April 28, 2017

28 04 2017

So we are back to 80 degrees, and humid to boot. This morning was all about getting deposits made and bills paid. Then hit the store to pick up groceries. It always strikes me how much more expensive Hannaford is than Market Basket. But the Hannaford in Northwood is close by, and my bank is a block away. So I buy the bare necessities.

I delivered a whole bunch of eggs to the Food Pantry, and they gave me a couple of boxes of bread in return. Didn’t expect that. We laughed about it—the Food Pantry was compensating my chickens for their eggs. I left feeling pretty good. It’s that social thing, that sharing thing. A reminder about all the good people doing good things in the world.

So back home, and the morning fog has lifted. I took a lunch break and hopped online before going outside to work in the garden. I’d taken a hiatus from my Facebook news feed. I realized I was spending most of my time scrolling and feeling frustrated. Life is too short to waste one’s time being uselessly upset. Today I took some time and thinned out my “friends” list, removing anyone I wasn’t actually friends with, or couldn’t recall why I friended them in the first place. There are a few I kept, even though we’ve never met, because I usually enjoy their posts and they’ve commented on mine. I think I would like them if I actually met them, and I want to keep seeing what they are up to.

A writer friend advised me to keep all the SF connections for when I promote my next book. As a matter of fact, a huge part of the cull was just those sorts of connections. I have not a shred of evidence that FB has done a damn thing to help with any of my books, except getting the word out to people who are actual friends. That SF editor or pro who has a gazillion followers isn’t going to see my post anyway, let alone do anything about it. I’m just another in a sea of amateurs.

Back when my first book came out, I friended every writing person I could, and was thrilled whenever a pro accepted my friend request. This was “networking” and it was supposed to help me make connections in the right circles. Then I began to notice that these folks never reacted to, or commented on, anything I posted, and in fact, rarely posted anything themselves. (Two exceptions are Robert J. Sawyer and Jim Kelly. They are awesome writers and awesome people—read their books!!!) However, my feed was jam-packed with announcements from, shall we say, less well-known writers, all vying for attention. Hmmm, I thought. How likely am I to buy a book by somebody I’ve never heard of based on a FB post? Unlikely. They are unlikely to buy mine, either. The only writers I care about are the ones I actually know, either through Broad Universe or meeting them at conventions. So, my conclusion is that FB is a great way to keep up with folks I know and care about, and useless for book promotion.

The aforementioned writer friend, Dan Kimmel, was someone I approached at a convention after hearing him read from his book and liking it (I bought a copy). I was nobody, but he agreed to read and blurb my book. I’ve never forgotten that. Ditto with Allen Steele and Rob Sawyer. I met them in person, interviewing the former and being on a panel with the latter. (Jim Kelly is my neighbor; lives next door in Nottingham). It was that personal connection that mattered. Facebook, again, is a great way of keeping in touch with these folks. So, you’re right, Dan, and I’d never cut loose those connections. It’s the ones I never actually met, or only met in passing, who don’t know me from Eve, that I’ve unfriended, and I’m sure they’ll never miss me.

It’s all part of me figuring things out. What works, what doesn’t. And never mind what the rest of the world tells me. What works for them, doesn’t necessarily work for me (and the reverse). And for me, Facebook is a place to keep in touch with friends—real ones.

April 26, 2017

26 04 2017

Long day yesterday. I was hobbling around, my muscles protesting from all that physical labor the day before. Did my shift at PJL (Philbrick-James, the Deerfield Library) before shopping and running errands in the afternoon and going to my training session at DPL (Durham Public Library) in the evening. As tired as I was, I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the new place of employment.

Oh, what a glorious institution an affluent, dedicated community can create! DPL is automated. I had to learn the software, which they were happy to show me. As I explored the wonders of reserving a book or searching overdues with a mere few clicks, I oo-ed and ah-ed. Another clerk came over, puzzled by my delight and fascination with an ordinary tool she used every day. The director, who was training me, grinned and said, “Her library isn’t automated.”

Do not get me wrong. PJL is a charming, old-fashioned, small-town library. Our historic building is unique. Our system works. We serve the public cheerfully and efficiently. They get personalized service, and can buy eggs at the desk. (I am not kidding. We keep them in the fridge downstairs. Pick up your Interlibrary loan request, and a dozen free-range, local, chicken eggs with a couple of duck eggs thrown in.) Since our rural town has a pitiful tax base, we have no money to do anything other than the bare minimum. Our four public access computers are supplied and maintained by volunteers. We still stamp the date due on check-out cards, and maintain a paper shelf list.

