PANIC DEMIC and Light At the End of the Tunnel

“Whover saves one life, saves the world entire…”

Schindler’s List

Life flows along like a song; that is until it doesn’t. Like a favorite brook or stream visited just the day before in a bucolic country setting–but now dried up from some cause out of our control–life can become so routine and expected in its ways that only a jarring from outside forces may awaken us to the beauty we loved and held to all along.

Most of us have experienced being on a train that enters a tunnel. It becomes narrow, dark, and we expect it to end when light appears. We have never been wrong in this expectation.

The heartbreaking film ‘Schindler’s List’ reminds us that life can change for us on the turn of a door nob. One day we are free, the next we open to a world that is suddenly silent but with demons waiting in the wings.

We understandably feel lost, shaken to our core by a new set of rules and reality. Such may be the case with you during this worldwide pandemic originating from Wuhan, China.

While disease knows no ideology, those at the epicenter must have some sense for what the people depicted by the characters in Shindler’s List felt as they were herded to death by brutal ideological captors.

We feel anxiety when life-altering change is thrust upon us. We feel panic at the threat of death, which means an ending to all we have come to know. It appears as a narrow tunnel with no escape.

Seeking peace with sudden changes may not be easy even when “everyone is in this together.”

But there are ways to both cope and mitigate the jarring effects of the sudden pandemic forces thrown at us.

Some with developed faith keep a bended knee to earth and clasped hands to heaven as their voices pray for mercy in the quest for light at the end of the tunnel. Others begin to do so for the first time. Still, others simply dig in their heels and determine what it is they can do as they question how we all got here in the first place. This is where Oscar Schindler comes in.

Few young people understand what one madman’s regime inflicted upon selected religious and other minorities just eight decades ago. One man stood against the cunning of Hitler and his killers of over 6 million Jews. A German factory owner kept buying lives. Now with freedom’s light at the end of a world at war tunnel, he mourns: “I could have saved more….”

When we think something like being shut-in drives us to anxiety and panic, imagine being human denied your home, family, food, health, basic rights, under constant threat of extermination in unimaginable and horrific ways.

Then imagine being a hero like Oscar Schindler — lifting, rescuing others…

Whatever comes of this present pandemic begun in Wuhan, being like Oscar was to the Jewish people meant the world now has tens of thousands more descendants to give thanks to one man for doing something.

The saying, “I may not be able to do everything, but I am able to do something…” has more meaning in moments like these. Perhaps it is simply our family, or maybe one friend, or perhaps even one stranger we can lift from despair. One thing is certain: doing something until the pandemic train reaches the end of the tunnel keeps us in the fight and who knows what it may mean to others?

We honor our first-line of defense responders to this new world of “shelter in place” and shutdowns. They include:

All health care workers, law enforcement, and fire & rescue personnel. Truckers and shippers, grocers, essential military, local and national government agencies tasked to keep necessary services operative, custodial help, and many more. God bless them all.

This movie clip says it all as the people Oscar Schindler saved during a manmade worldwide catastrophe known as World War Two’s holocaust offer him the best gift of gratitude they can; a simple gold ring made from the tooth filling of one prisoner. WATCH:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g4LxLHoIag&fbclid=IwAR3303NxOGdUruTEjZps8obZtMoSUOLtGVnEp03DMR_VhN-R5PwW1F0vGz8

“Jim… You There?”

Santa Claus Lane, Carpenteria, CA

THE Worlds We Loved Change

One of the joys found in creating a new novel is to bring to life places that once stood along the side of the road, or a neighborhood as we recalled it, or a gathering place that has stood with little change over decades, and then offer to the reader a chance to be in that place as if they can experience what I the writer did.

But the saying, “You can never really go home,” holds true. Time changes the places even if they stand the test of time. We can go there, linger there, and reminisce of friends past, events gone, and moments that changed us; at that very spot, but places change.

Or is it each of us? As time marches on the facades of buildings can become remodeled just as the human soul too can become. Landmarks testifying of our history with them may stand in the same place but dressed up a bit they have become someone else’s experience since we last walked down the steps, the drive, the sidewalk.

