An Ideal War

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to talk briefly with a veteran who served in the recent Iraq war and was wounded in the spine by an IED. The doctors said he’d never walk again, yet there he was moving about with the aid of a cane. I found him and his story brave and admirable, but what I want to especially point out is a particular aspect of our conversation.

Having fought in Iraq, the issue of politics in war inevitably came up. It soon turned to the current threat of ISIS. He expressed his thoughts and then put the spotlight on me, wondering what a young American like me thought about it all. My mind immediately lighted upon an idea that I felt was true enough. I realized that America will probably have a hard time fighting ISIS, not because of weaponry or training (I’d say we beat them there) but in a more crucial way. I saw that, frankly, America lacks any cohesive ideal while ISIS is pretty solid on theirs.

An ideal, as a noun, can be defined as “a standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at” (thank you, Google). The wars that America have been successful in have been the wars in which our ideal was clear. Typically the ideal was freedom and democracy. We used to have a patriotism unlike any other country. Americans used to be great fighters because they knew their ideal, understood the price to attain it, and pressed on through every hardship to see it accomplished. In recent decades, we’ve lost that.

Let’s face it, Americans are fattened cows roaming about the hillside for the next clump of green grass we can devour. Hundreds of restaurants spring up at every turn; convenience stores meet our every need; various venues to entertain us are in over-abundance. Not that any of those things are bad. They’re really the outpouring of the freedom our veterans have so bravely fought (and died) for. But an abundance of victories, over time, can lull even the greatest giant to sleep if he is not watchful.

And that’s where we are now, a sleeping giant stirring restlessly at the sound of wars and upheaval far away and yet of immediate concern. I, like every good American, want to see ISIS defeated and dismantled, blotted out from the face of the earth. But while I’m no military adviser or high-up politician, I can see what’s happening on the home front, and what I see needs to change if we want any hope of soundly standing up to ISIS. What we need is an ideal, an ideal of freedom (largely rooted in a strong sense of morality) that pushes past our cynicism and awakes us from our slumber to defend the things we hold so dear.

Poem Preview: The Battle Anew

As I’ve announced previously on this blog, my next big writing project is a collection of poetry I’ve written over the past decade. Lately, I’ve been typing up some poems and will soon begin the weeding out process of who will stay and who will go. This one, written while a freshman in high school, is in contention. What do you think? Thumbs up? Or thumbs down?

The Battle Anew
By J.R. Underdown

Can you hear the sacred battle cry?
Up in arms, all sisters, brothers!
There’s no escape, the battle’s nigh.
We must fight for others.

Arm yourself, train and prepare.
We’ve waited too long to fight.
We can withstand this deadly air;
With God, we can face the night.

Can you sense the battle anew?
It’s rising day by day.
Hear its growl, what will you do?
You can’t step from its way.

So draw your sword, if you’re with us,
We’ll fight side by side.
We’re washed by the blood of Jesus;
He can turn the tide!

But, oh God, who will go?
Who’s brave enough to stand?
You’re children act as if they don’t know,
Arouse their hearts with Your hand.

A spark, a flame is what we need
To awaken our hearts again.
Oh dear Lord, hear my plead!
Take us away from sin.

Confusion, though around us blows,
Can’t stop the cause of God.
Why be afraid? For He knows
What ground, tomorrow, we’ll trod.

And finally, Lord, help me to rise
And lead others to the fight.
May I be brave, and open my eyes
So that You may cut the night.

Summer Tunes

With Memorial Day behind us, that means summer is coming into its own. What can make your summer even better is having the right tunes to bear you through the long hot days and dark muggy nights. Here’s a list of 10 albums I own that I think make for a great summer soundtrack…

1) Suburba (House of Heroes)- While pretty much every House of Heroes album is a “summer” album, this gem is the epitome of them. There’s a loose story running throughout adding to its draw. Surefire hits include “Independence Day for a Petty Thief”, “Salt in the Sea”, and “Relentless”.

2) When I Was Younger (Colony House)- This amazing album came out last summer and it was the one that defined my waning days of the season. It starts off with 80’s tinged tunes like “Silhouettes”, moves into heavier rock territory with “Keep On Keeping On”, and mellows out nicely with introspective cuts like “Moving Forward”.

3) Summer EP (Jon Foreman)- All of his seasonal EP’s are worth looking into and this one gives the perfect soft touch to the summer months with “A Mirror is Harder to Hold”, “Resurrect Me”, and “Deep in Your Eyes”.

4) Poems, Prayers, and Promises (John Denver)- Another softer album to balance out the rockers. Crank up your car radio to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or wish you were in the Rockies with “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado”. The longing apparent on this album could be the perfect prep album for vacation!

5) Almeria (Lifehouse)- Okay, I don’t own this album in full, but I have listened to it on Spotify frequently. It has a more “western” feel to it and, along with the sweet cover art, makes it an easy choice for the summer, especially with songs like “Between the Raindrops”, “Right Back Home”, and “Gotta Be Tonight”.

6) Wake Up Call (Petra)- I had to fit Petra on here somewhere! This album comes with some scorching Southern-fried rockers like “Midnight Oil”, “Strong Convictions”, and “Underneath the Blood”.

7) The Eleventh Hour (Jars of Clay)- Of all their albums, I associate this one the most with summer for a number of reasons. It has a good balance of rockers (like “Revolution”), quiet moments (“Silence”), and anything in between (“I Need You”).

8) The Peace of Wild Things (Paper Route)- A fine album for any season, this one lends itself to summer as well with sing-out-loud hits like “Two Hearts” and “You and I” and mellower cuts like “Sugar”.

