Category Archives: editorial

I miss John Bennett

I just got to thinking about how I miss my friend John Bennett. I haven’t thought about him in years, but he popped into my head on the way back from my kid’s school, and, dang, I miss hanging out with him.

John and I carpooled together when we were in high school. He was a somewhat-off, more-than-passingly shy guy who compensated with a sense of humor that I can only describe as random.

Example: One time we’d broken into an old building with lots of very old paint that was flaking.

John: I think this is lead paint.
Me: Probably.
John: Don’t eat the paint.
Me: [Laughing] Thank you for reminding me, John.
John: Don’t eat it!
Me: I won’t eat the paint.
John: Good. Because you shouldn’t.
Me: I wonder why this place was abandoned.
John: Maybe they all ate the paint and died.
[Time passed]
Me: Ah, crap! Back up, back up, back up! We need to find another way!
John: Did you eat the paint?
Me: No, the hallway’s full of snakes! Run!
John: [Running, screaming] As bad as this is, it would be worse if you ate the paint!

If that makes him sound aspergery or really OCD, it wasn’t. He was struggling to keep a straight face every time he said it.

Though incredibly low key, he was always a hoot. We’d be at his house, and he’d be making me listen to backmasked messages on Mylon LaFevre albums (Mylon was a Christian musician) and then he’d say, “Let’s go make bombs!” Being of an engineering mindset, he was really good at bombs. Being of a Floridian mindset, I as entirely in favor of this. Then, we’d sneak out into the well-known makeout spot for the high-school kids in the woods (It goes without saying that as a couple geeky Juniors, neither of us could get any chicks) and set the bombs off (Harmlessly). This, of course, scared the crap out of the people, and there’d be screams, and half the cars would go screeching off into the night, and occasionally a whole bunch of the guys would see us lurking and chase after us while we hauled ass back to John’s car. The time he looked over his shoulder while running, then slammed into a tree is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.

We got back to the car, and he was more concerned about spiders than his bleeding wounds. Terrified of spiders.

His nickname was “Evil Genius,” which he chose for himself. Uhm, we’d get on the CB to see if any truckers were Catholics who could help us with our latin homework (nope). We’d sit on his hobie cat on the trailer on the back of his car while a friend would drive us around the Dunedin causeway, which sounded hilarious, but was utterly horrifying. Uhm…oh, he joined the Navigators, a Christian Youth Group, mostly in order to meet chicks. Eventually he realized that wasn’t gonna happen, hence their unfortunate group nickname, “The Never-daters.” One day in frustration, he asked for a garbage bag, then we packed up all their snacks in the bag and left. (We shared them with our friends and total strangers for the rest of the night.) We’d drive up to Newberry and go poking around in the caves.

John: Hey, watch what happens if I turn out the light
Me: DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT, JOHN!

He introduced me to the concept of comedy albums (Bob & Doug MacKenzie), and I remember us seeing A Fish Called Wanda together for the first time while visiting him in Gainsville. It about killed both of us

Another fun moment! We were hiking across the unused, shoreward part of Honeymoon island once, through the tall grass, on our way to the woods, to set off bombs. This was broad daylight. I’d never done it before, but past experience had taught John that being on an island well away from the beach gave us a LOT more time to get away before the cops showed.

One time we went out to the woods on Honeymoon Island, which is where he used to test out some of his homemade explosives. Walking through the tall grass, and I hear rustling.
Me: “You hear noises?”
John: “Yeah.”
Me: “Rats? Snakes? Rats and snakes?”
Kpjm: “No. We don’t want to step on them, though. Here, I’ll clear ’em out.”

He lit an M-80, then chucked it randomly. It exploded. Suddenly, at *LEAST* a half dozen couples of elderly gay men hopped up out of the grass and came running out of the woods, either naked, or in their underwear, or speedos, looking horrified. He threw another M-80 high enough that it exploded in the air. The elderly homosexuals kept running. I said at least six couples, but it was probably more.

“Just in case there’s any stragglers,” he said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “So I’m imagining the first time you came out here, you didn’t know this was a place where gay coots go for anonymous gay coot sex?”
“It was a pretty awkward discovery,” he admitted.

I should mention John was wearing a pith helmet at the time. Whenever we went out in the woods or to the beach or the islands or climbing through an abandoned building, or sometimes even just swimming, he always wore a pith helmet. If you asked him why, he’d mumble something about monkeys.

We went to different colleges and saw less of each other after that, but it was always a hoot. The last time I saw him was his wedding. This was before I’d met my wife, and I was recuperating from a bad breakup, so I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. I asked a friend of mine who was a model to come along as my plus-one. Since we’d known each other for years, and had an easy back-and-forth, and a bunch of jokes only we knew, everyone assumed we were together. Every time she got up to go to the bathroom, the guys at the table (Total strangers) would compliment me on her.

