Category Archives: Childhood memories

Thrift Stores: A Geek’s Best Friend

You never know, for example, when you’ll find cool superhero costumes with foam muscles for 3 bucks apiece šŸ˜

Advertisements

The Proper Way To Read A Book…

…is to hold it open with your toe so both your hands are free. Antics and toe courtesy of my middle son, 6 year old Victor, who now often reads the bedtime stories for his little brother Cuinn.

Fondly Remembering The Wonderful Worm Stand Of S.A. Barton, Circa 1981

This little trip down memory lane was brought on by me responding to a tweet…

Wonderful Worm Stand - SABarton.png

…which led to an invitation…

…and an explanation.

There’s a little more to the story. My mother ruefully remembers the first time she helped me hunt nightcrawlers, indeed in the dark, on hands and knees, on a freshly watered lawn, resulting in fatal stains to a pair of white jeans worn in a moment of wardrobe insanity. I remember she often helped, holding the container I dropped the nightcrawlers into or holding the light, or getting down and capturing them with her own hands to pitch in on occasion. Oh, the ridiculous things moms and dads do for kids, huh?

I still remember the technique. A quick grab when the red light dimly shows the glistening body of a worm protruding from the soil. A gentle tug to stretch it out, but not too hard because nightcrawlers have little bristles on some segments to grip the soil. If you pull too hard, they’ll break in half. But if you hold them stretched out for a moment, patiently, with a little tension, you can feel them relax their little worm muscles for a split second in an attempt to get a better grip and you can slide them right out whole and plop them into a bucket to serve fish-hungry anglers. Or, if you like, you can drop them in your potted plants to aerate the soil and break down the little organic bits they eat and poop out, making the plants healthier.

You could eat them if you want, too. Worms are virtually pure protein. Might be the meat of the future, who knows? But that’s a subject for another post.

 

 

Oh, why didn’t I run a lemonade stand like a normal kid? I lived in rural Wisconsin, along a two-lane country road with a 55 mph speed limit. Getting someone to pull over at a trailer park for lemonade was WAY more of a longshot than getting someone on the way to one of the many lakes and streams in the area to pull over before getting to their fishing hole.

Eclipse Of The Son

Found this one going through my pics from the solar eclipse. In Norfolk, VA we didn’t get totality, but we got these crescents through the pinholes formed by the leaves of the sweetgum tree in our yard, themselves eclipsed by my agog 4 year old son. 

Eclipse, With ChildrenĀ 


Eclipse viewing with the kiddos. We also had a pair of viewing glasses but the natural pinholes between leaves stole the. show. 

The direct pictures are the product of me putting my cellphone camera in manual settings mode & fiddling around until something weird happened. Not sure why the secondary crescent sun image appeared, but I’m super happy it did. 

We’re in Norfolk, VA so we didn’t see totality. But the sun got down to a skinny crescent and the kids got their minds blown by science and nature. And so did I! 

The Triumph Of The Won’t

 

LastTrumpCover-5440990018_c8c9e13cf6_o-DonaldTrump10FEB2011-TakenByGageSkidmore

We’re definitely seeing a farce of politics — but it’s not just Trump. It’s Trumpism and Trumpites, too.

In the best of Trump voters, there’s deep and intense dissatisfaction. A feeling that anything must be better than the politics of our memory, whether that memory is the few years of the 18 year old first time voter or the several decades of the elder Trump voter.

In many, I think, there’s an approach to politics that is identical to the approach to sport. You choose a team, and you root for them no matter what. Which is a foolish and dangerous approach to politics no matter who you’re voting for, and a core failure of civic education at school, in our communities, and in our homes.

But I’m not talking about the best of Trump voters here. I’m not talking about the rah-rah-go-team voters, or the reluctant ideologues who don’t like Trump but hate anyone outside the GOP more, or the impulse-shopper voters who went with whoever’s last sound bite they liked more, or the strategic ‘he’ll pick SCOTUS justices I’ll like’ voters or the on-the-fence voters who aren’t quite sure, somehow, who best represents their ideas and ethics.

I’m talking about the hard Trump core. The people who love the guy for all he represents. Not the Russian bots and foreign provocateurs, but the ones who sound like Russian bots despite being born and raised in the most corn-and-apple-pie-fed settings across the country.

