My Dad Died in Front of Me

December 23, 2017. Christmas Eve Eve. A day, for most, of last minute shopping and cooking, many people spending time with their families. It was that kind of day for me as well. I was home for the first time in four years for Christmas, finally with my family again. It was a good day.

Until my dad died in front of me.

The Perfect Holiday

I love Christmas. Seriously. Ever since I was a little kid, Christmas has been my thing. I had, and still have, an Advent calendar that I used to countdown the days until Christmas morning. When December hits, the magic begins. I would spend every day at school before break just thinking about how awesome break would be. Two weeks off from school! How could it get any better?

Both sides of my family did Christmas big. It was an all-day event for me. Wake up at home and go see what Santa left under my Christmas tree (it was always my tree). Go nuts while tearing apart all of the toy packages. I am an only child, thank God, so everything under the tree was mine. Then we would be off to my mom’s side of the family, where I was, for a while, the only grand kid. Again, everything under the tree was mine. The final stop was to my dad’s side of the family.

Now, his family is huge. Tons of people. Tons of fun. I will always remember everyone stuffing themselves into the living room around the giant tree (my grandfather loved having a giant tree, which the marks on the ceiling prove).

In short, Christmas has always been amazing.

The Holiday Changed

The official documents say, “Sudden cardiac death.”

It wasn’t that sudden.

My mom and I needed to get one more present for my dad. I had just finished mowing the backyard (it was warm that day). We decided to run across the street to a store three minutes away from the house. We were there a total of five minutes, getting my dad a sign that says, “Let the Sea Set You Free.” My dad is a huge Jimmy Buffet fan, so this went perfectly with the new Buffet album we bought him.

We were home ten minutes after we left.

I noticed that the lawn mower was now around front of the house and part of the lawn had been mowed. Dad had gotten it out, intent on getting the front finished.

You see, in 2011 dad had a stroke. He couldn’t walk or talk right after, but has since made a mostly full recovery. Don’t tell him he can’t do something, because he will set off and do it.

All Watson’s are notoriously hard-headed that way.

My mom and I walked in the door and dad was sitting in his usual chair with his always present green cup filled with ice water beside him. He was taking a rest, but said he needed to get the side yard finished with the mower. Mom sat on the couch and I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

One minute after we walked in, I heard my mom and I knew something was wrong.

“Honey, honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice not quite panicked, but heading that direction. I immediately went to the other room. Something was very wrong.

My dad was seizing up, his face red, veins in his head bulging. He couldn’t breath and it looked like he was trying to swallow his tongue.

It looked like a scene from a movie where someone gets poisoned. Remember Joffrey at his wedding? That’s what this looked like, but nobody was cheering.

At this point, something happened to me. I zoned out completely because I knew that emotion could play no part in what I was going to have to do. I had been an EMT for nine years, but had never worked on a family member. This was different.

Instinct took over.

Once I realized the danger of the situation, I ran to my phone and called 911. As soon as the operator picked up, the call dropped. I called right back and told them what was happening. This was all about 30 seconds after the incident began.

This whole time my mom was trying to get dad to tell her what was wrong, but he couldn’t. No words would come out, but you could see the panic in his eyes.

This is when my dad stopped. I can’t say he stopped breathing because he wasn’t doing that anyway. He just stopped. The life drained out of him.

He died.

I threw him out of his chair and onto the floor, handed the phone to my mom so she could talk to the dispatcher, and got ready for business.

If you’ve ever wondered if people really do turn blue when they stop breathing, stop wondering. They do, and it happens quickly.

I put my ear to his mouth and nose to listen for breathing and looked towards his chest for movement. Nothing.

I checked his neck for a pulse. Nothing.

Head tilt, chin lift, squeeze the nose. Just like they teach you. Two breaths. Chest rise? Check.

Begin compressions. Hands interlaced, find the right chest placement. Go.

Not to sound morbid, but they tell you that the best song to keep in your head when doing chest compressions is “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. It is important to keep the right pace with chest compressions, and the beat to this song does it just right.

As soon I started compressions I felt and heard the cracking. Ribs, cartilage, and sternum. All parts of the body not used to this kind of trauma. To get the necessary depth to keep the blood flowing, it has to be done.

Thirty compressions. Two more breaths. Thirty compressions. Two more breaths.

He tried to breath on his own.

I check for a pulse. None. His breathing stopped.

Resume CPR.

