Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Truth About Fiction

There will come a time in your life, maybe it already has, maybe it will come tomorrow, but the time will come, mark my words, when you will sit back into your favorite chair, ice tea in hand, and it hits you: you have a story to tell. But, not just any story. Maybe not an easy story. Perhaps just the thought of the formulating, quickly developing story line makes you smile due to the humorous events involved; perhaps recalling the events that absolutely must be included cause you to choke up. All you know is the story must be told and no one, no one can tell it but you.

In either case, humorous or heart felt, you want of course to protect the innocent and ensure the guilty are fingered, but this must be done in a politically correct manner. If you come across to judgmental, you are sure to turn your potential readers off; for you are no longer telling a story, you are reading a verdict. If you are blatantly one sided, you are simply voicing your opinion on a topic. So you have to balance the good with bad, the facts with fiction. Remaining impartial can be difficult, but it is the only way to tell a story.

Fiction of course if the storytellers best friend. Creating that fictitious character just so is an art in itself. You know you've succeeded when you have all your friends and family members asking: is she talking about me? Is that ‘Billy’ character based on my life? If that happens, then you are doing your job as a creative writer. The key to a good story is keeping your characters real and believable. People must be able to say, “I know that guy! I swear, I know that woman!” On creating one of the characters for Letters, I had four people (privileged to read my initial outline and draft) immediately identified a co-worker as the model for the character; they were all wrong. While I do ‘borrow’ both likable or despicable characteristics from actual people, I do not totally base a fictitious character on a real person. It just wouldn't be my character anymore.
Likewise, your setting must be just as real and familiar. As your readers walk through the park along side your conversing characters, they should be able to say, “I’ve been in that park! I know that fountain, that bridge!” This happens when your adjectives flow with the pace of the story, painting a clear and vivid picture with every scene. Your reader should be able to close her eyes and see every bright and colorful detail of the spring picnic, or feel the cold and dampness of the dark and stormy night. In other words, the storyteller that can capture and hold a reader from the opening chapter to the last page is good (and rare). The storyteller that can have a reader find themselves at the last page wondering where the next chapter is, is exceptional (or just plain unorganized).

One final techical point. Dialogue. I would guess my stories are 85/90% dialogue. I provide the setting and characters and plot, then let the characters take the reader through the rising action, the climax and the eventual falling action to the resolution (if there is one), all through their actions, conversations, observations, arguments, etc. Dialogue is where the storyteller can let her characters run a muck. They can say anything in any way they wish, and its okay. All the conventions for writing are out the window, so that Billy Bob can rant, “Bubba ain’t gonna lauw dat ta hap’in gin, heh!” And no one can say, “Oh my! Excuse me? That is not correct diction.” Hell, if Billy Bob can get it out of his mouth, it’s as correct as it’s going to get! Important note: describe your characters incidental fidgeting and facial expressions as they speak; it’s okay to interject little bits and pieces of descriptive actions if it will allow your reader to better engage with the action. “Robert nibbled on his right pinky as he pondered his next line; he jerks his hand away, grimacing and sticking his tongue out as far as it can go; he has realized he hadn't washed his hand after cleaning the cat’s litter box. “Shit!” he spits running towards the bathroom to find his tooth brush.”

I tell you all that to tell you this. I include in every Foreword the explanation that I do not write about talking pigs, dogs, or cats, nor little boys that fly around on broomsticks. I don’t write about secret agents, cloaks and daggers, or space, the final frontier. I write to hopefully present and address a pressing social issue in a story line that will engage even reluctant readers, a.k.a. young at risk teens and busy, stressed out working adults. While I applaud the writers of fantasy and romance and every other genre out there, I need to know that anyone who reads my words will learn something new; perhaps something they can use in their own lives, perhaps something they can share with someone they know. In order to accomplish this goal, I go to great lengths to research my topics thoroughly. My works cited page for Letters grows daily and as of today, list some 108 entries. In that the topic is violence against women and domestic abuse, my challenge (as a man) is to describe the incidents of out and out torture and murder of women in an unbiased, unemotional way. In this work, I question as to whether or not I was able to accomplish that task; I’ll let you be the final judge of that. I considered taking the tempered down road, but remembered that had been done; Hawthorne lightly addresses the witch hunts of the late 1600’s in The Scarlet Letter. The simple fact is, violence against women is a blatant civil/human rights violation that is never properly addressed. It’s a taboo topic that even medical professionals, medical doctors and psychiatrist shy away from. I don’t. I do not hold anything back. I know I will be called out on publishing this work, but so be it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

