Growing Things

Keeping it positive for Easter Week.

Last year, my wife came into a good supply of iris rhizomes. She planted them in several locations around the house. Some are right behind the brick ‘bench’ in the front yard.

The flowers have bloomed here and along the brick planter along the street in their dozens just the last day or two. We are having people over for pizza this Saturday, so at least the front yard should be glorious with flowers.

The other planted things – tomatoes, potatoes, basil, beans, okra, blueberries – are also growing/breaking through the soil. Fruit trees look very promising, especially the apricots and figs.

In a similar way, the family is growing. Married off Elder Daughter last May, marrying off Middle Son this May. Younger Daughter, who is a pro-level baker, decided to test out one of *three* different cake flavors her older brother requested for her to make for his wedding cake.

Note: it not only did not seem excessive to ask the little sister, who is maid of honor, to also bake the wedding cake, it seemed OK to specify 3 different exotic flavors, one for each of the 3 layers. Younger Daughter then decides she needs to test out the recipes – which she is making up as she goes – and so for Easter bakes up a lavender/Earl Grey/lemon? (something like that) cake:

Sprigs of lavender from our front yard, candied some lemon slices – no biggie! It was killer delicious.

She wants to do this. She’s flying out early to bake back east.

Kids these days. At least, she’s not making the wedding dresses – she could do that, too. Both daughters could, if they wanted.

Added a son-in-law last year; adding a daughter-in-law in two months. Grandchildren are the next logical step. Praise be to God! We are truly blessed.

‘Sup?

It’s Holy Week, so I’m ignoring the world’s current self-inflicted death spiral (it’s like we need a Savior or something!) to post a trivial updates:

A. The Garden. We have a dwarf fig tree up front. I totally get why sitting in the shade of your own fig tree is one biblical image of what peace and happiness looks like on earth.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war.

Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:3-4
Our fig tree, just starting to put out leaves. The breba figs, the first crop that comes in with the leaves on last year’s new growth, tend to be larger and fewer than the main crop, which comes in in the summer.
Our 3-in-1 cherry, which produced a few nice cherries last year. Show promise for quite a few more this year.
A new blueberry bush to complement the one we got last year. Covered with blossoms and little blueberries. Very exciting.
The apricot trees are setting a lot of fruit already. The peaches (not pictured) had a tough year last year, and are a bit behind the apricots. Two little tress of each, trimmed to stay about 7′ tall. No ladders to pick fruit for me.
Counted 19 stems across two beds of irises this morning. Flowers: pretty, but you can’t eat them, so I tend to have them way down the list because of our limited planting space. If we had an acre, I’d plant a lot more flowers.

Have 5 tomatoes in the ground; transplanted some vigorous and lovely oregano that took over a planter several years ago; threw some basil, string beans and okra in the ground. Have a couple spots earmarked for potatoes and sweet potatoes – and that’s it for the space this year. The last remaining major segment of the Never-ending Insane Brick Project of Doom will provide about 30′ of 18″ wide beds that I’m planning to sneak some vegetables in. But that’s about all – space has been maximized unless I want to start cutting down walnut trees – and I don’t.

B. Marrying off the the Middle Son. Got tickets and rented a van for a week for an extended end-of-May trip for our son’s wedding. He and his fiancé live in and will be married in a Fauxvid-panicked state – veritable feet from the border of a much more sane state. The wedding will be held in an out of the way location, with the reception just across the border from Karin and her pals (we sincerely hope). This will be our second child married off during the current insanity. At least this time, plans are unlikely to change by the minute.

Americans are not the stupidest people in recorded history, I keep telling myself, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. We have been trained for this moment of mindless terror-stricken conformity for at least the last 50 years. This is the payoff moment for decades of schooling: we are all getting a Gold Star for remembering to raise our hands and ask for permission to go to the bathroom.

Sorry. Forgot we’re not bickering over ‘o killed ‘o at the moment. This is a happy occasion!

YARN | - Very good pig country. - Is it? | Monty Python and the Holy Grail  | Video clips by quotes | 4b6f5ae5 | 紗
“Good pig country.”

C. Rereading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, for story ideas for additional stories in the White Handled Blade universe (Universe? Neighborhood might be a more accurate term). Read as history, it’s fascinating and depressingly realistic:

  • King – Uther Pendragon – dies without a obvious legitimate heir;
  • After a couple chaotic decades during which various kings, in the traditional Roman sense of a leader who the armed men will follow, and other lords vie for power in the vacuum, a (another?) candidate is proposed – a nobody hardly anyone has heard of.
  • This nobody is backed by the Church, allegedly backed by a heavenly/magical sign.
  • The sign is repeated over the course of months, until enough knights can be assembled to back the claimant.
  • The new ‘king’ and his men then fights battle after battle, defeating other kings and their knights,
  • who either submit to Arthur’s rule – cry ‘mercy’ and are sent to Arthur to pledge their fealty – or are killed.
  • Arthur rules from the saddle, with a number of courts spread around his realm.
  • After a while, enough kings and knights have been brought to heel for Arthur to be able to send knights on quests of one sort or another. Ruling from the saddle by proxy
  • A story begins to circulate that he really is the legitimate heir, but, for his safety, had to be raised in secret once his mother and father were dead until he was of age.

The mandate of Heaven clearly rests upon him – but he’s doomed by his incestuous infidelity in fathering a son, then pulling a Herod to try to get rid of Mordred. (Thus, Sophocles and Scripture testify to his doom!)

The second striking part are the layers of anachronism. Malory is painting Arthur like a 1950s author might paint the Founding Fathers, projecting back on them the romanticized versions learned through myth and morality tales. The chivilary imagined for the centuries preceding the compilation is read into the stories. Yet his source materials hardly admit of such – these are violent men committing violent crimes once or twice a page, and getting away with it. Further, Arthur retains signs of what he was supposed to be: a Roman/Celtic king/chieftain. Further further, the sources have all sorts of magical and frankly irrational elements in them.

