Category Archives: Uncategorized

How The Writer IS

Okay — so I figured it was time for another update on this weird thing that is the life of a writer.  I’ll admit part of this is because I’m not in the mood to do much or deep thinking.

It’s been an interesting week.

As you know, I brought Witchfinder out this week.  I also put a link to it in the sidebar after one of you nagged me enough — you know who you are.  And, oh, thanks.

Of course, under the course of indie publishing can never run smoothly, so I have not yet uploaded the files for the book version of Witchfinder.  I’m hoping to do it tomorrow morning, before starting work on Through Fire.

I’ve figured out what is wrong with Through Fire — no.  That’s not exactly right.  I found out what was wrong with Through Fire two weeks ago, and I know exactly where it’s going.  The block broke too.  It wasn’t block, apparently, but the final recuperation from whatever last year was (a breakdown seat to music?  No, wait, there was no music.)  It seems — she says in some surprise — that when I run myself down tot he point that I’m getting continually sick, I can’t write, or at least I can but there’s no emotion in it.

Another point of problem with Through Fire was that in chapter three the viewpoint character has … well, a conference with Lucius.  I knew Lucius needed to be an outright b*stard to her, and a manipulative one at that, but after a full book spent in his head and knowing his motives, this was really hard.

Never mind.  that’s been conquered, and all of the beginning has been rewritten, and I know exactly how and where this book is going to go.

However, writing it is still being way too hard.  And I figured out why.  My issue is that I’m between steps again.  How do I put this?  Visualize writing as a staircase.  When you’re between steps, you can see the step below and everything that’s wrong with it (has no one dusted this staircase?  And what’s that cat fur?) but you can’t see the step above, yet, and you’re feeling tentatively for it with your foot, so… it’s an adventure.

But i is getting done.

And in my spare time, because you know what the last few years have been job-insecurity wise (for once not for me) I’m trying to get as much of my back list up there as humanly possible.

Orphan kittens is waiting to be published.  It will probably wait till I finish all three books I want to send to Baen ASAP.

A Death in Gascony to be republished under its original title of The Musketeer’s Inheritance, is edited and in my hands, but I haven’t had the two hours to go over it.  Hopefully I send Through Fire to Toni by Monday and then I do that.  (Or might be Wednesday, because the final typo hunt always takes a couple of days longer than expected.)

So… Where is the writer?

Well… Witchfinder has sold, to date 225 copies.  Not amazing, but we’ll see how it does going forward.  I’ve always been aware the initial push would wear itself out, and then as people read it and word of mouth (and some reviews — if you have a blog and want to review it, I’ll send you a clean copy!) hits, the sales will pick up again.  I’d very much like to see 1k copies in a month among other things because it would make this moving project much easier.  But of course, I have no way to force that.

Oh, wait, there’s a way to goose it — maybe — and tomorrow I’ll have An Answer From The North for free on Amazon.  When it hits I’ll link here, so ya’ll can get it if you wish.

Of course, I set it to go for free, and then looked at the cover.  Tore my hair.  Made another cover.  Then fixed the interior.

When number one son comes on vacation, I’m going to teach him the publishing routine and programs, so he can replace the horrible covers of my early short stories.  It’s an endeavor that really doesn’t need my time spent on it, but… should still be done.

Again, though, a free story doesn’t guarantee sales for other things (though for me, at least, it usually works that way) but it’s worth trying.

And I’m working on Through Fire while Darkship Revenge tries to write itself in my head.

So, I’m very busy, which is my favored state — as you guys probably know.

Now, if I can manage to dig out from the accumulated pile of work from last year, maybe I can manage “busy but sane.”

It’s something to shot for.

One way or another, you guys get to watch it in real time.  If I start going nuts, I’ll yell for you to throw me a rope.

Let me know which way you’ll pull ;)

Stand UP

No, I don’t care if you are counted or not. This is not about voting, or the more open forms of citizenship – it’s just about not shutting up.

My parents, of course, would have it that it’s not that difficult for me to not shut up. It’s sort of what comes naturally. I used to go on continuously, about something or another, even if another was something I read. I’m better now.

But the truth is that for over ten years, I wasn’t talking. Or at least I wasn’t saying anything about anything that was important to me.

We’ve talked about it before, and to long time readers of the blog, it’s certainly no news that for years I kept my mouth shut for fear that if my political opinions leaked to the ears of my New York publishers, my career would be most sincerely dead.

It would be fatuous to assume I was wrong, too. In multiple conversations with various editors, I both heard libertarians referred to as evil people (not just wrong, but evil) and got told about authors who were not bought because “I think his politics were more suited to Baen. Just a feeling.” (Yes, that is a direct quote from an editor I worked with.)

At the same time, I was several times encouraged to amp up the social message. That I couldn’t do. In at least three cases I balked it, and yep, I paid for it with my career every time. But to do it, I’d need to actively support evil. And that I could not do.

It took me longer to realize I was passively supporting evil. That by staying quiet, by not making waves, I not only allowed people to presume things about me that weren’t true (I don’t know how many of them did. Clearly not enough to make me a protected darling.) But the public in general would assume it. And that was bad enough because it enforced a totalitarian presumption of uniformity of opinion. The famous “All good people think this way.”

This article is about the Eich affair.  Or at least the Eich affair was the precipitating incident for the article from the Federalist site. For those of you not acquainted with it, (You so very lucky bastages) this is where the CEO of Mozilla got hounded from his job not because he publically expressed opinions about gay unions but because he privately gave money to prop 8 years ago. (That it was leaked at all, is something else and one that sickens me.)

The article quotes extensively from Vaclav Havel on the “post totalitarian” state — the state we live in.

To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.)

The subtext of the grocer’s sign is “I do what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me.” It protects him from supervisors above and informants below.

Havel is skeptical of ideology. He says that dictatorships can just use raw power, but “the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically … the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse.”  We don’t have a dictatorship, obviously, but we do have complex mechanisms of power and larger and more stratified society.

In any case, individuals need not believe the lies of an ideology so much as behave as though they do, or at least tolerate them in silence or get along with those who work with them. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system,” Havel says.

As most of you know, I’m a supporter of gay marriage. The reasons for it are complex, but mostly it boils down to the idea that if they can marry we won. We co-opt them into the bourgeoisie.

This doesn’t mean I’m at all divided in l’affaire Eich. What happened was repugnant and sickening. It was a discovery of someone’s private opinion and a hounding him for thought crime. (I will add that my gay friends are just as sickened. Of course, they are libertarians. And some of them are anti-gay-marriage for the same reason people here have mentioned: fear of having the ceremonies forced on the churches.)

I’ve heard a lot of stuff about how this means that gays should go back in the closet or other nonsense – but that will solve nothing.
You see, the issue is not gays. The issue is also not income inequality. The issue is not “War on women.” All of these are wedges the militant Marxists use to divide society and make causes both ubiquitous and repulsive to the rest of us. They both engage minorities to their side with “see, we protect you” and disgust the rest of us with the endless hounding of anyone opposed AND THEN they take the backlash and use it to tell minorities “you need us. They hate you.”

That this is bullshit doesn’t stop it from being remarkably effective. If it weren’t, the crazy gambit of “binders full of women” would not have worked, particularly as no one can precisely say what in hell that was supposed to mean or why it was supposed to be offensive.

And btw, as a fifty one year old woman, whose hormonal treatment is a form of the birth control pill (and it will tell you something about my system that I’m probably more likely to conceive while on it – though fortunately at my age that’s also not likely. Fortunately not because I wouldn’t welcome another child, but because I shudder at what my system would do to a pregnancy) I’m getting SO tired of everyone acting like, you know, if the pharmacy mentions what they’re giving me, the mobs of anti-birth control people will kill me, right there in the grocery store.