“Oh my God, man, she’s gorgeous!”
Yeah, she is.
“You’re lucky to have a woman like that.”
I know. Her and her live-in boyfriend were going to go camping this weekend, but there was a last-minute change in their schedule, so…
“How did an average-looking guy like you get a girl like her?”
She’s not actually mine. I’m just borrowing her for the evening.
“Seriously, dude, how did you get a girl like that?”
I called her boyfriend, and I said, ‘hey, Bob, I need someone to go to a wedding with me, and Heather’s busy. Can I borrow your girlfriend?
[One of the girls at the table] “I think it’s the hair.”
Oh, for God’s sa—Yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s the hair. Chicks dig the hair. [My current profile picture is from around then. I did have gobs of pretty good hair]
“See?”
Grumble grumble grumble. Then she’d come back.
“What did I miss?”
Everyone was talking about how much they like your dress.
“Oh, thank you!”

This lengthy digression is because evidently this is the reason I never saw John again. His wife was….uhm….not gorgeous. Not ugly or anything by any means. She just wasn’t a model, and all the other girls were basically normal-girl-shaped. By bringing a ringer, I’d inadvertently upstaged the bride at her own wedding, which was a terrible thing to do, and I had no idea that was going to happen. I later found out she was very upset. They never came back from their honeymoon, they started it here, went to Cancun or Fiji or Newark or some exotic place like that, and then ended it in Texas, their new home.

And that was that.

Probably going on 30 years ago. hadn’t thought about it in years, but now that I have, dang, I really miss my friend John.

An Ultimatum on Ultimatums

I’m gonna make an ultimatum about ultimatums:

For the last two years or so now, we’ve all been getting posts from people saying “I love Trump, and if you disagree with me, you may as well just block me now,” or “I love Hillary, and block me now if you don’t agree,” or Bernie or whomever. I don’t like any of those people, but you know what I like less?

Being told that if I don’t measure up to someone’s standards of intellectual purity, I’m not worth knowing. I really hate that.

Firstly: It’s insulting. Not to brag, but I’m actually a really good guy. I’ve done a lot of really good things that have helped a lot of people in my life. I don’t expect or want any praise for that. It is clearly something that you don’t care about, however, if you want to ditch me because I don’t love/hate Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Whomever in the way you do. I’m also charming, funny, smart, and creative. I’ve written six full-length books, which I’m told are quite good. Presumably that means nothing to you, though, because we disagree on some random issue, like, say, abortion or gay marriage or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff act. In other words, in your eyes, *none* of my good or interesting qualities matter, *ONLY* the way I vote. If I don’t goosestep along with your liberal or conservative goon squad, then I’m not worth knowing.

Secondly: If I like someone, like *them,* flaws and all. I can name 30 friends who disagree with me bitterly about different things, but I sill like them. And they still like me. If I like someone, I like them as a person, not because of a rigid set of arcane political views. This is called “Friendship,” and “Tolerance,” which are things that folks who sling ultimatums around clearly aren’t really into. Because clearly people don’t matter to you, just dogma.

Thirdly: I suspect you’re hypocrites. Guys: The hottest Victoria’s Secret model you can imagine asks you out, you go to dinner, you hit it off, she clearly wants to jump your bones and as you’re making out in the cab on the way to her place, she mentions that she voted differently than you did. Are you *REALLY* gonna say “Stop the car, because despite this being *literally* my fantasy since I was 12, you think differently than me, and I don’t even care about your reasons.” Are you *REALLY* gonna say that? If not, then clearly you’re a hypocrite. Ladies, gender-swap that (I dunno what the male equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret model is, but I’m sure there must be something). My point being that *IF* your’e the kind of person who *wouldn’t* get out of the cab, then you lack the strength of your convictions, which means you really don’t have any convictions, and you’re just blowing hot air to make yourself feel better.

Which is fine: Spew all the venom you want, I really don’t care, but telling me – or anyone – “If you don’t agree, then just block me right now” is a really bad thing to do, and I don’t think you realize that. Or you don’t care.

I was raised to think, and not just react. To value people more than money. To never trust *any* politician. I was trained not to give way to anger, at least not in public. The only blanket standard I expect from people is that they *don’t* tell me I’m worthless because THEY, THEMSELVES, are intractable. In short, you people who say “Block me if you disagree?” Guess what: I’m *BETTER* than you. You are self-righteous and petty and mean and you do not value others at all. I don’t praise myself much. I really don’t even like myself much, but there it is.

