Wishing I Had a Button


The days are short and usually damp and cold. A social current of unrelenting cheer is washing over me, eroding the foundations of sanity. It’s fake. A put-on job meant to fool the fools. Then there are the long nights.

I wish I had an off button. A severe and merciless depression is banging on my doors. My hinges are worried and cracked. “Excuse me while I disappear.”

Things That Interest Me

These are things that have gotten my attention lately, listed in no particular order. For the most part, they are people, ideas or technologies that are influencing what I write.

  • Bajau: This is a culture of marine nomads that mostly hang out in the tropical waters around the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Some of them live in pole houses off the coastlines of land masses, but many live on houseboats or other vessels.I love seeing and reading about these people because they’re giving me insights into how some cultures will adapt to sea level rise in a climate changed world.
  • Bamboo Railroad: I first learned of these abandoned rail lines running through the hinterlands of Cambodia when I randomly found the video below. Seems the rails are a relic of French colonialism that the indigenous people have turned around for their own benefit.Apparently, the rail cars are mostly constructed from bamboo. The wheels and axles are often scavenged from tanks left over from Cambodia’s eight-year-long civil war. The complexity of the social system that allows operation of these simple carts has to be amazing to witness. How you flag a cart down? How do carts pass one another on the same line? Who manages line maintenance? What happens in the event of a washout or flood?Technological primacy in a post-climate-change world is what I getting from here. Imagine what we’ll scavenge and convert when the power of our government is severely limited by its current ineptitudes.
  • Mycotecture: The material science of growing things out of mushroom mycelium. There’s so much potential for sustainable and even innovative goods being quietly developed these days. Other than the sterility requirements, accomplishing this on your own appears to be completely within reach which means that open sourced techniques for developing your own material — say, interlocking bricks for building or “leather” for clothing — are right around the corner.
  • States’ Rights: By concentrating power at the state level, proponents of “states’ rights” believe that policy can be more accurately tailored towards the needs of that locality’s citizens. But the concept of States’ Rights was incubated in a world that was not simultaneously host to multi-national corporations or the influences of fast and ubiquitous global trade. When considered from the vantage point of the general welfare of a country it’s easy to see that this ideology is both self-concerned and short sighted.The problem is that this ideology has become the dominant paradigm in American government. Hell, we just elected the Oompa-Loompa and Chief and he’s seen fit to use what little mandate is in his possession to fill each of his cabinet posts with an antithetical choice of what that post requires. In other words, Donald Trump is very much like Casey Jones except that he intends the wreck.

    The power will, then necessarily reside at lower levels of government. Whatever will we do?

    As I’ve said previously, I think the thing to do, given the situation, is to adapt. So I’m exploring ways in which people, and by consequence, myself can adapt to a major shift in government. Places with long traditions of bigotry, authoritarianism, and ignorance will likely become more like those places. But that social geography doesn’t prevail throughout the land, does it?

    I also imagine “Cascadia” rising from the trees and frankly, I think that this is where people should be building coalitions and doing their best work. Working this into fiction is more or less my full-time job.

What the What

It’s bath time and I was using this parental free time to check up on what’s going in with our new Ompahloompah and Chief. Just and observation, but apparently I’m not allowed to customize my news feed ‘s range of input.

Breitbart is to news as drain field effluent is to a healthy, nutritious snake. Like so many others, I too would very much appreciate the ability to exclude fake, biased, and bigoted sources from my feed.

Google, just so you understand, this is the kind of bullshit design that quickly runs toward deal breaker in my book. Fix it, fix it fast, because normalizing racist, misogynistic crap like this has already done incalculable damage.

Writing Dystopian While Living In One

Admittedly we’re not there yet, but given the US’s recent Presidential and Congressional results a dystopian future may very well be in our future. I’d point to prescient articles like this one in The Guardian.

“There are plenty who believe that if Trump went ahead and actually implemented his programme, he would create a different country: closed, xenophobic and at odds with some of the founding principles – religious equality or freedom of speech – that have defined the United States since its founding. The country would still exist – but it would no longer be America.”Yesterday I wasted nearly 4,000 words writing a detailed critique of the Trump Inaugural Rush. His 100 days plan is littered with self-contradiction, mutually exclusive steps, and pie-in-the-sky notions of what he’ll be able to achieve. It looks like half of these he made up on the spot. These conclusions should have been obvious to anyone who bothered to read what he said back in October.

