Saturday Reflections: Boxes of Dust

I was wracking my brain this morning trying to remember my first real “Sergeant” I had in the army. I found out something, on accident I might add, that made me go back and dig through all of my US Army records and prompted my question. The US Government owes me more retirement under the retirement system which applies to me.

Her name was was Sergeant First Class (SFC) Carol Mohs. I liked her a lot. She was patient with this newly minted Private and showed me the ropes … so to speak.

Old Sergeants never die they just smell like they did and their advice is worth the stench.

I remember, when I was still in uniform dispensing the same time honored wisdom to new Privates she gave me. Only once did I ever have to be all “Sergeantly” with a couple of soldiers. Failure to salute an officer is a crime punishable by flogging in my book.

Old School
Standing tall and looking good!

Anyway, back to my story. SFC Mohs took me all over the place with her, showing me everything there was to see at the old 34th ID HQ. She even introduced me to the Commanding General at the time, who she happened to be on a first name basis with!  She was great. I was lucky to have known her.

One piece of advice always stuck in my head and never failed me. It is something I’ve gone back to, time and time again, and it still serves. She said, “Private Nowak, never … under any circumstances, you understand … never throw anything the army gives you in the trash. Put it in a file and at the end of the year put the date on it and put that file in the basement.”

So, in order to get credit for this time in my pension, I needed to produce my US Army orders to show the powers that be how much time I needed to be credited. All time served under what is called Title 10 service. So, down to the basement I go.

In the back of the room, an old apple box, sits in the corner. The sides are held together with multiple layers of tape and the box is normally covered in about an inch of dust. Over a few weeks I have gone through that box … line by line … page by page … looking for anything which will substantiate my claim to adjust my retirement. I found what I was looking for, but I also found tons of other things. Here is a partial list.

  • Love letters from my then fiance (wife of almost 21 years)
  • An old stationary book, used to hold stationary, I bought when I made my first trip to Norfolk.
  • A list of fellow squad members from the old 147th MI BN with phone numbers and addresses
  • A ship information sheet (USS Vella Gulf) for a tour I took while she was at port
  • Bunches of required financial statements I filed which pertained to college
  • An old ID card given back to me when I entered active duty
  • Promotion orders from E-1 through E-6
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They let an army guy tour the USS Vella Gulf

I think it’s fitting that this Memorial Day weekend I am going through life as a young soldier all over again. In some ways, it helps me remember the wonderful people I served with over the years. Military people are the greatest people in the world. The best ones lead by serving others. Being a senior NCO doesn’t mean you have people supporting you, it means you support those people below you. That is the lesson I learned from SFC Mohs.

And, in case you are wondering, the total amount of time I can add to my retirement credit is around 9 months. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when it comes time to retire, I know I’ll be glad that I went through that box. And to SFC Carol Mohs, who I lost touch with after she retired, I’d love to give her a great big ole hug. It was her advice which made this trip though memory lane possible. I didn’t know it then, but she was serving her troops as a leader and her advice still serves me today.

The United States Army has given me everything I have today. It made me who I am. This Memorial Day, think about the freedoms we have which were won by those who took an oath. That oath is to put their lives on the line for their fellow countrymen/countrywomen. NCO (non-commissioned officers) do not rise to their positions because they want to order people around, but they rise to that position because they want to serve others and see a world larger then their own.

-Your Humble Servant,

Formerly Staff Sergeant, Bryan Nowak

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I am angry for the children of Manchester

As humans, we say a lot. It seems that at times on Facebook and other media we offer opinions, conclusions, and theories on things that we largely don’t know that much about. Today I was dismayed at the opinions, thoughts, and ideas portrayed on social media about the events unfolding in London.

I have friends who live in London, as a matter fact I have friends living all over England. It’s unfair and even outrageous that people would even consider the social dialogue that’s going on right now with regard to the young people who lost their lives in London. As a matter fact, I’m going to say something that I seldom ever say. I find people engaging in this kind of dialogue despicable human beings. Behind every one of those harebrained theories, idiotic comments, and downright mean observations there are grieving families. Anyone sitting there and saying this wouldn’t happen if we all just learn to get along should be forced to get on an airplane to England and say that to the parents that lost a child in the explosion.

As I read over some of the media today, I found myself physically ill. I couldn’t understand how this got politicize so quickly. Many years ago, I was a firefighter and I remember one scene where a young man was involved in a car accident. We worked him, and that is to say that we try to save his life, but failed. That bothered me for weeks and there was no way I would have ever thought about making a political statement about it. I kept thinking to myself how sad that loss was for that family. And yet, today the value human life is so cheap that we can’t even stop and be sad about such a senseless tragedy.

