I was going to write about current events on Fridays, but since I’m basically on vacation at a convention, I’m going to take a break from the news. Let’s talk about Con-Volution 2017!
Melissa and I arrived pretty early, which was lucky. Apparently, we managed to skip a bunch of traffic. We showed up at the hotel a little after noon, checked in, put our bags away, and wandered around the hotel, learning the convention’s geography.
The interesting thing about Con-Volution this year is that it’s in a new location. This year it’s in San Ramon, at the same Marriott that I used to travel to for Dundracon. Wandering the halls brought back a lot of memories. It’s a really great venue for a small convention.
From what we can see this first day, Con-Volution 2017 is smaller than it has been in previous years. Though the opening ceremony isn’t the greatest gauge for the size of a con, I noticed that there were about as many guests of honor as there were people in the audience.
Registration was okay. I would have preferred that they started at 1PM instead of 2PM, since the 2PM start time only gave them an hour before opening ceremony. But the line was short and moved fast enough for us. Melissa and I were pre-registered, so we got our badges very quickly.
All of the programming is online. I went through and picked out everything that interested me. The selection seems thinner this year than previous years. Again, this gives me the impression that Con-Volution is smaller this year than previous years.
An interesting change this year with the programming is that everything is workshops and round table discussions. The entire focus of the con is to be more engaging. Their mission is to teach and to inspire the community to do more with their creative talents. I think it’s a noble goal, and honestly, it’s a welcome change from the standard panels.
After opening ceremony, Melissa and I went to a workshop lead by Michael. The workshop was all about helping writers find their voice. Michael gave us seeds for a story, then had us write in five minute bursts. Each time we wrote, the scenario was changed slightly, and we had to use different viewpoint and tense. The exercise forced us to really examine the voices we were using for our stories. It’s very effective.
I want to take a moment to talk about Michael. I’m proud of him. When he runs a workshop, I can see the kind of teacher he could be once he gets his MFA. He’s truly in his element when he’s in front of people teaching. He does such a great job, and I’m glad I was able to participate.
After the writing workshop, Melissa and I went to a round table discussion on rebellions. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I hadn’t read the notes on it that closely. It was an interesting discussion that started primarily with rebellion in science fiction, but quickly moved on to touch on historical revolutions, revolts, and some current events. The discussion actually deviated into other, non-rebellion topics (such as the latest Wonder Woman movie), but it all seemed very organic, and I think everyone had a pretty good time.
After that, Melissa and I wandered off to get dinner. It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t bad, either.
Back at the convention, we attended the meet the guests event. I did my best, but I’ve never felt particularly comfortable walking up to strangers and talking at them. I met a few of the guests, engaged them in conversation, and managed not to embarrass myself. And that was fine.
When that event ended, Michael’s latest incarnation of his Bard for Life show took place in the same room. Again, he did a great job. I heard some material I hadn’t heard before as well as some I nearly have memorized at this point. The crowd was very receptive. After the show, two of the guests of honor tried to buy him a drink, but he wisely had David take the drink for him. This weekend, David is Michael’s Designated Drinker.
And now I’m back in my room, scrambling to get my thoughts transposed out of my head.
I think Melissa and I are going to have a good time this weekend. It doesn’t matter if the convention is small if everyone involved is having fun. And, honestly, I’m meeting some interesting people.
I’m going to be honest. When Justine suggested this as a topic, I really had no idea what I was going to talk about. I write science fiction and fantasy, and I read a lot of science fiction, but I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the genre in any meaningful way.
That’s a strange sentiment, isn’t it?
I’ve been reading science fiction for more than thirty years. I’ve been writing off and on for nearly thirty years, and most of what I write is science fiction. I’ve been attending science fiction conventions for the last seven years. I spent many, many years writing Star Wars fan fiction with friends on a Star Wars MUSH. And in spite of all of that, I feel like an unworthy authority on the subject.
With that in mind, take all of the following with a grain of salt. These are just my opinions, and some of them are very loosely held.
Let’s begin with books.
I grew up with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. I read a couple of other authors during my formative years, but I primarily spent my reading time enjoying the works of those two men. I particularly liked Lazarus Long, and I just sort of ignored all the squicky stuff.
The last three books I’ve read are Mother Go by James Patrick Kelly, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I tried to read The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I just couldn’t get into it.
In terms of quality, I think science fiction is just about as good as it’s ever been. There is more of it than at any time I can remember. There are plenty of stinkers, but there have always been campy, silly, or just plan bad science fiction books. Heck, even my hero Heinlein wrote stories of questionable quality.
But I think there is greater inclusiveness with science fiction now. Not only is the geeky material more readily accepted by the main stream, more diverse voices are getting heard.
I don’t want to get too much into the politics or the puppies, but I think the more people you have writing science fiction, the better. One of my friends has been going on a crusade on twitter and social media, talking about how male authors have a harder time getting published now. I disagree with him, and even if he’s right, I think the scales will eventually balance, anyway. As a male writing science fiction, if it is harder for me to publish than it used to be, then I’ll just have to become a better writer. I am up to the challenge.
In terms of content and subject matter, I think we’re in a better place than we were when I first got into science fiction. For example, I really love the multi-dimensional subject matter in Jason Hough’s Zero World and in Peter Cline’s 14 and The Fold. I think the solidly grounded work of Andy Weir’s The Martian is some of the best science fiction ever written. There is some really great stuff being written these days.
