21 Apr

Daily Persistence: The First Ten Years, and More

Daily-snapshot
Time is weird.

Due to conversations Lisa and I have had recently, I just took a little break and went back to the web journal I kept back in the old days. Yes, I mean back when there was no WordPress, no Facebook, and no Twitter. I mean back in the day when there was only me and Notepad and a FTP link to server space.

It was an interesting spin.

I eventually called the place “Daily Persistence.” My first entry was over twenty years ago, September 21, 1996.

It would be almost a year (July 6, 1997) before I would actually title a piece—a tiny bit about meeting Dr. Demento, one of my weird heroes, at a convention. My next titled piece was in September. That whole year was raw. Very, very raw. Simple entries that primarily tracked submissions. That’s what the place was then, a simple Web Presence before there were more complex Web Presences, a place where I and a few friends could share stuff.

Then it grew.

I have nice little sidebar-link menus that run up to 2005, but the whole things continues to 2009–to get there, you need to follow the chained links.

I don’t know that I have a great point to this post, except to note that it was strange to do, and that it brought back memories.

And that time is weird, of course.

Let’s not forget that.

Time is definitely weird.

05 Feb

Making it

If you’re a new writer, I want you to think about this.

Technically, the idea applies to everyone—I lived for years in the corporate world of product development, and the idea applies there, too—but new writers or others in creative fields will probably relate to it more than others.

To you, I want to say that you are going into a field where actual people make their living as their actual selves. By that, I mean their name is their brand, and the brand is their name—unless, of course, you have a series of pen names…but even then it’s the same thing, it’s just that those names can come and go. Names matter. Readers buy names they trust. Even the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises learned that they sold more books when they had name writers do the work.

When you are a new writer, completely out there on your own, those names you see chiseled into the bookstore racks feel like unobtanium, right? You go to there and see the Gaimans and the Kings and the LeGuins and the < insert your favorite author here >s and it’s like stepping into a hall of Gods.

However, you’re going into a business where, if you don’t quit and you work hard, you’ll almost certainly have at least a little success. And having at least a little success means that a newbie writer is eventually destined to rub elbows with those heroes. When you work in the field long enough, it’s natural to get to the point where some very cool things happen.

Yesterday, one of those things happened to me when Kris Rusch posted her recommended reading list for January, and included both Starflight and Starburst on it.

My first thought was “wow, that’s really, really nice of her,” and that I was going to thank her when I saw her later this month.

Then I read her commentary, I flashed on something valuable (to me, anyway).

I’ve read Ron’s work since before he sold his very first short story. I remember his work arriving across my desk when I was editing. I always looked forward to whatever he had to offer, even before his craft had caught up to his idea machine. Once those two things combined, and he added powerful storytelling to the mix, Ron went from writer to watch to writer to read no matter what.

This block made me reflect on where I’ve been.

The thing is, I know Kris Rusch now. I’ve written for her, I’ve learned from her, marveled at her innate skills from close up. We’ve shared jokes. She’s given me contract advice, helped me with dialect, helped me make an award quality story even better. Along with my daughter, we’ve shared a laser battle, fer cryin’ out loud. That’s right, I’m among what are certainly only a few people who can say “I’ve been to war with Kris Rusch.” (this makes me giggle just typing it).

When I read that block she wrote about me, I looked at Lisa and said, “If someone told me twenty years ago that Kris Rusch was going to put something I wrote on a recommended reading list, I would have…well….”

Because Kris, to me, was one of those icons. As a newbie writer, I wanted to sell stories to her, of course, but mostly I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be able to write across the spectrum of fiction. I wanted to be prolific. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I listened to her at convention panels (these were the days when “blogs” didn’t really exist, but were, at best “web journals”). I went to her and Dean’s “show” when it was in town. I devoured her short stories in particular, because that’s what I was trying to write at the time.

I’m not saying this to pump myself up, or to pump her up, or anything else. Nice things happen from time to time when you are in this business, though, and the day I stop being excited by being included on this kind of list is the day I should quit doing this kind of work. When these things happen, however, rather than spend a few hundred words on them, I generally just note them here and move on.

This one is a little different, though. If I look at this in the right way it helps me see things more clearly. If you are a new writer, I want you to see that this is a business where people flow in and out, and where the people are just that—people. The names you see as unobtanium today? Well, a lot of them are going to be gone from the racks twenty and thirty years from now, but they’re still just folks like you and me. Assuming you stay with it, those who remain, well, somewhere along the line those heroes—while remaining heroes in that compartment of your brain that is always an awkward beginner—have a very real chance to become “just people” too. You are, in all the ways that matter, just like them. Talk to them and you find their careers happened just like yours did and will, by doing hard work that they loved until they got where ever they are.

