The Ancient Past

Over the weekend my mother presented us with something that surprised, pleased, slightly embarrassed, and produced a slew of other less-definable reactions.  Mothers do this sort of thing, I’m told.  We have no children to whom we might have inflicted this on, so I’m unable to say what must go through a parent’s mind on such occasion.

But it’s sweet and important and after my initial “What the hell…” reaction I was really very pleased.  She came out with a big file folder full of “stuff” from my grade school years.  Among the items were class portraits and…well…


  Yes, this is me, circa 1965.  Note the three-piece suit?  I was very much into my James Bond period at this time and dressing well was part of it.  Obviously I didn’t wear a suit every day—this was special—but when I did, I took Sean Connery as my model and did it up right.

Of course, I didn’t really know how to wear it.  Posture was still a work-in-progress and my hair has only ever been in control one year, about two years after this when I went through my heavy Brylcreem phase, with pompadour and everything.

And of course note the smirk.  I have no idea what I was thinking at the time, to produce such an expression, but doubtless it had little to do with what was going on around me.  Doubtless I was trying to exude some semblance of cool, something I’ve never possessed in any measurable degree, but in my own head I certainly was.

Now here is the next year’s version—same school, mind you, Emmaus Lutheran School.


Note the sartorial change.   This would have been my Man From U.N.C.L.E.  phase—that or Lost In Space—and turtlenecks were the fashion of the moment.  Now this I likely would have worn most days.  I had some notion then that clothes made the boy, hopefully into the version of the boy desired.  Illya Kuryakin cool, someone not to mess with, in the know, capable and maybe a touch dangerous.

Yeah, right, with that face.  Dangerous.  Uh huh.  Cute kid, isn’t he?  In 1966 I would have been 11 or 12, depending on the time of year this was taken, and I don’t recall that anymore.  I look at that face now and I wonder what happened to that kid.  He actually looks happy.  And I suppose most of the time I was fairly happy.  Not in school, though, but I learned to play a part, and I was playing one there, I’m sure.  The pictures were always for that, I remember, the chance to get down in the record what I thought I was and what I wanted to be.  It never worked, I always ended up looking like any other hapless kid, goofily unaware, and absurdly pleased to be getting my picture taken.

But that smirk…that, I think, stayed with me.  Take a look at this one from almost 30 years later.


A friend shot this for me as a promo image for the writing career I was convinced I was about to have.  You can still kind of see that kid there, cocky, a little divorced from reality, and somehow knowing something the photographer or the audience doesn’t.  A bit more practiced, obviously, and the freckles are gone.  In a way I kind of miss the freckles.  (For many years I actually found freckles erotic—I’d had a couple of girlfriends who had them in ample supply, fair-skinned and somehow the freckles just…anyway.)

Now, along with the pictures, I found in my mother’s file a couple of report cards.  Mind you, this was from a parochial school, and for the most part I was unsurprised.  I was a poor student.  Mostly Cs and C-s.  The surprising grades were in Religion, which generally were Bs and As.  I tell people when it comes up that at one time I was a righteous little christian and evidently it showed in my classroom performance.

What else? There was one composite, one of those sheets with thumbnails of the whole class, and I was asked if I remembered them all.  This was the 4th Grade and I did amazingly well.  I think I named 80% of them.  There were a few I didn’t recognize, and a couple I did but could not put names to.

There were also merit badges and such from my Boy Scout days.  I didn’t do well in that, either.  I had a merit badge in fire safety, marksmanship, basketweaving (yes, basketweaving—don’t ask), first aid, and a couple others, plus achievement patches from state Jamborees.  I’ll tell you about those sometime—the second one I attended was cause for me quitting the scouts.

It felt more like a record of someone else’s life, to be honest.  Not me.  I’ve worked to distance myself from that kid in a lot of ways.  He did not impress me at the time, though he hid it well.  But I have to wonder how much is still in here, still influencing, still informing who I am and what people see.  I mine my own past for material to build stories with and I have utilized my childhood often.  I am still surprised sometimes by what I find.

Books, 2011

It seems unlikely I’ll finish another book before this Sunday—if I do it will probably be Stefanie Pintoff‘s second Simon Ziele mystery, A Curtain Falls.  I read the first in the series, In The Shadow of Gotham, not too long ago and enjoyed it.  It’s a period mystery, set in 1905, and features a progressive police detective from New York—Ziele—who teams up with an amateur criminologist, Alistair Sinclair, who is attempting to construct a science of criminal behavior.  Ms. Pintoff avoids many pitfalls by keeping the level of expertise firmly locked in 1905 and Sinclair makes as many if not more wrong conclusions as right, but it was an entertaining piece of work and the evocation of 1905 New York was excellent.  Somewhat more engaging than a similarly period series by Rhys Bowen, the Molly Murphy mysteries, which are also rich in period detail, but a bit more of a stretch about an Irish immigrant who falls into the detective business rather by accident and then tries to make a go of it. These are set during and after the McKinley presidency and one book even deals directly with his assassination.  For a peek into the more bohemian parts of New York, they are wonderful.  Ms Bowen sells the conceit well, but once you put one of them down you have to wonder just how likely it would be.

I found myself reading a lot of mysteries this past year.  As I’ve been moving into that genre—two of the novels in the hands of my new agent are mysteries, one a historical, the other contemporary, and I have every intention of continuing them as series (and even the alternate history is largely a mystery thriller)—I decided I needed to become better acquainted with what’s being done.  I read a couple of the more obvious ones—Laura Lippmann and Tess Gerritsen made the list, as did a couple of Michael Connelly’s and one James Patterson—but I also found some less obvious ones (at least to me).

