• Life,  Philosophy

    I’m taking a break from social media.

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    A personal break, for a week or so at least, maybe longer.

    I’ll continue to post and interact on an author level on my FB page and a little on Twitter and Instagram, and there are a couple of closed groups for martial arts that will stay on the check list, but beyond the take the birthday reminders that Facebook gives me, I’ve had enough personal social media for a while. I’m good for now, thanks.

    Why, you ask?

    I suppose there are lots of reasons, but as time goes on during this pandemic and the altered reality we’re getting from it, I’m coming up with four trends I dislike in my personal experience.

    1. The Trolls. People posting crap or delivering deliberately inflammatory comments to see what kind of reaction they get or specifically to start fights. This is moving beyond drive-bys on pages to people in my friends list who are trying to entertain themselves. When you point that out, whether by meme or comment, it tends to disappear. When you try to be the voice of reason, the comments don’t disappear but instead you get a target painted on you. Seriously, if all you want is conflict, eventually, I’m going to follow the path of Snooze or even Unfollow, and I’ve lost your voice, probably having decided I didn’t need it that badly.
    2. The Lies and Alternative Truths, some of which real, thinking people actually believe. I don’t care if something agrees with what you already think and I don’t care how sincerely held that belief is. I care if you’re willing to discuss it rationally with the possibility that either one of us might change their opinion due to the actual facts involved. If you’re not entering into a conversation where that’s possible for you, why do you think I want to participate? The right to express what you want doesn’t come with the right to have an audience for it. Could be an Unfollow in the future here, too. It’s tiring.
    3. The advertising. TBH, the algorithms employed to show me things that I might like, suck, especially on Facebook. FB, for example, gives me a range of seven possible reactions now and treat them all as if I Like everything I touch. There’s no reason to show me more things like the ones that made me angry or sad except if it’s somehow better for your platform if you get me riled up. Why is that? So I stay longer? Hmm. How would that benefit you unless it’s to keep me around to look at more advertising. Do you mean, gasp, I’m the product?
    4. I find myself hate-scrolling too much. The feed is infinite and if I’m using it as a time killer, I should be finding other ways to amuse myself, maybe by finding constructive things to do. Instead, I just keep scrolling and hate that I’m doing it. Especially since, sooner or later, it’s going to drag me into an emotional reaction over something in points 1, 2, and/or 3 that I really didn’t need. Looking around at the world, I have enough things to be angry about in the real world. Why do I need more from my social media?

    In the society we’re currently living in, in-person socialization is a lot harder than it was. That’s not going away for a while yet. Virtual is how we round things out, but it’s not working for me right now. I doubt I’m the only one.

    Social media has so much power and potential. Why are we wasting so much of it? I feel like I’m helping waste it, so I need a break.

    In a moment of delicious irony, I’ll be cross-posting this to my personal account before I Felicia my way off screen. If you’re seeing this from there and have any interest in what my creative endeavors are bringing me to lately, give my author page a like or follow me on Twitter. Everything I write about appears there fairly quickly, and I think I’m pretty responsive (well, not as much on Twitter). Instagram is more life and pets. Some of the stuff that I write about isn’t directly about my creative work—politics, life, pets, opinions—and things get more nuanced, like this tiny essay which posted by itself on social media would have gotten boiled down to something like: “Personal social media is bad for me right now and I think I need a break.” Not wrong, but hardly a real picture of what I’m thinking.

    In the meantime, I’ll get some time back, assist my mental health and stress level a little more, and keep reconnecting with meat-space.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    The Ten Commitments

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    I’m fairly open about my lack of religious beliefs and have been for a while. I’m not afraid to use the word Atheist because, when you come down to it, all that means is a lack of belief in a god or gods. I’m in a place and a stage in life that I don’t need to be afraid of the label.

    I’ve also generally preferred to be identified by what I do believe rather than what I don’t, which is why I’m not afraid of the Humanist label. I actually kind of like it. In short, humanism is an outlook attaching primary importance to human matters (and by extension nature) rather than divine ones. Freely translated: the problems that plague human beings and humankind need to be dealt with by humans. We need to look to ourselves for solutions and work to make them happen.

