Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: How about we just try being NICE?


How about we just try being NICE?

In light of the tragic Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 26 individuals lost their lives, 20 of them first grade students, and in light of the subsequent vitriolic national debate, we need to consider all the ideas – anything that might save any child is worth considering calmly and with a sense of cooperation.  We can’t have a “my rights are more important than your rights” attitude. We must all give many inches.  As a nation we need to sit down with great minds, and common minds, on every “side”, with our elderly who can remember a world where this rarely happened, and our college kids who have grown up with this, yet still have hope and passion and are our future.  We need to say “What can we all do working together? What are we willing to give up? What would we pay to see better enforced? What would make us all not just feel, but be safer?”

People are angry, and that’s a natural reaction.  But nobody is taking our rights away, and nobody is turning into a military state, we have a constitution (an amendable constitution, hence our lovely little number two) to prevent that from happening.  We need to use that.  We all despise our politicians, yet we voted most of them back in last time, so it’s our own collective fault.  A democracy gets the government it elects, we picked ‘em folks, we need to use them.

We also need to breathe in, breath out, think.  Mental health care is definitely a huge part of this, personal responsibility, and a willingness to follow regulations and common sense safety is part of this.  Being willing to give up or alter a hobby if you have a situation in your home is part of this.

As a nation we have turned mean and selfish, we need to think about bullying.  Survivor is a top show.  Vote the loser kids off the island?  How 7th grade mean girl is that?  It’s one of our favorite forms of family entertainment. We need to develop a culture of kindness.  People talk about God being missing from schools.  I personally believe in the human spirit, in the power of kindness, in the strength that love for others brings.  I don’t participate in any official “god” thing, I just believe in being nice.  You don’t need to give nice a name, or a format, just teach nice.  Nobody needs to get worked up because you teach his religion and not her religion, just teach nice. Have a class pet; take field trips to food banks. Maybe we try to force nice, you can’t, but some of it might rub off.  What if we made every middle school child spend one hour a week working for the local charity, or shelter or organization of their choice, and made it mandatory all the way through high school?  Maybe some inadvertent compassion would rub off.  It couldn’t hurt, and maybe in ten years we have a generally kinder population.

My daughter made a suggestion last night, and my initial reaction was “No, you’re wrong!” But I forced myself to shut up and let her finish, and it was not a bad idea at all.  It wouldn’t fix everything, but as part of a whole, it would be helpful.  All I needed to do was chill out and consider it.  We need to take all the ideas, and instead of saying “That would never work” say, “I can see this part or that part working, let’s work from there.”

I don’t know what needs to be done, but I do know it is not just one thing.  We need to put all the ideas, no matter how flawed on a list, and then work through them, without rancor.  This was not just guns, or just mental health, or just that parenting is hard and there is no operator’s manual, or that God is pissed.  It was everything, so we need to work on everything, and we need to do it together.

This is the time for passionate intelligent people to cooperate.

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Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: Oh Shut Up!


 

Oh, Shut Up

 

A friend of mine has often mused “Is writing about writing really writing, does it count?” I am in the unenviable position of writing about not writing.  I’m sitting down today to think at the keyboard, which is where I do my second best thinking.  First is in a comfy chair by a roaring fire in a room with floor to ceiling bookshelves, the kind with a ladder on wheels, I would be using a fountain pen on really nice paper, there is soft instrumental music playing on a magic stereo which I don’t need to have any electronic capabilities to work, but this is in the little world I have built for myself in my head.  In the real world I’m at my laptop, in my living room by the fireplace, but no fire yet today.

 

My goal today is to answer the question, “Am I really a writer?”  Or the underlying question, “Who do I think I’m kidding?”  Self-doubt abounds.  Looking at this question logically, and let’s all please bear in mind, I am a natural blonde, who spent her formative years in the constant company of an Irish ginger.  The colors color affecting the way you look at things, my logic is not Spock’s.  I interview myself in my head, is this writing thing just a hobby like knitting?  Or is it a part of who I am, does it define me?

