Revisiting

Nostalgia can be a narcotic. Lately I’ve been going through the accumulated evidence of 50 + years and wondering why I kept it even as each bit triggers memories I’m glad to have. Do I really need this gew-gaw? This piece of paper? This book or album? Part of me can’t bear to part with any  of it, but the practical side of me is starting to sort and allocate in anticipation of the time I just have no more room, no more interest, and no further use. I’m already cutting back on acquiring more. I have enough music on my shelves to last another couple of decades, by which time I could start all over. I don’t need any more. I’m trying to figure out how to arrange my days so I can hear more of it. As for books, well, good lord…

But getting rid of it?

I go through periods of expunging my belongings, making the hard decision that I will probably never read that book (again or even once), that I haven’t listened to that album in 30 years, so why do I still have it. I’m starting to be worried about my photographic archives, which are sizeable and I haven’t made much of a dent in digitizing them (too many other things to do getting in the way, time is finite, and so forth). Recently some opportunities have presented themselves that have taken a little pressure off.

The thing is, I’ve never been able to ignore the practicalities for any length of time and pretend everything will simply go on as it is now. I’ve always known I had to prepare for the time when I won’t be here.

Does that sound depressing? It’s not, I assure you. Better, I think, to know where everything’s going to be and manage to have less of it to deal with than leave a godawful mess behind for somebody else to clean up.

There are two writing projects I have on backburners for which I have a lot of research material to hand. One of them is actually written, but I haven’t found a publisher yet. The other I have to find some time to start. I have very practical reasons therefore for keeping all those books. Believe me, I would like to get them off my shelves, many of them are not the kinds of books I would bother to reread for pleasure.

But I have other sets of books about subjects that I have vague notions about using for future projects, and I’m wondering if I’m ever going to get to them. (As I sit here, I can look up at a row of biographies of American presidents. I had a notion once of reading through them chronologically, but I haven’t read a one of them yet, and I stopped collecting them. It’s not that I don’t know anything about these people, but what I have learned I gleaned from histories of the periods, not specific biographies. Am I ever going to get to them?) Part of my conundrum is that I do not read particularly fast. I have the Oxford Histories of the United States on another shelf, each volume covering a specific period and each one a brick. Reading one can take up to a month of my time. (Fortunately I’m usually able to keep four books going simultaneously, but even so…)

And then of course there’s the music and the movies and tv series…

I have a hunger to absorb as much as I can. I never thought about this for years, because there was always more time, but.

Nostalgia combined with dissatisfaction can be genuinely painful.

There was a time I thought—carelessly—that I could do anything. You can go through life thinking that as long as the things you do do are successful. If you never turn your attention to the rest, you’re never confronted with your actual limitations.

But once you are, you have some choices to make. Howl at the injustice, turn inward, resent the short span of life and the confines of your imagination, or—

Or take inventory, acknowledge reality, and embrace what you can. You might be surprised at just how fortunate you have been to do, be, and experience what you have. And that taking life as it comes without worrying about what won’t come leaves you with an open field for the next wonderful thing.

Clearing one’s inventory can make the coming experiences fresher. That whole Zen notion of letting go (more or less) and letting the past remain the past. There is one central question I’ve found useful to ask and answer, providing we don’t take it as some kind of final judgment.

Have we done what we’ve done as well as we could?

Certainly we’ve all left some things twisting in the wind. All kinds of reasons to walk away or, often, we are prevented from seeing something through to some ideal conclusion. But in the moment, did we do the best we could, honestly, and with care? All those things you wonder if you should keep—none of it has an answer other than to remind us of the question.

I’m not advising complete divestment. I love my books, my music, my home, my things. But certain of them I love more and maybe would appreciate better with less competition around them. Many of us use our possessions as markers, extensions of identity, augments to personality. That’s why getting rid of some things is so hard. But it’s not an accurate way to see things. They do not make us more, we make them important. It behooves us to choose carefully what we invest with that kind of authority.

Anyway, it is not my intention to be maudlin. I’m just ruminating n the midst of the archaeological dig of my life to date, and thought I’d share some observations. I’m going to go work on some fiction now.

Oh, and—yes, I think I’ve done what I’ve done as well as I could. To paraphrase Arthur Miller, I’m going with the idea that the goal is end up with the right regrets, the worthwhile second thoughts. Those would be those that add to the achievements not bury you in pointless nostalgia.

Anyway, be well.

