The entire world is in the middle of a health crisis — a crisis that extends its fingers out into economy, politics, and philosophy. In times such as this, humanity is forced to re-evaluate its priorities and take a second look at what it holds most important. I have mentioned before that the last Great Renaissance was ushered in by the black plague in Europe. While our current predicament may seem unusual and hopeless, the potential for this to turn into something extraordinarily brilliant is high. Our leaders, while in control of many of the most important aspects of our lives, and certainly to be held responsible for a lot of what’s been mishandled, are not really better equipped or prepared for this situation than anyone else. We would like them to be, but they aren’t.
It is also an election year in the United States, and we have in office one of our most controversial leaders to date. He might be a brilliant economist and businessman. He might be a crazy old man with too much free time for tweets and too much covfefe, keeping him up at night and explaining the excessive free time. It really doesn’t matter. He is a mortal man with an aged immune system and no experience with global pandemics. Do we want or need him in office for the next four years? I’m not sure, and I’m not going to answer that question. But if the worst thing you can think of is to vote for Trump this year. Then, to make a statement, “Well, I’d rather vote for Trump than vote for Trump!” Absurd. There are two ways to consider the situation, and two ways to handle the crisis, realistically. We leave the man in office, and hope he and his team can learn from their mistakes and deal with the crisis they’re already in the middle of dealing with (which is going to become largely economic), or we can kick him to the curb and give someone else the daunting task of picking up in the middle of an overwhelming problem. Who knows, it might be best to let fresh minds retool the machine and change direction entirely. In that case, vote for a 34 year old. I’m being serious… kind of.
Option number one, let the current team grow and continue to deal. If the ball continues to drop, can he be impeached for neglect? The masses are already slinging the death toll in the US over his shoulders. Either way, we give experienced men a chance to correct their mistakes and avoid a lot of unnecessary rework. And we have a money man in the drivers’ seat when the economic fallout starts to peel the skin off our backs. It isn’t a terrible idea to refrain from shaking a bomb before it’s disarmed.
Option two, pass the hot potato. It’s hot, and the recipient isn’t wearing gloves. However, real progress almost always comes from dramatic change. The question to consider is should so much change be forced at a time such as this? The more pressing issue is the handling of the pandemic itself. Consider the lives lost. It’s tough not to throw a finger and place blame on the easy target. There is a lot to be upset about, truly. There is more to be upset about if changing hands goes wrong. Yes, our current leader is blindly defending a lot, if not all, of his actions. So yes, it is sensible to assume the current team will not learn from the fumbles and will continue to stagger forward reaching in the darkness into exposed wiring for a light switch. This is a difficult year for the United States, and it will continue to be. A new team with fresh ideas and motivation to change the current trajectory of this crisis (and one that has no reason to defend past mistakes, having none to defend), will inevitably make a positive difference. The issue becomes the long term effect of the pandemic.
We will persist either way. I’m not here to push an agenda or to promote one side over the other, just to discuss the dilemma. However, I see this as an opportunity to overhaul a potentially unstable economy. Debt. Currency backed by the resources it trades, rather than a standard. New digital alternatives to resources (as backing). All things to consider. Bring in a new face, or ride the current wave?
In the midst of a crisis that our modern world has really never experienced before, we all struggle to find ways to get through the day and simulate our normal lives in the best way possible. Gyms, restaurants, beaches, bars, clubs and concerts have all been closed for months, and while some regions are beginning to open things back up, spikes in new cases of the virus are causing fear and worry that our situation might persist for longer than any of us expected or are comfortable with. Daily routines have been hijacked, night life is almost nonexistent for many of us, and healthy recreation has become strained. While this is all being done to protect us and our families, the impact can still be felt as a negative thing. This increases our underlying levels of stress and anxiety and makes it more important that we stay healthy and take care of ourselves in every way possible. For me, the most important things have been exercise, maintaining a social life, and finding ways to unwind after work. Problems with employment will be covered in a future article.
