Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I won Honorable Mention! Here's Writer's Digest Review of my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN


I paid $99 to enter my e-book into the Writer's Digest Self Published Book Competition. I would say that I got my money's worth.  I received Honorable Mention.  It wasn't the DREAM PRIZE, $5,000 and an agency contract, plus a lot of major attention.  The review tells me that the reviewer understood the book's basic theme.  The only thing he missed is how often the book is very funny. So.. Here it is.


Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5



Judge’s Commentary*: 

 Confessions Of An Honest Man by Arthur Rosch brings the reader a story of conflict, abuse of different sorts, family dysfunction and eventual triumph over obstacles. This novel is skillfully written to give insight into some dark places of life without overwhelming the reader. The protagonist, Aaron Kantro, carries an awesome burden on his shoulders from first page to last.  As we follow his story and his commitment to his musical calling we are given glimpses of others who are part of Aaron's life. The story spans several decades from Aaron's boyhood to becoming a parent.A highly dysfunctional family sets the tone for all of Aaron's woes.  An abusive mother who suffers mental illness takes a toll on the lives of her children and spouse. As Aaron discovers the call of his muse to music, his mother thwarts his every effort to success.  Despite her obstruction, Aaron climbs his way to success in the face of his own and others' abuse of drugs.  The author gives an excellent insight to the effects of parental abuse on the other members of Aaron's familly.  This book is  an excellent read if more than a bit dark at times.  The ultimate triumph is worth the agonizing stops along the way with Aaron, Zoot and the rest.  Rosch has carefully constructed good characterizations, good dialogue and good descriptive passages.  This is likely a book I would not have picked up on my own but I am better for having read it.  It is one that I will carry with me for a long time.  Confessions Of An Honest Man should achieve wide readership and success.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Perils Of Getting Out Of Bed



 



             