Year One

A year plus since retirement. October, 2021, I left the regular work-world. It was a harder decision than anyone knew, even me. I’d certainly given myself enough advanced notice, letting my employer know eight or so months in advance. Plenty of time to train replacements, let people get used to the idea. Even me.

Now it’s December of ’22 and I wonder at the time.

I’m sure most people have plans. Plans. “I’m going to do—.” Sure. And then reality swallows everything and what happens happens and maybe some of those plans survive. I’m looking around an office I had every intention of thoroughly cleaning, rearranging, and updating. Well, the piles are in slightly different places, and some of them are different piles than before, but in the main it doesn’t look like I’ve done a thing.

The same goes for the rest of the basement. Attempts have been made, but frankly I need a month in which nothing else makes demands on my attention.

I have, however, managed to clear some dust off my career (writing) and make some headway in getting it back on track. After my novel-writing period more or less crashed and burned, I finally decided to turn back to short fiction, and to my pleasant surprise things picked up. I’ve written and sold a score of new stories. And now I have a new novel coming out in the spring. (Not science fiction, which is a bit of a surprise, though very welcome. More about that later.) In recent weeks a few things have occurred to give me hope that matters will turn around even more. Allow me to leave that vague for the time being.

I include as an element of any advice I dispense to want-to-be writers that of paramount importance for a career is Persistence. Just showing up is inestimably vital. You cannot succeed if you quit. Persistence does not guarantee success, but surrender pretty much guarantees no success. I’m now of the opinion that this is a matter of playing in traffic. Put yourself out there, in the flow, and eventually something will hit you. Not the most coherent plan, but with few exceptions the one most of us are able to act on.

The thing I did not count on is the fading of desire. I remember the fire, the urgency, the firestorm of optimism, and the excitement at the creation of new work. The impatience with the molasses progress of execution. Why should it take so long to get these words down in the right order? Why did everything take so long…

And now, forty years after making the decision to pursue this thing, that burning eagerness has lessened. I’ve become a bit jaded and quite tired. Partly this is a kind of maturity that counsels me to use myself more efficiently, that the fire never added much to achievement. It still takes so much time to write something, to edit it, to shepherd it through the stages of getting it out into the world, and that now it seems to take the same amount of time as it did when in the grip of the fever. Calmer impulses marshal resources to better effect. 

But more than that, I simply don’t suffer from disappointment and disillusion as much. Rejections still hurt, but not as much, and there’s a muffling kind of acceptance that seems therapeutic now. If it will happen, fine, I can only work the machine the best I know how and wait.

I wonder if this is not just the result of callouses grown thicker and that I’m missing out on something that I once felt to be so significant, possibly even the point.

Still, I’m working. I believe I’m writing better than ever, the work that goes out is better. My impatience is the only thing that seems lacking.

And then there is the rest of life…

I’ve begun reading philosophy again. Once upon a time, I was a casual admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I appreciated some of his approaches to what was known as Logical Positivism, part of the Analytical School of modern philosophy. Primarily, it was his (quite arrogant) thesis that all of philosophy’s “problems” stemmed from misapprehension and misconstruals of language. That if we just figured out how to be absolutely clear, we would understand. Granted, he realized later how simplistic this claim was and embarked on a deeper analysis of language structures and their application to questions of the real. 

I have believed for some time that science fiction is at base the most philosophical of literary endeavors, that the primary assumptions in most of it have no relevance outside an attempt at understanding the nature of reality in a unique way that emerges in the array of speculative presentations against which human struggle might be understood in evolutionary terms. In a way, the very idea of The Future has no actual meaning outside a philosophical framework. The best we can say is that something will follow the Now in which we exist. We call that the Future, but it has no material reality that we can examine. By the time there is something to examine, it is no longer The Future, and from our position Now we can only make assumptions about the Future because Now is the Future of a Past we can cite.

That is the exact sort of proposition that one would find in a good piece of science fiction. It is also the sort of thing that informs philosophical propositions.

It relates here, now, in this, because the day I retired I had a speculative framework of what my Future would be like. Ambitions, desires, expectations. (If you think about, life is a science fiction story.)

I haven’t attended to philosophy as such for some time now. It would be fun to get together a group (again) for regular discussions. The last several years have in so many ways challenged common agreements on causality, truth, and commonality itself, and it seems the only sane responses are either to yield to the impossibility of ordering the conceptions of the world (insanity) or work at better understanding in order to create conceptions that reduce the chaos. Ultimately we can only control our own reactions. 

