A Road Forward?

Impeachment now seems likely. I understood Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance. In this, timing is extremely important. Pull the trigger too soon and you run the risk of handing him more power. By the same token, wait too long and you risk normalizing this situation by implying that while it has been unpleasant, nothing seriously destructive happened, which everyone knows is not true.

And by Everyone, I mean everyone, even his supporters. After all, destruction is what they signed on for. If they had not wanted him to rip things apart, they would have backed someone else they knew wouldn’t. But pretty much from the beginning the point of this presidency has been destruction. His supporters have long been convinced that the republic is off the rails and very drastic measures must be taken to “fix” it, which include destroying institutions they have come to hate because they’ve been told by their chosen spokesmen that this is so. The republic is in peril because of policies leading us to the brink of losing our special identity, our place in history. It has gone on too long to be ameliorated by simple “adjustments.” Something has to be broken.

For those now opposed to him, the destruction is plain to see and it is a bad thing. But the fundamental belief in the corrective genius of our institutions has kept many of us from pulling the trigger on impeachment because that, too, will be a tearing.

Arguably, it’s past time.

But it’s been past time now for 40 years. Longer, probably. The danger just now is that we reduce all our troubles to a pinpoint named Donald J. Trump and, once successfully dealt with, march blithely forward on the assumption that we have Solved Our Problems.

A significant segment of the American public has been persuaded over the last four decades that in order to maintain our position in the world, our wealthy class must be made secure. Not just secure, but virtually sacrosanct, because our enemies have all struck at their own wealthy people. The Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, their satellites, all stripped away individual wealth as an essential part of their program for world domination. Obviously there must be something about individual wealth that is threatening to them. Not only that, but something about it that keeps countries from becoming just like them.  Therefore we must render all aid and assistance to our wealthy class in order to preserve our unique status as savior of civilization. Within that has been the implicit promise that anyone or all of us may one day join that class. There have been examples, especially in the tech industries. We see this in newish fields, where people migrate between economic strata because the rules are temporarily in flux. Otherwise, economic migration most dramatically happens when someone wins the lottery. Not a particularly reliable way of upward mobility and a scam that sucks even more wealth from those who can least afford it. (Let’s face it, the Lottery is gambling, and as we should all know, the House always wins.)

In fact, I would argue that it’s this “lottery mentality” that has put us here. A single winning ticket, one roll of the dice, lightning strikes, and we’re all winners. Elect the Right One and all our problems (more or less) can be solved. Except this is politics and the future of the country, not a gaming table and the loss of a week’s wages.

The people who chose to stay home in 2016 succumbed to some version of this, I believe. Whatever their thinking, clearly they felt the only election that mattered was for the presidency. Which meant they refrained from congressional, state, and whatever local elections may have been on the ballot. It seemed not to have occurred to them that they could have simply not voted for the top slot but then run down the rest of the ticket and maybe—maybe—have done something worthwhile in congress or in state legislatures. Believing that electing a president may solve all problems shows a serious lack of understanding, certainly no attention to the larger picture, and zero foresight.

But that election is over. We now see the consequences of apathy and desperation in starker terms than ever before.

Talk of impeachment has been growing. It has been there practically since the election, and for a long time it has been put off, first because the Republicans held majorities in both houses, then because Nanci Pelosi was playing a cautious game, knowing that moving prematurely could backfire.

There are two major factors in this. The first is his hardcore supporters, who exhibit all the surface credulity of dedicated cultists. Reason seems to have no purchase among them. The second is the core ideologues of the Republican Party, who are well-versed in the gamesmanship of party politics, who see the president as their last opportunity to see their program into being. If they abandon him, they lose.

Between these two groups there is the potential for even more breaking of our institutions. A premature move to impeach might have strengthened the resolve of both groups and combined them into an extralegal effort to preserve the president out of fear of losing the gains presumably made by his election, gains which on their face are contradictory, confused, and contrary to our stated principles as a nation.

What has been important all along is to make sure the culpability of all the players is as clear as the incompetence and malice of the figure at the center. If all the blame is centered on the president, as if he alone is responsible for the wreckage, the problems that allowed him to sit in the oval office could conceivably be overlooked. We like single-issue politics, we prefer neat packages of blame, and we relish monolithic solutions.  None of these traits must be allowed to dominate the process. Our current situation has been over four decades in the making and is comprised of the efforts of many people for many ends. We have at hand a conspiracy of effect more than anything else, simply because all these players have come together for different reasons and have taken advantage of a moment of confluence to get all the various things they want. Performing prophylaxis so this sort of mess cannot happen again will require that we hold all the various elements up for judgment and enact laws to hobble those who would butcher our ideals in the name of personal achievement.

