Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Couple More Random Objects from My Psychic Junk Drawer

More varieties of half-rotted rubber bands and novelty bottle openers than you can shake a snack bag clip at. 

Recently I posted about how I had to be careful celebrating my 600th post milestone because I might have to delete pages with disabled video embeds and fall below the big round number. Shortly after I published I was looking down my list of most viewed posts and realized to my horror that one was my Patreon pitch, and the other was for my podcast, neither of which I worked too hard at to make happen, and neither of which occupied any real estate in my conscious mind until just then. Those posts would have to be deleted, too.

Twenty-eighteen was my cancer year, but as I didn’t get the news on that until April, I honestly can’t use that misadventure for an excuse. The post-holiday season depression, haunted by the death of one of the few close friends I had the previous November, makes more sense. I fought for literal weeks to work up the nerve to make that Patreon pitch, and then I did it, and then I didn’t want to do it anymore. 

Truth be told, my heart was never into the Patreon or a podcast. Both require implied obligations and I detest being obligated. The posts had to go. I’m down to 611 published posts now. So it goes. 

I cracked 10K on my Jeep on Columbus Day. It’s been a source of amusement to both my adult children, who were small children when I bought the vehicle in 2001, that I am such a stay-at-home stick-in-the-mud that the Jeep has enjoyed such low mileage.

It took 18 years and 27 days but the last digit to the left is populated at last. With new tires installed last month and all our vital fluids good to go, we look forward to another winter crunching through the snow.

Pictured in the high flat valley country she lost her 10K virginity in. ‘Til death do us part.

I’ve been struggling throughout the day to come up with something else. I leave with another photo from that day’s shoot and a note to myself that we’re due for another photo essay. Cheers.

Straight on to Alamosa.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Minor Milestones

One of those “State of the Apocalypse” thingies. Happy November, by the way.

I published my 600th blogpost a while back but it didn’t seem worth bringing up until I put some in some more posts after it. Every now and then I’ll check in on one of my Jukebox music posts to see that YouTube has disabled my embed, and I’ll delete the post with its accompanying text. Six hundred posts could become five hundred ninety-something quickly.

I often wonder if I’ll have a Jukebox category at all after a while, and whether I shouldn’t scrub it altogether and save myself the trouble of policing the posts for broken links. That, and the matter of taking down my novel and story excerpts, because you don’t want to leave those up forever. I’m priming to edit and re-post what is there once I finish another milestone in the novel, so I can see everything that’s wrong with it, as I often do when I make anything public.

I have the same issue with my novel’s progress. The above screenshot indicates 314 total pages and 107,000-something words. As I have all the chapter headings in my novel blocked off until the end, with notes on what happens—think of my manuscript galley file as a big, unwieldy outline with sketched-in dialogue and action—I’m not quite at 300 pages. I do have more than 100,000 words of narrative, though. I can say I’ve finally taken it that far. The Wrong Kind of Dead is going to be a massive book.

As such, every word had better count. Sometimes a really good day is when you take out entire paragraphs of excess exposition and dialogue. Omit needless words, first, last, and always. I’ve begun keeping a record of how many words I wake up to each morning, but it can be dispiriting seeing those numbers in retreat, even if I know why.

And that’s that. Nothing else, except the year is getting away from me, and I’d hoped to have the manuscript completed by the 15th of September. All I can do is keep on keeping on. What I’ve got so far is too good not to finish.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

What Halloween Is Like as We Grow Older

No children to take out trick or treating, and it’s likely we won’t see any coming by the house this year because it’s going to be downright frigid where I am in Colorado. Ah, well. It’s been a long, difficult road to Over It.

You’d think a horror fiction writer, zombie post-apocalypse division, would be more into the Halloween aesthetic, with photos of my decorations and morbid musings, etc., posted every day. I’d have thought so, too. I’m not crazy about the fact that my last half-dozen posts have been old geezer griping about who-cares-what, but that’s how it turned out.

My enthusiasm for Halloween has dialed back considerably since 2007, my last good year for trick-or-treating with one of my children. I hasten to add it wasn’t just my children aging out of walking around the neighborhood with their old man. The housing crisis and recession that followed began making their presence known in Colorado Springs after 2007. There was a vast difference in the mood of the people we saw in 2007 and 2008. People were happy and sharing rum shots with attendant parents from folding tables set up in the cul-de-sacs in ‘07. In ‘08 they scowled from behind closed doors.

