Sunday, October 18, 2020

MWW Fest is Back On

Back in March, the MidWest Writers Workshop fell prey to the delays of Covid-chaos of early 2020. 

The Agent Fest is back on--rescheduled and reformatted online through Zoom--and stretched over four days instead of two.

MWW Agent Fest

Strange, I am rather disappointed that this is online.  I am like many other writers, I think: we are insecure about our craft, but meeting and bonding with other writers has been encouraging and helpful to me.  Several workshops and conferences have proven to be great times of growth and learning for me as a writer.  And the personal interactions with other writers is a huge part of this.

All that to say, I never really look forward to conferences.  I always feel underprepared, insecure, and lost.  So, here I am, preparing for the Agent Fest, knowing I could rewrite this silly book another 50 times and still not be done with it.  

Oh, did I mention I will be giving a pitch?  So to torture myself more, I'm practicing pitching.  

Here's a practice run:



Let me know what you think?

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Differences in Respect

 I have an uncle from Venezuela.  He came to the States for college.  It was during this time that he started dating my aunt.  They married, moved to the Bay Area, and started a family.  He got a job at Hewlett-Packard doing international sales.  He mainly traveled to Central and South America to develop business.  

 

To help travel, HP asked my uncle if he would be interested in working from his home country Venezuela. So my uncle agreed to a 2-year contract to live and work from his home city Caracas.  HP moved my aunt and uncle to Caracas with their two kids.  They paid for a very nice 2-story penthouse condo just outside of downtown Caracas.  

  

My grandmother, great aunt, and I went to visit them.  I was 12 at the time.  School had just ended, and it was the start of summer break.  

 

We left my grandmother’s house in Sacramento, CA, and drove to San Francisco, where we stayed the night in a hotel.  The next morning we boarded a Pan Am flight that took us to Miami, FL—there, changed planes, and then off to Caracas, Venezuela.

 

Arriving in Caracas, it was late, sometime around 9pm.  Going through customs was crazy--a mad house.  People were everywhere, suitcases being opened by customs officials, clothing being tossed to the ground, and the noise of people chattering in Spanish so fast it sounded like they were yelling at each other.  My grandma was tense and told me to stay close to her as we made our way through customs.  

 

My aunt and uncle met us outside of customs with hugs and greetings.  We got in their car and drove straight to my uncle’s parent’s house.  

 

I was taken aback by the news of going to his parent’s house mainly because I knew how late it was.  

 

My uncle informed me that his grandfather was staying at his parent’s house.  He grandfather was not doing well--more or less he was expected to die within a few days.  My uncle said that his grandfather wanted to meet me and he wanted to say goodbye to my grandmother before he passed. 

 

I was surprised.  I asked my uncle, “What do you mean he wants to meet me?” 

 

My uncle said that he had told his grandfather all about me and he wanted to meet someone from Alaska.    

 

My uncle’s parents lived in some city district in Caracas.  It was a city neighborhood different to any that I had seen before. 

 

We parked the car about a block away from their house.  Walking towards their house, I noticed all the front yards to the houses had 10-foot tall adobe style walls dividing the yards, making the front yards more into courtyards. All of the houses had some kind of a fence across the front of the entrances of the front yard/courtyard. 

 

We came to my uncle’s parents’ house and their fence was black wrought iron, about 8ft high.  A wrought iron gate under lock and key was the entrance to their front yard.  My uncle’s father met us at the gate with hugs and smiles.  He led us through their front yard along a long narrow path that twisted through their gorgeous garden--tall trees, tropical flowers, fresh cut grass on ether side of the path--it was beautiful. 

 

Looking up at the tall walls that boarded their yard, I saw the top of the wall was lined with broken glass bottles the whole length of the wall.  I asked my uncle, “Why is there broken glass on top of the wall?”  

 

He said, “To help prevent people from trying to get in.”

  

As we got closer to the house, I noticed wrought iron in front of all the windows and front door. I looked at my uncle pointed towards the wrought iron.  “Let me guess.  The wrought iron is to prevent people from breaking in?”

 

“Yep,” he replied.  

 

My uncle’s father opened the front door.  His mother was standing in the living room, and she met me with hugs and more loving Spanish.  

 

I felt my uncle push past his loving mother and me.  I watched him beeline straight to his grandfather who was lying in hospital bed on the other side of the room.  My uncle dropped to his knees taking his grandfather’s hand into his and kissing his hand.  My uncle began whispering to his grandfather in Spanish.  This went on for a good, few minutes. 

 

I was blown back.  I had never seen so much outpouring of love in person.  My uncle who usually always hugs his mother rushed right passed her.  

 

My uncle turned to me and asked me to come meet his grandfather.  From across the room I could see his eyes tearing up.  

 

Nervous, I walked over to the bed.  His grandfather was extremely ill, he had a rattle in his breathing that became more deafening the closer I got to him.  His hair was long and very thin, a mix of dark and gray, mostly gray.  I looked him in the eyes.  I could tell he was trying to focus on me.  His eyes were glassy, like he had thick contacts in, but I later learned he had really bad cataracts.


