Stop Killing Yourself

Back in June, my mother turned 70 and this post on Facebook was fucking hilarious:

Even she thought so.

Less than a month later, she had a seizure and entered the hospital for a brain tumor that doctors now suspect spread from her lungs or tonsils. She’s now had two surgeries and radiation treatment, and we learned yesterday that the tumor is growing too quickly to stop. Another surgery would severely compromise her motor functions, chemotherapy can’t breach the blood-brain barrier, and the tumor seems to actually enjoy the radiation.

She chose yesterday to ride it out with steroids and other palliative measures, and her doctors estimate she has about three months to fulfill her life’s dream of watching Donald Trump removed from office under the 25th amendment.

[Jesus, I can’t help it. My family faces awfulness two ways: getting angry or getting funny.]

What my mother would likely want from all of you instead of sadness is this:

Right now, you are doing something in your life that is killing you. Maybe you’re smoking or not taking your meds or not going to the doctor. Maybe you’re being viciously mean to yourself for the life you should be living according to someone else. Maybe you’re working a job you despise. Maybe you’re dwelling on some hurt that you caused or endured. Maybe you’re ignoring a symptom because you fear the cause.

You know what it is, and you know it’s killing you.

My mother would like you to knock it the fuck off. That’s all.

All Dogs are Comfort Dogs

This morning, I was heartened in our continued pageant of living woe by this photograph of comfort dogs waiting to visit victims of the Las Vegas shooting. 

 

“Well, some of these missions can be pretty touch-and-go, but we’re trained for all contingencies and have a full arsenal of tools from nuzzling to a gentle hand lick to resting our head on a knee.”

“Well, I’ll wear their religious iconography, but I have to admit I have some serious questions about the divine origins of the Bible and its moral message in regard to women and gay people, not to mention animals.”

Questions I would ask a comfort dog if I could:

  1. What do you do to get in the comforting mindset?
  2. Are you ever nervous that you will not, in fact, provide enough comfort?
  3. Was the comforting training rigorous and how can I sign up for it?

These dogs happen to be from Lutheran Church Charities, and I’m guessing they accept donations that are a whole lot more useful than the thoughts and prayers of Congress.

 

Yearly Wilgrimage to Necronomicon Tampa!

Ah, October: temperatures plummeting to the 90s, yellowed leaves adrift in the wind…and also Necronomicon in Tampa from October 20 – 22!

I have a busy schedule this year so there are plenty of opportunities to see/assassinate me.

Friday, October 20th

  • 4pm: Story Craft: Are You Overthinking the Story? 

Saturday, October 21st

  • 10am: Time Travel Tales: How to Do Them Right
  • 12pm: Being Funny is Serious Business (also known as the Will and Richard Byers Show)
  • 2pm: Kaffeeklatsch with Will Ludwigsen
  • 6pm: Turning Tropes Upside Down

That Kaffeeklatsch thing will be interesting: you show up and we chat for an hour about various things. The theme I have in mind for mine is “Five Things I Did Right for My Career and Five I Did Wrong,” sort of a cautionary tale.

As always, I’m looking forward to my home convention and I hope to see you there!

Wilbo of the Nine Fingers

No, those aren’t devil horns. That’s where Gollum bit off my ring finger…get it? Oh, never mind.

and the Ring of Dooooom!

On March 16, 2015, I started a strange project: using this website as a guide, I started running and counted each mile along Frodo’s journey from Bag End to Mount Doom, a total of 1, 779 miles.

Tonight at about 8pm in Boone Park, I ran the final 2.21 miles of that journey.

Here are the numbers:

  • Miles Run: 532.46 in 2015, 812.54 in 2016, and 434 in 2017 for 1,779 miles total
  • Total Hours: 379.78
  • Average Miles Per Hour: 4.7
  • Total Number of Runs: 615
  • Average Miles per Run: 2.89
  • 5K Races: 28
  • Ortega River Runs (5 miles): 2
  • Gate River Run (15K): 1
  • Weight Lost: about 15 pounds
  • Injuries: Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot, pulled muscle in my chest

What did I learn?

