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

Pro-Life AND Pro-Choice

I’m pro-life. So is virtually everyone. I don’t kill bugs in my house when I don’t have to. I leave spiders alone. I rescue catchable bugs and put them outside. The problem with taking a Pro-Life stance and being against abortion is that you are also arguing that a woman who gets pregnant should be obligated by society to carry that pregnancy to full term and have that baby. This is an enormous infringement on that woman’s rights. That fetus can exist only in her womb for the first six months of development. If we become a society that mandates women who become pregnant carry their fetuses to full term, women’s, and only women’s, rights have been stripped from them.

I’m aware of the element religious beliefs play in this debate because I was raised Catholic. I was raised to believe abortion was wrong. I was raised to be Pro-Life, and I was Pro-Life even into my adulthood. Never was it pointed out to me, as I was being taught abortion was wrong, that making abortion illegal meant this enormous gouge in the rights of women. Right to Choose was just the label the other side used to indicate they weren’t on my side.

We’re a country where separation of church and state is one of our principles. That doesn’t mean people’s religious beliefs aren’t allowed to inform their opinions on issues. That would be impossible. It is a problem when religious beliefs shut people out to the opposing side of an issue. It is a problem when Mike Pence is angling to make abortion illegal because it’s against his religion, despite public opinion being against that policy. He doesn’t care because he’s certain he’s right and he’s certain he’s right because his religion is telling him he is. He thinks God is telling him he is. That’s not an opinion informed by religious beliefs, that’s dogma.

It is even more absurd that Donald Trump is pushing for this, a guy who has proven he is incapable of viewing any issue as nuanced. He aims to reward small pockets of people who voted for him to repay their loyalty to him. He isn’t the president of everyone, only those who never object to what he does.

The Pro-Life movement pushing to make abortion illegal couldn’t exist without religion. It puts religious rules above the natural order of life. Human beings have sex and sex results in pregnancy. Preaching abstinence only works for religious people who believe their religious rules should be followed. (It doesn’t work with many of them, too, but that’s not part of my point.) People aren’t going to abstain from sex. A Pro-Life stance argues that women who don’t abstain from sex and get pregnant should have to “deal with the consequences,” but having a baby are only the consequences of getting pregnant when religion creates a rule that commands people who don’t abstain from sex and get pregnant should have to “deal with the consequences.” That religious rule isn’t law because our separation of church and state elevates the freedom of women to choose above the right to life of a fetus that is utterly dependent on an individual woman. That so many religious people, like me, were raised to believe abortion is a sin without ever having that counterpart infringement of the rights of women to choose not to carry a fetus, conceived by an act entirely natural to human behavior, to the point of delivery makes holding that position sanctimonious.

That’s the only argument against abortion. It is an infringement of women’s most essential rights, probably between their right to live and vote. Listed below are simply problems with the GOP position that abortion should be illegal.

We would return to the days of women getting risky procedures from unqualified doctors in horrid conditions. Some of them would die. We’d have an increase of babies from women whose own judgment was that they weren’t prepared to have a child and care for it. In many cases, this would be financial, and we would simultaneously have a hypocritical extremist GOP government pulling back on programs to help the poor, a reduction in the SNAPs program, cuts to Medicaid, fewer opportunities for aid in childcare. Suicide rates among women would go up.

Sanctimoniously, some on the far right, Mike Pence, and others, would blame these problems on the women, falling back on their dogma that they shouldn’t have been having sex. What about rape? We couldn’t make an exception for rape cases, at least not one that would mean much, because rape statistics are clear. Rape is rarely proven in a court of law, not because it doesn’t occur, it’s just difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard. Would we create a lower standard of proof that would allow for rape exceptions? Where would we draw THAT line to prevent women from abusing the new system of law that is abusing them?

An article pointed out that the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade will be unlikely no matter who Trump puts in. Public opinion is too powerfully against a complete overturn, but what is more likely to happen is that they’ll eat away at the law as it is to make various services for women harder to get, not just abortions but the many other services Planned Parenthood offers, which will satisfy public opinion enough to keep us from rioting in the streets, but still ruin lives. Standard operating procedure for our extremist GOP-dominated government, sanctimoniously ruining the lives of the poor. Vote blue in November whether you’re Democrat or Republican, it’s the only way to return our government to something resembling an organization that represents well the people.

