Category Archives: Hope

An Argument For Animism

 

I’m not an animist, but watching the sun sparkle on the water at the edges of the shadow of that old cypress, I can see how someone could wonder if there wasn’t some sort of spirit or essence or godling showing itself out of the water, the tree, the sun, or all three.

This isn’t Yellowstone falls or the Badlands or any of the great attractions we get so excited about – – and I’ve seen both I mention, that’s why I picked them – – but it’s beautiful (aside maybe from what the wind did to the mic – – sorry about that). It’s easy to get jaded about the little things and the close to home. We build up the big sights and experiences and events so much it’s easy to conclude that everyday life and experiences must innately be boring, so we should be bored.

But beauty and engagement (the opposite, kinda, of boredom) are close at hand if you can give the jaded big-wow-glutton in us all the word to sit down, shut up, and let the excited kid inside a shot at enjoying the little things. Little things like the sun sparkling off the tiny wavelets of a lake on a breezy day.

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Sometimes I Forget To Mention It Here And I Have No Idea Why…

…but I do maintain a Patreon page. Because I am a poverty-stricken writer (yes, actually under the poverty line for a family of 5. Or even 4 if you count my college student stepson as an adult, even though his full time job is college student and he lives here with the rest of us in our itty-bitty trailer), and while the readers I have are wonderful and sometimes even take a moment to tell me so on Twitter or in a review…

…and because Patreon is now a way for creators to make a wee bit more money than they would if they can think of something to offer people who like what they do, and I can — for example, I just posted some brand-new microfiction over there…

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…and often I post it over here eventually, but not always. And I never post links to free ebook copies over here, but I do over there for my $5 or more patrons…

…so, yeah. I’m a big fan of supporting the arts, and these last few years I have become part of the arts. If you’d like to see some of my arts before other people get to see them, Patreon is the place to go.

Thanks for reading. Wherever you read.

Starting Late And Dying Young

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So, General Organa — Carrie Fisher — is dead. At sixty. She left behind a hell of a body of work and a trail of lives and souls touched through the characters she portrayed, the stories she worked on, and in person eye to eye.

She’s hardly the only one to die relatively young. It happens all the time. But when someone whose work is widely known goes youngish, you notice.

And it set me to thinking, because that’s what I do. I don’t just write about the near future. I live in it, too, through imagination and worry.

I think, I’m forty-six. Carrie Fisher died at sixty.

My dad died at fifty.

Oh, Christ.

I’m going to croak in four years or maybe fourteen (or fifteen minutes or fifty years, but never mind that). And I wonder, in that self-doubting way I have in my own head, if that means that if I’m lucky I’ll live to see a book of mine sell a whole thousand copies.

If. If I’m lucky, the little voice says. It’s a pessimist. My future vision, no matter howmuch science fiction I read and write, specializes in horror when I’m the only audience.

And it is honed and practiced by my earlier life. The Wasted Years, I sometimes think of them as, despite their worth now in experience and tenacity and other mostly bitter lessons learned at the feet of pain.

People like Carrie — scratch that. I’m talking about her. Carrie worked and built her career through substance abuse and mental illness and her own internal little voices, whatever fear and doubt she had and she alone truly knew.

I didn’t build a damn thing, and that lack hurts me. Like, physically when I think about it seriously. For this reason and that circumstance and whoknowswhat, some of which I’m aware of, it took me thirty years or so from age five to my mid/late thirties to begin to suspect that I might have value as a human and as a creative person. While Carrie worked I hid and devoted myself, monklike, to substance abuse and cowardice and surrender to all the things I didn’t think I could face alone.

Maybe that’s why, in this latest cycle of Star Wars movies, I feel contempt for Luke Skywalker.

And let me be clear: the character, not the actor. While I admire both Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa, I’m not sure I can admire Luke even if Mark Hamill is, I hear, a great guy.

I’m not closing the door on Luke. For all my pessimism, it is born of constantly disillusioned optimism and idealism. I cannot help hoping, even as I cannot help pessimism-ing. They’re in my blood.

But, seriously, fuck Luke Skywalker.

General Organa, from her Princess Leia days, was out fighting the good fight, facing the cold hard world with teeth bared and steel in her spine, standing in the face of disadvantage and danger and fear and worry and her own personal feelings and pains. Like the woman who portrayed her.

And you, Skywalker, you self-involved coward, ran away to hide.

It is easy for me to hate his character because I see a part of me portrayed in him that I despise and regret.

“But live your life without regrets!” you crow.

Oh, stuff it. That’s as dumb as that stupid “No Fear” slogan that was so big a few years back. You can’t learn a damn thing if you pretend the lessons and clues to them don’t exist.

And, to pick up the earlier thread again, I wonder how much time I have. Four years? Fourteen? Fifty?

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t spent so many years being a dedicated half-hermit drunk paralyzed by the fear, the near-certainty, that I had nothing to offer the world, nothing to offer even myself.

And I know it doesn’t matter.

The past is gone, the future is unrevealed, and what matters is what I do now.

Now is all I have. And all you have. And all Carrie and General Organa and Princess Leia had.

Some days it’s hard. Living with one foot in the maybe-future, as I must doing what I do, makes me a worrier.

I worry I already blew my chance. That maybe only an S.A. Barton who kept writing in high school and through his twenties and thirties had a chance to make a living and a name writing. That maybe the S.A. Barton I am, the one who blew those years in self-dissipation, cannot no matter how hard he tries. (Oh, gawd. I’m speaking in third person. Shoot me.)

