Posts Tagged ‘politics and leadership’

2020 has gotten off to a rocky start, to put it mildly. Threat of war with Iran, fires in Australia, and now the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has gone from an abstract threat we nervously made jokes about to a terrifying pandemic. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and terrified reactions, with people rushing to the store to grab supplies, turning to every supposed cure or preventive measure out there, and being afraid to go outside their homes.

And I know, the last thing you want to see is me talking about the virus. But you have to understand: I’m doing this for me. As many of you know, I have an anxiety disorder. And as much as I keep an upbeat attitude, wonder what everyone needs that much toilet paper for, and what we’re going to get for April (I’m hoping Cthulhu rises up from the Pacific), I have been feeling anxious over this virus. So anxious, in fact, that last night, instead of editing a short story like I’d meant to, I ended up binge-watching an entire series of anime till two in the morning. Escapism!

So what’s a guy to do? Well, in my case, I have to exorcise myself. Not literally, that’s a Friday night thing. No, I need to get my feelings out on COVID-19. Because I conquer what scares me, and in this case, this is how I do it.

Strap in, kids. This might be a long one.

My thoughts

What are my thoughts on this pandemic? Well, it’s almost Lovecraftian in how it’s inserted itself into our lives. First it’s this abstract and undefinable threat that we can’t imagine touching our lives. We even laugh at it. But pretty quickly, it becomes this thing that could not only affect us, but kill us. And our own species–loved ones, coworkers, the passerby on the street–are how it extends its invisible tentacles into the world.

The only thing to do is isolate ourselves, but that’s scary in and of itself. Even our most curmudgeonly need human contact of some sort. Can we survive without that human contact? And then there’s the economic toll, as people who rely on their jobs find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet, relying on their dwindling savings to get by. It’ll be worse in more expensive cities to live in.

This pandemic can be likened to a Lovecraftian entity. And it’s just as ugly.

And depending on where you live, your leaders may be doing a great job at fending off the horror, or an inept one.

This may be the closest we get to actually experiencing a Great Old One invading our reality. And God, is it terrifying.

Good thing I have my collection of HP Lovecraft stories, plus four or five cosmic horror films on DVD and Blu-Ray in my collection. They’ll make great therapy. I should also see the movie Contagion again. It practically predicted this entire pandemic, so it’s worth another watch.

Anyway, there is a silver lining (and no, not the silver solution that con artist preacher is selling! That’s more likely to lead to heavy metal poisoning, the prick). Unlike Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, there is a way to fight against this monster. As hard as it is, social distancing can limit infection and prevent further cases. So does extensive handwashing (no duh!) and other hygiene practices. And to avoid fake cures, keep this in mind: make sure to check with reputable sources like the CDC or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if you don’t trust bureaucrats, remember this rule: if it sounds miraculous or too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!!!! Any fix to a medical problem always required hard work to achieve. Even aspirin took forty years to get from the labs to the pharmacy. Don’t go for the quick “cure” just because it seems Heaven-sent.

This virus is going to change things, and possibly have lasting effects on society. I hope that it teaches people to at least be more considerate of others. Because right now, that’s what we need to do in order to make it out of this pandemic with a minimal death toll.

Speaking of considerate…

Support your authors if possible

As I said, this pandemic is effecting a lot of people’s jobs and livelihoods. This includes authors. They rely on bookstores, conventions and in-person events to sell their books and support themselves. Those places are either closing down or cancelling, which is huge slash in revenue. I’m extremely lucky, even if I don’t write full-time: my job allows me to make a good living and put away savings. Other writers aren’t so lucky. This virus is going to bite into them pretty deeply.

Care about authors? Consider supporting their work during these difficult times, if you’re able.

Now, I’m aware not everyone can do this, and I completely understand and sympathize. However, if you are in a position to help your fellow writers, please do so. Buy copies of their books in your favorite format, tell people about their work in reviews or tweets or whatever. Especially if you enjoy their work. It might be small gestures, but for the writers you’ll be helping, it’ll mean the moon and stars.

And it will give us time to come up with some decent stories involving COVID-19. I’ve already had one or two.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading this post. I needed to get this off my chest. And I think, once I’ve taken care of myself a bit, I’ll be able to get back to writing and scaring people like I normally do. As for the rest of you, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. They’re as scared as you, but they can also be as brave as you. And if you’re a Follower of Fear, you’re likely very brave.

