Survival in an Indifferent Universe

December 11th, 2017

#cancer #grief #disaster #god #tragedy

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer, Storyteller,     Commentator

My  mother, my sister-in-law, my best friend, and my ex-wife died of cancer. Universe

Cancer is evil. Like anything else, it wants to thrive. Growth, normally, is regarded as a good. Cancer is uncontrolled growth. It thrives by destroying the cells that support life, love, and thought. Nothing continues to grow in absolute darkness unless it is connected in some way with another being that is exposed to light.

It may have been time for my mother. She was 81. She had lived a full life. I do not know why she had to suffer before passing. My ex-wife and my sister-in-law were in their mid-forties, the prime of life. I fail to see how any good came from their premature departures. My best friend, Roy, was growing in wisdom as he neared the end of his sixth decade. His presence in the life of those who knew and loved him was a positive thing. His harvest season was upon us all but we were denied it.

People say things happen for a reason, especially when they do not know why. People say that God works in mysterious ways, especially when they can’t understand why misfortune strikes.

Perhaps I am to God as my dog is to me. My dog, Jessie, doesn’t understand anything about human nature. She doesn’t believe in me. But she knows I exist. We communicate with words like “stay,” “car,” and “walk.” And sounds like “bark” (let me out) “bark-bark-bark” (there’s some at the door), or “whine” (I need to relieve myself.)  Otherwise we know little about one another. It isn’t necessary. We love one another.

Jessie enjoys my protection and nurturance. She does what her limited nature permits to attend to my well-being. Thus the barking as others approach the house, the licking of my cheek when she perceives I am sad, etc. She is not endowed with self-conscious intelligence. She can’t anticipate death, although she seems to know when it is time to eat each day. She would not do anything to hurt me nor I her. It would take an intervening third force.

My choices . . .

I don’t understand anything about the nature of God. I have been asked to believe a lot of things, but I don’t know that God exists in the same way my dog knows I exist.  My choices include to live in doubt, deny God’s existence, or believe in it. Men differ on the subject because nobody knows for sure. They fight over their differences in belief.

Jessie. Her eyes Bespeak an Undeniable Intelligence at the Canine Level

I am capable of belief. I have self-conscious intelligence. I never hear the divine say anything to me. No burning bushes in my backyard. I am leery of those who claim that God speaks to them. If God has an important message, why not let a few more of us in on it. Shepherd children without recording devices is hardly an efficient choice. Why word-of-mouth as the preferred medium for the divine?

Nobody knows for sure whether God hears humans, as far as that goes. When good fortune befalls some see it as evidence of God’s love. So that’s me being good to Jessie? Let’s say it is.

Tragedy, however, is another matter. Tragedy is usually not taken as a sign of God’s disfavor, at least not these days. We are asked instead to look for a third force. There’s always evil, of course, but it means recognizing that God chose not to intercede or was perhaps not all powerful enough.  Often our reaction is directed at seeing the good that comes from a disaster. It’s a deflection, of course. But then who really wants to know the bottom line for slaughter, maiming, and ruining people’s lives.

The good to come from Chernobyl will not be a better design for nuclear power plants. The new design will fail one day for a different reason. It is in the nature of machines to fail—a fact that escapes everyone’s foresight in the efforts to quell the emotional and spiritual discomfort at the randomness of a disaster.

Any good to come from a tragedy could just as well have come about without the suffering, pain, and death. What good came from 9/11, Oklahoma City, Katrina, the Holocaust, Sandy Hook, or in any other disaster that was outrageously disproportionate to the losses families suffered and the pain endured by the survivors. Everyone involved would have been much better off if nothing had happened—if life had gone on as usual.

As the Dinosaur was . . .

Man will never eliminate the suffering resulting from acts of nature. He is defenseless against his own annihilation just as the dinosaur was. He, himself, may one day be responsible for exterminating his own kind from the face of the earth. If he is successful, which will be the ultimate failure of his species, nobody will be around to argue what role God played.

When I love another creature, as I do my dog, I strive to promote its well-being. As a man, however, I live in a universe that doesn’t give a damn whether I live or die, and in fact, pits other forms of life against me, both inside and outside of my body, in a competition to see who survives—as in cancer, or tigers in the jungle, or snakes on the walking trail, or storms in the night.

If I believe in life after death, then all of these terrible truths are minimized. My belief helps me induce contentment. Further, believing in life after death lets all of us say that nothing matters much after all. Why grieve over the thousands of innocents slaughtered in civil wars They all go to heaven, don’t they. Some murdering warriors are so convinced of the good life awaiting hereafter they destroy themselves.

Things matter, in other words, as much as we will allow them to matter.

Grieving, no matter how bitter, is not evidence of loss. Not all losses are tragic. The death of a child is always tragic . The death of a corrupt, war-mongering, pedophile congressman is tragic only to the extent he was denied the time to  change his ways while the rest of the world endures his noxious existence.

Call it love . . .

As with my dog and me, humans are capable of attachment. We like to call it love. A lot of psychological conditions masquerade as love. O. J. Simpson was possessed by a powerful feeling that he thought was love. He killed his wife in the grips of his obsession. The rather complex state called “co-dependent” is experienced as love, but it isn’t. Sometimes what is experienced as loss is simply the abrupt breaking of a neurotic, unhealthy attachment to another.  When nothing is there to replace the object of obsession, jealousy, dependency, whatever, the yearning persists. It hurts. The pain a person feels is real enough. It will be relieved when a new object is found. But the cure is not reestablishing the same life-defeating dynamics with someone else. The pain is as with any other injury. It’s there to prompt the afflicted to seek aid and work to recover emotional health.

The Grim Reaper

Natural and man-made disasters are indifferent to the humans who become victims. For all the wrenching anguish thousands experience, the pain endured is human. It results from the severing of human attachment, healthy or otherwise. No evidence exists that the collective sorrow, regardless of how prolonged or traumatic, registers in the universe as an event of consequence. The landscape of the planet may be changed, but the suffering all takes place on the plain of human existence. Efforts to interpret tragedy in any theological or cosmological dimension are simply sentiment. It is impossible to find God’s hand in it one way or the other, either as the savior of those who were spared or the executioner of those who were not. Universe

Given everything, three choices remain. I can accept my uncertainty, deny there is a life after death, or believe in life hereafter although I can’t prove it. The choice ultimately comes down to acceding to the power of one belief or another or adhering to an unflinching commitment to seek the truth. Both cannot coexistence in my life of thought. The truth for me begins with the acceptance that I don’t know. Nothing I believe will change what will happen to me when my life ends.  I see the inhumanity of mankind against its own in the name of one belief or another. I’ve seen the truth shock people painfully to reconsider their perspective on life and their treatment of others, but the pain is not lasting. It delivers rather than destroys. Contentment for me resides in accepting that I don’t know, that it may be beyond me to know, and it is far better for me to accept the limitations of my own nature, just as Jessie does, remain committed to the truth were it is knowable, and get on with it. Universe

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Stage Company Celebrates Aging Adults

November 17th, 2017

#seniorcitizens #acting #actingclasses

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Winston-Salem’s newest theater venture, 40+ Stage Company, wrapped up its inaugural season December 3 with the presentation of Neil Simon’s Sunshine Boys at Mountcastle Black Box Theater in the Milton Rhodes Arts Center. The company is the brainchild of artistic director Gene Johnson, a well-known area actor and director. Johnson, 67, realized, as many theater buffs do, that roles are just not there for the middle-age and older actors. Never mind the talent and experience, directors cast younger people. Scripts call for youth. “That’s where the idea began,” Johnson said. “I wanted to start a stage company that would give aging adults a chance to perform.”