The difficulty for some is that at the locus is a serious misreading of our national identity and a profound failure to understand our operating assumptions.

(Ironically, an old prejudice has resurfaced in the form of the proper electorate. The Founders famously—or perhaps not—distrusted democracy because many of them believed the hoi polloi incapable of the proper judgment to actively participate via the vote in our government. The very people they may have had in mind at the time are the ones who have demonstrated, to greater or lesser extent, an apparent inability to exercise responsible judgment and it is this group more than any other that has been used to spearhead an assault on the very institutions the Founders believed they should not be allowed to access.)

I think it not unreasonable to say that in no way was Donald Trump ever going to be a reliable advocate for the country. He is, depending on the given day, a poor advocate even for himself. We knew this. We could see it. It didn’t seem to matter.

I will not here rehearse all the reasons to want him removed from office. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, he has reduced this country to a joke internationally and he has come perilously close to destroying the very idea of the rule of law.

One example: the recently collapsed talks with the Taliban.  The central flaw was that they had left the legitimate government of Afghanistan out. How do you conduct peace talks with an aggressor without even apprising the people who would be most affected by any outcome that might be reached? This is an example—one of many—of his self-assumed deal-making ability, which any perusal of his career shows to be a virtual total failure. More than that, the arrogance and complete lack of regard for anyone is apparent. This was a bad idea—even his own advisors thought so—pitifully attempted and poorly handled.

His entire administration thus far has been one of these after another.

What must be decided—by what mechanism, I’m not sure—is who we believe ourselves to be and what steps must be taken to become that. Because right now we are adrift. In such circumstances, an impeachment proceeding has the potential to be a disaster because of the lack of common identity.

That said, I no longer believe we have much choice. The wrack and ruin of our institutions is reaching such a point that we must move to stop it. But it must not be isolated to a single point. Trump remains a symptom more than cause. If he is to go, his enablers must also go. But along with them must be a recognition that we have slid into a quagmire of paralyzing doubt in so many ways.

Symptom? I argued before that he was ineffectively opposed by the GOP because he did not represent any significant departure from anything in their program. He added a level of obnoxious nakedness to the basic message, which had by then become “anything the federal government does that it not tied directly to military preparedness and tax relief for the wealthy is anathema.”  It appears they have concluded that a successful country is one that makes its self-appointed “champions” rich.

There is, obviously, a deeper problem, and it has to do with a self-impression of Americanness that is almost comic when simply described. It is, as best I can determine, the notion that tough guys never complain, never criticize, and never let anyone tell them what to do or show them they are wrong. Which translates to a profound aversion to be told anything that does not conform to already-held beliefs and opinions and seeing the teller as some kind of enemy of Americanism. Hence, climate change is a challenge to our self-image, not because it’s wrong so much but that it’s a complaint. Social justice issues are derided because they are criticisms and fail to take into account how “wonderful” we are as as nation. Worst of all, those who are, essentially, “victims” who doing the criticizing and complaining have simply decided to take advantage of “our” good offices and won’t do the necessary work to climb out of their situation. Like the “rest” of us.

(Of course, the people who believe this are themselves the worst kind of complainers.)

Being told that all these attitudes rest upon myth, bad information, and a failure to understand how systems work to thwart personal or group goals and efforts is a species of Intellectualism, which has always abraded a significant element of America, which has been deeply anti-intellectual almost since the Founding, and proudly so. In the past they have managed to foul the works to some extent, but with the advent of social media and the proliferation of alternative narrative sources (cable, satellite, podcasts) this characteristic has swollen to hazardous proportions.

Trump took advantage of a deep conviction, generally unstated and almost always unexamined, that a “true American” is somehow born perfect and all modifications are foreign contaminants. Which is why it seems not to bother his supporters when he reaches out to people like Putin to assist him, because they do not see it so much as Trump allowing foreign involvement as Trump “making” the Russians (or whoever) do what he wants.

As an American should.

This has to be dealt with.  There is no good way to do it other than constructing a new narrative. Because this is a narrative in the first place. A story.

The question is, what is that story?

Well, basically, that Americans are innately good and wise and anyone criticizing us simply knows no better or is actively opposed to us. And that the enterprise of tolerance and inclusiveness has sapped our strength and mocked our principles by diluting those qualities of innate goodness and wisdom.  As a corollary, anything not innate—that is, learned, especially from “outside” sources—is to be viewed with suspicion and people who advocate such learning are not to be trusted.

