Outlining Non-Fiction: 2 Proposed Books on Catholic Education

In the comments a couple posts back, regular commenter Richard A said I should finish the nonfiction books I’ve sort of started. This is fair. So, to recap what I hope to accomplish: for many years now, I’ve wanted to address my despair over Catholic education in this country, and suggest (too mild a term) steps needed to free ourselves from this unholy thralldom to education theories and practices that are not only not Catholic, but were designed specifically to destroy the influence of Church and family on the formation of children.

In my mind, this would take the form of 2 books, which would then form the backbone of efforts to get invited to conferences, get interviewed, and whatever other forms of publicity needed to get these ideas out there.

Book 1: the popular plea. This would be a shorter, less academic book intended to be read by anybody interested in Catholic education. It would include more stories and examples, less history and quotations. It still needs to undermine the foundations of the wretched graded classroom model, and sow the seeds of a truly Catholic education model, where child, Church and family work together to put children on the road to their own unique God-given sanctity. A Catholic education should equip every child to defend the Truth and rebuild the culture (an eternal task given to every generation). It might, for example, tell the story of the early Spanish schools in Texas, as an example of how others have tried to address these issues and of a radically different model, but would not include too much detail on the evolution and promulgation of that particular model.

The goal of Book 1: to help people realize that, for Catholics, rejecting the age-graded, teacher-dominated, regurgitation model is the essential 1st step toward any Catholic education worthy of the name. I’d then present (generally much milder) criticisms of other models, and suggest alternatives, and end with a description of what I’ll call the Oratory-style Catholic school I’d like to see.

Book 2: the bomb. This book would attempt to simply detonate all the assumptions behind modern schooling, from a Catholic perspective. I’d go through each of the founding lights of modern education, from the Spartans through the ephebia, the ‘schools’ of Athens and Alexandria, on to the monasteries, the universities, Luther’s suggestion the the state seize the monasteries and turn them into compulsory schools, to Pestalozzi, Fichte, the various English schools, Dickens’ Hard Times, then on through Mann, Barnard, Cubberley, and Harris, etc.. Then on through the Catholic parish school movements, and Burns and the people at Catholic U, and Bishop Ireland and the runs-ins caused by his endorsement of public schools, the encyclicals against Modernism, discussion of Modernism and the heresy of American Catholicism (versus a Catholicism that happens to be in America), and the near-desperate desire of immigrants to be seen as good Americans and the dolorous effects this desire produced, and the persecuted Germans fleeing to America and bringing their Prussian model school system with them.

Then outline the ongoing efforts to make Catholic schools illegal, or, failing that, to put them effectively at the mercy of the state (the first failed, so far, but the second is where we are today: states will start mandating transgender sex ed, and the legal framework is in place to force Catholic schools to implement it).

Somewhere in there would be a discussion of ‘scientific’ education practices, and how, in fact, there is no scientific support for the current model, and plenty of science that argues against it. (Of course, one has to state goals first – science as science doesn’t have any goals.)

The goal of this book would simply be to provide the background detail needed to buttress the arguments in the first book.

I’ve drafted a few chapters here and there. Some of the posts on this blog are approximately rough drafts of some. But I need to get much more organized.

I need to do some outlining somewhere. Why not here? Rough draft:

Book 1: Let the Little Children Come: Towards More Catholic Schoolings

Intro: “Let the little children come to Me”

  1. Christ is attractive: ‘let,’ not ‘make,’ the little children come.
  2. The goal of Catholic education is not different from the goal of Catholic life: Everything flows from and is directed toward the Eucharist.
  3. We educate our children to be more fully members of the Body of Christ;
  4. Catholic education is not job training. Being ‘productive members of society’ is not primary – our God-given value is much more fundamental than our ability to produce, and does not depend on it.
  5. Thus, a Catholic school and the education it provides will allow children to be welcomed by Jesus, be directed toward and flow from the Eucharist, and will see in each child as a unique child of God apart from and prior to anything they can do.
  6. Catholic education will necessarily reject anything that interferes with any of the above.