Some of this, for me, comes from having reached a strange place in relation to those past ambitions. I am in many ways more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been, but at the same time I recognize the world around me as a place I do not know how I found. I’m reading older books, my indulgence in history has increased, and yet I still revel in the new voices I encounter, even while the names on the spines fail to spark the kind of thrill I once had regularly seeing a new work by an author with whom I was familiar. I can see clearly how nostalgia can become a trap, one we may not wish to escape. The familiar has such gravity, increasing year by year, distorting our path.

It’s Christmas weekend. The landscape is punctured by rabbit holes. The people you surround yourself with (and who are likewise surrounded by you) are the only guidons to keep you on the solid plane of vital connections. The deep structures of reality (of perceptions) are anchors to a world navigable to the betterment of the soul. The hypotheses of conspiracy wonks are less than the shadows on Socrates’ cave wall. (I will not call them conspiracy theories—that elevates them above their utility and lends credibility where none exists—but at best hypotheses, at worst con games designed to distract from actual living.) I am still with my partner of over 42 years. Snow fell yesterday. The sun is bright today. I’m listening to some very good music (late period Herb Alpert, if you care to know—he seems to have left behind the heavy reliance on “catchy” tunes and clever hooks that made him so popular in the 60s but he is still one of the cleanest horn players around) and I have the capacity to speculate on matters of moment. The trick is to identify what matters.

Wittgenstein, as I noted, asserted that we need find the clearest way to express ourselves in order to “solve” the problems of philosophy. I have no real quarrel with that idea—after all, I’m a writer, story aside my work consists of trying to find clearer ways to say things that might lead to truth—but I would only add that life does not have A Solution. Living is a process, an evolving set of realignments, relocations, and above all recognitions (re-cognitions). There is no single answer, only the ongoing encounter and construction of an imagination that renders chaos meaningful.

Starting on that path can be as simple a thing as cleaning up one’s office. 

Greg Bear

I met Greg Bear (briefly) in 1984. One of the first of that generation of science fiction writer of whom I’d become acquainted initially through their short fiction. 1983 was a banner year in many ways and Bear was nominated for two stories—Hardfought and Blood Music, novella and novelette respectively—and I thought both of them were just wonderful. (There is something elegant about Hardfought that transcends even its subject, a kind of perfect example of form.) We went to our first worldcon (LACon II) and attended his reading. He was presenting material from his new fantasy, The Infinity Concerto, and I was fascinated. (I also made a bit of a fool of myself with a question, but it was funny.) Afterward we talked to him. The substance of the conversation escapes me, but he was generous and kind and clearly an enthusiast about science fiction as a whole.

I read everything I could get my hands on by Greg Bear. Like others for whom I endured quick obsessions, it burned itself out, and I have a handful of yet-to-be-reads by him, but I have always found his scope and the details with which he built his worlds to be utterly marvelous. I have never not had a great time reading a Greg Bear novel.

I think it was The Forge of God that tripped me up. Amazing book, but it struck me at the time as altogether too depressing. I staggered on through a few more and then my time was consumed by other works.

In some ways, Greg Bear could be seen as the American Iain M. Banks. I am also taken by his occasional forays into prose experiments, his playful deployment of language to set tone. His restraint made these experiments more accessible than others who tried similar things. But always it was the world and ideas that were center stage, carried by an array of characters that were well-made for their tasks. (His short stories are often more experimental and run a gamut of styles and approaches.)

We crossed paths again in 1997 and I got to spend a couple hours with the Killer Bs—Brin, Benford, and Bear. I realize, looking back, that these three writers define a segment of a period for me. The possibilities of narrative trajectories and the skillful interjection of humanist qualities too often under-attended in what we call hard SF. Anyway, grand total of personal interaction with Greg Bear…maybe four hours.

In the lexicon of influences in my reading life (and somewhat in my writing career), Greg Bear is up there with Clarke, Pohl, Anderson, and Gerrold. A very specific set of aesthetics. (Silver Age mainly instead of Golden?) He never got trapped into series, he wrote a wide array of subjects and concepts, and there was a joy inherent in his prose that I found compelling. He reminded me of what it meant to be simply a Fan. The Universe is strange, vast, and polychromatic and he wanted the reader to experience that variety. Did he succeed? Only the individual reader can decide that. The merit is in the attempt and the fact that one can see what he was striving for.