He raised his hand for me to shake.  I put my hand into his.  He squeezed my hand and said something to me in Spanish.  My uncle, still on his knees, looked up to me and said, “My grandfather welcomes you and is pleased to meet you.”

 

He held my hand for a long time.  It was warm and comforting.  I was still very uncomfortable.  We all knew he wouldn’t be around for much longer and I didn’t know how to take it. 

 

I was thinking to myself, “This morning, I woke up in San Francisco.  Had a late lunch in Miami.  Spent all day flying to get to South America.  Spent an hour going though customs and watching customs officials go through my suitcase.  I was nervous that they might keep something of mine.  Now, I’m shaking a dead man’s hand, and my uncle is kneeling next me crying, showing his grandfather love and appreciation.”  

 

It wasn’t until I was much older, I reflected on this.  I had to go through a few deaths in the family to compare the cultural differences I notice when it comes to dealing with elderly and death.

 

Latin American and Asian cultures seem to have so much more respect for the elderly and sick.  

 

Why is this?  

 

Why is it that here in our American culture the sick and the elderly are treated as an inconvenience?

 

Where is the family love in putting grandparents in assisted living?  

 

I know I’m generalizing but the love and respect my uncle showed his grandfather is like nothing I’ve seen before.  My uncle’s grandfather held on for a few more weeks.  He passed shortly after my visit to Venezuela.      

Monday, September 14, 2020

This Brave New World We Have

I love a good discussion about genre.  Romance, science fiction, fantasy, crime--these all have certain rules, and within the rules, readers have expectations.  But these expectations lay a sticky boundary for readers: if the writer strays too far from the expectations, the reader is disappointed.  If the writer stays too closely to the parameters of the genre, this feels like a formula.

What a fascinating discussion.

Different discussion.  Different genre.  The propaganda novel. 

This genre goes by many other labels: the thesis novel, utopian novel, even the proletarian novel.  These novels span a wide range of political and social issues, but the novel focuses on a point, and the point of the story, characters, and theme is to deliver this idea.

Think The Jungle, 1984, Animal Farm, Clockwork Orange, Atlas Shrugged, Lord of the Flies, Sister Carrie, and Brave New World.  

I love this type of fiction because it tells about our world and tells truths about us.  Sometimes, it is scary.


Fiction tells truths.  

Four legs good.  Two legs bad.

I have reread some of these books in the last few months, and I'm stunned at how relevant these are.

When we watched the destruction of historical monuments earlier this summer, I heard many people say some variation of, "If we destroy the past, then today's youth can start over."

Chills.  Does this sound like 1984?  Let's erase the past.  Turn churches into Ministries of Love.  Learn the double-speak and conformity that echoes in our world.  And then, imagine the pigs smoking cigars and drinking whiskey while making plans to take over the farms.  And we'll wonder why the engineers and devoted workers retire to Colorado and trade with gold.  Forgive the mixed metaphors (😉).

I believe these books are more important than ever.  Go read them.  All of them.  Right now.

What's your favorite propaganda novel?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Lord Robert Taylor's Dilemma: The Soul Must Forget

Does a soul forget those of his or her life's past during the purification trials of Purgatory? 

Purgatory, as defined by Webster's is a place or state (in Roman Catholic doctrine) of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating (atone for, redeem) their sins before going to Heaven.

Purgatory is an opportunity to not only be forgiven, but to also be cleansed and purified... for Eternity. At first thought, this makes perfect sense. Why allow inside God's House one's dirty shoes and bad thoughts, or sulk all over Paradise with regrets, or stare down on Earth crossed-arm with envy, or find a pillow to drown in melancholy, or pace about some great cliff aching over someone --or some thing-- that lingers on or perhaps, craves on.

Ceara Kerr, Robert's new wife, thought a good memory cleansing was, indeed, necessary. She had argued the point that the soul must do whatever it must to not only please God, but to kill the lingering of a past life... and even if that pleasing and killing off came at a cost of forgetting one's loves. 

Though Robert is new to the Catholic faith (and, frankly, a novice to religion by any practical sense), he is having difficulty in accepting this fact of Purging. Honestly, this might disturb just about any soul who had on Earth fallen in love with a slight ruffian who steals bread and shoes or loves a daughter whose trade eventually catches Jack the Ripper's eye. And, what if your mom has an Irish whiskey addiction, or a brother who had killed a hundred enemies under orders of his King? What if your dear husband was non-Catholic, or worse: an atheist? And, what if you, as master of the house and Lord of Ken Kerr, had fallen in love with your wife's brother? 

Tsk-tsk,one would expect 19th Century Catholic Doctrine Purgatorialists to dictate and 19th Century Purgatory judgement to conclude as the chained and bent-kneed spirit of Robert Taylor bows his burdened head before the Body:

"If you wish to go to Heaven and spend all Eternity with your lovely wife Ceara in future, then you must forget that her equally lovely brother, Hugh, ever caught your heart or kissed your lips or shared his bed or unloaded his most honest thoughts and; well, you must agree to have your memory cleansed of that man, Hugh Kerr -- and removed from your heart for all Eternity." 

