Author

Kevin Somers

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A recipe for mass murder

With the release, last week, of detailed report on the tragedy, the Sandy Hook shooting is back in the headlines.  On December 20, 2012, 20 year old, Adam Lanza, shot his sleeping mother in the face four times, drove to the elementary school, slaughtered six women and 20 children, aged 6 and 7, then killed himself.

What drives boys and men to monstrosities, massacres, and mass murder?

The inordinately affluent, dysfunctional Lanza’s have been put under a microscope and the whole world should look thorough it.  The Office of The Child Advocate, in Connecticut, said of Adam Lanza, “….  his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder.”

Millions of parents follow a formula hoping to create the next Mozart, Gretzky, Einstein, Fung…, but few are successful.  Their children, hopefully, have, at least, learned discipline and developed a work ethic.  If you want to make a mass murderer, however, get the Lanza’s cookbook and follow their recipe, to a tee.

Pitiful Adam Lanza was disadvantaged right out of the gate.  Adam was on the autism spectrum, had OCD, anxiety, depression, he was anorexic, germaphobic, ostracized, and obsessed with violence.  Perhaps, however, Adam’s biggest challenge were his parents.

With better circumstances, Adam Lanza, and his victims, may have been saved.

Raising Adam was challenging, no doubt, but his problems were exacerbated by home life.  His father was distant, then absent, and his mother over-indulgent.  Adam’s parents brought him to several specialists, hospitals, and schools.  It seems they were looking for an instant cure, silver bullet, magic potion… to fix their son, which was impossible.  Never did they follow through on therapy, or medication, always giving in to their obstinate, difficult boy.

Overly indulged children are not happy.  They don’t know it, but children want, need, and crave structure, rules, order, and learning.  Children thrive when they are challenged, encouraged, and taught that life is hard, but working harder sets you free.

There is no joy without discipline.

Adam Lanza, who got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, was miserable.

Adam was born in 1992 and his parents separated in 2001, when he was nine.  His father, Peter, a successful accountant, was living with his second wife in Manhattan, at the time of the massacre.  When he died, Adam had not seen his father or older brother in years.  Peter didn’t talk to his son, just sent money.

Adam lived with his mother, but, by the end, they, mostly, communicated via email.  Adam didn’t go to school or work, he stayed in his basement all day, everyday, playing video games and researching massacres.

Had anyone taken an interest, they would have seen, easily, his dangerous rage.  In school and at home, Adam wrote fantasy stories about murder and violence.  In his bedroom, he spent years creating a 7 X 4 spreadsheet of hundreds of mass murders and the weapons used to commit them.

In the last months of his life, Adam’s only real human connection was going to a shooting range with his gun-loving mother.  Nancy legally, wantonly, gratuitously, gluttonously purchased pistols, rifles, and ammunition; amassing a home arsenal Pablo Escobar would have admired.

Nancy allowed her profoundly disturbed, violent minded, angry, undisciplined child unfettered access to the weapons cache.

Adam was as proficient with real weapons as he was with video ones: in less than five minutes, he fired 156 bullets, in the school.  All his victims, but two, were shot multiple times.

After two years of silence, Peter Lanza, Adam’s father, spoke to the New Yorker, in 2014.

It is easy to pity a man, who is wracked with guilt and shame.  Peter Lanza wishes his son had never been born.  Adam’s suicide tells us he wished likewise.  Adam Lanza was also a well-armed, well- trained killer, dying to lash out.

Twenty sweet, little kids and six brave women, from Sandy Hook Elementary School, are dead.

Whose fault is that?

