Commencement Address

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I am writing this missive for a very special reason.

So many years ago I have a vivid memory of sitting down to lunch with a good friend and my oldest son. We were eating ham sandwiches after spending an early spring morning working on a pair of strip built kayaks parked in the garage. Justin and my friend were talking and I was munching, just listening.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Jeremy asked my four year old.

Without skipping a beat Justin replied “I want to be a cowboy chef named ‘Eyeball.'”

His tone brooked no comment, yet Jeremy and I found ourselves laughing out loud, buckled over in hysterics much to Justin’s displeasure. He had clearly used his best logic to reach this conclusion and he really hadn’t anticipated our reaction.

Now my oldest son is graduating from High School. That very same question gets foisted at him I imagine daily. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As I sit here writing I am experiencing what most parents probably feel at about this time in our children’s lives. A compelling desire, a tug on the heart, to say something that will matter. How can I make this easier for you Justin? What can I do or say to ensure your lasting contentment?

The first thing I want to tell you is don’t be scared. I can still recall the overwhelming excitement I felt as I drove my Dad’s big blue Ford heading up to a summer job immediately after my commencement. Both windows were rolled down and dry air turned the raggedy old cabin into a hair blender.

I imagine that you’ll feel that freedom and excitement sometime real soon, but this too will pass. In it’s place you’ll find uncertainty. You’re suddenly a grown up, a man by all rights with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that. Suddenly consequence is all on you.

So it’s little wonder that a little uncertainty might creep into the mix. What do I like? What can I do? What is that person thinking? Life is just full of these sorts of questions. You answer them when you can, you ignore them at your peril.

If you weren’t a little uncertain at this point I’d be genuinely fearful for you. The world is a scary place, full of dead ends, problems, and paradox. Only yesterday you were this little thing I could hold in my hands. This tiny little baby no one was certain might live until tomorrow. You were so fragile I was so uncertain.

Today you’re this grown person; barely filling out your body, only now starting to brush up against responsibility.

So when you encounter uncertainty I hope you do so like you did when you were four. I hope you look it square in the eye, without fear, and proclaim in a strong, clear voice “I want to be a cowboy chef named ‘Eyeball.'”

And there’s is something else I hope for you. I hope you love your work. If you love your work, if you find something you can love doing for a long time, you really can’t lose.

If your heart and soul is part of your vocation you are statistically unlikely to fail. You can’t lose because regardless of how much money you make you’ll be having a kick ass time. That’s better than gold my son. Better than fame. Better than glory. Pretty much better than anything. Figure out what makes you happy. Or better figure out what you love to do and you’ll have a happy life. None of the rest really matters.

If you find that you’re doing something that you don’t love, or worse, that you just hate, see my first piece of advice. Don’t be scared about leaving. Golden handcuffs are just that, and they’ll hold you back forever. That is unless you take them off.

Finally, I want to tell you to juice life. Put it in your blender and hit frappe. Let it spin for a good long while. Laugh while it’s going. Cackle. Guffaw when you hit the chunky parts.

My son, this is the only life you’ll ever get. You’ve got to suck every last drop of it and still you won’t, you shouldn’t, ever feel sated.

And should you feel that you don’t want more — when you reach these unavoidable milestones and hopelessness rears its ugly face in your life — the absolute best treatment is to laugh at it.

It’s been an exercise in patience getting this far into this letter so if you’re still reading you’ve got what it takes for the next bit. Add to this patience, practice; lots and lots of practice. We talked about this a little bit when you were working at the cycle kitchen. Practice isn’t just the simple repetition of a task in order to improve your ability. It isn’t a pursuit of perfection.

Practice is the task for the sake of the task. Wax on, wax off. Whether it’s playing your guitar or truing wheels or building relationships you’ve got to have the patience to see things through and the will to practice at all the fiddly bits over and over. To find the flow while you’re doing each little part.

Back when your Mom and I lived in Florida, more than anything, I wanted a Valley Nordkapp kayak. Back then this was the open water tripping boat used by arctic explorers. Fast and lithe in all conditions I was enthralled by pictures of dry suited dudes busting through frothy, collapsing waves somewhere far north of anywhere with trees. Back then that is what I dreamed I might someday do.

Now, twenty years and lots of change later, I own this boat. It’s tippy as hell. It’s heavy. My big old ass barely fits in the tiny cockpit. I am confronted by the fact that I’m sixty pounds heavier and twenty years older each time I wet this hull.

So, if I ever want to see myself paddling a red hull while wearing bright mango in steel gray water amongst white icebergs, I know I’ve got to be patient with myself. I’m going to need to spend a lot of time holding onto a dock, working on my braces and stabilizing strokes, and remembering how to roll before I’ll be able to paddle out into the open. Practice and patience.

