A Real Pick-Me-Up

Someone I care about has recently been reminded that at the core, most human beings are one perceived deprivation away from crushing the skulls of anyone in their way. If you’ve been to the grocery store before a hurricane or stuck at a malfunctioning traffic light, you know this is true.

It would actually be a relief if there was evil, if perhaps something icy and conniving could creep into our spirits and make us do horrible things. Then we could call it a sickness, a syndrome, some kind of awful infliction like locusts or a storm.

But what I’ve seen throughout my life is that assholery is always the same simple equation:

A = Deprivation (real or perceived) + Opportunity + Rationalization * Mob Think

I write horror, so lots of people ask me what scares me. Here’s what scares me:

All of our belief, all of our conscience, all of our intellect can be subsumed by the ancient callings of our beastly hearts if it means even the slightest improvement to our safety or group status. When it happens, we are masters at rationalizing it as justice.

And worst of all, it’s likely to be either by accident or exigency. Much of the time we don’t even “mean” it. (I know I haven’t when I’ve been the malfeasor.)

Cosmic horror? We should be so lucky to have an uncaring and ambivalent evil like Cthulhu instead of the flailing want-monsters all around us every day.

I don’t hate people (truly). I don’t call cataclysm upon us all. I just wish people were more…attentive? Perceptive? Careful? Contemplative? I don’t know.  

I wish I could hand out little business cards that say, “Really? Is this what you’re doing with 200,000 years of consciousness?”  

Confessions of a Non-Fiction Failure

I can think of at least five kinds of writing that I do better and more easily than fiction:

  • Gently-worded diplomatic overtures in the workplace
  • Bally-hooing business propaganda
  • Letters of advice
  • Hoaxed letters, email messages, and news articles that amuse and terrify people
  • Contemplative blog and journal entries

(I suspect I’d be pretty good at speechwriting, too, but I’ve never had the opportunity to find out. I used to be adept at love letters as well, but these days I’m like, “Hey, it’s awesome you’re alive. Let’s go eat pizza rolls and watch true crime.”)

In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that fiction (description, exposition, dialogue, plot, etc) is actually the kind of writing I’m WORST at. It’s certainly what I feel least comfortable doing, as though my mind doesn’t work that way naturally. I don’t even know how to practice at it, though I’ve written thousands of exercise paragraphs.

If there’s a story of mine you like, there’s a good chance that it isn’t structured like most stories. It’s a teenager’s science fair paper or a near-death experience or a series of letters or fragments of research books or a fake acknowledgements page from a book about ghosts.  

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure I even believe in fiction, the arbitrariness of story-time, the contrived third-person stance outside of events. Most of what I write pretends to be non-fiction, as though I’ve chosen the wrong genre to tell it.

(I lie and exaggerate too much for ethical reporting, alas.)

As I struggle on this next novel, I’m wondering about my future as a writer of fiction. Between writing the only two chapters that exist, I wrote an entire 16,000-word novelette while cackling insanely with amusement. What was the difference? The novelette was stitched together from many forms and perspectives — fake books and newspaper articles and court transcripts.

A few things bother me about writing that way:

  • It feels like a cop-out to avoid learning to write more “storylike” narratives.
  • Editors hold it at arm’s length because it isn’t as “satisfying” as normally structured prose. Most people want to be told a story, not to have a bunch of linguistic Lego blocks dumped at their feet.  
  • How long before it becomes a schtick? “Oh, a new Ludwigsen story. This one’s told entirely in Craigslist missed connections!”

Even so, I’m still deeply uncomfortable writing stories that don’t somehow explain or hoax their existence in the real world. The forms that please me like newspaper articles and diaries and letters fit so much better with my aim of making stories part of our lives. Everything’s a story if you look at it close enough.

I guess this is just my fair warning that even if it shortens my career or loses me readers, I’m going to keep telling my stories as fake found objects.