Exercise is the best way to avoid stress and anxiety, and keeping the body healthy is critical in fighting the virus itself. In place of going to the gym, and with many stores closed (I don’t own any home gym equipment), I have had to find ways to simulate my gym experience. Staying motivated is also an issue. Because I do a lot of my work at home, making the transition from work mode to fitness mode is sometimes challenging. First, get outside. I find it best to start my workout with a quick jog. It doesn’t need to be long, but enough to get your heart rate up. Getting a little sunshine is great for overall health as well, and this break from the routine is perfect in keeping me from getting bored. If you live in a place where you can’t go outside, or don’t have space to jog, try jumping jacks. Get some sun when you can. After that, I’ve stuck to natural resistance. Push-ups, sit-ups and squats will get most your muscle systems activated. For higher resistance exercise, I’ve used 5 or 6 liter water jugs for curls, shrugs and squats.
Maintaining a social life has been challenging, but small dinner parties with less than ten people have been the best way to crush boredom. I’ve also attended karaoke parties and reconnected with old friends over video chats. Creating videos and using social media platforms such as TikTok have also crushed some of the boredom and given me the chance to do something new.
I’m a writer. Its easy for me to get done with a project and feel like I could just dive into the next. Once I get on a roll, its easy for me to get carried away. At the beginning of the quarantine, it was common for me to get up and start work at 7 or 8 am and work until after midnight. Of course, this is extremely unhealthy and completely unsustainable, but I wanted to get a lot of work done before the pandemic really broke out. And I did. Then I took a couple months off to unwind and decompress. I worked most days but cut my hours back to 4 or 5 a day. Finding fun things to do after work was difficult at first, but then I realized how much time I was wasting. Learn a new language. Pick up a pencil and draw. Play a guitar. Read a book. Write a book (if you aren’t a writer). Develop a new skill and see where it takes you. Do anything, and keep doing it. With an unstable economy and a future to match, you never know where that new skill will take you. If you have a computer, learn how to use photoshop or start trading bitcoin (with 10 dollars, just to start). You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can develop something that you would have never expected to enjoy.
The underlying message is to think outside the box and stay active. Do something new, and keep an open mind. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing after a week, move on. Network. Discuss your ideas and your new hobby on twitter or Instagram with people who have expertise in what you choose. It is the perfect time to grow and evolve into a better you.
***The story follows the life and development of the main character, introduced in the first chapter (flash forward) as a successful musician, as he grows through major childhood and early life crises. He discovers love and a deep understanding of his unique musical ability. This excerpt is from the book’s second chapter. The full book can be found here***
‘Play the one you played for me earlier!’ David Emerson’s grandmother requested excitedly. It seemed her hands had their own mind as they rose and came together to clap in front of her face. Her fingers interlaced and she touched them to her lips. She had meant a song he wrote himself.
‘It isn’t a Christmas song,’ David replied. ‘And it isn’t very good.’ He sat with his hands in his lap on the bench in front of the old upright piano with the chipped yellow keys. His grandparents lived in a small yet comfortable home in Denver, Colorado. It was old but old people lived in old houses and this old house had the musty smell of old wood and old furniture. That smell was almost entirely overshadowed by the warm aroma of burning wood mixed with clove and mulling spices and that smell swelled throughout the house to form a canvas upon which were painted the various scents that defined the holiday for the boy. Sugar cookies and peppermint bark and nutty pecan pie and chocolate fudge and butterscotch. David Emerson did not enjoy peppermint or anything containing peppermint, but it was there and it was part of the holiday experience and he would not fault the peppermint for that. After all, David’s grandfather loved peppermint and David loved his grandfather. On top of everything else, there was the twinkling scent of pine from the fresh wreaths and of the Christmas tree which decorated the room, and the pine aroma brought a sharpness to the nose. The fireplace was burning wood from trees David’s grandfather had cut that were less suited for the main stage. The Christmas tree glowed with multicolored light and was filled with myriad trinkets collected for and created by the generations of children who had grown up in David’s family, the earliest produced by his grandfather’s parents when they were young. Similar mementos were spread throughout the home at the whim of David’s aging grandmother, and that grandmother sat there next to him watching him with expectant eyes, pinched at the corners. Her skin was pale but healthy and she had short, silver, curly hair, the only way David had ever known her. He was seven years old this Christmas and had grown bigger since the last, but to him his grandmother had not changed at all.