One series I’ve become quite taken with is Margaret Maron‘s Deborah Knott series, beginning with Bootlegger’s Daughter.  I’ve read eleven of these, all this past year.  They are charming.  Deborah Knott is the only daughter of a man who was once the biggest bootlegger in North Carolina and adjoining states.  He’s out of the business—sort of—and she has become an attorney.  By the end of the first novel she’s decided to run for a local judgeship and through the rest of the series she is a judge.  This is of the “stumble into murders” kind of cozy mystery writing.  It’s as much about the people of the area and the history as it is about solving a murder and the first-person narrative is comfortable and evocative.  I found myself devouring one of these over a weekend like popcorn.

I also continued reading Laurie King’s Mary Russell books, ending this year with The Pirate King, which is a comedy.  Not quite as successful as the rest of the series, but not bad.  I caught up on her Kate Martinelli novels, too.

Among the other mysteries this past year I read another of Cara Black‘s Paris mysteries featuring Aimee LeDuc, private investigator.  This one was set on the Ile St. Louis and I read it as much for that as for the mystery, since I have upcoming scenes in one of my novels set there.  If you like Paris and you like tough female detectives of the Honey West pedigree, these are worth the time.  (I recall the first one of these I read annoyed me because it involved a WWII Occupation mystery.  Some of this is becoming a stretch by now—these people are getting ancient and dying and I have to wonder how credible contemporary plots concerning survivors from 1942 can continue to be, but…)

I mentioned I read a James Patterson.  I’ve been hearing so much about this guy that I decided I had to read one.  I won’t even mention which one, it was terrible from the first chapter.  Cliched writing, facile plotting, and predictable…everything.  I put it down wondering, what is supposed to be so great about this guy?  But he comes out of a marketing background and the sheer volume he produces—much of it now with other writers—must simply overwhelm the public.

However, both Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly did not disappoint, although in Lehane’s case the level of mayhem seemed borderline cartoonish.  Nevertheless, he held my attention, quickened my pulse a couple of times.  Connelly proved solid, at least in the one I read, Blood Work.  In Lehane’s case, I found a curiosity, a historical novel, The Given Day, which is on my list for next year.  So as this is about what I read in 2011, you’ll have to wait.

I also continued my Ross McDonald reading with The Drowning Pool.  I have a bunch more of these to read, but they are so far all gems.  Ross McDonald is I think underappreciated.  He was a master of the noirish and hardboiled style.  Which segues into a classic I read which I’d never read before, James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce.  I don’t know exactly what I expected, based on The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, but it wasn’t this, and it was a surprise.  It’s not a mystery—at least not in the detective sense—and yet you can fully feel the noirish elements come through in this story of a woman during the Depression who boots out her philandering husband and then has to make a go of it on her own.  She subsequently becomes a very successful restaurateur, but her attempts to live up to the standards her daughter—a true enfant terrible—thinks she should embrace end up bringing her down, even as the daughter grows up to get just about everything she wants.  At the end Mildred is back with the husband and you get the sense that she’s going to build it all up again—and this time make it stick, since the daughter has finally been banished.  I put it down with a “Jaysus” reaction.

I can also recommend new writer Rebecca Cantrell‘s series, beginning with A Trace of Smoke about a female reporter in pre-war Berlin.  This would be a decent companion piece to Philip Kerr’s  Bernie Gunther series.

I read my first Val McDermid novel, A Distant Echo, which I highly recommend.  It details the consequences of a false police accusation on four friends over the years.  They find the corpse of a barmaid in a cemetery, but as the police have no leads going anywhere else these four become the prime suspects.  Of course, nothing connects them to her murder, either.  But the press gets ahold of it and their lives all take unexpected turns.  Then, years later, someone starts killing them and two of them work to solve the crime.

Among the non-mysteries I read this past year were also a couple that I ought to have but never got around to.  I read Richard Powers’ The Gold Bug Variations, which is a kind of tour-de-force of kitchen sink writing that ties Bach’s music into the unraveling of the genetic code, all through the lens of a woman trying to solve the puzzle of a scientist who should have been one of the luminaries of the discovery of DNA but instead suffered the end of his career and ignominy.  Tight, colorful writing, bizarre connections.  It reminded me of Thomas Pynchon, only more controlled and with a readily-discernible plot.

I also read Charlotte’s Web for the first time ever.  I am woefully under-read in childrens and YA literature.  During the time of my life I should have been reading this, I was deep into comics and then my mother’s book-of-the-month club books, which were all adult.  At the same time I discovered science fiction and, well, that’s one category of Jeopardy I always fail.  Along with that one I also read—for the first time ever—The Phantom Tollbooth.  I doubt this is going to signal a spree of children-and-YA reading, but both of those books were well worth the read, especially the Juster.

I only read one Dickens this year, The Old Curiosity Shop, which has to be one of the most maudlin of his novels.  I kept thinking about Little Nell “Will you bloody die already!”  But I can see how this would have been a show-stopper when it came out.  It may be one of the best treatments from the period of addictive behavior, especially of gambling addiction.

I finally read Michael Moorcock’s Mother London, which has been on my shelf for a decade at least.  It’s not an easy one to get into, but once you realize what’s going on—a trio of telepaths who don’t quite realize that this is what they are finding solace with each other through the changing landscape of wartime and post-war London—it is marvelous.  Moorcock is deceptive in that he has written some real crap (The Blood Red Game should be avoided).  But he is a truly fine stylist and a first-rate imaginative intellect when he chooses to be and Mother London is a fine novel that should be considered a classic.