If you’re looking for authorial-voiced guy with a pipe in his mouth (“In the hinterlands of Merlindor, the ancient cobbled roads wind unguarded through primeval forest…”), that isn’t me.     

How We Went Off to College in 1991

Twenty-five years ago today, I embarked on my  journey to Gainesville to start school at UF. By an interesting coincidence, my niece Katie is starting her OWN college career at UF this fall, and I’m sure my sister will take the same pictures of her in the dorms that she took of me.

It's a desk, it's a closet, it's a bed, all in one!

It’s a desk, it’s a closet, it’s a bed, all in one!

I arrived with a milk crate and maybe two boxes filled with the following:

  • The CD boom box you see here.
  • The CDs behind me, heavy in U2 and Guns N’ Roses but speckled with Journey and REO Speedwagon.
  • A giant box of 5.25” disks for my portable/luggable SX-64.
  • A thin quilt.
  • A towel.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush.
  • A couple of portfolios to write and take notes in.
  • Some clothes, including my fancy Hypercolor t-shirt that changed color when you touched it, as was the style at the time.

Karen, realizing I was an idiot, took me out to buy a dorm refrigerator, a toaster, some eating utensils, sheets for the bed, and some food. If I’d chosen to go to any other school, I’d probably have died.

(Insanely, I only applied to UF because, what, they wouldn’t take me?)

It’s hard to overstate how staggeringly dumb I was at eighteen going to school, a weird mixture of feeling divinely destined to do great things but also completely ignorant of how to actually function in the world. My total savings for college from high school jobs was $150. My plan was to get an English degree, get famous from writing, and then run for President of the United States some day.

(Which, to be fair, is shockingly plausible in this election year.)

What I needed was advice from someone I believed. Karen was as helpful as a sister could be, and so was her husband Marty, but they weren’t privy to just how deranged I was.

So here’s my advice to myself back then. Maybe there’s something here for you if you or a loved one is going to school this fall, too.  

  • English, really? You’re going to take ten courses for the major and enjoy the reading for only three of them: Intro to Science Fiction, Poe, and Major Critics. There’s a reason we have to assign this shit so it doesn’t get forgotten.
  • It’s going to take about half a decade to recover from the turgid kind of writing you learn to do analyzing dead fiction.
  • You’re going to feel inspired and happy with both the lectures and reading for your History of Journalism class. Follow that feeling.
  • Take some classes in public relations and marketing. You might be surprised. It’s like making up hoaxes for money!
  • Man up and put yourself in the way of actually writing stuff. Take writing classes. Submit short stories. Don’t chicken out when The Alligator agrees to publish an op-ed and all you have to do is go down to the office and give it to them on a disk.
  • Basically all you have is a weak talent for saying and writing weird things in surprising ways, and all that crap about programming and law school and psychology is a blind alley.
  • No, you aren’t crazy. Those weird emotional fight-or-flight explosions are panic attacks. Go tell a doctor about them. In the meantime, lay off the caffeine because it’s basically liquid anxiety.
  • You’re going to discover a book called The Outsider and Others one night in Library West and it’ll be awesome, but for God’s sake, don’t write like that.
  • The moped is fucking ridiculous and it breaks down all the time because it’s made by angry Yugoslavian communists. Just keep the bike.
  • It turns out that you learn mostly by creating outlines of what you read and hear in your own words.
  • It’s probably a good idea to shut the hell up about politics for the next few years because you really don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact, keep that up the rest of your life.
  • Don’t install Doom or Wolfenstein when you get that 486 PC. You’ve finally shaken the video game habit.
  • That girl you’re in love with is a person, not a destiny.
  • There’s a lot more I can tell you, but it all basically boils down to lighten up, for Christ’s sake. Swear more. Use more contractions. Use fewer participial phrases. Read more Stephen King. Don’t be so pissy about noise and football crowds. History isn’t watching.   

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 4: The Moon’s Turned Black

I didn’t think I’d write any more about my Clarion writing workshop experience ten years ago, but since today is the exact anniversary of a moment I actually learned something, I’d like to commemorate it by passing it on.

