Year-End Update (a little early)

A. First of all, gratitude to all the readers of this blog. Not sure why the beloved 100 readers (on a very good day) come back for more, but thanks. Just know that you’re only encouraging me.

The writing here has come out even more unfocused than my original intent, which was pretty broad. “Culture. Religion. Politics. Science. Philosophy.  Music. Art.” was the original charter 11 years ago. We do do that here, but also a lot of Home Improvement Projects and blithering about the books I intend to write. Which brings us to:

B: The ‘I should write a book about that’ books I’ve worked on here on the blog, ones where I might be qualified to have an opinion, are:

  • A book on the origins of the Catholic schools here in America, and how they have arrived at their current sorry (with very few exceptions) state
  • A more general book about the origins of schooling in America, circa roughly 1700 – 1940. An expose of the clowns and poseurs involved, and the paper-thin fantasy world that constitutes the foundation of all modern ‘scientific’ education.
  • The How to Think About Science book.

Starting with the last one first: as the Crazy Years progress, it’s painfully clear that ignorance of how science works is so far downstream from the real problems as to be all but irrelevant. The best case scenario, where someone reads my book, reexamines his world view, and changes how he thinks about things – sigh. Not happening in the real world.

And it’s not even the rejection of logic, which you have to have at least some grasp of in order to begin to understand how science works. Underlying both logic and the science is the notion that the world makes sense. That the world IS. Our well-schooled contemporaries specifically reject the very idea of shared objective reality in favor of a world willed into being by their own narcissistic selves. That any such world is definitionally inconsistent, and conflicts necessarily with anyone else’s similarly constructed world is not a problem for the dedicated narcissist. That they hold both to the sacredness of people’s self-constructed reality AND bow and scrap before the altar of social and political conformity isn’t a problem – they never expected the world to make sense. It’s Will all the way down.

When my teeth are set on edge by patently anti-science claims of ‘settled science’ and ‘scientific consensus’ or people doing as they are told claiming they are ‘following the science’ which they haven’t read and wouldn’t understand if they did, I imagined the problem was the general lack of scientific literacy, and thought I might be able to help a little by writing a book about basic science.

Silly me.

Therefore, I’ve reconsidered the point of this proposed book, why I would write it and who it is for. I’m reading Kreeft’s Socratic Logic now, and perhaps will write this book as a sort of follow-on with a focus on the specific application of Aristotelian logic used by modern science, insofar as it has any legitimate claim to our acceptance of its conclusions.

So, basically, a high-school level book. (Kreeft’s book is also supposed to be a high school level book, but it’s pretty tough. He, an expert, isn’t leaving much out, and there’s just a lot of logic that’s not obvious or simple. Good, but tough.)

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled.

The other two books I get bugged by my kids to complete. They’ve heard some of the points I make about schooling from the cradle, and have found them to be true in the world. They’d like there to be a book (or two) summarizing these things. These works have been in the works for years now. It is time.

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled. I’ve recommenced reading source materials. as evidenced by the last post.

#magnus pyke from Old School Science Fiction

C. Then there are the fun books I’m supposedly writing. Well, I set a goal for this past June for the first of several speculative fiction books I hope to write, and got thousands and thousands of words into them…

But I didn’t finish. May 2021 was when the insanity finally began to get me down. It started taking work to just get on with it, whatever ‘it’ happened to be at the moment. As it became clear I wasn’t going to get any of the spec fic done by June, I got distracted by a musical composition. Why? I have no idea. Writing music and writing stories really are very similar: you get an idea, you pound it into some sort of shape, you write the next part and the next part and so on, sometimes skipping ahead to more fun/clearer ideas, and then backtracking to write the connecting scenes. Then read it out loud/play or sing it, rewrite as needed, then get other people to read/listen, and take their feedback…

And I’ve gotten maybe 5 minutes of a 6-part Gloria written, with a minute or so more to write, plus outlines/sections for a Kyrie and Agnus, and a idea or two for the Sanctus. Haven’t even thought about a Credo yet.

Why I found it possible to write music and not possible to write fiction is anybody’s guess.

Time frame: I’ll keep working on the Mass while we pack up and prep the house; the books I’ll take up again once we’re moved and settled.

D. We gotta get out of this place. We had the house tented a month ago; getting quotes for painters. Spoke with the Pods people, looking to start loading out in January.

Yesterday, picked up 10 bags of ready mix; today used 8 of them to put in what I intend to be the last segment of the vast, endless front yard home improvement brick project. Scaled it well down from the original plans – no grotto, less fancy brickwork. Sigh. Need it simply not to look ugly and unfinished. So, simple wall topped by some redwood lattice.

Aaaaand – a million other things need to be done. Not to mention the final pack what’s left up and get out of Dodge push in a couple months. Then finding a new place to live….

E. In a somewhat round-about way, I’m looking for a job, specifically, seeing if a new Chesterton Academy that is to open near where I’d like to live might hire me to corrupt the minds of our youth, after the fashion of Socrates and Aristotle. And quote a lot of Chesterton. It would be nice to teach, and have a little income.

F. All in all, I’m very grateful, and have gotten past letting myself get too down about the current insanity. For the most part. I used to pray in thanksgiving for getting to live in a land of plenty in a time of peace. Now? I pray that God will remember His promise of mercy, and, for the sake of His Name, for the sake of the Blood shed by His Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, He will not judge us as our sins deserve, but rather forgive us yet again. That He will send Mary, who crushes the head of the serpent, Joseph, the terror of demons, and Michael the Archangel to lead the heavenly host down to cast Satan and his minion out of our lives, our nation, and our world, bind them and cast them back into Hell where they belong. Then, that He may grant us the strength to endure whatever we must and the grace to die to ourselves and live only for His Will.

Otherwise, who can stand?

Have a happy and holy Thanksgiving!