Which is pretty danged cool.

If you are like me, that change of view is not going to happen at the flick of a switch. You’re not going to sign a contract or get the keys to SFWA or whatever, and suddenly feel like you’re with the “in” crowd. In fact, if you’re like me you’ll never really feel any different at all. If you are like me, your “career” will not feel like it ever changed.

Of course, I am no Name. My career is not (yet?) in the leagues of the people I grew up reading. I’m no Stephen King, as the comment invariably comes up when speaking with people who suddenly learn I’m a writer. I’m no Dean, I’m no Kris. I’m no Mike or Laura Resnick or Kevin Anderson. I’m no J.K. Rowling. No Neil Gaiman. No Connie Willis. No John Scalzi. I’m not any one of a hundred different people I could name (some of whom came up in my “class”). I’m just me. My career is whatever it is. But I can look back and see a hundred or so short stories, and a successful fantasy series, and a newly launched SF series, and a thriller coming out, and … well … holy crap … I mean, I may not feel like any of those folks, but the fact is that if my 20-years-ago self saw this he would be holding parties every night. I can fairly honestly say that under my blustery exterior, my 20-year-ago self would have considered what I’m doing right now as being unobtainium. Somewhere along the way, though, somehow, without me understanding how it happened, this level of unobtanium became, uh, obtainium.

That’s the thing, you see? That’s the reason I’m writing this overblown bit of self-aggrandizing conversation.

I’m a writer. I have a career. I can tell, because I’ve been doing this for … well … a lot of years, and because I’m still doing it, and because there’s at least a little bit of money in it. I can tell because I feel like I’m slowly getting better, and because I still want to keep getting better, and because … well … it has become part of who I am.

If you are a new writer, this is important to keep in mind. It’s been helpful to me to see Kris’s comments because, like the people I know who are successful in this business, I’ve been on a months-long struggle to make various deadlines. Nose hard to the grindstone, as it were. Creating things. Packaging things. Attempting to live something of a real life in there somewhere, and watching some projects do okay while others just kind of cook along at a slow burn. Add on top of that the extremely depressing and distressing things that are going on around us, and it’s been easy to get stuck in the mire.

So, here’s the thing:

If you’re setting off on this kind of a career I want you to promise that every now and again you’ll stop and look at yourself from the eyes of the person you were five years or ten years before, and I want you to see how cool the current you would have looked in the eyes of that person of the past. I want you to say “Wow, that’s freaking awesome. I wish I could be them.”

Because, if I’m right, you’ll be mired in the muck and trying to keep your head above water. And if I’m right, you’ll be worried that your next book, story, song, or whatever, is going to tank. You’ll probably be in the middle of a day job that’s not working how you want it too, or worse, a day job that’s brilliant and that you’re good at that’s taking all your time. Or you’ll have a family thing happening that you know in your heart is higher priority. Or you’ll get your 50th rejection (or, like me, your 1,000th), and you’ll be questioning the very idea of your existence as an artistic person.

That’s the moment that I want you to promise you’ll do what I did when I saw Kris’s words: Look into the metaphorical mirror and say “hey, dude (you can call yourself dude even if you’re a woman, right?), check this out. It’s all cool. You’re making it, right? You’re making it.”

Then take a deep breath, take care of yourself, and get back to making what you make.

16 Jan

Seriously, Martin, just get over it

So, I wrote and posted this a couple years back. It’s a post that discusses my own experience with reading Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Reading it today is hard.

Stunningly hard in some ways.

I suggest you read it now, though. And as you read it I suggest you imagine Dr. King sitting in the cell he wrote it in, and imagine a citizen of the city entering into the jailhouse, probably smoking a cigarette if he’s a male. Imagine that citizen peering into the cell where the pencil is flashing. Then imagine that citizen straightening up, crossing his arms, and saying, “Seriously, Martin, just get over it.”

Then imagine a world in which Dr. King had followed that advice.

01 Jan

2017: whereupon we attempt to save ourselves trouble

This is a strange New Year’s Day post. It went places that I didn’t intend it to go. Sorry about that. I debated not posting it, but then, what would that say about me?

