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Why I am Quitting Facebook (Or Attempting to)

If I were to describe my Facebook habits to pre-Facebook me, he would be intrigued and more than a little horrified.  I suppose this makes me a bit of a Luddite these days, to question the value of something that has become so omnipresent, but I have serious beefs with the role that social media has started to take in my life.  I’ve spent over a month tinkering with things, trying new filters, and ultimately I’ve decided that Facebook has to go.

First– I’m not here to convince you to quit Facebook.  If you’re getting more out of it than you put in, and you’re happy with the volume of energy that you’re dedicating to the platform, then please don’t let me change that.  However, if you suspect that Facebook might be bad for your mental health or eating too much time, then perhaps read on and see what I have to say here.

Facebook, when it comes down to it, is too easy.  Prior to this week, I had it on my phone, my iPad, my work computer, and my writing laptop.  Whenever I was using any of these devices, my awareness that Facebook exists was there in my head. There is an endless stream of links, opinions, and general “water cooler talk” available over on the platform, merely a touch or click away.  You want to see aww-cute animals?  Facebook’s got it.  You want to feel outrage? Oh boy, do they have that too.  Do you want to feel soul-crushing jealousy at acquaintances living far more exciting lives than you?  Yep.  Facebook has you covered.

It’s not all bad.  It can make you feel more connected. It helps us keep informed on the lives of people that we would probably not stay in touch with as well without it. It definitely plays a role in informing people and sharing knowledge.  But as a “social” tool, I think its flawed, at least for me.  “Wow,” sometimes I would think. “I have so many amazing and cool friends all over the world.”  But I really examined this, and I realized that I didn’t really know how most of these people felt about me.  I don’t talk one-on-one with most of them, and I don’t really have a relationship to them. I have a relationship to a platform that mediates all of my interactions with those people.  Facebook chooses what you see, and no amount of tinkering can strip away that algorithm, I found.

It got to the point where I would be around friends in the actual physical world but I would spend part of our time together reading social media.  We’ve all been at meals where everyone stares at their phones, and this is the great damage that Facebok has done to me.  Because of that endless scroll, you almost feel obligated to keep up.  Afraid that you might miss something that will deliver a good little dopamine hit in any of those categories above.  I don’t want to make any weak drug analogies, but I definitely began to use Facebook in an addictive way. Wake up, check Facebook.  Check Facebook all day.  Read Facebook one more time in bed.  Repeat.  And the longer I went without checking it, the more uncomfortable I felt.  I was missing out! The world was moving without me if I wasn’t there, reading and reacting.

Being wired in to the action helps paper over feelings that my own life isn’t going places as much as I would like.  As a Dad, I get out and interact with the real world a lot less often than before, and working from home all day doesn’t help. Ultimately, instead of easing feelings of loneliness, Facebook seemed to be exacerbating them.  Or, to be more accurate, the way I was using it was.

I want deeper, more personal connections in my life.  I don’t need a large number of them, but I also don’t want a third party involved in those connections, shaping them in invisible ways.  I want to get to know you, not the you that you project to the public on Facebook. What I’ve come to realize is, my truest friends are the ones that I communicate with regularly outside the mediation of social media.  The rest just began to feel artificial, a cheap facade, and I was spending ever-increasing amounts of time on wishing it to be more solid than it was.  Far too much time.

It has not been uncommon for me to spend three hours a day reading social media and responding to it.  That’s time that could be better spent playing with my kid, reading, or writing. And reading, that’s really what has suffered.  I used to read endlessly, but it began to feel like a chore in comparison to the easy quick fixes of social media.  I read most often on my iPad, and there was always that siren call of “what’s going on in the world? What am I missing while I’m reading this book?”

My habits around social media developed with no thought to the consequences–no thought about the opportunity costs.  For every activity you devote time toward, there are dozens more that you don’t. That’s opportunity cost, and I’m not comfortable with them right now, especially not comfortable making them without careful consideration. I don’t like it when habits form unintentionally.

