Monday, August 30, 2010

Not Dead Yet

That's right, I'm still alive. (I'm sure you were all wondering.) Though really, I can only think of one person who might actually be surprised by this.

On a related note, I thought I'd try writing about aughhh...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lunatic Fringe Is Back

So, apparently Dennis Markuze noticed something I said on another site. Either that, or he's just randomly decided to come target my blog again. He left one of his rants, which (as a matter of policy) I deleted. He also left me a personal note: "you die today..."

So, first of all: I don't die today. God won't strike me down; He likes me and He thinks I'm funny. And you sure as hell won't kill me, because you're all the way up in fucking Granby, and I'm in Texas. You couldn't get down here today even if you wanted to. And let's face it: you don't want to. You gave us our final warning six goddamn months ago. If you were actually going to do anything, that would have been the time.

Look, I've tried to be polite. I've invited you to post actual responses, I've given you the opportunity to talk about why you post these long... rants, diatribes, whatever. Whatever they are, they're nonsensical - and you either can't or won't talk to me like a normal human being. You were amusing for a little a while, but that was novelty value and the novelty has worn off.

Seriously, take a look around the Internet. The only person posting things even remotely like the things you post... is you. Nobody else even comes close. There's a reason for that: that sort of behavior is insane. Even the Christians are asking you to stop, because you're making them look bad.

I'm sure you think you're impressive, mysterious, and threatening. That might even have been true, the first time you posted. But you're not mysterious. You're a known quantity. You're a kook, a crank who lives on the outskirts of Montreal and visits a variety of Internet cafes in order to avoid the more obvious sorts of IP blocking. Those long presentations that you post? They're neither persuasive nor impressive... to anybody but you. Leaving threats in my comment section? Your threats are empty, and everyone knows it. Everyone. Fucking. Knows. It.

Remember that moment when you decided that you were doing just fine and didn't need to take your meds anymore? That was a bad decision. Please start taking them again. If you can't do that by yourself, seek professional help.

Your rants and your threats aren't welcome here. I will delete them. Come back when you have something worth saying.

Apparently I shouldn't shave my head

So... in answer to Accidental Historian's invitation to see Lost Immigrants near my home, I set out for Love And War In Texas this evening. I arrived around 6:30 p.m., found out where the stage was, and took a table directly in front of it. I ordered chips and queso, and eventually a hamburger.

Lost Immigrants took the stage around 8:00. At this point, an older couple had joined me at my table. Accidental Historian had not shown up, and my waitress was offering me condolences over being stood up like the unpopular kid at prom.

This is not a position I care to occupy, especially since the tables around me had filled and a few of their occupants were shooting me looks - like, Why should you have a front-row table all to yourself? The couple who had joined me had moved a little further back; apparently, direct exposure to the speakers was giving them trouble with their hearing.

On the plus side, it was a great show. I mean, hey - if you're going to get stood up, you should always have good music to ameliorate it. Lost Immigrants are basically Country, but with a healthy dose of Blues and Rock'n'Roll mixed in. Good stuff. Early in their set, they covered a Springstein tune, and they had made it completely their own. If I hadn't recognized the lyrics (English major), I wouldn't have known it was a cover.

Finally, around 9:00, I got up and looked around the outdoor patio again. And, lo and behold, there was Accidental Historian - and his friend, Big A - at a table with some other fans. So I walked over, and made fun of him for not being able to find the place. I mean, yeah, you have to drive over the railroad tracks, but other than that it's not that complicated. He immediately made fun of me on exactly the same grounds.

It turns out that he'd also arrived at around 6:30 - we must have just missed each other - and taken a table inside. He'd sent Big A a text or two about how unreliable I was. (I saw those texts later.) When the band came on at 8:00, he'd moved to an outdoor table... but if he'd looked for me, my total lack of hair had kept me hidden.

It was a hell of a good evening, but it got off to a rocky start, because in spite of doing exactly what we'd said we were doing, we somehow failed to coordinate.

I'm going to have to buy a cell-phone.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book o' Parenting update

Success! I have added another entry to my parenting journal! Muwahahahaha... er, ahem. Pardon that.

See! The incredible swimming four-year-old!
Swoon! Over the World's Cutest Baby(tm)!
Thrill! To stories of potty training and gymnastics!

This show is not for the faint of heart! If you don't like people talking about what is, essentially, family- and child-oriented trivia, or if cute pictures and videos disgust you, this is not the show for you! Ladies and Gentlemen, you have been warned.

Other Projects

Okay, so... I'm putting together the next entry for the Parenting Journal, and working on a rewrite of Warrior's Legacy. Plus, my allergies - or something - keeps knocking me on my butt. So, things may be a little quieter than usual around here.

Though you never know; most of the things I post here aren't exactly planned in advance.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

'Splody Head

Okay, so... I'm not sure where my brother found this, but it's a pretty good summary of my day.