It was in 2010 that my 17-year-old daughter, taking pity on my poor depressed carcass, slapped a full-size rubber skull mask on me and took me out trick-or-treating for the last time ever. There were a few moments out there, especially when it got thick with children on that one street and it looked like the spirit was back, if only on that one street. 

Overall, though, the joy was gone. After that I resigned myself to staying home and passing out candy. It was a difficult transition, to say the least. Like everything else about my children’s growing up, I took the loss of Halloween badly.

As for reading and writing macabre fiction, I do that year-round. The month of October doesn’t make it any more special. I used to make a point of reading favorite stories from Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, “The Wind,” “The Scythe,” The Lake,” and especially “Homecoming” on Halloween night. After a while, it felt simply repetitive. The psychic gum was losing its flavor.

The same happened to a lot of the music I listen to. I still play In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson throughout the month, but it’s no longer how I open my All Hallow’s Eve drinking session. Like all of my “traditions,” it just came off forced. I didn’t want to resent the season—any season, for that matter—feeling forced to do things simply because that’s we’ve always done.

My wife still decorates with a different mix from our many boxes of seasonal decor every year. I’m content with that. I delight to see the younger children who show up for candy. I’ve trended hard towards the happy and wholesome aspect of those three to four hours of evening. I don’t even feel an urge to watch a horror movie when its done. Just groove to the orange and purple lights, and hope these children I saw who said “trick or treat” and “thank you” in their cute little voices have many happy Halloweens to come.

Afterwards, I’ll go upstairs, turn on the music, crack some beers, maybe get some writing done. Like any other night, except I’ll have some candy and pretzels with the beer. I’ll also look forward to hearing the melancholy woodwinds of King Crimson’s “I Talk to the Wind” at some point before I turn in. That much is indispensable. It is, dare I say, haunting.

It’s not that I’ve lost the ability to take pleasure in the season. I’m just not forcing it. My party days are well behind me. Also, at this late point in my life, I have ghosts to last the year. I speak to them in my office every night. Here’s to all those people I know on the other side of the veil between worlds. Maybe I’ll see some of you in costume tonight.

As for the rest of you, you know the drill. Don’t drink and drive, etc. And Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rare Treasured Memories of My Youth: Sunday Afternoons with the Radio, 1973-1979

WARNING: Boomer nostalgia.

I look out the window at the Sunday afternoon light bronzing the trees and find myself thinking of Sunday afternoons over 40 years ago when I read books on my bed or built models at my desk while listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on WCOS 1400 A.M. It was a great way to fill the time on the dullest day of the week. From afternoon to early evening, once it was done you were ready for Monday and everything after, fortified with the knowledge of what the most popular songs in America were up to that time. 

That timeless afternoon light, the same in any decade or century and yes, I can attest. Of course, in winter it was dark by the time Casey got us to Number One on the Billboard charts.

A.T. 40, as Kasem sometimes abbreviated it, occupied my Sundays from my middle to late childhood throughout the 1970s. I was in the latter half of sixth grade in 1973 when I made a habit of listening to it. I remember listening to the two-part year-end show in 1978. I might have heard the one in 1979, but I’m struggling to remember that. I’m certain I didn’t hear it at all after 1979. As of 1980 my radio listening went entirely over to F.M. radio with the rest of the world.

My fogginess in recalling my last time listening to American Top 40 reminds me of that meme, “And then came that day when you went outside to play with your friends for the very last time and didn’t know it.” By the time I’d quit listening to A.T. 40 I’d been following it for nearly half my life. I was 18 and the lesser dramas of high school were already a year behind me. 

The pop music scene itself was also changing. I remember when Deep Purple’s single “Smoke on the Water” played for the last time on A.T. 40, as it had slipped from its peak to somewhere at number 37 or 38, and feeling like a corner was turned. In 1973, it most certainly was. And 1979 was light years away in time and sensibility from 1973—as far as it is from age 11 to age 18 for most children. Despite a few good songs by New Wave acts, disco had also made pop radio insufferable.

All in all, it ended when it had to end, at least for me. Casey Kasem’s lively, friendly voice “countin’ down the hits to Number One!” belongs to a childhood that needed all the lively and friendly it could get. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Boomer Hate Is Booming

Again, at least the Millennials are getting a break. For the moment.

