I am a marginal Luddite. My friends tease me about it, not without justification. “What do you mean you don’t know how work that? YOU’RE A SCIENCE FICTION WRITER!”
A rather uncharitable way to look at it, but not without some merit. It is, however, like telling a scientist he’s an idiot because he can’t program his VCR (!). Or maybe criticizing an engineer because he can’t solve a Rubic’s Cube. Be that as it may, I have a rather antagonistic relationship to modern tech and I do not feel entirely unjustified. The last time I was upbraided for being unable to deftly wend my way through a computer problem and the science fiction writing came up, my retort was “Dammit, it wasn’t supposed to work this way!”
(Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a software engineer!)
Constant upgrades, byzantine interfaces, labels on functions that do not make intuitive sense…it’s easy, perhaps, to decipher a language if you already speak it.
I’ve been with Earthlink for years now. Partly, this is because I have little patience for shopping for this kind of thing. I had a bad experience with an ISP when I first connected and Earthlink has been reliable. As time passed and I did more things, they have been far more helpful than not, so I stuck. I am a loyal customer given a bit of useful attention, courtesy, and spoken to in English (this is to say, not talked to like I’m a 15-year-old digital nerd who lives and breathes this stuff).
So I called them. Turns out, my DSL modem was over nine years old. Well past the average life expectancy of such things. Back and forthing, finagling, and communing with the service techs, I opted to purchase an upgrade to a fiberoptic connection with a new modem and higher speed.
Then I discovered that my router was also ancient and decrepit and may have been the culprit all along. No matter, I had a spare, which worked fine.
Until last weekend, when I lost all connectivity and had to simply wait till the install guy showed up.
Which was supposed to happen today. But instead, he knocked on my door yesterday, just as I was about to leave for work. After a moment of panic I chose to go with it, because who knew when the next available time would be? After two hours, I am back online. The connection is faster. No, really, I can tell. It is.
Which then prompted going around the house re-entering passwords and upgrading the other machines, etc etc etc.
And going through the sixty-plus emails that had stacked up in my inability to access my online world.
But it also means my distractions are back.
Oh, well. What is life without distractions?
Just in time, however, as the final notes from my agent on my new novel are about to pour down the pipeline into my lap for me to tend to and get back to her so she can start pushing it to all the people who don’t yet know they want it and want it badly. Timing.
Which also means I have to get back to work on the other projects sitting here.
I am, unfortunately, easily distracted, but I’ve come to understand that the thing that distracts me most, more than anything else, is when things don’t work. It nags at me when something of mine is broken. Nero Wolf once described rancor as a “pimple on the brain” that muddled his thought processes. In my case, it’s knowing I can’t do something I ought to be able to do but a glitch is blocking me. Pimple on the brain. Annoying.
But for now, problem solved, and one hopes I can glide through all this unperturbed for another nine years. At which time, some other something that shouldn’t be a problem (and wouldn’t be in one of my stories, where technology works as it should, unless its not working is a plot point) goes wrong. Meantime, a bright day ahead.
I would say something about other things, but I don’t want to spoil my mood. I am back, my window (pun intended) to the world is open once more, and I have what is in this modern day and age the All Important—Access.
I will say that Coffey, my dog, was delighted to have the technician here. She followed him around, scrupulously checking his work, making sure he was doing everything according to standard—her standard, which may be higher than my standard in some things—and enjoying having me around an extra couple of hours.
The pimple has cleared up, for now. I’m back working on…things. (I’m writing this instead of what I should be writing, grumble-mumble…)
To close, I will offer up a staple of the internet realm, something I seldom indulge mainly because I don’t have the subject on hand with which to indulge it. I have to borrow one for such purposes, but…
I give you a cat picture. Have a good day.
I’ve been sitting here thinking about the regret I’m starting to see from many quarters. Like a bad one-night-stand that came with a surprise wedding ring, that face just won’t go away, and all the skull sweat in the world won’t change the reality. Yes, you did that.
Believe it or not, I have some personal insight into this, one I’d forgotten about. Mind you, this is minor league, childish stuff, but startlingly relevant.
Long ago, as a teenager, I was a member of the DeMolay. Junior Masons, basically. Named after the last grand master of the Knights Templar, Jacques De Molay, who King Phillip the Fair (there’s a name for you) tortured and then put to death when he sacked all the Templar temples looking for gold and endeavoring to erase his debt to the Templars. Legend has it when the raids began, the king’s men found empty temples, no gold, and managed to arrest only a handful of Templars before they could escape, among them Jacques.
Fast forward and we have the establishment of a youth branch of the Masons in 1919. Anyway, it was cool in a very adolescent way. Secret rituals, passwords, officer positions, and we got to wear these excellent black satin capes and carry ornamental swords from time to time. It was one of the rare times I willingly joined something like this and it was fun for a couple of years.
Now, we did do a lot of community service, charity work, and other things. There was serious purpose to the organization and we did some meaningful things. Obviously it was a stepping stone into fullblown masonry, so there was grooming and preparation and the assumption of responsibilities. We pretty much ran our own lodge, although there were of course some adults around to make sure we didn’t get out of hand.
The officer positions were sort of on automatic rotation. Once you took a position, you ascended as a matter of course.
Except for the top three positions. Master Councilor, Senior Councilor, and Junior Councilor. These seats were voted on by the members of the lodge. Even then, it was almost pro forma. The only one of the three that ever actually was in question was Junior Councilor. Moving up from there was just a given. It was the Junior Councilor seat that was regularly empty when a Master Councilor’s term was up and he stepped down.
