Sunday, November 29, 2009

Now's a Good Time

Current Reading: Myths of the North American Indians, by Lewis Spence

Inspirational Quote: "We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes" -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I've been reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Freelancer's Survival Guide. I recommend it even if you're not planning on starting your own business. She always raises at least one point that makes me think deeply. This week's post was on, to paraphrase, when to start pursuing your dream. Her opinion is "now."

As a father and husband, a man of responsibilities, I find it difficult not to protest. But, I say, what about the mortgage, the children's education, bills... What I'm doing pays for my life and that of my dependents. So what if it's uninspiring drudge? Following my dream is unlikely to lead to financial reward. And all of that is true.

Yet, if not now, when? When the kids are grown? When the mortgage is paid? When I retire? The problem with putting off anything until tomorrow is that none of us know when there will be no more tomorrows. I draw your attention to the quote at the top of this post, which came from a man who pursued greatly and achieved much, but ran out of tomorrows before he could achieve all that he might have. Wil Wheaton writes about the same sort of thing when he urges his audience to "Get Excited and Make Things."

So I find myself thinking about all I would like to do, and looking with some discouragement at what I am doing. It's the biggest contrast in my life. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People asks readers to imagine their epitaph, and although my thoughts on that vary from moment to moment, one thing I never want said of me is that I left my dreams unfulfilled. It also discusses that frequent confusion between those things that are important and those things that are urgent. Most of us spend our whole lives fighting the most visible fires, while leaving the most important ones to smoulder unnoticed. The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, is all about how Pausch achieved his childhood dreams. It contains observations, inspiration and instruction given in the shadow of the knowledge that one of his dreams -- watching his children grow up -- was one he could not live to fulfill.

A life with no room for the pursuit of dreams is a tragedy. A waste. And in the face of uncertain tomorrows, how can anyone put off pursuing their dreams? How can anyone, regardless of their responsibilities not say, "Now?"

But in a life already short on time, making room for dreams requires recognizing the difference between urgent and important. It requires letting a few of the urgencies rage on and turning attention instead to the smaller, hotter fires that are more important.

And I do that now, because tomorrow is an uncertain thing, and I hope that whatever your dream, you find the courage to do the same.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday's Musical Interlude

There is no upper limit to the Muppet content of this blog, but this does approach the upper limit of awesome.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Report: Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury

It's been some years since I last read Bradbury. I believe it was the Martian Chronicles. I don't remember much, so this time I was coming to this Grandmaster as though I were a first time reader, and I was surprised by what I found. I expected science-fiction in the Asimov vein: heavy on the science and intellectual development, but light on character and spare of style. What I found was quite different.

Now and Forever is a compilation of 2 novellas: "Somewhere a Band is Playing" and "Leviathan '99" The first is compelling, a story about immortality that is full of image and poetry and conveys the same feeling as the last days of summer: a mix of regret and nostalgia. It's beautiful. The second is basically a retelling of Moby Dick with a killer comet standing in for the titular white whale. I was considerably less enthralled by this because I had difficulty with Moby Dick and this is written in much the same style. The story is little changed, and there were no surprises here once I found the answer to "How's he going to pull this off?"

All in all, a read that owes little to "Science" Fiction and a great deal to whimsy, wonderfully carried off.

Ulysses Rating: 3 (I Loved "Somewhere," and struggled with "Leviathan," so I split the difference).

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Which My Collective Unconscious Freaks Me Out

Last night I dreamed was in a Chineses restaurant and I had finished my meal and was still hungry. One of the people I was with whipped out two of these things that looked like steamers and set them on the table. Apparently, I've been watching too much early-morning television because she launched into a spiel that would make Ron Popeil proud. These things would whip up any meal in just five minutes. It had an inner bowl divided up into sections, and little flags in the middle to tell you what sections were done. Genius. So she stocked these with won-tons, chow-mein, rice, noodles... all the good stuff, and told me to wait five minutes.

Now here's the weird part. I fell asleep.

I woke up when the timer dinged, so I didn't miss my second helpings, but that's not the point. I actually dreamed about falling asleep.

I'm notorious, in real life, for my ability to fall asleep. It's not narcolepsy (had that checked out professionally), I just get bored or sleepy or both and have a cat nap. It's a little embarrassing in meetings (I once dozed off in front of my boss's boss). But this is the first time I've ever fallen asleep WHILE ALREADY ASLEEP.

