More Episodes! (And Other Blog Updates)

More Episodes! (And Other Blog Updates)

Hey everyone, Adam here. I know it’s been quiet in this neck of the cyber woods, and I apologize to my small but loyal group of followers. I’ve gotten a new job, and it dominates a lot of my time. When I’m not working, I’m trying to do that one thing, what’s it called…what’s it called, oh right, a personal life. The rest of the time is throwing a couple hours at UnApologetics (that’s the SoundCloud, here’s the website) and struggling to get shit done for Borderless. In short – I’m busy.

I’m not abandoning this blog though, no sir/ma’am. This is my Corregidor! Well, maybe that’s a terrible analogy considering what happened. Alamo? Nope. Never mind.

On top of posting partial articles I wrote for Borderless I will also dump public episodes from UnApologetics here. I’ll also still write articles that don’t really fit for UnApologetics or Borderless (read: semi-coherent rambling). Also, any fiction I write will also show up here as well as on the UnApologetics site (well, maybe not there). Well, when I get the time to write some fiction. I suppose I have the time, I’m just being a lazy writer. Ah well.

Maybe I’ll throw up an article about The Handmaid’s Tale tonight since I’m watching it again with Shanice. It could happen! Stay tuned!

 

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Selling Affection

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, and although I love my mom, I despise these holidays.

Why? Is it because I’m an emotionally crippled Scrooge who hates seeing happy people?

Maybe.

But I’m more inclined to say I hate these holidays because they put a price tag on affection. When you get down to the core of these holidays, it’s pretty depraved. “Hey mom, my love for you is worth approximately $30. Here’s a chintzy card with a schmaltzy platitude and a gift card to Red Lobster. Thanks for my existence!”

Now, I have no problem with showing gratitude in the form of gifts. It’s a handy way of expressing appreciation, but the way these holidays operate is on such a shallow level. Instead of buying mom a card, why don’t you call her or write her a letter? Instead of buying her a gift card, why not treat her to dinner? Hell, why not make her dinner? The same applies to Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

It seems like we’ve gotten into a social arms race injected with a healthy dose of consumerism. It feels like our communication, both verbal and nonverbal, has been stunted and replaced with heaps of plastic and gaudy displays. It’s an ugly part of social capitalism. We have turned our care into capital, and treat our relationships like an exchange system. Let’s see, mom gave birth to me so she’s worth this much, dad contributed to the project known as “me” so he’s worth this much, and my significant other is worth this much.

Look, I understand why we give gifts. It’s a simple sacrifice. I care about you and am willing to deprive myself of something to give you something in return. The problem is that we have turned it into an isolated exercise, a series of materialistic holidays where, if you don’t spend x amount on the people you love then you must be a cheapskate or an ungrateful bastard.

So why does it have to be organized? Why does it have to be a bizarre example of peacocking? Also, why do we even need these holidays to remind us to appreciate the people we care about?

If you love your parent(s), or your significant other then why does there have to be a day on the calendar to explicitly show that affection? Shouldn’t that be, y’know, every day?

What about Christmas? We talk about family, we talk about world peace, but why does it have to be one day, or one month? Shouldn’t we aspire to appreciate those things year-round without the need to express that appreciation via an orgy of buying and heart attack-inducing stress?

The worst part of this is that we bought into it voluntarily. Nobody held a gun to our head and demanded a spending quota. Hallmark and Macy’s don’t have armed thugs coercing the passerby into buying overpriced greeting cards or trinkets. The federal government isn’t threatening to arrest you if you don’t spend enough money on your loved ones. That’s one beauty of capitalism: it can be fought with very little effort. Simply don’t engage.

Now, for the sake of transparency I bought my mom and other mother figures a card and a small gift.  I’m just as manipulated as everyone else, and I can’t decide which is better: artificially induced guilt or feeling disgusted with myself for buying into “it.” Why should any of us feel guilty, though? All this is is turning love into a physical commodity. It seems like we have forgotten the ability to deal with abstracts, so we panic and grasp for tokens to deal with the emotional crisis.