Experience and weathering the years means many things. When change inevitably comes we are aging with it. We make decisions that change the appearance of things around us, and though old friends may recognize us many decades later, we must pull on the doors of time — like portals through mortality — and go back with them to a place where we mutually experienced events that created a bond of friendship, brotherhood, or love.

Santa Claus Lane in Carpenteria, California stood forever it seemed to me, along the 101 Freeway just beyond Carpenteria proper and before Santa Barbara on the coast. It was a wonderful place, making memories for millions of coastal travelers over a lifetime.

The land has been converted to condominiums now. To people who never stopped there, or who are too young to have visited when it was the village of the “Famous Date Shake” and Christmas memorabilia — it means nothing. To the rest of us, it is a memory with laughter, smiles, and the innocence that only Christmas all year-round brings.

Writing is a way to bring things to life, relive them; the loves, emotions, dangers, happiness, innocence, and even calamities that really do happen to us all in life. It is a way to experience with well-developed characters a commonality that is simply this:

Life is filled with uncertainty except one–things, people, and places change. We can want everything to be frozen in time. We want our children to remain under our protective care and go on enjoying the sweetness with their childhood never-ending; the same sentiment that lights and magic of the Christmas holiday invariably invites into our hearts and minds.

But sometimes Santa Claus Lane will become a place that we no longer can drive by, stop for a milkshake, and smile as we recall the girl we once held hands with while on a date there.

And… sometimes the town store we loved remains. We can touch the building as a smile crosses our face. We see with aged eyes where we leaned our Schwinn bicycle with the banana seat up against the wall, and then sit on the stoop where we took breaks at the place Mr. Fransen gave us a chance to prove ourselves on our first job.

I always drive by the old house, the store, the schools, and the church building when I revisit my hometown of Simi Valley, CA — but I can never really go back.

My world has changed. I am not the person you knew at 18, or 25, or 40, or 55… The world of “Jim” has been added to and repaired where needed. Each person I loved — alive and dead — have their own worlds of life and experiences tucked away in photos and a book of life with ten thousand pages that I have not been a part of.

But, then… once in a while — the phone rings, an email arrives, or a text shows up. I smile, and I am once again where I long to be, in a world before the changes, as I see the words:

“Jim, you there?”

WHEN HOPE IS NEEDED

You Never Know What Tomorrow Will Bring…

     Everyone feels lost many times throughout life.  Sometimes, even when in a crowded room, we can feel as alone as if we were castaway on a deserted island.

It can happen because we lost a loved one, or a friend betrayed us, a hard-earned career is lost, financial disaster strikes after years of careful planning, a struggling marriage just got worse, an addiction we thought we beat came roaring back, sickness invades our life stealing from us needed energy like a thief in the night; in short–life just hammered us until we feel we can’t take it anymore.

On such occasions, emptiness may creep into our lives in what feels like a soul-crushing tide. Each wave of trouble crashes upon us tumbling us to the shore before mercilessly pulling us back into its current to smash us against the rocks with the next wave.

When hope is needed and you feel cast away, character Chuck Noland  recounts how hope kept him alive…

“I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow, I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass…

“And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

     Click on image and listen to the theme song of Cast Away starring Tom  Hanks:
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VENTURA HIGHWAY IN THE SUNSHINE

An experience I had along the highway haunts me now, but first…the sunshine.
 
“Ventura Highway in the sunshine… You’re gonna go, I know…” the song from 1970 begins. Even if the colorful lyrics of “alligator lizards in the air” weren’t anything but a drugged stupor the writer must have been in, listening to it seems fitting now.
 
It is called the “101 ” by locals and was unavoidable to all of us back then… After a lifetime goes by, hundreds of millions of other lives and their stories have intersected ours along the 101’s traffic lanes.

Growing up in a California in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s was truly in a Golden State of opportunity. Friends, beach days, school days, lazy summer days. First jobs like the one in LA taking Ventura Highway to the 405 to Wilshire to the Federal Building, and later the adult thing — jobs won and lost all along the 101.