This b*llsh*t never happened before the stupid election campaign gambit about how Republicans wanted to ban contraceptives (a complete and bald faced lie.) BUT now my doctor and my pharmacist both whisper about that prescription and play idiotic games with my husband, who is signed in for ALL my privacy stuff. (As is older son, in case husband isn’t home and I crash into a semi.) We get the “Do you know what she’s taking? Can you tell us the name?” (No, he can’t. It’s a strange name, because it’s a form of pill only used for this type of issues.) So he has to call me at home and ask the name, and I have to find the old package, all so he can pick it up. He’s in all my disclosure forms. We’ve been married for thirty years. But the Marxists have this myth that hey, someone is going to pound me if they know I’m taking the pill.

In the same way the Marxist myths about gayness make me want to hit something. Or someone. For instance, there is the ubiquitous “gay bashing” which mostly happens in movies and tv shows. Oh, sure, gay guys can get beaten. If they go to a highly ethnic area in big cities. BUT that is never how shows, movies, books, or TV portrays it. Because that’s not part of the Marxist narrative.

And for the record I get pretty d*mn tired of the stupid equal sign, because it’s used INSTEAD of thought. If you’re going to support gay marriage, you should do it with open eyes, aware of the difficulties, aware of the issues it’s going to cause, including the fact some people will be shocked that legalization doesn’t mean mommy and dad now have to APPROVE. (Which a friend of mine says is why most gays want gay marriage.)

I LOATHE the equal sign, the same way I loathe stupid pat sayings like “Female shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition.” I loathe them because they mean nothing, really once you dig into them. They’re just a quack noise that says “I’m going with the opinion I perceive the cool kids to have.”

It’s the same reason I despise the intrusion of feminist issues into historical fiction. Hang it all, not everyone in the Victorian era was a suffragette or discontented with her lot. If they were, it would have changed much earlier. (In fact in women oppressing regimes, as in most of the third world, women are usually the enforcers of status quo.)

Making your main character a feminist is just a “look at me, look at me, look how enlightened I am.”

You can always tell in which direction the herd thinks it is moving, because people say things like “Grandma was a housewife with five kids, but now I can be a lesbian.” You never hear “Grandma was a lesbian, who had this one kid before joining a commune, but now I’m a housewife with five kids and perfectly happy.” I bet you there are as many of one as of the other (yes, there were communes in the early twentieth. And some of them were really odd sexually.) BUT you don’t hear it worn as a badge. People with that history might joke about it with friends, but they don’t blazon it forth as a “look at me, I fit. I’m moving in the right direction.”

All of this is herd behavior. Naturally humans want to fit in. (Well, some of us have given it up, right?) Outliers are punished, as they are in any social species. This is instinctive.

Except that Marxists or, as in the article quoted above, the “post totalitarian state” exploits that instinct. They want you to at the very least pretend to belong. Because every time you pretend, you lend credence to their lies. When you shut up, it allows them to say that all good/smart/bright/minority/purple/dinosaur people agree with them. And those in the crowd who disagree look and see what seems to be a united front and assume they MUST be wrong. After all, all these people agree…

That more than the threat of force makes cowards of strong and opinionated people. And that – that must not be allowed to continue.

It must not be allowed to continue because we know from history that even a majority of the good/smart/minority/cool people can be disastrously wrong. In fact, the history of manking is a stumbling from idea to idea, forever approximating truth, but never actually getting it.

There was a time when it was believed – to quote Pratchett – that a good stink was the only protection against illness. (Yes, I know not everywhere and not absolutely, but this is a metaphor for a type of wrong headed thinking, and I can’t think of another one just now. Don’t kill me.) This was, of course, wrong since sanitation, soap and regular baths have resulted in amazing decreases in mortality.

However, if people had said “everyone agrees, the debate is closed” and hounded out of debate anyone who disagreed, those weirdos who were into washing and soap and stuff, would never have got a chance.

It takes unmitigated hubris to believe that after centuries and centuries our time NOW has it absolutely right – that the best way to run a society is the way our progressives believe it should be run, and that therefore anyone who disagrees can not be motivated by pure reasoning or logic, or even a desire to protect someone.

The reason for that unmitigated hubris is mass media, and the uniform leftist grip on it. Insensibly, over the decades of the twentieth century, mass media and mass entertainment, and even books, moved more and more left – because the left captured gate keeper positions and they DO discriminate according to opinion. In their book you can only disagree if you’re evil, and would you hire/publish/produce an evil person – and no one dared speak, so everyone thought that was the way to be.

Now they see their goal – which is seizing society and making the herd obey them, NOT in case you were wondering women’s rights or gay rights, or purple unicorn rights, those are just the excuse they use – within reach, and they intend to seize it. Which is why they’re expanding their mau-mauing, scolding and general fit throwing. Hence Eich, the madness in SF, the madness in the gaming community and the general unpleasantness in society.

Which brings us back to “Stand up and be heard.” The counted doesn’t matter. One of us is enough to let a hundred people in the shadows know “yes, I’m not alone.” Imagine how much it would be if all of us came out of the shadows.

Yes, they’ll attack you. This is how I earned my world’s worst person trophy (half shares with Kate.) BUT that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because even as they attack you, they’re calling attention to the fact you exist.

Stand up. I’m here to tell you it feels better than lying down and being assumed to be part of the herd.

I know many of you have jobs and obligations that don’t allow you to stand up. I was there. But I commented on line under a thinly veiled identity. I was still speaking up. Not as powerfully as I am now, but speaking.

Don’t let them assume they’re dealing with a herd. We’re a pack. Don’t let them corral you. Talk back. Don’t apologize.

This is why I said yesterday that I think people should talk even if I disagree with them. People should talk, in particular, if they’re going against consensus. PUSH BACK.

In a way you’re saving them from themselves. They’re pushing for various idiotic things, because they think they’ve won.

But more importantly, you’re saving yourself and your children from living in a society where you have to go along to get along, and where you’re not allowed your own thoughts. Where even someone like me, who supports gay marriage, can be pilloried for saying “The equal sign is a stupid thing because gay marriage would never be “equal” as such. Also, it was promoted – true – by a communist front group.” And “If we gave the Marxists everything they want tomorrow, they’d just come back with more outrageous demands, because the end goal is to have the herd obey. In unison. And without back talk.”

Don’t give it to them. Listen to me.

If you can at all, in the measure you can, in small ways and big, stand up, talk back, argue. There is no consensus that is perfectly resolved in anything. Our society is not the end all and be all of history. There is no end of History, no perfect society. Marx was a weird man who smelled, a little hairy inkstained wretch who lived on the kindness of others. His perfect vision was more German mysticism than any science known to man.

We’re not standing athwart history saying “Stop.” History doesn’t run in any one direction. We’re standing in front the sniveling Marxists saying “Very funny. Now stop whining and listen to what I think. I have a rolled up newspaper, and it’s time you grew up.”

Stand up. Time to lie down and enough, once you’re in the grave.

 

Of Babies, Bathwater, and Blind People.

I always thought that the expression about throwing out the baby with the bath water was silly. I mean, who doesn’t know the difference between slightly soapy liquid and small human? Unless, of course, every adult involved in this is blind and lacks the sense of touch.

Now I’m not so sure, because I see people all around me do it. They mix up baby and bath water, and confuse signs of health and signs of decadence, and generally take the opportunity to bewail the current state of affairs as a sign of terrible things to come, and evil days ahead. And generally make me want to get my broomstick and crack some heads.