The company needed to find a home. Four shows were planned for its initial season.  While Winston-Salem has no shortage of venues, some were too expensive for a startup company. Others were in so much demand that finding two consecutive weeks proved impossible. Mountcastle Black Box Theater and Hanesbrand Theater, both Arts Council facilities, were finally chosen.

“We had a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Johnson admitted. “Roger Wooten, the lead in our first show, fell and broke his elbow the weekend before we were to open and had to withdraw. Right in the middle of the season, I went in for heart surgery. We didn’t get two weekends back-to-back for any of the shows, so we didn’t benefit from word-of-mouth publicity. As a result, audiences tended to be smaller, but those who saw the shows were enthusiastic. We survived.”

Obstacles to Overcome . . .

Despite the start-up problems, the idea driving the founding of the company caught on quickly. Lee Covington, CEO of Senior Services of Winston Salem and Forsyth County Inc., signed as a board member. Melissa Smith, also of Senior Services, suggested Johnson seek support of the Shepheard’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem where he met with enthusiastic interest from Susan Meny and Sam Matthews. The company’s community involvement expanded horizontally in the association with these two organizations and in aligning with Winston-Salem Writers Group and its affiliated Playwrights Group.

Reflecting the scope of its mission, the board adopted Transforming the lives of aging adults through the theater experience as their vision statement. Their mission statement reads Celebrating and enriching the lives of aging adults.  Projects, both planned and completed, attest to the company’s commitment to their vision and their ability to deliver. The company seeks to become a strong voice for aging adults in the arts culture of our community.

Collaborating with Senior Services, a project was launched to document the stories of home-bound elders in Forsyth County. Under the direction of board member, Dr. Woody Hood, Director of Film Studies, Wake Forest, the goal is to create a multi-media anthology that brings histories of many aging adults in the community together in one documentary.

The Joy of Acting . . .

With help from The Shepherd’s Center, a series of six acting classes, “The Joy of Acting,” is planned that will be open to beginners as well experienced amateurs. More information and the opportunity to enroll will be presented at a kickoff meeting, “Wine, Cheese and Ham It Up,” 3:00 pm, January 8, at The Shepherd’s Center. Classes begin Monday, January 22nd at the Center, and a second series at Mt. Tabor United Methodist Church, 3:00 pm, Thursday, January 18. Class size at either location is limited to 12 participants. Tuition of $50.00 is payable upon enrolling or at the door. “We hope to offer roles students so they will gain on-stage experience,” Johnson said. Students can also help with productions. Additional and advanced classes are planned for later in the year.

An exciting 2018 season, sponsored by Forrest Childers Group at Merrill Lynch and Blacno Tackabery law firm, will feature four shows at Mountcastle Black Box Theater. Driving Miss Daisy, opens the season March 23; followed by Hot Flashes opening June 8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the third offering, opens September 28, and the last show Showtune II, offered in response to the enthusiastic reaction to Showtune, a favorite with audiences in the 2017 season, opens November 26, Season tickets and group rates are available on line at http://www.rhodesartscenter.org/buy-tickets/ or call the Arts Council Box Office or phone 336-747-1414.

Tax-deductible donations can be made at: http://www.40plusstage.org/

Watch for the December issue of The Triad Retirement Resource Guide to feature a condensed version of this article.

Thanks for visiting my website. While you are here, please feel free to page through the many posts I have entered over the past several years. Also, I invite you to comment in the space provided below. -JJH

Anesthesia Recovery Often Stressful

August 7th, 2017

#anesthesia #oxycodone #overdose

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Anesthesia for major surgery is awesome stuff. Researchers are not entirely sure how it works, and if they are have trouble with it, consider how difficult it might be for the layman to understand it. Scientific American had the best article I could find. It is worth a read. One thing is sure, after all due consideration, anesthesia for major surgery works. The stuff puts you under in a big way. It’s not like sleep, Hamlet. There is no “perhaps to dream.” Everything is turned off. No subconscious calling your attention to some nagging matter. Stories of patients awakening during surgery must be apocryphal. You go out completely.

Recovery from anesthesia is a battle of sorts. The patient is not aware of what is going on. Those at the bedside know, however. Recovery is a roller coaster affair that the anesthesiologist controls with diligence and care. Once the patient wakes up, he may remember somethings that happened during recovery and not others. My wife, for example, said that I was very feisty. That I trashed around quite a bit. She said the anesthesiologist observed that what I doing was as a good thing. I was not aware of my struggle, however. I was not the least anxious. One thing did happen that I remember very clearly.

Why are you here?

I heard my wife ask, “John, why are you here?

“To know, love, and serve God so that I will be happy with Him forever in the next,” I replied.

Sacred Heart Elementary School, Yankton, SD. (No Longer Standing)

My response was right out of the Baltimore catechism. My wife later said that she did not ask me the question. What is more intriguing is my reply. I thought that I actually spoke it. Not so, according to those at bedside, although they did allow that I was mumbling all kinds of gibberish. For me, the assertion of faith was immediately gratifying. I felt a peaceful feeling come over me, a deep contentment. I was seven years old again, in first grade, and Sister Mary Micheline was smiling  at me. Whatever may have been the reason for my feeling of well-being, it clearly came from my subconscious because walking around wide awake I consider myself an agnostic.

For years, I have not been satisfied with the answers that the Church gave me helped me achieve peace of mind. It hasn’t been a matter so much  that I insist I don’t know, but that I want to know more – if that is possible. There is a huge difference between I don’t know and I’d like to know. I really would like to know. I am open to learning more. The brainwashing of my early years, however, really took. Once you have the answers, nobody ponders the questions any more. At some level, apparently, that early programming cannot be overridden or erased. It’s really powerful stuff, so powerful in fact,  it might be better to wait until a child has reached an age of reason before all this stuff is driven home in classroom drills.

A long-lost loved one . . .

All that aside, the patient recovering from anesthesia should not be surprised if some age old memories surface. Perhaps the name of a long-lost love. Whatever. Not to worry. Whatever the patient utters in recovery will probably come out as garbled nonsense.

I was hustled off to the intensive care unit once I regained consciousness. As it turned out, recovery from the anesthesia was probably more difficult than the surgery. I was asked almost immediately to get on my feet and walk, which I did. Coughing, of course, raised a concern among caretakers. The incision that is made all the way through the sternum to lay open the heart has, on rare occasions has come undone – a real nightmare for the surgeon. The patient is cautioned, therefore, to clutch a pillow to the chest when coughing and not to use his arms to get up out of a chair. I wanted to observe these admonitions diligently. However, at one point I was over taken by a paroxysm that was stronger than others. Clutching my pillow to me as if life itself depended it, I felt a slug of sputum moving up my throat. Blaaack! I spit out this ugly gelatinous ball the size of my fist into my urine flask. It was gray with sooty black deposits in it. I was horrified at it and the realization that it had been in my body.

“Look!” I exclaimed to the nurse when she came in, thinking that I had captured something essential to my recovery or at least would further assist in diagnosing my current state of health.

“Oh, good,” The nurse said calmly. “That has to be all of it. Very good.” Okay, I thought.

Pain is subjective. Nurses use this scale of help patients be more clear.

Pain ebbs and wanes during the first two or three days following surgery. Or perhaps the pain is constant but the pain-killers weaken as the hours pass after taking them. In any case. the nurses always asked, and in order to introduce some quantifying measure, they will call for the patient to give a number between 1 and 10. A chart is provided which helps the patient. It depicts cartoon patient faces with 10 looking as if the subject wants to die rather than endure another minute. Whereas 5 or 6 present the character as displeased but not in a panic. It’s a good system, although it depends on every nurse understanding the gradients of the scale. What is a five to one nurse may be a four to the next and even a six to yet another.

