Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall

I love fall. Always have, probably always will. It's the time of year when some relief comes from the dog days of summer, when the air turns cool and a man can go for a walk without drowning in his own sweat. The grass is still green, but the leaves have burst into orange and yellow and red, and the sky tends to cloud up and you get breezes, breezes you don't get during the rest of the year. There is nothing better than a stiff breeze under a cloudy sky, when the air is charged with the potential of great change. You can go outside and stand on the edge of the world, close your eyes, and breathe deep.

The dog, naturally, doesn't share my appreciation of the edge, and would much rather hide indoors any time a bit of wind comes along. My son gets it, though, and wants to spend his time in the evenings outside, toddling around with a broom three times his size and making me catch him when he goes marching off the side of the deck. It's nice, when he's not testing gravity, to sit in a chair and "take it all in" with him.

And thank God for those quiet moments, because the rest of the world seems to be somewhere over the edge, about a hundred feet down and picking up speed. Everywhere you look there's some new form of madness taking root. I understand the need to keep informed, but I'm finding it harder and harder to cope with the deluge of fear and horror coming out of the news these days. 30 years of war, police brutality, innocent people imprisoned and men guilty as sin allowed to walk out of court free and wealthy... to quote Hunter S. Thompson, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"

I could go on, but it's late and I need sleep more than I need to ramble on about the state of the world. Suffice to say we're standing on the edge, all of us; and it's best we take our bearings before we step over. But before that, go jump in the leaves, give your family a hug, and take the time to breathe deep.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Update on Patrick McLaw

More details are coming out about Patrick McLaw, the author of two books about school shootings who was removed from his teaching job last week. It now seems that Mr. McLaw was removed because of a number of issues, mostly centered around a letter he sent to a school official that was described as "suicidal". From there authorities performed a limited search of Mr. McLaw's home, which he consented to, and found a model of a school building and some more material they deemed worrying. Currently Mr. McLaw is not under arrest, although no one can reveal where he is or whether he's permitted to leave, citing HIPAA.

I'm a bit torn on this one. On one hand, the school seems a bit more justified in wanting Mr. McLaw vetted, and there's no indication as of yet that he's being held against his will or treated badly. Also, the State's Attorney claims that everyone knew Mr. McLaw had authored his books back in 2012, which is heartening; if true, it would tend to rule out the idea that Mr. McLaw is being persecuted for writing fiction.

On the other hand, if this is all above board then the details of the investigation were released/leaked in the worst possible order for the school and the officials involved. And I'd note that Mr. McLaw has no recorded history of violence, certainly nothing that's been reported, and he's an upstanding and well-liked teacher. That he's been "disappeared" is troubling, though it's likely his family knows where he is and, if he actually needs the help, it's far better that he have his privacy than not.

The official narrative is that Patrick McLaw is cooperating with authorities while they do due diligence on a bunch of minor but troubling incidents. No one's accused Mr. McLaw of being an actual threat up to now, thankfully, and there isn't much evidence that anything illegal or abusive is being covered up by authorities. I still think it's likely the risk posed by Mr. McLaw is being overestimated, but as heavy-handed tactics go we've seen a hell of a lot worse in the past few weeks.

I'm going to keep an eye on this and see how it develops. There are a few petitions on Change.org to the school superintendent and the county sheriff, if you feel like signing them; otherwise there doesn't seem to be much that needs doing. I do hope everything turns out well, for Patrick McLaw and everyone else involved.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patrick McLaw and the Terror of Words

This story crossed my feeds today and scared the living crap out of me. Short version: author Patrick McLaw also works as a middle school teacher. He wrote two books set in the United States two hundred years in the future, dealing with a pair of school shootings. When school board officials found out about this, Mr. McLaw was put on administrative leave and taken in by the police for an emergency psychiatric evaluation, while the police searched the school for bombs and guns and came up empty. He's also been banned from county and school district properties.

Another story. In high school I wrote a short story for my school's literary magazine. The story involved two friends blowing up a chihuahua-focused dog show. It was a dumb comedy, really a rip off of Mark Twain's story Tom Quartz, in which a cat gets blown up in a mine shaft. I don't know where the chihuahuas came from. I expect if I read it now I'd be happy with the voice and nothing else.