Walking down the driveway and taking Ventura Highway to the airport where I said goodbye to family and friends for 2 years to give service in South America, just as brothers before me did to Southeast Asia during the hot days of Vietnam. Married and living our first years within miles of the famed Pacific coastal road.

Training within eyesight of the 101 under stress to become a COP at the Ventura Police and Sheriff’s Academy. Actually firing our weapons into the bunkers with Ventura Highway behind it a 1/2 mile away. The smells of agriculture wafting in the coastal breeze; oranges, lemons, and in Camarillo the scent of the ever-present celery filled our lungs. Life was golden and good.

And there is one memory now that haunts me. Wish I knew the ending…

Beautiful Carpenteria, Ca. There is a McDonalds which backs on to the 101 — Ventura Highway, and it was the end of a hard day in the building trades. Now a family man, and trying to rescue my business in a declining economy, I was taking any job I could get, and this was 90 miles from home. I just wanted to get back, see my little kids, and fuel my body and truck. I walked past the disheveled young man with pleading eyes sitting under the juniper bushes in the parking lot — trying to tell myself I couldn’t feed or help the world.

But — I had promised myself when a missionary with a breaking heart who could do nothing to feed the starving people by the many 1000’s who I saw in Peru — always with hands stretched towards the Gringos — that when I got home I’d never pass by a stretched out hand again.

I turned around and went to kneel down next to the boy, maybe 20 years old, and said, “Hungry? Come on. Let’s get something to eat.” He got up from his nightmare and followed me inside.

As he hesitantly ordered, my heart started to break, just like it had every day back in the 1970’s Peruvian government socialist experiment where life was cheap, food was scarce, and opportunities for the people more so.

I wondered how his life could come to this when so much opportunity was everywhere to be had compared to what I had witnessed once upon a time in countries to the south of us.

My memory is sketchy. I recall getting him a room for the night and after listening to his story about how he had burned his bridge with family and friends up Ventura Hwy in the Bay area saying, “I’ve hurt too many people. I can’t go home,” I left to go to my home, with a prayer in my heart that he’d find his way back. All the way home I fought my conscience wanting to turn around and do more for someone’s prodigal son.

What haunts me is that I don’t know what happened. I don’t know the end to that story from a 1993 day on Ventura Hwy.

But the time came when my own children would grow up, become confused, and I know this: I thank God for those who reached out when I didn’t know if they were alive and in spite of self-inflicted troubles saw them as valuable, and assured them that they could go home. Now my son lives and works for a brother Rex Pratt just off of Ventura Hwy, and he is a good man with compassion–working at becoming better each day.

This song reminds me 50 years after it was first recorded, how life may revolve around the heartbeat of certain highways that lead away from and towards home — day after day, month after month, and after years of those, an entire life.

I still wonder — did the boy from the juniper bush in Carpenteria, there at the McDonalds, ever take Ventura Hwy north and find himself safe at home again?

Listen to one of the great songs from our youth:

VENTURA HIGHWAY by America

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnV7dTXlXxs&list=RDtRwYQgk05DY&index=25

AS A MAN THINKETH IN HIS HEART…

WE BECOME WHAT WE THINK ABOUT

James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh” 1904 bestseller was given to me by my mother in my 19th year. The author proposed a simple idea: “Thoughts are things.”

I am far-from-perfect, but the small book changed my outlook forever. The biblical aphorism, “As a man thinketh…so is he” was used by Allen in his short 50-page treatise that has been a mega-bestseller for over 100 years now. BUT… He left something out. I will tell you in the end what that something is.

We all have something to deal with. That includes the issues people bring into our lives uninvited. Some things are not in our control no matter how hard we try to take a cowboy’s rope, lasso them, and reign them in. This includes physical ailments, employment, relationships, maturity, and even spiritual growth.

I have suffered from skull buster headaches since 18. I have pushed through them, been hospitalized by them, and yet they have, no doubt, moderated behavior in a way I don’t like. (Please, no sympathy, just an example being used here) Yet those unkind torments of the brain have pushed me to look for answers elsewhere…that place of peace and soul searching located south of the cranium.

