Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Internet Is Down

Hey, everybody.

My internet, cable, phone, etc. is down.

I have no cell phone.

The missus is in Florida.

None of my regular support team is pulling their usual hours, due to the holidays.

I will live, but I am contemplating the brute fact of December, and that I have never heard the phrase, "Warm and lonely."

That will be all.

See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

At The Eden

At The Eden

By Sean Craven
For Rob Pierce

Let me tell you how it started. God created the Eden, and it was nice – kind of seventies style, lots of orange vinyl and amber plastic panels. And then God created His first customer, Adam.

“Hey,” God said. “How you doing?”

“A little tired,” Adam said. “Ah, I’m okay. Can I have an appletini?”

God pulled at His beard, and said. “An appletini? You sure?” God said it in a way that made Adam feel as if he’d been called a dirty name.

“Fuck it,” Adam said. “Make it a beer. And a shot. Tequila. No, bourbon. Make it bourbon.”

God pulled the beer and poured the shot while Adam stretched and rubbed his eyes and shook his head, and that’s how Adam missed the part where God put an eyedropper full of something extra in the shot.

A few hours later, Adam woke up in a tub full of ice water in a hotel room; his side hurt like hell and there was a glimmering centipede of surgical staples running across the base of his ribcage. And at the bottom of his torso, where previously he’d seen only the plaid lap of his pants, there was a snake.

“Let’s get out of here, man,” the snake said, so Adam got dressed, opened the door to the empty hallway, went looking for an elevator and eventually found his way back to the Eden. God was still behind the bar, and there was someone else, sitting in one of the booths.

Her pantsuit was a bright, solid purple, and looked as though she’d been screwed into it by a third party. The blonde curls of her hair were a lopsided mass of confusion, and her pale, loose-fleshed face looked stunned. The jacket of her pantsuit and the position of her arms on the bar made it impossible to guess at the conformation of her breasts, but her hips and behind settled onto the padded bench, slack mass too broad to sit comfortably on a stool. The drink in front of her was blue and had dry-ice fog boiling out of it; the process of creation had advanced while Adam had been gone. The drink made Adam think of the appletine he’d tried to order earlier, and now he understood what God had been implying. This was the dirty name God had called him.

That fucker, Adam thought to himself.

“Well, well, well,” the snake said, and Adam’s incision felt as though someone had twisted it. He put his hand to his side, and walked to the bar. “Hey,” the snake said, and through some horrid trick, he spoke with Adam’s voice, and used a motion of Adam’s head to catch God’s eye. This had never happened before, but many children of Adam have since felt the snake speak through their mouths at one time or another. When God came over, wiping His hands on a bar towel, the snake said, “So, uh, is…”

“She’s alone,” God said. “Name’s Eve. So what you want? Same as last time?”

The snake shook Adam’s head, and said “I’ll have what she’s having,” and when God gave Adam a look the snake looked right back at him, then turned and walked over to Eve’s booth. “Hey,” the snake said.

Hey, Adam thought, but it didn’t come out of his mouth. He was addressing the snake, but the snake ignored him.

Eve looked up, blinking, and pulled back. She pulled a strand of hair from where it was stuck against her mouth, a red mark against the pale yellow. “Excuse me?” Eve said.

“I haven’t seen you around,” the snake said with Adam’s mouth. “You’re new here, right?”

Hey, Adam said, but nobody cared except God, who thought, Oh, for Christ’s sake.

“I don’t think I know you,” Eve said, and the snake slid Adam’s butt onto the bench opposite Eve.

Adam was starting to get mad at her. She wasn’t that good-looking anyway. Adam didn’t know what was going through the snake’s head, and he didn’t want to find out.

“I’m sorry,” the snake said, and used the same little head motions he’d used on God until Eve looked at Adam’s face. “I was hoping you could use some company. There’s not a lot going on. But if I’m bugging you…”

Eve straightened her jacket. For a second, the snake was distracted – Eve’s breasts were small, but they were nicely rounded, cute little hemispheres – and Adam started go get up from the table.

“Don’t go,” Eve said, and the snake settled Adam back into place. Eve looked right at Adam’s face while she talked to the snake. “I think you were right. Maybe I could use a little company.”

That was when God came up with Adam’s drink, blue and fuming. “Here you go,” God said. “Sir.

The sneer didn’t make any difference to the snake, but it hurt Adam’s pride. Nobody was on Adam’s side.

When God went back behind the bar, He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My image and likeness, He thought, and popped His towel. My image and likeness. Trying to kill time, He picked over the drink garnishes, the little onions and maraschino cherries, wondering what it would be like to have so many people in the world that every onion might be put into a Gibson.

God shuddered. All the sticky little fingers. Maybe it wasn’t too early for a drink.

“Hey,” the snake shouted with Adam’s mouth, and God flinched.

God turned and walked to the booth. “Yes?” God said, and leaned over the table while revealing His teeth. “You need something?”

“Yeah,” the snake said with Adam’s mouth. “Two appletinis.”

When Adam saw the look on God’s face, he was angry and hurt and he wanted more than anything else to tell God that he was only drinking this stuff for the opposite reason of being a woman, except that it was the snake drinking, not him. Adam’s brain was squirming like a mass of snakes, and Eve didn’t care about that at all. Nobody cared about Adam.

As God walked away, the snake turned back to Eve.

“I don’t know,” Eve said, “It’s just that everything is beautiful, you know? It’s all beautiful. It’s like there are atoms and everything is made out of atoms, and what the atoms are made out of is beautiful.” She stroked the orange vinyl bench.

“Do you know what’s beautiful?” the snake said. Adam cringed, and thought, oh, for Christ’s sake. “You’re beautiful,” the snake said. “Those atoms must be made out of you.”

“Hey,” God said, and set a tray down on the table, and placed the green triangles of their appletinis in front of Adam and Eve and the snake. “Listen, I think you two have had plenty. This is your last, okay?”

After wandering around for a while, Adam and Eve settled down at a bus stop to wait for their real lives to begin. Eve twisted the fabric of her pants, marveling at the purple. “What was I thinking?” Eve asked.

“What?” Adam asked, and looked up, startled. What was he supposed to do with this woman?

“I look horrible,” Eve said.

Adam kept his mouth shut. Where was the snake? He was supposed to deal with this stuff. Eve looked at Adam. “Those pants are horrible. Those pants are the worst thing in the world. They’re made out of ugly,” Eve said.

“What’s wrong with plaid?” Adam asked. Eve thought, oh, for Christ’s sake, but as Adam spoke, the sour taste of an appletini belch crept into his mouth from the back of his tongue, and he knew –

-- he knew, he knew, he knew --

he knew what was wrong with plaid.

