Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Lagoon

The Lagoon

I have written and received so much correspondence over the past year. There is also my participation in online media resources using the internet. There is Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and blogging. There is email. I remain aware and learning, while I flow back and forth across this strange surging ethereal sea of communication. I reflect on what I read, process the reflections, and then write works of analysis and consideration. One of the most common strains of conversational tone I run across is the one of integrity declared. This is my phrase (integrity declared) for the people who constantly tell me that they tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts. They tell me, and write around me, of the necessity required by both business and relationship to always be honest and truthful. That no great success in either area can be had without it. They tell me that they only tell the truth and would never be dishonest. I have to admit I am frequently vexed but more often entertained by this kind of delivery. And it is a constant, never changing, litany that seem to cross all cultural borders and barriers. Only this evening I was reminded of this by a woman who works out in Hawaii. She had written a short missive on Twitter about how it appeared that the market in Hawaii was on the way to recovery, with much activity over the last few days. When I commented that I had never heard a realtor every say, at any time, that right now was not the best time to buy, I got the integrity presentation delivered hot and fast over the net. I backed off. I am not out here to confront, or make miserable, the people who correspond with me. Sometimes my blog here might indicate otherwise, but in reality I do not seek to attack individuals for what they think or believe. I do like to disagree with them, however.

In light of the subject I have chosen to discuss herein, I would like to tell you a story. It is a true story, and it happened several years ago on the shore of a place called Bainbridge Island. That Island lies seven miles across the Sound from the city of Seattle in Washington State.

The Lagoon

It was early morning when I looked out from the deck of my second story office, which was located in my home on the shore of Puget Sound. It was already a fine day, with the sun rising behind the spit of land my house was located on, and Mount Ranier half lit on the Southern horizon across the gently moving waters. I looked down to the Lagoon below. It was a rather large lagoon, spanning about forty yards across the narrowest of it's oval shape. Earlier in the year I had built a wooden pier that reached out about ten yards straight from the house on my side of the shore. I had built the pier so that the triplets, living at the other end of the lagoon could come visit on a paddle boat I had purchased for that purpose the summer before. The triplets were three children six years of age. Two boys and a girl. They had named the paddle boat 'Bubbles' so I had dutifully painted the name on both sides of the pontoons which kept it afloat. Some days they would vigorously paddle over to my pier, be greeted by Harvey, my dog-like cat, and Tank, the large seagull who always sat on one of the high poles at the end of the pier. I kept a supply of those popsicles, the ones with the funny idiotic sayings printed onto the sticks, in my freezer, as the trips' parents would not let them have such sweet things.

This morning I noted that the Lagoon was faintly aromatic. I looked over toward the far shore and confirmed my suspicions. The far shore abutted the Sound itself. Normally, there was a narrow inlet of water that ran between the Lagoon and the waters of the Sound. The constantly working tides usually kept the small stream open and running. That movement of water allowed the lagoon to be refreshed and healthy. I noted, with a frown, that the stream was no more. A bad tide had moved the small, golf ball sized stones, just enough to close the gap. I sighed. Something would have to be done.

I threw on my jeans, boots and logging shirt, went to the back door, selected a pointed shovel, then made my way down to the shore along the bracken, following a well worn path Harvey and I took at least twice a day. I found the course of the old outlet and began to dig. Harvey found a large flat rock nearby to recline on, and provide moral support from.

The work was hard. The stones did not take to shoveling at all well. It took a full hour to dig half way to the Sound. I sat against one wall of my four foot deep trench to rest and reflect. I saw a line of miniature people approaching from the South. It was the triplets. They were walking in a single file, each with a small shovel over their shoulder. I waited until they arrived. "Hey you guys," I said, and waved with a big smile. One of the boys, Mark, was very expressive and yelled back, as they approached "Hi, Mr. Strauss, we've come to help you." I laughed aloud at that. The other boy, Tom, just smiled his usual little smile, while Anna, the triplet leader held up an arm. They stopped mid-way down the finished part of the trench. "We'll begin work here, Mr. Strauss," she stated imperiously, with no smile or wave. I nodded at this industriousness and set back to work. I threw rocks for another fifteen minutes before I had to rest. I leaned on the shovel and looked back.

