This Morning

This morning, I’m thinking about Game of Thrones.

Image result for game of thrones

I haven’t watched it.

YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT, I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT. YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT IT? COME SAY THAT TO MY FACE,WHY DON’T YOU?

Okay, that’s probably angrier than the situation warrants. But I know there are people who reacted to this with that level of shock that approaches anger, when the raised  voice of surprise turns into a shout, a roar, of outrage. (Or at least there are people who would. I think all of my readers are calm, contemplative, rational types. But then, maybe those aren’t the descriptors for the average Game of Thrones fan.)

I have been surprised to see the response that this show has gotten, especially these last three weeks as the final season has slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, so to speak. And honestly, it has made me regret not watching the show; I mean, this is high fantasy, this is my kind of stuff: this is the thing that I should have been on board with right from the start, and I should be reveling in this rare moment when fantasy captures center stage, when the imaginations of millions are fired up, all at once, by swords and sorcery. It’s a beautiful thing. I wish I was part of it.

I’m not.

I blame George R. R. Martin.

That’s the problem, you see. Because I didn’t need to watch the first few seasons of this show: I read the books. I started reading The Song of Ice and Fire in 2003, when the third book had just come out in paperback. One of my favorite students from my first school — great guy, smart and funny as hell, the son of one of my fellow English teachers; he was repeating a class in summer school that he had had no business failing over the regular school  year, but it worked out for me, because he had no problem doing anything I asked, and also made the class fun for everyone in it, made the discussions better, told fun stories, asked good questions, everything you want from a student — he recommended the books to me, and I took him up on it. And I was hooked: those are outstanding books, with a level of action and raw blood-curdling savagery that you don’t normally see in high fantasy, which tends much more towards Tolkien and his magical floating elves and roly-poly hobbits. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but can you imagine a sex scene in Tolkien? I really, really hope your answer was no.) I burned right straight through the first three books in the series, and gushed about them with Danny, the guy who got me to read them. I excitedly told him that the fourth book was slated to come out soon. And he warned me: Martin doesn’t make deadlines. The third book had apparently been delayed two or three times before being published, so I shouldn’t expect the fourth book to come out as scheduled.

Danny was right. The fourth book was delayed, and then delayed again; it was finally released in — I think it was 2005? (Wikipedia confirms.) I remember buying it in Portland, at Powell’s City of Books, because we moved to Oregon in 2004. But I bought it, in hardback, and read it excitedly, too; and it was great — but it was incomplete.

If you don’t know, the series goes  through probably twenty different point of view characters, switching between them every chapter. Some of the story lines are wildly separated; part of the interest was in seeing how Martin was going to draw all these threads together into a single web. It was fascinating. But the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, was only half of the storylines. What gives? I thought, angrily, because several of my favorite characters hadn’t made an appearance at all (And I already got burned on this in The Wheel of Time, when a wall collapsed on Mat at the end of one book AND THEN HE WASN’T MENTIONED EVEN ONCE IN THE NEXT BOOK. If you’ve read the series, then you know my pain; if you haven’t, don’t worry about it.) and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. But at the end of the book, there was an author’s note: Mr. Martin said, “I know, this is only half the story. But don’t worry! It was only because there was too much to put in one volume, so we split it into two books, both covering the same time span, but with different main characters. That other book is almost done; it’ll be out any day now.”

That’s what he said, in essence.

He lied.

It took SIX YEARS.

2011 was when that book, Book Five, was published.

Know when Book Six was published?

Yeah: we all want to  know that. Because it hasn’t been.

A Song of Ice and Fire was projected as a seven-book series. The book that was “almost done” took six years to finish, and the next book is going on eight years. The last book? Well: George R. R. Martin is 70 years old now. And not in the best of health.

Like I said, I got burned by The Wheel of Time. That was my favorite series: and though Robert Jordan, the brilliant author, was in no way at fault for this, he died before he could finish the series; he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that killed him at just 59. I don’t mean to put too much weight on a set of fantasy books, but those books are a great gift, and it is a terrible loss that Mr. Jordan wasn’t given the time to finish them.

George R. R. Martin has had the time. He just hasn’t done it.

And in the meantime, he started making this TV show.