And back behind the bar at the Eden, God put his towel down, got out a glass, and poured Himself a drink. And I don’t know what He had, but if you find out, tell me, and I’ll buy a bottle and drink your health.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thinking About Guns And Violence

I'm probably making a mistake here, but there are some things in the current discussion of guns and violence that need to be said. And in saying them, I am going to be taking a tone of authority and superiority that you may well find intolerable. I will say things about myself that you may find unpalatable or difficult to believe. And due to my desire to speak as precisely as possible, I will be using the word 'pussy' in a semi-pejorative sense. If my support of one odious facet of the patriarchy in the attempt to undermine others offends you, I apologize and will regret the loss of your good opinion. I will not be making any specific references to any specific tragedy, as I find the sight of people working themselves into a lather over other's suffering to be unsavory. As the man screamed, a cheap holiday in other people's misery...

But there are some basic facts about human nature that aren't being discussed. And I can't work or sleep for thinking about them. So here they are.

First off. Have you ever watched any game shows or court television, or paid attention to people in public? Competence is not evenly distributed among people, and it is not distributed in a smooth bell curve. It clusters. And the biggest bulge...

I'm probably not talking about you, or your friends. Bright, capable people associate with one another, and get this illusion that people in general are thoughtful, engaged, aware. But the people in the biggest bulge are a little dumb, a little inept, and a little selfish. These days I tend to see them as sweet and necessary rather than horrid and inevitable -- therapy works -- but your typical person uses the vaunted human intelligence purely to process culture and keep track of their car keys. They don't think clearly, they aren't really that aware of the world around them, and they think most of their actions are basically virtuous because they are good people. There is nothing wrong with them. But really. Do you want to put guns in their hands?

I did not say 'do you want to arm them?' To arm someone is to give them a tool they can use. And now I probably am talking to you. The chances are that you are not a violent person. There are only two kinds of people who can function effectively in violent situations. The trained -- and I don't mean they went to the fucking dojo or the fucking firing range, I mean military or police training -- and the traumatized.

That's it. If you aren't trained or damaged to the point of mental illness, you are a pussy. And that is a wonderful thing. In the words of a very wise friend of mine, "So what if I'm a pussy? Pussies are nice. People like pussies."

There is a myth making the rounds that you either are or are not a Brave Person, and when the crunch comes you find out whether or not you have the goods. Most people assume they have the goods, because we have a dopey cultural myth that good people are brave.

Brave they may be, but calmly functional? No way. You have either be trained to deal with dangerous situations, or you have to have survived a number of them in spite of your incompetence in order to face them with poise. It is that simple. There is no rising to the test -- the first few times you're tested, you fail.

That is how it is. So if you haven't been in a physical conflict, you're going to lose if you fight.

That is how it is.

And a gun will not change that.

You do not arm a pussy by giving them a gun. That just makes them Special Pussy! Now With Free Gun! If you don't believe me, look at the numbers. If you have a gun, you are four or five times as likely to be shot as someone who doesn't have a gun. Part of that is situational, but part of that comes down to the fact that most people belong in a petting zoo, and by carrying a gun they upped the ante of what could have been a beating.

And for the record, it is obvious that most gun enthusiasm in America is misplaced dick worship and fetishized fantasies of potency. If you want to argue that with me, let's sit down together and leaf through a stack of gun magazines and a Tom of Finland anthology and I'll lay a little art theory on you, and by the time we're done those advertisements will make you blush. Most gun purchasers are buying dick.

I am not talking about people who use guns as tools. I make fun of pickups that don't have dents in the bed, and instruments that hang on walls, and guns that untrained people keep around the house for 'protection' i.e. ready access by children and drunken alter-egos. If you know what you are doing, and do it well, I am not talking about you. If you are a sport shooter who keeps his guns safe, I am not talking about you.

I am talking about Special Pussy, Now With Free Gun. And that is the big bulge in gun ownership. That is your standard issue regular daily use gun owner. They aren't fit to make their own decisions, and the fewer of them have guns, the fewer shootings there will be.

If you care. I"m not sure how much I do -- perhaps the spirit of liberty represented by American gun ownership is worth the toll in human suffering. I'd like to see a good study on how that balance is working out.

The people who respond to a shooting by bitching about gun control and buying out the stock at Walmart are too dumb to know they are dumb, and selfish, and that they are pussies. Me? I think they should be deprived of a little choice.

Let me tell you about not being a pussy.

I always have four or five minor cuts or scrapes healing at any given time, and yesterday I sat in the cold until my toenails turned blue because physical discomfort does not motivate me. That's why I'm not scared of fights, which is why I don't get into them. When there is a chance that I might be injured, I feel at ease and even cheerful.

People kind of hate to see that. It makes them nervous. And intimidating people is tremendously pleasurable. It is possible to get addicted to that kind of pleasure. People who intimidate others for entertainment are terrible people. And when I get nervous in social situations, a lot of times a little tough guy juice will leak out of me, and I will feel like a terrible person. I'm getting past that. A lot of people in my life would be shocked to think of me as a violent person. And I really need to get over the need to correct them. To get over feeling shame at being thought a pussy.

If I act like a pussy long enough, it might take. It worked that way with being polite.

Being a pussy is good, and proper, and normal, and healthy, and it is to be embraced and celebrated, not disguised with a ridiculous, dangerous toy. While I sneer at people who 'belong in a petting zoo,' I'm mentally ill and an asshole on top of it. Society is supposed to be a petting zoo.

So we need to celebrate the importance of the lambs and goats and Galapagos tortoises. The personal qualities that make me resemble a pulp action hero would kill me if I didn't treat them as symptoms of a disease rather than a badge of honor. The amount of therapy that Doc Savage and Spiderman would need boggles the mind.

That brings us to the subject of mental illness.

Most mentally ill people are targets for violence. The mentally ill, as a population, are less violent than 'normal' people. But the section of society that causes the majority of the violence consists of men with PTSD, bipolar syndrome, OCD, and other things with which I've been diagnosed. These conditions are, for most people most of the time, stress induced.

You make people violent by treating them unkindly and teaching them that violence is a social tool.

Now, I have been diagnosed with a number of conditions predisposing me to violence, and whenever I've spoken to a shrink, I've made a point of mentioning my obsessions with violence, which include elaborate plans for mass murders. Those who have had the misfortune to be in conversation with me when my fear of crowds hits have told me it is disturbing to hear the way I speak of people as subjects for extermination, so I've eased up a bit on the public manifestations.

I am very much the kind of person who actually should be monitored. And I am not. I have touched the system, and I have told them this, and they do not care.

It is that simple. No-one is being monitored, basically.

So I take responsibility for myself, and it's working just fine, thanks. I will not be killing myself or others, and I am growing more stable on a daily basis. But there was a very long time where I represented a real danger to both myself and the general public, and nobody was there to help me. People like me have trouble dealing with systems and organizations and to expect us to go through the process when sitting in a waiting room or filling out a form represents real trauma?

Hey, I'm crazy, but that's nuts.

