Intentions 2015

Last year I did one of these, declaring that stating intentions was more honest and less guilt-making than resolutions.  As it turned out, I fulfilled virtually none of my stated intentions, although I did manage to make a dent in several of them.

So this time, I’ll ramp it back a little and just sort of ramble about what I’d kinda sorta like to do and maybe might get a chance to.

Rambles, by their nature, tend to be disorganized, stream-of-consciousness thingies with no real direction—though they may have a center.  With that in mind…

I’d like to read more books this coming year. This is hardly a new one.  I always want to read more books.  As I said in my year-end summation, I read at a lot of books, but I only finished a few.  I have a large to-be-read stack still left over from 2014 (with maybe a few from 2013) and as I work at a book store, you know there will be more on the pile before 2016.  I have two TBR stacks.  There’s the main one, the big one, in my office at the base of my south wall bookshelf, then there’s the more modest stack at the end of the couch in the living room.  The latter is comprised of books I’m either reading now or intend to read next, though really some of them have also been there for months.  I am finally making progress on that stack, though, and here is a firm intention, to finish that stack before adding any new ones to it.

Then there’s the large pile…

The problem is time, obviously, and to a lesser extent opportunity.  Maybe they’re the same problem. In fact, I’m sure they are, just different ends of the same equation.  I’m still working on new fiction and when I write, obviously, I’m not reading.  Common problem. So with that in mind I have resolved that one of my intentions is to figure out how to distort the space-time continuum in order to allow for more reading time.  I have a book by Kip Thorne on the TBR pile that talks about some of that and I hope to gain enough insight to accomplish it.  So if in the coming months I seem a bit slow to you, don’t worry—it’s not me, really, it’s just a difference in time.

I expect the same technique will help with the writing as well. Maybe even the housecleaning.

It appears that I will require surgery this year. Nothing life threatening, just seriously annoying.  Back in August I injured my right arm. I’ve been to the doctor, had the MRI, gotten the verdict.  Partially ruptured biceps tendon.  I can function…just not comfortably or at my previous level of strength. They’ll have to Go In.  The biggest inconvenience with this will be the two weeks of complete immobilization of the right arm as it starts to heal.  (This could really help with that pesky reading time problem.)  I was told that it will be a total of four months recovery time and then I should be back to normal.  (But I want to be MORE than normal, I want to be GREAT, I want—shut up, sit down.)

One might expect that I did this at the gym, but no, I did it at work.  Dumb.

So one of my other intentions for this year is to NOT HURT MYSELF AGAIN!

Ahem. *cough*

On the writing front, I’ve been ruminating on how to follow-up the coolness of my first short story collection, Gravity Box (which, may I suggest to any and all, that they get and read and spread the word, and write a short review on, I dunno, Goodreads or that other place I try not to feed but is there nevertheless and provides a space for reader reviews, you know the one I mean, don’t make me say it), and get more books published.  To that end, a modest survey, to whit:

How many of you would like to see a new Secantis novel?  How many of you would like to see reissues of the first three?  Especially in ebook format?

(Now, I don’t expect a lot of response to this, because over the last several years I’ve come to expect not much response on this blog.  I have no idea how many regular readers I have, but even among those who do read it regularly I don’t receive much comment.  But talk among yourselves about this and keep it in mind that I’ve got Plans, so when I announce them here you’ll know one way or the other what you might want.)

So a follow-up intention from 2014.  I am working on two novels.  I intend to finish them both.  This year.  At which point I have to make a decision about what to do next.  There are options.  Depending on, well, everything, I’ll make a decision some time after finishing these two books.

Minor intentions.  More and better photography.  Some real cooking.

Oh, and we’re starting up a new reading group around the core of our last one.  We did Dante last, this time we’ll be doing Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  I haven’t read this since high school, so it’ll practically be all new to me.  We were leaning toward this even before Ferguson happened, but I think it’s a good choice because of Ferguson, since it is one of the earliest social justice novels.

Finally, it is my intention this year to be a better companion to Donna, who has been a wonderful companion to me.  A better friend to those who already are and to those who are becoming good friends.  It seems I got people.  More than I deserve.  I’d like to reciprocate.

I don’t think that’s too much, do you?  As intentions go?  It fits on a plate.  Large plate, maybe, but…


Lone Tree, Sward, December 2014

Another New Look

Thought I’d give this a try for a while.  It’s very clean and the left-hand sidebar might take a bit of getting used to, but I kind of like it.  Change is good, because even if it turns out to be the wrong new selection, it clears out the old stuff that needed to be gone.  Fresh start.

