Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rough Night Of Considering Entropy

Despite being completely exhausted and (for once) sensibly going to bed as soon as the boys were down (around 9:00), I only slept for about five hours. Part of that was the cat - he tends to get annoyed when people are sleeping in the loft bed, and frequently starts meowing plaintively in the middle of the night - but I told him to shut up and he actually did, and I really should have been able to go right back to sleep after that. I think I've been doing that thing where I'm really not getting enough sleep, so I'm exhausted, so I push harder to get things done, so I get even less sleep. Though come to think of it, I also took some Theraflu before I went to bed, and slept pretty deeply - this could easily be a combination of sleeping (and breathing) better than usual, and my body being on a schedule where it thinks it's supposed to wake up after five or so hours.

...Which is fine, insofar as I do feel rested. Unfortunately, I feel rested at 1:30 in the morning, which is probably not going to help me at work tomorrow. And I woke up both depressed and adrenalized. There are several things that are probably contributing to that, too. we're in the middle of a season of big transitions at work, which is both frustrating (as it has a lot of things on hold) and slightly terrifying (as I think some of our systems are going to break down in ways that our current staff won't be able to fix). Our elected officials seem to be making a concerted effort to tear down the government that employs them - I'd single out Trump and Bannon, but I can make a decent case that tearing down the government has been part of the overall Republican platform for a couple of decades now. (I think that a lot of the people who voted for these clowns specifically to tear down government programs - repeal Obamacare, get rid of "entitlements", rid of governmental oversight and the "nanny state" - are going to be unpleasantly surprised when things actually start to fall apart as a result of all that tear-it-down policy, but somehow that isn't making me feel any better about it.) On top of all that, a friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago. I can't say he was a close friend, and we were friends mostly online (but not exclusively so - when he came to Texas a few years back, I organized a sort of "welcome to hell" party for him, and he dragged me out to a couple of concerts while he lived here in town, with some really excellent music that I wouldn't have known about otherwise). So, yeah: we weren't incredibly close friends, but he was one of those bright, erudite, funny people who, even if they never accomplish anything super dramatic, make a big difference to the world in countless small ways. I miss him. The world is a darker place without him.

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. I almost never used to feel that way, but by God I'm feeling it now. I can totally see how God -- if He's out there -- could look at the world and think that human beings weren't such a good idea after all. Admittedly, I'd still try to sway Him with the old "What if you only find one righteous man?" argument. The world we have may not be perfect, but I still think it's worth preserving.

But I'm honestly not worried about any sort of divine judgement or retribution, not even if our country is guilty of the sin of Sodom (the one described by Ezekiel 16:49, mind you, not the one everybody thinks of as sodomy). That's one of the advantages of being an atheist. No, if everything falls apart it will all be on us.

And I suppose that's what really worries me: I'm coming to grips with the deep, visceral realization that human beings can look at all the advantages we have, all the programs we've put in place to make our collective lives better, or at least less miserable -- from support for the arts, public libraries, and school lunches right on up to public schools, political compacts designed to keep Europe from erupting into world-engulfing wars every 20-50 years, vaccines, drinkable water and breathable air -- that people can look at all those things and conclude, "Eh, we're better off without 'em." I'm pretty sure there was a time when I thought that wasn't possible.

Now I'm pretty sure it's happening.

Monday, February 27, 2017

You know what's funny?

"You know what's funny?" Firstborn asked me.

I was lying on the couch, reading on my Kindle and probably two minutes away from fading into a nap. So I said, "Clowns."

"Clowns are scary," he told me, while he switched on the Playstation and activated the controller.

"Good point."

"You know what's funny?" he asked again, and turned on the television.

"Kittens," I told him.

That stopped him. "Kittens are funny," he admitted. There was a long pause.

"You know what's funny, though?"

This time I said, "Puppies." I was not feeling at my most creative.

"Yes," he said. He paused again. "And now I've forgotten what I was going to say."

"Hm," I said. "You know what's funny?"

"What?" he asked.

"Distracting your son until he forgets what he was going to say." I looked back down at my book, ready to return to my reading.