Chapter 1: The State of Affairs

  1. Where our current system comes from
  2. What our current system is designed to do, in the words of the people who built it.
  3. Our parish schools built in response to the blatant and relentless anti-Catholicism of the public schools
  4. How the Church won battles and lost the war.
Image result for monastery library

Chapter 2: Educational traditions other than the age-segregated graded classroom (touching very lightly)

  1. Jewish schools
  2. Ephebia
  3. The Greek ‘schools’ – Plato, Aristotle, the schools of Alexandria
  4. Tutors
  5. Apprentices
  6. Monasteries
  7. The Great Universities – the Questions method, the trivium and quadrivium.
  8. One-Room Schools
Image result for University of Oxford

Chapter 3: Experimentation & Bad Ideas

  1. Sparta & the Republic
  2. Luther
  3. Pestalozzi
  4. Fichte

Chapter 4: The Modernist Foundation

  1. Von Humboldt & the Prussian Models
  2. Horace Mann & the American Dilettante Invasion of Prussia
  3. Back Rooms and the Establishment of State Education Departments
  4. The Killing of the One Room Schools
  5. The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory
  6. Bella Dodd
  7. Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  8. The Mask has been dropped – this whole system must be rejected
Image result for one room schoolhouse

Chapter 5: Catholic Educational Traditions

  1. St. Jerome’s advice to a woman asking how best to educate her daughter
  2. Christian Brothers
  3. Salesians
  4. Waves of Sisters & the Parish School
  5. Montessori
  6. Observation: education of the orphaned and abandoned child is different than education a child as part of a family: the former must provide the structure present in the latter before education can take place.

Chapter 6: The Eucharistic Approach to Education

Comments? I’ll get to Book II soon, I hope.

Flash Fiction: Datakill

(Let’s try something completely different. For me, at least. I have no idea what I’m doing here…)

“We need 11 seconds.”

No, he thought, you don’t need anything. You want me to murder a little girl.

Part of the Plan was that he, Vlad Alexander, knew only very little of the Plan. It was also probable that most of what he ‘knew’ was incorrect. He operated in a gray area straddling the cyber and human domains. Somewhere, other people knew some aspects of the Plan as it concerned their expertise in the air, land, sea, and space domains, little pieces of truth mixed with nonsense. They had all been trained to execute baffling assignments that meant nothing to them.

Vlad Alexander did not want to murder a little girl. The only reason he had been given was that the murder, executed in precisely the manner and at exactly the specified time, would buy 11 critical seconds for the Plan. Perhaps it was telling that Ops had broken, if not protocol, certainly tradition, to tell him anything at all. Why had they done that? They certainly knew he would notice.

He was aware of things, some dimly, some crystal clear, that he might be better off not knowing. He had spent years training to see and use information, how it was obtained, stored, analyzed, disseminated, and used as a weapon. He had also spent years learning how people react to information. Sometimes, the right message delivered in the right way to the right people in the right order could be more devastating than a large-scale military attack. When an executive, say, bursts out of his office to see terrified looks on his office staff, or calls home only to hear his wife scared out of her wits, he is a much softer target, much more manipulatable, than if he thinks he knows a terrible secret he is protecting his people from. Sometimes, you need a riot to make a point, to shorten the decision window, to compel the right people to make the move you want.

Vlad Alexander arranged such panics, surprises and riots.

One thing Vlad Alexander knew was that his superiors in Ops viewed him as part of the information domain he was trained to use. Another thing he knew was that his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections, were part of the human domain those same superiors used him to weaponize.

Ops had laid out the outline of a plan, leaving all details to Vlad. Vlad was more an expert on these things than his superiors. They knew that as well. When they ordered him to kill a little girl, they had a very good idea how he would react.

Vlad Alexander very much did not wish to kill a little girl.

Great composers generally use the second most likely device, familiar yet unexpected. The first time through, a work should sound surprising; subsequent hearings sound inevitable.

