Mark Twain wrote “Loyalty of country, always. Loyalty of government, only when it deserves it.” Never was a statement truer than this is today.
We’ve all heard this story many times in grade school or otherwise… A young Thomas Jefferson is employed by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to pen a letter of declaration to the king. This is the document that the continental congress had been waiting so long for. Declaring our independence from England, this document was signed and dated July 4th, 1776.
What does this history lesson mean to the average American? Not a lot, actually. Because after 246 years, many Americans haven’t a clue what July 4th symbolizes, and that’s okay because it means something different for all of us. Historically yes, it is the day in which our founding fathers chose to stand up against “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” (Jefferson, 1776). But shouldn’t this day mean so much more?
To me, the 4th of July symbolizes the American dream that burns in all of us. In today’s hotly debated political climate, our freedoms are being threatened just as they were nearly 250 years ago. In order to fight back against those that wish to subjugate our freedom, we only require one thing…pride.
I love my country. With all of its faults, and all of its differences, I stand with my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to that flag. I understand that this is not a popular statement to make these days. However, I know that I am not alone. I am not the only American that fights back tears when we stand for our national anthem. I am not alone when I long for the days of patriotic parade floats, hot dogs dripping with mustard; a frisbee flying past, and the screams of joy while we sit, nestled close to our loved ones, and watch the annual fireworks explode against the darkened sky.
Freedom is not free, and I will fight every day of my life for it, so that every man woman and child can gaze upon that flag, as I do and say: I love America.
The year was 1975. I was just a punk kid then. Seventeen years old and full of vinegar. So sure of myself and what little the world had to offer. Nothing, that’s what. Like all other teens my age, we waited for what was meant to come to us instead of reaching out and grabbing it. We cared nothing of work. Our only misery came during the hours that we were forced by our parents to be sober. Each summer we would gather nightly on the beach and regurgitate the daily grind of being noble children to captains of industry.
There were ten of us altogether. Each had his or her story to tell about boarding school, boring vacations skiing in Switzerland, and how much our fathers had paid to get us each into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. Our mothers were all alcoholics or pill poppers. It might be evident to say that we inherited that behavior. However, each of us would attempt to explain that we chose our own paths to self-destruction. It is difficult to relate but I cannot shrug off the feeling that we were truly happy then. When I say that we hadn’t a care in the world; I mean that literally. The only care that I had was Rachel, and I would like to think that I was hers, having spent so many summer evenings together on the beach; our bodies peacefully intertwined.
My father, Leonidas (Leo) Grandholm inherited his fortune from my grandfather, Harris Grandholm. Harris had predicted the crash of 29’ and sheltered his earnings by removing them from all accounts. When the stock market crashed, Harris Grandholm became the second wealthiest man in the world. Don’t ask me what he did after that to increase his holdings because, despite my inquires, the answer that I am consistently given is that it is a ‘family business.’ Upon Harris’s death, Leonidas was put in charge of the family business. My father was no fool. He made several wise investment decisions after World War II and increased the family’s wealth to three times that which Harris had left him. I thank you, father.
Despite my friends and their desire to sustain their debauchery, I considered myself somewhat level-headed. Nonetheless, the summer of 1975 was beginning to look like it would be the grandest summers of them all. Except for Peter, who was a full year younger than the rest, we had all graduated. This would be our last hurrah before we left for our respective universities. We were all under legal considerations that in order to gain our expected inheritances, we first had to graduate. I myself, was looking forward to school. Rachel and I were both attending Yale in the fall. Though my father had insisted that Harvard had the best pre-law departments in the country, I chose Yale. For the sole reason of course, that Rachel had already been accepted on a full scholarship to their journalism program.
The summer began as it always had, with a rip-roaring beach party. Included in my father’s estate was a small cottage on the Cape. When I say small, I mean four bedrooms, three full baths, a wonderous backyard complete with a hot tub and a service gate that opened directly onto our private beach. This was where I lived each and every summer. My parents did not care. Frankly, I’m certain that their were pleased to have me out of the house. Rachel stayed with me on most nights; as did, much to my chagrin, Michael and Georgia, William and Jennifer, and Peter. Poor Peter.