Look, I’m not going to say we’re in the best situation possible. I don’t lie to my friends. (I almost typed that fiends, which also applies: Sarah’s Fiends or Shall We Toss Out Baby is a title for a great Victorian novel.)

I have in the past – on this very blog – explained to people the mess we’re in. From the fiat currency in which no one with half a brain can put any faith at all, to the miserable state of underemployment, to the fact that most of us keep retrenching and still coming up short on money.

So, the picture is not rosy. For any other country I’d say it’s impossible. But we’re not any other country. We’re Americans. We fix things. We do things. We built new things. And we have enough of an history of consistently pulling rabbits out of the hat (ours or someone else’s) that I expect we’ll do it once again. Maybe G-d does love children, drunkards and the United States of America. Or maybe we just aren’t good at laying down and dying. Who knows?

What I know is that I’m hearing bewailed as signs of our decadence (supposed. I think rumors of our decadence, like rumors of our death, are grossly exaggerated) aren’t.

I’ll start by explaining: I was raised in a very traditional society. The ah… state capitalism system I was born under (I’m not using “fascist” simply because the regime by itself was neither anti-Semitic nor allied with the Axis and if it stayed neutral in world war two it was more penury and the fact that Spain could have marched in any minute. But State Capitalist it was. Say like China today, if a little less ruthless) was a very traditional society. Very. Like most societies ruled from above by people who think of themselves as do-gooders, it behooved everyone to fit in as much as they could. It wasn’t a good idea, for instance, to shout out bad things about the politicians in charge or the country, or the countries history. And if you were a foreigner, it wasn’t safe to tell people how poor they were compared to the rest of the world. At any rate we already knew it.

There were certain advantages to the situation – no, I’m not actually joking. I’m not defending the regime either – in the sense that it almost stopped innovation, and that things were comfy and familiar. My childhood was better than my mother’s in that we had antibiotics and vaccines, and most of my generation didn’t die. (Though a substantial number did in one epidemic.)

Oh, we were poor as Job and there were no imported luxuries because things like coke were strictly forbidden (in fact the only – very expensive – soft drink I remember from childhood was orange soda. I got it as a treat once a month or so in summer. With peanuts.) And people were so destitute they stole clothes from the line. Also, people would unravel an old sweater, re-dye the wool and knit a “new” sweater.

But we also all lived more or less at the same level. And there were no surprises. No one suddenly struck it rich. No one became poor overnight.

When that changed (and the people who came in were another flavor of socialist but that’s a long story) people became panicky and started talking about things like it was the end of the world.

And I don’t mean political stuff, which sometimes was almost the end of the world, but society stuff. As in, “We now have coke in stores. This is decadence and misery.” Yeah. Because for some reason in humans’ heads the trigger for “Run and hide” is close to the trigger for “things are changing and I have to adapt to new things.”

The reason is probably because when everything changed and our ancestors were barely human, running and hiding was the only sensible thing. Right?

New tribe over the ridge? Run and hide. Earthquake? Run and hide. River dried out? Run and hide.

Unfortunately this doesn’t help in the current state of affairs.

Again, I’m not saying we don’t have reasons to worry. We have tons of reasons to worry. But I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that most of the free-floating anxiety you feel right now has more to do with the fact that things are changing really fast.

Used to be you could look ahead and sort of predict where you’d be in five/ten years. And I don’t mean the fact none of us knows where he/she will be because, well, we don’t know how to survive in this economy just now. I mean…

Take my profession. In ten years, I have no idea what it will look like, or what things I’ll be doing. Take the launch of Witchfinder. It is not something I’d have even THOUGHT of ten years ago. Or five. Three, perhaps. Barely.

Things change. Fast. This scares us and we mumble of decadence and disorder.

Then there’s yeah, our education is for sh*t right now, partly intentional I’m sure on the part of education luminaries taught by Ayers. But that’s neither here nor there. Over the next ten years, people will find new ways of learning what they know. People are good at adapting. We’ll lose some percentage, but there’s no perfect system. We always lose some percentage. Right now, most of what school teaches is wrong, and do we want them better at teaching wrong things.

But of course what we get is “those illiterate kids! It’s the end of the world.”

And then there Americans’ acceptance of the oddball, the weird, the frankly strange. We have it, you know. All of us.

Look, that was the first thing I noticed when I came here, and remember I was in the North East which is a bastion of conformity, compared to the rest of us.

Anywhere else in the world, an adult with an accent is not just an oddity; he or she is someone to be shunned.

And I don’t know if it’s Portugal’s totalitarian heritage, or just a cultural thing, but I used to agonize about wearing the “wrong” length skirt. Because people care that you wear that year’s fashions and look like everyone else.

My first experience in the states reveled in oddities. The high school students who dressed (clearly) in their grandparents’ clothes. The kids who were pursuing a different course of study. The young people very serious about an artistic vocation and pursuing it without waiting the blessing of their elders.

All these were special to me, as were joke sayings on the teacher’s walls, or the fact everyone was so approachable.

To me it was like coming home. When my mom visited years later, she thought it was the end of the world and “anarchy.”

What I’m trying to say is this: the people – particularly on the right – who think the fifties were the last time this country was healthy should consider the regime then in many ways resembled that which I was born under: it was more conformist, more stultifying than what we have now. Not stultifying enough, though, to keep tech from progressing and when tech changes, society eventually changes. Not immediately, but like the snow flakes accumulating till there’s an avalanche. And when the avalanche hits, that’s when people think it’s the end of the world.

While the end of the world is more likely to come to a “stable” and “top down” regime.

It’s not that diversity is our strength so much – certainly not diversity of skin color which means nothing. It’s that our toleration for the odd allows us to import Odds from all over the world. And Odds, in the way of outliers everywhere, are often the most productive (and the least productive – sometimes the same person – people in the universe.)

Decadence might yet come to America, but it won’t be in the form of wild clothes, or people of different opinions (or sexual preferences, or…) not being afraid to be themselves. That’s rather a sign that we’re not decadent. (Those who have different opinions being persecuted is not so much a sign of people’s oddities or sexual preferences hanging out, it’s a sign of way too many Marxists around. Honestly, it’s high time someone made a spray called Marx Be Gone.)

It’s countries who are dying who do stupid things like pass restrictive laws on private behavior, to seem strong. Russia is doing this because it is dying and a society under stress can’t afford anyone who acts odd, at all. I’m not saying the wounded bear is negligible or that it won’t take a good chunk of civilization down with it. I’m saying that’s not a healthy civilization: birth rate, age at death, and the ever-present flight of women – all speak the dying bear.

We don’t need that. That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Next thing you know, as in Iran, we’d be policing haircuts, clothes, and making sure women are REALLY covered up. No, thanks. I’ll pass.

What I first fell in love with, in America, was the fact people could laugh – even at themselves – and that even odd ducks were accepted.

I’m an odd duck who can pass. (Not odd that way. But odd in this SF/F way we have.) But not having to pass frees energies for writing and other world.

And writing, btw, it would be really hard in Portugal, because who do I think I am? Here I think I’m me, and write me, and people buy it. And it’s good.

Which brings me to: don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don’t want to go back to the fifties and you know neither do you. The fifties the lamenters would like to go back to, never existed, anyway. They’re an artifact of looking back. In the fifties, with the kids all having automobiles and the break up of the extended family and the move to the suburbs – you know the world was falling apart and we were decadent.

We always are. And yet, we always remain standing while other countries fall. Because we reinvent ourselves, and, at the last minute, grab the baby of technological innovation and tolerance for the odd (and the Odd) and throw out the bathwater of division, forced conformity and dictation from above in all its forms.

Let’s do it again.