In this case, it manifests very simply but with complex consequences as: Do Not Make Me Question Myself. I am an American and I am organically complete. Make me question others, question nature, question life even, but do not make me question myself. Only god has the right to do that and he’s not here.

A current example of how this plays out is the absurd reaction among certain people to Greta Thunberg. A sixteen-year-old girl challenges the world to fix itself before it is consumed by its own greed and in this country there are people who hang her effigy, attempt to “put her in her place” because she is young and female, dig up all manner of ridiculous comparisons in history to discredit her and undermine any legitimacy she has or that her message contains. Smear her, tease her, insult her, try to force her back into some box they think she belongs. Why? Because her message requires that we question ourselves and the reasons we reject her message.

But instead of challenging the message they attack her. Because it doesn’t matter whether she is right or wrong, she is requiring that we question ourselves and maybe, just maybe, re-evaluate what it is we’re doing, what we’re supporting. A certain kind of American is very bad at that kind of self-examination.

(We can see this very clearly in the apparent contradiction of christians supporting Trump. It may be argued that he is completely contrary to a christian ethic, but in my opinion critics have it the wrong way around: in this mindset, Americans are by definition christian, so anything they countenance is, by definition, christian, actual theological dogma notwithstanding.)

It is, in my opinion, that kind of American that is exemplified by Trump.

There is absolutely nothing defensible about that kind of obdurate, proud ignorance.

As we move forward with impeachment, we must bear in mind the underlying problem that he is in office by virtue of fraud and the support of people who refuse to accept that things must change if we are to not only survive but thrive. He enjoys the support of people who cannot muster cogent arguments against the things they do not agree with so almost always default to attacking the characters of those advocating such positions, and—this should be undeniable—if you cannot address the message other than attacking the messenger, you have no counterargument and should, if you have any self-respect at all, either say that you simply do not like the facts being presented or recuse yourself from the debate until to you know something.

We are facing a moment in history wherein it may be that we will define human dignity for decades to come.  What it is and whether it merits defending.  If anyone doubts for a moment where Trump stands on that question, his recent abandonment of the Kurds in Syria should serve as demonstration. Even his steadfast congressional supporters are flinching at this. They know it’s wrong. Their problem is, they have hitched their politic fortunes to his coattails and know that as he falls, so will they. They have a choice to go out with a modicum of dignity or become part of the wreckage that will be their legacy.

I’ve watched, along with probably the majority of Americans, this unfolding calamity with deep bewilderment. While I can see what has happened, it baffles me that we have been so unwilling, collectively, to stop it.  Maybe one of our national characteristics is that we allow things to go until they are unendurable or broken before acting, and it’s possible there is some kind of utility in this. But this is not the America I grew up expecting. I was raised to be part of a country that valued fact as well as truth, did not flinch from self-examination, and willingly extended tolerance and the benefits of learning openly. Granted, none of this was as I thought when I was a child or even an adolescent, but these were the virtues, and that we continue to work toward them seemed to excuse much. In the last forty years I’ve watched us retreat from fact, become complacent with success, and jealous of our gains, to the point of repudiating some of our most important stated ideals.

We must keep in mind that Trump is not the cause of our divisions. He is the beneficiary of them and those divisions have been long in the making. When he is gone, we have rebuilding to do, and we must do so with the view that we are not the end product of civilization. We were never that. If the world is to survive, we must end the worship of the powerful and the fear of change.

Impeachment is only the beginning. We have some building to do.

 

 

 

 

 

A Foretaste

Archon is coming up. Next week, in fact. Once again, I will have work in there art show. Last year I won the best in show nonprofessional. I’m not changing my status, because I am not doing this as a professional, but that doesn’t mean I’m not for hire.

Anyway, along with some very cool panels with some amazing people, here’s a peak at what I’ll have on display.  Just one.

 

Coffey, Our Coffey

We named her Coffey because—

The Humane Society listed her as Clara. It was so obvious she wasn’t a Clara that it was laughable, so we laughed and started casting about for another name. We stumbled on Coffey because she responded to it. Her ears cocked, she looked around. We decided her name must have been something similar—Toffey or Sophie or Muffy or something—and given both her lush coloring (with those wonderful creamy white accents) and her energy levels, Coffey fit.

It was dangerous, in a way. We’re both coffee-drinkers and naming her that meant every time we poured a cup we would think of her. This could be difficult after—

Well, after.

Now it’s after, and I do think of her. We together have our moments when it’s time to stop talking and just remember.