—-

In the late 60s, when I was a young boy, there were only three television stations. All of them played thirty minutes of news each night. Of those thirty minutes, a lot of them were focused on the Vietnam War in some way or another. I don’t remember that specifically. I mean, I was seven in 1968, right? I have no idea how many minutes Huntley and Brinkley gave to the war. But I remember the images of men in dull green uniforms, camouflaged and shooting weapons while they were running through a thick and smoke-filled jungle. This was part of the norm of the day. As I’ve written before, I grew up fully expecting to go to a similar place.

I don’t remember being particularly afraid of that. I was a kid. That’s what you did. You grew up and you went to the Army and that was pretty much that.

My great uncle had been in the pacific theater of WWII. My grandfather had not served, but only because he had a skill that the army needed more in the states—the ability to drive double trailer trucks, which were used to move everything around. My dad was too young for WWII, and was an academic at later times, and did not serve either…so that told me something that didn’t really register at the time. Of course, his brother was in college, too, and was still going to be drafted. Perhaps this was the difference between an engineering degree and one in Russian History. Dunno. Regardless, my uncle enlisted for three years rather than take the two he would have been indebted to if he waited for the draft. For that, he got to select his first assignment.

So, yeah, that’s how it was.

I expected, without any real dread, to go overseas and do army things. Or, maybe air force things. I liked things that flew, after all.

Realize that I had no idea why these soldiers were fighting except that they were heroes, and they were in some way protecting us from the loss of freedoms that we hold so dear. That seemed like it was a good thing to fight about. I fully understood the Red Commies were no good.

It never crossed my mind to consider other ideas. Never crossed my mind to ask deeper questions. Again: seven, maybe eight. This was just what normally happened.

I’m thinking about this now because for the past three days Lisa and I have binge watched the old Band of Brothers HBO series, which, for the folks who weren’t paying attention when it first came out fifteen years ago (a group that includes me), is a 10-episode series that presents the events around Easy Company of the famous 101st Airborne from their training camp, to D-Day, through the Battle of the Bulge, and out to the end of WWII. It is not focused on the war, exactly, but on the men—or, more specifically, what these men actually did. How they trained, and what they thought of that training. How they jumped from airplanes into flak-filled air. How they followed orders, or in some cases did not. Who they followed, and why. How they dealt with the multitude of harsh aspects of their job. In the end, the series reflects how the unit became the unit they were.

At one point, while sitting in the back of a transport truck, some of the unit passed a string of German prisoners being marched the opposite direction. One of the men of Easy Company heckles the prisoners, growing more agitated as time passes. He’s angry at them. He’s frustrated with the situation he’s in. He’s tired and sore and he’s seen his friends die at the hands of these prisoners. Finally he stands up as the trunk bounces him around and he screams at them, ending his tirade by asking them all “What in the fuck are we here for?”

This, of course, is before the allied forces come across the Landsburg concentration camp, a moment when the series shows us so clearly exactly what these men were doing in Europe.

So.

Here’s the thing.

With the benefit of hindsight, I admit fully that I watched nearly every frame of this series with the idea that I was observing the price that real people paid to defeat fascism in the 1940s. By price, I don’t mean just woundings or deaths—though these casualty figures are the easiest factors to measure, and those numbers alone are staggering and mind-boggling enough that they should make anyone pause. What I mean, in addition to those base figures, are the decisions that these people were required to make, the balances they had to weigh, and the lasting effect that their decisions had on their lives. People who live through these things do not survive. They become different people, and in the end that too is a deeply grievous cost, a cost that is nearly impossible to measure and that is too often forgotten by anyone who was not actually there.

It is important, I think, to realize that these were not the only prices paid in that time. I think it is very important for us today to remember there were two sides to this war.

Toward the end of Band of Brothers, as the company moves through Europe and liberates a string of cities, we see the prices paid by the citizenry of these places; the division between the German population, the decisions people of occupied territories made, and the prices one pays for having been on the wrong side of history. Some of these people are publicly shamed. Some are beaten. Some hunted and killed. Some “oblivious” citizens are made to clean up concentration camps. And, at the end, a German officer addresses his own troops, discussing his pride at their bravery and the relationships that they have forged in the battle for that side of the question of “why in the fuck are we here?”

Yes, the German people paid a large price in dead and wounded, and their soldiers also paid the required battlefield tax of dealing with mayhem of their own. But beyond these, the people of Germany also paid the soul-crushing price of having to live with the underlying evil that they allowed into their leadership, and hence allowed to be unleashed upon the world.