I expect a lot of you are gonna block me for this 

If so, I wish you well. Have a good life, and maybe try to grow up a little. Lose the anger.

MY DIARY: Day 18,542: “Innocence.”

I’ve been thinking about my dad a little bit lately.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Christmas Eve, 2011, and died the day before New Years Eve, so it’s not surprising, I guess.

I never got to grieve for him. My mom is – I’ll be charitable – mentally ill. I have no siblings, no close relatives nearby, so keeping her functional and arranging the funeral and delivering the eulogy and all that stuff fell upon me. I did a good job, I say with no small amount of pride. I don’t take compliments well, and I compliment myself even less, but being thrown in cold into a trauma like that, I think I genuinely did good.

Life got worse after he was gone and, as I said, I never got time to grieve. I almost would, but people were counting on me. I couldn’t afford to let myself to fall apart. There were taxes to settle, corporations to dis-incorporate, estates to settle, things to re-title to my mom, finances to shift. None of this unique, everyone has to do it at some point, I suppose, but in my case if tell on me. I did adequately. I’m great in a crisis, merely ok in an ongoing state of duress. Barely-functional under normal circumstances.

As a result of all this, I feel oddly numb when I think about him. I packed it down so tight, suppressed it so thoroughly, even banishing him from my daydreams. (I daydream a lot). I was very afraid that if I wrote down the things I was feeling – like how it’s been years and I still can’t bring myself to sit in his chair – it would all come flooding out, and I’d be a basket case, and life would get worse for everyone, particularly my mentally-ill mother. And me. I definitely feared it would roll back on me.

A week or so ago my dad turned up in my dreams. Because it was a dream I didn’t remember that he was dead. I just said, “Oh, hi dad,” and he nodded and sat down while I went on about whatever nonsense was going on in the story. Eventually I woke up to go to the bathroom (Because I’m 50), and when I laid back down again, I realized he’d been there. I was suddenly sorry I missed him. Not sad, oddly, but just sorry. I tried to will him back as I drifted off again, but, no luck, he was gone.

Now, I¬†know it wasn’t him. My belief in the supernatural is…measured… at best. I believe in God and an afterlife, but not ghosts or sleepytime messages from beyond the grave. That stuff doesn’t happen. I know full well that whatever goes on in my unconscious mind is a product of my unconscious mind, something I’m telling myself, sometimes with a reason, but mostly just random. I¬†know all that. More importantly, I¬†believe¬†it.

Still, the next morning I was sorry that I had largely ignored him in the dream. Even if it was my own subconscious speaking to me in his voice, it would have been nice to hear his voice again. It’s been so damn long.

Now, anyone who knew my dad could tell you he was a great guy. I called him “A living saint,” and he always bristled at that out of humility, but it’s really hard to stress how great a guy he was, and what a long shadow he’s cast as a result. He was a living Horatio Alger story, only without the creepy understated homoerotic elements.

His family was poor in the Great Depression. His mom ran off when he was three. He was homeless, but managed to survive and be a normal kid. Played with the kids with houses, went to school, slept in a coal cellar. Eventually the state picked him up and put him in an orphanage, which he hated.  My grandfather eventually re-married so he could get custody of his kids back, then the entire family moved to Florida, where the Child Welfare laws were unreasonably lax even then.

They were still dirt poor, but they had a house. My dad took odd jobs, mostly as a delivery boy on his bike, and the family frequently lived off of stuff that washed up on the beach. Eventually he graduated high school, joined the USAF, served out the Korean War, GI Billed his way through college, became an Aerospace engineer, and ended up working for NASA in the Apollo/Skylab glory days.

Then he lost everything because Congress effectively shut down NASA in 1973/4.

He started over again. This time he went into business, and my mom went nuts, and we moved, and working – no joke – sixteen hours a day he managed to build a successful career for himself capable of supporting all of us in nearly-patrician fashion. He could easily have been a millionaire, but his opinion was, “What do you need all that money for? As long as you’re comfortable, isn’t that enough?” He was a deacon at the church, honest to a fault, a great guy. He built his life from scratch *Twice.* The second time in middle age.

He died at Eighty. He looked 60 or 65. He took care of my mom, and he took care of me (I’m mentally ill too, just in a more entertaining fashion than my mom) and while that wasn’t the life he wanted – come on, everyone wants a *normal* family – he never once complained. It was just his lot in life, and he accepted it and worked to make it better.

the impressive details of his life aren’t really why I’m thinking of him, though. I’m thinking of the “Living Saint” quality that he had, and it struck me today that really, he made it through life uncorrupted. He didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who did. He didn’t hate anyone, and he held true to his values even when they were unpopular. He treated people of all races equally long before that was the norm. He made it through life assuming the best of everyone, and because he so clearly assumed that, most people tried to live up to it. He made life better for the people around him, just by merely being him.