And the same command is exacted on Hugh, in memory of Robert?

Ah, poor Robert! I have written about this interesting man several times before (see links below). Life for an Englishman in early 19th Century Antrim, Northern Ireland could only get stranger if Purgatory requires him to move along... and forget whatever happened there. Nothing to see here! If only he didn't love his bride and his bride's brother... at the same instant and depth. I mean, if one came before the other... and one was purely secreted away, or excused away as just something guys do when they're bored, you know.... Oh well.

I'm trying to help him. I've picked up his story again and have been writing (really, cleaning up) on a break from writing my other Englishman in love with an exquisite Irish girl story (that Western one!). I am still trying to de-Edgar Allan Poe this thing, but here is a raw excerpt that might help to not only dramatize that Purgatory issue a bit but also give you some flavor for the story. Oh! And it helps to know that Robert is thinking back on this while his lover, Hugh, is a chained corpse beside him and they are inside a sea cave in an escarpment that reaches out to the roaring North Atlantic. (!)

Excerpt: Not so of men or women! They owed their entire existence to memory of who and what came before them -- and the duty to carry such memories forward, even if those memories governed the heart or robbed the soul or would break fragile bones. Men and women had the duty to carry forth hope and burdens alike -- and to remember it and all sacrifices made to claim such memories, for better or for worse. Robert’s own assessment of Purgatory had become this: not only would the soul recall its past, but the soul must so do, or else...else….

“The soul is the amalgam of all that it has touched!” Robert addressed himself, shivering in the deepening chill -- and even nodded an agreement towards Hugh's corpse.

And those whom the soul has touched.

Robert’s stubborn, yet most intuitive Ceara; she was not so convinced of his argument.

How did that go?

Robert tried to recount the exchange. She claimed when the soul entered into Purgatory, memory to its past must be subjected to the requirements of forgiveness; even if that necessitated memory to be ‘forever laid to rest’ if the trials to the soul’s cleansing were so dictated, “for to Him the soul must commit to what He so dictates; to Him the soul must concede only; not to the memory of those loved so truly and those hated so thoroughly. Lest…” she paused, her finger in the air and her left eyebrow raised like a thin trail of smoke from her enlightened eye, “to sin the soul will commit if it so foolishly refuses the Trials; and a taibhse the soul will suit an’ -- oh! a sad taibhse it will be as the poor thing will wallow forever on the earth in search of its yore rather than celebrating in the paradise awaiting it!”

He had not put much thought into the existence of taibhse -- ghosts, shades, or hollows -- until he had become acquainted with his family Kerr. Yet, Ceara’s speculation that ghosts were spirits who refused the trials of Purgatory did make sense. He had admitted as much to her during a rather intense discussion over breakfast some weeks ago. So did Mary Blevins, their maidservant. She had firmly agreed with Ceara’s assessment of what had chained ghosts to the land and what had freed souls to Paradise. End excerpt.

Taibhse -- ghosts, shades, or hollows? Yes, poor Robert is bothered by those, too! Come to think of it, so am I.








Ken Kerr links:

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Writing and the Industry in the New World

 Not more than a week has past in the last months when someone has mentioned, "the new normal."

Will we be wearing masks to buy groceries in January?  Will kids go back to school this year?  Will the Big Box stores take over the hardest hit smaller businesses?

I have no idea.

But I do think about how this all has impacted writing, publishing, and reading.  My outlook has been pretty grim because I see libraries shut down and small bookshops closing.  On the other hand, here are a couple of articles that have pretty positive points.

Although many businesses are open, the Corona Times have turned many people to books.  This article from The Observer (Fall 2020 Book Forecast) describes the progression of books through the last months: starting with craft and workbooks, then lots of cookbooks, on to fiction, and then books with complex racial and cultural issues.

The end "forecast" for the fall is for identity-seeking books, complex female characters, or closed societies.  Diverse, complex stuff.

Funny, I thought the world we live in is too complex with too much conflict.  My thinking is people read to escape, and anything too complex or challenging will be avoided--generally.

Here's another interesting read: Trends Transforming the Publishing Industry.  Some of this is no surprise: digital marketing, SEO, and visuals are more important than ever.  

Couple of surprises from this article:

1)  Podcasting is growing.  Writers need to use this.

2)  Print is just as important as ever.

3)  Self-publishing is doing pretty good (17 of the top 100 on Kindle are self-published--WOW).

As awful as 2020 has been so far, this world has seen some good things in all this.  Stimulus checks are one.  Binge-watching is another.  

Now, with people reading more and the internet becoming more intrinsic to our lives, this could be a tremendous opportunity for writers to self-publish our books about diverse, complex stuff.  

Maybe now is the time that I finish my millionth revision of that novel, the one with the closed society and complex women seeking their identities....