I’m bitter about it. Unreasonably so, I fully admit. I’m actually extremely glad that Game of Thrones has been so hugely successful; it’s nothing but a bright moment for fantasy, and something that can only help the genre, and would-be fantasy authors like me. I’m grateful to Mr. Martin for penning the series, and for getting it on TV, and for helping to make it so good that it has become a cultural phenomenon.

I’ll watch the show eventually. I’m curious, my wife is curious; I want to see it. I need to get over this grudge against Martin. I realize that. And the show isn’t only his, and I have nothing against the other excellent people who have done, it seems, an amazing job of storytelling.

But no matter how good it is, no matter how well the show has done, and no matter how unfair it is of me to berate an author for not writing fast enough (and worse, hypocritical, because my first novel was published in 2009, and was the first in a trilogy — but I haven’t written the second book yet), I still can’t help but be bitter about Martin taking so goddamn long, and letting himself get distracted by television when he should be first dedicated to writing the books, and finishing the story for his first fans, his readers.

Know why?

Because Danny’s never going to get to read the end of the series.

Danny died of leukemia. He never even got to read Book Five.

It’s stupid to put these things together like this; Danny’s loss would have been tragic any time, and there are a million things he never got to do, and reading these books was not the top of that list, not the saddest nor the most important. But I talked to him, near the end, on the phone, and you know what we talked about? Books. Fantasy books. So yeah, I put them together. And I blame George R. R. Martin for not writing those books fast enough for my friend to get to read them all. And I blame the show for being the final distraction that now likely means the book series will never be finished. And I don’t give a shit if none of this is reasonable.

I hope you all enjoy the show, I really do. And I’ll watch them eventually.

But right now, I’m not watching Game of Thrones.

This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about being sick.

I have a cold. Came down with it Friday, and spent my weekend not feeling very well. Fortunately it’s not severe enough to really limit me: I still walked my dogs, ran errands, looked for new rental houses, read books, and even graded a half-dozen rough drafts. But the whole time, doing all of those things, I felt pretty crappy. Friday at work was the worst: I could barely get myself to teach anything at all, some periods, and others I was more cranky than teacher-y. (I can’t even think of a better word than teacher-y. More pissy than pedagogical, how’s that?) Now it’s time to go back to work, and I still feel under the weather.

It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? Under the weather? Aren’t we always under the weather? I assume it’s supposed to mean directly under the weather, meaning out in the storm without a roof to keep off the rain or walls to block the wind; that would be pretty miserable, all right, which seems apropos.

Regardless, though, I do not feel like working. The fact that I was sick this weekend already put me behind, both in my grading — I got a half-dozen rough drafts done, but I should have finished all of them, and maybe done the other class’s essays, too — and in my relaxing, because while I did nap several times a day, I never felt a whole lot better. At least, I don’t feel a whole lot recovered now.

This is one of the problems with teaching, too. We get more sick days than most professionals, I think — that is, other than the ones who are simply trusted to make up their own minds about when they can and cannot come in to work, and they are considered responsible adults who can get their work done even if they don’t actually show up every day, you know, like professionals — but we can’t just call in sick: we need to arrange for a substitute. This school the administration actually gets the sub, which is an improvement over my last school, where the teachers did it themselves: yet another example of something teachers are all too willing to take on themselves because we want to help, and because we want every petty shred of control, including, apparently, the ability to select who we give control to when we can’t have it ourselves. But in any case, I have to plan lessons for my classes. It’s both easy and hard for me: because I can always give them something to read  — but nobody can run my class the way that I can. Other people could surely run a discussion, but you have to really know the literature to run it the way I do, and subs would not, of course. So every day I’m out is basically wasted, because it can only be something extra, never the thing the class would be doing if I were there. My students realize this, of course, and so they are not as dedicated or as involved as they would be with me there. That’s not to say they’re all that dedicated or involved regardless; they are teenagers and it is almost May.

