georgia

Georgia On My Mind

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GADamn. It’s been almost…two months…since I got back from Korea. And I’ve been back at work since this time last month. It’s good to be back. Now that my year overseas is done and the dust of the place has been thoroughly knocked from my boots, I don’t mind telling you folks that out of almost fourteen years in my chosen career, August ’13-August ’14 was the most challenging twelve-month stretch ever. And I don’t mean “challenging,” like Basic Training was challenging. I mean that I swear to Sweet Baby Jesus that 90% of the people I dealt with all year were “challenged,” if you get my meaning.

So, yeah, I’m real happy to be back in Georgia. My family never left, and I walked right back into the same house I left a year ago. I’m still waiting on my household good to arrive from the port in Savannah, but unpacking is going to be an afternoon’s worth of work, rather than the couple weeks a normal military move entails for my family. I have six years left in the military, and if prayer or magic is real, I’m going to finish out my career in Augusta and move right into a new civilian job–that is, if I can’t make my share of the household money between writing and my pension.

If you’d told my ten-year old, dyed-in-the-wool, New Yorker self that I was going to fall in love with a Southern state and decide to hang my hat there, I don’t know if I’d have believed you. But it stands to reason–when I was a kid, I was locked down pretty tight by an over-protective mother, and we were poor, and we lived in the ‘hood (so really, my mother probably had the right idea, after all). So it’s not like I really had a chance to fall in love with Rochester–I love a fair amount of folks from there, mind you, but I don’t even know if I’d find my way around the city without GPS, these days. Meanwhile, in Augusta:

  • I live five minutes away from a great, downtown, indie arts community with coffee shops, galleries and places to hear local musicians–and perform, if the bug hits me. That my wife has a ten-minute drive to work and my son’s school is the same distance in the other direction isn’t too shabby, either. There’s also a fair amount of regional-level geek activity, so I’ve begun looking for more closer, smaller conventions to attend in addition to some of the larger ones that draw people from all over the US and beyond. Combined with my increased output this year, I’m hoping this takes my level of readership to another level.
  • I’m able to get involved in local doings more than I let myself during my first three-year stretch. Military families tend to not get very close to the communities they’re living in, simply because they know their stay is temporary. But now, it’s not impossible for me to stay right here until I retire. Six more years isn’t a statistical improbability, especially given a few of the duty position shifts I can make across different units, with help from human resources folks. So my wife can pursue a career without worrying about pulling up stakes, and we’re buying a house early next year. I’ll be able to build strong relationships with folks and parlay that into a second career once I get my honorable discharge. I didn’t have this sort of “normal life” when I was growing up, much less as an adult in the military.
  • I’m settled back into an accustomed routine, with resources to help me learn some new tricks. I’m right back in the unit I left when I moved to Korea, but doing a different job. So I’m stimulated by new things to learn and do, but not completely lost at sea because I’m still training new recruits. Being able to jump right back into something familiar has helped me get back to work on the new novel, which I’m loosely describing as “a serial killer’s memoir.” And, while being in the Army means I’m not guaranteed writing time at the same time each day, I’ve been working with a psychologist, through a military program, on establishing particular habits and behaviors that will let me get into the “writing zone” on demand, no matter the time of day. I’ll be writing about that in more detail at some point, either here on my blog or for one of the larger websites I’ve pitched a column to, but for now, let me just say I’m already seeing results.

So, as much as last year sucked to the max, I’m kicking off Fiscal Year 2015 in one of the most heightened states of hopefulness I’ve ever been in. Augusta’s grown on me, and now, I figure I have a chance at growing on it.

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My Religious Roller-coaster Part 4

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After building years of fascination with Catholic ritual into a working knowledge of eclectic Witchcraft and then stripping out the spiritual aspects of the craft in favor of hard-line Satanism, I gave up priesthood of a small group of fellow high school students in favor of attendance at a fundamental Baptist church. This was not an overnight change by any means–the guy who eventually brought me into his church community pestered my friends and I for months of one school year and part of the next.

Pretty much THIS, every day, at lunchtime -- for months.

Keep in mind that we were not only asshole teenagers, but Satanist asshole teenagers, and this guy preached Jesus to all of us–in the cafeteria at breakfast andlunch, in the hallways, if he saw us outside–every chance he got. He totally had Attention Deficit Disorder, and I mean bad. He got detention sometimes for reading the Bible in class instead of doing his work, I’m dead serious. This guy was a sitting duck for pretty much anyone in the school, and even moreso for us. We did everything short of physical violence to this dude for months, I’m sorry to say. And he kept coming back.

