July 27, 2016

Who We Are Today

I’m troubled by the backlash against Michelle Obama’s statement that the White House was built by slaves.

I’ve seen people saying, “It wasn’t only slaves who built it!” Others say, “The government didn’t own the slaves!” (And now, thank goodness, Bill Oh Really has stepped up to assure us that the slaves who built it were treated well.)

It is demonstrably true that slaves were among the laborers who built the White House, and I’m puzzled that anyone would be given a moment’s pause by the assertion that they were.

I used to work at a county archives. Many of the patrons I helped were amateur genealogists unearthing their family history. Sometimes people would be especially surprised to learn that their ancestors were slaveowners. One man ambled away from me in abashed silence after I helped him read the handwritten deed with which his ancestor secured ownership of a slave.

Our history with slavery is a sore so many of us don’t want anyone to touch.

It goes without saying that we, as Americans, both as individuals and in society, are who we are today because of the hard work, ingenuity, creativity, suffering, bravery, and grit of our ancestors.

But, at least for some, it seems to need saying that we are who we are today because of the forced labor of the slaves who were our ancestors. And that we are who we are because of the rebellion of those slaves and the continued (and continuing) rebellion of people who suffered (and still suffer) under the legacy of oppression that slavery began.

We are who we are because of the labor of immigrants from all over the world who were (and are) belittled and threatened, people who worked hard and carried on through vehement and often violent opposition to secure their descendants’ place in a country they believed to be a blessing despite evidence otherwise.

We are where we are today because our ancestors took this land by force from the native peoples who were already prospering here.

If my words make you uncomfortable, I’m sorry. I am uncomfortable, too. But misdeeds and mistakes are integral parts of our whole truth whether we like it or not.

Our greatness does not come from never having sunk into error and sin, and it certainly doesn’t come from pretending our shadow isn’t there. On the contrary, the active work of bravely calling out and then willfully overcoming our faults has made and will continue to make us great.

I loved Michelle Obama’s speech the other night because that kind of greatness is what she was talking about. Hard-won hopeful greatness. Not false greatness that comes from blustering and bragging and being too thin-skinned to face the critical self-examination that progress requires.

And like her, that is the kind of greatness I want my children to honor and to learn.

We have an abundance of hope and still so much trouble to face with it. Today, there is plenty of history for us and our children to make.

February 4, 2016

Dear You: Is there even such a thing as whitewater writing?

Dear You,

Do you ever wonder if the thing that makes you the most you is also the thing that keeps another more productive you just out of reach? Or maybe I should say, is it possible that the way you are, when you’re the most lit up alive version of yourself (the version you kinda crush on, the version that makes you blush), plays right into the hands of the most dead-end you as well?

You probably don’t, because I have a feeling this is a me thing. I bet other people–at least some other people–are so reconciled with themselves that they think anyone who can ramble on about all this lighting up and dead-end crap is full of it and more it. And they’re right.

I’ve become enamored of personality typing over the last few years. Every test I’ve taken lately tells me I’m a solid INFP,* which basically means, in my own words, I’m a bleeding-heart dreamer. The thing is, I really like being a bleeding-heart dreamer, but lately I’ve begun to worry that all this bloody dreaming is getting in the way of doing a single thing to the point that I can call it done.

I have so many stories started. And this feels awful to admit, but I’ve only finished three biggish things–two short stories and a novella–plus a handful of spur of the moment flash stories and poems in my entire writing life. So that means in about 18 years–with a big break in the middle–I’ve built up a pretty good dam, but the levels downstream are suffering. Those poor tubers have been up there shivering on that rock in the middle of the river for far too long. They’re glaring at me now. They want to ride a mammoth flow right on down to the take out so they can towel off and scarf some partially blackened all-beef franks at the cookout. (Sorry. I got carried away.)

The problem isn’t that I don’t know how to finish. (Although I’m sure more practice will make me better at it in ways I can’t anticipate.) The problem is a lack of application and focus. Lazy. Scattered. Well-meaning but ultimately… See, I can’t even bother to finish that thought.

I have four stories going right now–that is, stories I think about and piddle with on a regular basis, stories I’ve bothered to share with my writing group. But I decided last week to see one through, to not pick up the others until that one is tossed down the rapids. I’ve chosen the one with the highest emotional stakes–the novella that’s already finished. It’s been rejected by a dream publisher already, but I have great critique notes from a trusted source to consider and apply, and I still believe in it and love writing it.

So I’m in major revision now, and so far, I like being here. Maybe major revision is the best place–no false thrill of the brand new, but no uncertain trudge through to the end either. The bones are there already. My job is to improve the body around them, make it as strong and lovely as I can. Then I have to send it on, ’cause what’s the point of sticking toes in when there’s whitewater way down there on the horizon?

