Zinger in the Woods
Our journey, as M.T. Becker started twelve years ago….
Date: 01/10 Time: 4pm
Michael R. French discusses his latest book.
"Cliff HangerJump Before You Get Pushed"
n 2030, viruses, spy drones, terrorism, and joblessness have eroded American optimism. People want something to believe in. As demonstrated in a Midwest high school election, politics have taken on the inflexibility and dogma of a new religion. Only true believers will survive and prosper. Or so they think.
There's a dramatic juxtaposition of the ancient Middle Eastern mythology with present day Chicago, the part of Chicago that one benefits from absolute avoidance, where you are in some serious danger just being there . But things get dangerouser as we're dropped into the fortress of an armed and semi wasted criminal gang syndicate led by a sociopathic dictater . Dangerouser still is the very well armed secret police death squad commanded over by an even eviler villan.
The pace of events picks up speed from the start with one action sequence segwaying into the next. I am astonished by Mr Fritz's literary description of scenes of all out mayhem, ultra detailed imagery to a molecular scale , choreographed movements flowing through variable time , a big heavy club in slow motion
It's difficult for me to not recallect this as a big budget special effects action spectacular. Or not to for-see the universe built on this framework. Merchandising alone...
Michael R. French has authored 23 published titles, including fiction, biographies, adaptations, art criticism and children’s books, over a 30-year career. French’s work has been warmly reviewed in the New York Times and been honored with several literary prizes.
His first love, adult and young adult fiction, tackles diverse subjects from the world of horse racing to politics, focusing on characters as much as a page-turning plot. His novel, Abingdon's, was a bestseller and a Literary Guild Alternate Selection. His young adult novel, Pursuit, was awarded the California Young Reader Medal. He has also co-written two screenplays for Amazon Prime.
Receiving his Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University, he focused on creative writing and studied under Wallace Stegner. He received a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He later served in the United States Army before marrying Patricia Goodkind, an educator and entrepreneur, and starting a family. Working under his wife, Patricia, ten years ago they created a non-profit foundation, Dollar4Schools, which continues helping support Santa Fe public schools and its teachers.
An avid trekker and traveler to developing countries, French loves diving and snorkeling, and for the last decade began studying endangered marine and land mammals. He believes climate change is currently the world’s greatest long-term problem.
He and Patricia divide their time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The time is overdue to tell the story of my maternal grandfather James L. Breese, an amazing technical entrepreneur of the Age of Invention. Jim Breese was famous for being the flight engineer on the first flight across the Atlantic in 1919. He moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1929, and from then to 1959 he built an oil burner business with a portfolio of over 130 patents. All the people who knew him well have passed on. Fortunately, I knew many of them and they gave me a lot of insights and reference materials.
I believe I can understand Jim Breese because our lives had some striking parallels. Our families were upper-middle-class but none managed to hold on to great wealth. Jim and I were both very adventurous in our youth before we settled down to build businesses based on our inventions. I knew Jim personally because we lived much of our lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Times of insight and creativity come and go with the ebb and flow of unexploited knowledge and with society’s sense of urgency for new solutions. Jim Breese came along during such a flow. He witnessed the introduction of automobiles, radios, washing machines, and penicillin. He dared to be the engineer on the first transatlantic flight. He brought low-cost and clean heating for people of all incomes.
Now we take for granted more recent inventions and developments including the internet, AI, cell phones, and self-driving electric cars. But there seem to be insurmountable challenges like climate change and devasting environmental destruction. There is an apocalyptic sense of the world running out of time. Many people feel a sense of “Why bother?”
People must see that the whole universe is available to them and that creativity has never been more important than now. Children should realize that there is an infinite future for them. Society’s failure is a failure to give them hope and encouragement.
Now is the time for the men and women who dream of things that never were. Their dreams are the starting points in great creations. The positive emotions of the challenge will cause the complexity and depth of the world’s problems to fade away. The one catch is that their dreams will have to answer to unmet realities.