Bubble Warp – A guest post by Cedar Sanderson

Bubble Warp – A guest post by Cedar Sanderson
I was working at an indoor playground this weekend, and in between the mad rush of what I was doing, I overheard parents talking about their children. I’m an inveterate eavesdropper, it comes with the writer brain, perhaps, or maybe just the oversized curiosity bump I’ve got. Anyway, I heard the same line of thought, but from several people, mothers and fathers, through the four hours I was listening. “Oh, don’t go on that, honey, you could get hurt.” To another adult “I think he’s less likely to get hurt on that structure. The big blue one looks like trouble.”

 

Now, I’m not suggesting that we as parents ought not to protect our children from harms. I’m all for vaccination and will fight for that as a scientist in a couple of years when it’s my job. I’m not suggesting we let the children climb on the cliff without a rope (and harness, and carabiners, and proper belay, and ascenders… but with those, let ‘er rip, kid!). I am suggesting that swaddling them in bubble wrap is harmful to their long term health. We must let them come to a little harm, because it will strengthen them for the adult life they must eventually enter.

 

As we bring home infants, we sterilize the house, doing our best to rid every nook and cranny of any conceivable microbe. Culturally, we have been doing this for almost a century, and science is discovering with alarm that the effects of over cleanliness and modern medicine are actually damaging our health. Ever wondered why there are now regulations against having peanut butter sandwiches in school? Well, the human immune system is like an engine with the governor taken off, and when the illnesses, dirt, and parasites are taken out of the equation, it is spinning out of control into an increasing array of allergies, autoimmune disorders, and possibly even Alzheimer’s Disease. (http://emph.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/08/11/emph.eot015.full.pdf+html)

 

Is letting the kid eat that worm he just grubbed out of the garden the solution? Um… probably not. But letting him roll around in the mud and play with the puppy, rather than penned up in a sterile house, might just help. Getting rid of antibacterial products (look for triclosan on the list of ingredients) will help conserve both your family’s health, and that of our environment. Look, I’m no eco-happy environmentalist, and I definitely not a ZPG whack-a-doo, but I was raised to be a conservationist. If you destroy it, and it doesn’t come back, you’ll starve. So don’t overhunt, but don’t underhunt, either. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

 

As the kid gets older, accept that sometimes he will fall off the slide doing something dumb, like not coming down feet-first. There will be tears. There may even be blood, and stitches, and a trip to the ER. It’s a rite of passage, and it won’t leave permanent trauma. Unless you make it that way. I remember vividly reading a passage in a favorite book about the best way to make a child terrified of something, whether it was a snake, or a bug… freak out, as a parent, where the child can see you. If you lose it, your toddler learns that this is the correct and appropriate reaction to the stimulus. Which isn’t so bad when it comes to a big hairy spider (and freakin’ hilarious when that toddler is grown into a 200 lb 6’ guy screaming like a little girl in the woods at a web on his face), but what are we teaching school children with zero-tolerance policies?

 

That poptart in the shape of a gun? Kids have been playing muskets versus knights since gunpowder hit the battlefield. Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers… point a finger, pick up a stick and voila, a weapon. It’s not training them to be violent, if anything it’s teaching the opposite. Actions have consequences. I was brought up with the catechism “don’t shoot it unless you mean to kill it. Don’t kill it unless you mean to it it, or it was going to kill you.” I had a healthy respect for guns as tools from a child. Just like I wouldn’t touch Dad’s circular saw, or stick my fingers in the toaster. Respect, not blind helpless fear. No wonder kids get to be bitter teens and decide guns are the way to get the adults to listen to them, they are taught from very small that guns are the ultimate evil. No young thug ever went on a rampage with power tools, which are almost as deadly, nor even explosives. Guns are the demons of modern society, so they are the ultimate symbol to the hopeless rebels. Teach respect for a gun as a tool, and you take away that handle.

 

Is it too late? Are we so wrapped up in our communal cocoon of bubble wrap that there is no way out? I don’t know. I know my kids grew up playing outside, living in a house with no year-round climate control. They ate fresh garden produce, sometimes outside, standing where they had picked it, without so much as a rub on their pants to knock off the dust, first. They knew where my hunting rifle was, and they knew not to touch it (I’m pretty sure they didn’t know where the ammo was, but you never know). I took my eldest through hunter safety at the age of twelve, and she loved it. They sometimes snagged a bit of cookie dough before baking, or licked the brownie batter off the spoon. They seem to be doing just fine.

 

My Dad has a greenhouse (Ok, Dad, proper terminology, it’s a high tunnel) and we raised produce in it for a few years before I moved off the Farm. Tomatoes, starts for spring, strawberries, all good and yummy in the fullness of time. But first, in spring, once the starts were ready to go out, we had to go through a process of ‘hardening off’ the tender sprouts. You see, they aren’t ready to just go in the ground. You must get them used to the harsh sun, cool nights, and the wind. It will kill them if you transition to abruptly. Children are the same way. If they aren’t exposed to the buffets of real life, when they must stand on their own, they will collapse in a tangle like the tomatoes who have never felt wind. They won’t grow straight and sturdy, and they might die.

 

Get them ready. Let them take that fall. Don’t rush over, screaming and crying. Wait. See what happens. He may just sit up, look around, and when he’s not being paid attention to, stand up, dust himself off, and go back to his play. It’s all right, you don’t need to be on hand for every moment of every day. It’s not good for him, and it’s not healthy for you. Unwind the bubble wrap, and let your chick stretch his wings and grow strong.

 

Free Novel, Rogue Magic, Chapter 43

roguemagicnewcover

The prequel to this — Witchfinder — is now up on Amazon.

This novel will get posted here a chapter every Friday or Saturday, or occasionally Sunday.  If you contribute $6 you shall be subscribed for the earc and first clean version in electronic format.  I think it will probably take another three months to finish.  Less, if I can have a weekend to run through and get ahead of the game.  It hasn’t happened yet.

NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me.  Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013.  Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission.  Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com

 

Lady Caroline Ainsling, sister of the Duke of Darkwater

 

The path to fairyland was longer than I expected. When I’d gone into it, before, with my mother, it had been a short step through a doorway that I’d opened in a back alley of London. The path Akakios took us through was long and winding and dark. No, wait, not exactly dark, but more like a path through a dense fog, where you can see the way immediately in front of you, but everything else all around is this milky whiteness that might as well be dark, for all you can see.

The path wound, too, which seemed odd.

I leaned over. Akakios was in centaur form, and I was riding his horse-half, side saddle, with my arms around his chest, just under his arms. It wasn’t the most comfortable of rides, particularly when he found the need to gallop full tilt, but it made do.

I drew closer to him, tightening my arms, and said so he could hear me over his own galloping hooves, “Are we being kept out? Of Fairyland? Are we being wound around and are we going to be on this go-around path forever?”
I felt a little shudder go through him, perhaps at the thought of winding around forever, but when he answered his voice was confident if slightly out of breath, “No. I am winding the path to confuse them. They’ll expect me to go to my father, but I’m going to my mother’s village.” And then, after a slight pause, “You’ll like her.”

I wondered. I mean, I had heard about the mothers of centaurs, who were women who lived in a village nearby. They were, most of them, daughters of centaurs. For some reason the change ability, the capacity for turning half-horse only manifested in male children. Even if Akakios had told me that there were legends once of a centaur queen. He didn’t seem to believe the legends, and I was not inclined to give them credit, either.

But they married centaurs, too – I should say there were several villages of them, and centaurs, like my people, tried to keep the relationship between husband and wife as distant as possible, particularly as Akakios told me, his people could be born with the most extraordinary set of birth defects.

