Showing posts with label luck. Show all posts
Showing posts with label luck. Show all posts

09 May 2019

A Toast to The Survivors

by Eve Fisher

In "The Kindest Cut" (from the book Never Sniff a Gift Fish) the immortal Patrick F. McManus writes about how much hunters love to talk about how they got that scar.  Endlessly.
"I have heard some scar stories approximately the length of Churchill's A History of the English Speaking Peoples, but such brevity is rare."
The trouble for the hunters is, to get a chance to talk about a scar, etiquette (yes we're back to that again) requires that
(1) someone ask (most experienced hunters know better),
(2) it be relevant to the conversation (and most hunters apparently can make it relevant - "Speaking of boats, I've got quite a story about my thumb...") and
(3) it be visible.
Pity the poor person (like Retch Sweeney) who gets a scar on his hiney - no one's going to ask, it's embarrassing to mention, and hard to display, even in unmixed company.

But one thing doctors are good at, is asking about old scars.  I have a story (you knew it was coming) about my shin.  I was having x-rays on my knees (arthritis), and the x-ray technician asked me if I'd ever been in some kind of, uh, well, brawl?  Or had an accident?  Because I've got a half-inch dent - he showed it to me - in my shin bone.  Answer:  Field hockey.  Generations of hysterical middle-school girls, armed with hard sticks and even harder balls, but without shin guards, have been, are, and will be cheerfully sent out in one more attempt to cull the herd.  Someone slammed a hard ball right into my shin, and I was out of the game for the rest of that day.  But back then nobody x-rayed it, just checked that I could actually move my ankle, and I was back to out on the field the next week.  Just left a permanent dent - in my bone - to mystify my future doctors.

I have a few other scars, but most of them are from falling - off a fence I was trying to climb (split my lip on some barbed wire on the way down), down a trail, on a rock, into a mess of cactus, etc.  Nothing dramatic.  And that was the norm for most of the people I knew.

That changed when I started volunteering in prison, where tattoos and scars rival each other for commonality.  But inmates generally don't brag or even talk about either one.  Occasionally I'll ask.  One inmate I know well - a big, burly guy - has a scar on both sides of his forearm, running one-quarter to half an inch deep, 2 inches wide, and running about 4-6 inches long.  He's had tattoos over it, but they certainly don't hide it.  One day I finally asked him if it was a burn.  Nope.  Gunshot.

Now I honestly did not know that getting shot could leave that big a scar for that long.  I don't think most people know that (non-military, non-EMTs, non-police).  I think most people get their information about gunshots from TV and movies where, as Doolin' Dalton (Brian Thornton) pointed out in his "Shoulder Wounds", all gunshots are flesh wounds that leave no scars at all and don't slow anyone down.  But that is total BS.  Let's start by checking out this article from New York Magazine, complete with pictures.

This is Anthony Borges, shot 5 times, and still wearing a colostomy bag.  He "barricaded a door to a classroom to protect other students, saving as many as 20 lives. Was the last of the injured to leave the hospital."  From his words:

"I was in the hospital for like two months. I wasn’t bored — the pain wouldn’t let me get distracted. It was all over my body, not just where I’d been shot. Imagine that someone stabbed you with a knife and wouldn’t take it out, would just push it in.  The physical therapy is helping a lot. A lot of the exercises are like the things you do before a soccer game. Still, I can’t feel my left foot. I’ve gotten skinnier, and when I stand up, I have trouble breathing. The goal is just to be able to move my entire body normally. I can’t run, and I want to run."

I hope you can run some day, Mr. Borges.  And that the pain will stop.  And that nothing bad ever happens to you again.