That was when he came and sat down on top of me. "You know what's funny?" he asked.

"What?" I wheezed.

"Using your father as a cushion while you play your video games."

"Oh," I wheezed. "Yeah, that is funny."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Nameless Choices

Somber sat on the stone railing of a balcony, looking down at the crowd below. It was the final night of Harvest, and even here in the second-largest city of the Aricanus Empire that meant that a day of furious trading had given way to a night of furious celebration. Somber had no part in any of it, but he savored the moment of being completely and gloriously alone. He hadn't been alone for the last five weeks, and he hadn't really expected to be left alone at all.

Down in the square, the citizens of Dairilos (and no few foreign visitors) circulated slowly around the central fountain. The fountain was an impressive sight, and there were always a few people gathered around its edges to look up at the statues of the three warriors who stood back to back at its center. The one facing Somber held a shield; the other two held a sword and a book. Here and there, small groups had stopped to talk or joke or sing, but the body of the crowd flowed around them. Out near the edges of the square, people wandered in and out of the restaurants or grouped around the musicians who had set up in the corners of the square. Somber squinted, staring down at a group that was forming midway along one wall: they seemed to be watching a couple who had decided to have sex right there on the edge of the square. On any other day of the year, that would have merited the attention of the Watch, but tonight it was just another part of the entertainment.

Shortly after finding his way to the square -- and shortly after his friends, Blaze and Frost, had left to make their way back to the hostelry -- Somber had made his way into one of the restaurants. He hadn't been particularly hungry, but Dairilos was known for baking its food into its bread, and the smell had simply been too tempting. This particular restaurant took up most of the ground floor, which was empty save for a handful of tables. A long loaf of bread had been laid out on the bar at the back of the room, with a row of bowls in front of it. The custom was to take as much food as needed, and leave a few coins in the bowls to pay the cost. Someone had tapped a keg of beer and set it on the end of the bar with another bowl beside it. Assuming everyone honored the custom -- and as Somber understood it, most were inclined to be generous -- it was a clever way to have the restaurants open while still leaving the staff free to celebrate.

None of that really mattered. What mattered was that Brother Moon and Sister Glow were still at the hostelry, and that Blaze and Frost had gone back there. It was the first time he'd been truly alone since they left the monastery. Since before that actually: it was the first time he'd been truly alone since Brother Moon had told him that it was time for the three of them to return to their families. That part, Somber knew, had been deliberate: none of them were supposed to be unsupervised until their reunions were finished, because if the acolytes wandered off before they were returned to their families, the order would be deeply embarrassed.

He really didn't want to embarrass the order. It was just that he also didn't want to be returned to his family, or whatever version or remnant of it might be waiting to collect him. If they'd been willing to let him stay at the monastery, he would have been perfectly happy.

"You're not planning to jump, are you?" asked a voice from behind him. "...Because this is exactly the wrong night for it."

It took Somber a moment to react. He was lost in his own thoughts, and even hearing the words he didn't initially realize that they were directed at him. When they finally sank in, he turned and said, "Um?"

That was when he realized that he was sitting on the stone railing of a balcony overlooking the Watchers' Square from a good forty feet up, with his legs casually hooked into the stone pedestals. The monastery had been located high in the Grediv mountains, and its walls were considerably higher than this balcony; Somber hadn't considered that his perch would draw this sort of attention.

"You're not planning to jump, are you?" she asked again, and this time Somber really focused on her.

She was almost certainly a native of Dairilos. She had the black hair, the medium-dark skin, and general roundness that characterized Imperial citizens. In her case, the roundness expressed itself in an athletic musculature and high cheekbones, and she was almost as tall as Somber himself. And lovely, he thought, looking at her. She was wearing a patterned vest that bloused out over her hips, covering a loose-sleeves shirt and slacks that were tucked into low leather boots. On her left hip was something that might have been a long knife but was probably a truncheon instead. On her left arm was a shield, oval-shaped but with hooks and spikes extending from it. Either of those would have been sufficient to identify her as part of the Watch. Somber had seen them walking the streets, but all of them had been older. This woman was close to his own age.

