About myfreesentences

My novel, Flowers on Concrete, is available in paperback or as an Ebook. Please peek inside the sample at amazon and discover if it's something you might enjoy. I'll post short fiction and muse on various aspects of writing and always enjoy reading the same. Find me on facebook: GregMetcalfAuthorPage and on twitter: GregMetcalfMGP

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (Reviewed)

The collection of psychiatrists who author these essays honor the Goldwater Rule not to diagnose someone unseen but they also honor their duty to warn. They don’t make a diagnosis of Trump but point out how his behavior and his thinking, as president, are creating a “malignant normalcy” in our democracy. One author suggests Trump has delusional disorder and cites his three lies during his commencement speech (denying his feud with intelligence, saying the rain stopped and the sun emerged for his speech, inauguration crowd size larger than Obama’s), which were so demonstrably false and, at least the last two, seemingly unnecessary that a likely interpretation is that he believes his own lies and would pass a lie detector test.

Much in the essays for lay people will give language and articulation to what we’ve all intuited from following his candidacy and now presidency, but the essays aren’t all about him. They’re about the country that elected him, too, because there are plenty of people extreme on the scale of narcissism, who exist in “extreme present hedonism,” but now one is president and when he makes decisions and statements as though he is the only real thing in the universe and that therefore all his statements and decisions have no repercussions the whole world is at risk.

Anyone might benefit from reading this collection, but there are people who wouldn’t let the information in it break what author Elizabeth Mika (Who Goes Trump?) calls “the narcissistic collusion between the tyrant and his supporters.” She writes: “The tyrant’s own narcissism hints at the level of woundedness in his supporters. The greater their narcissistic injury, the more grandiose the leader required to repair it. While his grandiosity appears grotesque to non-narcissistic people who do not share his agenda, to his followers he represents all their denied and thwarted greatness, which now, under his rule, will finally flourish.”

Trump’s approval rating is still in the thirties. Historically low but still way too high given the way he’s representing our country. It should be in the low teens. Over thirty-percent of Americans do not fit Elizabeth Mika’s description above of tyrant sycophants. The problem is the difficulty in admitting to voting wrong. Trump never should have won the Republican primary, which was a disaster since so many Republicans despised Hillary Clinton enough to abandon their “Never Trump” stance and tell themselves Trump would magically transform after he got elected. This collection of essays might do the job of putting everything we’ve been through in a little more than a year in perspective and make it clear Trump doesn’t have the skills to get better but he does have the character flaws to get a lot worse.

“There are those who still hold out hope that this president can be prevailed upon to listen to reason and curb his erratic behavior. Our professional experience would suggest otherwise. We collectively warn that anyone as mentally unstable as this man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.” – joint statement from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts


Good Will hunting for friendship

I was (and am still) a big Good Will Hunting fan. I haven’t seen it in a while but I randomly thought of the scene late in the movie where Will and his best friend, played by Ben Affleck, are talking and Will mentions how he expects them to live in Boston forever and coach their kids together in Little League, and Chuckie says, “I’m going to wake up and be fifty, still doing this same shit, and that’s fine, but you’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket you don’t have the guts to cash in. It would be an insult to the rest of us if you’re still here.” Then Will says, “You don’t know that.”

“Let me tell you what I know. Every day I come over to your house and I hope you’re not there. That’s what I know.”

(I’m paraphrasing)

This is a dramatic scene and perfectly sets up the later scene where Chuckie shows up and Will isn’t there. He’s gone to “see about a girl.”

It worked and still works, but only if you ignore a lot. Will is a guy whose core is damaged with lack of trust. Chuckie is his most trusted friend. By now, in the movie, Will’s character arc has progressed but are we supposed to believe that his best friend telling him his biggest hope is that Will leaves town without so much as a goodbye is going to inspire him?

Plus, Will lives in Boston, he doesn’t live in some isolated rural area where there is only a gas station and a Friendly’s within a hundred miles. What exactly is Will obligated to do with his life that he can’t do in Boston while raising a family and staying in touch with the best friends he grew up with? Isn’t Chuckie really telling him that he and all of Will’s other friends are so saddled with their normalcy by having a friend with Will’s intellectual gifts that they would be better off without him? Could that be their real motivation for fixing up that piece of shit car for him to use to drive the hell away from them?

Movies create their own world and anything only has to work in that world to work and Chuckie’s speech leads to a nice end to the movie, but is it a nice end to the story? I suppose yes or it wouldn’t have taken me twenty years to find a plot hole in a movie that won best screenplay for that year at the Oscars, but I also think I have a point worthy of a blog post.