My plea is not to never ever buy something for a person you love, or to not participate in any of the personal holidays, but simply remember that you aren’t scum if you don’t buy a blood diamond or an overpriced card cranked out by overworked and cynical office employees. Instead, just remember that something as simple as a phone call or a heartfelt message, or an act of kindness means a helluva lot more than a worthless trinket that wraps a price tag around the necks of people you love.

Happy Mother’s Day, and try not to get sucked into the stupidity.

My novel, In the Land of God, is available on Amazon as an eBook and paperback.

You can also click here to donate to my Patreon page.

 

 

Writing Update: Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters; eBook Giveaway; Print Discount

Writing Update: Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters; eBook Giveaway; Print Discount

In the Land of God is FREE on Kindle from March 14-18. 50% off with discount code on the Createspace store. Check below for details!

Update! As of tonight, In the Land of God has risen to the #11 spot in “Literary Sagas” under the “Top 100 Free” eBooks on Kindle, and #38 in the “Historical Fiction” category under “Top 100 Free.”

You know that saying about plans, and mice, and men and how they often don’t go exactly as planned?

Well if you don’t, I’m in a little situation like that. Not, “my challenged friend killed my employer’s son’s wife” situation, but something that made me say, “Dammit, me!”

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First the good news!

This past Wednesday I met with one of the people in charge at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. For those of you not from the Grand Rapids area (or if you are from the area and don’t know what that is), it is a place for writers to work and sell their work. I’ll be making In the Land of God available through them as well as the usual channels, and in due time it will be available on  their online store and at their location in downtown Grand Rapids. I’ll make sure to keep you all posted when that happens.

Speaking of availability, back to the bad news.

Last week, I mentioned that I would be doing a promotional deal for In the Land of God, and…

It didn’t happen.

Mea culpa.

To make it up to everyone, I will be running two separate promos.

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The eBook version of In the Land of God will be FREE from March 14 – March 18.

You can go to Amazon and download it for FREE from tomorrow through Saturday.

(The other promotion is for the print version.)

Go to the Createspace store and enter the following code for 50% off the list price.

2KGQ6Z4D

(Expires March 31)

Feel free to follow me here, or click on the Twitter logo up top to follow me there. You can also “like” In the Land of God on Facebook.

Also, feel free to leave a comment below, and if you pick up a copy of In the Land of God, reviews are always welcomed.

Thanks for reading.

A luta continua!

 

 

Super Bowl LI (Strange echoes of November, the Consumer Frenzy, and Political Advertising)

Correction: In the original version of this article I included 84 Lumber as one of the “progressive” companies attracting the ire of Trump supporters. Turns out I, and others, misread the commercial. It’s actually supportive of Trump’s immigration policy. I don’t like being wrong, but hey, better to admit when I am.

Watching Super Bowl LI felt a little bit like election night. Looking for live coverage on YouTube, refreshing Google to get new updates on the score, and having the sinking feeling that despite things looking up it’s not over until it’s over.

Well, the Patriots won and the Falcons lost. So it goes. I suppose it’s for the best since I imagine Trump was ready to throw a tantrum if the team with his golden boy lost the big game. Yes, now Tom Brady can go into the history books as the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time and Trump can sleep soundly knowing there hasn’t been an indirect assault on his ego.

This feels oddly appropriate. The Patriots were, essentially, the “Trump team,” whereas the Falcons were the “Hillary/Other team.” I’ll admit, I don’t follow sports in general and definitely not football, but the fact that the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl must mean they’re at least somewhat decent at their trade. In the first half of the game the Falcons thrashed the Patriots and even after halftime it seemed safe to assume it’d be a slaughter. Then the Patriots rallied and tied the game. It goes into overtime, and the Patriots pull it off. And like in politics, the Patriots didn’t need to blow the Falcons out of the water, they just needed that extra point to get over the line and get the whole shebang.

