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Dread and Depression.

Dread. It is one of the prevailing feelings suffusing Dark Before Dawn.  Dread and depression are driving forces within Dark Rising. And, oh, how hard it is to write of these things.

What is Dread?

The thesaurus lists out varying alternative terms: anxiety, apprehension, distress, fright, horror, nervousness, strain, stress, tension, unease. None really seem to capture the paralyzing sense of knowing what is happening, of seeing what will happen — of all the pieces of a puzzle fitting together, finally, each one contributing to an inevitable outcome — and feeling powerless to stop it.

It is numbness. It is acquiescence. It is the weight upon your chest so heavy, you cannot be sure whether you can draw that next breath. It is to walk on a spring day but see only black and white, the colors of the world sapped from existence. It is anticipation so acute that it threatens to grinds one’s thought processes to a halt, forcing one to move in a world of instinct.  The fear is safely ensconced in bubble wrap; the sounds of it muffled.  One puts one foot in front of the other, focusing on the immediacy of survival, shutting out the doom that looms and lurks around the corner. The fear may be founded, or it may be a nameless, faceless general anxiety, but either way, one sweats it through one’s pores. It is your shadow, walking with you, unshakeable.

Dread is Real.

I write these words and I remember having these feelings, myself. I think of my friends and family who have — or who are dealing even now with depression in all its various and insidious forms, and I think, I see you. I feel you.

Dread and its twin, depression, are all around us. This feeling of stone after stone, stacked upon one’s breastbone — it is part of the human condition. We don’t need a book to tell us that this is so. But perhaps by acknowledging it, we can pop the bubble of silence and let one another know we are not alone. And we can remind ourselves that the stones will tumble, after all, and we will breathe.

One day the feeling will pass and we will walk in sunshine again, seeing the Technicolor and feeling the warmth of the beams as they hit our face.

Why Dread & Depression Matter, Especially in YA Lit.

Since I first drafted these words, even more people in my circle of intimates have been touched by depression.  Most touching to me, informing my writing, is the prevalence of depression among teens in the US.  I used to rail against the frequent dystopian and self-destructive themes in young adult literature.  But now I understand it differently.  Through the work of prophets crying in the wilderness — prophets such as my friend Julie Lythcott-Haims — who point to the overwhelming pressure  and isolation facing some of our children — I see it more as an acknowledgment of the search for meaning and control in a world that seems out of control.  I see it as an expression of the desperation that many of our young people feel, but also an expression of the will to overcome, to triumph.  The will to live, despite it all — to live another day and to feel the sun on our flesh, after all.

guns & the Gordian knot.

gunGuns.  A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a meeting when I received a text from my son. Mom, there’s something wrong. You are going to get an email from the school. We established it was nothing to do with him, but something was seriously amiss – something rumored, something that scared him but that he had been told not to share. After an interminable three hours, I finally convinced my son to tell me himself what was wrong. That morning, someone had scrawled a threat in Sharpie marker across a bathroom mirror in the high school – a warning that they planned to come in the next day with guns, intent on a rampage targeting students. When the email message from the Administration finally arrived, it promised us terrified parents that they had established there was no real threat and that school was on, as usual, the next day. How they knew this, they would not say. Needless to say, most of us kept our children home the next day. Nothing happened. The Administration briefly threatened to charge each child with an unexcused absence until the howls of protest convinced them they were on a fool’s errand. And we were left wondering, like countless other people all over this country, how this threat had insinuated itself into our comfortable lives. How to keep our children safe.  How things could go so wrong, so quickly. How do we square the circle of our right to bear arms with our need to live free of terror? How should we think about guns & the Gordian knot with which they present us?

In the spirit of transparency, I acknowledge I write as someone who grew up in a family of hunters.  We own guns now.  But I hope I am writing as someone with a balanced point of view on this matter. You can be the judge of that, and hold me accountable.  I know if nothing else this topic stimulates a lot of conversation and that my readers have very strong, reasoned opinions themselves, so I know I won’t have to ask twice.

The context:

Our Constitution did not enshrine access to weapons for recreational purposes. It promised it for one reason – to ensure that, in the event a corrupt government sought to oppress its own people, we could fight back. It is a promise made in a revolutionary era, the promise made by people who had fought against overwhelming odds to overthrow such a government. It was a brutal time, where human life was perhaps not held as dearly as we hold it today. In colonial times, punishments were severe — brandings, whippings, banishments and death — focused on public shame and retribution more than humane treatment.   The misuse of weapons was probably taken as a given in a brash, emerging nation that was mostly untamed frontier (and indeed,  the first murder by gun  recorded — indeed, the first murder punished by death in colonies — occurred in 1630, when Mayflower passenger John Billington gunned down someone with whom he had held a long-standing quarrel).

