Recently (last weekend) we attended the Nebula Awards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Actually, we went to visit our good friends, Tim and Bernadette. Tim—Timons Esaias—is an accomplished poet and a solid SF writer. You should go find his work, it will improve your mind. Bernadette, his wife and partner, is a physician and one of the finest people I’ve ever met. The gentleman with the magnificent mustache is Douglas Gwilym, whose acquaintance we had just made. And, of course, that’s Donna beside me, my sweetie.
This is the night of the reception and award ceremony, so we’re all appropriately attired. It was a fine night and the tributes to the writers and the craft and those we have lost this past year left me seriously moved. In any case, proof that we were there and that I at least can clean up well. More later.
Photograph by: Larry Ivkovich
At long last, in the fulness of time, it came to pass that the patio needed attention. Yea verily, the walkway from patio to garage lay sore in need of a makeover. The lineaments of the former had become a vexation to those of us who walk upon it daily. As can be seen and attested by this image, while in most ways decorous and even of distinctive character, the stones which we had set down to replace the joke which had lain from pad to door when we originally moved in had lost their charm. Winter especially proved awkward and we agreed that this was but an accident waiting to happen.
We’d inherited those stones from my parent when they redid the concrete around their house. They had formed a wall around a garden plot in the front of their house. Dad just wanted to pitch them. Donna immediately said we’d take them and we spent a hot summer weekend digging a trench and placing them as you see. Donna’s nephew Dan helped. I’m not sure I could do it again, certainly not in one weekend. I was proud of that walkway and it has done it’s job for over 20 years.
But it was time. Something a bit less picturesque and a lot more practical was in order. So we made our plans, got in touch with the man who did my parents’ concrete work, got a quote, and set date.
First problem. Because we’ve had a rainy spring, the date had to be flexible. As it turned out, we had a window. They showed up on a Friday, after almost a solid week of rain, to do the prep work.
Scott Schilling and two young men arrived around nine and went to work. They moved all those stones, piled them up, and started excavating. I spent the time doing other chores and some writing and occasionally emerging to document the process. (Because, like the kitchen remake, I knew I’d be writing one of these.)
It rained that day anyway, though barely. Not enough to cause a massive disruption. During the heaviest part, they sat in their truck and waited for it to pass, which it did.
Our backyard is…idiosyncratic? It has character. Over the years we’ve acquired a variety of objects which Donna has rather wonderfully incorporated. One major change this time is Coffey’s old digging pit. She hardly uses its anymore, so we had them dump the extra dirt in it and Donna went to work later remaking it.
Below is a series of shots from that first day.
The gravel laid, the forms in place, we just had to wait for another dry day to complete it. Fortunately, Sunday was gorgeous, so when they arrived Monday morning it was ready to receive the magic elixir of impenetrable solidity.
There’s something beautiful about wet, freshly-smoothed concrete. I almost wish it could have remained so gleaming. But in the rain and during winter ice, that could be dangerous.
It took them till almost noon to get it done. I had to go to work that afternoon. We did not use it for two days, despite assurances that it would be walkable by the next morning.
I almost wish we had opted to get the entire patio done at the same time, but that would have stretched the budget a bit too far. A project for a couple years from now. We will certainly use the same contractor.
Now, then, came the work to restore some semblance of order and charm to the wreck of the yard. Repurposing those stones was the first set of decisions. Some, we knew, were destined for the front of the house. I pulled up the wooden ties that had framed the small flower bed to the left of the porch. Replacing them—which was inevitable, as the bottom of the two ties had already turned to mulch—gave us a slightly larger area for flowers. I moved the stones carefully. A few of them weigh upwards of sixty or seventy pounds.
Shifting the remaining stones in the backyard was a more studied project. Some of them returned to their former positions, but now only as borders, with a trench for—yep—more flowers.
As for the extension of the patio, Coffey approves. At some point I intend to get a new grill, as we now have somewhere to put one where it can be semi-permanent and easily usable.
Just in time for the full spring bloom.
And I managed to get my improvisational bit of lawn art more permanently fixed. Donna added a touch (the dish) and things are falling into place.
Therefore, we conclude this report by admitting to be pleased with the results.
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.
Between drafts of the current project, I thought I’d relax a few minutes and do a new image. Played with this a bit…making an otherwise ordinary scene just a wee touch creepier.
Here it is, middle of January, and I haven’t done a wrap-up of 2016. Well, what can be said of such a year?
Politically, I think I have said enough. You can revisit if you wish, especially via the links to my favorite posts back just a little way. Personally and professionally…
I finished a new novel. It is currently in the hands of my agent. As time passes and I hear nothing the usual swarm of doubts begin to devil me. It’s probably not as good as I hope, possibly not as bad as I fear, but if things run according to form it won’t much matter. I continue to write in a manner that I’ve long characterized as half a bubble off.
