Theresa Marie Schindler Shiavo - R.I.P.

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Written on 10:17 AM by Jack B.

There really is nothing that can be said. My thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers, Terri's friends, those who fought for her and even Michael Shiavo, his ghoulish lawyer George Felos, Judge Greer, and everyone who watched and let this happen. This was not a death "with dignity" as some will now claim, this was a 13- day long state-ordered murder. America, I don't think, will be the same after this.

Her suffering is over but for the rest of us in a nation that let this happen to her I think it has just begun.

The media and the politicos may think this story is over but much like the outcome of the last election I have a funny feeling they will be proven to be drastically wrong. As Nat Hentoff said, Terri had the longest public execution in American history (for commiting no crime other than being "damaged"), and millions of people aren't going to soon forget.

I can only say I'm sorry Terri. Forgive us...and (now that you've entered the Kingdom) pray for me. Pray for all of us.

Terri Shiavo, Pope John Paul II and Tod Browning's FREAKS

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Written on 1:12 PM by Jack B.

When I first started this blog it was as an excuse to write. Even if it was something inconsequential. Then came the court-mandated murder (for I believe it to be such) of Terri Shiavo and any of my own carefree thoughts seem so meaningless in comparison.

Here I am, past the age of Terri when she collapsed, currently in good physical health and in a workplace I enjoy. I have a couple of college degrees and am working on getting another. I have a roof over my head, food in the cupboards, and while I'm not rich or even close to it, I'm not drowning in debt either. Right now, in other words, my life is pretty good. Which makes me feel ashamed in a way especially compared to the Terri's of the world...and also scared that I may one day find myself in the same condition. Terri Shiavo's life, after all, was pretty good once too - and in a moment that was all over.

This case really has occupied my thoughts like no other. Not only because I fear for the rest of us if we ever get into Terri's position and cannot speak for myself but because people are literally just milling about not only in the courts but in the legislatures and in the media outside the hospice and everywhere else in America while a woman, a fellow citizen, a fellow human being , is being starved to death worse than an animal. Of course they don't like to call it starvation, bring it up on the media and they'll change the subject or correct you and call it "dehydration" which is a euphemism like "choice" is a euphemism for abortion and "assisted suicide" is for "euthanasia". We know what's going on. People aren't that stupid. But the scary part is that people don't care. Most Americans want her to die, the media is eager for her to die, newspapers and columns are written are editorializing (as the so-called "conservative" newspaper in my city, the NY POST did just today on its cover no less) that she should be allowed to "die with dignity" as if starving without water for 2 weeks is in any way dignified. It is all so horrifying to me. Insane even.

I knew about the Shiavo case for awhile thanks to the blogsophere but I never concentrated too much on it because I assumed they would never actually pull the feeding tube...and even if they did something would make them put it back. Even as late as when Congress stepped in I wasn't worried but then...nothing happened. And Terri continued to starve and the American public and the media and much of the medical world seemed to side with her less-then-loving husband and banged the drumbeat of "kill her already!". Why? Why this rush to kill an innocent woman? What harm is their in her continued existence in the world, taken care of by people who loved her? What crime had she committed?

I couldn't figure it out. Michael Shiavo probably wants her dead for his own personal reasons. Judge Greer wants her dead as an exercise in power (what greater power is there than that over life and death?). Many on the political left (though not all thankfully) want her dead as another on-going battle in the culture wars of abortion and euthanasia - something in which they will never give ground. The so-called medical "ethicists" who have been popping up on all the cable talk shows want her dead so they can continue their redefinition of what life is. I'm appalled at how many people are saying with a straight face that Terri is a "non-person", a "non-life" and does not even meet the criteria of a human being. On Joe Scarborough show last night he asked one of these "doctors" if Terri was even a human being anymore and the doctor emotionlessly said she wasn't. Wasn't even human! Unbelievable. Still I know why the want her dead. But why is the media (mostly) cheering her death on? Why do they want this woman dead so badly? And why would the majority of the American public (even so-called "religious" people) believe she should be left to die and side with pulling the tube? How can I explain the inhumanity?