Here’s the scene mentioned:


Mother! (Reviewed, light spoilers, no ending spoilers)

Movies like Mother! are a mirror, so your interpretation reflects you. The couple living in the house represented two facets of one person, an artist. She represented the desire to protect what was created, maintaining the elation that comes with creating art, but he represented the desire to share the creation with other people. All artists, to varying degrees, roam around in their subconscious and when you share something from there other people are invited to roam around in your subconscious, too.

This was represented by a pair of metaphors, the house, in the first half of the movie, and adding the baby in the second. To varying degrees, the other people who showed up at the house respected the owners’ wishes, but they roamed around anyway. They entered rooms they weren’t supposed to enter. They broke shit. Because they felt like the house was theirs too, because it was. A writing teacher once told our class, once something’s published it’s not yours anymore. She meant it’s not just yours anymore.

I’ve grown more like the woman character in the movie. I tend to hold onto pieces ready for submission because I want them just mine a little longer. It’s unfair to the story, but once something’s been rejected, even if I start by sending it to a top tier magazine, it doesn’t feel like just mine anymore. It feels like someone came into my house and roamed around and broke shit. Rejection isn’t the only way to feel like someone’s been in your house roaming around, though. A story published gets read but it also gets not read by many more. A bestseller gets one-star reviews on Amazon. Only art put away in a drawer or attic and never mentioned gets to belong solely to the artist. I don’t want my baby forever swaddled against my breast just breathing and staring into my eyes. That’s a nice feeling but it fades. You have to find a way to merge these two characters, to put your work out there but maintain at least some of the elation from creating something, even if people think it isn’t good, or if people think it’s derivative (of course it is, everything is derivative), or if people decide it was something other than what you think it is or what you wanted them to think it is.

The reason I thought the movie was good but not great is not because the two halves didn’t work together but because they both had the same thing to say. The second half was bonkers, which was cool, but I wanted another level, not just a more extreme version of the same level. A friend told me the director said the movie was actually about climate change. Cool, I see that, now, but I didn’t while I was watching it. I got invested in my own metaphor. I was invited into the writer/director’s subconscious and I roamed around. I broke shit. I’m allowed.


So Many Tracers and Bursts…from Letters Home

I’m not sure what level people were on when they read Letters Home, the book of my grandfather’s letters to my grandmother while he was serving in the Pacific during WWII as a bomber pilot. Most people probably read the book as one man’s account of his war experience, which I think it would be a worthwhile read at that level. But if he was writing them for posterity, which he might have been, he wasn’t primarily. He was writing primarily to an audience of one: my grandmother (except for one he wrote to my mother shortly after her birth).

He wrote to entertain her, to connect with her, to reassure her, all these things, but he also, at some point, began writing for him. Writing sustained him through the war. Writing kept him together. Maybe I’m projecting because without writing I have trouble imagining who I would be, but the one piece of evidence I use to trust there’s something to my theory is that after his emergency landing in the water, he got picked up by a destroyer. The doc offered him a pint bottle of whiskey, which he drank in one gulp (I guess we’re not judging the doctor’s technique, it was a different time), and then he insisted on writing a letter. He tore the letter up later. (I wish he hadn’t. He said he couldn’t read it himself but I would have liked a try at deciphering it.) Out of habit, he probably addressed that letter to my grandma but he was writing that letter for himself.

There are times he writes straightforward letters just to meet his self-imposed requirement of getting a letter out to her every day. I included some of these to give the book an accurate feel of his letters to her but cut many to eliminate repetition. Other times he sits down to intentionally write her a real beauty, which could feel forced but doesn’t because he has good writing instincts and knows how to avoid writing that feels like it’s trying too hard (this is my opinion, obviously) but also because his aim isn’t to impress you or me or anyone else reading this book he had no idea would one day come to exist, his only aim is to impress his wife.

But other times he’s so accidentally good that is what confirmed to me his writing instincts. This is most clear in his letter from August 16, 1945 when he writes about getting shot down; before censorship wouldn’t allow him to describe the incident that occurred over Kure, Japan. He gives such a clean, ordered account of exactly what happened, without any flourishes. Ends with how he missed one hop but got on the next one “for if I hadn’t I would have lost my nerve completely.”

Then he tacks on this bit that I still remember knocked my socks off when I found it:

I knew before I got hit that it was coming because there were so many tracers and bursts around me that I could have gotten out and walked on them. I jerked like a madman but they got me.