So here I am, trying to break the habits and form new ones. It’s not made easier by the fact that I’m unable to delete my profile due to some developer apps I have set up for clients. I’m allowing myself to continue to use messenger because that’s one-on-one interaction that I want to foster. This means that I do open Facebook still.  And if I’m not careful, I start scrolling and clicking reaction buttons like I never quit. (This explains why you may have seen likes appear and disappear from me lately.  Quitting is a process.)

One immediate impact from trying to remove Facebook from my life has been an increase in blogging.  Remember blogging? That think we all did before Facebook and Twitter came along to chop up our thoughts into even tinier increments?  Even that seems like it was a fad, as everyone makes 20+ long tweet threads that are a pain in the ass to read on a micro-blogging platform.  Even I do it, for the simple reason that probably 12 people read this blog, but several hundred (at a minimum) see my tweets.  There’s always that dopamine hit of people liking and retweeting.

I like blogging, too–I like taking more space and time to think and share my thoughts. Most importantly, this is a choice I’m making.  Less Facebook.  More books.  More blogging.  Deliberate choices instead of accidental habits is the theme of my life right now as I attempt to develop a much healthier lifestyle.  I’m choosing what I eat more carefully, and carving out at least 30 minutes a day for exercise.

I want my head space back. I want to spend my time in the real world, being more intimate with it and the people that matter most. I want to live in the now and in my immediate space. I want to get to know my own thoughts better.  Doing so can only make me a better writer, and hopefully a better person.

So that’s why I’m quitting Facebook and why I’m limiting how much time I spend reading on Twitter.  It’s possible that one day I’ll let myself use the service for a few minutes every few days to keep up better with extended social circles (I do care about you all, honest). If you think of me as a close friend, or would like me to become one, I hope you’ll get in touch with me via email or text or phone–any direct method of communication is alright by me. I’ll be reaching out to some of you myself as time allows. If all goes well, I should have more of it on my hands very soon.

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On the Importance (or Lack Thereof) of Revision

I have always valued the clean draft; perhaps because I am innately lazy, or perhaps because my step-father always drilled me on the importance of measuring twice, and cutting once, I began writing by avoiding revision. Some of my favorite writers were one-draft writers, as well, and at least one of my models and mentors, Jay Lake, was notorious about limiting his revision attempts.

I know another possible root cause. I have an odd quirk of intellect, where most of what I know comes to mind very quickly. In school, I was almost always the first person to finish test-taking, sometimes by half an hour or more. I definitely was not the highest scoring test taker always, but upon seeing a question, I always know in a blink whether I can summon the answer or not. And when I definitely do not know the answer, no amount of pondering or torturing myself will reveal it, so it is quite easy to move on take the loss. I call this a quirk because it was neither a help nor a hindrance in life–ultimately, a wash.

Early on in writing, I found it easy to pen first drafts because I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning my decisions in a similar way. The first idea always seemed adequate, and so it was not impossible for me to turn out 2500 words an hour or more. With time, I learned that my first decisions were often inadequate or cliched. This led not to revision, which I still abhorred, but instead to copious pre-writing and outlining. I could prepare a road map for a story that would limit the amount of decision-making on the fly. It kept me with roughly the same pace, but only moderate to limited success in publication.

It wasn’t until I took the James Gunn Workshop at Kansas University led by Chris McKitterick and Andy Duncan that the value of a well-polished and revised manuscript became apparent to me. I brought three adequate stories to the workshop, and received many useful thoughts and suggestions. I’ve always been a big user of critique and first readers, and I’ve often incorporated their suggestions. However, through participating in the workshop, I really had to sit down and revise, reworking entire sections, rethinking my goals, as well as the usual tweaking and polish. I sold two of those three stories, and it’s probably no mistake that the one I revised the least from feedback ended up being the one that didn’t sell. (Incidentally, it was the most comic of stories, and I find comic feedback very hard to come by and to sell. I like writing humor, but finding readers who can critique it isn’t easy, especially given how much humor is subjective.)