So if you happen to be in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and you see somebody driving home with no head, it's probably me. (I say "probably" because, judging by the traffic at lunch, I'm far from the only one driving around without a head.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reflections on Subtext

Peter was in the store again. This was the day before yesterday, so... Monday. He shuffled up to the counter, smiling beatifically at everybody, and asked for me. I collected his Diltiazem and went up to meet him. He was waving at Claire when I got there.

I’d expected him to go through our usual lord-of-this-world exchange, but he didn’t. Instead, he asked: “How are you and Claire doing?” He kept his voice down. It seemed pretty natural for someone as old and frail as he looks, but I knew he could make himself heard if he wanted to.

“Good,” I said. He’d caught me off-guard. “Better than that, actually.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said. “I worried, you know. It’s never easy for young couples, especially coming from different religious backgrounds.”

I chuckled and shook my head. I had to force myself to make the gesture look natural; what I wanted to do was gape, or study him a lot more warily than an offhand comment like that deserved. How much does he know, anyway? “It hasn’t been a problem. Not so far, anyway.”

He nodded, and for a moment his expression turned... thoughtful? “Well,” he said, “if it ever does become a problem, feel free to call me. I haven’t done counseling in years, but I like to think I was pretty good at it.”

This time I did gape at him.

He chuckled at my expression. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just an old busybody. All priests are; it comes with the job. And I hate to see souls lost, when there’s a chance to save them.” He paused, then added: “Do call me if you need to, though. And have a good afternoon.”

Then he took his prescription and shuffled back out of the store.

I have no idea what to make of that. How much does he know? What does he guess? What in the hell was he trying to say? Is he hoping I’ll give up my worship and become a Roman Catholic? I mean, I could see him wanting that, but it’s delusional. On the other hand, if he is what I strongly suspect, he might be interested in recruiting me, as well as converting me. That I could see. And the fact that I was coming to his church with Claire must look like a brilliant opportunity.

And there’s still the possibility that he’s entirely innocent - though very sharp - and only interested in bringing a professed non-believer into the church. In that case, his offer might be entirely legitimate; if Claire and I ever get serious enough to start thinking about marriage, her Catholicism is going to be a big consideration. It’s still possible that that’s all there is to it. I don’t really believe it, but it’s possible. And, of course, I can’t just ask him.

Actually, I couldn’t even take the time to think about it just then. A girl in her late twenties was at the counter, insisting that we’d shorted her on her pain pills, and there was a steady stream of people behind her. I’ve thought about it a lot in the days since, though.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bite Sized Writing

Continuing from yesterday's thought... So what do you do if you have the urge to write, but you can't find time for a book-length project (because other things are more important)?

I use smaller projects. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about the Grey Tower is that it allows me to write in bite-sized chunks. It’s somebody else’s world, and it’s roleplay as much as storytelling, but it works for me. The Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is shaping up to be a sort of serial; at one entry a week, it now fills twenty pages in MS Word. Given time, it might grow to become book-length. I’m enjoying it, and I don’t plan on abandoning it anytime soon. I even have some ideas for where it’s going. Hell, if it ever does reach an appropriate length - and a satisfying conclusion - I might package it all up and make it available through one of the Print-On-Demand publishers.

Apocalypse River was another project that I thought might end up there. (Though honestly, I wrote that first - and, at present, only - scene so that the concept would go away and leave my brain alone.) It might be fun to pick that up and follow it out; it’s more of a mood than an actual story, so I have little idea where it would go, and no idea whether it could be drawn to a satisfying conclusion.

I’d still like to be picked up by a traditional publisher, but that market’s in transition and nobody seems to be quite sure where it’s going right now. Print On Demand is becoming more and more accessible - which is a distinctly mixed blessing - and requires me to do my own advertising, which I’m horrifically bad at doing. But as a possibility, it’s there... and if that is the way the market is heading, I might be ahead of the curve to experiment with it.

The real problem with trying to get published - in either traditional, e-book, or P.O.D. formats - is that you have to have a completed work. I have one, and only one; and frankly it needs serious revision. One of these days I’ll actually manage to revise it; I just don’t seem to be able to do it now.

In the meantime, I keep playing with things, and trying new approaches, and looking for better ways to organize my time.

I know the Deranged Cultist has his fans. If there’s anything else you’d like to see more of, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Writing, Martial Arts, and Priorities

I mentioned earlier that I don't get a lot of writing time right now. (And what I do get is often done while I'm taking a break at work.) Oh, I could get more writing time if I wanted it - just as I could find more time to practice martial arts if I really wanted to - but I'm not willing to do the things I'd have to do in order to get that extra time. I like having a stable job that offers actual retirement; I like not worrying about whether we'll have enough money to make the car payment on time this month, or whether that will cut into our grocery money. Similarly, I like being married and I enjoy spending time with my wife. I like being part of our children's childhood, getting to know our boys and watching them grow up.