    Seems simple enough, but the openly-professed non-religious are still very much in the minority. A big minority that no one has figured out to cater to yet when looking at politics, but a minority nonetheless.

    There are a lot of humanist organizations around the world, large and small, and frequently someone comes up with the idea of mimicking something from a religion, usually Christianity, to attract some attention. This normally works as well as you’d expect, as well as the same tactic works in the opposite direction, but every so often, something clicks.

    At just about this time last year, the American Humanist Association Center for Education released the idea of The Ten Commitments. The content of that clicked for me.

    Now, before you roll your eyes too hard, maybe we should look at what they are:

    1. Critical Thinking
    2. Ethical Development
    3. Peace and Social Justice
    4. Service and Participation
    5. Empathy
    6. Humility
    7. Environmentalism
    8. Global Awareness
    9. Responsibility
    10. Altruism

    Not a lot of “thall shalt not” involved. Not any, really. These are more qualities or traits than they are commands, or even guidelines. Things we cultivate, things we aspire to, things we wish to be.

    So while the label is a little cheesy, the list is a set of traits I agree with, things I’m working on building up higher in myself. There are other things, but this is a good list. For me, an 11th commitment might be kindness. There are a lot of things in the world that upset me these days, and it’s a struggle to meet some of them on an even keel. Most people, maybe even all people, deserve kindness. Some of them make it hard, but that makes the attempt even more important.

    Anything you’d like to add?

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    I Was Told There Would Be A Handbasket

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    Anti-vaxxers. Plague enthusiasts, if you’d rather.

    Flat-earthers.

    Fear of GMOs.

    Believers that Organic is anything more than a marketing term.

    YouTube researchers.

    Chiropractors.

    Homeopaths.

    Moon landing hoaxers.

    Climate change denial.

    Acupuncture and cupping.

    Anti-maskers.

    Colloidal silver.

    Black salve.

    Crystal healing.

    Reiki.

    Naturopathy.

    Astrology.

    Ancient astronauts.

    Creation science.

    And on and on and on.

    The stupid is everywhere.

    “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…” ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

    Me too, Carl. Me too.

    Only I’m worried about more than just America. I’m worried that I live in a world where a substantial portion of the adult population believes that their opinions count the same as facts, that personal beliefs trump science, that shouting something loud enough and long enough makes it true.

    Actually, I’m not worried that I live in that world. I do live in that world. I’m worried that there’s nothing I can do about it, that any action against it is a losing battle, and that my children or grandchildren might actually end up living in a new round of the Dark Ages with a little more technology available.

    I’m worried that for some substantial portion of the adult population it’s easier to dismiss someone who disagrees with them as less than human than to spend a few seconds thinking and talking to find out where they have common ground to work from.

    I’m worried that the blatant misinformation campaigns that governments, organizations, and corporations engage in that so many people seem to swallow without thought.

    I’m worried about the global trends towards populism and authoritarianism.

    I’m worried how alarm bells about climate change have been ringing for decades but it’s still somehow a political issue and not a survival one.

    I’m worried about the ever-increasing trend of corporate irresponsibility and unrestrained capitalism grinding our society into dust.

    I’m worried that so many of the people in power seem to have no real concept of the complexity of running a society or even the basic issues that go into it.

    I’m worried about the baggage retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow.

    Okay, maybe not that last one. But I am worried that I’ll never find enough focus to deal with any of it in any meaningful way and that there are so many people out there who feel the same.

    And, let’s be honest, I’m worried that maybe the human species isn’t worth saving and that we need to evolve or die out to give another species a shot at the big chair.

    And that last statement IS NOT ME. I’ve always lived in the belief that there’s hope for the future, for things to get better, for humanity to outgrow the childish and brutish behaviours that we’ve indulged in for most of our history.

    So maybe the isolation of things is starting to get to me a bit.

    But I am worried.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    More on the Police

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    A week or so ago, I wrote a bit about my understanding of the idea of defunding the police. To recap: essentially it means to take a bunch of duties away from the police that should never have been given to them in the first place and use the resulting money saved to actually address those problems instead of policing them. I agree with this. If you don’t, we can talk about it, but that’s not what I want to write about today.