Do they make a lifejacket for writers?

*INFP=Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver. (I’m pretty entrenched as an F and a N, but closer to the middle of both the introvert/extrovert divide and the Perceiver/Judger divide. In case you care at all. You probably don’t, but you’re too nice to say anything. Right?

December 18, 2015

All I Want for Christmas

Dear Father Christmas (St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, and so forth),

Father would be vexed, to say the least, if he were to discover this dispatch to you, a bearer of light in this world so beautifully dark, but as he is always encouraging any endeavor that lends strength to my devious nature, I have decided to take matters into my own hands.

The children of the village often argue about your modus operandi this time of year. Some say you only visit “nice” children. Others insist you visit all children but deliver coal or other undesirable objects to those you deem “naughty.” Yet, in my optimism (an unusual virtue for one of my kind, I will admit), I have chosen to believe those who proclaim that you visit all children in a spirit of bounding generosity. With that in mind, here follows my request.

All I want for Christmas is my fangs.

They are late in coming. Father admonishes me to keep quiet about their delay, to exercise the stillness and patience so valued by my kin. He has even permitted himself to lie to me–for I know it is untrue that fangs late in coming are a sign of extraordinary ferocity. Father’s fangs came early. He does not know what it is like to develop the thirst before the means to slake it.

The problem is a simple one, and I deplore you to be the answer. Am I not a child like any other? I believe your generosity to be grander even than any fiction that may spew from the meek and feeble imagination of a merely human child. And is not belief, after all, the underpinning of this merry season?

Please give my regards to your wife, to your elves, and to all your many reindeer. I will caution you, however, to keep your reindeer a good distance from this castle next Christmas. For even if you do not see to my needs at this time, I am sure to have my fangs by then. Reindeer are the perfect feast for an adolescent vampire.

Yours truly,
Victor, True Son of the Count
in the Shadow of the Crooked Mountain

(This is a prompt I wrote for my writing group meeting last week. Merry Christmas!)

November 7, 2013

Starry Bit #3: Wicked

It has been eight years or so since I read Wicked by Gregory Maguire, but I still remember exactly how it made me feel. It wasn’t the first time I’d read a re-telling, or even a re-telling in which the traditional villain is turned hero. (I read the The Mists of Avalon—Marion Zimmer Bradley’s re-spinning of Arthurian legend through the plight of Morgaine, aka Morgan le Fay—probably five years before I read Wicked.) But, it was a groundbreaking read for me. Wicked is dear to me—raw, wild, delightfully rare and so very sad—and I’m certain Elphaba will always stay near or at the top of my list of favorite fictional characters. (If only Elphaba and Granny Weatherwax could be my personal mentors, on call whenever I needed to tear free of some silly self-imposed box…)

Anyway… Here is the first paragraph of the prologue from Wicked.

A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air. White and purple summer thunderheads mounded around her. Below, the Yellow Brick Road looped back on itself, like a relaxed noose. Though winter storms and the crowbars of agitators had torn up the road, still it led, relentlessly, to the Emerald City. The Witch could see the companions trudging along, maneuvering around the buckled sections, skirting trenches, skipping when the way was clear. They seemed oblivious of their fate. But it was not up to the Witch to enlighten them.

And just because I love it so much, I’m gonna share the cover art too.Douglas_smith_wicked_cover

November 6, 2013

Starry Bit #2: The Little Island

I didn’t read The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown as a child. I found it at the library as an adult, instead, and checked it our for Eva. It is such a simple book, but it is mysterious and strangely comforting, and my favorite part is below, the bit in which the curious and doubtful cat hears a secret he didn’t even know he’d been seeking.

“Answer me this or I’ll eat you up,” said the kitten. “How is an Island part of the land?”

“Come with me,” said the fish, “down into the dark secret places of the sea and I will show you.”

“I can’t swim,” said the cat. “Show me another way or I will eat you up.”

“Then you must take it on faith what I tell you,” said the fish.

“What’s that?” said the cat—”Faith.”

“To believe what I tell you about what you don’t know,” said the fish.

And the fish told the kitten how all land is one land under the sea.

The cat’s eyes were shining with the secret of it.

And because he loved secrets he believed.

And he let the fish go.

November 6, 2013

Remi Bids Farewell

I haven’t shared a lot of my own fiction on this blog (yet), but I want to share this piece because it wouldn’t exist without social media.