Theirs is the triumph of the won’t.

They call themselves “alphas” and their perceived enemies (most of the citizenry of the United States of America) “betas” and “cucks”…

…and “feminized” (because being a woman is bad, or means you’re inferior, or means you’re genetically programmed to serve men because quite a few of the Trumpite hard core love them some 19th century pseudoscientific genetic determinism and its cousins eugenics and eugenic-style theories, and possibly phrenology and physiognomy and phlogiston and phlat earth ‘theory’ and who knows what else) and, well, whatever flaccid insults help them feel turgid and ready to lash out violently — because manliness, to them, is not showing humanity, but is found in behaving like a rage-blind distempered ape.

ever-ever-beach-gentleman-boingboinggif.gif

Gif: BoingBoing — full video: YouTube

They imagine that by naming themselves dominant and aggressive, that makes them paragons of rock-jawed will.

They have little clue what it really reveals: it doesn’t reveal will. It reveals won’t. A humanity-paralyzing fear of tomorrow, of today, and of anything that doesn’t cater to their fussy, prissy, whiny control-freak demands of reality. A boy-tantrum “I WON’T” to the inevitability of time passing. They’re pissed off that reality itself won’t cut the crusts off their PB&J like mommy used to, but insists on being reality.

The “f–k your feelings” crowd runs on the feeling that they are offended that the universe will not treat them like the little princes and princesses they know they are.

That failure of adapting to the facts of life is their motive force, just as gasoline is the motive force of your car: there are a variety of other ingredients and factors, some important and others not, but without gasoline and failure Trumpism Car DOES. NOT. MOVE.

Of course, that’s not what they see in the mirror.

 

Mirror_Shaggy

Screencap fromĀ Scooby Doo and the Ghoul SchoolĀ via Scoobypedia

Trumpites, just like “God Emperor Trump” mostly cast themselves as alpha-male towers of will (or equivalent, or admirers of same, when women) — an army to proudly march back into the middle of the 20th century. Or maybe the 19th or 18th, depending on the Trumpite.

As if a past can ever be re-lived. As if the past was ever half as idyllic and perfect as many of them seem to believe — and an awful lot of them can remember the middle of the 20th century.

It is, after all, the land of their childhoods, the land of their childish dreams and childish ambitions. It is an age of shelter for many, even those whose childhoods were difficult or even abusive — what comes after, dealing with the adult consequences of childhood deprivation and/or abuse, often seems even harder than childhood, especially to the adult living it in the now.

And the remembrance of childhood is veiled in the ignorance of the child, and that is hazed by the passage of decades as well as the bitter demise of childhood dreams at the hands of reality — and both white male Boomers and GenX, key Trump demographics, had big dreams that died hard. Dreams of privilege expanding endlessly, dreams of unlimited world-altering success, dreams of the industry and union driven white middle class boom of the 1950s trending up, up, forever up, three chickens in every pot and three cars in every McMansion garage on a solid acre in the suburbs with a tall white privacy fence and a dog and a cat and 2.5 children educated at the highest standard in the world.

D14G5a-1957 Leavittown.jpg

The original McMansion production line: Levittown!

Only, the Boomers grew up to be Yuppies and ‘vulture capitalists’ and GenX grew up to build the dot-com boom and bust and found the ‘gig economy,’ and the ‘leaders’ of both have spent, collectively, the last 40 years gutting that goose that was laying the golden eggs, haven’t they?

There were a lot of rich guts in the American goose. Gutting it has taken a long time. But the work is almost done, now. What do you do with a fowl once you have it gutted?

You cut it into pieces and fry it, that’s what. It’s delicious.

Then you throw the bones away. Might take another 40 years to get there. And the process is part of the problem. The Boomer and Gen X gutters know they’ll almost certainly be dead and gone by the time they’ve gnawed this goose down to the greasy bones.