Malory mixes up a stew, in which knights, supposedly bound by a largely imaginary chivalry already ancient in Malory’s time, pursue often incoherent adventures involving magical creatures and appalling behaviors, lopping off heads left and right, as it were.

And it kind of works! He’s a better storyteller than he sometimes get credit for.

D. Writing continues at a somewhat slower pace. More on that later, world’s suicidal death spiral permitting.

Update Schmupdate.

Yes, I’m still alive.

A. Spring is almost here. My seasonal affective disorder – the fancy, victim-centric way of saying sunlight and warmth make me happy – is crashing to a halt. Yay me. California is very beautiful. It’ll be hard to leave.

Doing a little garden prep.

Stuck some flowers in some planters. Yay me.
View from the front porch, soon to be much greener. Turned some beds, laid down some fresh compost and bark.
Like the Dutch angle? Peaches blooming; Apricots working on it. Cherry & pear not yet. Tiny bb sized figs peeking out.

The Insane Endless Brick Project of Doom lurks, but I need to do work on the lawn and paint the house, too….

B. On the writing front, been watching Successful Indie Author Five-Minute Focus by Craig Martelle, the 20 books to 50K guy. He recently did a thing on how many things one should work on at once. Short answer: it depends, but he finds three things the most he can productively work on at once, and must have one as the primary focus with a deadline. This seems about right to me, and pretty much what it has boiled down to.

C. With that in mind, top focus: It Will Work, with a self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2021. Added a couple thousand usable words plus a bunch of outlining and a little research (mostly, looking up names – the names are mostly plays on words from Mauri mythology and Greek. Because they are.) It’s up to 10,000 useable words as of today.

The backup projects are Understanding Science and Black Friday, the first of which is on hold until I get stuck/finished with It Will Work, the second of which I’ve done a little more research on and some additional outlining, but is basically in the bullpen warming up. So, I’m still enthusiastic. My in-bed-as-I-fall-asleep reading is Morte d’Arthur and the Mabinogion, for that Arthurian book, so I’m mentally working on that as well, even if putting nothing in writing yet. And I’m making a habit of thinking through plot points if I wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep. Works both way: by not thinking of the current and accelerating Fall of Western Civilization, I get back to sleep faster, and I have in fact worked through some plot points. Win-win!

Hit my first (since getting on this current writing jag back in January) wall: On It Will Work, got stuck on how to deal with the inescapable infodump I need in the middle chapters. There’s just some critical backstory/worldbuilding that has to take place, no way around it. I’ve tried to be clever about working needed information into the story more or less naturally, but this was not happening here. After sleeping on it, just had one of the minor characters tell the protagonist something about the history of my aliens, then will have some action, and then have some other character tell him the rest. All in all, it’s going to be about 3,000 words of backstory/worldbuilding spread across maybe 10,000 words of story. Just reading it back, it doesn’t seem like too much – but what do I know about writing books? The 1.5 million+ words I’ve written over the last decade are 90% blog posts…

D. Speaking of blog posts, keep adding to the drafts folder. I was, in fact, writing posts over the week I’ve been gone – just not finishing and posting posts. Because I started thinking, and, well, what good ever comes of that?!?

Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

Writing Update, etc.

A. Now am working on the “What Science IS” chapter for the Understanding Science book. The first three preliminary chapters are or soon will be posted here for your review, dear readers. Probably combine them into one chapter, edit them down a little to remove repetition.

The What Science IS chapter is challenging. What I want is to engage my laymen target audience, and give them an understanding of science that will allow them filter out the high-level nonsense. I doubt the utility of going the Popper route of falsifiable propositions for my purposes – you gotta think too hard, and have more philosophy than your average bloke to really get your head around the basic concepts – at least, I think you do. If I start right in laying on the philosophy, years of government training – schooling – will kick in and their minds will perform an auto-shutdown. I think. (Math triggers the same routines in the properly schooled.)

Along a similar vein, I wrote a little ‘three kinds of knowledge’ section, then set it aside – as basic and, indeed, essential as this distinction is, I fear I will loose my imagined target audience one sentence in. Can I frame up a discussion of necessary truth, conditional truth, and art (techne) that doesn’t trigger a flight response? The necessary truth part I’d limit to math and logic – no need to go any deeper for my purposes. The important part is the recognition of CONDITIONS on all scientific knowledge, and, more subtle, how those conditions (mostly) need to be expressed in order for science to have any weight.

Then comes the point that art/techne/technology is really, really good and, for most of us, much more true – more BELIEVABLE – than science claims. Our computers and cell phones WORK – that’s their primary characteristic of interest. That working is far more convincing and interesting, for most of us, than any scientific syllogisms based on conditional observations of more abstract, less immediate phenomena.

I can say that observation of the orbit of Mercury or of starlight bending around the sun during an eclipse proves relativity – OR I can say: without relativistic adjustments, the GPS in your phone wouldn’t be near as accurate. Which is more convincing? I could say: some thermodynamic laws govern how much a given gas will cool down when it expands, and show some math – or I can point out that refrigerators work. Which is more convincing?

I gather from a lifetime of interactions with people that few wondered, as children, how that refrigerator worked, or how those huge generators in dams worked. The fridge was totally baffling to me; I figured dynamos must make sparks or something. That all these man-made things work is probably as much a driver of my curiosity as the wonders of nature. But is that pertinent here?

So, in the current draft, I went with: Science is the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies – a sound, if subtly complex, definition that seemed better to address my goals. What this definition does is put the focus on the observation of physical things, specifically, things that can be measured. Not our opinions or feelings about what we observe, not things such as other people’s feelings, which can be (maybe) observed but not measured.