PJL is quirky, primitive, cramped and slightly shabby. But it’s ours and we love it.

I have no idea what changes we face when out beloved director of thirty some-odd years retires this fall. The shit-storm that blew up when I expressed my willingness to take over has totally soured me on the idea (the details are ugly, murky, fraught with small-town politics and vendettas, and to this day I don’t really understand what happened). So I am working on Plan B. Someone else can be the captain. I shall strive to be a reliable, indispensable, Number One. I expect the town and the library would be best served by someone providing some stability and continuity during the change in administration.

My work as a sub at DPL will give me skills that could prove useful to the new director, who will no doubt put automating PJL at the top of their to-do list. Good luck with that. But at least I will have a familiarity with an automated system, as well as experience in a real, modern town library. I was in cataloging at the UNH library years (eons) ago when DPL was housed in Dimond Library. I remember when I self-published the amateur version of Awake Chimera, DPL—which was by that time housed in less than ideal quarters in the Durham Market Place strip mall—welcomed me as an author and hosted my very first public reading. So I have a history of sorts with Durham Public, bless its heart. It’s a thrill to be working there in their spanky new building, with all its space, services, and grand accommodations, even if only a few hours a month (PJL is still my first priority).

Today it is raining, so I can’t go out and hurt myself more in the garden. Instead I’ll do some writing, and crunch my end of the month numbers. Although Jen’s medical issues have scuttled her earning power for the moment, both boys are making a good living, particularly Max, who already seems to have attracted some attention from management at Market Basket. So I am optimistic that we will be able to draw swords against the debt monster and eventually defeat it.

In fact, I am quite optimistic overall. Things are falling into place, albeit in a way I hadn’t anticipated. There’s only so much in life that you can control. I don’t advocate leaving one’s future entirely to chance; it is prudent to take some precautions and make wise plans. Just don’t be surprised when the best laid of them get plowed under by an indifferent universe. One must always be ready to adapt, change, seize unexpected opportunities and roll with unexpected punches.

April 24, 2017

24 04 2017

It was lovely yesterday, and I got out and worked in the yard. I’m paying for it in sore muscles. I have to remember that I am not thirty anymore. Yet it was so satisfying.

I was mad to tackle the second raised bed. The irregularity in the way the concrete blocks had been seated—the ex’s “close enough” attitude—has annoyed me for years. So I pulled them out, pulled up the post (the support for trellises for peas and beans), dug out all the grass that had grown in through the gap, then reseated them properly and symmetrically, good and tight. Then I got the sledgehammer and pounded the metal post back in. The end result was immensely satisfying.

Jen came out while I was in the middle of it and said, “You ought to get the boys to do that.” I made excuses. The truth was, I wanted to do it myself. I may not be thirty anymore, but damn, I’m a good healthy sixty. See? And it was yet another bit of the ex’s legacy chipped away.

I want to fix the asparagus bed, too. The sides need to be built up. I was going to use concrete blocks, but then I noticed the timbers leaning against the house, set aside for some building project he never got around to. I thought, No, better save them.

For what? There is no one here who has any inclination towards building projects. That wood will stay there until it rots. What a waste that would be. I could use them now.

This is my house. I don’t have anyone to answer to but myself. Sure, I always consider the kids’ feelings and wishes, but ultimately the buck stops here. The twenty-six years of automatic deferral is over. If I want to do something, I can have at it.

So today I am going to haul down those timbers and cut them to length to raise the asparagus bed. My body is going to scream in protest. Never mind. I can do this. The pain will be temporary. The end result, while not permanent (remember; nothing is permanent), will nonetheless last a good while and will be immensely satisfying.

April 21, 2017

21 04 2017

Doing puzzles is a bit like Buddhist sand paintings. All that time is taken to create the image or solve the puzzle, and then it is done. The sand is blown away. The newspaper is recycled. The picture is taken apart and put back in the box.

I am sitting in bed on this rainy morning, sipping tea and working on a jigsaw puzzle. (Or, I was until this thought occurred to me.) Through my open window I can hear gentle dripping. Birdcalls are subdued. The ducks are about and quacking, enjoying the weather. It is a peaceful, soothing morning. I don’t have to be to work until one.

Because cats, I do virtual jigsaw puzzles. All three cats are asleep on the bed with me. I have my laptop open to a site I like, working on a scene with flowers and an old barn. I have done dozens of puzzles on this site. Put them together, admired the image, and then moved on to the next. Nothing of lasting value is accomplished. Some would call it a waste of time.

