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The Daily Prompt: Breaking the Ice

The internet has recently been swept up by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Is there a cause — social, political, cultural, or other — you passionately believe in? Tell us how you got involved — or why you don’t get involved.

It’s admirable that the ALS Association started a viral campaign that has raised awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Just as it’s great that year in and year out, Revlon hosts a 5K/Walk-a-thon to raise awareness of breast cancer. “Movember” – Mustache November — raises awareness of prostate cancer. Jerry Lewis hosts a telethon for muscular dystrophy. There are a gazillion causes out there, and yet the ALS Challenge is the one that currently grabs everyone’s attention. I don’t quite get how one gets sucked into this whole “viral” thing. Is it peer pressure? Coercion? A mob effect? For all its good intentions, the message of ALS might have gotten lost on the wayside, by and large. Not on me, however. Lou Gehrig’s disease is a debilitating disease that many of us are already aware of. Stephen Hawking is perhaps its most famous living spokesperson. Many others aren’t so lucky to be in such a position. I lost a friend who suffered from ALS. I don’t need a cute viral campaign to remind me.

There’s more to my aloofness. It’s not so much that I’m being a rebel. In a certain context that would be a sort of attention-grabbing posturing. I certainly don’t need any more than what I get on a daily basis. Call it skepticism, for lack of a better word. There’s really nothing wrong with having a little fun, dousing your friends in ice water, especially on a hot summer day. Nothing wrong with going viral with it. But in the bigger scheme of things, when the things that draw 90% of the world’s attention are ice-bucket challenges and vainglorious selfies, when there are riots, wars, and beheadings going on…  then something is fundamentally wrong with our society. It’s understandable that in today’s world, rife with problems, people tend to gravitate towards what gives them some sort of happiness. Making light of a debilitating disease like ALS, by dousing others with ice, seems to come close. We like the fun part; never mind what the cause was all about, or how the activity may be in poor taste.

So yeah, I’ll shy away from any causes with flashy events — but I’m not being a contrarian for contrary’s sake. My head’s already involved in so many causes around the world, I’m at the point of overload. The things I espouse are commonplace, yet important. I value equality and social justice, above all else. Education. Literacy. Affordable health care.  LGBT rights.  Women’s rights. World peace. Space travel. These are my causes, among so many others. They are legion. An ice-bucket challenge is nice. So is a 5K race. But what about the rest of them? Do we do a “Best Selfie” campaign to raise awareness for victims of rape? Or another massive concert like the 1980’s Band Aid, which raised some awareness about famine in Africa, yet still ultimately failed? We tend to get worked up about causes that are dramatic. People start movements, but mostly as a reaction to a predicament. Yet hardly any of us give a thought about what a boring cause like affordable healthcare or education would do, to avoid such things in the first place. And that, Friends, is where I’ll leave you at: Instead of being reactive, passively following the lemming-like nature of trends and viral fads… why don’t we be proactive and think about the things that are near and dear to your hearts? Don’t get mindlessly drawn into distractions. Go out and find your own individual causes. Or all of them. Stick to them, devote as much (or as little) as you can. Be a Citizen of the World, always involved and aware and on your own terms.. Don’t wait for the fads; go start one. Remember, we’re not just spectators. Every single one of us have something that attaches us to this World, and to others, something that moves us. Go find that something.

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

9-11, Columbine and Sandy Hook. And now, the weekend of May 23, 2014 will forever go down as one of the blackest periods in American history as I know it. That evening, Elliot Rodger emailed a 138-page “manifesto” to his parents and his therapist… after hacking three of his roommates to death. He then proceeded to take the lives of three others, before ending his own with a bullet to the head.

Isla Vista 3 Isla Vista 1

Some of the victims had been friends of my stepdaughter’s friends. My partner and I wept, realizing that any of our own girls and their friends could have been victims, too, had they been in the same sorority house, or even the same area. One father, Richard Martinez, had just seen his son less than an hour before the shootings began. It would be the last time he’d see him alive. I cannot even imagine the pain. But that was only the beginning for me. I had an ominous feeling that there was more to come.

Isla Vista 2

A young friend, an old student of mine at Crespi High School, told me that Elliot Rodger had been a classmate of his in 2005 — the same time I’d taught there. It shocked me, like a jolt of lightning, to realize that I had some sort of indirect link, not just with the victims… but with the killer. He had never been one of my own students. I would have remembered him, even among the ranks of scrawny, long-haired, soft-spoken runts that tiptoed the testosterone-filled, macho environment of Crespi. I didn’t know any of the other students he named in his manifesto, bullies who tormented him during his short stay. All the same, I couldn’t help but think that this shy, quiet boy, with his own inner turmoils and demons, possibly crossed paths with me more than once, even if we hadn’t been in the same immediate space for more than a few seconds.

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I never knew Elliot Rodger.  He was never in my rosters, never under my charge. So when I learned about him after that fateful day, the name didn’t immediately register. Now, thinking about that proximity devastates me in a way I may not fully fathom. If one of my loved ones had perished at Isla Vista, I would lose my will to live. But to possibly know — or even be literally close — to someone who would perpetrate such a hateful act, makes me feel like a murderer, an unwitting accomplice who will be forever damned, for those seven deaths.

