That time I almost got murdered by an old guy in a Chevy

I’m nine years old, and life is pretty good.

For an early September day in the ‘burbs outside Chicago, the weather is stunning. The winds are milder than usual, and the great northern chill has yet to descend. My classmates and I adore it. A mob of us have just walked a few miles to school. We pour into the hallways just before opening bell. It’s a private school, and so the boys are dressed in matching gold shirts and dark pants, while the girls wear classic plaid skirts.

We look pretty slick, all things considered.

But…

The moment we pile into our classroom, we can tell something’s up. Miss Calvin’s late, and she’s never late. I hear people talking out in the hall. One of the voices comes from a man, a tall man. He’s wearing a police uniform.

That’s weird, I think.

After a few minutes, Miss Calvin and the policeman enter our room. No one asks us to settle down; we’re already quiet.

“Morning, kids,” the policeman says. He towers over Miss Calvin. He towers over everything.

“I’m from the JPD, the Joliet Police Department. Your principal and several of your parents have asked me to talk to you today.”

This is no big deal, I figure. We’ve had police visitors before. The message is always the same: don’t do drugs, don’t talk to strangers, look both ways when crossing the street.

I almost check out.

Almost.

“Kids, I’m here for a special reason today,” the officer continues. “You see, there’s been some trouble, and since so many of you walk to and from school, we think it’s important to have a little talk.”

At this point, the class is riveted. Even I, the class clown, am itching to hear what he’s about to say.

“Two children from the public school have gone missing.” He drops the bomb.

Gasps.

Open mouths.

Incomprehension.

“Both children were nine years old, and both were last seen approaching a late model Chevy Nova. It’s a smaller model, olive green. Other children have reported that the man driving this vehicle called the kids into his car while they walked home from school.

“And neither of the children has been seen since.”

He lets it sink in.

And then he goes on to explain that if any of us see a green Chevy Nova, we’re to get away as fast as possible. Most of us don’t know what a Nova looks like, but he describes it in detail:

“Small.”

“Sporty.”

“Loud engine.”

He also describes the alleged man inside the car. I’m only half listening anymore. Being a young kid, I’m sure this whole event will end up having nothing to do with me. I’m afflicted with the same sense of invulnerability most nine-year olds feel.

The only thing nagging me: the officer never tells us anything about the missing kids.

Not even their names.

The officer departs. The rest of the day is normal. We work on our multiplication tables. We play kickball. I manage to not get into any trouble. Everyone’s whispering about the man in the green Nova, but only for a while. Without knowing the missing children’s names, it’s hard for us to be afraid. The kidnappings are a thing that didn’t happen to us.

They happened to someone else.

We’re safe. Right?

A few days pass. Everything goes back to normal.

The weather stays nice. In fact, it’s perfect. We can’t remember the last time September stayed so warm, so sunny, and so ideal for walking to and from school. Late in the month, the same as every afternoon, I decide to walk home with my friends, Stephanie and Brenda.

We’ve walked this route hundreds of times.

Only…we’ve never walked it with a green Chevy Nova trailing us.

As we turn onto Lilac Lane, it’s Brenda who spots the car. Stephanie and I are too busy plotting out our afternoon’s mischief. We’d never have noticed a thing.

“You guys…” Brenda shakes us out of our daydreams. “Look.”

We glance to our left. There, just beyond a row of young oaks, gliding along the street at maybe five miles per hour, we see the ugly green car. We can’t believe it. It’s almost not real.

Brenda doesn’t wait for Stephanie and me to make up our minds. She bolts away from the road, skirt swishing as she vanishes between two houses. Within seconds, she’s gone.

Brenda’s pretty smart.

The car rolls closer. I’m trying to play it cool, as if my indifference can save me. Stephanie says something to me, but I tune her out. I think she’s shouting my name. It doesn’t matter. She takes off in the same direction as Brenda. Her house is the opposite way. I’m not worried for her. Everyone in our neighborhood knows everyone.

She’ll be fine, I figure. She’ll get home.

Still in disbelief, I finally give the ugly green car a good look. The man inside is older. He’s wearing a hat.

He looks exactly like the creeper the policeman warned us about.

I think I see him stop and start rolling down the passenger side window.

And I’m gone.

I’m a fast runner. Faster than Brenda and Stephanie. Faster than anyone in my class. In my neighborhood, among houses I know better than anyone, the old man has no chance of catching me. I’m gone in five seconds. I don’t even know which way I’m running. What’s important is that he’s gone, too.

You’re not stuffing me in your trunk, buddy, I think.

Not today. Not ever.

The next morning at school, we hear the announcement over our classroom speakers:

The man in the green Nova has been caught.

He’s in jail now, charged with several kidnappings. Not just the two kids from the public school. Several more.

The streets are safe again. Brenda, Stephanie, and I agree never to tell anyone about what happened.

But the thing that nags me for several weeks afterward:

No one ever says the names of the missing kids. I’m sure it’s mentioned on the news, but at our school, within our insulated bubble, no one ever speaks of it again.

It’s as if those kids never existed.

As if, because we didn’t know them, their lives weren’t as important as our own.

* * *

The story above is true.

Want more like it? Read Reality is Best Served with Red Wine.

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Your Chance to Time Travel

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, we’re going to get scientific-lite.

Break out your beakers and glasses.

Let’s do this…

*

There and Back and There Again

 You’ve been given a time machine.

It will work three times before it breaks.

When and where are you going?

Do you use the final time to return to your present life?

***

Fight Club Time Machine

 Suppose you’re given the chance to travel back in time to fight any one historical figure to the death.

If you defeat them, the course of history will be changed in accordance with their absence.

The fight will be hand-to-hand. Your foe will be in their prime.

Whom will you fight?

*

Back to the Future

 You’ve built a time machine. It only goes one direction in time. Do you want to see how it all began? Or how it all will end?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Death of Ideas

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

 

There are no original ideas.

This year is the worst box office year for movies in forever.

The only things which make money are sequels.

Now that Marvel has led the way, everyone wants their own universe… whether it’s a good idea or not.

No one makes the comics/books/tv shows/movies/etc I want to consume.

***

This, or something like it, fills my Facebook feed and fills up blogs I frequent and dominates the headlines of various other places on the internet. Complaining about the state of entertainment currently available. Complaining that is it all more of the same and why doesn’t someone do something about it.

Complaining.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re not looking hard enough?

***

Remember when you were a kid? Assuming you were anything like me, you probably were a fan of Star Wars. And when I was 8 or 9, I remember first hearing what became an ever-persistent rumor of a Star Wars saga which would span a total of 9 episodes. Nine! On the playground, during sleepovers and birthday parties we tried to wrap our heads around the very idea of such a thing. What would that even look like? Would they come out every couple of years?

None of us say in the bedroom, stomped our feet, crossed our arms, and held out breath because “Why isn’t anyone doing something new?” It never occurred to us.

Did you imagine what those other 6 episodes might look like?

Later, in my teens, everything was still new enough that even if there was a sequel to something like Batman, it was something to look forward to… not lament its very existence.

***

The entertainment world has certainly changed the way they do things with any action or genre type movie (and some random comedies as well). They are looking for the sequel. The almighty trilogy.

The way we devour movies and tv shows have reached the point where there is enough “stuff” available that it only makes sense to try to serve some existing fan base out there. It’s just flat-out easier to get buy-in on something people already recognize.

And I don’t believe this has to be a bad thing. I don’t worry about whether there are too many Super Hero sequels or that Star Wars Episode VIII is on the horizon. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, how jazzed are you that there are more stories coming from that world.

