Land of Opportunity

yoni1

Though my Spanish wasn’t bad, the snapping of the scissors next to my ear mixed with the four ladies clucking in Spanish left me in a solitary mindset.  The second closest whittled away on a teenager, working closer and closer to his scalp until with the last layer she used an electric shaver to expose whitewalls and a short cropped top that resembled a putting green.  On the opposite side, an elderly gentleman leaned back as a young Hispanic female shaped his tumbleweed eyebrows.  Nearby, a heavy set señora laid out what appeared to be well traveled bracelets, necklaces and jewelry on a shortened ledge with all the optimism of a flea mart Queen.  Her spilling cleavage distracted my eye as she bent forward, and she seemed to sense it as she held the position longer than I would have expected, then flashed a smile.

Lefty’s barber shop had long since been abandoned by Lefty himself and replaced to serve the ever growing immigrant population.  I spoke a few words in Spanish to my stylist who told me she’d been in the United States for twenty years but hadn’t really learned English as she had been at home with her children for the early years, and later the population didn’t require it.

I thought back to Yoni Rodriguez, a student who came to my Physical Therapy clinic as a volunteer.  It was most interesting to see the art he had composed while in high school (attached sketch).  It was derived out of street art and I could sense the pain of poverty as well as the hopes for a better life. Yoni said his interest in art came as a child while watching his older cousins practicing their graffiti with spray cans on plywood in the back yard, though he didn’t have an answer as to why he chose to avoid the local gang scene.  It soon became clear that his ambition and drive would take him far, and I found myself encouraging him to continue with college and work towards a higher level.  He is currently succeeding in his pre-med classes.

I thought back on my own childhood of working in the asparagus field, something I began at eleven years old and continued seasonally through my high school years.  It wasn’t done for fun, but rather, as a means to enjoy a more fruitful life.  Yoni explained that his parents had arrived in the country from Mexico searching for a better life, but he was born here.  He laughed when he told me that he only recently realized that his social security had been collecting funds since shortly after his birth as a result of his uncles using it since he was an infant.  Yoni was highly motivated to improve his life, and for some reason this struck a chord in me as my own son had dropped out of college several times and was living with his mother at twenty-five.  Perhaps it’s my generation, or just me, but when I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and earn my own living.

I didn’t have much time for drugs, and couldn’t have imagined the idea of dropping out of school if someone was paying for it.  Instead, I remember taking out student loans and trying to find my direction as my primary purpose was to obtain a degree where I could secure sustenance above the level of a restaurant dish busser and one free meal a day (one of my college jobs).  Driven by the need, will, and desire to survive it seems, yields the motivation to create a better future.  It’s no surprise that Yoni doesn’t have time for drugs and minimal leisure time as he works towards his medical degree.

While our society spends a lot of time worrying about marijuana legalization, and our right to get high, we are seeing more foreign students enter science, engineering, and the medical field where we have a shortage of workers.  It’s interesting as well that those underprivileged in our own country are drawn to these fields as much or more than the more affluent.

One wonders why these students seem so driven, so smart, and why we are not attracting more of our own youth to excel academically in these fields.  I look back at my own life and question whether or not working since I was eleven just taught me to expect to work, or whether the lack of funds taught me to work.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I value a life of productivity and am thankful to now be able to mentor others and give back to society.  Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are better examples of how reaching a point well past survival mode allows more giving and how the classic American Dream can generate overall good for society, but if each of us sees to it that we are giving more than we are taking from society the world might be a better place.  This seems to hold true for those who will serve best by first securing their own place in society as well as for those from a more privileged class.

Kids—Feel free to lambaste me.

Art reproduced with permission of Yoni Rodriguez

Life Priorities

No, this is not a political post, it’s about life.

I live on the West Coast in Washington State.  Every Presidential election, it seems the winner is announced before my State’s votes are even counted.  It may just be me, but with age I become more indifferent about the elections.  Today, I look at the lineup and wonder what our world has come to.

After every election, I wait for things to be better, but it seems that in the end, other than seeing my taxes go up for one reason or another, the world goes on, both sides attack the other, and my life is about the same.  The Democrats try to convince the world that the Republicans are idiots, and the Republicans try to convince the world that the Democrats are stealing their liberties.  Each cycle, it seems that what used to be considered a form of civil service creates more wealth for politicians, and the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats get richer, or make someone else richer, somehow using us to do it.

Most of us are putting forth labor so they can reach their goal of going from average Joe to rich politician.  Still, we continue to listen to their ideals and allow them to manipulate how we choose or keep friends.  We debate the issues with emotion, argue with fervor, and promote those ideals we have been manipulated to identify with.  In the end, it’s often wealth and lobbying that influences what comes out of the politicians mouths, regardless of the party, with the end goal of influencing our thoughts.

Today, I’m sitting in my brother’s home as he and his family face the effects of a Terminal Brain Tumor.  He can no longer make it to the restroom alone and his wife needs help because she can only do so much.  His children, one in college, and one out in the work force are home for the weekend to help.  Life, not on hold, but coming to an end.  Priorities now straight, and somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, neither of which has anything to offer the world in my opinion become trivial background noise, a place I hope they remain every day.

A terminal diagnosis does wonders for understanding priorities in life, and it turns out that most of them are not out in the world trying to fix world problems.  In fact, for those who have families that they love, and families that love them, priorities might all be right at home.   Such a diagnosis is fodder for consideration that, while we have our armchair debates about the world’s problems, most of us never resolve our own issues.  On the rare occasion that we are given a terminal diagnosis we might have the chance.

