Anniversary…of sorts

I dug up an old diary a few months ago.  From time to time I’ve tried to keep one of these, sometimes going so far as to try for journal status, but I just can’t seem to sustain it.  So there are these relics lying about that occasionally unearth that give me a glimpse into what daily weirdness I was into back in 19—

The 20th Century.   That’s when I did a great deal of this sort of thing.  I suppose ultimately that my own life bores me while I’m living it.  Or maybe I’m too busy living it to record it.  Whatever.  But this one is from 1988, which was a Very Important Year for me.

Here is the entry for February 20.

Paul’s Books—Billy Budd, DesCartes, ets.  Gravois Bootery.  Gym,

Well, well, well!  Call me a red-tailed gibbon!  Clarion—the fools—accepted me.  They have no idea what they’re letting themselves in for.  Nor do I.

Twenty-one years ago (yesterday, technically, but I didn’t have time to write this till today) I received my acceptance from Clarion.  As you may see from the link, they’re in San Diego now, but then it was in Michigan, MSU specifically, in East Lansing.  It was a very nerve-wracking time.  I’d sold exactly four short stories up till then, one of which had been to a pro magazine, fetching a handsome check, but never saw publication because the magazine went belly-up.  (Actually, the story was eventually published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but in an altered version.)  I was getting desperate.  I didn’t know why I couldn’t sell.  So I applied to Clarion, figuring that if they rejected me I’d give up.

They took me.  I went, I learned, I started selling stories.  Now it is 21 years later.

I’ve just finished a substantial rewrite on a novella, per request.  It’s such a thorough rewrite that it might as well be a new story.  If the editors in question take it, it will be my first new sale in a few years.  But working on it has served to remind me, viscerally, why I like writing so much.  So I’m jazzed again.  I’ll try to maintain it through more stories and a new novel or two.

So happy anniversary to me.  Clarion made a difference.  It’s a good date.

New Words

I’ve been working on a novella lately and this past week I found myself fully immersed in it.  I found the groove, so to speak, and have been barreling ahead with considerable glee.  It’s the thing about writing I most love and the thing that hasn’t been there for several months, not since I finished my historical and mailed it off in May.  Even before that it was sporadic.

But I’ve slipped into the stream on this one and I owe it to a couple of perceptive editorial remarks from the people to whom I’d like to sell it.  That part I haven’t had for years now.  The last time I receive decent editorial feedback was from the folks at BenBella, who published Remains.  They did a thorough and remarkable job editing that book and made it better than my original.

I haven’t placed much of anything in the last few years.  My numbers really suck for most of my novels and because of the tracking system now in place everyone knows it.  I’m thinking that one of these months I will pass into the oblivion of being deleted from the system, so I might get a fresh start.  But I am running out of patience for that.

One of the things I’ve had enormous difficulty with since about 2004 is short fiction.  Just haven’t been able to finish a short story.  My hope with this novella is that the block will break and I can start doing short stories again.

I tend to think in Big Ideas, and generally a short story doesn’t have the carrying capacity for them, so they kind of wallow and sink before I can bring them into dock.  This novella does has a Big Idea, but at 25,000 words it had the size to carry it.  I hope so, anyway.  I have half a dozen short stories at least in various stages of completion and I would like to have the mental space to finish them and get them out.

But for the moment, I’m having fun with a new story.  Stayed tuned.

No, um, well, You Know What Over 18!!

I have said for years that the convulsions of the Religious Right over abortion has less to do with fetuses than with sex.  Now that we have proof over time that Abstinence Only education DOES NOT WORK, these folks have decided that rather than recant they will go on an even wilder offensive by attacking university level programs.

All I can do anymore is shake my head and wonder  “Just what is it with these people?”

But what really annoys me are the many politicoes who go along with this nonsense and can’t seem to muster the nerve to tell them to, well, fuck off.  I mean, really—they can’t honestly be that numerous.

Or can they?

Reading On The Rise

According to this report, reading is on the rise in America for the first time in a quarter century.  It’s difficult for me to express how pleased this makes me.

