Updates, Etc

Okay, it has been a while.  I’ve been busy.  I have two novels in the works, which will take up most of my free time this year, but that’s no excuse to ignore everything else.

So first off, an upcoming event.

At the Missouri Regional Library on April 29th, 7:00 PM, Professor Tom Dillingham and I will be doing a presentation on the value of science fiction.  What Science Fiction Can Teach Us will be a discussion of the potential scholastic, edifying, and just plain useful aspects of SF.  This is the talk that would have happened back in February had the Second Ice Age not threatened glaciation.  This should be a fun evening.  Tom is a delight and I sort of know a thing or two about the subject.

So—April 29th, 7:00 PM, Missouri Regional Library, 214 Adams Street, Jefferson City, Missouri, 2nd Floor.

Also, hopefully, fingers crossed, the short story collection will be out in mid to late May.  We’re going to do a release party at Left Bank Books, the specific date still a bit up in the air, but either the 14th or the 21st.  I will let the world know when I know.

I’m changing the night of the reading group I moderate at Left Bank Books to the first Thursday of each month, starting May 1st.  The title at hand is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is available at Left Bank Books now at 20% off, so for all you local folks, go get a copy, support your local independent bookstore, and consider attending the meeting.  Thursday evenings, 7:00 PM.

No doubt there is more and I will get to it as soon as I remember what it is.  For now, have a good weekend.

Obsession Point

I have a friend who likes to engage me on our points of departure.  He’s a self-admitted conservative, I am not.  He’s a sincere Christian, I’m an atheist.  Looking around at the current culture, you would think that should make any conversation we might have problematic at best, impossible at worst.

Yet we carry on the occasional hour, two-hour, sometimes three hour conversation and never once descend into anger or dismissive rhetoric.  And yes, we talk about religion regularly.  We talk about politics.  We talk about meaningful living.  It’s the kind of exchange of ideas from different perspectives that seems both rare and uniquely pleasurable.  Would that we taught kids growing up how to appreciate this kind of conversation as, at the very least, an æsthetic pleasure.

Consequently, when he questions me on priorities, I tend to listen.

A couple weeks ago, after the monthly jam session (he runs a church basement coffeehouse to which I’ve been going and participating for more than a few years now) we hung around and started talking about current subjects.  My opening statement concerned the new movie Noah and the absurd fact that the studio has decided to put a disclaimer on it to appease religious reactionaries who are bothered by “historical inaccuracies.”  I expected a laugh over the ridiculousness of this—these are not people who have much patience for that kind of shallow literalism—but instead what followed was a discussion of my obsessive attention to people like Ken Ham and the anti-evolution crowd and biblical literalists in general.

“Why do you pay any attention to them?”

Well, I replied, somewhat glibly, stupidity is fascinating.

Patiently, though, my friend worked at that.  Really?  Aren’t there better things to focus your attention on than the obdurate intractability of intellectual ostriches?  Don’t you have, like, books to write?

At the end of the conversation (which is not to say that it’s over) I had to concede that I spent far too much time and mental energy worrying over the misreadings, misinterpretations, manglings, and malignancies of what is a minority example of entrenched ignorance.  Like watching a neighbor gradually destroy his property (and being unable to do much about it), or watching a slow-motion train wreck, or even repeatedly viewing and complaining about a very expensive yet utterly brainless film, it is both attractive and repellant to observe this particular bit of cultural shadow-play.

The answer to the question has occupied me now since.  Why do I give them so much of myself?

The glib answer is that they draw attention to themselves in such a way as to seem important and relevant.  Paying attention to them feels, on a shallow level, like being engaged.  Noticing them, knowing what they’ve been saying and seeing what they’re doing, seems like being a responsible agent in my own culture.  Every time they manage to censor discussions in schools about evolution or try to force prayer into the classroom or some other culture-war battleground is pushed into the news, being aware of it just seems the thing to do.

A somewhat less glib answer is that the very real political power such groups seem to enjoy worries me.  I don’t want to live in a country designed by biblical literalists.  And determining how they’re wrong and why is basic to any kind of pushback.