I mean, yeah, he had some negative qualities too, everyone does, but in his case they were trivial.

I’m told the definition of “Saint” comes from the latin word meaning “Set Apart.” If so, that’s definitely my dad. Somehow he made it from one side of life to the other still pure of heart like a child, still full of faith for all the good stuff in life, and still believing in the future. So many people don’t. So many people, like me, just kind of give up. My dad, though? He was a good man from start to finish.

I miss him. I feel numb about him, but when I think about his fundamental goodness, I can feel…something? I’m not sure what, but something more vital than the little glimmerings of all the memories I’ve compressed into a little ball in my soul. I can’t take him out of that ball and look at him, or think about him. It’s been too long. I couldn’t grieve now even if I had the option to. I’ve grown coarse and gnarled and complicated and sad and self-loathing in ways he never did. That opportunity is shot, and will not return.

But when I think about how good he was, it always makes me smile.

That’s not much, I know. It’s enough, though. For now, anyway.

Patrick and Curi and why I suck at Closure.

Recently I sent out two “Goodbye forever, please don’t write me back” letters to two of my once-and-former best friends. They didn’t do anything wrong or cross me or anything, I just needed to end stuff, and I also need closure because I’m 50, and that’s what fat, middle-aged overdramatic crazy people entering the third act of their lives do. I guess. I’m new at this.
 
The impetus was simply that I’ve had a lot of death in my life lately. Since the start of the year I’ve lost three people, plus a fourth who died a while back and I just found out about it this year. Plus a fifth who’s still alive, but is dead to me. I realize that’s melodramatic, he’s not really dead, but emotionally he went on that same pile.
 
Now, both of these people were folks I was really close to, and who were really important to me at some stage in my life. Patrick “Bad News” Hughes basically transformed me from a humorless, scared-of-girls, fanatical kid who got frightened by hearing “American Pie” on the radio, decided all popular music was satanic, and stopped listening, into, well, *me.* Then he disappeared for a long time, and turned up again around 2001, and we hit it off immediately.
 
Curi was a super-smart teenaged girl who started college at 16 and needed some positive reinforcement from a big brother figure who didn’t actually want anything from her. She inspired me to get back into music again, after many years away.
 
So these folks drifted away over time, to the point where I’d send out my rambling, hilariously profane Christmas letters, and that was about it. Every other year or so, I’d drop another letter on Patrick, just to see if he’d email me or whatever. He never did. Curi would send the occasional “I want you to know I always read everything you send,” comment, and nothing more. You never know how to take that. Is it “I like hearing from you,” or is it “My flesh crawls when I read your letters?” In any event, there was never any other follow up from her.
 
After a while, writing letters to people who never write you back begins to seem creepy and stalkerish. I hadn’t realized it, but I haven’t heard from Patrick in EIGHT years! I decided I needed to say goodbye, and have a period at the end of that sentence. Not because they’d done anything wrong, just because it was important to close out those files in my head, you know?
 
Then Patrick’s letter got returned as “undeliverable,” and I felt cheated. If I had to keep one of ’em, I’d keep Curi, who’s a loveable kid sister. Patrick is an accurately self-described asshole who is no end of fun and challenges me to try new things, then gets pissed off at me for whatever reason, and disappears.
 
So, yeah, the better of the two probably thinks I hate her and the worse of the two probably thinks I’m still pinin’ away for him to drop me a line.
 
Typically my attempts at closure end with guilt (Curi) and an absence of closure (Patrick)

I just realized why I only write short stories

I had an interesting realization this morning.

As my readers probably know, I work very fast. Inspiration hits, I start writing, and I don’t stop until the story is done. I might type for eight or ten hours straight, because if I stop for anything longer than a trip to the can, I’ll lose the holy fire of inspiration, and the story will die on the vine.

It’s really not a great way to run a railroad, I’ll be the first to admit. It limits me to short stories, rather than longer¬†work, and undoubtedly it’s responsible for my giddy-yet-somewhat-unhinged style. It’s not bad, it’s kind of unique, but it’s also limiting.

I had always assumed this was the result of my fairly short attention span, but I just realized this morning that it’s really my anxieties.

No, seriously: I take a half hour off to get lunch, and I begin to dread going back to it. I think, “This is terrible, no one’s going to read it anyway, why am I doing this?” I begin to dread how much of the work still lies ahead of me. I put it off. I question myself. I berate my talent. (I know I have talent objectively, but the longer I postpone things, the more I begin to doubt it emotionally). I take the night off, and it’s almost a guarantee that the story will be abandoned.