My third year, though, an unusual event happened—all three posts became vacant at the same time. So we had to vote to fill each one from the membership of the lodge.
I threw my hat in. A couple of others did, too, friends of mine who then proceeded to plan what we would do when we were all in the councilors’ chairs.
Only thing is, I lost every single vote.
Not just lost, but was brutally trounced, receiving two votes for each chair. I had to sit there and listen to the tallies until it was over. The other two who thought I’d be up there with them started looking at me in shock, as if to say “What the hell!”
I sat through the rest of that meeting, performed my duties, and left. I did not go back. I’d been humiliated before, but never so publicly and so thoroughly.
Best I could determine from things later said, everyone thought I would be a hard ass and make them work. I had ideas, I’d never been shy about criticizing what I thought of as stupidity, and I was not particularly popular. Naively, I didn’t think that last mattered. I thought ability was what counted. I was wrong.
I went back about six months later and sitting around with several of them in the lounge I listened to them moan about how badly things were being run and how this went wrong and that was going south in a big way and so-and-so was an ass, etc etc etc. I sat and listened with a rapidly vanishing sympathy. “We should have voted you in,” one of them said. Heads nodded all around.
I was quiet for a few moments, then stood. “Yeah, you should have,” I said. “Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. But frankly I’m glad you didn’t.”
Shocked expressions all around.
“Because I would’ve been stuck trying to manage you bunch of morons.”
I left and never went back.
I have joined exactly two organizations since.
Buyer’s remorse can be a real bitter thing. It looks so shiny, so cool! It makes those agreeable noises and feels powerful.
Then you get it on the road and find out what a lemon it is.
I have zero sympathy for those who voted for this guy and now are stunned, horrified, shocked, and disappointed at what they got. Just a reminder, I suppose, that so many people never do mature past someteen, no matter how old they are. The thing that grinds is, they saddled the rest of us with this mess, too.
In lieu of an impulsive screed on the latest inanities, some images from this January past.
From a day of wandering on an icy January before…well, before everything seemed to change.
I did not watch the inauguration. This is nothing new, though, I rarely do. I saw Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I watched Obama’s, parts of it, after the fact. I would rather read the inaugural addresses than listen, but really the main reason I skip them is that for me they don’t mean much. This is the party after the fight, so to speak. Parades, lots of glad-handing, important people with lots of money doing a Hollywood red carpet thing. It’s show.
Show is important in statecraft, certainly, but it’s not important to me, so…
But the aftermath this time has been fascinating. It’s a show, so why lie about what went on? Why try to tell the national press corps that what they saw with their own eyes was not the reality? Why start with petty numbers games as if the show was the only thing that mattered?
Well, Trump does do reality tv.
However, I would like to say a couple of things here about some of the images I’ve seen—and some of the vitriol attached—after the fact.
I’m not going to say one damn thing about Melania Trump unless she starts getting involved in policy. Which from all appearances, she will not. Likewise for his kids, especially Barron. I don’t believe in that “Well, your dad’s a so-n-so, so you must be, too!” kind of schoolyard bullying. I rejected that whole sins of the father argument back when I parted ways with christianity. I won’t go there.
I will say this, though, about her supporters and detractors: hypocrisy runs deep.
The so-called Christian Right lent considerable support to this man. His wife is a former model and sex symbol. She’s done nudes. She projects an image which I had thought ran counter to the standards of that so-called Christian Right. Had Michelle Obama done anything like that, these people would have declared the advent of Sodom and Gomorrah and the End Times. (Many of them do that anyway, on a regular basis.) These are people who collectively have made it clear they see the sexualization of culture as a decidedly Bad Thing. But they voted for him anyway and got in the face of anyone who criticized Melania for being what till now they claimed to oppose. This is Through The Looking Glass Time for them and I won’t pretend to claim any understanding, other than recognizing the serious two-faced hypocrisy evident.
As to those critics who have held old photographs of her up for disdain, mocking her and her husband thereby, as if the fact that she pursued a career which many of them might have made apologies about (women have so few options, etc) has anything to do with her suitability to be something else.
Lay off. This is all part of the same bifurcated mindset that places sex in one room and everything else in another and then treats public examples of it as alternately empowering or a disease.
Just because her husband treats her like a trophy doesn’t mean the rest of us get to repurpose her for our own ends.
I have no problem with pointing out the hypocrisy of the Family Values crowd over this, but I will not blame Melania for it. We just bid farewell to a presidential family that had no sex scandals of any kind and clearly set an example as a solid, loving, neuroses-free family—who suffered ongoing derision for 8 years at the hands of people who have violated their own professed standards in that that regard to elect someone who has pretty much been a poster-boy for everything they claim is wrong with America. Well, clearly the whole thing was a deep, deep neurosis on their part. I will not blame Melania for their shallowness, lack of integrity, and evident moral malleability.
Nor will I support attempts to ridicule him by holding her up as some example of unsuitability based on the opposite neurosis attaching to women who—
Well, let me put it this way: all those who were (and are) madly in love with Hillary and feel the world has ended because she is not the president—would you have supported her fervently if nude photos of her from her college years surfaced? With all the rest of her qualifications intact, had she taken a year to do something that doesn’t fit with an image of “stateswoman”, would the love have been there?
Food for thought.
But for now, unless she gets involved with policy—and if she does, I will wait to see how and what she produces—I will not credit any shaming that goes her way.
I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.