From one culture shock to another

In Real Life

As you can see, some of our grass is more ancient pasture than yard.

In real life, I’m staying inside a lot, wearing a mask when I go shopping, taking a car with 81,000 miles on it to the shop, and constantly mowing our four acres of grass. Yesterday’s mowing, at 95 degrees and sunny, featured cows staring at me from the pasture on the other side of the barbed wire fence, unconcerned about the noise of the riding mower but startled and watchful the minute I sneezed. All of this seems far away from the protests and the pandemic.

Re-reading old books

I read fast. Always out of books. So, trying to cut down on my book-buying habit by re-reading old books.  I just finished re-reading John Hart’s gritty The Last Child and The Hush set in a small town in a rural county where bad things happen. Now I’m re-reading Lisa See’s China Dolls, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It features three young women who become friends while seeking dancing/singing careers. These books contrast greatly with Dark Arrows, my novel in progress, which is set in the KKK-infested Florida Panhandle where I grew up. I have to re-boot my brain when I switch genres–or watch the news.

Pandemic and Protests

Wikipedia Photos

As far as I know, I haven’t gotten Covid-19. Nor have I seen protests, looting, attacks against the police, and burning stores on nearby streets. This is, of course, real-life, but as it unfolds on social media and on the news, I feel culture shock again as though I’m looking back to the anti-war protests and race riots of the 1960s. The entire country seems to be torn apart by the multiple issues which we’re confronted with daily. Meanwhile, the Presidential campaign has heated up and we’re all trying to figure out what’s true and what’s an empty (or impossible) promise.

I’ve lived in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco: thank goodness I don’t live in those cities now, much less in Minneapolis (where I once wanted to live) or Portland (where one of my brothers lives). Or St. Louis, Seattle, or NYC. The riot in Atlanta where the Wendys burnt down occurred in an area my wife and I drove through frequently when we worked there and were involved in a non-profit organization that met a few blocks away.

I don’t know where all of this is going to end up, but the polarization and lack of tolerance bother me a lot. So, I continue to read, write, and cut the grass, and when I see images of big cities on fire, I remember a 1960s riot several blocks away from my San Francisco apartment on Dolores Street in the Mission District, and I feel sad for those who are pulled into the horror of protests gone bad. Seeing it all again is the worst of culture shocks.

–Malcolm

 

Happy Birthday, USA

We’re celebrating July 4, 2020, like a family squabbling at Granny’s birthday party where 50% of the inlaws got a virus, 50% are ripping family heirlooms off the walls, and 50% are trying to burn down the house. That’s 150%, but it’s a large family.

The argument has been more heated than usual this year. Otherwise, Granny’s seen it all. She knows that when everyone sobers up and gets their emotions and anger under control–to the extent that’s possible–the family will clean up the mess. She hopes folks will forgive each other and remember the love they feel for each other during easy times, though that’s a stretch.

As she looks at her trampled birthday cake, Granny’s amazed that the same people who made this mess have come together in years past to do amazing things even though none of them is perfect. The same cousins who fought Granddad about over the value of the Grange and badmouthed him for not being perfect have all cheated on their spouses, their taxes, and Lord only knows what else. It would be a hoot if it weren’t so sad.

She recalls the times when they’ve laughed about their inconsistencies and reckons they’ll laugh again, though probably not soon. Granny doesn’t remember who first said it, but she likes the saying that “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” Maybe that’s why it survives in spite of the squabbling.

That’s how I see our country. Ultimately, I think its greatest weaknesses will evolve into its greatest strengths and pure love for each other will be unconditional.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

The news is bad and it’s impacting my novel

In the old days before the Internet, local stories seldom got splashed around the country adding fuel to the fire like they do today. . .a white woman sees a black man walking his dog in the park and calls 911 (what the hell is that!) or a bank can’t verify the paycheck of a black man and calls 911 (that can hardly be bank policy).

I’m fed up with these kinds of incidents just as I’m fed up with sincere protesters getting a bad rap when outside agitators come in and start torching police cars and burning buildings.

I’m writing another anti-KKK novel set in Florida in the 1950s. Florida was a very active KKK world in those days. In my novel, the protagonist starts hassling families who are the local KKK’s movers and shakers with the hope that those people will leave town, weakening the local organization.