The answer I think lies in something else I saw. On Easter Sunday I tuned into the TV early in the morning (EWTN, so less talking heads) and saw Pope John Paul II valiantly try to speak. Try to get out the simple words I know he so badly wanted to (the Easter blessing) and fail. I saw the pain and frustration on his face. I also saw him listen attentively minutes earlier to Cardinal Sodano's speech, turning pages along with the words. His mind is obviously up to speed even if his body no longer obey his brain's dictates. For me, seeing that and knowing how much he's been through - orphaned and family-less at an early age, survived the Nazis and the Communists, survived an assassin's bullet, survived numerous operations and health problems, survived the slings and arrows of critics who hold his "archaic" views in disdain, survived bishops and priests who abuse the trust placed in them and who don't teach orthodox doctrine. Pope John Paul has survived it all - including several of his own biographers and potential successors and a media that have been on a deathwatch for 10 years or more. For me what I saw on Easter Sunday was just another example of a Man of Steel. A true Superman.

But apparently others saw it differently. I tuned to CNN just moments later and they were encouraging viewers to call into a phone poll they were running. The question? Should the Pope retire? Now never mind that it would hardly be a scientific poll, done with only CNN viewers and in a country that's 75% non-Catholic and of the Catholics there many who call themselves that but who really no longer are. And never mind that the US only accounts for 6% of the worldwide Catholic population anyway. So obviously the outcome would be pointless. The real question is: Why run that kind of poll at all? The pope has said time and time again he's NEVER going to retire. Nobody can force him out. He's not a politician who can be unelected by the Catholic laity or deposed by his own bishops. The opinion of anybody else is beside the point. Especially after such a show of courage it was in bad taste. But CNN weren't the only ones - the same day I read a newspaper poll that said Catholics "don't think the pope should retire" - which meant that someone else too asked the question. Why? Why do they want to push the man out and kick him when he's down? Sure they've been egging him on to resign for years - largely because they can't stand his positions on abortion, homosexuality, birth control, celibacy and the like. But why after being told time and time again that it's NOT GOING TO HAPPEN do they persist?

That's when it hit me. The media want Terri to die and the Pope to disappear into some monastery some place because they just don't want to look at them. Terri is sick, her body is helpless, she is an infant in an adult body. The pope is old, his body is crooked, he is a shell with only the unseen brain still in working order. They are both unnatural and unseemly by modern standards. They are both ugly, grotesque, much like that of The Elephant Man, Joseph Merick, a beautiful soul in a misshapen body. So too are the Pope and Terri. Beautiful souls but awful to look at. So people would rather not. They'd rather not be reminded of age and sickness - that's why nursing homes are filled with otherwise healthy senior citizens. They'd rather not go near people so near death and infirmity - that's why literally thousands of citizens of so-called "civilized" France died of neglect during a heat wave. People just didn't care. They didn't want to care. Terri and the Pope and those like them are the Other. They are the not-us. They are the freaks of the modern world.

