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Annual Pose

Okay, so maybe this is going to be a thing. I think I put my vanity in a box and on a shelf because I don’t wish to be vain. I am, somewhat. I am saved from being an ass about it by being basically too lazy to really  attend to it, at least to the extent of making myself an object of derision. But it’s there, I admit it.

Most of my vanity has to do with the interior. I want to be a certain kind of person. I wish people to see the kind of person I’m trying to be. And I want what they see to be genuine. Maybe “vanity” is the wrong word, since too often it attaches to matters of surface only. And maybe I use that word to caution myself to pay attention to what matters.

In any case, I work at maintaining certain standards, both physically and mentally. I am not as successful at any of it as I would like to be, but it’s the journey, right? Whatever.

I turned 63 this year. I cannot quite get my head around that. In another generation I would be two years from falling into an actuarial expectation of being dead.  I would be spent, replete with health problems, fading.  When I was a child, 65 was the age at which people died.  Today?

But that’s not even the weirdest part.  The weird part is the history that I have personally lived through, knowing it as history, and being in a position to represent some of that history.  The other weird part is that, intellectually, I still see myself as somewhere around the mid to late 30s.

As I say, weird.  However, I’ve been posting annual updates like this–not as regularly as perhaps I should, but I see now that it might be a useful thing.

So. This morning, after coming home from the gym, I asked Donna to take a couple of pictures.

 

 

I’m weighing in at round 160.  I no longer bother getting on a scale.  I go by how well my clothes fit and how out-of-breath I get running down the street.  (Yes, I occasionally break into a sprint when I’m walking the dog, just because.  I can still do three blocks at a good run.)

The hair is thinner, grayer, the wrinkles a bit deeper, especially when I’m facing into the sun.

I feel tired a great deal of the time.

But aside from working out regularly, I work a full-time job, still play music, and I’m still trying to make the best-seller lists.

And chores.  Don’t forget chores.

But–most importantly–I still feel like I have options.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A writer.

A photographer.

A musician.

A friend.

Someone people might possibly be glad to know.

 

The thing is, how to know when or if any of that is achieved?  I have to be comfortable in my own skin first.  And my skin is…

Well, not, perhaps, for me to say.  But I have every intention of sticking around long enough to find out.

So this is 63.

Let me post another photograph, to follow, of something maybe a little more interesting.  (Remember, one of the things I want to be is  photographer…?)  And leave off with something more abstract to contemplate.

Thank you all for putting up with me all this time.

 

 

 

A Picture Instead

The last several weeks have been alternately nerve-wracking, inspirational, depressing, too-cool-for-school, enervating, elating, and disappointing. The drain on resources has left me unable to judge overall.  Consequently, I’m being very chary what I write here.  So I’m going to put what energy I have into some fiction.

In the meantime, here’s a new picture.  Enjoy.

 

The Persistence of Civilization

I wanted to get this down before the thoughts and feelings of yesterday fade and I start to over-intellectualize everything.

Civilization did not end yesterday. Just in case anyone failed to notice. Nibiru did not slam into the Earth as some predicted. We did not throw down to North Korea (yet). And there remains football.

And though here in my hometown, the local politics have of late been strained, to say the least, we are not descending into mindless brutality.

Let me offer the picture of two throngs of people gathered to make cultural statements.

Yesterday the first of what we all hope will be an annual event occurred in the Central West End of St. Louis.  Bookfest.  A section of one street was closed off, there were vendors on the street, a stage where live music was performed all day, and author events held in a number of local establishments. The whole thing got started Friday night with a presentation by Sherman Alexie at the Sheldon Theater in our theater district. It continued then with events for kids, teens, and adults of all ages, featuring over forty of the best writers currently working. Poets, novelists, essayists, we had them all.

And people came.

Hundreds. Venues were filled to listen, to partake, to soak in the rarefied and uplifting gestalt of written arts, performance, and conversation.

We unveiled a new commemorative statue in front of Left Bank Books to William S. Burroughs, completing the four-star authors corner which already included Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, and T.S. Eliot.

People came to hear writers talk about craft and content, tell stories, read from their work, engage in the carpentry of culture.