Why does this have to be a bad thing?

***

And I know what you’re saying. The big production companies only want to make a dollar (or more like many millions of dollars) and so they aren’t investing in the smaller movies. And why would they when the next Avengers movie is going to print money?

I sometimes wonder if back in the 50s and 60s whether people were annoyed by the idea of another John Wayne Western was coming out.

Were you really put out by having all those great/cheesy/insert another adjective here for the horror movies in the 80s? I love some of them in many ways, and even I didn’t bother watching most. It didn’t mean I couldn’t watch something else if I wanted to.

***

I have a friend who talks about his current comic monthly pull list. And every few months he mentions cutting the number of Marvel comics he is reading. And then 3 months later, we’re having a very similar conversation about the exact same comics.

It’s like someone has convinced all of us that the box we live in is all we could possibly see or hear. The same people who are complaining aren’t going to see that independent movie which made $2 million dollars last year. The ones complaining certain comic companies aren’t making comics for “Them” anymore aren’t necessarily searching out more indy comics to fill in those gaps. Instead, they talk about only buying 10 comics a month, down from 30. Or sometimes even worse cuts than that.

***

Here’s the secret: other people feel the same way as you, but they are creating new things. Maybe it is a series of novels from an author you’ve never heard of. Maybe it’s that movie you keep scrolling past on Netflix because you don’t recognize anyone’s name in the description. Maybe there is a comic book which will speak to you again in a way you didn’t think was possible anymore. Maybe around the corner are new horror movies or new sci-fi things or new tv shows which don’t have anything to do with part 17 of the latest craze.

And if you’re really lucky, maybe this new thing you fall in love will spawn its own series of sequels and suddenly you can claim the other thing us nerds love to claim:

“Well, I liked it first!”

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

A Thought for Every Thursday – Are these famous quotes true?

Fact or fiction? Idealistic or realistic?

Each of this week’s questions centers on famous quotes from real life and literature.

And the pressure’s on you to answer…

*

Life Long or Die Hard

In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, the following line is uttered:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.”

 In other words, Shakespeare means to say that those who live in fear die a small death every time they back away from something that terrifies them.

Do you agree with this?

Why or why not?

**

That thing Thomas Jefferson said

 Are all men truly created equal?

If so, are they equal despite physical and intellectual differences?

If not, name the characteristics causing them to be less than equal.

*

Soul Armor

 J Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, once quoted:

“In battle, in forests, at the precipice of a mountain,

On the great dark sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds a man has done before defend him.”

His point was that he hoped that all the good things he’d done in his life might shield him from the darkness of his bad deeds.

Do you believe a person’s goodness can protect them in any way?

*

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

Water Under our Bridge

The year is 1992.

It’s raining now, just like I hoped.

In the heart of July, an afternoon that would otherwise be insufferably hot finds itself laid low by an unseasonably cool wind. The storms roll in from the north, dumping rain into the woods behind my tiny house.

Summer vacation. Can’t beat it.

As I stride between the maples and swaying pines, I know I’m living a different life than other sixteen-year olds. Most kids who attend Parkview High come from wealthy families, and are off vacationing at faraway beaches, mountain retreats, and golf resorts.

I don’t know anything about those places.

I’m right where I belong.

By the time Liam shows up, I’m thoroughly soaked. We hardly greet each other – just a shared grunt and a nod. We decide the day is too wet to enjoy our usual pastime of cul-de-sac Koosh ball, but far too perfect to flee inside and play video games.

“What should we do?” I ask Liam.

“Wanna play rain volleyball?” he says.

“Nah.”

“Wanna see if Tessa’s home? I know you like her, but she doesn’t know, so it’s—”

“Nah.”

“Ok.” He says with his hands on his hips. Liam’s a year younger than me, but at least four inches taller. He’d be imposing if he weren’t so skinny. “You got any other ideas?”

“Yeah,” I say. “See the creek over there?”

“Yeah.” He glances toward the narrow waterway trickling beneath a nearby bridge.

“Let’s dam it up,” I say.

He’s all in.

It begins. Without reservation, Liam and I descend to the creek. It’s a pitiful little thing, just eight feet across and six inches deep. Below the bridge, it trickles toward us through two huge concrete pipes. The pipes are big enough for us to walk through, but the dangling webs convince us we’d best stick to our side of the creek.

For now.

And so we do.

The thing about north Georgia is that it lies in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The soil is mostly clay, and rocks are everywhere. Big granite stones mixed with quartz are strewn across the entire northern third of our lovely state.

We’re going to need some of those rocks.

That afternoon, Liam and I get the best workout of our young lives. We move hundreds of rocks, including several small boulders. We don’t have any tools. It doesn’t matter. The soil is rain-softened, meaning we’re able to pry rocks out with ease.

In just one little day, we build a two-foot high wall. It’s at least twenty feet long. The shallow creek slows and deepens. The water is up to our knees.

The hours slide past.

The outside world doesn’t exist.

We’ve never had so much fun in our lives.

“Again tomorrow?” Liam says.

“Definitely.”

Over the next few weeks, we meet below the bridge almost every day. Our parents don’t care – or really know. We’re both latchkey kids. His mom and my dad both work multiple jobs.

We’re as free as two teenagers can get.

Better still, it’s the wettest July we can remember. The rain crashes down on a daily basis, keeping the rocks loose and the creek flowing.

Our dam grows:

Two feet deep.

Three feet.

Up to our chests.

Deep enough to swim in.

We finish one dam only to start on a second. We’ve got a little waterfall going, tumbling from the tiny lake we’ve built into the pond we’re constructing below. Fish start showing up. Frogs, too. No one else in our neighborhood sees what we’ve built. The trees on either side of the bridge are too thick.

Sometimes I think this is as close as we’ll ever get to living meaningful lives.

Instead of planting ourselves in front of video games or getting into mischief – which Liam and I are known for – we’re building our own world in the woods. It costs nothing but our time, which we’re glad to give.

We expand our journey. We follow the creek into the woods. We even brave the pipes, using big sticks to clear away the giant spiders’ webs. We find a real lake downstream, complete with a snapping turtle. We claim a two-mile stretch of creek as our own.

And then one day, as we’re wading in our self-made pool, Liam looks at me with horror in his eyes.

I figure he’s just messing with me. We’re master pranksters, after all. It’s what we do.

But then I see what he sees.

A water moccasin, slow and serpentine, is in our pool. It’s swimming atop the water, winding its way between us. The water moccasin, otherwise known by its deadlier name – cottonmouth – looks calm.

But we’re frozen all the same.

The five-foot snake heads to our waterfall and slithers into the shallower pool below.

We survive.

After that day, we never stack another stone atop our dam. We never wade in its shallows again. And while we occasionally stroll along the creek and journey deep into the woods, our little lake is forgotten.

The school year begins.

The rain ends.

It all happens so fast.

* * *

Not all that long ago, I braved a trek back to my old neighborhood. Rocky Hill, it’s called, in the quiet suburb of Lilburn, Georgia.

Our dam was still there.

I wonder if the snake ever came back.

*

*

This story is true. It really happened.

For more like it, go here.

*

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

Painter of Shadows

A Thought for Every Thursday – 3 Absurd Scenarios

Let’s have a little fun this week.

In contrast to the deadly serious questions we’ve asked recently, this week’s trio will border on the absurd.

Three questions.

Three strange scenarios.

Go for it…

*

Magic Potion

Suppose scientists created a cheap and tasty beverage.

If you sip it once every morning, you’ll be relaxed, alert, and happy all day.

And you’ll sleep like the dead.