They would expect him to prepare. Vlad called Enrique, using a first level secure channel. A first level channel has almost certainly been hacked, meaning Vlad’s message could not appear critical or even coherent to third parties. Or that the message was intended to be heard by third parties.

“Hey, man, let’s grab a beer, catch up a little.” Vlad’s voice was even.

“Sure, man.” Enrique’s voice was equally bland. “The usual place? 5:00?”

“Can we do 4:00?”

“Man, I gotta work to 5:00. Maybe 4:30?”

“Make it 4:00, and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Oooo-kay.” A slight hesitation. “I’ll see you at 4:00.”

Calling Enrique would be slightly unexpected, but well within normal parameters. Vlad headed out to the nonexistent usual place. He stopped at Sven’s Scandinavian Pastries on Wabash, under the elevated tracks. A Chinese man peered at him from over the display case in the tiny shop. “Hey, Gustav. Long time.”

“Week before last Wednesday.” The Chinese Gustav eyed him with a slight frown. “I’m not sure you’re being sufficiently discrete.”

“Can I use your restroom?”

“Customers only.”

“I’ll take a spandauer.” Gustav nodded, threw him a key and looked towards a curtained doorway.

Vlad unlocked a narrow door, and eased himself in. Opposite the toilet was another door. After locking that door behind him, Vlad sat in the one chair in front of what looked like a stack of vintage stereo equipment. He put on headphones and pulled from his jacket pocket a small plastic rectangle with a rat tail ending in a 1/4″ plug.

Helene Sachiko Bernatone watched the stray cats play and beg from her perch on a stone bench in the Boboli Gardens. The early fall sun was about to touch the treetops to the left of the Pitti Palace. Takashi should be arriving in a moment to take her to ballet lessons. Alone, she was nevertheless fearless. Hidden eyes watched her; hidden eyes watched everyone.

10 hours earlier, Vlad Alexander had popped out of existence. This was not usual for this stage of such assignments, but within the realm of reasonable. 11 hours. It was difficult, for someone who didn’t exist, to get from Chicago to Florence in 11 hours. He caused an airplane to pop out of existence, as far as anyone in Ops could tell.

Cameras, sensors, and satellites saw nothing when he covered the 50 meters from the hanger to the Tupolev TU-444. His presence did not register with the pilot, or any of the on-board systems. The plane was heading to Peretola, although he was the only one on board to know it. The Tupolev was outfitted in communication gear; with the help of Enrique, Gustav and 2 more contacts upon which he had bet his life, that communication gear had been taken off-off-grid.

Almost all comm traffic was machine-to-machine. Speaking from the system’s perspective, data was data, and humans were towering roadblocks to speed and efficiency. The Tupolev’s systems would give the other systems plenty of busywork. Vlad Alexander intended to keep the humans in the system busy as well. He knew about them what he knew about anyone he studied: their emotional landscapes, their loves and hates and predilections. He needed to keep them entertained for another 10 hours.

Image result for Tupolev TU-444

Vlad Alexander sure hoped Enrique had gotten the message. He hoped his contacts were what they seemed to be, but, again, seeing people for what they are is what he did, or a big part of it, at least. He got to work.

File:Pianta del buonsignori, dettaglio 228 fortezza di belvedere.jpg
I, Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Helene had taken note of Takashi’s tardiness, but remained calm. Then she saw him walking briskly up the hill. He gave Helene a slight bow, and took her hand. “Miss Bernatone, your father has requested you to accompany me on an adventure. Will you please follow me?”

They proceeded together up the hill toward the Forte di Belvedere, a slight Japanese man and slender girl of 9. He touched his watch and ventured a slight look around. “The Medici, who constructed this garden and built this fort, were very much experts at subterfuge and secrecy, even by the standards of the Renaissance.” Takashi often filled their time together with little history lessons, which Helene generally enjoyed. He did not look nor act like Helene’s idea of a ninja, which is what the daughter of Chef had whispered her mother had told her he was. But wasn’t that exactly like a ninja? The Medici were not the only masters of subterfuge and secrecy.