In other words, Making Civilization.

It was amazing.

In other parts of the metropolitan area, others gathered, as they have been gathering since last week, to protest injustice. The response has been considerably different, and some people see this as evidence of the end of our civilization. Maybe not totally, but protest to them is viewed as cracks in the dam, as if civilization is a pool that must be contained by thick walls and held in place, immobile. Immaculate.

I humbly suggest that the protests and our gathering to celebrate the literary arts are manifestations of the same work—making civilization.

Gathering decorously to listen to speakers and then sagely nod, basking in the gloaming of nuanced cultural expression is fundamentally part of angry protest condemning abuse of power and a demand for justice. You cannot, ultimately, have one without the other—that is, Civilization without Justice—and you can have neither of those if people will not show up to build them.

I participated in yesterday’s festivities, I was on the agenda as a writer, but I also work for Left Bank Books and spent a good part of the day doing the business of facilitating the events.  I am now adding what I can to the holism that must be felt and recognized in order for our civilization to grow and become better and richer.

It is easy to watch the news and perhaps think maybe fleeing to the country, stockpiling for the coming Dark Age, fearing the people two blocks over who we’ve never met are all rational responses to a process of inevitable decay.  It’s a very myopic response.  Because while the one goes on, the other things continue and grow and make us better. We are not one thing, even if  we are all in this together, and when someone says we have a right to assemble to buy books, listen to music, and enjoy the arts but not to condemn injustice, then a major truth is being overlooked.

Or never recognized in the first place.

I was part of the discussion on science fiction.  My copanelists—Charlies Jane Anders, Ann Leckie, Annalee Newitz—all spoke to the life-affirming, onward-building, ever-optimistic nature of science fiction, which says tomorrow Will Be and more often than not Will Be Better.  But it’s not just SF—it’s the fact that people came to drink from the font of art all day long. That people showed up who not only knew who Sherman Alexie is but also who William S. Burroughs was and who responded to the resonance we all create by the work we do.

The world is not going to end.  We’re in an awkward, in many ways ugly and incomprehensible period right now, but in the mix we have light and joy and deep connection.

Celebrate.

Usual Suspects

Next year, it will have been 30 years since I attended Clarion, the science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop, in East Lansing, on the campus of Michigan State.  It has since moved to San Diego.

While there, I not only acquired–somehow–the requisite skills to write fiction, but also a cadre of lifelong friends with whom I share a bond that is unique. I can think of only one other instance where I made a friend so fast and so solidly. But I have several from this six week experience.  Kelley Eskridge, Nicola Griffith, Brooks Caruthers, Andy Tisbert, Peg Kerr…others…and this guy.

Image courtesy SLCL
At the St. Louis County Library, 2017

 

Daryl Gregory.

Daryl is crazy.  He writes fantastic fiction, after all.  Also Fantastic Fiction.  Sharp, funny, erudite…snappy dresser on occasion. He was at the St. Louis County Library recently, hawking his new book, Spoonbenders.  He’s a pretty good hawker, too.  He might have had a career in carny had actual words on pages not grabbed his attention.

Anyway, two of the denizens of a special bunch.

Hi Daryl.

A Note On Personal Taste

I had a conversation yesterday with a coworker about music that ended up going into some places I didn’t like. We have these faux clashes from time to time, they’re always–always–done with great good humor and the self-awareness that we’re just, you know, funnin’.  But this time I actually found myself getting a bit worked up.

It was about music. He took exception to my categorical dismissal of punk as essentially garbage. Fair enough. Superlatives are always wrong. Do I hate punk? Hate is a strong word. I loathe it. I find its self-justifications back in the day one with all anti-intellectual movements.  The amount of punk I’ve listened to, while small, has yet to offer anything that might suggest there’s any actual ability on display. The whole point of it back then was to loudly and hideously repudiate progressive rock and the associated slickly produced pop that borrowed many of the aesthetic trappings of prog even while it very decidedly was not prog.  Along comes little Johnny Rotten to make a counter-statement and reduce the caliber of rock back to some basement level from-the-gut roar that’s supposed to be what rock is all about in the first place, but hell, even in its infancy rock’n’roll could boast better musicians on their worst day than what styles itself as punk on its best.