We will probably be hermits for New Year’s Eve again, which is our habit.  Staying up till the ball drops ceased being a thing for us years ago.  Waking up to a new year, while merely a calendrical artifice, is nonetheless a pretty potent metaphor and an opportunity.  I reread last January’s blog post about Intentions and find that I accomplished very few, but then I kind of expected that.  I have further intentions for 2015.  More on that…next year.

In the meanwhile, please, everyone, be safe, play nice, and stick around for another trip around Sol.  We’ll see you on the flip side.


Should I start with the good…or the bad?  Or mix them up?

I’ve been muttering for the last couple of months that I’ve never been through a year I will be so glad to see gone, but the last couple of weeks have been not so horrible and a more sober assessment may be possible.  Sometimes, though, sobriety is overrated.

The last time I had a year so replete with highs and lows was maybe 1979.  But it was all one thing, then, the high and low orbiting the same subject.  This one, this 2014, has been just one-damn-thing-after-another kind of up and down.

Firstly, I turned 60 this year.  That in itself occupies neither side of the scale, unless one wishes to suggest that just arriving at this age mostly intact, largely sane, and relatively whole is a net success, which puts it firmly in the positive column.  As they say, consider the alternative.  So, fine.  I turned 60.

A long, long time ago, back in grade school, I was tasked with one of my first writing gigs, penning a series of future history portraits of my classmates as we approached graduation from 8th grade.  I was told to project ahead 50 years or so and tell where I thought we’d all be.  I remember imagining myself and one of my classmates as being art gallery owners on the moon.  About this year.

Well, so much for the predictive capacities of science fiction!  (I was at a party recently where a gentleman I’d never met before found out I write SF and began regaling me with the virtues of all the neat stuff “sci-fi” foresaw.  I listened politely and then tried, gently, to explain how few things written in SF stories ever came true and almost never in the way they were depicted, and then tried to explain the true virtues of the genre, but his eyes glazed over and later, when he declared in front of a roomful of people that Bernard Goetz was a hero of his…well, it sort of encapsulated in sardonic form much of my experience of this past year.)

I am still writing, though.  Currently I am working on two novels. I’d hoped to get one or both done this year, but life, as it will, had other plans.  I’m doing okay, though, on that score.  I’m 2/3 done with one and I’m pretty excited about it.  If I pull it off it will be a wholly unexpected work for me.  Not at all what I thought I’d be doing at this stage.

One of the most fun writing gigs this past year was the Left Bank Books birthday celebration, wherein I and three others local writers—Ann Leckie, Scott Phillips, and Kevin Killeen—jointly wrote a story in the shop window.  Took a few hours, we had ideas from customers, and we actually came up with a story.  I’m toying with pulling it out and polishing it up.

So about that 60 stuff…yeah.  How has that affected me? I admit I’ve been having more trouble psychologically with it than I thought I would.  But Kris, my boss, told me that it’s a good age, because now I can own whatever wisdom I may have.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot since she said it.  Still thinking, but it was a good observation.

The thing that bothers me most about turning 60 is the consciousness that most of my life is behind me, barring some unexpected breakthrough in medicine that will extend our lives out past 120, which is entirely possible but highly unlikely to benefit me.  And it’s not that all those years are behind me so much as the fact that I feel like I still have too much to do and now maybe not quite enough time.  I’m not where I wanted to be at this point.

After wallowing in that kind of depressing assessment for a while, I am rescued from just digging a hole and pulling the earth over my head by the fact there where I am is pretty amazing.

Back in May, I achieved one of my physical goals.  I broke a thousand pounds on leg presses.  Got up to 1040.  (This morning I went to the gym and I’m still pressing 920, so I might still get back up over a thousand again before my body goes phftt.)  Believe me, that made me feel pretty good.  Along with that I was doing a full weight-lifting schedule and aerobic workout.

In July, at work, I tried to lift something (one-handed) that I probably shouldn’t have, and something in my right arm popped.  I’ve had pain and weakness since.  I went to the doctor, had an MRI, and voila! I have a partially-torn biceps tendon.  I’ll need surgery to fix it.

(See what I mean about this having been a mixed bag year?)

After that, it seemed I kept catching one damn bug after another and it’s been months of bleh!  Some of this is depression.  I’ll get to that later.

In July, at the beginning of the month, I had my release party for my new book, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, at Left Bank Books.  I can’t fully express how pleased I am about this book.  My first full short story collection, it has a wonderful cover, my publisher (Walrus) did a fine job on it, and my coworkers at the store did a terrific event.  We packed the store.  It was a banner night.