‘But it was so beautiful,’ she had said. ‘The holiday songs can wait.’ Before she was able to get the last word of the sentence from her mouth, the house was filled with the hollow echo of the Westminster chime, coming from the grandfather clock at the opposite end of the room and giving David a last chance to ponder before he responded. He looked back at the majestic clock with its swaying brass pendulum and it eased his mind. Then he scanned the room. His grandmother was there, seated on a wooden stool next to him. His mother and grandfather reclined to his right on the dusty beige sofa, and his aunt, uncle, and two younger cousins played on the worn and scuffed hardwood floor with a train set near the Christmas tree behind him, all waiting to be entertained. The tree was magnificent. Everyone in the family had worked together to decorate it and it symbolized that unity and togetherness for David and that was important to him, but as he thought about playing his song he felt a hot pulse grow in his chest and a mild queasiness rise in his gut. Behind his cousins, through the small window in the back door, he could see snowflakes quietly and softly fluttering in the darkness and they calmed him if only slightly. The clock struck seven times with the dull tolling strike.
‘OK,’ David answered finally while he turned, first to face his grandmother and then the old piano. The brass lamp atop the piano illuminated the keys and the book of Christmas carols set on the instrument’s stand with its fluorescent glow. At his feet David could see the three tarnished brass pedals and he situated his right foot over the rightmost pedal. The hot pulse in his chest jumped. He closed the book of carols, so not to be distracted, and looked at his fingers. The feeling in his stomach tightened.
Why do they make me play my songs? They aren’t that good and it isn’t the right time.
Behind him, his cousins sat on the floor giggling about something else. David’s apprehension did not come from his lack of desire to be at the center of attention. It was more deeply rooted than that, and he would not fully realize or understand his apprehension for at least another decade.
David Emerson lined up his left hand with the keys and then his right. He depressed the foot pedal and then he began to play; a low and simple rolling rhythm with his left hand – arpeggios in D, B flat, C, A. Rolling, rolling, rolling. The cracked keys of the old piano had a very distinct action that only keys on old pianos have. Some would bounce back when he lifted his fingers and some would hover in between their terminal raised and lowered positions, shaky and unsure of themselves. Rolling. Rolling. Rolling. Rolling the hot pulse and shaping it. The rolling became more fluid and the hot pulse in David’s chest ebbed and flowed with it. The tightness in his gut loosened and he took a deep breath and smelled the pine and the holiday and then he added a simple melody with his right hand. Hollow, insecure, and broken but full tones filled his grandparents’ home. The old out-of-tune piano seemed to pick up on the atmosphere of the environment around which it aged. The fire crackled along with the soft melodic rhythm as it grew and the individual notes from the piano almost mimicked the tolls of the grandfather clock – sharp strikes followed by an instant dullness and wavering resonation further melted together by the sustain from the pedal. David Emerson raised and then lowered his foot after each iteration of the rolling wave. Rolling, building, crashing with a shallow pause and then rolling, rolling, rolling again. The simple melody danced like the falling snowflakes and the pulsing heat was tempered into a playful feeling of gladness, and they in the room listened and they felt the gladness and they knew it was David’s. Then the simple melody became a cascade and that cascading storm fell between the waves and it grew and then it cascaded again between the waves and then it rested. And then the cascade came again but the tone was lighter and less dark and the storm fell between the waves and the gladness became euphoria and they all felt the euphoria and it tickled their hearts and the hot pulse filled David’s body until he poured it out as a final cascade and started to bring that cascade to rest, and they listened in the room and their skin became gooseflesh and their hairs were on end and then the cascades rested. Rolling, rolling, rolling. David bid farewell to the melodies of the snowflakes and slowed their falling and outside the snowflakes ceased falling and the room went silent as the waves stopped rolling.