We had been without a dog for a year. Our first one, Kory, had left an empty space. Donna volunteered for the Humane Society, mainly as a walker. By this time she told me I’d have to make the selection because she wanted to bring them all home.

We toured the kennels. I saw this one lounging in her cage, paying no attention to anyone else, especially, it seemed, the people. There was an attitude. I said “This one.”

“Why?”

“She’s not neurotic.”

What she was was pure semi-contained energy. Once she realized she was going home I felt like I was trying to hang on to a cartoon character doing manic moves in defiance of gravity. We stopped on the way home at a friend’s house to pick up a crate then brought her home.

It took about a month for this dog to fall in love with us. Clearly, wherever she had run away from had done a lot of work with her and cared for her. We almost felt guilty. We figured that she had gotten out, either during a storm or something frightened her, and got lost. For that month it seemed sometimes as if she were just hanging around us till her people came to get her.

Then it changed and she adopted us.

You can tell. There’s a look that shifts subtly from “Hey, you’re a human, I like humans!” to “Oh, you’re my human.”

Honestly, it was touch and go for the first couple of weeks. I wasn’t sure I was up for a powerhouse that wanted to see the entire neighborhood all at once right now!  This 35 lb mix-breed (presumably a Pointer Mix, hah) could drag me down the street. She was always ON.

Until she wasn’t.

As I said, her previous owners had done work with her. She was already house-broken. She understood a handful of commands. She was careful. By that, I mean she almost never went anywhere, explored anything, or played so as to break things, move things, disturb things. She understood there were boundaries. It was amazing.

But unlike our previous dog, Coffey wanted to dig.

This time around, we read some books. One of them recommended giving the dog its own plot of ground in which to dig. Donna managed to get this across and so the Digging Pit was created, and damn if Coffey didn’t stick to it. If Donna would be doing yard work—weeding, planting, what-have-you—Coffey would “help” by going immediately to her own pit and digging furiously. She was on a quest. Whatever it was down under all that dirt, she was hot on the trail.

And when she crashed, she cozied up to one of us and informed us with every bit of her immense personality that she felt safe.

We walked her once a day. Those walks could range a couple of miles. She never really wanted to go home. There was always another block, another corner, another street to cross.

Coffey was our buddy. Despite our shortcomings, she evidently thought we were terrific and let us know that. She was beautiful and smart and amazing and she was glad to be with us.

Oh, she had her quirks. She really did not like other animals, even other dogs, and positively hated cats. We found an excellent groomer, Spotlight on Hampton. They let the dogs socialize and offered a daycare service. What socialization with other dogs she got, she got there, and they were glad to see her. 

Coffey was alpha, unquestionably. And size didn’t matter.

She maintained her puppiness up till the last several months. No one believed how old she was until they looked closer, at the increasing grey on her muzzle. 

We weren’t sure how old she was when we got her, but our vet estimated maybe a year, give or take a month. 

We had her for fourteen years.

We had kept Kory alive longer than perhaps we should have. She was suffering. We promised ourselves not to do that again. When the signs of deterioration grew unmistakable and Coffey’s quality of life was decaying, we made the decision.

We had her for fourteen years. She made us better people. Even when we didn’t particularly believe in ourselves, she did. She was generous with kisses and cuddles up till the last few months. If we laughed it made her happy. 

I could go on (and on and on and on) but I think the point is made. 

Coffey was amazing.

And when I have a cup, I do not hurt. But I do enjoy it maybe a touch more.

We are more because of her.

Wildnesses

I’m delaying a post that I’m finding very hard to write. In the meantime, because it’s been that kind of a week, I thought I’d do something dramatic.  So…

Confessions of a Weekend Nerd

Apollo. Fifty years.

We landed on the moon. I look back on it now and I am amazed. I understand some of what went into it, how challenging it was, the amazing level of commitment and dedication, and how unlikely it all might have been. As my sense of history developed, long after high school, I began to see all the incredible things people do, especially here, as sort of willed accidents. By that I mean, someone or a group of someones come up with an idea of something to do, a big something, and put it out there. Others sign on and they all move in that direction. The fact of the matter is, any of a thousand things can derail it and the idea never gets off the ground. So many things have to come together to clear the way, to maintain support, to collect the resources, that the notion that anything actually happens becomes a kind of miracle. Often, it is just timing. The idea gets all the funding and commitment and talent collected before any of the myriad roadblocks effectively arise.