So it's fair to say that I'm not a published author because writing isn't important enough to me. The same goes for martial arts; I'm not as proficient as I could be because I haven't made it enough of a priority. The thing is, I'm okay with that. More: I'm proud of that. These things are important to me - important enough, at least, that I don't drop them entirely - but being involved in my family and providing a reliable source of income are more important. It is a matter of priorities - and those are mine.

I mention this because I occasionally run into the attitude that if you're not Sacrificing Everything For Your Art - be it writing, painting, Kung Fu, Golf, or whatever - then it somehow reflects badly on your value as a person. Not spending all my off-work hours on my chosen activity - or having a full time job that interferes with pursuing that activity - is a mark of laziness, of someone who prefers comfort over achievement. Is that really the sort of person you want to be? Lack of obsession is tantamount to lack of interest; if you aren't willing to pursue your goals with your whole heart, why even bother?

This is sort of understandable if you're the sort of person who has one single hobby which occupies the majority of your attention. That's not me, though - and it isn't most people I know, either. Most of us have a variety of interests, which are more or less important to us, and we spend a fair amount of time balancing our schedules to fit our priorities.

Here's the thing: I have a good marriage, and we're raising a good pair of boys. That's the goal that I'm pursuing with my whole heart. Having a stable job that pays decently isn't absolutely necessary to that, but it makes Being Married And Raising Children so much easier that it might as well be. Writing is still a priority - I don't think I could give it up if I wanted to - but it's a much lower priority. I can live with myself if I never get published, but if I screwed up my family...

Martial Arts are even lower priority. I still intend to go back to them, but right now that hobby is completely on hold. Maybe someday the boys will join me. (It's pretty easy to pictures us beating each other with sticks in the back yard...)

So: I'm not sacrificing my goals for comfort, or out of laziness; I'm not sabotaging myself out of fear or insecurity. I'm doing exactly what I think is important. It may not be what you think is important, or even what you think is cool, but that is not my problem.

I've been a lot more comfortable about being myself since I figured that out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Amendment Rights

You have a First Amendment right to say whatever you think. You do not have a First Amendment right to have an audience for your idiocy. It was true for the Dixie Chicks, it was true for Don Imus, and it's still true for Doctor Laura.

More to the point, you do not have a First Amendment right to prevent other people from criticizing what you said. Freedom of Speech cuts both ways.

...With a tip o' the hat to Personal Failure.

Reflections on Keeping a Weekly Journal

This is maybe not the best way to catalog my life. It works, I guess, and the guy who normally posts here - you know, the one who pretends like these entries are a work of fiction that he’s producing - makes a nice cover to keep the Watchers from noticing what I’m doing. But there’s really only one day a week that I’m in a position to occupy his journal, and sometimes that makes it a little hard to keep track of things. I know I’m leaving a lot out, though I suppose that most of those things aren’t really important.

Last week, for example, there was a conversation when we woke up. I didn’t include it then because I didn’t have time, but it went something like this:
Claire: “Morning.”
Me: “Morning.”
Claire: “Strange dreams.”
Me: “Mm. Me, too.”
Claire: “You were in this dream. We were knights on a quest, seeking hidden treasures in an ancient castle.”
Me: “I was flying, or floating, or something.”
Claire: “You couldn’t have been. You were busy assisting me with my quest.”
Me: “You sure I wasn’t rescuing you? That’s what knights are supposed to do.”
Claire: “Oh, yeah? What if I have to rescue you?”
Me: “You mean, like, mutual rescuing? I don’t think we can both rescue each other at the same time.”
Claire: “Youuuu...”
Then, when she was safely sidetracked, I kissed her.

We haven’t dreamed of that place since then - at least, I haven’t, and I haven’t seen or heard any indication that she has. If the pattern holds, we have another week or two before it happens again. I wish I knew what the pattern actually was. I’ve kept track of the dreams on a calendar, but they don’t match with anything obvious: set time spans, astronomical movements, changes in our daily routine.

I’m pretty sure that the urge to visit the crater-plain at the end of the valley was something Oracle gave me, but other than that I’m completely lost. The name that the Thing In The Well gave me led to a couple of references, but we’re talking a sentence apiece here. One of them claimed that the Yellow-Masked Messenger kept a palace there, and the other suggested that the Citadel was responsible for such life as there was in that place. Neither was cross-referenced to anything except the other.

But even that’s a clue. There are two or three things that “Yellow-Masked Messenger” might refer to - if it refers to anything we know, and if those possibilities are indeed distinct things. We may be the only ones who understand the true nature of reality, but there’s an awful lot we don’t know.