Those lines create such intense imagery, not just of what it must have looked like to be surrounded by explosions so dense and close he could have stepped out of his plane and walked on them but also how it must have felt. The second part of that passage I also love because the “they” feels like not the enemy below firing but the tracers and bursts up there with him. Almost like they’re detached from the people firing them. The pair of lines feel like a man caught in a war aware everyone else was caught in that war, too. The bombers above and the men firing anti-aircraft weapons below are in identical situations, to him. This might seem like a reach, out of context, but the letters provide more context. He writes, elsewhere, “Is it bravery to fly though gun fire to bomb and kill others?”

After the war in a flyover, he writes, “Everything seemed to be under control except that I did see a couple kids throwing rocks at us. Some of the civilians even waved in a friendly manner and then some just waved fists. Most of them, however, just looked up casually. I imagine they are about as relieved as we are that it is all over.”

I had no idea I would find this level of empathy for the enemy when I decided to take on this project, but it’s one of the reasons why reading these letters and turning them into the book was one of the great experiences of my life.

Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific, available in print and as an Ebook from Amazon and as an Ebook through other online retailers. I also have paperback copies I’m glad to gift to interested readers. You can read it on kindle by following this link and purchasing for 2.99: https://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Rex-Jones-ebook/dp/B00RPV4P3A/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517500069&sr=1-2&keywords=Letters+Home+by+Rex+Jones

The paperback copy is available here for 9: https://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-WWII-Pilots-Pacific/dp/1505382912/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517500214&sr=1-1&keywords=Letters+Home+by+Rex+Jones

Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Hibernation, a YA thriller, and the memoir Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific. All are available as paperbacks and as Ebooks at amazon.com. He has three other completed novels, unpublished to date. His short fiction has appeared at Boston Literary Magazine, Metazen, and Toasted Cheese.


Witch Craze: Salem Witch Trials (Part Two)

One aspect that makes the witch craze especially frightening is how justified the perpetrators felt in their actions. Consider this instance, from Windsor Connecticut in 1651. As part of militia training, villagers were participating in a mock battle. One young man’s gun fired accidentally and the bullet struck a man next to him in the neck. The man bled to death. The young man whose gun fired was thought to have acted carelessly, and he was sentenced to six months in prison, for the accident. But that didn’t satisfy the people. The element of randomness troubled them. What were the chances that the stray bullet happened to hit a man in the neck and kill him? There had to be a reason, they thought. This tragedy remained the talk of the town, the local gossip, for years. A consensus of suspicion eventually landed on a woman the deceased man had boarded with and was indebted to, and three years after the man’s accidental death, that woman, nowhere near the field the day of the mock battle, was found guilty of orchestrating the event by using supernatural witch powers, called maleficium, and she was executed.

Again, this sounds cruel, and it was, but the event that deeply troubled the community now felt explained and the town felt healed. Often times a single case of witchcraft would be the extent of the damage, but what happened in Salem, in 1692-3, would be an example of a panic outbreak. Panic outbreaks occurred in larger towns, still small enough to have the intimacy of people knowing each other well with shared histories of feuding that spanned generations but so large that an entire network of supposed witches could be “discovered” before an accusation landed on someone so well connected to many upstanding citizens that the accusations were refuted by the community, which is how panic outbreaks eventually came to an end.

The play you read in school, The Crucible, was written by Arthur Miller in 1952. He researched what happened in Salem extensively, but his play was a fictionalized version, as you probably learned. He wrote The Crucible as a commentary of events happening in the 1940’s and 50’s, here in America, during the second “Red Scare,” also known as McCarthyism, named after the senator who led accusations of communism against fellow leaders. When we reflect back on real events we tend to create or stress story elements out of those events, a clear beginning, middle, and end with good characters paired off against bad. What really happened in Salem?

Many books have been written from that time and into the present. The Enemy Within describes what happens in Salem in its second section, after describing the phenomenon in Europe. Theories on what happened have changed over time, and The Enemy Within describes some of these different theories. The most effective way to learn from history, I find, is to immerse yourself in the time and in the thinking of the time and attempt to understand what happened from that perspective. Two important points are the extent that witchcraft was believed to be a real power, the ultimate source of which was the devil, impacting people’s lives, and the duty people felt to root out this evil for the good of society. None of this is meant to excuse the twenty murders of innocent people that occurred in Salem but to understand.

To say what happened in Salem began with the circle of girls who were the initial accusers is imprecise, because “witchcraft” was already present in Salem with suspects and accusers and probably even trials since the town’s beginning but also because it suggests the girls plotted the events that would follow. More likely the girls played with some sorcery thought to be the stuff of witchcraft; something like the Ouija board game sold at stores children will play at slumber parties except here with a heightened sense of the power involved and therefore increased guilt and fear of discovery. This guilt and fear may have led to some of the physical affliction the girls experienced that were interpreted as bewitchment. Some of these physical afflictions may have spread through a group hysteria and some of it may have been mimicked as a form of peer pressure within the circle. There may also have been some outright fakery with or without much sense of the danger and damage they were putting on those they accused. As John Demos says in the book, “the strictness of Puritan life was hard on adolescent girls, for that matter it was pretty hard on the adults.”