 

Me: So, what have you had published?

Me too: Well um…does High School count?  A bit of poetry in the school literary magazine.

Me: So you haven’t done anything since school, college was 32 years ago.  How can you call yourself a writer?

Me too:  No, I’ve done some things.  I wrote poetry for a while after school, and I write little essays, mostly comical about things that have happened to me or my family.  I write when I have something on my mind.  I committed poetry when I thought I had cancer.  It was a little bitchy and angsty, I posted it to a site my daughter uses, and it got an award for being the best item posted to the site that day.  People liked it, it touched people.  Well except that one guy who thought it was whiny.  I thought, they might chop off a breast, I have a right to whine a little, and I never imagined many people would ever read it.

Me: So you didn’t think people would see it.  So you only write for yourself?  Do you ever try to get anything published?  I think you’re in the knitting category.  I think this is something you do to keep your hands busy, when you’ve got nothing else to do.

Me too:  (a bit defensively) well, no…that’s not fair.  There’s the novel.  I have to do research, and figure out things, and there’s work that goes into it before the story ever gets to the page.  I need to figure out maps, and names.  It’s not just “ooh, me, I have a sad thought.”  There’s a tale, or at least a piece of a tale, and a message to get out, right now it’s very much a “Leaf by Niggle” but I’m working on getting it out.

Me:  Really, what’s the date of the last time you worked on it?

Me too:  Um, December 3rd?

Me:  Yeah, that’s knitting. It’s been over a month.  Writers write every day.

Me too:  Well, there’s been Christmas, and family home, and well, if it were knitting then why do I knit sometimes, too?

Me:  Because you’re not a writer, and knitting keeps your hands busy, too. And as far as the research, you realized you miss school, you miss learning something new, you actually liked research, and you are a fraud, you like people to think you’re smart, and you think at work, but about things that don’t interest you at all, and so it’s a chore, not fun, and nobody thinks you’re special because you do math all day.  You don’t think you’re special, and you are a self-involved person who wants to be something different from “mere mortals”.

Me too:  Hey, I don’t think I like this interview.  That’s kind of harsh.  Life works the way it works.  I ended up doing something for a living that requires a lot of brain exercise every day, and sometimes it drains all of my creative juice.  You’re right, it’s not something I enjoy, and every day I find myself wishing I had taken a different path professionally.  But I didn’t and people count on me, and there’s the life you wish you had, the one with the room with wall to wall books, and there’s real life.  I live in real life.  I work hard, and I balance a lot of things.  I’m a fair business owner, a decent employer, a good wife and mother.

Me: But you aren’t a writer…you dabble. What’s most important to you?

Me too:  My kids and my husband obviously.

Me: What do you talk about when you meet someone new?   What do you tell them about yourself?

Me too:  Mostly I talk about my kids. It depends on the person I meet. It depends on their interests.

Me:  Do you ever volunteer that you are a writer?

Me too:  Um, (meekly) well…no.

Me: Why NOT?!

Me too:  They’ll ask what I’ve done lately, it’s always the same, “What do you write?”  “Have you been published?” “Do you have a blog?” and then the answers are so lame.  No blog, never been published, and when I tell them what I write.  Medieval Fantasy.  The eyes roll, or the immediate disinterest.  “Oh, I don’t like that, it’s not my thing, I never read anything like that.”

Me:  Well it’s a pretty tight genre; people outgrow it in their twenties.

Me too:  You know, in case anybody ever wondered, it’s hard to invent an entire world.  Anyone can imagine soft porn, Shades of Gray; humph….I read Chaucer…for fun!  And you can write a murder mystery that happened in Kansas, and while you might need to come up with new and depraved ways of killing someone, humanity pretty much supplies them, and you know what Kansas looks like, and there are newspapers and maps and geography, and legal documents, and case files to research.   I’m not saying its easy Mr. King, but to someone who thinks any state without an ocean is the Midwest, making up a whole world, with believable geography and physics, and cultures is not a picnic.  It wouldn’t hurt people to read about things that never happened.  Fantasy has got Good vs. Evil, and Striving to Right the Big Wrong, and the Little Guy trying to Save the Magic Thing-a-majig. It might actually be good for people to read that, and think about those things, those things used to be things we thought about as a people.