The only side-effect: whenever you’re under the influence of this beverage, your IQ is 10% lower than normal.

Drink or no drink?

*

Brain in a Bottle

 Imagine that scientists have developed a new technology for extending human consciousness.

After the body dies, a special device captures human intellect, emotions, and personalities. Bodies are replaced by humanlike robots, and brains swapped out for powerful computers.

Would you want to extend your life in such a way?

Why or why not?

*

Remember your Cardio

 A zombie apocalypse has occurred.

Society has utterly collapsed.

People are turning undead in droves of millions.

Considering the real-life location in which you live, what’s your plan for survival?

Think short-term and long term.

**

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Choose Your Own Adventure

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along on our recent path of asking serious questions.

Don’t sweat it. We’ll come back to the light stuff eventually…

*

Choose Your Own Adventure

From the following, choose which one you hope is what happens after your death:

  • People who exhibit sufficient good in life go to a heaven of some sort, while everyone else suffers a worse fate
  • When we die, all that we are is forever lost
  • Reincarnation; either as a human again or a different animal type
  • We ascend to some higher form of consciousness, meaning we’re no longer human, but we retain some of what we once were
  • We roam as spirits either forever or for a period of time

 

  • And now choose which one you believe is most probably the truth.

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – We Didn’t Ask to be Here

This week’s A Thought for Every Thursday question continues along our recent path of asking serious questions.

We’ll come back to the easy stuff eventually.

…maybe.

**

This particular question is a favorite of mine.

More than most Thought for Every Thursday questions, I really, really want your answer.

*

We Didn’t Ask to be Here

 Since we are, none of us, responsible for our own presence in this world, meaning that none of us created ourselves or willed ourselves into existence, does that reduce any of our personal responsibility in this life?

In other words, every human alive was given life without his or her consent. We didn’t ask for this particular existence, and in fact, if given a choice, many humans might have chosen a different existence altogether.

Does not having chosen this life allow for a certain moral flexibility?

Or…

Must we accept a moral responsibility whether or not we asked for it?

And if so, why?

 

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

Until next week…

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Which ‘ism’ are you?

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

This week, we’re tossing romance to the side and moving on to deeper, darker topics.

That means no more romance. Or love. At least not for a while

It’s a relief, as I’m pretty much the least romantic person to ever live.

**

Today’s two questions are centered on individual (your) worldviews, and whether or not people can exist without them:

Part I

 

 From the following, choose which one(s) you associate with your personal philosophy of life:

Cynicism – The purpose of life is to live with virtue and in harmony with nature (not what you thought it meant, is it?)

Agnosticism – Humanity knows nothing beyond that which it can touch

Pragmatism – The most valuable things are tangible and practical

Hedonism – Life’s purpose is to pursue pleasure

Capitalism – Life’s purpose is accumulate wealth for the benefit of yourself and your family

Theocentrism – God is a central fact of our existence

Nihilism – Life is without objective meaning, purpose, or value

Existentialism – The universe is unknowable, yet humans still have individual purpose and responsibility

*

Part II

* 

Is it possible for a human being to live without believing anything?

Meaning this person would have:

No opinions

No claims to knowledge without hard physical evidence

No spirituality

No philosophy beyond the material world

No religion

If someone could pull this off, would it be admirable?

Or is this an impossible state of mind for a human to achieve?

Hmmmmmmm….

* * *

Past Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next week!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Love by the Numbers

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

This week, we’re concluding our discussion of romantic relationships.

That means no more romance. Or love. Or sex. At least not for a while. 🙂

*

The following three bulletins were pried from actual research performed in the realm of love and relationships.

After each research topic, we’ve added a simple question.

All you have to do is read…and answer.

*

Marriage is good for the heart

NYU Lagone Medical Center researchers surveyed more than 3.5 million Americans across 20,000 health care centers in the U.S. and found that married people, regardless of age, gender, or cardiovascular risk factors, have a significantly smaller likelihood of cardiovascular disease than those who were single, divorced, or widowed.

Question: If you were happily single, would the research depicted above be enough reason for you to seek a mate?

*

Healthy relationships, healthy minds

A nationwide population-based prospective study from Sweden examined the association between marital status and dementia. Those living alone were at a greater risk for early-onset and late-onset dementia. Swedish researchers also found that being married or cohabiting at midlife correlates to a lower risk for dementia and cognitive impairment.

Question: Assuming the above study is accurate, why do you feel it’s true that having a significant relationship delays or eliminates the changes for dementia?

*

Attitudes about couples

The National Health Statistics Reports describes attitudes based on surveys given to men and women, ages 15-44. In an eleven year timespan, there has been an increase in the percentages of men and women who agree with premarital cohabitation. There was a decrease in the percentages of people who agree with divorce. More men and women support same-sex relationships. Greater percentages of people also feel it’s acceptable for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sex if they have strong affection for each other.

Question: Do you believe it’s wise for couples to live together before committing to marriage? Or do you believe it’s morally wrong and should be avoided?

**

*

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – The Singles Bar

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

For the next few weeks, we’re going to approach relationships.

Romance. Love. Sex. Yeah.

*


So…

Depending on whom you ask, being single is either the most amazing, liberating thing in the world.

…or not.

Let’s talk about some of the situations people endure as they search for love.

*

Singled Out

 You’re the lone single person at a gathering full of couples.

They’ve placed your love life, or lack thereof, on the table for hors d’oeuvres. They’re giving you advice, offering to set you up, and regurgitating your dating horror stories.

Are you feeling:

Mad? As in you’re the odd one out?

Thrilled? (Any attention is good attention.)

Amused? (Half of these couples are miserable together.)

Hopeful? (Maybe they can help you find love.)

Nothing? (You tuned them out an hour ago.)

*

Charted Waters

 List the following in order (most important to least important) in terms of importance to you when dating someone.

The other person’s job

Their looks

Their religion

How good they are at sex

Their political stance

How close they are with their family

Their circle of friends

Their favorite movies, TV shows, and sports teams

*

Artificial Intelligence

 Suppose you’re dating someone.

They’re good looking, funny, successful, and smart.

But…

On the third date, you find out they’ve browsed your social media profiles and used some of the information therein to help win you over.

Is this creepy?

Cute?

Would you consider dumping this person?

Nice looking bar. Too bad it’s 2,000 miles away.

*

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – for Lovers only

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

For the next few weeks, we’re going to approach relationships.

Romance. Love. Sex. Yeah.

*

To get us started, here’s three light-hearted questions we recommend you read with your lover snuggled right next to you:

*

Famous Couples

Which fictitious couple best represents you and your lover?

Princess Leia and Hans Solo

Princess Fiona and Shrek

Rocky Balboa and Adrian

Carry Bradshaw and Mr. Big

Bella Swan and Edward Cullen

Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet

Write-in: ____________________________________________

*

Whatever It Takes

 For each of the following, state whether you did or did not do it while in the early stages of dating your current beau:

Blew off a friend to be with your new lover

Left work early to see them

Took a sick day from work to spend max time with them

Missed a meal

Skipped a night of sleep

Told a white lie to friends/coworkers about where you’d been

Spent more money than you should have

*

Couples Calculus

 Complete the following formula:

______________________

+

______________________

+

______________________

=

The perfect night out for you and your partner

*

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for every Thursday – Wanna be a monk?

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

So…

For the next few weeks, we’re going to approach a few deeper-than-normal topics.

Science. Religion. Meaning of life type stuff.

This week we’re discussing vices and indulgences, and whether or not certain behaviors reflect poorly (or not at all) on a person’s morality.