Tod Browning's 1932 film FREAKS takes place in another time and in another world but it really wasn't that long ago. The plot is fairly simple - a "normal" circus acrobat in love with an equally "normal" strongman plot together to defraud a dwarf about to be married to another "little person" by getting him to marry the acrobat instead. They then plan to kill the dwarf and collect his money. The other circus "freaks" who find out about the plot and take the ultimate revenge. They turn the strongman and the acrobat into "freaks" themselves. The movie stars actual "freaks" from circuses and side shows at the time - Siamese twins, dwarves, a hermaphrodite, a boy without legs, a "Human Torso", and two "Pinheads" (two girls who actually suffered from a condition that made the heads seem pointed). The film isn't great, the staging is clunky, the budget is low especially considering Browning's stature at the time and MGM's usual upscale touch, there are no big stars (only B-Listers if even that) as the "normal" people in the film since most of the studio's top stars recoiled from acting with the "freaks". The sideshow stars themselves were for the most part stiff and horrible actors, this being their first (and for most only) film. As a matter of fact, the two Pinhead girls were retarded, something apparent if one watches the film closely enough. A total bomb that was dismissed as "exploitation" of the disabled by social reformers at the time, the film was cut by almost 30 minutes after disastrous preview audiences (the cut scenes have never been found) and eventually shelved by MGM all together. It totally destroyed the career of Tod Browning (director of the original Dracula)and then became a full-fledged exploitation film by cheap roadshow showings during the 50s and 60s where it ran under names like "Nature's Mistakes". In more recent times it has developed a cult following largely on the basis of actually seeing actual "Mistakes" in action in a time when they have almost entirely disappeared from the world. There is more of a taste of macabre voyeurism in the renaissance of the film since in actuality the film itself is not that great. It's definitely not something you would want to watch several times. Yet there is something else in the modern interest that stands out - an admiration of Browning and what he was trying to achieve. For in "Freaks" the good guys are those who are most ugly in the eyes of man, it is the physically beautiful acrobat and the strongman who are truly ugly, but it's inside where no one can see until it's too late. The "freaks" feel at ease with each other, made outsiders by the "normal" world, they have developed their own subsociety, their own family of one another. If one hurts one, one hurts them all. If one is accepted by one, one is accepted by all. When the acrobat marries the dwarf they go through a sort of initiation ceremony chanting "One of us! One of us!". The acrobat is privately disgusted but in the end she does indeed become "one of" them - as the "freaks" get their revenge. Browning was trying to bring humanity to a group of people whom Society had dehumanized and turned literally into curiosities to perform into for their amusement. Perhaps that was the true reason FREAKS failed when it first premiered. Not because audiences were suddenly disgusted by the sight of the same people who they had been paying to view at carnivals since before P.T. Barnum. Not because social reformers were trying to outlaw and shame the carnies into closing and the public spectacle of the performers to cease (in actuality, the carnivals provided most of the only well-paying steady jobs these people were able to get in addition to welcoming communities of people like themselves - on the abolition of the side shows many of the performers had a hard time finding work). No, perhaps it failed in 1932 because Tod Browning had dared proclaim not only the humaneness of those looked upon as "mistakes of nature", but showed they had better communities than so-called "normal" society, more loving closer bonds than "normal" society, a better sense of morality and a better sense of justice. It was the "normalcy" of the world who were the truly corrupt inhumane ones. The "freaks" not only had built a better society, they were better people as well. That is one thing many of the elite who make world opinion can't stand. The idea that they might not be the best, the smartest, the ones with the answers. The ones who should, by right, run the rules of civilization. Those who think otherwise whether it be the Pope with his denouncing of their cherished values of materialism and hedonism or Terri Shiavo, whose very existence is an affront to what they hold a worthwhile "life" to be must be gotten rid of.

The problems of the "freaks" were one of the things that influenced the eugenics movement and the social reformers of the early part of the 20th century. Medical science has largely solved the problem of biological deformities - often by terminating the deformed child before it is born or as in the case of the modern Netherlands, by killing it even after it's born, all in the name of living a "worthwhile life". Freak Shows have almost totally disappeared. The communities developed in them have dissipated. But of course there are still those who want a perfect race of people, the Social Darwinists of the world who believe in the "survival of the fittest". The modern freaks of our time are of course those who are blatantly unfit. Terri Shiavo, Pope John Paul and disabled and elderly people across the world.

Teri McPhail made a comment over at Fr. Rob Johansen's Thrownback. She wrote:

I keep hearing "Would you want to live that way?" To which I reply, would YOU want to live that way? Given a choice, who would. However, I have got to ask, would you want to DIE that way?

My answer to that of course people - "normal" people - would not want to die that way. You wouldn't even starve a dog or cat to death. But then, dogs and cats are "normal" in their way as well. There are millions of them - all alike. It is only when one becomes "damaged", like Terri is damaged, that we put them down. But we do not starve them. Because they are not "freaks", they are not something contrary to nature, contrary to the way everyone else looks, contrary to how "humans" are supposed to be. They are a "life", unlike Terri and unlike the Pope is becoming. And who determines what "life" is? The mob, of course and the mob will think whatever the media wants them to think - and the politicians will think whatever the mob thinks. The media of course can't stand "freaks" like Terri or the Pope - people who have outlived their usefulness, ugly people, different people, broken people. The only acceptable people are people like themselves - this is one of the cornerstones of eugenics and this is partly what we're seeing now in the world today.