The space program is one of those. When you look back at everything we could and intended that did not happen, it becomes obvious that it was an unlikely thing. By the end of the Sixties, and into the Seventies, large groups had begun challenging the whole project as a pointless, expensive, wasteful vanity project. There were more important things to do here on the ground, why are we spending so much on this when there are hungry people, when there are infrastructure projects going begging, when this or that or the other thing are so much more important. And it mounted and finally, like the nibbling of ducks, dragged the behemoth down and nearly stopped it. Nixon made his fateful choice for a shuttle rather a Mars mission and we seemed to “settle” for a considerably more modest off-world presence. Then, of course, all the funding arguments about the shuttle reduced its range and capacity and while still a remarkable instrument it was far less than the dreams of the Kennedy-era enthusiast wanted.

Life and politics happened and NASA trudged on to do still amazing things, but at a much-reduced level of imaginative possibility. A lot of Americans lost interest.

Now the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing is upon us and many people over a certain age are indulging in the “where were you when” nostalgia, and probably rewriting a lot of personal history. By the enthusiastic remembrances on exhibit, one has to wonder, if that many people had been that thrilled at the time, how did the space program ever lose ground?

My friend and colleague Allen Steele is the only person I know close to my age who was at that level of enthusiasm back then. I have no doubt he stayed home from school to watch the reports on television. He saw things I never at the time even knew happened, exciting things which, if you weren’t paying close attention, you missed. My parents were excited. Some of my classmates were thrilled but they didn’t watch.

Where was I when Neil Armstrong stepped out of a very flimsy can to walk on another world? Home, because it was one of the rare times my parents decided to keep me out of school.+ Dad made me watch.

Yes, I said “made.” Because, to be perfectly honest, the whole thing by then bored me out of my skull. Tell me about it after it happened, thank you.

I felt guilty about that later, until I heard about Robert A. Heinlein’s testimony before Congress in which he chastised them for doing such a pitiful P.R. job with the space program. He saw what had happened, they had turned it into one of those incredibly lifeless, innocuous educational films we paid no attention to in school. Bad animation, endless hours of a cartoon capsule and “live” audio of back-and-forths between Gemini and Mission Control, and the oh-so-serious commentary of people like Walter Cronkite and Jules Bergman, with the occasional guest commentator like Arthur C. Clarke.

The truth is, this was a difference between the “how do we do this” crowd and the “what are we gonna do when we get there” crowd. I suspect the latter outnumbered the former, and when the answer was “collect some rocks and take some pictures” it must have rippled like a soporific grade-school lecture through us. They might have done better had they done more of the “what are we going to do next” sort of thing that popped up far too seldom, although when it did was made to sound as exciting as someone describing how they would lay new carpet.

Even back then I knew people who believed it was all fake. Challenging them about it, I sensed that really they wanted it to be fake. They didn’t want it to be real, because then they would have to pay attention to it, if only to complain about it. And then there are others who don’t want great things done. Their opinion of human beings is low, that we are more scourge than anything, and great things only sustain a set of illusions we don’t deserve to have. This is nothing new. This is a modern version of an ongoing sense that all the great things have already been done, far in the past, and that the modern world (pick your period) is a shadow of former greatness or a corruption of what we might have been. An Eclessiastical View, if you will. Then someone comes along to propose a new great thing and the struggle begins between the will to do it and those who just can’t bring themselves to let it happen.

Hence my opinion that great things are willed accidents.

But they happen. Often enough to give the rest of us aspirations, a sense of potential.

Growing up, you learn—presumably—that your desires and aspirations rise or fall on what has gone before. Why was I bored by the space program? Because it wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I wanted to be on the moon already, with the space stations already built and the mission to Mars already underway or done, and the whole space-centered future I’d been reading about since I was old enough to choose my own books in place. I was impatient. This stuff, because I was not an engineering nerd, didn’t affect me. I was the kid who was more interested in how the new cars looked rather than how they ran. I was a weekend space nerd.

But this was true about most things in my life and I have to wonder how many others were the same. I was always more interested in the next thing than in the thing in front of me. I was in a hurry to get on down the road, because—

Well, the future for me was always better than the present.

Now a curious phenomena has overtaken me and possibly thousands if not millions of others. The next thing is actually in the past. The next thing we should have done in the wake of Apollo and didn’t is now the future I was more interested in then and has now picked up where it should have left off in 1974. So Apollo has been resurrected in my imagination as a seriously amazing cool thing.