I love this, if only to poke at those tiresome old pseudo-intellectual posers who proclaim The Rolling Stones were“better” than The Beatles, if only because the Stones didn’t have three all-time classic songwriters’/vocalists’ egos competing with one another in their band, nor the sense to quit while Mick and Keith could still grind out some hits among their misses. The Beatles took all the time they needed. When they were done, they were done. They remain influential enough for people to be complaining about them half a century after making their last album. The Stones, well, they’re a nostalgia act. Q.E.D.

As much as I understand and even appreciate much of the open contempt for the largest generational cohort aging into oblivion, here’s something no one seems to have thought about: early Boomers born in in the years between 1946-54 were the great bulk of whom served and died in Vietnam. 

Vietnam. Remember that one? In the course of complaining about the stubbornly pervasive stench of Boomer culture and nostalgia for the same, as if their movies and music were the only things that mattered—again, I get this—people forget the huge gravitational mass in the room that sucked so many young men in, some never to return. Of course, that’s because no one brings it up.

Moreover, it was the so-called Greatest Generation who sent the Boomers to Vietnam. And for what? Well, to keep that military contractor gravy train going, that’s why. That’s all. Vietnam fell to  the little men in black pajamas and the world didn’t end. “Oops. Guess we were wrong about that Domino Theory. Sorry about those 58,000 dead sons and fathers and the millions more who came home sick and crazy from what they saw and did. Now, listen, if we don’t get some boots on the ground in [remote sovereign country], then [remote sovereign country’s leader], whom we’re told has weapons of mass destruction will do Very Bad Things.”

Thus the not-so-great Greatest Generation passed their hubris onto the Boomers, and thus did succeeding generations get sick of their nonsense. I only wish those hating on these passing elder generations would keep in mind that many did not live so long precisely because of the nonsense their elders and their fellows sold them and everyone else back when respecting authority was looking more and more like a chump’s game. 

Now it’s generally accepted to be a chump’s game, but it’s the only game in town, whaddya gonna do? I’m not judging. I’m just saying, hey, you notice how everyone just pretends this thing that killed all these young Americans for over a decade never happened? “Yeah, well, they were Boomers. Screw Boomers, I hate Boomers, they had it comin’....”

Never mind.

Just think, all those years from 1963 through 1975, all those young men sweating turning 18 and getting their draft lottery numbers. Young men have been looking forward to turning 18 for a while now, but it wasn’t always so. For the longest time, a young man just out of high school stood a chance of being brought into the Army, forced into weeks of hell at boot camp only to be sent away to a horrible jungle on the other side of the planet to get shot at, and shoot back.

So many sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, best pals, ornery cousins, zipped up in bags...and then there were all those who came home, having seen and done things they could never explain to those who never went. Not all were rattled in the brain pan, but those who were, well, we laugh at them. They’re the ones in the memes who start up “Fortunate Son” on their sound systems when the alphabet bois (BATF, FBI, etc.) kick in their doors and the booby traps start going off. 

Over a decade of civic-induced misery, death, disfigurement, an atrocity of mass-murder and grift for the ages. It was bad enough listening to putative conservatives of the day whining about young people’s loss of respect for authority and institutions, as it never occurred to them that people might resent being lied to, let alone sent off to be crippled or killed for a lie. No, in A.D. 2019, we’ve long since we reduced veterans of the Vietnam debacle to a meme. A punchline.

Of course, they were Boomers. Screw them, right? “Ugh, so sick and tired of hearing about those people....”

Did I mention something about Millennials getting a pass? I’ve read in two places online this week the term “NuBoomers” for particularly entitled types. Let's hope it doesn't catch on. Let the Original Flavor Boomers take the term "boomers" to the grave with them.  Everyone's hating on Boomers; I'm hating on careless generalizations, stupid terminology, and misdirected resentment.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Curious Customs of a Faraway Country: Schoolin’

We’re talking that distant realm called “the past.” As in, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (L. P. Hartley.) Also, “[F]or time is the longest distance between two places.” (Tennessee Williams.) Got it? All right, then.....

I recently celebrated a birthday. Not that I needed the occasion to think back on things; I just thought I’d bring it up. I’m closing in on the completion of my sixth decade on this Earth, as a citizen of the dominant, albeit moribund empire on the planet in the early 21st century.

This means I have memories from the late-middle to late 20th century. It’s the period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s that fascinates me most, because it’s when so much changed, “some forever, not for better,” as another former young man once sang. 
Looking west down Parklane Road in northeast Columbia, South Carolina, February 1977, a year before they turned it into a four-lane. I took this photo with an old Brownie camera and developed it old-school style in a darkroom for a photography class.