But after seeing the daily headlines, I think I’m sitting down at my PC more ticked off than normal. The resulting novel seems edgier and more noir than usual. I don’t know if that’s good or not. I am thankful that I can funnel some of my anger into the story rather than taking it out on family, friends, and co-workers.

How about you? How do you unwind after yet another day of bad news and keep it from turning you into a person you don’t want to be?

–Malcolm

My contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” is free on Kindle through July 4th.

 

If change were as simple as a witch’s ladder

Witches ladders are made by tying a series of knots in thread, yarn, or some other material and that include, at each knot,  a feather, a strand of human hair, leaf, jewelry, pine cone or object that symbolizes the purposes of the ladder. The purpose is generally the creation of a spell or a meditation.

The ladders are known to have been around since the 1870s, but I suspect practitioners of the craft have used them for centuries. Typically, one sings, chants, or recites a specific of general spell element with the tying of each knot. A “simple” ladder often has nine knots and often uses this chant:

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, the magic comes true.
By knot of three, so it shall be.
By knot of four, this power is stored.
By knot of five, my will shall drive.
By knot of six, the spell I fix.
By knot of seven, the future I leaven.
By knot of eight, my will be fate.
By knot of nine, what is done is mine.

Anyone with patience or the slightest affinity for arts and crafts can make a witch’s ladder, though the example shown here from the Wikipedia article probably shouldn’t be the first one attempted. However, a properly done witch’s ladder is not really simple because for the spell or meditation to manifest, the creator of the ladder must have strong faith/conviction the spell/mediation will work, must maintain a powerful focus upon each knot, and then do nothing to doubt the power of the ladder and the intentions behind it once it’s been completed.

Those who have read this blog for years know that I’m not a big fan of affirmations, statements one repeats daily with the belief that this repetition will bring changes into their consciousness and then into our consensual reality. Émile Coué (1857-1926) was a proponent of this so-called “self-suggestion” and is probably best known for the affirmation “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Yes, I think affirmations–like the steps in a witch’s ladder–can work if they are not recited more or less by rote and if we live the affirmations after making them. That is, we activate them by doing something in our lives (even symbolically) in support of the statements. That is, if–in the moments before you fall asleep–you say “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” then you aren’t really living that self-suggestion if you continue to smoke a pack of Marlboros and drink a quart of whiskey every day while thinking little or nothing about what you would look like or act like or think like if you became better.

So much of what we say and do when confronted with the need for change–as protests around the nation are bringing to our attention–is often (as people have said) little more than lip service to new ideas or a BAND-AID® applied to an old and festering problem.  Saying to the protesters (in person or figuratively), “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is meaningless unless you focus your intent and will power on those thoughts and prayers and then take positive action to back up your intentions.

The real witch’s ladder is not simple, though it need not be considered too complex to utilize effectively. Yet, the ladder is simple if the alternative is doing nothing. The trick, if there is one, is living as though the spell/mediation has come to pass even before you see it with your physical eyes.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include magic because that’s how he sees and lives in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Images of chaos or images of protest

The autopsy is not yet clear about what killed 46-year-old George Floyd when he was apprehended by police. What is also not clear is why officer Derek Chauvin and his men kept Floyd pinned down on the street for eight minutes rather than putting him in the back of a squad and transporting him to HQ for an arraignment.

We do know that police departments generally have banned/discouraged various kinds of chokeholds since they often become lethal force when such force is not warranted.

Wikipedia photo

I tend to respect the motives of the legal protesters in the 30 cities across the country where there have been folks marching in the streets or congregating in parks. I worry, though, that the protesters’ valid anger and a valid message is, in some cities, being stolen by outside agitators who appear and set cars and buildings on fire while looting stores.

The public’s impression from the multitude of images on late-night news stations is probably not positive because the protesters are being blamed for the violence caused by those who showed up to create a mess.

The mess has become more tangled as police fire pepper-spray and rubber bullets at reporters who have credentials and are obviously not part of the rioting.

I do see signs of home. Protests that don’t become violent, and stories such as this one: “A sheriff put down his baton to listen to protesters. They chanted ‘walk with us,’ so he did.”