So I’ve seen the movies, have been reading the new books, and kind of glorying in this great thing that happened when I was a kid. Belatedly, I’m a fan. And NASA is building a new rocket, on par with the old Saturn V, and we have plans to return to the moon (which makes sense only in terms of rebuilding the network and infrastructure to do and maybe as a way of rallying the national imagination, but we really should be going to Mars), and suddenly we have a kind of post-Columbian* enthusiasm for doing the thing we walked away from in the Seventies. I’m studying the period now with the adult interest that might have made a difference back then and caused me to pay attention despite the mind-numbingly boring coverage.

Because if asked, back then, I would never have said it was not a desirable thing to do. I would have been thrilled that we had done it. And the suggestions at the time that maybe we shouldn’t struck me as absurd. Come the weekend, I was there. I just didn’t want to pay attention to the doing. Which is a mistake. Willed accidents do happen, in spite of the kind of ambivalence to which I refer, but that ambivalence can rob them of their full potential and sometimes derail them completely.

Doing it now seems to be acquiring a new kind of enthusiasm. But it would never happen if it had not already been done.

For the record, then, I want that future. Always did. I want us in space. I want bases on the moon, colonies on Mars, ships going hither and yon, and a striving toward the outer edge. For many reasons I want that, but first and foremost I want it because that’s where my imagination finds replenishment. Because I see that as the cool thing to do. And the doing will make us better.

Happy anniversary, Apollo. Ad astra.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________

*In the sense that it was fully half a century to a century after Columbus made his first voyage before nations really got behind the whole effort to cross the Atlantic and establish colonies.  There does seem to be a timelag connected to these sorts of enterprises. Mind you, I make no comment here on the desirability of what happened in the wake of Columbus, but the exploratory impulse on its own is, in my opinion, an essential and basically good part of human society and character.

+ Since posting this, I have been reminded that the landing was at around 10:00 PM ET, so I would not have been kept out of school to watch. It may have been the splashdown for which I was kept home. This just goes to show how disconnected I was at the time and the way in which memory plays tricks on us.

Workin’ On It

Once more before the screen, on an on-and-off rainy day. I’ve been trying to follow up on the good effect of a story sale and bulling my way through some stories that have been hanging fire for too long. What do I feel like doing instead? Well, not what’s below. I don’t fish. I would be one of those who would bring a book and fall asleep, probably get sunburnt, mosquito-bit, generally overheated, and with no fish to show for it because I wouldn’t really care.

But the sunshine would be nice. And a bit of placid surroundings. Don’t know about the audience, though…

Coffey

This is Coffey.

 

Coffey is our very good friend. Our buddy. Coffey makes sure we remember to laugh, keeps us company (especially when she can do so on the bed) and forces us to take walks.

Coffey is about 15.

Yes, that’s correct. Fifteen. She’s healthy, just very slow these days. When we grab the leash, she bounds around our feet like a puppy. She’s good for about three blocks of all-out walking, then she slows to a snail’s pace and makes up for the distance with careful study of various leaves, stalks of grass, patches of concrete, and other smells. But she still gets excited about that walk.

I haven’t posted anything about her in a while and she’s gotten a bit camera shy lately—more can’t be bothered than any kind of misplaced vanity.

If we’re careful, we’ll have her for a while yet.

But she’s 15. I’m amazed.

Greyshades

I haven’t done any new black & white for a while, so.

There is a color version of this (and for sale) which you can see here.

 

Random Bits

No plan here, just thoughts. It’s Sunday as I begin writing this, second day for me of a four-day weekend. Timing.

Lack of attention bedevils me. I have things to do, a wide variety, and I get befuddled by which I should pay most attention. It matters because I end up scattering my attention widely and so get little done in each endeavor. Some of my friends understand this, but not all.

This morning I got out of bed (I hesitate to say “awoke” because I wouldn’t classify my condition that way) and stumbled through my morning routines. Making coffee is so embedded in my brain that I think if I sleep-walked that is one of the things I would do. Donna was already up, tending to the dog. To be honest, I felt like going back to bed, but I intuited that it would only waste time. Another hour or two would not improve my ability to feel whole, just delay it. Further honesty requires me to admit that mornings like this frighten me a little, because I feel so “off” that I think something must be wrong.

I’m just tired, really. An hour or two after getting out of bed I feel pretty much as I’ve always felt. Slow but present.