Thirty compressions. Two breaths. I hear the ambulance coming. Thirty compressions. Two breaths. Thank God I live on the same street as the fire station.

He takes another breath on his own. Still no pulse. Only one breath.

Thirty compressions. Two breaths.

At some point my mom had gone out to flag down the ambulance. They came in and took over. I watched at they continued CRP. The AED was hooked up.

Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.

I’m making phone calls to family members and letting them know what is going on. I’m looking for phone chargers because I know it will be a long day at the hospital…or somewhere else.

Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.

Shock.

At this point I was sitting with my mom and we decided to pray. Mom lead the prayer while EMS worked.

Also at some point he began breathing on his own, a pulse came back. They loaded him on the ambulance and took off for the hospital.

We followed shortly after. The thirty-minute ride to the hospital was remarkably calm for my mom and me. We had no idea what we would find out when we got there. It was really 50/50 whether he was alive or dead.

We walked into the ER waiting room and were told that someone would be with us shortly.

We waited an hour.

A nurse came to get us and led us to a waiting room with a doctor.

Dad was alive.

He was alive.

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January 1, watching the Outback Bowl. GO GAMECOCKS!

A New Beginning

My dad has now had a quadruple bypass to correct a serious arterial blockage. The night before the surgery, I took the dog outside. I was walking around the backyard, thinking. Praying. I just happened to look up to marvel at how clear the sky was when a shooting star sailed by. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. I made my wish.

He is going to be fine. The first few nights at the hospital were rough. He was on a ventilator until late the first night, which he wanted to rip out. The next few days were horrible, as he had aspirated a few times and sucked some of his December 23 lunch into his lungs. This led to a horrible cough.

Have you ever coughed with a cracked sternum, broken ribs, and torn up cartilage? It looks like it hurts.

The bypass led to another few nights of agony, but he did everything they asked him to do. He got up when they said get up, and walked when they said walk.

If you asked him now, he would tell you he was certain he was dying for two days straight. But things got better. The bypass saved his life.

We should have many more years to come.

And we can’t wait until next Christmas.

The Importance of CPR

If you don’t know CPR, you need to learn. You never know when you will need to use it on a loved one. Please don’t think you know it if the only place you’ve seen it done is on a medical TV show. Most of the time on the show, the person comes back. The reality is much worse.

In 2016, there were more that 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the US, according to the American Heart Association. Of those, 46.1 percent received CPR. Of those 46.1 percent, only 12 percent survived to be discharged from the hospital. That means that only around 19,000 of those 350,000 survive.

Many times, when CPR is performed, it is performed incorrectly. It is recommended that bystanders just perform chest compressions now, as doing that correctly will significantly improve the chances of survival. Many people were hesitant to perform CPR because of an aversion to the mouth-to-mouth part. I was a trained health-care professional, not to mention this was my dad, so I didn’t think twice.

It could be your mother or father. Your brother or sister. Your child. You really never know.

We were in celebration mode, happier than we had been in years. This still happened.

Don’t be caught off guard. Learn how to save a life.

If we had been at the store a minute longer, or if traffic had held us up, my dad would have died. We would have walked in and he would have been gone. I can’t explain the timing, but I’m glad we were there. I’m glad my mom and I worked together as a team to ensure my dad’s survival.

I can’t yet get the images of the incident out of my head. Maybe they’ll fade over time, maybe they’ll follow me for the rest of my life.

I’m just glad he’s alive.

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Charles Watson, a survivor.

 

 

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We Forgot, So Let’s Hope We Remember

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There were similar slogans in Germany in the 1930s.

Never forget that the Nazi party rose to power legally on a wave of nationalism.

Never forget that the Nazi party was a smaller faction of the German right wing…until they weren’t.

Never forget that the goal of the Nazi party was to extinguish left wing politics.

Never forget that Hitler and the Nazis coined the term “Lügenpresse.” Translated, this means “lying press.”

Never forget that German institutions slowly lost independent power, or became discredited, until Hitler had complete control.

Never forget what happened next.

We forgot.


Check out the whole article I wrote by clicking here.

 

Original post is from the Rural Urban Divide, a political outlet I write for.

Prejudiced Against Apathy

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I was asked a tough question in a job interview once. I was being interviewed by eight people at one time, with them taking turns asking questions. The last question, asked by a black woman, was, “Everybody has prejudices, what are some of yours?”

Wow. The question left no room for ambiguity. It did not give me the option to say, “I have no prejudices.” She wanted me to admit the ones that I have. I thought for a second then responded with what I am about to tell you now.