According to the CDC, every year about 80,000 people survive gunshot wounds, about twice as many as actually are killed by gun violence.  Jeff Asher - New Orleans reporter and crime analyst - wrote, that "Shootings are a better measure of gun violence than murders are. There is a lot of randomness in what happens once a bullet leaves a gun — whether someone lives or dies depends heavily on luck. Focusing just on murder leaves out all the people who could have died. And it ignores the life-changing injuries and emotional trauma that often accompany nonfatal shootings."   (HERE)

Sheriff Israel visits victim Anthony Borges.[62]
Speaking of life-changing injuries, did you know that gunshot wounds require a lot of inpatient care, follow-up surgeries and other treatments, mental healthcare, rehabilitation and skilled-nursing care, durable medical equipment, personal care, and living costs while the patients are not able to work?  And that very little of this is covered by health insurance?  See Modern Health Care to understand how dire your situation will be if you ever become a victim of a shooting.

Reminder:  We live in an age of very high deductibles and coinsurance requirements, which is fine when you don't have much in the way of health care troubles.  That can change quickly.  Look at Mr. Borges.

And it is indeed random.  The inmate I spoke of earlier wasn't shot in the course of committing a crime.  He was the victim of a drive-by shooting.  And, lest you think that all drive-bys involve punks and druggies standing around on a street corner, looking for trouble, I bring to your attention the 13-year-old girl who was injured in a drive-by shooting back in January in Houston, Texas.  In her bedroom.  In her bed.  As an officer pointed out, "We can't even say wrong place because she was in her room, at home, at nighttime, where she should be as a 13-year-old." Article here

Randomness is scary.  I think one of the reasons people read mystery and other crime fiction is because most of the randomness gets filtered out - ideally there's a motive, an investigation, an arrest, a conviction, and people come out of the tale feeling relieved that once again - good triumphed over evil. Or something similar thereto.  Even my characters do that.  In one of my (as yet unpublished) stories, Officer Grant Tripp's boss replies to the suggestion that a shooting was random, with, "Random?  In Laskin?  If it is, I'm moving to Gann Valley and raise sheep."

The truth is, most people I know can't bear the heavy weight of the reality of sheer randomness - luck - in life.  It's too frightening.  I know.  I agree.  And I have lived a wildly improbable life, with such levels of randomness and luck (how else do you go from homeless teenager to university professor?) that I can't ignore it.  I am, and have been, very, very, very lucky.

I know too many people who literally, through no fault of their own, if they didn't have bad luck, wouldn't have any luck at all.  And that terrifies me.  Because... it makes no sense.

And I also know others who have, in the immortal words of P. J. O'Rourke, "farted through silk" their entire life, with the result that they know that bad things only happen to bad people, and that they will never be in that kind of situation, because...  well, because they're delusional, but I never say that to their face.

And these very lucky people are usually the ones who say stuff like:

Memorials to victims outside the Tree of Life synagogue
Wikipedia
"Well, they must have done something to deserve it." (Going to church?  Or a synagogue?  Or school?)
"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time." (See above.)
"The shooter is/was mentally ill."  (SO WHAT?  Even if this is true - and I rank all mass shooters and suicide bombers at the same level of pathological toxic rage, which should be its own category under the DSM - it's still no excuse to kill people.)
"If I'd been there with a [insert weapon of choice here], I'd have stopped him."  (I don't trust 99% of the people who say this to actually do anything but pee their pants.  In fact, I don't trust anyone who actually says this, because you know and I know they're fantasizing out loud.)

The truth is, every day, a certain number of people in this country are shot.  Among those are survivors, left breathing, but with wounds that will scar them, affect them, hurt them, for the rest of their life.    Since apparently this is going to continue to happen for the foreseeable future, we need to come up with something more practical than just thoughts and prayers.  "Relatives and friends of many mass shooting victims, even those with good employer health benefits, have had to set up GoFundMe crowdsourcing donation sites to help with the bills. This raises the broader issue of how to enable people who are partly disabled to continue working, rather than giving them no alternative but to apply for Social Security Disability and Medicaid."  (Modern Health Care)

We need to face the fact that people who get shot are going to have aftereffects for years.  Hell, I'm getting cortisone shots now for the knee I blew out sliding down a mountain at 25, that no longer has any cartilage in it.  When I fell off a fence at 12 and got cut by barbed wire, that caused nerve damage that to this day lets me know when freezing cold weather is coming.  If that's what it's like for the little scars, what are the survivors of Parkland, 9/11, the Boston Marathon, etc., going through?