And speaking of London during the war, I read Connie Willis’s massive opus, both volumes—Blackout and All Clear—and can recommend it to anyone who is seriously into WWII history.  She has clearly done her homework and her decision to write about the Blitz from the viewpoint of the residents, albeit using her time traveling historians as vehicles, has produced a fascinating take on London at the time.  (I must say, though, that one of Willis’s hallmark plot devices—the continual miscommunication and near misses of people trying to find each other—which has worked effectively in the past, is growing wearisome by now.  We get it, reality does not follow a neat plot logic, people fail, messages don’t get delivered, etc etc—but enough is enough already.)  This may be the end of the Mr. Dunworthy stories, though.  May be.  This is time travel, after all.

I read a couple of newer novels that I want to recommend, both more or less science fiction.  The first is The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer.  This is a steampunk take on The Tempest.  Sort of.  I don’t wish to get into it too deeply, but I was taken with it primarily because it is steampunk without zombies!  I am growing tired of the monster-of-the-week in genre fiction.  Vampires, now zombies.  Dead things that move around do not fascinate me and too often they entail grue for the sake of grue.  Enough already!  (I put aside two steampunk novels that looked otherwise intriguing because, within 10 pages, there are zombies.)  To me, good steampunk is in the vein of The Difference Engine.  And Palmer delivers.  The writing is elegant, the world evocative, the symbolism and metaphors nicely deployed.  Not the best it could be, but high up on my scale.

The other is by a good friend of mine, Carolyn Ives Gilman.  Isles of the Forsaken is a novel with which I’ve been familiar for a long time.  It was the first manuscript Carolyn gave me for a critique.  It has finally come out—though this is but the first half—and it is wonderful.  Set on a world that is like but not like ours, during a period much like the hegemony of Great Britain in the 19th Century, it is about the clash of cultures.  Bear in mind, who is the good guy and who is the bad guy is pretty much dependent on the reader’s expectations.  This is fine stuff.

I didn’t read much science fiction this past year.  Out of the 79 I read cover to cover, only 16 were definitely SF.  I can recommend Leviathan Wakes by James S. Correy—a very good thriller, a shitkicker, well-written and realized.  First one of a series (of course—I miss they dominance of the stand-alone anymore).  I also read Keith Roberts’ Pavane, a classic alternate history, and a fine, fine piece of writing it is.

The other SF novel I’m recommending is Gene Wolfe’s Home Fires.  It’s been a while since Gene has done a straightfoward science fiction novel (if any of his work can ever be called straightforward!) and this one is a subtle study of mismatched personalities and desires that will not be thwarted.  It’s love story with a relativistic time-dilation element complicating it.  Now, I tend to like almost anything Gene does, so take this recommendation in that context, but I think it may be one of his best.  He has pulled back from the epic vistas of some of his earlier SFnal efforts, like The Book of the Long Sun and such and centered this through one viewpoint character and closely-controlled scenario that is almost claustrophobic compared to his other work.  But it works.

I read some flops, but I won’t go into them here—except for the comments on Patterson above—because I’m not sure if the books were really bad or if they just bounced off.  (One of them I thought a derivative bit of schlock, phoned in by an author who has done excellent work in the past, but just took a stroll on this one.)  There was another that was a convoluted bit of experimental strain that couldn’t decide if it was a mystery, Kafkaesque, Pynchonesque, or an exercise in abstruse symbolism.

I will read less next year.  I already know that.  I have several bricks on the pile that will require long hours and extra attention.  At least, it is my plan to get through some of them, but we’ll see how that works out.

Among the others that I enjoyed and can recommend I offer: Counting Heads by David Marusek,  Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss, The Gift by Lewis Hyde, On Mozart by Anthony Burgess, and Birth of the Modern by Paul Johnson.  Allen Steele has a new one out, Hex, set in his Coyote universe and well worth the read.  Scott Philips also has a new one out, The Adjustment, which is a fine example of Scott’s idiosyncratic noir style.

Notice that the book links included all go to Left Bank Books.  I’m going to be doing that from now on, at least where I don’t link directly to an author’s page.  Support your local bookstore.  You’ll miss them when they’re gone, so don’t let them be gone.  Believe me, there really isn’t much Amazon can offer you that a good independent bookstore can’t, and that sucking sound of local tax revenue leaving your community and your state is the sound that accompanies our current fiscal woes.

End of sales pitch.  I’ll talk about the other things in 2011 later.


Season’s Wish

We didn’t get around to sending out cards this year.  It’s been busy and in some ways not particularly festive, but we’ve had worse years, so there really is no excuse.  Time just got away from us.

Which happens more and more lately.  So in lieu of a card (which we promise to send out next year) I thought I’d post this and for those of you who come by, we can wish you well and hope for a terrific next year.

We had Changes of Great Significance happen in 2011.  I signed with a new agent(s) and promptly spent a good chunk of the year rewriting a pair of novels at their requests, which is a good thing.  The attention they have given me, shown my projects, has increased my optimism and I now have real cause to believe this writing thing will work out.  For Jen and Stacia I am most grateful and wish them particularly wonderful holidays.

The two novels in question are much improved.

Donna is free from a job that was slowly killing her.  Money really isn’t everything, not when it comes at the cost of health and well-being and the time to do anything worthwhile with it.  We were able to put enough in the bank that she can be a bit choosy in her next job and I can still concentrate on my writing.  For now.

I acquired a new camera and have begun—tentatively—to do photography again.

Most of our friends are doing okay, some better than others, but none of them are in dire straits.  We haven’t seen enough of most of them.  (Sorry.)