The “A” type personalities preaching personal performance techniques of “win, win, win” have some good to share with their effervescent encouragement to overcome, look at the sunny side of life, and follow formulas for success. I recommend the gems these winners share.

But in the end, there is a powerful ally for our soul often over-looked by skilled trainers of perfecting our achievement and success, as it was over-looked by James Allen. What I am saying is, “We become what we think about–as we take it to heart.”

Super-charged thinking alone, fueled by a jet-fuel-like dose of positive attitude platitudes releasing dopamine chemicals that make us feel good, even resonate with our brains, isn’t enough.
 
The truths we learn through cognitive means must become internalized so that they continue to motivate us days, weeks, years, after the initial impact. Such was the impact of Allen’s little book on my “soul” 47 years ago.
 
“We become what we think about–as we take it to heart.” The teachings Allen imparted to me didn’t simply make me feel good, but went much much deeper than the speeding lane of the brain.
 
The good news is that the path we set through the initial process of thought can set us on the road to perfection, joy, and the nirvana we all crave.  
We really do become what we think about. The deficits we may feel after doing all we can do on a day by day basis and falling short, is made up in the brightness of “the perfect day” taught by the Master who also taught this — the complete phrase from biblical text:  “As a Man Thinketh — in His Heart — so is he.”
The master teacher from Nazareth taught about the soul, the life of the soul, and where the spirit of God dwells. It was a heart-driven focus. Death was not death to him, but it was Eternal Life.  So the “Perfect Day” was a promised future achievement.  And it was a gift, and it was a future glorious life, and it was to be striven and hoped for, but in the end, from the maker of all, a forever “perfect day” which would become a crowning reward from a life well lived through complete thought-power; a heart-minded alliance.

Thought proceeds action. Pure actions, noble actions, honorable actions, proceed from a unique area of the body unassociated with what scientists and practitioners of the mental arts consider “thinking.”

 The “Who” we become is a heart-centered growth personalized by who-we were-are-and-are-to-become, not by a “one size fits all” success paradigm or formula that requires a lot of brain power alone where winner’s win and losers go where losers belong. Don’t get me wrong…

I am not saying that mental processing of ideas, truths, and facts for higher achievement by our magnificent brain is not important. It all begins there.

What I am saying is that until ideas, truths, facts and formulas are internalized by and in the heart, they do not become “things.” If thoughts are things as Allen suggested, then the focus of Jesus’ saying cannot be left out of the processing.

I do not disrespect the mental toughness and attitudes of grit and determination taught by masters of success teachings. We sow in the mind through mental affirmations and proven success formulas the seeds of greatness. From those seeds trees of life grow. I just see those teachings as support for something more… something James Allen avoided–no doubt because the brain was and still is the focus of peak performance teachers. Very little was and still is known about heart-focused thought and power.

The heart is the center of the soul, its seat, and from it the life-giving blood flows in nourishment to every cell of the body. Now imagine the heart transporting our internalized thoughts into every one of 70 trillion human cells. The Brain may be a thinking machine, and it benefits us greatly, but if it fails us, the Heart goes on until God says, “enough.”

Young or old, we pass on to the “Perfect Day” even though we have not yet become perfect. And what our heart becomes, we become; Forever…

Still searching and still working on it — and the daily skull busters do not control me because: “As a Man Thinketh, In His Heart, So is He.”

James Allen’s book is included for free in “As a Man Thinketh…In His Heart” the Novel @ Amazon

Sneak Peek — In a Wonderland Called Love

Sharing a synopsis for reading fans of my latest work in progress for both book and film.  Hope you enjoy!

 

A Wonderland Called Love

by

James Michael Pratt

 

Christmas Eve – Present Day

Jake Monson is a lost soul shattered by 15 years of war. As he ponders upon the dark thoughts invading every waking moment, Jake pushes through a snowstorm on a lonely highway somewhere in the middle of Wyoming. He joined the Army at 18, earned elite Army Ranger status, and served as a Special Forces operator in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a dozen other countries. Now disabled, he is unsure how to reconcile a past of violence with a new one of peace.