That’s the worst thing. It’s almost May. My school starts its year ungodly early — August 1, usually — which is a hideous ordeal in August; but it means we finish school in May, before Memorial Day. I only have three weeks left before finals. My students, as you may expect, are done already; the only thing keeping them going is my will to keep dragging them behind me. That and a certain amount of fear of bad grades. (But the smarter ones realize that as the semester nears the end, grade inertia sets in: because new assignments are just added to the pile, and so no specific assignment will change the overall grade very much. When the total points in the class is, say, 100, then a 50 point assignment means everything; but three months later, when the total points are 5000, 50 points is kinda nothing. Shhh — don’t tell the rest of them.) So the point is, the temptation for me, not feeling well, cranky, and behind on my grading anyway, to just throw up my hands and say, “That’s it, we’re done: somebody put on YouTube and get out the Uno deck,” grows daily. And my students would like nothing more.

But I can’t complain too much. Because my wife — God, my poor wife — has all of these same problems: only worse. She got sick too: with the flu. Knocked her down for three full days two weeks ago. And then, because the flu made her cough nonstop the whole time, it gave her laryngitis: she basically coughed her voice out. She went back to work last week barely able to whisper. Spent the whole week coughing and wheezing and suffering. And now it’s pollen season, and her allergies are kicking in: so she feels almost as miserable now as when she had the flu.

On top of that, when this school year ends, she’s done. She’s quitting, to go back to doing art full time (and not a minute too soon). So think of how eager she is for these three weeks to pass. And when it comes to subs, she not only can’t get a sub who can do what she does, because no sub understands drawing and painting like she does, but also her students don’t really care about her class, because they see it as some elective they have to get through to graduate and nothing more, a problem only exacerbated by our school’s focus on STEM. There are exceptions, of course, but most of her students are pretty indifferent to art. So they’re even less likely to work for a sub, or for my wife; and they are that much harder to drag behind her towards the finish line.

And by the way: where do you think we both caught these diseases? That’s right, from the little germ factories that surround us every day. It’s like being in the trenches while they’re chucking biological weapons in at us. For three more weeks. Three long, tiring, sickly weeks. I expect they’ll be three of the longest weeks in my wife’s life.

That’s what really makes me sick. That I can’t make these last three weeks go faster for her.

If any of you could do something about that, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

This Morning, This Week

This morning, I get to listen to music again.

This is the end of my first experiment in week-long fasting; for the past week, I have not intentionally listened to music in the background. I did play music in class (Tool’s “Die Eier von Satan,” because that was this week– and it was wonderful, as always), and I watched videos that had music and went into stores that had music. A few times my wife turned the radio on in the car —  once yesterday specifically when I said that I was looking forward to listening to music again, because that’s what  you do for the people you love, you skirt the rules (or just straight break them) in order to make your people happy — but since she is not as attached to music in the car as I am, and she has a lower tolerance for mediocre overplayed pop on the radio than I do (Also a lower tolerance for heavy metal first thing in the morning, and though I can listen to good grungy metal any time, I do have to wonder: who seriously wants to wake up to Korn? Really? Discord and screaming is how you want to start your day?), she is more willing to have the radio off while we drive around, so it has been mostly quiet on the road this week.

I’d love to say that it was a revelation. But I suppose maybe I’m past the age of shocking bursts of self-knowledge; I know myself pretty well at this point. I’ve gone without music before, of course, most simply when my music player was broken or when the batteries died right when I got out the door and down the block. So while it was a longer time without music, and more frequent moments during the day when I had to think about playing music and tell myself not to, there weren’t  any new experiences.

I did have more thinking time while I was walking my dogs, and I think that was probably positive. I think my walks may become more meditative, more present, less about distracting myself. It’s probably better that way, anyway: I’ll pay more attention to my dogs and what they’re doing, so my big doofus of a Boxer  won’t go sniffing after a GODDAMN RATTLESNAKE like she did today. (99% chance it was dead, because it didn’t react to her. But I didn’t realize what she was sniffing at until she’d already gotten within what would have been striking range if the thing felt like striking, and it was a big fucking snake. So now I think I need to be better about keeping this glorious idiot out of the bushes.) But the other times when I usually listen to music: when I first get to work, while driving, and for the hour or so that I have my birb out of his cage in the evenings, going without music just made the time quieter and more melancholy. I think it has made my mood a little bit worse for this past week, and I don’t really see any benefits.