While that may seem like a distant past to us, one only need look around the world to see many sad cases of people terrorized by their own governments or quasi-governmental organizations whom could arguably have been better off if they had been able to fight to defend themselves. Despite all of  our freedoms, what is happening around the world should give us pause and remind us we cannot take  those freedoms for granted.

That said, those who enshrined that individual right never imagined the type of weaponry we have today. They never conceived of machine guns and hand guns, of a scope that could sight and target its prey from hundreds of yards away, nor a chamber that could fire 40, 100 , and even more rpms. (The fact that governmental armed forces have access to these same high power weapons must be given some thought if the original purpose of the Second Amendment — protecting our ability to fight back against government oppression — remains relevant.)

Our right to bear arms does not preclude regulation. (Indeed, while a subject of debate, some suggest the wording of the Second Amendment includes this explicitly.) And we do have a fair amount of it – from background checks to waiting periods to restrictions on types of weaponry. But our regulation is failing to protect people from violence.  Whether it is due to loopholes, poor enforcement, or the natural tendency of bad people to evade the intent of good laws, people are dying from gun violence.  As defined and reported by Mother Jones, over three decades there have been over 60 “mass shootings” in the U.S.  In these cases, over 3/4ths of the weapons used were obtained legally and about 1/3rd of them involved high capacity magazines and assault weapons.

And so people are dying. Not as many as in the past, though. In fact, Pew Research Center data as reported by Washington Post shows we are on the downside of a nearly two decade 50% decline in gun homicides per capita, and an even steeper decline in the rate of injuries attributable to gun attacks.  Some would argue this coincides with an increase in gun ownership, instead of the causes pointed to by Pew.  At the end of the day, it is still too many, and the mass attacks — now linked to terrorism, though certainly not exclusively — are becoming too visible and frequent to bear.

Something has to change. When my teacher friends receive instruction on what to do in the event of an armed intrusion, something has to change. When my Facebook feed includes an advertisement for bullet-proof blankets to send into school with my kids, something has to change. Do we arm everyone to the teeth? Do we throw our vast resources to better enforce the rules and regulations we already have in place? Do we try to address the root causes of this violence to begin with — the disaffection and economic marginalization of whole segments of our population, or the hatred of radicalized populations who despise our very way of life?  Do we renew our efforts to bring down organized crime — the vast network of shadowy, illicit arms trafficking that enables some of these horrible massacres, bringing down with it at the same time the drug trade and sex trafficking that together act as the horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing violence and despair everywhere they flourish?  Or do we keep trying to force new laws — poorly enforced though they  may be — even if doing so may fly in the face of our Constitution?  The fact is, we do not actually know what to do — in part, oddly enough, due to lack of research funds available to study the root causes and prevention of gun violence.

It seems too complicated, too futile to even try.  But perhaps we can cut through the Gordian knot with an act of supreme courage and commitment.

The Courage to Change the Constitution:

Yes, the NRA is a powerful lobby.  But we have the greatest power available to us as a citizenry.  We have the power to change the Constitution.  It has been done before — slavery, Prohibition, voting rights — in times of need and great social change, we have stood up as a people and led our nation to a dramatic shift in our Constitutional framework to reflect our changing needs, mores, and times.

It is as simple and as profound as that.

Those who wring their hands and say we cannot hope to win against the power of the NRA are making excuses.  If there is a groundswell of public support for this action, there are certainly enough stakeholders and enough money to throw into a counter campaign to revoke the Second Amendment.  Take this issue to the people. Use the mechanisms we have to make the change.  Is is so simple, I am surprised that we are not already talking about it, that there is not already an Internet petition and a change.org campaign, coupled by pledges from George Soros and Michael Bloomberg to get this done.*  Instead, we are letting the issue get muddled in the debate over refugees, the real issue lost in the faux debates that pass for critical thinking in the Presidential debates.

Yes, it is harder than passing a new bill.  Yes, it will force us to engage everyone in the conversation, including the people dismissed as backwards, the people from so-called “flyover states,” the people who, as the American president once said, “love their guns.”  Why should it be otherwise?  Despite all the fear mongering that surrounds us, logic and civil discourse can still hold sway in this country.  The sweeping changes we have witnessed with respect to marriage law stand as testament to that.

Doing anything less shows lack of vision & lack of faith.

Let’s cut through the knot.  Together.

And if we can’t — if we cannot get the votes to revoke the Second Amendment — then let’s work together to find other, better solutions that can exist in tandem with the Constitution as it stands.  For better or worse, this document is ours — our sacred blueprint for individual rights.  If we don’t treasure it, every little bit of it, even the inconvenient and exasperating parts, nobody else will.