The children involved had no power to put supposed witches on trial and imprison or execute them; the adults did that, but the girls’ symptoms were unquestionably dramatic and frightening to witness, and coupled with widespread belief in witchcraft lack of intervention would have seemed irresponsible. Was anyone as certain as John Proctor was portrayed in The Crucible that the girls were all pretending? Probably not. Surely some suspected so but they wouldn’t have known it the way we would know it now and that combined with the worry they’d be next suspected and accused, which could mean death, would have pressured them to go along. Like in Europe, the developed pattern was that guilt was assumed along with accusation and those accused could be spared death by naming other witches seen at meetings. This served to give credibility to the accusations and spread accusations wider and wider. People knew instinctively who to blame, usually women of poor repute, usually older, sometimes widows who were left land by deceased husbands—a woman who owned land would be targeted because her land was coveted. This was an element of the complex motivating factors that directed suspicion; possibly not fully conscious but the jealousy and resentment of a woman, alone, past her child bearing years and thus of less value to the community (a common, possibly universal, value judgment of the period), and possessing land resulted in the genuine feeling that the woman must be under the devil’s influence. If she were outspoken, atypical of how women were expected to behave, that was another powerful factor in her drawing suspicion. While men and women were accused, mostly women were accused and the men who were accused were usually the husbands or sons of accused women. Misogyny was a clear factor in the witch crazes, both in America and in Europe.

In the book special attention is given to Rebecca Nurse. She was admired by the community. When first accused she was ill. Her friends went to break the news to her. Before they could she told them that she’d heard about the girls’ affliction and that she’d been praying for them. Rebecca Nurse was brought to trial but she had forty people in the community willing to vouch for her high moral character. These are forty American heroes, as they risked accusation by taking a stand for their friend. She was found not guilty, but the announcement of the verdict sent the girls, present for the trial, into fits. The jurors reconvened and brought back a guilty verdict. She was hung as a witch July 19th, 1692. A monument was erected in her honor in 1885. I think the author gives Rebecca Nurse special attention because her case was unique in how many risked everything to stand with her, but I feel like it’s important to remember that all the victims of the witch trials were as innocent at Rebecca Nurse.

No sudden realization of the wrongness of the trials brought them to an end. Rather questions that had been along since the beginning got asked by more people, reservations were voiced more loudly. For instance, spectral evidence, which meant an accusation from someone afflicted that they were being poked or prodded or otherwise troubled by the spirit form of someone, became unreliable to officials, but not because they doubted affliction was taking place. Spectral evidence became inadmissible because it was decided the devil could have been impersonating innocent people, who weren’t actually witches. Belief in witches didn’t go away, but public opinion had turned. People were tired of the hanging, partly because more and more people known well and liked were being accused. Trials continued, witches were jailed, even sentenced to death. Three were given a reprieve a mere day before they were scheduled to be executed, their graves already dug out of the frozen ground. More were jailed that spring but these were released by the end of the summer. And the panic was over.

Much of the initial reflection on what happened was deeply personal, involving new feuds and court cases to recover lost property. Notable apologies included Anne Putnam, who made special apologies to the family of Rebecca Nurse. Jurors expressed regret. Through the first half of the 1700’s various reparations were ordered paid to help “the families as were in a manner ruined in the mistaken mismanagement of the terrible affair called witchcraft.” Several of the circle of girls went on to lives of “dissolution and profligacy.” One, probably Abigail Williams, was never sane again, and may have not been all along.

“Witch-hunts, like most large social and historical phenomena, invariably show a pattern of multiple causation; in scientific language, they are overdetermined.” The author presents many of these theories. For example, a link was discovered that many of the accusers had spent time in frontier lands and were subject to fighting with Native Americans, having lost family members in wars or skirmishes, and one, Mercy Short, was a captive of the Wabanaki for several months. Salem was also divided into different factions, there were the interior old-style farmers and people closer to the sea more involved with trade, “the Village” and “the Town,” respectively. Division between these two factions went back decades. The accusers tended to come from people closer to “the Village” and the accused came from people living closer to and trading with and benefitting from trade with people from “the Town.” In this interpretation, witchcraft provided a means for struggles, actually based on these divisions, to be fought on a stage that belief in witchcraft provided. As Arthur Miller, the playwright, said of The Crucible, his aim was to spotlight “the primeval structure of human sacrifice to the forces of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.”