When I was younger my mother showed me a book called "Very Special People" which featured many people who were once called "freaks", some of whom were even in the Browning movie. It celebrated their lives and accomplishments despite the odds. I still have that book and there is no doubt in my mind if a version of "Very Special People" were written today, Pope John Paul and Terri Shiavo and everyone like them - the "Freaks" of our time - would be in it. Because the title truly fits them; if only we all were so worthy of it.

Today we are ALL Terri Shiavo

3

Written on 1:07 AM by Jack B.

Other have explained it for better than I ever could. Others have made the case to keep her alive. Others have made the better arguments in her defense. Others have more information and more facts.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!” Matthew 27:22

I can only go by what I feel. What I see right in front of me. I cannot forget the allegations of abuse and infidelity against Michael Shiavo - after all he is the one making the decision about whether to kill her. I cannot forget that Michael Shiavo now has a "fianceƩ" AKA concubine with whom he has been living for years and has two children with - hardly the despairing, pain-wracked faithful husband. I cannot forget that Michael Shiavo got hundreds of thousands of dollars (the balance of which he still stands to receive on Terri's death) in malpractice money on the condition that Terri received therapy - something she has never gotten. I cannot forget that Michael Shiavo left Terri to rot in a hospice for years without even getting daylight, without letting her get a PET scan or MRI and not paying attention to her medical care all the while the same hospice (in a direct conflict of interest) is connected with his lawyer George Felos, the man who has gone to court to have Terri killed and the man to whom most of her settlement money has gone to (in lawyer fees) instead of her therapy, and who is also a vocal supporter of legalized euthanasia. I cannot forget that Michael Shiavo only remembered that Terri (in her 20s when she got ill) had apparently told him he didn't want to be kept alive if something happened only years later after her accident and AFTER he got the settlement money for her rehab (rehab that never happened) and that is apparently on his word and his word alone that she is being killed. Many others dispute her saying that or that she would ever say that. I for one cannot forget any of that even if all the people crying for Terri to be killed have conveniently ignored it. Just as they have ignored the fact that that Judge Greer who oversaw the case for years NEVER even saw the woman he sentenced to death and blatantly ignored a Congressional subpoena in order to carry HIS wishes out. Or the fact that this Judge Greer will not even let people come in and give her water MANUALLY and feed her by hand, not even let her mother slip a chip if ice on her tongue - why not if he is sure she can't swallow? Why put her through such a hideous death? Especially where there are so many people (thousands by now) who would be willing to feed and comfort her all the days of her life. But no one seems to ask these questions. Michael Shiavo says she has to die, Judge Greer concurs and America cheers them on.

When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything - G. K. Chesterton

But the worst people in all of this are not those who have actively sought Terri's death but those not connected with the case - the majority of Americans according to all the TV polls - who are not only standing by and doing nothing but urging the machinery of death on. The media with their misinformation and outright falsehoods, the politicians using this as another game of ideological "gotcha", the talking head lawyers who have become like the judges who condemned St. Joan of Arc - twisting the law to suit a desired outcome. And the great mass of humanity who say "well I wouldn't be want to kept alive like that" or "I wouldn't want my loved one to be kept alive like that", not even taking note of the fact that this case isn't about them or even any of their family. It's about a distinct individual, Terri Schindler-Shiavo, a fellow human being. An innocent woman whose only crime was picking a louse for a husband and then getting ill. She is not terminal. She does not have any disease. She was not on a respirator that kept her body going. The feeding tube has been off for days and she didn't stop breathing. She is just brain damaged (not "brain dead" or in a "coma" or any of the other lies the media has been spewing). She just cannot swallow food and so it must be fed to by artificial means. She is not going to die of any illness. She is starving to death. I repeat - she is starving to death! Think about how hungry you or I get when we go without drink or food for just a few hours, think how our stomachs rumble and start to hurt. Then multiply that pain by a week - a week without food. Our bodies dehydrating, our stomachs turning in on itself. Think about the pain and the agony. Then think about not being able to cry out or get relief and knowing the people around you in a hospice, the government and even your "husband" are the ones doing this to you. Think of the pain - and Terri does indeed feel pain. If you pricketh her, like Shylock, she bleeds ... and feels it. And even when people come to try to feed you by hand, to get a sip of water on your tongue - is that allowed? No. These people are arrested. We would not due to an animal or a condemned criminal what Americans of all stripes are saying should be done to Terri Shiavo. We would shoot a horse rather than let it go on in pain, we would put a dog or cat to sleep rather than let it suffer. The Scott Petersons of the world, the murderers of women and children, will live for YEARS on Death Row on the government dole while they get appeal after appeal. If they don't end up dying of natural causes in prison (as many "condemned" people end up doing) they too will get a painless death by the prick of a needle - a far cry to what they did to others. But an innocent person like Terri whose only crime was being weak and helpless? She gets the most inhumane, most painful death possible - something along the lines of what we charged the Nazis with at Nuremberg - FORCED STARVATION.