These days, I’ve settled into three to five revision passes before I submit work for publication. The last one is usually a line-edit polish pass, but the others often involve structural changes, bigger picture stuff. The difficulty I have with letting the revision process go on too long is that I can start to question perfectly valid decisions. If you were to boil down what writing is, once you get the basics down, it’s making creative and interesting decisions over and over again. Perhaps this is why some writers find it easier to write under the influence — freeing up inhibitions makes decision-making even easier.

You have to have a little bit of confidence that the decisions you are making go somewhere interesting. That’s the trick. Spend too long staring at something and you go blind to both its faults and its strengths. So it’s important to know when to move on. You can work on a piece over a longer period of time, I find, only by taking long breaks from it, to remove yourself a bit. Sometimes, the best drafts and revisions come years later when I’m so far removed from the words that they hardly seem like something I wrote at all. This would definitely be a bad practice to institute across all your work if you value alacrity of career. Sometimes, the thing a story needs most is time. But too much time, and they rot.

With longer work, I find my revision process has shifted. Rather than taking multiple passes on a work after it’s complete, I have the habit of re-reading the entire work and revising as I go each new session. This results in a manuscript that has had the first half revised endlessly, and a very rough ending. I haven’t quite figured out a way to improve on this method, but for writing that takes me weeks or months to complete, I find it necessary to review the previous session’s work just to remember what in the hell I was doing. Often, I feel like the proverbial goldfish in the bowl. What was I saying?

I’ve often heard it said that you don’t learn to write books. You learn to write this book. With short fiction, each project might not be so dissimilar, and my novel-writing experience is thus far fairly limited, but I think there’s a lot to that statement. Primarily, as writers, we have an enormous toolbox available to us of methods. As we develop as writers, we experiment with many of these tools. Some we take to, and some we don’t. Would you listen to anyone who told you that the Phillips screw driver was superior to all others in all cases? Why would you do the same about writing tools and techniques?

Get the work done. Make it the best you can, regardless of how. Show it to the world if possible. At the end of the day, it’s not so complicated. And yet somehow, it is also the most complicated thing you’ll ever do.

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The Mid Life Crisis of a Self Employed Geek

There are times when being a cliche of a human being isn’t very helpful. This is one of them. I’ll be forty in December, and seemingly rising up out of the depths of my subconsciousness, great anxiety has breached like a whale made of insecurity. I’ve lost a lot of confidence in the last few months about who I am and what I should be doing.

Primarily, I make my living running a freelance web design studio. I build websites likes this one for authors and small presses, but really whoever has the cash and seems like a decent person. I’ll do small business websites, whatever. Nonprofits are good too. I have a solid client base, but lately, new client work is harder to come by, and that makes up a significant portion of my income.

Since November, business has tapered down significantly. I’ve run some advertising in some places that reach my target audience. The response to that was zero, so it was money down the drain.  It feels like either the opinion about the quality of my work out there has changed without me knowing it, or everyone is too terrified about the economic climate to spend any money on things like websites.

Then there’s the backup plan which increasingly has turned delusional. As a writer, I had a good break there with four stories published in one year, all sold the year before.  I thought it was representative of a shift and that I had finally started to stand on my own.  I thought that maybe it was time to start working towards novels and gradually increasing my income as a writer. Then last year happened, and I sold one story early on, then nothing.  A novel is an awful big risk for an unproven writer.  Twelve months of my life to not make a dime from the time, whereas if I write 12 stories and sell one, that’s better for us than a single failed novel.  I lack the sense of security I require to start novel-writing in earnest.

Working in tech and getting older is a terrifying prospect.  I read horror stories all the time about how hard it is to get a day job in tech over 40.  Us oldies in my line of work usually tend to move up to middle management, but that’s not an option in a one person company. For a long time, I thought that if I was going to start to decline as a designer/developer, I had the writing to fall back on.  But things haven’t worked out so well in that department, as it turns out.