In the end, the people in Germany, the regular, everyday workers and partiers and hooligans and scholars and soldiers and … all the people in Germany, were mostly just like the people in Easy Company. Human. Mostly good. Mostly just listening to their leaders. Many either afraid to do anything to stop what was coming or, most likely, making decisions to go along with things that they never thought would work out as they did. In other words, there is a lot of there but for the grace of God go I in this type of thing.

Right?

I say that because one can argue that the Second World War began in November of 1932 when the German people voted Adolph Hitler into power. They were an angry people then, struggling with economic problems and sense of lost identity brought on by the results of World War I. And, yes, you can go further back, too, and say that the Second World War began in 1918 when the Treaty of Versailles pretty much ensured the people of Germany would be in this state. That treaty was a harsh agreement for the German public. It set the foundation for what was to come.

But, still, it was the people who voted, and they voted for Adolph Hitler.

Anyway…

—-

There’s this thing that goes around in writerly circles that says we should not talk about politics on our blogs, twitter feeds, and other services of mass communication. Don’t want to alienate a set of your readers, after all, right? Don’t want to risk losing valuable sales revenue because you say or write something that offends them.

Despite the fact that I don’t always follow that advice, I understand the concern.

The world is full of prices.

—-

On the other hand, I just spent three days watching a series that laid out the prices that are paid across the world when things go deeply awry. The prices were clear, and they were deep.

Among the best parts of the series are the bits where the actual people represented in the stories speak. The directors gave these men a few minutes at the beginning of each episode, and a few at the end of the last. Band of Brothers was made in 2001, fifty-five years after the events the stories depicted. These men were old now. They had lived with the prices they paid to remove a totalitarian fascist government that overtook the people of Germany, and the pain they still carried was deeply embedded in their commentary. But their voices also carried unbounded pride that I felt as being tied to the fact that they knew they had done what needed to be done.

Their war, unlike most, was actually about freedom.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that many of the wars we send our citizens to fight are not about our freedom—though our politicians will always say they are. The men who died in Vietnam, for example, did not give their lives protecting our freedom. They were brave people. They fought hard, and paid those terrible prices, thinking they were protecting our freedom, because that’s what our leaders told us…and they believed them—or at least they wanted to. I want to, also. If it were true that these people died protecting my freedom I would feel better. But that’s wrong. The Vietnam War was not about freedom in itself. You can tell this by the simple fact that we lost Vietnam, and (except for the parts that we have purposefully given away) we still have our freedom. By definition, this means that the Vietnam War was not about Freedom. That war was about complex political situations that I won’t even pretend to understand. These men died fighting for their country; that is true. But they did not die protecting our freedom. They gave a great sacrifice. I give great honor to every fallen vet of Vietnam.

Likewise those of Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all others. Freedom is always in the mix someplace, of course. At least in some small degree. And many of our wars might well have been primarily about freedom for the other side (or not). But they were demonstrably not about freedom for us because if we would have lost, we would not have lost our freedom. Pick any other war we’ve been in outside the Revolution itself and the Civil War; none of them have actually been about true personal freedom and liberty for American citizens.

Except World War II.

World War II was about Freedom in every aspect. And it’s clear that the men portrayed in Band of Brothers paid immense prices to protect it. Judging only from the Wiki page for the series, only three of the many men who were portrayed in those ten episodes remain alive today (and that assumes the pages are up to date).

—-

There is a scene toward the end of Band of Brothers where the men hear news that Adolph Hitler has committed suicide. One of the men notes that he wished Hitler had done this three years ago. “Would have saved us a lot of trouble,” he says.

—-

To be direct, I’m glad I waited until now to watch Band of Brothers. I’m glad I didn’t see it back when it first came out.

Last night, as Lisa and I went to bed just past midnight on what is now officially 2017, I found myself thinking about this group of people who were in Easy Company from 1944-1945. I couldn’t help but wonder how these men would have felt had they been able to see the direction the country they paid that price for is going today. The parallels with 1932 are obvious to anyone who isn’t actively attempting to ignore them, after all.

Parallels do not necessarily mean anything, of course. Parallels are just that: parallels. History doesn’t always repeat itself, even when parallels are in place. But it’s fair to say that history does not repeat itself at all without such parallels being in place.