You may be wondering what I’m leaving out of this week’s entry, but really it isn’t much. We’re feeling healthier and better rested; work has been moderately insane, but nothing we can’t cope with; and we’re planning to attend church on Sunday, as we haven’t been since the last time I mentioned it here. I still have a ritual to look up and perform, as suggested by the Thing In The Well, but since I have no idea what it does or why I might need it, I haven’t been in too much of a hurry. It’s the sort of thing that I could as easily regret doing as neglecting.

All in all, this is a good week for playing catch-up; there just isn’t a lot going on.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No Great Old Ones were summoned in the making of this post.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I don't believe that Islam is evil

I suppose, when I decided to post on the shouldn't-be-an-issue of the not-a-mosque at not-Ground-Zero, that I should have expected someone to come along and lecture me on how eeeeeeevil those Muslims are, and how they're out to destroy us, and how we're facing an epic War Of Cultures, and like that. To be fair, the commenter didn't actually do that here on my blog. He* just left a somewhat snarky response with links back to his own blog... which is entirely devoted to that topic.

I'm underwhelmed. I'm also unconvinced.

I’ll admit, I don’t know very many Muslims; also I’m in an urban area, working with educated professionals, which may skew my sample further. But the Muslims I do know are much like the Christians I know: they’re basically just people doing their thing.

And, yes, they could be that way in spite of their faith, rather than because of it (or it could have nothing to do with their faith). But the simple fact that they’re no more barbaric than the people around them indicates to me that their faith is not the deciding factor when it comes to barbaric behavior.

Christian beliefs lead people to shoot others and blow up buildings. Is Christianity, then, a barbaric religion?** Political beliefs lead people to shoot each other. Are political affiliations barbaric? Or is it simply that people with a tendency towards extremism will find some belief to support that tendency?

A lot of the less palatable aspects of Islam are actually associated with Wahhabism. While the Wahhabis are fairly wide-spread (including most of Saudi Arabia, for example) they no more represent all of Islam than Evangelicals represent all of Christianity. According to some Muslim leaders, by contrast, an attack on Canada or the U.S.A. is an attack on Muslims. The guy in charge of the community center in the general vicinity of Ground Zero? He's a proponent of the latter viewpoint.

Pakistani Demonstrators Last Year Protest Taliban Flogging of 17 Year Old "Seen" With Married Man (Image Credit: Associated Press; h/t Marzie)

Islam is not a single, monolithic entity. It's as varied and divided as any other major religion. And while some versions of Islam are associated with some very barbaric behaviors, Islam itself isn't the cause of those behaviors. At worst, you could argue that Islam overall isn't doing {much/enough} to prevent them.

I also think there’s a certain amount of information bias involved. We hear about a terrorist attack on the U.S. – attempted or actual – and if the perpetrator was a Muslim, that fact will be all over the news. (Mainly, I think, in an effort to pump up rating by making it sound even scarier to mainstream Americans.) If, on the other hand, the perpetrator is something else – Christian, Hindu, whatever – then the news reports won’t mention their religion at all, except perhaps as an afterthought. Then, too, American news tends to focus on things that affect Americans – understandably – so while the recent history of Ireland (for example) includes a fair amount of non-Islamic terrorism, those events were effectively invisible in the U.S.

There's another kind of information bias here, too. As outsiders, we don't really know what parts of the Koran are customarily ignored or downplayed by mainstream Muslims. (Just as I, though raised as a Christian, never felt bound by my religion to support slavery; nor was I afraid that if I was disrespectful to my father, he would have me dragged to the gates of the city and stoned to death. Why? Because modern Christians have effectively done away with those passages in the interest of having an orderly and just civilization.)

Let me close, on an only-semi-related note, with an observation from Kung Fu Monkey on terrorism and the Epic Clash Of Civilizations (and if you haven't, you should really go read the whole thing):

Maybe it's just, I cast my eyes back on the last century ...

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

... and I'm just a little tired of being on the wrong side of that historical arc.

Seriously. Even President George W. "Invade 'Em For Their Own Good" Bush insisted that we are not at war with Islam.

So please don't insist that I have to recognize some nonexistent Epic Final Struggle just because your life lacks meaning and purpose. I have better things to do with my time.

* Commenter's sex isn't clear; I'm guessing.
** Yes, I know this is a wonderful opening for all sorts of cheap shots. Please resist the temptation.

American Values

Josh Marshall over at Talking Point Memo, observes the following:

"For most of us who are anything but quite young, we grew up in America where Islam, as a domestic social or cultural reality, was close to invisible. That doesn't mean there weren't any Muslims in the US. The fact that some of our most searing and for many of us some of our first experiences with Islam came in the form of a catastrophic terrorist attack by Islamic radicals creates a situation ripe for exploitation. And here we have it. We're in a midst of a spasm of nativist panic and raw and raucous appeals to race and religious hatred. What effects this will have on the November election strikes me as not particularly relevant. What's important is compiling some record of what's afoot, some catalog for understanding in the future who was responsible and who was so willing to disgrace their country and their principles for cheap advantage."