And of course, since this conversation took place, we have the incident of the FOX television affiliate in Oklahoma blocking fifteen seconds of the new Cosmos program, the 15 seconds dealing with evolution, and my blood boils.  I react.  I become insensed.   And I immediately go to write a new blog post about how stupid this is and how malevolent this kind of nonsense is and how—

Which is, actually, a waste of my time.  Really, there are better-qualified people doing exactly that.  You can find links to some of them on the sidebar over to the right.  You want to read a better-informed and more current tirade against this kind of thing, go to Freethought Pharyngula—P. Z. Myer is an evolutionary biologist and apparently has more time, energy, and inclination than I do to keep abreast of all this nonsense—or check the science blogs to which I maintain links.

I don’t have to do this.

And yet…and yet…I keep doing it.  Even here,  in addressing a different kind of question, I’m thrashing about and striking back.  Willful ignorance, asserted as if it is a positive attribute, with an insistence that it is Right and Truth and we should all bow to its inevitable godlines MAKES—ME—CRAZY.

Why?

Because, at base, I loathe my own ignorance.  I loathe that part of me that desperately wants to be right, whether I am or not.  Because I am aware of my ignorance and strive to correct it and because I see that as an important fight it disturbs me—more, it frightens me—when others not only don’t see the worth in that fight but are dedicated to preventing the triumph of knowledge.

So, I suppose the simple answer to my friend’s question is—fear.  Those people scare me.  They are the ideological descendents of Inquisitors, witchfinders, book-burners, imperialists of dogma, stone-throwers, and censors.  Because I read Lest Darkness Fall and Fahrenheit 451 and my imagination is such that I can see what a victory for them would mean for people like me.

And because I honestly lack any kind of faith in those who are my intellectual and cultural kindred that we will win this fight.

But that still doesn’t fully address the challenge he laid at me feet.  Why do I  pay so much attention to all this when I could better serve my own purpose and the purpose of the civilization I support in so many other ways?

Because, when combined with all of the above, this has become a rut.  It is easy.  And it feeds my sense of relevance.  But really it’s a paltry diet.  There are richer meals to be had, that would be more beneficial, to me and to others.  So it is an itch which has become easy and habitual for me to scratch.  And in certain company, it’s a sign that I am part of a certain group of like-minded.

It’s a poor excuse.  I could be doing better things with my time and frankly getting more out of my intellectual life.  Because at the end of the day, I’m not going to change their minds, and those who nod along with me when I dive into one of my tirades don’t need me to tell them about this.

I think it is worth paying attention to when tax money goes to something like Ken Ham’s Creation Museum.  That’s an abuse of public trust and a violation of the law, frankly, and should be made public and stopped.

But I don’t need to go on about Ken Ham’s idiocy.

The spot that itches has grown raw and inflamed from repeated scratching and no salve is in sight.  I need to leave it alone.  I have a book on mathematics to hand, another about the history of science fiction, and still another about World War I.  Yes, I have a couple of books dealing with the assault of reason, which is not only from a religious reactionary quarter—reason is under assault from many quarters—but I’m a fiction writer.  My job is to tell stories about the world and because I write science fiction I can do a little prognosticating.  I have to stop pissing away time on pointless subjects.

Besides, I really do think they’ll fade.  When I sit myself down and really examine it, the world view we define as that of Reason will maintain and eventually the nattering naysayers will diminish.  It’s just difficult to see that day to day and believe it when there are people worrying over the “historical” inaccuracies in a Hollywood film about a mythical event.

So I wish to thank my friend for opening a door and pointing out that I’ve been perhaps wandering the wrong hallway for a time.

This is why we must cultivate relationships with people we disagree with.

Favorite Posts of 2013

Because, it was a long year, and memory is sometimes a tenuous thing.  These are my favorite rambles from the past year.

Meaning, Cults, Freedom

Portrait of a Good Friend

Guns and Popes

Breakneck Mousetraps

Scouts’ Honor

Undeserved Entitlement

Original Intent

Right Is Wrong

Jack Vance

Colloquial For “Why, I Didn’t Mean Nothin’ By It!”