Peter Kingsley was far from poor in a financial perspective. In truth, his was the wealthiest family of us all. The Kingsley’s were oil magnates who traced their lineage back to the Civil War. Peter’s third Great Grandfather, Faraday Kingsley, an uneducated sort who fled Kentucky when the confederates came to town searching for conscripts. One afternoon in 1865, Faraday struck gold; not the shiny type but black gold…oil, while digging in his meager yard on the north Texas plain. He ran uncontrollably into town and explained to a group of, shall I say, ruffians, that he needed to engage employment from them. Certainly, they didn’t believe him but after seeing the deep hole of thick, bubbling black ink, they were each compelled with a promise of a percentage. Within days, a well was built, along with storage and transportation systems. Within six months, Faraday purchased the 35 acre plot of land and constructed seventeen more drills and wells. A full two years after the young fool first struck oil, Faraday Kingsley was the richest man in the world. At the time of his death in 1882, Faraday was worth 18 million dollars.
The summer went on, and on. We dined on lobster and New York strip. We drank wine and champaign directly from the bottle and enjoyed more cocaine than I would’ve thought was humanly possible. In our little place in the world, we were royalty. We commanded the sun and the moon to rise and fall at our whim. On independence Day, we sat together on the sand with our toes in the water, watching fireworks explode from a barge just off the Cape. We had never been happier. But that happiness would come to a terrifying halt at Summer’s End.
Comparing Athens and Sparta is much like comparing apples to oranges. Both unique in their own way yet differing greatly even though they were neighboring cities. For example, the Athenian form of government was democracy, or demos, meaning the people. Each election year, the Athenian men, usually limited to between 5,000 and 6,000, would gather for consideration. After much heated debate, which lasted days upon days, the candidates were then narrowed down to 500 men. Out of those 500, they were split up into groups of 50. Each group would then be in charge for a month. The groups would use a system called ‘Lot’ or voting, to decide all matters, including military, social, and political. Sparta, on the other hand, was an oligarchy, which is derived from the Greek word meaning few. This oligarchy held elements of democracy as well as monarchy, and aristocracy. At the top of the political food chain were two kings and five senators underneath them that were elected by the people annually. General assemblies were held to vote on motions and pass legislation. As a law, the senate had the power to overrule the kings with a unanimous vote. However, this consideration was rarely used.
Their lifestyle and social cultures were just as different. The Athenian people considered themselves to be modern and quite forward thinking. They valued education and the arts. They maintained a strong military but did not recruit by force. Spartans put no value in education. They were proud people, but their priority was the strength of their military and defense. And they gave little concern to the outside world.
The women of Sparta were often held in the same regard as men. Many Spartan women were fierce warriors as well as loving mothers. Instead of being regarded as property, the women of Sparta owned property alongside the men. In contrast, Athenian women were legal property of their husbands or their fathers. Their duties were to their families and their homes. They had daily routines that they were forced to follow rigorously. Even though the two cities were in close proximity, their lives and cultures couldn’t have been more different.
On a cold January morning in 2020, I pulled my car into the only empty parking spot available, which was a quarter of a mile from the front door. My boots crunched upon hard-packed snow as I walked along the path to my dreaded, dead-end factory job. I hated what I was doing. The pay was…I guess worth it. But still, there was no meaning to any of it. I’m not even going to get into how much I loathed the elitist punk that I worked for. However, I digress. I trudged another quarter mile to the office that held my desk, flung off my coat and flipped on my outdated PC. To keep myself from vomiting daily, I plugged my ear pods into my phone and quickly turned on some much-needed musical inspiration. Rush was the choice of the day, as their music always seems to put me in a positive state of mind.