My prejudices are not geared towards anyone of a particular race or gender. I am not prejudiced against anyone because of their sexuality or religion. My prejudice is against people who have reached a point in their lives where they have decided they are finished improving. My prejudice is against apathy.

It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD or you are a high school dropout; a business owner or a fast food cashier. No matter your situation in life, you can always improve. There is always something more you can learn. Once you have decided that you are content where you are and have nothing more to gain, that is when society should decide it is finished with you. You are useless because you have become stagnant when your purpose is to grow.

Nelson Mandela was freed after nearly three decades in prison. Where would South Africa be if he decided that simply being free was enough for him? Abraham Lincoln was a successful lawyer and state politician. He could have become content. Where would our nation be if the Great Emancipator had decided to stay in Illinois and never run for president?

There is a doctor out there who might find the cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer, but what if that doctor decides to stop their research? After all, they are already a doctor. They have made it big in life.

Humans are made to strive for intelligence. We are born to innovate. We are supposed to contribute to those around us. First to our families and communities, then to society and humanity as a whole. We do not have time for anyone who thinks they can be finished; for those who think there is nothing more they can learn. Apathy makes you a sleep walker. A failure. If you have reached that point, you are invisible.

It is okay to not know something. What isn’t okay is not knowing something after you have had the opportunity to learn about it. At that point, it is okay to call you ignorant.

  • Allen Watson, 2014

The (Almost) Failed Republic

The British surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781 and George Washington took the oath of office to become president in April 1789. Yes, you are seeing that correctly – there was almost an eight-year lag time from the end of fighting to when our first president took office. What happened during those eight years was the first great experiment the United States undertook. It was an experiment of government that almost destroyed a nation that had just been born. It is also an example of how decentralized government can dissolve under its own weight.

Want to read the whole article I wrote? Go to The Rural Urban Divide and check it out!

The Rural Urban Divide

How I’m Making Money On UpWork As A Freelance Writer

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Author’s Note: This article was originally written in September 2017 and updated in December of 2017. The updates are at the end of the article.


At the end of July of 2017 I began looking at new ways to make some money. I love to write and ultimately want to publish some books. I began to wonder if I shouldn’t try to get some freelance writing jobs. About that time, my cousin suggested a site called UpWork. For those of you not familiar with UpWork, it was created after the merger of two other freelance connection sites – Elance and oDesk. UpWork, like its predecessors, works to link together clients with freelancers. The catch – they take a whole 20% of the total billed amount. Yes, this is a large percentage. That is the biggest downside to UpWork.

Let me give you a little background on my experience with the site as of right now.

Opening an Account

I was confused as all get out at first. I have never been a freelancer and I had no idea what to do on the site. Here are some steps you need to make BEFORE you start to submit proposals for jobs. Take a look at my profile here before you read on so you at least have a visual understanding of what I am talking about.

  • Ensure you complete your profile – There will be a meter telling you how much of your profile is complete. No client will bother with any freelancer who does not have a complete profile.
  • Photograph – You need to find a professional looking photo, preferably of you in business attire. You need to look friendly in the photo, as studies have shown that a simple smile can get you more jobs. I don’t know what program UpWork uses to ensure profile photos are good ones, but it is hard to get one approved (at least it was for me).
  • Profile Information – Go browse successful freelancers on UpWork and see what they put in their profile. Try to make yours look like theirs, just with your information. You need a good and to the point section to tell clients about you. I have changed mine regularly as I learn better ways to describe myself and my skills. You will have sections for your education, certifications, work history, and other experiences. Fill it out as much as you can but DO NOT LIE. If you lie and get caught up with work you can’t handle, it will be evident pretty quickly. (UPDATE ON PROFILE INFORMATION AT END OF THIS POST)
  • Payment Verified – When you browse UpWork clients and freelances, you will see a little mark signaling whether or not payment for that user has been verified. This is very important, as most people simply do not bother dealing with anyone unless they see the payment is verified. I don’t even look at clients who can’t verify how they will pay me and I don’t expect them to deal with me if I don’t verify mine. This is just another way to signal you are a real and serious freelancer.
  • Tests – UpWork offers hundreds of tests for you to prove your skills. These range from language skills, management skills, to programming skills. Take the ones that are relevant to the field you will be in. If you do well, they will say you scored in the top 10% or something similar and note that in your profile. You don’t have to have these tests visible on your profile if you don’t want, so don’t worry about taking one and failing it. Just know that you have to wait 3 months before you can take the same tests again. Why are the tests important? To show clients you really do know your stuff.
  • Portfolio – If you have some good samples of your work, you need to put them in your portfolio for clients to see. I lost my jump drive with all my old work, so I had to piecemeal mine together. As I continue to work, I add in new items that I think show my multiple skill sets.