Anna was sitting on one edge of the trench watching her two brothers. Mark and Tom had worked to drag a pile of driftwood to the edge of the divide and were carefully assembling some sort of edifice right in the center of the trench. I shook my head and walked back to where they worked. "What are you two doing?" I asked, with a moody serious expression. The boys looked up at me, then bent down and continued their efforts. "They're building a fish trap, Mr. Strauss," Anna said from her position nearby. The boys continued to work. I looked down at them in exasperation. "You can't build a fish trap out of wood. The wood will just float away when the water comes through," I argued, to no avail. "You can't catch a fish in such a contraption." I tried again. Anna appeared at my side and grabbed my hand. She nodded to me when I looked down, then applied some pressure to move me back in the direction I'd come. When we got back to where I had been working she let go of my hand. I looked back at her laboring brothers and was about to speak. She shook her head at me, so I said nothing. She reached up carefully and grasped my shirt near the collar. I bent down to her pull. Very seriously she looked into my eyes. "Mr. Strauss, the fish does not have to be real," she said.

What Anna said to me resounded out of that Lagoon, across the Sound and echoed straight into the marrow of my life. And the lives of almost everyone who has come into contact with me. At my company the expression "the fish does not have to be real" is stated over and over again. It is applied to situations wherein people are just being too damn serious. To situations wherein people are claiming that they have the highest integrity. That they never lie. That truth is this precious commodity that is just of too much value to do anything other than be admitted to and recognized.

Physics is real. Gravity is real. Water boiling at a certain temperature and pressure is real. But this phenomenal world we have created to survive in is not. Even the physics of that phenomenal world do not necessarily have to be real. It all depends upon perspective, belief, needs, wants and desires. And therefore, once this is realized, the world becomes a different place altogether. To survive in the real world we need to lighten up in the phenomenal. We need to become more flexible about understanding this place we inhabit and the fellow travelers we run with. The next time that somebody around you tells you that they have never told a lie, then tell this story and say these words: "The fish does not have to be real."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Flight Into A Very Distant Future

Going Down into the City....

I listened today. I have spent the last four days talking, presenting and generally expressing myself, using all manner of verbal devices and non-verbal behavior. But today I listened. I was at the North Chicago Naval Hospital where I do that 'teaching' thing I do every week or two. Damaged veterans who have come home in quiet pieces from Afghanistan and Iraq. My job to acquaint them with the things they cannot tell the shrinks once they encounter them. My job to make sure that they do not share their photos and war memorabilia with their new found non-combatant neighbors. Usually the 'class' goes pretty well. But today we happened to turn to the issue of the Sullenberger Flight, as I call that controlled crash into the Hudson River. And the discussion was discomforting to me. The vets went back and forth about just how much the passengers cried and lamented about their experience. How the whole crew and all the passengers got out of the potential fatal disaster with nary a scratch. How many of the same 'uninjured' are filing suits against the airline. How all of them are on television talking, crying and even singing about their histrionic experience. I took a good twenty minutes of that kind of talk before I used bully-pulpit-power to make my own opinion felt.

"Any of you guys ever afraid to fly?" I interjected, with an innocent intonation. Nobody said anything. These guys don't yet admit to fear of anything, although they are seeing me because they have a new found fear of everything. "Any of you guys ever been on a commercial airliner that had a problem while you were in the air?" Nothing. Dead stares. A frown here or there. "Okay then, can you imagine being inside that aluminum tube, low over a developed city, just having lifted off, and having the engines shut down?" A few nodded, hesitantly, not trusting where I was going. "That's right. No engine noise whatever...the plane just gliding...and you can look out and see the city below. Very close below." They all frown as one, and I pause a few seconds to let them fully take in the scene I've described. "And you can't see the river. You can't see any water, because even in a window seat you cannot look either directly down or see where the plane is going." They look at one another an move their surviving limbs uncomfortably. You are gliding just above tall concrete buildings with no power, and you begin to realize that you are going down into the city itself aboard an unpowered airliner."

"The pilot comes on and tells you to brace for impact." You could drop a pin in the room, and the sound would reverberate up from the rug. I nod my head, as I continue "Yeah, you are going to die in a few seconds, and it is going to be anything but pleasant." All the guys in the room (there are two females but I call all my returning kids 'guys') grow still. They know about death. They know about the expectation of death and the painful process which trauma usually starts, and then plays out, mercilessly and viciously.

"But you don't die. The plane hits, unbelievably bounces a bit, and then settles to a harsh stop. It then begins to rapidly fill with ice water." I smile now, as I talk, after all, life is once more found. "You can't panic because you are not yet over the shock of certain death. You allow yourself to be guided out to stand on the wings of the plane in your shock. Cold, ugly ice water is up to your knees, as you look around at the city skyline, finally becoming aware that you are standing in the middle of a great huge river. Boats are everywhere, coming toward the plane. But the plane is sinking, and not real slowly." I look at their faces. They are in the story, as possibly only patients with post traumatic stress disorder can be in such a story. They are there, seeing it. One of the passengers or crew. They are standing on those wings.

