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Goodreads asks: How do you deal with writer’s block?

Goodreads recently asked me to write a response to this question: How do you deal with Writer’s Block? Here’s what I said.WritersBlock21

We need to ask, What is ‘writer’s block?’ And we should be clear, it is not a clinical condition the way it sounds.

Swimmer’s Ear. Tennis Elbow. Tourette Syndrome. Erectile Dysfunction. Writer’s Block.

So-called ‘Writer’s Block’ is a state of mind in which a writer’s brain is not being particularly imaginative. For mere mortals, I think it is fairly common. Quotes you see on Facebook (at least, I have seen) to the effect that for ‘real’ writers there’s no such thing  as Writer’s Block are certainly annoying, but more to the point, they are just an expression of arrogance coming from one who apparently has a lot of natural activity in the creative part of the brain. Good for them. But even Hemingway lost it toward the end of this career after having the ability to write great stuff seemingly effortlessly, and then wax philosophic about it.

So I say, let’s take Writer’s Block down a few notches. Don’t resort to pharmaceuticals, and don’t define yourself by it.

When I can’t seem to get the motor running, I use a combination of going somewhere outside of the house, reading literature that I find the most brilliant and stimulating, and then, and this is the main thing, I muscle my way through (I did this yesterday). I sit in front of the blank page/screen for a long time doing nothing but thinking. Then usually after 2 or 3 hours (interrupted by coffee refills, ordering lunch, checking email, going to the bathroom etc.) I give up and just write something stupid:

“Dave was walking down the sidewalk.”

And from there I ask myself, What did Dave see? What interesting thing happened to Dave? And then I come up with, “Dave found something meaningful on the sidewalk” or “Dave had just emerged from donating blood, so he was woozy” or “Dave saw a homeless man lying still and feared that he might be dead…” And away I go.

No joke, it took me 3+ hours to get started because it’s been three weeks since I fed the monkey. I struggled with rereading everything I’d already written (it was a short story), but I knew that would take 20 minutes, and I would feel the need to start editing.

But I couldn’t think of something new and interesting to happen to my character. So I started with something stupid.

This may just be my new Writer’s Mantra. Start with something stupid.

Afterward, you can delete the stupid stuff. No one has to see it. The trick is letting yourself write something stupid. That may be the hardest part of all. Good luck!

candh.noodle.incident

Authors review The Former Hero

Man-readingTwo new reviews of my book came in this week, this time from fellow authors. I sent each a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Both responded with strong praise both for my book and for me as an author. The first was Oliver Chase, author of Blind Marsh and Marsh Island. You can read his review here. He says,

“The reader should save The Former Hero for a dark Saturday night alone and with a glass of wine. Come to think of it, you may not wish to read the book by yourself. Put your latest Stephen King back on the shelf…”

And the most recent one (just arrived today in fact) is Gregory S Lamb, who’s books include The People in Between and A Dangerous Element. You can read his review here. Greg says,

Jeffrey Mays showed me what is in the art of the possible with his debut novel, The Former Hero. I hadn’t read anything as good in the genre of experimental literature since the early ’70s when Ishmael Reed wow’ed me with The Last Days of Louisiana Red. My appetite for classy writing is once again fulfilled.

My thanks go out to both of these guys, who have been at this longer than I have.

You can see links to all of my reviews and award on my Press page.

Author Show Contest Winner

2014-winner300dpiHey everyone! Congratulate me today for being a winner in The Author Show contest, “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading.” The prize for winning is this cool red medallion graphic that you see here.

Before you start fawning over me, clamoring for my autograph, jockeying for position next to me in my elevated status among the pantheon of literary titans, you should know that I have no idea what the criteria for winners were.

I know I was encouraged to solicit votes for myself from you, my facebook friends. It could be simply a popularity contest for the 50 contestants who got the most votes.

I also wrote a short essay about my literary journey; it could have been based on that too. I am certain it had nothing to do with the quality of my book, except that I proved that at least HAVE a book published.

Having said that, I would like to thank everyone who made this prestigious award possible, my manager, my editor, and the cast of thousands without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. Thanks to the Academy. You like me! You really like me! And thanks to God and my lovely wife. And God bless America.