“Any pain tonight,” a nurse asked as she entered the room. I had not seen her before.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’d say about a 4.”

“What can I get for you?” asked. “I have Tylenol, oxycodone, and (a name I didn’t recognize),” as if she was peddling ice cream on the boardwalk

“I don’t know,” I said. “You’re the expert.”

She dropped a tablet or two (I can’t remember) into a paper cup, handed me my water glass, and I downed it all in one big gulp. Thus began the wildest, most terrifying night of my entire life. Instead of the gentle easing into a serene feeling of well-being that usually followed after taking Oxycodone, I had the sensation that the room was beginning to spin. Shadowy figures were coming and going. Some seemed menacing. I didn’t know whether that were hospital staff or not. I didn’t know why they were in the room. Some felt like a menacing presence. But the worst was yet to happen.

I began to lose a sense of myself. I lost touch with my core self. I became like one of Dante‘s characters from the Inferno being blown wildly about by the wind.I had slipped my mooring and was being tossed about in a fearful emotional storm.

A sense of the self . . .

All of my life, whether consciously or not, my perceptions of the world around me registered against the base of my essential self, as if my sensations were the wine and my essential self the goblet keeping all in order. Now the goblet was gone. Only the wine, flowing out of control remained, assaulting my senses like a beleaguered swimmer trying to escape a tsunami. The only thing that was left of the I who I knew myself to be was the fear and the panic that my mind was utterly beyond my control.

I was on a trip. I have heard about trips since college. I have never taken hard drugs. I am very respecting of them and do not feel that, given everything I have been told by those who indulge. they will add anything to the fullness of my life or the joy of living it. “Just think,” my wife observed, “there are people out there who want that experience.” I can’t imagine why.

One friend explained that most of my panic resulted because I did not know what to expect. Could be. He went on to observe that I was among strangers in a unfamiliar setting. Nobody was there to reassure me. Again, could be. Nothing, however, would prompt me to repeat the experience regardless of the conditions. I like who I am. I don’t want to abandon my sense of myself for any reason. Friends know me as a loosey-goosey guy, uninhibited and fun-loving. If anything, one of my biggest problems is weak impulse control. I wish at times I were more uptight. I can think of scores of embarrassing moments that would not have happened if I were. So, if what happened to me is what others are going for in using drugs, I am dismayed. Too bad they can find life itself awesome and marvelous just as it is presented unenhanced to all.

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Final Day by Forstchen Superficial and Filled with Gimmicks

February 4th, 2017
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Post-apocalypse America. China occupies all territory west of the Mississippi except for the lands Mexico reclaims it lost in the Southwest. Eastern United States is in chaos. Metropolitan areas are radioactive wastelands or havens for marauders armed with military weapons to plunder villages where refugees seek survival. In his novel, The Final Day, author William R. Forstchen lets readers infer that his story takes place early in the 21st century. Ninety percent of the population perish in a cataclysm of detonated nuclear missiles and high impact shock weapons. Gone are the Internet, the power grid, computers on line at the time, law enforcement, water and sewer and services of a civilized society.

Struggling to start over, the State of Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains of what once was the state of North Carolina is led John Matherson, the hero of the story. The State defends against outlaws in costly battles against the Posse and against Fredericks, attackers about whom nothing is known as the author never bothers to explain. Ambiguity stirs the curious, after all, and it’s one of Forstchen’s favorite gimmicks. When there’s no tension arising from the plot, it suffices at times to have readers asking: Who are these people anyway?

The first third of the book could be summarized: A stranger staggers into camp and expiring, mentions the name of a man Matherson knows. John decides with no particular agenda in mind to fly to meet with his friend. Once air borne, the story becomes a travelogue about the desolate winter landscape. The mission fails. Matherson returns to base. Days pass and radio communication (eureka) is restored. Matherson’s friend, retired general Bob Scales, will come to see Matherson. Scales knew Matherson was there all along. The dead stranger was the General’s aide. (Right! The story could have started at this point and little would have been lost.)

Incomparable human suffering . . .

Arriving with three armed Blackhawk helicopters hovering menacingly overhead, Scales threatens Matherson’s little settlement with annihilation if Matheson doesn’t become his hostage. Scales explains he is acting under orders. Despite seeing incomparable human suffering everywhere, he persists as an agent of Bluemont in being the oppressor and executioner.

The plot meanders into a blizzard of mindlessness at this point. The author chose Bluemont as his adversary because the word is devoid of any historical, human or geographical connotation. Bluemont could be a place, a site inter-terrestrials have landed or the last surviving Native American reservation. Nobody knows. Despite having communication with the BBC and itinerant refugees passing all kinds of information along, Bluemont is a mystery.

Even in the most fantastic yarns, some sense of continuity, the role of destiny in the lives of the characters and cause and effect need to be sustained to insure credibility. Not so in The Final Day, Enemies pop overnight for no apparent reason. Friends turn on one another and then realign. Unidentified assassins attack at random. Suspense is sustained by simply withholding information about all adversaries and their motives. Gimmickry run wild.

Chest Deep in Trivia . . .

Forstchen’s plot slogs along like a hiker chest deep in trivia. The weaknesses in the story line are covered up as readers are subjected to pages of tedium about World War II, the Civil War, vintage computer restoration, code breaking, winter survival methods (common knowledge stuff regularly aired on the History channel). The characters lack depth and are limited in their reach for the emotions that would touch readers and evoke a sympathetic response. An entire continent has been transformed into a charnel house yet the killing and destruction continues. The myth of the military hero is sustained in an atmosphere choking with the stench of decay and decomposition.

The final quarrel a thoughtful reader will have with The Final Day is philosophical rather than aesthetic. In a book about the future, Forstchen regrettably turns to the past to find the fodder for his story and leaves unexplored the real challenges that would await the grieving and disabled as they crawl out from the wreckage of a nihilistic holocaust. Surely some somewhere would conclude that more killing is to persist in barbarism and the lessons of mass destruction as a method of wielding power delivers to those who would prevail nothing but dominion over a toxic and decimated wasteland. Although well-written, the book fails as adult reading. The Final Day is comic book tripe

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This review initially appeared in bookpleasures.com, a web site dedicated to reviewing books.

 

 

James Grippando’s Novella “The Penny Jumper” – Trading Stock at Lightspeed

December 12th, 2016

#highfrequencytrrading $daytrading #stockmarket  thepennyjumper #daytrading #pennystock

 

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Time is money, but what is the price tag that comes with it. Bestselling author James Grippando sets the amount at about 160 million every trading day on Wall Street. That’s for a single millisecond or .001 seconds. Why so much? Simple. High frequency traders on the world’s stock exchanges go to great lengths to gain a millisecond advantage over their competitors. In an intricate network of computers and trading systems, one millisecond gives a firm the chance to increase profits by jumping up the price on large blocks of stock by one cent per share. Companies losing money to the high-jacking of the data stream want to put an end to the practice. Their quest sets the stage for Grippando’s excellent novella, The Penny Jumper.

It will take an complex algorithm to stop the penny jumpers from hitchhiking onto the trades streaming from every corner of the globe. In fact, it would require a genius, one presumably beyond the reach of Wall Street, nestled obscurely in a university staff somewhere working in a field of pure research. Turns out Ainsley Grace – young, pretty and bright – is engaged in a monumental project at MIT that would harness all the telescopes of the world and convert them into one huge cyclops to penetrate outer space. The distances data must travel from the far flung locations needs to be synchronized before a composite image is possible. Ainsley configures an algorithm that has all the scopes seeing as one. Kudos for the achievement, however, do not come with a bonus that would alleviate Ainsley’s heavy student load debt. She accepts a consulting job with a Wall Street firm who is wrestling with the penny jumper problem.