I have been able to refrain from suicide and violence against others for one reason. I care about people's feelings. While I can look at a crowd and feel a primal compulsion to see it turned to a smear of wet red screams, when I pause and reflect on a single individual's sorrow, it disarms me. Every time someone gives a shit, I take it and use it to build on the feelings of warmth for mankind I'm working to engender.

That is because people have been kind to me, and that kindness has given me a stake in humanity.

So if you want to keep people from killing? Being fucking nice to them actually is more effective than taking their guns away. Gun nuts, you are allowed to quote me on that.

(But as a suicide specialist, I'm calling bullshit on the notion that the massive wad of gun suicides in America would be replace by other forms of self-extinction if we instituted gun control. The 'impulse' part of 'suicidal impulses' is significant here. Impulses pass. Anything that makes it more convenient and time-efficient to kill yourself will increase the absolute numbers of suicides. It is that simple.)

And now it's four in the morning. And maybe now that I've unloaded my thoughts, I can now go to bed and imagine myself resting on the shores of the Sea of Dreams, rather than arguing with imaginary people at the top of my mental lungs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Good Fortune, Bad Attitude

I have been struggling with this post for so long that it's been overwhelmed a couple of times. I'm finding it very difficult to articulate my thoughts about myself these days. On one hand, this time of year is always an emotional minefield for me. I've been coping well, but coping isn't the same thing as not feeling like shit. I've had a horrible attitude, and my compulsion to view life, mankind, and the world in the worst possible light has been a tremendous pain in the ass. That I've had to do my first real marketing while possessed by the desire to pick a fight with you, the cops, and the laws of physics has presented me with a series of temptations and frustrations and strangled impulses. In the future, I'll arrange to have a service record me during the summer and then play me back whenever I'm releasing something.

Despite this, things have been going so well even I can't put an ugly face on things.

To start off. I've begun working on my next novel, tentatively titled A Home for Henry. It will be a sequel to Helping Henry (which is now available on all major ebook platforms, go on and click), and will be presented by December House. Helping Henry came as a surprise to me, and it has the rough edges of an experiment. A Home for Henry will be in some ways a more conventional work... but then, I keep saying that, and the stuff I write just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

And I've shaken hands on a solo show at a lovely little gallery called Aunt Dofe's in Montana. As with the novel, there's many a slip, but things are currently looking very good. The curator is a friend of the oft-mentioned Deborah, and she slipped him a copy of Swill, and everything fell into place. I am now considering the options for converting my image files into tangible artworks, and budget is an issue. Cheapness counts. Any thoughts on this subject are welcome.

And I have a student! One of my colleagues has decided to consult with me on a professional basis, and  I'm finding myself in the position of providing the kind of deep instruction that goes past what my student could get from conventional sources. There's a reason why teaching is part of the artist's life cycle, and having to figure out one's techniques well enough to communicate them represents a whole new level of education for me.

It feels as though I've been through some sort of graduation or leveling-up process. I may not have any money coming my way in the foreseeable future, but this is definitely starting to look and feel like a career.

I'm feeling overwhelmed to a degree, and shocked by the rapidity with which everything has started to congeal. My overnight success is still a ways off, but I'm laying some very promising groundwork. One of my ambitions in the arts was to develop my talent to the point where it was capable of forcing me into engagement with the world regardless of my moods and attitudes; I've officially passed that mark. Hell, I was even recognized in public recently by someone who'd seen me read. I am actually out there working in the arts, and I am recognized as the real deal by people who know.

So it's been hard for me to walk around bitching all the time. But I've been giving it my best shot.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Molding the Plastic Self

So, let's get the plug out of the way. My romantic-comedy-science-fiction serial Helping Henry is currently appearing at the Flash Fiction Fest website, along with short fiction by P.T. Dilloway, and Neil Vogler, who started the whole thing.  After November, all the stories from Flash Fiction fest will be compiled with additional material -- three new stories each from Pat and Neil, and two new chapters of Helping Henry along with five thousand words on the science and thought behind Henry from me. Every week two copies of the final collection will be given away to commenters at Flash Fiction Fest. So go read some stories, and leave some comments -- the more comments, the better your odds.


So the last time I talked about my current state, I mentioned my realization that habits are actual structures in the brain with motivations of their own, and that I had never developed any ability to act on behalf of my future self.

Here's how I've been acting on those insights.

First, I've been paying a different kind of attention to my moods. Recognizing that my catastrophic mood swings are due to a specific emotional habit has allowed me to isolate that pattern. Here is where I find techniques of ritual and meditation learned during my study of occult and mystical traditions proves useful.

Let me reiterate. I do not believe in supernatural influences -- but while I went through my slow period of rejecting those concepts in favor of scientific materialism, I still find meditation and ritual very useful.

Personification and anthropomorphization are basic concepts in operating from a magical state of mind. By assuming that whatever you deal with has a personality, and relates to basic human needs, you have a basis for addressing and negotiating with it.

If you apply this kind of thinking to some problems, like driving, the results are disastrous. But when dealing with internal forces, they can serve as a means of relating to oneself in a functional and intuitive fashion.

So I have been addressing the mood swing or whatever you want to call it, that circuit linking rage, fear, and grief that has been the main source of suffering in my life since childhood, and I've been regarding it as something distinct from my essential self. I've been talking to it, listening to it, negotiating with it.

When I incorporated images of brain cell growth and synaptic connection with the metaphor of programming, I understood why my attempts to confront these emotions had only strengthened them. A distant, caring but somewhat scornful attitude has started to take root, and as a result, I've had the easiest fall I can remember. By stepping back from my desire to work things into a huge emotional maelstrom, I've been able to keep cool -- the one real upset I've had with the missus was settles in less than an hour, and both of us felt responsible for it, rather than seeing it as something the other person was doing.

That ball of emotional turmoil, that cauldron of rage I've relied on to power me through life, is cooling.

And as for learning to care for the future self.

This is actually a much more difficult task, but as I mention in the latest Henry story, impossibly complicated tasks are actually the easiest because they offer you lots of options for action -- all you have to do is start taking them.

Slovenliness has always been one of my sins. My workspace has traditionally been not simply messy, but filthy. It has been well over a decade since my studio was entirely ship-shape, and the last time I cleaned seriously I found pine needles under a window that had been there so long they had decayed to humus. The pine tree's been gone for years. This is one of those areas of my life where things get so bad they take on a grandeur at complete odds with their essential nature.

And I know damned well that a properly arranged workspace gets more work out of me. Simple as that. I was talking this over with the hon. Richard Talleywhacker, and he said, "Yeah, it's going to freak you out and you're going to try and clean the whole thing and you're going to blow your back out again."

Ouch. Too true.

This was my opportunity for taking my first step in the development of learning to care for future Sean. Present Sean wants a clean room, is willing to work for it, but is not willing to work unless he personally sees the results.

So I started cleaning for twenty minutes each morning before I begin work. And it's not just that I have to do at least twenty minutes worth of work. It's that I have to stop after those twenty minutes. Future Sean will be able to do his twenty minutes if I take care of Future Sean's back.

