The Whisper of Somewhere Else

The Other Day in the Gym

The other day at the gym, I was on the leg press machine when someone sauntered into the squat rack next to me. He nodded and smiled, before grabbing a couple 45-pound plates to load up the bar. His Iowa State t-shirt caught my eye. “Cy,” the familiar Cardinal with his caricature grimace of determination marched across the front of his t-shirt, emblazoned above with “Iowa State Cyclones.” It took me back to my days as a student there.

Iowa State T-Shirt
Used with Permission

In between sets, I asked him when he went to Iowa State. He hadn’t, it turned out. His daughter a Veterinary Medicine student was in her third year, there.

     “Why Iowa State?” I asked.

     He shrugged. “Beats me. She had several scholarship offers, but…” He left his sentence unfinished and returned to the squat rack for his next set. “It is a beautiful campus, though,” he admitted, before shouldering the bar.

     “I’ll sign that.” I agreed.

And it’s true. Despite being flat as a tabletop, Iowa has its own special beauty. And that was the end of our conversation. The gentleman finished his squats and moved on.

Later in the day, I was sitting at my laptop, working on the next chapter of my science fiction novel when my college years at Iowa State crept back into my head. I’m sure my conversation earlier that day in the gym was the catalyst.

The Influences of Environment

If you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, it might be difficult to fully appreciate the nuanced feelings that might lurk in the back of the mind of someone who grew up in a part of the country prone to wild swings of weather. The Great Central Plain is home to some unpredictable and occasionally violent weather. In Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, the environment and the weather is almost another character in the stories.

In Sinbad’s Sofa, a cat seeking shelter from a blizzard at the gas station where the author worked teaches him something about himself and the nature of human’s connection with critters. In The Last House in Town, one human’s unexpected kindness leads the author to a deeper understanding of life and other’s pain.

In Heartland, the author invites readers to confront the pull of horizons and the how the limitations of where we are can awaken the restless spirit living in all of us. And it was this latter thought I found myself focusing on, as I reflected on my conversation earlier in the day at the gym with the Dad whose daughter was attending my Alma Mater.

Wide Open Western Spaces
From Unsplash-Used with Permission. The Influence of Envrionment is undeniable, if imperfectly understood.

People who know me well also know that I’m drawn to wide open spaces, and that I am (occasionally) afflicted with an almost irresistible wander lust. How much of this has to do with the tantalizing lure of open horizons, whispering to me of new sights, sounds and scents? How much influence (if any), did growing up on the plains have on my decision to join the Corps or to spend the first 20 plus years of my adult life in the nomadic world that is the life of a professional warrior?

The influence of environment is generally an accepted concept, even if the details of how/how much influence they have. I’m convinced the wander lust that frequently calls me to head off for parts unknown is at least partially a function of growing up in a place where open horizons beckoned.

Through the Windshield

Which brings us to Through the Windshield. Day or night, whether it was a vanishing point on the horizon or the cold, distant glitter of lights in the distance on a winter’s night, the plains tend to remind you that there are other places to be. That there are other things to see and experiences to be had for those willing to stray from the familiar in pursuit of a different level of knowing.

Even though few of the stories in this anthology are true absent embellishment, they are all self-reflective, at some level. In common with many authors, the original impetus to write was for me, all about self-expression. These days, however, I seek to balance self-expression with the broader observations about humans in general and who we are stripped of the masks behind which most of us hide.

Cover of Through the Windshield an anthology of short stories
Through the Windshield is the perfect introduction to Dirk's writings...

Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is the perfect introduction to my longer fiction. If you would like to read the stories, you can get your free copy here. If you’ve never read anything by D.B. Sayers, before, you can snag your free copy of this anthology, here.

The Year of Maybe-Act II of Nyra’s Journey

Tai's nothing like her hopeful dream-and everything she wants...

Nyra’s transition from college grad scrambling for her first career job to full independence is as on track as it can be, these days. With her new marketing job is going well, even if she’s still living at home,Nyra’s pretty sure the light at the end of the tunnel is not an onrushing train.

Still, she gets bored, sometimes. A whimsical decision to take up surfing brings her together with Tai Abrega, a professional surfer and shaper so delicious Nyra’s imagination hasn’t even gotten around to fantasizing about a man like him, yet. Surfing awakens a latent, mystical connection with the sea along with a driven passion for the man himself.