The boy who had just played the piano felt his gut tighten again and he turned to look at his grandmother. She was clapping silently and smiling a bright and youthful smile.
‘Thank you, baby,’ Heather said from the sofa. A truncated Westminster chime began before the boy had a chance to speak, signifying a quarter past the hour.
***Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it and would love for you to offer your feedback by sending me a message or leaving a comment. The full book can be found at the Amazon bookstore by clicking here.***
While many classic novels have explored the coming of age experience, or have attempted to unravel the mysteries of life’s crises and challenges, including the death experience, most follow a traditional storytelling format and wrap a lot of flowery words around the abstract concepts and colorful experiences that the characters are made to go through, taking the reader along on the same ride, and allowing them to gain the insights from the dilemma without ever having to deal with the heartache to gain it. Of course, in reality, going through that heartache is necessary to fully understand the weight and gravity of the insights, but literature has always been and will continue to be a fantastic way to relate and communicate some of these things using medium that is open and accessible to almost everyone.
In the case of For Whom the Bell Tolls, there is no coming of age or rite of passage being discussed. Rather, the hero of the story, Robert Jordan, is pushed through some of life’s more esoteric emotions as he battles with his own will, and the wills of the comrades he finds in the hills of Spain during its Civil War in the 1920s in order to quell his fear, his demons, and to find a sense of peace in the midst of chaos; peace of mind, peace between allies, justification of killing for an idea, and peace with death. The story takes place over the course of just three days as Jordan is instructed to take a pack of dynamite into the hills, search out a band of guerillas from the stragglers who live within their caves, and carry out a mission to destroy a bridge that is critical to the success of the battle that is about to commence, taking the the country a step closer to freedom under the Republic and away from the tyranny of fascism.
The three major themes of the novel are love, death and trust. Hemingway uses a blend of Spanish grammar (and even short sentences in Spanish) and the English language to convey to an English audience in the best way he could the cultural differences and nuances that one would be encountered with had they experienced the situation themselves. This can come across as a little odd to any reader who does not understand the purpose of the writing. Much of the dialogue is presented in what comes across as old English with pronouns such as thee, thy and thou being used extensively in an apparently broken form of the language. For example, where an English speaker would say, ‘Have a nice day’, Hemingway directly translates what a Spanish speaker might say directly, capturing the cultural essence of the dialogue. ‘Que tengas un buen dia’, which would be the equivalent, does not translate grammatically. Word for word and thought for thought, the translation would be, ‘That you will have a good day’. Sentences like this appear extensively throughout the book and can be confusing, but the tone is changed by their inclusion. They help the reader tool the mind into the Spanish way of thinking and set the cultural backdrop for the rest of the story, and for the three major themes. Much of Robert Jordan’s internal monologues and ramblings ping back and forth between thinking in Spanish and in English, and it is interesting to note the way the mood and emotion of the writing changes with the shift. The false Spanish-English combination has a more romantic tone while the English ramblings are angrier, harsh and deliberate.