That is my opinion.  I’m an Old Fart, so deal with it.  I listen to music for the delightful things it does among my synapses and my synapses are 62 years old and impatient with three chords, a bridge, and a lot of disingenuous screeching. I long since moved over to jazz because I want good playing, nuance, sophistication, and tonal qualities that surprise in a delightful way.

Had punk come out of the adolescent desires of a bunch of wankers who couldn’t play well but still wanted to be ROCK STARS, I probably wouldn’t feel quite to strongly about it.  But it didn’t.  (Maybe some of them came out of this, but they were swept under the tent of…)  It came with a manifesto and set about trying to wreck a cultural aesthetic that was pushing toward some kind of transcendence.

Pompous?  You bet.  And a lot of progressive rock was over-the-top, arpeggios and glissandos for the sake of showing off.  Partly, this was a consequence of the way such industries work, always demanding the next new thing that sounds pretty much just like the last thing that sold a gillion records and sold out stadiums for umpteen months.  The money machine driving variety for its own sake and to hell with any kind of genuine artistic sense.  Hell, I would have cut loose with something completely Other under those pressures.

But while that is understandable, what I object to is the abandonment of skill and attention to the actual musicality that came with punk.  I dislike punk because, basically, it sounds terrible.

To me.

Now, my friend started offering examples of “good” punk and it was interesting.  Because the examples offered were of bands that had a sense of that musicality and, aside from poor vocals, had moved away from the primal hammering of early punk toward something more…nuanced?  They…progressed.  They got tired, I suppose, of just channeling dissatisfaction and rage and realize that their instruments could actually be used to make…you know…music.

I loathe country and western as well, but I would never say that those artists have no ability or talent.  They can play!  It seems a shame that so often they use their considerable ability to pretend that they can’t, but I respect them as musicians, I just don’t care for their product.

I suppose I am unfair about it, but I can’t help it.  I really despise punk rock.  Not for the impulses that drove it but for the categorical rejection of musicality aimed at bringing down genuine musicality.  I get rage.  But we did that in the Sixties and it sounded good!

Except for some of the singing.  I have to admit, the whole aesthetic of the singer-songwriter who’s gonna do his or her stuff whether they can carry a tune or not never impressed me.  It seemed for a while we were getting over that nonsense, but here comes punk bringing it all back with a vengeance.  “I don’t wanna practice!  I don’t wanna take voice lessons!  I don’t wanna have to be good!  I just wanna be a STAR!”  Or, so they claimed, anti-stars.  Which still required an audience, and the larger the better, which means a following, which means popularity of some sort, which makes you, if you get enough of it, let’s see…a Star.

I just wanted to get some of that off my chest.  Thank you for your indulgence.

Past As Door To Future

Recently I learned that the church I attended as a child is holding its last service in September. Emmaus Lutheran Church, on Jefferson Avenue. I say the “church I attended” with a certain degree of disingenuousness. I attended because I had to.  I went to the grade school affiliated with it and every Wednesday morning all the students were ushered into the church to hear services. There were three pastors I recall.  The first was a Reverend Wilson.  I didn’t know much about him because he wasn’t there very long after I started at the school. I recall a slim man with salt-and-pepper hair and a ready smile.  He could have been 40 or 50, but I seem to remember a wife that looked on the young side, so he might have been prematurely gray.  He left and duties were shared between the considerably older (and semi-retired) Pastor Summers and the school principle, Mr. Oberman. They didn’t get a permanent replacement for Wilson till after I had left.

I rarely went on Sundays. The only time I did so regularly was during a short time when I had a girlfriend, a classmate, and I went with her.  In hindsight, obviously I wasn’t going to be edified.

I remember being fervent in my faith at the time.  (For a brief period, I even testified to strangers, on the street.)  I know, that may sound like a contradiction, but even then I did not equate faith with regular attendance.