The Tupolev landed without any notice taken by the Peretola tower. It taxied to a building off main runway, stopping just long enough for Vlad Alexander to deplane, and then took off again.

Inside the building stood three men. “Signor Bernatone sends his greetings,” said a large man in an apron, who looked like he’d just stepped away from making some porcetto. Which, given this topsy-turvy world, he just might have. “And his gratitude.” Vlad nodded. He hoped this gratitude would extend to keeping him alive and invisible for a few decades. He was now Out. The only question was if he were dead Out, or alive Out. The first was routine and often unexpected. The second was, by the nature of things, unheard of.

Enrique and Gustav had, of course, never explained their exit plans to Vlad; neither, of course, had the two others whose names he prudently didn’t know. He sure hoped they made it. He himself was at the mercy of Signor Bernatone. He knew his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections. He had sorted them out from the purposeful and expert chaff meant to hide them. If Vlad Alexander had done his work well, Signor Bernatone was not the sort of man to kill a man who saved his daughter.

“I thought they built this for the view.” They had reached the top of the hill, and the tremendous panorama of Florence it provided. Takashi answered, “From here, the Medici Dukes could observe their offices at the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio, the Pitti Palace and all roads leading into Florence. Forte di Belvedere is a difficult place to sneak up on.” Helene was listening while her eyes soaked up the landscape in the fading autumn light.

Image result for corot florence

They stood atop the point of one of the fortifications. A flicker, a subtle change in light, on the edge of perception such that you were not sure in the next moment that it had happened, radiated out across the landscape from where they stood. An utterly still moment passed. A light drizzle of what appeared to be insects and birds fell to the ground from trees and building facades, followed a moment later by a half dozen small drones in quick succession falling from the sky.

Takashi scanned the horizon without expression, and continued. “The Medici also put in various escapes and hidey-holes, ambushes and traps. From the time of Cosmo the Great, who had his grandson murdered in the Duomo, the family has taken steps.” He turned and took both her hands. “Your father, although only distantly related, has inherited their caution as well as much of their former empire.”

City lights which had just begun to illuminate the ancient city flickered then grew dark. An unearthly quiet, as if the trees themselves had paused to listen, veiled the city. Takashi whispered, “Follow me.”

(For reference. Miniaturization is not just for smart phones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOTYgcdNrXE&t=1325s )

WWII Bombers, the English, Recap, Links

Incoming Potpourri!

A. For those who have served honorably in our military: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am well aware that it is only an accident of timing that kept me out of Vietnam (still going when I got to high school, ended, after a fashion, before I turned 18). My father spent WWII as a crack welder on the home front; some of his and my mother’s brothers did fight, but were of a generation where, mostly, it was not something you talked about much. My aunt Verna was Rosie the Riveter, complete with models and photos of the planes she help build – that she never talked about. I only found out from my cousins after she died. Uncle Louis did something with the Air Force in Korea, but all I ever heard about was his time as a voice on military radio – he had a very deep and beautiful speaking voice, bet he was good.

My father in law, may he rest in peace, got in in time for the invasion of Italy. About the only story he told was of cataloguing the weapons the Allies seized: he was struck with how beautiful Italian machine guns were, especially compared to German machine guns: scroll work, a sense of proportion. But there was no question which one you’d want to be holding if you needed to kill somebody.

He was also helped liberate some Nazi death camps. This, he never spoke of, except to tell of the dancing. Because he grew up in and near various ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he knew all sorts of ethnic dances. He was an incredible dancer. So, when the prisoners were freed, they – any who were strong enough – danced. And he joined in.

He paid a terrible price, even if he never, as far as I know (and I doubt I or anyone does know), had to shoot at anyone or see his buddies die before his eyes. He saw unfathomable evil up front and personal. His mother said he went to war a happy-go-lucky boy and came back a serious and sad man.

So, thank you, veterans! God bless you. And may He grant eternal rest to those who have died.