Subsequently, Walrus has merged with another local publisher, Blank Slate Press, which has a bit more of a track record, a different approach to their books, and it looks like in one year I’ve acquired two new publishers.  I’ve spoken with Kristi, the owner, and she Has Plans.  Stay Tuned.

(A word here about Left Bank Books.  Kris Kleindienst, Jarek Steele, Wintaye, Randy, Jonesey, Lauren, Erin, Shane, Cliff, Mariah, Kea, David, Jenni, Bill, Sarah…they are all amazing people and I have not been so glad to work somewhere, with a bunch of people, since the years at Shaw Camera Shop with Gene and Earline.  We are an independent book store that is not only surviving but thriving and I put it down to the brilliance and dedication of the people working there, who account for most of the new, very good friends I have found over the last few years.  This is one of the things that has made this past year not only bearable but in many ways pleasurable.  So.)

I also had a second book-length work come out this year from the good folks at Yard Dog Press.  The Logic of Departure is a collection of three novellas set in the same milieu.  Two of them are older works published by Yard Dog, but I fleshed it out with a new novella, Raitch, Later, which I hope has some teeth.

So in this, my 60th year, I can say that I have 12 books to my credit.  Twelve.  And about 60 short stories.  As has been pointed out to me, that is a career.  How can I not be pleased with that?

Well, I am.

But I’m not done.


I have a new car.  a bright, shiny 2013 Corolla.  This was not in the budget or in our plans.  But a large pickup truck hit me in the ass on Kingshighway and totaled my trusty ’98.  I came out of it all right, but a bit poorer.  (Mixed bag.)

This after I had to get new glasses because I’d lost my old ones by doing a thoroughly stupid thing—leaving them on the trunk of my car and driving off.  I did find them later, crushed and irreparable.  (I still have them.  I may erect a monument.)

My oldest friend’s son got married this past year and I was asked to photograph the wedding.  We spent a weekend down in Springfield and had a wonderful time.  As it is with such things, it was close-run thing what with disaster shadowing the proceedings, but never manifesting, and I gotta say, Isaac’s partner, Bryttany, is a delight.

We could have used a few more of those kinds of weekends.  One of the best was in November when our good friends Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge came to town on tour for Nicola’s novel, Hild (and if you don’t have a copy, why not?  It’s a great book and I think, really, you ought to get one) and we spent a terrific weekend with them.  They live in Seattle, which is far away and expensive to get to and we don’t see nearly enough of them.

The real downside to this year has been the time family matters of a not particularly pleasant nature have taken up for Donna, who has shouldered a massive burden.  It’s worn on both of us, but mainly on her.  I won’t go into details.  Many who may read this already know much of what’s going on and if I haven’t chosen to tell you, then you won’t read about it here.  We’re fine, though, as far as that goes, just…overwhelmed.

We went to a convention in May, the first time we’d been back to Kansas City in some years.  We came home with some new hats and pleasant memories of seeing good friends.

We did not make it to Pittsburgh, which we had planned to do, something that has also been several years since last we’ve done.

We’re coming out of 2014 with a certain ambivalence.  In some ways we’re doing better than we ever did before, in others…

I said I’d get to the depression.  This might be a good place to put it, but in retrospect I have to admit that most of my “depression” has just been a combination of weariness and impatience.  I don’t do depression, it’s not an organic condition with me, and I have never been down for any long stretch of time.  I run on an even keel for the most part.  But this year has tried my stamina sorely.

One thing that has made it not only bearable but outright good have been our friends, both new and old.  We’re rich in that and I find each year that I appreciate them more and more.  Friends make the difference between keeping time and living.

Looking forward to doing a lot more living in 2015.


Pre-End of Year

I will be posting an end-of-year recap sometime over the weekend.  For the time being, let me just say that 2014 has been…memorable.  Some amazing things have happened this year, some of them really, really good.  Some…not so much.

But it’s Christmas Eve and on balance I have to say it’s been a better year in most respects than 2012 and in some respects than 2013.  So let me leave you with an image symbolic of my state of mind at the moment, which is as view through a glass darkly at what may lie ahead in 2015.  I’ll leave it to all and sundry to ponder their own interpretation.

Meanwhile, I wish all my good friends—and I am fortunate to have many—a very safe, very happy Christmas.


Windows, Grids, Night, November 2014

Time Capsules

On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents.  While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about.  Most of them are crap.  They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography.  I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk.  But this is the way I learn.  I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help.  It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.

Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard.  At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be.  Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be.  However, I had aspirations.  (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all.  At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t.  The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)

So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.