Moving on to movies and other media, we have the special effects to really make science fiction look good. Unfortunately, I think that’s where things can go a little bit sideways. Some movie makers seem to get so caught up in making their movies look good, they forget to make their movies actually good.
For example, I’m lead to believe that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looked amazing, but didn’t deliver much of a story. I didn’t go and see it, so I’m going off of word of mouth, reviews, and the poor showing at the box office. I also heard Life was underwhelming.
It’s not all bad, though. The Martian was almost as amazing on the screen as it was in the book. The last Mad Max movie was exceptional. I’ve enjoyed the latest Star Wars movies, and I’m looking forward to The Last Jedi in a couple of months.
Star Trek, on the other hand, seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis. The rebooted movies focused more on action and adventure and left a lot of original fans feeling like they’d been cheated out of compelling science fiction. I haven’t Star Trek: Discovery yet, and I understand that it’s very dark, and very action oriented as well. I’m hearing mixed things about it.
In general, I think science fiction is as good as it’s ever been. Compared with fantasy, I think fantasy has been fairly dominant for a while, but I think science fiction is resurging. I think there’s more demand for good science fiction than there was five years ago.
I have never sold a story, but I have a lot of material I’m working on, preparing them for sale. Tonight, I’m going to take a break from politics and real life and talk about all of the fiction I’ve been writing.
Most of my works in progress aren’t actually getting worked on. They’re all in different states of completion, with some really close to completion, and others barely into the first draft. A lot of these stories don’t have proper names. I’m going to give their working names, their status, and a brief description. If you like any of these stories, let me know and I may move it up in my priorities. I’m listing them in the order in which I started them, and not in order of priority.
The Arthur Kane Stories
Status: It’s complicated.
Description: The Arthur Kane Stories are three sci-fi/mystery short stories woven together to form a novel, set on the moon and following a private investigator named Arthur Kane. I came up with the character and wrote a few short stories with him when I was 14. After my Dad died, I wrote The Arthur Kane Stories as way of dealing with my Dad’s death, though I didn’t know it at the time. I started this novel when I was 16 and finished it when I was 18.
When I talk to people about The Repossessd Ghost, they often ask me if it is my first novel. The quesiton always makes me think of The Arthur Kane Stories. It’s really is my novel, even if it it is pretty terrible.
A few people have read it over the years, and they say it’s not that bad. Recently, I’ve been retyping it, transposing it from my Apple IIgs to PC before the old hardware and discs fail. Retyping it has confirmed to me the low quality of the work. However, I did have some good ideas.
Tales of the Day Knights
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: In this fantasy story, the Day Knights are defenders of good and order, paladins of the sun and righteous protectors of the free people. They fight the demons of night and the agents of chaos. But what happens when one of these agents of chaos is turned, no longer skulking in the shadows, but taking up arms to fight for the sun?
I started this story while I was still working for my previous company. That was a time where I desperately wanted to write and be creative, but I worked late hours for not much money, and I just didn’t have the heart or energy to put into this story. There are some good ideas, and some good prose. I like establishing the black and white moral code, then messing everything up with shades of gray. I like the story of redemption and the questions of forgiveness that this story wants to ask. I’m not sure when I’m going to get back to it.
The Clean Slate
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: The Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones in this fantasy story where a group of heroes are reanimated from stone. They have no idea how they got there or who they are, and the kindly monk that greets them on reanimation sends them on a quest to save the world. Along the way, they discover that they may not have been heroes in their previous life, and much of what they’ve been sent to contend with is the results of their dark deeds.
This was my first NaNoWriMo attempt. I didn’t get to 50,000 words, but I got to a little over 30,000. Before finishing the first draft, I sent the first chapter to my friend Tim, and he gave me his honest opinion. The prose fell flat, and it was not my best work.
The story isn’t bad. I just started it poorly. I think it will be amazing when I go back and do it right. Again, I’m dealing with issues of redemption and forgiveness. If a person has no memory of doing some terrible deed, and no memory of even being an evil person, how close are they to redemption? How much do you hold them responsible? I also deal with some ideas concerning free will, disarmament of society, and whether or not the ends justify the means. I will get back to this some day, though there are other stories ahead of it in priority.
Status: Finished Second Draft
Description: A baggage attendant starts his first day on the job, and the older, gruff attendant he’s replacing is understandably upset with him. The baggage that they’re dealing with are human bodies kept in stasis while the passengers spend their travel time in virtual reality. What happens when one of the bodies is unclaimed at destination?
I wrote this short story with every intention of trying to sell it to Asimov’s. I wrote it after I met Sheila Williams, and she said at the time that this was the sort of story that she was looking for. After sending it through a writer’s workshop and my writer’s group, I tried sending it to Writers of the Future, and it was rejected. I became discouraged, and I haven’t done anything with it since.
There are things that I can do to improve the story. There are some good ideas here. I just need to take some time to elevate them. I might revisit this story in December. Maybe I’ll actually send it to a magazine. If I can find the guts.
The Repossessed Ghost
Status: Finished Third Draft
Description: A young repo-man from New Orleans discovers he’s psychic when he finds a ghost in the back of a car he’s recently repossessed. After he becomes a suspect in her murder, he flees with the ghost (Kate) to Sacramento and becomes entangled with a larger supernatural community. Eventually he must solve Kate’s murder in order to stop another from sharing her fate.