We didn’t take the trips we’ve been intending to take—but that’s been true for a few years now.  Perhaps with the time we now have we can do that.

I started working part-time for Left Bank Books, doing a kind of goodwill public outreach task to bring people into the stores.  I have no idea if my efforts had anything to do with this, but they showed a sharp increase over last year, especially in the downtown store (which is the one for which I was hired to act) and this is a Good Thing.  The people who work there are great, every one of them, and now that I’ve seen it from the inside, so to speak, and I can say that a special thing is going on there.

I read a bunch of good books this year, which I’ll talk about in January (still reading) and we ate some great food, made some good music, smiled a lot, and have come through in good spirits.

We’re both going to the gym now, something we haven’t done together in many years.

It’s been okay.  It will be better.  So while I apologize for the lack of a card in the mail, please accept this instead and know that we wish you all well and look forward to another year on a planet with such fine people living on it.

Be well.

Many Lives

This is just very yeah.

When asked why I write, I have many answers, but this captures the entire inner gestalt of why.

Not getting to live all the lives I wanted to. I know what she means. I assumed at one time I would be a writer, an actor, a musician, a producer-director, and all the other things that attach to these ambitions. In a way, I did get to do them, but not the way I thought I would.

Anyway, this is marvelous.

Tilting At Icons: Christopher Hitchens 1949 – 2011

Unless you’ve been living on Mars or under a layer of primordial loam these past few decades, you know who Christopher Hitchens is. He has died. He was an unapologetic pragmatist, atheist, and iconoclast to the end. For an extended obit, go here.

I only knew Hitchens through his work, of which I’ve become quite impressed and even fond in the last few years. He did not tilt pointlessly at windmills. Rather, he spoke truth in the face of sham, questioned revered assumptions, and generally made us all twitch over some specious bit of received wisdom we thought reliable. And he did it in ways and under conditions that often ran counter to public courtesy. “Speaking ill of the dead” was never something he avoided, especially when death seemed about to bestow what in his opinion was an unearned and poorly-considered status on someone. For instance, Jerry Falwell. When most other commentators were suspending whatever critical commentary they might have indulged simply because the man had died, Hitch continued to go after him, unwilling to allow his death to gloss over what Hitch considered monstrosities of ego and policy. Here he is jousting with Sean Hannity:

He had a talent for giving as good if not better than he got from some of the most practiced mouthpieces in the media, rarely ever being shut down or bested in highly-charged, barbed exchanges with pundits attempting to just shut him up. His language skills matched a razor-sharp intellect and he had no qualms about speaking his mind, usually in a way that allowed little purchase for facile counterpolemic.

Here he is at length, discussing his book God Is Not Great, which brought him into line with Richard Dawkins as one of the most hated of the so-called “New Atheists.”

Before all this he had the temerity to attack one of the most unexamined and misunderstood of our modern icons, Mother Theresa. He got a lot of flack for his unflinching analysis of her cult and her hypocrisies. Even non-Catholics balk at saying much of anything negative about her, which is a curious effect of the kind of image-making Theresa used and was used on her. The rush to beatification had all the earmarks of desperation—the need for a popular public figure of piety to bolster the flagging reputation of Mother Church—and it seems to have worked even for those who would otherwise have nothing to do with Catholicism. Mother Theresa has become the byword for a kind of innocent generosity, a pure aching love for humanity that ignores specifics and embraces the general as if the most simpleminded of approaches to problems has a special sanctity. Hitch was one of the few who dared to actually look at the practice of her organization and present the contradictions and, indeed, the grotesqueness at the heart of her philosophy.

He also baffled many of his supporters by doing something I admire above all else. He held views that he deemed right regardless of the political spectrum along which they fell. So he could be a socialist and a hawk. He could be a severe critic of the military-intelligence combine and a patriot. His politics was all over the map in terms of Left-Right and to me it showed the silliness of doctrinaire positioning. He had no patience with idiocy, no matter the side to which it was attached.

Through all this, he was also a generous and polite debater. In a lengthy exchange with Al Sharpton he was never less than cordial, even if unyielding on his principles. He showed us how to do it and not be a bully.

Unless he felt he was being played.

Even when I disagreed with him I admired him. I would say Rest In Peace, but he would not have accepted the implications underlying the sentiment.

I’ll miss him.

Speech, Money, Personhood

Senator Bernie Sanders is sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment to deny corporations the right to be considered persons. His speech is worth a listen.

What amazes me is that this needs to be explained at all. This is one of those no-brainers that anyone on the street ought to be able to understand without much thought. Obviously a corporation is not a person.

But in the esoteric realm of political philosophy, we entertain all manner of chimera for the purposes of achieving certain ends. What we have demonstrated in the Citizens United case and previous court pronouncements regarding money as speech is that when yo break something down far enough, you find you can reassemble it just about any way you want.

Among the many factors that have gone into this debate, the one that seems the slipperiest is the idea that money is speech. This is actually a tricky argument and in many ways very persuasive, since money is the means by which we conduct our lives. On its most basic level, with regards to speech, without money there is no publishing, therefore the dissemination of speech is sorely hampered.

Yet no one mistakes a printing press for the words it reproduces.

I said that very carefully. A printing press produces no words at all. A writer—a human being—does that and the press merely reproduces them. It is a significant distinction. Without the press, the words still exist. Somewhere.

Here’s the thing. Money is not speech. It is a tool. Period. Speech transcends money. For one thing, you can’t horde speech. You can’t stockpile and then dump it in such a way that it will buy something. Speech is not traded in stock markets.

You can suppress speech, but it doesn’t go away. You can withhold it, but then it does nothing, serves no purpose. You can’t exchange one set of words for another and derive greater value. Speech does not have the structure or limitations of money, nor is it susceptible to vagaries of finance.