James Grippando - Auhor

James Grippando – Auhor

Leaving Boston for New York, Ainsley comes up with the algorithm her employers that will protect them against the penny jumpers. Problem is, before she can collect her six figure fee, her program is stolen, and to top it off, she is the accused of absconding with it herself. She is being framed but proving her innocence is no easy task and there are disarming twists and turns along the way that make her plight at times seem hopeless.

Author Grippando’s tale of Ainsley’s adventure in the wilds of capitalism, where greed is good, is exquisitely symmetrical. Everything he starts, he finishes. No loose ends. The author’s style is lean and efficient, providing just enough detail to orient the reader with each setting. The pace of the mystery is almost as fast as the data streams central to the story without sacrificing insight into the characters or concocting unlikely coincidences to move the plot along. The courtroom scenes are compelling. The dialogue crisp and authentic. Ainsley’s relationship with her attorney and friend, Connor, is straightforward and realistic; in a word, refreshing. Grippando is a master at breaking down the scientific premise of the plot into layman’s terms. In his hands, brevity does not equate to superficiality. The author quotes Carl Sagan, for example, to answer to the age old debate of agnosticism versus atheism. He takes less than a paragraph were others have wasted pages. In a story about really bright, thinking people, the author’s genius shines in a plot that has thoroughly thought . There are plenty of surprises along the way, right up until the final page.

The Penny Jumper Cover

The Penny Jumper Cover

The Penny Jumper is nearly flawless. Author Grippando is marvelously inventive with every detail to keep the story credible, save one. Bad guy, Vlad Kosov, uses mob muscle to get the price reduced by half on a 50 million dollar property in Hong Kong. Real estate transactions at that stratospheric level, especially in Hong Kong, just don’t seem vulnerable to on-site threats from a thug. It wouldn’t matter so much, except that the man who is intimidated into selling is important to the rest of the plot. Readers may trip but not break stride on this detail because the story line is so compelling and beautifully presented. The Penny Jumper is thoroughly entertaining if a bit unsettling once readers realize the high volume trading network at the heart of our cherished free enterprise system might possibly be more vulnerable than most may think.

This review first appeared in somewhat condensed form on bookpleasures. com

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Forgiving An Unfaithful Partner Ambivalence Takes Over

November 23rd, 2016

#divorce #betrayal #infidelity #betrayal #marriagecounselling #brokenfamily @childrenindivorce

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Truth in the therapist’s office is an elusive thing. I could go all week convinced that I no longer wanted to return to my marriage. I missed my children very much. But every time I checked in with them they were doing fine. They were so accustomed to having me gone that it was normal for their day to begin and end without seeing me. When my wife started bringing guys into the home, they took it right in stride. I was the only one suffering the consequences of separation, or so it seemed.

To overcome my lonesomeness, I taped pictures of my children on the kitchen cabinets. On returning home one night, I poured myself a stiff one and the cork came out of the bottle. I began to grieve. I’d look at the pictures and miss each one of the kids and the times past when we were all together as a family unaware and unthreatened. We were like a lot of families. We were going from one day to the next, taking life for granted, overcoming the problems that came along, and then we’d awake one day and realize that a chapter had come to a close. The time together then was special and now, in the flow of events, it was somehow complete, encapsulated with a beginning and an end. We could never go back, but we could remember it as we pushed ahead confident of the continuity in our lives.

Clustered as in an era . . .

Someday we’d enjoy recognizing not only that we had all grown older but also that we had lived through something special with one another, something that time and the order of things had taken away from us, but once taken, became incorruptible. Our days and months clustered as in an era, each complete with its own distinguishing character that ran through our time like a theme. Perhaps it was as simple as when we lived in a certain house. Or perhaps it was when we were all happy with the fellowship at the church where we belonged. The times would be recalled in their completeness. “Oh, gee, remember that time we were all so excited about moving to Detroit.”

I missed those days. I knew who I was then. Or at least, I was content in letting the roles I filled with others define me. I had a sense of the future and a sense of purpose. Now confusion reigned. I didn’t know my wife any more. I had seen a side to her that I never knew existed. She didn’t appear to regret the separation. I saw no grief in her brown eyes. We had grown accustomed to sharing our feelings. That was gone. I was alone with the desolation I was feeling.

It was those times, those chapters, that caused me to grieve all alone, alone as I never thought I’d ever be, in a dingy furnished basement apartment instead the home with my children laughing as they prepared for bed. Darkness at the end of the day flooded my musty apartment with futility.

Author's family, 1974 - Two years before the breakup. Front (l - r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l - r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

Author’s family, 1974 – Two years before the breakup. Front (l – r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l – r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

For all that, however, I didn’t pine for my wife’s company. She had moved out of my life. I knew she was dating other men. My 12 year old son, in all apparent innocence, invited me into the house one night only for me to find her entertaining a man in the living room. I backed away and left before she knew I was there, though I had to wonder about my son’s motives. Perhaps he wanted to see what kind of trouble could be provoked by my unexpected appearance. More likely, he just didn’t give it a thought. Whatever the case, in those brief moments, I realized our house had become hers. Nothing belonged to me any longer. The new furniture we bought was being systematically shredded by the two household cats, and nobody seemed capable or motivated to stop them. I  shrugged. Why not? The ripped up furnishings struck me as a metaphor. Everything was at a distance, dreary testimonials to the faded life we once enjoyed as a family.

But it wasn’t a clean break, even after all the months apart. I could be alone all week and begin to pull myself together, reach moments of fragile resolve that I would eventually come out of my funk. The panic attacks were less frequent. Then, I’d see my wife’s Ford round the corner, and my heart would leap up as it did when I was a teenager – one of those take-your-breath-away down the spine zingers. That surge of inexplicable feeling meant something. But what? Fear? Anger? Love? I didn’t know. Did those emotions feel the same in a person? It felt, at least for an instant, that my head was in one place and my heart in another.

I never resolved my ambivalence. The chance was taken out of my hands when my wife called a halt to everything. She didn’t want to try any longer .I didn’t insist that she continue. Her final decision came while we were working with our third counselors, a couple of my wife’s choosing who practiced co-joint therapy. After spending weeks with them on her own, I was invited to join in. It was the first indication from my wife that she wanted to work things out. During these last sessions my ambivalence returned. I confessed to the feelings I experienced when I encountered her by chance but I didn’t report my confusion in the counselor office.*

Too much uncertainty . . .

Yes, I’d admit, I wanted things to work out. Yes, I still wanted to work on our marriage. I didn’t admit it to myself, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy, the one to walk away. No wonder the psychologist found working with us a challenge. My feelings felt true in the moment but once away from the therapeutic setting my doubts returned. I don’t know how I would have handled things if we decided to give it another try. There had been a time when rolling back the clock and having all the trouble simply go away was what I wanted. Now, that was unrealistic. Too much fear, too much distrust and too much uncertainty had entered in.

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda Joe not pictured)

Restoring trust in our relationship seemed impossible. I don’t think I have ever known at any point in my life the full extent of my motivation for doing anything. There were those moments of abandon when doing something was a joy, when my self -consciousness evaporated, moments when doubt never entered my mind. Yet here I was negotiating my future in the therapist’s office, and I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I wasn’t fully disclosing. Had I been, I would have admitted something like, “While I’m here I feel one way but as soon as I walk out the door, I know I will feel differently.” I was letting circumstances control me. I needed to commit. I needed closure, as much for myself as for everyone else involved – the children, my wife, even my friends who wondered how long things were going to be strung out. I wanted to hear an expression of regret or sorrow over what had been lost – something that resonated with what I was living through. I wanted to feel safe again. My ambivalence kept me from asking her for anything, whether to stop seeing other guys or for an expression of regret or something as simple as more time. It was not a conscious strategy but I wanted her to do as she felt prompted on her own. Perhaps she sensed my ambivalence and that’s why she walked out.