I planned to use this approach to hammer home the (obvious?) point that science simply cannot dictate policy. There is no “this is what we came up with when we measured some properties of physical objects, therefore you must do X.” There are a whole lot of steps being left out in such an assertion, chief of which is a clear statement of the value judgements and moral assumptions that always underlie claims we must do something. The laws of physics say we must fall if we jump off that cliff, but they don’t and can’t say if we should or should not jump off that cliff. Falling once you jump is science and outside any subsequent act of your will; deciding to jump is not.

The subtilty lies in cases where sciences have developed by studying the metrical properties of physical objects without overtly measuring those properties. Geology is an example suggested by a reader. Early theories were developed without too much explicit measurement. Example: for plate tectonics to be true, the Atlantic Ocean must be expanding. And so it is – at exactly some number of millimeters per year, within some plus or minus. Once that measurement has been obtained, we now can back into how old the Atlantic Ocean is, within limits. Similarly, biology started by simply observing the difference between various plants and animals and describing the different characteristics, but soon moved on to measuring those characteristics, such that we know African and Indian elephants differ in size: height, weight, ears, tusks, etc.

Even the historical sciences are looking at measurable properties, even if they don’t start of measuring them, they eventually do.

The above is the sort of thing I might throw in an appendix or end note.

Anyway, I need a bit of a break from this science stuff, so:

B. Turned to the Novels in Process folder. On each of the three items in the stack, I need more planning done. An honest (as honest as I can be) assessment: one I could conceivably finish in a few months – it just needs some outlining to get it from where it is at to where it needs to go, so I don’t meander too much getting there; the other two are going to need a daunting amount of planning and research. On the one that’s been percolating for a couple decades now, I work as I try to fall asleep at night – I try to wrestle it into a series, chop it into 3-4 pieces, deal with the already large cast of characters, and try to make the ‘science’ less ridiculous. Mostly, it’s a matter of organizing the various climaxes, or inventing some, to get it into manageable stories. I add to my notes when I think of it.

So, I thought: I need another short novel to put into the hopper from the ‘ideas’ pile, one that I can get done in less time with less anxiety. (hahaha.) So – picked a flash fiction (1400 word) story that reads like the first chapter in a “world’s going to hell, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion” adventure. Our Heroes hunker down from an evil government takeover, jury-rig some awesome tech, outwit the government lackies, and overcome impossible odds, culminating in a glorious showdown – that sets up a sequel.

My model, from a structure POV, is just good ol’ Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a pretty solid Dent style story I’ve always loved and admired: every chapter, Our Heroes are put into deadly danger, each worse than the last, with the stakes getting higher with each turn of the page, until THE ENTIRE PLANET is threatened!

I’ve long wanted to try my had at something like that. Once, many years ago, I wrote a fairly long outline (long hand, in a notebook) for a crazy story along these lines, with bad guys pretending to fund deep-sea research out of the goodness of their hearts, using Our Gullible Hero to find some valuable mineral deposits around some deep sea vents, then abandoning the submersible with him and the girl he’s long had a crush on at the bottom of the ocean, once they got what they wanted. A wacky escape, with proper heroics and comeuppances ensued. Boy gets girl. It was stoopid fun – at least, writing the outline was. Wonder what happened to that? I think we started having kid right around that time, so I set it aside…

Anyway, along those lines. So now I’m reading a Homeland Security document on shopping mall vulnerabilities. Because of course I am. For essential background! I swear!

C. The front yard orchard & garden needs pre-spring prep: cleanup, fertilize, copper spray, lay down some more mulch, repair/improve some raised beds. Get a few more flowering plants for the boarders. Last year, lost all my front yard viny vegetables to an insane aphid/white fly infestation followed by that nasty mold that seems to love squash. So, no front yard squash, cucumbers, etc. this year, as that stuff tends to linger in the soil for years.

Back yard needs work. Lawn needs aerating and reseeding; garden needs weeding/prep; need a few flowers for some planters. The usual.

D. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance keeps piling up: the sun beats on the house’s south-facing walls, which are now peeling and cracking. I got paint, but now I need to clear away obstructions, get some scaffolding (2-story), do a ton of prep, and then get on it while I still can. Sure, you can hire a painter, but I figure this is the follow-up to the Great Brick Insanity: something I can do for a few hours at a time, finish a wall, clear and prep the next, so that, over a summer, with my son’s help, I can get it done. A lot less hands and knees work than bricks. (Still have some brickwork to finish too, but I’m not thinking about that now. I. Am. Not.)

I’m insane.

E. I need to write two history test, one each for the 8th and 9th graders, for tomorrow. What I’m I doing writing here? Later!

Thanks, Updates

A. Several of you, my deeply appreciated readers, have sent me comments on A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be A Gullible Rabbit (I like that title better). If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, it’s because your input a) required actual thought; b) is long; or c) both. Maybe later today.

On the actual text, not counting notes, I’m up to about 6,500 7,200 more or less usable words. Thinking about starting each chapter with a Feynman quotation and a story from science history. For example:

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and well-known Cal Tech professor

Then, maybe, tell a story – bloodletting, say, how it was the accepted treatment for a dazzling array of medical problems until the end of the 19th century – how it was the “consensus science,” how few dared to question its efficacy, how it probably killed (or at least, hastened the death of) George Washington, a true believer in bloodletting. It only took a CENTURY OR SO for the medical profession to accept the growing pile of counter evidence.

A beast. Much more attractive than the beasts we are among and are constantly at risk of becoming.

What’s occurred to me, in writing this, is illustrated by another Feynman quotation:

We have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on an opening chapter that dedcribes why anyone should care – why is it not OK to just do as we’re told. File this as yet another item under: things that are obvious to me but clearly not so obvious to very many other people.

B. A major point, perhaps not emphasized enough: it’s OK, in fact, it’s preferred, to simply not have an opinion. If the science is really, truly, over your head, then why do you even have an opinion on it? Perhaps it is a consequence of the way voting is done here in America: we are made to vote for people we couldn’t possibly know, who talk about issues we hardly, if at all, understand. Yet, we seem to be embarrassed not to have an opinion on these people and policies.