Before delving into how the three major themes are expressed and elucidated, it is necessary to introduce and discuss the main characters. Robert Jordan, the American volunteer dynamiter in his early 20s teaches Spanish in the States and has enlisted to assist the country he loves (Spain) in their fight for freedom. He is hardened, deep, considerate, and level-headed with a sense of justice and purpose. Anselmo is his companion at the beginning and throughout the story — an old man who values life and liberty, and serves in war for the purpose of defending his countrymen. Pilar and Pablo are a woman and man who operate as partners and lovers in leading their small band of guerillas against the fascists who threaten to take over their homeland. Pilar is quick witted and physically slow with heightened senses and understanding of the profound. Pablo is a killer, and has lost his motivation to fight but remains an intelligent leader, once brave and strong. Robert finds Pablo as his bravery begins to slip into apathy. Maria is a young girl who was rescued during an attack on a fascist train by Pilar and Pablo. Her politically involved Republican parents were murdered by the fascists before she was taken and abused, raped and shaven bald by the same people. Robert and Anselmo travel together from the beginning and find the cave where the others dwell in the early parts of the second chapter. Immediately upon meeting, Robert and Maria recognize an attraction that is seen and nurtured by Pilar while Pablo maintains a distance and distrust of Robert and his mission.
The old man, Anselmo, carries on many discussions with Robert Jordan throughout the novel, mostly on the topic of killing and death (as he is very late in life). He disagrees with the killing of man, though hunts for sport. He and Robert have many interchanges where the two attempt to justify the killing they do in the name of the Republic. Even as Robert watches the enemy days before the attack, he considers their families and keeps his mind outside the conflict. After killing an aggressor on horseback, Jordan retrieves the boy’s letters in order to gain intel on the enemy, and reads through personal notes from home and from his novia (lover). He empathizes and then pushes down his feelings. Eventually, the lines between friend and enemy, mercy and necessity become blurred as Pablo threatens to defect. Robert realizes the danger and warns himself to make the difficult decision when it becomes necessary, though he does not, and the small band end up paying for it dearly in the end. Pilar, Pablo’s lover, recognizes the danger and even advocates for the killing of Pablo. By the end of the book, these dilemmas and missed opportunities cost the group many other lives, some at Pablo’s hands, and the end is devastating for Maria. Robert Jordan, through his love relationship with Maria, finds himself prepared and at peace with his own inevitable death, foretold in a palm reading by Pilar.
Jordan and Maria find themselves immediately attracted to one another in ways that neither understands. Hemingway uses the blended Spanish-English dialogue extensively between the two who have three days of romance together, in seclusion and at night in Robert’s bedroll. The language used is colorful and romantic, and the intimate scenes are expressed using metaphor, never explicit as to the physical act, but instead attempting to describe the feeling, the rush, and the pleasure by wrapping words around the shared metaphysical, heartfelt, and mental experiences they have in such a way that you can almost ride to the climax with them, as awkward as that would be. A lot of the meat of the writing is found in Robert Jordan’s post pleasure inner monologues as he ponders the dangers of the mission, the inevitability of death, and the presence of love so deep that it should never have existed. He sees it as a gift. In one of the better passages, Robert Jordan considers the nature of life, with a beginning and an end, in the presence of a love that begs to be eternal. He considers Anselmo’s 70 year life, and then the 72 hours that he might have with Maria and he thinks briefly about what they will do together after the mission, with a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him that those dreams will never come to pass. His mind wanders and he ponders eternity, asking himself if forever and always are just the 72 hours, or just the here and now. If that is all he is given, then it is all of his life. Maria is kept as innocent as possible and he refrains from sharing his doubts about his future with her, instead choosing to muse with her about what they might do together in the hotel after the completion of the mission.
Hemingway plays with the reader’s interest by including superstition and ill omens into the body of the work, foreshadowing Pablo’s betrayal. Snow storms that cause Jordan to rage behind his eyes and enemy planes flying over camp, nearly spotting the band of heroes bring the reader into the dynamic of fear transcended by a sense of duty to the Republic that the characters must be feeling within the little cave in the hills.