Wow! This is why, I believe, the story of Salem and the witch trials remains so fascinating to us today. Witchcraft is mostly gone, as a superstitious belief, but the way we struggle and seek answers to why we struggle outside ourselves but within something close to us, within our community, remains. Another way to put what Arthur Miller said is to say that the witch hunts of Europe and Salem weren’t about witches as much as they were an expression of something even deeper in humans that seeks that enemy within. In fact, the book opens with a time when Christians were sought out and punished in many of the same ways and for similar invented crimes as Christians fifteen hundred years later would hunt and punish witches for committing.

The last section of the book describes some more modern examples of incidents in American history, the Red Scare of McCarthyism, and others, which I’ll let you read about on your own, and asks how these incidents resemble the witch trials of Salem and how they’re different. The common thread I see is that desire for a relationship with what troubles us. We’re troubled by our own perceived weaknesses and faults and tend to find those faults and weaknesses in others, this is known as projection, and blame others to evade self-blame. It’s uncomfortable to peer in, to think, What am I doing I can change? How am I responsible for this or that trouble in my life? So we tend to first look outwardly, but we have to look where there is a relationship. It wouldn’t make sense to blame my problems or struggles on what’s happening on Mars. We have to have that intimacy with our enemies for that blame to land. All of that is okay, as long as it remains only an instinct. As long as it’s only an instinct we can take it out and look at it and think about it, and then decide not to give expression to it. The history of Salem is a sad case of people failing not to give expression to that instinct, but imagine all the times people did and still do avoid giving expression to it. Think of ways that instinct tries to emerge in you, on a much smaller scale, and let the lesson of Salem be a teacher in your life to help you find better solutions. I can think of examples in my life. When I’m leaving late for work, all the sudden everyone on the road is driving too slow and making me wait for them. They’re witches! No, of course the real solution is for me to leave for work with plenty of time to get there. Then the traffic is the same but I can listen to my audio book and enjoy my drive. I changed my behavior and made my life better, but it’s not magic—I’m not a witch!—I some days fail and blame everyone else for my failing to leave for work on time. I can only strive to do better in life, but lessons from history, like the lesson of the Salem Witch Trials, offer perspective to help me in that aim. I think your interest that began with The Crucible will do the same for you. I hope this book and accompanying book report will complement that interest.

Part two of a book report I wrote for my niece interested in The Crucible.

Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Hibernation, a YA thriller, and the memoir Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific. All are available as paperbacks and as Ebooks at amazon.com. He has three other completed novels, unpublished to date. His short fiction has appeared at Boston Literary Magazine, Metazen, and Toasted Cheese.


Witch Craze: Europe (Part One)

Old world Europe, from early A.D. to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, had what we would consider “superstitious” beliefs. They weren’t superstitious to the people of that time. The world was being discovered through careful observation but the information wasn’t being introduced to most people. People spread across the continent of Europe made sense of the randomness of their daily lives as best they could. A common desire among people is for order and control. You may have discovered this in your own life. You enjoy structure. You like that dinner comes around the same time every day. You like that you and your friends all gather at the same spot before school or at the same table for lunch. You’re driving now, you like the consistency of traffic lights! Our world is very organized. Fun as it is to occasionally deviate from that, that order is something we count on.

People then desired that same consistency. Their lives were probably day after day the same: they fed the animals, fetched water, cared for the plants in the fields. The stakes were high, because they were isolated in their parts of the area. Within a certain village there would be people they believed had special powers, “cunning folk,” they were known as. Cunning folk could mix together a strange brew of ingredients and offer them as cures for various ailments. People took them and sometimes got better, sometimes didn’t. The potions may have helped, they may not have had any effect. Either way, cunning folk provided people with the illusion of control over their lives, which gave them comfort. Say you were worried about a test and there was a girl in your school who you believed had magical powers to help you get a good grade. You might study hard for the test, but not wanting to leave anything to chance, you might ask for her help. The same way you believe this girl can help, she believes she can help. Maybe she gives you a magic tea to drink before the test or an amulet to wear during the test. If you get an A, you might give her a gift as thanks. If you get an F, you might blame her.