Speech transmits ideas—all ideas—while money simply is an idea, one idea, which not everyone shares. Speech in its purest form cannot be owned. Yes, you can copyright a particular form of speech, but the fact is anyone can do that for their particular forms, and those forms are the expressions of individuals. You can’t prevent someone from using speech by keeping it from them. No one is homeless or hungry because they don’t have enough speech*.

To assert that money is speech is to cheapen actual speech and turn it into a market commodity. A democracy cannot function that way.

Which is, of course, the whole point. Those most ardently in support of money-as-speech don’t trust democracy, for all the reasons that separate them from those who have no money. The CEO in the board room can’t abide the fact that some homeless person’s speech has the same fundamental value as his, that in terms of rights and freedoms they are equals simply because speech as a freedom is not bankable.

On the other hand, I recognize the appeal of being able to define personhood any old way you choose—because if you can do that, you can later take that definition away from whoever you want.

*Of course, you may be ignored and your speech overlooked because you’re homeless and hungry. It is not the speech that determines your condition, but the other barriers and circumstances, most of which have to do with money.

Destabilizing The Family

This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim.  Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.

We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back.  Ever since Gay Pride.  Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.

So….okay.  How?

If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?

I’ll tell you what destablilizes families.  And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.

Families are destabilized over money.  Mainly lack of it, but sometimes too much will do it, too.  But lack of it will do a number on a family worse than almost anything else.  We’ve all grown up hearing the “love is all you need” line that never seems to run out of gas that a lot of people find out fairly quickly once they start living on their own is patent bullshit.  It is true that in order to have a fulfilling life, you need love.  But in order for love to last, you need everything else.  Housing, food, clothing, some degree of security, a smidgen of leisure activity.  Without money—someone’s—you don’t have all that.

And that love thing, heterosexually?  Children tend to result from one of the basic activities, and they cost a lot of money.  A lot.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime, and the more you have, the more money you need to maintain a level standard of living, and believe me, this is not cynicism, this is the way of human nature, when your standard of living erodes, this is not the source of great joy.  It becomes a grinding, frustrating daily chore to make due with less.

Love has a very difficult time surviving such stress.  It can be done, it is done, millions of people probably manage it, but one should envy them their devotion rather than assume something is broken inside all those who can’t manage it.

Money aside, children will destabilize a family.  Let’s be real for minute, not everyone is constitutionally able to be a parent.  Living day in day out with one other person can be a challenge, even if that person is an adult.  If you find that hard, then adding more to the mix, especially if they are not adults, is probably a recipe for craziness.  While lack of material resource exacerbates this condition, it is not necessary for it to be the case.  Some of us are fortunate that we recognized early on our own unsuitability to be parents, for many people, riding on the promises of the romantic fairytale we grew up with, this fact is not discovered until it is too late and there are children who, while perhaps fine people in and of themselves, nevertheless drive the insanity meter up and up and up.

Was a time it didn’t matter.  We had no choice.  People got married and no matter what their circumstances, they didn’t have the option of divorcing and starting over, they were stuck.  We have in many ways romanticized this fact as some indication that modern people lack values.  Nonsense.  If they could have, our forebears likely would have divorced at as high a rate as we do.

Why?  Because like it or not, people change.  We are not the same today as we were ten or twenty years ago.  It is the height of unreasonableness to think we could or should be.

But that doesn’t mean the changes automatically drive us apart.  What it means is that when we get together in the first place we didn’t pay enough attention to who we were then to realize that in five or ten years certain traits were going to drive us or our partners nuts.

Which brings us to one of the most fundamental reasons families fail.  Basic incompatibility.  Let’s be honest—that is what we’re trying for here—there are, have been, and will be many people who pass through our lives with whom we want to spend time with.  Some of those people, the time spent will be intense.  That doesn’t mean they will be lifelong arrangements.  Shall I be blunt?  Okay.  There will be many people with whom we  will want to have sex with, but that doesn’t mean we’d make good longterm partners.  Too many people confuse lust with love.

Worse—too many people confuse love with like.  Longterm is not sustained by love—love is a peak experience and the high is not sustainable.  It may come in waves.  We may “fall in love” with our partner time and time again, but there will be troughs, and in those periods it is not love that carries us but like.  Friendship.  Too often no one tells us this.  Your life partner, if you’re going to have one, has to be your best friend.  You have to like them.  A lot.  It’s different than love.  Love is great, but the fires die down.  The embers rest in how much we like each other.

Finally, though, some relationships have a natural lifespan and it is silly to expect them to shamble on past their demise.  Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it’s usually only one not both who realize this.  But it’s true and it would be wrong to insist on maintaining something that has died.

If you have built a family on the basis of eternally staying together, you may find that all these factors will bring about a lot of hurt and destabilization.  What destabilizes beyond a fundamental lack of the resources to maintain is a violation of expectation.

Now.  In all that, where’s this bullshit that allowing gay people to marry will impact your marriage?  How does that work?  I get the impression that Mr. Santorum thinks that expanding the marriage franchise will somehow debase it and make it something worth too little for people to want to participate in.

But if that’s true, then it is already worthless.  If the idea of it is that fragile, then preventing gays from marrying will make no difference, it’s already trashed.

But if it was worthless, then why would gays want to do it?

Mr. Santorum most likely wants to see people forced to remain married.  He likely wants to see the end of divorce.  In order to do that, he has to wage war on freedom of choice.

Everyone’s freedom of choice.