In 2005 my spouse and I moved out of an absurdly expensive cabin in the woods and bought a 38 foot motor coach.  We had decided to make a major change of lifestyle.  It was an audacious and risky move, loaded with potential pitfalls.  But it worked.  We got out of our "stick house" and got into a slightly cramped but homey RV. 
            Our original plan included travel.  We crossed the country once, and went on assorted adventures, but the price of gasoline kept rising and our incomes kept falling.
            The RV became a home in a campground where the rent is cheap and all the normal conveniences of civilization are available.  Internet: check.  TV: check. Phone, water, power, sewage: check check check check.
            We love our 38 foot motor coach and we live amicably with two dogs and three cats, surrounded in a campground by a motley bunch of people from all walks of life.
            Our flat screen TV is in the bedroom.  There are cabinets and drawers, windows and fans.  The arrangement of space and the existence of five animal friends imposes one giant fact of life upon us: the only way on or off our bed is from the bottom.  Crawl in, crawl out, head first or butt first or any way you can.  It's a form of gymnastics.  Adding to the complexity of getting in and out of bed is the fact that there are two sets of doggie steps at the bottom of the bed.  Our actual exit/entrance is about two feet of space between these steps.  What's the story? you may ask.  The answer is twofold.  One, our bed sits higher than the normal bed because that's how RV beds are designed.  They are set on a swinging slab of plywood that can be opened to reveal a large storage space. 
            Our cats could get up and down without a problem, but when our teeny miniature poodles arrived we found ourselves being constantly disturbed by whines and whimpers.  I want down.  I want up.  I want down.  I want up.
            We ordered this cool set of pet steps: a five step staircase that fit perfectly into our domain.  Gabriel, the smaller dog, loves them.  Bear, the bigger dog (Gabriel's dad) is terrified by the steps and no amount of cajoling or training will get him to use them. Being the utter saps that we are, we left Bear's stool in place at the right end of the bed, put Gabe's steps on the left and there you have it!  No whines or whimpers.  Gabe up, Gabe down, Bear up, Bear down, end of story.  Each of our poodles is about the size of a shoebox.  They're half the size of our smallest cat.  They like sleeping and lazing underneath blankets or within piles of pillows.  There is a rigorous discipline involved in the act of moving to and from the bed.  We must ALWAYS know the location of the animals.  It has become second nature to make a mental map of the bed before moving in any direction.
We feel our way, hands, eyes, entire bodies recording the positions of our loved creatures.  And it's been good; no one's been hurt.  Perhaps, even, the exercise and stretching keeps us loose and more fit than might otherwise be the case.  There are times when I find myself in familiar yoga poses, contorted but otherwise successfully moving to my destination.
            Getting out of bed is a job.  Getting out of bed is a job that has to be done cheerfully in spite of wake-up wrath, grogginess, the pukes, piddles or poops.
            I might interject here that my spouse and I live this way with very little inhibition.  We show tender compassion toward one another's aging bodies.  Life is inherently humiliating as it is; we are careful to grant ourselves some dignity as a couple in a life-long process.
            So...if I say that we have a rare intimacy, I believe it's true.  It may be commonplace for all I know, but I suspect otherwise.  I'm not sure that a great majority of couples are as close as The Fox and I are to one another.  There isn't any choice.  An RV is an environment that is not conducive to privacy. 
            Getting in and out of bed is a procedure that induces uncommon positions and viewpoints.
            It is time now for me to give you another piece of information about myself:
I tend to fall asleep in unusual positions and at unusual times.
            Talk about full moons!  At this point, if you are a bit prudish or tightly wrapped about certain normal anatomical realities, I suggest you stop reading and find an issue of Vanity Fair or O(prah).
            The Fox and I are in our sixties.  I'm not sure how this happened.  The God Of Hippie Fantasies promised that we would never get older than thirty five.  Anything after that was like one of those thirteenth century maps of the world.  HERE LIVE DRAGONS, says the map and that's how we felt.  Old age didn't exist.  It would never exist. 
            We weren't going to be sixty or sixty five.  Hell no!  Something would intervene to ensure our youthfulness.  We would discover that the juice of wild onions mixed with the nectar of rare orchids would halt the aging process.  Or something like that.  Getting old just wasn't real.  It would never happen.
            Before we met, The Fox and I lived wild and crazy lives.  We were in dangerous places, courting viruses or murder and dismemberment, to say nothing of derangement of the senses, intellect and terminal brain damage.
            Somehow we ducked under those scythes.  We survived, and the onion juice/rare orchid miracle didn't happen.  What is it that people say?  That today's sixty is yesterday's fifty?  What bullshit.  Today's sixty is more like seventy.  Baby boomers have lived risky lives, imbibed quantities of exotic stuff, participated in the great Toxic Democracy, watched fifty billion bullets and ten billion bombs explode all over the world, fled from toxic clouds and radioactive dust storms.  We've lived in apocalyptic terrifying times!  It's stressful!  It beats down those lovely anti-oxidants that we're supposed to cultivate.
            What the hell do we do now?  Am I going to have to be seventy?  Just wake up one day, bam!  I'm seventy? No!  Nuh-uh.  Fuck this.
            Time moves awfully fast.  Time is sneakier than a weasel stalking a raven's egg.
            I can fall asleep with a book in my hand and a mouth full of raisins.  I can look perfectly awake but I am sound asleep.  I can raise myself up on my left elbow to look out the window and fall asleep, halfway between up and down.  I can, so I am told, walk to the fridge, make myself a waffle, then walk away and get back into bed.  Eyes open but sound asleep.
            The Fox and I have had a rough year.  I lost a job I'd had for nearly thirty years.  I had worked as manager of a large commercial property.  Great job.  Name my hours.  No supervision.  Decent pay. Then the property owner died suddenly.  One day last year I got a letter giving me thirty days' notice.
            It's been that kind of year.  The Fox suffers from auto-immune diseases. 
I have the feet of a hundred year old longshoreman. I don't walk, I hobble.
When an opportunity comes along that gives us a good belly laugh, we cherish the moment like precious treasure.
            Last week I woke up to take my two o'clock pee.  I'm lucky I only pee twice a night.  My prostate must be the size of a football.  What is a prostate, anyway?  It seems to be a gender-specific time bomb buried just behind men's nuts.  Thanks, god.  Thanks for the prostate.  Great invention.
            Anyway, as I was sitting there taking my usual ten minutes to pee, The Fox woke up and slithered from bed.  It was time for her two-fifteen pee and she stood before me in the dark, waiting patiently.
            "You know what you did last night?" she asked, unexpectedly.  We don't talk much in the middle of the night.  We mumble and stumble, grunt and nod until our missions are accomplished.
            I didn't say anything.  She was going to tell me.
            "You got to your knees, turned around and started getting out of bed, head first.  Like you did just now.  Except that as your head reached the bottom of the bed,  your elbows folded, you laid your head in your hands and you fell back to sleep."
            I already had the picture.  I am a big hairy Jewish man.  As I crawled forward, dodging three cats and two dogs, I ran out of steam and fell asleep with my ass in The Fox's face. 
            I started laughing.  It was late and our neighbors are pretty close so my laugh was a high pitched "heee heeee" but it was still satisfying.
            "Your snore was so rhythmic" Fox continued.  "The night lights gave me a full view of  your full moon and I thought maybe I could play bongos on your butt, maybe they would be tuned to nice pitches, maybe a minor third between them so it would sound like 'Sing Sing Sing'.  But I didn't want to wake you."
            I was tweeting like a canary I was laughing so hard and trying not to roar as I might in broad daylight.
            "I thought you'd wake up eventually and finish your chore.  As long as you didn't fart or something, what harm could  your ass do to me?  I was willing to take that chance.  You were so deeply asleep; and of course I think you're cute from any angle, so I figured 'what's the harm?'.
            We were both giggling like children.  Oh my god!  You just had to be there.
            I did of course wake up after about five minutes and complete my forward facing slink off the bed, snaking my way down with the help of the doggie steps, none the wiser regarding the comic episode I had gifted to my spouse until she told me this story the following night.
            Have I embarrassed anyone by telling this tale?  I couldn't care less.  We have been betrayed by the God Of Hippie Fantasies.  There is no magic wild onion/orchid juice to reverse our neuropathies, our arthritis, our pops and twinges, our encroaching deafnesss, blindness and dithering mental acuity.  I hereby decree that growing old is an activity of heroes, that it takes major guts to manage the passages that lead us to the Great Light that waits beyond death.
            And if there is no Great Light?  Then we will turn back to behold our brief and insignificant life experiences and know that this WAS the Great Light, one that we weren't able to recognize until after we had lived it.
           

