Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Very Political Poem

It’s easy to get caught up
in any given slipstream 
of outrage, just pick your stalking horse
and develop a rhythm as you
bludgeon your gentler sensibilities 
day by day, podcast to podcast,
one radio show or blogpost to the other

Savoring the sweet heady mead
of hatred for Those Bastards
and this just goes on 
and on because
people are so stupid
so uneducated
and they just don’t care
those bastards….

The hell of it is
they’re not entirely wrong

This being, after all, 
the known universe’s
longest running musical.

What’s most telling
is when you break from
the cycle and find yourself 
crazy-dancing drunk 
with bubbly, refreshing

So you become evangelical
about getting others out of their 
rage cages,
you want them
to feel good like you

and you find out 
shout-in-your-face fast
there’s a reason politics
and religion were once taboo
topics at dinner
and everywhere else short of a
bloody-mouthed barroom

now the whole world is a sticky,
stinking barroom, suffocating in the 
hot, despairing minute before Last Call,
no one there but bitter, bloated 
pigwomen spoiling for a fight,
and surly bouncers looking 
for an excuse to throw you
face-first to the curb

and all you want is to get out
for a glass of clean
pure something

and laugh with cheerful

What can I tell you, but
stay clean, stay serene
amid your giddy freedom 

that dares not speak its name

Avoiding eye contact
and always, always
keeping an eye on the exits.
“Oh, so this is what we’re talking about now? Run for the hills!”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Apocalyptic Horizons of a San Luis Valley Summer’s Evening

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine....

I’m looking out my office window when I notice a startling glow behind the trees in my neighbor’s yard. This photo barely captured the sense that hot yellow plasma was boiling over the southern horizon to consume us all.
Looking due south, straight ahead from my upstairs office dormer window.

It’s that time of day, somewhere between seven and eight p.m., that the light slants just so, bronzing, gilding, and sometimes inflaming the things it touches on its slow slide behind the San Juan Mountains. In this case, it was lighting the thunderstorms riding along the ridges of the Conejos Range, an arm of the San Juans that curls around south by southeast of where I am. 
The street in front of my house runs straight north-south. We’re looking south by southeast here.

On hot summer days the storms build along the mountains on all sides of the valley and generally travel due east, as seen here. Sometimes, albeit rarely, one will travel across the valley proper. Even more rare is rain. In Colorado, especially in higher-altitude environments like the San Luis Valley, the air is so high and dry the moisture evaporates before it gets a chance to hit the ground.  
Zooming in.

You can see this from a distance (not in these photos, though), the purple curtains of water hanging from the clouds, fading to nothing above the earth. This phenomenon is called “virga.” The air displaced by the falling, evaporating rain creates cool, pleasant breezes, so there’s that.
The painter Maxfield Parrish did not exaggerate the lighting in his paintings. On some evenings, and with the sun and the clouds just so, this is what you see. Imagine what this would look like if I had a real camera. Feel free to donate to my PayPal so I can afford a proper DSLR.

We got some cool air from these clouds, which is remarkable given their distance, and that, for all their dramatic lighting, they’re not built up into proper thunderheads. These, as with the ones that followed, slid off to the left/east. Sometimes at night I can look out my south-facing office window and see the lightning play on the horizon.

Storms or no, the sunsets this June have been nothing short of breathtaking.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parable in Dying Light

In the early evening light
the shadows of the ants working 
with bewildering speed
in and out of a hole
in the hard dirt 
beside by my driveway

stretch away for
seeming miles across the sand
as if their lives and work
meant something

even the sand grains 
stand like mighty quartz
to an epic race

I could say that Claude Monet fella
was onto something and
to hell with each and every one of you
middlebrow twits congratulating yourselves
for getting the joke

A fleeting moment
of eternal truth
gone with the fading light

dead to time
alive in memory
and fading with equally
insignificant me:

This is the holy paradox
the lesson I will own
in time for my 
last sundown.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Brainstorming Ghosts for Writers: Towards a Science of the Supernatural

When the Large Hadron Collider collides with our need to believe.

A couple of articles (I could only pick one for the link) appeared in popular science news sites describing an interview broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 with a physicist from the Large Hadron Collider. For some reason, the subject of ghosts came up, and how the Large Hadron Collider had disproved their existence. 