He has gone. I was a little shocked to note that he was only three years older than me, near enough to a contemporary to disorient me a bit. I always think of people who are that good and achieve that much as considerably older than me, which is silly but a heuristic I can’t quite seem to shake.

The books matter. I would like to see them all back in print. We move on too quickly sometimes and forget the pleasures of what came before. I urge any and all to find his books and live with them for a while. Strength of Stones is a marvel. Beyond Heaven’s River an unexpectedly rich treat. Eon a journey to unforgettable time[s]. And do not pass up the short stories.

I’m going to be reading some of those I have yet to. One of our Voices has passed. Read him, let him speak.

Blame

So Trump said (more or less) that if the midterms go well, he should get all the credit and if they go badly, he should get none of the blame. This is politics. He then noted that what would likely happen is the reverse—that a Republican victory would garner him no credit and a defeat will give him all the blame. Again, this is politics. This kind of thing is standard. We see this at the presidential level all the time, if only in the rather shallow fact that a newly-elected president inevitably gets the blame for what his predecessor did when the new guy fails to magically fix everything in the first hundred days. More seriously, presidents get blame for things that are out of their hands—currently, that would include inflation.

The predicted Red Wave did not happen (except in Florida, but that state currently seems to inhabit an alternate universe) and the Republicans are scurrying about trying explain how it’s not their fault. My take is somewhat different—I’m amazed they did as well as they did. I realize people vote their wallets, but I keep wondering at people so divorced from how things work that they would happily vote away their rights for anticipated solutions which the people they vote for have little to do with. The institution that deals with things like inflation is the Federal Reserve and it is doing its job and as the Fed has a firewall between itself and Congress, there is no value in voting out the party that had nothing to do with the situation in the assumption that the other party, which have virtually no meaningful say in any solution, will magically fix the problem. I look upon the citizenry of my country in bafflement that this simple reality is so hard to grasp.

Oh, funding bills? Like for infrastructure? It is largely accepted by both parties that America’s infrastructure is in sore need of attention, so exactly where is the issue? Inflation or not, roads need repair, as do bridges, and we need a high-speed rail system and high-speed internet, regardless. Not funding these things would make the economy worse. But monetary policy—which is where we find things like inflation—is out of Congress’s hands. Do people really not know this or do they just vote the way they do to be arbitrary?

Let’s assume they do not. Then that means a great many people have no problem with the social fascism extant in the GOP. That voting away civil liberties is somehow worth it to keep a book about LGBTQ+ issues out of the hands of kids, that this is a reasonable trade-off.

Likewise, crippling the healthcare system for women and criminalizing gender-specific treatments is worth reducing half the population to conditions wherein they have much harder times to fight poverty and establish equity, things they have been and are still fighting to obtain for over—well, pick your date: half a century, over a century, since the Founding. Mind you, I am not referring only to abortion, but to a whole host of gynecological needs which even now we see examples of women being denied treatment because healthcare workers are afraid that such treatment might land them in jail, depending on the state. This is not theory but practice.

So the GOP is now making statements about who to blame as if their problems are simply a matter of selecting the wrong candidates. They cannot find it in themselves to look at their policies and recognize that they are out of step with actual people. (Because I can predict with a certain amount of certainty that on any of the above issues, many of them while being quite happy to deny Other People those rights, will expect to retain them as privileges, under the table or otherwise, for themselves.)

I’ve been hearing a handful of Republicans broach the possibility that they have failed on social issues. A few voices, here and there, identifying the problem in their alienation of certain voting blocs with unpopular or tone-deaf stances.

And yet, the over-half-century long propaganda train that has labeled Democrats as, originally, Tax-and-Spend Liberals and more recently as Socialists disturbs enough people that they will blink when given the opportunity to categorically repudiate a party that serves an idea of the free market that doesn’t actually reflect reality and assumes isolationism and defense spending are the only things that matter and that to stay in power is willing to strip people of their civil liberties and their ability to act on conscience and backs censorship and has perfected gerrymandering to the point now that elections are imperiled, too many people seem willing to put their actual rights at risk rather than face a future with the boldness America is supposed to be filled with.

It is heartening that damn near every election-denier across the country has lost their election race, but that leaves us with a party that seems to think this is just a temporary set-back, a matter of popularity rather than policy, too close to securing unassailable positions. Our own Senator Hawley (Missouri) has stated that it is time to bury the old GOP and create a new party, and as far as it goes, I agree. But such a new party, in order to be viable—philosophically, morally, politically—and be something identifiably in step with American principles, would necessarily have no place for people like him.

