Saturday, August 31, 2013

One Last Thought on Bullies from Our Past

I wanted to share one last thought on bullies from our past before I go on to another topic.  Again thanks to those who risked sharing your past painful experiences.  They truly touched my heart.

I am the youngest of three children.  My brother is four years older and my sister two years older.  Yes, that makes me the baby of the family.  I am 50 now and still the baby.  Oh well, what can I say?  Anyway, I too have a few bully stories to share, and I have used pieces of each in my new book The Pact.  Here's where I came up with my top three antagonists:  Joe Jennings, Sammy Smith, and Mark Hollister (yes, the names were changed even though the boys were not innocent).

When I moved from the city to the country, I was enrolled in a K-8 school called Giant City.  I was no giant.  In fact, I happened to be the second shortest person in our class (thanks Julie for not making me the shortest).  Anyway, growing up the brother of a block bully of sorts, I was a little tougher than normal...especially for my size.  My brother made sure I was able to defend myself.

Three boys from my new school tormented me.  One boy at least had a smidgen of integrity.  Every day at recess (yes, we still had recess in 6th-8th grade) he would try to beat me up.  I had learned to wrestle, so I would avoid his first punches and wrestle the larger boy to the ground.  Finally, having scissored my legs around his arms and chest, I would make him promise not to beat me up again.  He wouldn't agree to that, but believe it or not, he agreed not to beat me up until tomorrow.  On it went for about eight months.  He would try to punch me and I would wrestle him to the ground.  He would promise again for another day.  I guess he finally got tired of trying, because that face to face attempt stopped.

Then it started happening more subtly.  He and his two friends would start destroying my things.  They ruined my lunch, my gym bag, and my clothes. They also started coming at me three at a time.  Thanks to another set of three boys who stood up for me, the bullies finally left me alone.  This is where I get the saying, "No one should ever have to stand alone."  One thing I have learned about bullies.  They rarely if ever attack by themselves.  They usually need both the support and the audience.  Deny them and they go on for other prey.

I guess bullies and their toadies are a little like the beasts of the wild.  They too look for the straggler...the weaker animal that can no longer keep up with the herd...the isolated easy prey.  Well, let's make an effort to make sure no one falls behind.  Let's stand together and make sure no child or adult becomes easy prey to bullies and their like.

Thanks for listening.  I promise, I'll change the subject on my next post.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Pain from the Past

I just posted a comment on my Facebook that I thought I would flesh out a little more here.  I want to start by thanking those who have made comments about the bullies of your past (publicly and privately).  When I chose to bring bullying into the theme of my new book, I knew I was risking the reopening of old wounds...not just to pride, but to pain and a sense of loss.  But as a pastor and a counselor, I also knew suppressing memories and pain is not dealing with them and giving myself an opportunity to heal from them.

Please continue sharing your stories of past bullying pain, and we'll get through them together.  I hope my book can begin a healthy discovery and dialogue about the pain and fear bullying causes children.  I also hope it inspires us to say, "No one should ever have to stand alone."  Well friends, I have to go.  In the meantime, "Be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:9).


PS - If you haven't seen the movie Captain America, do it soon.  He understood the pain and used it for good.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Conversations on Bullying

My new book is out and deals with the topic of bullying.  I was wondering if any of you had experiences with bullies growing up or as a parent are dealing with it for your child.  If you ever faced the horrors of bullying, were a victim of controlling abuse, or witnessed something of the like, let me know.  I would love to dialogue with you...listen to your stories...share your journey.

I look forward to your comments...your stories...your innerside.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Accepting Your Challenges or Questions

I'd like to offer everyone an opportunity to ask me a question.  You may ask anything about:  the mind of a writer, the heart of a teacher, the soul of a pastor, or the life of a husband/father.  I will do my best to respond as honestly and thoroughly as possible.

I'd also like to invite your writing challenges.  If you would like to give me a scenario or a writing prompt, I will happily respond in the like.  I will take the writing challenge, create a story using your prompt or scenario, and discuss the process I took to complete the task.

I have said, "Welcome to the Innerside."  I think it's high time I invited you into my world a little deeper than before.  I welcome your thoughts, your questions and your challenges.  Let's see what becomes of them.


