distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views

This content shows Simple View


Me ‘n’ Harlan


So this I gotta share.  I don’t know what we were reacting to, but it doesn’t matter.  I’ll cherish this.


harlan & me 1 (2)

Soon as I get a new version of Photoshop (or something) I’ll work on this a bit, but…

Oh, one more thing.  He kept calling me “Hipshot.”  I didn’t know what that was.  “From the famous comic strip Rick O’Shay,” he said.  He dubbed me his Hipshot.  Had to look that one up.  Rick O’Shay was a western comic strip and Hipshot was Rick’s best friend and trusty sidekick.  This guy:


The one of the right, without the badge.  Gotta confess, I like the hat.

Peak Experiences

This past weekend was Archon 39. Our local science fiction convention.

Donna and I have, with a couple of exceptions over the years, gone to just about all of them since number 6, which was in 1982 at the Chase-Park Plaza hotel.  The guest of honor then was Stephen King, which meant that everything was exaggerated and gave us a seriously distorted set of expectations of what this convention was normally. The guest list that year was a who’s who of authors, who were then the rock stars of the convention scene. We met Joe Haldeman, Robert Bloch, Robin Bailey, George R.R. Martin, and several others. We were, you might say, agog. It was a bit overwhelming and in retrospect it was a peak experience, at least as far as conventions go.

The problem with such things is, you never know that’s what they are until some time afterward, and even then there might be some question as to how peak it was.  So you go into them a bit unprepared to really appreciate them.

Not so this Archon just past.  We knew months in advance that this was going to be a peak experience.  Because Harlan Ellison surprised everyone by agreeing to appear, despite ill health and considerable impairment from a stroke a year ago.  I knew about this immediately because I instigated the whole thing and ended up promising to be his gofer for the weekend.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do that, Harlan has minions, and they came. But I didn’t know that until they actually arrived, so the month or so leading up to this I found myself getting more and more stressed by the responsibility I felt.

Note I say “felt” rather than “had.”  What my actual responsibilities were compared to what I felt them to be were somewhat mismatched. I found myself at one point asking myself “What the hell is it with you? Calm down!”  Did no good. But everything came off fairly well. Not everything that was intended to happen, did, or at least not in the way planned, but I’d say a good 70% of it worked, and the stress served one positive function other than making me obsessive about details.  I knew this would be a peak experience.

Harlan is in a wheelchair.  He’s partially paralyzed on his right side.  There was some question as to whether or not he ought to have done this, but he would not be denied.  If sheer willpower counts for anything, Harlan has enough to do pretty much what he sets his mind to doing, even in his present condition. Donna and I picked him and Susan up at the airport Thursday night around nine o’clock and took them to the hotel in Collinsville. We sat in the lobby together for a while.  Two of his best friends showed up, Tim and Andrea Richmond, who we now count as friends.

By Friday evening’s opening ceremonies, Harlan’s presence at the con was unmistakable. harlan at opening ceremoniesI wheeled him up on stage after he had spent over an hour signing books.  He’s slower, sure, but the mind is as alert and sharp as ever.  He was pleased to be at the convention and he disarmed everyone.

We who have been involved in SF for any length of time know The Stories.  Harlan can pop off at the drop of a moronic comment and hides have been flayed (metaphorically) and sensibilities challenged.  If I heard it once I heard it fifty time, “He’s so gracious!”  Yes, he is.  He has  a heart of enormous proportions.

He was physically unable to do as much as he clearly wanted to, but under the circumstances what he did do was generous and impressive.

Peak Experience time.  I got to be on a panel with Harlan Ellison.

Let me explain. I grew up reading stories by the giants of the field when most of them were still alive and many still publishing.  For me, the pantheon includes Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, C.L.Moore, Alice Sheldon, Joanna Russ, C.J. Cherryh…well, you get the idea.  And Harlan, who wrote like a fey combination of Bradbury and Bester with a touch of Borges stirred in and made everyone react viscerally in ways they did not react to their other favorites.  I recall getting very turned off by Harlan when I was, say 15, and then later coming back and trying his work again only to find that I had missed almost everything important about the stories the first go-round. He was like a tornado whirling through the more deliberative winds of his peers. I’m still not sure I “get” everything that is going on in an Ellison story, but that’s the sign of a work worthy of ongoing consideration.

Of the aforementioned bunch, I shook Asimov’s hand, chatted with Bradbury and Cherryh, never met Bester, Heinlein, Moore, Russ, or Sheldon.  There are a couple of dozen other Greats I’ve had opportunity exchanged words with.  I’ve been on panels with Gene Wolfe, Frederik Pohl, Elizabeth Ann Hull, a number of others. So many are just gone.