B. Read something about the comparative capabilities of American versus British WWII bombers, specifically, the B-17 and the Lancaster, which were the workhorse Allied bombers in the European theater. What was most interesting to me: the American bomber had a bigger crew and more guns, and included armour around all the crew positions. As a result, a B-17 generally carried about half the weight in bombs that a Lancaster carried, having instead invested that weight in guns and armour to defend the aircraft and its crew. The Lancaster had fewer guns and no armour protecting the crew, except the pilot – who was generally the only officer on board. But it typically carried about twice the tonnage of bombs as the B-17.

B-17. The Germans referred to them as ‘Flying Porcupines’ due to all the guns.

B-17s flew high and during the day; Lancasters flew lower during the night. The Americans targeted specific buildings and installations, while the British targeted cities. Once the P-51 Mustangs came on-line in force, the B-17s had really good fighter escorts. The net results: B-17s, partly because they bombed during the day and partly because they flew above where flak could reliably hit them, and because they had swarms of Mustangs with them to keep the (very, very good) Luftwaffe fighters at bay, reliably hit their targets. The British, flying at night to compensate for their comparative lack of altitude and defences, targeted ENTIRE CITIES because anything smaller was all but impossible to find and hit. Their success rate was comparable to the Americans, but only because their targets were an order of magnitude or 2 larger. I assume the British pilots and bombardiers were as good as the Americans, because British pilots in WWII were damn good. It is a matter of strategy formed by technical capabilities, coupled with a burning British desire to make the Third Reich pay for bombing British cities. And, boy, did they pay.

Lancaster.

Underlying this, it seems to me, is another factor, one I ran into first years ago reading about Florence Nightingale. The attitude of the British military, it seems, is that commoners both expendable and of no great value. Nightingale found the British officers showed no concern to the point of contempt for the men dying under them, and it took her years to shame the government into starting to provide decent (for the times) medical care. But the attitude persisted: the Lancaster, and, I understand, subsequent British bombers as well, embodied this disdain: only the pilot’s position was armoured. Stray bullets or shrapnel was much more likely to kill a crewman than an officer on a British bomber. And the numbers seem to bear this out: both in absolute and percentage terms, casualties among British airmen were far higher than among Americans. Americans, I should think, would be shamed and outraged if their officers were provided protections denied to the crewmen.

C. Tidy segue: Reading Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis for our Chesterton Society reading group. In it, G.K. tells the story of how a young Francis, working for his father selling cloth in the marketplace, is interrupted by a beggar:

While he was selling velvet and fine embroideries to some solid merchant of the town a beggar came imploring alms; evidently in a somewhat tactless manner. It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age; and the lack of any organised police permitted such persons to pester the wealthy without any great danger. But there was I believe, in many places a local custom of the guild forbidding outsiders to interrupt a fair bargain; and it is possible that some such thing put the mendicant more than normally in the wrong. Francis had all his life a great liking for people who had been put hopelessly in the wrong. On this occasion he seems to have dealt with the double interview with rather a divided mind; certainly with distraction, possibly with irritation. Perhaps he was all the more uneasy because of the almost fastidious standard of manners that came to him quite naturally.

Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi

G.K. goes on to comment about the relationship between the rich and the poor in medieval Italy, something that, though imperfect and often ignored, is one of the great triumphs of Christianity:

Another element implied in the story, which was already partially a
natural instinct, before it became supernatural ideal, was something that had never perhaps been wholly lost in those little republics of medieval Italy. It was something very puzzling to some people; something clearer as a rule to Southerners than to Northerners, and I think to Catholics than to Protestants; the quite natural assumption of the equality of men. It has nothing necessarily to do with the Franciscan love for men; on the contrary one of its merely practical tests is the equality of the duel. Perhaps a gentleman will never be fully an egalitarian until he can really quarrel with his servant. But it was an antecedent condition of the Franciscan brotherhood; and we feel it in this early and secular incident. Francis, I fancy, felt a real doubt about which he must attend to, the beggar or the merchant; and having attended to the merchant, he turned to attend the beggar; he thought of them as two men. This is a thing much more difficult to describe, in a society from which it is absent, but it was the original basis of the whole business; it was why the popular movement arose in that sort of
place and that sort of man.

ibid.