We need to come up with health care plans that won't bankrupt people like Mr. Borges and leave him in debt as well as scarred for the rest of his natural life.  Maybe a new sub-chapter of FEMA that would cover mass shootings in the same way that fire, hurricanes, and other disasters are covered.  A mass shooting is a disaster - just not a natural one.  Or is it?

Meanwhile, let us raise our glasses and toast:

"To all the dead - may they never be forgotten.  
To all the survivors - may they heal in body, mind, and soul.  
To all of us - that we may help the survivors on their path, remember how fragile life is, 
and do all in our power to make the victims fewer every year."

Image result for a toast

06 May 2019

Serendipity

by Travis Richardson

Hello. This is my first time here. I want to thank Robert Lopresti for inviting me to be a permanent member of Sleuthsayers. I am honored to be invited to blog with so many talented and well-respected writers, many of whom are experts in short story writing—my favorite form of fiction.

It’s a pity that it is next to impossible to make a living from writing precise gems that waste none of the reader’s time with superfluous words. ;) I believe there is an untapped audience of potential readers who don’t know they are short fiction fans. How to expose folks to short stories so they’ll give them a chance and catch a short fiction addiction is a nut I haven’t cracked yet. Steve Jobs proved you could create needs that nobody knew they had with iPods and iPhones and iWhateverelses. But more on that topic in another post (assuming I’m not banned after this post).

A few quick words about myself. I’m originally from Oklahoma. I moved to Los Angeles in the late nineties, worked in television and then marketing for a few years before moving into up to Berkeley where I worked in academia. In 2008 I moved back down to LA. I’d written short stories and screenplays here and there, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that I started focusing on prose and five or so years after that, specializing in crime fiction. I had my first story published in 2012 and have since had about 40 short stories and two novellas come out. I have also worked on several unfinished manuscripts that may or may never see the light of day. 

While I've had a few weeks to prepare for this article in my debut, I never settled on a topic with my wife’s birthday festivities last week followed by my daughter's birthday this week. I feel like there are many issues I want to write about, but for some reason, I’d draw a blank when I tried to write a draft. Performance anxiety, perhaps. Not sure. But one question kept coming back, how did I get here? That is, how did Robert come to invite me after Steve Hockensmith left for greener pastures? (Talk about filling a big pair of boots.)

Today I’m going to write about serendipity. Years ago when I worked on a cable show called Home and Family, I took a pop psychologist to the airport after he appeared on the show to promote his book. I told him that I wanted to be a writer (instead of production assistant running errands for the show). He told me about his concept of serendipity. 

Apple Dictionary (the reference I use most these days) defines the word as:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

His pitch on serendipity was that while the core principle of the word involves luck if one prepares and positions themselves in the path of their goal, it increases the likelihood that a serendipitous moment may arise. And if that opportunity happens, that person will have the skills and ability to grab the moment and fulfill their dreams. A sports analogy might be a third-string quarterback not expecting to play the season because the two guys ahead of him are All-Stars, but an injury and scandal later, he’s taking snaps on Sunday in a sold-out stadium.  Or this guy who wound up being an NHL goalie for a night after a day of working as an accountant.
Scott Foster: accountant by day, NHL goalie at night
I often talked to the guests on the show as I shuttled them to and from the airport, or hotels, or wherever. I’ve forgotten most of them as well as what happened on that job outside of a few events (like twisting my ankle on an obstacle course during a commercial break before Bruce Jenner was about to run through it on live TV,) but that conversation stuck with me…although I forgot the psychologist’s name. Like Steve Liskow wrote last week, I think I’m a slow learning kinesthetic. It takes me a while to get something down and even longer to put it into practice, but every now and then things work out.

If you want to be a writer, you certainly need skill in the craft, a strong voice, and hopefully an interesting story to tell. A lot of this can be achieved with reading, writing, and rewriting. But there are other attributes that can help raise a writer’s serendipity percentage when it comes to getting published.