But embracing one possibility often demands abandoning another. How can Nyra fit Tai and the seductive siren song of freedom into her “safer” vision of perfect? Can she blend her conventional world with his freespirited lifestyle, or is she doomed to disappointment and heartbreak? New Adult fans of It Ends with Us and Finding Perfect are sure to enjoy this upbeat tale of hope.

The Year of Maybe Act II of Nyra’s Journey continues the story begun in Best-Case Scenario. For a limited time, get your free copy of Best-Case Scenario, and be up to date on Nyra’s story when The Year of Maybe is released in November. Then go to Amazon and pre-order your copy.

This is D.B. Sayers’ sixth book and the second in the Nyra Westensee series. If you haven’t already, subscribe to Smoke Signals, his newsletter by adding your email address in the subscription box in the upper right corner of this page.

Isn’t Hope in Some Form Our Best-Case Scenario?

Relentless Hope.

Sometimes you can sense it, even from a distance. The down-cast eye, an aimlessness in their gait. Something—or someone—has extinguished that flickering flame of hope that elevates existence to vitality. At some point in time or another, most of us have been there. But not Nyra.

After a college career in which Nyra’s sincere desire for connection and her driven sexuality has been frustrated by an almost impossible series of bad luck, she could be forgiven is she thinks being alone and disappointed is her fate. Living but not not quite alive. Wishing, but not really hopeful.

On the surface, that’s the Nyra readers think they’re  meeting in chapter one of Best-Case Scenario. But entitled Relentless Hope, nothing characterizes Nyra’s most persistent state of mind. Despite disappointments that haunt lesser souls for years—even a lifetime,

Nyra still believes in her future. The possibilities she senses, even if the tangible evidence of hope still elude her are at the driving centrality of her soul.

Catalysts.

But hope is one thing. What continues to feed it? Is it that faint tickle of apparent interest radiating from someone we know and secretly desire? For Nyra, there are two. Toni, at work, a lovely woman of color whose kindness directed to a younger woman leaks soft sensuality. Is she interested in me? Nyra wonders more than once. What will she do if she is? Nyra isn’t sure. But she would like to find out.

And then there’s her more conventional “love interest.” Kevin, the night manager at the Blue Macaw. Handsome, confident without being an ass, Nyra sometimes catches him looking and wishing he’d do more than look. Surely one or the other of her two potential playmates will make a move.

But what will she do if they both make a move? With no experience with either gender and aware she’s attracted to both, how does she even decide? And then there’s the continued frustration of somehow being unable to snag her first professional level career job.

In the final analysis, doesn’t maintaining her positive outlook depend on a catalyst, either romantic or professional—preferably both? Nyra guesses it might. In the meantime, she keeps trying. After all. Isn’t hope in some form everyone’s best-case scenario?

A Plea for Sanity…

Can we stop monetizing social poison?

The day started well...

I got back from the House of Pain, a few mornings ago, still riding the uplifting burn of the morning’s weight workout and cardio. I opened my laptop, as I do every morning and went to my Medium feed to scroll through the day’s offerings.

The day always starts better with a little well-modulated pain... photo courtesy of Luis Vidal on Unsplash

As an unapologetic eclectic, I tend to think of myself as conversant with a lot of stuff and a master of nothing. Politically and philosophically, I’m an independent progressive with conservative leanings. Or perhaps, an independent thinking conservative with progressive leanings. It’s a matter of emphasis and perspective, I guess.

My point being, I read a lot of different takes on many topics, and the offerings in my feed reflect that. I expect—even seek—opinions at odds with mine and I try to keep an open, (if skeptical) mind. But on the day in question, the morning’s feed was overly supplied with some of the Downer’s who make Medium their home. And I’m seeing that, more and more, these days. Just two examples follow.

Movin', shootin' and communicatin' Photo courtesy of Kevin Schmid on Unsplashh

The War on Ukraine...

“Putin Really Could Nuke Us,” one writer opined. My best efforts notwithstanding, the crotchety old Marine officer bubbled to the surface. “Oh, ya think?” I muttered under my breath. “Congratulations, you just blew the lid off the previously unreported threat of nuclear annihilation.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s maybe a helpful reminder, lest those prone to complacency may have forgotten. And there probably are a few out there who’ve forgotten Russia has nukes. A LOT of nukes…

But I didn’t see much in the post that hadn’t already been said on CNN, MSNBC et al. And his closing? I’m sorry, but not especially helpful. One needs not, if he/she has been paying attention resort to the doomsday scenario to remind readers of the fragility of life.