4.5 stars from Portland Book Review

PRB

The Former Hero is an ambitious and philosophical novel that looks at the concept of a “hero” while following three protagonists are caught in an overwhelmingly corrupt city.  Mary, mother of young Penny wakes up after an alcohol binge to discover that her daughter is missing. In desperation she takes to the streets, begrudgingly enlisting the biker Angus to help her. Lt. McCarthy is the final holdout of a corrupt institution. He spends his days digging through the old city records, believing that the root of the city’s corruption can be pieced together if only he can live long enough to find it. Omni-man, the once great defender of the city, languishes in a hospital desperately hoping the doctors can give him back the powers that were so cruelly ripped from him by Knox’s evil regime. These three characters find themselves drawn together, each one looking for a hero in terrible times.

“What we need is a real, fantasy-style, comic book hero. But there isn’t one. The villains are certainly real. There is overwhelming evil, so strong and pervasive and ubiquitous, but no overwhelming good.”

The Former Hero is a somewhat complicated novel. The three main story lines weave in and out, leading the reader to quickly learns that things aren’t necessarily as they seem, and that each of the characters are hiding something. The characters are well developed and are easy to care about, even though you may not like them. The narratives themselves roam from the present, to the past. This is particularly the case with Lt. McCarthy, as he pieces together the history from the early days of the town.

Jeffrey Allen Mays did something different with The Former Hero by creating a bleak world where people long for a hero, but are instead overrun with villains. This allows for an extended study on why humans feel they need heroes, and what exactly that might mean. Much of the book is philosophical in nature as the characters wrestle with their past, and present circumstances, so readers interested in a quick, easy read might want to look elsewhere. For readers looking for a bit more depth to their novels, this book might be just up your alley.

Reviewed by Whitney Smyth

http://portlandbookreview.com/the-former-hero/

Reflections on reading Gone Girl

gonegirl1I read the NY Times runaway bestseller Gone Girl last month.

There were plenty of other things I could have read. It’s not like I’ve read everything of note, every Murakami book that has been recommended, every Franzen, Eugenides, Eggers, Gaiman, Chabon. I’d like to read Marilyn Robinson’s new one sometime. But there are even books by McCarthy, Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway that I have not read. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m trying to work in Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides, which was highly recommended. There are many British novels that would draw universal gasps of horror if I told you I’d not read them. And there are the Russians that I would like to read again, most of them in fact.

But in a whimsical moment, having heard from other author-types that it was fan-TAS-tick, I got Gone Girl and read it. Here’s what I have to say about it.

I cannot remember the last time I found it so hard to lay a book down. Very often the chapters would end with an exquisite hook, painfully well-placed, and I had to sit still and read one or two more chapters. The first 7/8 of the book was like this in almost every chapter. Never have I been captivated by such suspense. It was thrilling.

This has to have been because the two main characters, a husband and wife, were so well crafted that I deeply cared what happened to them. Congratulations to Gillian Flynn for her fine grasp of that art of storytelling.

Not only that, but the book made me think about what kinds of things make a bad husband. Nick Dunne was a careless, self-centered, and shallow husband. It made me circumspect, the way I think all good fiction should do at least a little bit. It also revealed like no other book I’ve read the way a modern woman’s mind works, albeit a really messed up and psychotic woman. Her perspective on her husband, her responsiveness to him, her awareness of other women and their dealings with each other, her awareness of how the dating scene works, at least in Manhattan circles.gonegirl2

I couldn’t help but notice a number of similarities to my own novel, similarities that made my shoulders slightly droop when I realized someone else did what I did and wound up on the NY Times Bestseller list, and my book did not (yet). These include an opening chapter in which a girl is suddenly missing, a chapter-by-chapter variation of voice (1st person, 3rd person etc.), and roughly the same length. Even some of the characters reminded me of some of my characters. Some of these things I was very proud of, thinking that I had thought of them first, or at least developed them in an original way.

The book had a large amount of sex and sex talk. I was interested in the way it was presented. It was not really erotic, not sensual. Graphic but not especially salacious. There was a generous amount, but it was all very Gen-Y: frank, unrestrained, but fairly bored and cynical about it. The complete opposite of what I expect 50 Shades of Gray would be, I mean quite a bit of sex talk, but nothing forbidden or even private. Suitable to the story and characters, but with no literary or artistic style. I think most people would feel the narrator was giving “a lot of very personal information.” Like being stuck on a plane next to a hipster gynecologist.

Unfortunately, the last 1/8 of the book completely lost it for me. Gone was the suspense. Missing was the grand finale that it should have been building up to. Finished was all the doom and destiny and the new strange people and the clever plot. I’ll just say it was a logical ending and leave it at that. That is very faint praise.