That’s why, I think, I only do short stories: That’s as much as I can manage before my inherent “Randy can’t do anything” feelings grow too big to be ignored. If I do it the moment the inspiration hits, I can maybe manage to bang a story out before my subconscious notices and paralyzes me. If I delay, then I’m dead before I can do anything at all.

That’s my suspicion this week, anyway.

What is a Memory but the Sum of a Man?

The cliche is “What is a man but the sum of his memories?” Cliches are used to the point that they’ve become trite, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently untrue. I think this one is true, or mostly so. ¬†There probably is more to me than my memories, but I can’t tell you what that is.

I’m religious. I believe in a soul, but I don’t think anyone has ever defined that very well, and I certainly don’t think I’m capable of it. In my limited imagination, however, the soul seems pretty much like a self-aware repository of memories. This brings up the question, “What is the soul but the sum of our memories?” That’s way too frustrating to deal with for me, and assuming anyone ever reads this, half of them probably won’t believe in an eternal soul anyway, so I’m not going to bore anyone with my fanfic theories of the afterlife.

Instead, I’m gonna talk about my friend John. He died in January of this year. He was a year or two younger than me. I wouldn’t say that his death messed me up, but it has affected me uniquely. John was my best friend for my last couple years in high school, and probably my first year or two in college as well, though he didn’t go to college, or at least not with me. We saw each other increasingly rarely, drifted apart. Eventually we hit that point in our relationships when we only talked about stuff we’d done in the past, nothing new, because there was nothing new. There’s something sad about that.

I bumped in to John entirely by coincidence in an airport one night. Bought him dinner while waiting for his plane. We told lots of stories from 1983-1987, some stories from 1988-1993, and really nothing after that. There was nothing after that. Pretty much half a lifetime apart, and only a few years together.

I’ve had people die before. Hell, I’m practically swimming in death. In the last six years I’ve lost my dad and his entire family. In the last year, ¬†I lost my aunt and uncle. I’ve lost friends, co-workers, bandmates, enemies, rivals both IRL and online. I used to point and laugh at those kids who took the “Death and Dying” classes in college because they’d been sheltered by their wimpy baby boomer parents. Me? The earliest funeral I can remember was my great aunt Ailene when I was about 3.

My point being that I’m depressingly jaded about death, and, though I didn’t think about it until just now, I’m something of an asshole to those people who aren’t jaded by it. Whups. Sorry ’bout that.

Just the same, John is the first best friend I’ve lost. He’s the first person’s death has made me think, “Well, what the hell was this all for?” This is the guy who used to work at JoAnn’s Chili Bordello, and who lusted after the waitress, Tobie, same as the rest of us. This is the guy who ended up as my subordinate in ROTC when he¬†should have gotten my job simply because our teacher found him annoying. He’s the guy who chased after this girl for a year, went out to dinner with her, realized there was nothing there, then called me up and told me how strange that was. We used to sit around for hours on end listening to Huey Lewis, which was considered acceptable in those days. We’d talk about Star Trek – which was only just beginning to suck – endlessly. We both wanted to be filmmakers. I helped him move several times. I remember things that he himself had forgotten, like a hallucination he told me about once. I know he’d forgotten it because when I brought it up, he clearly had no idea what I was talking about. All trivial, but I remember them in vivid 70mm Eastman Kodak color with Dolby Surroundsound. (It was the ’80s, remember)

Why does this matter?

I don’t know. You know people in life, and they become part of your story. They’re your sidekick, and they probably see you as theirs. You drift apart, their story ends, and maybe you never even hear about it. Maybe you do, but you’re so removed in time and space that it means nothing. Somehow it’s different for me, though, because I feel like I was there at the beginning of the story.

I wasn’t, of course. John was 14 or 15 when we met. He had a big long life before that, and I did too. Maybe it’s just that I feel like it was kinda the beginning of my story. I sometimes don’t feel like I was really interesting prior to sixteen, but that’s a story for another day.

For whatever reason, though, I remember a million billion trillion things from “The start of the story” that seem to have no payoff now that the end credits have rolled. The day I was joking with him about this thing, or he insulted me about that, or we’d compare notes on girls we were too scared to ask out, of stories he’d told me he was going to write, but never did, not because his life was too short, but because he never really liked the act of writing. All those moments are….

Not lost. They’re locked in my head.