Be patient with yourself in all things. Stop and think “can I break this down any more” before you take that next step. If you can figure this part out, you’ll almost always finish what you start. You’ll realize your visions.

I’ve tried to write this letter without telling you not to do things. I’m going to break this rule just a little bit more for my next admonition. It is a warning and it comes from my heart directed straight to your’s because this is something I got wrong when I was your age.

Show your affection. Hug people when you greet them. The European custom of cheek kissing needs to be revived. Fist bump, high five, hand-shake-to-hug, wrestle where appropriate. Spread this stuff all around. Don’t feel self conscious about your affection for others.

The science behind affection is incontrovertible. Hugs reduce anxiety, stimulate oxytocin and dopamine, and promote parasympathetic balance. This is true for you the hugger as much as the person you’re hugging. Good grief, can you imagine a world in which we eradicate the common cold because we’re all topped off with enough affection that our collective enhanced immune response gives the rhinovirus no quarter, no place to thrive?

This society, the one in which you’ve been raised, incorrectly pushes young men towards stoicism. In order to be a man you’re not supposed to make displays of emotion. You’re supposed to lock all those feelings away, you’re supposed to be insensitive and unempathetic.

This is the All American creed of the jerk. So while I’m going to tell you not to act like a jerk, thereby breaking my rule, I’m going to follow it up by suggesting that the best way to avoid being a jerk is to hug one.

You know this already, but it deserves repeating, I am proud of you. You’re a stand up guy and a righteous dude and now that you’ve matured I’m heartened to both call you my son and my friend.

Watching you get your diploma yesterday made me so happy. Made me acknowledge what a lucky person I am for knowing you and how much better off I’ve been these last eighteen years because you’ve been in my life.

I’m letting you go, one more time.

So long, fare well, be happy.

Invisible 2 Hits the Shelves

That’s a lot of empathy

Nineteen prescient and personal essays, an introduction by award-winning author Aliette de Bodard, cover art by the amazing Mark Ferrari; these are some of the amazing things you’ll find in the release of this anthology of powerful essays about representation in science fiction and fantasy. Added to all this, like a cherry atop the very finest six dollar root beer float, one of those essays is mine. 

That’s right, if you squint you can make out my name amongst the list of super folks included in this excellent work. A huge thanks goes out to Jim C. Hines for including me, and for pushing me as an editor.

Just like last year, Invisible 2 is available as an e-book for $2.99, and all proceeds will go to Con or Bust. Anticipate the printed version some time soon I’m told. You can pick up your copy at any of these fine outlets.

If you’re an Apple person stay tuned, it takes a little while to get it into iTunes/iBooks via Smashwords.

Reviewers? You should contact Jim with your intent to read and drop kind words.

I really enjoyed working on this project and reading what other people had to say about their part in this community made me pause and think plenty. Considering all the hullabaloo happening around this year’s Hugo it is conceivable that we need a tad more self reflection and comet sized bundle empathy shared amongst us all.

 

 

Serenity Base Camp

The Last Monk

More from Adrien Girod. “The Last Monk” I can’t get enough of this guy

 

Around about 1993, sitting around a table tapping magic cards with a bunch of other nerds, the discussion turned from the infrequency of lotus cards and the need for more blue land to the then very new internet. Our Nerd in Chief Deva, who sat in the throne next to the wood burning stove across the room from us, shared his royal two cents. It was possibly the most prophetic and cogent couple of sentences I may have ever heard.

“Even if all you ever did was sit in front of a terminal and read all the stuff on the internet, you’d still never be able to know it all. A tiny fraction of a percentage. And it’s always getting bigger,” he said, or something like that. If I search for it I might be able to find it exactly.

Anyway, recently I’ve had to suspend my fractional readings regarding all the hullabaloo around this year’s now notorious Hugo Cluster Event. WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!

CampSerenity

This pad will become Serenity Base Camp for the foreseeable future. RE: Hugos, I’m pretty much unaware of what’s going on and who said what. Honestly, it was getting to the point where the self-identified Sad Puppies were starting to sound a whole lot like a broken record. Endlessly spinning around and around on that same list of broken rationalizations for their actions. So, moving our house, one more time, has actually become somewhat of a relief.

And now that I’m taking a momentary break from stuffing all our worldly belongings into various sized cardboard containers I cast my searches out into the internet and discover that not a whole lot has changed.

The big update seems to be from the handful of people who unknowingly made it onto the SP slate or made the short list otherwise. Connie Willis has told the world that she won’t be presenting at the Hugos.