Me:  You’re off topic, and if you want your writing to change the world sweetheart, you kind of have to actually write the book.  How long has it been?

Me too:  (Deflated) I started it when I was on the bus from work when I was pregnant with Caitie.

Me:  And she’s how old now?  Where does she go to college?

Me too:  Oh shut up!

Me:  Hardly a very articulate answer.  So you’ve chosen to do something hard, nobody’s making you.

Me too:  Oh shut up!

Me:  Ah, very witty.  So why aren’t you writing?

Me too:  I don’t know, because this is bigger than I thought it would be, and I don’t think I’m very good, and sometimes I’m just exhausted, and it’s audit & tax season.  Who am I kidding?  I should just quit the writing group I’m in and give up.  I could still keep in touch with my friends who write.  Maybe I should just join a book club, and learn to read middle aged soft porn.

Me:  Oh that’s attractive, self-pity.  That’s very nice.

Me too:  Oh shut up.

Me:  So, you give up.  You’ll what…knit?  What happens when you knit?

Me too:  I sit still, and I think.  I think in scenes of my novel.  I get “the blurbs”.  You know little bits of things that might be something someday. Happens when I’m on a long car ride, too.

Me:  And what happens to those blurbs?

Me too:  Well, I’m not near my laptop, and if I don’t have a pen & paper handy, sometimes I lose them. I usually lose them.

Me:  I guess that doesn’t matter though, because you’re not a writer.  Nobody’s ever going to read what you write, because it’s not “their thing” so why are you bothering, right?  Who cares if you lose them?

Me too:  But I care.  I used to carry a blank journal and a nice pen everywhere.  I got out of that habit.

Me: Maybe you should stop with the anti-technology pose and see about a big purse and a tablet.

Me too:  Yeah, I don’t think I should spend money on that. I could start carrying a blank book again though.

Me: Of course you never plan to publish it.  “I write for myself, it doesn’t matter.”  You are such a phony.

Me too:  Well, I have a business to run, and kids who need me, and my husband actually likes me and likes to spend time with me.  I really don’t have the time.

Me:  Really?  The business is pretty much 9-5.  That’s eight hours out of 24. You’re a mathematician, that’s a third.  And sleeping, another third.  There’s an hour or two between sending the kid out to school and going to work.  What are you doing with that?

Me too:  I….go back to bed.

Me:  After dinner, you do what?  Watch TV, or listen to music in the living room?

Me too:  I read sometimes!  I love to read.  I’m not giving up reading.

Me:  Every night you’re reading?

Me too:  Sometimes I’m exhausted.  I can’t even think, my brain hurts.

Me:  So your brain wouldn’t feel better in the world of your novel?  Must not be much of a place.

Me too:  Oh shut up!  I have to lug out my laptop.

Me:  Oh, the laptop you bought for yourself, just for writing?  That one?  The one you would put on the lap desk you specifically asked for for Christmas?  I smell a list of lame excuses here.  Are you a writer or not?  Can you give it up?

Me too:  I don’t think so.  Things pop into my head all the time. I see things, and they trigger things.  I guess because I can’t write full time, I think there is no use.  And I’m afraid to send things to publishers, other things, the little essays and things, because I don’t need the rejection.  If this interview shows anything it’s that I’m not nearly as sure of myself as I like everyone to think.

Me:  Really, you insecure?  Who would imagine it?

Me too:  You know you’re a sarcastic bitch, right?  I mean that fact hasn’t escaped you?