People in old Europe treated cunning folk like that for all the important aspects of their lives. Most of these important aspects of their lives involved life itself, the life in the animals they depended on for milk and food, the life of their plants in the fields, the life inside them in the form of pregnancy. People blamed the cunning folk when crops failed or a cow died or a woman couldn’t get pregnant, which allowed them the illusion of control over the harsh randomness of life, but they rarely got too angry because they respected the power of the cunning folk and felt dependent on them to turn their luck around. Cunning folk would also curse certain people, believing they had the ability to follow through with these curses, so if misfortune struck someone cursed would feel wronged. Under extreme conditions, the people may have turned on someone with these powers who they felt wasn’t helping enough or was acting against them and even killed them, but this would have been rare. Cunning folk were accepted and life was like that for many centuries, but around the 15th century something changed.

Christianity had become the primary religion and the church was working out philosophical paradoxes, or trying to. One was “the problem of evil.” This “problem of evil” is a philosophical paradox you’re likely to read about or think about: if God is all powerful and benevolent, why is there evil in the world? Well, there’s no real answer, that’s why it’s called a paradox, but the answer provided says a lot about the thinking of a period of time. If you recall from Little Book of Thou, there was a chapter on “the insight of duality.” This way of interpreting the world led to the thinking that God was all powerful and benevolent and the answer to the problem of evil must have been an opposing force of evil, in the form of the devil. The devil was no match for God in terms of power, so the devil worked in a sneaky fashion by corrupting people and getting them to do his bidding. Imagine in this fresh context how “cunning people” supposedly capable of making cows sick or women infertile or crops wilt and die might be perceived. They came to be viewed as in league with the devil as witches. All of that ill feeling for cunning people that came when they didn’t help or when they cursed people now had an avenue for retaliation. When misfortune struck, witches could be blamed and there was now justification for punishing them.

Change didn’t occur suddenly; the resentment over years in areas hit particularly hard by flood or drought that led to hard times intensified. The structure of society, the controlling parties, now had both the power and the perceived justification to exact punishments on “cunning people” whose inaction or action led, again in the thinking of people, to misfortune: suddenly sick or dying farm animals or a woman’s infertility etc. These punishments could be just fines but also prison sentences and even executions. In some ways, the community felt healed. Evil had been rooted out, eliminated, and normalcy seemed returned to the community.

This was sad enough, people generally eccentric, usually women, being singled out and killed—really sacrificed—to sustain the illusion of control over a random, sometimes harsh, existence, but the way of finding witches often led to “panic outbreaks.” Panic outbreaks occurred because guilt was usually assumed and discovered witches were questioned to gather information: who else was at your meetings with the devil? Naming names would sometimes spare the lives of the accused. Other times naming names would only minimize the torture before death. Records are imperfect but through the various “witch crazes” of Europe estimates are 50,000-100,000 people were executed for witchcraft with many more imprisoned. This is the culture that travelled to America with the early colonists.

Part one of a book report I wrote for my niece who is interested in The Crucible. Part two coming soon.

Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Hibernation, a YA thriller, and the memoir Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific. Available for purchase as paperbacks and Ebooks, at amazon.com. He has three other completed novels, unpublished to date. His short fiction has appeared at Boston Literary Magazine, Metazen, and Toasted Cheese.


Fear the Tallest Building

“You can tell what informs a society by what building is tallest,” Joseph Campbell says. He goes on to describe how churches were the tallest buildings with ancient towns built around the church, then castles or government buildings, and finally corporate offices. We got stuck on fearing the government when corporations have become the bigger threat. This was done to us deliberately, so we would cheer deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthiest and be grateful the government wasn’t overstepping and controlling us. Meanwhile powerful corporations and the vast wealth disparity they create are ruining people’s lives. The GOP has been working for this for decades, and Trump, for all the many other flaws he has, is an unscrupulous businessman who hates regulations because they make it harder for him to rip people off and now he’s deregulating everything and signing a tax law tailor made for business people like him all while still profiting from his businesses. It hasn’t been ten years since the ’08 crash that almost wiped out everyone’s 401Ks and now we’re stripping away the bank regulations put in place to make sure that never happened again. It’s an old tactic of control: look over here where this extreme would be hypothetically scary and bad for you but don’t look over here where that extreme’s opposite extreme is causing actual damage. Our fear now should be of too powerful corporations and a government who does their bidding.