He's talking, primarily, about what direction his organization intends to take with its reporting; but the general observations are what really caught my eye.

The current wave of anti-Islamic hysteria is a very recent thing. While it clearly has roots in the September 11 attacks, it seems to me that it really blossomed in the wake of Obama's election. And, of course, it's reached a fever pitch at the prospect that someone might build a mosque at Ground Zero.

Now, there are legitimate complaints to be made about Islam - or, to my mind, about the cultures in which Islam is dominant. The government of Iran, for example, is currently deciding how to execute Sakineh Ashtiana after torturing a confession from her. They have issued an arrest warrant for the lawyer who tried to defend her, and who has now sought shelter in Turkey. I would argue that Islam is not, in itself, responsible for this - but the Iranian authorities justify themselves in terms of Sharia law, and I don't see other Muslims doing a lot to prevent this sort of abuse. (Maybe I'm just not seeing it - if you know better, please prove me wrong.) Women are maimed in the name of some people's interpretation of Islam. These are legitimate issues.

The "Mosque at Ground Zero" business, by contrast, is nothing but hysterical idiocy, ginned up by demagogues who profit off popular outrage. First of all, it's not a mosque, though it does include one; it's better described as a community center, the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. Second, it's not actually at Ground Zero (though that would be a good way to prevent another attack); it's the site of a former Burlington Coar Factory a couple of blocks away. Third, it's run by a guy who has put a lot of time into trying to convince his fellow Muslims that America really isn't The Great Satan - the kind of person we should really want to have on our side.

But you know what? None of that should matter. This is America. We don't discriminate on the basis of religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

I'll grant you, it's an ideal we don't always live up to. But it is one of our ideals. It's one of the principles on which our country was built. Pretending like that doesn't matter, just because some of us are grieving, angry, or outraged, is childish, immoral, and anti-American.

After the September 11 attacks, there was a lot of talk about how "the terrorists want to take away our freedoms." Can we please, please quit helping them with that?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Writing Rituals

Back when most of my writing was fiction (a few years ago, maybe longer), I had a particular ritual that I'd go through before I sat down to write. I'd fire up the computer, make a cup of tea (or water, or coke, or whatever I happened to be in the mood for). Then I'd go take a shower, and basically just sit under the water until I felt relaxed. After that, I'd go sit down, put my mind in whatever world I was writing about, and continue the story.

And that was actually a change from an earlier pattern. Back when I was in High School, I'd just go occupy the computer after dinner, and get snarly with anyone who tried to interrupt me. I didn't really need the ritual preparation, because my brain was pretty much always in some fantasy world or other. (I had a lot of reading and writing time, and my friends and I would discuss characters, story ideas, and books we were reading.)

Nowadays, of course, I have even less time - at least, less time that lends itself to writing. If I spend half an hour relaxing, then by the time I'm ready to write I need to go to bed. As a result, not much gets done - and when I do manage to write, it comes out kind of choppy. Often I'm picking up a project that I haven't looked at in several days, so I've lost track of exactly where I was and what all I was doing in the text. I've tried to compensate for that by becoming more organized about my projects, but the results have been mixed. Lack of writing time isn't the sort of problem that can be solved by anything besides acquiring more writing time, and the things that use up most of my time - my family and my job - are things that I'm not going to cut back on.

Instead, I find myself focusing on other things that affect my ability to write: making sure I'm rested, getting exercise, staying healthy... Of course, there's a bit of a Catch-22 there, too. The most common reason for me not getting enough sleep is that I was trying to write. The main reason I don't get more exercise (aside from having a desk job) is because I don't want to give up the little time I do have for writing.

This will get easier as the boys get older. (At least, I dearly hope so!) I was just starting to have some free time again when Secondborn came along, so - assuming the pattern holds - I ought to have some time for my own hobbies in another three or four years.

I'm not sure I should admit this, but... I'm kind of looking forward to the time when Daddy is No Longer Cool. Does that make me a bad person?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Contract Work

Does anybody know where I could hire a competent necromancer? (A saint could probably do the job, too, but so few of them need the extra income... plus, they ask too many questions.)

Good help is so hard to find these days...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I didn't date much

I wish I could remember the conversation that led up to this particular exchange. I remember the scene well enough, though, so let's go with that:

It's my sophomore year of college. I'm in a room in one of the girls' dormitories, talking to one of the girls. Let's call her... Dana, I guess, since I don't know any Danas. (Or is that Danae? Oh, well, never mind.) Anyway, Dana's roommate is also there. She is in the far corner of the room, trying to give the impression that she's working on something instead of eavesdropping on us, when in fact it's glaringly obvious that her whole purpose for still being in the room is to listen in on our conversation.