I am a regular listener to The Functional Nerds podcast and follow its hosts, songwriter John Anealio and writer Patrick Hester on Twitter and in other places. Earlier this year, for part of his 23 in ’13 Challenge, John wrote a song called The Talyn Sonata. I listened to it every morning for several weeks as I made my family breakfast. (Along with other songs… I’m not THAT creepy.) The song inspired artist Natalie Metzger to create this spectacularly cute and curious illustration called Farewells, which I adore. (Follow those last two links, guys. You won’t regret it.) In turn, I wrote the short, short story below, Remi Bids Farewell, which takes inspiration from both Natalie and John.

What was that again about social media being a total time suck?

And here’s another cool thing—I shared this piece with my writing group earlier this year, and one of them encouraged me to enter it in the Knoxville Writers’ Guild contest for SciFi/Fantasy. I found out last month that it won the contest, and I get to read a selection from the story tomorrow evening at the KWG meeting in front of many other writers and guests! (Not nervous all…)

Anyway, here it is, my link in the creative chain…

Remi Bids Farewell

It appeared Rambo’s owners had gifted him a houseplant. Remi edged his eye over the back of the two-seater to watch as Rambo hovered past the street level flat to which Remi’s owners had relocated, clutching a plant. Rambo was the third bot to hover past that morning, and Remi had been expecting him to stop in and enquire if Remi himself were ready to depart. Rambo preferred company, especially at important events like a purge.

Perhaps Rambo’s apprehension in regard to Remi’s new location overrode his preference. Remi’s owners had been evicted from their previous flat; they were nothing but slumkins. Remi took satisfaction in the fact that they would not be able to replace him with a newer model after the purge. Truth be told, they had little use for a Zoombot, whether old or new. At least they had not been the ones to name him. A stray cat had “followed them home from the park” last month; they called her Mr. Kittywitty even though she was a female.

Mr. Kittywitty was too good for them. They had placed her collar on exchange before even purchasing a litter box. (It was studded with vale topaz; Remi had identified it for them via scan.) But despite his consideration for the feline, Remi had hardly had time to learn if Mr. Kittywitty was as deserving as she seemed. FenFen City was scheduled for a mandated three day purge of outdated bots, and Remi’s make and model, Zoombot 7R, headed the list. He would leave the planet today.

Remi had always thought purge days inefficient. Why gather the discards at the airfield before sending them off? It generated more work than necessary.

“It is simple. They must mark you off the list,” Tish had said, during their interminable conversation three weeks ago. She was a Zoombot 7T and continually explained the obvious to Remi as if he were senile. Remi had rescheduled Mr. Kittywitty’s weekly walk to avoid running into her, but she was everywhere these days. Her owners must be busier than normal owners. Or lazier.

After that last comment, he had wanted to violate protocol and transmit his thoughts without permission, straight into the obtuse mass behind her eye. They have the ability to build bots with living tissue in their heads. In quantities so numerous they have covered two moons with castoffs. Remi had blinked seven times to stop himself, but it was still true. They could coordinate a remote send off if they chose, one that would allow Remi to power up in private and lift away from the comfort of his owners’ front stoop without having to wait in line like some errant school boy.

It was a gesture they wanted, humiliation in the guise of goodbye.

Rambo’s owners would come to wave him from the planet in the great ceremony of farewells. He had been their sole bot for a 10.7 years, after all. Remi’s owners, asleep at the moment, were scheduled to work later that day. They would not join him at the airfield.

Rambo had been despondent for weeks. He lived three blocks south, in the same apartment building Remi’s original owner, Dr. Shrift, had lived before his death, when he willed Remi to these slumkin relations about whom he had felt nothing but shame. Rambo’s owners were artists. The woman had sculpted Rambo multiple times, mostly in wax; the man had composed tunes for Rambo to broadcast while assembling the children’s toys.

Remi had known Rambo since they had both been built, on the same line, one after the other. The technician had told them that the matter in their brains had come from related donors, as if it should be of special interest to them, a cute little secret, although their donors’ identities were protected with all the usual protocols.

“I could call you brother,” Rambo had said.

“Do not.” Remi had replied. “Dr. Shrift cares little for artists. We will not be seeing much of each other despite our proximity.”

Rambo would miss his owners. He would miss their work and their children. He would miss the river view from his personal window seat in their high rise flat. They would miss him too, for a week and two days, which was when their new bot was scheduled for release. They were not replacing him with a Zoombot. It was something larger, a brand new design. Remi could not recall the make name he had overheard. He had kept the news from Rambo, but Mr. Kittywitty had heard all about it.

Mr. Kittywitty butted against Remi. She often purred in harmony with his own static buzz and would try with persistence to wedge her whiskers into his ports whenever he hovered in one place for more than three minutes. She made the world quite wobbly for him sometimes.