 

Photo credit: Margaret Weir

 

The Chicken Comes Home to Roost - by Kevin Somers

There was always a roof right over my head

I was well-dressed and sufficiently fed

But, my childhood was not exactly ideal

You brought me up as though I were veal

 

At that time in your history

I wasn’t, at all, a priority

I was displaced by a precious career…

It was power and money you, really, held dear

 

I came unto you at a terrible time

There were palms to grease and ladders to climb

So you bought me a gadget that looked like a gun

And taught me that slaughter is the best form of fun

 

I was left all alone like uncommon litter

With violent video games as my sitter

Tethered to screens, like a calf to a pole

I was dragged right into a dark violent hole

 

Before I was ten, I knew it was best

To put one in the brain after two in the chest

And you wonder why my mind is messed

I must say, dear Parents, I’m not impressed

 

Shooting, slashing, blasting, clashing, cutting, killing…

I learned that murder is awfully thrilling

I spent all my youth with a big blinking screen

It seems, looking back, entirely mean

 

You raised me up in a freaky war zone

I was saving the world, but all on my own

I killed and I killed and I killed some more

It was, I was taught, it was how I keep score

 

Day after night and night after day

I swivelled my thumbs and you called it play

My body went soft and my brain of no use

Quite clearly that was a form of abuse

 

The kids at my school call me a freak

They say I am awkward, useless, and weak

They speak of me often, with so much to say

But, it was you, dear Parents, who made me this way

 

But, hey!

You bought me a pistol, without a trifle

Then another, then a rifle

I’ve fallen in love with the cold, killing steel

No longer virtual, these things are real

 

I’m finally filled with requisite fuel

The rage and the means to shoot up a school

Mother and Father, from bad news to worst:

I am going to kill you two, first

 

Cluck cluck

 

Intermittent Fasting

Dr. Jason Fung is diabetes and obesity expert from Toronto.  His work is transforming people’s  lives; making them healthier and happier.  Dr. Fung is a proponent of intermittent fasting (IF).  I changed my lifestyle and began intermittent fasting the day I watched this video of Dr. Fung explaining his research.

I knew this was what I had been looking for.

I’m fascinated by intermittent fasting and Google it, regularly.  Weight loss is the most obvious, desirous, and prominent result of IF, but temporary caloric abstinence helps everything; body, mind, and soul.

There is a growing body of research discovering how and why IF performs miracles, such as anti-aging and cancer curing.  CNN asks if fasting is the fountain of youth.

The concept is simple: fast for, at least, 16 hours, each day.  Eat.  Stop eating.  Simple.  While your body is in fast mode, great things happen.  When I started IF, weight loss began, immediately.  It was freaky.  I sleep better, breathe better, feel better, and, most importantly, look better.

Inflammation issues have been resolved, as well.  I recently asked my family, “When was the last time I complained about my arthritic hips?”  No one could remember.  There’s plenty to complain about, but my hips have been cured.

In this podcast, George St Pierre, one of Canada’s finest athletes, explains to Joe Rogan, how meeting Dr. Fung and beginning intermittent fasting has changed his life.

As St. Pierre explains, his diabetes and colitis are better, his muscle density has gone up and his body fat is down.  He feels ¨better, sharper, lighter…¨  Like George, I wish I’d known about intermittent fasting, years ago.

Fasting slows the mind and leads to contentment.  It is not just food consumption, being re-evaluated.  Thanks to IF, I have more time, more energy, I’m more productive, and I spend less money.  I feel empty; less bloated and bogged down.  ¨Oh, God, I´m hungry,¨ is now, ¨Oh, good, I´m hungry.¨

I like fasting because it is free.  Almost, anyone can fast.  Fasting is simple.  There is no need to see an expert, buy supplements, record, count, restrict, exclude, follow a plan…. just stop consuming calories, for 16 hours.  Unlike a diet or weight loss plan, the end of a fast is never far away.  Each day, when I break fast, there is a sense of accomplishment; a sense of pride.

Food tastes better and is more satisfying, after a fast.  For years, everything I ate or drink came with a sliver of guilt.  Now, whatever is consumed feels earned and I enjoy eating and drinking, more than ever.  As well, since I only have one or two meals a day, I prepare them better and eat healthier.