On The Extraction of Feet From Mouths

Boycotts and Bully Boys

My Friend Has A New Novel

About Hild

I did not include links here to last July and August because almost all of those months were about our trip, so just flip back to them in the archives and enjoy.

I included a couple of reviews from the Other Blog, The Proximal Eye.  I guess I did a bit in 2013.  I hope 2014 is just if not more productive.

Thanks for your indulgence.

Pet Peeve

I don’t watch a lot of television.  Possibly more than I should, given everything I have on my plate, but I grew up with tv and have loved a lot of what’s been on it and it is, or can be, a great source of pleasure.

One of the shows I’ve been devoted to the last few years has been Castle.  From the first episode, I’ve been hooked.  Firstly, how could I not like a show about a writer?  And especially the writer as many of us dream of becoming.  Secondly, Nathan Fillion.  I mean, Firefly?  I was so happy to see him get a new show.  (And the fact is, if one pays attention, there are Firefly references sprinkled throughout the show.)  Thirdly, Stana Katic.  (I am hopelessly enamored of women with strong personalities and great brains—did you know Ms. Katic speaks five languages and often does her own stunts?  We don’t even have to talk about her looks, do we?)

The show started off with a smart script, tremendous wit, and immediate chemistry.  No one was talking down to anyone here and the ongoing back story involving Detective Beckett’s (Katic) murdered mother was written in just enough and brought to a satisfying resolution, if not conclusion.

It was obvious from the get-go that these two would fall in love eventually, which worried me, because so many shows have been ruined by consummation.  (Just look at Bones if you don’t believe me.  How sad.)  They wrote and played it marvelously.

When they finally decided to get them together, much to my surprise they didn’t ruin it.  Usually what happens is one of the two becomes submissive and suddenly we have “traditional male-female roles” playing out and it’s just so been-there-let’s-not-anymore.  Not so here.  They are different enough characters that they can remain equals without the kind of imbalance that might blow them apart.  Which still may happen.  They’re on their way to getting married now and the quality remains high.

So I feel a bit churlish about complaining, but I can’t help it.

Rick Castle is getting stupid as the show progresses.

Oh, he always pulls himself out of it by an episode’s end, but over five seasons he has gone from a very savvy, knowledgeable, well-informed, somewhat reckless amateur sleuth to someone who believes in woo-woo and is overly-cautious to the point of cowardly at times.  And after 30 bestselling crime novels, the rich pool of knowledge he had at the start of the show has sort of leaked out along the way.

The last show I watched, from last season, has him advancing with a STRAIGHT FACE the theory of a serial killer striking from beyond the grave.  Really?  Really?  This is as bad as people assuming because I write science fiction I believe in alien abduction.  It’s reinforcing a weird stereotype.

Oh, I get it, he’s the writer, so he’s supposed to be the romantic as opposed to Beckett’s supreme rationalist.  But I liked it better when he was the one the wild (but credible) theories opposed to her thorough and dogged policeman.

It’s even borderline sappy now.

I still love the show, I still think it has some of the best writing on network television, but it would be nice if they’d push Rick back to where he started.  This hasn’t yet ruined the show for me, he is still mostly an asset in the police work, but from time to time he’s implausible.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the Joss Whedon-scripted episode.  You know one is on the way, don’t you?  ABC take note.  Whedon, a Castle script.  Please?

Readings

Here’s my stack of to-be-read.  At least, partly.  These are the books I intend to read.  Some I won’t get to.  Many are books I have to read.  Research, etc.  And obviously this doesn’t include books I do not yet own…

 

Reading 2014 2

 

We’ll see how much I get through.  Clearly, I won’t be bored.

2014: Intentions

Good morning!

Now for a change in direction.  Slightly.  Much the same only with differences.

What I have planned for this year…

I long ago gave up on New Years’ Resolutions.  I recall keeping some of them, actually following through, but the fact is none of them transpired the way I’d intended and other things came along that proved both better and worse.  Like predictions of the future, they have a spotty record.