This started as a NaNoWriMo project, and it is the first and only time I’ve succeeded in getting the 50,000 words in 30 days. Over the next couple of years, I revisited it, edited it, shared it with my writer’s group, shared it with an editor friend, and toiled over it on my own taking all of the advice into consideration. After the third set of revisions, I’ve finally started sending it out to find it a home.
I like this story, but I’m tired of working on it. I have hopes that this will be my first traditionally published work. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll put it up on Amazon. It’s a good book. We’ll see if it has legs.
Status: Finished Second Draft
Description: A gamer in an elaborate virtual reality is killed in the game, and deals with a close friend that is known to the gamer only in the virtual world.
I like this short story, though it could use a little bit more work. Only a couple of people have read it, and if I describe it more than I have, it will give away some of the things that I think make the story cool. It deals with identity, both real and online. It also deals with online relationships and the barriers of fear we put that can keep us from really connecting.
Simon, of The Rock
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: In this fantasy novel, the boy named Sim yearns to become the man named Simon. But first, he must pass the right of passage which all people of The Rock tribe must endure.
I came up with the Simon character while playing on Star Wars MUSH. I like this character. I want to see this character breathe again in a story all his own.
I’ve got pages and pages of notes for the world building. I envisioned this book being the first of a trilogy. I’d thought about this series for years, and finally tried putting the words down for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. The story has a long, long way to go before it’s completed.
The Adventurer’s Door
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: A teenage boy travels to his grandfather’s house with his mother after his mother gets a divorce. His grandfather gives him one rule: don’t open this door. Curiosity overcomes him, and he finds a way, which leads him to a perilous adventure on a pirate ship.
I’d started this story with the intention of sending it to Jennifer Brozak. I made it a ways into the short story, but then got swept up in work and wound up missing the deadline. I like what I’ve written enough that I’ll eventually finish it, though it’s low on my list of priorities.
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: A young woman, one of the War Dancers, gets in over her head after the walls fall and the champion of her people is mortally wounded.
This was another failed NaNoWriMo project. I started it last year and barely made it into the second week of November before I gave up. Work just got too busy, my music schedule was too busy, and I was too tired to give this story the energy it deserved.
The inspiration for this story is this song:
Every time I listen to the song, I get this powerful vision in my head. I will eventually write this story. It’s about an unlikely hero. It’s about finding hope when all hope is gone. It’s about finding strength in unlikely places, and overcoming adversity that looks insurmountable.
Status: Unfinished First Draft
Description: Set 150 years after The Singularity, humanity is gone and those that are left are A.I.’s in synthetic bodies. The story follows two homicide detectives as they follow a trail of strange discorporations.
I just started this story a few weeks ago. I really, really love it. This will probably be the most emotional story I’ve written as it deals with the human condition through non-human characters. It contends with religion, gender biases, what it means to be alive, and morality. I like the main characters. I like the setting. This one is going to go far.
I’m not going to finish it before November, so it’s going to get at least a month long pause. Maybe I’ll finish the first draft in early 2018.
And that leads me to NaNoWriMo 2017.
This year, I’m cheating a little bit. You’re supposed to work on a new novel. I am writing a new novel, but it’s based on The Arthur Kane stories. I’m keeping the main character, his partner, and his antagonist. I’m changing the world a bit. I’m making it first person. I’m going to focus on bringing out the noir elements of the story. I’m also adding some sci-fi ideas I’ve had over the years, like gladiator robot dog fights.
It really is a new novel. Besides, I have to be well past some sort of statue of limitations. This story is going to be different enough that the original can’t even be considered a first draft.
So that’s it. Those are my works in progress. There are other stories that I’ve worked on that I haven’t mentioned here. But these are the stories that I want to finish.
If I ever manage to make the transition to becoming a full time writer, I have plenty of work to do. I don’t have a shortage of ideas. Just a shortage of time.
I was going to write about RC Swing tonight, but there’s something else that’s been on my mind all day, so I’ll postpone that just like I postponed yesterday’s topic. Today, I want to talk about how I deal with social networking and the media.
Starting just after the election, I got off of social media completely for several months. I wasn’t sure I was even going to go back to Facebook. I hated to give it up completely, though, because there are some people I’ve reconnected with on Facebook that I don’t interact with in any other way. Giving up Facebook was giving up on those people, and I care about them.
I gave up social media because I couldn’t stand the constant conflict. I kept getting upset by what I saw there, and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. So I walked away and took a break.
I kept reading the news, however. And I continued to get upset.
Now I’m back on Facebook, reading the news, and I’m even spending time on Twitter. I’ve fully immersed myself in all the topical, temporary flotsam that I can handle. I’m gorging myself on current events and political opinions.
How does it make me feel?
It doesn’t make me happy. For the most part, I’ve built up something of a tolerance, but I’m not exactly enjoying what I’m reading. The news stories aren’t always reliable, and it’s a little bit exhausting going off to multiple sources and double-checking reality. Social media is punctuated with frivolity and snark intertwined. Everything is formatted either as a lure or a weapon, to draw someone in or illicit some emotional reaction. There’s constant noise, constant banality, constant terror. It drains my attention and my energy.