Rachel Love Strong lost her dreams of the perfect man and never-ending high plain sunsets long ago. Christmas Eves were the last magical memories for Rachel, who as a child hadn’t known anyone lived a life larger than in Love, Wyoming; population 50. Single with one child, Rachel wasn’t planning on making this family ranch and one horse-stop café her life when she eagerly left for culinary school on the coast years ago. With parents recently deceased, she desperately wants to wrap up the sale, get back to her successful L.A. catering business, and a busy perfection-obsessed life.     Hypnotized by both the blizzard and deep thought, Jake loses sight of the road before him. Suddenly swerving to avoid a deer, he finds himself crawling out from under his over-turned truck, bleeding and limping toward some distant lights.

With a winter white-out, Rachel didn’t expect many guests for the annual Love Family Christmas Eve meal, but with dogs barking she also didn’t expect to find a stranger staggering toward the porch, falling headlong into a snow drift.

Over the course of a holiday week, Rachel finds an injured man in need of more than bandages and rest, and that sometimes home is where you find what you went out into the world in search of. Jake forgets his past long enough to discover magic and innocence isn’t lost after all. They both come to find that unfulfilled dreams and unexpected miracles can happen in a winter wonderland called Love.

 

James Michael Pratt is the author of 10 titles including THE LOST VALENTINE, also produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame and CBS Movie of the Week Jan. 2011.  The author page at amazon.com lists a Bio and all titles to date: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B000APVUJA

For weekly connection, posts, specials, sneak peeks, or just to comment, stay in touch with the author by leaving your email @ the website: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com “Contact Me.”

IN a WONDERLAND CALLED LOVE

Photo courtesy Alan Day of Heber, Utah

A Christmas season tale of redemption and filling inner emptiness with what matters most is offered when two strangers find the meaning of life over quiet weeks of giving. They learn that the unexpected can happen if you are willing to slow down and look for it.  This short excerpt is from the narrator voice found in the manuscript in progress:

“Love, Wyoming, Population 50, exists only in the heart of every person who calls it home, or who stays for a week or two. But there’s the rub–the one thing that most won’t do. That is, most folks won’t ever visit Love; not on purpose anyway.

“It is a place without cell phones, cable TV, and internet, yet holds the magic everyone longs for. It is that intimate connection where face to face is all that’s needed to make a person feel important and needed.

“I didn’t get this wisdom from my Cheyenne ancestors, but from plain old observation.  Now this truth be told — you are all welcome to Love. Will you actually make your way here?”

Uncle Dan Echohawk, from In a Wonderland Called Love, a Christmas story now in progress.

 

James Michael Pratt is the author of 10 titles including THE LOST VALENTINE, also produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame and CBS Movie of the Week Jan. 2011.

For weekly connection, posts, specials, sneak peeks, or just to comment, stay in touch with the author by leaving your email @ the website: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com “Contact Me.”

 

The Making of Dickens “A Christmas Carol”

Author at Santa Claus Lane in Carpenteria, CA. 2001

We owe alot about the evolution of our present Christmas Day to a novelist.

In fact a novelist has kept his bestseller on the shelves, on stage,  and on the big screen — turned into no less than six different movie versions — for 174 years because he was able to take quintessential values about love and attach them to a largely uncelebrated date.

This holiday season a delightful family film, The Man Who Invented Christmas  presents the story of Charles Dickens writing of A Christmas Carol.  It offers insight on how Christmas became the sacred and family fun filled holiday that it now is.

Christmas has become so beloved since 1843’s arrival of Dickens A Christmas Carol that fun park villages and lanes across America have been dedicated to the annual event.  One such lane is shown in the photo above. It was near my hometown in Ventura County off the 101 Highway on the California coast in Carpenteria, California. The famous “Date Shakes” — among other novelties — called many travelers to tap the brakes on their north and south bound drives and indulge their inner child for a few moments.