Shoptalk

An easy, cheap way is to read websites and blogs that talk about writing and those that have submissions. As the saying goes, information is knowledge. Find the genre you’re interested in and follow what folks in that world are talking about. Glean tips and tricks from those already in the game. If somebody has cut a path in a forest, it’ll be easier to follow their path than chopping down trees to go your own way. Although sometimes you need to use that ax to forge your own way, it’s just good to know that you’re a pioneer and not a wheel re-inventor.

Also, there are Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, Yahoo groups, and other places to join conversations and find out more about what is happening. (Yet, I still work best in person. Shaking hands, talking, working off of nonverbal cues, and everything else that comes with being in front of a person works best for me. While I’m half extroverted, I can't seem to function well in a digital world, especially places like Twitter.) Also, you are looking for places to submit stories, especially in the crime world, I always go here: http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/

Events

Writer events happen all over the country. The bigger the city, the greater the opportunities. Living in Oklahoma (pre-internet days), there weren’t many events, but I would go out to see writers, poets, and people of significant cultural import when I could. Living in Los Angeles, there are so many events happening that I barely catch any of them. But to listen and support an author, and possibly meet them as well, is something that, beyond enrichment, might have benefits some day. What exactly? I don’t know. You won’t either if you don’t go.

Classes

Take writing classes. This could be a one-time weekend class, a community college program, or even an MFA. One can learn techniques to improve their skills and meet like-minded writers. The cost slide on a scale from free community and library programs to $60k masters level study/workshops. In Tulsa, I went to summer parks and recreations programs on creativity and learned about artistic expression. In Berkeley, I took a writing extension course and found out that I disliked a lot of mainstream literary writing after I had to write a paper on stories in “The Best American Short Stories.” This led me into a life of crime…fiction writing where more things happen than just wealthy characters’ overwhelming ennui.

I also meet writers who were serious about taking their writing further. From the class in Berkeley, a few of us started a writing group.

Writing Groups

Writing groups have been essential in my growth as a writer. I’ve been in several throughout the years. Some only lasted for a few meetings, while others have carried on for several years. Having a successful group has a lot to do with the chemistry of the members, the commitment to allot time to yourself and others, and the ability to listen to and use criticism to improve your work.

Not every writing group is going to work out. There are many personalities at play. Some people are too dominant and others hostile. But others can be genuine assets that provide valuable insight. It also helps to have writers in your group who understand your genre. It can get frustrating explaining to a member who is writing a memoir why a dead body is necessary for a murder mystery.

Also, writer groups have benefits in that some members share knowledge about writer’s markets and opportunities. After I wrote my detective novel, a writer in a group told me about mystery writing organizations.

Writers Organizations

There are many writing organizations that help promote their members’ works and keep their genre relevant. Many are national organizations with regional chapters. I joined Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America in the San Francisco Bay Area and found both groups to be welcoming and supportive of novice writers.

When I moved back to Los Angeles, I attended several SinC and MWA meetings which led to me volunteer at some of their events.

Volunteer

Most nonprofit literary organizations are run by volunteers. The work takes up time that can be spent writing or other pursuits. But by volunteering, you are paying forward (or back) to other writers like yourself. Sometimes you get credit, but often you don’t, working behind the scene make sure the trains move on time (or the sausage gets made). Regardless it’s doing good for the community and it could lead to unexpected…serendipity.

In my case, I ran the craft room for the California Crime Writers’ Conference in 2011. I introduced presenters, made sure they kept hydrated and watched the time. Gary Phillips taught two classes. One was on dialog, but I don’t remember the other. Between the two sessions, I was talking to Gary and mentioned that I wrote short stories. He invited me to submit a story to his next anthology, SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER, AND FINANCIAL CRIMES.
I wrote the story, “The Movement,” which was my first publication. I will always be grateful to Gary for giving me that opportunity and for everything else he’s done for me and other writers. He's truly a saint in the crime fiction world.

So several stories, board meetings, and conferences later, Robert asked me to join SleuthSayers and I jumped at the opportunity. Is this serendipity?

Thanks for reading. I promise my next submission will not be so rushed! 

PS: Happy birthday, Pauline!