UpWork Feedback

You won’t have any feedback when you start, which is the hardest thing to deal with. The main thing clients look at is a freelancer’s feedback history, just as it is the main thing you need to look at before deciding whether or not to work for a client. Since you have no feedback, the first job will be the hardest. How do you get feedback? Get some jobs and knock them out of the park like I did.

It will take the completion of about 5-10 jobs before you get a Job Success Score (JSS). You will notice when you start that most clients are looking for freelancers with a JSS of 90% or better. See my update about my JSS score at the end of the article.

Submitting Proposals on UpWork

Now what? It is time to browse and start submitting proposals. Search for jobs in your desired field. One trick I quickly learned – when searching, take OFF the filter that shows you jobs only in the US. All of the jobs I have gotten so far have come from overseas. As soon as you take the filter off, the number of available jobs usually triples.

You are given 60 CONNECTS each month with the basic free account. This will allow you to apply for 30 jobs, as each job usually requires 2 connects to apply. Once you use your connects, you can’t apply for any more jobs until your connects refresh the next month. I ran out the first month, but have learned to pace them. DO use them all, as they do not carry over.

When you find a job you might be interested in, just know that there is an art to submitting proposals. Remember this – there are foreigners who apply to every single job that pops up and they all use the same generic proposal cover letter.

  • Submit to each one with a new cover letter, not just a copy and paste generic letter. You need to show the client that you really read their job description (some have ways to verify this anyway). Here is a typical letter that I write (of course, I tailor it to each posting).

Hello,

I am interested in helping proofread and edit your statement of purpose. I have attached my resume so you can view my education and experience. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in teaching. I worked as a research assistant in graduate school. I spent much of my time in this job editing and proofreading scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles. I then went on to teach high school.

I am a native English speaker. I will use Track Changes in Microsoft Word so you can see what I change and make comments on.

I hope you find the right person for your job. Please feel free to ask me any questions necessary.

Allen W.


There are a few things to this. I offer my resume because it says more than I need to say in a cover letter and I am lucky to have an extensive one with great experience. I also offer the resume because I am still new on UpWork without a whole lot of feedback.

It is important to mention that you are a native English speaker. Most clients are looking for this, not a foreigner who says they know English. I have nothing against them, but their English skills will never quite grasp the language’s nuances needed for some jobs.

Notice how I mentioned specific things from the job posting and then I asked questions. It shows that I read their post and am interested, but not overly interested. Remember, you want jobs that are good fits for you and the clients, so don’t beg.

How Has UpWork Worked For Me?

On August 1st I got my first UpWork job. This was writing five articles about the United Nations for a Model UN website. It was for $50, of which I would receive $40. The articles needed to be about 1000 words each. I got lucky – I’ve created Model UN teams as two high schools. I nailed the articles well ahead of the deadline and submitted them. The client loved them and immediately offered more.

THE BEST WAY TO MAKE MONEY ON UPWORK IS TO MAKE THE CLIENTS HAPPY SO THEY KEEP YOU ON CONTRACT.

Every client I’ve had so far has used me again immediately after I submitted the first job. Good, fast work leads to recurring clients.

On August 7th I got an entirely different job with an advertising firm. I was to take 60 sentences and rewrite each one three times without changing the meaning – $40 charge. They would then choose the one that works the best for ads. Well, this is nothing like anything I’ve ever done, but I wanted to try. I love writing and I’m good with words. Turns out, I did it in a few hours. I made about $20 an hour with this job. When I turned it in the client was so impressed that they immediately gave me another set. They also left great feedback.

On September 4th I saw a job that involved taking photographs of certain rooms in a house, giving the photo a title, and writing a one sentence description about them. The job offered $20 for 100 descriptions. I bid on it, but I didn’t bid at $20. I bid at $25. Why? Because I know my value and that is what I would do it for. I was actually surprised when the client contacted me the next morning, asked for a few samples, and hired me at the higher price. I finished the job in two days and they offered unlimited work for me. Another recurring client.