I don’t give a damn what your political beliefs are, and I don’t give a damn who you think the blame should fall on. If you’re out there, spouting nonsense about how this shows one political organization is right and one political organization is wrong, in my mind you’re a fucking coward.

I realize of course, this isn’t going to stop people from being ridiculous and showing their own ignorant opinions on the internet. Stupid people are going to spout all kinds of half-baked theories. It is my solemn hope that somebody somewhere sees these words and stop and think that maybe anything they post on the Internet could be seen by a family member of one of those children who died.

It is my fondest wish that those responsible who provided any kind of material and technical support for this act will meet a horrible end. I mean … I hope they’re sitting around their house congratulating each other on a job well done when a large explosion rips them into tiny pieces. Yes, I can understand why people would want justice in the form of a prison sentence, but not me. I can understand why people would think that way, but I simply cannot share this philosophy. My daughter could have just as well been at such a concert. Any one of those children could have been my own. It is my firmest belief that there are people in this world who are so evil, so devoid of humanity, and so reprehensible that they lose the right to live.

And furthermore, when they reach whatever passes as their after life, I hope they’re judged. Judged not by a higher power, but by the people whose lives they took. It would seem to me that this would be ultimate justice.

-Bryan

Living in the town of Riapoke

There is a strange feeling that comes with the completion of a novel. I don’t mean the day you type ‘The End’ on the final page, but the day you actually get all of your files loaded if you are an indie-author like I am. I can guess it is probably the same when an agented author gets the final e-mail indicating they are essentially done futzing around with the files and need nothing more from you.

I am proud to tell you I have finally finished Riapoke. Those of you who know me will realize this was supposed to be my fourth book, but it ended up taking third position for a couple of reasons I won’t go into. No matter what the positioning, it is out there and exists in the world for pre-order. It’s official launch date will be the 27th of May. Click on the graphic below and you can see Riapoke on my author page at Amazon.

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I am, naturally, ecstatic but also a little frazzled right now. My life has been pretty much solely about this book for the last eight months and now that it is done, I can’t help but feel a little like I am wandering the halls of my house wondering, Well, what should I do now?

Perhaps that is always the way writers are supposed to feel once they get a project done. A little euphoria mixed with the confused impulses of feeling like you are supposed to be doing something with yourself, but not really entirely sure what.

Naturally, some of you are going to glare at me and say, “You need to go write something.” A few will even suggest I take the day off and relax a little. To be fair, I actually did take two days off, but that was so I could attend a book related event in Virginia Beach, so I guess that doesn’t really count. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I did work on the outline for a future project.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, sitting down and writing something … anything … is the right answer (the write answer?). Take a moment to be happy I finished Riapoke (now available for pre-order) and then just put my nose back to the grindstone to see what tale falls out of me next.

-Your Humble Servant

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The Death of Imagination

When I was a child, before Xbox One, 360, Nintendo, Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace (Is that even a thing anymore?), we did lots of cool stuff. I remember summers in the southern suburbs of Chicago, taking off with my best friend, Scott, and partaking on tons of adventures. We didn’t know it back then, but we were building the tools to steel ourselves against a shockingly dark future.

I realize complaining about social media on a social media platform is steeped in irony. Stick with me here, and I promise I’ll get to my point.

Back then, we were forced to use our imaginations. We built forts from snow, sticks, dirt, and even cinderblocks once (yes, it was majorly cool). They got progressively bigger as we got older. There were times we essentially moved mountains because we were kids out of school and had tons of free time. We didn’t do it to get another like on our Facebook status or Twitter follower … we did it because it fed our imaginations.

I remember exploring a big area of construction debris. Obviously, this was some sort of construction material dumping ground, but we didn’t see any signs telling us we couldn’t come in so it was our playground. We came across this great big holding tank; it was white as I recall. Partially buried under dirt, we knew we just had to get it out. We worked all day long. With tons of effort and a good investment in time, we got it free and rolled it to the creek. I don’t remember what we were trying to do with it, but I am not even sure that mattered.

The sights, the sounds, the feeling of accomplishment having moved this big ole holding tank from one end of the junkyard to another, the dirt, and the mud all combined in our imagination. It didn’t matter that we almost never brought our plans to fruition, it was the process and the mental equity we had in our designs that mattered.