I worked through the morning. Page after page of mindless data entry and paralyzing production scheduling. Then came the text message that froze me. My phone buzzed. I received a text from my brother saying that “Neil Peart has died.” I instantly stopped what I was doing and searched for confirmation. Sure enough, there it was. All over the internet was news of the drummer’s passing; at the age of 67, from brain cancer. That beautiful mind. The news was a virtual punch in the gut. I was stunned right there at my desk. The company-line toing goof that sat next to me asked: “What’s the matter?”
“Neil Peart just passed away.” I told him, shocked that I was even able to speak the words aloud.
“Who’s that?” he asked. The rest of the day is a blur in my memory.
Since that day, myself and countless fans across the country and the world, have become more aware of not just the drummer for Rush, but the man himself. I learned decades ago, as did so many other Rush fans, that Neil Peart was the bands sole lyricist after joining the band in 1974 in the wake of the release of their self-titled first album. What I didn’t know then was just how much of an impact his words would have on my own writing and my life.
That evening, after hearing the terrible news, I drove to my girlfriend’s house and cried. I had insisted that Siri play the Rush song, “Afterimage,” over and over again. A childlike sob emanated as I sat and listened with a face full of tears.
Suddenly you were gone, from all the lives you left your mark upon – Neil Peart, 1984.
They say that time heals all wounds. It is true, life does go on. Since the death of my hero, I became partly obsessed, with the band’s music and the professor’s words. From the many documentaries and some of my own research, I discovered that Neil would handwrite his lyrics in such a way that one might be compelled to frame it as art. I will share some of this art with you here, in honor of a man that had so much influence on my playing and my writing.
I had given a lot of thought to compiling Neil’s lyrics. I still might, but this is for myself at the moment. In Anthem, Neil conjures the idea of self-worth. Based on Author Ayn Rand’s story of the same name
Neil was a ferocious reader. During his downtime on the road during those early years, he would read as much as he could handle. Many of his chosen subjects were science fiction and fantasy.
In By-Tor & the Snow Dog, we see a glimpse into the future as Neil composes lyrics using complex themes. What I find to be cool (for lack of a more appropriate word) is that on all these beautifully crafted lyric sheets, Neil feels the presence of mind to jot down where they were in the world at the time.
In Overture, Neil once again summons the world of Ayn Rand with the complex and highly popular 2112. It is important to note that it was the album 2112 that gave them the autonomy that they longed for. Like Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, the individual stood strong against the system and triumphed.
Never again would the boys have to worry about what the record company thought. This was the essence of what 2112 was all about. They were going to make the music that they wanted to make, or they would make nothing.
Neil takes a somewhat oblique course with the song Entre Nous, as he comments on the complexities and subtleties of personal relationships. The line “the spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow.” is genius.
With the album, A Farewell to Kings, the band wrote one of their most complex pieces that spanned multiple albums. Neil continues his love of science fiction with the epic Cygnus X-1 book one. In this story of the mysterious black hole, Neil outdoes himself as he creates worlds to ultimately be destroyed. I absolutely love the final entry… To Be Continued.
Neil Peart’s words and music transcended time and space. Everything he did, he did with absolute enthusiasm and fascination. The things that he accomplished in his 67 years on this planet will forever be etched in history. He was so much more than what he displayed. More than a drummer. More than a writer. He was a father, a husband, and a man all to himself. Neil kept his personal life extremely private, and though he may not like the adoration of the millions that admired him, he certainly set the bar high.
The classical period of ancient Greece lasted for 200 years. During this time there was a grand feeling of transition. Wars were fought and freedom was established, though not without some discourse. Many Greeks that held power were fearful of a democracy that would force them to relinquish it. The elites of Athens, for example, supported the oligarchy. However, it was the average citizen and the middle class that brought about change. Though it was a popular idea with the middle class, there was still some lingering reluctance. Several elements were key in order to gain favor of a democratic system. These elements include but were not limited to:
Rise of the city-states. Each separate city was governed by its own citizens. The basic elements of this self-governance included: urbanization and architecture, a social hub, and marketplace for the exchange of commerce, sacred areas such as temples or alters, common public areas such as theaters, protective elements and military, and the manufacture and distribution of its own money.
