Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden Disabilities

From the time couples discover they're pregnant, they worry about whether or not their child will be normal. During the nine month period, a waiting-to-be mom constantly questions her doctor about the development of the unborn fetus. She gladly subjects herself to various tests designed to detect possible problems. If a serious defect is confirmed, couples oftentimes grapple with the horrible decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Many disabilities are obvious: the blind, the deaf and dumb, the amputees, the mentally-challenged, the wheelchair bound, the tremor-stricken. The outward appearances along with acompanying odd behaviors send out explicit signals that translate into abnormalities. These folks, no matter how hard they might try, cannot hide the fact that they're different. Whether born with one, or suffer some known or unknown factor that causes one isn't of importance. In our society, when you look or behave outside the norm, you're damaged goods.

Yet there are many people whose disabilities are hidden not only from others, but from themselves as well. I think I can best illustrate this fact through example.

A ten-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair takes his basketball to school everyday. At recess he practices shooting on the asphalt court marked off precisely for that purpose. When he misses the hoop, and the ball rolls away from him, he calls out to his classmates for a little help. At first everybody pretends not to hear him. Finally as his voice grows louder, one of the boys tells him to get it himself. Another one kicks it even farther away. Seeing that his efforts are in vain, the boy wheels passed the group and retrieves the ball. On his way back to the court, he asks several kids to join him, but all refuse his invitation. When the recess bell sounds, the fifth graders dash to be first in line, every one except the boy in the wheelchair. Obviously he can't compete with his able-bodied counterparts, so he must accept his inferiority without complaint.

Why would his classmates act in such an ignorant, heartless manner towards a boy who is only trying to fit in? Perhaps their disabilities are far more severe but hidden from view. Pretending not to hear a call for help is a form of denial, not acknowledging the request means the request wasn't made at all. Kicking the ball farther away suggests a fear of transference. If the kid picks up the ball, in his mind he is subjecting himself to possibly contracting the very disease that robbed the disabled boy of his mobility. And by not accepting an invitation to join in a shoot-around reflects the boy's fear of what the group would think and do, They might decide to label him as abnormal, and shun him for his interaction with the wheelchair-bound boy. Peer pressure is the strongest contributor to these hidden disabilities that plague our children today.

Yes, physical and mental disabilities are obvious, but they are lived with, overcome, and many times used to advance one's status in life. The boy in the wheelchair has accepted his fate, he's refused to let his shortcomings stop him from reaching for the stars, and I'm sure, as an adult he will become a remarkable man who will make a difference in the lives of many, even of those who labeled and shunned him in childhood.

But most of those who are afflicted with hidden disabilites, will never overcome them because what you don't acknowledge, you can't change. And unfortunately for them, their inability to understand their shortcomings will inhibit them from reaching for the stars, and limit their advancement as adults.

Monday, February 9, 2015

So...You Want To Be A Writer?

What a noble ambition! You've decided you'd like to share your stories with the world and are definitely sure you have what it takes to write the next Pulitzer. I'm happy for you. Deciding what road to travel and setting specific goals to attain that brass ring is admirable.

However I'm just wondering if you are remotely aware of what it takes to be a writer. Do you have the necessary skill requirements? How about command of the English language? Have you brushed up on proper grammatical usage and sentence structure?  Are you articulate, imaginative, daring, perhaps even provocative? Can you spell?

If you've be able to say 'yes' to at least a few of these questions, then you may have a shot. But now let's take a hard look at what it really takes to consider such a career. Are you prepared to spend hours upon hours alone with your tablet on your lap staring at an empty screen? Are you willing to turn off your cellphone for long periods of  time so as not to be disturbed by family, friends, social responsibilities? Will you have the guts to turn down fun weekends because you have a ton of editing to do?

If you've managed to sidestep the torture and temptations I've mentioned thus far and you actually do complete a project, are you ready to tackle the next phase of authorship? A publisher is required who will actually give your work the time of day, or if you decide on self-publishing, you'll need to educate yourself on how to go about it. Self-publishing isn't for the faint of heart though. You'll either have to hire someone to do it for you which can be quite costly, or maneuver your way through the complicated maze of formatting and editing.

Okay, let's assume you've dodged those bullets and are ready to choose a cover for your emerging masterpiece.The old adage, 'you can't judge a book by its cover' is hogwash in today's visual society. The cover of a book is what determines how successful that book will be. Are you an illustrator, graphic designer? If not, it's now time to find a great artist because a good artist just won't cut it.
And unless you personally know of one, expect to spend hours involved in a very frustrating search. In my experience, I've hired a few illustrators that I believed would design the perfect cover, only to be disappointed and have to begin this tedium all over again.