What is lasting value? How long must it last? Some folks laminate their puzzles and hang them on the wall. They cannot let go of their accomplishment and want to preserve it. Eventually, when they are gone, it will likely be thrown out anyway when it doesn’t sell at the yard sale. All things pass.

Some work hard to build a business, to amass a fortune, to rise to greatness. Within a few generations, it has dissipated or become subsumed into someone else’s quest for greatness. Within a few hundred years all is forgotten, except perhaps for a page in a history book. Within a few thousand years, other events eclipse it and even history doesn’t remember.

All things pass. Nothing is permanent. All attempts to preserve ourselves in our accomplishments is folly. Does this thought depress you? Does it discourage you from trying to accomplish anything at all? Why?

Only because we human creatures are blessed and cursed with long memories of the past and the ability to imagine far into the future. And for some reason buried in the depths of our psychology, we place value on things that persist over time. Well, it’s good to build things of quality; useful things like buildings or furniture. Still, they must be faithfully maintained or they won’t last either. We busily run about fixing things, maintaining things, patching them up and washing them down, in an attempt to make them last. Nothing wrong with that. As long as we know that eventually, despite all our efforts, time will undo it all. And that thought saddens us.

It shouldn’t.

This moment is real. In this moment I am writing a blog that will be read by a few people and then descend into the virtual sediment, becoming buried under layers of future blogs. It is ephemeral. I derive great satisfaction from writing it, ordering my thoughts, choosing words, making manifest the thoughts in my head. I am pleased at the thought that someone else might enjoy reading it it, that the thoughts in my head, through the medium of words, can become thoughts in another person’s head. It gives me a sense of connection with others. They may comment, it may lead to a discussion. If that happens, those moments will be pleasant.

None of this is permanent. None of this will be remembered in a century or two, or even a year most likely. What of it? The happiness in this moment is real.

Because that is the nature of true happiness. It occurs in each moment and is not spoiled by anxiety over its impermanence.

My tea is growing cold. I need to refresh it, and then I’ll return to my puzzle.

April 20, 2017

20 04 2017

Busy day today. I’m covering the library from 9 to 5, then hurrying home to put together dinner. Dungeons and Dragons tonight.

I’ve been experiencing what I think must be side effects from sertraline withdrawal: a funny tingling sensation all over my body, particularly around my face and, oddly enough, my mouth, as well as dizziness. Not severe. And no depression or anxiety. In fact, I am continuing to feel better than I have in a very long time.

Even with the grey, drizzly weather today, chilly and gloomy, my mood is good. The ducks like it well enough, and are wandering around the yard, quacking and waggling their butts. I can let them free-range, whereas the chickens scratch up the flower gardens and raise hell. I’ve separated the two, giving the chickens the large run out back. The ducks get the front.

It isn’t that all my problems have gone away—far from it. But they are just problems. They will pass, solved or endured. And it isn’t that nothing ever bothers me; I still have moments when I feel the whole range of negative emotions: fury, resentment, despair, melancholy. They, too, pass. For the most part I feel contented and hopeful. Occasionally even joyful. There is far more good than bad; precisely the reverse of how I felt a month ago. Yay, progress.

My Pledge of Allegiance article should be in the Monitor next week. Time to compose another one. I think I’ll write about the lessons from The Book of Joy and how they are critical to healing the divides in this country. It’s my small blow against the Empire. Back when Trump was first elected, I said it might be a blessing in disguise; he would be such an abominable leader that it would trigger a true revolution of the sort that Bernie Sanders talked about during the election. While we had the option of voting for the status quo (Hillary Clinton) many were content to do so. Had she been elected, we would have continued on our present course, gradually increasing income inequality, continuing our belligerence overseas, making ineffectual gestures towards addressing climate change and paying lip service towards social issues. Sufficient to support continuing complacency.

But the shock of the Trump administrations’s horrifying extremism, as well as the rise of alternative facts and suppression of truths that don’t fit the agenda of the Oligarchy, has galvanized people into action. Perhaps we as a nation will begin to realize the deadly folly of the status quo, and begin pushing in the opposite direction. Pushing hard enough to force change. To dethrone the Oligarchy, to reject our soul-killing culture of envy, competition, and anti-social individualism, and move towards something wholesome, healthy, life-affirming and compassionate. It would require a major paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts take time and cause chaos. It won’t be smooth or easy, and it may not even be possible.