Another cliche is “Nobody is ever truly gone as long as we remember them.” Now¬†that one truly is utter bullshit. It’s grossly unfair, too: everyone remembers Jeffrey Dahlmer, but very few people remember my friend John. People will remember the very bad man long after they’ve forgotten the perfectly average one. What the hell kind of piss-ass immortality is that? It’s bullshit, and I’ve never placed any stock in it. Not that I’d have to. I’m religious, as I said, so I believe in an afterlife, even if I don’t know anything about it. I don’t need to rely on Hallmark greeting card philosophy.

But I’m having trouble reconciling John’s loss because all those moments, all those stories, all those events, were building blocks leading up to, well, I assumed they were leading up to something other than a massive heart attack at 48 brought on by chain-smoking four or five packs a day for thirty three years. And now they are building blocks that lead up to nothing.

This isn’t about ‘a life cut short.’ Certainly he should have lived longer, and if John were alive to realize how badly he’d been ripped off in that department, he’d be madder than a wet hen. Just the same, people die all the time and I am depressingly desensitized to that. ¬†Likewise, people die without reaching their goals so often that we don’t even comment on it. We only mention it when they did end up the way they wanted, since it’s so rare.

So I guess this isn’t so much about his story getting cut short – tragic though that is – as it is trying to figure out how to reconcile it into my story.

I’m a writer and an editor. If my life were a book, or more likely a long series of really boring books that no one reads, John would turn up, play a major part, and then just sort of disappear. He plays no real role in the larger story. While he was alive it was always possible that he’d turn up again in the third act and do something remarkable, however unlikely. I wasn’t holding out hope for that. Truth is, I didn’t think about it at all. Now that he’s gone, though, I look back at this theoretical manuscript, and I see that introducing such a major character with no narrative payoff is simply bad writing. John would be the first thing chopped in the editing process.

This bothers me. He’s dead, I don’t want him edited away, too. And yet there’s this huge file in my brain of John Stuff. Funny stuff he said, dumb stuff he said, incredibly stupid things we both did, girls we fought over, movies I’m pretty sure only we saw. He and I went to see “Psycho Girls,” just a terrible, terrible movie. We were the only ones in the theater. I laughed so hard at one point that I fell out of my seat, the only time in my life I’ve ever done that.

Well, now John’s gone. This reduces the number of people who even *remember* “Psycho Girls” by probably 10%, and it reduces the number of people who remember me literally falling down laughing by half. What do I do with memories like that? Furthermore, his loss has kind of eroded the persistence of that moment for me, you know? Only the two of us were there, he’s gone, the moment seems less real somehow. That “So long as someone remembers them” bullshit cuts both ways. Whenever someone dies, there’s fewer people to remember¬†you,¬†too.

I remember once in the parking lot I told him that I’d decided I was one of the 15,000 greatest people ever to live. He laughed and said, “You’re not.” John’s life was…not great. He definitely got closer to the 15,000 than I did, but certainly a triumphant third act would have covered over a lot of stuff. As for me, I’m left with all these dangling plot threads. A million Checkov’s Rifles set on a hundred thousand mantles (John always tended to be doing several things at once), and most of them are still sitting there, never to go off. I don’t know what to do with all the dangling plot threads he left in my formative life. I don’t know how to incorporate what remains of his story into my story. I need closure on that anecdote, dammit!

I’m not saying anything new here, and I have no great insights or answers. I can’t even seem to express it very well. Basically, lots of stories¬†started back in the mid-’80s, and they ended with as little resolution as most of us get in life, but I need to believe that all of John’s stuff back then¬†meant something. I suppose maybe if his endless whining about girls and obsession with grade-z movies and student films and nametag jobs and crap like that meant something, then maybe my life means something, too. That’d be a help, as I really don’t think my life matters. (Being religious doesn’t mean you’re particularly optimistic. When I die, assuming heaven is even an option, I expect St. Peter to refer to me as “That waste of human skin from Florida.” Likewise I have to think Satan would find me singularly disappointing.) I’d like John’s giddy hobbies and good days and bad days and all those useless memories to mean something even if the story is – like most stories – begun and abandoned, because, I guess, it means that his existence would have had some meaning, or at least value, beyond a bunch of memories locked in my probably-dead-in-a-decade-or-so head. By extension, that would imply that I am not completely valueless, and perhaps I’m more than the sum of my memories, too.

Like I said, I don’t know what that would mean. Perhaps my memories are the sum of me, and not the other way around. Perhaps I have value, and the value of the memories is derived from that. Certainly I hope so, because the alternative is that all those first pages of the unfinished stories that made up John’s life, and my life, and all of our lives, are useless.

Why do rigid, linear thinkers keep saying they’re better than me?

Do extremely rigid, linear thinkers tend to be more convinced of their own brilliance than normal folk?
 