I got to be on a panel with Harlan.  The 12-year-old in me was having a field day. This, I thought, is as good as it gets. At least in my list of cool things to do.

After 2010, I never thought I’d see Harlan again.  Certainly not at a convention.  He’d said he was done with them.  Harlan at ArchonWho could blame him? He’s tired. We talk on the phone occasionally.  I like him, but most of the time I don’t quite know what to say to him, other than some variation of Thank You For Being a Powerful Aesthetic Presence In My Life.  Of all the acquaintances I thought I might make in this curious life and profession, his was unexpected.

So when this opportunity came up, by a series of unexpected steps, I was torn.  Certainly his health is problematic and he’s 81.  This probably was not, for a number of reasons, a good idea.  On the other hand, when I reach that point in my life and there’s something I want to do and believe I can do it, I hope there are people who will help me do it. I do rather doubt I’ll see him again.  I don’t know when we’ll be able to get to L.A. anytime remotely soon.  But I did get to spend a good chunk of this weekend with him and it was surprising and rich and bittersweet.

He charmed practically the whole convention, signed a boatload of books, gave of himself until he just couldn’t.  I’m sure he got as good as he gave.  I will confess that I was waiting for someone, anyone, to start anything negative with him. It would not, had I been there, lasted long.  But no one did, everyone seemed so gobsmacked pleased to see him.

We did not take him back to the airport on Sunday. Other, closer friends did that.  He recorded a thankyou and goodbye for closing ceremonies, which was classic Ellison.

I confess, it’s strange.  Coming from a place in life never expecting to ever say a single sentence to him, he has become one of the major influences and associations in my life. All told, I doubt we’ve spent a week’s time together.  But it’s always been memorable. I’m about to wander into mawkishness now, so I’ll wrap it up with two final images and maybe one more line.   harlan 2-1harlan's shoes










So there we have it.

Peak Experience.

I hope he hangs around for many more years, as long as his mind is clear and his imagination active and he feels welcome.  There are a lot of people—a LOT—who are very glad of his presence.

I know I’m glad to know him.


This coming weekend is Archon 39, our local SF convention.  For the last two months I’ve been rushing about, often only in my own head, to prepare.  This year is special in a number of ways.  Harlan Ellison is attending.  Now, unless one keeps abreast of such things, that alone is no explanation for the level of anxiety I’ve been feeling about this.  For one, I instigated this event, largely without intending to.  For another, I’ve been involved in arranging things for him and his wife, Susan.  I’ve consequently been more involved in Archon than in previous years.  But today, Monday, I can honestly say I have covered as many bases as it is possible.  The unforeseen is…e=unforeseeable.

That’s not the only thing going.  Those of you who have been following me on Twitter will know that I have been updating my computers.  That has been both less bothersome and more annoying than it ought to be, but is now largely done.  (I have one more thing to get, but it will keep till later.)  I’m now well into the 21st Century on that front and not a moment too soon.  This morning I took care of the last  bit of bother for Archon that is in my power to take care of, so I spent the last twenty minutes playing with the theme on my blog.  I think I’m sticking with this one for a time.  How do you like it?  I feel it is a theme of great nift.

Recently, Left Bank Books hosted an event with Sammy Hagar.  He has a new cookbook out (yes, that Sammy Hagar, and, yes, I said a cookbook) and we ushered through a myriad of his ecstatic fans and sold a ton of them.  So for no other reason than I have it on hand, here’s a photo of Mr. Hagar.Sammy 4

We have all more or less recovered from the chaos and excitement of that day, which was one day in a week filled with notable events.  Jonathan Franzen was also in town and we (not I) worked that event.  And earlier we hosted Mr. Jeff Smith, former Missouri state senator who went to prison and has, since release, dedicated himself to prison reform.  He has a new book out about it.  I did work that event and must report that some of what he said, while not surprising, was nevertheless disturbing.  The whole fiction of “rehabilitation” in regards to incarceration…

Well, I may have more to say on that later.

I’m unwinding as I write this, so forgive me if I wander about from topic to topic.  Last night we had friends over to dinner and it was terrific.  Good food, great conversation, laughing…we don’t do nearly enough of that.  Partly it’s the time thing, but you know, you can lose the habit of being social, and over the last several years we’ve seen our skills erode.  We may be coming out of a long hibernation, but then there is still the time thing, and I have a book to write over the next several months.  (Hence the new computers.)

On that front, this Saturday past I was one of eight local authors invited to attend the Carondolet Authors’ Brunch.  Strange thing that it was, it was nevertheless fun.  They arranged tables and set it up like speed dating.  The authors would visit each table for 15 minutes, then move to the next, and so on.  I was delighted that no two tables produced the same conversation, although some variation of “where do you get your ideas” came up each time, but that was only one of two questions that I found repeated.  The other was “Do you teach?”