For one thing, I seem to really like running, enough to keep doing it even when it hurt, which was strange. They talk about a runner’s high but I don’t think I’ve ever quite felt that. I think the real reward is the sense of pulling off a stunt with each run: “Hey, look! It’s a fat guy running a 5K!”

Some people are motivated by being asked, “How did you do that amazing thing?” I’m motivated by being asked, “Why would you do that amazing thing?”

Another thing I learned is that running five or six times a week does nothing for your weight if you still eat like an idiot. Guilty as charged. That’s the next thing to work on, now that I know I can do crazy things like run all the way to Mordor.

What about writing? Certainly there’s some poignant parallel to be made between the determination it takes to run 1,779 miles and the grit it would take to, say, finish another novel, but why bother to make it? The truth is that with running, I always knew exactly where I was going and when it would be over, even if my foot was hurting. I never get that luxury in my writing, so the metaphor doesn’t fit.

For what it’s worth, I did run each of those 1,779 miles without much self-doubt or introspection, simply leaning forward when the timer started or the gun went off and starting my ragged shuffle forward. When I failed (slowing to walk), it was almost always because of dwelling too much on how hard it was. I psyched myself out too often, which I’m sure has nothing to do with my writing career.

What’s next? Well, I’ll still keep logging the miles and I’ll bring milestones to your attention every now and then, but I’m letting the eagles fly me back to the Shire.

 

On Writing These Days

I’m sorry to sound melodramatic, but I’m finding it harder than ever to write stories when things like the hoedown in Charlottesville are going on in the world.

That is by far the least important consequence of that fiasco, but it’s the only one I’m qualified to talk about.

I think the reason I’m finding it harder to write stories right now is because I have the sneaking terror that stories are a part of the problem. It seems so easy for dumb and purposeless people to watch a deluge of entertainment about plucky heroes breaking all the rules solely on the basis of their own convictions and see that as the only way to be truly alive.

To be fighting for something. Even if something isn’t really fighting them first.

What I see in that terrible crowd in Charlottesville are people who want to be the heroes of stories without knowing what that really means, who want to be special for believing things they think no one else is smart or brave enough to believe. There’s hatred and anger of course inside them, but there’s a petulance, too – a resistance to what’s true because they don’t want to be told what’s true.

They’re certain they’re right because everyone else thinks they’re wrong, which is what they see always happening with heroes.

They’re the Dick Rebellion, the Bro Alliance, and we’re the Evil Galactic Empire.

It’s not the fault of the stories or the storytellers, really. These are terrible readers and viewers, people who skip or fail to grasp the second act when real heroes learn that strength also requires some doubt and introspection. They’re also suffering a lack of variety in their entertainment diet, too much Transformers and not enough Grapes of Wrath.

I’m not blaming entertainment for their attitudes, and I’m not suggesting their own bad comprehension is the only factor behind them. There’s plenty of institutional racism and sexism involved, not to mention the simple endless pulse of hormones that have nothing useful to do in a civilized society.

On days like today when my fingers hover above the keys instead of pressing them, it is because the already daunting task of sending words to another mind seems even more futile when the receivers are hellbent on hearing so little.

It isn’t stories that are beating and killing people, but I can’t shake the feeling that the people who are find succor in the stories they’re misreading. I have no idea what to do about that.

I suppose it’s always been that way, and it is only the quantity of the misread messages and the easy access to news of the consequences that’s different.

That’s not helping today.

Why I Call My Mother “Mother”

In early July, my mother collapsed from a seizure on her way down the stairs in her home, and the cause turned out to be a golf ball-sized mass in her brain.

Yep, there it is.