*

Wine

Liquor

Sex

Fine foods

Drugs

Just some of the things humanity indulges in.

For the sake of this question, let us assume none of these things are bad or immoral by themselves. While it’s possible the people overindulging in them might do harmful acts, the actual wine, sex, food, et cetera aren’t to blame.

That said, is a person who indulges in none of these a stronger person morally than someone who indulges in them often?

Does denial (or severe limiting) of one’s indulgences make a person better?

Or do indulgences have no bearing on a person’s goodness?

Best haircut ever….

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Crap-Ton of Comedy for Twelve Bucks

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a true Atlanta gem.

There I was, sittin’ at my computer, when a message popped up from someone I hadn’t talked to in a while.

It was an invitation to something I’d never heard of before – Beer and Comedy at Sweetwater Brewery

Not being a true beer aficionado, I was skeptical. The snob in me wanted to sip cocktails in a traditional comedy setting…whatever that is. And yet I was curious. The ad promised several hours of local and traveling comedy talent – usually 8-12 comics per night. It promised me a ton of Sweetwater beer, which…even though I’m not a beer nut, made me say, ‘hmmmmmmm.’ It even promised a souvenir pint glass, of which I just happen to collector.

All of this…for only $12.

“F**k,” I thought. “Twelve bucks for two-plus hours of comedy, six beer samples, and a pint glass? It’s too good to be true. Right?”

Souvenir pint glass? I guess I’m easy to please.

And so, on a cold winter’s night, after stuffing my belly with treats (and maybe one little Long Island) at Brookhaven hot spot Kaleidoscope, I hauled my skeptical self deeper into Atlanta. The rain pummeled my passage along the dark streets, and the cold crawled into my skin. At nearly 7PM, I shambled alone into Sweetwater Brewery, paid my twelve bucks, and hopped up the stairs into a wide-open bar.

I arrived early that night. Prime seating was mine for the taking. I wandered up to the huge L-shaped bar, ticket in hand (Each ticket has six punch-outs; each punch-out gets you a half-pint of beer) and I sampled a light but flavorful pineapple ale. Reminder: I wasn’t a beer nut, but I liked the pineapple ale so much I used half my ticket getting refills.

So there I was, all alone. I was probably the oldest person in the brewery, and definitely the only one who hadn’t brought a date. Both of those truths were just fine with me. People-watching was (and still is) among my favorite pastimes, and I’d always thrived on flying solo. After some thumpy music from local DJ Durrty Martinez (including a sing-along of 80’s cartoon show Duck Tales) the crowd quieted (slightly) as a shaggy dude in a weathered beanie took the stage.

This guy – Joe Pettis.

And off we went.

Two hours of better than average comedy.

Six half-pints (in truth, they gave me mostly three-quarter pours) of better than average beer.

A young, lively, attractive crowd.

My expectations had been pretty low. I’d figured for twelve dollars, I’d get some beer and ‘meh’ comedy. And while it was true some of the ten comedians were hit-or-miss, for the most part the crowd laughed their asses off. As the show ended, I snapped up my pint glass and wandered back into the rain. I felt like I’d just robbed a bank. One doesn’t get a ton of beer and quality comedy in Atlanta for $12. Most spots, I’d have dropped at least $50.

The show’s second half – hosted by pretty damn funny dude, Jeremy Mesi.

And so…

Ever since that first night, I’ve been hooked. I’ve gone to a dozen shows, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Friends I’ve invited felt likewise. While it’s true the crowd can get pretty loud at times, and also true a small fraction of the comedians aren’t quite ready for prime-time, it’s still worth twice the price of admission. The two hosts (Pettis and Mesi) are legit hilarious, and the talent keeps getting better. Local comedy goldmine Ron White has even been known to show up now and then…and it doesn’t hurt that he’s my favorite laugh-maker alive.

So there you have it.

In Atlanta on Monday? Cool…join me at Beer and Comedy. I’ll buy you a beer or two.

Oh wait. I won’t have to.

And when you get home from the show, do this.

See you on the flip side.

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy

The Baby Whisperers

My mother did a good job of not letting her day job come home with her. Considering her patients (and after reading her thoughts below) that takes a strength I’m not sure many people possess.

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The Baby Whisperers

By: Mickey McGuire

I have a love-hate relationship with my chosen nursing profession. Since 1978, I have been a nurse in varying capacities and a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse since 1987. I have observed and experienced much anguish, grief, joy, relief, and complete elation caring for other human beings as they have faced minor or life-threatening illnesses or circumstances. Needless to say, this is a profession which has given me countless rewards for my efforts in providing care and comfort to the sick.

It has also been the profession which has completely sucked the life out of me on many occasions.

NICU nurses are a rare breed. I have not met a NICU nurse on this planet who genuinely does not love babies. This is not an area for any nurse who cannot deal with difficult people, specifically the parents. Let’s face it- who wants to hear a baby cry for twelve hours or have a parent question everything that you do? In their minds, their baby is the sickest and demands the most attention in any unit. The number one problem in the NICU is the lack of control for the parents. Everything in their carefully planned pregnancy has just gone out the window with their baby being admitted to an intensive care setting, and I, as the NICU nurse, represent the failure of their dream.

Believe it, when an infant is admitted into a NICU, he or she needs the intervention. Something has gone terribly wrong with their transition away from their mother’s body- whether it is simple transitional support for the term infant with what we call a “whiff of oxygen,” prematurity that requires support until they can sustain their bodily functions on their own, or a life-threatening congenital defect that requires surgery. For all the thousands of births that occur, 90% require no presence of a NICU team. We as NICU nurses deal with the other 10% every day.

Yesterday, I had a father hug me twice- once when he arrived and once again before he left. He wanted to make sure I knew how much he appreciated my words on the first day of his baby’s admission- my reassurance and my no-nonsense approach. I have cultivated my no-nonsense manner mostly as a survival tactic in the trenches- high adrenaline environments, time to cut through the bullshit. Tell them what they need to know in the simplest terms possible; they barely hear the first sentence anyway. Be assured you will have to repeat the same things over and over. Lastly, I am not going to let you hold your baby until he or she is stable- get over it. It seems I have morphed into this sixty year old grandmother NICU nurse who does not intimidate easily.

Recently, a father accused a coworker of “not caring about their baby,” and “only doing this because of the paycheck.” I can tell you there are much calmer and more sane ways to get a paycheck. There are numerous occupations available to make a salary larger than a nurse’s. By the way, he didn’t have that attitude the next day when I cared for his baby. The timing was right for him to talk about his feelings, and I let him. Comprehending their lack of control, that was a perfect example of parents’ saying nasty things in the heat of the moment.

In the past few months, I have seen two babies born who had died in utero and could not be resuscitated. I was part of that NICU team who attended the deliveries and helped run the codes. There are no words that suffice explaining the heartbreak in these situations. I was not the nurse or physician who had to tell the parents their baby could not be brought back. Everyone applauded what an outstanding job the team did, but that praise felt hollow connected to the outcome of the parents holding their dead baby. Do I internalize it? Of course I do, but not as much as twenty years ago. With age and experience came a protective wall for my psyche.

“The baby whisperers-” that is who we are. We are the ones who can calm a crying baby with a whisper in their ear- a little Sweetease and a pacifier doesn’t hurt either. We are the eyes on the babies twenty-four hours a day and the advocates for the infant to the neonatologists when a change has occurred that requires their inspection. We are the advocates for the baby when their parents want to pluck them 24/7 thinking that heals them. They need rest and quiet, not constant patting and going googoo- gaga over them. It is a delicate balance to speak for the baby and avoid offending the parents. They sometimes get angry, and, generally do, no matter how nice you are as the bedside nurse.