Please Spread the Truth about the Affordable Care Act. Trump is Lying, Again

It’s not a surprise that Trump is calling the passage of the tax bill a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He takes full credit for things he had little to do with and exaggerates them to the point of lying. I think that was a chapter from the book he had written for him, The Art of Manipulation, I think it was called. What’s stranger is he apparently thinks the money collected from people who went without insurance and paid the fine funded the ACA, which demonstrates ignorance about the law. The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. The thirteen million people the CBO projects will lose coverage with the repeal of the individual mandate is just that, a projection. Opinions vary. Some experts expect that the law has been in place long enough that people have learned it is a benefit. Those subsidies are still there for people who qualify for them. That’s what puts the “affordable” in The Affordable Care Act. We all have a right to purchase insurance at a price that doesn’t exceed a certain percentage of our income. Trump is lying, again. He’s telling the American people the ACA has been repealed, which it hasn’t. His hope is people will feel discouraged or outright confused and not take those available subsidies, so he can feel right, I guess. This post isn’t about how flawed Trump is as a leader and person. We know that. If you have friends and family who depend on the ACA to get their insurance be sure they understand the truth. Uninsured people are more likely to die, that’s a statistical reality. So it’s good for them to have health insurance but it’s also important for the health insurance system, the only one we have, that healthy people are maintaining health insurance. “Healthy people” should probably be “potentially healthy people.” The healthy today could be the sick tomorrow, which is why we want to be a country where more people have health insurance, so our sick can receive care when they need it.


My Yeti Cup

The last birthday present my mom would receive from her sister was a Yeti cup. She came for an expected last visit early in the summer and we all chatted about these cups that could sit all day in a hot car and keep a beverage so cold the ice wouldn’t melt. (Allegedly, this hasn’t been tested, by me.) Then one arrived as her birthday present in late July. For the last month of her life that Yeti cup was kept full of water and kept cold and by her chair in the living room or, more often, as the days passed, at her bedside upstairs. When my sisters came to visit, intending to stay for the funeral, my mom held up her Yeti cup and had my sister take a picture of her with it and send it to my aunt. My mom wanted to include her sister in all of us being together. My sister had to send a text ahead warning her to be prepared of how our mother would look. She died a couple of days later.

That Christmas my sister sent me a Yeti cup. I opened it and it was like opening a memory of our mom. My sister said she knew I’d take it that way that’s why she wanted it to be a surprise. With my Yeti cup, I get a refill coffee for just a dollar at the gas station near my house. It stays hot all morning while I work, on days off, and when I take one to work it’s still hot during my first break. I use it every day and always think of my mom.

The other day, I left it somewhere. Not in my car, nowhere in my house. I drove back to the last place I’d been, which was work, and retraced my steps. No Yeti cup. I came back home and thoroughly searched my house before I called my sister and broke the news to her. I think the Yeti cup is gone. They’re known to be expensive cups, so someone might have seen it abandoned and swiped it. I didn’t think anyone I work with would have but I might have left it out where people shop. I was surprisingly forgiving of my mistake in misplacing it but still distraught. I had to keep reminding myself it’s just an object. I can buy another one. Would I still be upset about losing the original a month later? The answer felt like yes.

I mentioned to my manager at work what happened and asked her to let me know if the cup turned up. “The cup is valuable but it also has sentimental value.” She said she’d have our assets protection person look it up on camera. So on video, I set my Yeti cup and book on a counter above the time clock. I left and went to write in the coffee shop. I return later (for my jacket) and notice my book on the counter and grab it. My Yeti cup had already been grabbed by someone else who has a cup just like it. So it was tracked down, and I have it back. In the meantime I had accepted its loss and realized at an emotional level that my memories of my mom are not in a cup. Which turned into an opportunity to remember her. Plus I now have my cup back to remind me of her, and it’s literally like brand new because the person who had it washed it and knows a trick I don’t to get it sparkling clean.


What Tribalism Is, What Tribalism Isn’t

The idea of tribalism goes back to ancient times when bands of hunter-gatherers were following the animals they ate and searching for edible plants and fruits. Peoples clashed. They probably didn’t always clash, but if food scarcity was at levels that threatened survival, they certainly would have clashed. Compassion was enough of an instinct that killing would have troubled them, so they needed to carry a tribal god with them that told them they were a select group and other groups they ran into were not in that select group, which gave them permission to kill that other group without guilt or with diminished guilt. There are remnants of the tribal god thinking in the Western religions, which derived from the hunter-gatherer style of living. In the Bible, there are lists of foods appropriate to eat. These lists are worse than arbitrary, these were lists of the foods these people were already eating, so that when they ran into peoples eating different foods, they could kill them for violating religious law. There are other lists in the Bible, for how to sew etc. The Western religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) have adapted to a more unified globe and now teach messages of peace, but this tribalism origin shows in their texts and that influence probably affects our thinking, whether religious or not, we’re all influenced by Western religion.