Greco-Persian Wars. Essentially, the Persians sought to conquer Greece through a series of conflicts that lasted many years. The Greeks fought hard but were continuously outnumbered. In the year 480 BCE, the city of Athens was burned in the largest campaign mounted by the Persians. However, the following year, Athens, along with the allied city-states, defeated the Persians, bringing an end to the invasion of Greece.
The Overthrow of King Hippias. In 510 BCE, Athens, along with support of neighboring Sparta, successfully overthrew the tyrant, King Hippias. Afterwards, much debate was made as to who would ascend the throne. With much support from the middle class, Cleisthenes took control. Considered by many to be the father of democracy, Cleisthenes presented the citizens of Athens with a path to equal rights. Thousands of citizens gathered and made their voices heard as new administrators and city officials were elected. The goal of this democracy, as Cleisthenes saw it, was to allow the people to govern. In the following years, Athens saw the rise of other political interest groups, giving birth to a democratic, multi-party system.
Just like “The Chain”, this one got me all worked up. It takes talent to be able to stir up so much tension in a few hundred pages. This is my go-to niche… Girl in trouble, nasty men chasing after her, girl becomes a bad-ass-bitch and kills everyone. There’s more to it than that, actually but you get the idea.
Heather didn’t want a family. She wasn’t even sure she wanted a husband, but in the blink of an eye, she had it all. When Tom Baxter, a wealthy Seattle surgeon, decided to take his new bride and his children that hated her along to a conference in Australia, the last thing he considered was that it was going to be the worst conference in history. The plot of this story is so acute that I literlly cannot write anymore about it without giving it away. We don’t do spoilers here! What I will say though, is that The Island by Adrian McKinty knocked me on my ass. If you’re looking for a thrill ride that rips your heart out and leaves it lying on the kitchen floor like spilled tomato soup, than this is the book for you!
How in the world, and I mean this with every ounce of marrow in my bones, have I never heard of Robert McCammon? As with most writers, I am an avid reader. I read with a passion equal to a fly on a rotting carcass. I am up on all the new releases as well as the classics. I attempted once to read Ulysses by James Joyce. That did not end well I’m afraid. However, I try to read something new whenever I get the chance. This book: “Speaks the Nightbird” by Robert McCammon was a suggested to me by Goodreads. I passed over it a number of times, choosing instead the mundane psychological thriller that I am usually more comfortable with. If I had known what I was passing up, I would’ve relinquished all hope of finishing the Netflix series I was binging, grabbed my blanket, lit a candle or two and settled in for a long dreary night. For this is not just a book, no sir. It is a work of art. It is a volume of epic proportions.
Published in 2007, Speaks the Nightbird is set in 1699 South Carolina in the fictional port town of Fount Royal. The citizens of Fount Royal are happy to see that the highly respected magistrate from Charles Town has finally arrived. You see, Fount Royal has a problem, and her name is Rachel Howarth. She has been charged with the murder of a minister and her husband. The citizens claim that she is a witch, doing to devil’s work. There are several witnesses that have testified to the woman’s crimes against God. Magistrate Woodward has come to sentence the unholy wretch to death and have her burned at the stake while the citizenry looks on.
Madame Howarth loudly protests her innocence. However, having not a single person to come to her aid, she has succumbed to the notion that she will ultimately burn. That is until young Matthew Corbett, the magistrate’s clerk comes to the realization that not only is Rachel innocent of the murders, but she’s also not a witch. So, if she is not a witch, then why are so many of her fellow citizens claiming so?
This is a wonderful yet shockingly brutal story of good versus evil. That evil being mankind himself.