The eight hours of consumption is to each his or her own.   I’ve read you shouldn’t eat before bed, but my feeding window is 4 pm to midnight, because I enjoy social time with friends, in the evening.

My new routine is get up, shower, and go to work.  Not having to prepare and eat breakfast, then make a lunch, streamlines mornings and I leave earlier.  I work or exercise during lunch break.  A little water during the day is all I need.  When I get home, in the evening, I enjoy a meal.

My 21 year old daughter, like many people, fasts from 7pm to 11am the next day.  She doesn’t snack after dinner and skips breakfast.  She feels better, has lost weight, and is, especially, happy her skin has cleared up.

Fasting is gaining in popularity, but it can’t be dismissed as a trend, fad, or craze, because it has been part of many cultures and religions for centuries.  According to the infallible Internet, the Buddha said, ¨I, monks, do not eat a meal in the evening.  Not eating a meal in the evening I, monks, am aware of good health and of being without illness and of buoyancy and strength and living in comfort.  Come, do you too, monks, not eat a meal in the evening.  Not eating a meal in the evening you too, monks, will be aware of good health and….. living in comfort.¨

Fasting is simple and effective, but it is not easy.  A friend, who has been trying to lose weight for years, has started IF several times, but can’t see it through.  By his own admission, he lacks the will power.  Curiously, fasting, for all it offers, can’t cure that.

 

What to make of us

Our oldest daughter is about to turn 22; the younger will be 20, soon.  Time flies, certainly, but the rapidity with which my babies became girls, then women, staggers me.

When I was young, I didn’t want children.  I assumed the relationship would be strained, so bringing antagonists into my life made no sense.  However, my older brother had two children and I saw, firsthand, the delight they brought him.

I asked him how he did it.  A man of few words, he said, “Be nice.”  Parenting made simple.

Indeed, life made simple.

Susan, my wife, is a calm, patient, kind person, who wanted children.  I knew she’d be a good mother.  We’re the same age, and got married, when we were 31.  We had Erin a year later, in March, 1997.  Bang.  We were parents.

Claire came along 23 months, later.  Bang.  We were a family.  Susan was a mother.  I was a father.  Bang, indeed.

Having children changed, everything.  For the first time, I felt love; deep, profound compassion, concern, and care for something.  I loved my family, my wife, pets, friends, hockey, travelling, Beer, writing…. but the feelings stirred by my girls were unlike anything.

My only priority was, and is, their well being.  To this day, if they are happy, I am.  However, if one is sad, I’m crushed and agonize how to fix it.  A friend, rightly, said, “You are only as happy as your saddest child.”

Susan and I took delight watching them grow up.  Toddler Claire, obsessively picking the fuzz from between her toes, during “gymnastics,” remains a highlight.  I dislike phones and think distracted parents are as negligent, self-indulgent, and irresponsible as absent ones.  “Look at me, Daddy,” has had to be amended to, “Put down that idiotic rectangle, Daddy, and look at me or I’ll grow up angry and resentful, due to a terrible role model.”   EriKa Christakis writes in The Atlantic “the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz.”

My girls have given me purpose and inspiration.  Each got a Fifty; a poem of 50 words.  Knowing how cruel the world can be, they’re shaped to the tip of a mighty pen, or the mightier sword.

—-

Dear Erin

Be the best you can be

Smell the flowers; hug a tree

Look beyond what you can see

Gaze at the sky; splash in the sea

Remember, the truth will set you free

If necessary: go for an eye, nuts, or knee

I love the girl that you call me

Dear Claire

Be nice; sit-up straight

Go outside; play until late

Don’t be afraid of love or of hate

Turn off the lights; lockup the gate

Shoot real straight and pull your weight

Celebrate, create, date, debate, fascinate, skate…

You, my girl, are amazingly great

It doesn’t take psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, scientists, experts, to know children develop into healthy, happy adults, when they are loved and nurtured, ideally, by both parents, and others.  Male role models, fathers, especially, are critical.