And at the rate we’re going, we may not need nukes to write finis to life as we know it. What if he doesn’t launch? What if (instead) his oligarchs come to the same conclusion the author reached, grow a pair and decide to “off” him, for reasons of their own? Wouldn’t be the first palace coup in Russia. In that case, might we be better advised to be working toward a better tomorrow—however we define it, irrespective of the murky goings on in Putin’s Russia?

The Demise of Sex...

“We are in the middle of the Great (Sex) Resignation,” another writer assures us. “Yeah?” I muttered under my breath. “Speak for yourself.” To be fair, maybe I’m the one who’s “out of step.” It wouldn’t be the first time. But based on the feed I get most days; I seem to be in pretty active company in that department.

The Great Sexual Resignation...REALLY? Photo courtesy of Maddie Bazzocco on Unsplash

And even if some of us aren’t “getting any” right now (or as much as we would like) this instant, I’m convinced it’s less a resignation than a drought. Are there studies out there suggesting that a statistically significant number of men and women are opting out, for now? Sure.

But barring the unforeseen, it’s a long life for many of us, with our sexual rhythms fluctuating for a number of independent variables all subject to change without notice. So I’m not moved, as yet, to herald the decline as a resignation—never mind a “great” one. It’s just as likely to be a pause.

And perhaps that’s not all bad, insofar as we’ve done a bang-up job (pun intended) of overpopulating the planet. In the end, however, I’m betting on libido reasserting itself. Maybe it’s too early for dramatic headlines, nevermind statistical inferences.

Nobody asked me, but...

Added to the mix are the steady drumbeats of an impending second civil war, dissolution of “The Great American Democratic Experiment” or the demise of the republic due to voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering.

The foregoing are all valid topics for consideration, and I should probably apologize for appearing to pick on the two foregoing examples above. They’re hardly alone, either here or in the “Mainstream Media.” My problem with these speculative doom saying stories isn’t that they’re wrong, or devoid of merit, it’s that they’re often premature leaps to conclusions. At the same time, they erode hope, obscuring possibilities we might other recognize, and further divide us.

To be fair, they’re not simply monetizing angst, though they’re most certainly doing that. There’s research validating their observations, even if we may disagree about the proximal causes for that division. A 2019, Pew Research study found two-thirds of adults in the U.S. believed “other” Americans had little or no confidence in the government at any level. This is an observation that would surprise few, these days.

But there’s an insidious side effect that oozes into our relationships with each other. The same study reported distrust of each other (as individuals) stood at 64%. And the Freedman Consulting Group’s joint study with The Partnership for Public Service   (Paul Hitlin & Nadzeya Shava) wasn’t much more flattering, finding fewer than 30% of Americans believe the government listens to them, or is transparent.

Not an encouraging statistic in any society that literally lives or dies based on cooperation. As the narrative accompanying the study results opines:

“Trust is the elixir for (both) public life and neighborly relations…”

As I have suggested in previous posts, we are the answer to most of the riddles. Blaming “government” for how things are going is counterproductive if we’re not actively working toward solutions. And blaming government especially if we didn’t vote is irresponsible. To be clear…I don’t have unqualified faith in either of the two dominant parties in the U.S, today. They have at best become part of the problem, in their current forms, for different reasons.

We Are More Than Our Organizations

It’s the nature of organizations to develop agenda of their own. Agenda that inevitably leak out in ways that often bear little resemblance to how most of us feel. Which explains why there’s so much attitudinal spread in both political parties today. Most of us recognize the collective majority American consciousness isn’t well represented by either party.

Statistics on many of the seminal issues we hear/read about in the news bear that out. By way of illustration, Only 19% of all America is anti-abortion in all cases. Almost 80% believe it should be legal in some cases, at least. So what does the decades-long assault by fundamentalist Christian and Republicans on abortion rights and Roe V. Wade say about our politicians’ responsiveness to us?