So, that is my experience so far. I am certainly not making mega dollars, but I am able to do this work from anywhere with an internet connection. As my feedback increases, I expect to get better work. I have upped my hourly charge once and will do so again once I get a few more jobs under my belt. I always look at profiles of successful freelancer on UpWork to see if I can make my profile better.

I will continue to update this post about once a month. I will let you know whether or not this is something I will stick with. Only time will tell. Again, take a look at my page for some ideas of how to set yours up.


December 2017 Update

Since my last post, I have done better on UpWork, though I have not made it to the level I want yet. I began using UpWork in August of 2017. In September I doubled my money from August. In October I doubled September. November was about the same.

I’ve learned a few things from these last few months on the platform.

One is this – it takes time to get a reputation built. Though I managed to get some pretty good jobs, I’ve been hampered by one piece of feedback. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad, but it hurt. It was from an editing test job I took for $12, hoping to secure long-term work for them. Well, one I started, I realized the article was written in English by someone who had such a poor grasp of the language they might as well have been speaking toddler. I cleaned it up the best I could and sent it back. Overall, my feedback score for that job was 4.6 out of 5. Not bad, but because I didn’t have much feedback yet, it bumped my overall Job Success Score (JSS) down to an 80%. That is important because most clients want freelancers with a 90% or better JSS. So, I’ve spend time trying to build that back up. Look at my page now and you will see I’ve gotten it up to 86% and when the next update comes, I should be well above the 90% mark (It updates every 2 weeks).

I’ve also learned that there will be slow weeks. November was depressing until the end when I got absolutely slammed with work. All I had for three weeks was one of my long-term clients until the fourth week of the month. Suddenly, I had five jobs going at once.

One thing I did do was change my profile. I asked one of the highest paid freelancers on the platform to look at my profile and tell me what they thought about it. They did, and they basically told me it sucked. They said it was like every other profile on the site. Nothing on it was catchy. If you look now, I decided to go the humorous route. The profile I have now is different and had gotten more views since I published it.

I raised my rate as well. As I have now shown that I’m capable of quality work, I’m now at $50 an hour. I think that is a good rate to show I mean business. It’s not too low or too high.

I’m going to keep it up. I enjoy being able to work from wherever I can get an internet connection. You are just as likely to find me at home in my pajamas as you are at Starbucks or Panera Bread. I just want to get it to a sustainable income level.

Succeeding takes patience and the ability to do good, quality work. Without either, you will find UpWork a waste of your time.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or contact me through email or social media.

The UpWork social media team sent me an UpWork t-shirt and notebook!

Since I Started High School

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I’m starting a post about the state of the US when I started high school. I hope others will write their own. I’ve found it interesting to look back and see what was going on when I started high school. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know about the world then, so going back and looking at all the news highlights, knowing what I know now, is a journey. I didn’t actually intend on this being anything but a fun post, but reality set in as I started to write.

I started high school in the year 2000. Bill Clinton was president, but as we all know, it was an election year. THE election year. Bush versus Gore. The outcome would shape everything I’ve known since.

When I started high school:

  • Y2K turned out to be just a big party
  • The US had a $232 billion SURPLUS not a deficit
  • Gas was $1.26 per gallon
  • Unemployment was at 3.8% (an absurdly low rate)
  • The Yankees won the World Series, the Rams won the Superbowl
  • Survivor was the number one show (can’t believe that show is still around)
  • Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Eminem, blah, blah, blah

We should have known things were brewing. In 2000:

  • The Pyrenean Ibex went extinct
  • The Dot-Com bubble burst
  • Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia (I mean, damn, he’s still there)
  • I’m sure I was wearing ridiculous clothing held over from the 90’s

I started high school before the Supreme Court put George Bush in office, changing the next few decades of military and political roles and influence. It was before 9/11, an event that taught Americans that our isolation can be violated. It reopened the wounds of those who lived through Pearl Harbor and taught a new generation that the days of our invulnerability were gone. For a moment in time, though, it united the country as we tried to heal.

When I started high school, I thought the idea of war was cool (having not learned what war really was). The invasion of Iraq had my full support. I didn’t understand then, when I started high school, that my country was capable of mistakes.

We started the year 2000 with hope. Hope for our booming economy. Hope for global partnership. We were boosted up for a new millennium, so full of energy that anything seemed possible. If the year 2000 taught us anything, it’s that things can change.

Since the year I started high school, things have changed. The victor of the 2000 election was handed one of the worst situations our country has ever faced, and he handled it well…at first. He attacked those we thought were responsible, then abused our blank check to start a war with someone else.