The marriages were odd, even by the standards of my society and my class. Husband and wife lived apart, since neither the accommodations nor the relationship could accommodate the husband in his mixed form. So they came to the village only to visit and in human form, while the women lived there all the time. Since the men felt more comfortable in centaur form, they lived in the herd and visited only once or twice a week or so. Notwithstanding which, Akakios seemed to think his mother and father had a warm and close relationship. He’d seen both sides of each at different times, since whenever boys started shifting into centaurs – which could be any time from age six until their late teens – they got sent to live with the herd. He certainly hadn’t considered that dislocation an exile, and seemed to love both his parents equally, but I wondered what his mother would think of his returning home in centaur form, and carrying an out-of-world bride.

I wasn’t given much time to wonder, because – like that – we were out of the fog, and Akakios was galloping on sand and kicking up clouds of it in the glory of a red and gold sunset.

We were by the sea, a blue-green sea with huge waves crashing just feet from us, so that the spray hit me. But even as I was about to protest, Akakios was turning away from it and up a path amid rocks.

The path had clearly been designed for horses, being wide enough and level enough, and yet climbing steadily amid the craggy rocks on either side. Someone had cut this path, or perhaps shaped it with magic since both the side of the rock turned to the path and the path underneath had a melted look. It occurred to me to wonder whether Akakios’ mother, and the other village women had as much magic as their men, or whether this path had been made by the centaurs themselves, to facilitate the visits to their family.

Akakio galloped up the path, even though I could feel his human lungs straining, since he must already be very tired. But when we reached the outskirts of the village – near the first few isolated cottages, where I could glimpse a larger cluster of cottages ahead, he slowed to walk. I understood why seconds later.

First there were chickens. Chickens that seemed to be totally afraid of horses – or centaurs – and went on pecking and looking almost underneath Akakios’ hooves. Akakios seemed used to him. he made an exasperated sound, and then there were slow, slow steps, careful to avoid the balls of feather and dumbness at his feet.

“Would it be easier if I dismount?” I asked, and he shook his head, and his hand clasped over mine, which were in turn clasped together at his chest. But he didn’t answer, perhaps because he had no time. From the village there was a scream of Akakios, and then a young man, who must be only a couple of years younger than Akakios came running down the path, sliding in the too smooth areas, his bare feet seeming to grip to stop his slide. He was wearing a sort of chitton, pinned at the shoulder, and belted, but probably no more than a very large sheet of linen, when all was said and done. His features looked a lot like Akakios’ and his hair was as curly, but the color was, unlike Akakios’ glossy black, a dark wheat.

He screamed “Akakios!” as he ran, and behind him came a cloud of children. That is the only way I can describe it. A cloud of children, in various sizes, ranging from adolescent to young toddler.

The young man reached us first, and his hand reached up to grab Akakios’ wrist, “Akakios. We thought we’d never—We thought you couldn’t ever come back!”
And then the cloud of children was all around us, babbling and calling and demanding attention. Akakios couldn’t move for them – a fat little toddler, completely naked – was holding on to his front leg. I thought I really should dismount but Akakios was still holding my hands, and before I could move, a woman’s voice said “Son.”

I suppose his mother was queen of centaurs. And she was as beautiful as one imagines queens will be – but never are – looking much younger than my own mama, like a woman just at the edge of maturity, maybe 30 or so. She was probably older. Akakios had had a much older brother, now lost. But people in fairyland age slowly.

She had dark brown hair, in long curls, pulled back with a ribbon. And she was wearing a very pretty tunic in pale blue. It covered her to her ankles and looked like a dress a debutant might wear, back in London. But over it she wore an apron, which was a very odd thing for a queen to wear. Even odder was the fact that she was wiping at her tears with the corner of her apron and leaving streaks of flour all over her face.

“Son,” she said again. And then in a sob. “Your father has gone to fight—Your father has gone to try to stop the revolt against Night Arrow. You should go back to Earth. I can’t bear to lose you too.”

It Turns Out There Is No Cake

I’m going to blame it on Amazon which threw some new and very interesting rubs in the way of my getting the book up, including, apparently, a glitch in loading the cover.

It is loaded into Amazon.

It will go up on various other venues over the week, and will be in paper within two weeks (I’m not promising more than that, since it’s a very long book which means the gutter set up for bringing it out in paper, is driving me nuts.  (Yes, yes, I need to get my mind out of the gutter. ah ah ah ah ah.)  And of course, I’m working on this against the background of trying to get Through Fire delivered.

Needless to say, I’d very much appreciate it if any of you who have a blog of face book account echo the buying link and this where people can read more. Particularly if you liked the book and can honestly say so.

I’m also almost done cleaning, which I didn’t finish yesterday because I was writing and then we had an engagement in the evening.  Normally I would now sit down and write you the chapter — but I’m afraid we have another engagement this evening.  (Regular social butterflies, we are.)

I shall send the revised version of the manuscript to the people that got the e-arcs.  Not much different, but it’s amazing how many typos can survive THREE separate editors.

At any rate, the thing is done and it’s up, and now it only remains for me to bite my nails and have this feeling like when you left home in a hurry to catch the bus and spend the entire ride convinced you left the door wide open, the oven on and all the faucets on in the bathroom.  (Well, sometimes it’s true.  I once came home from a play date to find water pouring out under the door of my mother’s kitchen.  The amazing thing is that they didn’t kill me.  The incident was afterwards referred to as “when we replaced the downstairs flooring.”)

I’m sort of hoping I didn’t do something disastrously wrong, and I’m going to hold my breath and hope it actually sells.

And I’ll give your chapter tomorrow.

BUT I’m very afraid the cake is still a lie.  or at least, while there’s a batch of cup cakes cooking on my counter, they haven’t yet invented a modem so I can send one of those to each of you…

You must endure it as best you can.

And yes, I’m still unbelievably nervous and worried, and it feels like I’m standing naked in church.  I didn’t realize how much COURAGE those of you who published  indie had.  I apologize if I ever told you to stop being a ninny and start putting your stuff out because you didn’t need a gatekeeper to tell you it was good enough.  I was right, yes, but I had no comprehension at all of how SCARY it all is.

Hold me.

 

Today we’re just promoting Cyn!

*And if you wonder what I’m up to — I’m entering the changes and fixing typos so I can keep my promise to bring Witchfinder out today.  Bear with me.

Later there will be a chapter of Rogue Magic.  Also, cake.*

Just one entry this week, from our Poet in Virtual Residence, the fabulous Cyn. Go buy her book, and come back next week for more great reads! Hey guys, we’ll have more books next week, right? Right. Same Hunnish time, same Hunnish place! As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!
Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster
Server Wrangler, Mercenary Wordsmith, and Lackey to the Stars

Cyn Bagley

Living in the Desert

Living in the Desert

Living in the Desert is a collection of short stories about living in the high-deserts of California, Utah, and Nevada. There are stories of wildfires, and desert rescues, including a cougar attack. Also in keeping Nevada stories, there is at least one alien encounter.

The author grew up in the high desert of Utah, where T.V.’s were uncommon and every one had a favorite story.

Also available from Smashwords

For The Children

Yesterday here we got into a sort of discussion about what is owed children – specifically, what is owed the children of people who have them solely to extort a living from the well meaning and caring in society (or those who wish to be thought so.)

One of the first forms of assistance any human society gave or tried to give was for “widows and orphans.” As far back as it’s mentioned (in the Bible as a form of charity, for instance) there really wasn’t anything widows could do to support themselves and children. (Sometimes they could support themselves, barely. But throw in children and they were up a creek.) The differential of manual/brute force work that males and females in our species are capable of – and the fact that most of the work at the time was physically demanded left the woman with children with a lot of unpalatable options, the most palatable of which might have been “find a protector.”