By this time in 2006, the six-week workshop was winding down to its last days and I’d handed in my final story for critique. After weeks of trying to write carefully plotted science fiction stories that ended up quivering on the page like botched abortions, I’d reached my inevitable “fuck this” moment.

We all have a “fuck this” threshold, right? Where you realize there’s no hope of doing something the way everybody wants so you just fling something out, like throwing your tennis racket into the stands? That’s where I was.

For my last story, I returned to being funny and mean with “The Moon’s Turned Black,” about a genetically-resurrected Algonquin Round Table quipping through the apocalypse in our moment of greatest need. I’d written it as something of a gift for Aimee after a couple of conversations about Dorothy Parker.

(That’s lesson one, by the way: write to amuse someone specific instead of a faceless multitude.)

So we all sat down in our circle of couches and chairs as the summer thunderstorms rolled in for the early afternoon, and for some reason, that’s what I remember most about it: how dark it seemed in the room. A good dark, though — a cozy dark.

It was darker than this.

It was darker than this.

(Lesson two? Find your comfort in the things you love wherever you find them.)

Each person offered their critiques and I was stunned at how positive they were, if not glowing. One person said not to change a word. Aimee said she felt like it was written just for her, which it was. Someone asked who the fuck Dorothy Parker was, but I let that go. Kelly and Holly, our instructors, seemed to enjoy the story and had great suggestions for it that excited me for revisions.

(Lesson three? Don’t do anything someone suggests to your story unless it excites you with a feeling of recognition.)

It was a big moment that I desperately needed. I was pretty sure that I’d be going home as one of those people who leave Clarion to never write again, having realized they don’t have and can’t get what it takes, but the general approbation for that story hinted that maybe there was something in me after all.

(Lesson four? Don’t give a shit about whether you are or aren’t a “writer.” Do you like doing it? Do you enjoy entertaining people? Then who gives a fuck what they — or, for that matter, you — call you.)

So I went home to find out what that something was, sitting down for many sessions with a journal in the library to figure out what I had to work with and what I didn’t. I call this the “Fix It or Fuck It” list, where I decide whether it’s worth improving what I didn’t do well (character, description) or working around it (plot).

(Lesson five? Nobody teaches you writing. You decide what to practice and improve by looking honestly at your own work and making adjustments.)

I’m not sure how much of the weird inter-social aspects of our particular Clarion helped or hindered me, though I met some wonderful friends and a life partner there (no, Steve, not you: Aimee). And I’m not sure if I needed the full six weeks away from my normal life to boil me down to my essentials.

What I needed was a calibration of my expectations of how much talent I had and how much I had yet to learn, and I doubt I’d have gotten that any other way.

(Lesson six? Some fiascoes are necessary, if you only know how to use them.)

[If you’re curious, I’ve posted “The Moon’s Turned Black” on the site for your bemusement.]

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 3: I Don’t Like to Throw Around the Word “Fiasco” BUT…

I’d meant to write a series of posts about my experiences at Clarion ten years ago, but it’s turned out to be less pleasant than I expected. I’m so grateful at how different I am now as a person and a writer that it’s painful to look back at one of the necessary steps to get here.

Just because you get superpowers in a car wreck doesn’t mean you want to keep watching the car wreck over and over.

I didn’t get superpowers at Clarion. I barely got competency powers. It was the absolute nadir of my writing career (so far), and a hugely important wake-up call that made me start teaching myself writing instead of relying on books and other people so much.

Here’s what happened, all of it my fault:

  • I let the reputation of Clarion for graduating some of the major writers of genre fiction to intimidate me into taking the critiques I got there way more seriously (and personally) than I should.
  • I worked too hard to impress a genre community in which I didn’t particularly belong, following a lot of dumb rules and writing a bunch of awful stories.
  • I almost decided to stop writing because I was both embarrassed that I’d gotten to my age without knowing how to write better and angry at the generations of teachers who’d told me I was doing fine instead of trying to push me into doing better.

