Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lost Opportunities

One thing you get as you grow older is perspective, but not necessarily understanding. I see the world in a different light than I once did, which is the reason I frequently sign my email as “James the Irrelevant.” In my isolated way of viewing the world, I see a changing landscape where I don't understand much of anything. That’s the reason I consider myself irrelevant much of the time.

I don’t understand why from 47% to 54% (depending on source) of households pay no taxes, yet many get “refunds”, or the reason the percentage of non-payers continues to climb while the country drowns in debt. I also don’t understand why “tax cuts” for wealthy people need to be permanent. I don’t understand huge expenditures on foreign aid to people who don’t like us. I don’t understand subsidies to anyone for any reason. I don’t understand monetizing our debt, the printing of money in order to “buy” US bonds with paper that make the dollar worth less every day. I don’t understand why we are in three wars. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I don’t understand much of anything, and at the top of my list of not understanding things, is why so many people waste opportunity.

I admit I have limited experience, but my own observation is this: none of my children, or my wife’s children, chose to go to college, even though all their expenses would have been covered. All they had to do was sign up and go. They did not. Instead, they chose a path to lower economic and intellectual achievement. Why? I didn’t get it then, and now that they all struggle to survive, I understand it even less.

We subsidize some of them now, just so they can make ends meet, but I don’t understand the “lesson” in that, or what good can come of it. Are we teaching them that underachievement is acceptable? Are we enabling bad behavior by ensuring they don’t suffer the consequences of their bad choices? There seems to be an entitlement mentality out there, and our own offspring are part of it.

The problem, of course, is that grandchildren are involved. The little ones haven’t made any bad choices; they are the victims of bad choices. We don’t want to see them suffer, so are forced to help the adults. It’s a lot like the situation our country is in, but closer to home. So, what should be done? We can’t abandon the grandchildren, and I certainly don’t want adult children living under my roof. Tough choices. Here’s what we opted to do, so you can all take a shot at it.

We gave them one year to learn to survive. In that time, we require full on-line transparency to every financial transaction they make. In one case, we froze their credit cards in a block of ice, and verify the block is still intact when we visit. Why? Because somewhere along the line the kids didn’t learn how to live within their means. There was always plenty, so they never considered conservation a serious need. We raised our kids to go to college; it was a shock when they refused. We know hope is a lousy strategy, but we “hope” we can instill in them over the next year how to live with what they make, not to make rash/dumb decisions about jobs they have, and how to value their families.

The one who is least capable of taking care of himself might need additional help during the year. In that case, we might insist he attend a technical training school of some type, or lose support. That might mean we end up with some of the grandchildren. I don’t know if anything will work. What can be done to instill ambition, work ethic, and desire to contribute to society? Just throwing it out there. Short of public whipping of adult children, I can use any reasonable advice.

Okay, on a less personal note, another thing I don’t understand is hatred, so the events of 9/11 were almost beyond my comprehension. Those events are the reason I started writing, just to get the venom out of my system. My first novel was Kill Zone, a novel written in haste over several years, but never published. After it was “complete”, I continued to re-write it, removing caustic digs and smoothing out the storyline. In the process of re-writing, the word count dropped from 165,000 to 101,000, and the last chapter became first a short story, and then a novel on its own—Aftermath Horizon.

Aftermath Horizon was published last year by xoxopublishing.com; Kill Zone will be published this November by Eternal Press. Time heals. Kill Zone is now so mellow I will likely make it fit for young adults during the first edit pass. The story is science-based. It could actually happen. It also contains my own view of the origins or oil, and how we can achieve energy independence. Is it fiction? You’ll have to judge for yourself. Here’s a short excerpt:

The imperious secretary greeted Greg as he entered the outer recesses of Mr. Monroe’s office, “Good afternoon, Dr. Cole, Mr. Monroe will see you now.” She ushered him into the inter sanctum of the COO’s office.

Impressive antique d├ęcor surrounded the huge cherry wood desk immediately ahead. Nervous perspiration dampened Greg’s collar; he wanted to loosen his tie. He had no idea why Mr. Monroe asked to see him. In his nine years at Am-Mex, he hadn’t been called to the COO’s office. Why now? He couldn’t recall doing anything to warrant a pink slip.