We cannot rest on this election. It will take a few more election cycles to re-establish the confidence the GOP has damaged in our democracy. And we need a federal election law to prevent states from arbitrarily rejecting fair elections.

Fair elections. It’s amazing how the fraud being claimed by the deniers, when you get right down to it, always ends up demeaning traditionally minority voters and impairing their ability to cast ballots. If you don’t want to be labeled racist, stop tilting the scales to white (usually male) voters. After the 2016 election, when evidence of foreign involvement was demonstrated, commissions worked heroically to close loopholes, plug gaps, and establish the next elections as the safest and most secure in our history. There may still be work to be done, but after all that, to claim that the 2020 election could be stolen is purest fantasy. All that really means is, your candidate lost, and you can’t deal with that. Apparently, a lot of Americans, of both parties, agree. The deniers lost.

Don’t go looking to blame the candidates as such. The problem is in the policies. The shift we may be seeing is a clear statement that those are in need of fixing.

This time, at least, I am somewhat relieved. I’m not holding my breath today. Next time, we need to oust the reactionaries.

Election

Next week it will be November. Election season.

Voting is already underway and by some reports it is more than tradition would suggest. A great deal is at stake.

I don’t have much to say here. Only that the issue this time around has little to do with what we have come to engage as normal. I do not believe it hyperbolic to suggest that our very way of living is at stake and that voting for narrow interests might be a mistake. The economy will not be fixed by splenetically throwing the majority party out of office. We’re in a fix due to factors beyond the ordinary—a pandemic, a major war in the east, and the aftershocks of certain trade decisions that were not well thought through. It will take time and the appropriate institutions are working on that, mainly the Federal Reserve. The president has little to do with it. Congress can only adjust taxes and approve spending bills. On that note, I think it is clear by now, or should be, that the previous few decades of trying to tax-cut our way out of slumps does not work the way we wish it would. Giving more money to corporations or the wealthy has not worked. Britain is dealing with that in a major way now and they are drowning in the backlash.

We are instead facing an election which will determine how all future elections may be conducted. Those who have decided to push the fallacy that the last election was stolen are allied with state factions that seek to limit who can vote. Spin it any way you want, that’s what it amounts to. We need a national voting law that will override such local attempts and we know that the GOP is not about to back that.

We’re facing an election which may impact what going forward will pass as “legitimate” history, and we know where one faction stands on that because of the books they keep trying to ban and the straitjackets they keep trying to wrap school boards in.

We’re facing an election that may set the stage for the rollback of hardwon rights for minorities and marginalized people, rights that have been mischaracterized as harmful to our civilization. Damned if I can see how. The expansion of rights has marked every period of growth and revivification in our history.

We’re facing an election which will signal whether or not equality has any chance of being the hallmark of our country.

For my part, until the Republican Party begins to repudiate the people and policies exemplified by people like Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Green, Trump and all the rest of the MAGA horde, they will not get my vote. They have been on the wrong side of history for decades. But that assessment aside, the last few years they have moved legislatively and judicially in such ways that people I know—friends, colleagues—have been put at risk, personally, all in the name of supporting a panic-driven creed of intolerance and powermongering.

I don’t care this time how bad the economy might be (it is such a mixed bag, I’m not sure it is bad, just expensive, which for some people may be the same thing), there’s no point in my mind having prosperity if people cannot live without fear.

Vote against the systemic intolerance of those who would have you believe that being Woke is a bad thing.

Please, Pale Person, Please Stop

Only because it is so omnipresent am I aware of the new raging over Ariel in The Little Mermaid and its casting of a Not White actor in the role. I would rather have not had this in my range of consciousness. I cannot convey the depth of weariness at this nonsense. You do this kind of stuff with the expectation that I, based on melanin content, will agree and share your rage.

Skin color is not intelligence. Nor is it a sign, frankly, of any kind of kinship above the purely coincidental.

Stop. Just…stop. I realize you think this of moment, important in some fundamental way, and might possibly be the last ground on which you might take a stand that is no longer acceptable as any definition of civilized, but all you are doing is embarrassing yourself and annoying me.