This too shall pass. And we’ll make it pass faster by keeping each other safe.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to set up and test my at-home workstation. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and REMEMBER, SWALLOWING OR GARGLING BLEACH IS GOING TO KILL YOU! Why would you think it would help you? It’s corrosive!

I normally don’t do introspective posts like this. You know me, if it’s not something horror or writing-related, there’s a good chance it’s related to an issue near and dear to my heart, such as disability rights and awareness. But I found out today that there’s only 45 days left of the year, and it’ll be even less once you’re reading this post. And that’s significant, because it’s not just the end of 2019 that’s approaching, but the end of the 2010’s. And that’s crazy to think about. An entire decade is ending in just over a month and a half.

So I’d like to take a bit of time and write about my thoughts concerning the ending of 2019 and the 2010’s.*

And a lot can be said about either subject. For 2019, I’m going to argue that the best things about this year were in terms of entertainment. Think about it: Avengers Endgame, The Lighthouse, Us and the fourth season of Lucifer. They were all amazing! And the rest was pretty much cringe-inducing (I won’t say anymore on that lest I break my rule about commenting on politics and certain current events).

But it’s hard to deny that it’s been a tough year, and a tough decade to boot. Depending on who you ask, things either started out good and got worse over the years, or things started out bad and got better. Or a couple other answers, but those are the main ones, I think. However you saw the 2010’s, it’s been a decade of profound change. Technology became faster and more efficient, more ubiquitous and necessary to our lives. Many peoples became more divided because of beliefs, or backgrounds, or a hundred other reasons. Leaders have changed, and with them the policies of various nations. The need to protect the environment has become stronger, and we’ve taken steps forward and backward to address that. Pop culture took radical shifts too, with horror gaining a new, hard-won respect it previously never enjoyed, and Marvel became the movie powerhouse that DC has always been. Streaming has become the new frontier. And more media is being created every day to reflect our increasingly diverse society, with much of it making into the mainstream. All along lots more remakes and reboots and sequels than anyone wanted or needed.

In short, lots and lots of change.

The 2010’s were a decade of change for me as well. Quite literally. I started the decade as a high school student who thought I had a cushy after-school job selling basketball tickets and that I was going to be a bestselling author by the time I was 25. I graduated high school, went to college and dealt with all the growth and crazy and learning that comes with it. I went on a study abroad trip, moved to my first apartment, and graduated again. I went to Germany for an internship, and then came home for the nadir of the decade, where I dealt with a horrific job search and back pain. I finally got my job and my old place. My health improved, though at some point I did develop a nasty anxiety disorder. I visited haunted locations I’d always dreamed of visiting. I got my driver’s license and my car.

At some point, I stopped being a kid and started being an adult. And along the way, I found this amazing community of writers and bloggers and readers and published books and short stories along the way, including Rose this past summer. It’s been kind of crazy.

And for the most part, the decade was good. Yeah, there were some bad times, but the good are what I remember the most. Mostly because the good was the result of my own hard work and perseverance.

And as the new Roaring Twenties approach (hopefully they’ll be roaring because they’re fun, and not because of nuclear missiles being launched everywhere), there’s something we should all keep in mind. I know the future seems bleak and scary. Believe me, all I have to do is look at the news to be reminded of that fact. But we have the power to make good things happen. I’ve seen amazing things happen just through sheer effort. And when you take a step towards what you want to see in the world, you’ll see the world come together to help you along.

So as we end this year 44 days from now and enter a new decade, just remember to keep your chin up. You have the power to make the changes you want to see. And when you take those steps, you’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.

Well, this post is getting super long. I’ll cut off here and say see you Thursday at the latest. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Normally I’d reserve this sort of post for New Year’s. However, I’ve noticed that, probably because of the holidays, those posts don’t get that many readers. So I figure I might as well get my thoughts out now before we’re all caught up in our personal lives and can’t spare any time to read blog posts.