I knew attraction drives a couple forward in their relationship and culminates ultimately in committing one another. It didn’t appear that it was there for us. We had to move to a different place, a place that substituted hope and good will for desire and trust. We could never again ignore the knowledge we had gained about one another.  It would mean commitment. It would require an expression of remorse and full forgiveness from both of us. Trust would take time, lots of it. Every late night return from work would require an explanation. Every out-of-town seminar, a full report. The only reason we’d take the shot would be that both of us thought it was our best chance at happiness – not for the kids, not for our parents, but for us, selfishly. Putting an end to the pain was not enough any longer. Time would take care of that eventually. We had to make a water rescue of sorts, get pulled from the tempest and dry off back on board again with life going on as it had before the storm overtook us. Neither of us was fully aware of what it would take. Guarantees are never part of any proposition, but promises would have to be kept. I don’t think either of us had faith in a solution once we had lost faith in one another.

If we had a chance at all, a good start would be tot acknowledge and  grieve over what had passed out of our lives – grieve to the point of anguish. Gone forever was the dream that together, despite the troubled beginning to our marriage, we could make things work. We’d be the model couple with the liberal beliefs and the beautiful family. Struggling with the low income, with the unrealistic plans and seeing them fail, we still had the courage to put our hearts into it. We had been dear, trusting friends. We lost our sense of magic – the faith that because we wanted it we could make it so. However laughable that may have been to others, it was purity itself to us. Time eventually would wash away our simple script. We would not have noticed it being slowly carried out to sea and merged with the depths that cannot be recalled in the passing of years. But our lives had collapsed in crisis. We had too much ground to cover and too little time. We were suddenly part of the world we had tried to hold a bay. We had worked hard.  Our effort alone was cause enough to mourn. Our youth was all but spent.  If we could have acknowledged all of it – the richness of the days as a family together that others have a lifetime to release at their leisure – and pulled it back into mind, despite the anger and the hurt, perhaps then we could have looked at one another to see if any hope remained. As it turned out, we walked away, wept alone and moved on.

*Each of the therapists we worked with insisted on confidentiality. I respect their wishes despite the passing of years and the death of my first wife. I believe it would be unethical to quote any statements made by either or us and any observations on the part of the professionals.

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Affairs, Fodder for Comedy, Not a Laughing Matter in Real Life

November 6th, 2016

#divorce #infidelity #marriagecounseling #betrayal #affair

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

I never thought I’d marry more than once. I remember driving down I-35W in Minneapolis one winter night after my first wife Elaine disclosed she was in love with another guy. I kept saying divorced over and over to myself because I could not get the idea to fit with ny definition of myself . But like a lot of things I never expected in life, it happened.

My wife had her reasons, all stuff I didn’t want to hear. She, too, felt as though life was passing her by. Midway through her thirties, she realized she had missed the carefree years. The women’s movement was in full swing. She wanted to be part of it but felt she had forfeited her membership by marrying as young as we did. There was still time. She was still young and very attractive. She also had complaints about me.

I wasn’t an easy man to live with. Selfish. Controlling. My views of marriage were very conventional, sexist in many ways. I had not made her happiness a priority. I was resentful at being held back in my career by family issues and the burden of providing support. My college classmates were all moving up in the world. I was envious. I finally landed a job where I could make up for lost ground and I was consumed by it. I was unavailable most of the time. I traveled a lot and left her with a house full of teenagers to raise. I took too much for granted.

Shared expectations . . .

Elaine did not share my aspirations for financial success. She grew up in a working class home. If anything, she was distrustful of the upper-middle class values, country club membership, and all the trappings. Other than returning to school to get a degree in nursing, I didn’t know what she wanted out of life. We almost never discussed it.

We tried to take a vacation with the children in the middle of everything. I was reeling from her indifference toward me, sensing something was wrong but not knowing the cause. We took a hike with the kids up one of the hillsides near Dillon, Colorado. I was in terrible shape – overweight, no stamina, short of breath from smoking. I stopped to rest while my wife went on with the children. While I waited, I scratched my name onto a gray rock that fit my palm, and I threw it down the hillside as far as I could. The meaning of the metaphor, hopelessly melodramatic as it is, was clear to me at the time, but the impulse that prompted me to act it out was still buried in my subconscious. I had been thrown away. My self-esteem since a teenager had been almost totally dependent on my wife’s affection and affirmation. That must have constituted a hell of a burden for her. Every time I was unhappy, it was her job to make things right. It was pretty much the same job my mom had as I was growing up.

When we finally got to a marriage counselor, there was so much to sort through that, after a couple of initial meetings, our counselor decided it would be better to work with us individually before tackling the tougher stuff that had our relationship all jammed up. “She can see your anger,” the therapist said during one session. The statement struck me as strange. I didn’t know that I had been all that angry. I was a storm trying to find its center – lots of lightning and violent downdrafts of depression. “I feel like a money-making machine with a dick on it,” I said in one later session and was surprised to see my wife react with dismay.

Ever Been Tempted . . .

“Haven’t you ever been tempted,” the therapist continued. “You’ve been away from home a lot. Haven’t there been any situations where you might have done something?”

“I’ve been tempted often enough,” I said, “but it’s a long walk from the hotel bar to my room. I had time to think things over. Besides, I got nervous. It was something I’d never done. I couldn’t do like other guys, just chuck it and make a move.” The therapist was disappointed. She must have wanted me to admit a comparable guilt. I had nothing to confess. Yeah, I lusted after other women. Found myself obsessing over this one or that. But I never had whatever it took to act on the attraction. I’d be the one guy in a thousand who’d get caught and there’d be a terrible price to pay. The moral injunctions of my Catholic upbringing reigned me in. My emotions got all jammed up. My own history was a restraining influence. I had paid enough for the sexual transgressions of my teenage years. I had profoundly disappointed my parents. I threw away any chance at enjoying carefree years to discover my intellectual strengths and preferences. Marrying shaped my life before I was of age to decide much of anything for myself. The little head had ruled once. I was not about to give it a second chance.

The therapist wanted me to see the human dimension in my wife’s conduct. To see it as a frailty that all of us fall victim to from time to time. I get that today, but at the time, her appeal was misdirected. My mind was elsewhere. My life was falling apart. My self-image had been shattered. I had been living a lie. My wife fell in love with another guy. It was an affair. It had gone on for months. I didn’t know what or who to trust any more.

Less the Flailing and Panic . . .

The Author, 1976 "No idea who I was.

The Author, 1976 “No idea who I was.”

Perhaps things would have cleared up a little for me if the therapist addressed my pain, let me express it and talk it out. I might have been able to move to a more settled place, grab hold of something in the torrent to lessen the flailing and panic. As it was, I was so distrustful that I obsessed on nearly everything my wife said. One business trip to Washington, DC, I felt compelled to walk the streets of the city to control my raging doubt, and as I walked, I obsessed on what she had said as I left the house to make sure that I had understood its meaning and could believe her. At work, unless someone shoved something right into my face, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d close the door to my office and brood. I’d burst into tears and embarrass myself.

My wife, meanwhile, went passively along when all the ramifications of what was taking place swamped my thinking. She didn’t move out. She couldn’t afford it. She didn’t ask for a divorce. She was glad when I went off on business. She was in the driver’s seat but refused to put her hands on the wheel. The consequences were clear for me. Daily contact with my children was at stake. I’d need to change jobs so that I could stay home if she left home? I didn’t know whether I could afford to support myself living alone and the family also? I didn’t know how the children would react. I didn’t want them hurt.