I know you are probably innumerate, but recently I was reminded of a statistic that sheds a stark light on the thinness of skin your railing against inclusiveness reveals. In a documentary on women in Hollywood, This Changes Everything, which examines the underrepresentation of women in filmmaking, it was striking to me that the percentage of directors who are women has yet to rise much higher than 15%. That figure has usually been lower, a couple of times briefly higher. Coupled with a kind of pervasive cluelessness on the part of men, it reminded me of a statistic related to what we once called (and may still) White Flight, which is the phenomenon of white Americans picking up and moving almost en masse once a certain level of minority presence in a given neighborhood is perceived. It turns out that the average is 12%. One in eight houses in a neighborhood are African-American (and presumably other racial minorities, but the study was done with regards to blacks) and suddenly all the white people seem to say “My god, they’re everywhere!” Twelve percent is far from any kind of majority, or even approaching parity, yet that seemed to be the point at which many white folks felt the need to flee to the counties.

“My god, they’re everywhere!”

I suppose if your default position is that 95% of everyone around should be white, then the upwelling of nonwhite in your area would be quite noticeable. If your default assumption is that only white people are—what?—“safe” to be around, then alarm bells must go off, just by the sighting of a few more nonwhite faces.

Of course, property values play into this, and for no better reasons.

But look, this is simply ridiculous at its base. Time and again, the superiority of ethnic type has been shot down and made odious, so that now all you have to complain about is—fictional characters.

And the now incessant appellation of Wokeness, which you somehow seem to think is some kind of corruption. You seem not even to have the wit to realize how ironic that is.

I no longer care what your excuses are. This has gotten absurd. If some day someone made a new version of Winnie-the-Pooh and instead of a classic  Teddy Bear they cast a Sun Bear or, heaven forbid, a Panda, I suppose you’ll rage against the Woke Left and its anti-Teddy Bear agenda.

What this says to me loudly is that along with everything else, you have no understanding of art (small “a” as a practice of symbolic communication through aesthetic reimaginings and visualizations). So you underline your aversion to being Woke by being decidedly asleep and studiously ignorant.

But please, stop claiming these things in the name of White People. All you’re expressing is a deep fear that you are losing power, which you don’t have in the first place. And you’d know you don’t have it if you were just a teensy bit…woke.

But to be clear, I am not on your side. You do not speak for me. I’m not even getting angry at it any more, just sad and weary. You don’t get it, and you expect me to not get it either, and be angry about it.

Please. Stop.

Current State

I finished the final edits on a new novel, which is for the moment scheduled for an April 2023 release. It’s a departure for me, in that it is not science fiction. Several years ago, after finishing a novel, I considered the possibility of switching genres, so I wrote two non-SF books, both in some fashion murder mysteries. One of them, because I had done so much research on St. Louis, I decided to do as an historical. I set it in the 1780s, starting just after the Revolutionary War Battle of St. Louis. After that, I decided to try a contemporary mystery. That one is not set in St. Louis, but in a fictional county in Southern Missouri. As of this writing, it did not come out as well. It’s the historical that is set for publication (through Blank Slate Press, an imprint of the Amphorae group).

Having sent it off, I collapsed into a weeklong period of exhaustion. Not that I haven’t experienced something like this before, but usually only for a couple of days. My past aftershock has included a spate of housecleaning and the tucking away of the odds and ends of the writing process. This time it was all I could do to get out of bed. Largely an emotional reaction, it still bothered me a bit, but I’m better now and starting to think about the next project.

I still have several novels on hand that need homes. (Including that less-than-wonderful contemporary mystery, which I fully intend to rewrite now that I know what the problem with it is thanks to a friend’s review.)

But I’ve found myself introspective. I have to face the reality that I am likely never going to be a New York Times Best Selling author. I suspect there is a window for such an achievement and I missed mine. (I doubt I’ll ever win an award, either.) Two thoughts about that: given my career and what I have achieved, I think I’m okay with that. And…it’s better to be reasonable about one’s expectations. I’m not sure I have the energy anymore to engage with all that bestsellerdom might require. And the next novel I write will be a slower, lower-key process. It’s surprising to contemplate how much energy is expended in maintaining high hopes and expectations.

(That said, it could happen, and I will certainly not turn away from it.)

Long ago (and not so far away) I began a set of novels and short stories under the overall title of The Secantis Sequence. The first novel, Compass Reach, was shortlisted for the PKD Award. That’s as close as I’ve ever come to a major award. There were two more novels published and number of short stories. It was built as a mosaic universe, so while certain elements are consistent in the background, they all could deal with different characters, different locations, different time periods. I’m still publishing short fiction set in this universe, the most recent being Exile’s Grace in Analog. I have a handful under development. I have concrete plans for two more novels, one of which is finished (has been for a long time) and the other of which I haven’t even begun. Originally I had vague intentions of just mining this universe for several novels, just to see where it all went, but the vagaries and vicissitudes of publishing kind of derailed that.