Monday, July 27, 2020

Nash



We added another cat to our house this year.  We felt that our professional bat killer Gabby, needed some company.  Knowing how temperamental the bat killer can be, we were a little worried about how she would react to another cat in the house. She is a very selfish type and extremely territorial.  She doesn’t hold back her feelings and will slice and dice you if you cross her.  So with a crazy bat killer living with us, we were kind of second-guessing the thought of bringing in Nash.  

Nash is our new-to-us rescue cat.  

My boss’s family adopted him from a rescue shelter.   He is extremely shy and skittish but has a heart of gold once you gain his trust.  

Really he’s just a big baby. 


His story is a little terrifying.  A coyote or a dog attacked him, when he was a few weeks old.  The attack left him with a broken left jaw and major damage to his left front leg.  The leg could not be saved, so it was removed.  His jaw recovered fully.  So tri-pod Nash grew up learning to function with three legs. 

It is amazing what he can do with only three legs. 

My boss’s wife has a mild allergy to cats.   They got Nash because their kids wanted a cat.  Once there kids moved out to go to college, they decided to find a new home for Nash.  So they asked my wife and I if we would be interested in taking Nash.  

We sat on the idea for a few months, worried what the bat killer would do to goofy, three-legged Nash. 

Would he be able to defend himself from the bat killer if needed?  

We could see how much attention the bat killed needed when we were home.  We knew she was lonely when we were away at work.  

So we decided to bring Nash in and hoped for the best.  


It took a good month for Nash to warm up to us.  He was so scared that first month.  He found hiding places in the house that to this day I don’t know about.  

The bat killer didn’t like him.  She would hiss at him and run him off during the first few weeks.  

One day, he came out of his hiding spot and was hanging out in the kitchen.  I reached out to pet him.  He apprehensively let me pet him.  He soon flopped over onto his side to allow me to pet his belly.  It was game over.  I became his best friend from that point on.  

I’m his boy.  He sleeps on my side of the bed each night. He will come to me if I call for him… most of the time…. 

He loves to give big powerful head butts.  And he will give you ever so gentle love bites if you’re not giving him enough attention. 

He is ether fascinated or worried about me when I’m in the shower.  Each time I’m in the shower he will come in the bathroom stand near the shower and meow.  He has the smallest, wimpiest meow.  When I get out of the shower, he comes up to me and head butts me.  He is such a funny cat.  

The bat killer has warmed up to him.  They are not best buds by any means, but they have seemed to come to an understanding. Nash tries to play and to chase Gabby around the house.  Sometimes she goes along, but most of the time she tells him off with a glare or a hiss. 

For only having three legs Nash gets around rather well.  He sounds like a galloping horse when he runs.   


He is not a stealthy stocker.  

He is definitely not a bat killer.

He lets Gabby take care of the bats.  

Nash is just happy to have someone to hang out with. 






Sunday, July 19, 2020

Planet Blue

“Simple as that, really. I’m aware it’s ridiculous. The thing can’t seem to leave me. It’s as simple as that. So strange. Just a strange thing. Pardon? You locked up momentarily.

“What might trigger it? Oh, I don’t know. Comes and goes whenever it wants. Let me think. Definitely, when I’m at the hood and when I have a hundred things to do already and I should be focused on keeping things as sterile as possible so I don’t… I don’t cross-contaminate. Sorry. I mean the tissue hood, the laminar flow hood, and working on my cell cultures. Or when I’m writing. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed thinking. I’ve had it pop up out of nowhere. Uh, no. Doesn’t seem to matter what I’m writing or what I’m thinking. Do you think it’s a subconscious thing? 



“So… no trigger, I guess. Unless there’s a trigger there, somewhere; a trigger that’s subtle yet utterly debilitating. Oh, but only for a few moments. It’s not like it’s… taking the wheel of my car or keeping me up all night. Just a momentary freak out. It’s not a serious thing. I called in just to make sure of that, but it’s not, you know, debilitating. I won’t need meds for it. Ha. I just want to try to… figure this out. Seems to be happening more frequently, and I… try to just think of something else or get up and move. Drink something. Anything. I look at my cell. Anything.


“Yes. You’re right. That’s what I do. I distract myself. You could probably gather that from my notes. Not the one I sent by email, but the one on your form that I uploaded last week. 


“Um, close. I didn’t have time to write everything down, but you have the jest of it. And, I don’t see the thing pop up in my head. That’s the odd part of this. Really, that’s why I’m here. I see it outside my head… like, here, in front of my eyes. Not floating, per se. I see it and, uh… I’m there seeing this thing and it looks so real. The screen. You know? Oh, excuse me; that’s my dog barking. Let me close the door.


“Ha! Do I think it real? Of course not. I don’t think it’s really in the room with me. Ha. I’m not a loon. It’s just, let me think. It’s not real at all, but it is very... vivid. It pops up and it, uh, hangs there, and then my stomach sinks and I feel panicked, like um… like something terrible is… like it’s the end of the world; is the best way I can describe it. A premonition, kinda -- but not, because I don’t believe in premonitions. I’m a scientist; I believe in science. But, funny enough, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It feels like… doom. Pardon? 