So charity to widows and orphans was exhorted and, as soon as it could be done, something was done by “widows and orphans” – even by kings and queens and feudal lords, at least ones that tried to appear benevolent.

I’m not disputing – no one is – that looking after helpless children is a function society should fulfill. I am disputing how we do it, but that’s a topic for another day. It seems to me that was with a lot of otherwise useful institutions, writers and filmmakers concentrating on the worst examples of the kind (and not always with the aim to bring about social reform. Sometimes simply with the aim to build on those who critiqued these institutions and found fame through it) orphanages and madhouses have been willfully destroyed without anything better replacing them. (And before you say that orphanages were uniformly bad – I’m sure a lot of them WERE. BUT all of them? I don’t know anyone raised in an orphanage, but my mom did. Yes, he had some issues, including a feeling of belonging to no one. More than children raised in a merry go round of foster homes, though? Do tell.)

Part of the problem with where we are is that we have to trust adults who MANIFESTLY aren’t able to look after themselves or be responsible about their own lives, to be responsible with the money we give for assistance to the children in their care.

The flaws of this are illustrated every time those who are receiving assistance for their children show us pitiful pictures of ill-dressed, ill-fed children. I know that there is a faction that denies that parents receiving assistance for their children blow the food money on non-nutritious and often non-edible things, or things that in no way benefit the children. I know the same faction is fond of saying every time we see a case of a kid raised on assistance, that what we need is to give them more money. I remember a lively discussion in a forum, where someone said they watched a mother pay with an assistance card for an order consisting of a massive cake, balloons and soda. The tenor of the answers was “well, poor children need birthday parties too. Why shouldn’t they have nice things.”

Of course no one is saying they shouldn’t have nice things, but I sometimes wonder if the “more assistance needed” flavor of do gooders who tend to be comfortable upper middle class have ANY idea how those of us just a little below them fare and how we look after our kids through the tight times.

All of us have known tight times, in my generation. ALL OF US. Particularly those of us who are middle class by dint of a technical job. We came of age in the eighties when temporary jobs were all most of us could get, and we’ve navigated through jobs that very often unexpectedly disappear and – 2001-03 – sometimes stay disappeared for months or forever in some regions. I have friends who haven’t worked for more than six months at a time since the tech bust. We’ve learned to cope. Most of us continue to live middle class lives, in the sort of houses you’d expect, but… but we cope.

What I mean is that whether our children got to “have nice things or not” in the abstract, in the practical, we made compromises. A “birthday party” around here is often a trip to the zoo. (Yes, still. We like animals.) If we’re doing well financially, it might be an overnight trip to Denver and include museums, but that’s because the kids are older. If we’re not doing well, there might not even be a trip to the zoo. As with many other things, it becomes “mom cooks a nice meal and we have some friends over.”

My kids have had a bakery made cake, I think, four times in their entire life. (And only because there was this mom and pop bakery which was good and quite reasonable. Gone now.) The rest of the time they made do with my baking skills. (Those actually aren’t bad. My cake decorating skills however needed work, and I had to learn.) This is how I ended up making the multi-tier robot-cake for Marshall’s robotics group at their graduation.

And now you’re going to say that if the mothers of most kids on assistance were the kind who could/would put themselves out to make a cake/learn to bake/decorate they probably would have escaped assistance quickly, even if they’d fallen into it by sheer bad luck.

That is not necessarily true. As we’ve talked about before, the entire welfare bureaucracy seems to keep people there, once they fall in. This also I suspect leads even competent parents to the sort of state of despondent despair where they can’t make rational decisions.

But that is precisely the point. To render assistance to the children, we got through the parents. And if the parents weren’t broken to begin with, the system breaks them.

Part of the problem is that none of us on the – ah – side of liberty is particularly sanguine about terminating parents’ rights. Given how, say, the IRS is used we can easily see kids being taken from parents for having the wrong opinions/teaching children to pray in a way that’s considered bad/someone else wants the kids.

Mind you, the state already capriciously removes children from homes because they think the parent looked at them crosseyed while at the same time ignoring life-threatening abuses from much worse people. Sometimes it seems to be designed solely to make it as bad as possible.

No, I don’t have a solution. As with mental health and involuntary commitment, the closest I can come to a solution is “make these things happen on as micro a scale as you can; make the decisions in the smallest community possible.” Will there still be injustices? Well, of course there will. There have been for centuries. Besides, any human institution malfunctions and has injustices and horrors, even the best ones. BUT we might avoid the sort of “error by default” that we see in children services these days.

Take mental health, because I have an example. When I was little, the village decided to commit a young man, a local farm hand for hire. He was built on a massive scale, and a nice, quiet man. He did the work of ten men and lived with his widowed mother.

Then one day something happened. He would yell and moan at night. And during the day, he would run through the village street, stark naked, claiming that “This isn’t ours.” I.e. he was absolutely convinced that his body, from the neck down, wasn’t his.

The village elders (well, informal, you know. The grocer, two of the largest farmers, the pharmacist, that kind of people) got together and decided to commit him. You see, his mother couldn’t stop him doing this (she came up to his chest, barely) and it took several men to restrain him. He was running around naked and heedless of (rare but unpredictable) traffic.

So they got him in one of his good times, and took him by taxi (none of these men owned a car) to the mental hospital where they swore he posed a risk to himself and others. He was committed and I heard recently he died in the hospital (of old age. By “Young” man I suspect my elders meant late thirties.)

Imagine my distress when I found out years later, while doing research, that his symptoms were not of mental illness, but of a stroke.

Was it an injustice? Well, yes. BUT the men were doing the best they could with the knowledge then available. They really couldn’t wait for future knowledge of the human body to be granted them, so they could deal with the poor man’s problem adequately. (I don’t even know if we can “Fix” the issue now. It would involve brain surgery I suspect, and I don’t know how sophisticated we are on that micro a scale.)

What they did was by no means perfect, but it relieved his widowed mother of the necessity to try to wrestle with a man three times her weight. It relieved the village men from having to down tools and leave work in a rush to go restrain him in the middle of the day. It stopped village kids from being exposed to a naked adult male but, more importantly, it stopped them from being trampled. (No, seriously, imagine a man who is more than 300 lbs running, uncontrolled, in a panic. It wasn’t pretty.)

Local solutions aren’t perfect, but they at least will try to achieve concrete goals. (“We need to stop him endangering self and others.”) And they’re usually reluctantly done when they involve drastic measures. No one wants undue harshness brought to bear on them by their neighbors and communities remember how you decided for others.

Yes, this might be impossible in our fragmented, mobile communities. BUT having the decision made by faceless bureaucrats who cannot and do not know how it affects the local community isn’t an improvement. In the situation above, I can well imagine today’s institutions ordering us to let him keep doing what he was doing, or to appoint two slight females at full time pay to help his mother or something equally ridiculous.

Which is what we’re stuck with for assistance to children.

This is made worse the farther way/more different culture the children are. There is this photo essay going around Facebook about “Children in their bedrooms” but, as people who link invariably tell us, “this is about so much more.”

Well, it opens with a photo of an Arab kid from the West bank. Knowing the culture that gave us the term Paliwood for the staged photos of “Israeli atrocities” I immediately felt skeptical at the picture of the kid posed in what appears to be a chicken coup, with a lamb on his shoulders, in typical iconographic fashion.

It soon became obvious that was, in fact, going to be the theme of the essay. Oh, there were a few red herrings thrown in: a child in China, with a massive poster of Mao over his bed. A sofa outdoors in what looked like one of Rio’s Favelas… and such. But then we returned to the theme of the West bank with the photo of an Israeli child (and look, I often see photos of children from Israel – long story – and I’m going to tell you they had to search hard and long not just to find a massively fat one, but one who had a sullen, unpleasant expression with it) in a perfectly decorated bedroom. (He’s not really a child, either. While the other children in the “photo essay” run about six, he’s about 14. Because that will elicit less sympathy.)