Which would seem strange, since resolutions are supposedly entirely yours to make and execute.  You have the power.  You control the horizontal, the vertical, the sharpness…

However, life is a sometimes perverse and uncooperative partner in the dance, so the best you can do is Intend.

So, my New Years’ Intentions.

I will have a short story collection coming out in May.  I already mentioned that a couple of posts back, so this isn’t news, I’m just putting it here to begin on a somewhat more reliable note.

I’ll be attending ConQuest 45 in Kansas City in May.  We used to attend every year, we have friends there.  But after 2005, when civilization collapsed, and money got tight, we stopped.  As I’ll have a book out by then (fingers and toes crossed) I’m going back.

Which hopefully will be the harbinger of more such trips and visits.  We’ve lost touch with some folks, we haven’t been where we’ve wanted to be, and I’m disinclined to waste much more time waiting for the situation to be Just Right.  So, a few more trips this year.

I intend to write two novels this year.  I’m working on the first (not right this precise moment, obviously, since I’m writing this to tell you about my writing something else) and starting to plot out the second.  They’re both going to be kick-ass novels, you just wait and see.

I intend to start writing and publishing short stories again.

This spring I will be participating in a reading group/art expo at the Pulitzer Foundation Gallery.  There’s a science fiction theme this year and it will be fun.  More on that later.

I’m also conducting my own reading group through Left Bank Books, which I’ve also posted about not too far back.  First meeting this Saturday, 7:30 PM at the central west end store.  The first half dozen titles are selected, which is giving me an opportunity to revisit some old friends (bookwise) and maybe put my two cents into the whole literary discussion about the field in general.

I intend to continue working out, staying healthy, defying old age.

(As a minor goal, I intend to have more than 300 followers on Twitter, if for no other reason than I seem stuck at 280. So if anyone would care to help out with that…)

I intend being more who I want to be.  It’s there, just a bit rusty from disuse.  The last several years haven’t been all that conducive to being spectacular.  Quite the opposite.  So I’m planning to change that.

I intend learning to play decent if not terrific electric guitar.  If possible, I’ll shoot for terrific.

I intend being in touch with my friends more.  It’s too easy to put things aside for later and then later turns out to be years and then you don’t know what the hell has happened and we’re all different.

I intend, finally, being around.  If that’s convenient and desirable to everyone, then we should all have a good time.

I intend to learn to cook some new things.  Microwaves are wonderful and take-out is delightful, but again, time passes, the fine cookware languishing in a cabinet continues to languish, and the taste buds atrophy.

Okay, have I covered everything?  Probably not, but I think that’s a good general statement of intentions.  No resolutions.  I haven’t resolved anything.  If I fulfill any or all these intentions, then I can say I’ve resolved them, but enough of that overcommitment-followed-by-disappointment-leading-to-self-loathing.  (I’m actually quite good at the self-loathing, regret, sense of failure schtick.  Enough.)

So.  To the horizon.  Welcome to 2014.  Onward.

 

Into The Horizon, July 2013

2013

To start, I put up a new theme.  This one just appeared in the available queue and I really like it.  So I intend sticking with it for a while.  The last one was okay, but after a couple of weeks, it wore on me, so…

End of year review.  The good, the bad, the post ugly.

I turned 59 this year.  Not sure how to feel about that, but whatever I feel, it is what it is, I have no say in the matter.  (A meme going around is that the 70s are the new late middle age.  Well, that would give me about 30 more years or so to get it right, hm?)  More on that later.

As noted, I am now working for Left Bank Books, which has turned out to be a mixed benefit.  More benefit than not, frankly, since I am still not a Famous Author, able to live on my writing, despite my best efforts.  I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about those efforts, believe you me, trying to figure out just what I did—or didn’t—do right.  And wrong.  And working a bit harder at fending off a touch of bitterness.  You do the best you can and then wait to see if that’s enough.  If I could do it better or do it just as well differently, I would.