I don’t remember much of the Scary Stories series from my childhood days, but what I do remember terrified me shitless (thank you, Mrs. Paulowicz, for scaring your entire third grade class with the story of the grave digger who stole silver coins from over the eyes of a dead woman). So when it came out that a movie based on the stories was in the works, people were excited, skeptical, curious, and terrified (of their beloved childhood memories being tarnished). And then we saw those initial trailers on Super Bowl weekend. And we were like, “Ooh, this should be good.”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark takes place in a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968. Several teens, led by aspiring writer Stella Nichols, go to visit the old Bellows mansion, an abandoned house supposedly haunted by the spirit of a murderess who was kept hidden in a basement from the world, poisoned kids who came to hear her scary stories through the wall, and hung herself. They end up finding the book of Sarah Bellows, which is still being written, with the teenagers as the main characters. Now they have to find a way to stop Sarah before the antagonists of the stories take them and kill them all.

I’ll admit, the story has a predictable structure, and the third act could have been a lot scarier and less reliant on CGI monsters. Still, Scary Stories is a decent horror film. Much better than some other films I’ve seen lately (looking at you, Midsommar!).

For those wondering, this film does contain a lot of favorite monsters and references to other stories. Jangly Man, the Pale Lady, the girl who had spiders birthed from her cheek. They even make several references to The Hearse Song, which many people were first exposed to through the book series (and which is one of the inspirations for my short story Pinochle on Your Snout).

The best part of this movie is its scares and atmosphere. While there are jump scares, they’re not overused and for the most part are pretty effective. The filmmakers used a combination of settings, such as the house, a cornfield, or a hospital wing,* along with lighting (or lack of it) and practical/make-up effects to create a claustrophobic and suspenseful atmosphere that will make you curl in on yourself in terror. I swear, the scene in the cornfield with the scarecrow had me genuinely freaked out. Especially when it moved!

The actors also do a good job with these characters. I really empathized with Stella, played by Zoe Colletti, who loves horror and writes, but at times has trouble interacting with others and has to deal with bullies (girl, I’ve been there). And Ramon Morales, played by Michael Garza, came off as truly kind and sympathetic.

Also of note is the theme of persecution in the film. There’s a reason that this film takes place in 1968, when the first book was released in 1981. Sarah Bellows, whom we only really see at the end, is revealed to be born with a disability, and is treated horribly by her family for it. Several of the main characters have dealt with bullying for being different, and Ramon is persecuted mainly because he’s Hispanic. The Vietnam War and the 1968 election also comes up quite a bit in the story. All this comes together to give this film a rather poignant undertone that one could find ways to apply to our current political climate (just saying), and that never hits you over the head to get the message across.

But as I said, the story is kind of predictable and the third act has some issues. Specifically, there’s too much attention paid to making Sarah Bellows a sympathetic villain, along with wrapping things up with a nice bow, that the fear kind of dissipates by the end of the climax. Doesn’t help that they chose a monster requiring lots of CGI to bring to life in that act.

But all in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will delight fans of the series and should satisfy regular horror fans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Scary Stories a 4.2. Atmospheric and creepy, you’ll be drawn in and learn to be afraid of the power of stories. Go and check it out.

*By the way, one of the locations in the film is the Pennhurst State School, one of the haunted locations I want to visit! Not the real one, but a great recreation. Way to tie in a real haunted location with a sordid past into a horror film, filmmakers. I’m impressed.

Anyone else notice 2018 was…kind of rough on a global scale? Like, oh my God why was this year so full of nastiness and pain?

Yeah, this year has been hard. Horrific shootings, assassinations of journalists, global warming, the Tide Pod challenge, racist incidents like at that Starbucks, data hacks and leaks, denial of truths and facts in favor of beliefs, hurricanes, bomb threats, the election of far-right demagogues, the Campfire in California, the deaths of beloved and influential people like John McCain and Stan Lee. I could go on and on.

But despite all the bad things, there has been some good things this year. Black Panther became a billion-dollar franchise and caused all sorts of social waves; more women and minorities were elected to political office than ever before; more youths in America became involved in the electoral process than ever before; Ireland repealed restrictions on abortion; Australia legalized gay marriage and India decriminalized homosexuality; Jodie Whitaker proved that a woman could be the Doctor and kicked ass doing it; authors of all stripes came together to stop people like Faleena Hopkins after Cockygate to stop creative freedoms from being restricted by trademarking common words; several popular TV shows, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine and my own Lucifer were saved from early cancellation by the efforts of fans; Michael Myers was revitalized with Halloween; and so much else.

