Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading with the Children of Fire

Meeting some of the Children of Fire was a most surprising experience. With my beloved mom passing away recently, and my adopted daughter graduated from high school and in college, I now have a few extra hours on my hands each week. You might think, “Oh, write, write more!” But there’s a limit to what one can squeeze out of an already-squeezed brain when it comes to creativity.

The American tradition of Thanksgiving also made me start thinking about what I have and giving thanks for it. After all, I have so much to be grateful for. My wonderful mother left me comfortably established, and her help enabled me to give up the rat race and just stay at home and write all day. There are so many needy organisations, run by wonderful selfless people, that I didn’t have to think very hard about where to devote some of this extra time.

I met Bronwen Jones (the founder of Children of Fire) briefly about ten years ago, with her badly burned daughter, Dorah. At the time, I was struck by Dorah’s happiness and self-assurance, despite her terrible burns. Bronwen gave me her card, which I kept, and the encounter stayed in the back of my mind somewhere.

What is Children of Fire?

Children of Fire is a charity based in the UK and in South Africa, which assists badly burned children with reconstructive surgery and other necessities. The organization also promotes legislation and legal assistance for children who are disabled through burn injuries.

In 1997, the organization began as a charitable trust to assist Dorah Mokoena, a badly burned South African child who was turned away from several hospitals. After The Times of London published an appeal, the Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust was formed in London to accept donations, and the Children of Fire in South Africa to handle Dorah and other children's rehabilitation. This evolved into one name Children of Fire active mostly in Southern Africa, but with legal entities existing or in progress in the USA, North Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, and the UK, which all assist other children injured by fire. Since first helping Dorah 17 years ago, ChiFi has helped 350 children with severe burns as well as others from across Africa who required less complicated surgery.

Children of Fire keep smiling!
I went along on Saturday afternoon to offer my services in the reading/writing/acting/having fun with books department, and to meet some of the kids. It was great. A mixture of ages, and varying degrees of disabilities, but a wonderful sense of fun and excitement. They all have remarkable self-confidence, laugh, talk, and jostle for attention, and I can only put this down to Bronwen’s love, compassion, and ability to make each child feel special. They had just been to a function that involved lots of popcorn, party hats, and a piñata that gave out sweets, so all the kids were in high spirits.

I took my book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, as well as a large full-colour (fabulous) book on Egypt, some posters, bookmarks, and we went for a brief little holiday to Egypt. Reading aloud to kids who want to listen, and experience some of the wonder of imagination and fantasy is very rewarding and fulfilling. Because of their injuries, some kids do not get enough schooling—much time is spent in hospital, with ongoing procedures interrupting the learning process. ChiFi has a sister charity the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disability Children (known as Beka), a school with a staff of three teachers to ensure the children have access to education while undergoing treatment. Other kids have coped wonderfully and are about to embark on high school, some are in university, and some are employed.

Seiso's torture burns are hidden by clothes
Burn injuries are a terrible and harrowing experience for children. More than 90 percent of burn injuries occur in developing countries and 70 percent of these are in children, according to statistics compiled by the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in the United Kingdom and the Dow University Medical College Burns Centre, Pakistan. Accurate paediatric burn statistics in Africa are hard to find.

At least 15,000 children in South Africa are burnt every year, according to ChiFi estimates. The figures are higher in winter when the chances of children rolling half asleep into open fires lit to warm their rooms are higher. Sadly, one in three severe child burns are intentional in South Africa.

In the five biggest cities in South Africa an average of 200 people die in shack fires every year, according to Abahlali baseMjondolo, a South African shack dwellers' movement.

Little Perlucia rebuilding  life
Apart from the actual burn injuries, many children come to the charity with extra problems such as starvation, malnutrition, HIV/Aids, as well as poverty-related illnesses. Added to the trauma of the burn experience is fear of the reconstructive and healing process with children being terrified at the sight of medical doctors in white coats, the fear of pain, and ultimately having to learn to live again.

ChiFi works with a network of doctors, surgeons and health care specialists, many of whom volunteer their services. The charity has never received any government aid and operates entirely on public donations, using volunteers from across the world. Reconstructive surgery is incredibly expensive, and funding is always welcome.

Education is the number one priority. Besides helping children with burn injuries, ChiFi also tries to educate communities on how to prevent fires. The charity also helps communities affected by fires rebuild their lives with construction materials and other household essentials. However, the biggest challenge is educating people to see these Children of Fire not as victims but as tough survivors. These children have ongoing lives to lead, goals to achieve, and the ability to give and receive love.

How You Can Help!
Visit the website and see how you can help. Your few dollars and pounds translate into a nice big amount, given the exchange rate for foreign currency. If you live in South Africa, visit the site and ask to be emailed the latest wish list. They need so much that we take for granted. Charity begins at home, and if we all help, in whatever small way we can, ChiFi can expand its operations to take in many more needy children and set them back on their life path.

Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo and Me!

NaNoWriMo and me. Sounds ominous, like a showdown at the OK Corral. In a way, it is. NaNoWriMo can trigger a deluge of creativity, or show you just how much time you can waste fiddling about, waiting for a good idea to emerge.

I am a NaNoWriMo novice. I found out about it two years ago, but was too nervous to enter. I thought everyone knew what it was, until so many of my online and writer friends kept asking me why I was now secluded in a mysterious project with a funny name.

To quote the website: “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.”

Sounds easy? Wait, there’s more!

More from the website: “The very first NaNoWriMo took place in July, 1999, in the San Francisco Bay Area. That first year there were 21 of us, and our July noveling binge had little to do with any ambitions we might have harbored on the literary front. Nor did it reflect any hopes we had about tapping more fully into our creative selves. No, we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.”

Novel idea (no pun intended).

By 2012, they had a huge(ish) organisation, zillions of participants worldwide, an office and a website, and masses of publicity. Not bad for a fun gig!

The rules are simple:

• Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.

• Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).

• Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!

• Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.

• Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

• Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Helpful tips include:

Eat lots of chocolate!
• Begin procrastinating by reading through all the great advice and funny stories in the forums. Post some stories and questions of your own. Get excited. Get nervous. Try to rope someone else into doing this with you. Eat lots of chocolate and stockpile noveling rewards.

• On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.

• If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.

That’s it in a nutshell. So, how am I doing four days over the halfway mark? I have written a grand total of 31 949 words! I have no idea how to capture a screen image, but here it is in figures. The amazing little calendar on the side of your NaNoWriMometer works everything out for you (no more calculators) and at the end of each day’s writing, just log it into the cute convenient boxes.

Your Average Per Day: 1,681

Words Written Today: 0

Target Word Count: 50,000

Target Average Words Per Day: 1,667

Total Words Written: 31,949

Words Remaining: 18,051

Current Day: 19

Days Remaining: 12

At This Rate You Will Finish On: November 29, 2012

Words Per Day To Finish On Time: 1,505

So, I am ahead, just a little bit. I did not do any writing today (see note further down about malevolent fates) so I HAVE to catch up tomorrow to get back onto schedule. I have never written like this before! No more dabbling around tweaking here and there. One is expected to forge on, relentlessly like a juggernaut to complete the final words—THE END— on 30 November.

The organisers give you loads of gadgets, badges, goodies, and help. They also give you regular pep talks, too. Along the lines of:

1) It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

Nervous writers should plan in advance.
2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

3) Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

3.5) There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through. Week Two can be hard. Week Three is much better. Week Four will make you want to yodel.

And we’re talking the good kind of yodeling here.

Pep talkers include Neil Gaiman (Coraline), Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries), Sue Grafton (Alphabet murder series), Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Lemoney Snickett (A Series of Unfortunate Events), and loads of other awfully clever and famous people.

Audrey says: “National Novel Writing Month was a chance to jolt your story onto the page, to use the magic of a deadline to whap out your novel. Now that it is December, I hope you will kick back, have a cup of coffee, reread your 50,000 words, ponder a bit, and then… go for a walk. And on that walk I hope your novel will unclench itself in your brain and let you begin the long, slow, delightful work of rewriting it.”

I started with a great, big, whopping over 4000 words on day one. Wow, I thought, I’ll be finished by next week. Alas, it doesn’t work like that. Somewhere along the line, all sorts of malevolent fates conspire against you, the writer. All sorts of domestic problems or necessities, like shopping, (What happened to the food I bought last week? You ate it?? Why????) just intervene in a most annoying way. In the past, I would have carried on, and not sought to make up the word count I had missed. Aha! Suddenly I had to catch up what I had neglected.

No mistake about it—NaNoWriMo makes you work. I’m loving it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Apocalypse Now?

Given that we are creeping closer to the Mayan calandar's predicted catastrophic date of 21 December 2012, Have you ever wondered what it’s all about? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where are we heading? Given the chaos, crime, pollution and society’s troubles, are the old biblical prophecies correct and the hellfire and damnation scenario awaits us when the end of the world comes? Recently I read and reviewed Alpha to Omega: Journey to the End of Time for some answers.

Author Matthew Petti formulates a fascinating theory that only by knowing where we came from do we have an idea of where we are heading. In this book, he sets out to prove our true ancestors. Our flaws as humans, and our failure to change, arise from our historical thinking. Yes, we are simply repeating what we have learned. Today’s chaotic world mirrors the cumulative effects of the unchanging flaws in our most basic assumptions. Beliefs about God, our origins, human history and the hereafter are deeply embedded into the collective mind through the inheritance of age-old teachings and behaviors. The author investigates the metaphysics of faith, and why old beliefs have failed humankind in a modern world. This includes as analysis of the Book of Revelations as an indication of what may (or may not) transpire if the world continues on its headlong course of destruction.