Yesterday I wasted nearly 4,000 words writing a detailed critique of the Trump Inaugural Rush. His 100 days plan is littered with self-contradiction, mutually exclusive steps, and pie-in-the-sky notions of what he’ll be able to achieve. It looks like half of these he made up on the spot. These conclusions should have been obvious to anyone who bothered to read what he said back in October.

Right now, I’m nearly 30,000 words into a dystopian thriller, a project that I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. I stepped back from another dystopian storyline I outlined in October because I wanted to let it settle a bit before I started writing. And there’s yet a third outline plus partially finished manuscript cooling its heals while I search for ways to increase its impact. All of this writing is gritty, is intended to make the reader think, and will hopefully sweep you into the narrative.

Now, I’m looking down the barrel several potential catastrophes. Trumps trade policies, as outlined, have the potential to destroy American jobs and plunge our economy into never ending trade wars. His foreign policy will likely plunge us into more wars. His domestic and security policies are little more than rewritten McCarthyism. On immigration, energy, manufacturing and anything else you can write a policy for he’ll be trying to reclaim the prosperity of the post-WWII liberalism by instituting failed 19th-century industrialist dogma.

Okay, so what does that mean for me, a guy who, ultimately, likes to tell stories about catastrophe?
My knee jerk reaction was “Holy shit! No one is going to want to buy or read dystopian fiction in the middle of a crisis.” Fiction is, at its heart, an escapist activity. For those of us who regularly partake, we’re trying to get away from all of our problems, anxieties, and sorrows. When zombies are roaming the land, when they just ate your grandmother, you’re not going to be interested in reading about roaming zombie hoards.

Here’s the thing, dystopias aren’t actually about all the trouble. They’re more about people, our heroes overcoming those challenges. In fact, that’s exactly why I love to write stories just like this. My protagonists often face what seem to be insurmountable odds with little more than their ingenuity and luck to carry them through. They MacGyver the shit out of those problems (which I really enjoy writing).

So my first reaction, “Oh no, more wasted words!” may not have been my most thoughtful. Dystopias can serve as a medium of inspiration on so many levels. Hang on, expect a wild ride.
I am a writer. My essential tool in this life is the written word. And history shows us that words can be the most powerful tools at our disposal. I intend to write stories of hope, in which ordinary people overcome significant resistance and enormous power. I mean to tell stories that will leave this man impotent and lost to time. Dystopia corrected, dominance destroyed.

When it’s done, when these four years are over, we can get back to putting America together again. We can get back to the hard work of making the world more just and welcoming.

I hope that this will serve as a reminder, as the last days of our brief golden age expire, we can all look forward to that next ballot. We can have those conversations that we were afraid to have before the election, we can confront bigotry, and motivate the lazy. We are the government we deserve, make this your story arc.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and right now I’m feeling raw. Six years of service to my country as a soldier, six more before that working the front lines of public lands and somehow its become pointless. All that sacrifice. While the rest of you were out there getting college degrees, I was up reading over radio intercepts from DPRK, trying to puzzle together what the fuck those assholes might be about.

I gave my oath to defend the Constitution and this land ultimately because I grew up with a strong land ethic. I read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac while huddled against a rock for shelter in Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness. My radio had died two days before, a storm had moved in, and all I could do at the point was wait it out. Several months later, with my new wife, I found myself back in Florida searching for work with health insurance. My youngest brother had signed up, and damn they made it sound like all you’d have to do was work hard. I’d done that, months wondering the wilderness picking up hunting trash and endless summer days swinging a Pulaski. So I took my work ethic, my young wife and, my land ethic and I signed up expecting that someday I’d return to the wilderness.

My relationship with that woman, my foot, my time, and so much more of was burnt in the tabernacle of service to my country. Until now, I’ve been at peace with this.

I’ve recently been told “Wait and see. Everything is bound to work out for the best.”

Veteran’s Day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918. Veterans are thanked for their services to the United States on Veterans Day. Veterans Day honors those who served the United States in all conflicts, especially veterans.