The whole thing made me reflect somewhat dismally on the plight of truly gifted writers (not me, but truly gifted writers). I know they are out there, writing things that are timely, full of wisdom and perspective, subtly leading the reader into new areas of thought. But in a market that has trimmed all the fat, there is no room to patronize the poor-selling but important book on the backs of 10 big-selling romance novels. Every book must be a big seller.

 

3 Days in Rome: on borrowing the lives of others for your fiction

There is a running joke among authors. “Lookout, or I’ll write you into one of my stories! Ha ha!”

I said it’s a joke. But for many authors it’s no joke.writer1

On October 19, 1998, The Author’s Guild held a panel discussion titled “Whose life is it anyway?” There were four panelists who addressed the topic of authors appropriating the lives and experiences of others in their writing. As Wendell Berry described it in his book Life is a Miracle, “the conversation is illustrative of the problem of freedom.” But I would go farther than that.

Three of the four panelists agreed that fiction writers must have total freedom to write absolutely anything, including stories that harm others. One panelist said,

“I could not imagine that fiction might not be an arena of total freedom…Life becomes real only through having been written…Inevitably, writers are responsible for wounds and hurts—but the writer must say, I don’t care, I don’t give a damn…”

Aside from the fact that the sentence ‘Life becomes real only through having been written‘ is a completely baffling statement, I find this quote somewhat threatening. What if some writer set me as their target? It would seem that no one is safe.

There may be some readers who are in sympathy with the statement. We can’t give in to censorship, even self-censorship, you might say. It could start to sound like authorial cowardice, like a writer didn’t have the bravery to write a real masterpiece, complete with controversy, and therefore their art lacked the real power that comes from honesty. Is that you? Let’s read on.

Another panelist approvingly offered the following quote: “For every writer it is a rite of passage to write the story after which a member of your family will no longer speak to you.” He then stated his personal credo, “I say anything goes in fiction—anything goes. If you start to take away bit by bit the rights of writers doing what they want, what you end up eroding is your own freedom.”

Now we have moved beyond threatening to gratuitous. I think I understand his intention, but the statement lacks any hit of nuance. Can he really mean this? If he really means what he says, to the full extent that he seems to mean it—that a writer’s friends and family are fair game—then the writer is a loose cannon, a persona non grata to the rest of society, a voyeur, a thief,  and a tyrant. One wonders, how far would this guy go? Would he proceed, one by one, to crush family members and friends until he was completely isolated but for the adulation of the anonymous masses of readers? Is the necessary freedom of fiction worth that ultimate price? Because really, you could make a great story out of anyone.

I’m going on record and say that writers should not base any character on anyone who would recognize themselves in the character without that person’s explicit permission. And even THEN it might be better judgement not to use the person. A fiction writer (excluding satirists here) should still live in the context of human community. Maybe your Uncle Frank is a goldmine of craziness. That divorce, the fist fights, the coke, and <gasp!> that trip to Thailand! Maybe he is a messed up, sociopath with a police record for child porn. But he is your mother’s brother, and she still loves him. He did come to your book launch, after all. And he mentioned your book on Facebook, several times.

Don’t do it. Don’t write Uncle Frank in any way that he would remotely recognize. For Uncle Frank’s sake, for your mother’s sake. And for your own soul’s sake.

This is not to say what should be obvious: that obviously writers draw from their own experience and from things they see and hear, perhaps even in the lives of friends and family. We can only write what we know, as the saying goes, and frequently life provides the most authentic and interesting material. The writers endeavor is to show readers something true, something beautiful, something real. But if that means writers can take the private, intimate experiences of others and say, “Hey! Look at my art! Look how messed up my cousin’s family is! It’s real! It’s authentic!” then that writer is little more than a cowardly, uncreative gossip, or worse, someone trying to get money and fame from selling gossip.

And we are not talking about “eroding your own freedom.” I am talking about voluntary self-restraint for the sake of intimacy, blood relations, honor, and humanity. It may be legal in the United States to write a family member’s dirty laundry into a book. As long as you don’t name names, you can probably avoid a charge of libel. No one is talking about laws for authorial censorship. I am saying, no story is so important that betrayal of friends or family justifies it.

I am talking about a Code of Ethics for writers. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. It could be short: don’t destroy people with your writing, don’t plagiarize. There may be others.