Ah, but unlike the 2016 election we can move on with our lives (unless you made some hefty bets about the outcome of the game, in which case I wish you the best of luck).

Something I noticed about the Super Bowl, that I don’t think I’ve noticed before, is the frantic consumerism that takes place before the big game. I ran to the grocery store before the game; a real in-and-out kind of mission. While it was a quick run it still gave me enough time to notice the way people behaved at the store and on the road. Shoppers zipping through the store with grocery carts chock-full of processed food and cheap domestic beer, a bunch of modern Romans stocking up on bread before the circus. They acted like some Doom was about to befall them if they didn’t get their shit and plop down in front of the TV before kickoff. The only times I see that kind of latent panic grip a mass of people is either before Christmas or when a helluva storm is coming. Cars flew through the parking lot with no quarter given to the poor bastards unfortunate enough to be in their way. Move it or lose it, I’ve got a game to watch!

What is it that makes people act this way? Do they actually enjoy the stress? Maybe there’s a sick thrill to it, the way their adrenal glands start pumping, their blood pressure skyrockets and their heartrate gets a little faster than usual. It’s controlled thrill-seeking; safer than skydiving, and more accessible than a rollercoaster. Granted, Super Bowl Sunday is an American holiday in its own right, but aren’t holidays supposed to be relaxing instead of a continuation of the usual stress? The irony is we make our own stress in these situations. We buy into the narrative that you must buy, buy, BUY before the big game. Yeah, part of the fault can be laid at the feet of corporations encouraging this behavior, but nobody is putting a gun to your head to engage in it.

Speaking of corporations, even the most ardent anti-sports citizen knows that Super Bowl is one-part football, one-part halftime show, and one-part advertisement. Hell, the advertising alone is a  is a bigger draw for Millennials than the actual game.

Well, that by itself is unnerving. The commercials aren’t anything new. A-list celebrities, sentimentality, and family-friendly comedy. Done and done. Granted, with multi-million dollar production budgets these 30-second bits are like mini-movies, and we Americans love our cinema (especially if it pulls all the right strings and tickles all the right places).

The love of the commercials isn’t the problem, it’s the oddity that Americans look to these corporations as affirmations of all that is Right and Good in the American character. We should take positive messages where we can get them, but at the same time I have a hard time believing the sincerity of the message. Look, I’m happy to see companies like Anheuser-Busch (Budwesier), Coca-Cola, and Audi. Still, business is business. A lot of people are looking for ways, big and small, to resist the Trump administration, so why not buy from companies that seem to be against him? It feels less like a direct political move and more like an ad strategy thinly veiled in politics. “We stand for what you stand for! (Buy our product.)” Predictably, the Trump camp is in an uproar against some of these companies calling for boycotts of those companies. In the black/white political arena that is American politics, if one side supports/opposes something then inevitably the opposing side will do the exact opposite. You voted for Trump and you’re against Budweiser? Well, better run out and buy a few cases of their beer. In all fairness, both sides do this. To be quite frank, it feels less like protest and more like profiteering. Ah…but listen to me being such a cynic! I suppose I should be happy getting support wherever we can get it, and after all, conflict makes for strange bedfellows.

Where were we before this extended tangent? Oh, right, the Super Bowl and its results.

Well, if there’s one thing that gives me hope it’s that nobody took to the streets after the Patriots’ victory. Americans love their football, and are probably more loyal to their respective teams than their political party or religious denomination. Still, even with that level of passion, people were more in an uproar over the election results than the results of the Super Bowl. The disappointment after a game lasts for maybe 24 hours, but not in politics. If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what would.

 

No Sympathy for the Devil (but sympathy for the voter)

 “Our Barbie-doll president, with his Barbie-doll wife and his boxful of Barbie-doll children is also America’s answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string-warts on nights when the moon comes too close…” – Hunter S. Thompson (Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72)

I wonder, Hunter, what you would have made of Donald J. Trump? You couldn’t believe that the American people voted for Bush, twice, so I must wonder what you would have thought about the American people voting for Trump.