I should explain about the mixed part of the job.  Much to my relief and enormous pleasure, I find myself looking forward to going to work.  I’ve fallen in with marvelous, subversive, intellectual types, each one amazing in a different way.  My last job, which lasted far longer than it should have, was one where I said regularly that if I hadn’t liked the people I worked with, I wouldn’t be there.  No sense slaving away at a job you don’t like in company with people you despise.  Granted, many folks—too many—do not have the luxury of choosing, and in that I’ve been fortunate, but even working with good and fun people can fail to compensate for the drudgery of a job you hate.  Such is not the case now.  I’m enjoying this immensely and my co-workers are wonderful.

But I’ve been staggering through the year trying to accommodate the new schedule and my writing and because of the nature of the job, the hours are staggered.  It’s been surprisingly difficult to get any kind of rhythm for my work and the net result has been a lot of fragmentary stories and not nearly as much progress on any of my novels as I would like.

I can’t blame all this on the job.  In fact, while the schedule has been a bit awkward, the job has nothing to do with my lack of progress.

I’m beginning—finally—work on the third novel in the Oxun Trilogy.  I’ve been building up to this—and more than a little intimidated by it—since finishing the second novel.  This one is the one set in the Napoleonic Era and is the most concretely historical, and frankly, it’s been daunting.  A couple months ago I opened a file and began.  And began again.  Began two more times before realizing that I’d started it in the wrong place.  Which also meant the research I’d been poring over was all wrong and I needed to deal with a different year and a different place.  I’ve begun once more and now it feels right.

Could I have begun sooner?  As much as I wanted to, no.  I didn’t have a way in till now.

Time weighs on my mind.  I’m about a decade behind where I wanted to be.  Maybe more.  (Okay, this is the tantrum part.  Just sayin’.)  When Compass Reach came out in 2001, I’d really thought it was the start of what would be an uninterrupted string of novels.  At this point there ought to be at least six, maybe seven Secantis novels.  At least.  I had a schedule drafted of which books would come next.  The collapse that came in 2005 derailed everything.

There are days I think I’m not really very good.  Not as good as I need to be, not as good as I want to be.  Such thoughts drag at me, so I dismiss them and move on.

So moving on.  (Tantrum over.)

I read far fewer books cover to cover this past year than the year before.  33, in fact.  But some of them were really good books.

The best of them included my friend Nicola’s new novel, Hild.  (See previous post.)  Also, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, a quasi-fantasy, bizarre story about Ursula Todd, who lives again and again after dying in different ways and then starting all over.  It covers the big, violent middle of the 20th Century and is a fascinating piece of work that I hesitate to describe other than as a quantum biography.

I read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and his newest, And The Mountains Echoed.  I will read the one that came in between them, but, as beautifully written as these books are, as poignant and heart-grabbing, there is a sadness in them that, in the latter book, is almost unbearable.

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright is a detailed and comprehensive history of Scientology.  Well-written, thoroughly researched, it is a disturbing story that cannot but call into question the entire idea of religious movements.  Somewhat thematically—coincidentally so—linked, I also read John M. Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of America, about the pilgrims, John Winthrop, and Roger Williams and the nature of one of our founding myths.  A likewise disturbing history, it made me wonder why Roger Williams is not taught as one of the primary heroes of our national story—but then, the answer to that is also in the book.

One of the best SF novels I read this year is Lexicon by Max Barry.  It’s about language and love and power and freedom.  Superbly executed, it does not fail its premise.

I also read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas this year and I’m glad I did.  I also saw the film this year—twice, now—and I have to say this is one of those rare instances where book and film complement each other marvelously.

Possibly the most disappointing read was William Gass’s purported “last novel”—Middle C.  I reviewed it at length over on the Proximal Eye.  Gass is legendary, one of those bastions of high literary culture, and this was the first novel of his I’d encountered.  I cannot recommend it.

I am starting a reading group at Left Bank Books.  One of the things I’m hoping to do there is increase the profile of science fiction represented in the store, and after fumbling about a bit I decided this was the best way to do it.  It’s being tied in to Archon and will, if successful, result in a panel or two at next year’s convention about the books under review.  To that end, I reread Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks.

