Inspiration for Black and White and the USMC

It has been quite a while, but I've been a busy bee. Thank you all for your kind emails and words of encouragement regarding the editing of Black and White. Things are progressing, but in relation to why there's been no update, I wanted to share a few things. As many of you know I am the Chief Operations Officer for Ryan's Project, a non-profit organization that aims to fulfill the last wish of my late friend Ryan Matthew Robinson, USMC. Prior to his untimely passing due to complications with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Ryan expressed to his father that his trips to the Veteran's Affairs (VA) hospital left him angered and sad, due to the all-around neglect of our nation's veterans, especially his fellow Marines.

Ryan expressed his wish to set up a non-profit organization to assist wounded Marines to the annual USMC birthday ball celebrations, providing all accommodations, including the fee for entrance, hotel, dress blues, a date, transportation, etc. This is our debut year and we have achieved that goal. Since the Marine Corps Ball events take place between October-November, this project has dominated my focus.

The reason I share this is to not only apologize for my lack of updates on the progress of the novel, but also to provide some insight as to the inspiration for Black and White. Ryan Robinson was one of those human beings that idealistically believed in the very best of everyone, and because of this, was fond of pushing anyone in his life to their greatest potential. We shared that habit.

As a daughter to a Vietnam veteran that suffered his entire adult life with alcoholism and Post Traumatic Stress, I grew up with the effects of war. My willingness to understand enabled Ryan to express himself as a warrior, not just a childhood friend. He would often rant from Texas while I sat in Arizona traffic his philosophical questions regarding everything from religion and politics to the nature of humanity, to the brutality of war. I would ponder for these questions for days, eventually finding logic or philosophical reason for him to consider, or failing to do so because the gravity of his existential concerns were unanswerable. It was a platonic friendship of idea exchange; one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

When I expressed to Ryan my intentions to work with veterans of my generation as a career, he pushed (harassed, really) for me to volunteer. Ryan would tell me of his trips to the VA, using both reason, guilt and my own desire to be helpful against me. Eventually, he sent me "patients", whether I liked it or not, knowing I would not turn away a stranger that had worked up the courage to contact someone. I received phone calls from veterans of my nation with worries or concerns to lay at my feet.  Sometimes they would tell me their names, sometimes they wouldn't.

This experience changed my life as Ryan knew it would. I came to know that in the age of declining morality and absence of virtue, the concepts of honor, duty and commitment are still alive and well in our nation's veterans. Many return home to unfathomable emotional, mental and physical pain to an unconcerned population with few resources at their disposal. Many just want to be understood, many are angry, and many just want to make it all stop. I did not counsel these men as I am not a physician, but I listened to them and provided advice where I could. Sometimes that's all people need: a neutral party to just listen.

When Ryan passed away, his loss was devastating to everyone. I flew from Arizona to pay my respects, meeting incredible people that came to do the same. That evening and the next day, I listened to the warriors of my generation's Mesopotamian conflicts and learned a great deal about what our modern soldiers and Marines endure abroad and at home, of what they feel and think about these decade-long conflicts and the Americans at home that sent them to their duty. Never before had I listened so much, learned so much, and felt so grateful to be under their protection; they are truly the next Greatest Generation.

I wrote the outline for Black and White on the plane ride home. Though the characters and story had nothing to do with Ryan or any of the men that shared, I was inspired by such courage, saddened by the deep truth in their statements, profoundly touched by their candor, angry at injustices of our system, and desperate to continue helping in any way. As a giver in this world of takers, I had long held the belief that takers will extract from you as much as you're willing to give, eventually draining you of your desire to continue, but these people were a different breed. They were givers in the purest sense, human sacrifices who would give their lives, their freedom and their comfort for others; givers that were now forced to take by necessity. Is there a more noble cause for a patriot grateful for such unselfish actions but to help by any means? I have yet to find it.

Ryan's Project has been a constant endeavor since January 2011, but this month I set aside Black and White's edits to work with the Ryan's Project team, Marines and our community to ensure that the Marines of Ryan's Project received everything they needed. I have seen my dear friend's last wish come true before my very eyes. This weekend I will attend my first Marine Corps Ball representing Ryan's Project.  I feel honored to be apart of this, grateful for the opportunity to give to such outstanding individuals, and hopeful that every sponsored Marine feels valued and appreciated for their sacrifices. This is the least, I, or anyone else involved in our organization can do to return the gratitude.

Edits on Black and White will resume Monday. For all of the awesome men and women that were just wondering the status of this project, I hope you know how much that means to me. I tried to reply to every person, but if I missed you please know it was by accident. Thank you all for your patience, support and encouragement. I have included below an excerpt from the revised Chapter 3: Expectations. This excerpt explains why the main character Jason chose to reject his father’s hopes he would join his firm as an investment banker and follow in his grandfather’s (WWII Guadalcanal veteran) footsteps to the Marine Corps; a decision he reflects upon with fondness, pride and sacred value:

I had been in my math class when the teacher said five words I’ll never forget: “our country is under attack”. She reminded us to remain calm, but I was already out the door and crossing the campus lawn. I immediately called home as I stood outside the foyer, watching streams of people head for campus televisions as the phone rang. Finally Anna confirmed my father wasn’t in New York and my mother was out getting groceries. My relief didn’t last.

As I snapped my phone shut, I observed my surroundings. People were everywhere, talking, running, walking quickly in every direction. Standing still for that brief moment in that swarming sea of people, I felt something. It was if we all knew we were standing on the edge of chaos, right on the brink of something grave and life-changing. The tension, worry and indefinable fear hovered in the air like a thick, invisible mist. In retrospect, that unspoken collective intuition had been eerily correct.

Crowding in the lounge with hundreds of others, we watched history unfold. The planes weren't visible, but the reports on the ground and in the news studio told us what had happened. There were people inside those buildings and  my nation's largest city was most definitely under attack. Then 110 floors collapsed and none of us could breathe. We sat still as stone as our fellow Americans joined hands and jumped to their death instead of burning alive. The second tower fell and everyone reacted. Some cried, some screamed, some whispered their horror. I did none of those things.

Rage coursed through my veins as I helplessly watched innocent people flee for their lives, as the eerie, repetitive sirens of overturned fire-trucks droned and black clouds enveloped everything. I wanted revenge.

I joined the Marines the following afternoon not only because I wanted to fight those responsible, but because that’s what my grandfather would’ve done. According to Sgt. Henry Ascot, in order to fight with my grandfather's legendary 3/5 battalion, I just had to sign on the dotted line. So I did. My father was furious and threatened to disinherit me until my mother threatened to divorce him in return. Not since I graduated from boot camp had I seen him and that was fine by me. No hard feelings. He was my father, but we didn’t respect one another. Sometimes that was just the way the world worked.

Ascot was a lying son of a bitch, of course, and my own naivety was embarrassing now. Believing I could waltz right into the most decorated battalion in the Corps fresh out of training was the height of hubris, an arrogance that died my first day in boot camp. He wasn’t completely full of shit, though. I did belong to the best fighting force in the world, and did my duty to myself and my country. Even made it to 3/5 during my final tour. If my grandfather were still alive, he would’ve been proud of the Marine I had become. Even if that was all over now.

Happy 236th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps and thank you to every single Marine that ever answered their country's call in service.