An example of the betrayal of having one’s experiences written down and published can be seen in one of Sheryl Crow’s songs. Apparently, she had a 3-day romantic experience in Rome with a writer who believed in this principle. On her 1996 self-titled album there was a song called “The Book” that contained the following lyrics:


I read your book

And I find it strange

That I know that girl

And I know her world

A little too well

 

I didn’t know

By giving my hand

That I would be written down

Sliced around

Passed down

Among strangers hands

 

Three days in RomeSheryl_Crow

Where do we go

I’ll always remember

Three days in Rome


Never again

Would I see your face

You carry a pen and a paper

And no time and no words you waste

 

You’re a voyeur

The worst kind of thief

To take what happened to us

To write down everything

That went on between you and me

 

Three days in Rome

And I stand alone

I’ll always remember

Three days in Rome


The final panelist, Janna Malamoud Smith, said the following:

“When rationalizing the exposure of others, writers tend to claim two values as having overriding worth. One is the aesthetic goal of telling the story well. There’s often a feeling that writing beautifully is an ultimate good, that telling a tale very well compensates any harm it might do to its subjects. The second virtue writers tend to honor is outing the truth. We take seriously the job of looking beyond hypocrisy and social facade….We like to believe there is a version of the truth that is superior and that we can state it….[But] when the private things intimacy has allowed you to expose are suddenly made public, that is a legitimate reason for a feeling of profound betrayal….Betrayals are a real thing.”

pengunWriters perhaps more than any other are given to romanticizing of their own profession. We see ourselves as freedom fighters, pioneers, guardians of free speech. We can romanticize our plight and the plight that will come to humanity by any hint of gagging or restraint. We can cry “censorship!” In Smith’s words, we can see our project as an “ultimate good.”

But as in many things, your freedom to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose. In the United States, Free Speech has never meant unlimited verbal license. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. You cannot advocate the overthrow of the government. You cannot print falsehood about someone else in the paper. There are laws about libel. There is such a thing as slander, lying, and verbal abuse. Free speech is not absolute.

Writing details from others lives and experiences does not necessarily entail betrayal or slander of that person. A half-way decent writer can sufficiently conceal identities. He could change Uncle Frank into a City Councilwoman. I don’t need to go into how to do that here.

I say to my fellow writers, if you can’t come up with original material without violating trust, if you can’t write with a conscience,  if you can’t contribute something good and noble and true, then for the sake of us all, find another trade.

What Happened to Penny?

An excerpt from The Former Hero.

With a clamor she burst onto the bright doorstep, one hand across her brow.

She strode out to the street and looked one way and then the other.

Up and down the sidewalk she saw a long mural of pastel chalk drawings: a winged horse and a man with some features of a vampire, a range of hills with cattle grazing and a sunset, and something like a dragon and angels and lightning bolts, and a commentary of misspelled words all around.

Further down was a simple house, and soaring over it was a stick-figure of a girl and a cat with big blue teardrops.

The girl had wings and flew over the house holding the cat’s hand.

Flames came out one side of the house, and beside it was a simple, grown-up figure, bland except for a scribble of long dark hair.

“Penny! Penelope Flax!”

The bird still chirped and a gust blew her mahogany hair.

An airplane motor hummed far away overhead, a descant above the distant highway noise. And the bare stick branches of the tree tapped together in the breeze like the ticking of some wild clock.

The glass tumbler with a little wine slipped from her hand and smashed on the cement, and time stood still while the earth shifted beneath her, while the lightning struck in her eyes, while all creation’s colors muted together through a smoky lens.

The girl was gone.

#TheFormerHero #whathappenedtopenny

Lucy and the ongoing quest for superheroism

lucy1If you are like me and do not have your analytical faculties constantly running full bore, you may have looked at the movie trailer for Lucy and thought to yourself, “Hm. Looks cool. And maybe for once Scarlett Johanssen will have a role where she can show a little more of her acting abilities. She’s nice-looking too. I think I’ll go see that.”

One thing panned out. She’s still good looking. Acting abilities? Still waiting for an Oscar performance.

I fell for it again. Yes, I paid way too much for a movie ticket to see a film when I should have waited for the video. I think I’ll write another blog post someday about how the law of diminishing returns is applying to almost all action movies: more bombs, more chases, more hype, louder music, more heroes, more evil villains— they’re just not doing it for me so much any more. Maybe you feel the same.

But what was really interesting about Lucy was what it told us about ourselves. Easy now. I’m not putting you on the couch here. This is a real observation, and it has everything to do with the book I just wrote (I wrote a book, if you hadn’t noticed.)

A quick plot summary. Lucy is kidnapped and gets a bag of a new kind of superdrug sewn inside her belly to be smuggled in to another country. In a violent encounter, she is kicked in the stomach. The bag ruptures, and the drug gets into her body. This drug has the power to unlock the fabled 90% of the brain that goes unused.

