Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There's good news tonight

Yes, somewhere someone is dying. Someone is killing people. A fire has destroyed. A great wind has orphaned children. Someone is hungry, even starving. Their stories must be told.

But over there, someone is comforting a stranger. Someone is building. Someone is creating new beauty. A habitat is protected. A windmill is drawing clean, healing water for a community. A meal is being cooked to share. A disease is being cured, even prevented.

It has always been my experience that the impulse to to help a neighbor in need crosses social and political lines. The arguments, the differences, are about how to solve the need. If only the passions of the election season could be harnessed into solving and caring and helping instead of tearing and denigrating and hating.

The person who cries “look out” or pulls a child out of the way of the oncoming truck does so because there is a need. It is not a Republican need or a Democratic need. Need is need, and we all recognize it. We disagree only on solutions.

Tragic that a man who makes his living reporting the news should be weary of news that frightens and alarms and disparages. The analytics show that people are drawn to bad news like moths to a flame. Why is there so much bad news in the news? We tell you these things because time and time again, you read or listen or watch these things with rapt attention and in great numbers.

Still …

“There’s good news tonight …” Who was the popular radio announcer who always led his newscast with that phrase? I want to be him when I grow up. (Google tells me his name was Gabriel Heater.)

When we fail to report something troubling, the outcry is sharper and more accusatory than when we fail to report something good. Yet I can’t help but believe that we provide a great public service when we encourage, not discourage; when we comfort, not terrify; when we shine a spotlight on reasons to hope, not reasons to despair or be appalled.

What’s the good news? Where’s the good news? It’s all around us. Perhaps that’s why the bad news gets so much of the attention: because it’s rare. Odds are overwhelming you won’t be the victim of something awful today or anytime soon.

The bad, the horrible is worth noting, because it presents problems in need of solutions. But darn it all, there’s good news tonight, and we ought to be encouraged as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The dream of the rhinoceros

Oh. A rhinoceros!

Just before waking Sunday morning, I was looking up a long dark staircase with random people sitting listlessly on a stair here or there. The dream was progressing in usual fashion when at the top of the stairs appeared a rhinoceros.

It pawed and looked down at the people. We were filled with alarm. Should we sit still and hope we weren't noticed or, as some contemplated, should we creep up and slam the door? What if that enraged the rhinoceros and it broke through the door and down the steps, trampling all in its path?

While we were contemplating, the rhino lifted its head, turned proudly and charged away, out of sight.

I awoke in the predawn and did some contemplating of my own. I've never dreamed of a rhinoceros before. I looked at the clock. 4:31. The alarm was set; I had thought of getting up at 5:00 on this Sunday morning and butt-kicking my writing career. I could settle back in for a half-hour's sleep or jump up and get to it.

The nap tempted me for a moment, but then I realized I wouldn't be dreaming of rhinos unless it was time to do some hard-charging.

I got up, made coffee, and sat down to write. I finished this little essay at 4:56.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On re-reading ‘The Rocket Man’ by Ray Bradbury

So sad – so beautiful – with a final line that kills.

Sometimes I read a story at random from the short-story collection R is for Rocket, my first exposure to Ray Bradbury, and think, no wonder I was enchanted for life.

No wonder Bernie Taupin and Elton John wrote a song about it – a beautiful, haunting song. So much wonder – no wonder. No wonder why we fell under the spell of the words.

Bradbury is a master weaver, a master magician, who knew instinctively (No! who knew after practicing his craft diligently for years) how to use his words to paint fabulous pictures in our minds.

“Come with me here,” he cries, “and I’ll tell you about a young boy on the cusp of adulthood and his lonely mom and his dad who comes home for a few days every three months and then disappears into the sky …”

P.S. Inside the parentheses is the most important point of this post for those who mean to be creative.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sunset electronica: Manifesto

“You see it now, don’t you?” he said, his eyes burning with the light from the glowing screen, the screen that was not as bright as a moment before and would never be this bright again. “When all the screens are shut off and all the networks are disintegrated, there will be no words in the ether and all of these words will be scattered to the winds. And all that remains will be the words committed to parchment and paper with ink and carbon. Yes, fire can burn the words if you burn long enough, but not as quickly and efficiently as turning off the power. That is why we have kept the printing presses running, why we keep scratching in our journals, every strike of the pen a revolution, every turn of the press a declaration of war against you who would silence the poetry and prose of the ages.