I’m not sure when this changed, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s when I was already out of school, but I remember when you could fail a grade. And by “fail a grade” I mean, “you didn’t go on to the next.” 

Go ahead and send your parents in to yell at the principal. If your marks were bad, too bad, you should have done better. You repeated the grade until you got it right. (I actually knew one kid who repeated 9th grade four times until he finally stood up in the middle of class one day, screamed, “I can’t take this anymore!” and ran out never to return. By then, he was old enough not to bother, anyway.) You were stuck with the little kids coming up, and they most certainly would not look up to you for your advanced age. Indeed, you’d look pretty stupid being the biggest kid in the class. 

It was enough of a mark of shame if you had to attend summer school, which was your only option if you wanted to attend next year’s classes with your peers. You weren’t just wasting your summer. You were a fool.

Shame was a thing back in the day, but that’s more than I can wrap my head around right now. Honestly, there was a lot of bad to go with the good it enforced, and I would make it clear that I do not write any of this out of nostalgia. My line for all those pining for the Good Ol’ Days: How truly golden was your Golden Age if all it came to was this? 

This is the part where one might post a photo of 10-year-old cross-dressers with their garishly attired adult groomers by way of driving home the point, but I’d rather look at these cows instead. The countryside west of where I live...ah, you’d hate it. Seriously, cows? Boring! “Eeew, how can you stand it? There’s nothing out here!”

Something that never comes up, even among putative conservatives is that, up until sometime between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the 1950s, high school was optional. That’s why it was called high school; it was higher education for those children of Good Families who aspired to go to college and take their place among the managerial classes. The rest were free to find jobs, or, better yet, apprenticeships to trades. It was what most people did, and by the age of 17 the smarter and more able ones were as good as full-grown men, fit to support a family.

But then someone got the bright idea all young people, regardless of interest or inclination, should be forced to sit at desks and regurgitate meaningless information for state-mandated tests until age 18. Children could not work to draw a paycheck until age 16. Oh, and now everyone is expected to go to college. You don’t want to be some dumb plumber, do ya? Naw, sir, you wanna work with your mind.

Oh, how I could go on. Suffice it to say, “I was the first in my family to go to college” is a quaint expression in A.D. 2019. I was the second generation in my family to go to college, and I’m proud that both of my adult children have ignored that mandate of mid- to late-20th century U.S. civic fashion—and, wouldn’t you know it, are making more money doing their respective things that their grandmother or I ever did. 

A broken, antique manure spreader enshrined in a stone-facade flower garden in the fading sun seems an apt metaphor for U.S. education, n’est-ce pas?

Like much of the mildewed and rotten furniture of our changing culture, the only way to fix our education system, K-12 and college alike, is to torch it. Burn it down, brush away the ashes, and build something that doesn’t waste everyone’s time, patience, and money. 

Educate people according to their gifts. If a child enjoys solving math puzzles but hates reading books and writing book reports, don’t make him read novels, and don’t make him write book reports. Train him how to write for his field and stop going out of your way to make such people miserable. Same deal with liberal arts types. Stop making people who will never use anything beyond common everyday arithmetic suffer through polynomial equations.

And what’s up with sitting at these desks for hours at a time listening to some jackass drone on and on until everyone glazes over in a stupor of ennui? And as for those children who can’t be fussed to learn nothin’, who just show up to cut-up....

We’ll stop here. We all know nothing so sensible will be permitted to happen. The smart people will homeschool. That’s all. Given what my own children went through, it’s what I’d do if I could do it all over again.

“All we need is an internet connection and we’re good to go.”

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Veil Between Worlds: Internet and Meatspace Edition

You’d think I would have learned something from that three day break in Internet service I endured in August, but...yeah, it’s an old story. Let’s see if I can tease a fresh lesson from this.

Of all the things that could go wrong, this was optimal. Whatever node in my router that connects to the Internet burned out. We still had printer and scanner functions across our home network, but no Facebook, e-mail, etc. None of that evil, evil social media we’re told is so evil by the news media posting links in our social media. 

I don’t understand the hate, myself. As we used to say Down South to complaining people complaining once again (or when someone simply wanted to be dismissive), “Sounds like a personal problem to me.” My Facebook page is the very occasional, very surface-personal update (“It’s a beautiful morning! The writing went well last night! It’s an anniversary! Happy Birthday to you!”) interspersed with recycled memes that are PG-13 at worst, and, with very few exceptions that are often later deleted, studiously avoid “current events” as defined by the mass media, among other controversies.