    Coming at things from a different angle, I look back over my adult life and come up with the idea that my personal (nothing to do with work) interactions with the police have been mostly unsatisfying. Yes, me. A white, middle-class male, one of the people that the system is, essentially, designed to protect, but we’re not going to argue that today, either.

    I’ve long been of the opinion that individual police officers can be broadly divided into two groups, recognizing that there’s a spectrum running from one to the other: protect-serve, and bully with a badge.

    Most of my interactions have been in terms of ride programs, accident witness and reporting, and random stops while geocaching in a car with my youngest daughter. On average over the last decade, I think there’s been a conversation with a police officer once a year, sometimes twice, that had nothing to do with a ride stop. I’ve had friendly officers, but sometimes even the friendly ones are odd. I’ve been condescended to, growled at, and given orders. I don’t know that I was treated like an adult until I was somewhere in my 30s, and even with the protect-serve group I’ve generally walked away somehow feeling that I’m wasting someone’s time, that they could have been somewhere doing real police work.

    I don’t feel like it’s me, though I suppose as a member of arguably the most protected group in our society there could be some of that. Maybe I come across differently than I think. But I smile, I’m polite, I answer questions directly and to the point, and I generally try to make the conversation as easy as possible.

    So why am I unhappy with those interactions overall?

    Am I just seeing too much of the bad behaviour I never used to, because it’s being reported more and I’m watching more media, and that’s colouring my perceptions?

    Have I been passed on the highway by too many cruisers doing 40-50 km over the speed limit? Does that help with my impression that a lot of police officers feel that the rules don’t apply to them?

    Have I noticed the gradual increase in arms and armour and wonder why most of that is necessary in the regular performance of their duties?

    Am I concerned that I’ve seen five cruisers appear so that a mass of officers can talk to one homeless guy who looked like he was minding his own business before they got there?

    Have I seen officers give small groups of teenagers shit for merely being where they are, not bothering anyone?

    Do I see the posturing and chest puffing whenever I see an officer interacting with a “civilian”? Some of that has to be my imagination, but does it always feel like the officer has to be ready to pounce at the slightest misstep on the part of the other person?

    The answer to all of those is yes. Pile that on to my own neutral to negative overall experience, and I do understand why I’m not fond of how our society has set up policing. And then add on the systemic, and I’m convinced that’s the right word, issues baked into the structure of policing and yes, I’m quite convinced that major changes are needed.

    Your mileage may vary on the personal stuff. In fact, I hope it does. I hope my experience is unusual. I’d love that to be the case. But even if it is, does that mean things are good?

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Philosophy

    Defund the Police

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    Sounds a little harsh to some, a little scary to others, a dramatic overreaction to a few more. It shouldn’t really sound any of those things. It should, once we stop and think about it, sound like a really good idea on some level to just about everyone.

    By which you should take it that I’m in favour of the idea.

    White middle-class guy approaching 50 is in favour of defunding the police. Somebody out there is just full of assumptions now but stay with my logic chain for a second.

    Eighty percent of the calls police respond to have nothing to do with crime. 80%. And dealing with crime is the basic function of the police, right? Not mental health issues, not homelessness, not community outreach, not transit fare checks, not drug overdoses, not a whole bunch of the stuff they deal with on a daily basis.

    For whatever reason (and the reasons are legion), it’s become easier as a society to make something illegal or even criminalize it so that it can be dumped on the backs of the police force. We’ve designed things so that the toolbox basically only has one tool and then we’re surprised when things escalate.

    Violent crime rates have been generally on the decline since about 1990 or a little before. While we’ve seen a tiny spike in the last few years, we’re still at levels matching up with about 1970. In my eyes, that says that violent crime is at its lowest level in my lifetime.

    So do we need the level of policing we’ve got right now with the militarization of police forces across North America?

    Wait, I’m not finished yet.

    What if we also got rid of the 80% of stuff that police shouldn’t be having to deal with and either develop or pass it to agencies that it’s their job, and then adequately funded those agencies? What if we actually looked at solving social problems that contribute to public safety like education, social services, housing issues, health issues, youth services? What if we actually funded our communities?