At the same time, there are moments of light that make it worth it. There’s humor and humanity. There are people being truly supportive of one another, sharing in their victories, and helping others through their hard times. There are momentary flashes of the best of what humanity has to offer, like islands of comfort beset on all sides by a sea of anger and vitriol.
Also, I can’t look away. It’s like being a passenger in a car. Some people are comfortable as passengers. I’m not. I have to see where I’m going and what’s going on, even if I’m powerless to make a difference. If we’re going to crash, I want to know about it before it happens.
The last couple of days have been really difficult. First there was the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Then Tom Petty died.
There’s been bad news in constant supply for weeks and weeks, mostly coming through political channels. When the news is bad enough, like it has been the last couple of days, I find it hard to stay focused and do what needs doing. It impacts my work, my music, and my writing.
But I keep going. The last couple of days have been harder than other days, but I keep going. I summon my willpower. I buckle down. Sometimes I blast some music. I do what must be done. I write the program. I play the music. I write the words. I keep going.
Several times, I’ve seen the sentiment that it’s not talent that makes a writer successful, but stubbornness. The will to keep going, to push through rejection and just be persistent enough to write the next story and submit again. I believe it, and I also believe that writers aren’t the only ones to succeed through such strength.
I want to offer advice on how to find the strength to keep going when the going is tough, but I don’t have any. It’s different for different people, and it’s different for different situations. Sometimes, you have to just close yourself off from everything and focus on the individual tasks, like putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, you have to take a step back and look at the big picture, like looking up to the horizon, or checking a map. Either way, to reach your destination, you have to keep moving.
To bring this back to the original topic, I see a lot of people that refuse to read the news or stay informed, and I understand why. Ignorance truly can be bliss, and I have a couple of coworkers that are happier believing that things are as they’ve always been, and nothing ever really changes. If nothing every really changes, what’s the point of reading the news or staying up-to-date with social media?
I believe things do change, though. The climate is changing. The political landscape has changed. Technology advances. The world is smaller and more accessible than it has ever been in history.
So, I’ll continue to watch and hope for the best. The time for me closing my eyes and burying my head in the sand is past.
I was going to write about my band tonight. I’d been really looking forward to it. Instead, I’m going to take a moment to form and share my thoughts on the recent tragedy.
I’ve written about guns before. In the past, I’ve made it clear that I wasn’t super excited about extra gun regulations. For as much as I lean liberal, I’ve always been a little bit pro-gun. I’ve never thought that they should be handed out easily. I’ve always thought that people should be screened, and that we should have and enforce some common sense gun rules.
Events like the Las Vegas shooting disrupt my world view. When it comes down to it, I just want people to be responsible. I want to treat people like adults, and I want to trust people.
And let’s face it. Way in the back of my heart, I always felt that if something really terrible happened, I’d rather we all be armed and have reliable access to weapons, in case the citizens had to fight for their country.
But my world view is shaken. Maybe we can’t trust people to be responsible with weapons. I know plenty of individuals that are trustworthy, but people? Statistically, if you have a lot of guns and a lot of people, you’re chances of a bad gun landing in the hands of a bad person approach certainty.
America has more guns than any other nation, and we have more gun deaths. There are some staggering statistics about how Americans are number one at literally killing themselves. The mass shootings are too common. Our forefathers did not want us killing ourselves like this.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how I feel about Trump. He’s a lying, racist, incompetent conman playing at fascism and endangering American lives. I haven’t succumbed to “fake news” or liberal spin. I’ve listened to his words. I’ve watched his actions. The one that convinced me that he is unfit to be President is Donald Trump himself.
I bring him up for now for two reasons.
He isn’t going to do anything useful after this latest shooting. He’s not going to offer genuine comfort. He has no empathy or true sympathy for the victims. If anyone is hoping that our President will lead us through this crisis, prepare to be disappointed. That is not part of his skill set. What he will likely do is defend the gun lobby and contribute tone deaf words in favor of Americans having guns. We’ve heard the tune before, and I don’t think we should dance to it again.
An argument could be made that he is exactly the sort of thing our forefathers feared, and perhaps wanted us armed to deal with. Consider this quote:
“A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a people who mean to be free.” – Thomas Jefferson
Allow me to bring the thought to its conclusion.
Our forefathers may have envisioned and feared a despot rising up on the shoulders of a populist movement. They may have wanted us armed to deal with such a despot, and some of the arguments for the 2nd Amendment are in line with this sort of thinking. That if the American people should have their freedoms threatened by a power, that people should rise up in force and take back their country.
But that’s not how we’re going to pave the way to a better future. The use of such force is not an effective way to achieving a better world. It is a way to destroy a world and endanger the people and values that we cherish.
The answer lies in non-violent solutions. It lies in building communities. Spreading awareness. Peacefully demonstrating. Volunteering. Voting. Taking responsibility for our lives and helping those that we can.
We need to promote leaders based on their ability, rather than their popularity. We need to quit electing actors and television personalities, and instead find and support people that talk and act in good conscience.
We need to grow up.
That might mean putting away our toys. And by toys, I mean guns.
We are not alone in the world. Whatever exceptionalism we may have demonstrated in the past, we are not currently embodying. We live in constant fear, and we justify that fears by making it easy for people to get guns.