For further reading I recommend “Authority and American Usage” where David Foster Wallace makes the point that being American requires us to be both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice: Exceprt: “Given our best present medical and philosophical understandings of what makes something not just a living organism but a person, there is no way to establish at just what point during gestation a fertilized ovum becomes a human being. This conundrum, together with the basically inarguable soundness of the principle ‘When in irresolvable doubt about whether something is a human being or not, it is better not to kill it,’ appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Life. At the same time, however, the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about something, I have neither the legal nor the moral right to tell another person what to do about it, especially if that person feels that s/he is not in doubt’ is an unassailable part of the Democratic pact we Americans all make with one another, a pact in which each adult citizen gets to be an autonomous moral agent; and this principle appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Choice.”

Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific, a memoir, and Hibernation, a YA thriller: all are available in print and Ebook from Amazon.

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Womp-Womp

In a typical television exchange between someone on “the left” and someone on “the right,” the latter being Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, “the left” guy, former DNC adviser, Zac Petkanas, Petkanas criticized Trump’s zero tolerance policy that led to children being separated from their parents at the border by pointing out the anecdote of a ten-year-old girl with autism being separated from her mother. Lewandowski spoke over him and said, “Womp,-womp.”

“Did you say womp-womp to a child with Down’s syndrome being separated from her mother?” Petkanas said. Lewandowski then tried to launch into a justification of Trump’s policy, but Petkanas, appropriately, wouldn’t stop calling him out for his womp-womp. The exchange is here:

http://www.tmz.com/2018/06/19/trump-corey-lewandowski-womp-womp-down-syndrome-girl-immigrant/

Exchanges like this come from not listening, we’re only signaling each other. Petkanas signaled he was against Trump’s policy. The detail that required some reflection from anyone with empathy was overlooked completely. Lewandowski only responded to the signal. I’m not excusing Lewandowski who might be the uncaring jerk he came across as, at least to me, but this is how we’re talking to each other, now. It barely matters what anyone says, it only matters what signal they put out showing which side they’re on.

A lot of people wonder how smart Trump is. I don’t know the answer. I don’t think the question is important. What matters is that Trump is an extremist who seeks out what confirms his extremist views and ignores anything that might conflict with those views. The best answer I heard about whether or not Trump is smart came from a guy who said, “Trump would be smart if he were a villager from thousands of years ago before writing or science when people just spun theories that suited the current circumstances and convinced others to agree.”

If you agree with Trump that we need to strengthen our borders, you could acknowledge the tragedy of a child with Down’s syndrome being separated from her mother, express an openness to figuring out a way to prevent that, but still assert that coming up with a policy for a strong border is necessary. Lewandowski didn’t do that. He said, “Womp-womp,” in response to real-life pain. But when we simply take an important point as a only signal of opposition to Trump, in this polarized culture, that real-life pain—that fact—doesn’t register.

People refer to what’s happening as tribalism, which I find too incomplete, as an explanation. The better explanation is the degree to which we’ve reverted to the times when tribalism was rampant, when tribes of people clashed, who knew nothing of each other, and so had no trouble viewing them as Other. They had no trouble because they had no information, no facts. We have information and facts, but we ignore them when it’s convenient. Trump is leading that charge, after copying it from right-wing propaganda television programs and websites. He’s delegitimized the news as “fake,” to his supporters, and so citing the press doesn’t work. The New York Times has reported Trump has told over three-thousand lies or misleading statements since his inauguration, but people convinced the NYT is fake won’t believe that. I’ve started telling people just to listen to Trump to determine that he lies.