 

*Full disclosure: I gave up looking through all the listings on change.org after several pages in I’d found only petitions in favor of preserving the Second Amendment….along with many other interesting appeals. So it may be out there.

An Interview From the Anti-trafficking Frontlines

Diana Mao, co-founder of Nomi Network
Diana Mao, co-founder of Nomi Network
Nomi artisans at work
Nomi artisans at work
nomi network 3
totes with the “Buy Her Bag Not Her Body” label
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am regularly lucky enough to encounter people who share my passion to prevent and end human trafficking. I take such inspiration with them and want to share that inspiration with you. So today I am bringing you an interview from the anti-trafficking frontlines as I introduce you to Nomi Network and one of its incredible founders, Diana Mao. Here is what she had to say about her work, her passion, and how we can help. Many of the themes — the role of poverty, entrepreneurialism, even the link to fashion! — really resonated with me. I hope you find the work of Nomi Network to be amazing and if you can, share your support.

*****

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your organization and work?

A: Since 2009, Nomi Network has been providing direct training to survivors and women at risk of human trafficking as well as capacity building and market access programs. We specifically leverage the fashion industry to implement product design, development and marketing strategies for slave-free products. With our signature label, “Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body ®,” we aim to raise awareness about this global humanitarian issue. Currently we are working in India and Cambodia.

Q: How did you first learn about human trafficking, and what drew you into your activism on this issue?

A:  At the age of 25, I was a graduate student at NYU learning about issues such as poverty, human trafficking and other pressing global issues. Stats being thrown around were truly meaningless to me until I witnessed the horrors of sex trafficking in Cambodia first hand while conducting research for a micro-finance bank.  The research brought me to some of the poorest and most remote villages in Cambodia. It was there, I met a single father with 7 children. He offered his youngest daughter, no more than 7 to one of my male colleagues. As I looked into the father’s eyes, I could tell that he was desperate and did not really want to give her up. In Cambodia, some children are sold for brutal sex and others are chained to a sewing machine in a sweatshop. This encounter left a lasting impression on me.

It is clear poverty is a breeding ground for traffickers to prey on young girls. After coming back, I was determined to do something, and in 2009 I co-founded Nomi Network.

Q:  What role does entrepreneurialism play in your efforts?

Entrepreneurship plays a key role in our efforts and really is the spirit of our operations. Nomi Network aims to build entrepreneur capacity in all of the women we work with and encourage them to take the skills they have learned and do more. For example, some of our women in India have become the first women tailors in their villages. They have begun to produce petticoats on their own using the skills they gained at Nomi Network. We were excited to hear that they are the most sought after producers because of their quality and customer service.

Q: From your experience, what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur/artisan?

It takes commitment and drive to change the circumstances you find yourself in. Many of our women live in poverty and have little to no education, but with newfound skills, they strive to take every opportunity they get. We are now seeing these women making a better future for their children by sending them to school and by not marrying their daughters off at a young age.

Q:  How do you see trafficking affecting young people?

Human trafficking doesn’t discriminate against age, it knows no boundary lines and it can happen to anyone. Young people are targeted by traffickers and in demand, especially for buyers of sex. In the United States I’ve seen reports of young people being targeted through social media by traffickers, and it’s the vulnerable kids coming from unstable households that fall victim the most. Hearing from survivors, I’ve also learned about how abuse started young, almost grooming them to become easy targets for trafficking. It’s so important for young people to be educated about modern day slavery and to be made aware of the signs of trafficking.

Q: What single experience you have had in the field most profoundly affected your view of our ability to end slavery, and/or why that is important?

My life totally changed in 2008, when I met a young 8 year-old survivor of sex trafficking by the name of Nomi. When I first got to the shelter with Alissa Moore (Nomi’s co-founder), to our surprise a young girl ran to us and threw her arms around me. She said, “HELLO, My name is Nomi, sister what is yours?” As I walked through the shelter with the director, I tried very hard to hold back the tears as he shared Nomi’s story. Nomi was not only sexually exploited in her village by her stepfather but she was treated like an animal and literally locked up. When she arrived at the shelter, she was nonverbal, did not have any grooming habits and did not know how to use the restroom. She drooled all the time and was violent.

Nomi is just one girl but after hearing her story, I knew that if it was only for her sake, I had to do something.

Q: What do you wish teens and young adults in the United States knew about human trafficking and modern slavery?

I believe that teens and young adults should not be sheltered from the truth, that human trafficking is a $99 billion industry, with 32 million slaves around the world. It’s important for them to be aware of the impact they can make to either support or deter modern day slavery. Considering 68% of all raw materials such as cocoa, coffee, and cotton are produced by forced or child labor, we need to be more aware of how our purchases affect those producing what we consume.