The fact is, factors that have little to do with venerable institutions and traditions work to destabilize relationships.  Making the claims he does shows that he doesn’t want to talk about those things.  Because talking about the realities opens the door to all the other things he has come out against to be discussed openly.  People aren’t getting divorced now because gays live the way they do.  They get divorced because they can’t sustain their marriage—because there’s no money or they should not have become parents or the dreams of one or both partners have changed or they frankly should never have gotten married in the first place.  It’s what is between them that is at fault, if fault there is, and the circumstances in which they live.

On the other hand, what exactly does he mean by destabilize?  Because there are many families that have suffered divorce that continued to be families.  The new mates were added in, a larger pool of siblings was created, Christmas cards and birthday wishes go out to a bigger list, and while mom and dad may not be together anymore, no one is fighting and everyone talks and sustains each other.  The family changed shape, it didn’t collapse.  Families survive, albeit in different configurations.  Divorce doesn’t destroy the family, it causes it to evolve.

Oops.  That’s another thing Santorum doesn’t believe in.  Evolution.  No wonder he doesn’t recognize what I’ve just described.

No Politics

Not this morning.  It’s hard, I know, because so much is going on that I could  comment about, but…

The novel revision I mentioned a couple of posts back is done.  Done and at my agent.  I did a top to bottom revision, adding in the new material that desperately wanted to be included, and except for yesterday it all went remarkably well.

Yesterday, though…yes…Murphy was in residence.

We went to the gym and then Donna had an errand to run, so I descended to the dungeon  office and began.  I’d already started the final work on the last chapter a couple days earlier, but I had Other Things To Do on both Tuesday and Wednesday that kept me away.  That was fine, it gave my subconscious time to work out some kinks and so I was more than ready to work on the remainder.

It was good stuff.  I say that because much of it is gone.  I practically rewrote the entirety of the last chapter and I was very carefully laying in the new material and deleting the old as I went.  But I became caught up in the work—it happens—and neglected to hit SAVE as often as I should.  (Yes, I have a timed save, but it was not quickly enough to prevent what happened.)

Revisions complete, I had a large chunk of old text to delete and I proceeded to highlight it for destruction and—

It crashed.  Don’t know why or how but suddenly WordPerfect complained (it never does this!) and shut down.  When I rebooted I found everything intact, but now I had this little box telling me that since it hadn’t exited properly, in order to preserve the back-up I had to open it and rename it, which I tried to do, but something was preventing it from “taking” so I tried cutting and pasting to get the changes into the original and then it crashed again and—-

The long and the short of it is, I lost my revisions on the last chapter.  All of them.

By which time Donna was home and I was fuming.  No, that’s not quite it.  I was in a blood-red, Conanesque rage, stomping around the house, yelling, cursing computers and the spawn that created them, almost but not quite punching things.

We had lunch. I returned to the deeps, sucked it up, and started over.

In all this, I had forgotten the dog.  Coffey still needed her walk and I forgot.  I’m a bad owner.  Donna came down and asked if I wanted her to take Coffey and after a few minutes of guilt-ridden negotiation, she did.

And I finished the last chapter.

Then I went on to make the final corrections to the epilogue, saved the puppy, and sent it to my agent.  (And then another weird thing happened to it, but that’s all straightened out now, so never mind.)

When I began the revisions, the manuscript was just a hair under 90 thousand words.   It’s gained 4,000 and a lot more cohesion.  In my humble opinion, it works now, whereas before it merely sufficed.

You might get the impression from the foregoing that I don’t enjoy my work.  Quite the contrary, the reason I tolerate these little instances of Murphyesque meltdown it because I love it.  I slept the sleep of the righteous last night, and this morning I am thinking back over the work and smiling.  Though I know I have at least one more pass to get through with it, when Stacia gets done making all her notes and edits, at this point I am pleased with the product.

What I now have to do, which is long, long overdue, is clean the dungeon office.  I have piles of stuff everywhere.  It’s been a few years since I’ve done a really thorough cleaning in here, which includes new bookshelves, sorting through notes that have lost all significance, finding things I’ve forgotten I misplaced, and just generally making the room livable.  When I work on a novel, there is a kind of conservation of chaos at work—as order increases in the story upon which I labor, a commensurate increase in disorder occurs in the immediate environment.  So as the novel nears completion, its maximum point of order, the room falls apart in near ruin.

In the last few years, I have written one and a half new novels and rewritten two from top to bottom, without pause.  You can imagine the task before me.

So…is Gingrich still the GOP frontrunner?

Poll Positions

Comes a point when it is obvious that one’s sympathies lie in a particular direction, whether we want to admit to them or not.  Politically, I tend to try to find something worthwhile across the Left-Right spectrum.  I am, in some ways, a conservative guy.  I’ve never had much issue with a sensible fiscal conservatism, but it has grown increasingly difficult to find anything supportable in the Republican Party.  The kind of conservatism I found sympathetic at one time is such a minor part of the public face of conservative politics these days as to be almost gone.  It is not enough to say to me “Well, it’s still there, once they get in office that will come to fore.”  I don’t see it.  What is more, I don’t care.

Mitt Romney may yet be the GOP nominee and that wouldn’t be a completely horrible thing, but in order to get there he may find himself agreeing to push platform positions he might otherwise fine offensive.  In the meantime, look at the list of alternating absurdities who have been swapping places for the last few months.

Herman Cain.  I have always felt, honestly, that someone from the corporate world—think Ross Perot—would make a mediocre to terrible president.  The structure of the two environments is utterly different.  The priorities are significantly different, often in subtle ways, and the mindset that makes for a successful CEO I think would be like a fish out of water in the realm of federal politics.  But Cain demonstrated a lack of empathy and a lack of understanding about how taxes play out across varying economic lines.  His “999” proposal was absurd on its face, but a little calculation shows it was just one more gimme for the corporate sector at the expense of everyone else.