Stunningly, this exchange barely registered in the media chaos Trump has intentionally created as a mode of control. He admitted he lied to the New York Times that he didn’t dictate Trump Jr.’s response about the meeting with Russians. He now has admitted he did. When called out for the lie, he said it didn’t matter because it was just something he told the “phony” NYT. So he creates the certainty (among his supporters) that the NYT is “fake news,” and then uses his own assertion they’re fake and phony as a reason it’s acceptable for him to lie to them. “It’s the NYT, it’s not a high tribunal,” he says, in the clip below. In America, where freedom of the press is highly valued, where the press is an essential safeguard for democracy, ‘a high tribunal’ is a pretty apt description of what the press is, because he wasn’t lying to the NYT, he was lying to the American people. Why did this clip and story get so little attention? Because it came the same week he told an even bigger and more outrageous lie: that separating children from their parents was something he had to do because of the Democrats’ law. Then that only congress could stop those separations. And then he proved he was lying by ending those separations with an executive order, which has nowhere near fixed the problems his zero tolerance policy, including separating them, caused. Here is our president justifying lying to the NYT, to us:

Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific, and Hibernation, all available in print or as Ebooks at Amazon.

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Did Jesus Go through a Selfish Phase?

Jesus was born, he spoke to the elders at thirteen or so, while his parents searched frantically for him, and then years passed before he brought his message of peace to the world. What did we miss? What was he like in his early twenties?

Jesus was God, according to the religious teachings, but if you interpret God as immersing himself in a human life then he wasn’t here as God. He was living a natural human life, like we all do, learning lessons as he went. We’re born selfish. Empathy has to be learned. I don’t think God would have come to Earth as Jesus and skipped learning this important lesson.

One of the great writings about living a compassionate human life, I’ve found, is David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon: “This is Water.” He opens with an old fish saying, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on and then one says to the other, “What the hell is water?” The point of the “didactic little parable-ish story” is that every experience each of us has we are at the absolute center of. Work is required to recognize that every other person we meet is experiencing life from their perspective. And that work has to be constant or we’ll lapse back into living like only our experiences are real and matter.

He illustrates this point by telling these graduates about the life waiting for them, the day to day tedium of working all day at a challenging job and then having to drive home through “SUV-intensive traffic” and having to stop at the grocery store because you have nothing at home to eat before you go to bed and to sleep before waking up to do it all again. “Who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and non-human they seem in the check out line.” Then he describes the agonizing drive home the same way. At one point, the audience laughter breaks in, and he interjects, “Remember, though, this is an example of how NOT to think.” Which is funny, but the vivid description of being annoyed at people in your way was intended to be funny. He knew it was relatable to everyone in the audience, as evidenced by their laughter. He wrote it because it was relatable to him. If living aware of and with compassion for the reality that everyone we meet has their own struggle we know nothing about was our default setting then we wouldn’t have to work at it, we wouldn’t have to be reminded of it with facebook posts, the young fish would know this is water. If David Foster Wallace had known it as a young fish, he wouldn’t have been able to offer his writing as instruction on how to put in that work and get there.

I’ve recently learned this man, whose writing is so loaded with compassion and empathy for the perspectives of his various characters, treated Mary Karr, a poet he dated in the early nineties, beyond poorly. She recently reminded people, in light of the Me Too movement, that no one cared when she pointed out his abusiveness. I believe her. Some overlook it because of the struggles with mental illness that led to his suicide in 2008, some overlook it because of his genius as a writer. I don’t overlook it. I acknowledge it. He treated her terribly. I’m just not going to throw out the lessons I learned from him and the lessons I’ll learn on another level when I reread him. Should I?

I think that’s a reasonable question for me to ask. I was nine-years-old when I became a Steelers fan, but I gave them up as my team after a woman accused their quarterback of raping her. A court of law never determined he raped her, that legal standard was never met, but enough about the story came out that I wasn’t going to be comfortable rooting for a team he led. That woman now has to live knowing a city worships a guy who allegedly raped her while he was, admittedly, blacked out drunk and her friends were prevented from rescuing her by his friends. She must be pained every Sunday in the fall.