Based on what I read, spectral activity would create an energy signature. Spirits would also require a mechanism for transmitting energy in order to become spirits in the first place. At the moment of death, vast amounts of information—the physical appearance, the memory and personality of the subject, et al.—would need to be translated from the dying body to its eventual spectral form. No such mechanism has been noted by the Large Hadron Collider, so, ipso facto, there are no ghosts, QED. The physicist stated emphatically at the outset that there was no debate on the matter. So why was this brought up in the first place?
The Ghost by Joseph Mandi. Now go away, your existence is impossible.

Aside from that obvious question, I was inspired to ask others. As a writer who works with extra-normal entities in a post-apocalyptic setting, I’ve learned there are tremendous benefits to having one’s pseudo-science worked out. For instance, I determined that what caused the dead to rise and eat living flesh in my DEAD SILENCER series was a highly developed flesh-eating bacterium that hijacks human cadavers as a mechanism to deliver that living flesh to the colonies of bacteria within the corpses. 

Having something different than the dismissive and overused “zombie virus” provided me with options and opportunities denied to less imaginative writers. Most importantly, having my own origin for the outbreak of the living dead enabled my investment in the story in a way that an ordinary tossed-off “it’s a virus” would not. Although I still engage many of the common tropes involved in zombie apocalypse fiction, this much of the story is mine and mine alone.

One of my next projects after finishing The Wrong Kind of Dead is a small collection of supernatural stories I wrote years ago. My star novella is a ghost story I wrote in 1989-1990, so the recent articles about the Large Hadron Collider disproving ghosts conveniently provide me with points to ponder before I go about remastering my manuscript.

Ghosts, then. How do they work?
Attending his own funeral? Actually, it’s a Photoshop-doctored photo by an Australian artist who goes by the name “pyrotech,” for entry into a ghostly photos contest on DesignCrowd.

I’ve always imagined ghosts as Mr. Spock described the dikironium vampire cloud in my third favorite Star Trek episode, “Obsession,” that is, “in a borderline state between matter and energy.” As such, they’re not something you can shoot, stab, or even shut out, but they can exert enough force on you to make for a decent horror movie.

Energy will be expended in the course of the most basic spooky business, such as knocks from the closet, or exerting a malignant presence over you as you lie in bed. Icy fingers around the throat, causing objects blunt and sharp to fly at you, etc., would require even greater amounts of energy. This energy has to come from somewhere. Which means a ghost has to eat...what? Ghosts are the one supernatural entity that doesn’t make a meal of your blood or flesh. They have other reasons entirely to hurt or kill you. 

The dikironium cloud creature exsanguinating two hapless redshirts in the second season original (accept no spin-offs) Star Trek episode “Obsession,” written by Art Wallace, and directed by the great Ralph Senensky. At least this amorphous beast has a food source, and therefore a clear motive for its predations.


So how does a ghost acquire and channel the energy to do this?

Infamous 1936 photograph of the
“Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall.
Assume as given that ghosts exist in an existential gray area between the realm of the living and whatever dimension the souls of the dead wind up. To interact with the living, they require a conduit into the spectral dimension to draw its energy, as our own physical plane makes too much actual sense for a disembodied spirit to have anything it could use. 

I would declare that conduit to be scientific concept of dark matter. No one knows what dark matter really is, save that it presumably makes up much of the mass of the universe. The concept is no more than a speculative placeholder until someone finally figures out what they’re talking about. Therein lies the opening for the fiction writer to move in and make up stuff.

So, borrowing from physics’ speculations regarding parallel universes, let’s say there’s an extradimensional Underworld closely tied to our own reality. Let’s say it’s got some infernal battery that powers all the supernatural shenanigans in our mortal plane, and dark matter is how its energy is is that battery powered? What if there was a way to hijack the signal?
Hijack this signal. I double-dog dare ya.

That’s only one train of thought, and from my own peculiarly limited imagination, at that. The point is, I was able to take articles using physics to debunk ghosts, and twist the science to “prove” them in my fiction. 

That’s not the only useful irony here. A wonderful paradox I have observed in the course of crafting my zombie post-apocalypse saga is that the more I restrict the parameters of the possible in my fictional world, the more possibilities for narrative invention reveal themselves.

It’s not a matter of knowing what the rules are so you can break them. Breaking the rules defeats the purpose of the rules in the first place. What you want to do is test your rules. It’s in these challenges that we generate the conflicts that comprise the metaphorical flesh and blood of our stories. 
A strutting spectre in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

More Impressive Scenery from the San Luis Valley Landfill

Don’t worry, you won’t see any trash. Okay, maybe one piece.