But you are dead, and we are not, which means we’re the ones that have to make sense of this roller-coaster ride.

We are in the eighth official day of the Trump presidency, and the light has yet to break through the clouds. I held back talking about this sordid election since November, mostly because I didn’t feel like I had anything to add to the conversation. I also felt that maybe, just maybe, a higher power with a slightly less dark sense of humor would intervene, but no such luck.

So, here we are, and so it goes.

We have a president that has kicked the press after it’s already been thrashed by cheap neo-Nazis and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. We have a president that has muzzled the federal agencies and assembled a cabinet of corrupt and/or incompetent stooges to do his half-baked bidding. We have a president that believes a Great Wall of America is going to keep out ravenous hordes of Mexicans created in the mind of last century’s racists and the paranoid nightmares of middle America.

I have no love for this man, and, why should I? He’s the president of my country, sure, but that doesn’t mean too much. He’s a scum-sucking shyster that rode a wave of anxiety and xenophobia straight into the Oval Office, promising the people the moon and getting ready to hand them a pebble. I wouldn’t trust him with being president of the sophomore class, much less the United States. I suspect that, like Nixon, his paranoia and underhandedness will get the better of him, and when his regime combusts like the Hindenburg I will have no sympathy for the man.

Over two months after his victory on November 8th and I still find myself wondering, how the hell did this man get elected? That is, what possessed people to choose him as their leader?

It’s easy, almost comforting, to write them off as Klansmen, Nazis, garden-variety racists, or simpleton nationalists, and for a disturbing number of them that’s the truth.

Still, that’s not every Trump supporter.

Yes, Trump speaks to the dark side of the American character. Ignorant, brash, inarticulate, paranoid and violent. These are all characteristics we must confront, and I’m afraid we embrace them all too readily in times of crisis. We act like cornered beasts ready to lash out at anyone or anything that we even remotely perceive to be a threat.

He also speaks to the naivete of the American character, and for those people I can’t blame them.

We’re surrounded by two of the world’s largest oceans that are patrolled by a nigh-unstoppable navy, and we have two relatively comfortable neighbors. The last time we fought with Canada was during the War of 1812, and the last time soldiers went into Mexico was over 100 years ago during the time of Pancho Villa. It only makes sense that we feel sheltered, and Trump speaks to that. Withdraw from the international stage, build a wall, and beef up the military! It comforts people because it’s simple, lacks the nuance and complexities of geopolitics, and asserts America’s otherness from the rest of the world. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long ago that we could be withdrawn and isolationist. Part of me even agrees with it. Trump also speaks to the idea of self-reliance, the pioneering blood that flows through our veins and is grafted onto our DNA. It speaks to a time when, as a nation, we could be self-reliant: farming, manufacturing, technology, and culture we had it all. We were the last ones standing after World War II and we reveled in it.

Pax Americana, the New Rome straddling the globe, setting our eyes on space, and weeping for there were no new lands to conquer (the communists didn’t count).

Then came the hangover, and we didn’t like it. The 50-year drunk came to an end and it was time to pay the Great Bartender and stumble out into the blinding light of postmodernity.

Now, after a dwindling manufacturing sector, two costly wars, and a financial crisis we’re left wondering if it might be better to look to the past instead of the future. Trump roars onto the scene like a raving, unhinged version of your nostalgic and vaguely racist uncle. Almost everything he stands for, I’m against, yet I can still empathize with the Trump voters that aren’t throwing sieg heils or defending crackpot theories about race and genetics.

Why?

I grew up in Michigan. My father is a tool & die worker, my uncles worked for GM, and I remember the foreclosures and factories closing. I remember already-struggling towns get a swift kick to the groin. I know people who face insurmountable college debt, who were told to go to college because it was a golden ticket for job security and a luxurious future. I empathize with Trump voters because they are friends and family members.