And if I do this every day, sooner or later I'll be looking for things to do.

So every day the studio  looks a little nicer, and I remind myself it's something I'm doing for myself. And sooner or later, the twenty minutes will encompass fun tasks like taking care of the musical instruments and arranging my bookshelves. The eventual goal is to turn my studio into a real media machine.

And it's not going to happen any time soon. What's important is putting in that twenty minutes a day, appreciating what I did the day before, and learning to develop a benevolent relationship with the man who's going to have to live my life tomorrow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sexy Sexual Sex And Meat Bikes

So these Henry notes seem to be going over well with brainy science types. It's funny. I'm always insecure about this kind of stuff, but there's a hell of a lot of leeway allowed when you use science in fiction. As a scientific thinker I may not have much depth, but sometimes breadth can be fun.

(I am now going to go downstairs, drill a hole in my skull, hold the tip of an unbent coat hanger over the stove until it is red-hot, then sear out the part of my brain which holds the phrase, "that's what she said.")

Anyway, click here to read all the Henry stories so far. If you leave a comment, you might win a copy of the finished version, including two new stories and the compiled and revised notes, along with the full run of stories by P.T. Dilloway and Neil Vogler! The more comments, the better your chances.

The science in this sequence with Morrie, which will play out over a few episodes, is the iffiest. It’s a subject I don’t know much about, and I didn’t have a chance to do much research. But it does play off a real-world analog of an oddball science-fiction motif, that of the modular life form.

I recall an episode of the animated Star Trek, and a Retief novel by Keith Laumer that dealt with the idea, and there was an issue of the terrific adventure comic The World Below by Paul Chadwick and Ron Randall. I may have run across it elsewhere. The notion is that there are animals like Legos, whose body parts are symbiotic organisms that can be assembled and disassembled.

Some sea slugs are able to take the nematocysts – the stingers – from jellyfish and sea anemones they eat, and incorporate them into their bodies. And some jellies, like the Portuguese man o’ war, are actually colonial organisms, made up of semi-independent bodies called zooids

Often, ecologically damaged areas of the ocean will become overpopulated with jellyfish. So the idea of targeting jellyfish was a natural.

For the record, this is the third sex scene I’ve written, and the first two involved monsters. But this time around, I tried a really challenging approach – I treated sex as something nice that grownups do together.

During the brief period of time when I made an effort to keep current with paleontology, there was a persistent rumor of a paper that would discuss the discovery of a feathered Tyrannosaurus rex. The rumor specified a yard-long feather…

That paper never surfaced, so far as I know, but the evidence for feathers in tyrannosaurs has mounted. Let’s put it this way. Right now the evidence for feathered tyrannosaurs is about as good as the evidence for hairy cavemen. Somewhere, at some point, there almost certainly was some fuzz.

And as for Klubok, the Thing That Ate Hercules. Hercules was a quiet little East Bay town where they made explosives, and when I was a kid, you could find lumps of sulfur on the beach at Point Pinole. It’s a nice recreational area, and I think it could only be enhanced by a giant monster skeleton.

See, this is the kind of thing that really points out how sloppy I am in these stories. Does the meat bike have a case full of giblets into which you pour syrup? Does it have a dialysis machine? A colostomy bag?

I’ll tell you what, Morrie’s not going to want to ride that thing to school.

Now, my idyllic solution to the issue of meat is to reduce the human population to the point where the environment is actually capable of sustaining us for an indefinite period of time, and then have people hunt for their food as needed. Hey, reducing the population is easy – all you have to do is give women free access to education and opportunities

But that isn’t everyone’s idea of heaven. The idea of cultured meat is making some very interesting inroads, and I suspect it falls into the ‘when, not if,’ category

Monday, November 19, 2012

Henry Hash

So, Henry's gotten some exposure over the last few days. To begin with...

Win Helping Henry!

If you go to the Flash Fiction Fest website, and leave a comment on any story there, you will be in the running for one of two free copies of We Are Now, which will include stories by Neil Vogler and P.T. Dilloway. These will be in addition to the full text of Helping Henry, including two new chapters and the complete background notes.

Biology In Science Fiction Approves Of Henry!

Peggy Kolm at the Biology in Science Fiction website has said nice things about my work in the past, and she's definitely part of the target audience for the Henry stories. So it was a real pleasure to see that she's enjoying the stories. Here's what she had to say. Between this and the very nice response I got at the reading on Saturday, I'm feeling confident again.

And today's episode of Helping Henry is...

Oh, boy. Every so often I say or do something that confirms the damnation of my eternal soul, and this story is one of 'em. It is just so wrong.

I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’ll bet that a lot of the time ‘good kisser’ is actually a cover for ‘smells chemically compatible.’

And yes, the dog is a filthy animal, but that isn’t a mark against dogs. It’s a mark in their favor. Exposure to filth from dogs, yes, including germs they get in their mouths by licking their butts, helps children build a healthy, appropriately reactive immune system. I’m not making this stuff up, you know.

And read about the thoughts behind the stories in:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mean Fish And Designer Dog-Breath

Not only did the crows find a spot in the tree where they can see me when I'm working, they pulled twigs off of a bunch of branches to make perches. They'll sit out there and holler at me until I come out and play Paper Moon and Sloop John B on the baritone ukulele. There's one big old bird with a wound or growth on one side, and a pair of younger ones (pictured above), who act as though they're totally in love. But sometimes other crows will show up, and the hummingbird who owns the lemon tree seems to be taking an interest as well.

On Friday night, I read two Henry stories at Diesel Books in Oakland. I'd been getting the fraudulent paranoias, so it was very nice to have a group of ambitious, informed readers respond positively to the work. I was even approached by an editor... As I wrote to my publisher afterward, usually genre people think I write literature and literary people think I write genre, but people on both sides of the divide are willing to accept the Henry stories for their home team; here are all the Henry stories currently available.

So I am briefly, tentatively, encouraged. Now, on to the psuedoscience!

This story is my salute to Henry Kuttner’s Gallagher stories, which concern a guy who’s a mad scientist when he’s drunk. Fun stuff, and it falls into that segment of science fiction that I mentally characterize as… Well, I imagine someone giving me a hard time about reading that crap, and I imagine myself saying, “You read stories by O. Henry and Damon Runyon, and this operates on exactly that level. Exactly.”

In order to explain the origin of this story, I have to make an ugly confession. I do not love both of our dogs to the same degree, or in the same way. And when I realized that I was letting one dog lick my face a lot more than the other dog, I knew it was because one had a tongue that smelled like red meat and the other had a tongue that smelled like seafood.

And once I made that connection, I remembered all those promises of bacteriophage mouthwash, where a quick swish with a culture of bacteria-eating viruses would end all need for brushing and flossing. 

(For the record, that shit is about massaging your gums as much as anything else, so if that stuff hits the market and people stop flossing, there will be a buttload of oral surgeons buying boats.)