How many believe the election was rigged? Even on the eve of 1/6, more than 55% of Americans believed Biden won. And why is it only 55%? We all know the answer. We have a polarized news media that caters to their stove piped viewers, many of whom have abandoned anything but the hyper-editorialized, for-profit news media. Have we become addicted to outrage? I’m just asking the question.

Taking Back Our Lives

The foregoing wasn’t meant as a political screed. As I’ve said before, I’m not especially fond of how either party is conducting itself. But one is generally better than the other and I’m not going to tell anyone hear who it is. Any reader of normal intelligence in possession of an internet connection can arrive at a thoughtful conclusion with a little unbiased research.

The point I’m making is we all need to spin back down from our hyper-partisan distaste our stove piped media are trying to fob off on us and do a little independent thinking. If you’re getting more mileage out of your outrage than the still moments of your life, is it maybe time to ask why? If you don’t like the answer, then maybe it’s time for a change.

It’s not just the life of our nation riding on it. It’s all of our lives, as well. We have important issues to deal with. But dealing effectively with them demands a clear eye, a touch of humility and the open willingness to work together to fix what truly matters.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer turned full-time author with five books in print and three more on the way and the facilitator of the OC Writers’ Space. Pick up your free copy Through the Windshield, Dirk’s anthology of short fiction today.

Are We Not One?

Book Cover for Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula

Readers who know me well also know that in my previous incarnation, I was a Marine officer, serving from the Vietnam era through Somalia. During that time I served multiple gigs in Asia, the Med, the Middle East, Africa with one foray down south to Columbia during Pappy Bush’s (George Herbert Walker Bush) administration for an operation we don’t talk about.

In both Tier Zero, Vol I of the Knolan Cycle and Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula, Hāthar Tahk, formerly Marty Tellus of Earth has learned many of the same lessons. In his short career as an officer in the Knolan Shock Forces, he has served with warriors from several systems in the Knolan Concordant.

His closest comrades in arms have include Kareitha, his platoon sergeant a battle-hardened and efficient Valiskaari woman, Ranyia, a Mennaran woman and heavy-weapons employment specialist, Kuristäal one of his wiry, sardonic squad leaders and the seven-foot Oörana, a Haãrapuri woman and heir to the the Umatôk’s throne. His shared hardships with them and reliance on them in battle has taught him honor and courage is not confined to just the Knolans who are first among equals in the Concordant.

In Eryinath-5, the Dancer Nebula, Hāthar’s story (and his education) continues. Gravely wounded and captured by the Valdrōsians, the Knolans’ implacable enemy, Hāthar learns that neither courage nor nobility is confined to the Knolan Concordant. Ironically, he learns this as a captive slave on Eryinath-5, a hybriding colony at the outer reaches of the Valdrōsian empire.

At the hands of the lovely Rexsylia, Hāthar’s Valdrōsian handler/trainer, he begins to sense the limits of his courage and heroism, along with an appreciation—if not acceptance—of alternative philosophies and universal viewpoints. As his limitations and his own vulnerabilities become more evident to him, he inevitably begins to question much of what he has taken for granted from his mentoring in the Knolan Way.

Given his value to the Knolan Concordant, it is inevitable that both the Guardian and the Oracle would seek to extricate him if they can find him and if they can locate him. Therein lies the problem. Where is he? A recovery force is on standby if only they can locate him. In the meantime, the Concordant has other problems, including the Valdrosians’ apparent growing interest in Kurrithäal, the Knolan name of Earth and the indigenes that call it home.

Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula continues the story of first contact between Earth and Knola, and the ancient war that has been raging for over a thousand years, for this little corner of our little galaxy. The story continues…

The Special Bond of Comrades in Arms

Hāthar, Oörana and Strius

Readers of Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle have already met Paul Tillotson (renamed Strius by the Knolans). But it is not until chapter 7 in Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula that Hāthar and Strius meet. Strius already knows of Hāthar by reputation. The first half-Knolan, half-human Seed trained in the Tower and installed into the elite order of the Kurálli is almost larger than life, in the Academy where Strius is trained for duty in the Knolan Shock Forces (KSF).

And it’s clear that of the two, Hāthar has the most powerful mind and a foresight that’s almost otherworldly. It’s not that Strius is deficient. Hāthar is, after all, a Tier Zero, with (as yet) untapped and unmeasurable reserves of power.