I also empathize with them because they voted for a shyster and a conman. He lured them in with promises of a return to norms and American greatness without any idea of how to make that happen. Hell, I don’t even think Trump quite realizes the impossibility of his promises. I could be wrong, and part of me hopes I am wrong, but I doubt it. Even if the manufacturing jobs come back, they’ll be replaced with robots that are faster and don’t ask for a raise. Even if we extract ourselves from the international stage we’ll still compete with China and India. And what of the illegal immigrants? You could deport every last one of them and the economic situation won’t get any better. Do you think the fresh, young generation is going to run to the fruit fields to pay off their college debts to the tune of $4 an hour?

I empathize with the Trump voter because some of their anxieties are very real, and because they’ve been swindled by King Swindler; they just don’t realize it.

 

 

 

 

Small fish in an ocean: Bill Baughn and the troubles of a new musician

A skinny guy that has a beard and hair like Jesus sits in a chair absent-mindedly tuning a guitar while a cigarette dangles from the corner of his mouth. His name is Bill Baughn, and he’s an aspiring musician. He is one of many young artists trying to make a splash in what has become an endless ocean of other young artists trying to do the same thing: create something, get some attention, and make some money doing what you love. It’s harder than it seems.

Baughn’s story is quintessentially American. He comes from a smaller town next to a small town. He taught himself to play guitar after only learning the D, G, and E chords and he learned how to write meaningful songs by listening to lyrical masters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Baughn is a self-made musician, using an armory of new and used equipment cobbled together from stores, friends, and yard sales. He’s got the talent and drive, but right now he needs two things: exposure, and money.

I’ve spoken with Baughn in the past about his music, and when we last talked he was planning on embarking on a state, if not regional tour. Unfortunately, that plan has yet to come to fruition. The reason? Funding and planning. “There’s more to it than throwing stuff in a car and driving around,” he tells me. “You’ve gotta set up the shows, figure out where you’re staying, and that’s not just the cost.” That’s food, gas, and lodging if you can’t crash on someone’s couch or can’t find a place to park and sleep. It’s an investment, but the question is will you see a return on that investment? More exposure, more fans, and ultimately more money or will it wind up being a failed pursuit. “It’s a gamble. Do you sink all this money and energy into something only to have it go nowhere?” It’s a fair question, especially when you consider the time you’d have to take off from work if your art is not your primary source of income.

How do you make that art your primary source of income? Baughn’s answer is, “You keep playing shows, keep recording music, and hope more people get into it.” In a word, it takes work. It means spending time honing a skill, creating content, and making it available online (usually for free). It seems like a backwards investment: put forth a ton of effort to give away something for free that may never progress beyond being a hobby. The internet and cheap digital equipment is something of a paradox. On the one hand, the internet the availability of cheaper tools makes it easier to produce and distribute, but on the other hand it creates a lot of competition. “Anyone can record a song and put it on SoundCloud,” Baughn says, “But is it any good?” He shrugs and fiddles with the guitar, “I guess that’s up for listeners to decide.”

It’s hard to argue that democratization is a bad thing, especially when it allows for new and original content to become available. Ironically enough, its greatest strength is also its greatest drawback: if anyone can produce content then how do you figure out what is good and what is bad?  It’s a difficult question to answer. Baugh has a point in saying that it’s to the listeners to decide content. At least that’s the ideal situation. Here’s the problem with that: people have limited time and limited money, or in other terms exposure and competition. Thus, they want to spend their time and money on products they know and like. That’s something of a problem if you’re a new artist that’s trying to break into the market. Even if you distribute your content for free a listener can go on YouTube and listen to music for free from artists they already know and like without searching for new content. What if the listener discovers a new artist, like Bill Baughn, and enjoys his work? Let’s say this hypothetical listener has an entertainment budget of $30 a month ($10 for a movie ticket, $10 for an album, and $10 for a book), and Bill Baughn decides to make his first album for sale, while at the same time a well-known musician releases a new album. Baughn, and every other relatively unknown artist, is competing with nationally and internationally known artists that have established fandoms. Do you spend $10 on an unknown artist and hope for the best, or $10 on an artist you’re confident you’ll enjoy? Putting out music for free to generate trust is one option, but it leads back to the original problem: what if it’s all for naught?