"When they came for the Jews, I did not speak up, because I was not Jewish. When they came for the Catholics, I did not speak up because I was not Catholic. And, when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up." - Martin Niemoller

What has happened to my country? What have we become? Why are we so callous? All I hear of how "it's a terrible situation" and "I'm sorry she had to die like this" but people are not sorry at all. It seems there's a real hunger for Terri to die among the media talking heads or the lawyers and pols who talk so clinically as if she's not a real human being. I've heard words like "vegetable" being tossed over and over again. As if she's not even human, not even alive. Not deserving of life. "If she's not going to get well, what's the point" they say or "there's no hope for recovery" so kill her, let her die, she'll be better off. Who are they to say these things? When do we judge people by how useful they are, how healthy they are - are these the requirements to be worthy to live? An infant cannot feed themselves, they cannot speak, they must be taken care of - Terri is like a infant now. Should we start killing babies? Maybe in the Netherlands they do that, maybe in Europe they do, but in America? The dehumanization of a person is the first step to their destruction. After all, if a person is not a human being if they are an inanimate "vegetable" with no brain, what difference would it make? It would just be like killing a roach or a rat. This is the thinking that got us slavery, this is the thinking that got us the Armenian Genocide, this is the thinking that got us the Holocaust. Once we have dehumanized a whole class of people - they are ripe for the kill and subjugation. Terri has been dehumanized. She has been found by the powers that be to be less than perfect and thus than worthy of life. And no one cares. In fact they support the FORCED STARVATION (it can never be said enough) of a helpless woman. I am afraid. Afraid for Terri, afraid for me if I should ever be helpless or weak or disabled. Afraid for us all. If they can do this to one person based all on a single statement of hearsay by someone whose motives aren't suspect (AKA Michael Shiavo), what's to prevent the forced starvation and painful death (imposed by the state) on someone else. Maybe one day you or me?

The MORAL TEST of any society is how is treats its weakest: children, elderly, sick, needy and handicapped. - Senator Hubert Humphrey

Today we are all Terri. If she dies, a little piece of us will die as well. We will become no better than the Dutch who today shamelessly kill "damaged" newborns. We will become like the ancient Spartans who would often leave "damaged" children out to die because they were not perfectly formed. We will have become like the parents of Blessed Margaret of Castello who was born blind, hunchbacked and dwarfed. She was walled up within the family castle in one room for much of her early life unable to see anyone other than a priest, later when her parents took her to a shrine in Castello for a cure that didn't happen they just left her there. She was still a child at the time. It was the poor and downtrodden, the homeless and abused like Margaret herself who took her in - otherwise her name and fate would have been lost to history.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said "I thirst." John 19:28

This is the Passion Week of Terri's God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ who was tortured, scourged and crucified for the sins of the world and then resurrected on the third day, defying death itself. Terri's Passion mirrors his and is an even more startling re-enactment of what Jesus went through than any Mel Gibson movie or local Passion Play. Barring a miracle Terri is going through her agony now, her own crucifixion by the state that can have only one final outcome. I hope and pray that HE is with Terri on her Calvary, whatever happens.

A Tongue Twister

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Written on 9:24 PM by Jack B.

Ray readily recalled reading of really rascally rabid rabbits riding reindeer by red rail roads in rainy Riverside Ridge.

Haiku #6

4

Written on 10:07 PM by Jack B.

Really, what's the point?
Why go on with this charade?
Let the curtain fall.

Edited to add: That may have been more depressing than I intended.