There were a couple of household repairs I tended to this morning and now I’m procrastinating here.  I should be writing something serious, profound, or at least with the potential to earn income, but I’m fooling around with my blog theme and gossiping.

…And I just realized I have one more thing to take care of for Archon.

That said, this Thursday we’re trying something at Left Bank Books that I hope will establish a tradition.  We’re having three of the major guests in the store for a kind of pre-con event.  Jacqueline Carey, of Kushiel’s Dart fame; Esther Friesner, of multiple fames; and Vic Milan, who has been the toastmaster at Archon’s masquerade since forever, and if you like costuming and haven’t been to an Archon masquerade, you’re missing a real treat, of which Vic is a major part.  So, seven o’clock Thursday night, October 1st, be there or be a tessaract.

After Archon I intend to find a corner and melt down into it.

Until then, thanks for stopping by.

Dear Anonymous

Sir (or Madam, as it was not clear from the lack of signature which you may be),

Thank you for your note of the Nth instant concerning your feelings about our organization’s position regarding the current crisis in our community.  The strength and sincerity of your position are well represented in the brevity of your declaration that you will cease to do business with us due to our public stance.  As you may know, the open exchange of ideas is central not only to our own philosophy but to the very identity of our community and country.  Unless we know, unless we can discuss and debate, unless we can openly disagree and engage with each other and, in time, find common ground based on such free exchanges, we cannot move forward, we cannot improve, we cannot redress grievances or attend to injustices.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that you chose to send your note anonymously.

You place me at a disadvantage, since obviously you know how to directly communicate your sentiments to me but I have no recourse to reply other than by public pronouncement.  I can only conclude that you have no interest in my response, and so also conclude that this was not the sincere offer to engage that it might seem at first brush.

Why is that?

Well, perhaps there is a clue in what you chose to say to me.

You have declared that you find my—and my organization’s—position partisan, that I have failed to see a “bigger picture” by not including irrelevancies in my stated position, and that I am therefore “fueling hatred” by supporting only one side of the issue.  You claim that by not opening out a larger umbrella that includes so many factors that the basic point of my argument would be lost in the muddle that I am an agent of chaos.

You finish by declaring that you will never do business with us again.

Since I don’t know whether you have ever done business with us in the first place, as you failed to identify yourself, I have no way of knowing how much of a loss this may (or may not) be.

However, I’m sure you have your reasons for remaining anonymous.  Possibly many reasons.  So, be that as it may, I will address myself to your detailed charge that I and my organization may be  “fueling hatred.”

The hatred is already there.

Let me see if I can explain this by an analogy.  “Fuel” suggests a fire, which seems apt in this case, so—

If a particular house is on fire and the fire department has yet to be called, if I start a campaign pointing out that a house is on fire in order to bring the firefighting strength of the community to the scene and put it out, then why would you try to undermine that by pointing to all the other houses that are not burning and complaining that the blazing house is getting preferential treatment when everyone knows “All Houses Matter”?  If you’re successful, then the fire department will spray water all over everywhere and likely fail to put the fire out in the one house that is burning.

Of course, the problem with that is, since the fire will not then be out, it will likely spread to all those other houses which received a then-unnecessary dousing.

My declaration that “This House Matters” on the other hand points to the problem and it can, hopefully, be dealt with directly and thoroughly, before all those other houses are engulfed.

There is no logic in your opposition to my campaign.

Unless you don’t want the fire in that house extinguished.  Unless you want it burned to the ground so you don’t ever have to think about it again.  Unless you don’t regard the people living in that house as worth the same consideration as the residents of all those other houses.

Surely not.  That would be cruel.  That would be—how shall I say this?—discriminatory.  That would be the position of…

But, surely not.  Surely you are not so bereft of human sentiment as to wish ill upon people you probably don’t know.  You would have to not know them to think that way, because surely if you did know them then you would be even less endowed with the compassion necessary to live profitably in a community.

Ah, not your community?  Well, that’s just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  Perspective and border grids?

But, as I say, surely not.

Maybe you simply object to someone interrupting your tranquility by summoning a gaggle of loud firefighters into your neighborhood.  After, your house isn’t on fire, why should you have to put up with the noise and inconvenience of saving someone else’s house?  And, really, shouldn’t they have paid closer attention to their house so that it didn’t catch fire in the first place?  Obviously, it’s their fault, otherwise the house wouldn’t be on fire.

And me?  You object to me calling attention to the fire?  Because it may spoil your weekend plans?

Logically, then, there are two conclusions.  Either you don’t believe you should sacrifice your peace of mind in the cause of putting out the fire…or you want the fire to run its course.

I suppose it’s possible that you don’t believe there actually is a fire.  That’s possible.  But then why object when someone points out to you that there is?