The future looks like a chasm of uncertainty, and I’m plummeting into it without a light. I was once filled with optimism for how things might turn out. I used to have grand schemes that I would devote hours to with no pay, with the hope that some day they might matter.  Increasingly, it feels like time has begun to run out.  I feel like I have to make my time pay off better, because I only have so much of it left.

I don’t expect to live much past 55.  I have some bum genes that lead to significant health problems and my Dad didn’t even make it to 50 (lung cancer, though). It’s hard to see your life span going too far under those circumstances. So even when I try to imagine the long term future, there’s this hard drop off around that age.

I worry that by spending the last 8 years not working for someone else, but only working for myself, I’ve ruined my chances of moving into that middle management tier where jobs for people with experience are most reliable and secure, where we go when we can’t keep up with the latest and greatest technologies and buzz words.  I’m swimming in waters filled with increasingly young sharks.  How much longer am I going to be able to tread water?

I don’t feel like I’m any less competent at what I do.  Perhaps the drop-off in business is because I’ve reached the limits of the niche I work in.  Perhaps I’ve burned bridges without knowing it. Or perhaps we’re all so worried that Trump is going to end the world that the economy has been impacted negatively.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be flooded with prospects and I’ll forget all this uncertainty.

For now, I’m left questioning everything about myself.  Have I made the right choices?  What will I do if I can no longer do this? What’s my long term goal if I acknowledge that I’ll probably never be a good enough writer to have that make up any portion of my income? I’m full of questions, and coming up empty right now on answers.

I’m terrified about what comes next.  Unlike the past, I have a family that depends on me now.  And it doesn’t help that all this terror and uncertainty is such a cliche.  Luckily, I’m not well off enough to blow any money on a convertible.

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A New Story At Lightspeed: “The West Topeka Triangle”

My latest short story is live over on the Lightspeed Website today.  It’s a semi-autobiographical tale with a lot of painful childhood memories rolled up into a tale of the supernatural… or is it?

It’s something very different for me as a writer.  I’m very nervous about how it will be received.  Some of the early reviews haven’t been great, so I’ve lost some of the confidence I had in the story.  But it’s out there, and now each reader must judge it for themselves.  It’s no longer my story.  Now it belongs to everyone.

You can read the story here.

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Futuristic Foods and Where to Find Them

I learned over the holiday weekend that my story “Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus” made the Tangent Online recommended reading list.  It received two stars out of a possible three. My posting this news is not a tacit endorsement of Dave Truesdale or any of his behaviors.  Anyway, I’m proud of this story and its reception.  It came out during WorldCon in Kansas City and a lot of people mentioned enjoying it to me, which made me really happy.

Speaking of future food, io9 has an article today called “Eight Futuristic Foods You’ll Be Eating in 30 Years” which, see above, is a subject that holds considerable interest to me.  I think the list is kind of disappointing and arbitrary, but I do wish I had done more with bugs in my story.  I do there there’s interesting material there.   What about you?  Would you eat bugs or food made from processed bugs? I think this may be one case where the processed version is preferable to the natural form.

This next bit of news has absolutely nothing to do with food — I have a new story out today on Drabblecast called “Garen and the Hound.”  This story is another Garen the Undreaming story — the first appeared in last year’s Swords v. Cthulhu.  It’s a short short, an easy read or listen.  I’m hoping to write another, longer Garen story later this year.

Finally, a personal note from me to you.  I am glad that you survived 2016, and I wish you the best of luck in 2017.  I hope to have some interesting things for you to read in the coming days.  2017 is gonna be the year of the blog comeback. I’m calling it now.

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This is 39

Today is my 39th birthday. The past year, on a personal level, has been pretty good, ignoring the upcoming impacts on the personal that are happening at the national stage.

Clockpunk Studios is on track to do roughly the same amount of business it did the year before.  It sustains my small family, and pays a couple of regular subcontractors.  It helps fund the experiment in erotic publishing known as Congress Magazine.  I still love my work and I enjoy the challenges involved in running a small business.  I don’t want to go back to work for someone else’s company ever again. I hope in 2017, things continue to be profitable and sustaining.  I’m a little worried about the coming changes at the national stage (how’s that for a repeated euphemism), but optimistic I will find a way to survive.