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time will know the esteem in which I hold Banks.  It deeply saddened me when he passed away this year.  We were both born in 1954.  Cancer took him and there will be no more Culture novels.  It was with great pleasure that I reread his first Culture book and found it even better than on my first encounter.  I’d looked forward to some day meeting him, but that will not happen now.

We’ve lost a number of people this year in this field, some of whom I knew.  Frederik Pohl died.  Gateway is still, in my opinion, one of the best SF novels ever written.  Jack Vance also passed away, a writer I respect and have difficulty reading.  A paradox, that, and I consider the fault entirely mine.  There are riches to be found in his enormous body of work and I have yet to figure out how to extract them.

British writer Colin Wilson died.  I was peripherally aware of his work, which seemed to me to combine Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick in peculiar and occasionally fascinating ways.  I recall The Philosophers Stone in particular, but he will, for better or worse, be remembered for Space Vampires, from which the movie Life Force was made.  He called himself the greatest writer in the world once.  Well.

The biggie for literature in general, though, was Doris Lessing, who was a Nobel Laureate and had the audacity to write science fiction unapologetically and then tell the critics they were idiots when they derided her for it.

Ray Harryhausen died.  I still marvel at his special effects work in movies such as Jason and the Argonauts, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and many, many others.  I had a chance to meet him when he and Ray Bradbury were co-guests of honor at an Archon many years back.

Which brings me to the part where I ruminate on mortality.  I have a great deal I want to do yet.  I have a list of books I want to write, places I want to see, things I want to do.  The fact that it seems to be taking me an inordinate amount of time to get firmly established as a writer irritates me on the level of how much more I want to accomplish.  If I have a fear of death at all, it is that I won’t get finished with what I want to do.  The thought of leaving things undone, to be either completed by others, tossed out, or ignored bothers me.  That is my only reservation about mortality.  (Oh, I fear getting old and sick, but death holds no terror for me.  For one, once dead, I won’t know.  I expect it is very much like a switch thrown, then nothing.  Power off, lights out.  But I don’t like the idea of suffering.  Never did.)

On a more positive note, I did learn that I will have a short story collection coming out in 2014.  Much to my surprise.  From a local publisher, Walrus.  Closer to release date (May, we think) I’ll tell the story about it, but it will be called Gravity Box and Other Spaces.  The stars align and the chips fall properly, we’ll do a release event at Left Bank Books.

I’ve been continuing to recover from my near-death experience of August 2012.  Appendicitis, you will recall.  Then a complication, an abscess.  Didn’t get completely over the surgery(s) till December.  I went back to the gym in March of this year.  Right before coming down with the seasonal grunge,  I was nearly back up to all the weights I’d been doing, with the addition of an aerobic section on the treadmill.  I did 900 lbs on the leg press before the Cold From Hell, which is 30 lbs shy of where I was before my appendix burst.  Still not gonna make the thousand I wanted to do by year’s end, but hey, not too shabby for an old man.  (Oh, right, middle aged.)

We took a major vacation this past year to northern California.  The excuse was a kind of Clarion class reunion in Sacramento.  Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge were joint GoHs at Westercon and the idea for a reunion spawned.  Several of us showed up.  I wrote about it back in August.  It was amazing.  After the con, we rented a car and drove up the coast to see redwoods and Pacific Ocean and cool fog and wineries and ended up staying with Peter and Nan Fuss on their (modest) mountaintop.  Expensive and we could ill afford it, but it was also one of those cases of we couldn’t afford not to.  There are pictures over in the Zenfolio galleries.

Donna is almost—almost—recovered from the Job From Hell.  It took more out of her than either of us realized.  It’s been two years and she’s finally feeling something of her old self.  I continue to take care of her.

Especially now, for reasons I don’t wish to go into here.  Suffice it to say that years have caught up in an all-too common way and she has extra burdens, with which I’m trying to help.  We’re fine.  But…

We had a very low-key Christmas.  Didn’t even decorate.  But it was the Christmas we needed, because we spent it together.