And here they are, writing and tweeting and bitching and Trump-voting away, flailing about wildly for someone else to blame. We (white male GenX, of which I am one) aren’t about to blame ourselves collectively. We’re all about ego and the importance of the individual, by which we mean ourselves, singular, not any other white male of our generations and certainly not any other individuals beyond that demographic. I, me, me, I. And if something is wrong you must be to blame and that’s why we have Trump yelling at his fans to ‘knock the shit out of’ people who dare voice dissent and why we have ideological zealots stabbing people for not agreeing with their politics (yes, enforcing the ‘correctness’ of their politics by killing those who disagree. Or, in milder form, by calling them rude names on Twitter.) and attacking people for having brown skin or the ‘wrong’ religious/spiritual/ideological/scientific/educated beliefs and knowledge.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to that perceived childhood idyll they’re so hot to “take our country back” to.

Atlanta Black Star - trumpism article 2015.png

An article from the Atlanta Black Star that has proven all too prescient. You should read it.

For me, childhood was the 1970s. In my memory, there’s sort of a glow around those years. That glow is the better side of my childhood. A glow of carefree play. What did I know or feel of the ugliness of the war in Vietnam or the national humiliation of Richard Nixon or the horror of Kent State?

 

Little or nothing, of course. I was a boy, a poor boy to be sure, but one who was wandering field and forest of rural Wisconsin with a faithful dog at my side. I was concerned with wading in creeks, gathering hickory nuts, snacking on wild apples and plums and berries, climbing trees, playing games with my friends, reading books, and so on. I wasn’t watching or comprehending much of the news.

1972SABarton

The author, sans dog but you get the idea.

The 1970s were no golden age, to be sure. But they look a bit gold to me when I remember them. Because I was a child, and the cares of adulthood were not yet upon me. The 1950s are no different. Or the 1930s, or 1990s. Wherever your childhood is.

Trumpism is no yearning for utopia, and it is no brave embrace of the hard work of making a better tomorrow. It is a fleeing in the hopeless direction of lost childhood. It is a cowering. For tomorrow is always uncertain, and doubly so for those who wish, uselessly, to live in the past.

The thuggish threats and violence and posturing with gun and fist are not strength. They are the bared teeth of the rat backed into a corner — only the Trumpite corner is built of fear-rhetoric and scaremongering taken to heart by the fearful. It’s not real. But more than imaginary, it is a huge corner packed full of a whole chaos of rats constantly telling each other how hellish and awful life and the United States and the world are. And no matter how much the rats tear into each other, no matter what other of their fellows they manage to bite, what they rage against is impossible to bite, because it is tomorrow itself, and the blood they taste is their own.

They’re raging against the only true constant in the universe: change itself. A constant that nothing can turn aside, delay, or even touch.

And, perhaps fittingly for the generations of Boomers and GenXers that are the meat of the ranks of Trumpism, their idea of a better world is an action B-movie. No actual leaders, just stars whose charisma is a scriptwritten Hollywood facade of strength, whose power is all spectacle and cheesy one-liners and costumery (Mike Pence and Scott Walker on Harleys, anyone?) whose will is the will of the moral and ethical and emotional weakling: the temper tantrum, the uncontrolled rage, the urge to mass murder with big guns and exciting stunts and technicolor explosions, and of course lots and lots of angry, violent intimidation.

Bully tools, but played out in real life instead of the theater.

Yearn for an angry, bloody version of childhood all you like, Trumpites. That way lies chaos and loss and disappointment. Adulthood can be quite a bit more boring, with its reason, and compromise, and sometimes painful ethical choices, and hard work, and compassion. But one way leads into a better future for our children, and one leads into Lord of the Flies for children of all ages, even the balding ones with deep crows’ feet.

 

Afraid Of The Future

(Originally appeared on PatreonĀ on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)

00-evil-green-trump

The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.

Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.

Maybe you have similar feelings.

But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.

I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.

In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.

I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.

I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.

I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.

To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.

I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.

The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.

It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.

Maybe some of you feel the same.

As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.

I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.

The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.

I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.

I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.

That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.

I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.

Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.

It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.

And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.

You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.

I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.

Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.

For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.

It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.

It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.

It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).

Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.

Humans Now, Basically

2016 NOV Norfolk - old gum tree and electrical station - Victor and Cuinn.jpg

Children (my 2 youngest, 3 and 5) in the shadow of a gnarled ancient of a gum tree, with an electrical substation lurking behind.

Kind of a metaphor for our world, isn’t it?

As a bonus, the yellow vest is a Batman vest and the brown jacket is a print of Chewbacca’s torso. Geek life FTW.

The Time I Wrote A Story Full Of Nostalgia

Fruity Pebbles - eat sugar and dye

Two years ago I wrote “Child Full of Stars” — I’ve been paying more attention than usual for anniversaries and things like that lately for no reason I’m aware of. It’s a story about an off-duty soldier of a nameless interstellar civilization falling into deadly peril and finding extradimensional refuge. It looks simple, it is simple, and as with many simple things there’s more than meets the eye.

All of its elements point to what the story is about beneath the surface: nostalgia. CFOS reminds me of some of the stories I grew up on, shorts and novels from Heinlein and Forward (what a fitting name for a science fiction writer, BTW) and Niven and Asimov and many more.

For the most part, their stories had straightforward plots and prose, nothing too ornate or obscure. I enjoy writing in that vein, and many people enjoy reading that sort of thing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for ornate and obscure, for complex twisting plots and dense symbolism and metaphor and layers of meticulously crafted meaning and experimental structure and whatever else writers care to write and readers care to read.

(As an aside (skip it if you want to hold on to my train of thought, then come back later and read this if you wish) I think this mostly imaginary dichotomy between “straightforward” and “artsy” is more at the core of the whole SadRabid Puppies–Hugo Awards–Dogcatchers–Neutrals-who’d-like-everyone-to-shut-up-about-it-already kerfluffle than the ideological-wing aspect that gets talked about far more. Certainly puppies tend to be rightish (some, very) and Dogcatchers leftish (again, some very much so). But last year the Puppy slate (I have not looked at the state of affairs this year and am very much considering not doing so until 2025 or so) ostensibly created to oppose crappy message fiction from the left with ‘good old-fashioned storytelling’ was instead a slate of crappy message fiction fro the right, which most puppies said was just fine or not message fiction at all because reasons and most of them cheered and voted for it. Thus, it’s about straightforward vs. artsy more than the politics which are indeed present but much less important to either puppies or dogcatchers than either cares to admit, but especially puppies. It’s also about love of conflict over dichotomies because dichotomies neatly separate the world into GOOD and EVIL and that way of seeing the world is frankly a big fat bucket of horseshit nineteen times out of twenty. But it’s easy horseshit, and people like easy. Again but, I digress.)

In other words, there’s a place for artsy and a place for straightforward, and in practical fact the two sort of blend around and into each other. There’s also a place for fiction deliberately made to convey a message (in fact, to convey messages about the value and hazard of scientific investigation and exploration was the reason science fiction became a thing) and fiction made with no particular message at all in mind.

“Child Full Of Stars” was my little visit with the straightforward stories I remember from my youth. Are there messages in it, political or otherwise? Of course! All fiction carries messages even if the writer tries really, really, really hard not to put any messages in. Messages are unavoidable. Words carry messages by their purpose. How they are arranged, the story the tell and exactly how and what is written and what is not written are factors packed more full of messages than a bowl of Fruity Pebbles is packed full of sugar and food dye.

I didn’t write CFOS with a particular message in mind when I wrote it. I wrote it to take a little stroll through fond memories, and perhaps it will bring out a few of your own if you choose to read it. And perhaps you’ll find a message or ten in it. Maybe I’d recognize what you find — or maybe I’d be surprised. Writers are often surprised by the interpretations that readers bring to stories. That’s just one more great aspect of writing.

You can read the story for FREE by clicking this link — select “online reader” under the description and you can read it online like a webpage, no download required. Or grab the format your e-reading device likes, your choice.

~

[This post appeared on my Patreon page on the 8th. My patrons see most blog posts three days early, and new ebooks THIRTY DAYS EARLY — plus they get a FREE ebook copy regardless of what I charge for the ebook elsewhere!

My Patreon patrons also get the satisfaction of helping me create stuff by reducing my worries. I’m a worrier, and writing (being creative at all, really) is harder and slower work when I’m worried. The household budget for my 3 kids, wife, and I is stretched thin, thin, thin. Every single solitary dollar helps! And if that’s not your bag, kindly buy an ebook. Hell, download some free ones — that moves me up rankings and makes it more likely that others will find my books. That helps too, and certainly earns you a sincere thankyou.