Here in the Bay Area, we got good bread. I will not defend our pizza or our barbecue (although I do like Bo McSwine’s way with a brisket), but goddamnit, we have good bread. And a lot of it is credited to the local mix of microorganisms that grow in the sourdough starter. Different bacterial cultures give different cultured milk, yogurts, and cheeses their different flavors.

If you scrape your tongue with your nail and sniff the residue, it has a distinctly foul odor as a result of bacterial activity. Unless you’re excreting something from your lungs, that’s where bad breath comes from. Henry just chose to deal with the problem directly. And you should be glad that I didn’t have another two pages for this story, because I would have included a catalog of heritage dog-breath cultures.

For about twenty years now, my father and I have made a habit of hiking once a week. Quite some time ago, we were hiking out around Briones reservoir. We go there rarely because it’s a challenging trail (the first time we went out, we got sassed by a granny for not bringing water, and we were too weak from dehydration to beat her up and take hers), but when we do, we usually see something spectacular in the way of wildlife. The great horned owl, the six-foot catfish, and the three-foot turtle were all spotted on the same trip. And I didn’t throw this detail into the story, but the catfish looked to be an albino. This is an example of how life can get away with things that look cheesy as shit if you make them up. I mean, really. It’s a giant catfish, and it’s an albino. Who sucks blood and knows kung-fu!

We never found out what the story was with the turtle and the catfish. The idea that they might have been released by Buddhists is drawn from one of the most depressing sights you find along the Berkeley waterfront. From time to time someone seeking to enhance their spiritual merit will purchase a turtle from one of the seafood stores that carries a variety of live animals, and then release it into the bay.

The problem? The turtles are freshwater animals. You can see the released animals in certain inlets, and they are rotting alive, divots taken out of their shells and flippers fringed by decay, because the bay is saltwater,.

I can respect animal sacrifice if it is done with the same degree of care as butchering or hunting and the body is used as food. Being a guest at a Voodoo wedding convinced me that if the chicken is delicious, who cares what they were chanting when the throat was cut? And a lively, active bird fit for sacrifice is an animal that’s had a decent life. But this ignorant irresponsibility, while reflecting well on the good intentions of the individuals responsible, really gets to me. The idea that people think they’re being kind to those poor fucking turtles.

Get Nasty
(Get Nasty will be published in the collected edition of We Are Here.)

The real Nasty was owned by my dad’s (and my) friend Dan Moody, who’s a subject in his own right. The last time I saw the man, he was driving a gasoline-powered tricycle with a beer keg for a tank, and that’s probably the least interesting thing I could say about him…

Anyway, when I started this story, I had a whole little back-bit in mind about Nasty’s background. The cichlids of Africa’s Lake Victoria were one of those lovely evolutionary just-so stories, like Darwin’s finches, a diverse array of highly specialized species that, incidentally, were gorgeous. Then, after the usual encroachment had done its damage, some lunatics introduced Nile perch into Lake Victoria, and that pretty much ended that little paradise

But it turned out red devil cichlids aren’t from Lake Victoria in Africa, they’re from Lake Nicaragua in Central America. I’ve been fascinated with Lake Nicaragua since childhood. It’s probably the best lake in the world if you like shark attacks. Bull sharks, sawfish, and cichlids. I’m a swimmer, but I’d be a little nervous in that water.

So in Henry’s future, Nasty’s wild relatives weren't wiped out by Nile perch. It will be tilapia farming that does them in. 

A while ago, a colleague who will be nameless until he wishes to be names sent me a book called Debt, by David Graeber. I’ve been taking it a section here and there. It’s very well-written, very persuasive, and very, very rich material for thought. Among other things, it’s led me to recognize that while I think Marxism is silly, my politics are organized on communist principles.

While I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book – I can go for a couple of weeks without touching it – it had a sort of pervasive effect on the Henry stories. What makes a person valuable to society? What makes an artist worth supporting? What do we owe, what does it even mean to owe? How does one gracefully embrace an artist’s life, one whose social flexibility provides intimate contact with a world filled with social and economic inequities? Is it possible to live well without taking advantage of others?

Is it possible to even try?

I was very distressed to find that Margaret Atwood beat me to the punch on this one. I’ve read Lady Oracle, a well-written book ruined by a daffy ending where the heroine loses a lot of weight as the result of revulsion at the sight of her thighs. (For the record? If that kind of epiphany had that kind of effect, people wouldn’t be fat unless they enjoyed it.) So I’ve been looking at her futurist novels like The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake with nervous interest. Well, when I started looking for some information for these notes, I found a passage from Oryx and Crake featuring her version of the chicken nugget animals

I like mine better because they make more biological sense (I could do you up an anatomical diagram), but I’d guess we were both inspired by the old rumor that KFC couldn’t call itself Kentucky Fried Chicken because the animals they used were no longer legally chickens… 

Initially, this piece was going to be a lot nastier. The Colonel was going to kill someone. One of the enormities I’ve read about in conjunction with poultry plants is a jolly game where a worker will pick up a chicken and squeeze it hard enough to shoot its droppings at a fellow worker.

Have you ever held a live bird?

That kind of behavior is going to happen when you treat animals like units in an industrial meat-production process. We must respect living creatures if we are to keep some real claim to humanity.

What goes on in animal husbandry is too nasty for this particular work of fiction, so I made up something science fictional to act as an emotional lightning rod – reality is worse.

And yet I eat meat. I’ve killed and cleaned fish and, once, rabbits, and would participate in a hunt. I’ve also been functionally vegetarian for extended periods of time, and the results were disastrous in terms of my mental and emotional stability. There was a point early in my relationship with my wife when I’d been trying to eat her macrobiotic diet, and she said, “You know, you’re a lot easier to get along with the day after you’ve eaten beef.”

And since then, Cain has sat down to dine with me at least once a day. I still haven’t fully come to terms with this one.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Salamanders and Snot Whales

I am reading at Diesel Books in Oakland, at 5433 College Avenue at 7:00 tonight. Click here for all details!

Here are some more notes on Helping Henry. For the full list of posted stories, click here.

Thyroxine is a special story for me for one reason – it’s my best monster. This one might actually work. The idea that there’s an adult morph of the Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders is well-founded – they’ve found fossils of a strong-jawed upright predatory giant salamander that’s a direct ancestor of the current aquatic giant salamanders. It’s called Aviturus exsecratus.

And there are aggressive giant hybrid tiger salamanders loose in California.  In fact, I once owned one. I bought it in a pet store, and they refused to tell me the species, and I didn’t find out what it was until years after its death…

So. For the record. Daffy rich person who is obsessed with large exotic predators! If you’re going to ship out for an isolated island and devote yourself to the cultivation of giant salamanders?

Can I help?


Ant chalk does exist, and it does work as advertised, and my friend’s cat used to go into convulsions every so often and they figured out it was the ant chalk. So don’t fuck with the ant chalk.