A close equivalent to tribalism, in modern times, might be people who take sports rivalries way too seriously and imagine the campus of a rival college team or the city of a rival team a completely other set of people, even when everything else about those two cities or campuses would point to them having a lot in common (similarly sized, same region of the country, etc.). Tribalism would be if I eat Wheaties for breakfast and I have a neighbor who easts Mueslix, and I think, What kind of an asshole eats Mueslix for breakfast? I don’t even have an issue with this neighbor, I’m just looking for arbitrary distinctions so that when the end of times comes if we’re down to one loaf of bread and one bottle of water between the two of us I can not share without guilt.

The problem with explaining the divide in America today with tribalism is that it attempts to establish a false equivalency, kind of a buzz phrase through the 2016 election and continuing after, but a buzz phrase because the tactic is used constantly. There is a tribal element to the divide in America, because those Western religion influences are so powerful, but the distinctions of tribalism exist solely so that there are distinctions. They exist to create us and not-us, other. What divides America today is where we align on actual issues and what the influence of tribalism allows us to ignore is that there are objective truths behind those issues. This predates Trump. Jenny McCarthy used a study, later determined to be based on manipulated data and fraudulent research, to convince people vaccines cause autism. Many probably still believe this. Vaccinating a perfectly healthy baby is frightening, so it can be tempting to believe someone who tells you not to do it, but read up on how terrifying Polio was before a vaccine to prevent it existed. Climate change, caused by human activity, is no fun to think about, so when someone claims we’re just in a natural warming period, it’s tempting to believe. If you’re a Trump supporter, believing, as he said, that millions of people in California illegally voted for Clinton is tempting to believe, because winning the popular vote would be a nice feather in the cap of the person you voted for. Similarly, believing his inauguration was more well attended than Obama’s.

The scientific method allows us to eliminate our biases in how we observe. It has ways of eliminating that we might like to believe Trump’s inauguration was more well attended than Obama’s with what we can clearly see in pictures, that it wasn’t. Science has ways of studying how and why the planet is warming and was able to establish an extreme likelihood that digging up millions of years’ worth of fossil fuels and releasing them into the atmosphere as a gas is, inconvenient as it is to learn, the how and the why. Science establishes extreme likelihoods because science doesn’t deal in certainties. Certainty ends the search for potential new information and our ability to integrate that new information with what we already believe or to change what we already believe completely. We seem to be in a new age where people are comfortable believing whatever they choose to believe, and those people take advantage of science not dealing in certainties and use that to create irrational doubt, which is not the same as skepticism.

Soon after Trump was elected, he made the claim Obama had wiretapped him. An interviewer made every effort to nail him down on this, as Trump tried to be oblique, as he likes to be, you might remember this clip, Trump kept saying “you can figure it out,” and the reporter said, “I want to know what you think, you’re the president.” At one point, Trump said, “I don’t stand for anything,” and then he told the reporter, “I can have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.” This is the problem in America, and Trump is just an expression of that problem. Whether or not Obama was illegally wiretapping Trump is not a matter of opinion, it either happened or it didn’t. That clip is here; it’s hard to watch:

After Trump’s win, a lot of Americans questioned how people could have voted for him and the response to that questioning was often, “Apparently people aren’t entitled to an opinion anymore.” That’s nonsense. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion but respecting others’ opinions doesn’t require not questioning them. As much as people were entitled to vote for Trump and defend that vote, I was and am entitled to state that they voted wrong. Russian paid for millions of ads on facebook manipulating Americans into being for Trump and against Clinton and, more relevantly, which doesn’t get the mention it deserves, those ads were shared by American citizens millions of times. We got duped. Russia rigged our election for president taking advantage of our willingness to believe whatever we like to believe.

If we’re not allowed to challenge each other to be better voters, our democracy is threatened. I hope everyone who’s read this far reads the quote below from David Foster Wallace. What comes through even more than his wish for his fellow citizens to maintain a Democratic Spirt is his compassion at how difficult it truly is, how we all fail, sometimes, how the trap of failing to maintain a Democratic Spirit is universal. Compare how his words below try to unite us at the same time as they try to make us better. Compare that to how our current president uses that same trap to try to divide us and make us worse.

“A Democratic Spirit is one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., passionate conviction plus a sedulous respect for the convictions of others. As any American knows, this is a difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain, particularly when it comes to issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is a DS’s criterion of 100 percent intellectual integrity – you have to be willing to look honestly at yourself and your motives for believing what you believe, and to do it more or less continually. A Democratic Spirit’s constituent rigor and humility and self-honesty are, in fact, so hard to maintain on certain issues that it’s almost irresistibly tempting to fall in with some established dogmatic camp and to follow that camp’s line on the issue and to let your position harden within the camp and become inflexible and believe that the other camps are either evil or insane and to spend all your time and energy trying to shout over them.” – David Foster Wallace, from a 1999 article, “Authority and American Usage”