Maybe we need to disarm the whole society. Both the people and the police. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but I know that if it’s to work, someone prominent on The Right is going to have to lead the charge. Maybe invoke Reagan’s name and remind people of the Brady Handgun Bill and why we adopted it.
We should all be looking at what happened in Las Vegas. We should think about where we stand on gun violence, gun ownership, and examine why we feel the way we do about guns.
If you can look at the headlines, read about the tragic loss of life, and still think America’s current stance on guns is okay, I’d love to hear how. Because I can’t. Not anymore.
It is October! A month of pumpkin spice, scary stories, spooky decorations, and colder weather. It all culminates in a night of costumes and candy, where once again the Buhl household will be giving out full-size candy bars and a can of soda to every Trick-or-Treater.. Also, it is another month where I attempt to write 31 blog posts in 31 days.
I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, mostly as a way of preparing for NaNoWriMo. I figure that if I can find the time to dedicate to a blog post every day for a month, the exercise will help me get in the habit of working on a novel every day for a month. Blog-tober shows me the places in my daily schedule where I can get some writing done, and helps prepare me for the next month.
Last year, I failed at the blog challenge pretty early, then failed even worse in NaNoWriMo. I came into the season low on energy and low on motivation. This year, I’m planning on turning that all around.
To help make this year’s blog challenge successful, I’ve made a list of topics I can write about, one for each day. It’s a rough plan, set more in clay than in stone. There are gaps, too. Here is the list of planned topics:
(Today) This Announcement!
Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band
Works in Progress
The State of Science Fiction
Literary Theory (for Michael)
(Sunday) The Effects of the Political Environment on Everyday Life
Teaching My Niece
Listening to Music While Programming
Plotting, Planning, and Winging It
Trucks (for Richard)
(Sunday) What it Means to be a Liberal
Listening to Music While Writing
Making Characters Come Alive
(Sunday) What it Means to be a Conservative
Adjectives Are Delicious
(Sunday) My Views on Money
Halloween – What it means to me
Finale – NaNoWriMo
I’ve made a note for each Sunday, as I think those are going to be days where I can tackle larger topics. I’ve also set Fridays aside for talking about my thoughts on whatever is in the news at that time. I going to write about writing topics on Wednesdays.
Many of these topics were suggestions given to me by friends. If you are reading this and there is a topic you’d like to see me write about, leave me a comment with the suggestion. You can leave the comment here, on my Facebook, or on Twitter. Whatever you suggest, I will probably add to the list. The topic doesn’t necessarily have to make a lot of sense. For example, Richard suggested “Trucks” so I added it to the list. What am I going to say about trucks? Who knows! If I stick to the schedule, everyone (including me) will find out what I think about Trucks on October 14th.
So that’s the idea, that’s the announcement, and this is the first post of October 2017. It won’t all be politics and ranting, though there will definitely be quite a bit of that. To provide context for myself in the future should I look back on this post: Yesterday, President Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan, Porto Rico. Today, he said that Rex Tillerson shouldn’t bother with negotiating with North Korea, suggesting that we’ll take care of it with military action.
It’s going to be really hard to talk about things that aren’t political this month. But we’re going to give it a try!
First off, as a veteran, I support anyone’s right to peacefully protest. As many have already said, that is a fundamental right paid for with the blood and lives of our finest men and women.
Now let’s talk about one of the fundamental flaws in our country right now: the treatment of patriotism as a religion.
Religion is comprised of a combination of faith, rituals, symbols, and ideology. It’s the mixture of faith and symbolism that make attacks on the symbols into attacks on the religion. Defiling a crucifix, taking the Lord’s name in vain, depicting images of the Prophet, burning sacred texts… these all translate into personal affronts for those that hold those symbols dear.
Patriotism, on the other hand, doesn’t have to rely on faith. True patriotism is acting in support of the ideology and protecting the home.
The flag and the national anthem as symbols of patriotism aren’t worth very much if the ideals that they represent are not being followed and protected.
I’ve spoken before on this blog that I’m not a very good patriot. In light of current events, I’m forced to re-evaluate my position.
I support the Constitution and I’m willing to fight for it. I support the ideals that my country was founded on. Every individual is created equal and endowed with rights and freedoms that shall not be infringed, because these rights are not granted to them by a faceless state. These are rights are inherent, and some of them are redundantly spelled out as amendments to our Constitution.
From 1993 to 1999, I served in the Air Force. If my country had called on me to bleed or die to protect it, I would have done my duty. It is now 2017, and I no longer have a uniform. But if my country called on me to bleed or die in the service of the Constitution, if I was called to protect the rights that I believe are so important, then I would do so.
Maybe I am a patriot, after all.
But even as a patriot, I don’t subscribe to America as my religion. The flag is a symbol. A useful symbol sometimes, but the flag is not my country.
The ritual of standing when the flag is presented and the national anthem is played… that isn’t part of my religion, either. I usually stand because it feels rude not to, just as it would feel rude to use profanity in certain company. But if I felt that it would make a difference to sit or take a knee… if I believed that in silent protest I could fight to protect the rights and lives of American citizens, I would do so, without hesitation.
That’s what Kaepernick is doing. That’s the movement he’s started. He kneels because American citizens are dying in their own country. They are not receiving the protection that they deserve. He’s fighting for their lives, and he’s doing it without a gun or hurting anyone.
Kaepernick and those other athletes that are kneeling with him are demonstrating true patriotism.