"No," he said. "I was just enjoying the view." He paused, looking out over the crowd again. "In fact, what I really need to do is trade in this robe for another set of clothes, and then get out of the city."

"...Ah." She didn't sound convinced. "In that case, could you come back this way? You're making people nervous."

Somber swung his legs over the balcony and stood back up. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really not suicidal. I was just thinking."

Standing, he was taller than her but only slightly. "I hope I'm not disrupting your Harvest," he said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

You should read...

I've been working on other things, so I don't really have anything for the Blog o' Doom here today, but if you've wandered over and you're bored, here are some suggestions:

1. I'm Sorry Steve's Dead, But Maybe He Shouldn't Have Touched My Snapple

2. How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline

3. And now I take requests from the search logs

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ugh. Again.

I swear, every time I think I'm essentially recovered, I either end up sick again, or I come down with something new. Back at work this morning, but... ugh. This headache had better go away.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Music: Hoist The Colours

Hans Zimmer, from the Pirates of the CaribbeanL At World's End soundtrack:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Most Unusual Story Idea

A while back, I put up a post inviting my noble readers to ask me anything. In response, Lydia came up with a series of very interesting questions. This is, I think, the third of her suggested topics:
What is the most unusual story idea you've ever come up with? If you have used it, can we read it? If you haven't used it yet, why not?
Boy, howdy.

One of the great truths of writing is that there is no new thing under the sun, and that novelty is much more in the execution than in the idea. And, as with most authors (I suspect), my writing tends to come back to certain certain themes and certain character types. We may contain multitudes, but they're our multitudes.

So I will say, without apology, that I usually tend to write either warrior-sorcerers, or some variation of (usually an expansion on) werewolves. I like characters who are versatile; I like characters who are caught in between things. (In D'n'D, I tend to play either half-elves or half-orcs. Same basic reason: I like blending archetypes, and setting up tensions between them.) But if that's my "usual", what's my "unusual"? And what would it take to qualify as "most unusual"?

I have a lot of weird dreams. Most of the memorable ones are extremely narrative -- that is, they either form cogent, coherent plots or they seem to be trying to do so. But that isn't governed by my preferences, and a lot of those bits of weirdness have been written down precisely because they feel like story ideas. Unusual story ideas.

But I think possibly the weirdest, least typical story idea I've had is the Chained Man. You can't read it... not yet. Among other things, I'm not sure if it's a mature YA story, or a full-on adult Dark Fantasy novel. I haven't gotten that far into it yet. I'm still throwing up spears and waiting to see where they fall, if that metaphor makes sense.

It's the story of a construct, a reanimated man bound by chains that run deep into the earth, for whom every bit of movement is an effort. It's the story of what happens when his master sends him out to retrieve another construct from the clutches of an invading hero. It's a story of what happens when things go horribly wrong, and the Chained Man begins to discover that almost nothing about his life is what he thought it was.

But you can't read it yet, because I haven't finished it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Creek Walking and Moss Flinging

I have taken the boys and their grandfather down to the junction of two creeks, where we spent over an hour getting our feet wet, seeing what kind of objects float best, and practicing our moss-flinging skills. It's Texas, so the weather was perfect. The place is a bit more torn up than I remember (erosion and shifts in the soil have not been kind to the concrete), but it's still a good spot to splash around in. (In my youth, my friend and I used to ride our bicycles through here.)

When we came back from the creek, Firstborn and Granddaddy had hot chocolate. Secondborn, meanwhile, crawled into his grandfather's bathtub and stayed there for forty minutes. Still, it was a very successful outing: the boys loved it, everybody got some sunlight and exercise, and the shoes that I threw out afterwards were so old that they needed to be thrown out anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Teenage Goals

Lydia also asked:
When you were a teenager, what did you think your life would be like at this point? How many of the goals you had back then have you reached? How many of those goals have changed over the years?

When I was a teenager, I really couldn't picture myself living past twenty-five. So the short answer looks like this:
Q. When you were a teenager, what did you think your life would be like at this point?
A. Over.