I should point out that Dana and I were not, in any sense, dating. I was, at the time, busy being the campus ghost, so I never got to know her well enough for anything serious. But we hung out occasionally, and we flirted with each other.

Dana said something that I thought was a little silly. (This is the part that I can't remember.) It might have been some sort of personal advice, or an opinion on whatever-we-were-talking-about. Because I thought it was a little silly, I said, "Yes, dear."

This prompted a little gasp from the far side of the room - you know, over where Dana's roommate definitely was not in any way listening to us. We both heard it, and we both turned to look at the roommate, who explained: "He called you 'dear'."

"Yes," I said patiently, "I do that when I'm being condescending."

Whereupon - WHAM! - Dana punched me in the shoulder. Hard.

Which, I have to admit, I pretty much had coming to me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Reflections on Nightmares

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction, and in absolutely no way autobiographical. I promise.

Claire has been really tired this week - I think she’s still recovering from whatever it was that made her lose her voice - and I’ve been playing catch-up at work while trying to follow up on the information I received from the Thing In The Well. So, basically, we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together until yesterday.

It took a little extra work, but we managed to arrange things so we both had the same day off. We slept in, then drove up to Schlitterbahn and spent most of the day there. When we left we were wrinkly from being in the water, and a little red from being in the sun. Sunscreen washes off way too fast. We stopped at The Clay Pit for dinner, then went home and... well, that isn’t any of your business, is it?

And last night, we dreamed.

The landscape was the same; if anything, it was even more vivid than before. Everything was rendered in hexagonal columns of varying widths; looking more closely, I saw that there was a fundamental width, and that what looked like thicker columns were - like the shelves and hills and valleys - composed of groups of columns standing together. The mists that formed the life of this place were immediately visible, but I don’t know whether that was because I knew to look for them, or if my senses were somehow becoming more attuned to this place.

Another bit of mist drifted towards me, and I knew immediately - with the certain knowledge of a dream - that it was Claire.

Also, I knew which way we had to go. So I propelled myself down the valley, staying low this time. Other bits of mist reached out for us, and I rose to avoid them. Claire - or the bit of mist that I thought was her - followed suit. We advanced steadily, while I glanced around for that horrible black storm, or whatever it was, that had stained us before. I had no idea just how much danger we were in; but if the dream could stain us, it could probably kill us as well.

The valley opened onto a great plain - or, as I looked at it, maybe it was more of a crater. It formed a sort of bowl, rendered in the gradual descent of hexagonal columns, with a number of valleys radiating out from it. At the center was... I’m going to call it a palace, since that best describes my impression... with high towers and curving walls and a peculiar arrangement of something-like-minarets.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe just how wrong its presence seemed. Part of that was, quite simply, dream-emotion. Another part was simple juxtaposition. I shudder to guess what sort of power imposed those sweeping curves onto this hexagonal world - if it was a world; I was beginning to think that it was more of a mathematical abstraction than an actual place.

We were drifting towards the palace when the dream sort of... came apart... and I realized that the alarm was going off. For just a moment, I was furious - I mean, we were really close to actually learning something about that place. A moment later I was relieved. I mean, we were moving towards an unknown structure in a place that we know is dangerous. It's not impossible that the alarm clock saved our lives.

Now, I'm mostly puzzled. What the hell is going on with this dream?

Mad Science

Is there any problem which can't be solved by a suitable application of evil genius? I think not.

On a related note, if you're not reading Girl Genius, you should be. When I grow up, I want to be a Jagermonster. Also, I need a new hat.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Note to Self

Please, please do not confuse "sitarist" and "satirist". Also, somewhere in your writing, you should include a character who both plays the sitar and composes musical satires.

"Martial" and "Marital", on the other hand, remain mostly interchangeable.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This happens when you legalize gay marriage

You know, I woke up the other morning feeling a lot less married than usual, but it wasn't 'til I checked the news and found that Prop 8 had been overturned that I realized what had happened. My wife suggested that maybe we should try getting married again, to strengthen the bond before our union shattered completely.

The real shock was when that unit of paramilitary homosexuals (they have the most fabulous uniforms) parachuted into the sanctuary at our church and forced the priest to perform gay marriages at gunpoint.

Then the zombie velociraptors showed up and started eating everybody. That was about the point where I realized I was still dreaming.

Turns out I'm still just as married as ever, and the legal recognition of gay marriage has no goddamn effect at all on my life. Funny thing, that.

Bad Movie, Good Line

I have a serious weakness for Bad Horror Movies - monster movies in particular. I don't much care about a family of cannibalistic rednecks or a chainsaw-wielding psychopath, but give me a shapechanging mutant or a body-infecting alien (or the more traditional ghost, werewolf, zombie, or vampire fare) and I'm in. I love them, and I watch waaaaaaay too many of them.