Today, I would appeal to each one of you to cast aside your political discussions, turn towards your family, childhood friends, and for a minute realize that civilizations, the world, capitalism, socialism, and great societies have been running their cycles for thousands of years, and individuals have minimal to no effect on the course a society takes from start until collapse once the wheels are set in motion.  If your political debates and discussions make you feel you’re having an influence, continue on, but a deeper perspective may help you focus on the areas where you can have an influence.  An interesting book, “The Lessons of History”, Will & Ariel Durant, summarizes these cycles of civilization in a short concise manner.

Don’t wait for your terminal diagnosis, or for that of one close to you to find your priorities and where you can make life meaningful.  First, take a close look at the presidential candidates and ask yourself if they’re worthy of much of your time or thoughts.  Second, realize that today’s the day to take care of those close to you without the influence of any institution.  Do it from your own heart in your own way.

Imminence

 

In the name of life I must discuss death as the news I wish to deny arrives.  This is not something new; it is something natural, something all around us, something we all experience within ourselves at some point, yet we clutch onto life, beg for life, and wonder why we are such cowards near death.  It’s been overwritten, over studied, and over discussed.  Yet, I discuss it.

It can never be the same for one lover to lose a lover as compared to another.  The loss of a father, a sister, a brother, or a friend is as unique an experience to each of us as our own fingerprints that reflect who we are.  When death draws near we deny, we run, we avoid, we pretend and we pray.

The medical world builds an army of vaccines and medicines and chemotherapies and radiations and sends them into battle, but when the battle is lost we cry, we beg, and turn to the charlatan for a new bottle of snake oil.  And so it is, today, as my younger brother who together with his family fights and prays and kicks and screams and denies the cancer that reminds us our consciousness is no more than a guest in a body that allows us to see the whims of the universe for a moment in time on this planet, a spot in the galaxy somewhere in a space that we cannot understand.

And he steps into that dimension where we shall all one day join those who’ve come and gone, yet we do not understand what it means regardless of whether we know that it’s true, or whether we have faith, or have nothing.  He fights that battle with honor and courage, and for his children and wife he fights as he reaches that ultimate resignation that this universe sends.  A reality we all continue to deny, but one that reminds us that we must tell our stories, write our novels, and complete that which we have to offer this universe before it’s too late.

The Novel and the thirty second ad

I recently read that a one hour program in the United States contains typically 15-16 minutes of advertisements per hour.  We’ve accepted that 25% of our hour with our favorite show will be advertisements, but the interesting part is how the ads are changing and what it might be doing to our psyche.   The trend seems to be towards 15 second ads, based of course on the notion that Americans’ attention span is shrinking.  Right now nearly half the ads are thirty seconds and the other half are fifteen seconds.  If we watch a program with sixteen minutes of advertising we can see sixty-four thirty second ads, or 128 fifteen second ads in an hour.  Of course, we see a repeat of the same fifteen second ad over and over so by the time we go to bed we’re seeing images of some Insurance guy as our best friend.

The point you ask?  A fifteen second ad must be very focused and waste no time, just like writing a story in today’s market.  The upshot is this.  The average adult in the US watches 5 hours of television a day.  Hmmm… That’s 640  fifteen second ads/day or 4480 ads/week, or 232930 ads/year.  What?  A quarter million?  Ok, in reality some half of those ads are thirty second ads so you can cut that in half.  That’s only 115,000 ads a year, or so.  I neglected to ad in the YouTube ads we run into, or the pop-ups, or the focused Facebook ads.

There’s good news though.  Children 2-11 years old only watch about twenty-four hours of TV a week so they’re only getting about two thirds as many ads.  Whew, under 80,000 ads a year. 

So what does this have to do with writing a Novel?  It’s not news that structuring a novel has changed since Moby Dick.  We want an audience, but we have to pull them away from the Internet, or the TV.  We have to write short scenes, tight scenes, and gripping scenes.  Considering that a thirty minute program has to tell a complete story in about twenty minutes of thirty second scenes, the challenge is evident.

Now, here’s my kicker.  A prediction based on what I see on YouTube who appears to be the king of forcing thirty second ads and five second choices.  I predict that as Amazon keeps growing the market for electronically formatted books, the time will come when after ten pages, an ad will pop-up before one can continue reading.  Hey, nobody’s watching TV anymore, everybody’s online and the advertisers need to reach us somehow so we can know what we want.

My conclusion:  Keep trimming those scenes, keep them short, keep the suspense high and always drop in a teaser for the next scene.  You can buck the system but you can’t fight the evolution of the machine.

Share My Moment

Share My Moment.

Certain events only happen once in a lifetime. Being born is one of them. If I donned my philosopher’s cap I might clarify that every event only happens once in lifetime but for now I’ll keep it simple.

Today all four or five of you that read this are sharing a special moment with me, or at least it’s special to me. I recently began submitting my short stories for publication, and today the first one that has ever been accepted is published online in Gravel Online Literary Magazine, gravelmag.com. It’s called “The Truck and the Gun”

This story is under the category creative nonfiction. It isn’t creative but it is nonfiction. Give it a try and not only will you be one of the few who read my first ever accepted submission, you can also decide if you ever want to read anything I write again. Thanks Gravel Magazine. Let’s tell a story.

Link to magazine:  http://www.gravelmag.com/

Link to my story: http://www.gravelmag.com/dale-funk.html

Tell me what you think of my short story.DSC_0049 - Copy (1)