Now I’m looking at this new novel and considering the possibility that I may be writing historical fiction for some time to come. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but certainly not bad. I do have rough plans for an ongoing series based on the characters and setting. What gives me pause is the simple fact that I’m soon to be 68 years old. The question of how much time I have to see any of this through is no longer theoretical. Now, there’s nothing wrong, and I am from long-lived stock, so barring unexpected catastrophes I think I have a reliable 10 to 20 years left, but it is now a factor, and will become more so.

Choices now take on sharper meaning. I love science fiction. The fact is, though, I am not as well read in it as I once was. The bulk of my reading these days is nonfiction. What I see coming out lately I am impressed with, but some narrative conventions (and expectations) have changed. This is inevitable. It was going to change. It might have changed in any of several directions, and just now this one seems fertile ground for some seriously good speculative work. But I’m not as conversant with the work or the players as I once was. What this means for my work is simply that I feel free to write what I find most interesting to write, without paying much heed to what may be popular just now. I write with the hope that there will still be room for voices like mine. But I’ve been given an opportunity to go in another direction completely, which may work out better. I don’t know. I can say that whatever I write next will be from the heart. That’s always the best source. This is such a difficult thing to do that you really should love what you create, otherwise it can be a dreary slog.

On that age front, I went to the gym this morning and did a full workout, up to my best level. At this point, I will continue to do this until something breaks. (No going gently into any night for me.) More importantly, I am still interested. I get tired but the next day I’m looking for something to engage with.

I’m about to do a dive into World War II history (I have no idea why just now, though I did have an idea for a horror novel a few years back set during the Berlin Airlift…)

On the homefront, my father is not well and we’re counting time. He’s 92. I will have more to say about that when the time comes. I have been retired now for nearly a year and it has been an education in what I may be like going forward. I discovered back in the 1990s that I had the discipline to work at home and produce. I’m still capable. The thing is, there’s more than just writing I want to accomplish and that will require some adjustment.

Altogether, life is good. I cannot complain, although I do, and I will. Recently my mother pointed out to me that I’ve been very fortunate in that I have pretty much done what I wanted most of my life. It’s curious how when you’re in the midst of that kind of luck, it rarely feels like it, but she’s right. I’ve had only one job that I came to loathe, and my last job was wonderful beyond words. I’ve published books and told stories. I found my life partner 42 + years ago and we have a good home. I’ve done the things I wanted to do (perhaps not quite at the level I wanted to do them, but that’s getting picky) and it appears I’ll be able to continue doing them.

Why am I saying all this? Because the majority of my posts in recent years have been political, bristly, occasionally tortured, and attempts at some kind of wise observational prose about the world and people, and not always very pleasant. Personal views, certainly, but not a lot of just personal, and often not of a positive nature. I’m not a sage, far from it, and I look back occasionally at posts of the past and cringe sometimes at the naïvety or the lack of proper restraint. I think I’m better at fiction. But they stand as a record of what I thought or felt at that time. It’s easy to get into the role of curmudgeon. But once in a while, you need to just let people know how things are and what’s happening.

For those of you who have stuck by all this and will continue to read these meanderings, I very much appreciate you. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I would like there to be many more years and many more miles.

Later, then. Have a good one.

Where’s Mine?

People complaining about student loan forgiveness seem to feel there’s a fairness issue at stake. My experience suggests that about 90% of the people who lead with an “It’s not fair!” argument (as opposed to something based on justice) are disingenuous. They tend to see everything as a competition, a race, and any perceived advantage that they don’t get affects their position in the race. Forgiving student debt just means “those people” will be advanced closer to them or maybe even ahead of them and there’s no compensatory bribe on offer to put them back where they think they belong.

What never occurs to them is that the whole thing was rigged in the first place and that maybe they were screwed, too. Or maybe they know they were screwed, but can’t seem to grasp that the thing to be gotten rid of is the screwing, simply because.

I don’t know, but it’s nothing new.

To be clear, I’ve seen a lot of people who knew very well that the game was rigged who are quite pleased with even a little redress for other people. So we’re dealing with a handful (maybe) of people who are so invested in the rigged system that they can’t see their way past a sense of being unfairly handicapped and would prefer the rigging remain in place, so they have a shot at winning.