I’ve had a number of conversations of late about intelligence. Genius, even. I think a genius would be internally unaware of it. My father, I sometimes feel, was a genius. Is. (Yes, he’s still alive, but now so impaired by deafness and poor sight that interaction is virtually impossible.) He never believed so. He railed about how other people seemed so stupid, how they overlooked, missed, or never figured out things which seemed so obvious to him, and he blamed laziness or prejudice or ambivalence. How could they not see? When I pointed out to him that he himself was far from ordinary, he bridled. No, that couldn’t be it. He did not see himself as a particularly smart man. But he was dogged, possessed of a degree of focus and ability to concentrate I found unachievable. His own opinion would never allow recognition of his “gifts,” if gifts they were.

I’ve been accused—recently—of being “superior.” Not a compliment.

We live in a culture that prizes knowledge only when it’s somewhere else. It’s cool when it’s on tv or in a lecture hall or, most importantly, when it makes someone a lot of money. But when it lives next door to us we resent it. When we have to talk to it every day we hate it, because it feels like someone is showing off, trying to be better than everyone else, getting off on making others feel stupid. I’ve never understood that. It’s not like all the information isn’t there for everyone to access.

It’s a choice of what we find important. As far as I’m concerned, too many people are too invested in things that don’t matter. (Is that me being judgmental? Why, yes, it is. Unapologetically. You have to choose, you have to decide. Others, I realize, level their judgment at me to the same or greater degrees. What good is that novel you just read? Isn’t that a waste of time? Well, the same could said about the goal that player just made that you reacted to orgasmically. If you’re going to judge me for having no interest in your passion, I’m going to judge you for having none in mine. Let’s lay it out and compare worth some day and see how what stacks up.)

(I have noticed that this phenomenon is not limited to intellectual pursuits. I’ve been insulted in the past for being in good physical condition. I lift weights, it shows. I’ve been treated as somehow weird by people who…well, any deviation from an assumed norm will intimidate people who just can’t seem to bring themselves to do the work to achieve something they might actually want to do. It’s as if they think they should have been born with these characteristics and when it turns out they have to do some actual work, instead of embracing the opportunities, they turn to resentment of those who do.)

I didn’t intend to complain this morning. But I have some things on my mind. This is a free-flowing post. Read at your own peril.

I made myself go to the gym this morning. I halfway expected to be unable to finish a workout. Instead, as often happens, about half to two-thirds through, I felt better. Blood flowing, I came awake.

And on the drive home I started having conversations in my head.

Yes, I talk to myself. I always have. My interactions with my fellow creatures have often been frustrating to me. Things I miss, don’t get, say wrong, hear wrong, respond inappropriately. A good deal of what people see today is a carefully constructed façade designed to offer an interface that works in group settings. Not fake, no, but selective and practiced. At one time I did try putting a fake front up and it never worked. It took a long time for me to realize that, though, because part of the front was a very selective filter that kept useful interaction out.

(That annoying piece of advice, so often given, to just “be yourself” used to infuriate me. Firstly, how the hell does one do that? I mean, really. First it assumes you know who you are. Second it assumes that you have a choice about how you come across to other people. You do, as it turns out, but it rarely comes automatically. And thirdly, it fails to take into account whether or not you like who you may be as “yourself.” Don’t people realize that “being yourself” may well be the last thing you want to be because you find whatever that is to be…wanting? Of course they do, they’ve been having the same struggle, but probably don’t realize it. All those “popular” people, do we really believe that’s who they really are? If you could look inside to see, would it be what you see on the outside? No. So, stupid advice, well-meant, but as often as not self-defensive.)

I’m sitting here in my office, trying to rework a short story that has resisted conclusion for months. Like most of my short stories in the last several years, it seemed promising because I had a very cool idea. The idea remains cool. Getting it across as a compelling story is another matter. And, as usual, I am procrastinating by working on this post instead.

I’m listening to Walter Piston. He was an American composer, mid-20th Century. I stumbled on him during one of my periods of exploring obscure classical music. You can listen to him and hear a bit less experimental version of Barber and Copland and maybe Hanson. (Again, who? Yeah.) I’ve got a few CDs of his symphonies. They make excellent background for writing, but when you really listen to them you hear a familiar strain of anxiety that seems a part of most American neoclassical. You listen to Copland and the others and you can hear a boldness, a brashness that seems distinctly American. But along the way, especially in the symphonies, comes a stretch of uncertainty. I call it anxiety. The anxiety of not being so sure of yourself, perhaps, or the anxiety of knowing you have a lot of responsibility and can’t really carry it. (I sometimes think Ives, whom I cannot really stand, was about nothing but that uncertainty.)

The best science fiction carries that anxiety in its guts. We’re boldly going where we don’t belong and nervous about it, but eager. so eager to see the next neat thing.