Here’s what saved me:

  • Meeting wonderful friends and even a partner (though we weren’t partners at the workshop). They’ve been supportive in ways I couldn’t imagine I needed.
  • Setting aside about 90% of the knee-jerk advice I was given there (“Show more than tell!”) by certain students and instructors treading rhetorical water until their own work could be discussed.
  • Hearing Kelly Link and Holly Black tell me the last week there that I should just keep writing my weird funny stories, only better.
  • Sitting down in a library after the workshop and thinking carefully about what I’d really have to do to get better. That meant looking closely and honestly at what I did well and not so well, deciding which of those to fix and which of those to work around. I call this the “Fix It or Fuck It” school of deliberate practice. What I eventually fixed was character, description, and voice. What I eventually decided to let go was structured plotting.

As with most harrowing experiences, I wish there was a way to have learned all of this without being an idiot, but sometimes you need a good embarrassing fiasco to focus your attention on what isn’t working. If you’ve got a long tail of be-shitted toilet paper sticking to your heel, you want someone to tell you — preferably nicely, but being told at all is a gift, too.

Clarion did indeed change my life. Or, more accurately, I decided to change my life because Clarion came along at just the right moment for me.

 

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 2: Arrival

[This summer marks ten years since I attended the six-week Clarion science fiction and fantasy writing workshop, and I’m writing about some of the things I experienced and learned with the fresh perspective of a decade closer to the grave.]

Today in 2006, I arrived at Owen Hall at Michigan State University, my home (with 20+ other writers) for the next six weeks. We were each assigned our own room with a bathroom shared with the one next door. My bathroom buddy was Robert Levy, who has gone on to write some pretty good books.

(I also think he smoked in that bathroom at least once, but that might have been asbestos.)

This is the un-air-conditioned room that awaited me in what was apparently the specialty dorm for the criminally insane:

enter

It smelled like someone had dumped out a truck-load of severed human feet and there were mysterious stains on almost every surface, but hey, I’m a writer. It was time to get used to living in squalor anyway.

shower

This was the shower in the bathroom. That accordion door could be pulled shut to simulate the experience of traveling to London in a coffin full of soil, which would probably have been cleaner.

I hurried to a nearby Target and bought cleaning supplies, transforming the room into my writing sanctuary.

after_3

(This was the last year that Clarion East happened at Michigan State, by the way. They gave us the heave ho and now it takes place in San Diego where the writers all look like this:)

slide3_new

Once I got situated, I went downstairs with a load of laundry. As I carried the basket, this guy yelled out asking why I was already washing my clothes. I explained that I was out because I’d spent the week before in Washington for work and he said, “Well, la-di-da!”

That man was Steve Berman.

He has since gotten a better eyeglass prescription.

He has since gotten a better eyeglass prescription and I have gotten a better camera.

If you told me then that within a year he’d become one of my dearest friends, someone like a brother to me…well, let’s say I would have been skeptical.

That first night as the other Clarion students arrived, we chatted in the downstairs lounge. There were twenty-one of us if my count is correct, and that was a larger-than-normal group, at least at the time. I don’t know the size of groups now.

(The way Clarion works generally is that you write one story for each of the six weeks (or less, if you prefer) and the rest of the class critiques them each morning in a circle with a handful of the other stories also handed in. A group as large as ours meant more to read and critique, and it often meant that the critiques covered the same ground. By the time you got to the last person, there wasn’t always much more to say, though sometimes by luck of the draw he or she said something that put everything in perspective…especially if it was me trying to be a smartass.)

It’s hard as a white guy to gauge how diverse we were, though there was plenty of psychological diversity: confident versus nervous, neurotic versus centered, desperate versus calm, quiet versus verbose, deluded versus rational, social versus antisocial, whimsical versus serious.

What I found as the weeks went on is that the big divide between both readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy is between the literalists and the figurativists.

