What to Celebrate?

Duke of Richmond’s fireworks display. Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never been big on secular celebrations of human achievement. It always feels a little premature. I’d rather give this whole “Independence Day” thing another couple thousand years to see whether it works out or not. At the moment, I’m not optimistic.

On the other hand, I do like picnics. I like outdoor gatherings with family and friends (when it’s not scorchingly hot due to climate change) and I kind of like fireworks.

I like the fact that so-called “gunpowder” was invented by the Chinese not for guns, but to create more impressive explosions, which supposedly were useful in warding off evil spirits. By the time the explosive mixture made its way westward, it was referred to as “Chinese flowers.” Soon it would be turned toward more destructive purposes.

As I lie in my bed later tonight, trying to go to sleep while the neighbors shoot off their probably illegal fireworks, I shall try to turn my mind toward the dispelling of malevolent influences and envisioning colorful lights blossoming among the stars.

BOOM! BANG! POW!

What Matters

When I look at the news–the spread of COVID-19, the national and global distribution of vaccine, the violence perpetrated against black and brown bodies, the turmoil at our southern border–I can’t help but return time and time again to Dr. Farmer’s enduring truth.

And no, it isn’t just a matter of saying “all lives matter.” We have to own the fact that our world is currently built on the unsustainable premise that some lives matter less. That is what we have to face up to and work to correct.

That’s all I have for today. I’ll let these children’s faces speak the rest of what needs to be said. Please listen with your heart.

Celebrating Shadow of the Hare

Easter Sunday 2021 turns out to be the publication anniversary of Shadow of the Hare, the second book in my Recall Chronicles series. I’m celebrating by making the book FREE for a limited period. (Click here.)

The series is set in a world where (almost) nobody gets old anymore, and personal memories are conveniently managed by a bizarre collaboration of the pharmaceutical monopoly and the social media giants. But there’s a movement dedicated to bringing down these corporations, a movement known as Recall.

Book one begins with Jenda Swain’s chance encounter with an old woman in a sketchy side-street café, an event that sets Jenda off on a tangled adventure of self-discovery and unanticipated social activism.

The old woman was Malia Poole (the exception to that “nobody gets old” thing) and book two—Shadow of the Hare—is Malia’s story.

Unlike Jenda, Malia is a lifelong dissident, an author and bibliophile in a world where books no longer matter and barely exist. Fearful for her own life, Malia escapes to a sufficiency community called Walden 27, somewhere near Marfa, Texas. But Malia can’t escape herself, and after fifty years of self-exile, she returns to Dallas to pursue the questions that still torment her: What happened during that teenage year that’s totally missing from her memories? Is Lio still alive? What is it that Montagne doesn’t want to tell her? Malia’s quest eventually takes her to India (in the company of Jenda’s daughter-in-law), where the pandemic and the collapse of the world-net catch up with her, and where she finally comes face-to-face with answering the only question that really matters.

Yes, you can read this book without having read book one—but if you HAVE read book one, you’ll enjoy it even more, since many of the characters are the same.

For FIVE DAYS ONLY the Kindle version is FREE! Download it now and celebrate Malia’s pigheaded passion for life and books!

The Burning House

I woke up a couple of days ago dreaming of a burning house. I was inside the house, but I wasn’t trying to get out. I wasn’t even particularly disturbed. I had closed the door to my room, trying to ignore the growing conflagration in the rest of the structure, apparently worried only about the collection of books on my shelves.

My first waking thought was: “My house is burning down with me in it.”

And I knew the dream wasn’t really about a house. It was about me, my aging body, and the fact that there truly is no way to escape. It’s burning down with me in it, and I just ignore it. I close the door and try not to think about it.

The dream may also be about the state of our world. Now that there’s no Donald Trump shenanigans to fixate on and now that COVID-19 is becoming something that is no longer an immediate threat to my life (Yay, vaccine!), I’m seeing more clearly the generally disastrous state of things—the racism and the misogyny and the poverty and the precarious climate and the probability of further pandemics and the belligerent ignorance and all the myriad manifestations of inequality and injustice that cluster on our borders and fester in our cities and towns. Our house is burning down with us in it. And we close the doors and try to pretend it isn’t happening. When some of us shout “fire,” others just look around inside their own rooms and shrug, ignoring the rising heat and all the closed doors.