As for the ants themselves – I shot from the hip and hit my foot. The story is inaccurate. Argentine ant colonies aren’t so big they can dominate the West Coast. It’s more intense than that. It seems that the Argentine ants in Europe, the US, and Japan regard themselves as one big colony.  That would be totally heartwarming if they weren’t ants.

Polyploidy is a genetic characteristic that’s quite common in domesticated plants.  As I understand it, he said nervously, looking into the distance, in the old days, they’d use juice extracted from crocus bulbs with a garlic press to induce polyploidy in marijuana seeds.  That’s right, organic genetic engineering is old news, folks.

The most horrifying photo I’ve seen recently was of a blue whale taking a dump. If that’s the kind of thing you want to look at, do your own search. You disgust me. But it highlighted the importance of whales to the overall ocean ecosystem. Not just fertilizing phytoplankton, but the deposit of a whale carcass on the ocean floor is a significant event called a whale fall.

The degree to which we’re screwing the ocean over boggles me. What is obviously a finite, closed system is being aggressively over-fished while we watch climate change and pollution kill off the coral. Plastics are killing off jellyfish eaters like sea turtles. Practices like drift netting and vacuuming the seabed for scallops show an absolute distain for sea life. And the fish keep getting smaller and fewer…

We, as a species, will not begin to address this problem until a while after it starts smelling bad and starving people. But it’s nice to dream that people might start noticing before everything has gone completely to hell.

When the idea of the snot whales came to me, it was obvious right from the start that they were the bastard love child of Maya Lin, who, among her many works, designed the Viet Nam and Civil Rights memorials, and Mark Pauline, who makes machines that fight, frighten, and seem to have their own agendas. A lot of US art seems defensive and reactionary to me – if my country ever develops a mature culture, the kind that other nations legislate to defend, I’ll bet these two are in the canon.

There will be more tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Shade-Tree Biotechnician

Speaking of mutations, here's something you don't see every day -- a frost-bitten succulent (I think it's an aeonium, but who knows) that's grown some albino heads. Notice how the albino section on the otherwise-green head is divided not leaf-by-leaf, but rather along an arbitrary line. I've seen similar divisions of color on scales in patterned reptiles, as though the pattern had been laid down using a stencil, and it's always puzzled me.

Right. So, I've been neglecting my Henry notes. Let's try and make some substantial headway, shall we?

It started when a friend of mine told me about his comparative anatomy final. The final consisted of a long table loaded with skulls to identify. My friend got all but one -- and nobody got that one. Was it a primate? That was the best guess.

It was a bulldog.

Years later, when I first moved in with the missus, she had a pet Pekingese named Ping-Ping. (I bear no responsibility; the missus has a taste for foofy names.) He was a great little guy, who cured me of my distaste for small dogs. (Hint -- they're like pit bulls. If they're nasty, you want to look at the owner.)

But his poor horrible little face! The socket where his eyes and snout met was continually wet, as were the deep folds of his eyelids, and the organic fluid of tears and snot bred a stinking bacterial culture that must have been ongoing hell for a sensitive nose. They itched, as well. And sometimes he'd do these weird inverse sneezes, where he'd convulsively suck air in through his nose.

Bulldogs die of respiratory and cardiac disease. Pugs have the same problems as pekes. The things we breed dogs for -- hip displasia, skin conditions (we had a Shar Pei with terrible acne, and the worst part was trying to watch TV while the missus squeezed the dog's pimples), spinal problems...

It could have been worse.

If you can explain the human desire to breed miserably deformed pets, keep the explanation to yourself. I'm trying to keep my misanthropy under control.

Eusocialism fascinates me. It's the social pattern where individuals are physically specialized depending on their caste, and where reproduction is the responsibility of queens. It first showed up in the cockroaches that evolved into termites, but it's since cropped up all over the place. Bees. Ants. Shrimp? Naked mole rats?

Oh, yeah.

So this is a pattern that crops up repeatedly, under a wide variety of circumstances.

As for the fruit flies. For those who don't know, fruit flies are a standard lab animal for genetic research. They reproduce rapidly, have been thoroughly studied, are prone to visible mutations... A true friend to man.

So they'd be a natural animal to use if one were to attempt to induce speciation. And this isn't as far-fetched as you might think We've observed a number of species evolve. Check it out -- and take a look at section 5.3 for fruit fly information...

This is the second story I've done that draws on my early fascination with the stories Microscopic God by Theodore Sturgeon and Sandkings by George R.R. Martin. Silly as it may be, this is actually one of the more scientifically credible Henry stories.

I think this one explains itself. But let me say this -- my convictions on the subject of overpopulation have been strong enough to keep me from having children. I like kids. I'd rather help out with the ones that are already here than make new ones.

And abortion is none of my damned business.

When Howard Chaykin did his comic American Flagg, I admired the way he dropped the talking cat Raul into the mix without any explanation. (For the record, American Flag is one of the great secrets of genre fiction. Everybody read it in the day, and everybody was affected by it.)

That's not how I do things. For me, one of the pleasures of science fiction is the ability to make a ridiculous, surrealistic event seem reasonable, comprehensible, even inevitable.

So I rationalized the Colonel, my talking chicken character. And an interesting question arose. If a machine is capable of giving the impression under scrutiny that it is human -- thorough conversation over a telephone or the internet would be adequate scrutiny -- it is said to be able to pass the Turing test. Wouldn't it be dehumanizing to treat a machine capable of passing the Turing test as other than human? Regardless of the actual sentience of the machine or program in question, is there an internal requirement to be humane to that which seems human?

And while there is some humanely produced poultry in the US, large-scale poultry production might be the most massive and grotesque system of organized cruelty the planet has seen thus far. The disconnection between the population and the animals they eat has turned livestock into a component in a bioreactor. And the large-scale international results include the destruction of local farming traditions in the Caribbean, and so on, and so on. I might feel differently if factory-raised chicken wasn't disgusting, like tofu with a moral taint, but it is.

That'll do it for now. With any luck, I should be able to get caught up tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Helping Henry

Here's one of the linoleum cuts Ruth taught me to do. I never got the hang of the engraver's contour line, but maybe some day...

The first seven chapters of Helping Henry have been released at the Flash Fiction Fest. Helping Henry is the longest work of fiction I've had made available to the public. It's also the most spontaneous piece of sustained writing I've ever done. Normally my work is planned, and obsessed over, and revised at least ten or twelve times.

The Henry stories have been gone over once or twice, and the edits I've gotten back have been the lightest of my career, which makes me nervous. Especially since no-one but me and the editor have seen the final version. Helping Henry isn't just a series of stories. It very much has the form of a novel, and right now there's been enough of it to give you a real feel for things.

What's it about? Human/animal relations, love and friendship, responsibility, and art. Not to mention weird animals and plants, good and bad meals, and dog breath.

As I wrote before, the Henry stories are firmly rooted in mainstream science fiction traditions, but they don't really have the shape or tone of conventional science fiction. While conflict and desire do make appearances, these plots aren't driven by those engines.