  • The literalists tend to be more technically and scientifically inclined, enjoying the genre as a place to seriously consider the past and future of technology and human knowledge. They’re skeptical of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles because you can’t really breathe on Mars.
  • The figurativists tend to be more liberal arts inclined, using the tropes of the genre more loosely as metaphors. They’re skeptical of books like, say, Niven’s Ringworld that seem more focused on technical speculations than psychological ones. 

Neither of these are wrong, except for the literalists. They’re totally wrong.

We were pretty evenly divided, though I’m definitely a figurativist. It was interesting during our critiques to see people trying to negotiate the reasons they connected and didn’t connect with a work, based often on way different thresholds of believability: “Elves would never do that, man.” 

The good news was that easily 80% of our class, literalists and figurativists alike, were engaging and fun and interesting.

For the first few weeks, I wasn’t one of them. More on that next time.

 

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 1: On the Way

[This summer marks ten years since I attended the six-week Clarion science fiction and fantasy writing workshop, and I’m writing about some of the things I experienced and learned with the fresh perspective of a decade closer to the grave.]

It’s bizarre to imagine that ten years ago today, I departed from Washington DC for the 2006 Clarion writing workshop. Big changes were coming, though I didn’t know it then. I hoped for some and of course they arrived in strange ironic Monkey’s-Paw kind of ways.

I’d spent the week working at the Census headquarters and headed straight from there toward Michigan.

(Back in my day, that’s where we had Clarion, by God: in poorly ventilated dorms at Michigan State University. I brought my own window a/c unit.)

On the way to places that I hope will change me, I usually just drive in the general direction I’m supposed to go instead of following maps. I wound my way through DC and Maryland to Pennsylvania, and in the early afternoon, I came upon this odd sign.

"Come on down to my Flight 93 memorial in the basement. I got me some stuff I stole from the field!"

“Come on down to my Flight 93 memorial in the basement. I got me some stuff I stole from the field!”

On 9/11, the passengers of Flight 93 saved many lives, possibly including my own. I was working near the Capitol building that day in 2001, one of the likely targets. It seemed a good opportunity to pay my respects, though the home-grown nature of the sign made me wonder if it was some guy’s makeshift memorial in a garage or something.

No, it was the field where the plane went down, and I stood there in quiet contemplation as busloads of children and Elks Lodge members came and went.

"Hey, your grandma made each and every one of these fucking things, so we're taking them to Pennsylvania."

“Hey, your grandma made each and every one of these fucking things, so we’re taking them to Pennsylvania.”

I thought these were Mickey Mouse ears at first, some bizarre tribute from a country that thinks Walt Disney is our president, but they were wooden angels with black wings and American flag bodies. Never let it be said that our country holds back on any tacky expression of grief, and by God, when Grandma made those back home in Iowa, she meant for them to go straight to that field. Or to sell them at Cracker Barrel. 

A more meaningful memorial was the fence with mementos pinned to it.

93fence3

I lingered about an hour, watching the people and what they left behind — hats, flags, buttons, construction helmets, stuffed animals, license plates, and odd concrete tombstone-looking things on which they’d written messages.

93kid

Then I continued onward to Michigan, where things would only get weirder.

Stepfather’s Day

I’ve written a lot about my genetic father, in both fiction and non-fiction. I’m about as sick of him as all of you probably are, so I won’t waste another Father’s Day going on about how awful he was.

I want to talk about someone else instead.

In the late 80s, my mother met and married a man I didn’t like much at first.

motherlarry

After living for years with my terrifying but largely responsible father, Larry seemed dreamy and impractical and disconnected from reality — better suited to lazy afternoons watching the Sci-Fi channel or reading fantasy novels than, say, being anything approaching a husband for my mother or a father to me.

But as time went on, I discovered that his gentleness and imagination were just what my mother needed, and thinking back on it now, they were just what all the rest of us needed, too. He gave my mother years of safety and happiness, plenty of those long afternoons reading cool books and talking weird theories about the universe, and he did the same for my sister and I, too, not to mention my nieces.