Flash Fiction: Caryatides

“Is the pressure getting to you, dear ?” The tone of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s question was not solicitous.

Lady Forthwith-Huntington stood in the middle of a vast unwalled pillared chamber, on a dais of polished serpentine, around which flowed burbling waters. Four dark towering fountains, intricately carved in the shape of fantastic animals and inlaid with glowing gems, fed the waters. Surrounding the fountains lay a narrow beach of black sand, behind which in every direction stood a dark tropical forest. On all four sides of the chamber, the forest ended in mountain ranges, cunningly fashioned to provide the illusion of great distance and height.

Above the mountains, a thin band of the sky glowed pink with the last moments of twilight. In the dark above the twilight as in frames, the heavens were filled with the beauties of the universe: a spiral galaxy dominated one, a glowing, ghostly nebula another, a galaxy cluster another, and a ringed gas giant the last.

In each corner stood an onyx column, slender, deeply fluted, with a florid Corinthian capital, set, like the fountains, with glowing gemstones. Across the ceiling spread the Great Galactic Wall, strands of galaxies like pearls against a field of black. The entire structure, a thousand meters to the side and a thousand tall, was alive with subtle movement and sounds at the edge of hearing. The Construct was, it had to be admitted, beautiful.

Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile knelt atop one of the black columns, her forearms held parallel above her bowed head, holding up the capital. Three other women topped the remaining columns in similar postures, their onyx bodies motionless.

“No, m’lady.” At that moment, a slight tremor passed through the entire structure. “Then what was that, pray tell?” One of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s hands now rested on her hip.


Intelligences that might be called life forms gathered in the dark voids between the luminous galactic filaments. Presences were projected; some were present to the others merely as persistent ideas. A few had even arrived in space ships. The Greater Intelligences did not judge, but accepted whoever came in good will.

The gathering had taken 500,000,000 years; the decision a mere 100,000,000. The preliminaries had been surprisingly easy. The Greater Intelligences were able to provide a syntax suitable for discussions among the varied intelligences. Coordinating ethical systems had taken less than a million years. Analysis took the most time; possible courses of action were presented and discussed, and, finally, a plan was chosen and commitments made.

The Great Galactic Wall was an artifact indistinguishable from both magic and nature. The subtle science of the Greater Intelligences had seen its true and artificial nature 10 billion years ago. Others had seen hints, which when studied and piled together for a million years or so, gave more and more dire hints.

The Great Wall was truly a wall, a wall to keep others out. Dark matter had been manipulated to create it, and had shaped and arranged the galaxies behind it. Inside, the insatiable appetite for energy, the dreams of a Kardashev IV civilization, drove its builders.

Outside the wall, stars died too soon. Kardashev II civilizations died before their times, outside the Wall. Energy was being drained from what to the Builders of the Great Wall were the hinterlands. The gathered intelligences decided that this must stop.


Another tremor shook the Construct. This time, Mistress Katherine Barbican-Allbright, on the column diagonally across from Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile, noticeably sagged under the weight of the sky. Despite the conceit of the Construct, the four Mistresses and Lady Forthwith-Huntington could see and hear each other in detail across the distances.

Mistress Elizabeth spoke: “M’lady, when may we be relieved?”

Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed. “I am here to witness the Fall. You may not leave until I see it.”

“We are to die.” I was a simple statement.

“Come now. You – we – are all going to die.”

“We might live millions of years more. The Fall will be long.”

Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed again. “Very well. I suppose a triviality like a few millions years more life might be important to some. I grow tired of this life. Our sad little imaginations cannot keep up with our abilities to satisfy them.” She shook her head. “What difference does it make if the barbarians breach the Wall? Let them come! You are dismissed.” She vanished from the Construct.

The four caryatides heaved together, impossibly thrusting the ceiling up off their forearms. The leapt from the columns as one, and vanished as they fell. The ceiling followed them down, the columns crumbled, and the Construct flickered and died.


Trillions of intelligences, wielding subtle engines, breached the Wall.

The looting began.

Reading Interlude/Update

Still have the second half of Painter’s book on Luther’s role in education reform to review, and a few SciFi classics. Need a break.

A. One problem: I read slowly, in my dotage. This has something to do with reading a lot of philosophy and history, where speed kills, so to speak. It dawned on me- slow on the uptake – that I don’t really need to read SciFi or, mostly, these education books super carefully, as the points are generally not that subtle or evasive.

While I was never one of those blazing fast 3 novels a day type reader, as a kid, I was certainly a faster reader than I am now. So I consciously decided to read much faster.

It works. While there are definitely works that warrant a slow careful read, most of the stuff I’m reading now doesn’t. This one small trick has halved the scary pile of unread books (literally, I had to move stacks to the floor when cleaning up the other day) in terms of reading time.

Of course, the book on the top of the stack was Kreeft’s Socratic Logic which is one that needs to be read more carefully. But most of the pile can be read pulp speed.

B. Interesting times. We have 2 weeks to get the house ready for fumigation, as part of our efforts to sell it. Since we need to vacate the premises anyway, and a friend got us a couple tickets at no cost to us, we’ve decided to attend the Thomas Aquinas College 50th Anniversary Gala in Beverly Hills. Black tie. Not the usual shindig for the Moore family.

Fortunately, as a tenor who has sung in a number of choirs, I already own a tux. Bought it used 25+ years ago, haven’t worn it for years – but it fits. So I’m in with only a dry cleaning expense + I indulged in a new shirt. But my 17 year old son needed suiting up. I can recommend Dunhill, a seller of used tuxes. We ordered him one for under $100, found the coat was a little too large, they sent us a replacement no questions asked before I’d even returned the too large one. Good folks.

And it looks great. I was surprised at how nice it is, does not look used at all. A fit young man like our son looks awesome in a tux. Bond, James Bond.

