Here it is, middle of January, and I haven’t done a wrap-up of 2016. Well, what can be said of such a year?
Politically, I think I have said enough. You can revisit if you wish, especially via the links to my favorite posts back just a little way. Personally and professionally…
I finished a new novel. It is currently in the hands of my agent. As time passes and I hear nothing the usual swarm of doubts begin to devil me. It’s probably not as good as I hope, possibly not as bad as I fear, but if things run according to form it won’t much matter. I continue to write in a manner that I’ve long characterized as half a bubble off.
Which has me contemplating where to go. I’ve decided to devote 2017 mostly to short fiction. I have one more novel to finish, the final in a trilogy I feel I’ve been living with forever, which my agent feels very positive about. Since the first two books are done and have not yet found a home, I’m not in as huge hurry to complete the third one, although of late I’ve been having some stray thoughts on where to take it that are the beginnings of an itch to finish it. Regardless, I am committed to short fiction for the time being. I’ve already written two new stories and I am working to complete a novelette that’s been sitting stewing for a bit over a year now.
I declared a goal to myself. Before I die I want to have published 100 short stories. Which means I have about 40 to go. It’s as arbitrary as any goal, I suppose. I have roughly 20 stories in my files in various stages of completion, and maybe 10 more that are done but require revision. A few have been the rounds and not found homes, so maybe I should take them apart and put them together again, only better. I have one I know that I have written four versions of to completion and can’t decide which one works best (or at all).
All of which prompts contemplation of the worth of doing what I do. Yeah, I tend to do that a lot. But one reality (out of many) is the fact that I am now 62. Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up has become somewhat problematic.
Along those lines, I had a small revelatory experience in 2016 that has been working on me since. I have been privileged to work (day-job) with some extraordinary and talented people. One of them is a new novelist, her first book came out last summer. It’s a terrific novel, I recommend it (Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own), and she and I have had many conversations about writing and publishing. One day when I was complaining about the dismal condition of my career, she brought me up short by telling me she thought I was very successful. “You have twelve books out.” It caused me to reassess my own metrics regarding “success.” I’m still reassessing, but I have decided to stop sulking about it. These things really are relative outside certain narrowly-defined parameters.
When I attended WorldCon in Kansas City last August, I did so with a different attitude and enjoyed the whole thing much more.
My main concern now has to do with finishing the work I want to do. I’ve got that one more novel I mentioned above, but I also have one great big epic I want to write—it’s all in the back of my head, waiting for me to get around to—and a few ideas for other books I’d like to do. Setting the 100-story goal is part of that. Finishing. Leaving a legacy.
No, I’m not dying. I in good health. I had a whole round of tests last year. I’m fine. Still going to the gym, still doing my 100-push-ups-a-day, still being a taunt to the young guys at the gym. (You’re how old? No!) But I’d be a fool to look at life the way I did 30 years ago. I don’t have time to waste.
Of course, I will waste time. It’s built in. Humans do that. We should learn to enjoy it.
Along those lines, though, things have gotten to be a bit better in that we can waste time on things we like more than in previous years. The situation that has bogged us down for the last four (which I won’t discuss here, but my close friends know about it) has reached the point of being naught but an occasional annoyance. We’ve been cleaning house, relaxing, getting to the point where we are allowing ourselves to do things like go to the movies if we choose or just sit together reading. The pressure has eased. Life seems a bit broader.
As long as we don’t obsess over the news.
No politics here, I said. Although just a comment, that the way things have come to pass, we seem to have witnessed a nationwide example of the efficacy of Dunning-Kruger. (I’ll just leave that here, unexplained for the time being.)
Culturally, I feel beaten about the head and stomach with all the deaths. The two that hit me hardest were Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. They, among others, provided the soundtrack of my youth. Their music still thrills me. Much imitated, but nothing to compare. I wasn’t happy when Umberto Eco died. David Bowie didn’t go down too well for me, either.
2017 doesn’t seem to be starting off too well itself, but…
All in all, though, 2016 has turned out to be a year in which I began to be comfortable with what I’ve done, who I am, and where I might be going. It helps to have a good partner, and I have that. Donna and I celebrated 36 years together last spring. Between us we have tackled the many-hued exigencies of timeless conundrums and come out the other side of various rabbit holes with our fluffy whites intact (if a bit rumpled and smudged). I appreciate her, in the full meaning of the word.
I have no idea where this year is going. I feel we have gotten onto a space mountain ride. We may come out on the other side of the galaxy.
One thing, though: there will be more stories. It only ends when the stories stop.
I’m giving my office a thorough resort (long overdue). Also, I’m attempting to catch up on sleep (likewise long, long overdue) and taking the first few months to relearn the art of short story (so overdue as to almost not be doable). In the meantime…the other night, coming home from work, the city was ensconced in a thick fog, and for once I pulled over to do some images. So while I am endeavoring to straighten out the physicality of my existence, for your edification…
Let us hope for more clarity as the year goes on.
2016 was a thorough-going challenge to a sane hominid’s equilibrium, regardless how you try to contextualize it. Picking the “best” posts from such a year reveals a litany of political views, deaths, and photographs designed to distract from the magma-flow of WTF that worsened as the year continued.
Still, some good things happened. I’ll try to do a more cogent overview later. For now, my “favorite” posts of the year.
The last couple of months descended into escapism and disbelief, for evident reasons. Stay tuned for more.
Still not ready to post about the year, so…
I hope everyone had a Christmas Day of comfort, some joy, and a bit of doing what you wanted to do. I hope this will find you all well.
I’m still ruminating on the events of this year. There will be a lengthy post sometime before 2017. I confess to being about as stunned by events as I have ever been.
The good news, personally, is that I’m working on new short fiction. If my office weren’t so damn cold I could do this all day. But to fill the gap till I pull ideas together for some kind of analysis, here’s a new photograph. Something to sort of sum up, visually, my feelings about this month.
May you all be well. Season’s best.
I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.
I’m feeling arty today. Struggling with a new story, which is fighting me (they often do) and in need of distraction, I played with a couple of images. So, here you are.
I said I’d try not to do any more political posts till after the election. I have nothing to say–well, nothing I care to say–about all the current bogs, tangles, pits, and mudholes. So in lieu of that, something peaceful, restful, effulgent with the promise of a quiet day…