It is time to turn America and the whole world into a nation of creators and inventors again and for the whole world to work together to deal with the many challenges and opportunities that are upon us. From garage inventors to multinational corporations we must make a fresh effort at creativity and innovation including using the vast new resources of the internet and the computer clouds. America and the whole world need to become more creative in all endeavors.
Jim Breese would heartily agree. He would hope that he has set a good example and has given entrepreneurs insights and knowledge they didn’t have before.
Destiny Strikes Twice: James L. Breese Aviator and Inventor is available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2KS2Bx9.J
In July of 1942, Hitler double-crossed Stalin and launched his invasion of Russia with a three-prong attack. The top line of offense went north toward Leningrad, the middle line was pointed east towards Moscow, and the bottom line of offense headed for Stalingrad and the Crimea.
Romania, and the Ukraine. With a policy of focused racial hatred, Jews all over Eastern Europe were divested of their property, stripped of their rights, and driven into exile from towns where their families had lived for hundreds of years.
Now, with the goal of invading and occupying Russia, the rush of the Germany Army was accompanied by even more brutal persecution of Jews and other nationalities by the Gestapo. Jewish settlements were devastated, whole populations of towns were captured and carried off to concentration camps or extermination camps, and many people were slaughtered where they lived.
A town near the Ukraine/Romania border, named Korolowka, was in the path of Hitler’s war machine and the Jews living there fled into larger cities or into hiding places scattered around the countryside. In the fall of 1942, a number of families committed to remain together and sought out a nearby underground cave system, a well-known location named Verteba, where they would crawl deep into the caves and hide for the winter when Verteba was closed to the public. In the spring, they would search for another hiding place.
With members of the families periodically stealing out to bring back sacks of potatoes, grain, flour, kerosene, matches, candles, water, and whatever else they could pilfer or buy on the black market, it was a constant state of survival for the thirty or so Jews.
They hid in the darkness of the cave system for about 150 days.
In the spring of 1943, a few members were discovered and captured by the Gestapo. Those remaining in the cave escaped by way of a secret outlet they had dug during their confinement. Temporarily hiding in the attic of their old houses, in barns, or in other refuges in town, they were eventually led by a hunter to a sinkhole that formed the entrance to another cave system, locally called The Priest’s Grotto because it lay in the field of a local priest. It was not a publicly known or used cave system; later it would be determined to be the ninth largest cave system in the world.
But it was not spacious and roomy like a Carlsbad Caverns. It was a labyrinth of narrow passageways wandering throughout a hollowed-out layer of limestone. However, the Jews discovered small sinks of water formed by internal springs, as well as circulating air currents that allowed small fires to be lit for cooking. It was quite an improvement over Verteba.
Again expecting members of the families to periodically sneak out to find food, firewood, blankets, and other necessities, Esther and Zeida Stermer, their six children, four relatives, and twenty-six other Jews, on May 5, 1943, fled to the Priest’s Grotto to escape the certainty of the horrors of the Gestapo, the Russians, and the Ukranian police.
Feeling their way down in the darkness, the families lowered themselves through the narrow opening to the chambers below. It would be the last time for many of them to see the sky for nearly a year.
In fact, the majority of that community would live in hiding for 344 days.
Seventy feet below the surface, in total darkness, at a constant temperature of fifty degrees, these thirty-eight individuals lived in a state of near hibernation. They could not tell day from night and their bodies adjusted until they slept eighteen to twenty-two hours at a time, lying on wooden planks scavenged from above, and stayed awake only to perform the very basic needs of survival – cooking, eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and trying to make their situation more tolerable.
The youngest girl was three; several women were elderly.
Close to a year after they had descended, a message dropped in a bottle down the entrance shaft by a friend, the thirty-eight survivors learned that the Germans had left for good, and, on April 12, 1944, each of them made the arduous climb out the entrance – jaundiced, weak, their skin covered in mud, about two-thirds of their entry weight, blinded by the sun.