Well after leaving Emmaus I did a personal assessment of the things I took from there. It should be born in mind that my feelings about the place are mixed thoroughly with my memories of going to school there and the times I went through, so it is difficult to tease apart the church bits from the rest.  It may be pointless to do so in any case. Halfway through high school I understood that the only thing I wanted from that time and that place was distance.  Judge me if you wish, but all I got from Emmaus Lutheran School and Church was a deep sense of self-loathing and confusion and a bitter resentment over how much time and energy was and would be required to get all that protestant hellfire and guilt out of my brain.

My sense of personal shame was as much a result of my peers showing me time and again how little they thought of me as it was the thunderous Old Testament retributive doctrines, but since we were all being handed the same things it may be that the whole experience is the point.  What I learned there was a pervasive intolerance.

I had one brief interaction with them years after leaving, which resulted in my threatening a lawsuit for harassment. That did the trick and I never heard anything from them again. That was desired and appreciated.

The school closed first, of course.  I believe the building was sold.  Something is going on in it anyway and it is not parochial school classes. (I think.)  I was surprised to learn last week that the church had still been in business.  Like old actors you haven’t seen anything about in years and think are dead, I was surprised to hear that services were still being held.  Despite the tenacity of the congregation, I am not surprised they are shutting it down.  Demographics.  People move, die, neighborhoods change.  The demographics mutate and unless an institution is willing to change with them, they do not survive.  My memory suggests that this was not a parish interested in modernizing.  Maybe they tried.

But it is also a fact that traditional churches of almost any denomination are struggling.  This is neither new or uncommon. That Emmaus had lasted this long is a testament to persistence.

Some may feel they failed in their mission. No, probably not. They simply failed to adapt their mission to new conditions and needs. That particular manifestation of the Lutheran Church just faded out.

Plus, no doubt, they ran out of money.

I would never have known anything about this had I not been added (without permission, as often happens) to a Facebook group of fellow classmates.  I hadn’t heard a peep out of them for however long I’d been a member until this shattering news came across Messenger.  Good heavens, now that it’s too late, they’re all shocked.  Maybe. I could have happily gone on knowing nothing about it. But I lurked on the thread for a few days, watching the comments, and then quietly left the group without saying a word.  Why say anything?  I don’t care but there’s no reason to rain on their party on that account.  I didn’t want to be the curmudgeon who tells the truth about Uncle Phil at the funeral, so to speak.

But I do have one friend from those days who made a point of contacting me about it.  Even though we had talked about my experiences and feelings about the place for literally decades, he was offended by my indifference.  Not, I think, over the religious aspect, but over the nostalgia.  Be that as it may, I was once again made to feel a smidgeon of guilt over my lack of interest, and here it is going on half a century since I left that place and the caul of it still clings.  Amazing.

I know other Christians who  came up through their churches in wholly different conditions and look at me oddly about this, but I came away from Emmaus with a burden of guilt based on the whole “you are a worthless smear of shite on the heel of god and steeped in sin for which there is no cure and unless you beg, beg beg forgiveness the fiery pit of perdition awaits” school of religious behavioral conditioning. I was furious with them for years.  Life is hard enough without being made to feel that way by people supposedly preaching love.

I also came out of it with a more subtle but in some ways worse set of cultural biases that reinforced a White Christian West is the Best attitude that relegated anyone who didn’t accept that view to a lesser status, the status of the benighted who require “saving.”  This is, bluntly, imperialist, racist in many cases, certainly a view soaked in the kind of privilege that, to take one example of many, saw the decimation of native American cultures.

And for a short while it acted as a set of filters through which alternate views had a hellish time getting through.

All these things clogged my brain like taffy and it took a long time to flense the pathways.  They may not be entirely cleaned out to this day. The only part of that period of education for which I am grateful, at least as it concerns my intellectual development, was the opportunity it afforded my father and I to engage in intense quasi-Socratic dinner table dialogues that eventually spanned far more than just what I was taught in Bible studies that day.  (I did take some measure of delight in asking uncomfortable and mostly unanswered questions in class.)

My subsequent studies in religion and theology left me even less enamored of Lutheranism, but this is nothing special.  I have little use for any organized, institutionalized religion.  They are all of them built by men for the purposes of men and to pursue those purposes they need money and money displaces the mission in time.  (I choose my adjectives purposefully.)

