Letters: An Inevitable Conversation

Japayuki: A Novel

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A few words about people...

No matter the organization. No matter the association. The group. The crowd. The click. Somewhere embedded within, there is that person. Maybe even more than one person. He, she, they are just a little different from the others, and no one can really put their finger on just why that is.

My family, and I mean extended family, is comprised of a myriad of personalities, and hold an equal number of personal beliefs, opinions, and practices. Most are harmless, if not entertaining, while others probably should have a twenty-four guard (just kidding).

Fulfilling a thirty year military career, I encountered some pretty strange individuals. There were people with medical degrees (of course; I served as a Navy Hospital Corpsman), but I also met my fair share of flyers that held degrees in everything from education to business to theology. Again, most fun loving and great to be around. Some? Not so much.

My family had a tragic encounter with law enforcement. The men and women sworn to serve and protect. And allow me to interject that in our family, we have law enforcement officers, but our experience with three was not a good one. Suffice it to be said, three deputies shot my son while he was experiencing a medical crisis.

After my military career, I elected to pursue public education. And all I’ve said to this point held true. Ninety-nine percent of the teachers I worked beside were the most wonderful, caring, dedicated individuals. But, there were those teachers and administrators, who did not know how to behave around teenage girls.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop the list with our illustrious and comical, at times tragic, politicians. I really don’t believe I have to say much more here considering the news coverage they receive regarding their little trysts with girlfriends, boyfriends, etcetera, etcetera.

Which leads me to the main point of this post. I will be releasing a publication soon which will address violence against women and domestic abuse, globally. One cannot write about such a subject without proper and broad research which includes delving into every conceivable social group, sub-culture group, declared entity, however you wish to identity such collections of people. And trust me, researching this topic led me to some pretty interesting sites with plenty of vivid graphics. My works cited page will be extensive, and while my work will be categorized as fiction and does not include citations, I do intend to publish my works cited via a Blog post.

My list of readings will serve two major purposes. First, my readers will know, upon reading my words, that while fiction, the topic I address is very real. Second, if anyone questions any comment, opinion or fact uttered by one of my characters, they will have a source list available to conduct personal research; and I do most definitely encourage all my readers to read further on my topics, if for no other reason than personal edification.

Having said that, allow me to add this. One of the MANY groups I delve deeply into is the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender, and queer (LBGTQ). One fact that led me repeatedly to this group was the ever present concept of hegemonic masculinity, the how and why men maintain social control over not only women, but any group they consider inferior to them. Hegemonic masculinity led directly to misogyny, which led directly to the church, and from there this book just took on a life of its own.

Why do I mention the LBGTQ directly? Simply because misogyny is linked directed to homosexual men.
Before you blast that comment alone, please allow me to go back to my opening comments. Every group has its deviant personalities. The teaching profession harbors child predators. Our legislature harbors womanizing perverts. The LBGTG, indirectly that it may be, by virtue of its declared title, harbors closet homosexuals who, for social, marital, corporate, and political influences and bias, cannot easily come out of that closet and live the life they truly yearn to live, to freely and openly experience the sexual existence they were meant to live.

In short, these homosexual men are prisoners in a life they despise, sharing a bed with a gender they don’t like, and unfortunately, this makes for a very angry and dangerous man; a misogynous man.

On my Facebook page, I attempt to include every social entity out there. The LBGTQ is one of those groups. (Still haven’t brought myself to “Like” the ZETA Association! J) In my work I attempt to make clear the distinction between the misogynous homosexual male and the rest; but, what I do not do is water down the issue to patronize any gender, social, political, or religious group or entity.

Life is what it is.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

“Give a man a fish...

..and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Those Chinese knew what they were talking about. This proverb will outlive us all, and probably do more good. I prefer this over the Golden Rule, “do unto others.” Still, as with everything else in life, its hit and miss.

Of course, I don’t speak of literally teaching a person to fish, rather about educating and motivating to succeed in general. My written work addresses many issues which plague and “hold back” otherwise exceptional people. As a high school teacher, I saw so many “lost” and disillusioned teens. So many lacked the basic motivation and drive to pursue even their most basic education, it was disheartening, almost depressing. I watch so many of my own family members stop pursuing school after high school (I’m elated when I hear of one of them returning, even later in life).

When one drops out of high school, I see it as simply giving up on life. You see, we have a large family; one might say, a large not very well off family. When even one stops reaching for a better life, when one child gives up, it impacts the whole family. They don’t realize it, but it does.

Here is another adage for you, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” Everything in life has a price. Simply put, an individual’s quality of life depends on how hard they want to work. Back to my high school students. There were the two classes of kids: those with, and those without. But what the kids “without” didn’t realize was, those kids “with” were in reality no better off than themselves. A fourteen year old has not “made it” in life. They may be flashing the iPhone and the Abercrombie & Fitch clothes Mom and Dad have provided them (for now), but that will not extend much pass graduation. Nobody wants to be that 40 year old still living with Momma.

I have family on two continents; and, it is surprising how similar those two families actually are. When my wife and I share stories, it is funny how they are so very much alike. We both grew up in essentially the one room shacks, with multiple people sprawl wherever they would fit. Both of us tell stories of days when there was simply no food to put on the table. Both of us describe the days when a simple thought was difficult because of the hunger we were experiencing. But we also share the stories of how we both got off our asses at very early ages and did what we had to do not only to ensure our own survival, but to make sure others ate as well. I think it’s safe to say, at our present age, we will never, ever experience hunger again, nor want for anything (knocking on wood).

It would be so easy for my wife and I to simply “give” every one of our family members that fish, that day (metaphorically and literally speaking). We could do it. We could buy sacks of rice; kilos of fish, pork, chicken, beef, all the vegetables they could eat. But tomorrow, they would be hungry again, and let’s face it, we may not be here tomorrow.

No. We do not feed the masses. We push the youngsters to continue their education. Sometimes we help with that only because that falls under the “teach a man to fish part.” Still some refuse to even do that. We have our share of high school drop outs, and we have our share of college drop outs. Even the heart breaking kind; those who lack that one semester, and even that one class for their diploma; but that’s okay. We never give up on anyone. We never lose heart, only because we know, one of these days, those hunger pangs are going to hit home. Living in that crowded one room shack is going to get old. Waiting for someone to feed you is not going to cut it. The extended hand will remain empty, and the reality of life will become clear.

I said it was a hit and miss proposition, and yes, we have those who are struggling, doing without, but signing up for that next course. I’m not saying we have favorites in this family, but these motivated and focused young ones do have our attention. And finally, we have those (the graduates), who no longer need our fish, only because they now have the knowledge and the skills to catch their own (and are). Nothing is more satisfying for a parent, grand parent, aunt or uncle than knowing a child they watched grow up, no longer needs their help (or fish). They are going to be okay.

Some people call it tough love; some call it abandonment; we call it teaching kids that a person isn’t dealt a bad hand in life, a person simply live the life they choose for themselves. So when someone pouts because we say no to buying them a “smart” phone, or a “notebook,” it doesn’t faze us. If a child can learn how to fire off a gazillion text messages and master Facebook, they can enroll in a class, learn a trade or profession, and buy their own “smart” phone, because in this life, “standing by” believing that daily fish is coming is foolish indeed..

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Word (or two) About Our Lives...

I had initially intended to post this as a Facebook (FB) status update. Note below, I even open offering these words as a “short” expository. I actually uploaded for a short time, but soon enough realized, FB is not the place to post expository statements; FB it is an exchange forum where anyone who reads your words can and probably will chime in via the “comment” box; if not that, respond with a “Like,” or worse, totally snub you in any of the many ways FB makes available. (I know, I've snubbed people!)

Simply, if anyone did any of those things, this work wouldn't be expository; it would be a conversation. For as everyone knows, an expository piece is rhetorical. It is a statement of position, a declaration of fact, and those are not debatable or open for discussion. So here then, is my “short” expository post.

As many of you know, we are vacationing in the Philippines; The Pearl of the Orient. We left the United States in late February, and don’t plan to return until September. While technically we are “tourist,” and as such, take as many pictures as we can and share them via FB (now those you can comment on!), that is not all we doing here. For we are also home in that we hold many properties here, including the family homestead here in Pistola, Oas, Albay.

To all who view our pics and videos, it would appear that we are having the time of our lives and enjoying our lavish life to the hilt. But the truth is, had I fulfilled my pre-travel preparations, everyone would be better aware of some important aspects of our visit. Nearing the half-way point of our trip, I will now share what I intended to share in February, before leaving Texas.

This statement is for everyone that calls us family and friends, no matter where in the world they may be. While we are officially on vacation; it is in actuality a working vacation for us. Yes, we are enjoying the house in Pistola, but we are also working daily on its ongoing construction. Each and every day we spend some time tiling, installing electrical connections, and doing plumbing work (just to name a few). A couple of times a month, we jump in the van and head to the hardware store in Legaspi City, and it is costly.

Next, I’m going to offer some terms for your independent research and personal edification: Alzheimer’s, COPD, PTSD, Panic Disorder, GI Disorder, and Osteoarthritis (not the complete list). Look them up and understand them (Wikipedia works for me); read closely how these disease and disorders affect a person, and what the treatments and home care considerations are. Go ahead; I’ll wait…

Done? Good. Because that’s also part of the working part of our vacation. This family deals with each and every one of those medical conditions, some of them advanced and acute, each and every day. So, while we do have our fun; we are also providing appropriate care and treatment for all those conditions. Guess what? It is costly.

Fortunately, we are blessed with sufficient monthly income to allow us to provide everything that is needed by everyone afflicted. To many people, however, we are simply the Americans with money! What they don’t realize is with getting some work done on the house and making sure everyone stays breathing, we do run short sometimes. But everyone gets their meds and we put nourishing food on the table and we pay the bills. And yes, it is costly.

Those of you blessed with good healthy families probably can’t imagine what I’m saying, or probably think I’m exaggerating the list of ailments; but believe me, we wake up every morning watching each other for signs of deterioration, or some acute symptom, some odd change in behavior. We have spent a few days getting chest x-rays, lab test for this and that, and at the pharmacy for medications, and more. Basically, what I’m saying is, our lives are not all the fun and games and road trips we proudly post. We like our fun, that’s true, and we love visiting family, and will travel to do so, but we cherish our health more, and that will always be priority one.

Now, for the sticky and sensitive part of this the piece.

Due to health considerations, an important rule, for every one under this roof, is that the house will be clean. Check that; the house will be very clean, damn near hospital level. As you can imagine, with work ongoing, drilling and painting, concrete and tile work the house gets very dusty daily. So, our house requires a lot of daily cleaning, and in that it is a good size two story house, the rule is if you stay here you are expected to do your part. Our house isn't a Bed and Breakfast; it isn’t a hotel/motel with room service; it is a house filled with people who need a clean house.

I’ll take that a one step further, because of the medical conditions we care for, especially the respiratory cases, and that’s just about all of us, our house has to be almost sanitized. In considering those with borderline dementia, who can wander disoriented (and do at 2 and 3 a.m.), if the house isn’t tidy and clear of cluttered, the person can be injured or worse. As for the PTSD and Panic Disorder, if they feel there is no concern or support by others for the cleanliness of their house, they will (quickly) escalate verbally and emotionally (we try to avoid this one at all cost, but damn if it doesn't catch us off guard!).

Sounds like fun living with us, doesn’t it? You want to come visit us today, don’t you? Well, first read on, because here is my point of this post.

Our house is open to all visitors, and we have enjoyed many to date. (No, we’re not infectious!) Family, friends, neighbors, “born again” church people, Catholic priest, neighborhood kids have been in and out, most come to eat and run, some have stayed for days, others for weeks; most fall quickly into our daily work routines with no problems, cooking delicious meals for those working, or cleaning this or that without complaint; hell, everyone likes a clean house, right? But then, others? Uh. Not so much; which is fine too. We don’t post cleaning assignments on a bulletin board; we don’t hand people mops and buckets, hammers and mortar. But we do ask and expect that people simply respect and understand what we must do on a daily basis. We have had some walk away, unable to deal with our (demanding?) routine and house expectations/rules, and that’s okay too; to the outsider, we probably do actually resemble a boot camp for troubled kids (just kidding). Believe me, we all wish life could be spent on the duyan, texting and drinking ice tea and gossiping, but that is not our lives at all. We live the lives we do out of necessity; one could even say, for the sake of living at all.

Only on one occasion have we had to ask a person to leave; not to be mean or rude, or even disrespectful, rather out of fairness. We simply cannot allow a young, healthy, and able person (not family) lounge around texting, waiting for the next meal, while the rest of the household (mostly family) toils and labors around them. That would be disrespectful to our family. And while there are no direct monetary rewards, people who stay with us do eat well! And often get to go on our little trips here and there.

Again, if I’m preaching, I’m preaching to the choir. I know that. And I’ll use our present visitors as an excellent example of what we need people to understand about this family. Two young ladies on break from college have been staying with us; one is family, the other, one of her classmates. We expected the family member; we did not expect the classmate. But we have plenty of room, and so it was no problem for her to stay. Now here’s the best part. Since their arrival, we have never had to ask them to do a single task; we have never had to ask because they have taken the initiative to look around, see what needs to be done, and simply do it.  They have cooked outstanding meals, then scrubbed and sanitized the kitchen floor. I know this only because once I was ready to walk on that sanitized floor and got one of those, “I dare you to step one step further!” looks. I went around. They have also acted as attendant to the elder in the house (not an easy task), feeding him, scrubbing down his room, washing his bed sheets. When we planned our recent beach trip, they were there helping organized and prepare all, going and coming. And when it was birthday party time, they decorated and prepared the table. What was impressive was the unexpected guest was cleaning, cooking, and scrubbing right along with the family. What was even more impressive was, with all they did to help us, their smiles never once faded. They could have been enjoying a school break in Manila, but opted to stick it out with us. When the PTSD/Panic Disorder launched into high gear over whatever, they didn’t retreat to safety and seclusion or take offense; they just continued with their work and just seemed to understand. All this and they didn’t know a word of what I am posting now. Kids, just when you think you've got them figured out. Anecdote: In preparing to leave, the student expressed her appreciation of our hospitality and kindness; she thanked us for accepting her as one of the family. We almost screamed, dear girl, consider yourself adopted!

All our visitors come and leave, as our two young guests now prepare to return to their college studies in Manila, but we of course will remain here in this big house. Life doesn't change for us; this life will never change for us. We have to stay and work things out as best we can, we have to continue to support each other as best we can, deal with the good and the bad days and make sure everyone is safe and fed, as best as can, with or without anyone’s help. People have whispered rumors that some do not plan to visit us because of the expectations of contributing, the laborious demands and worse, the personalities living here. If that is true, then such is life. It’s true, here in the Philippines, if you have a little money (or think you do), maids and cooks and drivers are common (and expected); but sadly, we do not fall into that category. At our house, you wash your own clothes, and you take your turn in the kitchen (if you want dinner), and if the bathroom smells funky, don’t go asking where the bathroom boy is, ask where the cleanser and scrubbing pad are.

We dread leaving in September, only because the elder is not faring well and will soon enough (if not now) require a full time attendant. Some form of live in, home care attendant will have to be arranged for (oh, I could so go off on this issue alone!). Factor in that person’s salary, all the health care supplies, doctor’s visits and meds, transportation costs and the dollar signs loom like the proverbial approaching storm. But, we’ll do it; we’ll pull it off somehow, at least until we get back, and then, we’ll pick up right where we leave off.

So that’s it. Yes, we’ll post more fun pictures of family and friends and splashing in the water, and climbing picturesque mountains and hills. We need that to keep us sane. And we’ll post pictures of our work on the house, because that also keeps us grounded. And if despite reading this, anyone thinks they are brave enough to walk through our door, well, now they know exactly what awaits you beyond that door. Torture and torment! Okay, maybe not that, but we will keep them busy.

Working vacations are fun! This one is wearing us out; but, God we love this place! We love this house! And more importantly, we love our family and friends, whether they understand us or not.