9) ‘Til We See the Shore (Seabird)- I’m sure I’ve mentioned this album before, but it’s just that good. From the bouncy opener “Black and Blue” to the driving “Let Me Go On” to the dance-worthy cut “Maggie Mahoney”, spin this record and you’ll be rocking out this summer.

10) Vessel (Twenty One Pilots)- I’m not a huge rap fan, but this group rides a good balance of rap/electronic/pop. The sheer amount of energy this album carries is worth some summer listens. “Holding on to You”, “House of Gold”, and “Screen” should be checked out.

Honorable Mention:

11) Everything Will Be Alright in the End (Weezer)- Again, don’t own this album, but I’m close to buying it. The tracks are great and will give you the pep you need for every turn of summer. Highlights include “Back to the Shack”, “Da Vinci”, and “The British are Coming”.

What are some albums/tracks you’ll be spinning this summer?

The Price of Fame

In 1996, a song was released that propelled a lowly band called “The Verve Pipe” into being one of the great one-hit wonders of the 90’s: “The Freshmen.” The song is basically about misbegotten youth, beginning with an abortion, continuing with a suicide, and ending with the ugly aftermath of broken relationships. It’s a chilling, gripping song that honestly looks at the folly of youth.

You could stop there and think that’s it. They wrote a deeply emotional song, became famous for it, and moved on. But the curious tale of the song and its writer, Brian Vander Ark, continues with The Verve Pipe’s follow-up album, a self-titled work that examines fame and specifically how the band got there…through “The Freshmen.”

Particularly interesting is the song “Hero,” in which the singer seems to regret writing the song that propelled him and his band into fame. In it he acknowledges the fame he’s received, but also admits that, in retrospect, he feels like a “creep” for becoming famous on “another suicide”, that is, someone else’s pain. In the end, he seems to warn the listener not to take the song too far with the lyric, “For your abuse/but not intended for internal use.”

The guilt he expressed over his fame is striking. He undoubtedly wanted to be famous, he even says as much in the song: “But a hero’s what I want to be.” Yet, it seems, to him, the price wasn’t worth it. He took a very serious and emotional subject and crafted a hit pop song out of it. Some people probably wouldn’t think twice about it, but he feels almost ashamed for how he exploited it.

Much could be said about these two songs and the dilemmas they produce, but I’ll make my point simple: You may want fame on a certain level, but beware of how that fame may affect you. Sometimes the price of fame isn’t worth the trouble (or guilt) it causes you.

Here’s a quote from Flying Colours, a Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester, that I think summarizes what I’m trying to say:

“Prospect, and not possession, was what gave pleasure, and [Hornblower’s] cross-grainedness would deprive him, now that he had made that discovery, even of the pleasure in prospect. He misdoubted everything so much. Freedom that could only be bought by Maria’s death was not a freedom worth having; honours granted by those that had the granting of them were no honours at all; and no security was really worth the loss of insecurity. What life gave with one hand she took back with the other.”

Behind “Plethora Day”

If you’ve read through the novel Plethora, you probably noted that the date the book takes place on is April 18th, 2008. If you look on the calendar for that year, you’ll notice it’s on a Friday, a natural date for a prom night. You probably didn’t think the date too consequential…but is it?

I believe when a writer tells a story, a little bit of his/her soul goes into it. I could mention several things off-hand from Plethora that made their way into the story because of the effect something from the real world had on me. And one of those elements is the date, April 18, 2008.

On that date in history, I went to my high school’s prom (technically it was called a “Junior/Senior”…but I’ll just call it prom). Just like Matt and Laura, I was a senior in high school, itching to have freedom, to grow up and leave behind high school life. And also like Matt and Laura, I saw prom as a getaway from the stress life was compounding on me (there are a number of ironies in the previous 2 sentences that are a whole other post altogether). Once more, like Matt and Laura, that escape wasn’t quite what I hoped for.

I didn’t get pulled into a wild adventure in some far-off land, but the night turned unexpectedly in so many ways. It touched off a sequence of events that would drag through my final month of high school. I allowed for Matt and Laura’s crazy prom night to fall on the same date as mine because life would never be the same for them after that, just as it was for me.

To this day I still remember the date, probably in part thanks to Plethora. If I revealed all the reasons why the date bears such a mark on my soul, you’d probably think me melodramatic and pitiful. And I would agree with you. But I can’t deny my past and what’s shaped me…or in this case, what shaped a story.

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Thanks for reading! Don’t forget, Plethora is free this weekend, through Monday! It is also available for $9.99 in paperback.

Happy Plethora Day Weekend!

Happy Plethora Day Weekend, everyone!

What is “Plethora Day”, you may be wondering? Plethora Day is April 18th, the day (or night) the story inside Plethora takes place. To celebrate, I’m giving away the ebook version for FREE on Amazon! You have until Monday to download your free edition if you don’t already have it on your e-reader.

Also, to add to the festivities, I will be posting a special “behind the scenes” post about Plethora tomorrow. Check back here in the morning to find out why the novel takes place on such a specific date.

If you’d rather have a hard copy of the book, that is available now as well! Pick it up here and enjoy!

Plethora on Paper!

Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night sweating because you wish Plethora was in paperback form? Or maybe you’re a traditional type of reader who would rather read a printed book instead of a lighted screen?

Well, let the thought trouble you no more, for you now have an option!

I am pleased to announce that Plethora is now available in paperback form through Createspace publishing! It’s available for $9.99 and you can buy it off of the Createspace website or via Amazon.  You can also still download it as an ebook for 99 cents if that is your preferred method of reading.

Enjoy the journey and let me know what you think!

final cover

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