The City of Monte Vista sponsored a citywide cleanup over the second weekend in May, in which locals were encouraged to bring their accumulated winter refuse to dumpsters in the Ski-Hi Rodeo Arena. My wife was sick, and I was distracted, so we missed the opportunity to dispose of the remains of my wife’s bathroom remodel from the autumn, which included a toilet and a lot of wood trim with nails sticking out. There were also some large pieces from her kitchen remodel, many of which have yet to make it out.

Which means I have more photo opportunities to come. As long as the load is “covered,” as in, inside a trailer, underneath a pickup truck flatbed topper, or inside of a minivan, you don’t pay much more than five dollars U.S. to throw out whatever you need to throw out. It’s nearly ten miles out from where I live, but US 160 only gets prettier west of Monte Vista.

The San Luis Valley Regional Landfill is at the very end of Rio Grande County Road 44, which goes a mile or so due south before cutting east behind the bluff that conceals the landfill. Let’s ride.
Driving south through a flat area between ridges on Rio Grande Country Road 44.

The cellular phone tower on the ridge to the right is a landmark I use to inform me where to turn from US 160. 

This is as far as I could zoom in on the mountain in the southern distance. I need to get a topo map of the area and look up its name. I like how the power line poles march away alongside the road.

A view of that same mountain, not zoomed in, as the road now runs east to the landfill.

Continuing our trek east.... 

Just before the gate, now looking back the way we came, at a line of San Juan Mountains visible between the ridge the cellular tower is on, and the one south of it.

Zooming in on those San Juans. Note the other power poles bristling up among the long hills.

I would certainly look forward to the ride a lot more if it didn’t terminate in a stinking landfill. That said, they do them right here in the scenic San Luis Valley.

No more photos past this point. Just pay the lady, drive in, throw the stuff out, and hit the road.

Looking west out the gate of the landfill towards the way we came in, The road runs west behind the ridge before swinging hard north back to US 160.

I photographed the ridge that blocks the view of the landfill from US 160 to get a look at the local ground cover. I didn’t realize until after I’d uploaded this shot that part of the ground cover included a plastic bag. Ironic? Coincidental? Nah. Just figures.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Final Convulsion of Winter into Spring

I realize it’s long since been spring in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, but here towards the middle of the San Luis Valley at 7,600 feet (2,316m)—as with most of Colorado—the seasons run a little different. A “spring storm” means any given snowstorm between March and Memorial Day (last Monday in May for my non-USA readers), characterized by being heavy and wet. Colorado Springs, at 6,000 (1,828m) feet on the sunrise side of the Front Range, got hit with a good one this week. Here, it just got a little chilly, with a hint of rain.
Newly budded aspens and Lombardy poplars.

As newcomers a couple of months out from completing our first full year in the SLV, my wife and I are relieved this winter was so mild. Our last really gnarly snowstorm was on 5 April. Since then, it’s been mostly rain. Anything to help grow the potatoes and barley, and maintain the river we drink and wash from.

These photos are from Tuesday evening, 9 May. It looks a lot more dramatic than it all turned out. 

After this weekend, our temperatures trend upwards. After next weekend, it’ll be until October before we’re feeling chilly, maybe November before we’re chilly enough to fire up the wood pellet stove again. 

Little by little, this place is feeling more like home.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“Do You Really Want to Die on This Hill?” one oft-unheeded rhetorical question goes. 

Fun fact: Towards the summit of the world’s tallest mountain are the corpses of climbers who perished during their climb. As Everest is one of those mountains that requires pickaxes and rope and such to get up, trying to bring those bodies down would likely only result in more dead bodies. 

The ground is too rocky and frozen to bury them, and the atmosphere is thin, dry, and cold all year ‘round. There are no animal scavengers, not even insects to break down the cadavers. So there they lie, right where they fell, from starvation, exhaustion, hypoxia, whatever. They will likely lie there until the end of time or someone gets really irritated with the idea of them being there, whichever comes first.

The latter is not likely. Many of these dead bodies near the summit have been there so long, they’re used as directional markers for climbers. So they didn’t die entirely in vain. They now serve as frozen meat signposts, which is probably more useful than they ever were in life.

This brings to mind another popular aphorism, “You can either serve as an inspiration to others, or a warning.” Or maybe just a frozen meat signpost. Again, useful.