As for the womenfolk, grandma owns a number of nice formal dresses. My beloved did the classic thrift store route, where she ran into another shopper who was totally into helping her get the right dress. Women are different. I can’t imagine a male stranger deciding he needed to help me, for example, get just the right suit, nor that I would not be weirded out by such attention. But this nice woman saw my wife shopping, and just sort of jumped right in, offering suggestions and reviews, looking for shawls that would look good with the dresses – and she and my wife seemed to have a good time doing this.

So my wife came away with two thrift store gowns, both of which passed muster with our daughters, who have picky good taste in such things. Huh.

C. The history class I’m teaching just completed week 4. Things are sticking a lot better the second time around for me, which is nice, plus I don’t have nearly the amount of prep to do, I can mostly just use what I did last year. So it’s a lot less exhausting and more fun.

The kids are great. The two oldest have spearheaded efforts to bring tea and snacks for the Thursday seminar. We’ve had shortbread, some sort of custard tort, and cucumber sandwiches so far. Homeschool kids for the win!

D. Whatever creative energies I have left after the above activities I have been directing at getting this mass setting I’ve been writing done. I don’t know why, exactly, but I got a (long-suppressed) jones for composing out of nowhere, and ran with it. The Gloria is maybe half a dozen measures from done, and the Kyrie and Agnus are started. I only have an hour or two a day to work on this, tops. I need to get back to the novels and non-fiction projects, but for some reason this mass seems urgent. Huh.

Shade (Monday Flash Fiction)

Kleon wiggled his way through the muddy-green foliage to join the press of worshippers. He knew that far ahead, the throng moved toward a blinding light he could not see. He could not see because he kept his eyes averted and closed. To look upon the Face of God is death.

Above him, only sky, from which dripped a steady light rain.

He was now swept past a Pillar of Heaven, an almost unimaginably large shaft disappearing into the sky far above. The Angels had set up these posts upon the Founding of the World, to keep the sky above in place. For God had decreed: At acceptable times as told by the Prophets, all may look upon the Side of My Face. At such sacred times, I will turn away, in My mercy, to spare My people. To look upon the Deep Heavens any other time is death.

Kleon had a Name – Kleon. This placed him among a select few of the advancing throngs. To have a Name was to be a person. To be sure, much of scripture was devoted to the duties and, indeed, love, to be shown by the Named to the unnamed, so anything short of gentle care for the poor mindless hordes was a sin. In more primitive times, a Named who showed contempt for the nameless was condemned to be thrown into the Outer Lightness, and die.

Kleon did his part as a Named Person. His pheromones helped direct the Unnamed forward in a calm state. Once the throngs started moving, excitement would grow. Unless the Named did their best to keep the poor unconscious calm, millions might rush into the Light. Sometimes, even a Named was carried thus to his death by the throngs.

Kleon sensed that there were many Named nearby, enough to maintain order. He found he needed to work to keep his own mind calm. For this was the Great Feast, the Awakening, the memorial of the First Naming. All of his kind would get to see the Profile of the Face of God! Many would die from sheer joy, and be counted happy, although all were strictly forbidden by scripture to desire such a death. Joy like that was a pure, unearned gift of God!

Excitement grew as the Light, sensed through closed eyes, began to slowly fade. Billions of eager worshippers had now surrounded the Circle of Light. Pillars of Heaven were here arranged in a majestic curve, trailing off to the left and right in a grand arch. Just beyond these Pillars, the sky ended.

This was a time of prayer. For endless hours, the Light faded, and each Person thought, and each Unnamed felt, the growing Presence in its more gentle form. Soon, one might see the Profile of the Face of God – and live!

Horrified, Kleon sensed that an Unnamed had been unconsciously jostled into the Light. Because the Light had already faded to less than half His full intensity, the poor creature’s death was comparatively slow. It released a cloud of pheromones as it desiccated, of both excruciating pain and utter bliss. Kleon and the other Named nearby strained to keep the surrounding Unnamed from throwing themselves into the fading Light, and succeeded. God would be pleased.

Finally, the Light almost completely withdrew, leaving only a gentle glow a little brighter than the endless misty gloom of the World. The Named, using all their strength, kept the Unnamed in place, for their safety and in order to maintain a decorum appropriate to this Feast.

Finally, the Named allowed the throngs to move. Slowly, they advanced. It was all the Named could do to keep the front ranks moving, although it hardly mattered – the following ranks simply climbed over them. But piles of creatures were unseemly, so the named did their best to keep the creatures in the front moving.

As the Named and Unnamed came out from under the sky, they turned their eyes to the heavens, and saw the stars.


“This is a little creepy.” Diana sat in a control room of the power plant, looking out the window. A million square kilometers of the solar array, visible in every direction, disappeared only where they dipped below the distant horizon. 90% of this desert hell-hole of a planet was paved over in solar cells. The last place the planet’s surface was visible was the clearing around the power plant itself, a ring about a kilometer in radius. Her eyes were on the edges of the clearing, where motion could barely be detected in the gloam, disappearing to the naked eye as the night settled in.

There was nothing else to do but look. Her team had been dropped off to inspect the alien power plant, their work was all but complete, and the system’s new cyclers would not be back by to pick them up for another 18 months.

“This plant is old!” declared Bob, who had entered to control room. “Well, yeah,” said Diana, “that was obvious from space.” She tried to be a good team player, but she and the other 5 team members aside from Bob had quickly determined what they had come to this God-forsaken system to find out. The plant was perfectly operative; its panels were of an unknown design and slightly less efficient than current Empire standards, but it would hardly be worth the effort to upgrade them. Instead, the Empire could enjoy yottawatts of found power, left by long-gone engineers. An uplink to an orbital laser, for example, could power acceleration and deceleration of light sails…

“No, I mean, really old!” Bob was pacing. “We’re talking at least 50 million, maybe 150 million years old. Maybe more.”