Remember, positive things did happen in 2018.

2018 had its bad moments, but it also has some good moments.

I wanted to remind you of that before we go any further. These past couple of years, I’ve seen so many people say that each year was worse than the last. And while at times I agree, I think it’s important to remember the good too. Otherwise, our worldviews start to grow dim and sad. and we lose the ability to be happy. So let’s do our best not to be jaded, shall we? Remember the good.

On a more personal level, 2018 was a pretty good year for me. Actually, that’s not true. It was an excellent year for me! Let me tell you why:

  • My novel Rose was accepted for publication by Castrum Press, the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for years. Since then, it’s been in deep editing stages, and I’ll hopefully have some news to share by the end of January. In addition, my short story Car Chasers was accepted for publication by The Binge-Watching Cure II from Claren Books, hopefully out sometime in early 2019. Another short story has been accepted by another anthology, but I’m waiting for a bit more news before I elaborate.
    I also wrote several new works, and finished a new novel, River of Wrath, which I hope to also get accepted for publication. It’s been a good year in terms of writing.
  • My blog grew past a thousand followers this year! At the beginning of January, Rami Ungar the Writer was close to hitting that number, like under fifty followers away. In June, it surpassed that hallowed milestone, and at the time I’m writing this it continues to grow. I’m so happy that so many of you became Followers of Fear over the past year, and I hope you’ll continue to support me as I work on my dreams.
    This was also my best year on the blog. This year I had over sixteen-thousand reads on the blog, or an average of thirteen-hundred and sixty-seven a month. Holy crap! I still have vivid memories of when I was lucky to get twenty people to read my posts a month, so thank you all for reading my work here and making it worth all the effort.
  • Work’s been going very well. I got a big pay raise, and coordinated several successful projects, including an observance for National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.
  • I got my driver’s license in July after nine and a half years of on-and-off practicing, and I bought my first car, which I call the Unholy Roller, in October. Let me tell you, I LOVE the independence of finally having my own car, and accomplishing so many firsts with it. I’m looking forward to doing book tours and visiting haunted locations now that I have a set of wheels to do so.
  • Despite developing anxiety in December 2017, I managed to get help for myself and have managed to keep it from ruling/ruining my life.

My car, the Unholy Roller.

This is only a fraction of all the good things that happened to me this year, but they’re the highlights. 2018 was a good year for me, despite all the horrible things that occurred, and I hope I’ll be able to have a similar experience in 2019. Though hopefully 2019 will be filled with more good events than 2018, am I right?

Speaking of which, let’s talk 2019. Like everyone, I’ve got goals for the coming year, and most of them won’t surprise you. This year, I’d like to:

  • Make sure Rose gets published and does well in sales. I also want to see Car Chasers and that other short story I mentioned published, and I want to get more stories written and accepted for publication. And of course, I want to see this audience I’ve managed to grow to continue growing and fill with people interested in what I have to say and what I write.
  • To continue doing well in work and in my personal life, including being a good driver, taking care of my health, paying bills and building up a savings account, among other things.
  • Have plenty of awesome experiences to make memories with.
  • Hopefully make a positive difference in the world however I can.

We’ll see what the next 364 or so days bring, shall we?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m heading to bed, so I’ll see you in the morning, where I’ll spend most of it lounging in bed and hopefully getting plenty of writing done (either that or just reading and watching Netflix). Until next time, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

What were the highlights of your 2018? What do you hope to accomplish for 2019?

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!

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

If all goes as planned, this post is coming out on Memorial Day in the United States. It makes perfect sense to do so: Memorial Day commemorates the fallen soldiers in American history, dead from wars and conflicts and attacks and so much more. And the funny thing is, a significant number of those dead would probably have died of old age an not on the battlefield if it weren’t for the fact that at some point, someone couldn’t live in harmony with someone else, and the result was conflict.

Don’t get me wrong, I support my nation’s military, and every person brave enough to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their loved ones. But it seems to me that harmony among humanity is a concept that died a long time ago. Or maybe it never even existed, because if you go back through human history, harmony’s exact antonym, conflict, is seen everywhere. Heck, one of the major theories on the extinction of one of man’s early ancestors, Neanderthal, was that Cro-Magnon, killed or competed with them to death. And while not all conflicts today result in death, a lot of the time humanity as a species seems to be locked in a struggle with someone or something. Countries, political or religious beliefs, people, friends, family, even science and truth. It never ends, and increasingly, conflict erupts into violence. In fact, some people like that violence, and celebrate it.