This, coming from an Englishman, one who clearly felt a great affinity to St. Francis. We Americans have, somehow, inherited, it seems to me, more from the South to which we did not belong than to the North from which we came. This brings to mind Lafferty’s assertion that, while our institutions come from the Romans, our hearts owe more to the Goths. But that’s getting far afield, even for me.

D. This is funny.

E. After I published that last bit of flash fiction fluff, I remembered that I had already written a very similar and, it seems to me, much better piece of fluff. Almost took the new story down – as low as my standards are, I do, in fact, have some. But then, remembering that authors (if only!) are the worst judges of their own work, I left it up.

To find the earlier piece, which at first I did not remember clearly, I needed to skim through the couple dozen pieces of flash fiction I’ve posted here. Distance, perhaps after the fashion of beer goggles, has made several of them look pretty OK. The ones that got the most comments were:

Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure – the A. Merritt tribute opening;

The most positive feedback on an individual story was on Random Writing: One Day… about a crusty old man who mooned a big rig from the back of his vintage motorcycle while crossing the Vicksburg Bridge. That one was a lot of fun.

But by far the most comments and positive feedback were received on the 7 parts of It Will Work – Tuesday Flash Fiction taken as a whole. I stopped the series because it stopped being flash fiction – in order to end it, I needed to think ahead more than one episode. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps I need to get off my hindquarters and finish it.

But my surprise favorite at the moment is possibly Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18), a story about a woman seeking healing through story therapy, which, it seems to me, displays the most craft: I set it up so that the – I hope – surprise ending carried some emotional punch, and could be read on several levels. I also like how Stanford’s storytelling came out. I’ll no doubt change my opinion in the morning.

And, thus, I’m brought to the real issue here: I can write flash fiction because, like diving into cold water, I need only pluck up my courage for a moment. A short story is like swimming the Channel to me; a novel would be swimming to Hawaii. The combination of being hypercritical, needing to plan, and being a coward is leaving me with hundreds of pages of begun, half-finished, and even very nearly finished stories. Not to mention a couple non-fiction works on education I’ve left hanging.

I’m not sure what to do at this point.

Quick Note on “Those Shoes”

In case all 14 of you are wondering: That little story began with me thinking about NBA shoe collectors. Yes, they really exist:

Johnson's shoe closet
Not a store. An NBA pro’s personal shoe collection.

So, in your standard post-Apocalypse setting, people scrounge stuff. Stuff that’s sort of tucked away in private homes might be a little more likely to survive than other stuff.

And rich women have been known to have a pair or 50 of cool kicks. So, there you go.

Sunday Night Flash Fiction: Those Shoes

Not sure how much this really mitigates that whole Apocalypse end of the world thing, but I’ll never lack for wicked cool kicks.

Was digging through rubble down where I think Miami used to be, feeling pretty good. Couple days before I’d found several thousand mostly intact cans of food. A steeple from the church next door had crushed a Sedano’s. The large surmounting cross had somehow landed upright, planted above what must have been the frozen food section. I imagine the heat, the smell of the rotting formerly frozen food and the Sign from God rather ominously standing guard must have discouraged the freaks from digging, I don’t know. Lucky me. The stench had long since dissipated by the time I got around to exploring. Anyway, I’ve now got a lifetime supply of El Ebro delicious white bean fabada, among other things. Beats starving.

Don’t know what happened to the freaks. I’d like to imagine them all deciding to swim to Europe like the lemmings of folklore, heading out into the soft breakers and warm Atlantic waters and just diving in, never to return. Not any crazier than some of the stuff I’d seen them do. Helps me sleep better at night, thinking they’re all gone. Any rate, haven’t seen any for a couple months now.

Haven’t seen any normies, either. Last one I saw was maybe 4 months ago, a girl, maybe 15, 16, standing in front of a McMansion in what must have been an upscale suburb at one time. The back half of the house dangled over a smoking chasm; most of the subdivision was gone, vanished into a gash marked by a ragged border of torn earth on the edge of an impenetrable deep. All part of that Apocalypse thing I mentioned.