“You will be alone with them when I leave,” Remi said to her. “They will not order the premium litter like I do. I am warning you. Once they learn how much we have been spending for the sake of a cat’s bottom…”

Then a thing occurred to Remi. Mr. Kittywitty would be all alone with them when he left. Like he had just said. She would likely have no new litter at all. But the moon, the one to which the 7Rs would be going… Which one was it again? Talyn Prime? It had some wildness left, did it not? Plenty for one house cat. Not much prey to speak of, but Mr. Kittywitty was fed a substandard diet of meatless slop to begin with, so the offerings of an all but uninhabited trash heap moon would seem a carnivore’s playground to her.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking, Mr. Kittywitty?”

Mr. Kittywitty stared at Remi as if to say, “Took you long enough.” Cats really were superior to people. (And, Mr. Kittywitty was above average even for a cat.) Imagine if it had been feline brain matter that had been used inside Remi and his kind.

Remi began the necessary adjustments. He had his owners’ signatures on file. A note of gifting would be easy enough to produce. A cat suit would be more difficult, but Remi could manage by the appointed time. Mr. Kittywitty’s vaccination records were still waiting in the back of Remi’s mind for download onto the household drive. He may not need them, anyway; the health of the moon was of no concern to these imbeciles. That was obvious. And animals had been transported to the moons before. Last Tuesday, his people were awake and eating far too late in the night, enthralled by some documentary about the men who kept watch at the junkyards on the moons. A moon was such a lonely environment, these men had been allowed to take pet dogs. Remi’s owners had fallen asleep on the two-seater, grease on their fingers, crumbs on their chests, but Remi had watched until the end.


Mr. Kittywitty meowed an unnecessary amount on their ascent. She had bitten the woman in charge of fitting her helmet while Remi was at the power supply. But now that they were extricated from the dirty haze that filmed the planet, she settled in his grip. The great darkness of space spread around them with no constraint. No constraint. Remi could wander off if he chose, in any direction, until he shut down. No one would care whether he made it to the moon or not. Rambo had the plant to console him as his power waned. Remi wondered if he would root the thing into moon soil or leave it in its pot from home.

Mr. Kittywitty squirmed around to look Remi in the eye. “Oh, you are right,” Remi thought, knowing the cat would understand. “I cannot go exploring with you in my arms.” Remi glared at the moon below. There would be beetles to swat on that sphere of dirt and tree and dingy metal. Perhaps a cat could make her bed in the hollowed chest of an Ur-bot Mid Grade. It seemed the right size. In the wooded areas, there would be leaves enough to cover one’s urine—if Mr. Kittywitty were as particular about it in the wild as she had been in the flat–and leaves enough to pounce in the long, late afternoons. Remi could picture it. There would be company too, of a sort—junkyard dogs at every boundary for a spry little kittywitty to harass.

November 5, 2013

Starry Bit #1: The Fault In Our Stars

So it’s November, and many of my friends on Facebook are posting one thing each day for which they are thankful. It’s not that I don’t have many things each day for which I am thankful. (I’m expecting a baby, for one, and I already have a wonderfully sly and loving daughter to boot.) It’s just that I’m the kind of person who would dwell on things I’d forgotten to mention. (That’s probably just an excuse, but it’s the one that came to mind, and I’m OK with it.)

However, I’ve decided, in the interest of blogging more here (What? It’s only been three months…), to post passages—lets call them “starry bits” in honor of the passage from this, the first post—that I’m exceedingly glad to have met. I know it’s not an original idea, but it will be good for me. And maybe you’ll like it too.

I’m a bit late—it’s November 5 already—but I’ve already gotten over that.

These posts will be rather spontaneous. In other words, I don’t have a long list of items prepared already. I do know what I’ll post tomorrow, probably, but after that, it’s whatever floats to my brain (let’s hope without entering indirectly through a nostril).

Here’s number one…

This is the passage from The Fault In Our Stars by John Green in which Augustus tells Hazel, who has been slowly dying of cancer for as long as he’s known her, that he’s in love with her. There’s something about this passage—the dark dissonance in it, I think—that makes it stand out to me as a bare and honest and strangely hopeful “hey, I’ve got to say right now immediately and without taking a breath that I’m in love with you” moment, even though it might be ludicrous for a passage like this–teetering marvelously on the edge of verbose BS–to be uttered by anyone other than Augustus Waters.

I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.

Knocked me over when I read it. Well, I was lying in bed, but I sunk a little.