It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe, despite nearly every person on Earth saying that at some point in their lives that they want world peace, conflict is the natural state of humanity, some holdover from our evolutionary past in trying to survive predators with sharp claws and teeth that we didn’t have and kept because after we managed to fend off predators with weapons, we found ourselves fighting other families, clans, and tribes for resources! Our species is so used to conflict, we’ve become too biologically wired to live without it.

And if that’s true, then honestly it’s sad. Because when humanity and its members aren’t engaged in some form of conflict, we actually make some pretty awesome stuff. Ever listened to a tune on the raio or on YouTube and felt your heart lift? Or did you ever see a piece of art in a museum and it filled you with a sense of wonder? Or a movie made you want to go out and do something amazing? Like build something that will change how we use energy, or a new medical treatment, or even your own work of fiction?

Why do we waste so much time living in conflict with each other, and not devoting ourselves to peace, harmony, and creation?

I honestly don’t know. I think sometimes, in the world of fictions, both in the ones I read and write, I seek out those answers. Horror is full of conflicts of a unique sort: creatures, both human and otherwise, that are entirely adverse to harmony and thrive on the conflict they cause. In that sense, the protagonists are often the force of harmony come to right things. Will I ever find the answers? I don’t know that either. But I honestly hope that I can.

Because despite the fact that this species sometimes makes me wish I really was a demon in human form, I think it can still go out there and do great things when its members put their minds to it. And perhaps we can stop acting like children or like a bunch of rabid animals set into a cage and actually work together. Perhaps, without giving up cultural identities or any of the other things we use to define ourselves in our daily lives, we can still find that elusive harmony that we should all live by.

And I’d like to close this post with a slightly-modified quote from HP Lovecraft, which oddly enough, seems to fit this discussion very well. Or at least, it does to me:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange eons, even discord may die.

I asked in this post if harmony, the concept and the practice, were dead. But according to this quote, modified though it is, perhaps we can end the clashes that define our species, and find some way to resurrect harmony and make it a permanent part of ourselves. And maybe I’m just blathering on and on about something silly. But maybe, just maybe, I’m giving the people who read this, and myself, an impetus to change things for the better.

Thanks for reading this, my Followers of Fear. Provided nothing comes up to distract me, I’ve got another two posts coming out on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Keep an eye out for those. And until next time, as always, pleasant nightmares.

Well, I’m doing that thing where authors look at the year before and be hopeful about the year to come. And I have to say, 2016 was not the easiest year to deal with. Even the people who called 2015 shitty say 2016 was worse. Many people we cared about, from celebrities to icons to just ordinary loved ones, died. The world was rocked by a number of incidents, big and small, that showed that hate and prejudice is still alive and well in many countries one would consider tolerant (let alone the openly-intolerant countries). Groups like ISIS, and events like Brexit and the American presidential election left people the world over confused and terrified about the future. Illnesses and conflicts and starvation raged, and people suffered.

And movies that were supposed to be great, like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and Ghostbusters, either were terrible or didn’t make the money they should’ve (stuff like that bums me out).

Yeah, this year has been tough. But there have been some amazing things, good things, that have happened this year. We have comedians like Trevor Noah and Jon Oliver and Samantha Bee, who are using their platforms to educate people about existing issues and even find ways to do some good. Thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and other areas have found homes in more stable countries, and have started rebuilding their lives. Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson are using their fame to fight for issues like feminism and equal pay. Hollywood is putting out more movies and TV shows that reflect their viewers, including black-ish, Speechless, and the Fast & Furious movies, to name a few, and while there are still missteps here and there, this shows that the makers of our media care about our opinions. And we nearly had our first female president! It didn’t happen, and it would’ve been cool if it did, but it still shows how far this country has come in terms of women’s rights. And the world got Tape Face from America’s Got Talent. I swear, I could watch his video every day, he’s so clever with the visual gags!

But wait, there’s more! This from YouTube and Vine star Thomas Saunders on reasons to smile:

God, that’s a lot of good, isn’t it? I wish he would’ve added Lucifer on that TV show listing though. That show makes my day!