It seems like an infinite loop of one Sisyphean task after another, like some kind of musical Groundhog’s Day, and aside from dogged determination how can a new artist break out of the obscurity? “Keep producing content on a regular basis. Keep people’s attention,” is Baughn’s first idea, but collaboration is also key. “I want to work with other musicians I know are good and dedicated to what they do.” When asked if he’s found any success with that he says, “Yes and no. The biggest problem is getting people to commit to something; practicing, writing, and recording on a regular basis.” That’s another major hurdle, since it’s difficult to find someone who is willing and able to devote that much time and energy to something that may not produce any meaningful results. Last time I talked with Bill he was working with Jerry Wenger, another local musician. “I’m still working with him. He does my recording, but he plays with me too.”

Before I left I asked him what his prospects for the summer looked like. He lit up another cigarette, exhaled and said, “I’ll just have to see what happens.”

It may not be directly optimistic, but there is an optimism in that uncertain realism. It’s not a yes, but it’s not a no, either.

Bill’s music is available on SoundCloud under the name, Whatevers Clever.

 

Pill Problem: Prescription for Addiction

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By Adam Jones & Erin Donnelly

Go to Any College Campus USA on the weekend, and you expect to find a party held at someone’s over-priced “off-campus” housing. There’s an abundance of cheap liquor, and even cheaper beer. Someone’s passed out in the bushes, there’s a frat boy trying to maintain balance while he flirts with a disinterested girl, and scattered here and there are either people way too young to be there, or way too old to be there.

Alcohol is part of the undergrad experience, but what about the use and abuse of prescription medications?

Due to an increasingly competitive economy, college students and other adults in the 18 – 24 age group are turning to prescription medications to cope with stress and their workloads. According to this report by SAMSHA, people in the 18 – 25 age group are more likely to abuse prescription drugs.

The prescription drugs abused by college students most often fall into the category of amphetamines, opiates, and benzodiazepines.

 

Aaron, 20, pays rent, has a full time job, and enjoys cooking and playing guitar. For over two years, that life would have seemed impossible due to his addiction to prescription drugs.

Aaron dealt with the consequences of his addiction and managed to refocus his life. However, this confrontation with addiction is not the outcome for many addicts.

 

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It’s easy to forget that behind each number is a person and a family. It’s easy to forget that 1,741 families have lost a loved one to prescription addiction. This addiction is a prominent issue in the United States and does not show any signs of stopping. The over-prescription of medication not only directly affects those prescribed the medication, but it allows those drugs to become more available to non-medical users.

Since every person is different and may respond differently to treatment options, there are many different approaches to controlling prescription drug addiction. Grand Valley State University tends to approach the issue from an educational standpoint. A Grand Valley State University campus counselor, Bonnie Dykstra stated, “The goal is to educate students on how to handle stress and anxiety so that they do not feel the need to abuse these prescription medications.” This education comes in the form of group substance abuse counseling, lectures at freshman orientation, and educational materials posted on campus. Education is the best step in prevention due to the lack of ability to easily see addiction taking place. Grand Valley State University police officer Edward Barnes weighed in on the issue stating, “It is hard to control these substances. We try our best to keep an eye out for drug abuse but usually if we are involved it means it’s too late. The individual is already addicted.”

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States, especially on college campuses where the stress and workload for students require much time, focus, and energy on a daily basis. Solving this problem requires education, a less stressful work or classroom environment for young people, and an overall reduction in the prescription of these drugs.