    Would we still need the same level of policing?

    Defunding is a scary word. I get that. Various governments make it their mission to fix things like education and health care and infrastructure by doing things like “finding efficiencies” and “controlling spending”. Those are nicer ways to say “defund” and with not so good results most of the time.

    Something to think about.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy,  Television

    Star Trek Memories, The Early Years

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    Picture, if you will: a small child sitting in his father’s lap. It’s the early 1970s. 1974, maybe 1973. He’s blonde and cute, and he’s waiting for a television show to start, if not quite as patiently as his father. He does not know what the show is called, only that there are spaceships and aliens and it’s cool.

    The show starts. There are spaceships, there are aliens, and it’s cool. But most of that doesn’t stick into his long-term memory, not right away, not this time. What he remembers is the giant space amoeba.

    The child is me and I’m remembering “The Immunity Syndrome”, sitting in my father’s lap in that old green chair. It might be my earliest concrete memory.

    So yes, it is absolutely my father’s fault that I’m a Trekkie. Thanks, Dad. I owe you big time.

    I don’t remember when I first started watching it regularly, knowing my father’s television habits during my childhood, he wouldn’t have scheduled his time around being available to watch a particular tv show, only catching it if he knew it was on and he was already available, and there wasn’t something else to do in the immediate future, including me if he thought it was appropriate and I’d like it.

    But we must have watched it far more than just that one time, because by the time I have more than a few memories to solidify, by the time I was eight or nine years old, I’m sure I’d seen them all, repeatedly, and I knew about the animated series on Saturday mornings. But if it was closing in on 1980, those had certainly been broadcast a number of times. Star Trek itself was in heavy syndication. My friends and I would play Star Trek in the yard and the forest and the fields. Sometimes I was Kirk, sometimes I was Scotty or Chekov, though I had problems the accents, but I usually got to be Spock. Spock was cool, and awesome, he was super strong, and was going to live practically forever, but he always had the hardest time, struggling through the day, keeping his two halves intact and working together. Well not always, but he was the most challenging to wrap your mind around for a 9-year-old, and he spoke to the heart of a particular 9-year-old.

    And I had the Vulcan salute and the eyebrow thing down cold.

    When I reached high school, the local tv station played Star Trek five days a week, and it started about five minutes after I got home from school, rushing from the bus stop at the end of my driveway. It lasted for most of my high school years, and by the time I finished grade 12, I had plenty of Star Trek trivia locked in my head, could name the episode within the first three seconds of the teaser, could quote extensively from every single one, even the movies, though there had been only four by then with the fifth still a year away.

    The Next Generation was my second Trek love, my high school Trek and spilling over into university, but more on that another time.

    Star trek was a big part of my formative years. With dad in the military, and us moving every couple of years, it was one of the main constants in my life, one of my favourite things.

    There was a lot of philosophy built into Star Trek. Oh, not every episode, but it was there. And just the way the episodes were cast, just the way the characters were played, so many things that I society wanted me to understand were supposed to matter, were shown to me that they didn’t or that we could grow beyond them.

    I credit Star Trek for helping me to become a free thinker, learning to use my brain when so many people around me seemed to be actively trying forget they had one. For showing me that appearances are irrelevant, that it’s who you are, and how you act, and how you treat the world and the people around you that matters. For showing me to keep my eyes open and look for the wonder and newness in the universe all the time. For providing an example and hope that there will be a future that’s better than the present.

    Those are hard lessons to learn at all, lessons we often have to relearn over and over. Thankfully, Star Trek has always been there to help me relearn, to help keep my eyes open.

    The original copyright on the first Star Trek pilot is 1964, so it’s coming up on 56 years old now, and it’s probably 46 or 47 since I sat in my father’s lap watching the space amoeba get its single-celled butt kicked by the Enterprise and crew. Star Trek is still there, and it’s not going away.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Opinion,  Philosophy,  Politics

    I Wear My Politics Openly

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    This was original drafted before COVID19 really took off outside China. I’ve left it, but as each days passes it becomes ever more apparent that politics are still being played. The only real difference at this point is that there being lives at stick is much more open and obvious.

