Category Archives: Regret
…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.
There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.
40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.
40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.
(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)
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.
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.
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.