“You may have been able to cheat your way onto the ballot. (And don’t talk to me about how this isn’t against the rules–doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.) You may even be able to bully and intimidate people into voting for you. But you can’t make me hand you the Hugo and say “Congratulations,” just as if you’d actually won it. And you can’t make me appear onstage and tell jokes and act like this year’s Hugo ceremony is business as usual and what you’ve done is okay. I’m not going to help you get away with this. I love the Hugo Awards too much.”

And both Marko Kloos and Annie Bellett have declined their nominations. I think these three should be commended for their level of personal integrity. That’s got to take some moxie, a whole rocket full.

There may be more. Who knows? I’m only capable of understanding a tiny fraction of what’s going on out there.

Mimic

Most pictures are worth about a thousand words. This one seems to be worth at least two. “How do you know this?” you ask. Well, because I just wrote another thousand and change because of it. Thanks again to Chuck Wendig for hosting these little teasers. Now that you’ve completed draft on your next novel let us see what you can do short form.

Mimic

“As you can see the integrated rover housing can be adapted to a great variety of applications. Spacing of trees in your orchard isn’t ever a problem. We’ve sold these units to citrus farmers in the Republic of Cali and to apple growers along the Yakima. Additionally, the individual pollinators can also be changed out in whole racks. Not only does this make cross pollination possible, but it means you can mix your root stock and still get the job done before the sun sets,” said the stick-thin figure from the back of the hydrogen splitter.

The rig was shiny and it looked foreign. It purred like a barn cat with a mouse as it soaked in the sunshine converting water to fuel in its cells. I think everyone was eyeing the petro-plastic covering the six wheel wells on the skinny man’s truck, there had to be enough there we could melt it down and fashion a shed or a house or something. It was black too, which meant there was some sorta dye embedded in it. That’s the kind of stuff you want to use for a water heater or even irrigation. Everyone knew that. Everyone imagined tearing it off the side of the transport.

A hand rose from the middle of the crowd of men and boys that had packed into the alley near the General store, it was Martin Kenny’s. The skinny man noticed Martin and said, “Yes sir, are you interested in buying a Rainier Robotics Automated Pollination Platform?”

“No sir,” Martin replied, “I’m still trying to figure out what you’re selling, to be honest. You talk fast and use a lot of fancy words don’t none of us understand. But what I really want’ta know, would you be interested in selling me the plastic on your rig?”

The skinny man looked surprised and it appeared as if he’d lost his place in the script as he looked out into the gathered crowd of orchard men. With the question out there all we could do was speculate. It’s possible, where ever he hailed from, the petro-plastic along the side of that truck wasn’t such a scarcity. All we had was the kind made from potatoes and sump juice and it crumbled in the sunshine and melted in the soil. Using it to water an orchard is nothing but a waste of time because by the time you finish one end of an installation you’re likely ready to replace the end where you began. All of us work orchard lands above the river, and irrigation pipes is the only way to get water up from the river, so that’s just what we do. Last harvest my cherries fetched only enough in potato exchange for me to replace pipe in the upper orchard. This spring I’ve been doing nothing much more than patching and glueing getting ready for the dry spell.

Martin Kelly is renowned along the upper Wenatchee because the piss-plastic he cooks up behind his swine stables stands up better than most. Forgive my crudeness it’s just what we call it. So when he starts asking this stickman to buy the petro off the side of his rig everyone standing there starts to worry. The little fella standing on the tail gate of his rig, he just pushes on down the track like Kelly’s question weren’t no obstacle.

Something changes in the man’s demeanor like he’s suddenly remembered something important. He pulls a raggedy straw hat from behind a couple of large boxes and plops it on his head. Then he looks down at his shiny shoes for a moment and mumbles something none of us can understand.

“My apologies old son. I can’t help you much with your plastic problems. I’m here to solve your pollination problems,” the skinny man says direct to Kelly.

“And I have it on good authority,” he then proclaims like a Sunday preacher, “that all y’all have been doing your own blossom pollination for time out’ta mind.”

Now I can hear the difference I just saw in the skinny man, he’s a mimic and I suddenly don’t trust him. It’s like he went home and put on a nice clean shirt and new pants, even though he’s wearing the same damn clothes. He sounds something like the people along the Wenatchee. Everyone standing there notices the difference too, like night and day.

Toby Williams, the kid brother of Vance who owns the land along the Chumstick, pipes up without waiting to be called. “So your saying that lil box-thing does the work of spring time probing?” The kid has been ruffling feather ever since his big brother come down ill with the pox, but I say he stepped up and took on that patch of cherries. No one around Peshastin has near that many trees, I say let the kid be he’s proved his worth and knows his roots.

The skinny man beams a grin at Toby that for some reason seems to calm the clucking men. If there’s an inch of extra skin on this fellow it’s below his clean shaven chin, and it bunches up there as if to underline the smile. “Son, that’s exactly what I’m sayin’. This here machine does all the work bees and butterflies used to do.”