The Colonel Sanders-looking man hunched over blueprints scattered across the desk glanced up long enough to acknowledge Greg’s presence, and then looked back at the drawings as if casually talking to them. “If it were up to you, Dr. Cole, where would you drill today?”

Confronted with Mr. Monroe’s “abrupt management style”, Greg guessed the COO didn’t want to hear any extra words. So thinking, he answered with a single word, “Yucatan.”

Mr. Monroe nodded, but continued to study the blueprints. “Why?”

Clearly, he knows the reasons, so why ask? Greg thought, giving no indication he considered the question inane. “Huge reserves exist beneath the Arabian and Eurasian plates. The Caribbean plate’s tropical geological history is similar, so massive amounts of organics probably subsided there as well. The area has significant potential for new oil. That’s the technical reason, but there’s also a practical one—Am-Mex already has drilling teams there.

Mr. Monroe looked up, leaned back in his chair with crossed arms and stared at Greg intently. “Do you have the wherewithal to lead one of those teams, Dr. Cole?

Greg froze. It’s a loaded question, like asking if I have the skill to do my job. Mr. Monroe’s piercing hazel eyes riveted on Greg’s face, taking in every facial twitch and body language nuance. Certain he shouldn’t flinch, Greg answered resolutely, trying hard to disguise his many reservations, “Yes.

The COO smiled thinly as he handed a folder across his desk, and a feeling of foreboding descended over Greg. “Then you’ve got twenty-four hours to back out, Dr. Cole. Notify my secretary if you do. Thank you for coming.

And Thank YOU for reading.

James L. Hatch


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, James. I think the problem is that being a 'victim' is the way to go these days. Someone will take care of you. It's institutionalized into our thinking. No one ever accepts responsibility for their actions even in light of their actions being clearly wrong. They had a bad childhood, rotten luck, etc. etc. It's no one's personal fault, it's everyone else's fault and responsibility to make better.

We celebrate mediocrity in this country as evidenced by the truly awful reality shows on TV. Really, are these people worth anyone's time? To my way of thinking, this isn't entertainment. It's just plain sad.

In school, kids bully their peers if they like to study or have an affinity for math and science. Being a dropout - or a pregnant drop out - is considered cool. How sick is that?

Pregnant teenagers know how to get money from the system to support themselves and their offspring, but can they pass the SAT? No way, no how, uh-uh.

Unless and until we stop breeding and celebrating victims in this country, nothing is going to change. We've run out of time and clearly, we have run out of money.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I agree, James, there is so much I don't understand about politics, raising kids and trying to survive in an economy that just wants to lay there. I feel pretty irrelevant most of the time, too. Sometimes it feels like there is no solution but I'm sure the tides will change and things will get better.
You always have something interesting to say, James, and much of it deeply felt by many of us.
Kill Zone looks like a very exciting story and that cover is wonderful.
I wish you all the best, James.

Delaney Diamond said...

I have no idea what the answers are, James, and unfortunately, neither does anyone else. What works in one case may not in another. All you can do is the best you can.

There's a sense of entitlement among people that I find alarming. Coupled with the fact that younger people have a shorter attention span than I did at their age (thanks to texting, twitter, etc.), we have a lot to overcome. You can't keep their attention long enough to teach them anything.

I hope things work out with the kids. Maybe this kick in the pants is what they needed.

Best wishes with your novel.

Fiona McGier said...

Rent the movie Idiocracy, to see where we are headed. Intelligent folks have fewer kids, the great unwashed breed like rabbits, because someone else will care for them, right? Who does that leave to carry on running things when we are gone?

Students I sub for are aghast when I tell them that we made our 4 kids get a work permit and summer jobs when they were 14. No one got their license until they could pay us the difference in how much our insurance went up once they were drivers. We are helping them with college as we can, but they take out loans, work multiple jobs in the summer, and have little time/money for fun while they are working towards the goal. Sometimes they ask me why I'm so adamant about them getting a degree, when no employers seem to value the one I have. I tell them that with a college degree, at least when they get laid off because their job was outsourced so some billionaire could squeeze a few extra bucks of profit out of their company, at least they will get laid off at a higher salary, so they will get more unemployment. I sure wish I could be more encouraging to them.

As for you and yours, I have no answers for you. We all have to find our own way, since we don't get to pick our kids or our parents. We just have to make the best of it. Good luck!

And keep writing. It's truly cathartic.