Which has me contemplating where to go. I’ve decided to devote 2017 mostly to short fiction. I have one more novel to finish, the final in a trilogy I feel I’ve been living with forever, which my agent feels very positive about. Since the first two books are done and have not yet found a home, I’m not in as huge hurry to complete the third one, although of late I’ve been having some stray thoughts on where to take it that are the beginnings of an itch to finish it. Regardless, I am committed to short fiction for the time being. I’ve already written two new stories and I am working to complete a novelette that’s been sitting stewing for a bit over a year now.
I declared a goal to myself. Before I die I want to have published 100 short stories. Which means I have about 40 to go. It’s as arbitrary as any goal, I suppose. I have roughly 20 stories in my files in various stages of completion, and maybe 10 more that are done but require revision. A few have been the rounds and not found homes, so maybe I should take them apart and put them together again, only better. I have one I know that I have written four versions of to completion and can’t decide which one works best (or at all).
All of which prompts contemplation of the worth of doing what I do. Yeah, I tend to do that a lot. But one reality (out of many) is the fact that I am now 62. Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up has become somewhat problematic.
Along those lines, I had a small revelatory experience in 2016 that has been working on me since. I have been privileged to work (day-job) with some extraordinary and talented people. One of them is a new novelist, her first book came out last summer. It’s a terrific novel, I recommend it (Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own), and she and I have had many conversations about writing and publishing. One day when I was complaining about the dismal condition of my career, she brought me up short by telling me she thought I was very successful. “You have twelve books out.” It caused me to reassess my own metrics regarding “success.” I’m still reassessing, but I have decided to stop sulking about it. These things really are relative outside certain narrowly-defined parameters.
When I attended WorldCon in Kansas City last August, I did so with a different attitude and enjoyed the whole thing much more.
My main concern now has to do with finishing the work I want to do. I’ve got that one more novel I mentioned above, but I also have one great big epic I want to write—it’s all in the back of my head, waiting for me to get around to—and a few ideas for other books I’d like to do. Setting the 100-story goal is part of that. Finishing. Leaving a legacy.
No, I’m not dying. I in good health. I had a whole round of tests last year. I’m fine. Still going to the gym, still doing my 100-push-ups-a-day, still being a taunt to the young guys at the gym. (You’re how old? No!) But I’d be a fool to look at life the way I did 30 years ago. I don’t have time to waste.
Of course, I will waste time. It’s built in. Humans do that. We should learn to enjoy it.
Along those lines, though, things have gotten to be a bit better in that we can waste time on things we like more than in previous years. The situation that has bogged us down for the last four (which I won’t discuss here, but my close friends know about it) has reached the point of being naught but an occasional annoyance. We’ve been cleaning house, relaxing, getting to the point where we are allowing ourselves to do things like go to the movies if we choose or just sit together reading. The pressure has eased. Life seems a bit broader.
As long as we don’t obsess over the news.
No politics here, I said. Although just a comment, that the way things have come to pass, we seem to have witnessed a nationwide example of the efficacy of Dunning-Kruger. (I’ll just leave that here, unexplained for the time being.)
Culturally, I feel beaten about the head and stomach with all the deaths. The two that hit me hardest were Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. They, among others, provided the soundtrack of my youth. Their music still thrills me. Much imitated, but nothing to compare. I wasn’t happy when Umberto Eco died. David Bowie didn’t go down too well for me, either.
2017 doesn’t seem to be starting off too well itself, but…
All in all, though, 2016 has turned out to be a year in which I began to be comfortable with what I’ve done, who I am, and where I might be going. It helps to have a good partner, and I have that. Donna and I celebrated 36 years together last spring. Between us we have tackled the many-hued exigencies of timeless conundrums and come out the other side of various rabbit holes with our fluffy whites intact (if a bit rumpled and smudged). I appreciate her, in the full meaning of the word.
I have no idea where this year is going. I feel we have gotten onto a space mountain ride. We may come out on the other side of the galaxy.
One thing, though: there will be more stories. It only ends when the stories stop.
I’m giving my office a thorough resort (long overdue). Also, I’m attempting to catch up on sleep (likewise long, long overdue) and taking the first few months to relearn the art of short story (so overdue as to almost not be doable). In the meantime…the other night, coming home from work, the city was ensconced in a thick fog, and for once I pulled over to do some images. So while I am endeavoring to straighten out the physicality of my existence, for your edification…
Let us hope for more clarity as the year goes on.
2016 was a thorough-going challenge to a sane hominid’s equilibrium, regardless how you try to contextualize it. Picking the “best” posts from such a year reveals a litany of political views, deaths, and photographs designed to distract from the magma-flow of WTF that worsened as the year continued.
Still, some good things happened. I’ll try to do a more cogent overview later. For now, my “favorite” posts of the year.
The last couple of months descended into escapism and disbelief, for evident reasons. Stay tuned for more.