Is it just me, or is that more weird than usual?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seismic Disturbances in the Force

Current Reading: Myths of the North American Indians, by Lewis Spence

Inspirational Quote: Thank you for sending me a copy of your book - I'll waste no time reading it.

A couple of interesting things happened in the book world last week.

First, Sarah Palin's memoir became available. I had originally planned to say something witty and pithy about that, but given that every other comedian on the planet has weighed in, I feel outclassed and will settle for just saying, "Oh, really?" with a raised eyebrow.

Second, Harlequin abandoned ethics. I can't help wonder where in the corporate structure this idea originated and how on earth it made it to the executive decision level without anyone going, "Jeeze. That's a stupid idea guaranteed to antagonize every professional organization on the planet." On the other hand, I work for the largest bankrupt telecommunications firm on Earth, so I guess my question ought to be not, "how did this happen," but "why did it take so long to happen?"

Cynicism, folks, it's what's for breakfast.

In other news, it's almost December and my lawn is still green, growing, and visible. Tell me again that climate change is a myth. There's something disturbingly anachronistic about people putting up Christmas decorations while raking leaves.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pondering Success

Current Reading: Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury

Inspirational Quote: "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." -- the Dalai Lama

I received word this week that I have been picked up by the company that is purchasing my employer. This is good news, because it means nothing has changed. This is also bad news because it means nothing has changed. The known paths are the safe paths, but you never discover anything new if you only ever tread familiar ground. (Hey... that's good. I should write that down).

To quote Forrest Gump: "...and that's all I have to say about that."

I've been thinking about success, about my own, about others and about the success of those closest to me. Kristine Kathryn Rusch (spelled right this time) finished that part of her Freelancer's Survival Guide that dealt with success and, inspired by her words, writer Brad R. Torgersen decided to commit his definition of success to pixels.

What resulted was a list of achievements which certainly looks to me like a ladder to some considerable success and I wish him very well. However, after discussing things with Penelope at some length, I found myself having a couple of reactions.

First - I'm not one man. I'm eight, I think, and I'm sure there's more. I'm a writer, yes. But I'm also a husband, a father, a member of my community, an employee, a blogger, a friend... My measure of success for each of those people is different. I'd like to see the Magnus Somnium in print very much, but I couldn't count it a success if it cost me my marriage. So when I think about success and the milestones thereof, I'd better be thinking about priorities, about what's important. "What if a man gaineth the whole of Art, but loseth his soul?" (That's from Educating Rita, paraphrasing the bible).

Second - Milestones are measures of achievement: I've done this. I can't quite put all the words around it yet because I'm still thinking, and possibly because I'm just not wise enough, but it seems to me that a list of achievements somehow sells a life short. It's nice to be able to point to something and say, "I did that," but I think it would be better to point to myself and say, "I am this." I tell my sons that I am proud of them (and I am) not because of what they've done, but because of what they are.

Like I said, I'm still thinking this one through, and I think I'm treading ground that would be better served by Lao Tzu, Plato, or the Dalai Lama.

Third - Once I've defined success, I have to be prepared to accept failure. Do I need to separate myself from both those things? In the same way I refuse to call myself a failure because I have failed, should I also refuse to call myself a success because I succeeded?

I think a whole book could be written about success (and I know many have) without adequately addressing those questions. I also suspect entire lives have been spent without adequately addressing those questions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Statistical Improbability

My goodness.
It seems I have won a contest.

Personally, I think reading the list of rejections is prize enough.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Current Reading: Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury

Inspirational Quote: "The more you give, the more you get in return." -- Dave Thomas, Founder of Wendy's Restaurants and an adoptee.

Let me tell you a story...

Once upon a time (Cassandra tells me that all good stories start this way), there was a husband and wife who very much wanted children. Unfortunately, for reasons no-one could explain, they remained childless. They decided to adopt and registered themselves with the local Children's Aid Society. Years passed, for in the olden days, adoption was a slow process and Rip-Van-Winkle could have had a nap in the time between registration and adoption finalization.

Then one day, they received a phone call. A sibling group had become available, two brothers, who needed to be moved from foster care right away. The husband and wife were given four days to decide (very unusual and against established process). They did not sleep much during those four days. In the end, they said "Yes," even though they had no prior experience with children, because... well, because they believed in themselves and in each other and because they believed this opportunity coming at this time was something like destiny, or the will of God, or synchronicity or whatever words you like to use to describe things that just happen, but feel as though they were inevitable.