Me As Emerson, 1971, b&w

Me As Composer, 1971, b&w

Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…


Just a placeholder for a few days.  I’m working on the novel, honest, and tend to forget that I have social media to attend.  Be nice if someone would tend it for me, but it is what it is.  So, for time being, something photographical.


Facades, CWE, November 2014

Games, Equity, and He-Man Woman Hater Clubs

I do not play games.  I haven’t for decades.  I used to play Trivial Pursuit™ and I still enjoy a game of chess, but both these games are high on the mental acuity charts and low on the following the rules charts.  Sorry, but it’s true—to play Trivial Pursuit™, inane as some of the questions are occasionally, you actually have to know something about, you know, The World and its contents.  That’s why people who read widely and pay attention to things outside themselves do well at it.  Chess requires strategizing way outside the possibilities prescribed by the relatively simple set of rules and works the gray cells and synapses much more thoroughly than the repeatable pattern-following of many games.

Most games bore me, but more than that I am put off by the zero-sum essence of so many of them.  For me to win, someone has to lose, and while that is also true in both chess and Trivial Pursuit™, it is also true that you can play both those games without having that as the primary focus.  Chess is a problem-solving game and Trivial Pursuit™ is about its contents.  That’s my take on both and I’m sticking to it.

Even so, I rarely play either anymore.  The fundamental competitiveness of games puts me off.  I’m not particularly competitive and I have too often come face to face with the ugly side of a player who staked his entire status on winning games.  (I’ve played foosball once.  Once.  Some friends of mine and I happened to be in a bar, toying with trying the game out.  None of us had played it before.  We were approached by a guy who, in retrospect, was a regular and a true foosball fanatic, who offered to play by giving us a fourth.  Well, he was on “my side” and I was terrible.  My friends and I were laughing while trying to figure it out, but this guy damn near punched me out for being so bad.  It was far more to him than “just a game” and I never tried it again.)  For the most part, this is just me and I have no brief on others who are into playing games.  They’re having a good time, life is short, go for it.

So this is about those who make a life out of games, especially those who have chosen to invest in those games everything of value of themselves.  Obsession above and beyond the weekend warrior variety, because for these folks the game is life.

Even with that, there are many gamers for whom more is definitely merrier, they are inclusive, expansive, and social.  I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about those who are evidently very particular about who gets invited into the clubhouse.

We come now to the ongoing farce known as GamerGate.  I say farce knowing full well that it has, for some, gone way beyond what may normally be meant by that word.  This is not harmless.  This is exemplary of just about everything negative in a certain kind of mindset.  We’re talking elitism, hypercompetitiveness, insensitivity to others, paranoia, exclusiveness in the extreme, and the abandonment of empathy that comes from a psychic insularity bordering on the pathological.


You do not threaten people’s lives and physical safety over a fucking game!

What’s wrong with you?  So there’s a girl who plays games as well if not better than you and she has some suggestions for making it better for more people.  So?  What’s this whole Attila the Hun thing about keeping her out and beating, raping, and maybe killing her if she doesn’t stop criticizing your fucking game?  Did you miss the part that it’s a game?  Didn’t your mother teach you that you don’t make threats to people just because they have a different opinion?

Or are you so terrified of women that you just can’t deal with them inside the clubhouse?

Yes, I’m using the simplest terms and models for this because I just cannot wrap my head around anyone older than nine reacting this way.

Unless, of course, we are dealing with a sociopathology that has somehow found a place within gaming from which to look out upon a world that is nothing less than an absolutely hostile place determined to take away all meaning from your life.

This is basic ingrown immaturity which in order to feel worthwhile at all seeks to define everyone else as in some way less in order for you to feel even nominally worthwhile.  It appears not much more complicated than that, although I will quickly point out that simple heuristics, put in play, can often result in complex manifestations.

It would be perhaps worthwhile to see a full psychological and anthropological work-up on the mentality at work in someone who is so threatened by the presence of a female in their preferred venue of escapism that they would resort to violence to not only prevent the females from entering but to tear them down to a level of complete subservience from which they might never be able to rise again.  Maybe.  But I think it reasonable to say that we’ve all encountered something like this from time to time in individuals who have so little sense of who or what they are that just about anything outside their sphere of understanding demands that they ridicule, revile, and render harmless via full-bore antagonism.  Rather than step outside and find out about something, better for them to shut it down, blow it up, kill it.  Rather than risk the hermetic seal insulating them from any recognition that there are things which they not only lack understanding but which are perhaps more important than the arrangement of furniture in their pyschic den they play a hard and fast game of total destruction on the offending truth.

