SURVIVAL VS. VALOR – A FEW THOUGHTS

We were watching a rerun of NCIS, an episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic. Fun and I don’t regret it, but there’s nothing heroic about riding the Cyclone — at least not these days since they repaired it.

Maybe it was braver — more like stupider — when I was a kid. Back then, pieces of it would fly off while you rode the rickety rails at 70 mph. But I digress.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived cancer and heart problems and a myriad other life-threatening ailments (so far, so good). As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all of that and have a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always a trip to the Cyclone and doesn’t require years of recovery and rehab.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship still alive but hardly deserving a medal. No one gives medals for surviving. Nor should they. Saving your own life (and occasionally, dragging others with you to safety) is your survival instinct at work. It’s not valor. N0t bravery.

Staying alive is hard-wired into the DNA of all living things. Otherwise, life on earth would have long since vanished. It may yet.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You make a willing and conscious choice to put yourself in peril for the sake of others. There must be a choice involved. Taking risks for fun, to make money, or because your imminent demise is the only other option isn’t courageous. It’s what we do to keep alive. Some of us are better at it than others, but that doesn’t change the essence of the experience.

Medal of honor from Obama

If you do it for fun, it’s entertainment. If you’re doing it for profit? It’s shrewd business sense.  If it’s choosing to live rather than die? That’s your survival instinct at work.

I have never done anything I would define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. I’ve gotten myself into tight corners — accidentally — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve occasionally put others ahead of me to help when I could. Never did I put myself in harm’s way to save another.

The best I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t the easiest choice. You don’t get medals for that, either.

SURVIVAL – THE DAILY POST

I HAVE A LITTLE SHADOW …

Striped by shadow

MY SHADOW

By Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Daily Post: Shadow

WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

75-FadedBooksFloatingWordsNK-004

I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

DOUBLE KNOT – GRETCHEN ARCHER. AVAILABLE TODAY!

I have loved every book Gretchen Archer has written, but with Double Knot, she has outdone herself.

DKpromo3Capture-72

Hearkening back to classic mystery writers of earlier decades, Double Knot is a taut, complex, witty, smart mystery with twists and turns that will keep you guessing … while keeping you charmed and amused. Although the characters are sometimes thoroughly wacky, the story has many serious points to make.

Breast cancer and its ravages and survivors. The relationship between mothers and daughters. The vulnerabilities of security in the real world. Tension builds from page one to the final word on the last page. I was not ready for the book to end. I wanted it to go on for many more pages.

This is the book in which Davis Way becomes fully realized. Gains dimensions you knew were there, but had never been revealed. Emotional issues she must face and work through. With her mother along for the ride, it’s time for both to confront their shared past and the painful secrets they have feared to acknowledge. They do it all under the most terrifying circumstances and with everything … life and death … at stake.

72-Gretchen-beigetop

In Double Knot, Ms. Archer has dived into deep water. If, like me, you’ve been wondering “Who is Davis … really?”, this is your golden opportunity to find out.

This is no mere caper. Surviving this will require every ounce of Davis’s creativity, intelligence, training, and techno-savvy. She’s going to have to use it all to save her own life and the lives of those she loves.

DKpromo4Capture-72

Gretchen Archer’s ability to create an intricate story is hugely augmented by her ability allow her characters to evolve, develop previously unsuspected depths.

The story is not merely exciting, complex, and deliciously edgy, it’s also poignant and heartfelt.

Do NOT miss this one!

DOUBLE KNOT is be available in hard copy, paperback and for all eReaders TODAY.

GET IT IN WRITING

It was Samuel Goldwyn who once said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point.

Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages. Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothin’.

Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.

It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

72-Alien Computer-B_06

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviewing, or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew, and the overnight backup guy.

marilyn office desk computer

There was a job. You were qualified to do it, or not. The person who interviewed you had authority to hire — which was why he or she was conducting interviews. Unlike today where you can be sure the first person you talk to at an interview is someone from HR trying to ascertain you aren’t a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for important jobs. Getting in the door was easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen.

BW Worcester Tower

The company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two weeks notice.

On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know … or no one was talking. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job.

I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:

GET IT IN WRITING.

Whatever it is. If it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

Perspective

1 Corinthians

11   When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12   For now we see as in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I too am known.

I’m not usually big on quoting the bible, but sometimes — and this is one of those times — no place says it better.

72-BW-Light of the desert-MAR-Superstition-011316_311

I was an “old” child. When I was very young, I talked like a much older person. I read “adult person” literature and thought of myself as very mature. I wasn’t. I was intellectually precocious, but still a child. Who used big words and almost understood many adult things.

72-Perspective-Sunset-010816_015

Almost. There are a whole lot of things that simply don’t make sense until you’ve lived a life. Reading about life isn’t living it. A child, no matter how smart, is never more mature than his or her years and experience. That’s perspective.

Perspective isn’t static. At 10, you see things through 10-year-old eyes. As years and decades roll on, you see the same things differently, sometimes extremely so. Perhaps you really do see through a glass darkly. Or you should. If decades of living don’t change your perspective, something is wrong — with you or the life you’ve lived. We are supposed to change. The only things that don’t change are dead.

I hear people my age or even younger saying “Well, that’s the way I am. I’m not going to change.”

Yeats' Grave

There’s a terrible finality in that statement. A sad finality, like a eulogy for “self.”

Someday, I’ll be too old or sick for change. The end comes to everyone. But until then, I hope my perspective keeps changing. I hope I revise my opinions often and contradict myself frequently.

Perspective.