Q: If a teen wanted to get involved in the fight to end human trafficking, what 2 or 3 things would you point them toward?

The first change you can make towards ending human trafficking is buying fair trade, as much as you can. For the holidays, buy fair trade gifts for friends and family. When you go to buy that latte, make sure it’s made with fair trade espresso. Anna Lappe said ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’

Another way to get involved is to learn more about the issue and raise awareness. Read articles that help you identify the red flags of human trafficking and keep and eye out in your own community.

Q: How can readers support Nomi Network?

Buy her products and donate to help us provide more training and job opportunities! Get all your holiday gifts by shopping at www.buyherbagnotherbody.com

 

*****

Inspired? Learn more about Nomi Network here:

bigger than fear

Syrian refugee, Jordan
Syrian refugee, Jordan
 

I have found this week following the attacks of Paris troubling. I read the news accounts, the Facebook postings, the play by plays dissected by pundits and I feel the whole debate has become strangely abstracted. I want — no expect — our discussion of both the victims of the attacks and the vulnerable refugees whose future hangs on our collective decision to be grave and soulful, conducted in hushed tones of respect. Instead it has become strident, a political football. I am disappointed. Angry. Fearful. But I choose to be bigger than fear.

ISIS’s escalating violence (or that of extreme Islam in general) seems too close. It has taken the life of a colleague’s sister; another friend has had to explain to his young children the murder of their favorite camp counselor in a terrorist attack. It screamed from the headlines when I landed in Australia earlier this year, jolting me out of my jet-lagged stupor, another near miss. It has swept through my uncle’s home country of Lebanon and hangs, a not-so-shadowy threat over the lovely places in Turkey in which I set my second book. I counted, gratefully, as if marking the beads of a rosary, as my friends and colleagues in Paris let us know, one by one, that they were safe last week.  Even today, as I face a flight back to Atlanta, the Anonymous collective warns of a credible threat in my own hometown and my heart constricts. I wonder if I should change my flight; if there is any way to avoid this violence at all.

I cannot breathe from the fear. And yet.

I know, rationally, I must be bigger than my fear. We all must be.

We face less risk than many, our geography some solace, still, in this global age.

The people whom we are reluctant to shelter in our nation are fleeing the very same horrors we fear to unwittingly unleash inside our borders. Isn’t the risk that one of them embraces terrorism as their only legitimate means of being heard greater if we turn them away in their hour of greatest need?

The vast majority of these refugees are children, children like the innocent whose body drifted in the tide onto the beaches of Turkey, drowned, capturing the world’s attention for a nanosecond just a few months ago. How can these children, who have known nothing but desperation and want, threaten us if we open our nation and our generosity to them?

A society is judged based on how it treats the most vulnerable in its midst. Will we reject these helpless people because we doubt our own ability to sift through them to find the warriors of hate who may be in their midst? We, whose entire jurisprudence is based upon the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty?

Getting caught up in a debate over who has the constitutional right to do what is missing the bigger point. We are a nation of the people. Our elected officials are supposed to represent our views and interests. So the question is: what kind of a nation do we want to be? A nation of fear, running away from the very core of our identity as a global beacon of refuge and opportunity? Or the nation envisaged by our founding fathers, the nation of freedom and hope celebrated every time our proud flag unfurls, the nation whose Statue of Liberty has welcomed countless to its shores.

We can’t have it both ways.

I choose hope.

Minute for Music: Hope on Fire

fire heart

 

If you’ve spent any time with me as I’ve written The Archangel Prophecies you know I like to make playlists when I write.  A few are available on my website already.  This one has been lurking, waiting for its chance to come out to play.  It was devised for the second half of Dark Hope.  For those of you who have not yet read Dark Hope, I won’t give away the plot point…but let’s just say that labeling this “Minute for Music: Hope on Fire” is more than a little tongue in cheek.  The best part about this playlist, to me, is that I actually managed to build a list that not only kept the “fire” theme up, but also conjures up the emotional context of that part of the book.  I hope you enjoy my quirky taste in music and that it puts you in mind for a little more of Hope & Michael.  You can find it by following me on Spotify, or you can build it yourself, directly from the list below.

p.s. the Bible quote at the bottom of the list is a bonus I randomly stumbled into.  Again, if you read my books, you know how much I love the serendipitous verses that seem so perfect for the story….

 

4 Minutes – Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake

Fire Burning – Sean Kingston

Electrify – Mute Math

Burning – The Whitest Boy Alive

Fire’s Highway – Japandroids

Get Burned – Sleeper Agent

Burning for You – Shiny Toy Guns

Burning Bridges – One Republic

Set The Fire To The Third Bar – Snow Patrol

Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele

When We’re Fire – Lo-Fang

Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon

 

Zechariah quote

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