Category Archives: Reading

You Don’t Own Them

You Don’t Own Them

I just read a Facebook post by Mike Rowe ( https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1794612627215539 ).

A thought occurred to me when I read some of the comments:

“Mike, if you really want to stay out of politics, you might reconsider appearing with a squinty-eyed, race-baiting dipshit like Carlson.”

“Mike I respect your support for the trades as I am a high school trades teacher myself. Are you sure Tucker and Fox is the most credible source for you to voice your opinions? Tucker’s track record of his behavior and demeanor towards guests he does not agree with is disgusting. I have lost a little respect for you.”

I responded to the first comment thusly: “So what if he is? He has an audience that Mike wants to reach. I won’t complain if he appeared on a show I dislike, because Mike wants to reach that particular audience as well.

“Because Mike’s overall desire is to reach everyone, regardless of their political leanings.”

I’ve seen similar complaints when Mike appeared on shows considered more left-leaning as well.

He isn’t alone in taking that kind of criticism. Rush Limbaugh was once excoriated in the 1990s for doing an interview for “Playboy” magazine.

I constantly see tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and articles of people complaining how a reporter, singer, actor, author, athlete, etc. broke some unwritten rule that violated their chosen political worldview.

Since when do we own famous people (or anyone else for that matter)?

It seems like an odd question, but when I read such comments, it has to come from a certain mentality. The only correlation I can think of is that between master and slave.

While people don’t literally own anyone (at least here in the States and other countries), if those posting overly-critical comments didn’t believe they held some kind of “ownership” over that celebrity, why give said celebrity a figurative public beating for breaking their “rules?”

Forlorn

That’s me.

First I saw this on Twitter:

Then I saw this:

I’ve also been watching “Runaways” on Netflix, and in episode 9, the Karolina character out of nowhere expressed her physical attraction to Nico by kissing her. I say out of nowhere because I saw nothing to indicate Karolina was attracted to anyone, let alone Nico.

It’s almost as if the writers sat down after episode seven and decided, “We need gay characters. Who should we pick?”

It seems we can’t watch a single movie or television show that doesn’t at least suggest one or more characters are gay, especially in the speculative genres. Even animated films geared to young children aren’t free of it (such as “How to Train Your Dragon 2”).

As a writer who wants to see my stories in print, I can’t help but wonder if I have wasted decades improving my craft. I don’t avoid writing gay characters; it’s that most of my characters aren’t gay. Nor will I make them gay simply because some want gay characters, even if it makes no sense, and doesn’t move the story forward. It’s an unnecessary distraction.

I’m also tired of agenda and politics-driven storylines, whether they’re pushing homosexuality or so-called climate change. I just want to read and write good stories with interesting characters.

Some might accuse me at this point of being a climate-change-denying homophobe.

To the first. Climate changes. That’s its nature. As for whether or not it’s all caused by Man, sorry. I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me.

As for the homophobe accusation, the short answer is “no.” Truth is I couldn’t care less a person’s sexual preferences. I’ll say it again: I don’t care. No one will never make me care, and I wish they’d quit throwing it in my face. How do you think they would feel if someone walked up to them and said, “I’m heterosexual. I really like to kiss and have sex with the opposite sex. Now love and accept me, because if you don’t, you must be a heterophobe!”

But I digress. As a writer, what am I to do? Are there still enough people who don’t need or want to read about at least one gay character in every story whether it’s organic to the story or not? Or am I a social dinosaur where everything I write deserves to be tossed on the trash heap of the unenlightened and set on fire? Should I therefore give up, and take nature pictures instead? After all, no one can accuse me of being a name-your-phobia-du-jour for posting pictures of clouds.

A Pixelated View

Have you ever zoomed into a digital photo so close all you see is a bunch of fuzzy, colored squares? If someone were to walk by the computer screen, they’d never guess what the photo actually shows, or that it’s even a photograph.

Only after zooming out does the picture become clear.

I think politics does the same thing, especially if we spend so much time delving into it, and from a single point of view. For instance, I mention President Donald Trump, and some people will react with a visceral loathing while others will want to cheer “MAGA!”

Polar opposite reactions over the same human being.