The sound of jaws hitting the crumble-stone beneath our feet is audible. Toby, young man that he is, responds skeptically. “Skinny man, what’s a bee?”

“Like this here petro-plastic bees just ain’t no more.” The skinny man turns away from the crowd for a moment, pokes at the machine. Out pops a long rack of intricate, little clockworks on a long arm. It looks something like a wall of tiny winter coats, each one the same and hung next to it’s neighbor. I estimate there has to be a thousand of them.

From the wall the skinny man bends over and picks a single device. He cups it in his hands and turns to the crowd. “Some ah y’all are probably just old enough to remember what a bee was,” he proclaims loud enough for all to hear. “Something like an apple moth, but it don’t eat fruit. In fact, before the time of probes and picks, these lil buggers made fruit. They’d just buzz around your orchard and do the probe work for you.”

It’s a distant, hazy memory, but I can still recall bees. Well, a bee. I find myself looking inside, sorting through years of rubbish, for that image of a kettle-bellied yellow and black body struggling at my feet. My Father had said it was a bumble-bee. That it was dying for some reason that I can’t recall. And that it wasn’t the only one I’d see die like that, but I can’t recall any others. The old men in the crowd, they’re all remembering too.

“Son, these insects, they’re all gone now, but they made orchard work easy,” said the skinny man. He opens up his cupped hands and the little clockwork begins to buzz. It hovers for a blink of my eye and then darts off into the blue.

Wang That Chord

Myke Cole and I have had our differences. My first impression of him was somewhat negative if not muddled. I had recently self-published The Big Red Buckle and shown up to Legendary ConFusion in order to get to know other writers and fans involved in the genre. It was morning, before the opening ceremonies, and we met in the restaurant. I’d never heard of him, he’d never heard of me. He offered his business card, I responded in kind. He refused my card because it was “too large.”

I spent the rest of that weekend feeling mildly persecuted because of my decision to self-publish my first novelette, but whatever, pretty much everyone else I talked to at ConFusion had previously jumped through those same hoops themselves and so the convention ended a success. I walked away with a couple of new friendships, a better understanding of how these things work, and a renewed sense of what I needed to do in order to get my writing out there. Despite everyone’s else’s assurances that Cole was “really a good guy” I also left with a bitter taste in my mouth from our subsequent interactions. I think, for whatever reason, I rankled him and he in turn annoyed the hell out of me. All the drinking may have contributed to this mutual animosity.

It’s now been more than a year since that initial interaction and we’ve done an admirable job of getting things back to the way they were before that fateful morning at ConFusion. I don’t usually read much of what he writes, he steadfastly refuses to read my writing (I can only assume).

Cole’s contributions occasionally pop up in my social feeds from time to time. Mostly I have steered clear of his writing because, man, first impressions are really hard to shake. Honestly, while I’d rather not feel butt-hurt over that weekend, I admittedly have felt that way. And what a shame it is to feel butt-hurt.

Yesterday, because I was looking for more of what people in the business of writing have to say on the whole Hugo Cluster-Event 2015, I browsed Cole’s blog. So far, nothing about said Cluster-Event but I couldn’t help myself and I ended up reading about his next book release. I came across a post entitled “Nobody owns the military experience” which had nothing to do with the Hugo’s yet still felt very familiar to me.

The mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence belongs to *everyone.* No one who lives in any society is untouched by a mil­i­tary. An 80 year old woman who has never served, but has lived through the American inter­ven­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan has just as much “own­er­ship” over the expe­ri­ence as a 25 year old Marine who has fought in both of them. One expe­ri­ence is no more valid than the other. Both of their sto­ries are “mil­i­tary” sto­ries. Both deserve to be told. -Myke Cole

Notice, I’m not claiming that I’ve read Cole’s blog and come to the immediate realization that we’re actually bosom buddies separated by service or birth or even a bad business card exchange. Should we ever meet face to face again, it is possible whatever about me irritated him before will likely continue to nettle him in the future. I’m not wholly a different person than I was in January 2014. I still make mistakes, I can and have made bad impressions, and in order to conserve razors I shave a lot less.

But I wanted to say that I’ve given at least his blog some time and thought and for the most part what I find there is valuable. I now plan on opening a book or two. Cole has done an excellent job of articulating some thoughts and feelings I’ve been nursing, beginning with the aforementioned blog post. Yeah, I’m no saint, but at least I’m big enough to recognize common ground. I’ll never make music if I constantly strike the same damn cord. Hopefully my repertoire will grow a little bit from this experience.

Well done Mr. Cole, well done. I wish you all success with Weapons in the Earth in OPERATION: ARCANA.