What to do?

As for my aging body, I intend to pay more attention to exercise and other forms of self-care.

As for the world, I intend to emerge from my COVID isolation and keep saying what I see and what I know and writing stories about it. I may even occasionally shout, “Fire!”

Breakthrough/ Brokenness

For all of us who feel as if a four-year log jam has been broken, releasing the waters of American democracy to flow free once again, there are also those who are experiencing their world closing in on them, as its edges collapse and a sense of betrayal gnaws at their hearts. I find myself wanting to reach out to those people, to tell them that it’s not us, but rather the rigid boundaries they’ve set up around themselves that are the true source of their misery—boundaries of gender roles and racialism and religious absolutism. Over the past four or more years during which they’ve learned to deny anything written by professional journalists or attested to by career civil servants, to believe only what one man on Twitter tells them to believe, their world has shrunk smaller and smaller and now…well, what happens next for them?

The deepest misery of my own life has come in moments of betrayal, when a friend accused me of something that only told me how little they knew my true character or when I finally had to acknowledge that a minister I had admired had indeed done something unthinkable. But each time I have rebuilt my life from the brokenness. And this is what I want to tell my Republican friends: Take a minute. Experience the truth of brokenness. Grieve. And then pick yourselves up, look around and begin to believe that those you have demonized and hated stand ready to help you put the world back together again, to build it back into a world we can all live in together. We will never agree on everything, but can’t we at least stop shouting at one another and begin to listen?

Exercise Your Right To Vote!

Can you see the McCarthy bumper sticker in the background? I couldn’t vote, but this “art” project was my manifesto.

On election day 1968, I had recently turned 20—too young to vote at the time. The voting age was not lowered to 18 until 1971. My vote in 1968 would have gone to Hubert Humphrey, although my preference had been the anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy. I remember my sadness as I watched election returns rolling in on the TV in the common room of my sorority house at Southern Methodist University. Just in case you’ve forgotten—Richard Nixon won in 1968.

I was assistant editor of the SMU student newspaper that year and, with my press credentials, I had attended a Nixon “speech” (read “rally”) inside our campus coliseum at which the chair of our Board of Regents had controversially served not just as host, but head cheerleader. Faculty members wearing buttons favoring the Democratic candidate were barred entry. We published an irate editorial about the matter. We had also editorialized on the need to lower the voting age to 18, arguing that if we were old enough to be drafted to fight a war in Vietnam, we ought to be allowed to vote.

By 1972 I was 24 and a duly registered voter. I backed the losing candidate, George McGovern. In 1976, when the Democrat Jimmy Carter actually won over Gerald Ford, my vote fell into the losing column again as I voted for Independent Eugene McCarthy. The next three elections went Republican, so I lost again. Long story short? Out of a total of twelve opportunities during my voting life, I’ve only voted for the winner of a presidential election four times—twice each for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

I’m hoping against hope to be in the winning column again this year as I cast my vote for Joe Biden. He wasn’t my first choice as candidate, but he is a good man and he will serve us well.

We ALL need to get out and vote this year, whether the “getting out” is depositing a ballot in a mailbox or showing up in person at a polling place on November 3.

Have you checked to verify your voter registration? Have you filled out the appropriate paperwork to vote by mail if you’re entitled to do that in your state? If you’re voting in person, do you know how to find your polling place? Do you know what ID materials (if any) you’ll need to carry with you? Do you know all the candidates and issues?

DO NOT be misled by memes you see on Facebook or Twitter—voting regulations vary by state and you need to make sure you know what the rules are where you live. Only rely on websites that provide official information for YOUR state, YOUR county, YOUR precinct!

Please vote! Please vote wisely and responsibly.

Win or lose, make your vote count!

Verso

What can one girl do? A lot. Your own thing. Listen, World! People on the way up. A certain kind of girl. Anything can happen. A warm person is a happy person. Should you? Why wait? What the hell are we doing here? A dangerous enthusiasm. It works. (…and more)

Experiencing Racism

Somebody on Twitter asked: “Have you ever experienced racism? Tell us your story.”

There are two ways to experience racism: As a victim and as a beneficiary. I have experienced racism as a beneficiary. It’s called “white privilege.”

And the more I observe the victims of racism, the more undeserving I feel of its benefits.

I am no more deserving than my black brothers and sisters of being able to walk (or jog) down the street without being harassed.

I am no more deserving than black Americans to feel only mildly annoyed when a cop pulls me over on the highways or city streets.

I am no more deserving than they are of living in a comfortable home in a “safe” neighborhood.

I am no more deserving than they are of being able to watch birds in a city park without others feeling threatened by my presence.

It’s been said that America will never truly rise to greatness until we undergo the genuine soul-searching and structural realignments demanded by “truth and reconciliation.” This week I’ve seen a lot of people encountering some big truths about America and who we have been (and still are) as a racially divided nation. There’s a lot more to come. And the reconciliation will never come without uncovering all of the shameful truths about our nation’s history and about how I and others like me have benefitted while others suffered.

It’s time.

You might also want to read my previous post, “This is Not a White Country.” Or this broader take on the notion of “Privilege.

1960s Déjà Vu

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside, a sign of distress, next to a burning building Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody Monday, broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight night. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

I got up this morning experiencing a sense of déjà vu that sent me looking for my bound volume of all the campus newspapers from my senior year in college—1969-1970. I was editor-in-chief that year, so there’s a lot of me on those pages, from editorial decisions about what got covered and what went on the front page to editorial statements (many, in retrospect, rather outrageous!) about everything that was going on that year.

There was a lot going on. There was a Moratorium declared in opposition to the Vietnam War. On December 2, 1969, there was the infamous draft lottery. We put out a special issue on the environment in March of 1970. There was also the Texas Pop Festival and skinny dippers in Turtle Creek. But I think what prompted my déjà vu was the memory of our black students’ association (yes, we had one at SMU) and the list of demands they drew up and how meticulously we tried to cover them in the student newspaper. We got criticism for that.

The previous year, in May of 1968, I had submitted a term paper in which I cited numerous political theorists and a few black activists. The paper concluded that white America had long since declared war on black Americans and that black people had every right to fight back, including with violence. I quoted extensively from James Baldwin and even included one citation of Stokely Carmichael’s writings.

There had been repeated riots through the 1960s. We may have thought that the Civil Rights Act and school integration and a few other achievements would fix things. More recently, we may have thought that having a black President would fix things.

Nothing has been fixed. The past decade has seen a vicious resurgence of (never dormant) white supremacy with its constant toxic handmaiden, white privilege. And black people and other people of color have had enough. The current pandemic has revealed the deadly extent of existing economic and healthcare inequalities. The murder of George Floyd forced us to see what we haven’t wanted to see: The heritage of slavery and Jim Crow are with us still.

When people time after time are pushed to the brink, when they ask for and then beg for and then demand change and nothing changes, eventually something explodes.

When it’s a gas fire, you don’t just spray water. You turn off the gas. And until we address the very real structural inequalities that exist within our society, we’re going to keep having explosions. Maybe even some big ones.

 

Scared

 

The population of planet Earth is currently around 7.53 billion humans. The loss of a few million to COVID19 won’t make much of a dent in that. But if one or more of that few million happens to be someone you love or someone who could have made a difference for a whole bunch of other people either through literally saving lives (because they’re a doctor) or through thinking us into a better way of being together (once we’re allowed to be together again), the loss is magnified many times over.

This morning I’m feeling scared.

I’m scared to leave the house because I really, really don’t want to catch this virus. I’m 71 years old and prone to annual bouts of allergies that haven’t been kind to my lungs. If I got COVID19 and had to be hospitalized in the midst of high demand for ventilators, would I be one of the ones shunted aside as too old to qualify? I just found out yesterday that about half of COVID19 patients who are put on ventilators die anyway. I found out today that about 20% of patients exhibit neurological impairment. What if I became too disoriented to call 911?

I’m scared for my son and my daughter and their spouses and my grandchildren and my sister who is older than me and her family and all of my elderly friends who have so much living still to do. I don’t want any of them to get sick. Hell, I don’t want anyone to get sick, but that doesn’t seem to be a realistic aspiration under the circumstances.

I’m scared for our future (and this gets back to the kids and grandkids again). How long will the economic pain last and will we have the courage to change some things that we can now see need to be changed, especially in case anything like this ever happens again? And it will happen again. Viruses are sneaky bastards that only behave in terms of their own survival and propagation. (Don’t be like a virus…)

I try to be positive. Really I do, but I can’t just turn off the news, because not knowing what’s going on makes me even more stressed out and anxious. Or guilty for feeling upbeat when there’s so much disaster out there.

I try to imagine myself in the picture above, high on a mountainside in central Tibet in a snug cabin, all alone by choice, with people bringing me food and drink every few days…

I’m actually in my urban condo. Alone. Not by choice. The traffic on the street has grown quieter. The food delivery people bring me groceries. I’m still reasonably healthy. I have a secure income. I have a place to live and plenty of supplies and conveniences at the ready. I have internet and friends and family and we check in with one another regularly.

But I’m worried. I’m worried about me and about you. And sometimes I’m scared.

 

 

How It Might Have Been Different

“Pursuit of Happiness”

The future was already lost. The only hope was to retrieve their past, reposition it, and hope for the best. They would eventually be known as “Timecrypters”. They knew this, but preferred to call themselves “Travelers”.

The scenario in which they found themselves was occurring in what the carbon-based alpha species of this rather pretty blue-green planet referred to as the year 2015 CE. Travelers tried to make note of these time-posts, as otherwise they were inclined to forget where or when they had been coming from as well as where or when they were going. It was easy to get caught up in scenarios, these convoluted meanderings of present circumstances laden with residues of past occurrences and hints at future possibilities. As noted, these hints had recently faded away into absence.

It should perhaps be confessed that the narrator of this story is also a Traveler, but since Travelers have no native linguistic equivalent of first person pronouns, it is easier for them to relate this story as a third-person tale. Verb tenses are also problematic, but they will have done their best.

The expertise of Travelers – Timecrypters, as you say – lies in their ability to navigate the currents of the time-space continuum by accessing small breaches between eras and universes. And when they say “small” they mean really minutely tiny. So tiny, that they can’t actually move through the breaches themselves, sending instead nano-robots equipped with photonic projectors and holistic transmitters, by means of which they can manifest whatever forms seem spatio-temporally appropriate and then projecting their consciousness into that form. Because they are not just communicating with these forms but rather BECOMING the form, they sometimes forget, as it were, which when they’re in and become more involved than perhaps they should have been in specific scenarios. It is always being a risk of this particular mode of travel.

The prime movers in the scenario related here appeared to be energy and moisture and the changing distribution of these across the blue-green planet’s surface. Ah yes, mundane, mundane. Exactly. The most fundamental facts so often appear mundane to those who exist by means of them. Have you ever tried to explain water to a fish? Don’t bother. They don’t get it. Likewise the alpha species of this blue-green planet, a terrestrial species, didn’t get their own reliance on the time-currents that distributed energy and moisture for their sustenance.

There were more proximate factors in the scenario, namely Mario Verguenza – the wealthiest specimen on the planet in terms of the things the alpha species valued most – and Gandida Raksha, who exemplified their highest ideals of personal beauty and sexual desirability.

The lifeways of the planet at this juncture in the scenario were facilitated by means of energy that was having been mined from below the surface, where is storing over many eons. Of course it all comes first from their star – a rather unremarkable mid-sized star – and was having been being transformed into physical form by an exceptionally efficient and truly admirable process they called photosynthesis (which the alpha species didn’t invent). The photosynthesizers carried much of this fixed energy to their graves, where it was having been stored and was now extracting for use.

Rather than ingesting this stored energy for direct benefit, the creatures of this planet were taken to burning it in various inefficient and wasteful contraptions to produce a wide range of goods that, as far as Travelers could see, had no benefit. They also consumed a lot of it in scurrying as rapidly as possible from one place to another. As a byproduct of these activities, the efficacious balance of energy and moisture transfer essential to their basic life processes was being severely – no, terminally – disrupted.

They didn’t really care about this, even in the fleeting moments when they almost understood. Among those most notable for not caring were Mario Verguenza and Gandida Raksha. They reveled in the reckless accumulation of useless goods and scurried from place to place more than most.

The Travelers were having produced a particularly endearing photonic small canine, which Gandida has quickly adopted and carried with her everywhere. They also produced a specimen of an unobtrusive variety of small brown bird, free to fly about and observe more broadly.

It became obvious to the Travelers that Mario was bent on extracting and incinerating every last ounce of stored energy from the planet. They felt the quivering disruptions in the continuum. They sensed the disappearance of the future.

During the late nights when Mario and Gandida were engaged in non-reproductive sexual activity and early mornings when they slept, the lapdog and the little brown bird convened to compare notes.

“It is palpable,” the little bird said. “These people have consumed their future.”

“Shouldn’t there have been some doing to help?” asked the dog.

“It’s so hard not to get involved,” the bird replied, with a sad, down-drifting twitter.

“If Travelers could have gone back to where this scenario began, to see if it might be tweaked? Just a little bit, understand…” The dog rested its head languidly on a paw and twitched an ear.

And suddenly they were inside a building where huge metal objects with four wheels were assembled. The term “Model T” comes to mind. The Travelers were taken the form of cockroaches skittering about in the corners of the factory, and as they look at the heavy boots of the workmen, they felt the vulnerability of this particular form choice.

“Is this where it started?” one of the cockroaches said.

“Unlikely,” said the other.

The scene shifts again, and they were in a beautifully appointed sitting room. There are chairs of carved mahogany, upholstered in intricate tapestries. Heavy brocade curtains hang at the windows and brass ornaments gleam in the light of a blazing fireplace. A corpulent gentleman sits on one of the chairs, smoking a cigar, while a gentlewoman in rustling silk sipped tea or coffee from a delicate porcelain cup held in a hand sparkling with jeweled golden rings. The Travelers occupy the forms of mice hiding behind the wainscoting.

“Can you feel it?” said one mouse, its whiskers quivering with excitement.

“Yes, it manifested strongly here,” the other replied. “This is where the future begins to disappear. But what is it that was happening?”

They both sit very still for a couple of minutes, training ears and whiskers this way and that to get a better read on the time currents flowing through this scenario.

“It’s the desire, isn’t it?” said one.

The other twitched its nose in agreement. “Even so,” it said at last. “The desire for objects, things, experiences of faraway places. Maybe the desire to feel exalted? Outside this space there is readable a similar desire to have what is in this room. And of course, there can never be enough for that.”

“Is there anything that can have been done about it? You know, to prevent what transpires from here and consumed the future?”

“Maybe it’s just the way they are,” the second mouse suggested. “Maybe they were destined to be a species with no future.”

“You know that’s not the way things work,” the first mouse scolds. “There’s no such thing as destiny. You’re absorbing their way of thinking. Get hold of yourself.”

The second mouse scratched its head with its back foot. “Sorry.”

The first mouse closed its eyes thoughtfully. “What if these ones have never acquired these things? What if they have to rely more on things from their own place? You know, their own resources?”

The second mouse perked up its ears. “Maybe if their temporality had been shifted somehow. Grabbing a piece of the past and repositioning it in such a way as to give them a chance to have emerged in a different way.”

The scene changes once more and they are on a ship at sea. They are no longer mice, but instead rather large and nasty rats, gnawing vigorously at some thick ropes. The ship lurches side to side, backward and forward in a dreadful tempest. The wind howls and waves smack loudly against the timber hull. The ropes the rats have gnawed through give way. A mast cracks and then crashes onto the deck, smashing a hole where water enters. The two rats climb onto a piece of floating debris as the ship disintegrates. And because they are really Travelers and not rats at all, they can read the names inscribed on the disintegrating hull of this ship and two others equally doomed – Niña, Pinta, Santa Maria. Sailors flailing about in the storm-tossed waters, desperately clinging to anything still afloat.

As dawn breaks, broken bits of wood, a few empty barrels, and a couple of corpses bob aimlessly in the calm waters.

On the time horizon, the future glimmers.

(This was originally posted in October of 2015 but I thought it was worth repeating in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day – aka “Columbus Day.” It is a “Tale of the Timecrypters”, a species of time-travelers invented by author Seth Abbot, a character in my recently published novel, NOT KNOWING. It has been lightly edited from the 2015 version.)