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Start With "Crazy"



The U.S. Of A resembles one giant dysfunctional family.  Those on the left regard their cousins on the right as malignant idiots.  Those on the right regard their cousins on the left as elitist saboteurs of democracy.  The squabbling is endless.  Tempers flare, voices are raised. Weapons are brandished and occasionally they are used to murder people. Before Donald Trump came to office this friction stayed mostly within a healthy parameter.  We were engaged in The Great American Debate regarding the nature and function of government.  Sadly, History has shown that we are capable of doing terrible violence to one another.  The extremist talk that's making its rounds scares the hell out of me.  When a spokesman for a powerful gun association accuses "Liberals" of brainwashing and manipulating high school students, I wonder if he actually believes what he is saying, or whether he is saying these things as part of a script.  Either way, such ideas reek of malice. I don't trust extremists on either end of the spectrum.  We're losing the moderate center, and we're losing it to those who have some concealed reason for inciting animosity between Americans. I don't know what a functional family looks like, but I imagine it's one in which members support one another with compassion and generosity.  This is not what today's America looks like.  Instead of mutual support  I see hostility, contempt and rancor. I see blame and a failure of individuals to critically examine their own thinking, just in case they might be wrong about some of their beliefs.

It is vital that we always hold up our beliefs to scrutiny.  We should examine our own minds and belief systems with great care.  People hold their opinions with tight death grips because they are frightened.  That fear generates bloodshed.