We are the advocates for those dreaded drug withdrawal babies, which I might add, are increasing weekly at alarming numbers even at centers with upper middle class clientele. There have been very few weeks where we have been blessed with the absence of that particular infant population. These are the babies who may cry nonstop for twelve hours. They may vomit and poop at every feeding and jerk uncontrollably until they are wrapped in our signature NICU nurse “burrito” fashion. Their parents are always a pain in the ass. They are the most magnificent manipulators in the world of nursing. If you want a course in manipulating people and the system, sit back and watch an addictive parent at work. Being a nurse to a withdrawing baby is probably the second worst scenario to deal with, second to a dying baby. Many times we have been accused of trying to keep babies against the parents’ wishes. I can assure you- I do not want to keep your crying, irritable offspring one moment longer than I need to!! Those are the days when self-medicating upon arrival to home is generally necessary- addictive behavior facilitating more addictive behavior to the health care professional. An occupational hazard, some of the worst addicts are nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists- whether it is alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.

I will probably hang up my nursing hat for good in the next five years. Long gone are the actual days when we wore nursing hats- how hideous! Long gone are the days of wearing white uniforms and white shoes- white+blood never a good thing. That path of where the “ways cross” in 1974 led to a nursing career which has spanned almost forty years.

Would I encourage others to become a nurse? Absolutely! There is no other profession where you will feel the connection with humanity on such a visceral level.

Would I discourage others from becoming a nurse? Yes. You must realize as a nurse you will feel depleted and raw and drained and sad and happy and elated and burned out and frustrated and angry and sick and kind and compassionate and bullied and intimidated and incompetent and efficient. You will become all of these things.

When my grandson Logan was born, I helped my son and daughter-in-law adjust to new parenthood for a few days. One particular trying night during a breastfeeding attempt and Logan becoming increasingly frustrated, I took him out of his mother’s arms and calmed him, put him to her breast, and he nursed. She said, “What are you, the baby whisperer?”

Yes, that is exactly what I am.

***

Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

A Thought for every Thursday – Not the ending you expect

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

For the next few weeks, we’re going to approach a few deeper-than-normal topics.

Science. Religion. Meaning of life type stuff.

Speaking of meaning of life type stuff, what if…

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Not Quite What You Were Hoping

 There exist numerous theories regarding the meaning of life.

Some predict a divine afterlife.

Others believe in infinite recycling of our souls.

Some believe in very specific versions of heaven and hell.

And still others say there’s no meaning at all.

Everyone is guessing.

No one really knows.

Even so, the most common perception is that if there is a meaning, it’s probably a positive or at worst a neutral one.

But…

What if humanity one day learned our purpose is nefarious?

That perhaps humanity (or even all life) was engineered for a negative purpose?

Is it possible?

If you learned such a thing were the truth, what would you do?

Run!!!

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for every Thursday – Is Reincarnation Pointless?

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

 * * *

For the next few weeks, we’re going to approach a few deeper-than-normal topics.

Science. Religion. Meaning of life type stuff.

Today’s topic is reincarnation, and whether or not such a concept is even possible:

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Reincarnation

It’s a prime tenet of the Hindu religion, and is referred to peripherally by several other faiths.

The idea:

Every human and animal has a soul.

Upon death of the body, the soul can inhabit a new body, thus beginning life anew.

Let’s imagine for a moment reincarnation is absolute fact.

Now suppose, due to some universal cataclysm, all life were permanently extinguished. It’s entirely possible, even if it happens many, many years from today.

If all the souls in existence were suddenly rendered homeless (no bodies to inhabit) would they simply wander the universe for eternity?

And would that make the entire reincarnation concept pointless?

* * *

Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

How to stop caring about (almost) everything

Don’t take the title too seriously.

I’m not suggesting you stop caring about your family, your friends, or your personal welfare. Nor am I saying you should be indifferent to things that really, truly matter.

But everything else?

That’s up for debate.

Maybe you’ve heard of it. These days, there’s a little thing called the internet. The big ole triple-dubya is pretty cool, right? It’s the fastest delivery system of information ever made. Crappy bandwidth notwithstanding, it delivers info at the speed of light. The trouble is, when I say ‘information,’ I’m using the term loosely. Because you see, the word itself implies a certain factual quality. Or at least it should. Or maybe it used to. But information doesn’t imply truth anymore, does it? Just because someone, no matter their credentials, publishes something to the ‘net doesn’t mean it’s true. Or unbiased. Or even based in reality.

Information isn’t information anymore.

It’s just characters on a screen. Usually hammered out by someone with an agenda.

And thus, maybe you should care about it less than you do.

Yawn a little more. Care about the internet a little less.

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Think about these:

How many times have you seen an article stating someone famous just ‘destroyed‘ someone else famous? Meaning, they said something on the ‘net and everyone else chimed in with, “Oooooo…nice burn!”

How often have you read (or maybe even posted) a rant about some inconsequential (to everyone else) matter?

What percentage of your social media is consumed with one ‘side’ blasting the other?

How many people have you witnessed become aggressive, name-calling, angry, or just plain hyper-opinionated?

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Let me answer for you: Every day. Too often. More than 50%. And almost everyone at one point or another.

Ah, the internet. Such a glorious place to live. But just because it provides a vehicle for everyone to speak to everyone else doesn’t mean humanity is suddenly enlightened. It just means it’s easier for us to run our mouths. To learn a little bit about a topic and claim we know everything.

The internet gives us a way to talk about stuff we don’t know much about.

So…

What’s a person to do?

Stop caring.

That’s right.

Just stop.

Or maybe…yawn a LOT more. Care about the internet a LOT less.

Here’s the thing about everything. With a few exceptions, everyone on Earth lives for themselves. I’m not saying everyone is selfish, just that everyone does what’s right and what works for them. Despite globalization, despite everything, most of everyone’s time is consumed with working, sleeping, eating, and surviving. Just like it was ten years ago. Just like forever.

Know what I mean?

Example: A politician threatens to shut down a coal mine for the noble pursuit of cleaning up the environment. Sounds good, right? Sounds progressive. But…do you really expect the coal miners and the vast network of people who depend on the coal industry to vote for this politician? No, you shouldn’t. The guy whose paycheck depends on shoveling coal into a furnace doesn’t care about noble pursuits or clean-air acts. They care about food. As in, on their table. They don’t care what Twitter says. And they certainly don’t care about you or me. When it comes to it, they’re gonna vote (if they care enough) for the person who opposes shutting down their mine. Even if it pisses you off. Even if it flies in the face of everything everyone else believes.

And so it goes. ‘Round and ’round the world.

People live for themselves.

If one group of people struts around the internet, trolling, name-calling, and otherwise tearing another group of people to shreds, does it matter? Is anything gained? And if the other group gets defensive (as is to be expected among humans) and fires back with verbal missiles of their own, does that mean anything? No. Aside from stinging a few butts, it doesn’t matter. At all. At the apex of the word-war, facts, truths, and hard scientific data lose all relevance. No progress is made. People’s hearts and minds don’t change. The battle is an illusion.

You wanna know why?

Ok. I’ll tell you.

Every person on every side and in every corner of every discussion is an individual. Lump ’em in a group all you want, but they’re doing what works for them. For their lives. For their families. There are no Red states. There are no Blue states. Those things are just colors on a map. What is there? Well…there’s a ton of people living their lives, doing whatever it is they think is best for themselves. It doesn’t matter what names you call them (deplorables, libtards, rednecks, elitists, et cetera.) Individuals don’t care, and nor should they. They’re trying to live the way they want. And in most cases, they’re living the only way they know how.