Winning what?

I don’t know. Frankly, I never did know. Life is not a race.

But boy we sure like to see it that way. Getting ahead, keeping up with the Joneses, beating the system, coming out on top, moving up in the world, winning the rat race, catching the brass ring, climbing the ladder…this is how we’ve been trained to see things and it infects every attitude we have. Some of us get over it at some point and realize that we’re being played. Some people seem to like being played. Others want to be the players. Anything that suggests leveling the playing field (another sports/competition analogy) is hateful because it looks like cheating.

Justice never enters into this except as a word used to cover the reality.

I did not go to college. There were many reasons for this, not least of them disinterest. I didn’t like school all that much and couldn’t see much value in another four years of jumping through hoops. The fields in which I have made my living, I managed to learn without higher education and all the rest I was able to indulge all on my own. Cost dissuaded me to some extent, and this was back when you weren’t likely to go into lifelong servitude to pay it off.

But society changed—our economy changed—and suddenly college was more a requirement than an add-on. The growing fields, the needs of employers, all these things necessitated more education than high school offered. In order to operate the country, we required more. Given that, it has always seemed fundamentally unfair to me that we then made people pay through the nose for the privilege of filling someone else’s requirements. (I have a very perverse attitude about this kind of thing. My first job out of high school was at a place with a dress code. I literally did not own a tie. They demanded one. I told them they could pay for it. Of course they did not. But, I argued, this is your requirement, why shouldn’t you pay for it? I won’t use the damn thing anywhere else! I met the minimum requirement by acquiring one tie and never taking it home. I left it at work and never washed it. When i left their employ, I left it behind. Petty, certainly, but still—their requirement, they should provide.)

But there are scholarships, grants, all kinds of things to offset the requirements and cover the costs. I don’t care. Because it’s not just employment involved, but class, social interaction. (I was turned down for a date once because I lacked a degree. Yes, this is probably rare, or it was then, but—is it? And why should that matter? We put too much, almost everything on that piece of paper, explicitly and implicitly, and then make it as hard as can be to get one. And the cost now suggests that many people who have managed to get one are in some way undeserving, so they will not be allowed to benefit, in even the most basic way, by being able to “get ahead” as expected.)

I have minimal problems with certain schools charging exorbitant rates—the Ivy Leagues, as they may be—as long as the basic requirements are not rendered punishingly out-of-reach. You want a Harvard education, fine, it costs more. But you just want a degree from a college to meet the requirements of society in given professions? No charge. It’s “our” requirement, after all. The individual does the learning, the name of the school has little to do with that (with certain exceptions). But then we have to be honest about the whole thing and hire according to qualification, not according to association.

The whole thing has become a money-making game that reinforces class distinctions—which we here are not supposed to have.

Damn right I’m fine with debt relief.

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Addendum 8/27/22:  When it became clear after WWII that the whole educational program being offered through things like the G.I. Bill was intended to provide for people in general (and later when racial barriers were being dismantled that barred minorities from access) there was a panic among the self-assumed Elites that the unwashed, the plebes, the commoners were about to share the same benefits and acquire the same functional credentials as the Chosen Children of the wealthy, the entire thing began to be undermined. We should remember that Governor Reagan dismantled the free university system in California, which had been working fine, but which displeased the powers that be. When the laws changed to prevent overt barriers, the only thing left to do was attack it financially and so the rise in costs, in lock-step with the diminishment in state funding, began. Characterize this any way you wish, the effect has been to erect a different set of barriers to those certain people and forces in our society feel should not be allowed to compete or share in that which presumably sets them apart. At every junction in history where a previous unquestioned assumption of inferiority or unsuitability was overturned that had kept certain people out, new “standards” were erected. One of the saddest consequences has been the debasement of the Humanities, because they do not as a rule lead to gold-plated incomes. You want to be a philosopher, fine, but if you come from a working class background and have to pay for it out of your own pocket, you will be crushed by debt for the rest of your life. In any individual instance, we can find many excuses for why what has become a global disgrace, but the aggregate effect is simply that only the few are “supposed” to get the rewards and the people in the “gutter” should stay there.

(Reagan’s ilk identified the rising sector of educated students as the source of a major pain in their collective asses because these kids knew better than to accept the bullshit and demanded change. Therefore, their opportunities to learn enough to challenge the Establishment had to be curtailed.)