I think it’s important to examine your actions from time to time and evaluated the reasoning behind them. Looking at someone taking a knee and understanding why they are doing it, I see true patriotism.
When someone complains about the silent protest, I have to examine that action as well. What is the motivation behind trying to make someone stand for the national anthem?
If we are to be a great nation, we must regard the ideals more highly than the symbols. We must honor the Constitution, the rights of all Americans, and the rule of law. We must put those ideals above the flag, the national anthem, and the religious trappings of American Nationalism.
The idea is that there is no room for forgiveness for any of the people doing Donald Trump’s dirty work. They have sinned against the Will of the American People, and for that, they should be punished. It is a great injustice to celebrate Sean Spicer at the Emmy’s.
I’d like to take a step back from that and offer some counterpoints.
Sean Spicer was a Mouthpiece
The first point is that Spicer stood in front of the podium and lied at the order of the President. We know he lied, and we knew he was lying right from the very start. We have photographic evidence refuting his lies.
Everyone’s saying he lied, and I’m agreeing. I just want us to take a step back and acknowledge that they weren’t Spicer’s lies. They were Donald Trump’s.
We can criticize Spicer for his lack of integrity. Perhaps he’s a coward. Perhaps he believed that broadcasting his boss’s lies was for the good of the country. We can’t know for certain why Spicer continued to do the job as long as he did it. But he’s clearly not doing that job anymore.
We might even criticize him for being bad at his job. He is not the best liar Donald Trump has employed. I think that mantle currently rests on the shoulders of Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Sean Spicer’s Actions at the Emmy’s Confirms the Lies
When Melissa McCarthy stood behind a podium on SNL and mocked Sean Spicer, she gave voice to the outrage over the administration’s lies through satire. She exaggerated Spicer’s idiosyncrasies. She helped reinforce what we all knew: that the messages coming from Spicer’s podium were a lie, and could not be trusted or taken seriously.
When Sean Spicer wheeled out the podium at the Emmy’s, he validated Melissa McCarthy’s performance. He confirmed that what he’d been spouting from the podium, starting with the “largest crowd in history” comment, was a false narrative.
That’s huge. Who else has left Trump’s administration and come clean like that?
And before I leave this point, consider this. There are still people that are drinking from the Trump trough and believe every word from the administration is the gospel truth. Those people remember who Sean Spicer is, and they know how the liberal elite gather at awards like the Emmy’s. What kind of message do you think Trump supporters are reading out of Spicer’s performance at the Emmy’s?
We Should Make it Easy For People to Leave Trump
Suppose Spicer didn’t go to the Emmy’s. Suppose that Spicer was black-balled from speaking engagements, exiled to obscurity, and punished in the ways that social media seems to think he should have been punished. What is gained? We still have Trump’s shills and enablers doing the same dirty work that they did yesterday. We still have a Republican senate trying to take away people’s health care. We still have an unqualified narcissist with no empathy and a short attention span as our President. We gain nothing from punishing Spicer.
But if we embrace Spicer and give him a chance to tell us, through actions if not words, that he really had been a stooge? That could give hope to every other person in the administration that has an inkling of a conscience.
The message we should be sending is this: We know what you’re doing, and we know who is really responsible. Grow a spine, quite doing Trump’s dirty work, and you can still come to our parties and hang out. Maybe we’ll share a laugh about this whole mess, someday.
My plan is to finish the third (and hopefully final) draft of my novel today. I’m excited to do this. I’ve got a new ending in mind that I’ve lost sleep over. This is going to be great!
Before I can get to this, I need to get this idea out of my head and onto the blog, because it’s getting in the way. It’s an itch that I’ve put off scratching, and I don’t think I’m going to get any fiction written today until I resolve this.
Let’s talk about criticizing the President.
A Question of Patriotism
The idea was put in front of me recently that it is unpatriotic to criticize the President. They said, “He’s our elected official, and we need to stand by him.”
I have to disagree. He has been elected to the Executive Branch, and has been endowed with certain powers. Freedom from criticism is not one of those powers.
In fact, I think it is our patriotic duty to be critical of the President when he (or someday, she) is not doing their job well. The Constitution is law, not the will of the President.
Particularly cruel or unusual acts by The President must be met with objection. It is our country, and it is our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable. That’s what it means to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Besides, if our leadership can’t handle criticism, they shouldn’t be in such positions where they’re certain to receive it.
Don’t Focus on The Inconsequential
The color of Trump’s skin does not matter.
The size of Trump’s hands does not matter.
When we attack Trump, focusing on his physicality or other details that are not pertinent to his ability to govern, we are wasting time, weakening our arguments, and giving fuel for those that blindly support him.
There are plenty of actual, substantial areas to hold Trump responsible for. We don’t need to keep going for the low hanging fruit. Maybe it’s satisfying in the moment, but it’s not worth it. Often the people talking about Trump’s orange skin or small hands would be appalled if similar criticisms were leveled on anyone else.
Let’s not be hypocrites. Leave Trump’s physical peculiarities out of it.
Do Focus on Actual Issues
The latest absurdity to come from Trump is the ending of DACA. This is an act of cruelty that does not make our country greater. There is no good reason or justification for doing this.