Me:  No, no I’ve picked up on that.  So, you’re giving up, right, because you have no time, and (oh wait, you do have time) and you’re a chicken (oh, no, you have faced everything life has thrown at you and simply floundered through it and gotten it all to work out, so nope…not a chicken) and nobody likes the kind of thing you write, (oh, but wait a minute, your kids, and their friends, and your writing group, and probably the out of state group you’ve been too big a chicken to really join, all have told you repeatedly it’s good, so SOMEBODY has read your stuff), but you’re quitting, right?  Might as well go into the file right now and hit the big delete button.

Me too:  (indignantly) I’m not quitting!  Who said I was quitting?  I have things to say.  I have a point to make; I need to figure out how to make stealth philosophy in the middle of a great tale.  Oh SHUT UP!  I can do this.  I just need to actually do it, and not sit here writing about not writing.  I am not having this, let me tell you!  You don’t just give up something that you’ve done all your life, because what?  Because nobody’s stroking your little ego?  Because what you choose to do is hard? …Oh…Oh, I see what you did there.  And it worked, too, dammit!

Me:  I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Me too:  Oh Shut UP!  I’ve gotta go, I have books to write.

 

 

 

Guest Blog: Christine O’Neill: Pray? (The Newtown Massacre)


Pray?  You want me to pray for these victims of horror?  Pray?  Okay, let’s look at this logically.  Praying to something implies that something has power.  A God by its very nature is ALL powerful.  Omnipotent, ineffable.  Remember those words from Sunday school?  They mean God has an inconceivable plan for us, and can do anything.  I personally do not believe in God.  I believe in the power of human kindness, in empathy, in decency but I believe all those things are generated by the strength of the human mind. I cannot pray to an entity which, if all powerful, has allowed 26 people to be killed because someone had a bad day.  If it turns out that I am wrong if there is a divine being, He/She and I will have words!  There will be a reckoning.  How dare they have the power to stop this, to heal the mind of that young man, and not do so?  I believe, I have always believed, that Gods were created in the human mind to help us explain the inexplicable, and survive the insurmountable.  Gods, to me, are imaginary beings who soothe us in our times of trouble.

Praying, to my mind, is reaching out to an imaginary being to help us find what is already inside of us.  I simply cut out the middleman.  In some respects, if praying helps you do what you need to do, then fine, who does it hurt?  But what if it makes us complacent?  Something horrible has happened, and this morning I am seeing “repost this prayer on your Facebook.”  Is that it?  What does this possibly DO?  If this is simply a kind gesture of support for those families, of course it is a good thing.  My heart aches for them.  But then what?  God if one believes in him (let’s go with the male pronoun for convenience, I’m too tired to fight THAT battle today) ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN, and now we’re praying to him?  Folks, HE ISN’T LISTENING! It is our responsibility to step up, to fix things, to change our world so that while this doesn’t happen anymore.

Here is the danger of prayer.  You repost that FB thing, or you go to church or you walk at the beach and commune with your God.  You send out your sympathy to the cosmos.  Then you feel better, and you go about your daily life, you’re done, thank you very much.  NOTHING IS FIXED.  If you combine prayer with action, fine.  Have you called your senator?  Your congressman?  Have you found out how to start a petition to put laws on the ballot that will make the changes you think will help?  Have you thought long and hard about what needs to change?  If you have, and then you pray, or if you pray while you are trying to figure it out, perfect.  But what if all you do is pray?

I am angry.  Am I angry at the tortured individual who took innocent lives yesterday?  Only a little.  And a little at his parents, because being a Mom or a Dad is the most important job in the world, and somebody somewhere screwed that up.  Hitler had a Mom, she failed.  But as a Mom, I know that kids don’t come with a user’s manual.  The most important job in the world, and they don’t teach it in schools, they send you home with a little beautiful life and say, “Hey, wing it.” So I’m a little angry at his parents, but sometimes you do everything you can, and you just don’t have the tools to help your children.

I am angry that this has been happening for years, and we have done nothing.  A young man in my kitchen last night remarked that this isn’t that big a deal and it happens all the time.  The media just makes it a huge deal.  WHAT?  Then I thought a little.  Columbine was when he was two years old.  Since he was two EVERY YEAR on average 84 people in this country alone, are killed in inexplicable people on some personal rage filled quest.  I can remember when this was not normal, but to the current generation of high school kids, this IS NORMAL, he’s wrong, it IS a big deal, but he’s right, it happens all the time.