How can this be so? Where is the honor in this?  A man who lied and manipulated his way into office. The Electoral College intends to install a man into office who doesn’t understand the concept of sacrifice. Who, unmindfully, has the land ethic of the Once-ler. A man pathologically unwilling to share. A person with whom I have no common values. Someone as to be so unlike me that our only commonality is the shared genetic heritage of our species and the randomness of the geographical land of birth.

Typically, I’d be writing to ask that people hold their thanks. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable because it feels like a request. Maybe you want to know what I did, where I’ve been, who I saw die; I don’t know, but the request is made when you say “thank you for your service.” I hear the anticipation in your voices. It’s not a movie, it doesn’t work that way. When I left the service of my country, I left a broken and desperately screwed up person. Not the same guy that gave his oath six years before.

It’s taken me sixteen years and a lot of hard work to feel “normal” around the majority of you. I find grace only far beyond the things of man. In the wilderness. And for a man who holds this as his essential ethic how could I want the esteem of a people that would elect a man with no respect?

Dear America,

My disappointment in you has reached a phenomenal apex. Truly, I don’t know how it’s possible to feel so much of this low down dirty frustration, but you’ve gone and made it possible. I guess Americans are innovators, and so many of you just engineered and optimized a new kind of international bad mood.

I’ve spent a good deal of time this morning casting about in search of solace. I guess I’ve found some. Here, let me itemize these places of grace.

  1. I am consoled to live in a democracy, one that is only as good as its voters deserve. We are the government, so to those of you who’ve used your vote to say they’re unhappy with this social system of self-rule you’ve simultaneously volunteered.

    And again, in my lifetime, you’ve given yourself every opportunity to make your world into the utopia of your heart’s desire. You control both Houses of Congress, the White House and now the Supreme Court. Absolutely nothing stands in your way. Not for the next four years, and likely for a long time after that. You are now entirely responsible for what happens next. Success and failure are yours alone so keep that in mind as we move into February. If you care, as so many of you said you did, then you’ll look at the country and the world that you’ve given yourself on that day and use it as a benchmark from which to measure success.

  2. It should now be obvious, beyond any shadow of a doubt, where voter suppression and gerrymandering are happening within our borders. I’m looking forward to seeing the demographics of the vote correlated with age, race and cultural makeup of the neighborhoods where it took place.

    See number one, because if you’re behind the outcome of the 2016 election, then this is now, too, your responsibility. I suspect that we’ll see plenty of places where the vote — access to voting — is not unencumbered.

  3. For millennials, in particular, you’ve just gotten your first big wake-up call. I know, this is going to make an already tough introduction to the world even more challenging. I mean, what did you think electing a guy with six bankruptcies and multiple divorces in his past would mean for the economics of the country.

    Perhaps, you’ll realize that Snake Oil salesmen only sell snake oil? The point being, that if you voted Republican because you wanted a good job, or you wanted to see manufacturing jobs return to the country, or you wanted an affordable education, equal pay for equal work, maybe you voted for the team, or maybe you just didn’t vote the outcome of this election is as much your responsibility as it your gnarly old grandpa’s. Some of your parents won’t live through this term of office. In any case, we Gen-Xers are less numerous and struggling as much as many of you are so now you’re going to get a great big reason to be involved. And that’s a good thing.

Is this the end? Who knows? Significant challenges that will require full participation from an informed citizenry loom on the horizon. I expect the President-Elect to claim his mandate any day now and in doing so, he’ll signal the direction he’s going to take us. I still love this land, I’ve defended it both figuratively and literally, and I know it some of its best features intimately. That’s where I’m going to invest my time and energy because, as I’ve mentioned, so many of the rest of your feel you’ve got the rest covered.

Keep in mind that we created this government “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” and I’m certain you’ll have it taken care of.

Getting Things Flowing

“It’s a trap!”

I’ve just spent the last two days off the island, not writing. Sitting down to write this morning I was dismayed to discover I needed to hit pause. The blog post I was going to write was fast becoming a polemic which bordered on a diatribe. Something is wrong on the internets.

What I had wanted to say was that toxic masculinity is dangerous and that it probably shouldn’t be used to market coffee. I’d seen an ad, and yeah, I was perturbed. But here’s the thing, a couple of hundred words into my denunciation I became mindful of what I was doing.