Game?  Did I say game?  Indeed, because that’s all this is.  The harm comes from the sudden interface with reality that catches them completely unprepared.  The game is all, the game is the world, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world itself was the game.  Simpler, where the rules, as byzantine, myriad, and manifold as they are, could be known, memorized, mastered, and those who did not play by them could be penalized immediately, without any considerations of rights or ethics or pesky maturity.  A place where every eventuality is covered by a rule.

For young males of a certain age and mentality, females seem to conform to no rules, at least none they understand.  The presence of a female is a chaos-making event that is fraught with exactly the kind of uncertainty these males have fought hard to deny.

I say that knowing full well that any individual, of any sex or gender, who is not part of the game represents exactly that kind of potential to upend everything and render all these carefully-wrought rules…inapplicable.  Imagine trying to roll against someone who not only may not know what the die faces mean but who doesn’t care.  Imagine then the sheer terror of rolling against someone who not only knows all the rules you do but intends to change some of them to accommodate factors you joined the game in order to avoid.

The vitriol and childish, tantrum-soaked invective of the GamerGaters is precisely the reaction one should expect from someone in full reality-denial mode who doesn’t want their (artificial) paradigm fucked with.  They doubtless experience similar reactions to males who threaten the model, but it’s harder to tell the males apart.

Women are obvious purely by their appearance.

Is this sounding pathetic?

Here’s something even more so.  That some idiot can publicly threaten violence in a public space and get away with it because the powers that be are too afraid to piss off a different set of Gamers playing by another set of reality-denying rules by doing anything about it.  I’m talking about the Anita Sarkeesian event in Utah, canceled because the university refused to enforce a no-carry policy in an open carry state, and yes, I’m comparing the fanatics backing open carry to the GamerGaters, because they’re exhibiting the same pathology of establishing the parameters of a worldview inconsistent with reality or reason and excoriating anyone who suggests that maybe there are circumstances in which a reasonable alternative to walking around armed every-damn-where might be in order.

Like in the auditorium of a university where there will be a speaker appearing who has been threatened with death if she steps up to the podium.

(Pathology?  What else do you call people who see the blocking of approval of a surgeons general at a time when we may be facing a rather nasty epidemic just because he said some things you find objectionable?  I suggest that the mentality is about the same.)

Others have gone public with rebuttals and denunciations of the GamerGaters, so much of what I have to say is redundant to say the least.  But I’m saying it because I think more males need to get out there with this, that targeting women, because they are women, because you can’t handle dealing with them is pathetic, spineless, and repulsive.  I don’t care what level psionic warrior you are within the cramped confines of your game, if you don’t know how to talk to a girl like a human being and feel so threatened by females that you would rather stay in the monastery of your game than even attempt to accommodate reality, you have nothing.

And under no circumstances is it acceptable to threaten anyone, especially if all they do is suggest your game could be improved.

I realize that GamerGate is comprised of a small group within the large and diverse gaming community, but the structure of these games has the unfortunate effect of granting permissions for obscene behavior in the minds of certain poorly functioning child-men.  In this is it similar to religion, and in a world which is fully aware of the weight of ugliness layered upon women because men have decided what they are and what they may be, no one who has the least interest in something called morality or civilization can tolerate this infantile nonsense.

Admittedly, I have no profound insights here.  There’s actually, in my mind, very little depth involved.  These are people who have mistaken a game for reality and forgot—or never learned—how to behave in public.  Assholes who talk loudly in the movie theater, ruining the experience for everyone, and who ought to be escorted out.  These are the disrupters who sat in the back of the class, fouling the air for everyone else.  The inept wannabes who think it’s cool to drug a girl at a party and rape her, because who the hell wants to actually talk to a girl?  The real question is, why don’t they want to talk to you?  Well, because.

Within their games they are warriors and rulers, wizards and magicians, with many arcane powers.  Unfortunately, outside of the game they’re still ten years old and they haven’t learned how to behave.

But they aren’t ten.  Physically, they’re adults, and living with such illusions makes them just a bit dangerous.

So, guys—yeah, all you males on the sidelines who know better—time to step up and start stating up front that this is wrong, that women are people first and foremost, that venting spleen over someone just having an opinion is the mark of a very poorly developed intellect, and that threatening and abusing women is no longer acceptable.

As for the GamerGaters—I’m reminded of that foosball fanatic who was ready to take me to the parking lot and beat me up because I caused him to lose a game.  Pathetic.  Grow up.  I’ve known magic people and they didn’t get their powers from a fucking board game.  They got them by living life.