So, I asked myself as I was fading off to sleep, if you could go back in time to 1945 and tell the men of Easy Company that seventy years later their country would elect an authority-minded leader whose appointments and whose views on immigration and business are what Donald Trump’s are, and whose base behaviors so strongly point to a somewhat simple-minded and fascist core, what would they think? How would they feel—these people who did so clearly fight for our actual freedom—to see us give so much of it up so easily? Would they even see it as I see it? Would they recoil, or would they stand beside their leadership come hell or high water? Which of Donald Trump’s words would they believe? Which would they turn their eyes and ears away from? Would they choose to support the Make America Great Again rhetoric that is so dependent upon the idea of bringing back manufacturing jobs that don’t exist? Or would they stand up and call bullshit on the man who the American public and its system has now made the most powerful bullshitter on the planet—just as the German system did with their own leader back in 1932?

Those guys of Easy Company were “just people,” after all. Our soldiers were as human as any other country’s soldiers. How would they view this? Would they follow these politicians who want to build our own little Berlin Wall? Who want to register followers of a religion? Having served in the civil service of the Navy myself, I can imagine the dissonance within the ranks of the military for the next few years may well be mind-bending. Would news of possible internment camps remind them of Landsburg? Or not?

Just what would these guys think of the events of the past year?

—-

I have opinions about how the men of Easy Company would answer those questions, of course. I admit I don’t know much about any of them, so my opinions are almost certainly wrong to some degree. They have to be, actually, because my guess is that each one of those men would have a different way of viewing things. But, in the end, I think there would be a general consensus. And I think that consensus would not be favorable.

I think the consensus would be that the American public has let these men down.

I believe they would fear an entirely new generation was going to have to pay another price to deal with this aspect of humanity. I believe they would grieve in advance because they know the true price of the fight for this kind of freedom. And I think they would hope beyond all other hope that this generation would pay attention to the parallels and take its steps much earlier than theirs did.

—-

So, yeah. Happy New Year, right?

Sorry about that, but it is what it is. For those who have known me over the years, or for anyone who wades through the archives of my blog, you’ll see that on the whole I’ve always been an optimist at heart. I’ve looked for the positive sides of things, and I’ve always had that level of privilege that allowed me to think the world is out there to save me. I still believe that, in the end, all things will work out. I wish everyone well, and I wish you all a very happy year.

But I am not blind.

I think it’s going to be a tough year.

A very tough year.

02 Dec

Expectation vs. hope

From the WP Article - linked (Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle via AP)

From the WP Article – linked (Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle via AP)

Yesterday morning I came across this Washington Post article that details the historic levels of support that is being donated to various nonprofit organizations since the election.

Lisa and I have had several conversations recently about the situation our country finds itself in. We’re both looking for bright sides, she maybe hoping for kinder and gentler near-term stability as well as long-term stability, and me expecting that the idea of a short term comfort zone is really not going to happen. We’re on the same side of the fence at the end of the day, though.

#

Note the use of the terms “hoping” and “expecting” in that second paragraph. I am with her and with all people who hope we can avoid violence in this transition, but I have no expectation we will. It seems to me that violence and turmoil are exactly what progress in our country has always been founded upon. My view is that if, as a country, we’re going to find a way to get through the Trump years without losing our basic identity, it’s going to be because of the groundswell of people who aren’t going to take his approaches sitting down. I’m happy to be wrong, but I think it’s really as simple as that.

So I expect struggles, and as a result of those struggles I expect violence and more turmoil. It’s already happening, after all–primarily in the form of Trump supporters taking their victory laps.

And, yet, I have hope, too.

I have hope specifically because of that groundswell of people who, as evidenced by the WP article I linked to, are showing up in a lot of ways that they have never shown up before.

I have hope in the long term because I also have great expectation that this groundswell will result in positive movement. That it will carry us further along the trail toward equality and true freedoms. It is a terrible shame that some people, mostly of minority groups, will now have to pay another price for this progress, a price that earlier generations thought they had paid in full, but I’m confident it will happen. This groundswell is not some grassroots effort, after all. It’s not a third party or fourth party just trying to get a foothold. This groundswell is a huge part of the country, a majority that actually out-voted the incoming administration. While the groundswell has been set-back, and are in a bit of chaos right now, it is a groundswell that seems to obviously understand what’s at stake.

The demographics of the country are changing. That much is clear. And by demographics, I mean mindset more than I mean ethnicity or gender or any other protected class. I believe that Trump’s election was a last gasp. A successful last gasp, but a last gasp nonetheless. Since it was successful, it will cause some serious damage.

Well. It happens.

So, yeah. Of course I hope that near-term violence and pain can be minimized. But the majority groundswell is large. Whatever price it will pay in either pain or violence, I have every expectation that in the end it will win the day.

18 Nov

Me and the Leonids


NOAO/AURA/NSF


I watched the Leonids peak last night.