Is it possible you could feel responsible for that fire?

This analogy has run its course.  Obviously we’re not talking about houses on fire—although that has been a part of this—but people who are living in conditions less than ideal.  And through no fault of their own, are being abused for having to live in those conditions.  Or, even less comfortably for you, abused simply for being who they are.

Which is sort of similar to what you’re doing to me and my organization.  I—we—have taken a position of conscience.  Because this is who we are.  You are objecting to that and threatening us as a result.  Just because of who we are.

What is more, a part of you knows you’re wrong.  Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any of this anonymous nonsense.  You want me to know how very strongly you disapprove of what I do but not strongly enough to sign your name to the disapproval.

Another possibility is that you feel compelled to take part in this debate but you don’t have anything useful to say.  You resent that, you resent being made aware of problems you’ve probably been ignoring all your life—or never believed were problems—but now that there is an argument, you really want to take part in it, but there is nothing—nothing—in your background, your lived experience, your education, or among your family or friends that would provide you with one constructive thing to contribute.  Saying nothing is not an option, because then you wouldn’t be in on the action, so…

That would be kind of juvenile, though, don’t you think?  Not knowing how to build something and feeling left out, you do the one thing you know how to do—throw a brick at someone else’s building.

No, surely not.  Surely you aren’t that bereft of options or compassion.

But you felt the urge to threaten.  Why?  You felt the need to try to obscure a problem and make it seem not so important.  Why?  You felt the need to get angry at the people calling in the fire department instead of taking your place in line at the bucket brigade.  Why?

I am left finally with the one conclusion that makes any sense to me, given the paucity of clues with which I have to work because you have chosen not to engage in a dialogue but instead throw a brick—a paper one with words on it, but a brick nonetheless.  That, in it’s simplest terms, you have caught yourself looking into the mirror I’ve helped hold up and you don’t like what you see.  You hate me now for showing you a glimpse of yourself you thought long buried and forgotten.

To once more use the house analogy, while you may not have set the fire, you probably stood on the sidelines with a bag of marshmallows and a long stick.

I’d rather not think that of you but there’s no way for me to know otherwise, because you’ve chosen to show me this and nothing more.  I can’t discuss it with you.  I don’t know you.

You don’t know me, either.  And evidently, you don’t want to.

And that is where the problem begins and finally ends.

Sincerely yours…

….but you already know who I am.



Soon—very soon—I’ll be getting new machines.  So I’m taking care of some things before transfer hell commences.  Even without that pending I have fallen behind on my photographs, so here are a selection for your edification.  All from our recent sojourn to Pittsburgh.

Idyll in Pennsylvania, Ju;y 2015 Oculus Above, July 2015 Pylon & Crypt, Pittsburgh, July 2015

Step By Step

I just spent an hour working on this image.  It’s definitely going into the art show, but I’m pleased with it now.  I’m laboriously working my way through some of the less difficult aspects of image compilation, blending, etc.  So, because it’s Monday, and because I have two essays in the works requiring minute attention to detail, I offer this.  New horizons, indeed.


Saturn Rise, 2015


I’m being terribly tardy keeping up with things since coming back from Pittsburgh.  I have a lot to do and the doing is being difficult.  But I’ve been given a clean bill for my arm, so I’m going back to the gym, but so far that’s the only thing I’ve managed to get on top of.  I need to replace my computers, because they are ancient and deserve rest.  Not to mention I have now gone full time at Left Bank Books.  Not to mention I’m still working on a book (as always), and not to mention…

One thing I did not do was watch the GOP debates.  I have enough crazy in the my life just now, thank you very much, and I can rely on the endless news cycle and friends to keep my apprised on the stupidity on display in what accounts for one of the major political parties.

Which is not in any way the implication of the title of this post.  I’m not going Green Party, not yet.  Rather, I thought I’d put up a new image as place marker and something pleasant for people to gaze upon while I sort through my new schedule and the pile of To Do.

On, and I did shoot this in Pittsburgh.  Just, you know, for your information, as if you need it…


Leaves Aglow, July 2015

Recent Excursions Into Foreign Climes

We took a brief vacation, long overdue, and drove up to Pittsburgh where reside our good friends, Tim and Bernadette.  We hadn’t been up there in several years and this trip in no wise made up for the gap, but it was much needed stress release.  Of course, this is a strange land with exotic fauna and we had to be careful in our wanderings.

Pennsylvania Dino, July 2015

But the monsters were docile, the scenery beautiful, and the sojourn eventfully uneventful.  We spent a lot of time doing not much and enjoying it thoroughly.  I’ll write more about it later, but for now I thought I’d leave you with one of the more pleasant vistas from the trip.


Pennsylvania Farmland, July 2015