then type up your review in the “Write your review here” box. Amazon will require a paragraph (sorry, I was wrong about one-word reviews), but not a lengthy one:
Yes, I deleted this “review” and hit the “Clear” link to erase the rating after I took this screen shot. For demonstration purposes only, folks.
Note that when you place your cursor in the review-drafting box, a title box opens and a “Submit” button appears. When you are done, click on this button, and Amazon will tell you that…
Within a day you will receive an email telling you that your review is live, and I will be eternally grateful.
“BUT WAIT!” you say. “I ALREADY HAVE AN ACCOUNT, AND I DOWNLOADED YOUR BOOK, JUST LIKE YOU ASKED!”
Yup. Some folks have had problems posting reviews by the above method. So…..here’s the work-around.
When signed into Amazon, you will see on the Amazon banner the “Hello [your name]/Your Account” link:
Click it, and it takes you here:
If you scroll down, then you will find:
Note the third and fourth links under “Community.” “Product Reviews Written by You” takes you to…well, to a list of reviews written by you. But “Your Reviews” (oddly enough) takes you to a reverse chronological list of all the products you’ve purchased (or downloaded for free) from Amazon for which you haven’t yet written reviews:
From here you know the drill: rating, review, heading for your review and “Submit” button.
So, I hope this clears up the process, and enables you to post reviews for all manner of products on Amazon.