Since I live in Tucson that means I got up at about 2:30 AM, threw on a couple pair of sweatpants, a few layers of sweatshirts and a jacket. It means I then donned earmuffs and ventured out into the wilds of the night. You might be chuckling at my layering, but it does get nippy here in Tucson and despite my years of living in much colder climes I am a delicate flower. I like my ears warm, thank you very much. Lisa, being sane, did not get up. She stayed warm, snuggled comfortably under the covers.

We live on a cul-de-sac, or what I called a circle when I was a kid (we lived on a different cul-de-sac back then). I went out the front door and into the middle of the circle, then I looked up. It took me only a moment to realize I needed two things. First, a chair, and second, my binoculars. So I went back in to grab my binoculars. On the return trip, I dragged one of the lawn chairs we have on our front patio area along with me, eventually to plop my behind down once again right there in the middle of the circle.

Luckily there is no traffic at three in the morning around here. I felt pretty safe.

I also felt a series of strange things.

There I was, sitting in the middle of the street in what was supposed to be the darkness, but in reality was so moon-bright I could clearly see everything around me. The tones were all muted, blues and blacks, but everything was crystal clear. The air here is dry. It makes everything crisper. There was no wind. I mean, none. Zero. So the chill of the air just settled over me, coating me like an electric blanket stuck on reverse. The heat radiated away from me in all directions. The concrete was hard below my feet. The desert wash that lines the edge of the circle behind me was still and absolutely silent. Everything was clean and fresh. It smelled like rocks.

To my east, the ridge of the Catalina Mountains were vague and distant dark lines. Above me the sky was its most brilliant cloudless self that you can imagine.

Being born in the Kennedy years, I’ve grown up in an age when space was a big deal. I suppose that’s something different from most generations. When I was a boy, I remember being interested in the sky and the stars, but sometimes more as a passing thing than it should have been. Yeah, science, cool. Let’s play ball. As a younger kid I remember Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, but what I remember most was the ruckus that happened in our back yard later that night. I remember Apollo 13. I knew about Sputnik, and satellites, and spy planes. Star Trek only came in one flavor back then, and I remember watching it. What I’m saying is that the idea of people in space has always there for me. And, of course, I am a science fiction writer. While I’m not a deeply knowledgeable amateur astronomer, I love the base idea of the stars. I can pick out constellations, and I do understand something about comets and asteroids and where we are in the galaxies and all that–but I ‘m really just a space nerd, not a fully learned amateur astronomer. I am, however, enthralled by the metaphors that come with stars. I love what they mean.

Sitting there, I used my binoculars to look at Mizar and Alcor, the double star in the handle of the big dipper in Ursa Major. I looked at the Crab Nebula in Orion’s belt. I saw various Messier objects—those gauzy collections of stars or nebula or whatever that were categorized by a French Astronomer a long time ago (that’s another thing I love about astronomy—in a sign of human solidarity, every culture known to us has participated in astronomy). I thought about the talk a UA professor had just given our Astronomy club earlier tonight. He said we should think of the meteors we see tonight as being made of material that is billions of years old.

Which it is. A meteor is material that is billions of years old, and that hitched a ride on a comet to get here—to eventually burn itself up in the atmosphere above us, adding that material to the ecosystem of the planet we call home.

How freaking wild is that?

After sitting there alone in the middle of the circle for some time, under the dark canopy of the moon-lit night, in the silence that was absolute, I felt that remarkable thing that you can feel sometimes. I felt the size of the universe. Or at least I felt the expanse of it. The endless nature of space as we know it. The idea of infinity seemed suddenly more palatable.

Eventually, I got cold enough and tired enough that I packed it in and went back into the house, putting the chair back and storing my binoculars. It took me a little bit to get back to sleep, but I did. It was a good sleep. This morning, I’m writing this in a vain attempt to recapture that feeling of sitting out on my perch of the universe and taking it all in, but finding that this process is like trying to fully recall that moment when you first saw your wife or your daughter. You recall the idea of the feeling. You recall the flavor and the sense of it. But there is nothing you can do to replace that immediacy of actually being there.

Still, it’s good.

And, yes, I saw meteors, too. Some, anyway. To be honest, the shower itself wasn’t massive from where I sat. There were a few interesting streaks and several interesting flashes. Yes, beautiful. Very cool, each and every one.

But as I sit here this morning, the thing I remember most about my night with the Leonids is not the meteors.