I taught my girlie girls to be rough and tumble, to throw and catch, to get up and hit back.  Where my wife would have indulged, I’d say, “Do it yourself.”   Then, watch, teach, help, and cheer.

I have never held back, or changed, around my girls.  I carry on, whether they are with me, or not.  Over the years, many have felt sufficiently entitled to admonish.  “You shouldn’t do that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t say that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t let your kids call you Kevin.”  (My kids call me Kevin.)

I have, and always have had, a great relationship with my girls.

You shouldn’t tell other people what to do.

Throughout evolution, it took a village to raise a child.  Villages, however, have disappeared.  The onus for raising children, then, falls, squarely, on Mom and Dad.  The number of parents, men, especially, who forsake and abdicate the opportunity and obligation to raise their children is as well documented as the tragic outcome.

Children face another, less discussed, obstacle. There are a growing number of parents, who regret having children. This is a quote from an article in Macleans, “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

My wife said, “She doesn’t speak for me.”  We agree, nothing could have been more rewarding, fascinating, satisfying, and life affirming, than our girls.

Take my “career,” my house, my money, my stuff… take it all and burn it to the ground.  I don’t care.  If Erin and Claire are fine, I’d still have everything I’ve ever loved.

The western world is richer than ever; abundance abounds.  I don’t know what to make of a privileged society, which neglects, regrets, and resents its own children.

I, really, don’t.

Postcards to my grandmother

I love writing.  Besides having two daughters, nothing has impacted my life more.  I write all the time.  I think-write. While doing everything else, my stream of consciousness writes.  Occasionally, when stars align and time allows, I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, shoulder to grindstone, and there is rapture.

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl, a musical comedy, I wrote, enjoyed success in Hamilton, our hometown, recently.  In his review, Julian Nicholson, a well-regarded theatre veteran said, “There’s not much else I can say about this farrago except that it is the most inventive and enjoyable musical I’ve seen since Spamalot.”   

My writing farrago started with postcards to my grandmother, three decades ago, on a magical journey.  From postcards, to a musical comedy, writing has taken me on another magical journey.  

After finishing university, in 1986, I worked for a while, then hit the road.  With a working-holiday visa, backpack, and $1200, I flew to London, England.  I didn’t have a credit card or clue, and no one had cell phone, back then.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, or where, or what I’d do, but made one commitment: to write my grandmother, who was housebound.

“A few months in Europe” became a six and a half year global odyssey.  Adventures included working in London, hitchhiking through Europe and Southeast Asia, working in Australia, sailing a homemade, cement boat to New Zealand and Tonga, working in Hawaii, sailing a small fishing boat to Alaska, working on a tugboat, staying with a friend in Victoria, living by the beach in Newport, California, teaching English in Japan, and riding a bike from Victoria, B.C., to Hamilton.

Each time I called, or got a letter from home, I was implored to keep writing Granny.  She loved the missives, I was told, and kept them in a box beside her.  She read them, repeatedly, and made guests enjoy /endure the communication, as well.

My grandmother was from Glasgow, originally.  She had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour, despite a hard life.  Janet Lindsey left a Glasgow slum at 17, sailed across the Atlantic, then travelled on trains, for just as long, to meet her older husband, on a dirt poor homestead, in the middle of Saskatchewan.  They had seven kids.  When my father, the second youngest, was seven, their father died. Then, things got bad.

All seven children grew to be honest, hard working, productive citizens.   

I tried to keep the postcards to my grandmother worthy of the high regard in which I held her.  After picking the perfect card, I’d plot for days before committing ink.  When I realized how quickly I’d forget “unforgettable” ideas, I started jotting them down and still do.  Writing, or getting lost in the thought of it, enhanced experiences and assuaged loneliness.  Like most travellers, I loved reading. Reading was one thing; writing another.