It is easy to find other areas of substance that deserve attention. Threatening to shut down the government if the budget doesn’t include a border wall, for example, is an easy topic for discussion. Not only is the border wall ineffective, expensive, and an even dumber idea after the massive flooding of Texas, Trump’s take on paying for the wall is contrary to his campaign promise. Mexico is not going to pay for the wall. Mexico will never pay for the wall.
I could probably spend thousands of words focusing on issues of actual substance where Trump should be criticized. These aren’t even Republican versus Democrat ideas, but actual issues where the Constitution is being ignored or violated (Emoluments Clause, anyone?).
I’m not going to go into it here. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to find the issue that bothers you the most and carry the conversation forward. Maybe you’re pissed at how much Trump has spent traveling to golf courses? Maybe you (rightfully) think that Trump focusing on removing transgender people in the military is needless, expensive, and unwanted?
Seriously, Trump is the worst President we’ve ever had. If you haven’t taken issue with something that he’s said or done, then you’re just not paying attention.
Stick to the Truth
Trump lies so often that I’m forced to question if he has some psychological condition. Do you lie more when you’re senile? He lied throughout his campaign, and he started off his presidency with lies about his inauguration crowd size. Trump lies constantly.
That doesn’t give us an excuse to lie ourselves, or continue spreading lies.
When it comes to honesty, we have to be better than Trump. That’s a pretty low bar.
In regards to the truth, try to find primary sources. If someone says that Trump said something or did something, look for a video or pictures of Trump doing that thing. There are plenty people on social media that are spreading misinformation. Try to avoid the memes, especially when they’re not true.
This point goes a little deeper, though. We need to be honest with ourselves.
An example is how we talked about Hurricane Harvey and Trump’s response. A lot of time was dedicated to Trump’s first visit. He commented on the crowd size. He didn’t visit with any actual victims. He was about as far as he could be from the most affected areas.
The bandwidth we gave to that particular visit isn’t particularly honest. Were we supposed to be shocked that Trump showed no empathy? That’s practically his brand. At his core, he is a dishonest narcissist with no empathy, often motivated by fear and misinformation. Did we expect him to change just because dozens of people died in one of the worst natural disasters of our time?
But maybe people thought giving that particular story more energy would help show Trump supporters just what kind of man he is. If those supporters are blind to the other stuff, why would this change their minds?
Finally, Trump did wind up going back, and he did go to where there was damage. He tried to help. He still said some stupid stuff, but he apparently worked at a food kitchen and helped in some token way.
That second visit didn’t get nearly the amount of energy that the first visit did, and that’s where the dishonesty is most visible. Trump did something that is contrary to the current trend of Trump bashing, and social media swept it under the rug or ignored it because it didn’t jive with the narrative.
The most troubling aspect of the times we live in is our disregard for the truth.
Trump is a terrible president and a reprehensible human being, from everything I’ve seen. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to ignore any good he might do. From what I’ve gathered, his second trip to Texas was what his first trip should have been. Maybe he was forced into it by his family. Maybe he did it try to and change the Hurricane Harvey story. I don’t know, and I can’t know for certain because we are letting our biases impact what we share and believe.
Please note that I’m in no way bashing the media on this point. I think that some of what I’m saying applies to them, but I honestly believe that journalists are doing their best. It’s journalists that made me aware of Trump’s second visit to Texas.
Changing People’s Minds
The whole point is to try and get that friend or relative that seems to be a blind Trump supporter to change their mind, right? Or maybe you’ve got a coworker that isn’t looking at the news at all, and thinks that everything is just as it always has been, and it doesn’t matter if Trump is president. Maybe you want them to care, right?
The reality is that you’re not going to change anyone’s mind. Trump’s approval rating isn’t going to go much lower. There will continue to be people that are all about party over country. There will continue to be people that listen only to Hannity or Alex Jones. Hell, there will continue to be racists like David Duke that are paying attention to everything Trump is saying, and the words are music to their ears.
If there is any hope to changing anyone’s mind, it’s through Trump’s own words. That’s how I’ve come to the conclusions I’ve come to. I didn’t read some op-ed or analysis of Trump’s presidency. I listened to the man speak, all by himself, and found what he was saying to be antithetical to what makes this country great.
My mind can be changed about Trump, but it would take Trump himself to do it. He would need to make up for a lot of his own history, from “grab them by the pussy” to his recent jabs at South Korea in the face of North Korea’s nuclear aggression. Trump hasn’t given me any reason to believe that there is a great man inside him, waiting to emerge and be the president we deserve. If anything, from his blatant nepotism to his hawking of $40 USA hats, I’m thinking that we should have taken an inventory of the White House before he moved in.
Now that that’s off my chest, I’m going to write some fiction.
About 30 years ago, I read The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. It was my first adventure outside of kids’ books, and the first Robert Heinlein story I ever read. I think I was with my Dad at a supermarket when we picked up the paperback off a rack. That book started my Heinlein phase, which didn’t end until I’d read almost 30 other Heinlein books.
Some of the subject material went over my head. Some of the stories stuck with me and influenced my writing. Others were just okay.
I never finished Stranger in a Strange Land. When talking to other Heinlein fans at conventions, I kept this fact secret. I was embarrassed. This is probably Heinlein’s most famous book. It won the 1962 Hugo. It gave us the word “grok.” I read almost all of his books. How could I have left that one out?