July 26, 2013

Bedtime Story

Last night Eva asked for a bedtime story about her being nineteen and having a boyfriend. So I told her one about when she goes to college to be a marine biologist and gets a job working as a student at Sea World. She likes a boy named Mike (her request) who trains the orcas, but she works with the sea lions, who, of course, must never mix with orcas. She and Mike wave at each other every day across the pools. At the end of the semester, Mike, who is older and out of college, gets transferred to a Sea World all the way across the country. Eva is distraught because she hasn’t told Mike she has a crush on him, so she dashes off and catches him before he goes through security at the airport, where she finally confesses her feelings. He writes down his addresses (both email and postal) so they can be pen pals.

Last week, she wanted stories about power rangers and fairies and perching at the tops of tall trees. Now we’re on to long distance relationships and airport chases. A month from now, we may be playing bingo and having nails done at Sunnyvale Assisted Living.

I think she’s growing up faster than I am.

July 25, 2013

Dream House, as described to me by Eva on Sunday evening and tonight before bed

The Living Room

  • The remote control is hot pink and black, as is the TV.
  • There is a picture of Hello Kitty on the wall. (She looks good with hot pink and black.)
  • If you dance a certain secret way in front of the TV, a passage opens to the cave lab. (This is one of many secret openings to the cave lab throughout the house and grounds.)
  • The doors of this passage to the cave lab will allow Eva through but will close and smash any bad guy who attempts to enter.
  • After entering this passage, Eva, family members, and trusted friends must cross a bridge to an elevator. Once on the elevator they must enter the secret code, 2323, and the elevator will take them down into the cave. (Do not repeat the secret code.)

The Dining Room

  • The dining room table is made of diamonds.
  • Do you really need to know any more about the dining room?

The Office

  • The office is very organized.
  • It has many boxes in which Eva keeps the records of her My-Spies (security cameras that peep down from the ceiling).
  • Her My-Spies are named McKenna, Amy, and Grapefruit.
  • McKenna looks for weapons in the house that do not belong to Eva.
  • Amy looks for bombs brought in by bad guys.
  • Grapefruit looks for people.
  • Grapefruit is the best My-Spy.
  • Behind the couch in the office is a button that opens Eva’s secret cabinet of weapons.
  • The button is hot pink and black.

The Bedroom

  • The bedroom is decorated entirely in hot pink and black, with the exception of the numerous stacks–reaching almost to the ceiling–of many kinds of precious gems that tower about the room.

The Playground

  • There is a jungle gym and a pool.
  • If you cross the monkey bars in a certain secret obstacle course pattern (and avoid the laser beams), another passage to the cave lab will open. You must maneuver so that you will enter head first.
  • If Eva slides head first down the slide that goes into the pool, another secret door will open underwater and let her dive into the cave lab. If anyone else slides down the slide into the pool, nothing exciting happens (except the usual splash).

The Cave Lab

  • There are three machines in the cave lab.
  • One is a food machine, which is why the house has no kitchen.
  • One is a clothes machine that allows you to make a new outfit every day.
  • The last is a time machine.
  • All of the machines are hot pink and black.

The Ninjas

  • Ninjas live hidden in the house, ready and waiting should the family ever need them. (A rare event, since Eva is, of course, an excellent defender.)
  • The ninjas wear hot pink and black. (Eva did not specify this detail, but at this point, I feel safe in assuming.)

I am left wondering what the bathroom must be like.

April 11, 2013

Staff Picks!

We recently displayed staff picks at my library. My coworker Catherine and I asked the staff to provide us with eight titles (owned by our branch and currently on the shelves) that they wanted to include on the big cube in the middle of our branch’s common area, with their name attached via bookmark. I always worry no one will want to contribute titles, that they’ll drag their feet at this extra bit of effort, but that never happens. Apparently, library employees like to share books. (I know. Surprising.)

Anyway, I like to share books so much, that I thought I’d post my titles here. Picking “staff picks” was somewhat of a challenge, because the books had to be on our shelves. We can’t order books from other branches for this purpose or place reserves on items currently checked out. So, like any other library user, browsing the shelves for something to read right that moment, our tastes were checked by chance.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Little Red: A Fizzingly Good YarnGrumpy BirdOutside Your Window: A First Book of NatureThe Stars: A New Way to See ThemThe Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)The Graveyard BookThe Evolution of Calpurnia TateFire (Graceling Realm, #2)Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)When You Reach MeWinnie the PoohThe Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)Walking Across EgyptTiganaThe Night Circus

(I may have gone a little over the eight book limit.)

And, by the way, it’s so fun when a patron chooses one of your picks. You almost want to walk them to their car in some kind of send off, but then they might be afraid to come back.