This is a legitimate question, not an attempt to troll anyone. I’d like to know if this is a real phenomenon, or if I just keep blundering into it because of my Weirdo-Magnet Powers.
 
It doesn’t seem to favor one group over another, left, right, rich, poor, black, white, other, gay, straight, other. Maybe it *SLIIIIIIIIIIIGHTLY* favors atheists, but then again maybe they’re just more vocal. I dunno. I’d like to know.
 
Anecdotal examples: When I was head writer at the Republibot Science Fiction site (An explanation for another day) there was one guy who worked for us who desperately wanted to be artsy. He wasn’t. His stories were all ‘the guy with the hat killed the other guy, the end,’ or knockoffs of Red Dawn (The remake, oddly). I’d point out that this was an SF site, so it needed to have at least SOME SF elements. Maybe just make the tanks into robot tanks, and we’re good.’ He got huffy, said I just didn’t get it, and pulled it from consideration. His music reviews were just “It had a good beat and you could dance to it,” and if you asked him about, you know, the deeper meanings in a song that clearly had deeper meanings, he was clueless as to what you were talking about. Philosophy? Forget about it. He was using the word “Existential” wrong repeatedly. I’d let it slip, but he was doing it a lot, and he seemed to think it meant some kind of hippie-dippie snowflake kind of thing. I politely explained to him the concept of existentialism, and his reaction was simply “That’s stupid. Obviously I exist.” yeah, but what does existence mean? “I exist.” Ok, yeah, given, but does your existence have any meaning “It means I exist. This is stupid.”

Now, I don’t want to give the impression the guy had aspergers or was stupid, he wasn’t. He was just a very linear thinker and very rigid. And very convinced that he was utterly brilliant. Anyone who wasn’t a rigid thinker wasn’t brilliant, they were confused.

Another guy I knew felt that pretty much art ceased to exist in the 1930s, and that everything beyond the Impressionists was bad. Art, he said, was statues of guys on horses and pictures of mountains, and everything else was degenerate and wrong. He also felt that all music after 1980 or so was degenerate and wrong, mostly because he just couldn’t understand it, and kept talking about outrages in modern music that happened 30, 40 years ago as though they were happening today (Ozzy biting the head off a bat, Johnny Rotten’s mere existence, The Divynals. Man oh man oh man, he hated the Divynals) I don’t think he could really tell the difference between these kinds of things, either. It simply wasn’t music to him, and went into the ‘noise’ category. ¬†Where the other guy was very conservative, this guy was very liberal.

Then there’s a 1990s friend of mine who couldn’t understand my books (fair enough. I’m not a very good writer), specifically because “It’s science fiction but you keep throwing God into it.” (For the record, God has never turned up in any of my books, though a fair number of my characters are believers in one thing or another) so? “So there will be no religion in the future.” Why? “Because rationalism will drive it out.” Sigh. This one I got into it with over cubism. Now, I don’t *like* cubism, but I understand it, and I’ve found that if you explain something to someone, unlock it, then they might enjoy it, or hate it less, or just view it as an interesting experiment that they don’t enjoy. ¬†Nope. “It’s stupid.” once again, art is pictures of mountains and sailboats, period, end of sentence. ¬†He also tends to just drop into religious conversations, troll people, and jump out, because he’s utterly convinced that anyone who doesn’t believe as he does is utterly stupid, whereas he is utterly brilliant. Oh, and all philosophy is dumb, he says.

Art might be a good shibboleth, as all of them seem perplexed or limited by it. All of them really like Star Trek, too, which might push them more towards the Aspergers cagetory, excepting that none of them have Aspergers.

To be clear: I am not saying that I am brilliant. I’m not. I’m a 50 year old unemployable loser with no skills. I’m also not a brilliant artist. Everything I do is crap, and is entirely for ego-gratification purposes. (“Look how clever I am!”) Probably as a means of compensating for being a 50 year old unemployable loser with a chipper disposition and deep, deep self loathing.
I’m not trying to make myself feel better by making them look bad, I’m just trying to understand if extreme rigidity and/or linear thought might tend to make people think they’re better than all the mushy-headed halfwits like me in the world?

Just because something has no value for you doesn’t mean it isn’t important to other people

“Just because something is meaningless to you doesn’t mean it is meaningless to everyone else.” This is my #1 rule for *NOT* being a jackass online or IRL.

This whole “I don’t like X, so X is useless, and nobody needs it” is a pretty serious freshman error when you’re figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. The next biggest error is “I don’t like X, so X is useless, and I can make fun of it, and/or the people who like it.” The first error is simply a little self-centered. The second is mean.