But maybe that me would have been too shallow to be worth much without all these crappy experiences I have survived. And the better experiences that eventually grew from them.

Who knows? Nobody.

Playing the what-if game outside of fiction leads to madness.

I still worry, wonder, regret, rage, fear. And wonder if I’ll have time to make my voice heard widely, to grow into a respected creative voice the way Carrie Fisher did. To make that kind of impact, one that will last many, many years after her untimely departure. I don’t know. It took her a lifetime, didn’t it?

Maybe I can. Maybe I won’t.

But when the worry and regret perch ravenlike in the dark corners behind me, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

I have no time for cowards anymore, whether they are Luke Skywalker or the Ghost of S.A. Barton Past. But I do, in that undying spark of stubborn optimism that hides under my pessimism, believe there’s a chance to be better today, and every today until the todays stop coming, and to find success.

Afraid Of The Future

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

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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.

The Magic Bullet For Success

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It’s easy to find a 10-step guide to success on the internet.

The internet is crawling with magic bullets. I’m going to make some up, but they’ll probably replicate or be damn close to real ones: “5 Easy Tips To Unleash Your Creativity” “10 Great Writers Tell You How To Be A Success” “3 Simple Principles To Unlock Viral Fame”.

You know the stuff. You’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve clicked on a few. Lean in close, I’ll tell you a secret.

Ready?

I’ve clicked on a few.

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Yeah, sometimes I read those things. Maybe you have never, but the odds say you have. They’re tempting. We all want to do the stuff we do better. Sometimes we’re pretty sure we’re doing it wrong. Sometimes we’re pretty sure that what we’re missing is simple, a little thing, something so obvious that we’re not seeing it like (we presume, because AFAIK nobody’s ever talked to a fish) fish don’t realize they’re swimming in water.

Also, there’s great advice out there. Granted, it’s usually not behind a headline like “7 Pathetically Simple Things Your Dumb Ass Can Learn In 30 Seconds By Reading This Article What The Hell Is Wrong With You”. Which is how all those headlines read when I’m feeling down. THANKS INTERNET YOU JERK.

The great advice, though, really is in little online articles sometimes. Or in tweets from some of the more entertaining and personable writers out there. Or in books like the ever-so-frequently-mentioned On Writing by Stephen King — his isn’t the only one, look for some in your home genre if you write and you’re looking for tips.

Y0u just never know where it’s going to show up.

But the “magic bullet” articles are generally 1 part obvious stuff and 9 parts crap. There’s not a magic bullet to make you an enormously selling writer (I mean, I don’t think so. I’m not enormously selling, so I could be totally wrong I suppose) or anything else. No magic listicle to unlock huge webcomic popularity or world champion marathoner prowess or being a better friend-spouse-whoever-you-are-to-someone-else, no magic bullet to jack your B average up to an A, no magic bullet to unlock the best lyrics ever from your songwriting pen.

If you’re really looking for magic bullets to success, you’re in for a sad surprise. They’re basically spells. Modern-day incantations and rituals. Do X,Y, and Z while saying A and writing B, and you’ll be the next Rowling.

Not.

How.

It.

Works.

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There’s magic in the world — and if you’re allergic to schmaltz, skip ahead a bit. There’s the magic of hugs and love and empathy and giving a damn about your fellow human being and babies and kittens and freshly baked cookies and waterfalls and walks on foggy beaches and blooming flowers and fat bumblebees and…

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You get the point.

But there’s no magic zip-zappity-poof now you’re at the top of your chosen field.

The truth is boring.

Always work to improve. Always be ready to hear constructive criticism. Always be ready to ignore trolls. Keep working. Keep looking for new opportunities. Keep on keeping on. And do read things that you think might contain helpful things for you. Sometimes you can find a bit of perspective or a tidbit that points you at a personal shortcoming or strength so you can improve or capitalize. Sometimes it will even be in one of those silly listicles. But mostly not.

Just don’t give up.

And maybe write something like this if you’re having one of those days when you, personally, feel like giving up.

It helps. Take my word for it.

 

“Half Sour, Half Sweet” Is About Finding Hope In The Depths Of Regret

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This is a story that comes, in part, out of my own life and experiences. Unlike David Brown, I am not yet seventy years old and I did not miss out on the love of my life. But I do know what regret is, and I do know what it is to wonder if my chance to have a good life got left behind in the past. David did leave his good life behind, and he’s wondering where it got to, and how he got so old. David’s redemption is in a little bit of magic that he mistakenly left behind at his boyhood home, if only he can find it and figure out how to use it. And maybe a bit in his grandson’s unknowing help.

My hope and redemption, you might (not) be startled to discover, is in writing stories like this. There’s a bit more of my past in it than usual, not that you’d notice if I didn’t tell you. David’s boyhood home is basically one I lived in when I was around five years old, though I didn’t get to finish growing up there like David did. The staircase and the vertigo one gets looking down it are there, if the house still stands. David’s grandson’s room is right where mine was, though of course in the mid-1970s there was no computer in it. I took some liberties — I had to move the creek across the field to a different position, and the creek needed to have a road next to it that never existed. I think the fishing is better in David’s creek than it was in mine, too.

But that’s fiction for you. We have to move some things around to make room for the fantasy. We have to include enough of the real for the fantastic to be grounded in our thoughts and feelings.

And we have to read it, of course. I hope you’ll read this one. David and I will thank you for it.

You can find it at Amazon, iTunes Bookstore, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and at Smashwords.

It is also included among the twenty-one stories in the Not Gruntled collection, which is available in trade paperback as well as ebook formats.