This is a controversial book. The author delves into ancient history (including prehistory and Biblical history), archaeology, geography, myths, and legends to link together a collective mind-set or ethos for human society from those small beginnings many thousands of years ago. One may or may not believe in the supremacy of angels and the workings of heaven in human affairs, but Matthew Petti puts forward an intelligent and logical argument to substantiate his theories. He discusses his ideas of the ‘God’ spirit within humans, a controversial topic on its own, including free will and God’s will, and the concept of obedience to a higher power. To fully appreciate the author’s thinking it’s better to either have belief in some higher power and acceptance of Biblical references and characters, or else (if one is an atheist/agnostic) to suspend disbelief and simply read this book as a fascinating investigation of man’s possible superhuman and human origins. Well-researched and -argued, the book is a journey in itself for anyone interested in our physical origins and spiritual development.

I enjoyed this book because I find ancient history and man’s origins fascinating. I also decided to ask the author a few questions about it.

1. What made you write this book? You’ve done a huge amount of research and put a lot into it – there must be something driving your work.

Author Matthew Petti
My lifelong search for meaning to our existence began at the age of 22. One summer evening in 1977, while driving on an open highway, I had a thought, “There really is a God.” This wasn’t new to me, having been raised Catholic, attending 12 years of Catholic School and following all the rituals of the religion. As I began to agree with the thought, it echoed with an extreme profoundness and suddenly I found myself gasping for air as a surge of new conceptual information began to flood my mind and overwhelm me. I couldn’t assimilate all the information, but an INSATIABLE curiosity to dig deeper into the book of Revelation immediately ensued.

2. The idea of an ancient higher civilization has fascinated many people. How old do you think this civilization is, and why do you think there is so little left of their existence (apart from the monumental architecture)?

The remnants of ancient advancements dating to about 15 to 20,000 years ago, which have been found on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mesoamerica, Easter Island and Machu Picchu, just to name a few, are a thorn in the side to the archaeologists, scientists and historians who preach the linear view of evolution and human development. The problem with other theories, which attempt to explain these advancements as the result of a recent previous civilization eradicated by some sort of cataclysm, is that they cannot be supported by prevailing scientific evidence proving that never in the history of humans (1.5 million years) has the world and its inhabitants been completely annihilated.

Ancient alien theory has emerged as the only explanation to the architectural wonders discovered because it circumvents the scientific evidence. The traditional scientific viewpoint holds that mankind was strong enough and willful enough to account for many of the ancient mysteries. Ironically, the most glaring contradictory evidence is swept under the rug in an effort to maintain the support of uninformed constituents.

Meanwhile, the religious viewpoint claims a great flood occurred, which totally wiped out a society, except for eight people and hundreds of thousands of animals on board a ship, who were somehow able to completely repopulate the Earth. Once again, scientific evidence proves that this could not have happened—at least not in the last 1.5 million years— while common sense tells us that it would've been impossible to board a ship with seven pairs of every species of animals on earth.

Since there is no evidence of a supreme society in our recent history, but instead, remnants of advanced achievements, which surpass both the technologies available during those times and today, then we can assume that the gods and demigods of ancient myths were the offspring of those who survived a cataclysm of 7 million years ago.

3. Why can’t we recreate the level of achievements they left behind, given our computer advantages, and other developments that would surely outweigh the flaws you say are inherited from the past and a previous, repeated mindset.

The flaws inherited from the past have been in our misinterpretation of events and circumstances. Our repeated mindset is the battle between truth and belief. What we accept as truth is limited by what we can imagine as possible. What we imagine as possible is limited by what is presented and agreed upon. What is presented and agreed-upon is limited by the scientific and not so scientific assessment of the information and the predispositions of an authority.

4. I read authors like Andrew Collins and Graham Hancock who also share your interests. What do you think of their investigations and conclusions?

Their investigations, among others, were paramount in providing the evidence I needed to faithfully assert that science and archaeology are equally as biased in their determination of history as religion. It is equally absurd to believe in the 6000-year-old creation story as it is to believe that the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid. Thanks to them and others like them, I was able to provide my theory.

5. Your book is heavily based on the Bible, and your discussions of the angelic/divine relationship between heaven and earth reflect this. How many people think of the Bible as a history book, not just a book of inspired writings from long ago?