On a more personal level, 2016 actually went pretty well for me. Yeah, all the nasty stuff I mentioned up above bummed me out, but there were many good things this past year. For one, my mother got married to her partner of several years, which was made possible by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage nationwide. That was a blast, and something I was glad to see finally pass. My mother and stepmother are so happy together, and I’m glad they get to be together in the eyes of the law as well.

Around that time, I got offered a couple of jobs/internships! One of them was here in Columbus, and it translated into a full position that I’m still working at right now. It’s a great job, where I’m promoting diversity in my organization with an office full of good people, and getting great pay and benefits while I do it.

In addition, my job has allowed me to move out of my dad’s house and into my own apartment, and even to buy new furniture and a new laptop. I’m paying all my bills on time and still have money to save, which is huge for me! And if things continue to go as they are, who knows? I could even get a cat or save up for a dream vacation to the UK and Ireland! I would love for those to happen.

My sciatica has improved! Yes, for those of you who don’t know, I have sciatica, a condition in which a nerve in the back is squished by spinal discs, causing severe pain in one leg and the lower back. I’ve had this since some time around graduation, but over the summer and through fall and beginning of winter, I started doing some new exercises and other stuff to improve my condition. At the time I’m writing this, I feel only mild discomfort, and sometimes not even that. By next summer, I could be completely cured of it!

This got published!

This got published!

But that’s not all. I released a new book, Video Rage, back in June, and it’s finally started to get some reviews! In addition, nearly all of my books have received new reviews this yer, and more people are discovering them every day. Heck, even my coworkers are reading my books! And on the social media side of things, my blog has grown, accruing nearly 900 subscribers, and passing the five-thousand like milestone. And pretty soon, I’ll be passing the fifty-thousand views milestones. One of my posts actually went kind of viral, garnering over nine-hundred views in the first five weeks of being published, and receiving more views since then.

But there’s more! I started the final book in the Reborn City series, and as of the most recent chapter, I’m a sixth of the way through the book! I could have it released sometime next year! I’ve also written several short stories, and I’ve had some great ideas, both for stories and for strategies to make sure more people discover and read my books. I can’t wait to put some of these to work.

Look folks, this has been a tough year. But for everything I’ve said above, and stuff I haven’t said, it’s been a pretty good one too. And while a lot about 2017 looks scary, we can do a lot to make it a great year. It’ll take some work, but we can make 2017 suck less than 2016 did (I can even post about some of my ideas on how to do just that in another post if you guys want), and to achieve all that we ream.

So will I make a thousand followers? Will I publish another novel and some short stories? Will I get an agent or a contract with a publishing company? Will I get a cat or that vacation? Will we cure AIDS, or improve education, or save the environment? Will the new American president be good at his job? I can’t say with any certainty. But it’s what I hope for. And if not, I’ll do all I can to improve that situation.

Happy New Year, my Followers of Fear. May 2017 bless you and leave you with plenty of reason to smile.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live long as God himself. Never.

Elie Wiesel, Night

This is really hard for me to write. I actually cried a little when I found out. It feels like I lost someone dear to me. A few minutes ago, a friend of mine sent me a message over Facebook. It was a New York Times article, telling me that Elie Wiesel had died. He was 87.

My only response was “No.”

Now if you’re unfamiliar with who Elie Wiesel was, he was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, one of three survivors of his family. Ten years later, he wrote a 900-page account of his experiences in the camps, which was later shortened to the 127-page memoir La Nuit, later translated into English as Night. As time went on, and Night gained attention, Wiesel became a well-known speaker on the Holocaust, as well as other subjects, including Israel, genocides across time and the world, and human rights. He also wrote over 56 more books, helped to found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where, on opening day, he famously interrupted one of the speakers, I think President Carter, by saying that all the niceties were meaningless when there were horrors being perpetrated in Yugoslavia), received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation with his wife, Marion, to fight intolerance and prejudice, and taught at Boston University as the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities.

I first met Mr. Wiesel as a boy. Not in person, though I would do that when I was a teenager. My father had a copy of Night, along with his other books Day and Dawn, in his office in the synagogue. My dad gave it to me, though I can’t remember why. Perhaps I’d been asking questions about the Holocaust, or maybe he just thought I’d get something out of it. Either way, I did. I read Night several times over the many years, stealing to my dad’s office after services on Saturdays to read the story of a fifteen year old boy who had experienced so much at such a young age.