“This is a quiet backwater, geologically dead, not much in the way of space debris or weather to disturb things.” Williams, the team’s geologist, had entered the room. “Thin, inert atmosphere. Almost no water. And a nice slow 153 hour day. Local sun beats down on these panels for 76.5 hours a day like clockwork.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say,” continued Bob, “this is a near perfect place for a huge solar array – and has been for a billion years. Somebody figured this out maybe 100 million years ago, stuck this array here, and built it to last. It could power all kinds of repair spiders, all kinds of cleaning and maintenance bots, while hardly putting a dent in net output.”

“We haven’t seen any bots,” said Diana, “seems deserted.”

“Build it right, and the spiders and bots only need to come out every century or two, or even less.”

“Or, better, build it to evolve.” Jommy, the senior engineer and Diana’s boss, looked up from a deck he had been examining. “You build the total system with enough AI, and enough intelligent intervention, analyze what goes wrong, fix it, analyze the fix, rinse, repeat.” He put down the analytic probe he held like a wand. “How many years do you need until it just don’t break anymore?”


Kleon saw the light in the window in the central tower far above, and his heart stirred. Scripture spoke of angels visiting the Heavenly Ladder, coming and going with nothing to say to the Named. Not once, since the original Naming, had angels interacted with his kind. But not in thousands of generations had an angel visited…

Billions of his fellow creatures paved the circle of light surrounding the Ladder, compound eyes heavenward, antennae raised. Here was the Time of Ecstasy. In a few hours, the Named would gently herd the Unnamed out of the Light and back under the sky. Even under the stars, his kind tended to dry out if they spent too much time unprotected. They needed to return to life beneath the sky.


“Good God, Ppillimt, why do play with those disgusting bugs?” His mate looked down upon his crouching form, two of her four hands on her hips, and shook her head.

“One, what else is there to do on this rock? The array never breaks; the uplink never falters.” He picked up a palm-sized beetle-like creature, which lifted it forebody on multi-jointed legs, and further lifted its ‘head’ to look at him. “And, two, I think these things are much more intelligent than we’re giving them credit for.” He could feel his mate’s chagrin, so he changed the subject. “How is the investigation going?”

She sighed. “We may crack their script, but it’ll take some time. We have a pretty good grasp of their math. But the big find: their star charts. We were able to determine the age of this facility by apply know rates of motion to known stars on their charts, and calculating how long ago those stars would have been in the positions indicated – this thing was built 47 million years ago!”

Ppillimt carefully put the bug down, then stood. “Whoa. Yet it runs perfectly. These founders must have been quite the engineers.”

Tzapotlz continued, “We also found a biology collection. We can’t yet make out the text, but the pictures are interesting. Seems this planet did have some zoology. The most advanced creatures by far were something like sand fleas, just little specks somehow surviving in the scorching sun and bitter night.” She looked down at the bug Ppillimt had just been holding. It sat at attention. “That little guy there evolved, I’d guess, from the sand fleas, over millions of years since the founding.”

“Yea, and evolved under these solar panels. They’re all but air-tight except around the uplink towers. It’s a lot more temperate and lot more damp under there.”

“I went under there once,” Tzapotlz looked disgusted, “those slimy plants cover everything, and those bugs are everywhere.”

Ppillimt picked up the bug again. “Damp and moderate temps would certainly be a lot more favorable to life as we know it, in general.” He looked at the bug, which had again raised itself on its front legs and was staring at him, in what appeared to be rapt attention.

“I like you,” he looked at the bug, then spoke over his shoulder to his mate. “I think we need a pet.”

Tzapotlz rolled several of her eyes. “Ugh!” She turned to walk back to the tower.

Ppillimt looked again down at the bug, which never waivered in its attention. “I think I’m going to call you Kalliq.” He carried Kalliq with him as he stood to follow his mate. “Wonder if I can teach you any tricks?” Kalliq tilted his head.

Update to the Update: Moving Plans, etc.

A. Thanks for all the kind thoughts about our upcoming move. We’re not planning on being out of the house before March, 2022 – our youngest needs to get his Eagle Scout stuff done, and I agreed to teach another year of history/literature. The meeting with the realtor was just to help me establish priorities and a to do list. First order of business: get the house tented for termites (minimal damage, but they’re here) – and that’s not until mid-October. Then, exterior paint, some tree trimming, lots of relatively minor repairs, etc. By end of March, we hope to be out of here. Probably rent a house near Sacramento, to get to know the area. Or, if the insanity escalates, go check out Iowa/Midwest.

We’ve got +/- 6 months to pack up the house. Sigh.

B. Have tons to do to prep for classes starting Tuesday, so of course I did a quick but utterly unnecessary woodworking project instead. Behold! A charcuterie board!

I readily admit I had no idea what charcuterie was maybe 2 years ago. But – it’s good!
Made from walnut form the tree we cut down in our front yard maybe 8 years ago. Chose heavily figured pieces. The wood is too warped to make big things out of, but one can wrestle it into small projects like this.

Walnut is not usually used for food tools – cutting boards, rolling pins, that sort of thing – because the grain is too open. But I figure, one, we’ll call it a board, not a cutting board, to reduce the usage and wear, and, two, I don’t care. Still needs last coat of butcher block oil and good buffing. Looks pretty good now.

C. The writing projects ground to a halt this past month and a half. Sigh. BUT! Hope springs eternal! I again find myself thinking about them – the SciFi work and the Science Essentials book – when doing other things. So:

Rather than just being me venting on our rampant scientific illiteracy, I think I’ll rework the science book into something more like Essentials of Science, and aim it at high school and college age people. Tone it down, introduce a bunch of history, focus on the basics that apply to all sciences worthy of our respect. Then maybe pitch it to the homeschooling/ catholic schooling crowd.

The other book just needs work. Have to ram it through.

But, hey, my life is shaping up to be: teach class, pack up the house, get items off the punchlist, read every day, and – write. I’ll need the change of pace. We’ll see how it goes.