She was losing strength and feeling on the right side of her body, and the doctors decided to remove the mass. They gave her steroids to control the growth leading up to the operation, but she reacted badly to them and the scary side effects (infection, weakness, plummeting blood pressure and platelet count, soaring blood sugar) delayed her surgery until yesterday. In the morning, they wheeled her in for a four hour surgery and finished in about ninety minutes. The mass turned out to be encapsulated as the doctors say, so it was removed all in one clump.

(To simulate the sound it made, cluck your tongue on the roof of your mouth.)

She’s already moving her right side again and she seems stronger than even before the surgery.

It would SEEM to be a miracle, but then, so is she. That brain pictured above contains the works of George R.R. Martin and Anne McCaffery and Lee Child, how to run a bookstore, which angels and crystals are most effective for which problems, two husbands (one bad and one good), three children, a bemused yet potent hatred for Donald Trump, the taste of an egg crème from Kissena Drugs in Queens, the relative value of various antiques, the phone numbers for Home Shopping Network and QVC, how to cultivate a garden, the recipe for a dish we call “Soup of the Red Death,” all of her prescriptions by generic and brand name, bracket ranks for all of my former girlfriends and spouses, and the story about how her grandmother picked up Rudolph Valentino’s hat from the ground on the day he died in Manhattan in 1926.

That’s a lot. As they say, she’s seen some shit. And endured it — twenty-two years being knocked around by my father could very well be the CAUSE of that mass in her brain, though we were all disappointed to discover she could remember him after the surgery.

I kept friends and family up to date on social media about her progress, and it occurred to me late in the day that I refer to her in public as “Mother,” kind of like I’m this guy:

So maybe it’s time to explain why I call her “Mother” instead of, say, “Mom” or “Mama” or “Ma.”

I started calling her that (instead of “Mom”) around 1987, when my parents divorced. There wasn’t any one reason. Part of it was I got older and it wasn’t cool. Another part was that I was getting pretentiously literary. It also sounded better when sighed in mock exasperation at her dreamy foibles: “Oh, Mother! You bought someone’s failing antique business?”

The real reason now that I’m thinking about it, though, is that you can’t call a person the same thing after a heroic experience as before it. When you shuck off your sociopathic husband of 22 years, you get an upgrade from “Mom” to something else. We’re not liberal enough to call her by her first name, and we don’t wear overalls so that nixes “Mama.”

The only title that has the right amount of gravitas, the right authority, is “Mother.”  Mother of Nations. Mother of Earth. Mother of Dragons.

You know how Jules’s wallet in Pulp Fiction has “BADASS MOTHERFUCKER” embossed on it? My mother needs one with a comma in the middle that says, “BADASS MOTHER, FUCKER.”

My mother has spend her seventy years rather cheerfully enduring (and often enjoying in a wry sort of way) everything that has happened to her, good and bad. I used to think that this was a dreamy obliviousness on her part, like she didn’t SEE all the shit around her. What I’ve realized as an adult is that she sees it just fine…she just enjoys the experience of being alive more than any single setback, disaster, or success.

She is, as the saying goes, a spiritual being living a human existence, and “Mom” doesn’t quite cover it.

“Acres of Perhaps” Now Available at Lightspeed

My story “Acres of Perhaps” is now available for FREE at Lightspeed magazine.

If you like old science fiction television shows, alcoholic writers, and creepy tree stumps in the woods, this story is relevant to your interests.

No, Really: Don’t Buy My Book

Sometimes people ask me about my first collection, Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! — where they can get it, why it’s out of print, why I never mention it — and I usually respond by strangling them behind a dumpster so no one ever speaks of it again.

There’s an old writer’s curse: “May you sell all your early stories and compile them into a collection,” and the Monkey’s Paw vindictively granted my earliest wish to be published. I’m not sure why the stories in CFB sold to some surprising places like Weird Tales, except perhaps for polite encouragement.

That collection is awful, and I hereby apologize for it.

The only reason to own CFB is for Deena Warner’s fabulous cover art, which can be easily trimmed from the front of the book and framed.

Or hell, just print and frame this image.