I only realize this now, but Wiesel became, in my mind, one of the older kids whom I looked up to and hung out when I saw them. There were plenty of guys and girls like that when I was a kid, teens who tried and became real role models for the rambunctious young me. I always looked up to those kids, and Wiesel became one of them, esteemed more than any of the others.

I later got to meet this hero in my mind, though he was not the young man I always imagined in my head. I think I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My synagogue has a yearly event where some big speaker is invited to speak to the congregation. That year, we were excited to have a huge coup in our speaker.

I think I remember seeing him for the first time, and remembering how small and old he was. At my age, I was around the same height as him. It was quite the contrast from my mental image. But he was so kind. And even though my vocabulary wasn’t that big at that age, I knew that, the moment I shook his hand, I was shaking the hand of a giant. He was like the titular character of my dad’s favorite Yiddish short story, “Bontsha the Silent” (you can read a full PDF in English here), in which the main character finds out that if he only opened his mouth to complain about the world, he would’ve shook the heavens, only in this case, Wiesel made use of his power, and it resonated.

Sadly, I only remember a little bit from that evening. It was ten years ago, and you don’t tend to remember much from that age, even when it’s from great men. I do remember, quite clearly, that he started with a story about how a woman and her friends thought they recognized him on the street, only to conclude that it couldn’t possibly be him. I think you can tell a lot about a titan when they begin a speech with a humorous story.

And that’s what Elie Wiesel was. A titan. A giant. A being that was more than what “man” could ever constitute. He spoke louder than Bontscha ever felt the need to, and the world shook in response. It took notice. He made the world notice Bosnia, Darfur, all the horrors of the many genocides over the years, and then some. Through his foundation and his many books and speaking engagements, he educated the world, molded minds to be more cognizant of both the great evils and the great goods that human beings were capable of, and encouraged them to take action.

And that night, I got to hear him speak, I got to enjoy desserts with him and the rest of the VIPs at the event that night, and I even got a photo with him. When he left and I got the chance to say goodbye (we were both leaving at the same time), it was like using a huge force go by.

He wasn’t the friend I had in my mind. That was the only encounter I had with him outside of the books he wrote. But he was so much more to me and to so many more people out there. Perhaps one could make the argument that he was the greatest Jew of our modern times (sorry, Jon Stewart), and one of the greatest living people to boot. Across the world, people will hear the news and they will feel his passing. They will cry, like I did. They may even tear their clothes, a tradition in Judaism on the passing of someone important. And that’s what’s happened. Someone important has left this world. A great titan, in a form that spoke of gentleness and tolerance, has gone onto the next life, and we have all suffered a great loss because of it.

In the Jewish tradition, we often put a special suffix after the names of people who have died: z”l. It means zichrono liv’racha, which means “may their memory be a blessing.” The Holocaust was a horrible event, a memory that mankind would rather forget, but it produced one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And we shall remember him, and his memory shall be a blessing, encouraging us to be better in all circumstances. And I shall definitely try to live up to those lessons, even more in Wiesel’s death as I did in life.

Goodbye, Mr. Wiesel, z”l. We shall miss you so.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.

I’m both shocked and, at the same time, not surprised that I’m on this topic again. I was really hoping to talk about something writing related this morning, but events this weekend have caused me to shift gears. So prepare, because I’m about to do one of my world-famous gun violence posts!

Now if you’re unaware, on Friday evening at 10:30pm in the city of Orlando, Florida, singer, YouTube star, and “The Voice” contestant Christina Grimmie was shot by a deranged fan who apparently drove from St. Petersburg with the express purpose of killing her. Grimmie’s brother (without a gun of his own, no less) tackled the shooter to the ground, probably preventing more people from being killed. Grimmie later succumbed to her injuries and died, leading to a powerful outpouring of grief on the Internet. Even I, who only had a casual acquaintance with Grimmie’s work, felt her passing deeply.

Just a little over twenty-four hours later, a man armed with an assault rifle entered the Pulse, a popular Orlando gay bar and dance club, and started shooting, leading to a hostage situation that ended with the shooter’s death. The latest numbers show fifty confirmed deaths and even more injuries, making this the worse shooting in American history, worse than Newtown and Aurora. All this happened despite the fact that an armed police officer (a good guy with a gun) was on scene at the club.