The lessons learned writing postcards to my Grandmother still apply: respect your audience; love your audience, be interesting; don’t be vulgar;  rhyme sometime; brevity is wit; levity’s a hit; don’t quit; have fun, son.  Go, girl.

My grandmother died, while I was on the road, and I stopped writing, temporarily.  I didn’t come back to Canada for the funeral, but, the next time I was home, I was given the box of postcards.  

In 1992, I was living in Nagoya, Japan, with a friend, talking about books, when he said, “You should write.”

There were two of us in the room.  I said, “Me?”  (Some people thought I was illiterate.)

“Yes,” he said.  “You see the world in an interesting way and have a funny way of expressing it.”  His comment changed my life.  A switch was turned on and hasn’t gone off, since. I thought of Granny’s postcards and the accompanying bliss.  

A week after my friend’s suggestion, I was cruising, on my beach cruiser, through a narrow Nagoya alley-street, when I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and stood up, on my pedals, to accommodate the epiphany.

I knew one thing about writing: it required a pen and paper, which I bought, at a lush Japanese department store.  That was easy.  The next requirement was an idea, which couldn’t be purchased in the consumer economy.

“Write what you know” is a sound principal.  I was reading spy novels, at the time, but couldn’t write one.  All I knew was growing up, a caucasian male, in the suburbs of Ottawa: a blueprint for dull.

Nevertheless, that’s what my book is about.  It took me 14 years and hundreds of rewrites before I published it.   The first few versions were scrawled, with pens, into notebooks.  At various stages in its development, I’d send out waves of submissions and have received over 200 rejection letters.  

The Internet changed everything, and, in 2006, I self-published I’m Gretzky, You’re Gretzky, which some friends and family like.  Some love.

One of the publishing houses, which rejected my manuscript, was Insomniac Press.  Mike O’Connor, the proprietor, included a nice, personal note, so I called him and asked for advice.  He said, “Get published in newspapers and magazines to establish your name and credibility.”

Later, when the first edition of The Hamilton Examiner arrived at our door, I felt divine intervention.  It was January 1998 and the periodical was monthly.  Terrified, I vowed to write a submission, nevertheless.  In February, of that year, Team Canada was eliminated from the Nagano Olympics, in Japan, and Wayne Gretzky watched the final shootout, from the bench.  

I was crushed.  Such is my reverence for the man, I wanted to call my daughters Wayne and Gretzky.  My wife said, “No,” so I called my book, my other baby, Gretzky.  

After the Nagano loss, I wrote a piece called “Chasing The Dragon No More,” articulating my need to stop having Canadian hockey players determine the quality of my life.  I would find my own happiness, I wrote, through lottery tickets.  I printed the article and hand delivered it to Sarah Thomson (nee Whatmough,) the publisher of The Hamilton Examiner and later the Women’t Post. Sarah liked the submission and published it, which was the start of a long, wonderful relationship.  

Once a month, for the next 12 years, I’d write a 1000 word piece for Sarah.  I wrote about my kids, pets, gardening, traveling, writing…  It was perfect.  I worked hard to produce a piece decent enough to be published. I stumbled and fell, a lot, but there was always a hand to help up.  I started finding a voice and confidence.  

After five years, in 2003, Sarah asked me to write about art; once a month, 1000 words, which was another life changer.  The request came from nowhere: I knew little about art.  For three years, I would immerse myself in millions of words, hundreds of pictures, hours of thought, and countless rewrites to distill an article, worthy of the subject.  It was a surreal education, which honed writing skills, sharpened focus, and taught me about art, artists, fraud, and fraudsters.

Dr. Barry Allen, a guide on my artisan safari, said it best, “Art is an accomplishment.”

I interviewed Fred Eaglesmith, also in 2003, for The Women’s Post and ended up making two fan magazines for him.  Fred had an idea for movie, and he asked if I’d write the screenplay.  I never say, “No,” and tried to put Fred’s vision into a manuscript.  The script, Billy Rocker, about a aging, failing, murderous rockabilly star was well-received, but quickly buried.