One of our greatest disasters is the connection between politics and money.  Only the rich can afford the towering cost of running campaigns.  Thus we are dominated by the agendas and tactics of the rich and powerful.  We ARE an  oligarchy.  We are actually something far worse, we are a Kakistocracy.  That's a newly popular word that originated in ancient Greece.  It means "government by the worst".  Every day we are regaled to a cast of venal operators whose appearance suggests that they are wearing horror movie clown faces.  If we need a reform urgently, before we reform gun laws, before we reform immigration policy, before we change ANYTHING, we need to reform campaign finance.  We need to bring a new method of choosing the people who make the laws by which we are governed. We need to get money out of politics.  I don't know how we'll achieve that.  The fox is already guarding the hen-house.  We need something akin to a revolution, one that is miraculously shorn of bloodshed.   

American culture is a multi-headed hydra.  It's brilliant and it's toxic. Over the decades, life has become more and more expensive in the U.S.A.  This "free" country charges an exorbitant price. The complex demands of a consumer society weigh heavily on its citizens.  Young people are especially vulnerable when they feel an avalanche of expectations laid upon them.  If they're to have a decent future, if they're to 'get ahead' they need to have stellar grades, be models of civic action, join clubs, demonstrate competence in multiple disciplines and volunteer to help the afflicted. It doesn't hurt if they're also athletic and good looking.  Who can fit into that template?  Who can get into an Ivy League school and graduate with an MBA and show the drive that's required in our heated business world?  What about the average kids?  It's said that everyone is good at something but the complexity of our culture is robbing ordinary people of a future  All the while a torrent of image and information comes pouring through the Internet, television, movies, radio, advertisements and smart phones.   This information chaos skews our perceptions and encourages depression and confusion.  Take a look at any waiting room or bus stop..  The people aren't talking to one another.  Their eyes are glued to the screens of their phones.  Americans may be the loneliest people in history. 

Recently a depressed and unstable eighteen year old murdered seventeen high school students with an AR-15 assault rifle.  Today  I heard the tape of a 9-1-1 call  made by this child about a year ago, just days after his mother died.  I felt such pity for him.  I couldn't help it!  I'm outraged at his evil, but I imagine that he felt abandoned and terrified.

In a nation of more than three hundred million people, there are millions who aren't being seen and cared for.  So many people fall through the cracks, yet we are armed to the teeth and waiting for some catastrophe so we can discern which are the good guys and which are the bad guys.  We are better than this.  Our president suggests that we give weapons to school teachers, that they may protect their students.  This epic dumb idea will create a new class of suicides.  We'll be adding Death By Teacher to the already climbing incidents of Suicide By Cop.  We aren't going to purge this nation of firearms.  Guns are deeply embedded in our national DNA.  There are immutable historical reasons for this situation.  Guns will always be a part of our cultural nervous system. 

It would be better to try to stop being crazy.  Because we are...crazy...we're bat-shit crazy.  Our minds can only cope with so much signal intensity before they start to smell like fried wiring inside the walls.  That's where I would start, anyway.  I would accept the fact that I am crazy, I'm disturbed and I need to look for someone who can help me. If I were to pin a diagnosis on Americans it would be that we suffer Bi-Polar Disorder wrapped up in a mantle of PTSD.

Maybe I'll call the Norwegians.  Or the Dutch.  

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Conscious Agent



You are a conscious agent, living within a human body.  When the lungs stop breathing, when the heart stops beating, the conscious agent packs up the tools it needs for its next journey.  Where will the conscious agent be going?  That depends on a lot of things.  Destiny is a very large word.  It’s also an unavoidable word.  Every creature has a destiny.  Every sentient, thinking and feeling creature has a destiny that is an outcome from the way the particular life has been lived.  The events of each life are decided outside of time, hence, they are immutable.

You and I can’t change what is going to happen.  The only thing we can change, as conscious agents, is our response to what happens.  That response is the instrument of change in the next existence. 
             
You can’t change the life you’re in, but you can use the life you’re in to change the next life you will live.

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