“Apocalyptic. Yes. That’s the word. It’s like the end of the world is coming, in just a matter of days, and I can’t stop it from happening. I just feel that it is, but I can’t… stop it. I try to fool myself, to recircuit this thing… the dread of it all, you know? I try to…. Excuse me. I need to get a kleenex. My mask, it... I need to blot it. I know that sounds gross, but it gets wet around my nose. Terrible feeling. What’s that?


“Ha. Good that it’s not just me who hates a wet mask. Yeah, I hear ya but don’t the cloth ones stay wet? I’d rather use these disposables than a cloth mask. These things dry out a lot faster, I think. I’m a little OCD with a wet mask. Ugh. I pitch them as soon as I feel like I’m drowning in them. What’s that?



“No, I get these from my lab. We’re required to wear masks at all times on campus. Been wearing them since early March, really. I wore them even when others weren’t required to do it yet. I keep some in the car. And, I know what you’re thinking. I don’t consider it stealing precious PPE since I need to get to and from the lab. It’s work-related why I’m even in the car and on campus. So, I don’t buy them from Amazon. Can you even get them? I think they are all back-ordered, probably forever.


“But, you’re right. It’s more economical to wear cloth masks. I’ll…. Yeah, I’ll get one, eventually. Just throw it in the washer. I’m always washing things, so it makes sense. Sterilizing all the groceries… the take out containers. We put everything in the garage and wipe them down now. Did you know that the University gives everyone 70% ethanol? In spray bottles, for each lab, for the pandemic response and -- you know what? We’ve always been provided 70% ethanol, but I’m talking liters of the stuff and not those small spray bottles. Pardon? You’re -- Doctor? You locked up again.


“Well, it’s to sterilize our benches and hoods and gloves. It’s always been that way, but everyone new to the lab or to research might think it’s because of the pandemic. Not true. Sometimes, I make up the stuff myself, if the Building Administrator isn’t keeping up. We can order the ethanol through EHS. Oh, sorry. That’s the university’s Environmental Health and Safety. But, it’s always been provided and used for sterilization. Always. Always


“Pardon? Must I? Ha. Just kidding. Yes, I can describe it. Let me think. Well, it's a screen. Actually, it's more like the large computer screen used in the conference rooms in the building -- my campus research building. Each floor has a conference room and all have a large, wall-sized Surface-like computer on the north wall. We have lab meetings weekly, but hardly anyone is in the building because of the pandemic and -- well, all of our lab meetings have gone virtual since mid-March, so we just use the conference rooms for the screen. You know, the campus has rules that only three people can be in a room at any one time. So, usually, it’s just my student Craig and me going in there anyway. Barb was on maternity until recently. She’s our post-doc. Picked a good time to have a baby, huh? Wow. She went through a lot of stress, a lot of hell. Hospitals had limited space and all kinds of rules. Oh, yes, sorry. Back to the screen-thing.


“Now that I think about it, I think it is the same screen as the ones used in the conference rooms. Let me think. Try to replay this thing. Yeah. Yeah. I think it is the same screen -- but larger. And… I always feel Craig is near me when the, uh, screen appears. I know it’s strange! I feel his presence, off to my left, as the screen appears. I don’t actually see him. Just, you know.... Just he’s there.


“Do I think it’s a flashback? Flashback. Flashback. If so, then I wouldn’t know to when. We’ve used the screen many times. Before and during the pandemic. Nothing out of the ordinary to use it. Geez. We’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings. No scary presentations have occurred as of late. Ha.


“Yes, that’s what I said. We are all virtual now, except for Craig and me. Pardon? Could you repeat that? Oh, yes. Barb returned to lab meetings in May, but she was still virtual at the time. She just had a baby, and she connected from her home. The 27th. Huh?


“Yes. 27th of May. That’s when she called in. Her first meeting since having the baby. I remember that meeting quite well, actually. We were excited to see her -- and the baby, of course. Pardon? Oh, well… I didn’t mean that I could recall that level of detail. Sure. I can try to describe the meeting. Let me think.


“We entered the room about five minutes before the meeting started. It’s half-dark in there, lots of sepia-shadows -- a tea-stained look to it. I remember thinking that. Felt stale. I don’t know why I noted all of this. I think we were the first to use it in a long time. You see, we usually use the conference room upstairs. It’s a scheduling thing. We just sorta decided on that minute to just go across the hall. Why not? We’re practically the only labs working full hours. Anyway, I saw the spray bottles placed on the table and wondered what that was all about. It’s strange to see that stuff outside the labs, you know? 



“So, Craig took a seat at the farthest end of the long table from the telescreen. I increased the lights, looked behind me to gauge its strength, and then lowered them a bit to lessen the glare off the center of the table where the spray bottles were set. They had the 70% ethanol label on them and a sheet of paper with all the new social rules on six-feet apart and stuff like that.