So what’s a person to do?

I’ll say it again: stop caring.

And while you’re at it, stop judging.

Yawn…wait….was there an election?

Ignorance. There’s a lot of it out there. In fact, everyone is ignorant. You’re ignorant. I’m ignorant. Humanity is ignorant. We know only what we see with our own two eyes, and sometimes even those deceive us. Like it or not, everything else is unknown to us. You might read about it or think you understand it. You might dive deep into some article you found online and claim to know about it. Guess what? You don’t. You can’t. You’re human, and the scope of your awareness is purposely limited by your biology. It’s in your DNA, baby. You’re meant to care about you and yours. And not much else.

Unless you’re IN it, you don’t really know it.

It’s a harsh reality, but the idea of unity and world peace are in fact, completely ignorant. Humanity will never be unified longer than a few moments at a time. The idea of peace on a planet with seven-billion human-beings (and climbing) is nonsense. We’re all too ignorant. We’ve no idea what it’s like to live anyone’s life other than our own. And yes, it’s true; some people are more ignorant than others. Some people are isolated, uneducated, extra-extra biased, or just plain unintelligent. And no, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make you or me better than them.

Pointing out the weaknesses of others has yet to result in meaningful progress.

And yet so many of us do it.

Once a human being has reached a certain threshold, once they’ve decided they no longer care what’s outside their bubble, it’s over. It’s done. It’s finished. The odds of a person changing their mind due to anything other than a life-changing event are almost nil. Fiery words exchanged on Facebook don’t change us, and actions don’t really change us nearly as much as we like to think.

You know what changes people? Trauma. The hard stuff. People being torn out of their lives and thrust into entirely new bubbles. Harsh life experiences are far more important than anything anyone can dish out online. The only way to chip away at ignorance is to live IN a situation. All the way. For a long while. And suddenly, after that happens, you’re in a new bubble. It might be a different bubble than you used to live in, but it’s still a bubble. And it might be you forget about your old bubble. It might be you become ignorant to something you used to understand.

So what should you do about this? How loud do you need to yell for the world to see your point-of-view? To shrug off their indifference and start caring about what you care about? To move closer to your bubble?

Nothing. Stop trying. Go play in the yard with your kids. Go work at soup kitchen. Take a walk alone in the forest. Pick flowers for someone you love.

And when you find yourself surfing the internet, surrounded on all sides by armies of ‘information,’ go forth with a new purpose.

Don’t be distracted by all the things everyone else tells you to care about.

Don’t get sucked in to the idea of ‘sides.’

Don’t start thinking your point-of-view is any more important than anyone else’s.

Because it isn’t.

Once you accept the smallness of yourself…and once you deny your urge to scream at the world for being horrible, only then can you be at peace. And only then can you stop caring about all the things that don’t matter.

…and start caring about the things that do.

J Edward Neill

Artist and Author.

For more deep thoughts, get into this.

A Thought for Every Thursday – Rewriting the Bible

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

You know the drill.

*Y

 * * *

Let’s cut to the chase.

I call this question Stone Tablet:

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Stone Tablet

 Imagine yourself standing atop a mountain.

Human civilization has just begun.

The entire world clamors at the mountain’s bottom.

They want you to create three commandments, which will henceforth be regarded as sacred.

Name your three.

Use the words ‘thou shalt’ as often as possible.

*

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

The Metal Bowl

The Metal Bowl

by anonymous

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It was the voice of the untreated sickness in her head that had us convinced she was the midwife, the prophet.

She was our salvation in a world conspiring to take our children away. She was the woman with multiple names and a dozen more roles. This day, as the tiny blood-soaked rocks hit the metal bowl, she was the doctor. I felt her needle nose pliers dig deep into the gnarled folds of skin and hair, the hot extraction of rock and infection from my partially scalped head.

Through the slits of my swollen eyelids, I saw a glint of my brother’s long hair fly past the window and disappear in a mischievous blur. I didn’t need to see where he went to know what he was doing. His rapid movements and wicked laugh painted the rest of the scene outside the walls.

I knew the pack of javelinas would be resting under the apple tree in their usual gluttonous fashion, getting drunk off rotten fruit scattered in the yard. I saw my brother’s tiny body contorted in a bush just out of the pigs’ sight, waiting for the right moment to assault the enemy beasts with the stray apples. He never got more than two hits in when the pack would come rushing at him with murderous intent.

I would be out there too, screaming and dodging death if not for my wounds. It had been a week, but I still couldn’t walk. My knees and face had taken most of the impact on the dirt road. When I’d flown out of the truck bed and onto the gravel road, it had felt like my body had rubbed across a giant cheese grater, stripping my flesh with unforgiving ease.

It was nobody’s fault.

Just a case of poor circumstance.

We’d chosen the wrong day to hitchhike. The old truck they picked us up in hid the secret of its faulty brakes until it reached the top of the most treacherous of winding mountain roads. When the dust settled and bodies were accounted for, it was the fear in my mother’s voice that convinced us to make a getaway before the ambulance could come.

Her sickness painted stories of evil-doers disguised as government workers. Her hushed warnings to muffle my groans were far louder than the sirens approaching and leaving. She cradled my crumpled body in her arms as we hid in a steep ravine in the thick California brush.

Seven days.

Seven days of hot ‘healing’ baths and prayers failed to heal my wounds.

Cool comfrey cloths and home remedies on my raw flesh had no power against the deep infection brewing in the dermal folds of my forehead.

The pliers dug deeper as I gripped the chair seat hard. Another ping resounded as a pebble dropped into the metal bowl. The pain brought me outside of my body and delivered me back to the dripping summer days of chasing wild pigs and shooting pretend bows at majestic peacocks. I soared above my own body, shaking and weak. Away from the pain and into a summer breeze winding through the Chiricahua Mountains, smelling of honey and blooming chamomile.

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A Thought for Every Thursday – Three Questions for the Dead

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

*

 * * *

This week we’ll dig a little deeper.

…with a spade.

…in the dirt.

Answer me these questions three:

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Necromancy

 Suppose you’ve lost a child or a beloved spouse.

But you have a device capable of resurrecting them.

The only cost to using this device: you have to kill someone else firsthand.

Use it?

Or throw it away?

*

Infinite Murder Machine

 If your child (or someone equally important to you) were in mortal danger, exactly how many people would you be willing to kill in order to save them?

These people aren’t actively trying to hurt the one you love, but are obstacles to survival.

*

Closing up Shop

You’ve been assigned an almost overwhelming task.

Your current religion or belief system notwithstanding, you’ve been asked to create a new afterlife for all of humanity.

This afterlife will apply to everyone who dies from today until the end of time.

Describe in detail the post-death experience you’d create.

Will there be different afterlives for different people?

*

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

Five ways I refuse to market my books

Everyone will agree.

The hardest part about self-publishing isn’t the writing. Long hours of hammering out words are inevitable no matter what avenue an author takes to launch their books into the market.

No…the true challenge lies in an author’s self-presentation to the world. It’s how a writer markets oneself. It’s the image they create, the test of their willingness to engage the rest of humanity.

To truly take the next career step, modern authors have to leap out of their comfort zone. That means shaping a presence on social media, talking to (sometimes unsavory) people, learning all kinds of software, and getting (and appearing) comfortable with all aspects of self-promotion.

That said, for this author, some things cross the line between palatable and icky.

And here’s my list of things I’m just not gonna do:

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*

No Hashtags

Yes, I know they help people search you out on Twitter and Instagram. And yes, I realize it might help them find my art and books.