But as they work together for the first time, they clearly complement each other. As they first plan and then execute the raid on a research facility on Trenyarmätt, a planet in the Valdrōsian controlled Punahir system, readers sense their fit as comrades in arms goes beyond their skills. Their respective temperaments and an almost symbiotic sensing of what the other is thinking make them a uniquely formidable duo. It’s clear that they are destined to become significant fixtures in each others’ lives. Assuming they survive this mission and its aftermath. Going in, they both knew it was a long shot.

When the misson goes sideways, Hāthar is gravely wounded in the final stages of a battle to steal needed Valdrōsian technology, Strius is forced by circumstances to leave Hāthar, knowing odds are that he will be killed. But sometimes odds don’t play out as planned.

Unknown to Strius, Hāthar survives—barely. When Strius learns Hāthar is indeed alive, but a prisoner on Eryinath-5, a Valdrōsian slave world, he vows to free him and exact revenge on the Valdrosians.

Though Eryinath-5 can be appreciated as a standalone tale, most readers of Tier Zero will welcome the return of Oörana, Hathar’s old friend and comrade in arms from Tier Zero. Now Umatôk of the Haärapuri, she offers herself and Tushar, Captain of her Guard to assist in Hāthar’s rescue attempt.

We also learn a lot more about the Knolans’ enemy, the Valdrōsians and realize not only is the a fight to the death, we learn that as is often the case in war, things are not as cut and dried as they seemed. What is always true, we realize, is that comrades in arms remain comrades in life and in death.

Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula

Volume II of the Knolan Cycle

Book Cover for Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula

Hāthar-Tahk, (formerly Marty Tellus of Earth) has just returned from a successful mission with the Knolan Shock Forces (KSF). In common with most successful combat missions, Hāthar returns with his share of ghosts. The mission cost him and his platoon dearly. Casualties were high. But in the variable operational calculus by which Knolans evaluate success, it was “worth it.”

Hāthar, on the other hand, is less sanguine about the men and women he’s lost than the strategic planners who advise the Guardian, responsible for the safety of the twenty-three systems (or sectars that form the Knolan Concordant. He understands and respects their perspective. But for Hāthar, the loss of men and women following his orders is deeply personal.

On the upside, Arra, Hāthar’s partner is carrying their first child and both mother and unborn are in good health. For reasons that should be obvious, Hathar wants to be around for the birth and Arra is looking forward to having him there to share the experience.

Unfortunately the Knolans’ Valdrōsian enemy rarely sleeps. The Knolan fleet protecting the Orothon Sectar has ambushed by Valdrōsians using advanced stealth technology the Knolans have yet to decipher. And they have no countermeasures. While not decisive in itself, the Knolans are rattled by the ease with which they were ambushed. A counter must be found.

So when an accidental misstep by the Valdrōsians reveals where the new stealth technology has been developed, Hāthar-Tahk is called to help plan the raid. Sensitive to Hāthar’s extended absence and Arra’s approaching delivery, the Guardian wants to limit his help in planning only.

Specifically, the Guardian wants the benefit of his unique ability to formulate creative and unpredictable approaches to seemingly insoluable problems. The Guardian isn’t disappointed.

Together with Zukinar, a Knolan Intelligence planner, they come up with a plan that may work. But it’s so risky that Hāthar cannot in good conscience leave this mission to anyone else.

Designated Mission Commander, Hathar begins mission-specific training for Operation Night Flower, a mission with so many uncontrollable variables, top-level leadership has profound doubts about anyone returning from it. But Sa ́ang Kurinth, the Knolan call to duty is a compelling principal in Hāthar’s mind. Once he can’t ignore, personal desires notwithstanding.

Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula takes the reader on a journey of convoluted twists of fate and gives them an upclose and personal look at Knola’s implacable enemy, the Valdrōsians and the perilously beautiful region that is Knola’s corner of our galaxy. Eryinath-5 is available in Kindle and paperback from Amazon and in paperback and epub from Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

What Reviewers Are Saying About Eryinath-5

“A great second book that takes up from the first book where it should and how it should. A throughly enjoyable read that, like the first book, is hard to put down. D.B. Sayers has a knack for developing characters that appeal to the reader while entwining them in a story line that has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. Sprinkled throughout is thoughtful dialog that gives the reader a moment to pause and go back and reread a particularly insightful moment in the story.”