That old tale of only using 10% of our brains, though scientifically untrue, is essential to the story of Lucy. From the moment of getting kicked in the stomach to the end of the film, she is using steadily more and more of her unused brain. 20% flashes on the screen, then 30% then 40% and so on, you guessed it, all the way to 99%. And when she hits 100? Well, she vanishes.

Let me explain.lucy2

At 20%, [no, I’m not going to issue a spoiler alert. Grow up.] pain is no longer a problem, and she can learn new languages in minutes. At 30%, she is telekinetic, that is, if someone points a gun at her, she can restrain them with her mind, disarm them etc. You can imagine where it goes from 40% on.

I’ll just tell you. By 99% she has all godlike powers, except for one. She can stop time, create matter, understands everything to the point of being omniscient, travel through history all the way back to the Big Bang. You name it. She is like a god, except she still has a body.

At 100%, she disappears and gains omnipresence. All mind = no body.

Perhaps you had gone down this trail of imagination yourself. I know I have:

Gosh! I’m only using 10% of my brain? A genius like Einstein used about 15%. What amazing things could I do if I could somehow harness more of my own brain’s latent power!

This biological fiction of “the unused 90%” has created room in the popular imagination for something we are already greedy for: new horizons of human potential. We’ve all remember seeing psychics apparently moving things with their minds. We know about people with photographic memory. We know about savants and people who can do incredible math calculations in their minds. We’ve heard of ESP, telekinesis, astral projection. We all remember the kid bending the spoon in The Matrix — “there is no spoon.”

But here’s my point. We love this idea. Deep down inside, near the cockles of our heart, we love it. For the same reason we love superheroes, because secretly we fantasize about being like them.

Yes, in case you haven’t been reading my blogs for the last eight years, I believe that we love superheroes, in part, because we dream of being like them. Who doesn’t want to fly like Superman? Swing on a web through the streets like Spiderman? Be rich and invent really cool stuff like Batman and Iron Man? We all wish we had at least just one super power. And truly, we would like to have them all.

We would kick so much butt! Bullets bouncing off our chests? Yeah, baby. Forget the whole Open Carry movement. Don’t need guns for protection, because guns don’t hurt me. Bombs don’t hurt me. Terrorists don’t hurt me. I just walk into their camp, disarm them, win the war, usher in a new era of peace, uphold good and put down evil. That’s what we want. Or if nothing else, how about just X-Ray vision?

supermanSo when a movie comes along (same theme, new characters and premise) that suggests that the potential to be super is latent within each of us, because of this popular science notion from the 1940’s that we have untapped powers locked in our brains, WE EAT THAT **** UP!!

Put another way, we want to be gods, and not altogether illegitimately.

We recognize humans are special, despite snippy biologists who want to insist that we are no different, certainly no better or more valuable than all the other creatures in the animal kingdom. But we know differently. I mean look at us! We have iPads for pete’s sake! What do dolphins have? Not even the beginnings of an 8-track player.

We believe we are special though some scientists try to tell us differently. And that’s because we are, because of the amazing capabilities of our powers of rationalization, cogitation, cerebration and meditation.

And what if we really were destined for something more, some super quality? What would that look like?

New Age types in the late 20th century proclaimed a “spiritual evolution.” The next step of human evolution will be into a realm of spirit, not the addition of a finger, or wider bandwidth of hearing capacity.Spiritual-Evolution That’s not much different than Lucy.

So here’s my takeaway from the movie Lucy. We are impatient to evolve. Now that we humans know what that concept means, we cannot wait around for the next 10 million years. We want it now! And a handy cultural fiction about our brains is the platform for this movie that tells us what we so greedily want to hear, and reinforces one of the deepest urges, at least as far back as the legend of Prometheus and the Tower of Babel, that we can transcend our current bounds, that we can take heaven by storm.

Man desiring to be a god. An old, old story.

Flash fiction – The Test

The young girl sat in the bathroom stall. It was the same stall, the only stall she had ever used since she arrived seven months ago. Even if it was occupied she would wait by the sink and nip nervously at hangnails until the occupant left.

Nobody could say they knew her. Nobody noticed her. Why would they? There were plenty of shy girls. Nobody remarked about the sad turns at corners of her mouth, the mouth that set off her tired and lovely face. When the stall was vacated she would glide in and sit down, the last stall at the end of the row in the girl’s room in the freshman hallway, closest to the outside wall, farthest from the door and the hallway clamor.