The glorious day has finally arrived! Your book is finished, edited, formated, and is donning a fabulous cover. You present it to the world on Amazon, Apple, Book Nook, and more. You've told family and friends it's now available for purchase. All that's left is to sit back and watch your sales climb. Right?

Wrong! Now the hard work actually begins. There are millions and millions of books up for grabs, and effective marketing strategies are the key to having folks choose your book. What to do? You can hire a marketing company, take advantage of all the promotions going on daily, or try to sell on your own.

The first two suggestions can also be very expensive, and the third idea simply won't work. Finding groups comprised of authors whose works are in the same genre is a great way to spread the word about your book as well as to form professional bonds with like-minded people. In many instances, these men and women become lasting friends who are an excellent source of knowledge and experience. Seasoned authors are a remarkable bunch, eager and able to assist emerging writers in any way they can.

Finally and perhaps the hardest part of being a writer is dealing with rejection. Either your book won't sell, or worse, folks will buy it and then give it an atrocious review. Your beautifully-written, exquisitely-covered 'baby' is deemed ordinary, maybe even less than that, and horror of horrors, the disgruntled reader is demanding a refunded. want to be a writer? Are you sure?

Monday, February 2, 2015


If you haven't seen THE JUDGE, starring Robert Duval and Robert Downey,Jr. do it soon. I promise your time will be well-spent. The acting alone is superb, but what makes this such an incredible movie is its conveyance of universal truths of the human condition from birth until death. I know you may think covering so much ground in as little as two hours is impossible, but believe me when I say THE JUDGE does exactly that.

One of the opening scenes places Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the men's room of a California court house. When vehemently confronted by the prosecutor for his artful defense of a sleazy, rich guy, Palmer 'accidentally' pisses on his legal adversary's pant leg. Hank Palmer doesn't make excuses for his ability to successfully defend guilty people, and actually takes great pride in it. Upon returning to courtroom action, Hank receives a call informing him of his mother's death. He asks and is granted a continuance in order to return home for her burial.

I don't intend to give you a play-by-play account of the movie. My descriptions wouldn't come close to doing it the justice it deserves. But what I'd like to shed some light on is the many issues tackled throughout this amazing film.

To whom and where we're born is critical to who and what we become in our lives. Hank Palmer, the middle child of  Judge Joseph Palmer and his wife, Mary, began his life's journey in a small town in Indiana. By no means am I trying to imply that having an accomplished father and a devoted mother gives one a huge advantage over those less fortunate. What I am saying is that from an early age the choices we make can either propel us forwards or thrust us backwards. We alone are responsible for the outcomes that ensue.

If we marry and have a family, our personal investment in both is required. Without any effort to be present in the lives of our partner and our children, being righteously shocked when infidelity and talk of divorce occurrs is extremely naive, verging on stupidity.

If we walk away from our roots deciding that we are so much better than those we left behind, we shouldn't expect to be welcomed back with open arms when a return is necessitated. Telling a young daughter that the father who raised you is 'dead to you' doesn't exactly prepare her for a warm first meeting, now does it?

The subject of death is thoroughly explored throughout THE JUDGE. A devoted mother and beloved wife dies, a promising baseball career is ended because of a careless accident, a young teen is drowned at the hands of a controlling boy friend, a scum bag murderer loses his life under questionable circumstances, the freedom of a notable public servant is snuffed out, a successful lawyer's strongly-held beliefs about family and fate fall by the wayside. And finally when Joseph Palmer's life ends in the middle of the lake he loved so much, do we realize maybe moreso than ever before that death is as much a part of life as is the living of that life.

Awakenings happen to all of the characters at some point in this film. Their enlightenments serve to remind us of the mistakes we've made along the way, while others give us a second chance to resolve our inner conflicts, forgive any perceived wrongs, and open ourselves to a better, more fulfilling existence.

For perhaps the last thirty minutes, I was in tears. My personal realizations tore at my heart, and during that time I was able to come to terms with certain events I had buried deep down so long ago. I was forced to wonder why I hadn't been able to forgive others completely, and knew that the hardest thing was to finally forgive myself. Ironically a movie mired in so much pain and regret, in the end lightened my spirit and renewed my hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

After all I've said, if you aren't inclined to see THE JUDGE, well that's too bad, verging on stupidity!