Sometimes they're low-budget but otherwise well done; sometimes they're just irredeemably awful. A few nights ago I watched Psychlops, which I'd place somewhere in the middle. The plot was essentially a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond, with a small group of friends recovering a machine that allows them to see into other dimensions and states of being.

Hijinks ensue.

The special effects were okay, and the acting was actually fairly decent. The production - scene continuity, in particular - left a lot to be desired, and the plot was a bit disjointed. The dialogue, however, was surprisingly good, and one line stuck with me (in fact, I paused the movie to write it down).

Basically, one of the peripheral characters is a Wiccan. At one point, she slips a necklace (unnoticed) onto the neck of one of the main characters. When the protagonists confront her about it later, she explains: "It's a charm. It's supposed to protect you from your enemies. I don't think there's anything that will protect you from your friends."

As a line, it was perfect for the situation and moment in the movie. But what really struck me about it - as someone who participates in several online communities and is occasionally called upon to offer personal advice - is that it neatly sums up my experience. It's not the people who dislike you who are a problem; it's friends and family who cause the really difficult problems.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why Vampires Are Traditionally Aristocrats

I know, I know, modern vampires are counterculture rebels or an oppressed (how?) minority; enchanting demigods with just a hint of "bad boy". But back when vampires were something to fear, they were frequently presented as aristocrats. Nowadays, of course, we live in something more like a plutarchy...

...but the metaphor holds up surprisingly well.

I can haz torches and pitchforks, pleaz?

My Son Knows Me Too Well

Shortly after my alarm went off, while I was still drifting in a state of semi-consciousness, I became aware of a brief giggle and the sound of bare feet pattering across the floor... leaving the room, strangely enough. I responded with my customary wit and poise: "Nguuunnh?"

Then I drifted back off, savoring the precious extra minutes of sleep afforded to me by that blessed invention known as the Snooze Button.

I was awakened again by the sound of footfalls, and this time there were two pairs of feet. The bed shifted as someone put their weight on it. I opened my eyes, and was not surprised to see Firstborn trying to climb up my side of the bed. He jumped over my prone form, and settled beside his mother on the other half of the bed.

The Beautiful Woman counted slowly to three. Then they both leaned and down and shook me, yelling: "Wake up, wake up, wake up!"

I gave the ritual response: "I'm awake, I'm awake, I'm awake." This was not, technically, a lie.

I straightened up and got into a sitting position, and Firstborn settled on top of me for a snuggle. The Beautiful Woman, meanwhile, was rubbing my shoulders and neck. My fondness for the Snooze Button aside, this is a vastly better way to wake up than the alarm clock will ever be.

We were exchanging morning pleasantries - "Sleep well?" "Oh, yes. You?" "Did you have nice dreams?" - when Firstborn asked, "What did you dream about, Daddy?"

"I don't remember," I told him. I really don't; I generally have to wake up more gradually in order to remember my dreams.

The Beautiful Woman was starting to say something when Firstborn - who just turned four back in June - interrupted her. "I know what Daddy dreamed."

We looked at him, and he continued: "Daddy dreamed about zombies."

My wife grinned. I allowed as how that might be the case.

The Beautiful Woman asked our son, "Did you have a zombie dream?"

He shook his head. "No. I don't know how to dream about zombies."

What can I say? He may not know how to dream about zombies, but he knows his father pretty well...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reflections on Consultation

I've seen the Thing In The Well.

It's... "hideous" isn't quite the right word. Strange, certainly. It belongs to one of the races that came to Earth in the distant past and reigned for a time, then fell into decay and passed away. As far as we know, it's the last of its kind. Unlike, say, Oracle, the Thing In The Well is at least recognizable as a living creature, even if its shape and substance are unfamiliar.

I can't tell you where I was, of course, or who was with me. I can tell you that the Well will never be spotted, even by satellite photography, and that the Thing In The Well speaks a passable variant of modern English... despite having throats that aren't really suited for it. I don't know whether it was pleased to have visitors, but it heaved itself up to look over the edge of the well at us and spoke a greeting.

So I explained my dream, and even made a few sketches to explain the... hexagonal... nature of the place where I'd found myself. I told it about the mists that seemed to be life in that place, and the overwhelming black cloud that had pursued me, and the stain that had appeared on my ankle.

The Thing In The Well took my words and my sketches and spent a few minutes... digesting them. I wish I was being less literal than I am.

I looked at my companion, but she just motioned for me to wait. So we stood, and we waited, and the Thing In The Well thought, or remembered, or something. Maybe it was just scratching an itch down where we couldn't see it; I'll never know. Its expression might be easier to read if it had anything resembling eyes. Then again, on that head, maybe not.

Finally, though, it spoke. What it said was, simply: "The place might be-" and it made a sound that I don't think I can reproduce. "I know little about it. How you found your way there; if you were called; these things I do not know." Then it named a ritual that might help, though it couldn't - or wouldn't - say how.