For that matter, I didn’t know what I wanted. If Elaine turned to me full of remorse and begged for forgiveness, I don’t know what my response would have been. The months leading up to her confession had been some of the most unhappy in my life; the weeks after, sheer hell. No. There was no easy stopping place. No timeout. No fix-fix, as if it were all pretend. I needed time to decide but anxiety stole every moment from me. For all I knew she was still seeing the other guy. I finally did the unthinkable. I called him and implored him to stop seeing her until I had a chance to do whatever was needed to reorder my life. I pleaded. He agreed.

My wife was angry at her lover’s decision to put their affair on hold. There was a dimension to her rage that I understood. She stormed about two guys deciding what was right for her as if she had no say. That’s what guys do, right? Stay in charge. The male code called for punching the guy’s lights out. But I wasn’t feeling angry. All I felt was a disabling anxiousness, as if I had been hit across the broad of my back with a baseball bat.

Just Watch Me . . .

It took years for me to understand. I was bottled up. Crippled with anxiety. I told our counselor during our first meeting the I was traumatized. My wife’s betrayal was not the only cause for my severe disorientation. My world was collapsing. All of the avoidance and pretense was crashing down. I was 35 years old and had never been through a disappointment in love. My family was my justification for everything. Being a father, a husband and a moral man were huge parts of my definition of myself and braced me from the outside. On the inside, I hardly knew who I was. I was a pleaser. A chameleon. I sought the acceptance of others even to the point of forsaking my own perspective. I was raising a happy family, unlike my father who ruled a stormy home in which fights broke out suddenly and frightened my sister, my brother and me. I was going to earn more money than he without benefit of professional degree. Just watch me was my mantra. I’d make up for all the disappointment. Everyone would say that I had done all right. I’d been a good son after all. But now everything translated into the indictment that I had failed. I didn’t have the ego strength to remain stable and confident of who I was, all of which should have been the product of taking life head on instead of hiding in a marriage. I couldn’t see it then, but most of my anguish was from a crash of my own making, errors in my navigating my way. Many causes were yet to be discovered,  tasks that had been abandoned or never addressed, but for the moment, I had not equipped myself to cope with a crisis.

To be continued . . .

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Immature Social Behavior is Determined by Group Norms

October 28th, 2016

#Secondmarriage #Marriagecounseling #WilsonLearning #Sociallyappropriate

This is the a third autobiographical article in a series. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Donna, my second ex, insisted she was right about one thing. – I hadn’t grown up. From her perspective, I’m sure that it must have seemed that way. I’d certainly been through enough harrowing life experiences to make me a steady hand in wrestling with the perplexities of adult life. I wasn’t always realistic. I wasn’t always appropriate. Her diagnosis was that I was a victim of “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

Not being grown up is a tough one. To start with, what does it mean? Immature? If that’s the case, how does a guy find a remedy? Throw himself in to a variety of really troublesome situations. Rob a bank. Go to jail. Find the wrong person to fall deeply in love with. Piss off an employer. File for bankruptcy. Whatever it takes to make himself miserable because growing up often means that you have overcome difficult circumstances and prevail despite the setbacks. The hotter the fire, the finer the steel. Still, this seems like the wrong way to address the problem. It’s very hard to grow up at some point in your life when the time period during which the task should have been achieved has already passed.

What was not be taken into account way my history. Wilson Learning was a very casual, fun place to work. When we partied, we tried to outdo one another with stories and jokes. Several of us took a stab at standup. On campus, things were relaxed and casual. Lunch time often turned into a pickup game of touch football. Spontaneity was applauded  I never remember being accused of inappropriate or immature behavior with any other group at any other time in my life as I was with Donna and her associates. My behavior in the decades since has never been characterized in the same negative light. I was an outsider. That’s all there was to it and I was treated in a manner that was completely consistent with the initial judgment many made about me. What once brought laughter now reaped disdain. What once was ingenuous was now childish. What once was assertive now was arrogant. Appropriate, it turns out, is a relative term.

Perhaps what others looked for was a measure of cynicism. Of worldliness. For the ability to act as if a marriage is still working when a mother knows her current husband, as a stepfather, seduced her teenage daughter. (Actual case.) To agree that marriage vows are suspended whenever either partner was more than 50 miles from home. (Another actual case.) Being adult meant maintaining a certain unflappable demeanor. Lots of outlandish things can be going on but they didn’t distress the mature person. Politics mattered, sanely discussed. Issues of all sorts mattered in the abstract. But the carnal and the venial dimensions of events, the human side, were taken in stride. C’est la vie.

Time to Grow up . . .

“Time for both of you grow up,” one therapist said to me as I was trying to cope with the pain of betrayal and uncertainty about my family after my wife revealed she was having an affair – the implication being that I was only hurting because my wife and I were not adult enough to accept that grownups have affairs, and we were making ourselves miserable by clinging to some fantasy the fidelity mattered.

Once I moved to North Carolina, I didn’t feel that I fit in. The group of people with whom we socialized had known one another for years. I was a newcomer, an unknown. So many things set me apart. My speech was Midwestern. I didn’t hold a graduate degree. I was not an academic. I had no professional credentials. The repartee was not easy for me, I, an extrovert, wasn’t at ease among buttoned down hyper-rational would-be intellectuals. I never felt on equal footing with most in the room.

“And what is that you do?” the conversation would begin. I’d try to explain. “Hmm . . . I see,” was the predictable response once I concluded my summary. But the comment was usually dismissive, as if whatever it was I did for a living wasn’t very important. Many academics believe it is important to understand, but what’s really missing in their interaction with outsiders is genuine curiosity. Curiosity indicates a desire to know more but it also signals a failure to comprehend. Academics don’t like appearing as if they are missing the point.  A con man came through the community a year or so before I came to town and in a matter of days fleeced a whole batch of Donna’s friends all of their life savings because none of them was willing to admit they didn’t understand what he was proposing.

Donna was a psychologist who practiced in partnership with Kathy, the wife of the Chairman of the Psychology Department at a local university. The two had become passionate about John Bandler and Richard Grinder’s Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). My work experience included sales and marketing for Wilson Learning Corporation, an acknowledged leader in the development of sales and management training programs based on popular psychological models of the day including Transactional Analysis, Maslow’s Hierarchy, David Merrill’s Social Styles and others. I served a term as Director of Product Development for Wilson which put me in charge of the program designers, writers, and television studio. I was frequently invited to speak on the principles of program design.

Donna and Kathy wanted to market their services on a broader scale. Both were certified NLP trainers. They wanted to package the program and present seminars. Donna undertook the task of writing a proposal on how the two would approach designing, marketing and selling their program. She and I agreed that I was qualified to serve program designer and head of marketing.

An Unaccountable Lapse . . .

Kathy and her husband John did not like the proposal. The tension between the two women was palpable. To avert what was building up to a full-blown conflict, we decided that the four of us would discuss the proposal at dinner in a prestigious local restaurant. The first contested point was the position to which I had been assigned. Kathy wanted her husband as program designer and head of sales and marketing. John held a Ph.D. in psychology but had no experience in the art and science of program design. He had never sold so much as a magazine subscription to anyone at any time in his life. Donna immediately acknowledged that putting my name forward to any position in the company was a mistake, an unaccountable lapse on her part. Oh my, the relief. Smiles all around the table. John was appointed in my place. I was not to be part of the project.