Racism: It Begins Early

They were marched into the classroom, single file, and lined up along the blackboard to face the roomful of white faces.  It would be sheerest invention to say I remember everything about that day.  The only things I recall had to do with questions about how my own situation was about to change.  Thinking back, though, I can recall, without remembering a single one of their names, a general tension transmitted between the two groups.  Groups clearly being treated as groups.  And the expressions I saw were not the excited faces of new students but the suspicious faces of new problems.

Negroes.  Or, as we sometimes said in 1962 St. Louis, Nigras.  (One of the ironies of growing up was that if we used the vulgar euphemism in the hearing of adults we were punished for it, even though it was in common usage among those same adults.  They treated it much like cussing, which was a privilege of adulthood.  The lesson, clearly, was that a child did not have a right to indulge the language of racism. This was something we could look forward to, like being able to say shit and damn and, though we didn’t yet know the word, fuck without being cuffed by an adult.)

I want to say there were about a dozen of them.  Transfers.  Kids our age—2nd grade—but different.  Alien.  I’m not sure any of us had ever been so close to a black person before then.  I know I hadn’t.  I only saw them on tv or in the movies, occasionally on the street somewhere as we drove by.  My entire childhood experience till that day had been with caucasians, and it hadn’t been entirely wonderful at that.  Since moving abruptly from kindergarten to 1st grade (after a scant month in school, because my birthday is in October) my “school experience” had become one of daily misery.  People who speak glowingly of the innocence of children have forgotten or lived under such unimaginably ideal circumstances as to be from another planet.  My peers quickly identified me as weak and easily bullied and so began several years of torment.  It’s possible that I looked on these new arrivals with some perverse hope that maybe the bullies would pay attention to them and leave me alone.  (There is a short story by Frederik Pohl called The Day The Martians Came which speaks eloquently to exactly this.)

What I do remember is the suspicion in their faces.  All of them.  From appearances they were not happy to be there.  They were unwillingly subjects in a great social experiment and though they probably could not have understood it that way they surely knew they were being used.  In any case, they had no choice.

Neither did we.  I say “we” as though I were actually part of the other side of this encounter, and I suppose I felt that way, because although I was singled out for “special” attention I never questioned my status as part of the class, part of the group, part of—well, part of society, and that society was clearly defined for me by every marker available.  I didn’t know enough then to label that mass of received messaging, it was like the air, you breathed it in and it sustained you, because how could you not?  You couldn’t say “I don’t want to breathe this air, I want to breathe that air over there” but on the way, even if you tried, you still had to breathe, and this was the air that was available, and it did its job, it filled your lungs and let you live.  But even so, there was no way for us to imagine that we needed to breathe different air.  If we thought about it at all, the question would have been “Why don’t you breathe the same air?” Ignorance is like that.

Presentation is powerful.  They marched those kids into class.  Class was interrupted, which only happened when something Important was about to happen.  We had to Pay Attention.  It was a spotlight being shone on these new arrivals and they were lined up in a way I would later identify as a police line-up, made to face us, who were all still sitting at our desks, so we could get a good look at them and recognize that this was different, they were different, the situation was different.  We were being told to accept them, that we had no choice, that these were new students.  Told.  But we were being shown that these were not kids.  They were problems.  They might be kids one day, if they passed some test they were clearly being tasked to pass, but we didn’t know what that might be.  Oh, we had tests among ourselves (one of the reasons I was on the outside of all the in-groups, my inability or disinterest in these tests), the passing of which gained you privileges with your peers.  The rules were known.  Baseball, cars, later on pop music, and a vague interest in matters military.  Trading cards were big.  We all were supposed to Just Know, and if you didn’t, you were weird and not to be trusted.  But the test these kids would have to pass, no one knew what that would be.  What could it be? But the lines were drawn, that morning, by the principle, the teacher, the entire edifice of St. Louis public education that had decided that rather than just let them in to find a desk like everyone else had done, they had to be escorted in like prisoners, and displayed with a kind of ceremony which designated them as, from day one, not like us.

That line, invisible though it was, persisted.  They played among themselves, they sat in a group, they went home together.  I don’t recall a single black kid joining the cub scout troop.  It was easier for me, in retrospect, to blame it on them not wanting to be a part of us. Of course, none of us crossed the line, either, that I know of.  We didn’t make the attempt to include them, but the base assumption was, probably, “why should we?”  Even then we had internalized the privilege of the dominant group.  It was our club that mattered.  I did not for a long, long time make the connection to the way I was bullied and the way they were ostracized, labeled, even though it was right in front of me.  Why?  Because maybe if I had made that connection I would have been forced to choose sides.  And what if they didn’t accept me, either?  As it turned out, I did get beaten up by one of them, but it was different than any other time.  My beatings and tauntings were always public, in front of others, but this one time I found myself in the cloak room alone with my assailant. I said I didn;t remember a single one of their names, but that’s not true. I remember this one.  His name was Percy and I had to escape him rather dramatically.  Later I understood—if he had tried to do that like everyone else, he would have been beaten, probably by several white boys, who would have taken exception to him presuming to beat up a white boy.  But it set up one more barrier for me that took a long time to die.  Curiously, Percy is the only one of all of the black students whose name I remember.