D. Weirdly, out of nowhere, I started writing an a capella mass in Latin about 6 weeks ago. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a composer. What I liked to compose was a capella pieces, the market for which is small, to say the least. By my late 20s, I also wanted to get married and raise a family, so I consciously set the music aside. Now, after a nearly 40 year gap, I find myself, sitting at the piano pencil in hand, writing out 6-part vocal works in a dead language.

About 2/3rds of the way through the Agnus, maybe half way through the Gloria. My style (I laugh to myself) is basically a poor man’s John Williams meets a homeless man’s Faure, and has an ugly child. This is a pretty intensely inside joke: Williams loves mediant and sub-mediant modulations and horn-call like melodies, and Faure loves odd modes and half-step changes, and intense dissonances within his voice leading. I love all those things, too! I just don’t have anything near the training and talent of either of those guys. To put it very mildly.

Trying to live well, stay sane, and enjoy life. It’s the only way out.

Updates: Writing, etc.

A. Novel #1 – This is the puppy I am targeting to have ‘done’ – ready for beta readers – by June. OK, getting a little fast and loose here – end of June? June-ish? On the one hand, I’m only just shy of 20K useable words; on the other, what I’m trying to do has come into much better focus. At first, 20K words seemed like all there was going to be to this story, but as I keep asking myself: why would this character do or think this or that? I discover that this or that other thing has to happen.

Vague enough? I needed an interaction between the Captain of the Guard and my protagonist so that a later interaction would carry some emotional weight. So I had the Captain discuss some history of his species and their predicament with the protagonist. I then read the resulting couple thousand words aloud to my poor alpha readers – my wife and son – who made the mistake of wandering by at the wrong time. They were good with it. It’s essentially a world building info-dump, but couched (I hope) within some more emotionally interesting activities. For example.

Working this out laid out a road map for everything else I needed to include to give this story the emotional zing I’m looking for, and suggested yet another twist at the end….

So now, even though I burned May prepping for/attending our son’s wedding on the opposite side of the country, and so am WAY behind – all I need are 2-3 thousand words a day, and I’m good. Riiiiight – I feel pretty good about it. Before, I wrote myself into corners, because I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Now, I think I’m good to go.

B. The downside of feeling my way through writing something this long: repetition and continuity errors. Twice now, I’ve jumped into scenes I left dangling when I didn’t know where to take them, got going good, only to figure out afterwards that I already wrote a bunch of the scene. In my enthusiasm, I just kept going past where I needed to stop. Oops. This leaves me with two drafts of the same scene – and, of course, I like stuff from both takes.

So what I’ve done is highlight version A and B in different colors, paste them into another doc, go paragraph by paragraph through them, then sync ’em up and paste the results back into the main draft. In these two cases, I ended up keeping most of both takes, so it worked out OK. But I’d rather not work this inefficiently.

C. Just reminding myself: over the last 5-6 years, I’ve written 25K words of flash fiction on this blog, part of the about 1.5 million words of blog posting here over the last decade. Also written 40K words worth of short stories. Fragments of novels add up to about 38K words, not counting scraps and pieces from the more distant past. And not counting all the materials I’ve assembled for the book(s) on education, and the about 10,000 works on the Understanding Science book.

Typing this out to remind myself that, for me, amateur and mostly very part-time writer, cranking out another 40K words on this novel should not really be an issue – if I just stick to it!

D. The other other plan was to assemble two collections of existing writing from the stories and flash fiction, so I could have something on offer between getting the first novel – I’m thinking Dust Machines for the title – and getting whatever rises to the top of the pile as book #2. Each would be a mix of unpublished short stories and flash fiction from this blog, and would run 40-50K words each. A lot of it is SciFi, which might naturally lend itself to a collection, and a lot isn’t. Or I could mix it up.

So, if things were to work out as planned, I’d get Dust Machines to beta readers around the end of June (ha. How bout end of July?) then maybe to a professional editor a few weeks later, then throw it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Got to get a good cover artist in there someplace. Then, a month later, throw up collection #1, heavy on the SciFi; a month after that, the other collection, and a month or two later, book #2. Now I’d be well into 2022, with 4 books out.

Concurrently, start up a new author’s blog under a pen name, start the marketing push that seems an inescapable part of all this.

It Could Work Gene Wilder GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

That’s the plan.

E. Rumor is that the state has deigned to allow us to not wear masks at mass, starting tomorrow – if we’ve been vaccinated. As my wife reminded me, we’ve both been vaccinated since childhood! Good to go!

Pump the brakes. Let off a little her, a little there, but never let it be thought that anyone but you, the masters of the state, are in charge, or that you can’t can revoke permissions or make up new rules at any time.

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

Thursday Morning Update

A. In a weird place – so pardon me if I have not responded to your comments or emails – I’ll get to them soon, promise.

I have all but lost my ability to laugh off the current insanity. Insanity: My 17 year old son is trying to reach Eagle Scout in the next 10 months. He joined scouts to 1) get out into nature as much as possible. He went on just about every hike and camping trip possible for the first couple years he was a Scout; 2) hang out with the guys, especially guys who were into camping and hiking instead of girls, gossip, and (possibly) drugs.

So, what do the Scouts do? Instantly become the most Karen-ridden organization out there. (Well, probably not – schools are probably worse, but bad enough.) Not only were there no campouts and hikes for most of a year, not only were in-person meetings replaced by ZOOM, not only were the few get togethers masked up and socially distanced – but, now, there’s talk of requiring 12 YEAR OLDS to get vaccinated. Kids who are more likely to get eaten by a bear than to die of COVID. Very science-y, that.