Civilization and its discontents have been in the back of my mind since I became aware of how little reading most people do.  To go into a house—a nice house,well-furnished, a place of some affluence—and see no books at all has always given me a chill, espeically if there are children in the house.  Over the last 30 years, since I’ve been paying attention to the issue, I’ve found a bewildering array of excuses among people across all walks of life as to why they never read.  I can understand fatigue, certainly—it is easier to just flip on the tube and veg out to canned dramas—but in many of these instances, reading has simply never been important.  To someone for whom reading has been the great salvation, this is simply baffling.

Reading, I believe, is the best way we have to gain access to the world short of physically immersing ourselves in different places and cultures.  Even for those who have the opportunity and resource to travel that extensively, reading provides a necessary background for the many places that will be otherwise inaccessibly alien to our sensibilities.

A book is a significant encoding of someone’s mind.  A life, if you will, which is why I tend to see bookburning as a form of homicide (euphemistically, mind you, but that’s about how strongly I feel about it).  When you read a book—and in this instance I mean a book of fiction or memoir or essay, something written in response to a desire or need to communicate something of the self (as opposed to instruction manuels or the like)—and comprehend what is there, you are sharing something profound with another human being whom you may never—can never, sometimes—meet.  The characters live when you let them, they walk around in the imagination, they show you things and take you places and teach.

Oh, yes, they teach.  They give us the opportunity to know different kinds of human being, in different ways, and while we might not embrace those ways or people or wish to emulate them, we can know them.  Deep reading opens the world for us.

Movies and television do not do this.  Not that they can’t, mind you, but because we are passive receptors to what passes pre-digested before us, our participation—our active interrogation of the text, if you will—is barely brought into play.  Where in reading we must participate by “decoding” what is on the page and partner with the author is bringing the images to life in our own imaginations, film does all that for us.

For those who are deeply read or deeply sensitive, what can be derived from film and theater can certainly be rich in its own way, but I have found over time that those who read as much as they watch have richer reactions to what passes on the screen, have better conversations about what they have just seen, have more to bring to the piece than those who do not read.

Reading builds intellectual muscle in ways that cannot be done by other media.

This is, perhaps, mere personal prejudice, but I think not.  I think the broad, multifaceted internal lives developed by the habit of reading over time makes us better able to understand more of the world around us.

Granted, one could spend one’s life reading nothing but one kind of thing, being stuck in a rut with a single strand of literature, and thus trapping the very process which reading ought to enable…

But to not read at all seems to me a self impoverishment.  A tragedy.

So for me this NEA report is nothing but excellent news. For the first time as a reader and writer and an advocate of reading, I am hopeful that I will not be continually in a shrinking minority.

It’s a good day.

The Future On The Chopping Block…Again

I should state up front here that I really don’t have a problem ideologically with Federal Spending.  That great boogieman of right vs. left.  I pay taxes, I want things for it.  And I frankly like most of what I end up paying for.  I’d like to see priorities shift, but I don’t believe cutting the budget will accomplish that.  I’d like to see an expand space program.  I would like to see an expanding educational budget.  I would love a sensible national health care program.  I would like to see less spending on weapons systems that never get out of planning or away from prototype and I would certainly like to see less government subsidy of pointless corporate programs that would best be served by shareholders telling their boards of directors what to do with company money.  I dislike intensely public funding of sports arenas, for instance, particular for corporations that could pay for them out of petty cash.

It’s not that I desire a welfare state—I agree with many of the opponents of welfare that it tends to be destructive over time, but I disagree with them that it necessarily must be so, but we’re not going to settle that argument any time soon.  (The problems are in implementation and then a lack of any kind of support that would meaningfullly get people off the dole and self-sufficient—like child care, free health care, and jobs training.  We get those things here and there, occasionally, depending on the whims of the prevailing party, and when they are there they are shown to work, but we can’t quite get out of the mindset that tells us that these things are handouts to the undeserving, statistics to the contrary notwithstanding.)

Just so we’re clear about how I stand on government spending. Now, then.