Toward the end of the novel, with the last two chapters detailing the attack on the bridge itself, Hemingway begins to unravel the minds of the main characters. Jordan’s sense of control over the situation gives way to acceptance of his inevitable fate, though there are scenes where Jordan realizes the mistakes he made where he could have prevented certain tragic events that occur in the last few pages. However, as he makes his way into the final battle he stumbles, and awkward interactions between himself and the girl he had fallen in love with remind him that it had all happened before, and will all happen again. His déjà vu plays with his emotions, and rather than struggle to hold onto the control of the thoughts he once had, he lets everything go. He puts the girl first and presses forward into the battle, still subconsciously aware of his own fate. As he starts the battle by pulling the first shot and killing an enemy soldier, he shuts himself off from the action, consoling himself and justifying the atrocity. He even reminds himself that with automatic weapons, it is more the weapon killing than it is the person. He just starts the pull on the trigger.
As the novel ends, Robert Jordan finds himself in his most intense existential crisis and he considers taking control of the situation. The only thing he has control over at the end of the story is his own death. Hemingway uses Robert’s memory of his cowardly father and sets them against memories of his valiant grandfather to portray Robert’s crisis in a heart-wrenching and intimate way, pulling the reader closer to Robert as he lies wounded in the pine needles on the forest floor.
This book finds relevance especially in the modern globalizing world, as an American man lives out his love affair with a foreign woman in a foreign country, and fights voluntarily for her freedom. It is beautiful, romantic, raw and tragic, and speaks of the importance of cultural diversity and of the power of love.
The issue of crime in any community is always going to be one of the most important aspects of the social network that exists as a barrier to its overall success. Crime can be the result of many things, a symptom of larger problems that can be changed by community development, and it can also cause a lot of trouble that could otherwise be avoided. As such, it exists at the center of the overall spectrum of community health. In a profound sense, the state of crime in any area is going to be one the biggest indicators of the region’s economic prosperity, social development, and community stability or togetherness.
Many dynamic relationships in society can be seen as a two-way street, and while there may be a link between community health and crime, it may be difficult to tell which is the cause, and which is the effect. There are ways to shed light on these issues, and if the link exists, then finding the solution to these problems can be facilitated by the further understanding of these relationships.
Three major aspects of community health that may either contribute to or be the result of increased crime are poverty, a heightened differential in income (a wide gap between the low-income and high-income individuals in the population), and education or political involvement. Poverty is an obvious culprit in any community, especially where urban development is stunted, leaving the people with poor quality resources such as tainted water or dilapidated housing in a depressed market, as well as little or no access to decent, well-paying jobs. Depressed environments such as those produced under these conditions ultimately lead to a completely different type of social hierarchy and economy. Needs change along with what is valued and what is considered necessary. Under these conditions, different regions even within a single community, work directly with their surrounding neighbors to support one another, and when desperation turns to criminal action, people are more apt to commit acts of crime on those who are least connected to themselves. In other words, society degenerates to a less civilized, tribal, nature where war between regions becomes seen as necessity.
The wage gap in any community is going to create a sense of inequality that will ultimately lead to a portion of the low-income population acting either in defiance or out of desperation at the state of economic difference. This can lead to violent crimes, thefts and robbery, or vandalism. From the perspective of the local government, the city should be designed in a way that spreads the opportunity throughout, so that there is a balanced demand for workers with social capital. This brings down unemployment and should reduce crime. There is also research to show that proper housing, and a leveled playing field in housing markets brings down segregation of cultures, while poor housing systems increase segregation, leading to a state of civil discomfort. The third topic to be researched is the overall education level of the average member of the community, as well as the political involvement of the community as a whole. This does not necessarily mean the average citizen should be taking an active role in the political system, though it would not hurt for more people to volunteer their time and get involved. This increases the understanding of the system and builds an appreciation, but it is not wholly necessary. Education is not limited to a high school diploma or college degree, however these factors will be studied along with crime rates to assess the relationship, but education about city processes and social differences can only serve to create a better sense of community between polarized groups. A lack of education in any sense is just ignorance which leads to intolerance and eventually dissention, creating a state in which crime against the ‘opposition’ is seen as an act of valor.