As for me and my house…

Recently, I have found myself delving into my “faith” more than ever before. I have always been the inquisitive type verse one who blindly accepts the teachings of others, and when we talk about the areas of religion and politics, that raises an eyebrow or two. My parents were Democrats, so naturally I was expected to be a Dem also. My entire historical family tree was Catholic, so I was expected to be at Sunday Mass. And for the most part, I caved in and attended despite knowing well the history of the Catholic Church. Men after all are simply men; some do actually attempt to make a difference, while most are content to just follow along like chattel to an inevitable death. In my predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, and in my predominantly Hispanic schools, to ask questions, especially the types of questions I asked, was to risk upsetting the dominant white political structure; to ask the “religious” based questions I asked was out and out blaspheme. But I always knew I wasn't upsetting, or worse, insulting God. She loved me! I knew She did. And I knew, early on, that all men are corruptible, from the school teacher, to the politician, to the priest. I somehow made it through school, and on graduating, I left home immediately, enlisting in the Navy. I was now in heaven. I explored the world in more ways than one. I didn't just visit other lands, I ran through them absorbing as much about the country and the people as I possibly could. I attended every kind of religious service I could get into. In Italy (of all places), after attending one of the most ordinate services I had ever, I heard whispers of “another” Mass later that evening. The unsanctioned Mass was in a private residence with many in attendance. It was unsanctioned because it was one of the foundational Catholic charismatic movement meetings complete with waving hands, dancing and singing, and speaking in tongues; it had it all. The only thing I could liken it too was a Pentecostal service I had attended. Now those folks knew how to praise God! I learned quickly that there is a big difference between the churches of Man, and the church of God, that is, people who could gather anywhere and just believe and rejoice in Her!  The structured and incorporated religions on the other hand, simply want to sell you God and Jesus, and thereby salvation; pledge your membership, pay your tithes, sponsor a potluck now and then, and you were home free. But again, men are corruptible. It is in their nature. It is an inherent trait that some men use well, especially those who are charismatic enough to make God work for them. The creation of the Catholic Church, the ordination of the first Pope, and the eventual commercialization of the church was not surprising to read about; the Protestant break-a-way credited mostly to Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses, likewise made for interesting reading. Of course, the inevitable appearance of the mega churches and their mega rich and famous, multi-millionaire celebrity “pastors” and their diva wives are the ultimate in (tabloid) reading. But this was the lighter side of my religion research; this was the readily available fodder. Digging deeper, wading through the ancient doctrines and published papers and letters I found what I had only heard about. The formation of the organized church by misogynistic, money and power thirsty “church fathers.” A church that came to dominate nations wielding the cross as a deadly weapon. Now, the darker side of “religion” developed clearly, and as you will read in Letters, is the foundation for today’s continued misogynist attitude, not only in the church, but in society as a whole. It is why men continue to practice violence against women.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Good and Evil: The Battle for Souls

I will quickly conclude my previous series of post with a final statement regarding the case of sexual assault on a minor female student at a San Antonio high school. I have turned the case over to the San Antonio Police Department, the District Attorney, with information copies to the State Attorney General, the Department of Education, and the Justice Department. I have done all I feel I could do other than picket in front of the school demanding justice. If the department and agencies mentioned take no action, then there is no justice for children in the State of Texas.

Now on the my effort of joining so many others in raising awareness of growing domestic abuse and violence against women. I posted a status update on my current work entitled Letters. I wrote that while I am surprisingly ahead of schedule with the initial draft, I feel confident that the release date will definitely be this summer. However, I also noted that the work took an equally surprising turn. On drafting the first segment, the work took on a life of its own and in little over thirty days, the first draft of the complete work is essentially done.

One of the twist which just seemed to work into the draft was the inclusion of the occult. Events recorded throughout history, events involving the church, could not be left out.