I didn’t know it then, but I was becoming a writer. I’m fond of saying that school cannot make you a writer. It simply can’t. No matter how hard you try, there is no way a school can ever teach you imagination or give you life experience. Accomplishment for nothing other than accomplishments sake was our reward. And yes, there were occasional bumps and bruises. I’m often times shocked neither one of us ever got seriously hurt. Actually, Scott did break his arm once by falling out of a tree, but that was the most egregious of the injuries and it really didn’t slow us down after the cast was off. However, those experiences shaped my imagination to what it is today.

Years go by and things change. Last Sunday I walked into one of my church’s conference rooms and looked at the kids sitting around the table staring at their cell phones. None of them moved, or said anything. When I was their age I would have been out in the trees looking for monsters, ghosts, or something to build. There was no way you could convince me to sit around a conference room table. But there they were, like a science fiction show where the aliens give entertainment devices to an entire population to suck their brains out so they can take over the world. Apparently, they are starting with the children!

I hate to think that the great imaginations of our world are slowly slipping away. More importantly, I hate to think what the push of social media is doing to our children. I recently re-read the passage in Hamlet that goes,

“This above all-to thine own self be true.

And it must follow, as the night, the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

—Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

William
What-up Willi?

Facebook, Twitter, etc., give us all a collective world where we don’t have to be truthful with ourselves and it is too easy to be false toward one another in those same environments.

Building forts out of mud, snow, and brick may not be the cleanest thing in the world to do; however, ultimately I like to think it taught us about communication, compromise, and working together. It taught us to dream and dream big for no other reason than someone didn’t tell us we couldn’t. I would have rather lived that childhood than the one our kids live today. I’m genuinely worried about the future of imagination, the future of dreaming, and yes, the future of writing, and writers.

-Your Humble Servant,

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Say nice things at my funeral!

In Charles Dickens epic story, “A Christmas Carol”, we find two men (during Christmas future) talking about a funeral. We presume the funeral they are talking about is being given for Ebenezer Scrooge. Naturally, the two men are less than thrilled to be going and one of them suggests they will only go if a proper lunch is served. This touches off a rant by Ebenezer about the lack of feeling. He begs the ghost of Christmas future to take them somewhere or to see someone that shows some feeling or compassion at the man’s passing.

It’s not only possible to understand Ebenezer’s point of view but also the other men’s view as well. I’m not entirely sure I’d feel that thrilled with going to Ebenezer Scrooge’s funeral. But, I certainly can understand Ebenezer’s disquiet at the lack of feeling shown towards the man’s passing. Especially since he is getting the idea it is likely his own funeral.

In some ways, these are the fears that bother me as well. While I am super fortunate in a lot of ways. I have a lot of friends, great family, and I’m pretty sure I’d be missed if I were to pass from my earthly bonds; however, there is still a part of me that worries. At my funeral, laying in my casket, somebody might actually walk up and say, “Well, he’s dead. What’s for lunch?”

I think it’s the most human of conditions to worry about their place in history. Today I was at a book event and I had the good fortune of sharing a table with the talented writer, Susan Schwartz. She is a good friend and a fellow member of the Horror Writers Association. We were talking about the importance of being true to our writing and the reality that when we write something it is for posterity sake. Stephen King did a great job of illustrating this point in his book, “On Writing”. King suggests that if he writes about an object, for example a table, he is in effect sending that image through time. If the author has done a good enough job, someone in the future will see the table exactly as written. And, for a moment, they are connected.

Susan and Me
Me and Susan kickin’ it at the Waynesboro Public Library

I think that’s what makes Charles Dickens work so timeless. The time and settings may look drastically different from in his day, but the feelings haven’t changed. You still feel the men’s disdain for the person and Ebenezer’s desire to see some concern for the unfortunate soul.

I’m not suggesting that when I die I’ll be treated like Ebenezer Scrooge. As a matter fact, quite the opposite. I’m thankful I have people who love me and will miss me when I’m gone. However, some part of me hopes my words, my books, and my stories will continue long after I leave this earth. I hope that somebody reads one of my novels, and is curious enough about the person who wrote those words that they look me up in whatever passes as the futures Wikipedia.

Lest you think I have an overabundance of ego. I’d like to point out that I do the same thing today with the stories and novels that I read. You may do the same after reading a book by Douglas Adams, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, or William Shakespeare. It is human nature to want to know more about the author. While I certainly would never compare myself to those aforementioned gentlemen, I would like to think that somebody, somewhere, would look at my words and see what I saw. And for a brief moment I can be alive again. I think that’s the goal of all writers.

– Your Humble Servant,

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