“I remember looking over at him. Craig. So innocent. I wondered what he thought of it all, you know? I don’t recall what our conversation was before we entered the conference room. He’s an interesting young scientist, so it suffices to say that it was probably a witty discussion. Craig is an international student. He’s going back in August. Maybe sooner, but I’m not sure. Travel restrictions. This pandemic! But, he was so quiet.


“What did I say? Oh, I did? Funny. But, Craig is quite innocent. He’s a MS student and quite new to science research. As I mentioned, his schooling is messed up because of the pandemic. He’s from the United Kingdom. Poor guy. Extensions… poor communication… lots of uncertainties. He needs to get home. That’s all I meant to say. Did you know he might be stuck here? Stuck here for months? Terrible to not be able to go back home. Where was I….


“So, I search for the correct button on the wall… to turn on the monitor -- the computer. I never know which one, but when I pushed it, the button glowed blue and the screen lit up in an instant. Yes, I put that in the description because I see…. Well, I sometimes see a blue light, that LED, bright blue light when I have my episodes. Oh, geez. Did I just say that? Episodes! I make it sound so drastic. It’s not drastic, though. Really


“Ah, let’s see. I then took my seat in front of the keypad near the screen and logged us in to the conference call… waited for my cell to ask for confirmation to continue on. Oh, yeah. You see, it’s a duo password system the university has set up. Here’s the app. Can you see that from your end? If we log into something secured, then we have to confirm it from another device… confirm that it’s really us. I know… so futuristic. Look how we’ve become, you know? I mean, look at us; you and me. This is new. One of these days, they’re going to put a chip in our brain to confirm everything is secured… perform instant, real-time DNA confirmation and neurological patterning, etc, etc. just to get anywhere or do anything. All the scary sci-fi stuff will become true someday. Hope not. I pray not. I’ve told Craig these things several times. He doesn’t disagree. But, what would one say? He’s Gen Z, so who knows if he really can fully comprehend the nightmare scenarios of such a spooky world as that. Maybe he thinks it’s -- oh, I don’t know the word… progressive? A natural evolution of the human condition?


“Excuse me. Really sorry. I hate it when my mask gets too wet. Hold your breath while I take this off for a second. Ha. Just kidding. I have another one in my car -- should have brought it in.


“You know what? Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was thinking. You know… the way he watched me set up the call and just waited there silently as those faces popped up one by one by one by one by… each staring into their screen, muted, and… muted, while Craig and I waited in our masks. Patiently.


“What was I thinking? Oh, I was thinking - thinking, ‘Seriously? Seriously? This is normal?’ I mean, how could this be normal in any sense? It’s all surreal! Sanitizers. Blue lights, masks, a big, I don’t know; a huge Orwellian screen coming to life as we wait for five digital faces to appear on it from some other place on Earth… for a freakin’ lab meeting to start?


“Bizarre. A Brave New World, isn’t it? Look. An entire campus research building-- ah, now mostly empty -- and a conference room left to go stale and no longer used for in-person meetings... for actual people in the flesh to meet. I mean, everything’s gone virtual, electronic. Everything! And, for how long? When will it end? Oh I know it will, of course, but I wonder… I fear really that it won’t truly end. I think -- perhaps I’m thinking too much? As a scientist? I think this particular pandemic might be more persistent than we realize. Surely...


“I mean, can a pandemic ever be declared normal background noise? Acceptable deaths, like the flu? Or drownings? Or, will we forever be zeros and ones and-and-and we’re supposed to think this is a normal way to live and communicate? 


“He’s a Gen Z! Craig! What’s he thinking of this world? He’s wearing a mask and I’m wearing a mask and the spray bottles and a laundry list of rules on keeping apart and only three humans per room and alternating work schedules and 70% ethanol. Then Barb came online and… and she, with her crying… her here it comes. The screen!


“I can’t describe --


“I can’t doctor, I --


“Blue! But the screen is -- I’m talking to her. I’m talking to her, I ask her how she’s doing -- but she’s muted. The blue light is everywhere, but the screen... and her baby! Her baby is crying - top of his lungs and she can’t respond, she can’t answer me, but she is trying, she --- I mean, I mean she is answering me, but I can’t hear her because she’s on mute with the microphone bar across it and-and she’s bouncing the baby in her arms but I can’t hear them! She’s putting him over her shoulder, and his face - the baby! - his head is all red and he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and she’s patting his back -- but I can’t hear them! Craig! He’s there, to the left of me and the blue light drowns him out but I can’t look away from the screen even if I wanted to, Doctor! I see only the screen and Barb and her screaming baby but I can’t hear them and goddamn I know, I know, I know it Doctor! I know it! I know it’s the end! I know it’s all blue!


“Dammit! Let me get my mask from the car, Doctor; please just stay on the screen and let me go get my clean mask, goddammit you, before it all goes blue!



Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Whole New World

Here's comedian Julie Nolke doing a clever video about Da 'Rona:



She does a few other clever "future self" talking to her older self videos.  They're pretty great.