“You can’t shut every mind away from every other mind, not as long as we have words to share across time and space. The heiroglyphics mean something. The cursive represent an era. Those who can unlock the keys of written language are time machines. This pen I hold is a life giver. When the battery is dead, the words to cure the illness will still be on the page. Why the battery has died will not matter, because the words will fight on. Oh, the tyrant may triumph for a few days or years, but the words will be found, the books will sit and wait for the tyrant to die – here, in this quiet and peaceful library.

“Yes, the words will wait, and one day a child will find them and learn to read them and discover that we are all alike, all unique, the lot of us, and our uniqueness is our strength – all alike in desiring to be someone, all unique in a way that no other of us can quite be. The words in the books show us, and the books with their fragile, fluttering pages will outlive the electrons.”

And as he held the book high, he cried, “Hello, Dickens – you look as young as the day is long. Hey, Bradbury, my father, look! I found Charles D in your hair and spilling out of your ears. Did you know when Oliver walked the streets that he was sending Spender to Mars? Have you you seen my Wildflower Man? He walked the fields with Ebeneezer.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Run through the weariness

All jumbled in a pile are all the thoughts of morning and left over from the night, and I pick up the pen and open the spigot and let them flow. Here is the memory of a dream about loveless lovemaking in a strange place – how weird dreams can be. Here are the tasks assigned to later in the day and a vague pledge to start those tasks a little earlier today, so they can be finished while the sun shines.

Here in my reading is the dandelion wine-making scene that so enchanted me and raised my spirits so many years ago, still magic, still pulling a thrill from a heart that is less tired than it pretends.

The fingers rebel – “We can’t keep going like this, we are old and creaky!” – or is it simply the rebellion of muscles long unused, called back to their rightful duty and purpose?

Run through the weariness, say the runners, and you will find the second wind on the other side. And sure enough the ache is forgotten when the rush of words is released in the end.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who is to say when you might need to know?

“Do you know the capital of Portugal?” she asks.

No, and what’s the point? I have no need to know the capital of Portugal.

“Ah, need is such a big word,” she says. 

In the end, you need food and water and a modicum of shelter.

“Need for what? For what purpose?” she asks. “Need to stay alive? Need to accomplish your life’s meaning? Need to be happy? You say you have no need to know the capital of Portugal. But who is to say when you might need to know? Why not simply assimilate the knowledge and be content? Not all learning needs to be immediately practical.”

Ha, ha, there’s that word again, needs. Fine, I’ll look it up.

“With its central location, Lisbon became the capital of the new Portuguese territory in 1255.”

“New” territory? The territory was ancient as the Earth itself. No, this was not new territory, merely newly marked with arbitrary lines with which someone asserted, “This is my jurisdiction, mine, me – the king of the world. Well, yes, for now only the king of Portugal, but tomorrow – on the morrow – tomorrow …”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The boy who was and the boy he wished to be

A boy passed this way, looking and listening and testing the limits of the body he was given, and he found the limits worth stretching. He stooped and examined the soil and the leaves and the teeming life, he ran into the field and looked up and up and up at the sky, and he yelled to hear his voice echo back from the trees at the edge of the field and bounce back from the house not far away. It was all good.

Tucked away with a comic book was another boy, a gawky thing who didn’t keep trying until his arms could pull himself up on the rope, who couldn’t quite get the hang of hitting the little ball with the stick, and so he fiddled with numbers and words instead.

The strong and swift boy envied his friend’s ability to work numbers and craft images with words. The gawky one said, “Yes, but to know the joy of the ball clearing a fence – to catch a touchdown pass, just once …”

Monday, July 20, 2015

The futility and the value of the to-do list

Each day the list: What must be done every day, what must be done today, what could be done today, what should be done someday. Each day the list.

But then the day unfolds. And something else is done, and there’s somewhere else to go, things and places and actions that were not on the list but still needed to be done.

The list is a map, or a plan, or a guide, but life is not a list as much as an unexplored river with twists and turns and surprises and diversions.

Still, we make lists. We need lists to keep us on track or on mission or on point, but the list is “a” list and not comprehensive – no one can make a list that accounts for all of the variables as atoms bounce against each other colliding with purpose and purposelessness and joy and sorrow and beauty and horror and surprise and the expected.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mission statement

One could hardly find a better mission statement than this:

To explore strange new worlds.