I think of the Dalai Lama’s peaceful, persistent efforts to liberate Tibet from China. I think of Archbishop Tutu’s fight against apartheid in South Africa. The former seems hopeless, but so did the latter. The point is, one continues. Hope is so much healthier for the spirit than despair.

My articles are my humble contribution to the effort to bring about change for the better. The by-product of writing them is my own medicine for melancholy.

April 17, 2017

17 04 2017

I am reading The Book of Joy. It is a dialogue with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. The title is very apt.

Here are two spiritual leaders from two different belief systems that would seem to be utterly contradictory—one theistic and one atheistic—and yet they are devoted friends from way back who think very much alike. In their eighties, they are still vibrant, eloquent, witty, and both with a puckish sense of humor. “Mischievous” they say of each other and themselves. Filled with joy despite the hardships and bitter disappointments both have faced in their lives. Both are political as well as religious leaders, fighting for a justice that seems impossible to achieve. And yet they continue to do so with reason, compassion, and steady determination.

Marvelous, admirable men. This is a book well-worth reading for any person of a philosophical bent, anyone who yearns to understand the meaning of life and the enigma of true happiness.

What is riveting for me, and makes me go back and read certain passages over and over again, is their agreement on what is true. Here are two learned men, educated in very different wisdom traditions, from very different cultures, and yet they have come to very similar conclusions. As I have said before, I find the scientific method to be the best way to assess reality. If the same experiments can be done, the same data collected, and the same conclusions reached by any individual regardless of ideology or background, one can be pretty sure they are factual. This can be a working truth to build more understanding on. One experiment is not enough. There must be corroboration.

Here is corroboration in a spiritual search for truth.

I became an atheist because the whole business of the existence of God was controversial. There wasn’t universal agreement. People conducted their own spiritual research, if you will, and were coming to a host of different conclusions. It was an unresolvable mare’s nest. Belief in God required all sorts of mental calisthenics, and still people throw up their hands and declare that His ways are mysterious. The best parallel I can come up with is the Ptolemaic model of the solar system which held sway for hundreds of years. The Earth sat at the center, and a convoluted choreography tried to explain the motions of the heavenly bodies. Then along came the Copernican system which put the Sun in the center. It was simple, elegant, and explained everything without the need for all those celestial gymnastics. Although it was controversial at the time, considered heresy by many, it emerged as the working truth upon which science has operated ever since.

For me, eliminating God made everything simpler. No need to wrestle with the problem of evil or the contradictions inherent in free will vs. the omniscient, omnipotent deity, or given the vastness of the universe and our utter, vanishing insignificance, how a personal creator in whose image we are created can make any sense.

Of course, your results may differ. And that’s just the point.

The results the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop came to in this book did not differ except in minor ways. In matters of religious dogma, the two agree to disagree. They come from different belief systems. No matter. What does matter is the fundamental purpose of life and the key to happiness. We are here in this world to seek true happiness, which is achieved through compassion and caring for our fellow creatures. We are a part of a slow process of working towards perfection. Each individual strives for it in their lifetime (many lifetimes in the Dalai Lama’s belief system) and humanity as a whole is striving towards it. The Archbishop points out that our news media makes us feel as if the world is rife with violence and injustice, and getting worse, that people are basically bad and there’s no hope. But a study of history shows strong, steady improvement. Once, some human beings, and all women, were considered no better than cattle. This attitude is heading towards extinction. Because slavery and abuse still exist it only means there is more work to be done. People are basically good, and are generally kind and helpful. This does not make the news. The ugly exceptions do, because they are startling exceptions to the norm.

True joy is found in simple things, in connecting with others, in being content with what one has and at peace with oneself. Happiness is not the goal; it is a byproduct of living a good life, avoiding negative emotions like fear, anger and envy, cultivating patience, tolerance, and empathy. No wonder there is so much depression, so many people steeped in anxiety, despairing, desperately searching for the key to happiness. Western society is built on materialism, competition, suspicion, fear and outrage. From an early age we are set against one another, stressing over test scores, trying to be the best. We celebrate winners and scorn losers. Whether it is beauty, income, power, material possessions, or any of the other idiotic yardsticks we measure ourselves by, we envy those above us, compete against our peers, and feel contempt for those beneath us.

In other words, we have built a society designed to make us unhappy. That is why we find joy elusive.