As a teacher, I learned early on that it wasn’t so much the lesson in the classroom that was the most important thing, but the “intangibles,” the invaluable life lessons from hard experience, that mattered most. How to be a respectable Man or Woman, a righteous Citizen of the world. Protect the lesser of our brethren. I have much more to say later on, as to how Crespi failed in that regard. For my part, though, I tried to live up to that bargain. I imparted whatever imperfect knowledge I could share. I was relentlessly harsh when I disciplined my boys, but I never once laid a finger on them. Most important of all, though, I promised myself that I would protect my boys, not just from the outside elements, but from the cruelties within. That meant protecting them from each other, from bullies, from a cold, heartless administration that had been corrupted by money and power. Often, that meant standing toe-to-toe with a larger kid, if he tried to pick on one of my boys. Always the scrapper, I wasn’t afraid to take down a belligerent if I had to. Even other teachers could be bullies. I nearly got into a fight with a colleague after he started to verbally abuse my students. For that one act, I’d won my students’ respect. I’d do it again, too. I’d walk through fire for them, if it meant that they would safely cross into that threshold called Adulthood.

My teaching years are behind me, but I’ve managed to keep track of some of my old students. Many of them have finished college, married and now have children. Many are now nurses, doctors, lawyers, and even teachers. A few signed up to serve our country. One of my boys proudly told me that he had just joined the Navy, and was well on his way to becoming a tech working alongside the famed Navy SEALs. He had just married and was now starting a family of his own.

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Elliot Rodger will never see that now. Neither will any of the six victims in Isla Vista, who all died because of our collective failure to protect them. I hold the NRA and the entire gun-lobby movement responsible, for failing to empathize, to constructively find a solution to the madness. I hold our government, especially Congress, responsible, for failing to look out for our true interests, spinelessly kowtowing to the interests of a tyrannical few. I hold our society responsible, for fostering this culture of greed, a zero-sum game that pushes a winner-take-all agenda, where the strong bully the weak, instead of protecting them. Where misfits are bred into irreversible madmen.

Most of all, I blame us, all of us. For failing to do the right thing, for failing to hold our own leaders and institutions accountable. I blame us — parents, teachers, therapists, friends, even bystanders, for not watching out, for not doing enough, to stop wrong from happening. It was never just about preventing one madman from doing harm; it was about preventing madmen from becoming who they are, until their tragic end. The shame is all equally ours to pay. My heart is heavy with pain and regret for our collective failure.

Until we all gather enough courage to protect our people — not with guns, but with good, sensible upbringing — we will forever be condemned to keep suffering more of these tragedies. Until then, God have mercy on us all.

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

———- I just renewed my domain and server use with Go Daddy; I sometimes question the wisdom of shelling out $60 each year. I could be continuing my blog with any one of those free sites, WordPress.com being among them. The main reason I went through all that trouble was so that I could try to make a living off the ads, what few clicks I could get.

Two years and a measly $35 and change in revenue later, earning a living via blogging has turned out to be pretty much a lie and, well, obsolete. The past two years, I was lucky enough to find some kind of filler work to get by, so I never really got a chance to work on the blogging thing. Besides, I was making more than minimum wage, and definitely more than what I make blogging. The economics didn’t make sense, if one thought full-time blogging would pay for one’s bills. I’d have to rack my brains constantly to come up with stuff, and perhaps dumb down my content enough, to attract tons of readers. That is something I am not going to stoop down to.

Speaking of work, I finally became permanent, after temping on this job for nearly eight months. I have to say that, compared to the rest of what I’ve had to endure previous to this… it’s okay. I’m now at a company that does pension planning for people in the movie and TV industry, mostly the technical crew. It’s a short, 15-minute drive from home. I work as a processor, analyzing money and hours coming in, making sure there are no contractual or eligibility issues, and what not. It’s quiet, for the most part. Except for when the two or three individuals in my own department start bitching about how bossy the supervisor is, and how it’s a waste of time doing some stupid little task is; the same people have, apparently, enough time to waste by keeping their yappers open all day long.

I sometimes want to go to their work zones and shake the fuck out of them; I’m not the only one, either. Or, better yet, kick them out in the street, where they can figure out just how lucky they are to even have a fucking job. Here I am, feeling grateful for this opportunity to save and do good, working hard to create a good impression and just do a good job. Then my zen gets disrupted by some bad vibes from these idiots.

The sad part is, they’re not the only ones in the company — or any company, for that matter — who bitch and complain. Quite a few, especially if they’ve been on the job for a long time, seem to focus on the negative. It must be a tendency, human nature, for one to forget what blessings there are, however few or great, and to keep score of each indignity at work.

But, as my brother always reminds me, “It’s still only work.”

Having had to eat a lot of dirt before getting to this point, I am still feeling unbelievably lucky. I intend to stay that way. I feel like I have all that I need right now, to get me on that path, to reach my goals. I’m earning my daily bread, and finally being productive. If some sorry-ass whiners that are fairly harmless (and I’m keeping it that way) are all I have to worry about, then I should feel so lucky. Compared to my previous life (which I’ve long since buried, albeit temporarily), which was full of long working hours, grueling loads of paperwork, lesson plan after lesson plan, problem students, and equally problematic parents and administrators, uncertainty in the summers — this is heaven. I don’t have to take work home, I can enjoy myself, or spend quality time with my loved ones, and then some.

Most important of all, I have enough time to write and reflect. I have a cushion that pays the bills, while I toil on my novel. My million-dollar-or-more insurance policy, lottery ticket-winner, retirement fund, all rolled into one. Ah, yes… I can still dream, while I work on my project; days, I go to day job; then it’s back to the novel, or some other project, and the cycle repeats itself. Then maybe this whole blogging thing might make sense for what it’s best for, namely exposure, publicity. Above all else, an outlet for creativity, for writing, rants, and various other matters of the left and the right hemispheres of the brain.

My target deadline for finishing the Second Draft: June 30, 2011.

Copyright Anabasius 2011