If I were to have any negative critique at all it would be in the editing. This book is 800 pages long and suffers many typographical errors. A little more diligence on the part of the editor would’ve done the book so much justice.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the announcement boomed, and a hush fell about the room. “The Senator from the great state of Texas, Elizabeth Holcomb!” An echo of cheers rose from the attendees as the Senator entered the vast hall at the lavish, and historic downtown Austin hotel. When she first ran for a state senate seat back in 92, Elizabeth Holcomb never expected to win, let alone be successful in Washington. Sure, she had ruffled a few party feathers with her progressive leanings, but after 30 years, she was proud of the work she had accomplished. When she left Texas for Washington, she understood that she had a fight in front of her. At first it was so much more than a simple up hill battle, but she dug her heals in and earned some much needed respect. After only seven short years, she became chairperson of the senate intelligence committee. There was where she had hoped to do her best work. In truth, this was where she failed. Rumors of collusion with a foreign diplomat, an inappropriate phone call, and a lengthy divorce settlement had her waving a white flag. She was down but no out. Her constituents stood by her through it all with unwavering support. For this, she was humble. Being from a small town outside of Austin, she always loved giving back to her community. The charity luncheon was for a non profit she set up years ago to help provide medical care, and legal representation for mothers and women suffering from abuse. The 350 in attendance were hand-picked by Holcomb herself due to their sizable bank accounts. Their applause swelled as she stepped up to the podium. She never worked with a speech writer. She always spoke from her heart. “My dear friends,” she gazed around the room. “I wish that we were all gathered here today to celebrate a Longhorn’s victory. Unfortunate, this is not the case. We are here because of a grave injustice. A grave injustice, indeed. This injustice is defined by the victims of domestic violence throughout our great state and across our great country. But isn’t it also an injustice that organizations such as these suffer for funding each quarter while the numbers of victims increase exponentially?” She cleared her throat; at which point a glass of mineral water was placed on the podium for her. She took a sip, smiled and continued. “You are all here in large part because of your wonderful and continued support for me throughout the years but also because we need your help. 1 out of every three women in this state have suffered or are currently suffering from domestic abuse. This cannot continue. “When I think of Texas, I think of family, and friends, home, and happiness. For some, those dreams are unimaginable. So, I ask you today, as we indulge ourselves…” The senator faltered, and grabbed hold of both sides of the podium. Her face turned ashen, and she reached for the water. “We must…” Her eyes grew wide as they pleaded for help. Security was behind her in an instant, but she pushed them away. She attempted to stand and regain her strength. “We must…” The audience watched in horror as the senator fell to the floor in a violent spasm. Secret Service, along with her aid, rushed her out of the room and a medical team performed CPR as an ambulance pulled up in front of the building. Senator Elizabeth Holcomb never spoke another word. Before she died, she had lost the use of of her muscles. It was reported to the press that the senator had suffered a violent heart attack. One man, watching the events on a video monitor from across the country, had a different diagnosis.
As a writer, I have to set simple goals, or I’ll never get a thing accomplished. The main goal is to simply write each day. No matter what the situation. In the morning before work. At night after work. My days off are filled with writing. Roughly 75% is trash but that’s just fine. It’s the 25% that I’m proud of. But even when I know that I’m writing trash, I have to push through so that I can come out the other side with something that makes some sense. My next goal is just as important, and it relates to the first goal. I try to write at least 1,000 words each and every day. To do this takes a bit of preparation. I look to my current outline and decide what I’m writing next within my current project. Staying focused is key to any writing goal. It also helps to eliminate distractions. With my present project, remaining focused has become easier as new ideas for it spring up out of nowhere. My last goal that I will discuss is to read. Read, read, and re-read. Each day, before I begin, I go back and read what I wrote the day before. This is crucial because you must edit yourself. No matter how grammatically correct you are, there will always be mistakes. Also, it helps to move the story along when you remember where you left off.
Write. Write through any blockage. Push through the garbage.