That cover makes my book a jewel-encrusted Yugo driven by a Serbian mobster in a track suit. Her husband Matt Warner’s introduction was also very kind, and I’m eternally grateful he hacked his way through the book and found nice things to say.

What went wrong?

The stories in CFB, including the title one about a review for a Cthulhu-themed Broadway show, are driven almost solely by gimmicks, the things that early writers think are the engines of story. On my honeymoon with my first wife, I attended a terrible theater show on the cruise and imagined the only way it could be worse was in service to cosmic evil, and bam! it became a story. Once while standing near the window of my 12th floor office, I saw a milk truck drive by on the bridge far below and wondered what would happen if you heard something banging around inside, and pow! another story.

Every piece in CFB is a joke stretched too thin, and the whole thing is a reminder of my greatest weakness, going for the easy laugh instead of developing an experience.

I won’t go quite so far as to say I wish it had never been published; it certainly fits into a very specific time of my career. I needed to plant a flag in the sand that yes, I was working earnestly on a career and if readers would just wait a little longer, I’d have something much better for them.

If you are one of the courageous and/or supportive souls who bought it early, I thank you for your confidence in me. If you’re a weirdo buying it off eBay today, I hope you’ll read it as what it is, a time capsule of my early career.

Let us never speak of it again.

The Father Map

As a person whose sociopathic, murderer-inciting father is pretty much the most interesting thing about him, I can’t let Father’s Day go by unremarked, can I? Even though both my bad and good fathers are dead, it’s still a day that evokes some feeling in me.

(Not, interestingly, as a person concerned about not being a father himself. I know that whole scene would be bad news for all involved.)

This year, with the revival of Twin Peaks, it has me thinking of how I’ve grossly underestimated the role of Dale Cooper’s influence on me as a surrogate father in late high school, teaching me that being intuitive and weird and appreciative can be assets, and that cynicism isn’t the only (or even a good) source of inner power.

One of the nice things about having a terrible father who fled our family like the Nazis getting routed from Paris when I was young is that I had the luxury of picking better fathers, and I’ve mentioned them all individually before in various places, including my stories.

Here, for the first time, is the comprehensive map of my fathers all in one place for our mutual reference.

All Trump’s Men

Apropos of nothing going on politically, I’ve been reading All The President’s Men again. It’s a book I’ve always liked, largely because it combines two things I love: writing and cracking mysteries. I wish I’d discovered investigative journalism earlier as a career choice, but then, that career would probably already be over by now.

Reading Woodward’s and Bernstein’s book now, I can’t help but wonder if a campaign of dirty political tricks culminating in a failed attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee would even register on our country’s moral radar anymore. As each chapter goes by and the reporters circle closer to Haldeman and Nixon, I’m stricken by how it wouldn’t even surprise us these days that the President knew about a huge fund of cash for spying on and discrediting opponents.

Here’s a horrifying truth I suspect but cannot prove: Nobody who doesn’t already hate Trump gives a shit about whether the Russians helped him win the election. It’s too esoteric an issue, something hard to prove with the finality of a fingerprint or DNA sample.

Worse, it doesn’t excite moral indignation like a blow job in the Oval Office, simple and emotional and easy to be sure about. I suspect that many people outside of the Twittersphere see Trump as the accidental beneficiary of electoral interference, and even if he was involved, they still see the issue as something like speeding — an arbitrary law we’d all break when The Man wasn’t looking.

We suck at parsing ethics in America. We’re awesome with morals — man, we’re drooling on our Puritan smocks about morals — but I worry we’re too much of a “get-it-while-the-gettin’s-good” culture to see collusion with a foreign power or lying as much worse than taking a pen home from the office. We’re terrifying rationalizers, and nothing short of egregious and obvious harm gets our attention anymore (or maybe ever).

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the narrative reaches a critical mass from the core of “it’s against the law” to “it’s an affront to everyone in the country.” I hope regular people start to get angry.

But I doubt they will unless we better connect intellectual indignation with the good old fashioned pitchforks-and-torches kind.

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