What X actually *is* doesn’t matter. It could be God, or Pokemon, or a crappy, dog-eared S.E. Hinton novel, or the 6th episode of My Mother The Car (That’s the one with Bill Daly guest starring). The point is not that it’s good or bad or indifferent, just that it is very important to someone, generally for some not-insignificant reason, and if you bag on it, you’re just a mean jackass and there’s no two ways about it.

Look, if some sad-eyed lady tells me that the face of the Virgin Mary appeared to her in a buttroast and told her she was going straight to heaven, and that she should really try the Mongolian Beef at that Chinese place at the intersection of 85 and 140 in Norcross because it is just AMAZING, I am *NOT* going to tell her she’s wrong.

I mean, I’ll think it’s pretty stupid (Apart from the Mongolian beef, because that place was great), but I’m certainly not going to tell her that, because, for whatever reason, she *needs* to believe the Virgin Mary is looking out for her.

If some middle-aged guy is strangely obsessed about Pokemon, and think Ash’s Pikachu is awesome, it doesn’t mean that he’s some sort of freak or moron, it just means that he needs some stupid adorable little kid thing in his life.

Why? Maybe his kid died, and his kid liked Pikachu, and he’s devastated by the loss, and having that crap around is the only thing holding him together. Maybe the Buttroast woman is dealing with a *LOT* of existential terror, and if you take her delusions of heavenly visions away from her, she’ll realize that life is meaningless, and fall into a suicidal depression. You don’t know. It’s not really any of your business. Just don’t do it.

I’m not blameless. I’ve done it. When I was younger and angrier I did it deliberately on occasion. I’ve done it accidentally on occasion now that I’m old and sad. It’s going to happen. When it does, however, and you realize it, don’t defend yourself. Don’t tell them to just get over it. Apologize quickly and sincerely, and ask them what you can do to make it right.

The world does not revolve around *your* world view. Or mine. When someone has a core belief that disagrees with yours, don’t just slam it or mock them, because the odds are they really need it to stay functional. Life is really really damn hard, and you have no idea what people are going through, and attacking their survival mechanisms doesn’t just make you self centered or mean, it makes you an utterly, utterly horrible person.

So just be kind, ok?

Science Fiction and the Question of Identity

I think for me, the most sure-fire appealing SF is that which deals with questions of identity.

Blade Runner is the most obvious example of this: Androids (Basically) are programmed with false memories of their lives prior to their activation for psychological reasons, but they know they’re androids. A detecive is hired to track them down. Along the way he meets another android who doesn’t know she’s an android because of the fake memories, and handles it not at all well. In the end, after killing off the last of the bad androids, he discovers that he’s an android, too, and runs.

Dark City is another one: a guy wakes up with Amnesia, framed for a murder he may or may not have committed. He’s got an estranged wife that he loves, and is on the run, but he notices that the map of the city redraws itself every night, and he ke keeps seeing the same people in different jobs every night, and begins to suspect that he’s never even met his wife prior to visiting the movie, that those are false memories. As it turns out, a hive-minded alien species is trying to find “The Human Soul,” for lack of a better word, by redefining people’s lives and memories dozens of times, assuming that which doesn’t change is the thing they’re looking for.

The Prisoner TV series spends 17 episodes with a character named “#6” attempting to figure out who the shadowy ruler of The Village, “# 1,” is. Ultimately it turns that #1¬†is, and has always been, #6 himself. (And in fact, they told us that in the opening titles of every episode: #6 says “Who is number one?” and the #2 of the week says “You are number six.” ¬†Which actually is written, “You are, number six.” Hidden in plain sight.)

Much, if not most of Philip K. Dick’s novels and stories touch on this to some extent. The most notable case is in “A Scanner Darkly,” when undercover narc Bob Arctor¬†is accidentally assigned the task of spying on himself by mistake. Rather than blow his cover (Even his bosses don’t know who he is), he goes along with it, and gradually suffers brain damage to the point where he’s Bob half the time, and a druggie the rest of the time. the ultimate attempt to re-fuse his identities devastates him, and turns him in to yet another person, who’s just another burned out wasteoid.

There’s a book – forget the title – where the main character is a spy who’s memory is wiped after every mission. He then has it put back in at the start of his next mission, and he’s always quite shocked to find out all the stuff he’s done.

I like hard SF, but I don’t see this as incompatible with that. I also like questions of the human soul, and this is all about that.

In the end, I suppose, a line from one of Laurie Anderson’s songs has always stuck with me:

We don’t know where we come from

and we don’t know what we are.

SF is uniquely suited to try to define the parameters of that question, even if it is fundamentally unanswerable. I admire anyone who takes a stab at it.