On the writing front, I had three stories published, and I sold one that comes out in January.  I had aimed to sell three, and I guess there are a couple more weeks for that to happen, but I’m not super-hopeful of hitting my goal given that I only have two stories on submission right now.  This year marked a continued exploration into my personal history and writing stories that draw on my childhood.  These efforts have had mixed results, but I’m proud of the writing I did; I wrote quite a few stories in the first half of the year, and I even started a novel.  Then WorldCon happened and work got busy and I fell off the wagon.  I’m still tinkering, and still hoping to have a new Dungeonspace story done soon.  I don’t know what kind (or how much) of role writing will play in my life moving forward, but I know it will play some role.

Dadding remains the most satisfying aspect of my day-to-day life.  I’m frustrated with my progress as a parent, most of the time, much as I am with my progress of being a better writer or web designer. I desire to find more patience and calm in the face of toddler obstinacy especially. That said, the end product couldn’t be better; Matty is funny, lovable, smart, and all the other adjectives you don’t need to hear from an adoring father.  Each day, he finds a way to astonish and surprise me.  His growing mental faculties are fascinating to watch unfold.  I can’t wait to see what he becomes next.

My wife Sarah continues to be the best choice I’ve ever made.  She is the best person I know, and I love her more every day.  The things we make together will long outlast us.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Scourge of the Memebots

Peeqo is a personal desktop robotic assistant who expresses himself through GIFs. Think of him as the love child of Amazon Echo and a Disney character. He has a conversational UI, so he responds to voice commands but answers only through GIFs.

Peeqo – The GIF Bot

Lin’s neighborhood was infested with memebots, and he’d absolutely had enough of them.  For the first few days, they were a novelty; cute little soda-can sized bots with screens for faces, trundling about on bug-legs.  They expressed themselves in old-fashioned gifs and memes, much to the confusion of the retirees up the block, and their neural networks were sophisticated enough that they were able to carry on something like a conversation.  They wanted to interact more than anything else, and seemed to have fairly advanced language parsing capabilities, but they had no ability to respond with anything other than images on their screens — no speech at all.   Talking with them got old very quickly.

Smart as they were at talking, they weren’t great at survival. Quite a few of the first wave were run over by selfiecars; their small stature and inability to make sounds meant they didn’t register well on the car sensors; their cheap, brittle 3D-printed plastics crumbled on impact, rarely leaving a dent.  By week two, they seemed to have upgraded their path-finding and threat evasion.   One morning over his coffee, Lin watched as a small herd of them scattered out of the way of a street cleaner.

By the third week, they got more aggressive about demanding interaction.  The damned things were just so needy, even if they were cute, and that was when Lin decided he’d had enough.  After the fourth “I CAN HAZ SHELTER?” cheesburger cat  and shin-nudge on his morning walk to the commuter rail, he was determined to put an end to them.  Nobody had any idea who was fabbing the things, so he couldn’t resolve the problem with diplomacy or threats of a good old-fashioned beatdown. He had a pretty good idea how to reduce their numbers with ecology.

He spent a few sleepless nights and a long weekend designing a terminator bot.  It took a few captured and dissected meme bots to figure out how to exploit their recognition software.  The terminator bots had only the barely resemblance to a person; they looked like upright- brooms with 3D-printed skulls fastened to the handles.  But the memebots recognized them as people and moved in to pester.   That’s when the terminator bot would deploy its harpoon, skewering its prey through the CPU.  Once it had strung a few of the memebots on a tether, it would move to the nearest recycling recepticle, unload, and go back to hunting.  His first few field tests managed to clear the street outside his apartment quite effectively, at least for a few days.

He ordered up a dozen of them from his building’s fabricator, charged them over night, and released them in the morning.  Merrily they rolled along in search of memebots to destroy.   Within a few days,  they were an endangered species.  Several neighbors thanked Lin with free coffee and baked goods.  Life was pretty awesome until the memebots neural networks adapted once more to the threat.