The rhetoric that accompanied Obama’s election included much from the downsized Republicans about looking forward to working with the new president and coming to grips with national problems in the spirit of a fresh start.  However, the stimulus package—which may well be too big—has forced the Republicans to declare themselves.  We’re hearing a lot about wanting more tax cuts—almost exclusively tax cuts—in lieu of spending in the form of direct aid.  This is a Republican mantra now.  Tax cuts.  The question, of course, is really this:  what good are tax cuts when you’re already buried in debt?  Granted, it frees up (theoretically) money for critical and immediate payments, but if the idea is to put people back to work tax cuts are not the solution.  Because corporate America is mired in over-leveraged debt burdens that must be paid down before something mundane like hiring can happen.  Tax cuts, therefore, won’t have any kind of immediate impact on the jobless rate.  In time it might, depending on several other factors, the most significant of which would be a newfound corporate sense of ethics which would prevent them from continuing the pillage of their own capital for all the things that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.  Labor is at the bottom of the ladder of what they see as important—hence the tongue lashing Obama gave them for paying out bonuses while asking for federal aid.  As for working people?  What good does a tax cut do someone who isn’t paying taxes because he or she has no income?

But this was to be expected.  It is an attitude born out of the mixed priorities of what has become the Right, one of which is fiscal responsibility (I used to support Republicans on this count) the other of which is the more Libertarian view (borne of the Grover Norquist faction) that government is always the problem and must be pruned back radically.  Hence tax cuts, in order to curtail revenues in order to force the government to reduce its size and, one must realize, its influence.

This was to be expected, though.  They have to stick by their perceived brief in the hope that not all of their program of the last eight (or twenty-eight) years was rejected by the part of their constituency who switched parties to vote in Obama and Democratic majorities in both Houses.

But now we have a fairly clear statement that these folks are a new form of Ostrich.  Obama made it clear during the campaign and since taking office that he intends to put science back in the forefront of our national life.  The steady erosion of science by continual right wing gnawing since Reagan took office has left us in a bad state in relation to the rest of the world in terms even hard core Republicans must grasp—competitiveness.  The canceling of the Super Colider in Texas was bad enough, but we’ve seen all manner of sidelining of science, most especially during the Bush years, most prominently (but not exclusively) with regards to environmental science.  Basic research is down, exploratory science is struggling.  While the late and (by many) unlamented Senator Proxmire did inestimable damage to science by making it the object of ridicule and derision, the fact is that during the Fifties, Sixties, and good part of the Seventies it had been because of our national investment in Pure Research that America ended up at the vanguard of science.  The payback from NASA’s Apollo program alone in areas as disparate as meteorology and medical technology is almost incalculable.

What characterized this was the willingness to take risks.  Let scientists research what they would on the assumption that somewhere along the line something would emerge that would benefit everyone.  It was a gamble, but of a win-win vareity.  Things did result, technologies and fundamental insights that propelled our education, our understanding and, yes, our economy in ways that could not have been predicted.

The unpredictable nature of it drives certain types of people insane.

Reagan’s assumption when he took office was that if we cut out the government involvement in—well, in anything—then the private sector would move in and take up the slack.  Nice idea and on paper there was nothing wrong with it, except it didn’t happen.  (Personally, I think Reagan was one of our most gullible presidents—big business told him “Ronny, take the restraints off and we will make this country great, we will be responsible corporate citizens, we’ll do great things for America” and he believed them.  (Top be fair, in some cases those corporate entities probably did do their best, but most just entered upon the feeding frenzy deregulation permitted and we’re paying for it now.)  Reagan believed them and they took what he gave them and screwed the country.  In terms of fundamental scientific research, corporate spending on it declined fairly steadily since them.  (One of the most productive research facilities in history, Bell Labs, is pulling out of basic research (an announcement made in August 2008) after years of declining funding which left only four scientists in the institution doing any kind of pure science.)  Corporate America cannot stand paying for gambles, even when historically this gamble pays off magnificently.  (The shareholders would rather have the money in their dividend checks.)

So when Obama declared a recommitment to science, given his otherwise pragmatic vision, it was clear that he understood that in order for there to be a future, we have to look for one.  And to look for it in such a way that it will benefit us as we go.

The stimulus package included a great deal of money—minuscule compared to the overall amount—for the various science departments which have been all but strangled over the last decade.  According to this link through Panda’s Thumb, Republicans want to cut deeply into science.