Let’s say we humbly recognize that the base science is simply over our heads. What we might do, instead, is talk about the big picture. The obvious example: it would have been nice if, from the beginning, a cost/benefit analysis had been presented on the lockdowns. Clearly, before 2020, everybody, including the CDC, were very adverse to lockdowns, because the cost is so obviously high. Short of Black Death level event, it’s should be fairly obvious that lockdowns should be used very sparingly and only as a last resort.

So, say, instead of incessant panic-mongering based on supposed science way over out little heads, we instead demanded regular updates on the costs in lives, health, and money, of the lockdowns, to be compared to the presumed benefits. I’m imagining it would have been a different discussion. I imagine that’s why it never took place.

Anyway, on most science, it’s meet and just to simply not have an opinion. Evolution – who cares? Some geneticists and biologists, I suppose, but, for the rest of us, it’s simply immaterial. Yet, ‘belief’ in evolution is used as some sort of touchstone. We need to see that for what it is: an attempt to force people into line for the sake of having them in line. Same goes for absolutely everything in cosmology and astrophysics – who cares? Why should people even have an opinion on whether the earth orbits the sun, let alone the red shift and dark matter and so on? It just doesn’t matter.

I’m saying this as someone who loves this stuff. It’s just odd that, socially, you’ll be judged a lot harsher for for expressing any doubt that the earth (despite all appearances) is whipping through space and spinning like a top than you will for walking out on your spouse and kids. The balance here is wildly, insanely off.

C. So, on the chapters, here’s the problem: there are counterarguments (some made by readers – thanks again!) to some of the major points I’m making. For example, scientific consensus is a real thing, with a real purpose. It’s just not evidence. Putting it in somewhat more technical terms: under Kuhn’s distinction between normal and revolutionary science, a scientific consensus is an aid to those doing normal science, but that’s all it is. These normal scientists (who might more properly be called technicians) are working out theories or discoveries they no longer question. The revolutionary scientists – scientists in the fullest sense – are working on stuff that isn’t already understood, on the ragged edges and in the holes of accepted science. The first group, it is supposed, form consensuses around evidence. If this is true, then for us laymen the thing we want to see is that evidence.

Again, the real problems are caused when the idea of ‘scientific consensus’ is used as a blunt instrument to silence us little people and force us into conformity. Sure, some theories we might like as amateurs have been beaten to death by the pros, and so they consider even bringing them up bad form. So? Is that really a problem in real life? Rather, we are lied to to shut us up: it’s the scientific consensus that, unless you panic as we tell you, and do what we tell you, and hand over the power we demand, we’re all going to die!

And so on. Similar issues arise with some of the other points I’m trying to make.

D. We’re into year 3 since I was forced out my job. Good riddance, frankly, it was death by a thousand cuts. Fortunately, for few years there, I did pretty well, so, it’s not the disaster for us it would be for most people. At some point, fairly soon, I need to figure it out. I could semi-retire, teach some school (alternative/home-school co-op, that sort of thing) and write some books. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting. But if I’m doing that, then it would be good to move someplace much cheaper than the Bay Area, perhaps some place a little less azure, a little more crimson? There are probably cantons in China less azure than certain neighborhoods out here… Texas or Tennessee I could handle. Florida – God-forsaken paved-over swamp with weather that makes Texas’s look good. Montana and Wyoming look nice, but kind of flat and cold. Idaho, I hear, has already had it with its ongoing Californication.

Poland or Uruguay might be better, but I’m not that adventurous (although far short of a worse-case scenario might make me wish I were). If I were to dump our suburban Bay Area house, I could maybe get some serious acres and build a 4,000 sq ft house on them – and break even. Depending, of course, and going completely wild/rural. Mamma was from East Texas, and Daddy from Claremore, OK, so shouldn’t I get more the coming home treatment than the damn Californian reception? Please?

I’m imagining aging gracefully on our new family spread, with enough room for the kids and their kids, if things get bad enough for them out here. Big enough house for them all to stay in, and room for them to build their own if the want. Piano room, big greenhouse, garden. My only luxury (the music room is NOT a luxury! Absolutely essential!) would be a nice kitchen. My standards for a decent kitchen are unfortunately high…. Everything else can be standard suburban quality. Enough insulation and air conditioning to ride out the 90% of the time I’m going to look outside and miss California….

E. Went on YouTube, watched a couple videos, and fixed our power mower. I am da MAN!

Writing Update?

Can I talk about my humble writing efforts without bringing in the collapse of Western Civilization? Probably not.

So, been doing work, but not getting enough production – research, writing down backstory and character arcs, thinking through plot points, but not actually writing stuff for other people to read. Trying to not get too worked up over it, because a couple stories and the two (three? Is the White Handled Blade the beginning of a novel? Stay tuned…) sure the heck need some serious thoughtsmithing before the wordsmithing can go anywhere.

I’m going to get 1,000 words down on something before I go to bed tonight. That, I can do.

Been writing out some character details arcs, and, due to the nature of the NTSNBN, some family histories as well. I think some of these people need to kill each other. Seriously, I’m setting up some good guys/bad guys/people in the middle dynamics, but only abstractly so far. My evilest character in particular is, I hope, a little sympathetic, at least to the degree that you get why this person acts the way she does. Not going for the ‘misunderstood’ angle at all, this character is very aware of what she’d doing. But, so far, I haven’t though out exactly how she is going to crush people. It’s a little like: if someone pulls a gun in Act 1, somebody better get shot by Act 3. Yet, at the same time, don’t want to telegraph it too bad – it should be a shock when it happens…

That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking through, multiplied by 100. I want to make these stories good, but I also keep reminding myself that getting them done means accepting some imperfection – good and done beats perfect but never done.