Monday, August 26, 2013

"On the Innerside" - First completed short story...not published

The attached short story, "On the Innerside" was inspired by a temptation I had, but never acted on.  My father was a dentist and I was his janitor.  Having worked one summer as his assistant, I knew how to hook up and run the Nitrous Oxide gas, which the main character uses to visit the Innerside.

When I was a little child, and had my first cavity, my father used the gas on me.  I did experience the vortex (created by the numb feeling and the sounds of the suction and drill combined).  These were called upon to catapult the protagonist of this story to this inner world.

Ironically, when my father read this story, he asked if I had done this.  I was able to honestly say, "No."  But my older brother, who had previously been my father's janitor admitted he had used the gas on his own.  Which is stranger...truth or fiction.

I hope you enjoy..."On the Innerside."

On the Inner Side
Mitchell S Karnes

            Eric wasn’t so much addicted to the Nitrous as he was the place it took him.  He was hooked as a child, the first time his father put him under.  You see, Eric’s father was also his dentist and a gentle one at that.  He had no intentions of hooking his son on the gas; he simply wanted Eric to have a pain-free experience at the dentist.  After all, unlike most kids Eric had to live with his.
            Eric wasn’t necessarily a rebellious child, but when it came to sweets and his father’s desire for him to eat healthy foods he was seemingly rebellious to the core.  So, as consequences naturally fell, Eric ended up with quite a few cavities over the years.  Little did his father realize, Eric’s rebellion wasn’t about the candy at all…he just wanted to make another journey to the Inner Side. 
            Eric was the youngest of three children.  His sister, Katy, was two years older and very popular at school, with her friends and teachers.  His brother, Mike, was popular everywhere else.  It was amazing, but for his less than average size and muscle mass, Mike was the block bully.  He was a master of intimidation; he had this way of getting into your head and scaring the pee right out of you.  Not Eric…he was small for his age and the ultimate quiet introvert.  If given the choice, Eric would choose time alone over time with friends…probably because he felt he had none.  The kids at school called him a freak and a loner.  He was the butt of their jokes and the target of their constant harassment.  Of course, no one teased or bullied Eric in Mike’s presence.   On the occasion someone was stupid enough to do so, Mike would “rescue” Eric, pound the life out of the idiot who tried, and then beat his little brother to a pulp anyway, saying “No one can beat up my little brother but me.”  It was lose-lose for Eric, which is why the Inner Side was so appealing.  There he could be anyone…do anything…there he was a beloved king!  There he had friends.
            It all began with Eric’s first cavity at seven years of age.  He remembers it well, for he always returned to that moment before crossing over to the Inner Side.  He lay in the dental chair awaiting his father’s return.  Alice, the aging dental assistant with the old fashioned nurse’s cap, loomed over him.  Eric couldn’t tell if she was angry or happy…her face was hidden behind the white nurse’s mask.  She just stared blankly…silently.  The only sound in the room came from the ticking of the cat clock in front of him.  It eyes blinked as its tail clicked back and forth like a metronome.  Its smile devious…like the Cheshire cat’s in Wonderland.  In the corner of the room, near the only window, a country picture of a field covered in golden prairie grass, and in its middle, dissecting the field, a small dirt path with a two-person-wide bridge spanning a small river.  It called to him in silent whispers.  He watched it intently as Alice slid the rubber device with the connecting hoses over his nose.  He lost sight for only a moment when the hoses past his eyes, but he never stopped looking for the bridge.  He could hear it calling.
            Then slowly…ever slowly…the heaviness pulled at his legs, and they obediently slid to the sides of the dental chair.  He hadn’t noticed his father’s return, but as the chair tipped back, Eric could see his smiling eyes.  It didn’t matter that his father wore a mask; Eric could still see his grin.  He fought the heaviness and the darkness, but they won out against his will.  And the sounds…those incredibly weird sounds of the dental office did something strange…something magical…something he would never forget…something that he would forever long to repeat.  The distorted sounds of the suction and drill formed a gentle vortex.  It was not like the violent assault of Dorothy’s tornado, but a gentle twisting and turning like the man’s cardboard tube at the carnival as he made cotton candy.  The gentle spinning and the heaviness of the gas pulled at him, and, Eric felt himself drifting…drifting…drifting ever downward.  When his feet alighted softly upon the ground he couldn’t believe his eyes.  He was in the painting of the field, in the middle of the dirt path, facing the bridge.  He could hear the gentle flowing river water licking against the banks that corralled it onward.  But there was another sound…a sweeter sound…one that beckoned him closer.  “Eric,” it whispered.  “We’ve been waiting for you.  Come and play”