In my previous post I explained that I would be offending, upsetting, angering many; I was not just speaking of the living, for I have no fear of the living. After posting my last entry, my suspicions were confirmed.
In that I “draft” not on a laptop, but in my mind, as I work in the yard, wash clothes, or stroll through a palengke,  yesterday, I drafted as I walked through a public cemetery in Oas, Albay. I was with  Dhes, her father, and a young girl named Helen. The cemetery is classic Spanish Catholic with all the ornamentation and architectural highlights. The “rich” families have their mausoleums; the poor a hand scribbled name on a stone.  As we strolled, looking for family names, a shadow caught the corner of Helen’s eye; then, movement within a open encasement which had been mysteriously burned out.

Needless to say, the girl was upset. She ran to Dhes, who also felt that tingling down the spine typically reported on such an experience. As we left the area, some rocks were tossed in that same vicinity. Now, before I proceed with the continuation of this event, I want to ask you one question. Have you ever slept, enjoying a dream, only to be awoken by someone? Then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot return to the dream you were enjoying so much. Well, last night, after our cemetery experience, I fell into a deep sleep, and as I have been for the past couple of weeks, my dream took me home to 1109 S. Hackberry Street. Each dream is very vivid; I walk down the hallway; I stand in the back room, my room, and in my mother’s room. I’m often in the kitchen, looking through the dining room, into the living room. While I can hear others, I can see no one. Last night dream began in much the same way, only this time there were others; the people who presented were not family, rather strangers dress in odd clothing, one man in an old military uniform. They were upset with me; they were accusing me of bringing an entity down on them. I stood my ground, and replied to their accusations that I was in control not the entity. I then began to condemn an obvious, yet unseen presence. One of those present warned me with a finger pointed towards the ceiling. There furniture was affixed to the ceiling and on my condemnation once again of the entity, the furniture fell onto the floor.

Now, the dream was so real, I next awake to Dhes shaking me, awakening me front my violent encounter with the entity. She tells me I’m yelling at something, someone. I’m freezing, which is not typical on a Philippine summer night. So, covering up, I fall back into my sleep and open my eyes again in my mother’s house. This time, three of us are sitting in the living room. We are served food and drink by a girl I do not know. Just as she serves us, she disappears into the house. One of the men with me becomes disoriented and we have to help him out of the house. As we attempt to lead the man through the front door and onto the porch, the entry way is illuminated. Again, I condemn the entity present and again Dhes is shaking me awake.
This time, we get up and walk down the stairs to the restroom. She is asking as to why I am yelling in my sleep so much, asking about my dream, but I cannot answer. Again, we fall asleep, and again my eyes open within my mother’s house. I stand alone in the hallway. The house is dark and cold, but quiet.

I understand the dreams. I know the entity I am confronting there. I know it well, and moreso, I know why the encounters. I know that probably the presence in the cemetery in the Philippines was linked to the house in San Antonio, Texas. And I know, it’s all coming to a head with the publication of Letters.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Saying...

There is no institution, no organization, no government agency, no brutal dictator that can force you to accept in your heart a false doctrine, an unjust, substandard lifestyle, an unlawful station in life, through bondage or captivity. They can bind your hands; they can chain your ankles, literally or metaphorically, but they cannot confine your spirit. No institution, organization, entity of any form can force you to accept and bow to any religious deity you do not personally know and accept. Here is a simple fact of life: a man is a man. He may call himself an official of some sorts, an authority of some capacity; he may very well be conferred, declared, ordained a cleric, a priest, minister, messenger, ambassador; he may in fact wear any of a myriad of titles available for purchase, through deed, service, or plastic card and internet account. However he presents himself to you, remember first and foremost, this person is, this person will always be, in the end, a simple ignorant, scared, confused, perhaps emotionally insecure, delusional, little man who will not live past the expectant years of any man on this Earth. There is no ‘supernatural’ presence; there is no ‘channeling’ messages from the Creator, there is no one whom has ever, nor will ever, ‘converse’ with the Creator, except by way of some hallucinogenic psychosis. The man can preach from an polished, teak emblemed political podium, or a simple cottonwood pulpit in a quaint country church; he can present himself in glorious robe in a Crystal Cathedral, or in a sharp blue pin stripe suit in a 16 thousand plus seat dome; he can even wave a blessing out of a window in his own city. He can claim to be ever he wishes, but he will always remain a man born of woman; nothing more, nothing less. And when he passes, and only when he passes, which he most definitely will do, his final destiny will be known. Not a minute, not a second before. Not to any of us, only to himself. So ponder this if you will: how can a man who doesn't know his own fate, tell you what your fate will be? How can a man who depends on your charity tell you how to live long and prosper? My advice? Don’t listen to a man ready to condemn you to eternal damnation due to non-belief in any particular deity, religious business, or certain ecclesiastical order, for that man will most certainly precede you to Hell. There are no men of God, only men who trust in God; and sometimes, I wonder just how many of those there really are.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Teacher Sex Predator 1, Female Sexual Assault Victim 0