I have this theory that, if I can get the ending to the NTSNBN complete, even just in my head, that everything else will come together. Don’t disabuse me. Part of the thoughsmithing is the realization that I wasn’t thinking big enough – there’s got to 20-25 pages of epic disaster before the denouement or it will seem disproportionate.

I think. Like I’ve done this before? But I have read a lot of books…

Astrophysicist discovers numerous multiple star systems ...

In the middle of writing this, I started wondering: if I want my longship to get anywhere inside hundreds of years, it’s (duh) going to have to go to a nearby system. But, leaving out brown dwarves and other minor objects, all the nearby systems, say, within a couple hundred lightyears, are known to some degree. So, if I say my people go to a nearby system with some easily-identifiable characteristics, I should probably see if there is, in fact, a system passably like the one I describe in our near galactic neighborhood…

…hours and hours later, I’ve now read up on dozens of nearby systems, hoping to find one that will work. You might be amazed at the variety of systems within a few hundred lightyears: single, double, triple, multiple star systems, some doing the dance of death with stars well under 1 AU from each other; others with stars 100+ AUs apart whose orbits take millennia to complete. Red giants, white dwarfs, everything in between…. Yet more pages bookmarked, notes taken, time – wasted?

Sigh.

Anyway, got to find some balance. But at least I’m making something like progress here.

Now, onto business: I’m guessing the right move for me is to a) write under a pen name; and b) set up some sort of account – PayPal? – that’s not so obviously traceable back here. I don’t flatter myself that I’m somehow important enough to bother with, but I do wonder how thorough an automated search for badthink might be, and how I’ve committed a whole boatload of pretty definite badthink over the years, in print, right here. It is impossible to overestimate the petty vindictiveness of our self appointed betters, nor the moral orgasms they get persecuting helpless people.

Better safe than sorry, I suppose, although there’s no way I’m safe if somebody really wanted to go after me. But, as I said, that seems pretty unlikely.

On that topic, I now have four protonmail addresses from people who want to be on my mailing list if this blog gets taken down – Thanks. Again, seems remarkably petty and unlikely given my insignificance, but, well, take a look around. I’ll do a general announcement soon.

Updated Writing Update

A week ago, before the dawn of the Crazy Years and all his pomps and vanities, I posted an update wherein I recounted the gripping tale of having spent 20 hours going through all the fiction I’d written over the last roughly 5 years, finding, formatting, and organizing it. It’s now all tidy. Got everything in OpenDocs on my slightly more secure laptop and on a 2T backup drive.

Yay me.

In the past week, I have gotten more fiction written than in the previous year, for a gain of maybe 4-5K words net, with some fairly extensive rewrites.

I also grabbed some files for the education research projects I go on about here, but have not gone through them. Huge number of notes, drafts, and sources. I think I have more stuff on GoogleDocs, I need to do a thorough search. The amount of work needed to get all THAT stuff organized will be in the same ballpark as the fiction. Sigh.

The goal is to have everything organized, not in GoogleDocs, in a more or less consistent format, with local backup. So far, so good. Not to be a drama queen, but I want to be able to go full samizdat in the unlikely event that becomes necessary. I don’t want anymore stuff out there where our tech lizard overlords can look at them.

The big question: how soon and how well will our new Winston Smiths do their jobs? I often do download and format* the old books I find on the web – the internet is really cool, sometimes – but mostly I just have links. Part of me is going: oh, come on! Nobody is going to take down all that old boring, stuffy stuff with single-digit downloads, of interest to only the geekiest of geeks! But – could some pensive child, in an excess of zeal and caution, cause the Internet Achieves to cease to be? Or, like Herod, decide everything that might someday be a threat needs to die now?

But that is for another day.

Finished one old short story, about 5,000 words, and just have the denouement (if that idea even applies to a short story) to put in on another of about 8,000. Somehow, the first two I choose to finish are both about guys pining after their gals, more or less – in space! Alas, in neither does anything much blow up good. Spaceships and robots do get smashed – that’s got to count for something, right?

On the novel front: Yikes. On the one, got a ream of references, notes, outlines, characters names and arcs, and descriptions of planets, ships, and so on. But, reviewing this stuff, noticed what I don’t have is any clear outline. What I do have is more or less vague ideas for a story that might take place over 3-4 books, describing the goings-on on a generational starship and the planets the colonists settle. I’m torn between looking stuff up to get the science more or less plausible, and just ladling on the handwavium. The Heinlein vs. Bradbury approach. How does it work? Very well, thank you.

Ex: What’s important for the story is that the ship works, that it can get a 100,00 colonists to strange new worlds to colonize within a couple centuries. How it does so just needs not to take one out of the story. Buuuut: the design of the ship does figure into the story. A lightsail or magsail is appealing, but isn’t plausible for the kind of acceleration needed; having orbital lasers push it is kinda a fun idea – but also doesn’t work in the story for reasons. So I started with the sort of not-quite plausible set up used on the Sparrow – an asteroid hollowed out as a ship, that consumes itself in some sort of fancy ion drive.

Nuclear Salt Water Engine. Like the 50s vibe to this illustration.

Handwavium. But then, read up on nuclear salt-water rockets (NSWR), which I had somehow not heard of before. Very cool, and produce the level of thrust to at least within an order of magnitude or two that one would need to get up to the significant percentage of light speed – which is what you need. So: what I’ve done so far is create a sort of hybrid ship, a nickel-iron cigar a couple kilometers long, with nuclear reactors being used to ionize and accelerate the asteroid itself as fuel. But for near sun work and help braking when they get where they’re going, add a lightsail and maybe a magsail as well. Do I work NSWR drive into the story? So that I and the 1% of potential readers who might appreciate a little plausibility are a little more happy?

If so, this morning after a cup of coffee, I’d probably stick with the hybrid idea: inside the hollowed out ship are nuclear reactors, a million tons of water, tons of salts of enriched uranium and plutonium. Maybe they unfurl the solar sail and mag sail (one or the other? Do more research and decide? AHHHH!!!) while still in the inner system, then, once they have slowly spiraled their way out a bit, fire up the NSWR drive….