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to correct this omission. I downloaded the audio book and I chewed through it slowly. I wanted to savor it because in many ways, I was going back in time. I was going back to a reflection of the 60’s, when Heinlein wrote the book. I was also going back to when I was much younger, and the only thing I was reading was Heinlein paperbacks.
Here, then, are my observations.
The Casual Misogyny
The first thing that hit me as I listened to the book was that women did not have an equal place in the world. Jill Boardman is constantly called by pet names. The women are often admonished as if they are children rather than as adults. Several male characters throughout the book, including Jubal Harshaw, describe the role of women in society, and it isn’t flattering.
To Heinlein’s credit, the female protagonists aren’t wilting flowers. They display strength in personality. They eventually express their own sexuality and appetites on par with their male counterparts. But even within the views of Jill and Michael, there is a “truth” that Jill realizes: it is natural for men to need to look at women, and it is natural for women to flaunt and be seen.
I chalked up the inequality of the sexes as being a byproduct of being written in the early 60’s. A time full of dames and broads. Given that context, the story is quite progressive.
Jubal Harshaw, The Pro From Dover
Jubal Harshaw is a bigger than life character. Both a doctor and a lawyer, no one gets one over on Jubal Harshaw. Throughout the story, he outmaneuvers world leaders, police forces, and religious zealots. He is the only one that fully groks without learning Martian first. Michael values Jubal Harshaw’s word above all others.
Again, this seems like a trope from the era. That is, authors from that time seemed to inject in their heroes over-the-top qualities that make them unbelievable.
My first attempts at writing fiction featured a character named Arthur Kane that was also over-the-top. He was rich, super smart, knew karate, and was a mechanical genius. Even though I hadn’t finished Strange in a Strange Land before I started writing, I feel like this type of writing was present in the other Heinlein books I’d read. His influence on my early writing is clear.
I found the exploration of religion extremely interesting. I saw the Fosterites with their hedonism, commercialism, and political and military influence as an exaggerated version of today’s Christian right. When Michael talks about initiates in his church, he refers to them as marks. Indeed, everyone that attends a church in the book is made out to be a dupe getting suckered by carnies. When it comes to church in Stranger in a Strange Land, the game is always rigged.
Once people have made it far enough into Michael’s church, they realize that it isn’t a church at all. They become part of the community and they’re no longer treated like suckers. Their enlightenment is that every creature that can understand, that can grok, is God. Thou art God.
Interestingly enough, Jubal Harshaw, the patron saint of Michael’s church, the figure that Michael claims to be capable of grokking fully even without learning Martian, is an atheist. He is the last to join Michael’s home, and he never gives up his agnostic views.
It’s also interesting that the Christ-like figure of Michael is brought to an ultimate conclusion as a martyr. Having delivered his message and done what he needed to do in a corporeal body, he discorporated.
In Stranger in a Strange Land, all religions are true. And none of them are. I don’t believe Heinlein intended to give us any answers. I believe he just tried to make people think and discuss. However, if he was projecting his own philosophy anywhere, I’d guess it was through the pragmatic viewpoint of Jubal Harshaw.
Left Versus Right
Just as Heinlein can’t avoid bringing bits of his culture into his writing, I can’t avoid bringing bits of my own into it when reading. Consequently, I saw reflections of our present day in the pages of Stranger in a Strange Land.
All of the protagonists lean so far left that their homes describe perfect socialist utopias. In Jubal Harshaw’s home, people work for Jubal, but they’re treated as family. They eat together. They play together. While sex is not quite as free as it is in Michael’s home, it isn’t discouraged.
Michael’s home goes even further. Money and possessions and clothing are things that are used outside the home. The relationships are polygamous. There is no place for jealousy. All are equal, for all are God. Michael is described as a first among equals and is given reverence, but only to a point.
The protagonists are definitely bleeding heart lefty liberals, with their free love and socialist living. And in the context of the story, taken to the ultimate conclusion, they are superior and closer to natural order. They have control of their bodies. They are happy. They move with purpose. They need not fear death, because they are spiritual, enlightened beings.
Who are the antagonists, then? The Fosterites, certainly. And as I said before, they’re very much Tea Party right wingers taken to the extreme. They seek money and power. They borrow scripture from Christianity without actually living lives that follow that religion. And they are intolerant of any other faith or way of life. They are destructively evangelical.
Joseph Douglas and his police forces are antagonists for a while. I believe the police are even described as “S.S. troupes.” though I might be mistaken as a fault of listening rather than reading.
In the end, it’s the police state influenced by the Fosterites that closes in on Michael and his home. As he is being killed, the news media keeps cutting to commercials. The media is unemotional in broadcasting the gruesome destruction of someone preaching love and hope. They continue to smile while that’s going on, peddling products with commercial glee.
I don’t want to go too much into the reflections I see with present day reality because some of my conclusions aren’t particularly flattering. I don’t mind offending people, but it’s not what I’m setting out to do in this post.
I enjoyed Strainger in a Strange Land. If for no other reason, the nostalgia from reading a Robert Heinlein story was fantastic. Beyond that, I liked picking out (or perhaps guessing at) the world Heinlein lived in when he wrote the book. He set out to write a story that would make people think and get them talking. I think he succeeded.
If you have not read it before, I recommend it. But don’t go in lightly. Be prepared for some viewpoints that would not survive the world we live in today.