In 2000, our economy was so good that we couldn’t know that a combination of 90’s mortgage policies and labor union exploitation would set off a major economic disaster. We couldn’t know that our hopes would be dashed by 2007, but renewed in 2008 when we thought racism was on its way to defeat. Our first black president would bring us together, or so we thought.

Since 2000, a hurricane in one of our oldest cities taught us that underlying racial tensions can lead to delayed assistance for those who need it the most. Since then, race has taken center stage. Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott. Ferguson and Baltimore. In my home state, a sick and deranged young man murdered nine African Americans in Charleston. In a church. I wish he was alone in his thinking, but after what we all just saw in Charlottesville, Virginia, we know better.

Black Lives Matter was born because of much of this, though we should have never gotten to a place where we had to be reminded that anyone’s lives matter. How is it that we don’t know, don’t realize, that every single life should matter?

Just a thought, but most of that happened under a black president.

How could we know, in 2000, that a real estate businessman, a reality TV joke, would become president of our country. We should have known. We would have known, if we had been careful in monitoring just how much certain groups in this country were looking for an answer to the hate they had been building. We’d have seen those who were just waiting to hear their dreams spoken by a demagogue who could disguise their ideals inside the guise of patriotic nationalism. Too bad we never paid attention to 1930s German history.

Yes, we’ve had trouble since 2000.

And damn, here’s what’s happening now:

But we’re not going to give up. I didn’t know about these issues when I started high school, but now I do. I know how to write, so I’ll figure it out that way. I would never have come out back then, but now I have. We’ll make it through this okay. Just hold on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride.

My Solar Eclipse 2017 Experience

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I just got home from watching the solar eclipse with my parents. We live in Surfside Beach, SC, so we didn’t get complete totality like they did in Columbia or Charleston, but that didn’t matter. It was an amazing experience! We were nervous for a little while. All we heard the entire morning was thunder and there were clouds covering the entire sky up until twenty minutes before it began. Then they just parted! Everywhere around us had clouds except for where we were.

I love to write. It’s what I do for a living. My goal is always to put value into each sentence I create, something that will evoke emotions from the reader. Well, nothing brings emotions to the surface like the natural world. To watch something so beautiful, so completely beyond what words can express, is simply awesome. We are powerless when it comes to the natural world. We let it do what it wants and hope for the best. Today, we got to see some true natural beauty.

Here are some pictures of the day. I didn’t get very good photos of the actual eclipse with my phone, so no shots of that. Have a great day everyone!

 

Need Your Thoughts! Chapter One of First Draft

Hey all! This is the first draft of chapter one of the new book I’m working on. The book is called “Southern Defiance” and will revolve around growing up on a Southern plantation  in Charleston shortly before the Civil War. It will focus on the plantation owner’s son and his best friend, who happens to be a slave on the plantation.

I’d love to know if you would be interested after reading the first chapter. I have NOT edited, so you can ignore any errors. Thanks all!

Chapter 1, Draft 1 – Southern Defiance

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Arnie Jackson certainly had to give it to the man in front of him. Ninety years old and still moving around like a man of seventy. Of course, when you manage to amass a fortune like Joel Canton’s, life tended be a bit easier. Arnie attempted to help the old man sit in his chair, but there was no need. Mr. Canton handled it just fine. It was hot out, as Charleston usually was in July, but Canton didn’t seem to notice. He just sipped his tea and watched the people on the street walk by, as he had been doing for decades.

Arnie, on the other hand, was not from the South. He was from New York and wasn’t very happy about being sent to South Carolina for this assignment, but his editor wanted him.

“You’re the only one he’ll talk to,” his boss told him.

“And why is that?” Arnie replied. There was nothing special about him, save that he liked cats. No man he knew actually liked cats. No man he knew who would admit it anyway.

Seeing the puzzled look on his face, his editor elaborated. “Bring Rayne.”

Rayne was Arnie’s longtime girlfriend. They had met at a rather progressive bar nine years before. They hit it off so well the first night that there was no courtship needed. Arnie brought her back to his apartment that night and, despite his underperforming that first time, she stayed with him. Her fidelity had been unwavering for all those years, as had his. Yet despite his multiple attempts to get Rayne to marry him, she always said no. She said there was no way it could work. You see, Rayne Adams was black.