Instead, I remember that at one point, as the stars were telling their stories and the few meteors were shaking their contrails, that out in the desert wash a bird spoke up with a small series of chirps. Normally, this wouldn’t have been much to notice, but against this backdrop of amazing nighttime and utter, absolute silence, on this evening I could hear every nuance in its song. They were plaintive notes. Simple sounds of existence. There are things that are worth a little pain, so I took off my earmuffs and listened to it.

It sounded amazing.

Given how I feel about so many things going on around me right now, this bird’s singing grabbed my heart. It felt important.

So, this morning, instead of meteors, what I remember most of my evening with the Leonids is the startling voice of that bird.

A single, solitary creature, singing away in the middle of a vast darkness.

16 Nov

80% of Success

One more day, I say…one more day and I think I’ll have some fun news on the Stealing the Sun front (he says as he bails water out of his schedule)

#


Nick Kendall, a millennial, and the guy who also happens to be married to my daughter, wrote this post about the idea of participation trophies. In it he argues, using his own cantankerous form of the language, that it is not the millennial generation that is spoiled and expecting of rewards for just making an appearance (though wasn’t it the distinctly non-millennial Woody Allen who said that 80% of success as just showing up?). The problem, he argues quite well, was their parents.

I think the argument is pretty much spot on.

I’ll leave you to read his post, which I suggest you do.

My own experience with the millennial generation as a parent conforms to his view. A lot of parents of a lot of kids I knew were unable to deal with the conflict inherent in having kids growing up in their houses. Adding to the mix, a lot of parents live vicariously through their kids. A “failed” kid is a failed parent, and we can’t have that.

Now, look, I know I’m generalizing. #NotAllParents, in the vernacular. And #NotAllKids. But that’s what we do, right? We generalize. At least that’s the generalizing stereotype I hear people of my generation and older making when they talk about millennials.

That said, I think there is a difference in this millennial gang and my gang. I spent years in the corporate arena attempting to figure out how people worked–how to make policy and create environments where people could achieve their optimum performance. My experience with the millennial generation at work is not that they are looking for hand-holding, but that (unlike earlier generations) they showed up for work on day one expecting to be valuable—wanting to do something more than grunt work. They wanted and expected the company to do something for them at the same time that they accomplished something for the company.

Imagine that, right? I mean, imagine thinking that a company should be indebted to people who do the actual work, and should help people, even early employees, by enabling them to do something that is valuable to them as well as purely productive for the company. I understand that’s different from what came before, but I think it’s hella healthy relative to the alternative. My generation sat on a transition front—when I went to work, the idea of Individual Development was looked at pretty much slantwise. The idea of career progression was still heavily reliant upon the idea that you should just be happy that someone decided to hire you. You owed them big time, and you really should just kind of shut up and stay in your corner until your dues were paid, at which point you got someplace better…

You catch the irony there, right? Don’t you?

Okay, let me spell it out for you. The irony here is that in my era as a new employee, you fundamentally got to a better place by just showing up for long enough that they had to promote you. Sure, there was a bit of meritocracy to things, but seniority was and still is a big deal in the corporate environment, and anyone who says otherwise is missing a lot. And that’s the thing with seniority, isn’t it? You show up long enough, PARTICIPATE for long enough, and do at least well enough to keep from getting fired, and you advance. I wonder where I’ve heard of that before? [grin]

Anyway, there’s something wrong with the idea that you have to plan to come to work for X years of grunt labor before the company deigns give you something that feeds your soul.

So, yeah, #NotAllMillennials, and #NotAllKids.

The cool thing here is that all that coddling does not actually seem to have harmed them. Maybe they needed a little more time to figure out how to work in hierarchies. Maybe they needed more time to figure out who they were. Dunno. But in the end, I think their way of viewing the world–their ideas of hat leadership is and how they decide to follow it, is pretty danged okay. Overall, anyway. I think they’re fine.

After all, it’s not the millennials that have screwed the pooch on this whole “vote the country to the edge of destruction” thing now, is it?

Their parents, however … well … there’s a topic for another day.

06 Nov

Creativity in the US

I’ve had this tucked away in an open browser tab for quite awhile, and stumbled upon it again today. I think it’s fascinating, even though I’m not sure what to make of it. The graphic was embedded in the Passive Guy’s blog a couple months ago, attached to a post titled “The stunning geographic divide in American creativity.” Read the whole post for a bit more commentary.

Yes, I thought, as I looked at the title of the post.

It is stunning, isn’t it?

As noted, I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it and I don’t know what to make of it today. But I find the chart coming back to me over and over again.