But…

I figure just as many (if not more) people will be so annoyed or disgusted by hashtags they’ll choose not to be interested in all things me.

Because really, hashtags are that obnoxious. Am I right?

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No Review Swaps

Yeah, this is still a thing. People ask me for them all the time. “Hey J Edward, can you review my vampire porn novel and I’ll pretend to read your book about the two dudes who destroy entire cities when they fight?”

“No thanks.”

First of all, I don’t have the time. Second, Amazon cracks down on that kind of thing. And third, other authors don’t handle brutal honesty like I do.

I realize how many reviews this has cost me. And because of the value of reviews, I realize it’s cost me money. Doesn’t matter. I can’t bring myself to do it. Despite the thousands of high-quality self-published authors out there, many thousands more (the majority of the industry) don’t have the fire or commitment to pump out high-quality books.

Meaning more than likely I’d get stuck reading trash.

Nah.

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No Paying to Enter Writing Contests

It’s my personal oath to never enter a writing contest requiring a payment. Writing contests in general are governed by arbitrary rules and judged in a questionable manner. More often than not, the organization holding the contest is more interested in turning a profit and/or getting their own name out there than they are in helping authors earn legit recognition.

Even some of the free-to-enter contests employ some pretty questionable tactics, though at least they’re free.

To other writers, I’d recommend doing some serious research before entering any contest you encounter on the net.

And to readers, I’d cast serious doubt on any author whose bio begins with the phrase, “Award winning…” It probably doesn’t mean what you think it does.

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No ‘Best-Selling’ BS

If I had a nickel for every time I saw an author boast ‘best-selling’ credentials, I’d have…well…a lot of nickels.

It probably sounds elitist for me to say this (it’s definitely not intended that way) but some authors need to cut the crap. Showing up a few times in Amazon’s top authors lists or having a really big sales day doesn’t qualify as ‘best-selling.’ While it’s true the major literature publications (NY Times, USA Today, etc) aren’t the only people qualified to choose who’s best-selling and who’s not, there’s just too much exaggeration in the industry.

I’ve seen authors boast ‘best-selling’ in bios containing multiple grammatical errors.

I’ve seen authors with one published book and no published reviews declare themselves ‘best-selling.’

I’ve seen…never mind. You get the picture. Until I’m a household name with a fixed place in a steady market, I’ll be the last author alive to shout ‘I’m best-selling’ to the world.

Lies do not become us.

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No Spam

There have been days when I’ve opened up Facebook and Twitter to the usual parade of politics, cat pictures, poorly-lit selfies, and cute babies. And there are other days when I open up my social media to find fifteen consecutive book ads…all posted by the same person.

Look, I love it when another person shares or reposts something of mine. It makes me oh so happy. But…it doesn’t mean instant and incessant reciprocation. Nobody on this earth cares to see an endless timeline of vampire were-hooker book ads in place of actual cool content. Actually, let me rephrase. I don’t want to see it. So I’m careful about what I share, meaning my stuff and my supporters’ stuff. The goal is to inform and entertain, not to drown.

Three Facebook book ads per week from me, max. And that includes sharing other authors’ work. As for Twitter, go nuts. No one reads retweets anyway. 🙂

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More things I can’t bring myself to do:

 Post memes about writers’ problems (They’re all so bad.)

Demand reviews (Politely ask once, then move on with your life.)

Shave on a regular basis. (Sorry, this guy stays scruffy.)

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Now you know all my weaknesses. Go forth and exploit them. 🙂

J Edward Neill

Painter of Shadows

Writer of books about star-destroying space vampires

 

A Thought for Every Thursday – Human Algebra

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it ourselves, we look to you for the resolution.

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Human Algebra

Please complete the following equations using only one word in each blank space:

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______________ + ______________ = Happiness

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_______________ + ______________ = Sorrow

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_______________ + ______________ = Evil

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_______________ + ______________ = Love

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Keep your answers to yourself OR share with the world.

It’s your call.

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

The most anonymous memory ever

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a story written by a young woman.

I remember the woman’s name, but she didn’t sign her story. She left it on a wrinkled piece of paper atop a blank canvas. I probably wasn’t supposed to find it.

The woman is gone. But the story she left behind made me wonder who she really was.

This is what I found:

***

There are many variations to the story.

Even from birth, circumstances surrounding my entrance into this world seem to be a fluid variation of fact. I no longer try to separate out one version from the next. Instead, I allow my mind to melt each version together…overlapping layers of possible realities.

Despite not being born yet, I could see all.

My aerial view of the camper gives me the ability to see everything. Hear all. Feel everything. I don’t exist yet, but I am the collection of memories that will later be told to me…the texture of my own childhood to come. I fill in the blanks with rich color and smell. Disembodied, I float above the bed my mother lies upon. Bright swatches of velvet and satin fabric hang on the walls. The smells of bay leaves and rosewater perfume mix with my mother’s perspiration. 

This is home.

Her cries of childbirth are gently hushed by the mirages of the midwives huddled around her bed. Their phantom limbs carry damp cloths to her head, soothing her discomfort. The conflicting stories of whether my mother was alone during my birth has given these three woman a transparency that allows me to give them life or melt them back into the camper’s upholstery. The story of my father’s reaction to seeing me for the first time is a gentle whisper floating in the air.

“She looks more like a cauliflower than a baby…”

I can detect a hint of garlic cloves and olive oil on his breath. A tabby cat slumbers in a corner of the camper with a dead snake it caught in a strawberry field. Some versions of this memory give life back into the snake, flinging it upon the bed in which my mother cradled me. The cat is filled with pride over the present it’s gifted to the newborn. It flings the snake’s wriggling body across the room by a screaming woman, where it dissipates into the wood…and where it becomes a faint outline in the rough grain.

***

I want to know more, but her story ends here. Perhaps I’ll find her one day and ask her what happened next.

J Edward Neill

Storysmith and Painter of Darkness

 

Ode to Azaleas

Sometimes we forget that our parents were once teenagers as well. Everything always seems like it could only ever happen to you personally… but we all struggle with the same things.

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Ode to Azaleas

By: Mickey McGuire

February is supposed to be the month for lovers. Even though this is now March, I wrote this as a special tribute to all those young couples out there grappling with the intricacies of modern relationships. However complicated the relationship is, it still boils down to that famous line in the movie Notting Hill by Julia Roberts to Hugh Grant:

“I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.”

By the beginning of seventh grade, I was a towering 5′ 10” with a size 11 foot. In a classroom of boys who were at most five foot nothing, I had virtually no prospects for any of those boys I had grown up with showing any romantic interest whatsoever… unless they wanted to stand on a stool to give me my first kiss.

Sometime during the fall of that school year, a new boy moved into our community and joined our class. He was ruggedly handsome for a seventh grader, blond with blue eyes, soft-spoken, and TALL- probably six foot. I cannot pinpoint in my memory when I realized he was interested in me. I had a peculiar feeling before Christmas break he was actually staring at me and smiling once in a while. All that break I was giddy with excitement of the remote possibility there was a boy who actually liked ME, not the other girls in the class.

Once we returned to school after break, it was obvious the interest was a reality- we were a “couple.” My first real crush would last all of the remainder of seventh and all of eighth grade. The definition of being a “couple” was quite different in 1969- 1970 than it is today. Our relationship consisted of looks, smiles, occasional hand-holding, sitting near each other, and passing notes. Even putting his arm around my shoulders on the bus was met with stern looks from our teacher.