            It was the voice of a man.  He should have been frightened.  After all, he was alone in a strange place, called by a stranger’s voice, but he wasn’t afraid at all.  He was at peace.  Unlike the world above, this place seemed to call him closer…to want him.  What did he have to lose?  It was just a dream…right?  I mean those kinds of things don’t really happen…do they?  He was under the influence of Nitrous-Oxide.  This was all an illusion…a hallucination.  This inner world was just a visual representation of the last thing Eric saw before he went under.  He had stared at his father’s picture of the bridge as Alice turned on the gas.  That’s all it was.
            That’s what he thought too.  But it wouldn’t be the last time he went there.  On his second journey six months later, he actually braved the bridge.  No, he didn’t cross it then either, but he did touch the rail.  It was as solid as any other bridge he’d ever seen or touched.  So why shouldn’t this one be real?  It was his third cavity two weeks after his ninth birthday…his third journey to the Inner Side…
            “Eric, we’ve been waiting for you.  Come and play.”  He couldn’t tell at the time, but the voice was a little more insistent, a little more anxious, a little more…
            “I’m coming,” he said.  “Where are you?”
            “We’re right here, on the other side of the bridge.  Can’t you see us?”
            Eric looked.  He saw nothing but more than the field and a little deserted shack.  “Are you in the shack?” he asked.
            “Where are you?” Eric persisted.  Now he was getting a little nervous.  There were voices, but no bodies with them.  Are they ghosts? Eric wondered.
            “No, we’re not ghosts.” 
            It was the voice of the man.  “Eric, come and see for yourself.” 
            Suddenly, he recognized that voice, but they said he wasn’t real…that he was Eric’s imaginary friend.  “Max?  Is that you?”
            “Of course it’s me, Eric.  Who else would be waiting for you on the Inner Side?”
            Eric paused.  Was it a trap?
            “No, Eric, it’s not a trap.”
            “How are you doing that?” Eric asked. 
            “Doing what?” the voice asked.
            “You answered my questions, but I never said them out loud.”
            “What’s so special about that?” the voice asked.  “Just come over the bridge and you can see for yourself.”  There was a long silence.  Then the voice asked, “We used to talk and play all of the time.  Are you afraid of us?  What’s happened to you, Eric? ”
            “Nothing!” he shouted defensively.  Then in a defiant stomp, Eric marched out across the bridge, more to prove he wasn’t afraid than to see the Inner Side.  But something magical happened.  The moment his foot touched the middle point of the bridge, he began to see odd glimmering shapes…not only of people, but of things as well.  He rushed across the second half.  Every step made the images brighter and clearer.  As his foot touched the other side of the field, he seemed to step through some sort of invisible wall.  He felt its gentle resistance, like he was running through Jell-O.  His eyes widened and his smile broadened.  A carnival!  And there, looking down at him was Max, a towering figure of kindness.  Max was Eric’s protector and best friend all in one.  And so Eric’s journeys on the Inner Side began.
              For years, Eric returned to the Inner Side…not only to play, but to escape the lonely tortured world outside.  He played.  He rode the carnival rides…rides he was too short to qualify for in the real world.  But his favorite game…the game he wanted to play most of all…came right out of his comics.  The Marvel Comics world gave Eric the same pleasure, the same escape, the same sense of power he always longed for.  His favorite game of all was “Super-hero.”  One day he was Iron Man soaring through the clouds, blasting away all of the bad guys.  The next he was the Hulk smashing and scaring others as the outside world had smashed and intimidated him.  He ran the gamut of the Marvel hero world, but his favorite of all was Colossus from the X-Men.  He couldn’t fly…he couldn’t see through things…he couldn’t shoot laser blasts…he couldn’t teleport…and he couldn’t get hurt.  Colossus was super strong, but the best part was he morphed into an impervious form of metal…he was impervious to harm.  Oh, Eric thought, if I could only be Colossus nobody could ever hurt me again!  That was the thought he expressed to me, the one thought that led me to tell his story and to explain why Eric made the choice he did.
            If Eric believed things were bad in middle school, he never should have gone to high school.  Our first day of school was awful.  From the start we were bullied, teased, locked in lockers, and became the laughing stocks of the entire school.  Those few boys who called us friends abandoned us on day one.  We were left to ourselves…left to survive the cruelest world of all.  It didn’t take long for the boys in our P.E. class to realize Coach Jackson never came into the boys’ locker room, so it didn’t take long for all hell to break loose.  I call it hell because that’s what I think hell will be like…no end of torture…no limit to the depth of physical, emotional and verbal attacks…no escape…and no one cares.  Eric always got the worst of it.  They seemed to enjoy his animated reactions more than my silence.  We tried to tell Coach Jackson, but he laughed it off, saying, “Boys will be boys.  Suck it up.”