I'll pause here so you can look them up.

It's pretty wild how six months have changed the world.  Nothing seems the same.  Nothing seems quite right.

Some conversations with my family have ventured guesses about what the future may look like: the waning playgrounds, the bankruptcy of big-box movie theaters, the lesser number of small businesses.  I have no idea if any of this will be true in the future.

What I am going to venture to guess about is the world of books and writing.

In the last twenty years, the written word and the publishing business have evolved.

Getting into the traditional publishing business has become more cutthroat.  Print books and bookstores are slowly declining.  Online publishing is increasing.  Self-publishing has increased.  Authors need to learn marketing and business to promote themselves and their work.

In the last six months, the written word and publishing have changed more.  In the Corona isolation, people have been reading more.  The long-term effects of isolation and political upheaval may affect our world of writing in ways we cannot foresee.

I am not really sure what this means for us writers and the written word, but here are a few guesses:
  1. More entertainment and genre fiction.  People might be reading more, but they are reading to escape.  Easy reading, fun times.
  2. Less "speculative" and experimental fiction.  We have too much real-life drama going on.  Who wants to be challenged in fiction?  That stuff is scary.
  3. More ebooks.  E-reading means that people don't have to come in contact with anyone at the library or the bookstore.  No worries of social-distancing or even offending people if the cover of your romance has a scantily-clad white man with a white German shepherd on the cover.  And if a library burns down, will anyone miss it?
  4. Less libraries and printed books.  That stuff costs money.  Besides, environmentally conscious people might take offense to printed books in the future. 
I am a writer of primarily speculative and experimental fiction (I have tried my hand at romance, but this makes me a little chagrined to admit), and this concerns me.

Will readers in the future demand an easier, more electronic, more entertaining book?

Will that change what any of us write?  Do we want it to?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Tiger Lilies

It has been hard for me to concentrate lately, my friends. I mean, my mind is normally just one shiny object away from going completely off track but the state of things of late has left me adrift. It's not that I don't want to write. I truly do. Rather, it's that there are too many things teasing away my concentration. There are too many things that I want and need to put to paper (figuratively speaking) that I just can't focus on any one of them.

Yet, I cannot let my mind wander aimlessly like this forever. I must calm the storm, as it were, and alight on a single subject. It being Father's Day I have decided that this is a good place to start. I would like to tell you all of the man that was my father.



It has been almost a year now since my father passed away. He died on August 19th in the wee hours of the morning in a run down nursing home on the east side of Indianapolis. It had been ten days since we first took him to the hospital until that final moment - a victim a failing heart. I don't know what I expected the end of his life to be, but I suppose I imagined something...more dignified. Not to slip away plugged into an oxygen machine set on full, desperately trying to force oxygen into your body. And yet...this was his end.

He deserved better.

My father was an Eastsider man and boy. Save for a brief time when Uncle Sam called him to service during the Vietnam War, he remained a scion of Indianapolis to the last. A graduate of Arsenal Technical High School and IUPUI he was on the forefront of computer programming. These were the days of punch cards and main frames the size of a city bus that had less computing power than my phone. I remember many nights when he would get the call to come and fix an error in the "code" (do punch cards count as code?) when the company would run its inventory and accounting. He always answered the call no matter what the time and stayed for as long as it took to make the thing go. It was only after 40 years and light years of change in the computer industry that he powered off his mouse and left the building for good.

He was a man of passions. Golf was chief among these. There was not a time when he was not considering playing a round. It was only thunderstorms and blizzards that kept him away, though I suspect he would have braved even those if he could. My mother used to tell the story that my dad was out golfing the day I was born. This was in a time before they let fathers in the delivery room, so it can be forgiven.

Now, when I was 11, I declared my intention to learn to play golf. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be like all the other members in my family as much as it was that I didn't want to babysit my little sister anymore while they were all away golfing. This was particularly true on our summer vacations to Michigan. However, it turns out that I am truly terrible at golf. I was so awful at it that is was painful for others to watch me try to play. My father, though, would come back from playing 18 with my relatives and then take me out to a small 9 hole course nearby to let me play. Oh, he would get aggravated with me and repeat the constant refrain of, "Keep your head down." but he would always take me out.



Fishing was another of his endeavors. Nearly every Saturday in any given summer would find us at the Mallory Conservation Club since I was the age of five. Now, at that age, I was mostly interested in chasing frogs and blowing bubbles in the water through the hollow bit of my bamboo pole, but he brought me (and later my sister) there week after week. I also remember always wanting to pluck a water lily flower for my mother. These were at the back of the pond and were notoriously difficult should your hook get entangled in the stems. Yet, he would row me back there at least once or twice in June and July to get some blooms for her.



He never told us out loud that he loved us. Men of his generation did not do such things. Yet, it was in his actions that we knew that he did. It wasn't just the golf and the fishing, but also the band concerts and academic awards "dinners" that he attended even though I am certain he would have rather been anywhere else. It was through these acts that we knew he loved us and it is these things that I will remember of him the most.