One spring morning I walked into class to my desk and found a gift so unexpected that I still tear up thinking about the sweetness of the gesture. There on my desk lay a huge bouquet of the most beautiful pink and white variegated azaleas, still dewy and fresh from just being picked from his mother’s bushes. Thinking back on that moment, I realized then I might be special- worthy of his attention as well as others with bouquets and promises and happiness and romance.

I did not marry my first crush. He wasn’t even the boy who would give me my first kiss behind the piano at our eighth-grade dance. His father left his family for a younger woman sometime during eighth grade. After that, he just wasn’t the same. Of the four children, I think he suffered the most from the desertion and added responsibility being the oldest. He would eventually drop out of school, get in trouble with the law related to drugs, and wander aimlessly from one relative or part-time job to another. Occasionally, our paths would cross throughout my high school years; we would date a few times, and then he would disappear again.

I have thought of him often and wondered if he found happiness. Through the grapevine, I heard a few years ago he attended his grandmother’s funeral in our hometown. He had married and had five children as well as a whole slew of grandchildren. I was happy for him- such fond memories of our summer afternoons together in my living room listening to 45s on my stereo- “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” “Layla,” the Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Chad and Jeremy-a sweet boy who would eventually figure things out- always kind, polite, nonjudgmental, never a mean word.

Yes, he eventually did kiss me right there dancing to those 45s.

I wished him well then and now. I wonder if that 14-year-old boy knew how special his gift would be that spring morning- a bouquet of dew-filled azaleas for his 13-year-old sweetheart. That morning she understood sweetness and spontaneity between a boy and girl and a promise of potential happiness in the future.

That giant of a girl would find her mate years later in college, have three children and a happy life. But that morning, the gift of those azaleas would be her first and most special memory of young love- that simple gift of flowers representative of innocence, simplicity, tenderness, and acceptance.

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Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.

A Thought for Every Thursday – Our Footprint

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, we look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

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This week is all about humanity at large.

I want to know how you feel about other people, the effects humanity has upon the world, and the meaningfulness of human activity.

They’re big questions.

You can handle them.

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Human Mathematics

 Choose which of the following people is most and least valuable:

A hard-working mother of five children

A powerful, yet honest and fair politician

A 45 year-old childless man who plays video games all day

An inmate on Death Row

A child with utterly debilitating Down’s Syndrome

All of these are people are of equal value

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Lions, Tigers, and Humans

 Is man the most dangerous animal?

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With Sugar on Top

 What is mankind’s greatest achievement?

What about yours?

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

Tips for Dating Artists

…Tips for Dating Artists…

A completely unscientific exploration of the perils of sleeping with art junkies.

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#1. Consider dating someone else. As in, someone who might love you more than they love blank slabs of canvas and empty sheets of paper. 🙂

#2. When planning dates, dinners, or long nights on the couch watching Netflix, consider the odds of having to do many of these things by yourself. Master the phrase: “Dinner reservations for one, please!”

#3. “Five more minutes,” actually means thirty more minutes. The formula used when determining how much longer an artist will be involved in their latest stick-figure drawing masterpiece is:

Time They Stated multiplied by 6 = Actual Time Until They Emerge from the Darkness

#4. The love of your life’s studio will either look like this:

…or this:

…there is no in-between.

#5. Your lover can never have too many brushes. Or pencils. Or sticks of charcoal.

#6. If you leave a coffee mug out in the open, it’s no longer a coffee mug. It’s a paintbrush caddy. Deal with it.

#7. Keep them away from the kitchen sink and master bathroom at all costs. Detour them to a guest bathroom, preferably one with a sink whose color is something other than white.

#8. After hugs, make-out sessions, lovemaking, or accidental shoulder bumps in the basement, check your entire body and all your clothing for unexpected paint spots (and other stains.)

#9. If you decide to have children, consider that one day you’ll probably come home to this:

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#10. When critiquing their art (which you should avoid at all costs, but which you’ll be forced to do every day of your life) compare your beau’s latest art to someone famous. Or…if you want to break up, just make a stink-face and walk away without saying anything.

#11. Google the terms ‘abstract‘ ‘surrealism‘ ‘impressionism‘ and ‘realism.’ Use these terms when describing your lover’s art. While the odds are they were aiming for one of these, what they created is most likely another. But they’ll appreciate your lingo.

#12. Unless your beloved artist is really, really talented, don’t ever ask them to paint your portrait, draw you, or sculpt you. Trust me, you’ll regret what you end up looking like.

“Honey, I feel like my hands look a little…off.”

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#13. If you date someone who paints with oils or draws with graphite, set aside a special room (or five) for them, and make sure it’s a place you don’t care about. Actually, if you have the money, buy them their own house to work in.

#14. If one of your lover’s clients suggests that a piece of art should be created free ‘for the exposure’ you owe it to your lover to kill that client and bury them in an unmarked grave.

#15. The minimum number of paper towel rolls to keep handy is 17.

#16. They’re probably not cheating on you with all the people (subjects) you found on their camera.

Actually, they probably are.

I’m only kidding.

Or am I?

🙂

Think this was funny? Try my Tips for Dating Writers.

J Edward Neill

Crippler of canvasses

Author of billions of books

A Thought for Every Thursday – The Human Lens

Welcome to A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday we’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, we look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

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The Human Lens

Sixth senses aside, everything you know about the world, you know through the subjective lens of your human brain.

Meaning you only truly know what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

You’ll never know what it’s like to see the world in the same way a cat does, or a bird, or a whale, or a bacterium.

Meaning you’ll only ever experience the universe from a human point of view.

And more specifically, your human point of view.

So…

Does this mean your experience of reality is unique, almost isolated in its filtered-through-a-human-lens nature?

Or does this mean that physical reality itself is different for every single living thing?

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill

A Thought for Every Thursday – Grassroots, Groceries, and Guilt

Welcome to my weekly series, A Thought for Every Thursday.

Every Thursday I’ll pose a question (or several) regarding a specific current event, a modern moral issue, or a philosophical conundrum. Instead of answering it myself, I’ll look to you for the resolution.

It’s all in good fun.

Here we go…

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I’ve been thinking…

As pretty much the worst person in relationships on the planet, it’s only natural I wrote a book about being single.

The idea being: you write what you know about.

So this week I thought we’d get a little relationship-ish.

And throw out some questions about dating life.

I call these questions Grassroots, Groceries, and Guilt…


Grassroots

 Which of the following do you think offers you the best chance of meeting someone amazing and firing up a long-term relationship with them?

Finding someone in a bar

Being introduced to someone via a mutual friend

Linking up with a new person using a traditional online dating site

Swiping someone right on Tinder

A blind date

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Groceries

 You’re dating someone new. You’re definitely feeling a connection.

Aside from the initial attraction, choose two of the following traits you really, really want them to have:

They’re super financially responsible

They’re great with kids

They’re amazing in bed

They’ve got a fantastic sense of humor

They’re really good at domestic stuff (chores, cleaning, etc.)

They’ve got a commitment to staying physically fit

They’re passionate about something you care a lot about

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Guilt

 The internet makes it oh so easy to cheat.

That is…depending on how you define cheating.

Let’s say you’ve been dating someone for three months. You’re steady, but not in love. Yet.

Would any of the following make you feel guilty?

You watch porn without them

You spend a lot of time chatting up cuties on social media

You never mention him/her on any of the sites you frequent

You swap sexy selfies with someone you meet on the internet

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Past A Thought for Every Thursday entries are right here.

If you like these kinds of questions, try these on for size.

If you prefer something gentler, go here.

See you next Thursday!

J Edward Neill