He introduced me to Middle Earth. It was at his house that I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. He typed up my first serious story so I could submit it to magazines…when I was fourteen.

larryharry

He bore the brunt of my sullen teenage years, too, all the eye-rolling and fun-making of a person who seemed a total crackpot at the time. Larry had deeply felt spiritual beliefs that certainly weren’t like everyone else’s, and I didn’t have much respect at the time for a former hippie still keeping the faith twenty and thirty years later.

I do now, though. I admire Larry’s steadfast lifelong battle against everything practical, everything expected, everything dull and emotionless.

He won that battle a few years ago, dying with all of us around him. He seemed content, pleased to see us, and he was more than ready to go after months of having one organ after another replaced by uncomfortable machines. It was strangely appropriate, I guess, that a man almost solely of the spirit would slowly lose his body like that.

He didn’t really need it.

I don’t pray much, but when I do, I usually say, “Please let good happen. Let us recognize it when it does and endure when it doesn’t. Let us be its agents.” Larry was definitely one of its agents, and I miss him.

He helped provide space and safety for my imagination, and I’ll always be grateful. Toward the end, he couldn’t speak while on the ventilator but he could mouth words. I think he might have said he was proud of me, though it could just be my ego misinterpreting him. I hope so, and either way, I’ll do everything I can to live up to that.

I wish I’d recognized him sooner as the great father he was.

Twenty Five Years Ago Today: Dumped!

It’s hard to imagine, I know, that a seventeen-year-old with such a bright future in American letters could be cut loose from a relationship, especially one in which he’d written an epic poem called “Beowill” for his lady friend. But it happened.

It was 1991. My favorite album was U2’s Rattle and Hum, my favorite movie was Dead Poet’s Society, and my favorite television show was Twin Peaks. I owned an ancient Apple II computer that was nearly always open in a mass of improvised wires. I was a month away from graduating high school and I’d already been accepted to the University of Florida where I planned to major in English because, of course, that was the surest path to becoming a writer.

I wore that shirt a lot that summer. The baby brother's rabbit suit? Not quite as much.

I wore that shirt a lot that summer. The baby brother’s rabbit suit? Not quite as much.

I lived with my mother, stepfather, and infant brother about nine miles outside of Arcadia, a little town in Florida’s bleak pale underbelly. Our house was surrounded by pastures and orange groves, punctuated by the occasional live oak tree leaning close to the ground, laden with Spanish moss.

Here's a picture with my sister. I like how most places in Arcadia look like they could be in Jonestown.

Here’s a picture with my sister. I like how most places in Arcadia look like they could be in Jonestown.

I was dating a girl who probably doesn’t want her name publicized, and her birthday was on May 11. I was going to miss it, though, because another (admittedly female) friend had invited me at the last minute to the Florida Scholastic Press Association conference (for high school newspaper writers) going on at the same time. So I wrote a great note and left a convenience store rose in our shared locker because that’s what we did back in those days.

(I couldn’t call because my girlfriend’s phone was disconnected at the time. I couldn’t send her an email because the only people in 1991 who had access to that were nerdy college professors and the Defense Department.)

This is what computers looked like back then, for Christ's sake.

This is what computers looked like back then, for Christ’s sake. I owned the one on the bottom left (TRS-80 Model 1) and the one on the far right of the middle shelf (Commodore 64), too. 

When I got back from the conference, I tried calling again in case her number had been reconnected, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it had. We chatted for a few minutes and I asked when she wanted to celebrate her birthday, but she seemed distracted and distant, telling me she wasn’t feeling well. We got off the phone pretty quickly.

Now, I’m not like this anymore, but back then, I was prone to melodramatic stunts and flamboyant emotional gestures. The thing to do, I reasoned, was to ride my bike the nine miles to town and surprise her for a belated birthday celebration.

(I had no car for a number of reasons, most of them involving the cost of insurance and my unpredictable income.)