My son is suffering. He is spending too much time online, too little time out doors and with friends. He should be learning the ropes with girls – you know, how to talk with them and hang out with them in a sane way – but, instead, he’s locked out of virtually all normal interactions. We seek out sane people, people not masked up, not worried about the magic powers of 6′ of separation, people who will shake your hand and smile at you. But that’s like a few times a month, instead of every day like it should be.

Insanity: no difference, no pattern at all, is to be seen between areas with the most insane lockup and mask-up rules and those without. As was predicted by me and every scientifically literate person, the economy – and culture-destroying steps simply COULD NOT make much difference. Feeling sick? Stay away from sickly people, and wash your hands. Anything more than that? Irrelevant. Built on wild-ass extrapolations from vague theories interpreted badly. Ex: Masks might – might! – make some difference – in surgery. I’ve only heard of one real world test, where healthy doctors all scrubbed up in properly sterilized environments using nice clean instruments did and did not wear masks – and there was no meaningful difference in outcomes. If the doctor isn’t sick, he can’t, within any meaningful level of measurement, transmit it to you (yes, yes – Typhoid Mary. But that’s vanishingly rare.); If the patient isn’t sick, he can’t give it back to the doctor. Masking up, even for surgeons, is mostly a symbolic gesture based on a hunch, over-caution, and a ‘what can it hurt?’ attitude. AND that’s the best possible case! Pros using strict protocols within a controlled environment. Extrapolating from THAT to: everybody MUST wear masks ALL THE TIME is bat-guano CRAZY. Fumble-fingered civilians pulling a mask out of their pocket, fiddling with it, then shoving it back in their pocket until next time – right, that’s really the way to handle materials supposedly saturated with DEADLY VIRIONS!! Want to wear a mask? Have at it! Want me to wear one? Go perform an anatomically impossible act on yourself.

So, now, I’ve got 3 weeks more to teach history, and – it’s hard. One gratifying thing: few of the families involved take the mandated ‘precautions’ seriously and are willing to let their kids be kids. But some do – and, damn, that’s depressing. Lord help me.

B. So, distracted in a more positive sense: Leaving in two weeks for the wedding of our Middle Son back east. I already love his future bride – she’s a sweetheart, and has a refreshing can-do attitude about getting stuff done. So, huzzah! Two down, two to go, marriage/vocation wise.

Also, I’m a grandfather! Older Daughter, whom we married off last May, will be giving birth around November 1, if all goes well. Huzzah squared!!

These are wonderful things. Praise God in His Mercy!

baby: a representative example. Your baby may differ in size, features, color, etc. as babies are subject to natural variations. Such variations are perfectly normal and to be expected, and in no way affect the suitability or value of your baby.

C. Getting back into writing-writing, as in: putting useable words down, as opposed to research or editing. Got to push through May to get something done by June. Possible. If I got down 1,000 words/day, I’d be done with 1st draft, novel 1, by early June.

It’s the difference between letting the current insanity distract me versus using writing as a distraction from the current insanity. The latter is a better course.

Review of the Introduction to a Book

No, really. I have a weird habit, at least for my household – I almost always read all the front matter in whatever books I read. (Sometimes, as in some philosophical works, I might read it after I’ve read the work itself, if I suspect it will bias my reading – but I’ll almost always read it.) My wife, who is as OK-read (well-read is maybe a stretch for me) as I am, pretty much never does this; neither do my kids, as far as I know. You guys? Skip to the good parts, or slog through the front matter first?

For my White Handled Blade series (yea, yea, gotta write Book 1 before you can have a series, I get it) I’m reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a copy of which was in the stacks. Not sure how I had not run across Burton Raffel before – or, if I did, how he failed to make an impression – but this guy, a famous translator, is a character and a half. His Introduction is about as bare-knuckles an assessment of his ‘competitors’ as I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the old saying in academia: never is the fight more brutal than when the stakes are really low.

To sum up: he’s not real impressed by the work of other translators and commentators of Green Knight. Here are some samples, from his 31 page introduction to a 75 page poem:

It is no defense of Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis, but most literary criticism of medieval poetry suffers from just this kind of “lengthy, mostly irrelevant” insensitivity to the poem as a poem.

p. 34

Sure. A little further, Raffel goes after scholarly critics as a group, giving examples of scholarly assertions contradicted by text within a few lines of the source of the initial assertions:

But the critics’ attention span is somehow limited by their scholarship, or alternatively by their desire to assert some interpretive claim.

p. 35

He also makes charming, look how smart I am observations, such as this, after his analysis of how the Poet portrays what is going on in Gawain’s mind and soul during his temptation by the Green Knight’s wife, and how it does not admit of a simply linear understanding as we moderns might be tempted to impress on it:

The Gawain Poet plainly knows this, and just as plainly knows his Hegel-like perception of the antithesis concealed within the synthesis is the only sane way to see things. And he is phenomenally sane. He is, in fact, so powerful a literary mind that what could be a mere matter of philosophy , with a lesser writer, is transformed for him into a vital matter of literary technique.

p. 29

O, come on, Burtie, old boy, you’re just yanking chains! Don’t make me slap that smirk off your elderly (well, dead, now) face.

The whole Introduction provides the kind of background information that is reason I read introductions, so that’s good, interspersed with patches that read like Raffel getting even with people or calling them idiots. He kindly allows of one scholar’s work that “…it is not all as bad as the passages I have cited.” At another scholar’s assertions, Raffel says: “I can gape: where has the man been?” Or that the “weird” analysis of another is revealed in a passage “which speaks, unfortunately, for itself.” Did somebody steal his lunch money, or something?

The Introduction was certainly entertaining, the poem itself is wonderful, and I appreciate Raffel’s guidance in taking it seriously as a masterpiece – hard to do with the rather less structured? Logical? bits of Arthuriana I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ll review it when I’m done.

Digging Through Some Old Files….