Michele Bachman is an embarrassment.  If it hadn’t been made clear before, at the debate where she criticized Cain’s tax plan by saying “if you flip 999 over you discover that the devil is in the details.”  Some people may have thought she was joking, but based on the rest of her “philosophy” she was quite serious.  It is very hard to explain how this woman has achieved her political position other than to accept that she is acceptable to people I certainly don’t see eye to eye with on almost any level.  The insulting way she told a high schooler that “gays have the same right to marry as anyone else in this country—as long as a man marries a woman” not only completely sidestepped the point the student was making but tried to sell a facile bit of social legerdemain as if it was a valid point.  She keeps harping on the bankrupt line that gays are somehow demanding a special privilege when that is flatly not true—they are demanding the same right all Americans assume is our birthright, to be who we are and have the laws of the land apply equally to us.  To the Bachman’s of the nation, “being who you are” is only acceptable if who you are meets a specific criterion.

She’s the prettier face of Rick Santorum, who is so obsessed over other people having sex that any kind of policy position he might have on any other topic gets totally drowned out by his raving about sex.  (We should by now realize that generally people who go on and on about how other people are obsessed with sex are themselves far and away more obsessed with it than the people they’re complaining about.  In Santorum’s case, his obsession borders on the macabre.)

Now we have Newt Gingrich, who has the virtue of being insulting to just about everyone in turn.  Poor kids have no habit of work?  Please.  Some of the laziest people I’ve ever met were young adults from moneyed families, usually freshly-minted out of a college they got through as an alumni student.  They are privileged, spoiled, arrogant, and utterly unable to conceive of what work actually is.  Now like all superlatives, this is clearly not true for all of them.  But if you acknowledge that, you have to acknowledge that anything that comes out of Gingrich’s mouth along these lines is almost always a superlative and therefore always false.  But this is more that that “the unemployed are that way because they choose to be and the rest of us shouldn’t be required to pay for them” bullshit the GOP has been pushing since Reagan.

Not content with slandering a whole class of people with whom he clearly has no experience, Gingrich then went on to trot out the old canard that Christianity is “under siege” by virtue of the nation being awash in paganism.  Firstly, he doesn’t have his facts right—the fastest growing segment in the country in terms of religion is the non-religion group, both people who have stopped self-identifying with any denomination and outright atheists.  I know it is common for people who don’t know any better to mischaracterize atheists as pagans, but Gingrich doesn’t have that excuse—he is a smart, educated guy.  So I can only assume that he’s playing to the paranoid proselytes, just like the others.

Who does that leave?  Poor John Huntsman, who doesn’t have a chance, but is the only one of the bunch who is avowedly pro-science and at least is reasonable about tax reform.

Here’s the problem with the current GOP line.  It is soaked in denial, it is retrograde, and it is mean.  This is possibly not all their fault—the party has been dominated for decades now by people who are steeped in social paranoia and resentment and the fear that all the things they think are important are losing meaning.  They don’t understand why so many people have no use for their values.  Many of them don’t like women in power.  A lot of them are homophobic.  And all of them are blinded by the false association between freedom and capitalism pushed by the last three Republican administrations into a state of assuming that anything—anything—that hints of socialism will doom the country.  But mainly they are driven by resentment and antagonism to anything that makes them feel ignorant and provincial and irrelevant, somehow not seeing that they manage to do that to themselves.

I would like to see a healthy Republican Party, one that would serve as a sensible counterweight to the progressivism that has characterized their opposite numbers—a progressivism that is all but gone from the public view because of a spineless attempt to mollify the increasingly vitriolic Right.  We don’t have that.  And I can’t in good conscience vote for any of them.  Every time they get someone reasonable, they either ignore them or drive them out of the Party.  The GOP has been doggedly destroying itself for thirty years.  This was the Party of Lincoln—progressives that ended slavery and advanced the cause of civil rights.

They wouldn’t even let Lincoln speak at the conventions these days.

Payment and Positions

I have been assiduously working on the rewrite of the book I mentioned in the previous post and not much else has gotten done.  I’m 3/4 through and into the difficult part, where the plot actually veers, and I’ve been thinking about game changers as a result, which brings me in a painful arc to…

Newt Gingrich?  Are you serious?

I have no idea who the Republican nominee will be by the end of August 2012.  It’s too soon to make solid predictions.  One thing has been clear, once again, the sensible candidates will not have a prayer.  (I say that ironically.)  Oh, it’s possible Huntsman could be a dark horse that comes on strong in the final weeks before the Convention, but it is also quite obvious that Party as it is currently configured has no use for him.  He does not speak for the GOP base.  He is not enough of anything they currently value.

But then again, Newt isn’t, either.  He’s made a bit of a deal about how he worked with Clinton—and this is true, he did; compared to the current menagerie in Congress, Newt led a House that was a model of bipartisanship —but that is not usually something the GOP base wants to hear.  Cooperation with the antichrist is a Bad Thing.

And his claim is a smidgen disingenuous.  After all, he did lead Congress into a government shut-down that cost his Party seats in the next election.  That may, paradoxically, work in his favor this time, since GOP orthodoxy today is that, above all, get Obama out of the White House.  They will hold their collective noses, it seems, and back any candidate that looks capable of achieving that.  The vitriol among the Party faithful spewed at President Obama is worse than the worst aimed at Clinton, and some of that was pretty awful.  Alien acid-blood awful, with the power to eat through steel deck plating.  This year’s version of the GOP is establishing new levels of the kind of ideological obsession that has gripped them since Clinton beat Bush One, namely a pervasive, near-pathological hatred of all things (A) Liberal and (B) Democratic.

I hasten here to say that there are many conservatives who have a very hard time with this.

There are many liberals who are still stumbling around, shell-shocked from the last 30 years of being a punching bag for a Right Wing that has beaten them so badly about the head and shoulders for being, you know, Liberal, that they seem unable to recognize that we haven’t actually elected a Liberal president since Carter.  In a recent Thanksgiving Day conversation with an older gentleman, he was adamant that Obama was a far Left Liberal if not an outright Communist.  When I ran down the list of things that make him Center Right, I was met with a kind of blank stare.  He agreed singly with each point but, like a tape loop, kept insisting Obama was a Liberal.

Obama’s policies are geared directly toward alleviating the difficulties of the rich, only with some mollifying rhetoric to make it seem he’s about fiscal equality.  He sells it with a somewhat more worker-friendly line of patter, but I’m still waiting for any kind of financial regulatory policy with teeth.  In spite of his avowed revulsion as a candidate for the abuses at Guantanamo and the anti-civil rights policies of his predecessor, he keeps renewing the Patriot Act and Gitmo is still open and he has just signed off on a policy of holding enemies of the state without limit.  He has backed down on his support of Net Neutrality and I’m still trying to make sense of the whole health care package—which, except for one provision, is an essentially Republican proposal from over a decade ago (which they now repudiate rather that give Obama a win on anything) and even that he has sold badly to an electorate that would have backed him had he gone to the mat for single payer.  This is not a Liberal.

And yet.

What is it the GOP wants?

I don’t honestly think they know.  They have characterized the Democratic Party for a long time now as a Party that only ever reacts, never actually steps up and says what it stands for, but I wonder if that hasn’t become the problem with the GOP.  After all, what do they stand for?

There’s a standard set of positions which are becoming strained and a bit threadbare, but still play well to the base.  Some of them are best characterized by Rick Santorum, who also hasn’t a prayer for the nomination but they like him running because he says right out there all the ugly little social things the rest of them are finally beginning to realize don’t play well with independents and moderates (which both sides need in order to win).  The GOP actually does seem to believe women are second class citizens who should be remanded to the custody of the home—which is probably why they have yet to produce a single credible female presidential candidate who is not a basket of lunacy in a nice wrapper.  Where’s the GOP counterpart to Hilary Clinton?  While their rhetoric may allow for one, their actual policies won’t.  (What sane, educated, intelligent woman with any self- esteem could back the systematic war on womens rights the GOP has been tacitly waging since Reagan?  Well, obviously some do, but I wonder how they make that work.)

The Santorum faction simply doesn’t want anyone to be Different.  (He also doesn’t want people to have sex.  I mean, really.  Have you ever listened to any of his interviews when he gets on that subject?)

Now the GOP has decided to take a hardline position on immigration, so much so that the amnesty plan Bush Two proposed would be anathema today, so they have even turned on their own heroes.  (Seriously.  When you go back and listen to Reagan’s comments on wealth inequality and unions you wonder if he would even be let on the stage today.  He sounds like a Liberal!)

Via the Tea Party faction, the GOP has concretized around a kind of do nothing for anyone unless they can afford to pay for it agenda.  The almost criminal assault on collective bargaining that occurred in Wisconsin has backfired a little, but I don’t hear any of the candidates (except for the sensible ones who no one will have to worry about) repudiating Governor Scott’s tactics.

Yes, I know, he had a budget shortfall.  But he didn’t when he took office—the money he claimed he needed to save was money he gave away in three huge tax cuts to corporations.  He established the tax cuts, which created the fiscal problem, and then tried to blame the unions.  This time, a lot of people were paying attention.

But no one in the GOP (except Christie, but he’s not running for president) said he was wrong.

So the GOP seems to have, in practice, a platform that is anti-union, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-blue collar, anti-immigrant, and anti-serious tax reform.  They are opposed to so much I can no longer discern clearly what it is they stand for.

Family values?  Then what’s this wink-and-a-nod stuff over Herman Cain’s sexual harrassment issues or even over Newt’s track record of divorce-and-marry-the-mistress?

Fiscal responsibility?  Then what is with the continued coddling of large corporations that are clearly removing wealth from this country and the repeated evisceration of every pro-consumer bill brought to the floor?

I don’t know what else there is.  Under Bush they demonstrated how little regard they have for science and education.  (No Child Left Behind is a farce and the blatant interference with environmental impact studies was endemic.)  All they care about, it seems, is some kind of Thomas Edison view of entrepreneurs that quite honestly never really existed.

What they actually stand for is the principle that their constituency doesn’t want to pay for anything.  Not through the government, in any case.  They do not wish to pay for education.  They do not wish to pay for keeping the environment clean.  They do not wish to pay for the unemployed, the elderly, the sick.  Hell, they don’t even want to pay for the damage done to soldiers with combat disabilities.  (To be fair, that’s not a strictly Republican problem—we have always had a problem paying for our broken soldiers, no matter which Party is in power.)

All you hear from them is spending cuts and tax cuts.  Cut cut cut.

What do they want this country to look like when they get their way?  I haven’t heard that.  Not in any real way.  They talk about individual self-reliance, but come on, does anyone anymore believe that happens without a lot of, ahem, community support?  Oh, but it should be voluntary, not mandated.

Well, sir or madam, if you don’t want to pay for it and I can’t pay for it, where does that leave us?

I need to get back to my book now.