Semper Fi on Amazon

“I find it rare to read a book where the imagination shines so much and is so vivid. This one did it for me. Sci-Fi is one of those where you really need to be able to picture things and I was able to get a clear picture in my head.”

“This is an exciting read with wonderfully engaging characters that are passionate and compelling. Add to that the action and you will be engrossed.”

The Texas Book Nook

“I really enjoyed this read! I thought it was very engaging once it got started, I couldn’t put it down. I liked how the writer made me feel like I was part of this new world and a part of the story. The characters became real, the world became real! Vivid.”

The Indie Express

About the Author

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer turned corporate trainer and district manager, turned full-time author. Other books by Sayers include:

Other Books by D.B. Sayers

West of Tomorrow, a contemporary novel of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix in all of us.

Best-Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey is a thoughtful and often racy New Adult novella following the development of Nyra Westensee, from a young college graduate with more questions than answers to a young woman of dawning sophistication.

Through the Windshield is an anthology of thought-provoking short stories.

Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle is the first book in the Knolan series, a tale of first contact between Earth and the Knolan Concordant. Eryinath-5 above-mentioned is the second book in the series.

The Year of Maybe, Act II of Nyra’s Journey, the sequel to Best-Case Scenario is due out this year.

Best-Case Scenario-Intransigent Hope

Nyra Westensee

The first thing you notice about Nyra Westensee as she approaches from afar is her graceful, athletic gait. Her movements are light and free. Close up, her striking hawk-nosed face, and full, kissable lips catch your eye. Is she beautiful? Objectively, no. But when she speaks, her meliflous contralto and careful diction—a siren’s song of possibility reel you in.

Her eyes tell the rest of her story, mirroring her spirit. Very little in Nyra’s young life has gone her way. Hints of her disappointment lurk beneath her thick chestnut eyebrows in impossibly turquoise eyes. Now that she has your attention, she seems not to know what to do with it. Her reticent smile and occasional nervous giggle suggest she’d probably be good company, if she’d just loosen up and take herself less seriously.

Nyra’s as slender as Kip—her brother from another father—is muscular and powerful. Otherwise, they share their mother’s complexion and hawk nose. You don’t have to ask, to know they’re brother and sister. But where Kip is confident and self-assured, Nyra often doubts she “can,” even after she “does.”

More than a year out of college, Nyra is still in search of her first career-level position in marketing. Is it her reticence, her choice of career or both that seem to have her feeling like she’s wading through wet cement? The truth is, many less intelligent or less accomplished have already started their careers and many less attractive have found what looks like “love.” So what’s wrong with her?

Nyra is still looking for answers. But the very incarnation of hope, Nyra purserveres. Working an internship that barely pays for gas and waitressing in a south bay sportsbar, she hasn’t given up. And though she doesn’t realize it yet, opportunities personal and professional lurk. She knows nothing in life is guaranteed and has never acquired the vice of feeling sorry for herself, though her peppery wit occasionally borders on acerbic. But to most of us, a time comes. And Nyra’s is just around the corner.

Best-Case Scenario, a tale of hope is the first act in Nyra’s journey of growth from a thoughtful young woman with more questions than answers to her dawning maturity, sophistication and the possibilities of a life of purpose and promise.

Are We in the Midst of a New Civil War?

Uh, maybe...

Civil War Reenactment Photo
Civil War Reenanctent (Courtesy of Chris Chow on Unsplash)

As long time readers of my blog and subscribers to “Dirk’s Tribe” know, I’m periodically active of Quora, and if you’re familiar with how Quora works, you also know that active members on that forum frequently have questions find to them for answering.

One such question was recently forwarded to me for comment and is the catalyst for this post.

The question was:

It feels like we are living in the middle of a battle zone in a political civil war that never seems to end. When will it be over?

My answer (and opinion) follows.

It's over when we decide we want it to be

A lot to unpack in this question. Standard disclaimer/caveat emptor follows. This is just one history student, turned Marine officer, turned corporate trainer and (now) published author’s take.