She looked a little nervous. To be honest, she looked terrified out of her wits, crazy eyes, matted dirty blond hair, in tattered Pink yoga pants and a tube top. Well, I’d tried to coax her out, tried to talk nice, because, one, I’d like some fully human company and two, I’d feel bad if she fell off the cliff, and, if she didn’t get away from that house, that’d be a sure bet.

It didn’t work. I am evidently not as charming as I think I am. She ran into the house, and when I got closer, she screamed and screamed and just wouldn’t stop. So I walked away, shouting over my shoulder every now and then that I meant no harm, but the shrieking continued. I was about three blocks away, pondering what to do next, when there was a rumble, a dust cloud, and an end to the screaming.

Anyway, this morning early I saw some high-class rubble that looked undisturbed. Little cast cornices and broken stone fascia, not the sheetrock and asphalt tile you find in the cheaper parts of town. After cracking open a can of picadillo for breakfast, I’d gotten to work.

Part of the challenge in digging up stuff is that everything is all mixed up. Sometimes it seems like the remains of buildings a half mile away from each other have been heaped up, stirred and dumped in heaps. Which is exactly what happened, pretty much. What you see on the surface is more often than not different from what you’ll find digging. This site, however, seemed to have been merely leveled, with the debris making sense as from the same house or similar nearby houses. So I dug.

Got lucky, found some stairs leading down into what looked like a lower level, blocked only by some tree branches and an ‘End Road Work’ sign. At the bottom, the door was intact, and unlocked. I cautiously let myself in. It quickly became obvious no one had been down here since That Day 18 months ago. A fine layer of dust lay everywhere, undisturbed.

A dim glow, punctuated by three shafts of light from unseen skylights, permeated a long hall. Motes danced silently in beams. I closed the door and turned the deadbolt. You never know.

The left hand side of the hall was panelled in expensive looking wood and lined with little glass shelves upon which sat nick-nacks. Only one had fallen. An aboriginal mask was grinning menacingly up at me from the floor. The rest of the dozen of so shelves still held their treasures, the kind of stuff that a high end interior decorator chooses to say ‘sophisticated taste and understated wealth.’

On the right hand side were four doors.

Behind the first door I found a shrine. A shrine to shoes. There’s no other way to put it. Unlike the cool pretend sophistication of the hall, this large room was clearly a work of passion. This was not a closet, nor was it quite a museum. It was most like a church.

It was a large room, with long narrow windows running along the ceiling on two sides. Row after row of shoes filled glass shelves running floor to ceiling along the walls. I went to the wall opposite the door, walking the gauntlet between the freestanding display cases, and picked up almost a random a nice pair of classic Air Jordan 1s, Bulls color scheme, mint condition.

Image result for classic Air Jordans

11 1/2. My size.

I’m not a Nike guy myself, but the classic white high top Chucks I happened to have been wearing on That Day were held together with some camo duct tape I found in an old pickup a couple months back. Cool look, maybe, but canvas Converse kicks were never meant for rubble diving.

I slipped the Air Jordans on and enshrined my old Chucks in their place. Ecumanism in action. Happy are the poor, something like that. Smooth. Nice fit. The lip of the glass shelf hung down a little, like a drawer pull. So I pulled. I had to jump out of the way as 6′ as drawer slid silently into the room. Another 20 pairs of shoes, in their original boxes, carefully and exactly placed. The size stickers were visible – 11 1/2.

A quick inspection and a little math revealed that, in this sunny, pleasant wasteland, I needn’t ever worry about having enough shoes, even if I wore a new pair every day for a decade.