Father's Day comes at the same time of year that tiger lilies bloom. My father always told me that he liked these flowers more than any other. He would ask me year after year what they were called knowing that I knew of such things. And now, whenever I see them growing in the roadside ditches or in clumps in old fashioned gardens, I smile and wipe the tears from my eyes thinking of the good man that was my father.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Kindling


Growing up in Southeast Alaska, my Dad’s house was heated by a wood-burning stove.  

We mostly burned logs that would wash up on shore.  We cut the logs into rounds and loaded the rounds in the back of Dad’s truck to take home. Through out the week, we would split the rounds down and pack the split wood into the woodshed to dry.  This was an ongoing process throughout the late spring through early fall.  The goal was to have the woodshed filled by October.  

Part of my childhood chores was to start the fire in the stove when I got home from school.  I was always the first one home, and my Dad wanted the stove to be burning hot when he got home from work.  

So at the age of 8 years old, that’s what I did each day when I got off the school bus.  

Another part of my childhood chores was splinting kindling.  Every weekend I would split enough kindling to last us through the week. 

This lasted from the age of 8 until I moved out after high school.  

We had a large wood round on the back porch that I would use to split kindling.  It stood about waist high.  My axe was always right next to the round ready for me to use.  Each weekend I would go out to the woodshed, find chunks of dry firewood with straight grains to split kindling.  Red cedar always made the best kindling and it was the easiest to split.  

Living in the Midwest now.  When I tell people about how we used red cedar to burn to heat our house, they cringe with disbelief.  

Red Cedar is everywhere in Southeast Alaska.  And yes people use it to heat their house--other evergreens, too. Hemlock was the best…my Dad’s preference.

Firewood was part of my childhood.  I loved it and I hated it at times.  

After high school I moved to Seattle.  I would come home in the summers to work.   One week during my first summer back, my Dad and I had the house to our selves. The rest of the family was out of town visiting other family.  So it was just my Dad and I batching it.  This meant we mostly ate steak for dinner or just snacked on smoked salmon.  Let the dishes pile up.  

I came home from work late one night.  It was about 8pm.  I parked and walked around the back deck knowing that my Dad was probably out back or out in his workshop.  As I turned the corner to the back porch, I stopped in my tracks.
  
The large wood splitting round that I used to split kindling was covered in blood.  My first thought was, “What the hell.  Why is Dad cleaning a fish on the splitting round.”  Then I looked down at the deck.  Blood everywhere.  It looked like a scene out of a horror slasher movie.  Splattered all over.
  
There was a trail of blood going towards the back door of the house.  I followed.  Inside was more blood on the kitchen floor.  The trail continued onto the carpet through the living room.  It turned down the hall.  The blood trail continued down the hall.  It turned again into the bathroom.  More pools of blood on the bathroom floor, counter top and sink. What the hell happened was all I could think as I started calling out, “DAD!”

I ran down the hall to my parent’s bedroom yelling, “Dad!” the whole time.  He wasn’t there.  Ran down the hall back into the living room hoping he was lying on the couch.  Nope, no Dad.  I went to other bathroom yelling, “Dad, where are you?”  He wasn’t in the second bathroom.  I looked out the bathroom window that looks out onto the drive checking to see if his truck was still there.  It was.  

By now, I was freaked out. 

I went out to the back deck and yelled out, “Dad, where are you?”  Just as the words left my mouth, I see my Dad come walking out of his workshop, yelling, “Here I am,” and waving his left arm, which was wrapped in a white towel with red blood blotches seeping through where his hand was inside the towel. A cold Rainier beer was his other hand.

He took a swig of beer and came walking down the stairs from his workshop, and I asked what the hell happened.  

He explained that he was splitting some kindling so that he could make a fire in his workshop.  His hand slipped just before the axe hit the wood and his left thumb took the hit from the axe.  He said he wasn’t sure how bad the injury was, and that he couldn’t feel his thumb.  

I asked, “Why haven’t you gone to the hospital yet?”

He replied, “It’s fine. It will be O.K.  Besides I’ve had a few beers and shouldn’t be driving.  So I’ve been waiting for you to get home.”

“How many beers?” I asked.
  
“Two before the accident, three or so after… I don’t know for sure,” he said.  

“How long ago did this happen?” I asked.

“I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes ago,” my Dad said.

I told him we had to go to the hospital.

He was not in a hurry. I think he was a bit embarrassed. He wanted to finish his beer so he downed it.   He grabbed another one and said, “I need one for the road.  Let’s go.”


We drove to the hospital. Dad was feeling good from the beer and adrenaline in his system.  He would laugh now and then, calling his left hand nubby.  

We got to the hospital and checked him in at the ER. Dad told the nurse that he had a nub for them to look at.  The doctor stitched him up and checked for nerve damage.  
He, and his thumb, survived the accident.  He has a little nerve damage but it doesn’t seem to bother him. 

20 some years later, he still has a light scar on his left thumb, and me to remind him of his lack of focus.

Photos by Dad Dyakanoff