The most egregious cut in this list in the excision a billion dollars—the whole stimulus allocation—for the Nation Science Foundation.  But nothing is left untouched.

The most obvious conclusion to draw, as if that had not already become clear from all the other wrangling over this, is that the Republican leadership simply doesn’t get it, that they don’t see the connection between the free and subsidized exploration of all those things coming under the heading “Science” and the growth of both economic prosperity and the human spirit.

A less obvious conclusion, and perhaps a bit on the fringe of reasonable, is that Republicans, conjoined as they are to elements in our society which have for lo these many years done everything possible to destroy our confidence in science and our attachment to its products, both intellectual and material, cannot countenance increased support of the very institutions whose pronouncements they have denied and thwarted at every turn.  It is disconcerting to see such a thorough-going denial of investment in the very fields that might—will probably, in fact almost certainly given its track record—do the most to improve our future.

But it is the future that is the enemy.  It is the certainty that it will be different and that we must change in order to live in it that disturbs what has become a large segment of the Republican Party’s natural constituency.  It is a denial of all that we must face and, more importantly, all that we must embrace in order to become what we’ve been declaring since WWII that we are—the bright beacon of freedom in the world.

The spending on infrastructure, on schools, on basic support mechanisms is being condemned by Republicans as unnecessary spending, because it is not stimulatory.  But everyone will use those things and because they won’t have to rely on some private entity to do or not do them depending on the whims of the shareholders they will be there for everyone to take advantage of.  (The interstate highway system enabled a huge spurt of economic growth once it was constructed.  The benefits to transportation allowed business to increase profits.  True, it also enabled White Flight and has created the problem of Suburban and Exurban sprawl, but that too was a spur to economic growth.  Yet critics at the time saw it as “wasteful” spending.)

There is a link in the article to the legislators who are part of this demand to shut down a potential road to a better future.  Perhaps we should gear up now to see that they are ousted in the next election cycle.

But then, maybe you think all this money for basic science is a bad idea, too.  After all, science is all about the future and the world and the universe and tells us things that make us different.  Scary.

And exciting.

Attic Thoughts

Doing the Shelfari thing has been both fun and frustrating.  I always prided myself on my memory, but it amazes me to discover just how porous it really is.  Titles keep occurring to me at odd moments now that I’ve got my hard drive working on all this recall.  Plus the annoyance of remembering titles but being unable to recall having actually read the book.

For instance, there is a host of books which were required reading in high school that I may well have gotten out of reading because I had read so much other material that the extra credit book reports forgave my lapses re the syllabus.  A Separate Peace for instance.  I know there was a session on it my sophomore year, but I don’t think I actually read it.  There are others.  And many of them I do not own anymore, so I can’t browse them (at least at the moment) to see if that triggers the memory.

Then there are novels I know very well I read but don’t have a single line from them.  Most of these are in the “classics” category.  For example, I know I read Madame Bovary but…and I have that one and as I go through it, my mind is a blank.  Willa Cather is the same way.

On the one hand, this is kind of thrilling, because it means I can reread those novels as if they were brand new to my experience.  On the other hand, do I really want to?  I have read Henry James, I know I have.  Turn of the Screw to be sure, but only the wispiest traces remain in memory.  I was left with such a foul taste from him, though, that I doubt I would want to revisit him.  There are others in that category.  Gogol.  Dostoevsky.  Solzhenitzin.  The Russians are less because I found them impenetrable than simply bleak and depressing.

On still another hand, I’ve been recalling books I had totally forgotten about until I put my mind to remembering them.  The Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy, for one thing, which I remember now with great fondness, but which hadn’t crossed my mind in 25 years.

The shelf is now over 1600.  I’ll probably ardently pursue titles until I hit 2000, then lay off for a time.  Even that would leave a great deal unremarked.  I don’t find that too shabby at all.

But perusing the lists, it is so clear where my preference lay.  It is predominantly science fiction.  No surprise, really.  But there are some classics of SF that I haven’t read, either.  A Canticle For Liebowitz, Alas, Babylon, The Left Hand of Darkness…these books are now or once were on my physical book shelf, but I simply never got around to reading them.

So much to look forward to.  I can’t afford to die till I’m a hundred at this rate.