I will go out of my way to make things as cheery as possible, with just enough humor, some mildly dark, but mostly silly, to keep it funny. As I see it, there are plenty of other places to go if you’re in need of feeling angry and sad. 

For the same reason, I dial back on the profanity. As much as I cuss in real life (it’s an extraordinarily difficult habit to break), it seems 90% of everyone who posts to the Weird World Web writes like a precocious 11-year-old girl who just saw her first Quentin Tarrantino movie and naturally mistakes the nonstop verbal coarseness for toughness and sophistication. This cohort includes content creators for major news media outlets, in which the “reporters” seem especially anxious to let their readers know they’re “down,” as in, “really cool, Daddy-O. Check me out, a fresh-faced, soft-handed child of the upper-middle class talking like an urban lumpenproletariat.”

Which is all to say, most people would probably hate my Facebook page, and I honestly count on the mainstream media never taking notice of what I do. I don’t write for most people, and if you look around at the more successful writers, musicians, and artists, the best ones never did. They created for themselves, and people either got it or didn’t. Sometimes it took time to catch on. The story of the artist Van Gogh, who was famously unappreciated in his lifetime, comes to mind.

Everything is a niche, and thank God. What I look to do is build an audience who as tired of all the ugliness as I am, but smart enough to know not to complain too loudly about it. No, what we’ll do is build our own little oases of like-minded folk and take it from there.

Don’t drink and Internet, kids.

Every now and then I wonder why I bother posting on Facebook. I’ve noticed a lot of people have fallen away over the years. (At least half a dozen were rude enough to die on me.) It’s just me and the silly memes and the occasional update. 

I just like too many of the people on my Friends list. There are a few whose Likes I actively court, because I like to think I made them smile. A reaction from them makes me feel like I’ve done something good. I’m weird like that.

Anyway, once I got back online it turns out that not only was I not missed, I didn’t miss anything.

It’s just as well. This is the point in which most authors crow about all the work they got done, but, again, I’m not most authors. I caught up on some reading on my tablet, though. I’ve been putting away entire rows of e-novels this summer.

The bottom line is I’ve had to rethink what the heck I’m doing on social media. I can’t see giving it up—it’s too handy for keeping up with the people I care about on there—but I’m wondering if I shouldn’t flex my opinions more. Take a few stands.

I feel a day is coming when I will have no choice but to take a stand on something. So I’ll just have to keep thinking about it, then. Maybe make a few minor moves. I’d like to do this on my own, on my own time, than be forced into  it.

My favorite vendor’s table from the Potato Festival on 7 September this year. 

It’s even worse with Twitter. As much as I enjoy reading the threads in the snobs-vs.-the-slobs Twitter wars—I’m proud to say I was following GamerGate since the Zoe Post got people asking questions—the bulk of my own Twitter experience is spent retweeting other people’s Tweets promoting their latest video, blogpost, book, etc. On a really good day, I’ve got a blogpost of my own to promote. My traffic from Twitter is zero to negligible, but I feel like I should stay in the habit in case this changes.

I smile and shake my head to read about people losing their jobs for posts they made on Twitter when they were in high school. The kindergarten tattletale culture of the New Secular Inquisition looking for bad opinions and bad attitudes and bad words and “hate speech,” etc., over years of social media posts is a hateful thing, but, c’mon. You went to kindergarten. You remember that ugly, smirking fatso following other kids around looking to catch them in something so she could go tell the teacher and get them in trouble. Social media gave them a vector with which to expand their careers.

So don’t give them anything to catch you with. Go to the chan boards if you feel the need to express yourself in a manner most “edgy.” Be sure to get yourself a VPN first, if you’re crazy enough to post. 

I’m content to lurk, myself. It’s one of my favorite diversions. My audience, for the most part, though, are even more blessedly sheltered than I am. I still wouldn’t know how to explain what GamerGate was to them, or chan board culture, and who needs to know that badly, anyway?

Ironically, my core online audience is closer to the normies in meatspace going about their business than those whose entire life is spent in cyberspace, fighting the latest war of attitudes. I love irony in my diet, so it works for everyone.

And that’s all I’ve got until next time. Here’s a photo of a kitten sleeping next to my wife’s homemade witch broom on the table on our porch, which makes more sense than anything I’ve just written so far here.