Posts Tagged ‘activism’

As many of you are aware, I am a member of the disabled community, having autism, ADHD, anxiety, and more things than I can name. What many of you might not be aware is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM for short) in the United States. And this year’s theme (which I think is decided by the Department of Labor) is, “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

And at work today, we had an observance of NDEAM which included a panel of employees with disabilities and a video showing the audition of this year’s winner of America’s Got Talent, Kodie Lee, who is blind and autistic. You can watch the video down below.

I am crying, and so are you. You can’t help it.

And what this video demonstrates is that, despite certain issues and centuries worth of stigma, people with disabilities do have plenty to contribute to the world. In fact, they contribute every day. At my workplace, my main job duties involve helping employees with disabilities get accommodations so they can continue their jobs. This doesn’t just include disabilities from genetics and brain chemistry, like mine, but people who gain health problems like back issues or vision problems as they grow older, among others. And despite their disabilities–or sometimes because–they do amazing things at their workstations. They just need a few accommodations and an accepting environment to do so.

And you know what? This isn’t a new phenomena: people with disabilities have been contributing to the world for years. Beethoven, like Kodie Lee, made the world a better place with his music. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein changed our understanding of the universe in their lifetimes. Harriet Tubman had a head injury that caused headaches, seizures and hypersomnia. John F. Kennedy may have had Addison’s or a similar condition.

Despite all these famous examples though, there are still a lot of barriers to people with disabilities getting work and living full lives. A recent article from Phys.org showed that many blind people face unemployment or underemployment, even though they can be just as capable as able-bodied people of doing job-related tasks. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see similar numbers to that quoted in the article from other groups in the disabled community.

So let me take a moment to address anyone in a position to hire someone with disabilities: we are capable of basic tasks. Hell, sometimes we do very complex tasks too, like write programs or design skyscrapers or perform surgeries or defend clients in court. I’ve even been known to write a decent story from time to time, and that’s not the easiest task. All we need to do our jobs is a few accommodations, which usually don’t cost that much, and an accepting atmosphere.

And remember, this is a group anyone can join at any time. Including maybe you, if you’re not already there. Life has a way of making that possible. So in a way, by encouraging hiring peoples with disabilities, you’re not only helping them, you’re helping yourself.

As well as your employer by ensuring they get the most talented people from the most diverse workforce. Let’s not forget that.

So this October, while we’re all enjoying the season of fear and screams, let’s also remember that there is an entire pool of untapped talent out there. One that has been subjected to and overcome stigmas multiple times to prove us wrong. So why not let them show you what they’re made of?

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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.

So in case you missed it, yesterday MGM released the first trailer for their new Addams Family movie, which is due out in October. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ve embedded it below.

How awesome is that? The animation looks stunning, the voices match the characters, and the format of animation is perfect for a family that is never explicitly stated to be but probably is supernatural and evil in nature. You can tell a lot of love went into the making of this film.

I’ve been a fan of the Addams Family for years. Back in 2012, I wrote a post about how much I’d love to be an Addams, back when this film was still in development as a stop-motion picture with Tim Burton attached. I’ve watched my favorite episodes of the original TV series multiple times over the years, I just watched both movies from the 1990’s last month, and I saw a local production of the Addams Family Musical not too long ago. So you can imagine how much I am for this movie.

And all this Addams stuff has got me thinking. And the more I think about it, the more I realize: we could all benefit from taking a few pages out of the Addams’s books.

Not like their actual books, because those are likely cursed, and not like we should all be more drawn to the dark and occult. Though if more people were drawn to the darker and eerie subjects and tastes like the Addams or myself, I would not complain. Also, it seems to do them very well. Despite their unconventional lifestyles, the Addams are among the richest clans in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if one led straight to the other (likely without anyone’s souls getting sold to a demon, though that is a possibility I won’t dismiss out of hand).

No, what I mean is that the Addams embody many qualities that we as a society could learn from.

These are people we could stand to learn something from.

For starters, the Addams are very kind and accepting of others. Yeah, they do get disgusted at the idea of anyone having daisies in their yards, but they’ll just accept anyone who does have daisies in their yards as long as they’re polite. In fact, in one episode of the 1960’s TV series, Morticia responded to this idea by stating that “we’ll just have to accept that some people have a warped sense of beauty.” They care less about what you like or what your background is and more about what your character is. Are you a nice person? Can you get along with others? Can you act like a civil person in front of someone you disagree with? That’s what the Addams value (though if you share their interests in the macabre, even better).

The Addams are also extremely generous. With the exception of the musical, in every incarnation of the characters their generosity is always emphasized. Money is nice and allows them to do what they want, but Gomez and Morticia are more than willing to part with their money or their heirlooms if someone needs them more than they do or if someone compliments the stuff on the walls.*

In this day and age, that’s kind of revolutionary. People have an us vs. them mentality, to the point where people commit acts of violence and cruelty because “they’re different from me.” And this may just be me, but at times I feel like it’s looked down upon to willingly part with your money, even to help someone else out.

With the Addams Family, there’s none of that. They could care less about us vs. them as long as you’re a nice person, and they would gladly take part in any charity auction you talked to them about. And in a world that seems more and more hateful and greedy, that’s something extraordinary. At least in my humble opinion.

Plus, there’s the fact that Gomez and Morticia are everyone’s relationship goals, the whole family is involved in making sure the next generation turns out “alright,” they’re big on family, they keep up with current events, business and science, and the family on a whole is extremely cultured. They love theater, dance and art, learning about global cultures, and studying history. In the first episode of the 1960’s TV series, Wednesday and Pugsley demonstrate familiarity with the French Revolution and its more morbid details. Those kids are six and eight respectively in that series, and they know that much already! I’m nearly twenty-six and studied the French Revolution in college. I’m still fuzzy on certain details. How cool is it that those kids know that much?

Given my interest in the macabre (like Lizzie Borden’s grave, for instance), I think I’d make a great Addams. Don’t you?

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing this movie, and a new generation being introduced to the wonderfully unique Addams. Hell, maybe people will learn something from them.

But tell me, what are your thoughts on the Addams and their new movie? Did I miss anything that makes them figures to emulate? And when will we get a trailer for IT: Chapter Two (I mean, it is less than four months away)? Let’s discuss.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming novel Rose. This fantasy-horror novel follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy of the book, all I ask is that you read it and then consider writing a review of it on or after the release date. If you’re interested, please send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll get you on the list.

*That’s actually the biggest flaw in the plans of the villains from both the 1991 and the 1993 movies. The villains didn’t have to resort to subterfuge to get to the Addams fortune. They could’ve just shown up at the front gate, said they were on hard times (true for their former lawyer and possibly the villain of the second film) and asked if the Addams could help them out somehow. They’d probably welcome you in and let you sleep in a spare bedroom, with no obligation for rent or a move-out date. If you behaved yourself and became close to the family, they’d probably adopt you and rename you Cousin Porch, because that’s where they first met you.

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!