    But that’s not where I’m going with this.

    Politics are a part of everything. As long as there are people, there will be politics because no two people see things the same way. In ever-larger groups, politics are important to ensure that everyone gets a voice, but in ever-larger groups issues get ever more complicated and it becomes harder and harder to be well informed on any significant part of what society is trying to accomplish.

    And left to its own devices, almost ever type of society is going to be destructive if its citizens don’t take an active interest.

    My own personal outlook used to summarize in three words: people over profits. And while I still feel that way, even in the society I exist in, it’s become more and more apparent to me that I’m oversimplifying things.

    I read a lot and I research a lot on odd things and I’ve recently taken a number of sociopolitical surveys that consistently put me on the left-hand side of the spectrum and leaning away authoritarianism but not too far towards libertarianism. I tend to resist labels a bit as a lot of them come with baggage that doesn’t apply. (The phrase Libertarian Socialist, for example, comes with something for everyone to hate but doesn’t really describe either a Libertarian or a Socialist.) So let’s just say that I’m left-leaning thinker who has a preference for relevant, competent government.

    To blow that up a little: we are all responsible for the consequences of our actions but have the social responsibility to act for the common good as much as we are able, and the state’s job is to shut up and listen, regulating only as necessary for the protection of its members and to sustain and improve the world in order to make it possible to continue to allow for the improvement of the lives of those members.

    That’s a lot more than three words, but it also gets a lot closer to the truth of things as I see them: we’re all in this together and if we like the world we live on, we need to look out for each other and work to make sure we can continue living on it.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    Please find attached my full participation in April Fools Day 2020

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    Which is actually more than most years. Generally, I find pranking friends and acquaintances to be in poor taste and it often strikes me in the same way as finding humour in the pain of others. I’m actually even starting to have a hard time with “friendly” mocking in recent months because I’m not sure there’s really anything friendly about it.

    Online, of course, seems to be a bit different, as companies and media sites compete to see who can have the most believable but ridiculous post. You know, teasing and misleading their customers and viewers. Or, as you might say, business as usual but with a bit more humour.

    I’m noticing a lot less of it this year than in previous years which is understandable and gratifying, given current situations. Or maybe the folks in my friends lists on social media aren’t doing as much of it, and likely for the same reasons. I’m good with the result either way. Throw me a good pun or a fun joke. Make me groan or make me smile. That’s the kind of thing that will lift spirits.

    Two mushrooms were walking down the street…

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    Unbalanced News

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    I don’t watch the news much.

    The news I get comes from mostly online sources, but a lot of the news broadcasts I find rather very slanted or deliberate fear mongering or both even on our national news broadcaster, and perhaps that’s just the way our society works, very much picking and choosing what gets broadcast to target whoever the primary audience is.

    Online, I can get a broader variety of things, I can see more of what is available worldwide, not just what the local broadcasters care to show me. No one wants to spend money, so even the big networks only have a tiny handful of people to cover international news.

    Even nationally, though, things get slanted horribly to what someone thinks should be the news.

    For example, I am continually frustrated by the ongoing Humboldt Broncos coverage.

    Now please don’t mistake my meaning. It was a horrible tragedy: a whole bunch of young hockey players lost their lives. But I don’t see why the “hockey players” part is relevant, except because we live in Canada, it is. If I believed for a second that a bus load of soccer players or rugby players or kindergarten students would get the same level of attention, I seriously doubt I would roll my eyes every time another story about one of these young fellows triumphing over his injuries or how one of the families is carrying on after one the kids didn’t make it home. I wouldn’t be happier, necessarily, but I’d probably be less cynical about it.

    The real problem, in my eyes, is that here in this country we seem to value hockey above almost anything else. Terrorism, for example. The Humboldt crash had daily coverage for months on our national news broadcaster and on the prime national news show just about every night.

    But when a terrorist ran through a crowd of people in a van in downtown Toronto, killing ten people, we heard about it for a week or so, and switched back over to the bus load of hockey players. Finally, just last night, a follow-up story as to how things are doing families.

    When another terrorist opened fire with a gun on a crowd of Danforth Avenue, killing 3 and injuring 14 people, a couple of months later, we heard a lot for a week or so, and than once a month for a bit, and now it’s been I don’t know how long since we had anything.

    But, you know, hockey.

    Quick Google News searches:

    “humboldt broncos bus crash” 205,000 results

    “Toronto van attack 2018” 153,000 results

    “Danforth shooting” 19,700 results

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Philosophy

    It’s Easy To Be Angry

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    It’s easy to find things to be angry about.

    All you really have to do is look around with your eyes open.

    I more or less wear my politics on my sleeve and they very simply boil down to people over profit. That’s not as hard to reconcile as you think with the industry I work in, although sometimes it’s more difficult than I’d like it to be. But, people over profit is the primary thing. It’s much more important to me that people are taking care of and that people, generally speaking, put other people ahead of things.

    You might guess it’s very frustrating for me to live in North America right now, and while Ontario isn’t nearly as bad as I regard the federal government in the United States, not yet, it’s not even remotely as far behind as I would like. Ideology has its place, but, whether any one particular person wants to admit it or not, not all ideas are not created equal, and some ideas are just bad.

    So it’s very, very easy for me to find things to be angry about these days.

    I don’t want to spend my life being angry, however, so I want to find things to be happy about, and that’s a lot harder.

    So I’m open about my politics, and my particular flavor of lack of religious beliefs isn’t far behind, really. That wasn’t always the case, but those are getting more open all the time and I’m less concerned with what other people think of what I think, only that I’m setting a good example for my family, friends, and the people around me.

    But does my own ideology make it harder for me to find things to be happy about? Does it set me up for probable failure when I’m looking? Those are both questions I need to answer, but they don’t mean that I need to change my ideology of her true (ideological changes should come from ideological examination). It may mean I need to look harder, and it may mean I need to get off my ass, stop complaining so much, and actually tried to change the world.

    All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to remain silent.

    Silence helps the oppressor, not the oppressed.

    Silence implies agreement.

    I’m not naïve. I recognize that my politics and beliefs make their way to my writing. That’s normal, natural, and human. But even when I’m writing a character who has viewpoints that are complete opposite of mine, I do try to make that character sympathetic if they are the direct antagonist or even if they are partially opposing the primary story arc of the protagonist. Remembering that no one is the villain in their own story, I have put mental guidelines in place to make sure that I’m not demonizing someone in the story just because their character doesn’t look at the world the way I do in the real world.

    My blog is a place for me to be more open and honest. So, to be frank, is social media. Politics and philosophy are both fairly open for me and while I certainly believe in healthy discussion and rational argument, I also believe that you can’t, and shouldn’t separate the art from the artist. I tend to think that the stories that I write and put it there can be enjoyed by anyone of any political, philosophical, or religious outlook. It’s almost all genre fiction, so you need the suspension of disbelief, recognizing that you’re not in the world as we know it. If you follow me personally on social media, or read this blog, you get closer to the real me. A lot closer, really, then anyone other than family and friends get. Until the time comes when I push enough of my energy into the idea of open activism for causes I believe to be important, it will be very easy for someone to read my stuff, enjoy it, and find more of it, without ever coming here or to Facebook or Twitter or wherever I might be hanging out electronically. But once you do, it will be a lot harder to escape or ignore what I actually think about things.

    So, if you’re reading this, you have a couple choices. You can do something I can’t, separate the art from the artist, pretend you never found what you’re reading, and enjoy myself fiction wherever you find it.

    Or you can decide we’re different enough that you can’t possibly support me in any way. I’ll be okay with that, really. Everyone needs to find their own path, see the world through their own eyes.

    Or you can decide we’re not too far apart, maybe have little interesting discussion here and there, hang around for a while, read with me.

    Or, I suppose, you can decide that I’m completely right about everything, but that seems unlikely.

    I think it’s actually considerably more complex than any of those four choices, with as many variations as there are readers. My preference? Whether or not the water is fine, it’s here. Maybe it’s different. Maybe we could talk to each other about stuff, maybe we can teach each other something. Come on in, the water is the water.

    Be well, everyone.

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