I am angry at myself because up to now I have been saddened and horrified, and made empty noises about what must be done.  Then nothing.  So I am asking you please DON’T PRAY, or at least DON’T JUST PRAY.  I’m not sure how to go about it, and I don’t (contrary to my own overinflated ego) have all the answers, but I must do something. I will start Monday morning with calling my congressman. I will move on from there.  Please, whatever you think will work to fix this, do something, work for it, and change this. Please.

Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: Fowl Play


Turkey Lust

It is spring on Cape Cod.  The temperature is creeping up above 30, the crocuses have bloomed, then frozen to death leaving sad little flower carcasses lining the front walkway.  There is snow scheduled for April Fool’s Day, no they are not kidding, perhaps “substantial amounts”.  But the flock of thirty or more wild turkeys that roam our neighborhood move to an internal clock all their own, and it is definitely mating season.

I honestly love where I live, although I have to admit that this is one winter I would really like to be done with.  We have great wildlife, coyotes, deer, fox, raccoons, fishers and all kinds of birds.  You can drive north for a few hours and see moose grazing on the roadside, black bears crossing the roads, and if you are really sharp possibly lynx or river otters in the woods.  It’s a great place, and I love wildlife.

HOWEVER….Oh yes there is a “HOWEVER”.  I have bird issues, major bird issues.  My family thinks this is hysterical.  There was the Great Emu assault of 2006, the South Station Pigeon Gangs when I worked in Boston and the time a woodpecker got stuck in our fireplace.  I love birds, to watch.  I feed wild birds, I have multiple bird houses and baths, I have a feeder at work and when I forget to fill it one particular cardinal sits on my window ledge, and yells at me.  It’s bird for “Hey! I’m hungry…what’s the deal here? Hey!”  I don’t really like being up close and personal, though.  When birds get in the house like the Flicker in the Fireplace (it was at a time when my kids were reading Animal Ark stories), I’m afraid they are going to hurt themselves, fly into something in their panic, and break their necks.  When birds get too close outdoors, I have this totally irrational fear that something smaller than my hand is going to peck me and hurt me.  I am terrified of pigeons, yes, I know it’s ridiculous – that’s what makes it an irrational fear.

So where was this all going?  Oh yes, Turkey Lust.  The flock of wild turkeys is in love.  The males are walking around all puffed up like the Thanksgiving platter pictures, something you don’t see around Thanksgiving because they are over it by then.  The females, like females regardless of species, are walking away from them disdainfully, or simply sitting down and hiding the essential “parts”.  The other morning there were about 20 females pecking around under my bird feeders, when two young males approached.  They all gobbled, and hissed and chased the males off, making what could only be derisive turkey comments.  The boy turkeys ran into the underbrush in shame.  Poor guys, but I didn’t think much of it.  Twenty minutes later they came running out of the brush and chased two 6 foot tall high school boys down the street.  Luckily the boys were just in time for the bus, or there might have been bloodshed.  It was hysterical to watch, but only because it did not involve a trip to the hospital for stitches.  Teenage boys are almost as uncoordinated as adolescent turkeys, the girls at the bus stop and the female turkeys in the yard were all cracking up, as the boys (human and turkey) ran in circles, waving their arms, flapping their wings, yelling and gobbling, it was a sight to see. Ah well, back to some early morning paperwork, then off to work.

And then there was the traffic jam.  I live a mile from my office.  Two rights and a left and I’m there.  I was stopped in traffic that morning on the “main” road for ten minutes as these two testosterone overloaded birds, strutted around cars, pecking at hubcaps, flapping and posturing.  I am certain it was the same two turkeys.  In their tiny little bird brains, they must have decided they could impress the girls by taking on something really big, my neighbor’s Corolla.  She was afraid to drive into them, they wouldn’t give an inch, and the remainder of the flock was milling about in the road watching the show, so there was no progress in either direction until the females got bored and wandered off with the males following, answering the age old question, would they rather fight or, well, you know.  Luckily, I’m self-employed; can you imagine explaining to an employer that you were late because of a turkey traffic jam?

This brings us to my arrival home last night.  I pulled in and the flock was at the bottom of the driveway, about 20 of them.  I pulled forward slowly and they moved grudgingly out of my way, only by inches, but the car was where it needed to be, however I was trapped.  On either side of the car, were HUGE Tom Turkeys.  These were not gangly adolescent birds, but hip tall beasts.  One of the females was resting comfortably directly in front of the car, and the two guys were strutting around in circles, gobbling, and puffing themselves up, fanning their tails, occasionally flapping their wings.  They both had bright blue heads!  Their heads turn blue when they are “aroused”; I think it’s from lack of oxygen to their teeny, tiny little brains.  Well now what was I to do?

I very bravely opened the car door a tiny bit, and put one foot out.  I thought, “It’s a bird, it will be afraid of me and move off.”  Ha! The driver’s side bird (I’ve named him Charles – as in Manson) lunged at it, I scrambled back in and shut the door.  Now I am neither athletic, nor petite, so the image of me climbing over the center console to attempt an escape from the passenger seat can only be imagined, suffice it to say this was not pretty.  I cracked the passenger side door open not even venturing a foot out, and Ted (yes, Bundy) was even more homicidal than Charles, Ted leapt into the air, and pecked on the car window, screeching like, well a homicidal maniac.  So here I was, held hostage in my own driveway, by a pair of crazed birds, that my daughter likes to remind me have heads smaller than golf balls, and brains about a third of the size of their heads…”there’s a reason the term is Bird Brains, mom!”.

Well, I had to do something, so I tried honking the horn.  The rest of the flock, including the female Charles & Ted were performing for ran for the woods.  Charles gobbled at me some more, then decided to follow the rest of the flock, apparently more focused on reproduction than murder.  Ted however, Ted is a psycho killer among poultry.  He had forgotten all about the lady turkeys.  Ted flew to the hood of my SUV and began pecking at the windshield, beating his wings, and pooping all over everything. Apparently the honk was a challenge.  I moved back to the driver’s seat, and the damned bird followed my every move.  Out of curiosity, since I was pretty sure he couldn’t actually break the glass, I began bobbing my head from side to side, and he followed it!  He was pecking at my face in the glass.

I was obviously going to need outside assistance, yet nobody had come out of the house when I honked.  My husband’s car was not in the driveway but the kids should be home.  I called the house on my cell phone.  Nobody answered.  I cracked the window, and heard the sweet strains of Layla being played on an amped up electric guitar, Brian was home, but was never going to hear the phone. Now what?

I turned the car on thinking that would frighten Ted.  Nope, he did poop more though.  In the end, I ended up throwing the car into reverse, backing up at high speed, then slamming on the brakes, and Ted went flying off the hood of the car and landed in a heap on the driveway.

I thought about running him over, I really did.  I have never run anything over, not even suicidal squirrels by accident.  I struggled with myself, Ted was a homicidal maniac among birds, and the neighborhood would definitely be a safer place without him.  But, I was unscathed, Ted was obviously suffering from an overabundance of testosterone, which should go away in a few weeks, and he does have a brain only a third of the size of a golf ball.  Can you really give a living thing the death penalty for being horny, angry and stupid?  I mean, if you’re not in Texas?  After all if you did, you would probably lose a significant percentage of the human population.  In the end I drove around the block, and when I got home the yard was turkey free.

I went into the house, and Brian looked up from his guitar, “Hi Mum, how was your day?”  I said nothing…well nothing about the Turkey Attack; this bird thing is becoming a pattern.  I just couldn’t bear to be the source of another Mom was attacked by crazed birds story.  “My day was fine honey, how was school?”

Word Count: 1544