Eventually, I tired of hostility and opted instead for simple cold dismissal. I forget why, but one day I said yes when he invited me to his house. That pretty much sealed it for me. He didn’t listen to any ‘worldly music’ or read any ‘wordly books,’ but the rest of his family were normal, except that they really loved God a whole lot. And after talking to this guy’s dad, a church deacon, for hours, I agreed to come out to their church. And while on the surface mixing me with a Fundamentalist church just seems like a recipe for disaster, it really wasn’t. I figured out a few things–that it wasn’t God that I hated, it was saying the same exact prayers and singing the same exact songs week after week during Mass. I was annoyed about things that didn’t make sense, like confessing your sins to another guy or having celibate priests despite the alleged first Pope being married–stuff like that. The church was independent of any other church–took it’s lead from the pastor, not a group of bishops or anything like that–and had strict moral standards, which was one of the things I liked about Satanism.

I still talk to that guy and his family sometimes to this day. That church played a big part in my seventeenth year of life. A few months after I started going regularly, my brother and I got into it over something stupid–we were living together, by ourselves, in New Jersey–and he kicked me out of the house for the second time (which is another story for another day). The church was there for me. I lived with the pastor and his family for a month or two, then with one of the other deacons, before finally moving in with my friend — we had absolutely become friends by this point — and his family for months. We don’t talk as much these days, but they are important to me to this day. I’m friends with the guy and his sister, and his father, on Facebook. I was upset for days when I found out his mother had passed away a couple years back. My life today is different because of them.

Faith Baptist Camp, 2011, much as I remember it being in 1999.

Pretty much what I did for the next six months or so was go to school, go to work and go to church. And I liked it. I joined the youth group. I helped bring other kids into church. Sometimes, I even preached. I took notes in my Bible and cross-referenced stuff. I studied. I crafted sermons just like the pastors, and gave ’em too, sometimes. I had Jesus in my life. I liked it. It was a struggle sometimes, but by and large, I liked the people I was associating with, and the guys at school that still spent time with me despite my changes — well, I can count on the fingers of one hand, the people I still talk to from high school, and they’re most of them.

Right around the tail end of the year, I had a few experiences I didn’t like: half the church completely ostracized one of our youth leaders for a relationship he was having with a woman in the church (they were both single, but not married, and had begun living together), and we’d recently attended a week of meetings at Faith Baptist Camp in Resaca, Georgia. Along with all the stuff you’d expect to hear from an old-school, Fundamentalist church camp, there were a few dudes who actually climbed into the pulpit to preach against things like women wearing pants and interracial marriage. Seriously. My friend even caught hell for the beard he was growing until my friend started quoting the guy verses from Isaiah where it was prophesied that Jesus’ beard would be ripped out. All emotion, lots of screaming, not a lot of measured, rational discourse. Not what I needed to be around as what some call a ‘babe in Christ.’

So when, at the end of the year, when events conspired to send my back to my mother’s home in Rochester, NY in 2000, I didn’t seek out another Fundamentalist church. I went back to what I was comfortable with — not Satanism, but eclectic Paganism with a bit stronger worldview than Gardner and Buckland’s ‘Harm None’ philosophy.

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Cemetery #4, Fort Gordon

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As you may have heard me say (or read me write) before, there are very few occasions during which my military day job and my writing career intersect. Well, this is another of those. Last week I had the pleasure of supervising a detail of young recruits as they cleaned up a training area. A training area, for the uninitiated, is a piece of land set aside for field exercises; soldiers pitch tents, eat in the field, practice combat maneuvers, etc. This particular one is used only for hunting small game, interestingly enough.

This particular training area contained, of all things, a cemetery. Cemetery #4, to be exact. What blue-blooded American horror author could possibly resist the chance to snap some photos in an old military cemetery? While driving around today in search of an alternate route to this training area, I located several other cemeteries in the same area of Fort Gordon. A quick Google Search yielded a piece of diligent research by (apparently) an amateur historian who took it upon themselves to catalog, by name, the names on the headstones and the locations of the cemeteries. I’m willing to bet there’s more slideshows in your future, Dear Reader.

And, in case the simple beauty of the cemetery is too much sensory overload for ya, here’s a couple quick shots of an oozing garbage bag of liquified animal remains that one of my soldiers found, after the cut. Luckily, he was smart enough to find me intstead of picking it up.

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