For the last few months, I’ve grown tired of politics. Anyone with a phone or computer uses their electronic soapbox to opine, and usually with either a progressive or conservative point of view. It’s tiresome and predictable.

As one also armed with multiple electronic devices, I am tempted to follow only those who fall in the same political spectrum as me. After all, why follow those I disagree with when all they do is cause anger and frustration?

Still, I refuse to give in to the temptation, and the answer is simple: I don’t like pixelated photographs. They look choppy, out of focus, little to no contrast to make the subject pop, too few colors, and the details are non-existent. Uninteresting. Boring.

Another word people use to describe looking at things from a single point of view is “myopic.” It means “lacking imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.” Isn’t that a great word? And so accurate!

Since I never want to be accused of having no intellectual insight, I’ve decided to zoom out, and attempt to see the world as a whole in all its shadows, 16 million-plus colors, contrast, depth and richness.

I resolve to push my political biases behind me, and when I see a post or article I’ll likely disagree with, I still read it, gritted teeth and involuntary shakes of the head notwithstanding.

In doing so, I’ve stumbled on a few gems of wisdom. Did I agree with everything I read? Not at all. Sometimes as a little as ten percent. But still, one piece of new knowledge or wisdom out of ten is one more than I had before.

The impetus of this entry comes from comments made on a political website about commentator, Ben Shapiro. The comments were particularly viscous for the simple reason he was critical of Donald Trump during the primaries — a so-called “Never Trumper.” I often listen to his podcast, and while he’s still critical of Trump, he also gives him credit when it’s due. The funny part is, the commenters refuse to give Shapiro credit when it’s due. Since I know their political leanings, they would find more in common with Shapiro than not. Based on their responses when I tried to defend him, however, they are suffering from their own myopathy. Or to stick with my original analogy, they prefer to stare at pixelated photographs.

It’s a shame, really, because we are so much more than our labels, and opinions. Yet too many of us aren’t willing to step back from staring at a smattering of pixels to get a larger and deeper understanding of the entire photograph.

Is There An Echo in Here?

The easiest temptation on social media is to follow people, blogs, websites, etc. who reinforce what we already believe.

More difficult is to follow those who have near the opposite point of view. The exceptions of when we do, it’s usually to laugh, scoff, or get offended by. We don’t do it to learn, and listen but to argue, sometimes in the hopes of convincing the opposition the rightness of our cause.

Too often, though, the opposition has no more desire to listen and learn than we do. In the end we give up, and return to our little echo chambers filled with people of like mind.

I don’t often read so-called news sites such as Vox, Slate or Salon. I find their news rife with too much bias for my taste.

Sometimes, however, I run into a headline that so intrigues me (and not in a good way), that I have to read it.

This is one such headline:

When I debate or discuss, I make sure I have truth and facts to back me up, otherwise, not only will I fail to convince, but I waste my time and that of my opposition. I don’t argue with emotions, because emotions are not rational or logical. Too often they are baseless, and fleeting. Too often they are based on misunderstanding of a smattering of facts, and can do more harm than good when trying to debate a specific point.

As Ben Shapiro likes to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

You can understand then, why I found this headline befuddling to say the least. Why would anyone give up facts in favor of emotion to win people to their side? It’s idiocy. And temporary.

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to read the piece. Too many news websites love to write provocative headlines in order to get people to read it (such as me). Click-bait as it’s called. Often, however, the headlines can also be misleading to the point that the article ends up making the exact opposite point.

As a writer, I found a lot of the opinion piece objectionable such as using emotions as a weapon. It implies that the author doesn’t want to convince, but to manipulate. It read less like a professional article and more like a personal journal entry (kind of like this lovely blog entry). The author isn’t trying to make a specific point so much, but exploring his/her thoughts in order to discover that point.

Still, after weeding through the verbosity, I surmised the author’s overall point was not to give up on facts, per se, but to appeal to a person’s emotions with facts instead of presenting facts alone. It’s a valid point, because in this day and age, regardless of what side people take on an issue, they are so emotionally entrenched in their point of view, facts proving their contentions false won’t deter them.

The entire article can be found here.

It’s worth thinking about, and for me will be one heck of a challenge. I don’t argue emotionally. Only facts matter to me, because they’re immutable. Still, I have to see the other person’s emotional point of view, and try to understand it before I can debate a specific issue.