The “political civil war” to which your question refers will be over when enough of us tire of focusing on what makes us different and acknowledge all that unites us. I grew up in fly-over country, spent half my military career overseas & the other half on the left or right coasts. I’ve lived in the Deep south & still has family living in Texas. And other than the odd (& inevitable) personality clash or two, I’ve not only been able to get along with pretty much everyone, but I also genuinely like them and recognize our essential kinship.

So the short answer…one I’m sure everyone has heard before in some form is:

The political civil war’s over when we start listening to understand instead of argue.

 Another respondent to the question observed that Newt Gingrich is one of the principal architects of the divide and he’s right. Gingrich is by no means the only one, but for the intellectually curious, I’ve included a link to an article written by McKay Coppins in Atlantic. It’s important reading for all, whether you’re a true conservative or a progressive.

In it the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism as we’ve come to know it and the operational calculus used to advance it are laid bare. Collectively, the conservative reaction to the Civil Rights Movement writ large is as the article suggests, is one of the principal barriers to the kind of fact-based civil discourse necessary to thrash out constructive solutions to the philosophical differences inevitable in a body politic of 300 plus millions constituents. And end the “civil war” referred to in the question.

But in order to answer the question adequately, might it be helpful to first consider whether the political civil war alluded to in the question is the disease or a symptom of it? Work with me here.

A Maelstrom of Change

It’s a blinding flash of the obvious to state that we are in age of great change. My own reading of history leads me to conclude that in modern history, only the Industrial Revolution comes close to the dislocations we are experiencing now. Change has become the lei motif of our age.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. Future Shock (Alvin Toffler 1970), & The Population Bomb (Paul R. Ehrlich 1968) are only two notable authors predicting some aspect of the changes we’re experiencing. And while they were often mistaken about some of the details, they were uniformly correct about the effect.

As Toffler predicted, when the rate of change exceeds our capacity to process it, we become disoriented and overwhelmed by it. Change erodes predictability and with it, any sense of security, with (ironically) predictable results. Rapid and unpredictable change affects how we deal with literally everything. It tends to lead to hyper-alertness bordering on paranoia. Watch any recent returning veteran from an active combat zone and you’ll precisely what I mean.

And as Ehrlich predicted, explosive population growth such as we experienced over the past 50 years, has strained not only our ability to feed the collective population if the world but placed increasing and unsustainable stress on the ecosystems by which support life itself and (obviously) the production of food necessary to feed the world.

Change erodes predictability, certainty which in turn erodes, the perception of security. The actual fact(s) of one’s security may not have changed all that much, but how we perceive them may…and profoundly.

So. Caught in the midst of multiple, overlapping paradigm shifts, (think climate change, the demise of a middle class and Covid-19) it isn’t difficult to understand how self-appointed political pundits and political operatives have made it their business to leverage our uncertainties & fears to stoke division. Whether you’re working in the for-profit media, a politician looking for a way to get or keep power, nothing lends itself to exploitation like fear, anger and desperation. And in times of uncertainty, it’s all too easy to stoke all three.

So...now what?

The obvious problem with doing that, however, is that the more you stoke those fires, the more likely it is that the fire will get out of control. Whether you’re a politician, a pundit or an organization with skin in the game, the immediate often overwhelms the necessary. The next election, the next podcast or the next quarter’s profits obscure what our hearts tell us we need to do.

As individuals, we’re as guilty as the politicians & pundits I mentioned earlier. Who among us haven’t neglected, sometimes for years, our duties as citizens to not only stay informed with respect to what our political operatives are up to, but what the (often) disturbing trends tell us about our long-term survivability and sustainability? The problem isn’t an “ism,” whether it’s capitalism or socialism, republicanism, or corporatism in and of themselves.

It’s how organizations tend to leverage those “isms” to for purposes of their own. Sooner or later, organizations co-opt their lofty original purposes…the ones that attracted adherents in the first place…for self-serving agendas of the self-appointed thought leaders at the top. Leaders who often take those “isms” to the illogical extremes. All organizations do this and it only when we the people who have leveraged the power many to increase our own tell them “enough is enough!”

Only when we decide not to “otherize” each other will this civil war to which you refer end. When I see you and you see me and we all seek truth together will we be free not only from the internecine civil war to which you refer but from the slavish adherence to oversimplified talking points and ad hominem mischaracterizations of each other.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer/manager and author of four books with two more on the way. You can subscribe to his newsletter, “Dirk’s Tribe” here.