            His last day at school Eric reluctantly entered the locker room.  I was already duct-taped to the wall, my mouth gagged with someone’s dirty jock.  They pushed him, teased him, and stripped him.  Then the unthinkable happened to Eric.  Putting a handful of Icy Hot on the end of the plunger handle, they reenacted a scene from Lord of the Flies making Eric the pig.  They gagged him with a dirty jock so his screams couldn’t be heard outside the locker room, tortured him for five long minutes, and left him lying there sobbing through the gag.  All the while I had to watch helplessly, stuck silently to the wall.  We both remained in those helpless positions until the class returned from PE.  It seems Coach Jackson never even missed us.  It was probably a better class without the two “Pansies” anyway.  A few of the boys turned Eric over while others approached me.  Charlie Williams said, “Either of you says a word and I’ll kill you.  Don’t think I won’t.”  And just to make his point, he took out a hunting knife and made a motion across his neck.  Then he cut the tape and let me down.  They tried to help Eric to his feet, but he pushed them all away.
            After everyone left, I said, “Are you okay?”  Eric shook his head.  “What can I do?” I asked.  I was only fourteen years old and scared out of my life.  I wanted to hurt somebody.  I wanted to find Mike and give him names.  I wanted to do a lot of things.  But the image of Charlie’s knife made me do what I always did best…stay quiet.  I tried to help Eric up, but he pushed me away too.  That was the last time I saw him until…
            They say Eric walked home and told no one of the events of the day at school.  He sat quietly around his family’s dinner table, nibbling at his food while his sister, Mom and Dad all shared stories from their wonderful day.  When Eric was asked about his day, he simply said, “Same ole, same ole.”  Never expecting him to say much, the family went on about their nightly routines. 
            Eric waited until everyone else was asleep.  He stole his father’s keys and walked the seven blocks to his father’s dentist office.  Eric had followed his father around enough to know where everything was and how to even work the instruments.  That too, included the Nitrous Oxide.  So Eric found the tanks, turned them on, and made his way back inside the main office.  Once in a patient room, Eric turned the dials and set his mixture, adding a little more Nitrous than usual.  He tried and he tried to find Max and the Inner Side, but something was wrong.  Finally it dawned on Eric that the sounds of the suction and the drill created the vortex that took him to the bridge.  After several minutes of trial and error, Eric got the devices working and lay in the chair.  He had previously tilted it to the exact position his father preferred.  Then, unattended and unsupervised, Eric put on the nose piece and lay back.  Inhaling the Nitrous in deep breaths as he closed his eyes and listened to the distorted sounds of the drill’s whizzing and the suction’s slurping, Eric slowly but surely drifted downward.  He returned, as always to the old office and the person of Alice.  The Eric closed his eyes and drifted further down to the bridge to the Inner Side.
            This time there were no voices…no pleading…no hesitation.  Eric ran across the bridge and came out the other side as Colossus, the metal powerhouse of the Uncanny X-Men.  At his bidding, building-sized robots, called Sentinels, approached and tried to capture him.  But, unlike the Eric of the outside world, Colossus was ready and able to withstand their worst.  He caught the giant robot’s foot as it attempted to stomp him into the ground and toppled it backward.  Colossus jumped to the fallen robot’s chest and in one mighty punch, crushed its chest cavity.  Another attacked and then another.  This time he was not left alone to fight.  The rest of the X-Men came to his aid.  And when the battle escalated, the Avengers and Fantastic 4 joined in.  All listened to his command.  All followed his instructions.  All stood by his side while enemy after enemy were destroyed.
            The next morning Eric’s father awoke and readied himself for work.  It wasn’t until he grabbed for his keys that he realized something was amiss.  Not only were his keys missing, but Eric as well.  Eric’s mother and father drove around looking for him.  Finally, after hours of searching, as they happened by the office, they realized that was the one place they hadn’t checked.  They pulled in, used his mother’s keys, and found Eric unconscious in the dental chair.  The Oxygen had run out before the Nitrous.  Both had long since stopped pumping any gas at all. 
How long had Eric been under?  No one knows.  What damage has been done to his brain?  No one is for sure.  But even now, years later, I am convinced that Eric lives on in his Inner Side, living out heroic acts and savors the praise and admiration of an entire world.  They say he is a vegetable to this day, and the arguments continue as to whether or not his parents should pull the plug.  I still visit him often.  Every once and a while, I think he squeezes my hand.  They don’t believe me.  They think Eric is oblivious to everything.  It’s not true.  That’s why I had to write this and let everyone know why Eric did what he did.  He’s not oblivious.  He’s not dead inside.