("It is a sobering thought, for example, that by the time Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years." ~Tom Lehrer)

I wanted... I don't know how to express it, really. I was a strange, precocious, mostly-solitary kid. I did a lot of writing - two or three hours, every night. I wanted to have a tribe, to have people who understood me and with whom I belonged, but I was also well aware that I wasn't very good with people. I didn't date much -- not because other people weren't interested, but because I was so baffled by the social rituals involved in dating. I didn't get it, I didn't have a lot to offer (in the sense of knowing what I would need to do to conduct and maintain a romantic relationship), and as a result I really didn't try.

I think I did eventually achieve most of those goals, though it wasn't easy sailing. I did find a tribe of sorts, but at the time I didn't realize that it was possible (let alone inevitable) that sometimes you just outgrew your relationships with other people. And, of course, I did manage to reconnect with and eventually get married to the Beautiful Woman, which definitely counts as a win.

I did think I'd have published something by now, and with some minor exceptions that hasn't yet happened; but I got a wonderful wife and two extremely awesome kids instead, and I consider that a more-than-fair trade.

The best way I can think to express what I was like as a teenager is something I wrote in response to... no, never mind, I have no idea how to summarize that. Just read it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why all the blogs?

A while back, I put up an "Ask Me Whatever" post. My iFriend Lydia responded with a variety of interesting questions, which I've been meaning to get back to for a week or two now. So, here's the first of them:
You have several old blogs that you haven't updated in ages. Do you think you'll ever return to any of them? How do you decide when it's time to move on to a new site?
The dynamic here is actually a bit different from what the question implies. With one exception, these aren't blogs where I used to post before I decided to move on; they're blogs created to handle alternate writing projects, most of which I hope to get back to "one of these days".

The lone exception is the BorderTown blog, which was originally created in an attempt to find a replacement for a message board devoted to the Bordertown books. I'd forgotten it even existed until Blogger contacted me a couple of years back and asked me to claim it. So that one really is a sort of historical artifact.

The Shining Walls was a writing project - an attempt to see if I could finish a fantasy novel if I wrote it in blog-post-sized bites. It's one I'd like to come back to, but there are some issues with the plot and setting that I need to work out first. It's about a vampire who gets reawakened to help defend the last human citadels against the hordes of darkness that have overrun everything else. Scripture's Shadow is similar; it was going to be a retelling of the Bible, probably from the perspective of Cain, but instead the stories that are there are a lot more scattershot. Monstrosities was another such projects, which would have been (and maybe someday will be) a modern dark fantasy/horror story, or possibly short story collection. (I had another one for my All The Apocalypses story, but it seems to have gone away - probably from disuse.)

Right Behind isn't really mine; it's a group blog that I'm part of. It grew out of the commentariat over at Slacktivist, and our attempts to write alternate, better versions of the Left Behind books. It's been a long time since I've posted anything there, though.

Surreal Situations is my webcomic, and the only blog besides this one that gets updated regularly. It's an alternate-worlds-spanning pulp adventure, created largely from my children's toys.

So that's pretty much the whys and wherefores of my Vast Collection Of Blogs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

You had to ask...

My aunt asked me on Sunday how work was going.

I tried to answer her, but I'm still not sure exactly how to put this into words:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Music: How Long?

How To Destroy Angels:

I need to figure out how to put these visual effects into a story.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Birthday Bacon

In ancient times my people roamed the steppes in nomadic tribes. They fished in the streams, gathered grains and berries where they could find them, and hunted the wandering herds of caribou and ostriches. In those long-ago days, now known as the Time Before Cake, birthdays were celebrated with the ritual hunting of a Great Boar, and the sharing of bacon among the tribe.

Today, more or less in time for my birthday, we honor our ancestors and remember their ways. Though the Great Boars are long extinct, and hunting the steppes is largely illegal, still do we share bacon among family and clan. Rejoice with us in the bringing home of the bacon and the frying it up in a pan. These... these are the ways of our people.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Pop Music Observations

Huh. Whaddaya know? Turns out that Billie Jean is not his lover. She's just a girl who says that he is the one - but the kid is not his son. Well, that's what he *says*. Not sure I should believe him.