 

Thanks for reading. :-)]

Genre Is Small — inspired by the Star Wars Greeks of Travis Durden

YODEA ANGEL travis-durden-star-wars-greek-statues-designboom-03

Some art that made me say, “cool!” and a few tweets led to some bigger thoughts on genre writing – which is a pretty normal thing, small ideas leading to larger ones, if you’ve done some writing or pretty much any art I can think of or serious thinking.

I found Travis Durden’s Star Wars Greek statuary through a tweet I sawĀ a couple of hours ago (on the 27th — this post first appeared on my Patreon page Ā (would you like to support a not-quite-starving writer? Please do! Because every penny helps tear down the budget worries that often occupy my mind when I’d rather be writing) in the wee hours of the 28th) (tweet posted below). Durden’s art is seriously neat stuff.

 

Which lead to this tweet:

 

And this one:

And finally this one:

 

After I graduated from kiddie books so many years ago, I cut my reading teeth on science fiction. I tried reading the paperbacks my father brought home from used bookstores and quickly learned to look for the short story collections and anthologies — I’d recently learned to read, it was hard enough to work through all the words I didn’t recognize without trying to figure out what was going on in a whole novel. But the shorter short stories, in those early years, I could wrap my mind around those. And remember (well, you might not have known, so I’m telling you) this was in the mid-70s, when certainly many authors in science fiction and elsewhere may have been experimental in their writing, but the mainstream in short science fiction stories was heavy with straightforward plots, traditional story arcs, and mysteries resolved with a single final twist. There’s plenty of that now, to be sure. But either there was more then or those are what I remember because they’re the stories I understood as a child.

 

That’s a long way to go to say that science fiction seemed huge to me, but it did. It seemed huge and very distinct because it was my entire fictional world then. Nursery rhymes and the little stories found in early reader books — if you’ve had or been around small children just learning to read much, you’ll recall them — hardly counted.

 

And science fiction is distinct, or at least distinctive. The definition has been endlessly debated over, but most of us who read much of it recognize it when we see it. The same goes for the other genres I mentioned in that last tweet. Horror is distinct enough that we notice the difference, for example, when we read a Stephen King horror story as opposed to a Stephen King something else. Legends have a pretty distinct definition. Magical realism blurs the lines — sometimes it’s fantasy, sometimes it’s science ficiton, sometimes it’s literary, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes.

 

That’s the genre that really makes the point, with its blurryness.

 

They’re all blurry, really. Think of Star Wars: get a SW fan who calls it science fiction and a SW fan who calls it science fantasy in the same room and watch the genre boundary argument fur fly.

 

We love to dicker over what story counts as which genre and who’s that writer whose work is called X but really it’s more Y don’t you think?

 

To say they’re all fiction is too simplistic. But there’s that in pointing out that genres are small things that cannot really contain a story, not the large and well-defined things we’re tempted to think of them as, that we often reflexively think of them as after a scholastic lifetime of being taught the boundaries of genre.

 

They’re all stories. They’re all about human beings and what human beings do and think and feel and wonder. All of them, even the genres where there is debate as to whether or not they’re fiction or nonfiction: mythology, legend, religion.

 

They’re stronger when they wander, stories are. When we get it into our minds that we can’t write in X event because we’re writing science fiction or that Y character doesn’t make sense because we’re reading fantasy, we weaken the stories that we might otherwise love, whether we’re reading them, writing them, or representing them in other forms of art. For centuries fiction and poetry have derived inspiration and imagery from religion and mythology and legend (assuming you divide stories that faith has grown up around into those rather than lumping them together). Star Wars is beloved science fiction in part because it incorporates elements of fantasy and legend and even, at least in the beginning, of the Western movie.

 

Try picking out a few of your favorite stories that have won wide acclaim or are considered enduring classics. Give them a read with this in mind, and look for where the genres blur. You don’t need a story that glaringly throws seventeen genres together; one that’s mostly in one but draws in bits of others is just fine — even better, in fact.

 

Much like the ancient advice that a single stick alone is weak but a bundle of those same sticks is strong together, I think you’ll find that stories that gather together elements of different genres are the strongest.

 

And I also think that it’s more than worth the effort to seek them out as a reader, and to try to create them as a writer.