And they are also fairly naked wish fulfillment.

They are dedicated to the artist Ruth Leaf, who happens to be a science fiction reader as well as a fine artist. She's been very influential on me -- she wrote the book on intaglio printing techniques, and taught me to do linoleum cuts. She's one of the reasons I approach digital art as a print-making experience rather than a painterly or photographic one. (She also reads the blog -- everybody wave now. Hi, Ruth!)

And a few months back, she said something to me that stuck. She'd seen some of my other work, and found it distressing, and expressed a desire to see me do something that made people feel good when they were done reading it, rather than concerned and distressed.

When I first started the Henry stories, they began with a particularly stupid dick joke. But as they developed their shape, Ruth's request was in my mind. (It rang with something someone once said on stopping reading my first novel -- "You have a knack for taking the reader to fantastic places, and you never take me anywhere I want to go.") And in addition to Ruth, the original cyperpunks and artists Mark Pauline and Maya Lin are owed a debt for their influences.

There are some spots in the first few stories where the benevolence of the Henryverse is hidden, but they turned out to provide important elements in the whole work, so I left them in. These stories are not about perfect lives in a perfect world, they're about living well in a rough world.

I just hope they work.

So give 'em a try, and if you like them? Subscribe to the stories, spread the word, and leave a comment. At this stage of the game, everything helps.

I'll be reading from Helping Henry next Friday at Diesel Books in Oakland. Details here. If you can, please come on down!

And be sure to tune in tomorrow. Don't tell Henry, but he won the design bid for the memorial for the Gulf of Mexico!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Work In Progress

I'm pretty sure this is a red-tailed hawk, one of the more visible of our local predators.

For those with an interest, here's the current state of my ongoing crisis.

There is a cycle that I've been through a few times on the internet, and it's one I kind of hate. I go into a community when I'm in good spirits, find a few friends, have a decent time, and then when I hit a seasonal mood plunge, I withdraw so as to not spread my bile, and feel odd about returning later.

Right now, I'm going through one of those seasonal bad moods. And I'm supposed to be promoting my Henry stories, currently being released from December House. Here's the first story! Here's today's story! Read them all! As the missus was overheard saying to a friend of hers, "It's weird. They aren't dark at all."

My current mood is on the dark side, but in a sort of good-ish way.

In my current state, normally I'd be prone to major mood swings every couple of days. The kind of thing where if the missus wanted to have me put into care for a while, she could. This year I'm having a much easier time. I've been having wonderful responses from my counseling and personal practices, and as a result I'm much more stable.

The disturbing part of this is that I'm getting a clearer view of the physical and involuntary aspects of my condition, and it's a little spooky. My brain really is weird.

The first major insight was realizing that my mood swings weren't so much chemical as neurological. When they hit, I can go from feeling absolutely wonderful to being overwhelmed by angry misery in seconds. People who have seen the process happen say it's very visible. And it's always felt to me as though someone turned on a tap in my brain and filled my body with unhappiness.

But yesterday morning, as I lay in bed trying to drowse, I was able to pay attention to one of my mood swings as it took hold.

At first, I was worried that I'd left a door open in the studio, and rain might get on the carpet. The contemplation of this unlikelihood (I'd shut the door, I always shut the fucking door) made my heart rate accelerate, and I had to consciously keep from hyperventilating.

So I did what I do these days. I told myself that my panic was more important than anything that caused it, and that calming down was my number one priority. I explained that I had, in fact, shut the damned door, and that my niggling fear of failure was an affectation. I said that even if I did leave the door open and the missus yelled at me, it was still more important for me to calm down and rest now and blow it off later.

So I settled down.

And within minutes, I was thinking about someone who has treated me poorly, and I was starting to get upset about that. But that kind of personal anger is atypical of me -- and it felt as though the emotional upset itself was sniffing around for something that would trigger a panic reaction.

I think that's what was actually happening. And when I addressed that part of myself in words, it backed down.

Habits, including emotional habits, are actually circuits of linked neurons in the brain. The ways they form and are broken are essentially physiological -- the behavioral tools used to confront these problems are just a means to an end.

The thing you need to remember about those circuits is that they actually are living things. And they are motivated. They want to fire. They want to function!

And yesterday morning, I sensed that desire. I realized that my emotions of fear, anger, and grief are linked, and they are used to being used all together in a massive, overwhelming display of force. These circuits were formed in childhood and reinforced throughout adulthood and now I have a demon in my head.

This is a situation that can be addressed.

Recognizing this emotional state for what it is, I can avoid allowing all of myself to get caught up in it. It is possible for part of me to stand to one side and say, "Go on, do your thing, you miserable bastard, let me know when you're done."

By neither feeding into the emotions nor denying them, the stress that serves to reinforce the pattern is diminished. I've been able to do that over the past day, and I strongly suspect that this particular pattern of reaction will diminish radically over time, possibly becoming no more than a nuisance.

The other big realization is...

Okay. There is one area of your brain that is used to handle issues of self-care and self-awareness. There is another that deals with the care and awareness of others.

The future self -- the self that will be inhabiting your body tomorrow?

The brain files that self with the other people.

The ability to plan for one's future well-being is anatomically linked with the ability to care for others.

Very interesting, and it certainly would explain a lot -- like why risk-takers are so frequently assholes.

Here's the thing.

I'm absolutely shitty at taking care of myself. I'm actually pretty good at taking care of other people.

And I have no capacity to care for my future self at all. None.

There is a whole slew of activities ranging from filling out forms to keeping in touch with friends where I have failed almost entirely throughout my life. Anything involving long-term planning is right out of the question.

I've developed a lot of clever work-arounds for this, but it's become clear that a basic human function is almost entirely undeveloped in my tiny, box-shaped cranium.

But again, in theory, this should be a correctable problem.

I need to find some things that I can do for myself that generate solid results for minimum effort in a short span of time. I'm not asking for miracles, just simple activities that deliver a reward my brain will recognize. Maybe sketching and practicing music regularly, or getting my food situation organized, or cleaning my workspace and re-organizing it for ease of use.

What can I do for my future self?

Here's the thing.

Right now, this kind of work is changing me on a daily basis. My self-image is fluid to a degree I'd never have previously imagined. I don't know who I am, what I can do, where I belong, or what I want.

And I'm having to begin presenting myself to the public in a crusty state both over-ripe and half-formed. I'm not ready, but that has nothing to do with the way the world works.

I guess I'll always be a work in progress.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Birds And Other Dinosaurs

If I don't start drawing again, I'm going out of my mind. Plus, I'm out of the loop with my paleo-pals, which sucks.

So my publisher and I have agreed that it might be nice to have a little background material on the Henry stories. Normally my work is meticulously planned and executed, but these were whipped out at a speed that basically demanded automatic writing. I’m still surprised by some of what came out, and it’ll be interesting to try and figure out what I was trying to get at. While these aren’t hard science fiction by any stretch of the imagination – they are fairy tales with a technical gloss – they still reflect a lot of the preoccupations of an armchair naturalist.