As it turned out, the two women never put a program together.  John did not know how to begin and so never took the first step. I was relieved, but I also go the clear message that my credentials or experience carried no weight. I was just a another businessman to be tolerated in the intricate and immensely more important world of academia.

My boss from Wilson, a guy named Gary Quinlan, came to town and invited Donna and me out to dinner.

“That went well,” Donna exclaimed on the way home. “I like Gary. I think I made a good impression on him as well.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well, I was thinking about it earlier today and I decided the best strategy for me was to find some way to be a resource to him. He seemed really pleased when I told him that I thought I could help him control you.”

Control  me?  Donna did not discuss this with me before proposing it to my boss. Her proposed collusion reinforced any perception that Quinlan might have had about my reliability. I had never had problems with doing my job. I led the company in sales one year. Some of Wilson’s very successful programs were developed or updated under my management. The implication was clear. Donna was still treating me as an immature person, one incapable of self-regulation. She enhanced her own standing in Quinlan’s eyes. Rather than be my advocate, she became my critic. She would have been outraged if roles were reversed, if I suggested to her partner that I could help control her. I found it belittling.

After a while, I wanted to avoid most of Donna’s friends, Kathy in particular and her husband John who seemed to think his role in our friendship was to approve or disapprove of nearly everything, from the music I liked to the restaurants we frequented. Kathy was the woman who, after hearing me say that I had just returned from my father’s funeral, blurted out, “That’s nothing. My mother has cancer.” How’s that for impulse control? One year, Donna committed to having Thanksgiving dinner with Kathy and her husband. I was flabbergasted. She had not consulted me. I knew my children expected a more quiet, family style holiday but neither they nor I had any say.

An Unrelenting Message . . .

I woke up to it every morning. The message was that I was not important. Our marriage counselor was seeing us each independently as we worked on our issues. I’d come back from my session, and while it was agreed the sessions were confidential, we nevertheless gave one another a general idea of how things went. “I worked on our relationship,” I’d report. “I’m trying to understand what is going on between us.”

“How about you?” I’d ask when my turn came.

“Oh, I had to work on some issues that involved Kathy,” she’d explain in a tone of voice that signaled I was expected to understand. Right up until our last session, when I went with Donna to the therapist to announce I was leaving her, she continued to come home with the same report. She never worked on the trouble in our marriage. It never took precedent.

I had made a dreadful miscalculation, one that led to some of the most unhappy years of my life. I had not taken the time to find out what I was getting into during our brief courtship. I had crawled out from the wreckage of my first marriage and I took on a second before my healing was complete. More follows in the next post.

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Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Was Comes” Wows Audiences at The Barter

September 26th, 2016

#BarterTheatre #RayBradbury #SomethingWicked

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Breathtaking production values are both the strength and the weakness in The Barter’s current presentation of Something Wicked This Way Came. The costumes transport the audience beyond the nostalgic world of the 1950s, the time period for the play, into a fantasy world full of amazing and frightening creatures.

Act I begins ominously with Jim Nightshade (Barrett Guyton) and Will Halloway (Joseph Matthew Veale)  greeting a lightning-rod salesman who’s sleazy pitch prophesizes that Nightshade’s house will be struck and burned to the ground. A mystery fueled by dread is in the air and randomly reinforced by threatening distant rolls of thunder. Once underway, Act I is so shrill that it is almost painful to sit through. Nighshade is all for bringing on whatever trouble awaits, while Halloway takes the side of caution. Emphasizing the point that both boys are only 13 years old, they tussle and yell at one another about the intriguing arrival of a carnival. Guyton and Veale inject their roles with adolescent exuberance – no doubt as directed. They romp vigorously around the stage. As a result, several things the playwright may have intended gets lost.

Halloway is a good lad. He tries to get Nightshade to be careful, avoid cursing, and generally be more thoughtful. Trouble is, aside from the lines he recites, Halloway’s dynamics mirror Nighsade’s. Push. Yell. Push some more. Yell louder. Nightshade is a voyeur. Halloway pleads that he come away from the window in a gratuitous scene intended supposedly to dramatize the difference between the two boys. Perhaps a contrast is being established. One boy, Halloway, wants to live by the rules whereas his pal, Nightshade, wants to break out from under them. Neither character, their slight differences notwithstanding, gives us much to like. When Act I ends we really don’t care what happens to either of them. Teenagers have a full repertoire of manipulative behaviors available. Ask any parent of a teenager. The two guys on stage come off as one dimensional.  Seduction, intrigue, curiosity are not in the mix. Simple bombast carries the action.

Too Much Reflection . . .

The Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA

The Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA

Before the carnival makes a formal entrance into town, a hall of mirrors appears. Playwright Ray Bradbury seems to suggest that too much reflection in life is dangerous. A person entering the hall of mirrors is exposed to images of the self that span a lifetime. Life is the mystery. It’s not quite clear why this is terrifying. Whether to accept where we are at any given point or pine, as Mr. Halloway (Will’s father) does, for our younger days is a universal predicament, a passage on the path to self-acceptance. But the hall of mirrors is a horror. Looking back is fraught with peril. No ambiguity here. Nightshade charges ahead disdainful of any threat. Halloway wimps out in the challenge to restrain him.

Act II, gratefully, begins with a quiet dialogue between Will Halloway and his father, played by Rick McVey. Mr. Halloway is 54, an old guy as the script would have it. Most of his life passed before he knew what was going on. His son is his principal achievement. He’d give just about anything if he could run again as his son does. Mr. Halloway is a wiser parent because he can recall his boyhood. The rapport between father and son is almost too idealistic to be credible, especially as the father vividly recalls his boyhood and recognizes how life is for his son. Halloway, for all his sanguinary recollections, becomes the protagonist, usurping the distinction from the boys who carried Act I with their hi-jinks.

Pushing ahead, Act II turns into a nightmarish extravaganza. The carnival arrives, or maybe it was there all along. The hall of mirrors, introduced in Act I, takes its place near a fantastic carousel with elegant horses – man, what elegant horses! The carousel becomes the center of action. Both attractions produce the same dreaded outcomes. They take people backward or forward in time, and if the reaction of the cast means anything, then falling victim to either is terrifying. Except for Jim, of course. He wants to become older right away. Perhaps he’s trying to out run his rage.

A Bad Dream . . .

Joseph Matthew Veale and Barrett Guyton as Will land Jim

Joseph Matthew Veale and Barrett Guyton as Will land Jim

As in a bad dream, things that are assumed at one point become not true at another, and there is no accounting for why things turn as they do. The playwright indulges all kinds of license. Miss Foley is taken back physically to her childhood self only later to appear again returned to her adult self. She brushes off the terror of the experience as if it were nothing. Jim and Will have their ears stopped by Mr. Dark but later come back onto the scene understanding everything being said. A lot happens that just doesn’t matter. One of Mr. Dark’s sidekicks, also a villain, is turned into a boy and later, after being executed in an electric chair, a zombie. It doesn’t matter. The audience never liked him. It is all utterly unnecessary.

The plot buried deep underneath the flamboyant staging is that Jim needs to be saved from the carousel, which is to say, from himself. He is so eager to grow older he removes the lightening rod protection from his home with his mother (figure that one out – he wants her dead, burned no less?). But to round up, everyone, including the nonchalant townspeople strolling by as if not a thing in the world is amiss, needs to be safe from Mr. Dark, powerfully played by Nick Koesters.

Age and wisdom ultimately prevail. Mr. Dark and his horrible minions feed on the fear the mortals in the town. Halloway, played most credibly by the able Rick McVey, puts the Act II on his back and carries it in a 10K uphill soliloquy during which he instructs the audience on everything. Good thing, too, because bewilderment reigns at this point. Dark and his entourage are so scary, it is really difficult to know what their intentions are or how they are ever going to vacate the town square. Evil, yes; but not very aggressive. Jim, Miss Foley and Mr. Halloway are drawn into the menacing carnival world but all escape unscathed. After all, the uninvited guests are wicked which is not necessarily to be equated with evil.