The exercise was far from futile, because I discovered a love of writing dialogue, so acute, I wrote a play, Unethical.  When it was finished, I shared Unethical with a friend, who encouraged me to send it “somewhere.”  (Thank you, Pascale.)

I didn’t know what to do with a play, so mailed a copy to Luke Brown, at Theatre Aquarius, in Hamilton.  Expecting another letter for the rejection file, I was, joyously, surprised, when I got an email from Luke, wanting to meet.  Life changer.

In 2012, Luke invited me into the Theatre Aquarius Playwright’s Unit, which has been another surreal education.  The world of theatre is a howling, joyous one.  In 2013, I wrote a comedy, Jack And Jill Beiber Fever, and brought it to the Playwright’s Unit.  It was dissected and vetted beautifully, by Luke and the other playwrights.  

Ryan Sero, a member of the unit, brought the play to The Hamilton Fringe Festival.  Ryan, who directed and starred, assembled a great cast and they put on a terrific show.  Watching was delightful and instructive.  There is a quantum leap from page to stage and seeing actors take words from my script and make them dance and sing, was exhilarating.  

Playwriting is a gas.

In 2005, a friend suggested I write for a Hamilton blog, Raise The Hammer, a website dedicated to making Hamilton a better place.  Free, easy, and limitless, I fell in love with writing on the Internet and have been publishing articles, reviews, poems, short stories… on RTH, since. 

My earliest memory is my mother reading me Dr. Seuss.  I love rhyme and poetry.  In 1996, my oldest daughter was born and I started writing poems, all of which rhyme. 

Along the way, I started a series called 50, which are poems of exactly fifty words.  A play, poem, or article take forever, so when there’s a need to finish something, a 50 is ideal.

Life Write Life

Family, job, pets… sleep, read, write…

And hope that life, somehow, works out

If life didn’t get in the way so such

There’d be much more time to write, no doubt

But, if not for life and all its business

There’d be nothing much to write about

Right, Life?

Right

Combining a love of poetry and playwriting lends itself to musicals, so I wrote one.  I’ve blessed to collaborate with Becky Jackson, who writes beautiful music to accompany the lyrics.  

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl takes the idea of stage parents, who live vicariously through their children, and blows it up.  Eli, who’s been pushed since conception, has lost touch with reality and sees life as a big musical.  Eli sings and dances all the time. Similarly, Pearl lives as if she’s in a Shakespearean drama, and always speaks the Bard’s tongue.  

It was fun to write, but more enjoyable watching the talented cast bring the loveable nuts to life.  Now, I’m writing a children’s musical comedy, Singerella.  It’s Cinderella meets American Idol and it is a pleasure to write.  Becky is writing great music, again.  

Someday, I hope, a large cast of children light it up and Singerella is a smash hit. If it is or isn’t, I’ll keep writing.  I hope to die with a pen in my hand.

The greatest joy I get from writing is sharing the love.  I’ve run a Writers’ Club for children, aged 8 – 13, for the last dozen years.  When we perform, I tell the audience they’re about to see a magic show, because students, using only pens and paper, make art, where there was none and everyone has fun.  My (writer) friend, Peter Gruner, wrote of his experience, watching children craft killer, rhyming poems, on the spot.

 Writing is a wonderful hobby: it’s free, fun, liberating, empowering, fun, therapeutic, fun, challenging, rewarding, disappointing, and fun.  You can do it, anywhere, anytime; think about it.  If you’ve, ever, considered picking up a pen or pecking away on a keyboard, I can’t recommend it enough.  

 

Like a Dr. Seuss character setting off with a backpack and a one-way ticket, you never know the places you’ll go.  If you’re not sure where to begin your writing journey, start with something small, like a postcard to your grandmother.  She’ll love it.  You’ll love it, too, Writer.

Write on.