And, there you go: HOURS will be spent getting this right – and it doesn’t actually matter to the basis of the story. BUT IT’S COOL!!! Multiply this by some factor for other tech and science I don’t understand (I’m Rocket Maaaan!!) and, um, I could be tied up for a while. Meanwhile, the actual plot is laughable. Stuff happen. In space. To loveable and hateable characters. I think. Probably better figure it out pretty soon.

Anyway, something I didn’t expect: as the political scene spirals deeper into 1984-land to the applause of the bleating sheep, I find writing a great distraction and comfort. When the world gets to be too much, I can retreat (with an inner chuckle) to a world where a hapless engineer finds himself hanging from a wire a thousand meters above a canyon floor on an ice moon named Flee orbiting a gas giant called Tough Nut, because it seemed like a good idea to this woman art critic, who is falling for him but he’s clueless, as a means to help him get his music degree while rubbing the noses of some pompous artists in their own stupidity. Or a world where a beloved mother of 10, who happens to command an army of drones and bots called spiders helping to construct a spaceship, is hiding a dark secret with a deadline. Or where a fat man in his underwear, who happens to be heir to an empire, is exiled by the queen mother to a planet completely covered in a single life-form that tastes like mashed potatoes, and is awaiting his next shipment of butter.

You know, the usual.

To stay sane and not hate anyone, I try to keep in mind the helpful image of sheep without a shepherd. That’s us, me as much as them. I may have a clue or 2, but, still, I’m a dumb sheep like everybody else. Castigating people who have been terrified by their false shepherds for not thinking things through is like blaming panicked sheep for running the flock off a cliff. It’s horrible, but they are (mostly) not to blame. Those false shepherds have a millstone or two in their furfures, however. If they’re lucky to get off that easy.

The thoughts of many hearts are being revealed these days.

“And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; 35And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35

Holy Mother of Mercy, pray for us! Heavenly Father, remember your promise of mercy. For Your Name’s sake, for the glory of your Son, in the Power of Your Spirit, have mercy on us!

* I’ve grabbed key old books that have been scanned into electronic form from some library copy with all sorts of marks, smudges, and stamps on the pages, not mention hard line returns. They are messes. In very bad cases, I will have the pdf and the OCR versions open side by side, in order to better verify my guesses at the text. While trying to read them, I will often start correcting & formatting as I go, because the messiness drives me crazy. This only doubles, at least, the amount of time it takes me to read these books. Obsessive much? Me?

Whistling Past the Graveyard: Writing Update

A lot of important things going on, which I will ignore. Instead, here’s an update.

Celebrated Monday, the first normal day of the New Year, by spending about 18 hours finding and organizing every bit of fiction I’ve written in the last roughly 5 years. About 82,000 words, or 2 short novels worth. This includes:

  • 31 bits of flash fiction you may have seen on this blog: about 30,000 words, or just under 1,000 words average length.
  • 10 short stories, at 35,000 words, or about 3,500 words each – except only 6 are done or close to done. Those closer to being done average about 5,000 words, but the range is extreme: 12K for the longest, 1.5K for the shortest.
  • A couple novels, not counting the attempt to novelize a set of 7 bits of flash fiction (starting with “It will work“): about 7,000 words, and many thousands more in notes & research.
  • Many thousands of words of ideas, research, backstories, not included in the above.

These numbers do not include the similarly sized scraps and drafts for the two non-fiction education history books I’ve also worked on. I’ll get those organized later. Want to do fiction first.

So, while I was beating myself up about my lack of productivity, over the last 5 years, I was cranking out stuff faster than G.R.R. Martin. The key step, what’s missing: FINISH WHAT YOU START. That’s the 2021 resolution.

I tried to resist the desire to revise/rewrite as I read through them while applying a consistent format and putting them each in its own properly nested file with the corresponding research, backstory, etc. when appropriate. But only a little. Now, I’ve picked a short story near completion and the Novel That Shall Not Be Named and have them open, and have spent another 8-10 hours finishing the first and reassessing the 2nd. Then, as time permits, plan is to just stop being an idiot, finish these things up, get an editor, and start a marketing campaign. I’ve got two novels, one of which is stand alone and the other is the first in a universe of, potentially, a bunch of novels & short stories (a couple of which I’ve already started). I could put together two 35-40K word short story collections out of this. In other words, I’m like 6 months of work away from having 4 books ready to publish.

NOTE: many humble thanks to my beta readers for their generosity. I will eventually get back to you all. The timing, emotionally, turned out to be very bad for me. Life, and all that.

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the works in progress that I kinda liked. Consider them teasers:

An asteroid wrangler talks to his ships’ AI:

“Sweetheart, I’m going to need your help here.”

“Now Jimmy, you know I’ve got to tell you to cut this one loose. I’m supposed to save your life first, help make you rich second. Money’s no good if you’re dead.”

“Don’t talk like that, sweetheart. I’m a soft-hearted man.”

“Soft headed, is what you mean.”

I’d guess more than half the wranglers, even the gals, name their AI some flavor of Bess, Betty, Betsy and so on, with a few Ettas and Mables and such thrown in. I went with Clarisse. Nice name. Besides, my gal’s name is Betsy, and naming your NavSys AI after your gal don’t seem right.

“So you want me to figure a way to get this rock tamed enough to nudge it into intercept, with no juice in the spider, spinning too fast to grab, and leave enough juice in Hoss here to get you home alive?”

“That about sums it up, sweetheart.”

“Spinning this fast, we can’t tug it. Might damage Hoss, and there be almost no chance we’d get it right.”

“Can’t recall, fix and refuel the spider? Take another shot?” I knew the answer, but had to ask.

“Jimmy, dear, we have maybe a few hours to do anything useful here. Rock’s approaching perihelion, and you won’t live long enough to collect once it’s headed back out, even if we manage to nudge it right.”