Violence tends to beget violence as more agitators appear or as overwhelmed police and national guard troops try to avoid the bricks and Molotov cocktails thrown at them without harming innocent protestors of using “excessive force” against those who are rioting.

As the Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said after a night of unrest, “this isn’t protest, this is chaos.” I had to agree with her. I also think she might be right when she says Trump needs to stop talking. TV viewers leave with the impression that protestors think looting, burning buildings, and destroying police cars helps their cause. In most cases, it appears to me that bad apples appear once the protest starts and play out their own criminal agendas.

I hope most police officers are not guilty of racial profiling and so-called “street justice.” The trouble is, there are more than enough incidents every year that show everyone, especially African Americans, that our police departments need more training and a fresh agenda. We can start by getting rid of the trend of militarizing our police, and we can follow that up by firing officers who are guilty of racial profiling. This anger we see on our streets didn’t come out of nowhere.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Remembering May 4, 1970

The Kent State shootings occurred 50 years ago today when the Ohio National Guard fired 67 sounds into an unarmed crowd of anti-war protesters, killing four and wounding nine. Among other things, the “Massacre” is said to have helped end the Vietnam War, bring down the Nixon administration, and ask hard questions about just how police and national guard personnel are supposed to disperse protestors.

At the time, the shooting led to a strike of some four million high school and college students and the closure of many schools. Nixon, of course, had been elected (among other things) on his stated objective of ending the war. The protest was sparked when the U.S. expanded the war by bombing Cambodia.

While I was still in the navy on May 4, 1970, I would leave the service as a conscientious objector four months later. I supported the protestors but disagreed strongly with protests that caused violence. Riot control police have become more dangerous to everyone since Kent State as the police become have more militarized. This isn’t helpful now and it wasn’t helpful then.

I took part in anti-war protests prior to joining the navy (to avoid being drafted into the army) and my sympathies were almost always with the students UNLESS they committed the kind of violence they were protesting.

I wonder if we have learned anything since Kent State. As I watch news stories which show police SWAT teams that look more like Army Rangers and Navy Seals than the police, I tend to doubt it.

–Malcolm

 

I should have been there

In the early 1960s, Tallahassee, Florida where I grew up was the site of multiple lunch counter sit-ins and movie theater protests. Many of these were organized by CORE and drew a fair amount of participation from students at the primarily black Florida A&M University. I was attending high school and college (FSU) in Tallahassee during these protests, but I wasn’t there.

Florida Memory Photo
Woolworth’s Lunch Counter – Florida Memory Photo

My excuses for not being there are many, including:

  • Tallahassee Police, who sided with the angry white on-lookers, we physically and verbally abusive.
  • Protesters’ eyes were damaged by the use of tear gas.
  • Protesters were fined and/or put in jail for violating a restraining order.
  • The KKK threatened not only the Blacks but the scattering of whites who joined the picketing and lunch counter sit-ins. Burning crosses appeared in people’s front yards.
  • Picketers were assaulted around town and once a person was identified, picketers were likely to have their yards filled with angry people.
  • I wasn’t ready to take on the backlash that I’d be subjected to from high school and college students who had been my friends.
  • I was sure I’d be fired from my jobs and that my participation would cause trouble for my father who was an FSU professor.

As FAMU student and CORE organizer Patricia Stephens Due–who was tear-gassed and ended up with permanent eye damage–said in her book Freedom in the Family–most Blacks weren’t there either even though the common perception is that they were a united front. Not so.

When I was working for Western Union across the street from the Florida Theater, it would have been easy to walk over there and join the pickets or sit at that lunch Woolworth’s lunch counter while on break. There’s an empty seat in the foreground of that lunch counter photo. Logically, it would have been easy to sit there, but when fear of the consequences takes over, it becomes emotionally impossible to sit there.

Looking back today, I’m embarrassed by my excuses and lack of courage.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel The Sun Singer is currently free on Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does bashing the country help fix it?

People are talking about COVID-19 these days, how to fight it, how to stay away from it, whether or not the lockdown approach will end up being more harmful than the disease, and when–if ever–the country will get back to normal.

Reasonably, we’re debating the nature of the country’s response and whether we could have done something better or something sooner, and where do we go from here?