I know more than I did, at least - and I have something else to try, and a new direction for research. This is going to go up late, since I still have to fly back to Texas today. My companion dropped me off at the airport a little early (I'm sure she has a lot of work to do, too, now) so I was able to type this up and have a glass of scotch while I was waiting for my plane. It'll be good to get back home, even with all this still unsettled. I've been missing Claire - I hadn't really realized just how used I've gotten to having her around. Here's hoping for a quick, safe flight...

Late addendum: I'm back! Claire picked me up at the airport, and we stopped for dinner on the way home. Maybe I'll write up my report for the archives tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hysteria as a National Pastime

Opinion article by Tim Rutten:

"If you reengage the American media after a month out of the country, as I've done this week, it's hard not to conclude that hysteria is now the dominant characteristic of our politics and civic conversation."

For me, the money quote is down at the bottom of page 2:

"Back in the early 1970s — an era whose tumult we yet may come to regard as benign — social scientists here and in Britain coined the term "moral panic" to describe what can happen when groups of people are seized by an exaggerated fear that other people or communal forces threaten their values or way of life. The scholars described those who promoted the panic's spread as "moral entrepreneurs" — a term that takes on a deep resonance when you consider the commentators and politicians who have attached themselves, and their interests, to the "tea party" and its attendant movements.

"In the midst of moral panic, inchoate indignation stands in for reason; accusation and denunciation supplant dialogue and argument; history and facts are rendered malleable, merely adjuncts of the moral entrepreneur's — or should we say provocateur's — rhetorical will. As we now also see, a self-interested mass media with an economic stake in the theatricality of raised and angry voices can transmit moral panic like a pathogen.

"Looking around the United States in the summer of 2010, hysterical moral panic seems an apt description of our fevered political condition."

I recently commented that I don't really care whether or not other people watch television; my decision not to watch is personal, rather than ideological. That's still true, but I would like to encourage people to unplug themselves from the panic factories.

Edited to add: Just to be clear, I'm not talking about television in general; "panic factories" is a refence to the sort programming which is specifically designed to make people panic about things in the real world. News shows are pretty bad about this ("Could your kids be in danger because of this common household item? Tune in at eight to find out...") and I suspect that a fair chunk of talk/opinion shows are as well. There's some portion of the population whose churches are panic factories, and there's plenty of people whose friends are as well.

Basically, if something or someone spends most of their time telling you things that make you worried or scared, it's time to stop listening to them. A well-placed (and truthful) warning is one thing; a constant litany of reasons to panic is another. I'm talking about the American news media in particular, but I think it's good general advice.

Parenting Journal: Crazy Summer

I've just finished the latest entry in the Book of Parenting. It's not the most cheerful or amusing thing I've ever written - no great tragedies, but we've all been sick and as a result July was a looooooong month - so feel free to skip down to the pictures and videos at the bottom. And hey, if reading about my experiences as a parent just isn't your cup of tea, that's cool, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Expanding My Repertoire

That's right, I've decided to try my hand at a movie script. Behold:


LARRY MARTIN (mid-thirties) lean, holding baseball bat in one hand, parts blinds and looks out through dirty window. Room behind him is dim. Several other figures wait amid weapons and camping equipment.

They're still out there. (pause) I think there's more of them.

TONY BRIGHAM (late twenties) leans shotgun against wall and kneels down to start rolling up a sleeping bag.

We need to go. Those barricades won't hold forever.

SHELLY MARTIN (early thirties) looks up, panicked.

Go where? Those things are everywhere.

They know we're here. They'll find a way in.

How? How do they know? How do they keep finding us?

Smell? Sound? Sight? It doesn't matter. Tony's right. We need to keep moving.

TOM BILLINGS stirs. He is sitting on the edge of a table. He is in his late forties, portly, dressed in the ragged remains of a suit. His tie hangs loose around his neck.

Well, you're right about one thing. It doesn't matter. This is a judgement from God. He has poured out His wrath upon us.

Brother, if you'd known anything about God's Wrath, you'd've had an ark already built.

SEAN KEEGAN (late teens / early twenties,) enters, expression tense. He gestures sharply, then points down. In his other hand, he holds a boar spear.

KAYLEEN GREY (early / mid teens) straightens, watching him.

They're in the building.

Kayleen Grey starts gathering cans from the table where Tom Billings is sitting.

Get to the roof. Don't use the guns unless you have to. We'll block the door and wait. When it gets dark, we can cross to the next building and make our way down.

Okay, so, I've decided to branch out. Most - nearly all - of my writing is some sort of prose, and most of the time, I'm fine with that. Recently, though, I decided that it was time to try something new. And, since I love you all so much, I thought I'd give you a sneak peak at my new project. Yes, it's a film script; and yes, it's a horror movie. Nobody who actually knows me should be surprised by that. I've even mocked up a movie poster for it. And so, without further ado, my next project: