Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Top 10 of 2012

My friend Wally Conger used to have a “Top 10 of the Year” list. It wasn’t the Top 10 songs or the Top 10 movies, it was just the 10 top things he encountered each year. Seems like a good idea, so, in no particular order:

Folks, this ain’t normal. Joel Salatin believes the world is turned upside down. People have lost touch with where their food comes from. Government food safety agents are the biggest barrier to safe, locally produced and healthy food. In the quest for a clean and even sterile environment, we’ve made ourselves sick. This remarkable book changed the way I think, and it’ll do the same for you if you dare.

John Carter. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of books 100 years ago that has influenced many many people, a number of whom went on to become scientists and science fiction creators. A century later, this film is one of the best science fiction movies ever made, and the second-best science fiction movie made in the 21st century. Watching it re-ignited my sense of wonder.

Marvel’s The Avengers. Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the best science fiction film made in the 21st century (Serenity), this year wrote and directed the best comic-book movie ever made. Full of character, good humor and of course loud bangs and crashes, this was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in recent memory. (Caveat: I didn't see John Carter in the theater.)

A new home. Red and I have been a team for a decade and a half, and this year our partnership led to construction of a beautiful little house not far from the shores of Green Bay. The project occupied most of the year and is not quite finished, but by August it was finished enough. Love built this home, and I love it.

The Self-Publishing Podcast. This quirky weekly visit with authors Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David W. Wright is irreverant, informative and a heck of a lot of fun. I’ve begun to look forward to their weekly romp through what sometimes seems to be a stream of consciousness but always leaves me knowing a little bit more about writing, innovation, design and moving forward.

Scrivener. The SPP boys kept saying this software is the best tool out there for writers, and they offer a 30-day free trial so I figured, what the heck. By the 15th day I gave in and just bought the thing. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s every bit the great tool they said it is.

The Imaginary Revolution. I lost two of my surrogate mentors this year bookending the creation of my new science-fiction novel. Ray Bradbury showed me how to write and inspired me with his enthusiasm, and when he died I realized I’d been beating around the bush too long. A few days after I completed the novel, Zig Ziglar died, the guy who taught me not to get cooked in the squat. Between the house and the novel, this has been one of the most fulfilling years of creativity I’ve ever experienced. I hope Ray and Zig would be proud.

Men in Black 3. I found the first two MIB films with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones immensely entertaining, but you know, I only ever watched either of them once. They entertained me but didn’t make me care enough to come back. This installment made me want to go back to the beginning and pay closer attention, and I definitely want to see this one again and again.

Nancy. The comic strip that Ernie Bushmiller made famous has always been one of my guilty pleasures. It always was sweet and charming and a little goofy, but Guy Gilchrist has injected something more, by making Aunt Fritzi a music-loving child of the Sixties like, well, me. With the recent re-introduction of her old flame Phil Fumble, it looks like Gilchrist is poised to take the strip to a whole new level.

That’s Why God Made the Radio. The Beach Boys album of new songs marking their 50th anniversary of recording is better than it has any right to be. The harmonies are as crisp and supple as ever, the tunes linger the way their best stuff always has, and the project is a fitting finish if it does, in fact, turn out to be the core group’s last effort together. An endless summer, indeed.

Bubbling under the Top 10:

Christmas with the Annie Moses Band. You have to hear this band.

How to Be Legendary by Johnny B. Truant. Common sense advice about being as great as you can.

Thick As A Brick 2 by Ian Anderson. My first reaction upon hearing about this release was “Oh no!” But on actually hearing it, the reaction was “Oh yes!”

The Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. I asked for it for Christmas based on a brief mention in Folks, this ain’t normal, and after 20 pages I can’t wait to start gardening.

I know I’ll think of a half-dozen other cool things I encountered during 2012, but these are the ones that rose in my consciousness this evening. If the year ahead has half as many treasures as this year offered, it’ll be lovely indeed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thoughts on the end of the world

There’s a blizzard warning where I am. Right now it’s just pretty – a firm but so-far gentle snow blanketing the ground with a layer of white. The wind is blowing hard enough that there are spots where greenish and brown vegetation still shows through. But the people who know about such things insist the layer will be at least a foot deep in a few hours.

Tomorrow the world ends in a blaze of fire, according to some folks who have drawn conclusions based on an ancient civilization’s calendar. As one explanation I saw noted, the world did not end when we got to the end of the 2011 calendar, and so it’s likely that the day after the end of the Mayan calendar, life will go on for most of us. And if there are Mayans left among us, they’ll mark the first day of a new epoch.

Everything and everyone does end, of course, although probably not all at once. I’m approaching the end of my sixth decade here, and I’ve seen my share of confused and frightened people who were absolutely positive that the world was going to end on such and such a date.

Tragically, some of them were right in a way, as they decided to end their own lives on or before that date. It was indeed the end of the world for them. For the rest of us, the world went on.

You do need to wrap your mind around the certainty that your stay on this world is finite. It’s not a bad or a good thing, this dying stuff, it’s just the way it is. Understanding that lends a certain degree of urgency to doing whatever it is you believe it’s important to do.

It’s a source of freedom, actually; if you knew you were going to die soon, how would you choose to live your life? Well, sooner or later you ARE going to die, so why not live that way now? Go ahead and write that novel or build that house or preserve that marsh or do those good deeds you always wanted to get done. Start building your legacy today, and you’ll have that much more time to build a big and solid one.

I’m guessing that the world will not end in a blaze of fire tomorrow, and so later today I’ll head out with the snowblower. My bet is that the snow will not melt in a firestorm in the morning, and I will get to keep working and fulfilling my purpose. And so will you. Someday the world will end for both of us, but probably not today or tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

‘We’ can’t solve this, but we can

When something horrible happens, a clamor arises that "we" should do something to prevent something like it from ever happening again. And so it is with the unspeakable events in Newtown, Conn., where a disturbed individual killed 27 people including 20 young children and then himself.

The horror has been compounded by the decision by too many people to attempt making political points at a time like this. A great many have argued that “we” need new laws restricting non-police access to the kind of weapon used in this crime; a great many others have argued that “we” need new laws to allow schools and teachers to carry weapons to defend themselves.

This is what people have come to mean by “we should do something”: By “we,” they mean the government. By “something,” they mean new laws.

I would like to make the perhaps controversial suggestion that now – with emotions running high – is not the time to be passing new laws. The government has more than enough power, thank you, and “we” have more than enough laws to prevent the law-abiding citizen from committing an atrocity.

Besides, we don’t need new laws. And notice I took the quotations marks off, because now I’m talking about what we can do, as opposed to asking the government to do it for us.

What we need to do is pay attention to some old laws. I mean laws like “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The person whose birth we celebrate at this time of year proclaimed that the most important law of all, and yet we tend to disobey that law on a daily basis.

I mean laws like “Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.” This so-called Golden Rule exists in just about every world religion, I’m told, and yet each day we do unpleasant and even unspeakable things to others that would hurt badly if someone did them to us. Certainly, none of us wishes violence to be done to ourselves or our families, so a decision not to commit aggression against others would be a good first step.

Evil exists among us; it reared its ugly head again Friday in Connecticut. I’m not so naive as to believe that if we simply loved one another, evil would go away.

But we each carry the power to love and to hate within us, the power to reason and the power of violence. I dare say a new law or regulation passed by government will not defeat evil, but an old law observed by each of us could – if we make the decision to interact with love.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Imaginary Revolution is here.

On Dec. 15, 1791, the folks who were in the process of establishing a new government ratified a list of prohibitions intended to prevent that government from violating the innate rights of free individuals. It was a bold experiment.

Today, Dec. 15, 2012, in honor of that bold experiment, I formally introduce The Imaginary Revolution, a novel about individuals and governments and violence and nonviolence.

I’m not so vain as to think this little novel about an Earth colony that throws off its shackles is as important a contribution as that list of 10 statements. No, this is just my contribution to the idea that power flows from the individual to the state, not the reverse.

It is my contention that a loving individual committed to nonviolence wields more power to change a world for the good than any state, any use of force, any expression of hatred or revenge.

All 10 tenets of the Bill of Rights are under attack in 2012. All 10 are routinely ignored by the state, and in fact most efforts by the state to restrain the individual are met with cheers and applause. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to be secure in one’s person, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures – read the list and you will be able to think of circumstances where the state violates these prohibitions every day.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I got words

People are angry. And violence is sweeping the globe.

They couch it in noble language: Arab Spring. Defending the middle class. Protecting our rights. Even defending liberty.

But it’s still plain old senseless violence: Beating someone about the head, or killing them, in the belief that will convince others your cause is right and just.

All too often all that is accomplished is continuing the ancient cycle of violence – an eye for an eye, or replacing one violent tyrannical regime with a new violent tyrannical regime. The success of such revolutions is imaginary and temporary.

Through the years some have tried to show a better way – men like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus of Nazareth – changing the world through civil disobedience, nonviolence, noncooperation. A way that does not meet violence with hatred and more violence.

The novel The Imaginary Revolution, which officially debuts tomorrow, is set on a planet light years away. But I mean to say something about the here and now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

We're all gonna die

I repeat myself – but these thoughts are still relevant, still part of my book Refuse to be Afraid, and relevant to the new book, The Imaginary Revolution. And so I repeat myself:

My eye was caught at the antique store by a thick, well-worn book titled "Modern Medical Counselor." By its condition it was clear the book was anything but modern, and the price ($2) was right, so, figuring it would be an interesting excursion into the past, I brought it home.

What actually caught my attention was the section that I casually opened to, even before I brought the book home: "Survival in Atomic Bombing." The copyright date of the book is 1951, so browsing through this book will be a traipse through an era where communism and nuclear death were our greatest fears.

With the knowledge of what was to happen in the next 60 years, we know the fears were largely unfounded. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still the only cities ever destroyed by atomic bombs. Although the great communist bogeyman reared his ugly head many times over the years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fell apart under the weight of its totalitarian follies and China has decided to try burying us the good old American way, by establishing government-subsidized monopolies.

In other words, the fear that was used as an excuse to impose on our liberties never came true. Communism and nuclear catastrophe did not destroy us.

Today, the fear is of small groups of terrorists (and "rogue nations") with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The fear is that an influenza virus that kills birds will find a way to migrate into humans and cause a pandemic. The fear is that standing too close to a person smoking a cigarette will give you cancer. We can let those fears control us, we can let others use those fears to justify locking us into cages, or we can refuse to be afraid and live our lives as free men and women.

Here is the fear that lurks behind all of these fears: We are afraid to die. We are especially afraid to die before we experience a ripe old age.

Here is the truth: We all will die, some of us "before our time." The real choice we all have: We can live and die as slaves, or we can live and die as free men and women.

Most of our lives we exist in the gray area between freedom and slavery, convincing ourselves that we are making our choices freely: When we hand the chains to our government and our bosses and our creditors, we rationalize that we are making a free decision to enslave ourselves. And it usually is a freely made choice — in the beginning.

Like Jacob Marley's ghost, we accumulate shackles as we progress through life, usually out of fear — fear of poverty, fear of going hungry, fear of not having a reliable car. And the biggest fear of them all is the fear of death.

Accepting that you will die is the beginning of freedom. The title of the song "Live Like You're Dying"  is its message.

These thoughts, especially as I relate them in a political context, could be misconstrued as advocating violent resistance against the slave masters. Nothing could be further from the truth. The revolution I advocate is an internal one:

Refuse to be afraid. Resist the impulse to yield to the fear and let someone strip your liberty in the name of security and protection. Live like you were dying — because you are dying, someday, so better to live free than in chains.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Think you can!

If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Those words attributed to Henry Ford speak to the power of your mind.

Decide that you can do what you’re setting out to do, and it will be like the powers of God and the universe align to help you get it done. Your desire to make it happen will give you the enthusiasm, and your belief that you CAN make it happen will be infectious.

Decide that you can’t do what you’re setting out to do, and you will quit worrying about it. The only risk you take is that for the rest of your life, you’ll have a little bug behind your ear, whispering, making you wonder: Maybe you COULD have done it. But you won’t – because you think you can’t.

So what’s it going to be? Do you think you can? I’m on your side – I think you’re right. I know you can do it.

Just remember your biggest enemy is that little nugget of doubt that wonders if you REALLY can. Keep that little nugget in a cage, or else it will grow. If it grows too much, it can stop you in your tracks.

Because if you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Tiny Dot

"A situation too weird for 99.999% of people to adequately explain."

For anyone who wonders if the principle of noncooperation in The Imaginary Revolution seems too "unrealistic."