Haiku #5

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Written on 1:23 PM by Jack B.

The war. I hate it.
But I hate tyranny more.
Don't we all? Do you?

Haiku #4

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Written on 5:44 PM by Jack B.

The bath is dirty
The toilet is clean. But why
Is the shower on?

Haiku #3

0

Written on 3:49 PM by Jack B.

To haiku or not
To haiku, that's the question
But what's the answer?

Haiku #2

0

Written on 8:20 PM by Jack B.

A haiku is like
The bark of an evergreen
Filled with worms inside

A Haiku

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Written on 10:57 PM by Jack B.

The haiku I like
Best is this one, because it’s
Just So Darn Simple

Creating Fictional Characters

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Written on 9:17 PM by Jack B.

All stories start with characters. Good well-developed characters can often compensate for weak plots. There are tons of book out there that will spend pages and chapters how to develop good characters but personally I think if you don’t know instinctively how to do it no book is going to help you.

For me it always starts with a name. Not obviously fake names like the movie studios used to give to re-name actors they thought were too “ethnic” and not overtly obscure names that nobody in the world would ever think of. It’s bad enough that celebrities give their poor infant children names like “Apple” or “Moon Unit”, there’s no need for the rest of us to do so. My suggestion is to buy a baby name book to use for first names and use your phone book for surnames. Try to match a combination that sounds good coming off the tongue and doesn’t sound too hokey.

Usually once I have a name I try to match the character’s personality to the name rather than the other way around. I ask myself: what kind of person would have this name? What are their likes and dislikes? What were they like as children? How successful are they? How’s their self esteem? Create an entire inner life and history for your character even if most of that information will never see paper. The point is that YOU know it. You know this character inside and out. You know how they would react if you placed them in any given situation, from an avalanche to being mugged to having their heart broken. Once you know that the plot will resolve itself because it will turn on the character and not some plot device that makes no sense.

For instance, when I was writing my screenplay for college during my undergrad years the #1 point I got during feedback from my peers and professors was that the script didn’t work because I didn’t know what the motivation was for my main character – she seemed to do things just because that was what was needed to further along my plot, not from anything that was inherent in her. She was basically a cipher and because of that the script fell apart and no matter how much I would write and re-write it to make more sense, it still didn’t – because she made no sense. Since then I have resolved not to try my hand at screenwriting again until a character comes to me that will be so 3-Dimensional they will in a way write their own story. All action and re-action must be an organic growth from what a writer has already established.

There of course exceptions to the rule that good well-developed characters are necessary for good stories. Agatha Christie usually had cardboard characters populating her stories but then she was a genius plotter par excellence and could get away with it. Most of the rest of us are mere mortals.

What Fiction Is and Isn't

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Written on 10:02 PM by Jack B.

Fiction is NOT real life (or at least it shouldn't be). Fiction can be happier, funnier or tragic than real life but it should not mirror real life. Real life is boring. We LIVE real life we shouldn’t have to waste time and money reading or watching (in the case of film) people doing the same thing as do. If I wanted reality, I wouldn’t need a book or film or TV for it.

At its best fiction is an alternate version of reality. The reader can assume that the things on the page MIGHT happen if X, Y or Z was true and all the planets were in place but to think that it actually is happening can be boring. Exceptions can me made of course in exceptional situations like war or natural disasters where characters are stuck in situations the reader usually is not. In that case the background itself is inherently interesting (as opposed to most of our hum-drum existence).

Why DO This?

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Written on 5:08 PM by Jack B.

The point of this weblog is just to give me an excuse to write. I’m not trying to be a reporter. I’m not trying to make an ideological or cultural point. It’s not about politics or religion (though of course I have views on them). It’s about writing. For me personally I’ve always felt I was a writer. That is my vocation. Everything else I do is merely a job – to get money, to gain knowledge, all in the pursuit of art (and not starving to death).

The problem is that writing is not like riding a bike. You CAN lose it if you stop doing it. I was so busy the last 6 months that I haven’t had time to write and then when I tried – nothing. The only solution is to write, write, write. Write till your fingers start to hurt. Write till your brains start to freeze. Write about anything at all. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Hopefully a little something every day even if its as mundane as a haiku.