The story was published without incident, and a few months later the Columbine shooting happened. A few days after that, I was called in to see my guidance counselor, who asked me a few questions about the story and myself to make sure I wasn't planning to shoot up the school. Luckily I was an AP student with no history of misbehavior, and that was the end of it. (Nobody really knew I played video games, including Doom II, all the time at home.)

Now, all that happened to me was I got talked to for a few minutes, and it was still one of the scariest experiences of my high school career. I was worried I could be suspended, maybe even expelled.

Today, that would be the least of my concerns. I would be immediately escorted off school property, temporarily if I were lucky, and handed over to the police. I'd be charged with issuing threats and almost certainly end up in court, with the full weight of the local legal system gunning for me. Saying that I was ripping off a story from the 1800s to practice my writing and had no intention of doing anything wrong would be no defense. I would be doomed and damned, my education cut short and quite possibly locked away for years.

Patrick McLaw wrote two books and self-published them. He did not write a manifesto, or a lunatic chatroom screed. He wrote two pieces of fiction and sought to sell them for money. So far as anyone knows that's the extent of his crime. He was nominated for Teacher of the Year and helped a student self-publish his work on Amazon. There is no hint in the stories I've read that he had a truly violent impulse in his body. Yet he's been banished from his workplace and detained, while police stand by in his district's schools to make sure he doesn't come back.

I understand the need to prevent school shootings. I don't see how throwing a respectable teacher onto the street does that. I'm relieved, and sick, to think of what could have happened to me. And I'm terrified to think of what could happen to my son in a few years, in an environment where even pointing a finger and saying "Bang" can get you suspended or expelled.

Mr. McLaw's book, The Insurrectionist, is still available on Amazon. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to give it a look; at the moment I have no idea what else can be done to help the man. But I wish him better luck than he's had so far.

Correction: Police searched the school, not Mr. McLaw's home. This post has been corrected.

Correction again: As of yesterday afternoon police have searched Mr. McLaw's home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On Female Superheroes and Wonder Woman

I went on a lengthy stream of consciousness rant last night on female superheroes and Wonder Woman. I'm not sure what the hell I was thinking. I'm not solving anything. But there is some stuff I'd like to see in there, a few insights that might be worth something if they were developed, and what I think is a valid point about the way Diana Prince has been handled for the past few decades.

So, enjoy! Or not. As you will.

Image courtesy of paintmarvels.deviantart.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

"No plan survives contact with the enemy." Alexander of Macedonia said that, right before he was killed by Ebola-laced elephants.

I propose a variant truth: "No plan survives contact with an infant."

I have determined, after incurring a brand new car bill, various medical expenses, repeated housing repair expenses, and numerous oversized grocery bills (not to mention how ridiculously expensive crabs are this year), that I would like to start making actual money with my writing. Which means writing for publication, in addition to endlessly tweaking the epic fantasy novel squatting in my brain meat.

In preparation, I've been reading Six Figure Freelancing, by Kelly James-Enger. It's a first edition copy, which means it's a bit dated (written in the days where the Internet was only a research tool and Word hadn't devoured every feature of word processing), but it still has some valuable insights on the level of persistence and organization a writer needs to freelance successfully.

I took the book to heart and declared that I would get organized. I set myself a goal for my first week, namely that I would take half an hour a night to sit and write without doing anything else. To hell with the dishes, laundry, and dog! I would set aside all my chores at 10 p.m. for a half an hour and just write.

I told my wife about my declaration, because that's how they work, and she did everything she could to help me cut down on my chores for the night, God bless her. All I had to do was put Ben to bed at his usual time, between 9 and 9:30, and I'd be set to get started.

So naturally Ben developed a mild cough and wet himself three times in a row, then refused to stay asleep when I put him in his crib, then passed out, then woke up again, then sucked down his third bottle of the night and drowsily threw himself upside-down in my lap in some non-Euclidean baby sleeping position that led to me half-lowering, half-plonking him into his crib, whereupon he tossed a bit before he gave up and passed out at the stroke of 10:30.

Now it's 10:45, and I'm finishing up this post to tell you, Dear Reader, that it is never wise to leave an infant out of your calculations, especially when he is sleeping on your chest.

Fifteen minutes to go. Onward! Upward! And stay asleep little buddy!