Easter 2017

16 04 2017

I’m up this morning as usual, perhaps a bit later because no one is scheduled to work today. As I’m making tea and cleaning up the kitchen, Jen comes up in a pretty sun dress looking for a shawl to go with it. My meager wardrobe doesn’t have anything quite right, so she goes back down to change. She in a hurry because she has to go to church.

Church? I think, momentarily puzzled. Jen doesn’t go to church. Oh, that’s right. It’s Easter.

Alec had scheduled a stream for this afternoon. His usual online friends and fans said sure, Sunday is a good day. Then, whoops! Sorry, can’t do it this Sunday. Because, well, Easter.

It’s one of those holidays that catch us off-guard, like St. Patrick’s Day or Passover. Days which are very important to other people, but have no significance to us. It’s not like Christmas, which is so overwhelmingly universal that there’s no avoiding it, whether you celebrate or not. I recall doing things with Easter eggs and baskets when the boys were little. They’ve grown up now. So we mark the season with Cadbury eggs, and that’s about it.

We live in a diverse society. Different folks have different beliefs. Different things are important to them. There are celebrations centered around sports events, religious festivals, national memorials. There are birthdays, Mother’s, Father’s, and even Grandparents’ Day. Weeks or months dedicated to Women’s Studies, Black History, Cancer Awareness, Dairy Products, and goodness knows what else. All designed to focus our attention on something important, to get us to put it on the front burner for a while and think about it. We are free to ignore it if we wish.

It harms me not a whit if my neighbors are celebrating Easter, Passover, the Spring Goddess, or National Pickle Day.

When I hop onto Facebook for a quick peek, just to see what other people are talking about, I sometimes see righteous posts: “Everybody presumes I celebrate Easter. Kindly remember, not all of us celebrate the same holidays.” Or “I don’t give a damn about sportsball. What’s with all these people going crazy over some stupid game?” Got to admit, I’m guilty myself. I’ve played the misguided diversity card, trying to shame other people because in their enthusiasm to celebrate, they presume I’m celebrating, too. I’ve been that obnoxious person who, being wished a happy Easter, makes a point of saying, “Thanks, but I don’t celebrate.” This accomplishes nothing aside from making the other person uncomfortable. And let’s face it, the dominant religion in this country is Christianity in its myriad forms. It isn’t unreasonable to presume your neighbor or the clerk in the store is doing something for Easter. In Israel, the set of reasonable presumptions would be different.

The big one is, of course, the aforementioned National Festive Orgy known as Christmas. I’m not sure how it became the mutated monster holiday that is is now. Various reasons, I suppose, the largest of which might be capitalism. It’s a very profitable holiday. And all the excessive spending can be cloaked in an assortment of sentimental and religious excuses. We are shamed into pouring money that many of us can’t really spare into the pockets of merchants.

And we add to the stress of this holiday by doing the annual Not Everyone Celebrates thing. Good lord, why do we do this? Piling resentment and injury and righteous grandstanding onto people who are already overwhelmed and trying just to cope? Turning it into a Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas war that takes the Happy and Merry completely out of it. Like we really need another wedge driving us apart.

For years I added to the stress, seething every year with resentment for being forced to celebrate a holiday which I find appalling. I met every defiant “Merry Christmas!” with an equally aggressive “Happy Holidays!” I sent atheist Christmas cards, ranted about how Christ wasn’t even born in December and the Church just appropriated the date from Pagans in an attempt to force their religion on them. Oh, I ran the whole route.

Now, reflecting on Easter, I am struck by the senselessness of it. Easter is another Pagan holiday taken over by Christians because their narrative of the Risen Christ fit neatly into the wakening of the winter-dead world into spring. So what? They have their narrative, I have mine. Both bring us joy and hope. Why fight about who’s “right”?

And now that I think about it, this relates to what I wrote about the Pledge of Allegiance. I stand respectfully while those who believe in it recite it. I don’t get in their faces. I don’t make a speech regarding our kinship to people of other nations and how dangerous nationalism is. I let them do their thing in peace while I peacefully abstain.

I’m going to try to remember this in December. I’m declaring a truce in the War of Christmas. The rest of the world can deal with the holiday however they choose. They can greet me in the marketplace however they choose. If they insist on giving me presents, I’ll accept them graciously, but will not feel obliged to buy gifts in return. Since what they call “the spirit of Christmas” is what I strive for the whole year through, I needn’t feel pressured to act any differently in December. I will go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

Everyone yearns for happiness and joy, and tries to avoid suffering. May our actions promote the former, and may we not add to the latter.