So, I offered a scenario where a female student, hopefully not your daughter, but certainly someone’s daughter is essentially manhandled in a Texas high school classroom. The whole incident is captured on streaming video by another student; a proper and thorough report is expeditiously submitted to campus administrators by a second, responsible teacher, with a copy to the campus police officers. So the assumption here would be the suspect teacher is immediately removed from the classroom, placed on administrative leave pending a district investigation. The student victim is evaluated by the school nurse, in that she is a minor, perhaps a counselor is involved. Her parents are summoned and their rights are explained. The Special Victims Units of the local police department is involved.

That is way you thought it would all work out, correct? Did you too naively assume that the female (minor) would be the first and foremost concern of the district? In most districts, she would have been; and to their credit, this same campus, within a three year period, did get it mostly right. In four cases of male teachers engaging female students, three of those male teachers were removed/dismissed. In this ‘scenario,’ the fourth case, here is what transpired.

The teacher submitting the report was summoned to the administrative offices. He was asked to surrender all copies of the report he had produced. All copies were shredded. Then he was directed by administration not to discuss the event further with anyone for any reason (aka, district gag order). The female student who had recorded the assault on her phone was summoned. Her phone was confiscated; her SIM card (evidence) was destroyed by a campus police officer. Typically, campus police officers are on campus to protect the students; in this case, they simply intimidated a student into silence. (Note here the student whose property was wrongfully confiscated and destroyed was a special needs student.) The female student who was assaulted in the classroom was expelled, classic ‘victim blaming.’ The teacher who assaulted the female student in the classroom during instructional time was allowed to continue in his position until retirement.

So, how many of you guessed the outcome right? We hear so much these days about school yard bullying, but there is also a lot of just plain bull being spewed on ‘reforming’ education. There are so many ‘educational organizations’ hawking their good deeds and lofty goals and objectives on Twitter and Google+. While they tweet and post their glowing selfies (asking for your financial support in the process) our daughters are apparently fair game in the classrooms. So, the next time you sit and listen to your child’s campus administrator brag about the student being first, well, take that with a grain of salt. What he probably means is, your child will come first, after he first protects his own ass and pay check. And, when the administrative staff becomes the just another intimidating ‘gang’ on campus, start considering home schooling.

Next time I will write my take on what the district leadership communicated to this Texas community, and essentially the nation in accomplishing this classic Penn State style cover up; for now, undersrtand that the mission and function of this 'task force' to protect students against sexual assault on our campuses is to work with others agencies in developing a coordinated federal response to campus rape and sexual assault.  This function if only advisory in nature. If you really want to help finally break this cycle of child abuse within our ailing school system, write your local school board and demand all incidents of sexual assault on district campuses be made public, that all predators be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that our children be truly considered first and never blamed for sexual assaults against them. Our daughters deserve that much.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How would a parent/school administrator respond to the following event?

   The following is a fictitious scenario; please read it carefully and thoroughly. It is based on an actual event recorded on a Texas high school campus. No names, no campus, no district is mentioned here. Those elements are not necessary. This scenario has played out in the past, is playing out now, and will play out in the future on campuses throughout the U.S., from elementary to high school campuses, public and private schools, to college campuses of every design. As you read this account, keep in mind the Penn State/Coach Sandusky case, and then think about the children we send off to school every morning.

   “It is a bright sunny morning. You wake your teenage daughter and struggle to get her motivated enough to get ready for school. She is no saint, but you believe, as do all parents, that with the proper education, she will be successful in life; and who knows, maybe she will even continue on to college (someday).  Dropping her off in front of her high school, you feel confident as she walks through the doors; she will be safe and engaged in the glowing curriculum your state has laid out for her. You continue on to work. Later that afternoon, you receive a call from the campus administration. Your daughter is being expelled from school; you are asked to return to the campus and pick her up.
   Here is what has transpired. Your daughter skipped a class, but the campus administrator did not assign her to the on campus suspension room, nor was she returned to her rightful classroom; instead, the administrator escorted your daughter to another classroom to sit and wait for the dismissal bell. While in the classroom (she is not the only “skipper” in the room) she is free to socialize with the other girls in the improvised holding room. The teacher in the classroom is a male, and he provides the girls with treats of chips, drinks, and candy. But that is not all the teacher provides. He provides your daughter with a “special” lesson for the day. He comes up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist; he bends her over, allowing his arms to cradle her breasts. He then begins to tighten his grasp on her body as he rocks her back and forth allowing her buttocks to contact against his groin.”

   End of scenario (for now). 
   Ask any educator and they will quickly explain that physical contact with a student, any student, much less a student of the opposite sex is never okay. This event would have gone un-noted had it not been for another teenager present in that room; a teenager with a cell phone. The entire incident had been captured on streaming video.

   So, my question again: how would you have reacted to viewing this video, or just reading a report about its existence? How would any administration reacted? Parents? Community? I will follow with what actually happened (allegedly) to see if you have assumed correctly. Please feel free to comment as you see fit.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault Public Listening Sessions

I will participate in the February 14, 2014, session entitled: Victim Advocates, Rape Crisis Center Staff, Victim Service Providers, including Campus-based and Community Programs.

I have submitted the following comments for consideration:

Institutional policies and protocols that address sexual assault/inappropriate acts with children/students read correct in published district policies and directives; unfortunately, it would appear the lack of enforcement at the campus level by administrators, some of whom participate openly in violations, are the invitations for others to engage in such activity.

Responding to diverse, undeserved or historically marginalized victims is a serious issue. In a case I am now addressing as an advocate, a young female student, know to administrators as a “hall walker,” was ignored, in fact punished when she became a victim of inappropriate, possibly sexual assault at the hands of a male teacher.

Prevention programs are, I believe, built into the system by virtue of a schedule of classes and mandated attendance requirements (state and district). If a strong enforcement environment is in maintained, if students not in class attendance are disciplined swiftly, appropriately, and consistently, the opportunity for sexual assaults on campus would minimize, if not eliminated completely.

Crisis intervention and advocacy services, not associated with the campus, and perhaps even the district, must be available to students who report sexual assault. In the case I am addressing, the district law enforcement officers, assigned to the campus on which the assault occurred, were instrumental in the destruction of evidence, witness intimidation, and coercion.

Complaint and grievance procedures, as with the crisis intervention and advocacy services, especially in highly emotional sexual assault cases, must be detached from the campus on which incident has occurred.  place. I will go further and say, typical complaint and grievance procedures are not qualified to address sexual complaints. A 9-1-1 call is more appropriate with immediate depositions and official police reports.

Responsibility for investigation protocols and procedures regarding any violent crime, especially one as heinous as a sexual assault of a child/student should be immediately fall on the Special Victims Unit of the municipality in which the district is located.

Adjudicatory procedures in all sexual assault cases involving children/students need to be prioritized and highly publicized. Disciplinary sanctions should never enter the process; maximum sentences for any and all child/abusers should always be the goal of the prosecution.

Training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty need to be implemented in public venue, with child and parent present, even as a public service presentation on local television stations.

If proper and aggressive preventive measures are in place, the need for evaluating and measuring the success of prevention and response efforts should be minimal.

In the San Antonio area, most districts finding they need to deal with an inappropriate teacher/student situation openly share the information with the public; however, these are those districts which opt to deal with those issues silently.

Making enforcement activities transparent and accessible is a non-negotiable. Both student and staff, all staff, must be aware that the campus is on a constant state of high alert for inappropriate, non-academic activities during academic time, during transition periods, during lunch, while engaged in before and after school activities.

Promoting greater coordination and consistency among federal agencies is a must. In states where governors are weak in educational concerns, district staff must prioritize communication with not only federal agencies, but state and local law enforcement agencies.

Maximizing the Federal Government’s effectiveness in combatting campus rape and sexual assault falls on every employee of every school district. If an employee, at any level, is not satisfied with the results of reporting an incident to a campus/district administration, that individual has the responsibility of reporting the incident to the next higher authority.