I knew all this. “So, whatcha got?” I was getting some stupid ideas myself, and was hoping Clarisse had something better.

“Jimmy, I know that look. You’re planning something stupid.”

After a few years, these NavSys AI’s start to getting personal. But she was right.

“Let’s say we play it like a big fish, put enough drag on the line to slow her down some…”

“Equal and opposite reaction, Jimmy. It’s not just a good idea…”

“It’s the law, I know. So we speed up some as we slow the rock. We could offset that with some with microburns. Pulse the drag, pump the gas…”

Here’s a passage from the NTSNBN, where the matriarch of a powerful family, for nefarious reasons revealed later, has arranged for her younger son and family to board a generation ship:

The younger branch of the Westmont-Tokai clan was one of a number of families who were saying emotional goodbyes on the broad plaza before the launch station at that moment. Each self-consciously gave the others privacy. The moment passed, and soon Tony’s family had settled into hugs and tears, and became just another group saying goodbye. Finally, Charlie returned to the long black private transport in which they had all arrived, accompanied by two very discreet members of family security. A klaxon sounded. Tony, Mena and the girls headed for the Sisyphus.

Tony could not believe his mother had given in. It had gotten out, somehow, that he and his family, against very long odds, had had their application to be colonists accepted. Westmont-Tokai damage control had in a million places and ways muted the outrage. Clearly, Tony’s family was fit, healthy, intelligent. Why should they not have been selected? Why should being wealthy and powerful preclude it? The fingers of Westmont-Tokai reached out through the Common Medium, nudging here, insinuating there, causing certain sources to go selectively dark, until the world seem to collectively forget about the heir to the largest fortune in the solar system somehow getting chosen to leave it. At least, people stopped talking about it.

His mother Taki had made arrangements for Tony, his wife and two daughters to be taken to the Vela aboard a Westmont-Tokai Washi VI, but Tony had successfully pointed out that the entire world was already nearly certain he’d gotten his family aboard by pulling strings, so why remove any remaining doubt by taking a Washi? All the other colonists and any crew not critical for construction were taking regularly scheduled loaders to Hotel Rygugu, and then shuttling over to the Vela as space allowed. Sure, it might be nice for the girls to get on board in a couple days rather than a few weeks. But the optics were bad.

His mother had praised his political acuteness, and allowed that he was correct. He scheduled passage on a loader.

He frowned. She had set this up. No way word gets out unless she allowed it. She had probably been the one to leak the news. After getting her way, as she always did, and banishing him and his wife and girls, she needed to get him involved and invested. She had thrown him a bone.

And he fell for it. Just like that. There were some things about the solar system he would not miss.

Later, Morgan Godshall, which is the name I gave to the elite exobiologist who those of you with scary-obsessives memories might recall from a sample I threw up here as a trial balloon a few years back, takes a lifter up to the staging area for passengers on generation ship, meets the two girls who, unbeknownst to her, are heiresses to the largest fortune and political power in the solar system:

There were no sets of four seats together, so the girls sat catty-corner across an aisle from their parents. Liz sat down in a middle seat next to a tall, pretty young woman who seemed absorbed in something on her reader.

Liz eyed the pretty lady. Morgan shifted uncomfortably, noticed the child in the neighboring seat, and turned quickly back to her reading.

Liz was fascinated. The pretty lady wasn’t like the women inside Westmont-Tokai. At 9, she was already well-coached in how a proper young lady her age should act, but there had not been a lesson on meeting a stranger on a transport. The Westmont-Tokai family didn’t meet strangers on transports, except for maybe mommy and grandpa.

Liz felt a poke in her ribs. “Don’t stare at people,” El stage whispered. Liz turned to face forward and nodded obediently, sat up straighter, then immediately looked back at the pretty lady.

Morgan was looking straight at her! “Hi,” said Liz automatically.

Despite herself, Morgan could not help being amused by the tiny, primly dressed girl in glasses who looked up at her from the adjoining seat. “Hello,” she responded, a slight smile forming at the corner of her mouth.

“Who are you?” Liz demanded. El sighed, but Morgan answered “I am Morgan. What’s your name?”

Liz straightened. “I am Michiko Elizabeth Wes… I am Elizabeth.” Morgan looked up at the girl seated next to Elizabeth. “I am Elanor. You may call me El. My sister is often called Liz.”

“Glad to meet you.” Morgan was charmed despite herself by these curious girls, the one tall, lean, fair and sophisticated, the other small, dark and fighting mightily to contain herself. She gave them a small smile.

“But what do you do?” Liz blurted out. Before Morgan could answer, El calmly said to her sister, “Morgan is a scientist or non-essential technician.”

“What?”

“She is here without a family, so she could not be just a colonist, as only families were chosen as colonists.” El looked blandly at Morgan. She turned to her sister. “She could not be an essential technician, because all of them are already on board. Therefore, she is either a scientist or a non-essential technician.”

“Very astute, El.” Morgan looked at this curiosity. She had been wildly precocious herself, but that only entailed math and science. To be as socially aware as this child seemed to be took work for Morgan in a way biochemistry did not. This girl was something different. “I am a scientist. So, how about you two?”

“Oh,” for the first time, El smiled. “We’re just colonists.”

Personal Impedimenta, etc.

A. What a great word. Buried in the idea of things that hinder your journey is the idea of stuff you need for that journey, maybe, even, things essential for the purpose of the journey in the first place. Dictionaries consistently give the example of the baggage an army carries. But wouldn’t weapons, say, constitute a large part of that baggage? Weapons both hinder your travels AND allow you to do what you’re traveling to do: wage war. The examples I came across were in Manalive, where Innocent Smith carries a large bag full of items essential to his being Innocent Smith, and in The Metal Monster, where Dr. Goodwin’s scientific equipment are so described.