They were no longer interested in returning to their town. They made their way through temporary refugee camps in Germany, then fled to the United States. Some of them and their children now live in New York City, Florida, and Canada. To hear more of the details of their story and to read the reasons that they gave for their ability to have survived such a remarkable situation, read The Secret of Priest’s Grotto, by Peter Lane Taylor with Christos Nicola.
Perhaps instead of talking about our extraordinary troubles, we should talk about our opportunities to show extraordinary courage.
CLIFFANGER is a novel taking place in 2030. What are you saying about how America might be changing?
A. In my view, after owning the 20th Century, America began to lose its way… starting with 9/11. The terrorist assaults on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the aborted attack on the White House, were the wellspring of mixed national feelings: xenophobia, insecurity, paranoia, conspiracy theories, and the us-against-them polarization of tribalism. Many of us waited for these fears to dissipate, to return to common sense, but they only grew stronger. If the damage to our country’s identity and self-esteem was an earthquake, I would say that September 11 was a nine out of ten on the Richter Scale. No matter who wins on Nov 3, the aftershocks will still keep coming.
Special Author Event tomorrow
Our author client, Hugh Fritz
Discussion and Book Reading
Presented by George R.R. Martins’Beastly Books Bookstore.
Sunday November.8, 4:00 PM
Link to purchase a ticket.
These past seven months, the Time of Covid, have been a trip off my daily treadmill. Having just published a book titled 'How To Stay Out of My Emergency Room: Master Your Health and Find Joy in Life by Balancing the Power of Your Body, Your Mind and Your Higher Self', I found myself seeking alternative treadmills. I did this through my Higher Self, daily, if not hourly. Not only was I shut out of the daily treadmill called Life with Others, I was shut out of my own personal treadmill.
I wasn't allowed to communicate with others face-to-face. Even my own family put up barriers to communication. My friends, my neighbors and my stores were also in on the shut out.
All I had left was Me, and My Self: my Higher Self, and my lower self. Luckily, I knew how to find my Higher Self. Throughout the lock down I connected to my Higher Self, and stayed there as often as I could, and as best as I could. It was, and continues to be, quite a challenge.
Oh yes, negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors bubbled up, furiously at first, as I felt vulnerable, at risk, abandoned, shunned. I rebelled and resisted as best I could. I wanted to stay powerful. But eventually, with effort and the passage of time, I accepted that 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. I was in for a prolonged bout of Higer Self calisthenics.
I can tell you that at this moment in the pandemic, I'm pretty buff. And so are most of my family, friends, and store-keepers (maybe not their stores, though).
If you like to think difficult things through, here's a helpful framework, based on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief. It's what I did, and went through, for the past seven months. In the past I've had loved ones pass away and was very grateful for this framework. My comfortable, habitual and frantic life before covid also passed away. I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way.
If you like to write/journal, do that. Years from now you can look back on your thoughts and your writings and see how you've changed, hopefully for the better.
1. Shock and denial.
How can the world be so changed, so hazardous, so suddenly? It's just a cold virus! I experienced multiple pandemics in my career and in my personal life. Never has one been so 'creepy', for lack of a better word.
2. Pain and guilt.
I hate not being around anyone I care deeply about. Luckily, my husband doesn't shun me. He still spends his enitre day on his computer, and talking to all his friends. Unluckily he won't change his routine to accommodate my neediness.
3. Anger and bargaining.
I still can't believe the craziness and abject fear this pandemic has caused worldwide. I truly feel, as a seasoned healthcare professional, that the dangers of this pandemic have been overblown. New studies coming out regularly reassure me that the virus activity, and its deadliness, have long peaked. Why don't the masses get it? I'll keep trying to reassure my friends and family that it's ok. Unfortunately, they won't, or can't listen. If only I had more credibility with my friends and family, Maybe I'll send them all the articles and studies I'm reading that confirm my confidence. Well, that didn't work either.