Sinking Sensation May Proceed Realization

Fuck! Mindfulness is hard. This morning, on the way to the coffee shop, A-bear and I had a discussion about taking responsibility for our mistakes so that we can move on. During our meandering discussion, he said “All I want to be is a good guy with a secret place. Only I can get in there.”

“What are you going to do when things don’t look that way? When you don’t feel like a good guy?” I asked.

“Listen to my tummy,” he explained.

That realization we have when we first become aware of what we’re doing. It feels a lot like falling in my experience. The blog post began as an act of anger. I was angry that someone bothered to create a toxic ad, chocked full of misogyny and faux tactical dick-bluster. My guns are bigger than your guns. ‘Merica! Additionally, I was angry at a friend and former Army buddy, who bothered to post this masterpiece of douchebaggery in my social media feed. Given the crowds that he runs with and how they socialize, this is predictable behavior. It’s a habit, his habit.

Additionally, I was angry at a friend and former Army buddy, who bothered to post this masterpiece of douchebaggery in my social media feed. Given the crowds that he runs with and how they socialize, this is predictable behavior. It’s a habit, his habit.

Finally, I was angry with myself. For not knowing better. For not catching myself before jumping into someone else’s toxic cease pool. And I let that anger push my words.

CHORF

Brad Torgersen coined this insulting little acronym to describe all the people he loathes in genre fiction. It stands for Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics and I suspect that he misses cognizance that his critique of other’s could be most commonly applied to himself. But that’s Torgersen’s karma, not mine.

The practice of detachment is about letting go of our need to control outcomes, our attachment to our desires, and – perhaps most difficult – our need to control other people. I am responsible for the blackness behind my own eyes and nothing else. That’s enough.

I bring up this term and Torgersen at all because I see so many of my comrades in fiction fulfilling his definition. Given the opportunity I too have felt compelled, uncontrollably, to object to the toxicity of the Puppy’s poo. But I also realize that in doing so, I’m also aware that I’ve allowed them to change the conversation. Instead of discussing the merits of any given story we end up exchanging insults. I’d say it’s childish behavior, but for the fact that my five-year-old listens carefully to his tummy.

Moving On

The direction I see SFF headed does concern me, so don’t misunderstand, but what I’ll call Competing Dogmas of Story (CDS for short) method of resolution is predictably resulting in little more than a tide of ad hominem. And this concerns me more than just about anything. It’s no longer a productive exchange of ideas, no one’s mind is changing, we’re locked in an endless Coke vs. Pepsi argument.

Amazon Author Rank

There’s a lot of desire wrapped up in the Rocket. Back in 2014, when Larry Corria’s “Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles” nabbed a nomination, but not an award he chose to take it personally. A consummate storyteller, he created a complex mythology which justified his desire. “He was robbed, I tell you! Robbed!” And his reaction to his loss led to the creation of the Sad Puppies and their derivatives.

All that pent up anger poured into a blind, multi-year campaign of simple dominance.

My recent rise on Amazon is posted above for a reason, I invest a lot of hope in the idea that if I can climb that ladder, I’ll find new readers, they’ll buy my stories, and all my chickens will hatch. The contemporary version of Jack London’s rise is a mashup; the recombination of epic, serial fiction, and electronic distribution. Who wouldn’t like to see that kind “success?”

Even after a lot of hard work and some great promotion my bump from Alt.Chronicles Legacy Fleet topped out at #225. Follow on sales, page reads, and new Patreon subscriptions we’re weak. It makes me feel like a zombie that made it to the fence only to have a stake shoved through my eye. All those tasty brains, just out of reach. The good news is that I’m not angry. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, while I sometimes experience anger as a consequence of my circumstance, I remain aware of myself enough to recognize those moments. I can refuse to let them push me around. This isn’t a fatal failure. My attachments are visible, and that frees me to work on things that will help. I’ll write more stories.

There is a lot that the SFF community can learn from this practice, I think. Refusing to respond anger — discovering and acknowledging the struggles of others — is the way forward. Torgersen and Corria are angry that they’re not on top of the heap, that their moment in the spotlight didn’t happen on their schedule, and that’s their struggle. I don’t have to make it mine.