He sees…he knows…and he pities us all.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cover Art for My New Book

I just got the cover art for my new book, which is due for release August 22, 2013.  Here it is:

I never realized how hard it is to summarize a book.  As the author you have so many layers in the story from the superficial action and dialogue to the innuendos, symbols and thematic lessons that it is extremely difficult to decide exactly what to say and what not to say.  I did my best and know that I am still in the novice/leaner stage of authorship.

I hope to learn as I enjoy the fruits of years of labor pains.  I made several suggestions as to my preferences to cover art, but with the input of David King, the production editor, we went with the "less is more" approach and put the images of the four main characters on the front.

Let me know what you think...what you like...what you don't like.  Please take a few moments to make suggestions, so that when I am ready for book two I have a better idea of what I am doing.  Thank you so much.  I hope you buy a copy and read it.  Then you can send me a note telling me what you thought of the story as well.

I look forward to booksignings, readings, and more adventures.

Thanks - from the Mind of the Writer, Mitchell S Karnes

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Prioritize - From the Strength of a Family

It's amazing how life suddenly stops and everything falls into proper perspective when a family member falls ill.  While I was on sabbatical in New York, my father-in-law had heart issues.  The Monday I returned, I had to have surgery on my nose (in order to breathe), and today my wife went to the ER with heart problems.

We just put a contract on a new house yesterday.  This house would enable us to move my wife's parents (her mother suffered a severe stroke 6 years ago & her father's heart issues continue to worsen) in with us.  Keep in mind we still have five of our seven children living with us.  So, we just found the perfect house, put ours up for sale, and my wife is in the hospital.

Everything falls away except family.  Everything takes its proper place and people supplant things in our lives...that's the way it should be every day.  So, sorry for the lack of posts in the past several days, but that too fell to the wayside.  My posts will return and expand when family is alright and everything is as it's supposed to be.  Well, not everything.  That only happens in Heaven.  Well, you know what I mean.

Until long and fair well.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Individualize the Lesson - From the Heart of a Teacher

Sorry about the lag in my posts.  I returned from my sabbatical and have been inundated with home responsibilities.  I just had surgery this week and am now getting back on task.  Thank you for your patience.

I have the heart of a teacher.  God has blessed me with the ability to empathize and identify student learning styles and frustrations.  If you remember one of my previous posts, I spoke of the advice given by one of my teaching mentors.  In a quick paraphrase, he reminded me I teach students, not English.  The point being, every lesson plan should include a variety of teaching/learning styles.

This is a picture of my parents (top), my sister's family (her husband, two daughters and son-in-law), my wife and I (second row to top), and our seven children.  I include this to reinforce my message to teachers today.  All seven of my children learn differently.  They are uniquely motivated.  They value and fear different things.  If I have learned anything in the adoption of the sibling group of five children...adding to my two biological children it has been to individualize my teaching and parenting styles.

As you may know, there are three basic learning styles:  auditory, visual and kinesthetic.  Auditory children learn best by hearing.  This is wonderful for a lecture format.  Unfortunately, this is the smallest group of learners.  In our electronic age today, many children are visual learners and need to see in order to comprehend and remember.  The third group (kinesthetic learners) need to experience the subject with hands on or participatory lessons.  

So, in short, whether you are a professional teacher, a volunteer at a church, or a parent, remember to vary your styles of teaching.  Discover your child's/student's learning style and individualize the lesson appropriately.  It will not only help that child learn and succeed, but it will give them hope and confidence.  Take the time to teach so that every child may have the opportunity to learn.  And thank you for sharing your gift of time, love, and self.  You make a difference!