…I found a bunch of stories and outlines from decades ago. Most, I remembered instantly once I saw them, a couple evoked a major ‘huh?’ response, as in, I have no memory of them at all. It’s weirdly encouraging: not only have I averaged about 150K words/yr on this blog, I also wrote maybe 200 pages of stories and outline long before this blog. So, I guess I’m a writer by the simple fact that I do, in fact, write. Now, if I can only complete the novels and publish them – that’s the plan! Anyway, for kicks:

“I have no memory of this story…”

A. Untitled Novel Outline, 8/9/90, 15 pages + diagram, handwritten. A chemist working for the National Oceanographic Institute gets involved with some illegal gold mining on the ocean floor. Insane chase scene involving a submersible and two ships. He gets the girl. I remember it being a ton of fun writing the outline. I even have a sort of roller-coaster diagram for the chase scene.

B. Notes from a writing workshop I attended, 7/8/90. No longer applicable, if they ever were.

C. Penultimate chapter to a Sci Fi novel about a run in with some insectoid star-faring race. Undated. Only about 6 pages, the escape scene. Remember having written a lot more on it – maybe it’s in this pile someplace. [update: nope.]

D. Thelma and Me. 8/95. Only 3 pages long, one of my favorite stories. Maybe I should throw it up here, since it’s hardly more than flash fiction? The 1st person protagonist notes that the odometer on his ’57 Chevy BelAir convertible, which he bough new with money from his first job out of high school, is about to hit 500,000 miles. Babying this car has been about the only thing he’s ever done right in his life.

E. The Great Desert Valley, CH 1 of Earth Wars, which is perhaps a misleading title – it was intended as a set of stories about what might be called real ecology. Think I started it in response to all the nonsensical anthropomorphizing of nature, so I started writing more ‘true’ stories. In this story, I try to recount what it would have looked like when one of the periodic refloodings of the dried-out Mediterranean basin took place – from the perspective of the life adapted to living in an extreme desert basin. Whatever destruction we might think we’ve done to the environment, Nature has done and will do much, much worse.

F. The Last Sabre-Toothed Tiger, CH 2 of the above. A story of how exquisite adaptation can spell death when conditions change. A story I don’t see in this pile is my favorite from the set: about a lighthouse cat that completes the extinction of some shorebird, by the simple accident that the lighthouse keeper had a cat, and the rock the lighthouse was on was also the only place where the seabirds bred. All the creatures – man, cat, bird – act innocently according to their natures, yet extinction of one of them results.

G. Sets of song lyrics. Did I mention that I used to be a (frankly, terrible) part of a number of garage bands? Well, I did. And I tried my hand at songwriting, with some minimal success. So in this pile are the lyrics to a bunch of songs, a few of which I recall and even set to music. In my last band, did get one number I wrote into the rotation – people seemed to like it. I am of the ‘melancholy to sad lyrics set to bouncy music’ school of songwriting. These would need some *very* bouncy music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics.

H. Undated, untitled handwritten outline, 4 yellow legal pad pages long, of some wild adventure that kicks off with a priest killing a teenage soldier. Absolutely no idea where this came from. The notes are largely incomprehensible now, e.g., “Grain rotting in the fields, on the shelves, (Bali??)” Must have had something in mind….

I. Whole folder full of Earth Wars stories, dates 12/14/1989! Printed out on a dot matrix printer, on paper with little perforations. Call in the archeologists! The outline/table of contents shows 19 stories. In the actual printout, there’s the lighthouse cat story, and a story about elephants creating grasslands from forests (you knew they did that, right?). There’s one 20-page story called The Last Cave Bear, which has to do with the encroaching ice sheets 125,000 years ago, a sort of border conflict between cave bears, who were going extinct around this time, and people, who were learning to adapt to much harsher conditions during the glaciation. It’s a really sad story. And then, the concluding chapter is Ut Animalia, a wild tale of an elderly Latin American priest serving at the ruins of a church while his mind slips away. Due to the constant revolution, he hardly ever sees anybody – but the animals of the surrounding jungle start to make the church their home.

Maybe half an inch of paper devoted to a 30+ year old project. Huh.

J. The Talley, an 11 page long short story, undated, but printed out on the same dot matric printer, so around 1989. This one is marked up, as a draft awaiting revisions. The 1st person narrator has recently been widowed; he teaches piano. On his walk home from visiting his wife’s grave, a woman whose talentless, uninterested tween son takes lessons from him, corners him. Potentially interesting things ensue.

K. Ut Animalia has it’s own folder! An incomplete draft – don’t think I ever finished it.

L. Prime Directive. Another dot matrix era bit of – ??? In this folder there is a wide piece of perforated lined paper labeled “Character/Plot Development Chart” broken into squares, characters on the left, characteristics across the top, with little tidbits in each box. Wild.

I have no memory of this.

Then, an outline, regarding a sort of graduate-level field trip to Borneo to investigate the natives. I have a character named Higgins (‘just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!’) and a bunch of grad-school rabble. The title comes from, I suppose, the absurdity of the Star Trek Prime Directive. Then, there’s an opening chapter, where the students reveal themselves to be Trekkers.

What could I possibly have been thinking? The character outlines show a conflict between science, which doesn’t ultimately care if the people being studied live or die, a practical recognition that you might have to choose between saving the culture and saving the people, and a character who cannot see that choice.

And that’s it for that set of files. There are only two projects/stories I remember that aren’t in there – one, called The Pearl, about the gaslighting that goes on inside a truly messed up family, written in 1992, and an untitled parody of sex researchers in the wild. That last one involved an enlightened feminist sex researcher doing field work, in Borneo again, I think (I had recently read the excellent Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O’Hanlon, so had Borneo on the brain), trying to discredit the claims made by her major competitor, who happens to now be the lover of her former boyfriend. So she retraces the steps in her enemy’s landmark and tenure-securing masterpiece, attempting to replicate/discredit, as it were, the ‘;findings.’ Thus, she finds herself trying to get laid in the jungles of Borneo.