So he brought Rayne with him. Brought her to the South, in the early 1900’s, to the state that fired the first shots, the state that first succeeded. He brought his black girlfriend to South Carolina. All so that Joel Canton would talk to him. The funny thing was that it worked.

“Mr. Jackson,” said Mr. Canton.

“Please,” Arnie stopped him, “I insist you call me Arnie.”

“Very well,” Mr. Canton replied, “but you’ll gave to call me Joel then.”

“Alright, Joel,” said Arnie. “I’d like to start with your background. You’re from Charleston, correct?”

“Oh yes,” Joel said with the wave of a hand, gesturing to some unknown place down the road. “I grew up on the Canton Plantation about five miles down the road there.”

“It was an indigo plantation, was it not?”

“It was,” relied Joel. “It was either that or rice in this climate. Father placed his bet on the wealthy wanting color in their fabrics. He made the right bet.”

“Mr. Canton,” said Arnie, “you are one of the wealthiest men in America. How did you get from Charleston, South Carolina, to the inner circles of power in the country?”

Joel Canton set his tea down and stood. He looked down at the street then walked back into the house. Arnie wondered if he had said something to upset the old man, but he heard him coming back a few seconds later. When he returned he had a bottle of what looked like whisky in his hand. He tipped a generous amount into his tea and then into Arnie’s. Joel sat back down and took a long sip. Staring down the road, towards where he said the plantation was, he shook his head.

“I reckon it’s time for a few stories to be told,” he said. “Some confessions to be made.”

Arnie got out his pen and pad. He had known Joel Canton for only a few days, but this was the first time he had seen him become so serious. Usually he was lighthearted, always armed with a joke. He flirted shamelessly with Rayne on their first night there, but Arnie didn’t mind. He was just happy Mr. Canton was happy. Now, though, he could see the mood shifting.

“Confessions?” Arnie asked.

“My memory is pretty good and I very much hate lying,” Joel said. “This story starts in 1855. And 1836. Well, I guess in 1861 as well. You’re going to have to bear with me here.

And so began the most incredible story. A story so remarkable that if Arnie hadn’t seen the proof and the sheer look of truth in the old man’s eyes, he would never have believed it. The story that Mr. Joel Canton told to Arnie Jackson and Rayne Adams over the next few weeks would astound them. By the time the tale was over, Arnie knew he wouldn’t be working for the paper much longer. No, he was going to write a book and make millions. Here, friends, is Arnie’s story about the life of Joel Canton.

White People Should Stay Silent?

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(Photo Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It won’t happen often, but I want to deviate away from the normal type of blog posting to discuss some current events. We all know what is going on in Charlottesville, VA. White Supremacists have proven once again that they have a strong support group and are willing to commit violence to back their cause. Full disclosure: I am a white liberal and not at all a Donald Trump supporter. This post will not go into politics. I want to talk about the anger some, and I stress the word some, black people have towards white people right now and give my take on it.

I’m active on Twitter, but I try not to get goaded into any crazy Tweet battles. Unfortunately, I have seen many posts from some black people who are angry about whites using the hastag #ThisIsNotUs, or similar expressions, in their efforts to disavow the supremacists. Here is just one of many examples I have come across.

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As I started to look around Twitter for similar themes, I was met with a barrage of similar responses. Unfortunately, they did not offer a common solution. Some blacks expressed outrage like the one above and some said that whites are responsible for everything and we are not owning up to it. Therefore, they conclude, we should not speak out. Ignoring the logical fallacy of statements like that, I want to discuss their argument.

I taught high school history, so I wish they wouldn’t presume to think all whites do not understand. While I’m not black, we share a common history. My history was just on the other side. To say that I can never reach a point of understanding that will satisfy you is basically saying there is no hope for the future. So, let me, as a white guy, tell you what I do understand.

I understand that our slavery began in the 1600s and was the most brutal, long lasting institution the US has ever used. I understand that it was not ever humane, no matter how well some people claim slaves were treated. Slavery is never humane. I understand that whites in this country fought to keep slavery long after every other global community disowned it, but I also know that whites fought hard on the other side to rid our country of the horror.

I understand that slavery ended in 1865, but it ended in name only. Oppression was just getting started at that point. I understand that the end of Reconstruction in the South opened the way for Jim Crow laws, Black Codes, and the most incredibly inhumane treatment of people that was possible. Lynching, dragging behind horses, torture. And that’s just the physical treatment. I understand the KKK was and still is the worst hate group this country has produced and that whites could have ended this at any time, if they wanted. If they had the collective will. They didn’t. While not all were extreme racists, most though of blacks as inferior.