I only attended that school for another year or so and then transferred to a private school where there were no black students until 6th grade and they didn’t last long.

I grew up aware of the divide and for years unable to understand it other than as a conflict between sides.  The historical nature of the conflict occupied one part of my brain, but the other part, the emotional part, refused to budge.  I made excuses, offered explanations to myself, went along with the ingrained attitudes with which I had grown up, though always uneasily, and every time I was presented with a chance to praise, to see exceptionalism, I took it, never quite questioning the standard I was using to judge.  To say someone, some group, is “just like me” is in itself a barrier.  A very soft, mushy barrier that on its surface seems like a step forward, an opening of boundaries.  But “just like” denotes a difference because it makes a comparison.  It’s not the same as saying “he is me” or “we are the same.”

What began then took me nearly two decades to unlearn and I’m still working on it, because there are always new groups held up as Other, who don’t rate, who aren’t “like us,” who won’t assimilate, who fail the (false) comparisons (of course, because how to not fail in the face of a lie?).

But that’s what we did back then.  We made comparisons.  Who’s better, worse, just like, completely different, less, more?  Us and Them is a game played in the nursery.  Partly it’s an identity builder, but it also erects walls and fences.

Like that morning when I came face to face with what I was being told not to trust by the very mechanism of introduction.  We didn’t question why they were on the other side of the line that had been drawn.  Even if we had, we couldn’t then understand that that would still be the wrong question.  We didn’t have the stuff yet to ask why there had to be a line at all.

Thus is racism nurtured.

Another Year Gone By

I’ve been doing these annual assessments for a while now and this weekend began wondering why.  Maybe a way of marking time and keeping track.  Not quite keeping score, I’ve never been much concerned with that.  At times, maybe, but I really am not competitive that way.

I’ve also never been one for keeping a journal.  This blog has been the most sustained attempt at something like that ever, but if it had all been about my life and what I did today or last week, it wouldn’t have made it much past the two month mark, which was the longest previous attempt at maintaining a journal or diary.  I’ve noted before that I don’t consider myself very interesting and if proof of that claim is required, there it is.  I find myself too dull a subject for continuous consideration.

Which has had the curious consequence of making my fiction difficult.  My protagonists have pretty much all been, in first or second draft, the least interesting characters in their stories.  I write by seeing through the eyes of the viewpoint character, which for that period means I am that character.  My own lack of appreciation for any “special” qualities I may possess translates into a muffled persona on the page.  I find myself having to go back in later and insert all the stuff that makes the character worth following.

But the secondary characters thrive under this problem.

Turning around and using that insight to look at my own life yields some…troubling observations.  While wanting in many ways to be the hero of my own story, I give far too much, sometimes, to everyone else.  They’re important, not me.  My granting them that importance is both habitual and a desire that they see what I’m doing and reciprocate.  I want my friends to be important so that when they then see me as a friend it must mean I’m important.  It can be a tortured way of validation.

(And a bit too complex for any sustained reality—I have my friends first and foremost because I love them.  How I deal with them is another matter.)

But it has gifted me with some very good friends and a workable framework for writing.

That assumes I’ve always done this, always used this, always moved accordingly. There’s a certain amount of disempowering going on regarding my friends, as if they had no choice but to accommodate my particular peculiarities according to the way I wanted them to. They accommodated me, sure, but on their terms.

As far as the writing goes…

I put out two new books this year, both of them collections.  Gravity Box and Other Spaces is published by a local small press, Walrus Publishing, and a fine job they did of it.  John Kaufman, a local artist, did the amazing cover.  I’ve bragged about this before.  What I would like to add here is that most, over two thirds, of the stories are new, previously unpublished.  So far I’ve heard nothing bad about any of them.  People have their favorites, their less-than-favorites, but no one has said anything negative about the word, which bemuses me somewhat as there’s a reason these stories have first appeared here and it goes to the question of career trajectories and choices and values.