At this point, I closed the “photo essay.” I have no clue what all those well intentioned people think the “so much more” this essay says is, but I’m going to tell you what it really says: it says that countries that have issues also have issues caring for their children. No matter how much money you pour into them, none of them will go to the children. It will go instead to pay for rockets with which to attack their neighbors; for “presidential palaces” to impress the fools or, in the case of China, for massive, impressive empty buildings which no one can even live in or to finance US debt – and I leave to you to figure out which use is worse.

Oh, I know what the point of the photos was supposed to be. It was to point out that children were in want and need, while others weren’t. But what THAT is supposed to do, unless it’s assumed that economics is a finite pie and that to give to a child is to take from the other, I don’t know. And no one really believes that. No, not even our ever so bleeding heart liberals. If they did, they’d take the money they use taking their kids on trips abroad and buying them designer outfits, and give it to needy children.

Instead, they look at these photos and feel guilty (because they have the economic sense of my cat, and I might be overestimating) and then want the government to “do something” – which on the international level is even more stupid and dangerous than on the national level.

Those photos were designed to elicit the “make this go away so I don’t have to feel bad” reaction.

And they are designed, planned, and paid for by the governments that won’t look after their children and by their enablers abroad, which are the equivalent of those irresponsible and abusive welfare parents, but armed with rockets which they buy with their international aid WIC cards..

I don’t remember who said that there could be peace in the Middle East when Palestinians loved their children more than they hated Jews, but they were right.

There can also be less suffering to children in Brazil and China when people with power to allocate money think that providing meals, education and care for desperately poor children is more important than another big, showy building.

Dictators and irresponsible poseurs use children to get what they want out of idiots.

That applies on both the national and the international scale.

The only thing we can do is not be idiots.

Looking after children and providing for children is perhaps the deepest instinctive drive of individuals and societies.  But sometimes obeying it will only make things worse.

As with the problem of abusive parents I have no solution.

All I can say is that giving money to dictators who hide behind women and children always ends with more dead and abused women and children.

Be aware of how you’re being manipulated and refuse to do anything — from material aid to echoing a facebook photo essay — just to “make the bad feelings go away.”

Sometimes a photo essay is the electronic version of hostages chained to military installations and bomb depots, so that every military strike can be called a war crime.

 

Mistakes I’ve made a few!

So, on the way to this pinnacle of understanding and wisdom (ah!) on which I stand, poised at the turn of the half century, I’ve made a few mistakes. They started – probably, or at least, it’s as far back as I can remember – with letting the neighbor kid play with my expensive doll while I went indoor to get something or other. When I came back, she’d broken the doll and taken off.

I think I was three. If I knew then what I know now…

Since then there has been a long accumulation of errors. Had there been none of that, I’d be as wealthy as Bill Gates. Okay, maybe not, but good enough for my simple purposes.

Let me see, only the more clear, obvious errors, just as relates to my career: I spent three years learning to write and submitting short stories, because I thought I should do it to become a published writer; I never attempted to get to the Baen Bar before I sold to Baen. (And I should have, but I was afraid of online forums.) I spent years first writing things that there was no market for, then trying to write to the market. I believed what they told me when they said there was no market for the type of science fiction I wanted to write. More stuff? Four agents. Enough said.

I’m not going to detail them, but rest assured there were the same sort of errors in the realm of investment, choosing where to live, choosing where to shop and what to buy (particularly cars – though this one is doing pretty well and, knock on wood, will continue to do so, because it’s 17 years old and we do not have the money to replace it.) Improvements done to houses we then had to sell so we could move. Buying this house. Not that there is anything wrong with this house – now. After we fixed everything – but you know we’ve known for 12 years that it wasn’t right for us. Okay, 11 years. After one year, it became clear that we were moving furniture around ever six months because the house did not fit the way we live. But we didn’t want to move again, and I’d become so busy that we didn’t have the time to unpack boxes, much less to move… which has led to us living for 11 years in a place that just didn’t fit… Never mind, we’re doing something about it.

But what I mean is that we’ve made mistakes. All of us who are adults have. Not some of us. All of us. We’ve dropped the ball, been duped, got fooled by a clever con artist, had a bizarre concatenation of circumstances clean us out of savings (what is investing the company whose CEO then died on 9/11?) but more importantly all of us have done things that can only be explained by a sudden and total death of the brain. Usually temporary, but you know what I mean as well as I do. This is how I came to go driving without my glasses one morning, which given my level of astigmatism resulted in my neatly bisecting the car with a telephone pole.

And sometimes you do stupid things – the most appalling mistakes as any sane person would consider them – and they turn out all right, by a miracle. You turn a blind corner without looking. You run across the street, and it’s only when you hear the car behind you that you realize you were fortunate. You jump, land on your feet, and then realize the jump was much higher than you thought, and you could have hurt yourself badly. You buy bum stock and it turns out to make a recover. You buy an old piece of furniture, and, when you strip the 15 layers of paint (two metallic) you realize you’re in possession of a colonial-era bookcase. … you marry in haste and are very lucky that not only don’t you have to repent at leisure, but that you found the one you were meant to be with.

But those things, the good and the bad, adults take with a shrug. It happens. Oh, I’m not saying that, like the rest of you, I haven’t wasted a whole day – or two – in heartburnings. Usually of the kind of “What on Earth made me do that?” and “How could I be so incredibly stupid?”

That I know at least none of my mistakes have cost someone his/her life, yet. Though a couple of the near misses could have. Like the time Dan and I handed the baby off to each other, late at night in front of the house, and the other didn’t have the hold, as it were, and… let’s say I grabbed the kid by his ankle, stopping his head a cartoonish half inch from the sidewalk. (No, he didn’t wake. #2 son takes after me, and I once slept through an earthquake that sent the entire village to the middle of the street. And me too, in my brother’s arms. I woke up, eventually, out on the street, because I was cold. Go figure.)

I imagine that’s the hardest of all. I’ve made mistakes that resulted in the irretrievable breaking of a cherished possession and I imagine the process is the same, writ smaller. You sit there and replay what you did. If you’d just moved your hand a little faster. If—

But here’s the thing: adults, normal, well-adjusted adults, or as well adjusted as most adults are, get over it. I don’t know if you’d get over causing someone’s death, but anything short of that, right? You get over it. You shrug it off, with greater or lesser difficulty. You pick yourself up. You dust yourself off. You remember people who were more broke than you are now at greater ages than yours and who ended up millionaires. You sigh and call yourself five kinds of dumb ass and you vow not to make THAT mistake again, at the very least.

Because you are human, in the world of humans, and because none of you are perfect and because even brilliant people (I live with three of them. TRUST me) make dumb mistakes, you know that stupid stuff that shouldn’t happen will in fact happen, and the best you can do is learn to recover and roll with the punches. No one has it perfect, and to demand perfection would be stupid.

It gets harder to recover as you get older. And it might be impossible to fully recover if your health fails.

BUT we try. We move on. We say “okay, that was spectacularly stupid, but—“

I know, at this point you’re all wondering why I’m saying this stuff. It’s obvious, right?

Oh, sure. It’s obvious to us. We were raised on stories of people who failed and failed and failed, and finally succeeded. We were raised to pick ourselves up and move on.