This coming spring we will be celebrating 34 years together and I can truthfully say I love her more now than ever before.  We’ve been through hell together.  And heaven.  We are comfortable with each other and I cannot imagine life without her.

So all in all, 2013 was a better year than many in the last decade.  We made some fabulous memories and did some wonderful things and we’re going into 2014 feeling better and more optimistic than we have in some time.  In closing, I’d like to thank all the friends and acquaintances—and most especially the new friends we’ve made at Left Bank Books (Kris and Jay and Lauren and Shane and Jonesey and Jessi and Jenni and Randy and David and Sarah and Evan and Mariah and Robert and Cliff and Erin—which reminds me, next paragraph—and Wintaye and Bill and the other David and I know I’m forgetting someone)—and those we’ve known almost all our lives and those we’ve known only part of our lives and those we’ve known only a short time…

Next paragraph, yes.  I shot my (I think) fourth wedding.  Erin, a coworker, wed Frank in the store at Left Bank Books on December 1st.  I shot the pictures (the “official” pictures) and must report that this was one of the coolest weddings I’ve ever been to.  Another coworker, Jonesey (Sarah Johnson) officiated and great joy, a few tears, an annoyed cat, and tremendous celebration ensued.  I’ve never attended a wedding held in a bookstore before, but now that I have I wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

There is, I know, much more to say about this past year, but for now this is enough.  We’ve come through better than we were last year at this time and ready for next year.  Anyone who can say that is in the plus column of life.

Happy New Year.

 

 

My Friend Has A New Novel

This is my friend, Nicola. She’s published a wonderful novel and I could not be happier for her. I get to talk to her from to time and I love it. I sometimes feel like I could talk to her for days and never get tired of it. (Of course, she’d get tired of me, so…)

Anyway, here’s a half hour of her talking about her new book and I wanted to share it.

My Personal Hall of Fame

This is purely personal pique on my part, but in the recent round of nominations for the rock’n’roll hall of fame, YES was one of the bands being put forward.  I would like to be able to say “much to my surprise” they didn’t make it.  But I’m not surprised, just disappointed.

Which is silly, because I could not care less about the hall of fame.  I know what I like, a lot of it was at one time on the fringes of mainstream, things I choose now still tend to be under-the-radar kinds of things (though much less rock than in previous decades), and I still have my loyalties.  To be sure, there are bands I kind of listen to now, having at one time been massively devoted to (for a week or a year), and wonder what I found so wonderful about them.

But there are a handful I never tire of, especially not the work done in their heyday.  And YES is one of them.  I fell in love with that sound four bars into the first song I ever heard of theirs and even though they’d recorded some duds, made a couple of records of incomprehensibly bombastic ambiance, by and large, overall, I still love them and when they release a new album I buy it, unheard.  Even in their worst, I find things of transcendent beauty scattered throughout.

I’ve written about them before, most notably here , and I don’t really have anything new to say.

Except that I found, here and there, some commentary on the intraweebs concerning their nomination that was mean-spirited and depressing.  I thought, are we still doing that after over four decades?

KISS made it.  Good for them.  They worked hard, they have a large fan base.  I can’t stand them myself, but it’s a big world, room enough for everyone.  If I wanted to, I’m sure I could get downright eloquent about how I feel that sort of music did nothing but lower the general I.Q. and bring down the standards of music.  But it wouldn’t be just about KISS and it wouldn’t be just about certain strains of rock music.

But YES seemed to have made enemies back in the day, people who believe any attempt at elevating the genre above anything more than the old 3-chords-and-a-bridge formula was somehow a betrayal of “authenticity.”  People who turned to rock because they despised classical (or more likely because they didn’t “get” classical) and not only tore at the reputations of YES but at the very idea of progressive rock as a movement.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but…

But music is too personal for the kind of total condemnations or complete annointments it often elicits.  I love YES but I also love Santana.  Not only that, but I’m inordinately fond of Mozart, Schubert, and Howard Hanson.  Not only that, but I’m a devotee of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Joe Pass.  I love Vangelis as well as Jimi Hendrix, and Joe Satriani is to my ear as much a virtuoso as   McCoy Tyner or  Immanuel Ax.