Readers’ Digest . . .

Halloway figures it all out. There’s an antidote for fear. Laughing past the cemetery. Right. Turns out, laughter is the cure. “Where’d you’d put the most recent Readers’ Digest, dear?” Halloway enjoys the last laugh. His son steadies his aim in destroying the Dust Witch, (got to be some symbolism there somewhere) and at 54 he finds he can run with the boys again.

The Horses from the Carousel - Magnificent.

The Horses from the Carousel – Magnificent.

The actors, to a person, turn in excellent performances. The play is a gaudy muddle. Audiences will end up dazzled and confused, reminiscent of an old salesman’s adage, “If you can convince them with logic, baffle them with BS.” The problem with the play could be in the script. Leaving an actor to explain everything in the middle of Act II suggests we are seeing a draft rather than a finished script. None of the characters draw upon the sympathy of the audience. Mr. Halloway is the only character with any depth. No tears of relief are shed in the saving of Jim. No joy in the downfall of Mr. Dark. The plot builds very little tension. Dark and his carnival finally go away. The audience jumps to its feet at the curtain because they have been wowed by the staging. The costumes are amazing. The set, except for the unexplained visage of Felix, the Cat peering over all the proceedings, is fanciful and fun. Richard Rose’s direction seems to dwell on the obvious at the expense of the subtle and the nuanced. If it is loud, then it’s got to be good. Then, again, the script may not have much that lends itself to shading and contrast.

Rose gets credit, however. His Something Wicked This Way Comes manages to be very entertaining and off-the-chart dramatic without being very good drama.

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Certainty Never a Given in Remarriage

September 22nd, 2016

#Divorce #Remarriage #Therapy #Doubt

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

“You didn’t!” a friend exclaimed when I told her that I posted my most recent article. “I’d have thought you’d write it and throw it away.”

“Why? It was part of my life, all those years ago.”

“But why now, so long . . . What, over 30 years . . . after it all happened?” she continued.

“Gosh, I was hoping I’d get credit for keeping my mouth shut all that time.” My friend laughed. She knew I was kidding.

It is difficult to know just how far one should go writing a autobiographical piece. I struggled with it, especially when it came to deciding how much of the truth should be told. There is always more. More is almost always worse. Worse is almost always hurtful, or at least embarrassing, to others, if not myself. I had more that I didn’t write. I still question whether I went too far or not far enough. I tried to draw a line between what seemed to me to be deliberate acts – those one makes as a matter of choice – and idiosyncratic behaviors which are habituated to the point of being unintentional, predisposed and a likely reaction given a person’s psychological makeup. To illustrate, most of us learned as preschoolers that lying was not a nice thing to do. Unless we are pathological liars, a rare condition, when we are untruthful it is usually by choice. When I lie, for example, I am usually trying to make myself look better in the eyes of others or to avoid negative consequence of the truth. I think I am very much like others in this regard. (Or the one I really like: What do you call a person who lies 99.9% of the time?  – Answer below*)

My friend thought that I sounded angry in the piece. If that is true, I failed.  I was angry then. I’m not now. There’s a huge difference between who I was at the time the events took place and the guy who is finally writing about them today. If I regret one thing in the piece upon rereading it, it’s that I admitted to any anger at all. I wish I would simply have owned the hurt that fell to me through the actions and thoughtlessness of others.

A Watershed Event . . .

What my friend was probably trying to say is that I should have let go of my anger and my hurt years ago. I’m going to insist that I have. Any conclusion reached to the contrary upon reading my article is evidence that I failed as the author. Those things happened. They happened to me. I wept about them. I stormed around in therapy to overcome them. They are real moments out of my life. Today, I am glad that they happened.

The failure of my second marriage is a watershed event in my life. I would never have found the happiness that has been mine for the last half of my life had all not taken place. I won’t even attempt to imagine what my life might have been like had I chosen to stay put. I had no guarantee my children would have been happier. No guarantee my spouse would have been happier. No guarantee that I would eventually be more solvent financially because, with my marriage stabilized, I’d be more successful at work. No guarantee that I would be happier even if those around me were, although I usually take others into account. Doing nothing would have spread the misery out for years. As it was, I took a short hard dose of it and moved on. If I failed in writing, I failed on the side of not sounding grateful, of not acknowledging the courage it took to move on with my life. I benefit from 20/20 hindsight in all this, but I counter that I was resolved then and ever since never to give up on my own mental health and my own happiness.

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Some therapists might want a person to believe that eventually all memories can be stripped of emotion and brought to mind as clinically sterile facts. They should stand stainless on the sanitized slate of a lifetime. I’ll don’t agree. Dump the excess, yes, the disabling tsunami of emotion that sweeps away all perspective and rational explanation, but memories always carry some feeling in them. A person who claims not be troubled in the least about the past is a person who seldom bothers to think about the journey of life and the path it follows.

Most of us, or course, live as our beliefs direct us. We like to think if we live by the rules we will be happy. Sometimes, however, it is important to question the rules. Who made them? Why? Suffer in silence, for example, is really idiotic. Whoever made that rule must have wanted terribly to avoid being inconvenienced by responding compassionately to the cries of another. Best possible interpretation is that we all need to avoid a crippling case of self-pity. But then, how does one overcome self-pity in silence. Sounds like a real challenge to me. Fairness and sense of justice ultimately have a role to play as far as I am concerned. If the victims of cruelty never speak out against their fate, their oppressor is free to move on with impunity to make others miserable.

Up for Grabs . . .

Of course, if you shed all your baggage, including most, if not all, of your beliefs, you encounter life on a different plane altogether. You make a good friend of doubt, not always the most congenial of companions. Where once you enjoyed certainty about life, heaven, hell and all the rest, suddenly everything is up for grabs. It very uncomfortable at first. You may not really be ready to move forward with your life, to grow and expand your horizons, until you confess in all humility that you really don’t know much at all. When you’ve nothing left to be indignant about, it becomes a comfort to know that you cannot possibly be wrong. Doubt, by definition, is never wrong.

Doubt gets a bad rap because people who are certain equate doubt with intellectually lazy. They’re wrong, of course. (I’m certain of it.) What’s really going on is that a belief system relieves a person of the need to think. Beliefs are intellectually slothful, bordering on self-indulgent. Think about it. It’s comfortable  to wake every day to the certainty that life is meaningful beyond question. Your life is on auto-pilot because what you believe tells you that everything will turn out all right. Suppose the thought trots in on little cat feet to question, “What if none of this has meaning? What if man is an accident of nature? What if death is the end of me?” It takes a perverse kind of courage to let tabby back in the house if these are the messages that tag along after her. Doubt is like the coat you took off upon entering the house only to find yourself wandering around wondering where to hang it up. You may go the rest of your life holding on to it. You may go the rest of your life without the comfort of certainty.

What can happen is that doubt brightens a person’s life. It opens doors that stood closed and forbidding. It leads to doors that you didn’t know were there. Doubts, open, intellectually honest doubt, a state uncertainty, leaves the mind and the emotions open again almost as child’s to let the sights and sounds and events of every day register as fresh and new. I’d bet if a survey were taken the results would prove that the most unhappy people around are those who cling to some system of belief as a way of making life make sense to them. Doubts don’t need to make life makes sense. Life is to be lived, not understood. Travel alone, or travel with a partner. The choice is always there but don’t do either because somewhere something is telling you “you’re supposed to.”

*A liar.

To be continued . . .

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