So I saddled up and followed the treacherous two-lane highway into Arcadia on my bike. The journey took about an hour or so, but that was okay because that was the present: “Look! I risked my life to come here!”

Yeah, those aren't bike lanes on the sides. And imagine trucks full of oranges rumbling past you, too, for the full effect.

Yeah, those aren’t bike lanes on the sides. And imagine trucks full of oranges rumbling past you, too, for the full effect.

I arrived at her house not too long before sunset. I propped my bike against a tree and knocked at the door. There was some shuffling inside and she answered, looking surprised and a little aghast, the exact responses I wanted from my romantic gesture.

(All I want in this world is for people to say, “Wow! How did he pull off that amazing stunt?” I’ll settle for, “Wow! Why would he pull off that amazing stunt?”)

She glanced into the house behind her and then back at me, but eventually she invited me in. Seated on the couch was a heavyset gentleman in a Wal-Mart uniform shirt. I nodded curtly to him and sat down. The three of us sat in silence on different pieces of furniture for about five minutes until my girlfriend finally pulled me away into her bedroom.

I'll admit I may have been influenced by emotion, but this is pretty much how I remember that room.

I’ll admit I may have been influenced by emotion, but this is pretty much how I remember that room.

There, in a vase, was a huge display of roses she’d gotten for her birthday from the guy in the other room. At this point, I started to get an uneasy feeling that there would be a scene when we both told the guy he’d have to leave.

It took her a few tries, but finally she blurted out that yes, he’d sent her the flowers and yes, she knew him from work and yes, she liked him. I nodded, listening, not quite believing. When she stopped talking and it was just her looking at me expectantly, I realized I was the one being asked to leave.

After a nine mile bike ride.

I didn’t say anything particularly dramatic to either of them. I just mustered the little dignity I had, got on my bike, and rode away.

On the way to a friend’s house, I passed a vacant lot where I’d hung out as a kid. The county had cleared it but now it was all grown back, so I took that as a sign I’d be all right. Between that moment and “all right” was a trip to the prom with the girl who’d dumped me, but that’s a whole other story.

It was the start of a strange, dream-like summer that I wouldn’t change at all.

It was a summer of much carpe-ing the diem.

It was a summer of much carpe-ing the diem.

On My Silences

I miss the blissful pre-online ignorance of not knowing what so many people think and believe. It was easier to pretend there were better ones living somewhere else in the world that way.

When I was a kid, you pretty much had to walk into a bar or a Moose Lodge to seek out so many ill-informed opinions at once on everything from car repair to macroeconomics. Now the Internet brings the bar and the Moose Lodge to me.

I used to blog (often angrily) a lot more about politics and culture, but then I had the epiphany that I really had no idea what I was talking about. And even when/if I did, the others who didn’t weren’t listening anyway.

Marketers, pollsters, and social media have convinced us all of the supreme power of opinion, of every person weighing in on every issue, mostly so we know what side they’re on and if it’s our own. Do you properly hate Donald Trump? Are you sufficiently horrified by abortion? Can we trust you to think always about the children?

The answer I see too infrequently is, “How the fuck should I know?”

Sustained and deliberate ignorance is a terrible thing. But temporary ignorance – something we might even call open-mindedness – seems just as terrifying to so many people.

It’s a fire hydrant culture where everyone feels compelled to splash a little of their scent on every issue.

So I talk less about these things, not because I don’t think about them but because I don’t see how opinions should matter much. We’re not the crowd at a football game, and “making more noise” doesn’t help much in the real world.

The disappointing truth is that despite what the websites and polls tell us, what we believe to be true has very little influence on what is actually true.

So you may never know how I’m voting in November or what I think about white supremacists on fiction awards juries or whether I’ll stop using $20 bills because Harriet Tubman is on them —  unless I can write something funny about it.

Should you stop sharing your beliefs? I’d never want to silence you. But I’ll say this:

Talking is how they distract us from doing, and never mistake a Post or Submit button for someone’s genuine interest or actual action in the world.

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