In Dinosaurs, eleven-year-old Morrie Flores ‘dinosaurs’ a chicken. The idea isn’t new or original. I first read it in Carnosaur, by Harry Adams Knight, Michael Crichton riffed on it in Jurassic Park, and more recently John Horner discussed it in a TED talk.

The idea is that certain physical traits, like vestigial tails in humans, or legs in whales and dolphins, are the result of archaic chromosomes being activated. If you were locate the specific genes that guided the growth of particular physical characteristics possessed by ancestors of the animal in question, you could activate them and produce an animal that looked more like one of its ancestors.

In theory, this could be done. They have grown teeth from chicken tissue – in one case, by implanting it into the jaw of a mouse.

But the idea of turning a chicken into a dinosaur is like the idea of turning a coffee table into a table. You stick some legs onto it, now you can pull up a chair and sit at the son of a bitch – but it was a table in the first place.

Birds are dinosaurs.

Not descended from dinosaurs, but actual, real, little dinosaurs bopping around your lawn and screaming obscenities at one another. Dinosaurs aren’t extinct; there are twice as many kinds of living dinosaur as there are mammalian species. They wake you up in the morning, startle you at night, and every so often, a cassowary or ostrich will kick the life out of some poor bastard.

Dinosaurs are also tasty little devils, both grown and unborn.

The bird/dinosaur connection has been a great source of pleasure in my life. I’ve been hiking regularly with my father for quite a while now, and he’s a birder. As a result of our discussions on our nature observations and my paleontological readings, we’ve both become intuitively aware that these animals are a direct connection with deep time.

When I see a turkey hen leading her chicks through a sun-dappled patch of ferns and horsetails, it is impossible for me to shake the thought that I could have seen damn near exactly this scene at any time since the Triassic. A theropod is a theropod is a theropod.

Of course, in Henry’s story Dinosaurs, the dinosaur in question talks. That’s an entirely different subject, and I’ll talk about that in a future episode.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We Are Now

 We Are Now has launched. A story a day, every weekday through National Novel Writing Month. My contribution is a serial novella called Helping Henry. Today's chapter, the first, is called Dinosaurs. Neil Vogler contributes a neat little bit of the old vino, and P.T. Dilloway pushes at the edges of reality and consciousness.

On November the sixteenth, I'll be reading from Helping Henry at Diesel Books in Oakland. Here are the details. And it will be possible to pre-order the e-book of We Are Now from Diesel, that night.


I can read at a bookstore, and the bookstore profits. Huh. Well, I did not know.

That's my name there, all right.

Oh, my.

I have a confession to make. I've been freaking out, and having mixed success in my attempts at avoiding self-sabotage.

That's because these stories weren't written for me. Most of my work has been done for personal reasons, and whether or not anyone else liked them was beside the point.

These were written to be read. These were written to entertain.

It matters to me whether or not people read and like these. I'm secure enough so I don't need the world to love them, but I'll be unhappy unless a few people I don't know take a shine to these.

It's a lot easier to think, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," than it is to write a joke that makes them laugh, if you're a person of a certain nature.

So I'm actually vulnerable here. That's a new position for me, creatively.

The thing that gets me, is that I'll find out nothing today, nothing tomorrow. It won't be until after all this is done that I find out what it actually means, and until then, I live in world of fog and cobwebs.

Does this mean I'm a real writer now?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Breathing Water

So last night we went over to my sister's, and I drank a lot of wine and had a big dinner, and wound up getting one of my episodes of nausea.

This time, I tried handling things differently, and it went well. Rather than focusing on taking care of my stomach, I addressed the issue of stress. When I was in Dallas, I learned that laying in the shower and letting the tub fill up around me was an intensely comforting experience. Our tub is such that I can only fit half my body in at one time, and it's pretty uncomfortable, but the flow of warm water soothed me greatly, and as a result the nausea was minimal, and relatively brief-lived. The missus, bless her, kept asking me if there was any blood (no) and did I want her to take me to the hospital (no again).

This morning, I found myself with the chills and shakes, and I returned to the tub. I lay there for a couple of hours, water as hot as it could get, and after a time, I entered into a state of consciousness entirely new to me.

When my counselor read the stream-of-consciousness novel devoted to my experience of life, she was horrified at how painful and demanding it was. I am continually talking to myself, playing or composing mental music, throwing up images -- this is how I go to sleep, is to the continual flow of brain chatter.

But as I lay in the tub, body shifting as my buoyancy changed with my breathing, I went away. I found myself conscious of nothing but the water, and the ripples that ran through it. I was nothing but a tub of hot, cleanish water, and it was terrific.

I had no idea how much of a burden consciousness is.

I've never had any luck with traditional meditation forms due to my over-busy mind, but this struck me as very close to what I'd read about in the works of zazen practitioners, what I had previously failed to achieve.

My basic cycle runs from hysteria to collapse. It's interesting to contemplate the possibility of something gentler, at least here and there... and now? A little broth.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Commercial Fiction As Applied Neuroplasticity

My father is one of the founding members of the letter carriers union, which means he's divided his professional life between politics and the streets of Richmond, California. So I don't get to shock him that often.

When I explained the approach I was taking with the Henry stories I'm doing for the Flash Fiction Fest? He was appalled.

"You're a reptile," he said. "And you're growing a lure on the end of your tongue."

One does what one must.

Let's make one thing clear. The Henry stories are not literature. They are commercial fiction. They are intended to provide readable entertainment for an intelligent audience. While I try to write well, clarity is more important than beauty or originality of phrasing. There is use of formula. Much of the appeal lies in scientific and speculative novelties that do represent an essentially juvenile state of mind.

I am perfectly comfortable with that. I am playing a different game.

As long-time readers know, I had a fairly spectacular stress-related collapse a couple of years back. Since then, I've been consciously engaged in a process of growth, and much of it has been rooted in the growing availability of information on the physical nature of the mind.

The art I'm concerned with gains its power by stimulating neurological events. The more complicated the circuit formed, the more engaging and satisfying the artistic experience.

Art rewards the brain.

But not all rewards are the same.

I have become aware that much of the fiction I've read has used stress as a reward -- either by allowing the reader to control a stress-inducing experience, or to feel the reward of triumph or superiority.

I wanted to write something that delivered a different set of neurological rewards.

The Henry stories are intended to reward the reader with the experiences of bonding, cooperation, problem-solving, and intellectual curiosity. They are intended to inculcate a mental state of relaxed alertness combined with a mildly expanded sense of benevolence.

They are intended to be healthy. If I am writing in order to provide a public service, I want to provide a goddamned service.

Now, the formula for the stories is that of solving a problem through some speculative twist involving scientific trivia.

Which means the story of the Henry stories actually is a Henry story.

So, yeah. I am perfectly happy to call them science fiction.