She removed a long box from her book bag and opened it. She tore the plastic wrapping open with her eye-teeth. That always worked in a hurry: pinch the plastic between enamel points, feel the puncture, then rip. She followed the procedure as the instructions said in their short, discreet sentences. In three minutes a pink line would appear, or maybe two. She waited. A wad of toilet paper daubed her eyes.

Her spine stiffened as the door opened, and the hallway laughter and a stampede of sneaker noise poured in, and then it went silent again with the wooden door knocking shut and the hinge that always squeaked the same three note tune. She sat still, and expe

sad-girl

cted the sound of footsteps coming in to enter a stall, but there was no sound.

She checked for the pink line, and she listened again closely. A presence was certainly in the room. She smelled a person and heard the soughing of clothes. Another 30 seconds passed. Still no lines. She took a deep breath and her throat and chest rattled. She checked for the pink line again. Two lines faintly appeared, and as they did a man’s deep voice spoke. “It’s going to be a boy.” “How can that be?” she said and she daubed her eyes again. “I’m still a virgin.”

Animal or human, which one are you

One of my working theories about humanity has to do with the continuity and discontinuity between people and animals. How much are we “family” with the animal kingdom? What evidence is there that we are different than animals?  Where does the break take place?

There are varying levels of animal-like behavior in individuals and communities: greater or lesser expressions of culture, more of less living to feed basic appetites, greater or lesser domination by emotions and passions, what value is placed on orderly living, the overcoming the impulses of the body by the exercise of the mind, willingness to abide by the law, manners, decorum, formality vs. informality.

One easy example is the use of utensils to eat with, including chopsticks, instead of hands. I was reminded of this recently when watching Kill Bill vol. 2. In one scene,  Kiddo must eat her rice with chopsticks, and when she throws them down in frustration and starts to eat with her fingers, the Kung Fu master, PaPaiMeii Mei, dumps out her food on the floor and says, “If you want to eat like a dog, then you can live and sleep outside like a dog. If you want to live and sleep like a human, pick up those sticks.” It would be an even more stark example of animal behavior for someone to eat out of a dish without hands, just slurping food up with their lips.

Another example is whether we are content to live in squalor, disorder, messiness. Teenagers are a perfect illustration of this point I am developing, that is, that humans beings are creatures “in transition,” engaged in a lifelong struggle to rise up above their animal nature and live like the higher-order creatures we are intended to be. Little children are more animal by nature, and the process of maturing is, at least in part, a cultivation, an enculturation of the person out of their animal raw material into the form of a good human.

Other examples can be seen in what we choose to do with our free time, whether we default into mere pleasuring-seeking activities (that is, feeding of useless, purely self-centered appetites) or whether we foster at least some kind of drive to a meaningful activity. Hobbies are productive, culture-bearing, meaningful activities. And I think it is a great shame that people do not have “hobbies” as they once did. Reading, gardening, visiting with friends, cooking, knitting, hiking and so on, can be expressions of humanity rising up over mere survival activities and the pursuit of stimuli to the pleasure-center of the brain.

Sex obsession is another barometer of human vs. animal. One’s appetite for sex may be strong, but it is an animal-like behavior to give in to that call whenever it comes, to be obsessed with feeding that appetite, to let it dominate the mind rather than exhibit self-control, with no ability to master the impulse or to moderate it or to keep it in an appropriate context. I wont say that sex obsession is new, but I will say that the societal mores and manners that have helped people live according to rule of their minds have eroded so that sex obsession has become more accessible and acceptable.

There is a continuum at work here. One can never say to another, “You are an animal because you don’t eat with utensils,” or “because you are addicted to porn.” You can only say that such behavior is unfortunate because, among other things, it diminishes a person’s humanity. This is also how the conditions of harsh imprisonment can be said to dehumanize a person.

There is a kind of an implicit challenge to humanity always to be living and being according to what we are by virtue of being uniquely rational creatures. At some point in the advent of homo sapiens, that reason and rationality became the new operating domain for humanity. We escaped from the food chain. We were rocketed into a higher paradigm of rule and stewardship. Now, instead of a predatory relationship with animals, we were capturing and domesticating them. We were putting some of them to use carrying things and provide food.

Finally, this explanation affirms a storied and epic vision of the human experience. It gives new merit to “civilization” in that civilization is a scaffold that helps each of us stand upright like humans rather than groveling in the dirt like animals. Indoor plumbing, food supplies, law and medicine, education, institutions, manners, etc. are props against the gravitational pull toward animalness.

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