The other is a reissue of sorts, The Logic of Departure, from Yard Dog Press.  Yard Dog was an early supporter of my work.  A micropress, they put out two chapbooks by me and a short novel as part of a series of “doubles” (two short novels back to back, like the old Ace Doubles).  Logic… is a reissue of the two chapbooks along with a brand new story which I wrote to fit that particular background.  They are loosely connected but all three share a theme of getting out, getting away, getting free.  I’m very proud of these stories, this is a good collection.

I’m looking at these two books now and trying to understand how I got here instead of somewhere else.  I’m looking at my shelf of published works, which now contains about 60 short stories as well as 10 novels.  Twelve books.

Donna Tartt, in a career spanning about the same length of time, has published 3 novels and a handful of shorter works. She’s won a Pulitzer and is a regular on bestseller lists.

There’s no comparison between us other than the fact that we are writers who write for publication, which is another way of saying we want to be read by strangers and be, on some level, relevant to the culture at large.

I had plans to have closer to 20 novels out by this time, but plans are often like farts in the wind.  You make them, they dissipate, sometimes you don’t even remember making them.

If I have a new recognition this year, today, it’s that I have no likelihood of getting anywhere close to those old plans anymore.  I’m not being pessimistic just realistic.  I have now turned 60.  In most important ways, this means nothing, but importance is relative, and perspective is all important.  I’m 60.  I am now, in the estimation of my childhood, an Old Man.  It’s just a number but I remember clearly wondering how it was possible people could live that long and still be able to walk.  Some childhood assessments are difficult to shed and this is one that I find myself wrestling with now.

Sixty.  As a matter of practicality, barring any kind of revolutionary change in the culture of which I am a part, I’m on the downslope.  Most of my life is over.  What this means to me primarily is that I don’t have the time now to have the kind of career I imagined for myself when I embarked on it.  Barring something extraordinary, I’m likely going to remain a small-press author, publishing books a small audience will buy and read.  A couple of years ago I was encouraged greatly about the trilogy I’d been working on, that it might open major publishing doors for me, and I had good reason to be encouraged, but as time has dragged on without a publishing offer I am beginning to conclude that my writing is simply not what major publishing wants or knows what to do with.  If I could write it differently to accommodate whatever the disconnect is I would.  (I’ve recently read a synopsis of a new SF novel which suggests strongly that certain elements of my Secantis Sequence have been imagined by someone else and will now inform their career, not mine.  No, I’m not suggesting plagiarism in the least.  Wheels get reinvented all the time.  The resurgence of Space Opera flowered a couple years after my publisher began to implode and so none of my stories now get included in any retrospectives nor my name mentioned with those who are credited with this renaissance.  Am I annoyed by this?  Sure, but at whom should I direct it?  It is pointless envy.)

There were supposed to be at least six Secantis novels by now and perhaps two short story collections set therein.  As it transpired, I didn’t think the original three were viable to be marketed elsewhere and without them further novels would be orphans of a sort.  I wrote one more Secantis novel and turned my attention to other things which have likewise been unwanted by the market.  Since I do not know why it is near impossible for me to change the way I do them.

I have a supportive agent now.  She’s helped quite a lot with the writing.  She’s one reason I haven’t simply given up.

In a very real sense, this is a relief.  I can now stop fretting about my career.  It is what it is and, being as objective as I can be about something this personal, it ain’t bad.  I can now write the next book or short story without the extra weight of wondering how it will “further” my career.  I feel right now, today, that my career isn’t going to be what I wanted it to be.  I could pick it apart and name a dozen reasons why—sure I made some bad choices, didn’t do certain things I might have, went with some ideas that were perhaps not as good as I thought they were at the time—but it changes nothing.  I’m still where I am.

I went to the gym on my birthday.  My right arm has been rather nastily injured lately, so I’ve been finding my routine truncated and often painful.  I should probably not work out at all for six months, but by then I would resemble a bowl of mashed potatoes and I don’t have the energy anymore to start all over after that long of a lay-off.  I’m stuck with what I have.

That said, I leg pressed 920 pounds.  Ten reps.  Not shabby.

For my birthday, they gave me a free smoothy, a very healthy one with blueberry and banana and whey.

I came home and found that Donna, my partner for going on 35 years now, laid out a birthday feast for me that just made me want to cry for happy.  We ate, drank good wine, and watched an excellent film (The Hours) together.  No pressure.  Wonderfulness.

On those off-moments when I’m not obsessing over this or that, I have to admit my life is pretty damn good, and I’m just happy to be able to recognize that fact.

Even in my dotage.

Later this week I intend to write a post about my fiction.  Time for a (self) critical assessment.  Till then, thank you all for bearing with me.