The strategy of the world is to make this cold virus into a monster plague, like the pandemic flu of 1918-19 that killed at least 50 million people worldwide, especially young healthy people. That's not the case with this pandemic. But no one will listen. It's armageddon, the end times. I think they really want to believe this. Wow.
5. The upward turn.
We're all looking forward to a vaccine. That will turn the entire world around. I know that because this is a cold virus, it mutates pretty significantly, so a vaccine won't be as effective as people want it to be. But at least they'll be less anxiety-ridden. Thanks to human ingenuity, multiple excellent and reliable pharmaceutical companies in competition, with government approval, an effective vaccine is around the corner. Halleluyah!!
6. Reconstruction and working through.
Boy was this ever a noxious year. Disease. Isolation. Toilet paper and egg shortages. Plus a heat wave (116 in my neighborhood). Plus record fires. Smoky days. Santa Ana winds. I think I'll just sit and meditate on the hike I took in Kings Canyon National Park in Northern California years and years ago. Oh, but that's when my partner and I got engulfed in black clouds of mosquitoes, and the river was so deep and fast that when we crossed it I almost lost my balance and fell in (I didn't). I'm empowered, because I survived that hike. What a beautiful feeling. I knew it, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. I'm buff.
7. Acceptance and hope.
Now that the world's economies are in shambles, people are still bubbled down, a few in 'pods', with hope for a new albeit very different future on the horizon. God help the next generation of youngsters, including my two grandchildren. At least they'll think this whole new world is just 'the way it is' and get on with their lives as if nothing bad happened. And guess what, they may be right!
A friend went through these stages, and developed an ulcer before turning upward. Before the pandemic, and the shut down, Larry was a teacher's aide in a chemistry lab, after graduating the year before with a degree in chemistry from UCLA. He was homeschooled in a high achieving home, with three equally high achieving siblings. His parents are upstanding members of their community, and the whole family is very smart, confident, and socially conscious. Larry had never had a real setback in his path forward. He was making an excellent salary, loved his students and they loved and respected him. While working he was also getting his PhD in Chemistry. All was well until it suddenly wasn't.
Larry was left without a class, without students, online-only studies, increasing bills, and two roommates that he wasn't particularly interested in or even able to communicate with much. He got depressed. He started getting migraines. He took pain meds, including Tylenol and ibuprofen. He got a pet rat for company. But the migraines continued, and then he got severe acid reflux. He went to a local doctor who told him it's 'just stress'. She didn't order any tests, and did most of her consulting over the phone. Larry got worse. At this point, his sister consulted with her good friend, a nurse. The friend suggested that Larry might be suffering from gastritis (stomach irritation) or even an ulcer. After a lengthy wait for an evaluation, it turned out to be an ulcer. Larry was put on the appropriate medication and improved physically. He went online and found numerous articles on 'stress can cause ulcers' and a few that said it didn't. He finally decided to meditate on this divergence. In his meditations he cleared his mind, let go of the voices that denied the obvious, including his initial family doctor, and unfortunately, his know-it-all mother, who insisted he had celiac diseae/gluten allergy. In connecting to his Higher Self, he saw his body as sad and lonely. In his mind's eye he embraced and hugged his body. He visualized his Higher Self, gently reminding him to be a kind and loving caregiver. He reached out to his family, especially his sister, who fussed over him, annoyingly, but actually helped a lot with her incessant affirmations.
He reached out to his roommates, who as it turned out were kind of sad and lonely too. He went out as often as possible to his favorite natural spots, parks and outdoor places, reminding him of his upbringing in natural settings.
Gradually, with continuous gently nudges from his Higher Self, his anti-acid medication, his low acid diet, and his loving sister, his symptoms abated. Hi pet rat got occasional treats, and got into the habit of snuggling on his neck. That helped, too.
Larry now accepts his imperfect body, and cares for it with greater insight. He hopes some day to get back to the lab with students who love and respect him. But for now, he's made friends with his roommates, and teaches chemistry lab creatively with digital students, who love and appreciate him.
He's on the mend now, with a new appreciation for his stressed body, mind and spirit.
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