All the characters involved are utterly jealous, possessive, and needy, while of course rejecting the very idea that sex might lead such feelings. Hilarity ensued via the write-ups from the field getting published in, I think, the Atlantic? wherein the ‘researcher’ recounts her experiences, basically, trying to get laid by a bunch of tribesmen, who, as shines through her reports despite her lofty language, think she’s a curiously insane white lady best kept at arms’ length. I particularly remember writing her discussion on the desirability of pendulosity in breasts, and how it could not be that the difference between her breasts and the breasts of her competitor had lead to her failure in the field….

I think I stopped when I realized: there is no way to parody this. Anything I think of has probably been done, in all seriousness, by some maniac or other. But it was funny, you’ll have to take my word for it…

That was fun. Back to the actual WIP.

Lawncare and Leprosy

Just looking for a catchy title for more exasperation.

As a distraction from the steady rain of naked emperors and their fawning sycophants and courtiers and the sheep they intimidate into line, I’m putting in some serious lawn care time, and writing. Only partially effective. What’s sticking in my brain is the awareness that about 90% of my relatives are firmly on the Corona Train of Doom. These are for the most part well educated and intelligent people, who seem to firmly believe they are ‘following the science’ that they’ve never looked at and wouldn’t understand if they did. They just so *certain* they’ve got a bead on things.

This item is something you can buy, in bulk if necessary, from actual trophy retailers. And it seems to be assumed that getting this trophy would not only not increase the juvenile suicide rate but rather actually make a child feel *good*. These people 1) are not from this planet, and 2) have never won anything worth winning in their lives.

A seriously cultivated lack of self-awareness. I’m thinking masks are the ironic completion of the participation trophy culture. You want to be an outsider? Someone who doesn’t even get a participation trophy, that proves that the authority figures love you as long as you, well, participate?

(Aside: I am in some ways a very competitive person, mostly manifested in sports. What seems missing from the equation: Running the real risk, sometimes even near-certainty, of losing is a huge part of what made it fun and satisfying. If you win, it’s worth winning; if you lose, you went up against good competition and got to prove yourself, even if just to yourself. The worst thing: playing in games you’re supposed to win easily. Winning is thus nothing to be proud of, while losing is embarrassing. Didn’t these people ever see “A Nice Place to Visit”?)

Several times now, I’ve drafted letters to the family explaining why me and mine are not panicking, why we don’t wear masks or social distance unless we will get innocent people in trouble for it (like a church or a store – it’s not their fault, but they will be made to pay). But – I always, so far, stop before sending it. I just don’t know if it will do anything other than increase the already significant distance between me and mine and these particular relatives. Maybe it’s an act of mercy? I just don’t know.

Writing suffered greatly this week, as I was busy and distracted after a very productive weekend. Picked it up again this morning, and added another maybe 2,000 words to It Will Work. Started in on the ending, just barely scratched the surface. At 12K words at the moment. I am paying the price for not having done enough thought-smithing up front – the end, which I thought I had worked out, is a little bit gappy, holey like an old rag. Thus, I’m setting myself up for fairly monumental rewrites just getting it to flow and not leaving massive holes. Oh well – first novel, the important thing is to get stuff down. On, Teb! On!

The Saga of the Back Lawn doesn’t get much ink around here, and not only because I can practically hear your eyes glazing over through the interwebs. It’s neither as much fun nor as picturesque as the Endless Brick Project of Doom. Here goes, if you’re feeling penitential: when we bought this house lo these 25 years ago, it had a pretty decent back lawn, certainly adequate for anything you’d want a back lawn for, such as running and rolling around on it with children.

Then, back in 2005, made the large, perfectly clear with 20/20 hindsight, poor decision to put on an addition. At the time, home prices were ridiculous and rising – no matter how well I did financially, a home better enough than what we had to make it worth moving was just too big a stretch. But those same factors made it easy to borrow a ton and add on, so we did – and got it done just in time for the housing market to collapse. So, our starter home is our home, at least until we move out of state.

So, second major error: hired a long time friend of my sister’s as the general contractor. He’d done a bunch of work for her, she seemed happy with him. He lied about his licensing, was always sharing fantasies about timing, and was just a slapdash horror. Part of his style was to simply use the back lawn as his staging area, and just destroy it. Not talking just about killing the grass – the soil here is quite clay, and, when they were done, it was packed down as hard as rock, and covered with crap. I couldn’t bring myself to pay any more money at that point, and so, for several years, the backyard sat, a useless disaster. Finally, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I was up to tackling it. It’s only maybe 40′ X 30′, so it’s not like a major project. Cleaned it off, amended the soil some – but didn’t, alas, rototill the living heck out of it.

So, every year since, I try to do something to improve the lawn. As of last spring, it looked pretty good – right up until the end of May, when the warm, dry weather kicks in and the 1/4″ root depth before it hits solid clay means it mostly dies off. By the end of the summer, it’s pretty pathetic. It looks great in April!

This year, after surveying yet another dreary looking lawn, decided what the heck, let’s get serious. It had rained enough that I could dig in the clay, so I picked the ugliest patch, about 6′ X 20′, and just dug it up by hand, turned the soil, added manure and gypsum, let it sit for a few days, then seeded and watered it. Total time invested might be 5? 6? hours. So far.

If this works, I’ll do another similar patch next year, and it 2-3 years, should attain lawn Nirvana. Right?

As I type, I can see a bird on the lawn eating seed. This, I can stand – anything short of a significant flock is unlikely to eat enough to make any difference. BUT: if I had the appropriate verminator, I’d be shooting some squirrels. Damn things have to dig anywhere I’ve loosened the soil – garden, planters, pots, and now, lawn. I hate squirrels. At this rate, my new patch of lawn will be pock-marked with squirrel holes. Furry little bastards.

Next week, I’ll see if I have anything less trivial to write about.