All this, barely a day and a half apart, in the same city, in a state with very lax gun laws and a high amount of gun violence. Both shootings involving guns.

I wrote last year after a spate of shootings that America’s gun problem is like a chronic illness, a constant condition that plagues and grieves us, and needs treatment to be fixed, even when the treatment isn’t always available or the subject doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, let alone that they need treatment. And that comparison still holds water nearly an entire year later. America is plagued by shootings. We’re the only developed nation with this much gun violence, to the point where it’s almost considered normal. Guns are causing more deaths than the United States should have.

These aren’t toys. They’re not meant for anything creative.

Now, I know some people will say, “But Rami, how can an inanimate object cause murder? People cause murder.” Well, people cause murder, that’s true. But guns, like missiles and military drones, are designed to facilitate killing. They’re made with that express purpose. The first firearms were used for military purposes, and so were the cannons and flintlock rifles that came later, with hunting being a secondary use for the latter. They were invented for the strategic purpose of taking enemy life, not for baking cookies or improving home decor. This is in direct contrast to knives, which unless made for military purposes like the Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife, has other primary uses like cutting and preparing food.

There’s no argument around this. Guns are made for killing, whether it’s animal or human life. 

In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be seeing renewed calls for restrictions on gun sales and ownership, as well as push back from the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates trying to frame this as a mental health issue (in the case of Christina Grimmie’s killer) or as an issue with ISIS or Muslims (early reports indicate that the shooter at the Pulse had ISIS leanings). And while I do believe that mental illness and terrorist ideologies may have played a part in these tragedies, Christina Grimmie might still be alive if the deranged fan had gone at her with a knife instead of a gun, and I doubt fifty people would be dead if the killer had a knife. Maybe a couple people, but after the first few attempts at stabbing, someone’s bound to tackle this guy.

And it’s hard to argue mental illness or terrorism when a man uses a gun to intimidate his wife, which happens all too often, unfortunately.

The problem is, both these tragedies, and so many more, have been made possible by the use of guns.

Luckily, there is treatment for this problem. In Australia, Canada, England, Japan, and many other developed nations, gun violence is at waaaaaay lower levels than in America. The difference is that they have restrictions on who can have guns and what kinds of guns. Not a blanket ban on all guns, but some restrictions are in place. And I’m sure, that if America were to institute similar restrictions, we would see the same results. In fact, states with more gun control measures have lower instances of gun violence than states that do not. If we were to implement the same thing on a nationwide level, imagine how much the loss of life could be lowered.

And for those who say that gun control measures don’t work because bad guys will still get guns, so it’s best to give the good guys guns instead, I have this to say: if there are still people who run red lights, do we throw out traffic laws and just let people drive as they wish without consequences? If a boat or a house has a leak and water comes in, do we destroy the boat or the house and say they were useless and never would have worked? No, we prosecute the people who run the red lights for violating traffic laws. We patch up the holes so that water can’t get in. And if people are still getting restricted weapons and committing acts of violence with them, then doesn’t that prove even more that they’re criminals, and that they were willing to go to unsavory means to commit acts of violence? I think it does.

Not to mention, how do you know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy? It’s not as if the good guys are marked in green and the bad in red when they pull out their weapons. And in a crowded room where everyone has a gun? Really hard to tell!

It’s time to put a stop to displays like this.

Treatment is available. We just have to be brave enough to take it.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to have incidents like what we experienced this weekend, and families will wake up without loved ones because tragedies that could’ve been prevented weren’t. We need to admit that there’s a problem, we need to take measures to stop the problem, and we need to do this now. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year, or in another years.

Now. Let’s push for expanded background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and banning assault weapons or other military-grade weaponry on the open market. Let’s also put aside funding for research into gun violence for the CDC, and expand the requirements needed to purchase and use a gun (a yearly gun safety course, for example, sounds sensible enough). If we can do that, I’m sure we can prevent more innocent losses of life.

Or we can go on as we have been doing. And we can’t allow that, under any circumstances.

Note: Immediately after finishing this, I saw a report that a man with weapons in his car had been arrested in LA near the Pride Festival there. Thank God law enforcement caught him, or who knows how many people might’ve been killed.