The American celebration of Christmas combined imported traditions from our cousins in Europe.  My Dutch immigrant grandparents brought theirs, and our English, German, Danish, Swiss, Norwegian cousins (among many others) also imported theirs to make the American holiday a unique mix of Christ, Santa, Christmas trees, sleighs, parades, lights, candies, music, carols, gift and a card giving event.

As an author continually in search of the next inspiration for a novel, I find the story of Charles Dickens 1843 inspiration for the perennial classic “A Christmas Carol” compelling and worthy of every reader’s time.

Written in just a six weeks, Dickens’ self-published novel has given us the Ebeneezer Scrooge character which informs us of the cost that a cold heart really is. But it is more than that. It is a story of love lost and refound in a “it’s-never-too-late” plot that is timeless.

Writes Kate Samuelson of Time.com:

When Dickens pitched a Christmas book to his publishers, they couldn’t understand why anyone would be interested in the idea. But the author had predicted a turn in the yuletide. Queen Victoria had recently married the German Prince Albert, who brought the Christmas tree over from Germany, and the idea of the festival being a time for family and celebration was gradually seeping back into public consciousness…

I have included a link to the full background article and review of the movie celebrating Dickens creation — The Man Who Invented Christmas  — here:

http://time.com/5017067/a-christmas-carol-charles-dickens-movie/

BTW:  I give the movie a “10 Star” out of 5 rating;  a must see for every lover of the Dickens tale.

CHARACTER MATTERS — A societal crisis is solved this simply

Assume a virtue though you have it not.”  — Shakespeare

Some time ago I had the privilege of doing a book signing for one of my titles along with Golf legend Johnny Miller who was breaking out his book Called It the same day and at the same store.

We discussed life, issues with the swing, and even mental preparation before taking any swing.  I remember talking about how things “come back” to you and how important every swing we take really becomes.

If life is a game, and people are players, then some also become perfect with practice and others become users. What achievers actually do is pre-thought, and pre-practice in their minds. The outcome of those actions, when built upon thoughts played out before hand,  are winning consequences, and the difference between how good or conversely how bad those outcomes can be, is only a matter of time.

Because the power of media is deeply ingrained in a fast paced soundbite society, we find we are living in times where allegations and accusations of unlawful, inappropriate, hurtful, unwanted, and even violent behavior against others becomes instant fact before an investigation or jury is even called in to question.

“CBS fires…” and “NBC fires…”  and “NPR fires…” and “Fox New fires…” and “Hollywood mogul loses company…”  “More accusers come forward…” and “Senator embarrassed by allegations…”  and so on.

Virtue is a planned behavior. Character is forged over time by choices between virtue and vice. When changes of life are made, so personal character is also changed. As we watch the mighty in society fall each day, remember it did not happen in a day. It began with a simple thought…some time ago.

A crisis in society where character is constantly challenged through allegations of sexual and other misconduct, can be solved very simply. The cause of allegations — which if they turn out to be true — means the perpetrator practiced mentally before any physical action against another person took place.

James Allen (1864-1912) had tremendous impact upon my mind and my course in life, when in my 19th year my mother wisely handed his most famous book to me — As a Man Thinketh — and said, “Jim, I want you to read this.” What stood out to me as I read was this:

 

We become what we think about.

That premise of pre-thinking our life, our actions, who and what we want to become, is a simple formula for success, and conversely to disobey it is to ultimately fail and face disastrous consequences.

LIFE HACK and simple formula for building good character…

If you want to be well thought of as a gentleman or a lady–

Deliberately plant seeds of thought with good outcomes.

Redeem the past through giving and seeking forgiveness and…

Ensure the future by living well today.

Music Inspires Stories

 

This Guy’s in Love with You

Music often inspires elements and characters for my stories. This song is one from my youth. It seemed to play at every school and church dance, and listening to it now returns me to a certain innocence that the world seems to have lost.

Music for “Vivian’s Book of Love” could not get much better than from Burt Bacharach — Vivian’s story is also “his” story; one of a broken heart and lessons for a life well lived. Revealed in an unforgettable slow dance but fast-paced 110 page journey with the most powerful ending I could imagine.

Hope you enjoy THIS GUY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU — from the 1960’s that actually had songs of pure innocent love…