It seemed they’d figured out how to exploit a flaw in the terminator bot’s imaging software, and could effectively hypnotize his hunters by displaying peculiar test patterns.  Lin cursed himself for not taking the time to roll his own code on that aspect; he was sure that some hacker was helping the memebots, but who was impossible to figure out.  His street was littered with seized up terminators surrounded by memebots celebrating with synchronized GIFs of the Anchorman cast jumping into the air over and over again.

He spent a few days in a deep funk, but eventually, inspiration struck.  If the memebots could exploit software vulnerabilities, then he could too.  He went back to the memebots and examined their code carefully for something he could weaponize.  Another sleepless night, and he had a solution; all he had to do was test it.

Someone had let a memebot into the lobby of his apartment building, and it made a convenient target.  It  rushed up to him, excitedly flashing cartoon characters laughing and babbling.

“Shaka, when the walls fell,” he said, smiling.

The memebot displayed a dancing question mark.

He leaned in close and whispered: “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”

The memebot displayed a puzzled Nic Cage.

“Uzani, his army with fists open.”  The memebot began to wobble, and its screen flashed white.  Then, an animated explosion, finally, a sad face.  It strolled away and pointedly ignored him.

Word among the memebots got around a few days later.  The memebots must have decided Lin was nuts; they never bothered him again.

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Cancer Baby

Infertile women have been offered new hope after scientists found that a common cancer drug triggers the development of new eggs, an outcome which was previously thought to be impossible.
“Infertility breakthrough as cancer drug sparks growth of new eggs in ‘astonishing’ discovery”, The Telegraph, December 6, 2016

Madison had a question that found its way to her in the quiet times, in those moments free of protective distraction. It rushed up from the depths to ensnare her in its tentacular problems: can you really be called a “miracle baby” when the cancer drug that gave you life didn’t save your mother?

When she was old enough to understand the story of how she came to be, she had wondered: was the cancer inside her too? She imagined that the drug worked by taking the cancer from her mother, balling it up, and making eggs from it. It did not cure the cancer, instead only forestalling it for a time. She came to think of herself not as a “miracle baby” as her father had called her, but instead, a “cancer baby.”

She imagined that she could feel the cancer at the very core of her, hibernating like some kind of terrible, cthonic bear. One day soon, it would awaken and ravage her as it had her mother. It was only a matter of time. How much, though? That passing time turned imaginative thoughts into pillars of core belief.

The weight of it informed all of her decisions in life. She never made plans more than a few weeks in advance; after all, the cancer would wake soon, so what was the point? She worked odd jobs, never very disappointed when the work dried up. After all, putting down roots and starting a career only made sense for those people whose lymphocytes weren’t ticking time bombs.

It made no sense to become romantically attached, and so she kept suitors at a distance, only allowing two or perhaps three dates before breaking it off. She carefully explained that she did not expect to live in this world for much longer, and she was sparing them grief. After all, she had grown up in the shadow of her father’s grief, had tasted it in every half-hearted meal, smelled it in the air every morning. She would not wish that kind of grief on anyone, and it was a simple thing to avoid creating it.

She learned to do the blood work herself with at-home testing kits. She tested herself every Sunday, as part of her morning coffee and web-surfing. It came to feel like paying a toll; each week, a prick of blood onto the sensor attached to her tablet was the fee to live another week. One day, her coin would be found counterfeit, she knew. Her only uncertainty was when.

“Remember in college, how I was always coming up with excuses to get an extension for my thesis?” Her friend Bethany once asked. “Your entire life is like that. Eventually, you’re going to need to stop asking for an extension and do the work of living.

“I just don’t see the point of starting work I’ll never finish,” Madison said.

“Nobody ever really finishes–but I’m not sure this metaphor can be stretched that far,” Bethany said, and dropped the subject. She’d tried for many years to shake Madison’s certainty, but it was a load-bearing belief in the structure of Madison.