However: I did go for the whole week without breaking my fast. I’m pleased with that. A week was long enough to give me a pretty good sense of what the thing I was going without meant to me, what part it played in my daily routine. I didn’t learn about myself so much, but I did solidify my opinion about one of my unconscious habits; so now I think it will become — has become — more of a conscious habit, and I like that a lot.

Therefore, I’m going to keep doing this.

This week I will be giving up video games. Again, they’re not a large part of my day, but I play a round of Candy Crush pretty regularly, during breakfast, while I have the birb out; and I play Solitaire on my phone and have gone through various farming/sim type games over the years, several of which have taken up time in idle moments, and sometimes they have crept into other moments, and have tempted me away from things I should be doing so that I can accomplish a goal or win an achievement. I just played a round of Candy Crush, wasted ten minutes, won nothing, felt frustrated. So I want to see if the loss of the frustration is worth the loss of the entertainment and the rush of victory — tiny victories, but victories easily won, so generally positive for my mood but negative for my time management.

At least I can listen to music again.

This Morning

This morning — and now, this afternoon — I am sick. Not terribly, just enough so I am uncomfortable and determined to rest so I do not get worse. I have nothing to say that isn’t cranky, unhealthy bitchery. I’m torn between wanting to feel better, and wanting to stay vaguely ill so I don’t have to do anything other than be vaguely ill. It’s a handy excuse for doing nothing productive: not even feeling content.

I suspect that a fair amount of our conflict in life comes from the fact that contentment takes effort.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about paradoxes.

(I have to ignore the absurdity of this in the hopes of finding some profundity beneath. Because absurdity is deadly serious business.)

The more I teach, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I teach.

We all know the chestnut about the beginning of wisdom being the acknowledgement that we know nothing; I think that’s true, but not the end of it, because I don’t think humility is the end of wisdom. The desire to observe and consider, rather than jump to conclusions, is wisdom, but not, I think, the only wisdom. Along with that, though, is this: the smarter one is, the more one does not know; because one measure of intelligence is potential, and the more potential one has, the more capacity — meaning the more empty space in the mind can be filled up with knowledge.

I knew I was in love when I wanted nothing from her, but I wanted everything of her. When I wanted to be everything for her.

Suffering pain makes us stronger; suffering through another’s pain makes us softer. And you must be strong to be soft.

Learning hurts. And hurting makes us learn. (Not always, in either case. But not never.)

It is life that kills us, and death that makes us live. Endlessness is the end of all.

 

Here are a few more: I want this post to be thought-provoking, but it’s not; it’s glib and silly. I didn’t spend time thinking about these and exploring the underlying contradictions, I thought of clever ways to say them. Because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, while at the same time I have a dozen things I could write about: and all those ideas I could be writing about gang up and block the exits, so no other ideas can get out. This is what actually causes writer’s block: it’s not that you run out of ideas, it’s that you have too many ideas you need to write about but don’t want to, because they’re  boring or repetitive or challenging for you, for some reason.

It’s not just writing, either. I want to get better at teaching, and I want to stop teaching entirely. I want to read all the time, yet I want to do mindless things. I want to be mad at myself for it, but I don’t want to be mad at myself. I want to be motivated, but I don’t want to work.

It’s okay, because I’m young: but I’m not. I’m middle-aged at best, and probably likely past that. So it’s not okay that I want to waste my time, MY time, doing things that I myself don’t think are important or valuable.

And it all comes back to the same place, doesn’t it? There are truths that I don’t want to face. When I teach paradox, I tell my students that most paradoxes are resolvable; they are only paradoxes taken from a specific point of view. But if you change your perspective, the paradox is not actually a contradiction. One classic example: to have peace, you must prepare for war. This is only a paradox if you think of “peace” as the total absence of even violent potential; but clearly such a state doesn’t exist. If we mean “peace” to be a lack of a certain scale of conflict, then we’ve had peace in this country for a long time. (That’s not to say we are at peace; I would generally argue  that this country is a war-mongering nation and has never been at peace. But the point is about the contradiction, which is only paradoxical with an exaggerated standard for “peace.”) The truth is that at least the potential for war, and also the fact of some violence at least on the scale of police work or violent self-defense, are necessary because of the nature of humanity, which does not allow for perfect “peace.”

It’s only a paradox because we don’t want to face the truth.

The truth is that I fear these blogs are pointless and glib, because I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what to say, nor a lot of time writing them carefully. I don’t always write them in the morning, sometimes it’s the night before, but rarely do I think about them much before sitting down to the keyboard. The kindest comparison (Dunno if it’s apt) is that they’re like jazz improvisations.

Huh. I just thought of that. Maybe that is a good way to see these. Also, they may be practice scales, attempts just to put words down, to express thoughts, so that I can stay in shape doing just that, preparing for the more serious performances — my fiction.

Actually, I like that a lot. That also allows me to be perfectly happy when nobody or very few people read these posts; practice scales aren’t meant to be heard. Maybe these don’t need to be read. But I still want to write them. I still want to publish them, in case anyone does  want to read them and could gain anything from them, and because the pressure of deadline and audience keeps me on my toes, keeps me sharp. Well. Sharp-ish.

The truth is also that I have opinions that I think people won’t like, and so I haven’t written about them. I haven’t thought clearly and methodically about them, largely for the same reason. Those are the ones that seem to be crowding my brain, while I look for excuses that are a good bar to hold them back. But they’re only excuses. If I’m going to trust my own opinions, then I should make them trustworthy: work through those opinions and come to a definite conclusion; I can do that here or on my own, and then present the conclusions in some kind of valuable way. Either method would be useful, but one of them needs to happen. I need to be willing to put forward the idea that is occupying me.

How the hell can my own mind hold so many nooks and crannies and secret rooms and traps and dead-ends and mazes and hidden monsters? What the hell are we? Are we miracles? Are we gods? Demons? Is it just me? How do other people put up with their brains being so goddamned weird?

I think that’s all for today. I’ll try in the future not to let the brambles grow up around my feet and hands.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking of a strange question. It is: how right do I have to be?

My thinking of it now comes from an ill-advised dip back into a particular cesspit of an argument from my past. I didn’t win the argument, because I threw up my hands and walked away. I think I did the right thing for my sanity, but I’ve never been happy with failing to win the argument. I want to be entirely right. I am still somewhat haunted by the idea that I may not be right at all, because if I’m not right in an argument that I feel strongly about, but can’t muster the intellectual chops to actually win on the battleground, as it were — what does that mean for my other ideas that seem right, that feel right? Does it mean that nothing I think is right, at least not right enough to win an argument over it?

Does that matter?

Hence my question. How right do I have to be?

Let me give an example, and see if I can illustrate the conundrum here. I have found myself, as a high school teacher of English and therefore of persuasive essays, rhetoric, and argumentation, discussing the legalization of drugs in the U.S. time and time again over the last twenty years. It  is always a topic that comes  up, and now that I’m doing argument with three of my classes, it has come up again.

My opinion on the issue is complex, and not worth hashing out again now; I’ve written about it too many times. (Here’s one. And here’s another. Second one has a better soundtrack.) For this example, all I want to say is this: I waver on whether or not it would be a good idea to legalize all of the drugs. I see arguments for both sides. I don’t know which side has the better points, the truer final argument; I’m not sure which to choose. That’s why my opinion is complex, and why I keep coming back to it, never fully comfortable with my decisions about what policy to support, not sure how to come to a final conclusion.

The question is, should I keep doing this? Should I keep coming back and thinking about it again and again? On some level that is valuable, as it keeps making me revisit my own past opinions and decisions, and I think the changed perspective through time gives good insight. I also think it’s valuable not to get too dogmatic about things — though I confess I enjoy appearing dogmatic, and I often act as if I have not a scintilla of doubt in my mind about various opinions; but mostly that’s for show. There are few things that I’m 100% sure about — mostly it’s that my wife is the best wife in the whole world, education is entirely good  as a concept, if not as an institution, and reading is the greatest thing in the world, except maybe for the satisfaction of basic needs like food and sleep and hugs.

So it may not be bad that I can’t come to a final determination. On the other hand, if there is a 100% right answer and I can know it, then that is the thing I should be working towards and supporting and arguing for, right? Shouldn’t I do the right thing? If I can know the right thing, then I can do the right thing; and that means I should figure out how to know the right thing and go from there. Because  if I’m not doing the right thing, then I’m doing or on some level participating in the wrong thing, and I don’t want that.

How much do I have to know to know the right thing? Beyond a reasonable doubt? 110% entirely completely sure, with evidence and logic to back me up? If it’s the second one, then I have to be very careful about what arguments I take up, as settling them with absolute clarity and certainty would take a crap-ton of time and effort, and I can’t do that with every argument; so I need to be selective.

How do I know which arguments are worth taking up and finding out the definite answer to? Is there a 100% true answer as to which arguments I should be arguing? Is that what I should spend my time on  first, deciding what to know?

If it doesn’t have to be 100% certainty before I can know the right thing, then what else do I use as the basis of my decisions? They feel right? They seem right, based on my upbringing and my culture and my morality? Why would I assume those things are right, especially in the face of obvious arguments to the contrary, things about this culture that strongly imply that this culture is wrong? I am and have been wrong countless times; why would I ever trust my gut on anything of import?

But if I don’t trust my gut, who or what do I trust?

This comes up in my writing, too. I have to decide what the right story is to tell. Writers’ advice tells me to tell the story I feel I have to tell, and satisfy my own inner critic first; but what if I have several stories I feel I have to tell? Which one comes first? And what if my inner critic is an idiot? How can I know?

Do I actually need to trace out the entire epistemology and philosophical basis for all knowledge, so I can be sure of my knowledge,  so I can be sure of my decisions? How long will that take? How many aspects of life will it apply to — and how many will I lose because I’m focusing on this one endeavor, seeking purity of knowledge and purpose? And if  I go out and read all the books that underpin Western reason, how sure can I be that those authors followed the same rigorous standard for confidence in their ideas? What if they went with their guts, rather than establishing a sound logical basis for everything they say?

Does that mean they were wrong?

Does that mean I can’t actually trace perfect knowledge and understanding and thus make a 100% perfect decision?

Yeah, I don’t think I can do that last one, either. So if there can’t be a 100% perfect decision, is there at least a sound basis, a bedrock to build knowledge on? Or is it just turtles all the way down?

Image result for turtles all the way down

Image taken from here. And it’s for sale, and you can vote for it.

So that’s the question, then: how right do I have to be before I make a decision about what side to choose, who to support, how to argue? How right is right enough? How aware is aware enough? And is it even so bad to be wrong, or to change my mind?

I don’t know this answer. I’m genuinely not sure I should know — but regardless, I want to.

I suppose I can only start  by asking the question.

If anyone has an answer, I’d surely like to hear it. And if I have confused you entirely, I apologize; I feel the same way, believe me.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about my midlife crisis.

I think I’ll skip it.

I am,with luck, just about midlife now. I’m 44, my grandparents lived to be 87 and 88  –the two that lived past their 60s. And I’m aware that time is passing, and the door is closing on certain opportunities: I’m not as hot as I once was, and I won’t be hot at all before too much more time passes; soon I won’t be capable of picking up women in bars.

Which is too bad, because I was never capable of picking up women in bars. I mean, I never tried it, because I met my wife before I could legally go to bars; but up until that point, I was staggeringly bad at picking up women, so I have to assume that the application of alcohol would not have improved my game. Fortunately, I have literally zero interest in picking up women anywhere, with alcohol or not; my wife is the finest and most wonderful woman who ever existed, to me, so I already won this game: I can retire undisputed champion, right now.

Speaking of champions and retirement, I’m not as physically fit as I once was: I’m now in the age where I heal slower, where exercise offers less positive result, and what there is comes slower. I grunt when I stand up, and often when I sit down. I have aches and pains that don’t go away — I have had more than one bout with plantar fasciitis, which sounds like a villain from the original Star Trek series. Soon I won’t be able to do all those physical things I meant to do: master a martial art (and KICK SOMEONE’S ASS), climb a mountain, learn to surf, to ski, to skydive.

Oh wait, that’s right: I never meant to do those things. Never wanted to skydive, nor ski; and I’m afraid of drowning and of sharks, so I think surfing is right out. I would like to climb a mountain, but really, I’m most interested in the kind you can walk up: and I can still walk. I admit I kinda do want to kick someone’s ass. Maybe I can look into martial arts lessons.

The main thing is, I don’t want to feel old. I don’t want to feel like my life is over, or the good part is over, or I’m running out of time to do young things. Maybe I should buy a sports car, get a body part pierced; maybe I should go to some all-day rock festival with all of my students.

Wait a second: I don’t want to hang out with my students. I don’t want to be like my students. I don’t envy them; I don’t miss being a teenager; I hated being a teenager. I hated being in high school, hated being condescended to and instructed as to what my life would be and what it should be and what I needed to do in order to get there. I hated having people tell me that what I wanted  to do was right or wrong, when it wouldn’t have bothered anyone to just let me do what I want. (For the most part. There were a couple of things I genuinely shouldn’t have done, shouldn’t have been allowed to do, things which did indeed hurt other people. But other than those, and there weren’t many of them, I could have been given free rein and nothing would have gone wrong.) I much prefer being an adult.

Hell, I prefer being middle-aged. And I don’t want to do anything new, don’t want to catch up on the experiences I missed out on; certainly not with any urgency. I mean, I’d love to have a nice car — though I’d prefer some enormous boat of a car, a Cadillac or a Lincoln or one of those 1950’s five-ton Detroit rolling steel behemoths, rather than a sports car; I hate going fast, but I kinda like the idea of taking up the entire road, the entire parking lot — but I don’t see anything wrong with getting that car when I’m 80. I’d rather have it now, I guess, but I don’t need to hurry. I do want to travel the world, and I’d like to experiment with some different careers; but again, I don’t need to do that before some arbitrary deadline when I imagine time runs out. I’d like to do it soon, I can wait, and whatever I don’t get to, oh well.

You know what I really want? I want the second half of my life  to be as good as the first half has been. I’ve been quite lucky, and I’ve done pretty well, and I’d like to have more of the same. I expect the last fifteen or twenty years to mostly suck, but the first fifteen or twenty mostly sucked  too, so it’s a wash. But even if I don’t get that wish, here’s the truth: I’ve had a good life. Not a perfect life, but nobody has that. For not perfect, I’m  quite happy with what I’ve had. So even if every subsequent year is less pleasant from here on out, I’ve already had a good run.

No crisis for me, thank you. I’ll just take more life.

This Morning

PART II: Time for the crazy shit.

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(Have you all told everyone about me? Image taken from here, and it’s for sale.)

(Here’s Part I.)

So all right: we’ve got our floating garbage-land, called Spirit of Trump (Trumpia? Trump-As-Fuck-Land? We’ll discuss. There will be a meeting. One awesome thing about pirates is that they were members of an essentially egalitarian and democratic society.). Now it’s time to talk about our long-term goals. I mean, sure, we can just float around on our trash-berg, but how long will that satisfy us? For my own self, I feel I will need a purpose greater than snickering at Trump while living on a giant mound of waste.

So here’s the plan.

First of all, we’re going to become Lords of Plastic. I’m hopeful that we will have some science-minded people aboard, and they will be willing to experiment with the plastic that makes up our proud island; maybe they can find ways to manipulate it, better than we can now. Specifically I’d like to make plastic that is impervious to bullets and rockets and torpedoes and the like, as I plan to go to war and it would be swell if our plasticontinent didn’t get wiped out by the first salvo. Though really, the main protection from assault would be the sheer size of our rubbishy Nautilus: I want this thing to be so big that the U.S. Navy could blast away at the edges for days and do nothing more than break off a whole lot of plastic confetti. But I figure, once word gets out that we’re creating a free society, with Trump’s blessing and outside of his control, and also helping clean up the oceans? I mean, imagine the brain drain on the United States of Trump: imagine all the brilliant minds who can’t stand to turn on the news every day and see that straw-haired Nazi Cheeto in the White House. Think how many of them would rather live on a giant pile of floating trash rather than a country filled with MAGA hats. I mean, really, which honestly seems more like worthless garbage? So I’m pretty sure we’ll  have all of the greatest minds in America on our team.

Just imagine what they could do, what America’s best minds could do, given free rein and a cause to fight for.

To that end, in addition to plastic shielding, I’m looking for some intriguing plastic-based weapon systems: I want plastic netting that could tangle motors and machines, and maybe trap attacking ships; and I would love some plastic that could adhere to people and sort of cocoon them in a plastic shell. You know what else would be awesome? Sentient plastic. Ooo — and maybe Flubber!