So I get home, muscles still humming from a decent workout, brain filled with a silent conversation about an unresolved issue, and Donna is still doing landscaping in the back yard.  I help by moving some heavy stones, then retreat inside, eventually migrate down to the office, and start riffing on these stray thoughts.

Most days, lately, I write a few sentences, correct some errors, tweak. Then I scoot to the other computer and cruise. Yesterday I listened to a report on “downgrading” humans, which talked about how the information explosion has been coopted by the so-called Attention Economy to the detriment of actual intellection.

Downgrading Humans. According to the report, our brains are not equipped to deal with the information deluge constantly poured through them. We get overwhelmed, the tools we have to sort wheat from chaff are inadequate, we can’t tell noise from signal after a while, and soon we’re just clicking through from one bit to the next in a parody of research. The limitation offends, I’m sure. I’m resentful of my inabilities, especially when it comes to knowledge. But it’s an academic kind of resentment now that rarely obtrudes into the kind of seething animosity a teenager might feel when being told no. It’s more frustration now when I run against my own lack of information and ignorance when I’m in the middle of a project or a conversation.

The problem I imagine with what is being described as “downgrading” is that indulging the immersion in click-throughs can come to feel like genuine learning.

Plus, there’s something addictive about. The dazzle of bright, shiny objects.

There’s a big market for self-help books. A lot of them are practical, how to do things, but a lot of them are about changing your life, becoming a new or different or better person. Many border on genuine psychology, but most seem to be manuals for self-improvement that only glance off the deeper aspects of who we are. Years ago, groping toward some kind of self-knowledge, I read a lot of them. Fritz Perls, Leo Buscaglia, Eric Fromm, others. I gleaned useful things from them all, but it seemed as I grew older, less and less of what I read in these books offered anything truly useful. Reality never conforms to neat paragraphs of “if this, then do that.” But occasionally there was genuine insight. I stopped reading them after I shifted into philosophy. But there’s a huge market. You would think we live in a world of remarkably healthy self-actualized people. I have no idea, but I have come to believe that most of these books sell to people who believe that all they have to do is read them and that is sufficient. Acting on the advice? Well.

I’ve taken a hard look at my own habits. I’ve become craggier in some ways. The state of the world has a bit to do with this, but in general I’ve been dissatisfied with my own progress along various fronts. I wondered, after hearing about this phenomenon, if I were a victim of this. Turning to the very thing that is largely the source of the problem is an irony past stating, but it is true that even though an overwhelming amount of dross permeates the internet, there is much that is worthwhile. A degree of ordinary scepticism is required and some robust filters, but you can find out useful things. So I did a bit of research on internet trends and realized quickly that I am a weekend tourist at worst. This thing distracts me, but I spend far more time reading books than ever I spend online.

But the distraction is enough to derail my concentration. It’s worse when I’m not working on a specific project. The discipline of the project keeps me focused.

Of course, then there are the days when my hindbrain cries out for relaxation. For what Donna calls “vegging.” One of the things my parents, worrying all through my upbringing that they would fail to implant it, managed to instill is an ethic that demands I waste no time. So even the things I do for “relaxation” seem to require a practical reason, a purpose. I’ve invented a number of excuses to fool my subconscious so it will leave me alone when I’m indulging the “frivolous.” I wish I could just…

I listen to music to put me in moods. Moods to write, to read sometimes, to work out. Music is a deep pool of inspiration and replenishment for my soul. We live in an age where the available sounds are greater than at any time. The possibilities are amazing. I hear better performances, more intriguing compositions, wilder explorations today than ever before, in just about any genre of music you care to name. You would think we could find a common soundtrack with all this to choose from, but the click-through ethic renders too many too impatient to sit and truly listen.

Or does it? That same volume of data may just serve to lend cover to large groups of people who do exactly that—sit and listen. They don’t answer surveys, they don’t buy in predictable manners, they don’t feed the pop machinery. It may be that we’re about to hear from them in a Big Way. I have noticed a lot of young people buying more books, books you might not predict they would buy. And of course the books being published…I can’t say that they are “downgraded.” No more than they ever were. And the best is better than ever before.

I take my optimism where I can find it.

Among the things I want to do before I’m gone: publish a dozen more books, record and release an album of original music, mount a couple of exhibits and possibly publish a monograph of my photographs, and maybe start drawing and painting again. State like that it would seem I need another lifetime. One thing I’ve come to appreciate (though perhaps not experienced yet) is that a lifetime doesn’t have a specific time limit and you can have more than one, overlapping or contiguously.

We’ll see what can be done with that.

Thank you for indulging me.