"The boats come ever closer. Your legs, almost fully submerged, are freezing. Helicopters are flying nearby and you notice how flat the water is under where they hover. Divers are in the water helping some of the passengers you have not even noticed. Passengers who have fallen off the, now invisible, submerged wing you are standing on. You look, but nothing impacts on you, as the rescues are effected. A boat comes close and you reach out for warm welcome arms, extended with serious smiles from kind dry people telling you that everything is going to be alright." I stop talking and just stand there in front of them. Nobody moves, or fails to meet my eyes, as I sweep them back and forth across the group.

Moments pass, until one of the female IED survivors of Iraq raises her good left hand (the other is in a sling, it's damage unknown to me). I nod, ever so slightly.

"Everything isn't going to be alright," she says quietly, her eyes averting to floor past her feet set in the little steps of her wheelchair. "It's never going to be alright." I nod at her, even though she does not notice.

"Those people, each and every one of them, they are your brothers and sisters. They are like you. They are like the survivors of 911. They all will live their lives with a defining moment they did not choose, and cannot every avoid or get away from. Just like you. They will have your road rage, your hyper-vigilance, your sleep deprivation, and even your strange dreams. Take care of them. Only you will ever truly understand them....and they, you."

I closed with that today, earlier this morning. It effected me. You see, I have post traumatic stress disorder. It is so easy to minimize the effect or performance of others who have gone through similar or differential stressors, to arrive at where I live and breathe. It took many years for me to understand that these people are my fellow travelers through life. A different life from any that I ever imagined or might have made for myself. And these people, the crew and passengers of Sully Sullenberger's flight into the Hudson, are traveling right with me every step of the way.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Mastodons

"The Mastodons"

Tomorrow morning I travel to Chicago to attend the mystery writer's convention there. I have a number of reasons for going. The person who puts on the entire affair (working at it all year for little or nothing) is a wonderful person. That would be cause alone. Last year, in my first go at attending a writer's anything, I met some really neat people and was included in just about everything that was going on. I was quite surprised by that, as I am not so accustomed (the 'naturally insubordinate' man I have been declared to be, if you will recall). This year my first novel is set to be published on April 15th, so I decided to attend the conference to kick off the book. It is kind of a warm loving convention, not like most. That wonderful director of the convention gave me five slots, to be on panels or conduct sessions. That will mostly be about Hollywood screenwriting I know. Something that I am coming away from. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love to screen write. But I can't stand the people in that end of the business. I have always wanted to be a novelist, but had to use the screenwriting to springboard myself, since I do not have the right last name. I am also not of the proper cultural heritage, and I am too old for that scene (like over twenty!). Reality scripting is in (writing idiocy for idiots), animation is all the rage, which is not so bad, and computers are only linked, in that reality, to people who have a one or two before the second number of their age. And without assumed computer knowledge and capability you are nothing there. Hell, you are not much out here without it either....evidence John McCain.

So I am off to speak about things I don't particularly like in order to do something I love. Sound familiar? I am going off to work! I'm a writer. I am not used to work. That is not really true. Rewriting, and all the maddening detail that goes into getting finally edited work into the public's hands, is a heck of a lot of work. My first book is called 'The Boy,' and it took about twenty re-writes until final. That first work is only just short of three hundred pages, so do the math. Six thousand pages of work. I love the book. Only two people, in the chain of people who read it and passed it on, figured out that it was only an introduction, however. The real book is called 'The Warrior' and it will come out in 2010, unless you, the public, buy all of The Boy that you can get your hands on...which I do not expect. Then it might come out sooner. I am not Colin Powell (who can't write at all) or Sarah Palin (who can write even less) so I do not have a name to market. I am just a guy who has lived one hell of a life, and write a lot about it, but never about the living of it. I use devices. Like this blog. Like my books. Like the character House. I learned long ago that people do not really believe what other people tell them directly. They believe things they overhear. They believe fictional writing more than non-fictional just because most of the non-fictional authors have lied so much. So much that nobody believes what they read of 'the truth.' The truth is for sale today. And it is a very malleable substance indeed. Like the 'news.' I live in a time where John Stewart has more credibility than Charlie Gibson. And with good reason.

I have a website now. I never thought I would. I don't know why. A seven year old I love looked at the site and said 'cool' when he viewed the first page. He was very tickled to have seen that same art work in progress in my basement months earlier. But he also said that the site was 'boring.' I was cut to the quick. But I was also responsive. He tried to make me feel better we he noted my pain. "Maybe you can change it to add some games, or make it less boring," he ventured. He likes me. And feels sorry for someone as old and boring as I am. See what you think. The site is: