Archive for the ‘Social Activism’ Category

Audible company logo.

If you’re not familiar with Audible and Audiobook Creation Exchange (aka ACX), let me fill you in. Audible is Amazon’s audio book wing. They distribute thousands of audio books and have just as many subscribers (I’ve been one since 2015). ACX is part of Audible: it’s a places where authors and publishers can hook up with narrators, produce audio books, and then upload them to Audible.

With me so far?

Recently, Audible and ACX have been in a bit of hot water. It’s come to the attention of several authors that Audible has a rather questionable policy on the books. Audible Premium Plus subscribers have the option to exchange an audio book they’ve bought through their subscription within 365 days of purchase! And get this: if an audio book is exchanged within that time frame, the authors or publishers get their royalties deducted for it!

You read that right: somebody can exchange any audio book they buy within a year of purchasing, and the author gets punished for it.

Most people’s reactions to the exchange policy abuse. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

And lately, this has become a huge problem. Many authors, mostly indie authors, have noticed an increase in exchanges and deducted royalties over the past several months, In fact, some have speculated that use of the exchange policy–or should I say abuse of the exchange policy?–has boomed because Audible’s been using the policy in some of their advertising to attract new members.

Spurred by reports of this, the Authors Guild, along with a whole bunch of other author organizations, have drafted a letter to Audible and ACX to get them to, among other things, change the policy and create a more reasonable exchange policy. At the time I’m writing this, the letter has over twelve thousand signatures, and it’s still growing. To quote the letter,

This policy is in clear breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in the authors’ agreements with Audible and ACX as it allows books to be purchased and listened to without paying the authors and narrators their royalties.

Authors Guild Letter to Audible and ACX

Now, I have only have Rose‘s audio book on Audible, and so far as I know, it hasn’t suffered from this exchange policy much. However, I have heard from a couple of colleagues, including some I consider good friends, who are upset by the policy and are considering pulling their works from Audible and ACX because of the policy.

And even if I didn’t know anyone affected by this policy, once I learned about it, it was hard for me to sit still. This is a terrible policy that hurts authors and publishers alike! These are the people that Amazon needs to continue selling through Audible, and yet they treat them this way?

And why is the exchange window a year long to begin with? That’s a terrible business strategy. Can you imagine if a hardware store allowed you to exchange a tool within a year, even if it’s likely been used? Or a shoe store? Or a computer business? They’d be out of business within a year with a policy like that! What the hell, Amazon?

The letter I received from Audible about the change in the exchange policy. Feel free to enlarge and read it in full.

Thankfully, it seems that news of the abuse and the letter made Audible realize their mistake. While they’ve defended the policy, saying that they do monitor for abuse and that such abuse is rare, they are changing the policy effective January 1st. After that, the exchange window is limited to 7 days, and Audible will pay for any exchanges made after that timeframe. They later confirmed this in an email to ACX creators, which I got as well.

And that is good. That is a good change. It’s harder to abuse an exchange policy limited to only a week instead of a year. Still, some aren’t satisfied. In fact, the Authors Guild letter suggests shortening the window to 48 hours. And I like that idea: not only is it even harder to listen to multiple audio books over the course of two days than it is to do over a week, but it should be easier to spot abuse when an account is making multiple exchanges within a two day period.

So, what can you do? Well, you can sign the letter, which at the time of writing is only 440 signatures away from the Authors Guild’s goal. Even if Audible has changed the policy, every signature is a reminder to the company that this sort of malarkey won’t be tolerated by the very people the company needs for products if it continues.

You can also share with other authors and readers. The more people who are informed about the issue, the more people who will be weary and on the lookout for policies and abuse like this. People, and companies, are more likely to be better behaved if they know they’re being watched and kept under pressure.

And finally, if you have or plan on getting an Audible subscription, don’t be the kind of subscriber who does this sort of crap. I’ve only exchanged a book on Audible once, and that was because I thought it was one kind of story, and it turned out to be another. Otherwise, I would never rob another writer of royalties! Instead, keep the book once you buy it, and wait for your next credit. Don’t make someone else lose money just because you want more listening material!

And if Audible doesn’t address the problem, maybe consider giving up your membership. Yeah, it’ll suck to not get that credit for an audio book each month, but it’ll sure send a message to Audible.

And if you do enjoy an audio book purchased through Audible, make sure to review or at least rate it afterwards. Trust me, ratings and reviews left by readers help both new readers and the writers who put their books on the site. I speak from personal experience on that!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thank you for reading this far and giving a damn about this problem. I hope you’ll consider helping out authors and stopping abuse of Audible’s exchange policy.

Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving and pleasant nightmares!

October is usually associated with Halloween, and obviously I’m doing everything I can to make sure you don’t forget that. But it is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, when the United States recognizes how peoples with disabilities have contributed to the country and to our various industries over the years. This year especially, we are marking both the 75th anniversary of NDEAM, as it’s often abbreviated, and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) becoming a law.

And it’s good we have this month, because there are so many people with disabilities throughout the world and history who have contributed to our society. Harriet Tubman led dozens of slaves to freedom and acted as an armed scout and nurse for the Union Army, suffered from neurological issues due to a childhood traumatic brain injury; Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States and led the US through some of its toughest crises, all while dealing with the aftereffects of polio from a childhood condition; Albert Einstein had a learning disability; and author Flannery O’Connor wrote enduring fiction while suffering from lupus.

Not to mention there’s a growing list of entertainers and athletes with disabilities inspiring us everyday. Magic Johnson, the basketball player, has dyslexia; Gaten Matarazzo and Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things have cleidocranial dysplasia and deafness in one ear, respectively; and Elton John has fought bulimia and epilepsy for years. And more amazing people with disabilities are emerging every day. Check out this video of a dance company, half of whose members have disabilities.

I point out all these people because, as Ms. Hamamoto points out in the video above, one in five people have a disability of some sort. Yet, despite the passage of the ADA and the many opportunities this law opened up for Americans with disabilities, this country isn’t always very inclusive. In fact, opportunities and services available for people with disabilities can vary greatly from place to place.

This astonishes me, because becoming disabled is something that can happen to anyone regardless of sex, race, nationality, class, religion, political leanings, ethnicity or age. In fact, the likelihood of getting a disability grows as you get older. It can happen because of genetics, because of an accident, a side effect of an illness, or other causes. Lately, I’ve heard of people who get over COVID-19, but have side effects such as still being unable to taste or suffering from multiple headaches a week. These can, and likely will, be considered disabilities in the years to come.

And many members of the American military come back or discharge with disabilities. These can range from physical, such as war injuries, to mental or psychological, such as PTSD.

You might not even realize that someone near you has a disability. The majority of them are invisible. You may only see their struggles, if anything.

And yet, so many people don’t want to think about the disabled. Services for the disabled can be underfunded. Many homes aren’t always built with the disabled in mind. Education in general is often not given the funding it needs, and when it comes to budget cuts, special education is often on the chopping block. And there’s so little education on disability in general, that people may hold a stigma regarding disability for years: that disability is contagious; that they’re useless; that they brought it upon themselves; that the best thing to do with disability is to ignore it or hide it away or treat it as an annoyance.

As a person with several disabilities–some congenital, others acquired in adulthood–I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been. I’m gainfully employed at an organization where close to twenty percent of the workforce has some form of disability (as well as accommodations for them). And throughout my life, I’ve been able to receive services that help me with my disabilities. So I feel it is important to not only make disability more visible, but also to advocate and help out when I can.

Which is why I’d like to close out this post with some links to help my fellow peoples with disabilities. The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has numerous resources for the disabled, and many states have programs or offices for the disabled, such as Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities in my state. If you are or know a college student or recent graduate with disabilities, then might I recommend the Workforce Recruitment Program, or WRP, a great program that pairs students and graduates with disabilities with internships in the federal government, and which sometimes turn into jobs (please use Firefox when operating on the site). And the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, has numerous listings of individual disabilities and what accommodations exist out there. My office uses this site all the time, and we find it quite helpful.

And these are just a small sample of resources for the disabled, a group that should never be discounted or forgotten. Because not only can you become disabled at any time in your life, but because no matter the disability, you matter. You contribute. You make the world a better place. And if people forget that, then it’s up to you and to the rest of us to remind them.

What resources for people with disabilities are you aware of? What has your disability experience been like?

I’ve kept silent on this matter long enough. Maybe I’ve kept silent so long because, while it made me angry, I wasn’t yet angry enough to post about it on my social media. It was enough for me to let my views be known through the stories I write and the way I conduct myself. However, I think I’ve been silent long enough. I need to speak and to let the world know what I’m thinking.

If you weren’t aware, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, has over the past two months voiced problematic views on the transgender community through her social media. I won’t go into a full breakdown of events, you can find that in plenty of articles online, but I will summarize a few major points. Since June, she has: criticized an article that used the phrase “people who menstruate,” meant to include trans men and non-binary individuals; said use of above phrase was “erasing the concept of sex” and “the reality of women globally;” spread misinformation about transgender individuals, including that allowing transgender women to use the bathroom of their choice was giving men license to step into women’s bathrooms and assault them; and on Sunday, equated hormone therapy to gay conversion therapy.

It’s this latest piece of news that has pushed me to speak. I have had the pleasure of being friends and occasionally even colleagues who are trans. None of the above stuff is true of them, or of the trans community at large. Furthermore, as a bisexual man, I am disgusted that Rowling would compare medication that allows trans people to feel more comfortable in their own bodies to a practice that makes members of the LGBT community hate, deny and repress their true selves in favor of someone else’s very narrow worldview on sex and gender.

But I’m not going to talk about all that. I’m going to instead join all the voices who have come out against Rowling’s views. This includes members of the writing community, some of whom I consider colleagues and friends, others I consider role models and teachers; most of the cast of the Harry Potter films; and an overwhelming section of the Harry Potter fandom. What we have to say is this: we are disappointed that Rowling, whose books have always espoused equality and understanding, would support these views, let alone use her platform to influence and possibly turn her fans against the trans community. And while we differ on how we’ll interact with the world of Harry Potter, which is so intertwined with its creator as to be almost inseparable–some are severing their relationship with the franchise, while others are saying they will continue to enjoy Harry Potter while avoiding giving money or other support to Rowling, etc.–we are united and committed to not letting hate go unpunished.*

To be honest, I’m saddened that it has come to this. It’s because of Harry Potter and JK Rowling that I started writing fiction in the first place. You may not have ever heard of me (at least not in the context of a writer) if it hadn’t been for the Wizarding World and what it did for me as a child. I owe Rowling a debt for that, and I’ll always be grateful for the effect she had on my life.

However, I am against all forms of prejudice, including but not limited to racism, antisemitism, sexism, Islamophobia, ableism, ageism, homophobia and, of course, transphobia. I’ve seen the effects of what these prejudices have on people and it disgusts me. My day job allows me to combat these problems within the workforce, something I’m quite proud of. And I won’t stand idly by as an author with a major platform uses theirs to hurt others because of their own prejudice.

And to Ms. Rowling, if you’re reading this, I’m afraid that this is, to quote Albus Dumbledore to Cornelius Fudge, “the parting of the ways.” I will always be grateful to you and to your creation, as I said. But I can’t stand by your views or support your work. Losing me won’t hurt you in the slightest. But if it makes you think, or makes someone else think about how vulnerable the trans community is, or if it helps a trans person feel less alone in a scary world, then it’ll be worth it. With that, Ms. Rowling, I let you go.

Thank you for reading this, everyone. I know this isn’t my normal sort of post, but I had to write it. Thanks for reading. And while I was planning on doing a late-night writing session, I think I’m tuckered out and will hit the hay instead.

Goodnight, Followers of Fear. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

*I know this post may upset some of my Followers of Fear, and they may not want to follow me or read my works anymore. If that’s the case, I’m sad to see you go, but I wish you the best and hope we can someday meet on common ground. And if you decide to get rid of my books, please do so in a manner that doesn’t burn down your house or something crazy like that. I know burning them seems fun, but is it worth your home and life?

I only realized after I wrote the title of this post that there’s a rhyme in there. Wrath and Draft. Didn’t intend for that.

If you read my post from last Saturday, you’ll remember that I was trying to write a story taking place after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, I was going to write a story wit a certain theme derived from one of my own challenges with self-isolation. And I couldn’t find a plot or a story line to fit with what I was going for. So, I moved onto the next story on my list: editing the first draft of River of Wrath after nearly two years since finishing it.

For those of you who don’t know, River of Wrath was one of those stories I began that I thought was going to be very short but ended up being very long. The story follows a small town in 1960’s Mississippi with a dark history to it that suddenly has its history dredged up when one of the circles of Hell appears in the town one day.

I’ve been meaning to edit this story for forever. I originally wrote it on and off over the course of a year, finishing it in October 2018. Since then, it’s been lying dormant on my flash drive, but recent events, such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, have compelled me to look at it again. After all, one of the novel’s main themes are the consequences of racism and racial violence, and given how much those subjects have been brought to the forefront of society’s consciousness, I can’t think of a better time to work on the story.

Of course, I’ll at some point have to have sensitivity readers look at this story to ensure that I’ve handled the themes in a way that’s helpful rather than upsetting. But right now, the focus is to take a look at the first draft and maybe pull something worth reading out of it.

Anyway, the goal is to get the second draft done by the end of the month, keeping with my goal to get at least one story done a month. So far, I’ve been able to do that since I finished Toyland in February, but given that we’re nearly halfway through the month already and I’m still pretty early in the story, it’ll be a challenge.

Oh well. Sometimes these things happen. You just have to roll with it and hope for the best.

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated on River and other projects as time goes on. I hope to have positive news soon on some stories, but as you know, it depends on finding the right people who think my stories are worth a risk.

In the meantime, as you know, you have until Wednesday, June 17th at noon to submit questions for the YouTube Q&A I’ll be doing for the one-year publishing anniversary of Rose. Just send your name, where you’re from, and up to two questions to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com by the deadline, and your questions could appear in the video. And even better, if you’re from the US or UK, you could win a download code for the Rose audio book.

You can also order signed copies of Rose by sending an email to that same address, by the way. Or you can find the book on Amazon and Audible.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, Shabbat Shalom, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

The other day, I posted my thoughts on the COVID-19 virus. Among those thoughts was my desire for writers and readers alike to support authors who will be struggling during the ongoing crisis. For a lot of authors, this crisis will cut into conventions, teaching seminars, readings, and so much more that they rely on to sell their books and use their craft. The best thing we can do for those authors is to support them. This could be by buying their work, writing their reviews, anything else you can do to help them out while we’re all stuck inside and trying to protect our health.

That said, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

I’ve known Jason Stokes, owner of Gestalt Media, for about a year. He’s a writer whose work I’ve read and reviewed, but he’s also the owner of a publishing company that tries to give authors the best experience with a publisher as possible. This includes better royalty rates and more control over the creative process than you might find at another publisher. And the model’s worked so far; in the year or so they’ve been in business, Gestalt Media has acquired a number of authors, many of them horror authors, and are sending their stories into the marketplace.

Not only that, but Gestalt Media put together a charity anthology last year for victims of the Virginia Beach shooting which included the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, not kidding, those authors let their short stories be used in the anthology, Dark Tides, to benefit victims and families of victims of that charity. You can check out the anthology’s Amazon page by clicking on this link.

Anyway, just like authors everywhere else, Gestalt Media is working hard to support its authors during this difficult time. They’re raising money on GoFundMe to ensure their authors are able to whether the storm, and they’ve already made almost ten percent of their goal. And for every dollar they make, companies like GoFundMe, Intuit and Yelp will match them. Yeah, every dollar does count here!*

Now, I know a lot of you might be struggling yourselves during this difficult time. Many of us are out of work and unable to make an income during this crisis. I understand. But if you are able to help somehow, please consider doing so.  I’m lucky enough to still be working and making enough money to meet my needs, so I was able to donate. And if I can, I want to help further, so I’m spreading the word where I can.

And if you can’t help out monetarily, maybe consider sharing the campaign on your social media. The more people who know about this,  the more people will be likely to donate. And if you can help out monetarily, great! You’ll be helping out plenty of authors.

Whatever way you can help, please do. We’re all in this together. In fact, the whole point of all these measures is to make sure we all get through the crisis together. This would only be a continuation of the communal preservation we’re engaging in.

And if you can’t help out, that’s fine too. We all have things we can and can’t do, even now.

Well, that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll include the link for the fundraiser down below. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Gestalt Media Creators Relief Fund

*How they were able to work that deal, I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain when they’re able to get results.

Normally I don’t voice my opinions or make calls to actions on this blog, but I feel like I have to say something on this one. Earlier this week, my stepmother, who works for Columbus’s library system, asked if I had any opinion on a petition the library was gathering signatures for to send to Macmillan Publishers. I did a little research, and what I found shocked me.

Starting this November, Macmillan Publishers, one of the biggest and oldest publishing firms in the world, will not allow libraries to purchase more than one copy of an ebook they publish for the first eight weeks after the book is published. For those unaware, many libraries these days lend e-books to readers who prefer reading on tablets to paperbacks using technology called e-lending, during which patrons have access to the ebook file for a short access period, after which they’re unable to access it without renewing or checking it out again. One ebook file equals one book to check out, so libraries buy multiple copies, especially for more popular books and writers. If this change goes through, libraries will only have one copy of an ebook for readers for the two months after release.

Now lest I be accused of being biased, Macmillan cites e-lending’s effects on book sales as their reason for why they’re doing it. According to a memo released by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan:

It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free.

First off, thirteen bucks for an ebook? Of course people are going to go for the cheaper option! The majority of people aren’t rich, you know. We hae rent and car bills to pay.

Second, let’s take a look at print books, which are still more popular than ebooks. Libraries order several physical copies of books by famous authors* months before they’re released. Upwards of hundreds of people reserve copies of those books and wait months to read them without having to pay anything. However, this doesn’t seem to affect publisher sales significantly enough to put similar measures in place. And if a publisher dared to, I imagine they’d face riots. I mean, what if libraries could only order one copy of the latest JK Rowling or Stephen King book, and were perfectly honest about why? I’d imagine the offending publishers would be visited by mobs of angry wizards and blood-soaked prom queens.

And finally, the word-of-mouth effect should have a counter-effect to anything e-lending can do to book sales. The more people who are reading a book, the more people are likely to talk about it. The more people who talk about a book, the more people who will want to read it. The more people will want to read, the more people who will read, which will repeat the cycle. Allowing access to more ebooks at libraries only helps this effect, so Macmillan is kind of cutting off their own digits with this move.

This and other reasons is why the American Library Association has launched a petition asking Macmillan to reverse their decision, a petition which I support. As of writing this, the petition has a little over twenty-thousand signatures, but it’s going to need a lot more to change CEO John Sargent’s mind. So I wrote this article to help change a few minds.

If you would like to sign the petition, please click here, and make sure to spread the word. The more people who are aware of this issue, the more people who will be persuaded to help. And honestly, for the sake of the many people who like to read, including our work on occasion, we owe it to them.

You can also read this article from Slate.com if you would like to further research this issue yourself.

Thanks for reading, Followers of Fear. I hope you decide to support the cause, and until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*AKA not Rose and/or anything else by me, though if you want to help me change that, I’d appreciate that.

Yesterday I came out of Avengers: Endgame, in awe of the movie I’d just seen. I pull out my phone, and see a message from a friend. The same friend, might I add, who informed me of the shooting in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, in fact. This time, it was a Hasidic synagogue in Poway in California. Thankfully, the casualties were much fewer: several people were injured, but only one person died, and she died saving the rabbi, who despite his injuries allegedly finished his Passover sermon and told his congregants that they were strong and would get through this.

Despite all these stories of strength and heroism, however, the fact that this happened again, on an anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, is horrifying. It reopens old wounds and reminds us all, but especially the Jewish people, of how vulnerable we can be.

As many of you know, I am Jewish, and I feel deeply connected to my heritage. And twice, my people and my heritage has been openly attacked in America, a country where people are theoretically supposed to be able to live free of persecution.

Reading about this, it’s tempting to think nothing can change in this country, that hate and gun violence can never change. However, remember what that rabbi was supposed to have said? Well, I found a quote by him, and while I can’t verify if he said it at the end of his sermon, I can verify it’s from what I consider a reliable source. He said,

I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.

Amen. There is an upsurge of open strains of hatred in the US, from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum. Not just anti-Semitism, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so many more. We can’t let this become the norm anymore than it has. Take a stand against hate and fear. Reach out to the people around you when you see them in trouble, if you’re able to. Fight for popular platforms to ban hatred. Facebook’s taken a stand against white nationalist and other groups, and there’s a campaign on Twitter to get similar groups auto-banned from the platform using the hashtag #JackStopTheHate, which is directed to Jack Dorsey (username @jack), the CEO of Twitter. Speak out if someone is posting or saying hateful things, because if you stand up to them, you’re letting them know their views aren’t tolerated.

Together, we can fight for tolerance and love.

At the same time, fight for initiatives to end gun violence. John Earnest, the shooter in Poway, used an AR-15, a military-grade weapon. What is a military-grade weapon doing in the hands of a 19-year-old civilian?! We can’t keep letting people get their hands on military weaponry so easily. If we do, we’re only ensuring that this cycle of violence continues. Vote for bills or leaders who will fight to keep these weapons from being used in shootings over and over.

Together, we can ensure people don’t have to worry about being shot every time they step outside.

This weekend should’ve only been about positive events: Endgame having a billion-dollar opening; She-Ra season 2 hitting Netflix; the end of Passover and plenty of pizza parties! Not this. Nothing like what happened. And it’s up to us to make sure it never happens again.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who supports me and thinks about me every time something like this happens. I can’t allow myself to be scared into submission by monsters like this. Just know that your love and kindness bolsters me and keeps me from retreating when I need to speak out on issues like this. Thanks.

My latest article from Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors has just gone live. This post talks about a serious issue that has been plaguing the writing community, particularly online. Many writers have become the target of bullying and public shaming online from their genre’s community, leading to them withdrawing their novels from publication and being publicly shunned. Often the reasons that start these attacks are taken out of context, and the “punishment” is too harsh or goes on for too long, leaving those at the receiving end psychologically scarred and unable to move forward.

That, plus a recent segment from comedian John Oliver’s TV show Last Week Tonight on public shaming, motivated me to write about the subject. Thus my latest article, Public Shaming in the Writing Community. And I hope it leads to some positive discussion and maybe some positive change in the writing community.

If you have a moment, please check it out. I did a lot of thinking before posting this, and I don’t normally talk about controversial topics on this blog unless I think I really need to. That’s how important this topic is to me.

And I realize by writing about this subject, I may be painting a target on my back. Well, as I noted in the article, I’m a Jewish, bisexual man with disabilities and eccentricities. My very existence and interests probably offends someone for dumb reasons. Plus writing horror probably offends someone who thinks all horror does is create and satiate depraved individuals. That’s never stopped me before, and this won’t either.

Besides, I BITE.

Anyway, while you’re there, please feel free to check out the other articles on the site. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site for advice on writing, editing, publishing and marketing efficiently. No matter your background or experience, there’s something here that can help you. Believe me on that. I’m not just a contributor, I’m also a beneficiary of the articles.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Unless the horde of online trolls shows up at my doors, I’ll likely see you next on Saturday with a review of Jordan Peele’s new film, Us. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, one and all.

(For those curious as to what Hanukkah is about, I gave an explanation in the comments)

I’m going to try to keep this post short, though there’s a great temptation to write a thousand words or more. And that’s because despite how crazy this past week has been, its also been kind of uplifting. Why? Because my organization really showed me how much it wanted to make sure all its associates felt included during the holidays. And that included the Jews.

Now as many of you know, I am Jewish (this will be important in a bit). And as many of you also know, I work for a supply organization in a role called an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. It’s kind of like HR, but we’re focused on promoting diversity, accommodating associates with disabilities, and combating discrimination and harassment in the workforce. It’s an important job, because a properly diverse and accepting workforce is one with a wide talent pool and a healthy mental state.

Okay, enough background. Let me get to the important part. On Tuesday, I was sitting having breakfast in my office when our Director of Operations (hereafter referred to as the DoO), a member of our regional executive staff, came to visit me. Which is pretty unusual. I see him on occasion around the building and we’ll chat, but I don’t interact much with the executives in my organization. You can imagine my surprise when the DoO came to talk to me, and understand my first thought upon seeing him: I’ve had this nightmare before, but I was naked in it.

Turns out, the DoO wanted to consult me. You see, I did a stand-up routine at a company talent show last year (yes, that happened), and it was centered around kosher cooking. Since then, I’ve gained a reputation as the resident expert on Judaism. With that in mind, the DoO wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a menorah to represent Hanukkah at the Executive Open House, one of our organization’s annual holiday events when you can go through the executive suite and schmooze with the top brass. That event usually has a lot of tinsel and Christmas trees, but no menorah. And the DoO wanted to know if including one would be a good idea.

I said yes, that would be a wonderful idea, and I gave some other suggestions of things to include (dreidels, chocolate gelt, etc). I then gave him some ideas where he could find all those. Less than an hour later, I was asked to go shopping with him at the nearest place to see if we could find a menorah. I said sure, hoping to God I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and we went shopping. We found plenty of gelt, but they were fresh out of menorahs. One thing you need to know about my organization, though, we don’t do anything partway. So I got into contact with one of the local synagogues, which I knew had a gift shop with plenty of menorahs. After work that day, I went straight there and bought a menorah, along with a ton of dreidels. Mission accomplished.

The DoO and I with the menorah. So grateful for this kind gesture.

Fast forward to today (Thursday, if you’re reading this later on), I brought the menorah and dreidels in. We set it up first in the DoO’s office after he invited me up to the Executive Suite, and then later it ended up in a more public space when another associate brought in their menorah from home. And I have to say, it looked really good there too.

But through all this, I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was for the DoO and the rest of the top brass to be thinking of my people. As many of you are aware, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks lately, the worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October. These attacks on my people have been tough on all of us. I’ve been feeling an upswing in anxiety since October myself. However, I’ve been trying to fight back by staying strong and filling the world with more good and kindness than they can fill it with evil. And this simple thoughtful gesture, while small, was huge in its impact, and I can’t help but thank the DoO for helping to put a bit of good back in this crazy world.

I hope it’s part of a greater trend to make the world a nicer place.

Happy Hanukkah, Followers of Fear. I hope this brought some light into your life during the Festival of Lights. I’m heading off to bed. Until next time (possibly this weekend), pleasant nightmares one and all.

Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!