Such are the inductees into my own hall of fame, of which YES has been an honored member since 1970.

Thank you for indulging me in a brief declaration of personal taste.

War On Christmas?

By now most people know about the flap over FOX News person Megyn Kelly’s absurd remarks concerning the ethnicity of (a) Santa Claus and (b) Jesus.  Actions within the DMZ of the annual War On Christmas have reached new levels of ridiculous.

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but…

Santa Claus is white?  Really?  After all this time, we’re going to have that debate?

If you must know, Santa Clause is your favorite uncle dressing up in a red suit and bellowing joyously at a key moment in your life.  What color is he?  What nationality?  Whatever you answer, then you know what color Santa Claus is.

Santa Claus is not St. Nicholas.  Not because an argument cannot be made that the legends of St. Nikolaos of Myra (or Bari, depending which one prefers) can’t be construed as the model for the modern Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, aka Santa Claus, but because Santa Claus, culturally, is something else altogether by dint of centuries of “drift” and the compiling of other attributes of distinctly non-Christian provenance.   Like Christmas itself, the two long ago became Something Else.  (The modern Santa Claus is more descended from pre-Christian Germanic Odin than anything Christian.  Christmas itself, as we practice is, is from the Yule celebrations of the same pagan tradition.)

Jesus…well, really, does this actually need explaining?

But the question is, does all this constitute any kind of “War On Christmas”?  I don’t see Christmas suffering a bit.  It is now as has been since I can remember a time of family, of friends, of fellowfeeling, of charity, corny music, decorations, and the setting aside for a day, a week, a month of petty differences to embrace one another.  I haven’t seen much evidence that we’re doing any less of this than ever before.

What there is some struggle over is the idea that some people have it wrong and that those who think they have it right have some kind of obligation to shame the rest of us into accepting their version above any other.  Failing that, they then take it upon themselves to take our indifference to their dogmatic myopia as evidence of a war on Christmas and launch a counterattack by pissing and moaning about…

Well, frankly, about style.  As far as I can tell, they don’t like what other people’s Christmas looks like.  For one, we seem to have these other traditions all mingled in—Hannukah and Kwanza—distorting and “sullying” their vision, as if it’s all some kind of banquet hall and they object to the decorations.

I suppose what really bothers me this time is the flat out racism in evidence.  Santa Claus is white, get over it.  Jesus is white, historical fact, too bad about all you other people who think it might be otherwise.

Seriously?

Let me ask, in all seriousness, what color is the human heart?  I don’t mean the muscle, I mean the essence of our sentiment.  What color is that?  Because I was raised to believe that both Santa Claus and Jesus were all about the human heart, about healing it, about nurturing it, about celebrating it, which makes it an essential aspect of our commonality.  After discarding much of the silliness of both icons, I still find inspiration and succor in that basic truth.  I think that part is a good idea and how it is celebrated is irrelevant alongside the idea that it is celebrated.

And that has no color.  No ethnicity.  No politics, no religion, no ideology.  Just you and me and who we love and who we wish to love and the desire that love be the universal attribute by which we know ourselves.

So if there’s a war on Christmas, it is being prosecuted by those who keep insisting that there can be only one way to celebrate it.  Such people are truly small of spirit, and now it appears they’re bigoted as well.

Which is really sad.  Look at the opportunity being passed up in this, of getting outside your tiny enclave of conspiracy-driven paranoia and siege mentality and finding out that maybe those people down the street you’re not sure about are really kind of cool and interesting.  Being so publicly obsessed withe tropes instead of getting down with the True Meaning of the Holiday is just dumb and more than a little hateful.

Christmas is what we make it, out of the feelings of sharing and discovery and renewal.  It’s about being open and forgiving and generous and for one day out of the year setting aside differences and realizing that, in a very basic way, there aren’t any.  It’s about letting in the idea that we can be better together than alone and that shared joy multiplies and that there ought to be no limits on that.  It’s a Technicolor time.

It shouldn’t be whitewashed.