I'm not sure how many people, as a percentage, view the Bible as a history book. I don’t want people to think my book is really “based” on the Bible, because that might imply that I accept the literal translation. My book is a NEW way of explaining it and other pertinent mysteries relating to our past and the inevitable future to which it is bound. The book of Revelation is a cryptic message that has unveiled more than just the future to me.

6. The Book of Revelation features strongly in your work. Do you think it’s possible to avoid the apocalyptic forecast of what will come, given the nuclear arms race, the declining state of the planet, and man’s inhumanity to man? Or is it too late?

All events and circumstances are shaped by Truth to reveal the errors in our beliefs. If we really believe that we create our own destiny, then our choices and actions will affect our future both individually and collectively. All of our choices and actions are based upon our beliefs. If there are errors in our beliefs or assumptions, we will make the wrong choices, and suffer the consequences.

War, devastation and all of life's tragedies are inevitable until we completely awaken to Truth. The events, which have always been attributed to God's judgment, are really a gift that will eventually lead us back to the Omega, which is absolute fulfillment of Truth and Knowledge. So yes, the events are unavoidable but so is the return to Paradise!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

10 Reasons Why We Love James Bond

Daniel Craig

The recent James Bond film festival on television and the 2012 release of Skyfall sparked this post. Who is James Bond and why do we love him? The movies are possibly the best way the world has come to know and appreciate Bond.

Bond the Moneymaker: The James Bond film series is a British series of spy films based on the fictional character of MI6 agent James Bond (code designation "007"), who originally appeared in a series of books by Ian Fleming. Earlier films were based on Fleming's novels and short stories, followed later by films with original storylines. It is one of the longest continually running film series in history, having been in ongoing production from 1962 to the present (with a six-year hiatus between 1989 and 1995). In that time, Eon Productions has produced 23 films, at an average of about one every two years, usually produced at Pinewood Studios. The series has grossed just over US $5 billion to date, making it the second-highest-grossing film series (behind Harry Potter), and the single most successfully adjusted for inflation. Six actors have portrayed 007 in the Eon series, with the Sean Connery films largely setting the style and mood of the series, and Roger Moore starring in the most films.

Sean Connery

Bond the Character: In Bond and Other Conspiracy Theories journo Stephen Kelly says: “There’s always been something a bit off about that suave, mysterious, sexually charged murderer, James Bond: he appears to be a shape-shifting immortal. Or at least that’s what the franchise suggests, what with the same man being played by six people over 50 years, making for quite the hefty 00-pension. But where pop culture logic is broken, there’s a fan theory to fix it. In this case: that James Bond is not a single man, but a code name given to agents who fit a certain profile.

George Lazenby
 Makes sense, doesn’t it? For even if this is a profile to which psychologists refer as the Dark Triad of the psyche—a combination of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and a psychopathic disregard for life—each incarnation does come with its own set of characteristics.

Sean Connery, for instance, was smooth and deadpan; George Lazenby: clunky and… forgettable; Roger Moore had fun with the role; Timothy Dalton preferred a serious approach; cigar-smoking Pierce Brosnan played it rugged and old-fashioned; whereas Daniel Craig, moonlighting from his full-time job of protruding out of Mount Rushmore, portrays a more tortured, layered Bond.”

Bond the Hero: For me, James Bond is the hero we love. He’s flawed, he’s brave, he is what we all want—what more can I say… he’s a hero!

Here are my ten reasons why James Bond is the perfect hero. And heroes, to be heroes, are not perfect!

Timothy Dalton
1. He sets out to be a hero, although he may deny it.

2. He saves the world, no matter what the baddies throw at him.

3. He is flawed. He makes mistakes, he lets his heart rule his head, and he always goes back to save the girl.

4. He suffers loss, pain, and anguish. Sometimes a friend dies, sometimes the woman he loves dies, and it cuts him to the core of his being.

Roger Moore
5. He always gets the girl in the end. Despite the fact we know he is a womaniser/playboy/Casanova, we want him to ride/fly/float off into the sunset with the Bond girl in his arms (and all the actresses who’ve played a Bond girl say the same thing!)

6. He has a great sense of humour. Dry wit and a martini shaken not stirred are his trademarks. He laughs in the face of death and usually flings a (cheesy) quip at his nemesis.

7. He loves gadgets, and boy does Q make sure he has plenty of them. Cars that can assume an invisibility cloak as well as packing an arsenal in the trunk, exploding pens, belt buckles with escape wires, watches that can set off bombs, even watches with lasers installed—Q has a gadget for every day of Bond’s week.

Pierce Brosnan
8. He is fanatically loyal to Queen and country. He serves the crown and he will die for his country’s security. You can’t get more loyal than that.

9. He has feelings although he may hide them under that impenetrable mask.

10. If he could, he’d date Miss Moneypenny!

So, out of all the Bond actors, who portray Bond the best?