I seem to have accumulated a lot of impedimenta over the years. I hope it’s of the essential kind. Speaking of which –

Two years ago, several of you were kind enough to do a little beta reading on a couple of my stories, which I do deeply appreciate. For a number of reasons, I set aside almost all fiction writing then. Now, I’m jonesing to get back to it.

Rocky And Bullwinkle Moose And Squirrel GIF ...

In another context, someone (Severian?) was describing the nature of personal change, where one is doomed to failure if one simply tries to muscle through a particular activity – dieting, say, or writing books. Instead, to succeed in loosing weight or writing books, one must, cognitive-therapy style, become the sort of person who weighs an appropriate amount and writes books.

Easier said than done, of course, but at least it’s possible. In the great Catholic tradition of both/and, I will remind myself, as I diet and write, that I’m exactly the sort of guy to weigh around 210 and publish stuff. Do and believe.

And ignore that Bullwinkle never did pull a rabbit out of that hat of his, IIRC.

B. On the Covidiocy front, we’ve reached the point where we are plumbing the depths of the psychological damage done to our rootless, abandoned, manipulated population, children of all ages deprived of all normal human relationships, ‘raised’ by equally damaged parents, taught to worship the abstracted individual and, above all, that their personal worth derives from doing as they are told and saying what they are told to say. The family, village, and church being destroyed or abandoned, and the idea that purpose and satisfaction derive from duties we mostly don’t get to choose having been reduced to incomprehensibility, school becomes an oasis of order – do as you are told, and get a gold star! Get a degree, a job, a life! Get the only affirmation, the only sense of belonging, you may ever get. Woe to any who kick at this goad!

I wonder: is there anything at all that would convince the rabbits they’ve been had? What would it take for your typical Front Row Kid to admit: wow, I’ve been royally played. What can be stricken from the list, at least insofar as they are considered individually:

  • Evidence. It’s no so much that the rabbits don’t care about evidence, it’s that years of training have both 1) rendered them incapable of looking at or even knowing what evidence, as opposed to hearsay and bald unsupported statements, is, and 2) convinced them that parroting whatever the approved authority figure says IS considering the evidence. They don’t know what they don’t know, but are convinced they do.
  • The examples of our betters. Brix, it appears, is travelling to one her vacation homes and Christmassing with 3 generations of her family. So much for lockdowns, social distancing, etc. – for her, Pelosi, Newsom, and many others. Not that the rabbits have heard of this contempt, because the hairdos with journalism degrees are unlikely to mention it.
  • Their own lying eyes. How many rabbits personally know even 1 otherwise healthy person who died of COVID? Of course, this would require acknowledgement that the people, if any, they know whose deaths, in CDC terminology, *involved* COVID were well on their way to assuming their places in the Choir Invisible with or without the help of a respiratory virus. Which is a thought not allowed to enter their minds.
  • Basic logic. E.g., if masks work, then they are trapping billions of live, dangerous viruses. If so, handling used masks without a hazmat suit, gloves, a hazardous waste disposal containers, incineration, etc. would be SUICIDE! OH MY GOD!!! Yet, they are treated with less care and caution than a used Kleenex. Stuffed into and dragged out of pockets, fiddled with, thrown any old place, used for hours, days, weeks at a time. I find them on the street whenever I go walking. Same logical problems with social distancing: if 6 feet is good, why is there still a pandemic? If we’re not safe to meet indoors, why are stores still open? why are there lockdowns, when it’s safer outside? And so on.

Would some combination of these factors finally burst the bubble? The constantly evolving story, where it’s 15 days to flatten the curve to as long as it takes to create a vaccine (but not properly test it – what, don’t you trust Big Pharma and the billions in criminal fines they’ve paid for exaggerated claims and falsifying data?) to – I dunno, what are they claiming today?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Nothing so trivial as loss of liberty and sanity will cause the properly educated Front Row Kids to reevaluate their self-image as the smartest, best educated, most moral people in history. Such wunderkind couldn’t possibly be clueless rubes, ignorant of even the most basic principles of science and logic, mindless parrots of whatever they hear, easily-frightened, historically illiterate rabbits about as likely to think or act independently as the gears in a pocket watch. What would you rather be, the smart kid with membership in the circle of smart kids, or the kid suddenly alone, cut adrift from the only society he’s every really known?

Good thing I believe in miracles. Otherwise, I’d have to start throwing punches, and I’m too old for that.

C. Still have hardly decorated for Christmas. Stuff came up, and the available slots for family-time activity sort of vanished. Decorating by one’s self seems kinda sad. But we will get it done.

We have passed the point of her family/my family scrambling over holidays. Except for my MIL, who lives with us, parents are dead; brothers and sisters are far away or cowering rabbits or both. So no plans at that level of family. BUT: now we have a married daughter! Her in-laws, to their credit and with our approval, want to be friends. This daughter and her husband just bought a house, appropriately about 1 hr 15 min from each set of in-laws – just far enough for a little separation, but close enough for regular visitations and family activities.

So now we get to coordinate among our children’s families (well, 1 so far, but I’d bet 2 or even 3 extended family branches within the next few years). I’m digging it.

On the home-home front, failing to get commitment on what people want for Christmas dinner(s). The fam is not big on turkey – fine by me, a lot of work for something not really all that popular. Tried to ask after lamb – ambivalence. Then, partly in jest, suggested: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy – probably the most popular thing I make around here (1) (I do make d*mn fine fried chicken). I got the ‘not special enough’ response.

Seriously considering getting some ribeye steaks. That’s what I’d like to do. Maybe for Epiphany, when Middle Son and his girl will be in town. Or maybe a slab of salmon?

Merry Christmas to all!

  1. I love to cook. Things I regularly make for dinner, in order of family popularity: fried chicken; hamburgers; Napa cabbage tacos (fish, chicken, beef, or pork, using cabbage leaves instead of tortillas – makes for a much lighter meal), pork chops, various curries and rice. Make a lot of other things, too, but these are staples.