Madison was forty-three when her test kit finally showed the positive result she had been expecting. When it did, she broke down in tears of relief. She thought: could you just imagine how horrible it would have been if she had spent all those years expecting the cancer, only to have it never awaken?

She verified the results with a doctor, who advised her on course of treatments. New drugs existed that her mother had never been able to take advantage of, the doctor explained. She would live comfortably for many years, after a painful and trying year of treatment.

Madison digested this news, asking numb, distracted questions about the specifics. In all her years of certainty that the cancer had been deferred to her somehow, she had never considered the possibility that it wouldn’t take her life as it had taken her mother’s. She went along with the treatments, unable to think of any other course of action. They were painful, and at times she considered giving up. Bethany and the doctor convinced her to continue, and she began to feel better in incremental steps.

At fourty-five, the tests showed that her cancer was gone, but that only confirmed what she had felt for months now. The hollow inside her, the den where the cancer had slept for so long, was vacant. The emptiness of it ached like the socket of where a rotted tooth had once been.

At fourty-six, tender, raw, and out of practice, she began to live with tentative, new purpose: to fill the hollow in her heart with new loves and friendships. Always, a little wistfully. She could never shake the feeling that when the cancer departed, she had lost the one last, delicate strand of connection to a mother she had never really known.

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Fiction

New Story: Hunting Trip

I wrote this story out of pain and horror at the Sandy Hook massacre.  It didn’t occur to me then we were on a path to make this story a reality, but now I’m not so sure.  No editor would publish it, understandably. It’s flawed, but it captures the terror I feel about our possible future if people like Bannon are allowed to rise to power.  Do not read this unless you’re  in a good mental space.  This is a horror story.  This story has all the trigger warnings.  ALL OF THEM.  I’m not kidding.  This is the darkest thing I’ve ever written.

 

Hunting Trip

by Jeremiah Tolbert

Dex clamored out of the pickup into the heat-seared air of the disembarkment point. He slung Jane over his shoulder and shuffled his feet in the sand, watching while Dad finished checking his work messages for the thousandth time. Jane vibrated with excitement.

“Calm down,” he whispered and laid his hand across her flank.  She stilled under his touch, and he wished he could calm himself so easily. He’d had two coffees on the drive, and he and Jane had talked the entire drive from the enclave. Dad must have been feeling guilty about their fight earlier; Dex hadn’t needed to argue to keep Jane in his lap for the ride.

The only time Dex saw his father lately was in the news, and when he’d finally come home from his latest trip, Dad had brought up the subject of Dex’s low grade in survival studies. No hello. He’d launched into the lecturing and belittling right away.

“It’s your fault anyway!” Dex had shouted back. “The other boys in my class have actually hunted. How am I going to learn if I don’t do it?  You may be an expert hunter, but are are like the worst dad ever.” (more…)

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Fiction

2016 Will not End When 2016 Ends

I fear that this year has been not an aberration but is a preview of things to come. This year has been characterized by rising xenophobia and anti-Islamic sentiments across the globe, catalyzed in large part by Syrian refugees.

To use a rare Biblical parody, it feels like the developed world is saying loudly “there is no room in the inn” and slamming doors.  Simultaneously,  we are ignoring a growing global climate crisis that will lead to a hundred times the refugees we are seeing from Syria. Resources will be stretched far more thin by this, and I believe it’s unavoidable – the time to act was 20 years ago.

Recently in a story, I imagined this trend of climate refugees to be met with relative compassion and little disagreement, but I am afraid that 2016 has taught me that was overly optimistic. When people are afraid, they cling even harder to what they have, it seems. They demand an exile of the Others.  Climate refugees won’t be met with friendliness.  Communities will not open themselves willingly to those who flee coastal flooding.   They will close ranks and refuse them…that is what it seems to me now.

2016 has been a lesson for me in what’s most likely to come. I don’t want to witness it. But I know I will, and worse yet, so will my son.

Prove me wrong, world. Show that we can overcome differences and take care of one another. Show me that 2016 is a blip, a bump.

Show me. I’m waiting.

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