But this is not true of a lot of people. More and more, even if people are raised this way, the popular culture brings home the idea that if you fail, or you’re discriminated again, or, G-d forbid, if something truly awful happens to you, this makes you a victim. And as a victim, you’re owed something “by society.” (Note that it’s never explained to these people that they too are part of society and therefore expected to make it up to everyone worse off than themselves in real or imaginary ways.)

Some of what you’re owed is being walked around on tenterhooks, even if your terrible injury is that you were once frightened by a spider, or failed to get the pony you really wanted for Christmas.

If it’s anything more serious, people should go out of their way to tell you how brave you are or to make good your financial losses, or make up for the fact that you slept around and got an std or an illegitimate child. And not only are you never supposed to blame yourself for anything, other people can’t point out to you that you made a mistake which led to this situation. That’s victim-blaming and slut-shaming and … who knows? What next thing won’t we be allowed to do? Stupid-shaming?

This both fosters the notion that mistakes are never, ever your fault – and therefore allows you to make them over and over again – and that somehow, if you made a mistake, you’re now sanctified by victimhood, so there’s no need to try again.

And thereby these people do end up victims. They’re victims of a failed culture.

We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to explain that victimhood isn’t sacred; that failing doesn’t make you special.

Failing and doing stupid things makes you human. Picking yourself up, learning from your mistakes and going on to try again and in different ways? That makes you special. A member of the rare fraternity of human beings who have achieved unapologetic adulthood.

 

Learn And Labor

I’ve been listening to Patricia Wentworth while I clean and twice in an audio book I’ve come across a character remembering her days of religious instruction, and a particular bit of instruction that I know I never got, and perhaps it was an Anglican thing, and an Anglican thing in the early twentieth century.

Apparently the beginning of the answer to “What is my duty to my neighbor” is to “To learn and labor truly to get my living.”

The idea – and the idea in the books that everyone had been taught this, that it was a fundamental, underlying, basic idea everyone that – that this was the duty of every human being TO THE OTHER HUMANS AROUND HIM/HER. “To learn and labor truly to get my living.”

Imagine that you thought that was your basic, underlying duty to humanity, and so did most people around you? Your religious duty. Something you did as you hoped for heaven?

The idea is almost mind-breaking in our current day, when people demonstrate because they can’t find a job despite their degrees in Women’s Studies or Puppetry. (Or at least can’t get a job that pays enough for them to live in the way they hope to become accustomed to.)

Because it is not the duty of society to provide you with a job in something you enjoy and find fun to learn/do. It is your duty to “learn and labor truly to earn your living.”

Another thing that wouldn’t happen would be politicos announcing that they just freed you from the tyranny of work, by either rendering your job very sincerely dead, or by making it possible for you to get all your ills taken care of. Because you’re not supposed to depend on other people unless you truly aren’t able to “learn and labor”.

No wonder people possessed of that idea built and extended a civilization that spawned the world and made daily life far more pleasant, healthier and longer for the average person.

One of the things in those books is that – though the class structure makes me insane – I’ve noticed that every good worker is considered important. So, if you have someone who is making up your fire, but they’re good at it, the girl (usually. Young) receives a sort of respect from those who hired her. She’s doing a good job, and so she is fulfilling what she’s supposed to do.

I think that’s part of what we lost when we lost the idea that learning/adapting/working is our duty. We lost the respect for our fellow men, no matter how menial their labor, who are doing it well enough to support themselves; well enough to remain employed. We lost the boundary between honest labor – and how many feel obliged to snicker at that? – and faking it. We’ve learned to respect people who do a shoddy job, but get to the top through tricks, seduction or misbehavior.

All because we lost the idea that it’s each person’s job to support himself – not society’s, not his friends’, not his parents, not his neighbor’s, but the individual’s himself.

Understand me. I’m not speaking out against charity. I’m not speaking out against giving someone a hand when they need it. And I’m certainly not speaking out against parents helping their children. One of the seeming motivations of being a parent is to try to make our children’s lives better than our own. (Not necessarily easier, but better.) We want them to be able to reach their dreams and get where they want to go.

But it is the children’s duty for each to learn and labor to get their own living. And it is our duty to be compassionate and look after those who can’t. We’ve come a long way since grandma in the ice floe. I’m not advocating going back there. The infirm and the old deserve our care just as we’d hope to get cared for in their situation. Trust me, I know (and if I didn’t I’d have learned it last year) that regardless of how much will power you have, there are physical and mental states in which you can’t perform even that which you’ve learned satisfactorily well enough to get your own living.

But the charity recipient should aim to return to making his own living as soon as possible. The idea of taking charity forever should rankle.

In the same way, if someone labors his entire life, doing very well at a humble job, never getting promoted or going anywhere in particular, but making enough to support himself, he’s performing his basic “duty to his neighbors.” But if he’s out there flipping houses with shoddy repairs, or making money in crooked deals, no matter how big, how important, how rich, he’s not worthy of our respect because he didn’t “labor truly.”

In that one precept is the cure for the lack of “meaning” in modern life. You don’t need to be striving for the pinnacle, and you don’t need to create anything astounding. The only thing you owe your “neighbors” is to do the best you can and not be a burden.

And in that precept is the cure for the illusions of our would-be aristos who think that to whom they were born, their contacts, the colleges they entered by virtue of influence and contacts, make them special. Since it’s less likely they’re learning and laboring TRULY, they’re worthy of less respect than those who attend humbler schools or work manual jobs but give it their all.

In this is the cure for the continuously extended hand and the whine of the would be artist. “I am making good art. People just don’t pay me.” Well, fine, then learn and labor to get your own living and do your art on the side. In this is the cure to the entire inversion where people expect society to provide for them, instead of trying to do their duty.

In this simple precept is pride and dignity. My grandmother used to talk about “the pride of honest work.” I think that’s what she meant. Once you get to night time, and you know you did the best you could, worked hard, and you got enough to keep you another day, you can sleep in peace.

You labored truly.

And you won’t be swayed by the siren call of those who tell you that someone else having more is somehow a crime against you; and you won’t even laugh – because it’s too weird for laughter – when a presidential spokesman says the loss of jobs due to an awful law will “free people to be poets.” I have nothing against poets. Poets who learn and labor and earn their own living can be admirable people. (Even if some are really bad poets.) But no one is entitled to be a poet, or an artist, or a cruise director, or a wedding planner, or for that matter a barista.

You need to earn your living – you need to do it, because otherwise you will be failing your duty to society – and it is on you to learn and labor to do it.

Now I know our job market has got twisted by all sorts of influences, and sometimes you can’t get a job at any price or in any way. If I stop making my living from writing, I’ll be up a creek as the last twenty years have nuked my resume. BUT if you find yourself in that situation, it is your duty to figure out a way to learn something that will allow you to at least try to support yourself. If nothing else, as Jerry Pournelle put it at the beginning of this mess, if you can’t find a job, and you can’t do anything else, make your surroundings really clean. It will give you a purpose, and who knows, maybe you’ll end up with something you can do.

Look – I’m not preaching. I’m the last person to. I’m talking to me as much as to the rest of you, because I’m prone to despondency and to seeing no way out of my predicament.

And sometimes there isn’t a solution. But if in our minds we think it is our duty to find a way; to keep trying to find a way, at the very least we’ll keep at bay the awful despondency that can rob us (me) of months or years when we could have been doing something.

Besides, one thing I’ve learned which is not quite “G-d helps those who help themselves” is that the more irons you have in the fire, the more likely one will get hot. Or as Kevin J. Anderson puts it – in his “popcorn theory of success” – if you put a lot of kernels in oil and turn up the heat under them, some are going to pop – and perhaps a lot will pop.

And if nothing does, at least we did our duty. We tried to fulfil our duty to our neighbor.

To learn and labor truly to get our living.