  • First, I was surprised that that half the people or more in almost all states are doing something they consider creative (performing in or creating works of art). I would have expected this to be considerably lower, but then I’m a mid-western kid by background, what do I know? I haven’t seen anyone talking a lot about this, though. If this chart is a fair representation, it suggests some nice things about modern life in many ares of this country–specifically that people have enough personal time to actually spend it doing things that come from the internal self.
  • Second, it makes me wonder if different parts of the culture have different definitions of what “doing art” is. My dad, for example, has some very firm ideas on what art is and what it isn’t, and would, I’m sure, classify as craft some things that I would call art. There’s the thing, right? When one crochets, is it a craft or an art? Dunno. Is it possible that people in one culture would see doing the same task in different categories? Of course it is. So, who knows?
  • Third, again, assuming the divide is real (which I admit I tend to believe), I agree that the data breaks the rule of thumb–the idea that all the artsy folk come from the far coasts. In the end, this shouldn’t really surprise me. Rules of thumb are often wrong. It did surprise me, though. And further, in this moment of political upheaval, I think it’s interesting to compare traditionally red states. If there are cultural differences that drive this divide, what does it say that the Idahos and Wyoming (deeply conservative) are so purple, and the Georgias and Floridas (also bastions of conservative politics) are so yellow? Traditionally liberal zones are consistently purple, but conservative zones are widely split. California is an interesting state, since is spans the zone. It would be interesting to see it broken down.

But, regardless, it’s strange, isn’t it?

What is it about Minnesota that makes it stand out so purple? Why is Georgia the heartland of southern artistic energy, yet still so low relative to the rest of the country?

If you read Washington Post article that accompanies the chart, the answers are pretty basic: education and poverty. More education, more art. More poverty, less art. That seems fair enough. It seems logical, and so there’s probably a truth to it. But I keep looking at it and looking at it, and in the end all I can really say for sure is that I think it’s a chart that means a number of things. I think it has a history to it–perhaps a history with education and poverty at its core, but a history broader than those things. This is a picture of result, after all. The number of people doing artistic things is an output of a system. It’s a measure of the culture we’ve developed.

And so, yes, taken as it is, I think this chart means several things.

I’ve kept it in my tabs because I think this is a very important chart.

I think it’s no surprise that the line of demarcation follows the boundary between new slave and free states in the Missouri Compromise (noted in the Washington Post article–with what I assume is irony–as happening by chance).

I think it means we’ve got work to do.

I think this means the work will take centuries.

05 Nov

Three Days to Go

It seems to me
with three days to go
that we are at the top of this
roller coaster
edging forward
holding on
feeling the
tangled wilderness below

Knowing soon
we will hurtle
downward
gaining speed on rails
we’ve built ourselves
and hoping someone else
remembered
to build the bottom

31 Oct

A Day With Kids and the Stars

sun-lemon
A picture I took from Mt. Lemmon a few months ago
Sunset at Tucson, and at Altitude (smile)

I spent most of the day at a local K-8 school, helping members of the astronomy club I now find myself a part of teach six classes of 7th graders how to view the night skies. We talked with the kids about five constellations in the northern hemisphere, and we talked about planispheres and how to use them. We told stories about the constellations—Orion and Scorpius locked together, a bit of a watered down discussion of Cassiopeia and her punishment. A very little about Cygnus (which now I can’t help having Orphan Black withdrawal shakes over when I think about that myth). We pointed out a few major stars, and discussed Messier Objects. Even talked about how astrological signs got their start.

It was much fun.

The Astronomy community here in Tucson is amazing. It’s one of the coolest benefits of being in the area. The city and surrounding area has world class scientists working at world class facilities. Our club’s latest field trip went to Safford to visit the Large Binocular Telescope, for example. And the skies here are so clear and so dark relative to Indiana, where humidity is high, altitude is low, and city lights are often very bright, that it still is astounding to me to look up at the night sky and see the Milky Way so strongly.

To say this is a great place to be a science fiction writer is a true understatement.

While I like being with kids and seeing them absorb things like this, I have to say that the best thing about this kind of event for me is merely spending a few hours thinking about where we are in the universe. How small we are. How little we know.

Sometimes it helps just to take a deep breath and let it out again, you know?

Just be cool with the universe.

Just let it flow.

Of course, when I came home I then spent the next three hours trying to cram 8 hours of work into the last part of the day, so maybe I suck at this, too. I’ll let you guys make the call on that one. I’m easy today.