Emmaus served one purpose for me—it catapulted me out of the narrow chute of parochial thinking.  It was not the result they would have approved.

I was already reading science fiction then.  My 5th grade teacher, a rangy man with flame red hair, told me it was a waste of time.  When I asked why, he informed me that all those space stories were worse than fabrications, because there was nothing else Out There.  No aliens, no other civilizations, nothing.  All that Up There had been made by his god for our edification.  It was just there for us to look at and admire.

Emmaus showed me the door out.  On the other side was a future.  Several futures.  One of them was mine.  I look back as seldom as I can.

Just in case anyone is interested.

How Doctor Who’s Sex Change Explains Everything

Heavy sigh.

Seriously? People are getting exercised over this? I suppose these will be some of the same people who will come out in angry revilement if the next James Bond really is a black man.

There’s a certain space wherein this kind of angst is perfectly acceptable.  Private conversations with people who share the same interests and have Opinions about the condition of a favorite bit of entertainment and how it would be if certain changes were made.  Three or four of you get together over beers (or floats, depending) and pizza and spend an hour or two reconstructing the whole æsthetic as you would have it.  This is good, healthy use of imagination and the application of ratiocination over something that is fun and has no real impact on anything else. The relative merits of various incarnations of the Doctor (or Bond) is a legitimate question within the confines of a small subject relating to art and storytelling and critical appreciation.  Same kinds of questions apply when a reboot of an old film or tv show is in the works or when a dead author’s work is licensed out for new books.  We flex our gray cells and participate in a way in the creative process.  We can draw lessons from such interactions.

But when someone, like a John C. Wright, weighs in to tell us how this is all part of the feminization of civilization at the expense of masculine role models and that civilization itself is at risk because after 12 incarnations of a fictional character who is also an alien being several centuries old the people in charge decided to give a female version a try, and a cadre of spoiled, semi-privileged misanthropes go on a tantrum in agreement, condemning the change and anyone who might like it to the nether regions of Hell…

Get a life.

If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it.  You can go back and rewatch the umpteen seasons already available (you will anyway, probably). You have several options here.  You can even discuss—discuss, as in have conversation, engage discourse, exchange opinions—the merits of it among yourselves or others. What you don’t get to do is tell other people how they’re about to bring on the end of the universe because they like something you don’t.

Really, that’s going just a bit far, don’t you think?

This is the flip side of insisting that everyone must have an opinion about something, even if it’s something of zero interest to them.

We’re talking about art now.

The fact is, there’s room for all opinions, as long as we remember they are just that—opinions.

This is one of the places wherein we learn to play nice with people who disagree with us.

But a lot of people don’t know how to do that anymore.  Maybe they never did.  But they also never had access to such incredible amplification systems before.

At it’s base, though, this is what a certain kind of privilege looks like.  It’s taking a position that what I believe is the absolute Norm and anything that deviates from it is unacceptable.  We can’t have a female Doctor Who because it runs counter to the way I want the universe to work, and what is it with these girls anyway, trying to shove their way into something they don’t fit? They have perfectly good heroes of their own that are just as good as mine, so they should leave mine alone!

Sound familiar?  If it doesn’t, that may be symptomatic of the problem.

We see this time and again when a group previously thrown a bone by society asks for more respect and society, or the arbiters thereof, look at them like they’re being selfish and demanding something undeserved.  In reality, the most vocal opponents have been skirting by on the earned privilege of others for ages, and when according something like equality to a group that has never had it before is presented to them they realize, in their bones, that they just might not be able to compete on a level playing field and everything must be done to convince the world that everything as it has been is meant to be.  Because, damn, what if that group turns out to be better than us?

Well, tough. The fact is, fanboy, sitting there on your couch feeling one with the Superbowl Star because you bought the jersey and cheer the team and you are, somehow, the same as that quarterback because you both have testicles, you can’t compete with the standard model you already feel you own.  You don’t get to claim superiority because someone else can do all that shit that presumably only males can do.

Or white people.