Burning Out…

Of Course Journalists are Burning Out

I subscribe to Medium, in part because I write for the site but also because there are compelling (and some not-so-compelling) posts on the site. With (literally) no effective barriers to entry, that’s to be expected.

Recently, a post entitled Of Course the Journalists Are Burning Out posted by Sarah Stankorb really stuck in my head because it touches on something that’s been on my mind for some time.

Speaking of how SARS-CoV-2 has combined with other significant events, Sarah wrote tellingly of how it has affected her and other freelance, traditionally retained journalist  and a few others she knows, for illustration of her points.

“I see pastors who have tried to hold their churches together virtually as members sparred over masks and QAnon conspiracies, while shouldering the emotional burden of being the one many people call, when they don’t know who else to call.”

Sarah goes on to say:

“…my baseline level of exhaustion is much greater than it was pre-pandemic. Maybe that was coming through.”

I feel you, Sarah, in common I suspect with most if not all of my readers. She then goes on to add her own nod to the plight of her generation.

“I also recently read an interview with Anne Helen Petersen who wrote the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Petersen had her start at Buzzfeed and describes a round robin of intense stories that left her getting in fights with her editor and crying. Her editor told her she was burned out — and that opened a lens into what she now describes throughout our generation.”

There’s a temptation on the part of us with a few more years’ runway behind us to admonish her to suck it up, buttercup, but beneath her lament for her generation and journalists, there’s more…so much more going on.

“And all that hurts the people whose stories need to be told in order for any systemic change — such as those within the denominations I increasingly cover. Gritters [another journlist she knows] wrote, “I can’t rely on this ship to take me anywhere safe. If I bank on this industry any longer, I’m afraid of where I’ll end up.”

“I keep banking on it because it’s the only ship I know, the best one for shining light where it’s needed. I ignore the sweltering stress headache as yet another publication trims, another place for these stories disappears, and I find myself afraid of where the people I write about will end up even with my efforts.”

The article winds to a conclusion you can probably guess from the foregoing excerpts. My own response follows wandering off in my usual inimitable way, on what I hope is a relevant tangent.

Angst, Anxiety & the Crossroads

I feel your pain and (not that you need it) validate it. But I wonder…are you perhaps describing the symptom, rather than the disease? As someone whose own careers have exposed him to a fair share of angst-inducing tragedies, I assure you it’s not your imagination.

As a journalist writing about all the symptoms outlined in your post, are you not the very definition of the canary in the coalmine? It’s hard to look ANYWHERE today without sensing it’s all going sideways. And this sensing isn’t confined to Journalism.

Do not your observations point to fundamental flaws in our rewards systems? Rewards systems bequeathed to us by the industrial revolution, Ayn Rand, and the self-appointed thought leaders of this world. Is not the central issue that we have a dying system incapable of saving itself? That’s my take. So long as we seek to use the ashes of the industrial revolution and the ideas spawned by it as a foundation, we’re unlikely to arrest the down spiral leading to profound and ruinous collapse. As a freelance journalist,you’re witnessing the death of an entire system through a macro lens. I can imagine few things more likely to induce angst and anxiety.

Will we realize in time that we need a more wholistic solution, rather than a technocratic, piecemeal approach to problem resolution? Will we collectively take the risks associated with creativity? As an eternal optimist, I hope so, but the coexisting saddened realist in me has reservations. Most of the people we have elected to do what passes as governance in the 3d decade of the 21st Century suffer from a profound lack of imagination. Often the will to take the attendant risks of being caught trying while being wrong.

In fairness to technocrats, they can solve individual problems if properley resourced, but as long as we keep to trying to “build back better” or “make America great again,” we’re figuratively chasing butterflies and letting all the elephants get away.

Aren’t we…and the assumptions we’re dragging along behind us… the problem? I’m not a fan iconclastic measures for their own sake, but it seems to me there’s not much substance left in the society we’re trying build back better or to make great again. I can’t say for certain of course. I’m not that wise. But I also can’t help but wonder…

Is it maybe time to demolish the sluggish and (often) cumbersome relics of our past and examine the assumptions we drag along behind us critically with an eye to keeping snippets that work and toss what’s clearly worn out.

A retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and district manager turned author, D.B. Sayers. has 4 books in print with two more on the way.