So two boys, six and nine, moved into their rather small home and all four of them tried to figure out how to become a family. It wasn't easy. Mom and Dad had no idea how to be parents. The boys had begun their lives in a home of abuse and neglect, and had only begun to think of their foster home as "home," when they were pulled out of it and placed with complete strangers who were, so far as they understood, just another set in a long line of people named "Mom and Dad."

Time passed, because it does that no matter how much you wish it wouldn't. There were a lot of hard times. The emotional damage they suffered had left them moody, uncommunicative and sometimes violent. The family used all the resources the CAS could offer, and sought support from other adoptive parents. They learned that they could not change the past, but they could make a good future. They learned how to cope, not necessarily with grace or without occasional bouts of despair, but with tenacity.

And there was love, always. And time wore the jagged edges off all of them, and they fit together about as well as families ever do.

There is no end here because we're still in the middle of it. Nor is there a moral because real lives don't have those. There is, however, an appendix:

My sons are thirteen and fifteen now, on the edge of becoming young men with all the storms and madness that accompany that stage of life. There are things that, as adoptive parents, Penelope and I have had to deal with that ordinary families cannot understand, and probably can't imagine. It's hard sometimes, but they are my sons. They may not have started their lives with me, but I shall end mine with them and I believe the latter is far more important. Although I see myself, my sense of humor, my sense of right and wrong, reflected in them every day, it is their impact on me that I feel every moment, especially as I look back on the previous seven years and look forward to the next sixty.

November is Adoption Awareness Month. Whatever your situation, single/married, gay/straight, childless/childful/childish, consider adoption (or even just fostering). You really can make a difference in a child's life, and they will make a wonderful difference in yours.

(For the curious: Cassandra was born 14 months after the boys moved in. Yep: 3 kids in 14 months, with 10 years between the oldest and the youngest. I always say I had my children in an avalache. I can't say I recommend it, but it's worked for me).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Putting a Big Box Inside a Small Box

Current Reading: Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury

Inspirational Quote: "Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -- Howard Thurman

Well, in theory, this is my last week of waiting to know my employment fate. In reality, who knows?

I've been writing a query for the Magnus Somnium. The novel is not ready to approach an agent yet, but I thought I'd post a query to Critters as a way of requesting readers for the manuscript. Anyway: writing a good query? Harder than it looks.

It's the literary equivalent of trying to pull your whole house inside-out through the front-door keyhole.

I mean, describing the story in 250-or-so words? You've really got to figure out what the important points are. I can do it in a sentence, but that's easy. You just drop everthing but the protagonist and the conflict. But when you have to add in some details, maybe an event or two, the whole thing blows up into unmanagable proportions.

It's like there's no middle ground.

Of course I lie. There is middle ground. Successful writers find it every day. It's just a skill in which actually writing a novel gives you no practice.

Book Report: Escapement, by Jay Lake

This is my first Lake book, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It's the story of a girl with a gift who ranges far from home to find a place for herself and it in the world. She ends up finding her place both closer to home and farther away than she ever dreamed.

This is a sequel to Lake's Mainspring, which I have been unable to acquire (haven't tried too hard, mind you), but it seems to be an independent story with independent characters, and shares only the world and the situation with the previous book.

And what a world.

Taking steampunk thought a little further than I ever bothered to imagine, Lake imagines an Earth divided at the equator by a wall. This wall rises straight up into space where it forms a gear by which Earth fits into the clockwork of the solar system. At night, the characters are able to look up into the heavens and see the distant massive cogs that form their Universe. That's a perspective that would definitely impact your world view.

My least-favorite part of the book is the plot, I'm afraid. Perhaps things would fit together better for me if I read Mainspring. Perhaps not. I was left at the end with so many questions: what happened to the English attempt to drill through the wall? What happened to Boaz, the metal man, or the Mask Childress and her renegade Chinese submarine crew?

This leaves a great deal of room for a sequel, but I was disappointed that in a book which seemed to have so little direct follow-on from its predecessor, so much would be left unresolved.

Still, a great book. Lake's prose is wonderful, providing the perfect concrete details that make his world come to life.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.