This is instructive, really.  The response to the change came before the first episode aired.  Among those screeling anthrophobes so unhinged at the idea that the Doctor no longer has a penis (if “he” ever did, which is an interesting question in itself from a purely science-fictional standpoint, since the Doctor is Gallifreyan and may well have a completely different sexual arrangement) and now has, gasp, a vagina (again a presumption), it is not so much that they ever identified with the Doctor but that, on some level, they possessed identity because of the Doctor.

Here’s where I start to have problems with this whole process. Are you drawing inspiration from the idea of the role model—brains, ability, character traits—or are you hitching a ride on all that by hitching your ego to the one thing you don’t have to do anything to achieve to be “like” the role model?  To say “I want to be like that character” is to make a commitment, however small or temporary, to doing some work toward.  To say “I am like that character” because you happen to share certain physical similarities is to borrow a sense of self-worth that you haven’t earned.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you keep it in perspective.  As long as you know that, really, you aren’t anything like that character but might occasionally pretend to be, in your own head, your dreams, or in a bit of cosplay, and you only pay homage because you think that character is cool.  Some of the cool might rub off.  But that fact is these things change.

How important is it that what may be the least important aspect of a character remain constant and unchangeable just so your shortcomings stay neatly hidden away behind an act of mental pretense?

None of this would rise to a level requiring a response had it not become evident that as role model, The Doctor has failed for these poor, disheartened misogynists.  Failed in that the essential message of the Doctor didn’t get through, didn’t translate, didn’t manifest.  The whole point of the regeneration, aside from need to explain all the new actors, is that what you are on the inside matters infinitely more than the plumbing. And no gender has exclusive rights to the interior. The Doctor moves from one incarnation to the next, changing, becoming different, yet always bringing along the most important things, which have nothing to do with anatomy.  In that way, inadvertently or not, the Doctor has been a role model for people, not boys.

Discussing narrative consistency, the needs of logical drama, the pros and cons of story and character arc choices, all that is one thing, and legitimate.  But that’s to do with the interior, because you already have a character who transforms from one person into another as an essential element of the interior.  Having already established that and had it accepted as part of the way this thing works, to go off on a tear when the transformation doesn’t conform to your limits is small-minded and disingenuous, especially when you couch your complaints in some variation of requiring a role model for gender identity when that was never an essential aspect of the character in the first place, mainly because it’s an alien.

In other words, the shock is all about you, not the character.  Quite possibly there’s always been an attendant fantasy about the Doctor getting it on with the Companions, which now becomes incommensurable with certain neuroses when it might be a female Doctor taking her pick of male companions—or, for the sake of consistency, still doing so with the females.  That opens a whole other door of unmanageable unfathomables, I suppose.  What, the Doctor not only a woman but a lesbian?  Or just bi?

But according to canon, the Doctor never did do that, and we have the fey thread with River Song to even suggest a sexual attachment, and she wasn’t a Companion, and—

Rabbit holes can be fun, certainly, but be careful that they don’t start in your own fundament.

Civilization will not end.  The Doctor will survive.  As for role models, the Doctor has been serving as one for People since the beginning.  This will be just more of the same.

And that is about all I have to say about that.

I’ve got some timey-whimey shit to think about now.

(Oh, the title?  How does all this explain everything?  Well, think about it.  Taking issue with things just to have a snit because you’re uncomfortable…well, look around.)

A Message From Florida

For anyone who can spot it and decipher it.  (Yes, this is frivolous, yes, it was fun, yes, sometimes I have no deep thoughts.)

I put up a new gallery of images from our trip.

One of the things we did since returning was go see Santana at the Fox.  Stunning show.  Carlos has always been one of my favorite musicians.  His sound…well, I can’t get enough of his guitar sometimes.  But this night.  My ghod, what a performance!   I’ve seen Santana more than a couple of times and they have never been better.  If I never see another major show like this, I would, I think, be content.  The emotions wrung out of me during the show…

Anyway, we noted that Hamilton is going to be there next year.  Donna expressed interest, so while we waited for the doors to open I pulled up tickets on my phone.

We shan’t be going to see Hamilton.  Not at those prices.  We’ll wait for the dvd.  (Though it would be very cool to see it live.)

Being now in the midst of our annual sauna, I have plenty to do indoors.  So I’ll leave you with another photo just for grins.  Stay cool.