But now another ingredient has been added to the mix, often stated about like this: Why would we want to get back to normal when normal was pretty much all bad?

So here we have people using the pandemic as a springboard for steering the discussion back to the same political agenda they were pushing before the pandemic began. Sure, there’s an election on the horizon and people want us to remember the issues that separate their platforms from other platforms.

But we go a step too far when we say that the normal we had was 100% terrible and that, in fact, nothing about it is worth celebrating. I want to say, “If you think this country is totally rotten, why don’t you move to a country that either is less rotten or is still fresh as cherries just plucked from the tree?”

I would like to challenge the people who say everything about the pre-pandemic normal was horrible, to try and come up with a list of things that we not horrible. I don’t trust a person who is 100% negative to ever put together a vision for what this country should be moving toward as we fix the known ills. I want them to begin by saying, “I love this country in spite of its flaws–and here’s why.”

If they can do that, then we have hope for the future as they see it. If not, they look like the kind of people who don’t know beating a dead horse won’t get them anywhere, much less charm the people who owned the horse.

Malcolm

How You Can Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic 

As the days march on and the only thing that feels certain is devastating uncertainty, my colleagues and I consider it both our mission and privilege to help keep readers’ spirits up and do whatever we can to see them through to the other side of this. There always seems to be pressure on us to make something of “free time” and the paradox of our current moment is that we have a lot of it and can’t really do anything with it but wait.

Source: How You Can Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic | Literary Hub

An important source for writers, publishers, and readers, Literary Hub has increased its output of essays, poetry, historical precedents, philosophy, and lists of books we might read while staying at home. Many of these offerings are grouped together under “These Times” in Lit Hub’s daily newsletter of literary links.

Now they’ve taken a new step by creating a list of practical suggestions for helping out during the pandemic. These include donating blood, assistance to the elderly and other homebound individuals, making/distributing healthcare supplies, and helping sterilize shared spaces. They include places where one can donate money and promise to update their list of suggestions as new ideas arise.

For those people who want to do more than wait and hope for the best, this list is a great addition to the local and regional lists you may be seeing in the newspapers, TV news, and social media.

–Malcolm

 

Charges of Abuse Against Scouting

Last April, exposed court testimony showed the organization believed more than 7,800 of its former leaders were involved in sexually abusing more than 12,000 children over the course of 72 years. – CNN

Scouting was an important part of my childhood. As I read that the BSA purportedly fostered (not sure how) an environment conducive to pedophiles, my shock and revulsion are probably similar to that of Catholics as the scope of abuse by priests became apparent.

My two brothers and I are Eagle Scouts and also received the God and Country Award. One of my brothers was a member of the Order of the Arrow. My mother was a den mother (Cub Scouts) and my father was a pack leader (Cub Scouts) and post leader (Explorer Scouts). Both of them were active as volunteers above the troop level–the council and state level–and received awards for their dedication.

Like the Catholic church, the abuses committed by Scouting’s leaders tend to undermine all that was (and still is) good and healthy about the organization’s programs, purpose, and intent. Scouting as gone from the epitome of excellence, morals, and civic responsibility to the dangerous swamp you don’t want your child to enter.

If I were a Catholic, I would be angry at the church for ignoring the potential signs of the problem for years before taking definitive action. As a child of scouting, I am angry at the BSA for (apparently) ignoring or failing to see the potential signs of a systemic organization weakness rather than finding out why and how it was happening and getting rid of it.

As a Scout, I saw no evidence of abuse or even an atmosphere that made abuse likely.  The cynical amongst us will say, “Sure, a man takes a group of boys out into the woods for a weekend camping trip, what do you think it likely to happen?”

To that, I say “bullshit” because I don’t think the default mindset of every adult male is to abuse a young boy.  But a lot of men did and a lot of you boys suffered, and will never rid themselves of their torment. The crime, atrocious enough in and of itself, is that it looms large because it defames the majority of Scout leaders who would never think of such a thing and casts aspersion upon all the good that has been done through the organization and its programs for years.

Yes, I am angry. Yes, I want the organization to address and “fix” the problem. Yes, I want a new and revitalized BSA to teach young men and women about the sanctity of the land and the importance of high moral standards.

–Malcolm