Mary Karr might be pained every time someone raves about Infinite Jest, as I have at this blog. I acknowledge that. How he treated her wasn’t okay. If he learned from those experiences abusing her and they helped him learn to become a better person and pass those lessons on to others through his skill at writing that doesn’t make her an acceptable casualty. That’s not the statement continuing to read him is making, for me. I understand others might feel like reading him is making that statement and choose not to. I respect that. I hope they respect the decision I’ve come to. For me, I consider these situations case by case. A factor is visibility. Ben Roethlisberger’s high level of visibility makes me too uncomfortable to even consider remaining a fan of the Steelers. Another factor is the kind of experience I’m getting from remaining a fan. Football is a fun distraction but has little value beyond entertaining me, so it makes less sense for me to accept the flaws in the quarterback of the team, recognize the pain his visibility causes the woman he violated, who I believe, but still engage with because he brings me mild entertainment. For David Foster Wallace, that visibility is significantly less—though Mary Karr experiences pain from his violation of her that might be worse because he’s still widely read and lauded—and I know reading him helps me be a better person, so I don’t feel uncomfortable. I’m not ignoring her or her feelings. I’m also not ignoring the significance of his failures as a person. I’m not worshipping the man by loving the work. For me, in this case, the art is too valuable not to separate from the artist and continue to utilize as a tool for improvement in better living.

I’m not comparing David Foster Wallace to Jesus Christ, I hope that’s obvious. I’m also not suggesting Jesus Christ went through a reckless youth treating others terribly before he could emerge a wise old fish ready to teach the world how to live compassionately. My point is just that teachers in our lives will become exceedingly rare if we eliminate them as teachers because of their flaws. Part of the “Me Too” movement will have to include either reaching a consensus or accepting and respecting our differing views on where we choose to make these distinctions between art and artist. Would it be in poor taste to close this blog with a quote from David Foster Wallace that concludes Consider the Lobster, his wonderful essay on how we treat the animals we eat and how much we think about or should think about their treatment before deciding to eat them?

“There are limits to what even interested persons can ask of each other.”

Becoming Hitler

In Becoming Hitler, Thomas Weber gives a dense analysis of Hitler the years from the end of the First World War to the mid-1920’s. Hitler was a sycophantic message runner, during World War I, whose superiors saw no leadership potential in. After the war he discovered a talent for public speaking. He would speak for as long as three hours without notes. He spoke for a long time because he didn’t want his speaking engagements to include listening to those who came to hear him, but that doesn’t mean the crowds were unimportant to him. He fed off the crowds’ applause and cheers. His ideas got more extreme as he gave speeches because he craved the reactions his more extreme ideas produced in his audience. His crowds were radicalizing him at the same time as he was radicalizing them.

Hitler was also an avid reader but he only read nonfiction, but he didn’t read books straight through. “His reading was driven by a confirmation bias. He popped in and out of books to look for ideas that confirmed his beliefs, while ignoring or undervaluing the relevance of contradictory ideas.” (pg. 249) This is how he tainted the names of philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, by cherry picking lines from their work. He was building a reputation as an entertaining speaker in Munich and then began travelling to spread his message throughout Germany. All this was before the “Ludendorff putsch,” an attempted government take over by Hitler’s party that would lead to Hitler’s arrest. During his trial he would inflate his role and the failed coup would be renamed the “Hitler putsch.” While imprisoned he wrote Mein Kampf. He had positioned himself as the leader of the country’s most popular right-wing party, but it would require further economic hardship brought on by the crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression to catapult him into power.

“Hitler’s sectarian style of politics, according to which every genuine compromise was a rotten one, was not just an expression of his radical political views. It was also a reflection of his personality, for any compromise that is not merely tactical in nature must be based in accepting the opposing party as an equal, which Hitler was incapable of doing. Thus, in the political arena, he would only be able to function as the leader of a sectarian group standing outside the constitutional political process or as a dictator within a formal framework.”

This paragraph from page 205 resonates so well with Trump it practically hums. Comparing Trump to Hitler is dumb because Hitler led his country to starting World War II and committing a genocide of European Jews. His demagoguery was extreme to the degree we use it today as the definition of extremist demagoguery. Not comparing Trump to Hitler’s beginnings as a demagogue in early 1920’s Germany is also dumb because it’s an instructive warning.

Trump surfs the Internet and watches the news exactly the way Hitler used to read. He talks AT crowds at his rallies, because he has no interest in what they might have to say, he doesn’t value them enough to care, but he treasures their cheers and applause and chanting. They radicalize him as he radicalizes them.

“Demagogue” is a loaded word, but though this book was released in 2017, Thomas Weber doesn’t use it vaguely or directed at any specific person. Trump came to mind, for me, but the book also drew my interest because of Trump. Unlike many of the books being released recently about Trump, this book was probably finished well before the 2016 campaign. Trump is never mentioned. The author makes the point that demagogues come in all different forms. My opinion of Trump is that he’s different from Hitler in all kinds of ways. Trump’s knowledge of Hitler is probably comparable to the average high schooler, so he’s not following Hitler’s blueprint, by any means. Trump is following the path of demagoguery by instinct. Trump is like a lot of Americans who have ingested gobs of right-wing talk radio and Fox news, and he’s been clumsily regurgitating it as a politician. It spoke to the people who’ve also ingested the same rhetoric for the last two or three or four decades. (The rest of his voters just irrationally hated Hillary Clinton, not unfoundedly hated her, but still irrationally compared to the alternative now our president.)

Hitler was driven by insecurity but also highly motivated to acquire land and resources and probably driven by misanthropy. Trump, believe it or not, is a people pleaser. He made vague promises to restore America’s greatness that appealed to a select group of people, who now worship him. His governing strategy is to reward those people for their loyalty by giving them what they want, which essentially is the anger and frustration and pain of everyone who is not them. That doesn’t make him any less scary. What’s really frightening is comparing Germany’s economic state and overall mood following World War I, circumstances that made them highly susceptible to a demagogue, like Hitler, to the relative prosperity of America today. Even then it took another devastating economic turn to put Hitler in power.

Another book I read recently, Flashpoints, by George Friedman, made a point that struck me. Countries don’t start wars or worship demagogues or any other of those common mistakes nations make because they don’t know their history. They do when the pressure to do so becomes greater than the pressure to resist. What pressures led to Trump? We’re economically stressed but we’re not selling our possessions to buy groceries because of inflation, like they were in Germany well before the Great Depression. Trump spoke to people mostly because he promised never to be politically correct, giving his followers permission never to have to be either. “Political correctness” is just what the extreme right named an actual higher level of sensitivity to oppressed groups that much of the country has embraced, that led to gay people marrying and a woman being nominated as the presidential candidate for a major political party. Our resistance to Trump I would grade a C minus. A large portion of his base still worships him. The rest of the GOP, with a few exceptions, is trying to get what they can out of him. There’s certainly a lot of resistance, which is helping, but mostly we’re complacent. What if the pressure mounts?

“When confronted with new emerging demagogues, history may not be able to tell us until it is too late whether the writing on the wall points toward another Hitler, or an entirely different person. However, the conditions that imperil liberal democracy and make the emergence of demagogues possible can be detected early on, be responded to, and thus contained before they become as acute as during the time of Hitler’s metamorphosis.”

Hidden Figures (Reviewed)

In Hidden Figures, Katherine Goble, a black woman working at NASA, has to walk to another building to use the restroom. This is an effective metaphor for showing the racial discrimination she faced, but the real Katherine Goble didn’t walk to another building to use the restroom. She used the same restroom as white people for over a year before someone complained. After the complaint she kept using it. Her skill as a mathematician let her be accepted by the whites at NASA, but she was accepted as an exception. Because she was an exception, the racial biases of the whites, overall, remained, but now they thought, by making the exception and accepting Katherine Goble, their racial biases had vanished.

Something similar happened to some significant fraction of the American voters who voted for Obama, twice, but then voted for Trump. [By no means all of them but some] Obama was an exception. His election didn’t change anything about race relations in America, but people got a false sense that racism had vanished. (Like when someone racist offers “proof” they aren’t racist by saying one of their best friends is black, but on a national scale.) So this small but significant fraction of Trump voters accepted Trump’s bigotry, both in his past and through his candidacy, because they “knew” they weren’t racially influenced by his rhetoric because they voted for a black man, twice, but because Obama was an exception, their racial biases not only remained but were more conveniently ignored because they’d “proven,” to themselves, they didn’t exist.

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:

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=good+will+hunting+scenes&&view=detail&mid=DC1309E98BE2484F9AB9DC1309E98BE2484F9AB9&&FORM=VDRVRV

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.