I explored the rest of the house. While invisible from above even if you were standing right on top of the rubble, the lower level was remarkably well preserved. Surviving, largely undamaged rooms included a nicely appointed bedroom, a gourmet kitchen and several other large rooms, two of which might have been an office and a library, although books and a desk were notably absent. Got the impression the residents hadn’t finished moving in. At the end of the hall, the last door opened into what might have been a gaming room or bar or both. Floor to ceiling windows ran the length of the east facing wall overlooking the brooding sea. Sea level had changed or the land here had been thrust up on That Day, such that the windowed room was now atop a cliff, with a ledge of concrete and steel sticking out 15′ above it. You’d never know it was here even if you were standing right above it. You’d need rappelling gear to get at it from up top. The ocean here was 50′ below. The only way in or out was the stairs.

All in all, this was the most snug and protected place I’d found in 18 months. So I started moving in my cases of Cuban canned goods and flats of water – bless you, Sedano’s – and built what I hoped was a secure disguise for the stairway.

A week or so later, I was awakened by the faint shuffling of feet on the rubble above the bedroom. I crept to the stairs, silently let myself out, and maneuvered so that I could see through the branches and debris without, I fervently hoped, being seen.

This was different. 4 people – normies! – gathered. A man who appeared by his habit to be a Capuchin priest stood praying a rosary. Two Dominican sisters in full habit knelt by a third, who lay motionless on the ground. The sisters were sobbing quietly.

Well, this could be an elaborate ruse, and I could be on the menu if I revealed myself. But I didn’t think so, so I stood and moved the brush aside and said ‘Howdy!’ blinking in the sunlight.

The sister on the ground, Mary Therese of the Passion, Sister Mary for short, was just dehydrated and exhausted, and some water and Caribbean canned food quickly put her to rights. Father Frank and the Sisters Elizabeth and Agnes, after effusive thanks and a good meal and safe night’s sleep, were right as rain.

So my home quickly became a little monastery or convent. My new religious housemates proved very helpful, We’d soon moved enough food and water in to take care of the five of us for years. They all prayed Mass in the morning and stopped for prayers a couple times a day. It was peaceful. I sometimes watched from the door.

Two months later, Sr. Elizabeth, a sturdy middle-aged woman who looked like a German farmer’s wife, came running down the stairs. “Someone is coming!” I gathered and shushed the religious, and went up the stairs. Hey, it’s my house, I get to do the defending.

From the stairway, I saw what looked like a bundle of rags staggering towards me. A dirty scarf wrapped its head, and what might have once been a fashionable evening dress peaked out from a tattered blanket. Her bare calves – it was a she – ended in the most remarkable shoes. They looked brand new, and ridiculous.

Image result for outlandish women's shoes

She collapsed. Oh well, I gambled again, ran out and picked her up and brought her downstairs, where the sisters took care of her while Fr. Frank prayed. She was delirious. “I found a million shoes,” she gasped, “all in my size!”

“I know what you mean.”

Carine recovered quickly under the local church’s tender ministrations. She fit right in, although she was some sort of lapsed Presbyterian (are there any other kind?) and a Yankee. Nobody’s perfect. She was also young, maybe mid twenties, and, once scrubbed up and fed three squares for a bit, quite pretty.

The world seemed to settle down, too. Whatever had happened on That Day and its aftermath seemed to be over or at least on hiatus. The freaks had disappeared. Neither the religious contingent not Carine had seen any for many months. Normies seemed very few and far between. But the earth neither shook nor was wrent, and that was a very good thing.

Eventually, I sort of converted. Carine held out, but she did agree to marry me. Funny how life works. I had a million women to choose from, potentially, at least, and yet the right girl practically falls into my lap, and happens to be the last girl on earth, as far as I know. Fr. Frank did the honors, and we had a little party afterwards. Married life suited me.

One day, about 6 months later, Carine came back from one of our endless recon missions, and, hands behind her back, kissed me. “Guess what I found?” she smiled. Her hands came from behind her back, holding a pair of baby shoes. “About a million pairs!”

I took her in my arms. “And they’re all exactly the right size!”

Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

Reading, Writing: End of April Update

As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.

Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.

Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!

It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.

Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.

Or some purpler shade of purple.

Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.

What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.

Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.

We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.

As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.

“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.

As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.

Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.

The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.

Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.

Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.

And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.

For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.

Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!

An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.

Wow.

The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.

Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.

Happy Easter Season!