To seek out new life and new civilizations.

To boldly go where no one has gone before.

P.S. We're still not sure how she got inside the fenced-in raspberry patch.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Behind the scenes: Our cast of characters

Willow is The Best Dog There Is™ - a sweet, loving animal who understands what makes us happy. She loves to snuggle and stays close when we need her to stay close.

And then there's This One, Dejah, the maniac who runs around the yard and eats things she shouldn't and seems at any moment to dash off somewhere dangerous.

The rebel. The untamed. Her own dog. We love her, too.

- - -

Dejah is the inspiration for the character of Goombah, the narrator of my Myke Phoenix story The Puppy Cried 'Murder.' After calling this dog a goombah, what I thought was an imaginary word meaning "crazy dog," it occurred to me that I should see if it's a real word. 

It turns out to mean "close friend or associate, especially a member of a criminal gang," more precisely an Italian-American criminal gang of the Godfather sort. I guess that also works; she certainly has a lawless streak.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Take up the tools of creation

He sat in his chair, trying to be creative, but the duties of his day job kept pressing against his consciousness. A memo left unfinished - a report left unread - It was difficult to concentrate on creating new worlds when the real world kept calling.

The doubt birds kept calling: "You can't - you shouldn't - no time for that - no talent - no discipline - you can't - you can't you can't you can't."

"No," he said, not sure he believed himself. "I can."

"You can't," chattered the doubt birds.

"I'm going to," he insisted.

"You'll regret it," said the doubt birds.

"Try and stop me," said he.

They swarmed. He screamed. All was quiet.

And the words appeared, one by one, slowly at first and then all in a rush, over the blank pages.

"It's crap," said the doubt birds.

"Of course it is," he said, "but it will get better - and I invented the doubt birds this morning, didn't I?"

- - -

Sit down to create. Put the tools of creation in your hands. Move your hands. Something will be created. If you're just starting, it may not be much. 

But it will be something, and something is better than nothing. A feeble effort is better than no effort.

Do it again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the many days after that. With practice the creations will be better, and at some point, as you keep it up, they will become so good you can say, "This is the creation I imagined - this is what I dreamed of."

"It's crap," the doubt birds will surely say. But it's not wasting away inside you anymore.

Sit down to create. Take up the tools of creation. Move your hands. See what happens? It's a creation.

"I made this!" you cry in astonishment. Yes, you did. Yes, you can. 

Is it good enough? Well, Theodore Sturgeon famously once said 90 percent of everything is crap (well, he said "crud," but he meant something more colorful than "crap") - but the corollary of that is that 10 percent is pretty good. You can't create that 10 percent by worrying about the 90 percent.

And maybe you can fix some of that 90 percent through repair and revision - at least 10 percent of it ...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Independence Day

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Triumph over the squirrels or succumb to the cacophony

The images flashed at him, too many images, too many words, all at once, too many sounds, too many too many too many, his mind screamed, and the scream was another sound to go with the too many others.
“Stop!” and he suddenly realized he had said it out loud.
“Stop what?” she asked.
“There’s too much coming at me at once,” he said, reaching for his cellphone. “I guess I just can’t process it all.”
“You can start by setting that cellphone down, don’t you think?” she said.
He laughed and set it down. “You got that right.”
“I always do,” she smiled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Turn the page. Start anew. Here's another month. Clear the slate.

Turn the page. Start anew. Here’s another month. Clear the slate.
Be not bedeviled by what came before. Make a new path. This time, knowing what you know now, no false steps, no wrong turns, no driving for miles in the wrong direction – this time, just straight and true to the destination.
And then, having secured what you needed, you can continue the quest. Reaching this goal will be a triumph, but a person needs new goals. “I will be happy when I have this.” Yes, for a moment. And then you will realize you need a new quest.
For the joy is not wholly in completing the quest – it is in the questing itself. It is in the having a quest. We are a questing species. We are questers.
Each quest is another step in The Great Quest, the reason for being. When all of the quests are added up, others will make a final accounting. We will be measured by how many we helped, and how much better the world is that we passed this way.
But it’s not a competition. We do all that we are able and will not be measured against other men and women but rather against what we could have been. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
But the time of accounting is not today. And so for now, turn the page and do your best.