I understand that it took the incredible bravery of a generation of black Americans to begin the change that we have yet to complete. I understand there were many camps in the Civil Rights Movement, and I do understand why they were all necessary. Martin Luther King and Malcom X vastly differed in their approach, but both men’s methods were born of a long, weary road of pain. I understand but cannot comprehend the courage it took Oliver Brown to muster to sue and overturn Plessy v Ferguson, one of the worst decisions in our Supreme Court’s history. I understand but cannot fathom the earth shattering fear those nine girls must have experienced walking through the doors of Little Rock Central High School.

I understand that we’ve reached a tipping point once again and I understand why.

I grew up white, not black, but I know that every black person faces things that I will never face. Walking into a store, they will be watched closer than me. White people may cross the street to walk on the other side when they see a young black man coming towards them. Entire black communities try to survive day after day without their men because the laws in this country, created almost solely by white men, have incarcerated them at incredibly high rates, causing irreparable systemic damage. Single black mothers fight for their children, only to see society often treat them as lesser. I’ve personally seen teachers make the mistake of presuming a black child can’t possibly know as much as a white one and I’ve seen a group of black girls at a church event get called the “n” word by a group of white boys as those boys rode by in their jacked up truck. I couldn’t find the words to say to apologize to those girls, but I know they will never forget that.

I’ll wrap this up because I know this is getting long. My point is this – I will not stay silent and I don’t care who gets mad at me, white or black people. Don’t presume to understand me and what I know. I’ll listen to you and you listen to me. We beat this together, not divided. Trust me, there are plenty of white people like me. It’s just a loud minority that’s making noise right now, and we’ll see it fixed.

Reading Across the Genres

I think we all know how important reading is for our writing. I am willing to say that there is no way you will ever become a successful writer if you aren’t also an avid reader. What I want to open is a discussion on is the importance of reading multiple genres.

I had a hard enough time switching my writing style from technical academic research writing to fiction. Dialogue was an absolute pain for me to get down. The only writing I had done up to four years ago was purely for my college and research career. I wasn’t aided by the fact that science fiction was my only reading genre. I used to read only science fiction. Seriously, that was it.

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I have been gone for a while. I’ve been doing a ton of research and have outlined approximately four books that I am beginning to work on. During my time away, something magical happened. I began to read everything.

Genres

Over the last four years I have read everything except science fiction. Don’t get me wrong, sci-fi is my first love, but I am now in an open relationship with many other genres (to the complete dismay of sci-fi). I have read romance, fantasy, horror, suspense thrillers, LGBT, and young adult books across the spectrum. I have read books from the most basic, easy to read, to challenging brain-burners. From 200 pages to 1400.

I can absolutely guarantee that my writing has improved five-fold since then and it has everything to do with my new reading experiences. I have gone back and looked at some of the stuff I was writing four and five years ago. While it wasn’t horrible, it is nowhere near what I am producing now. Thanks to these last few years of massive reading consumption, over 250 books, I have been introduced to new worlds, new words, and new wisdom.

We all get stuck reading certain types of books. We have our favorites. We know what mine was. Your favorite might be everything Charlaine Harris and all things supernatural. Maybe you love Danielle Steel. Stephen King versus Dean Coontz. It is okay to have a favorite, but it’s time to challenge yourself to try something new.

I haven’t even discussed those who think reading fiction is a waste of time. These types stick to non-fiction books such as histories and biographies. This is a complete disservice to your brain. Non-fiction is essential as well, but it won’t stretch your creativity as much as fiction.

As writers, we have to do everything we can to improve our skills. Reading is the absolute best way to expand our vocabulary. Reading across genres helps us evaluate the styles used and take what works for us. How can you write a love scene for your kickass bank thief if you’ve never read a proper romance novel? If you intend to target and conquer the huge and ever expanding young adult market, you’ll never do so if you aren’t well read in the YA genres. They have their own style and pace.

If you already read across genres, help me out. Has it helped your writing? Leave me some comments. If you don’t yet read multiple genres, tell me what’s holding you back.

ALSO – tell me what your favorite genre is! We all have one, so let’s admit it. Like I said, I fall back on science fiction when I need some comfort.

I challenge you to go out today and buy a book that you know you wouldn’t normally buy. Give it a chance. Write a review for it. You might find you enjoyed getting out of your comfort zone.