I have to learn how to speak their emotional language, otherwise communication will be near impossible.

If I hadn’t stepped out of my own self-imposed echo chamber, I wouldn’t have discovered, let alone considered the idea.

Expanding Empathetic Horizons

I tried to find a synonym to "horizons" that started with an "e", because a little alliteration for a title is always kinda neat methinks. Alas, I found none.

Aristotle theorized that people who read fiction in particular are better able to understand and experience life, and empathize more with their peers.

Several studies have shown his theory has credence: The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

What I found most interesting in the article was how the mere mention of a word such as cinnamon or other smells lights up the part of the brain dedicated to smells as if that person actually smelled it. The same goes for how fiction describes characters, their thoughts and how they interact with other characters and their surroundings. Our brain activity when reading reacts as if we're engaging with actual people.

So if we want a more empathetic society, we need to read, and encourage others (children especially) to read more. It doesn't have to be fiction only, because some non-fiction is written in the same way as fiction such as describing the world around them, and interactions with others.

God's genius is obvious here, because he not only designed our brains to learn language at an early age, but the desire to share our lives and experiences through that language, whether written or spoken. He did so, because of our inherent need to understand the world around us, ourselves, and each other.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." —Anne Lamott

Saying It Right

Everyone needs a method of expression. Some express through painting, dancing, singing, music, mathematics or simply through speaking to others.

I am good at math, and liked to draw and paint when I was younger. I even liked to dance and sing, but I never tried to be good enough to do it in front of others.

Speaking, now there's a talent that I never had. I always say that God didn't connect my mouth to my brain. Growing up, when I had a thought, I could never express it how it formed in my mind. If anything it came out the opposite of how I intended.

For instance, my grandmother gave me a silver and turquoise ring when I was about eight or nine. Maybe ten. I noticed the price in black marker on the inside said "$10." For a turquoise ring. I thought, "Wow, I expected it to be worth more than that, because it's so beautiful. Grandma got a real good deal on it."

What came out of my mouth: "Wow, this ring was cheap."

Grandma was not impressed, and in fact felt (rightly) insulted. She said, "Well if you think it's cheap, you can give it back."

I was shocked that she got angry, and couldn't understand how I hurt her feelings. After she calmed down, we talked about it, and I was able to explain better what I meant. I also realized how my words hurt her feelings.

There are countless other instances, and even today I find myself eating my feet.

Another instance was in 1st or 2nd grade. All the students took turns reading part of a book out loud. When it came to my turn, I stumbled over the words to the point a boy sitting next to me said, "Don't you know how to read?"

Apparently the teacher noticed as well. She recorded me and called my mom to replay it. She was concerned enough that she believed I needed to be placed in a class for the learning disabled.

My mom put the kibosh on that by saying, "Can my daughter read, and comprehend what she's reading?"

"Yes," the teacher said.

"So she can't read out loud. That's not a learning disability."

My mom didn't tell me any of that until years later, and for a long time, I wondered if something was wrong with me when it came to reading out loud. After a while, I realized it was because my brain was reading faster than my mouth could keep up with. Hence the stumbling. Even today I have to concentrate on making sure my eyes and brain read at the same speed as my mouth. I don't always succeed, and I admit it's frustrating.

I hope no one asks me to do a reading of one of my books if ever I get published.

Writing, on the other hand, for some reason that came easy, even at an early age. Now as I look back, I'm grateful God didn't give me the ability to speak well. It forced me to find another way to express myself, and writing became (and still is) my outlet. Most everything I write, especially when writing from my heart and soul, comes out on paper how my brain envisioned it. That's not to say it doesn't need editing for spelling, grammar, and concision (I tend to ramble), but the meat and bones are there. The best part is I'm rarely misunderstood. Not as often as when I talk anyway.

"The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say." –Anais Nin

Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

http://dailycaller.com/2017/02/20/college-writing-center-declares-american-grammar-a-racist-unjust-language-structure/

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center:

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Agents care only about the story and the quality of writing (EDIT: At least I hope this is still true). They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc. (EDIT: I know more readers than not care more about the story than the author’s skin color, beliefs and/or political persuasion).

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.