Once we can turn the plastic into our weapons of war, then it’s time to become Lords of Plastic for real. We’re taking all the plastic. All the garbage. All the recycling, too, since 91% of plastic produced ends up in landfills, which means recycling is just another pile of bullshit. Like Trump and his goddamn slogans. I figure we can reach an agreement with the nations of the world — certainly with Trump and his ilk, the megalomaniacal idiots — to take all of their plastic garbage off their hands. They’ll pay us to do it, so long as the plastic doesn’t end up in their landfills, in their rivers and streams, making them look bad for their people; no, indeed, we don’t want that. So we’ll take it all, and we’ll earn some hefty fees, too — garbage is lucrative. Just ask the Sopranos. But what’s even better is that the more plastic we collect, the larger our island will be. Considering the sheer quantity of plastic we produce now, worldwide, I figure we’ll overtake Australia in no time.

But the goal is not to make the largest plastic island in the world. The goal is not even to escape Trump’s America. I want those things, I want fame and fortune, and freedom. But you know what I really want?

I want my fucking country back.

I don’t mind losing a political fight. I don’t mind being wrong; it intrigues me, actually, when I finally shed the blinders and actually understand an argument from the other side; and when I see, just for instance, the economy improving in a lot of ways, even in the last two years under Trump, I have to recognize that there’s something to the idea of lowering taxes and decreasing regulation in order to give businesses a boost. That makes sense, even though my liberal soul says that we need the money from taxes in order to help people who need it. But the truth is somewhere in the middle: taking too much from those who produce wealth really does make it harder to produce wealth, and there are problems with that, including that it makes it harder to collect money that we want to spend on good causes. Things like that make me recognize that Republicans have a point. They’re not inherently wrong. The pull from the right, to draw back the government and keep it small, and to ensure that it is not involved in every aspect of our lives, is a valuable influence on our society. We shouldn’t go all the way to that side, I don’t think, because frequently the government is the best way to ensure a level playing field, and to protect people from injustice. But government unchecked is not any better than capitalism unchecked. I know that. I know that because of conservatives who have won arguments, who have made good points, who have done things when in power that are actually good for all of us. Fiscal conservatives keep us from overspending. Small-government conservatives are a good check on large government, because large government institutions are inefficient and wasteful, and occasionally corrupt; just look at the Senate under Mitch McConnell, the evil fucker with his hand up the dummy-Trump’s backside. I don’t even see that son of a bitch as a Republican, not now after he’s repudiated everything the GOP is supposed to stand for in his naked grab for power. He’s a kleptocrat, just like Trump. Just like 90% of the current Republicans in power, who have given everything up in order to support Trump, just so they can maintain power.

I won’t leave my country in their hands. I won’t.

So once we have our floating continent of filth, we’re going to come back and fight for this giant pile of waste we call home.

What we do is, we go after the oil, first. I’d love to start subtly, by taking all the plastic we can steal: we pirate all the cargo ships carrying plastic goods, and steal them all; shred it and add it to our island, or maybe provide any useful material wealth to the “shithole” countries, and all the ones that Trump cut off aid to because they’re not white. The more plastic we can steal, the more oil they’ll have to produce in order to replace the stolen plastic. Then we go after the offshore oil rigs: it would be great if we could have two garbage islands, one in the Atlantic to go into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to hit the coast of California, and/or Alaska. I sorta think all we have to do is float into them, and let our island crush the oil rigs underneath our neverending plasticine bulk; but if not, we’ll use the plastic weapons, nets to foul the drills and to capture the tankers, plastic cocoons to freeze the workers and float them back to shore. Once we stop the oil production, and/or push up the price of crude so high that America’s overheated economy can’t afford to import it, then the economy will crash. (Obviously renewable energy would be the other option, but all of the best minds, and the most liberal ones, will be dancing on a giant ice-shelf of shredded water bottles and Chinese-made toys, flipping off everyone in a MAGA hat.) Once the economy crashes, Trump will not only lose his support, but his only reason for being President, which is his own enrichment and aggrandization; he’s not going to want to be the leader of a poor nation that got beaten by a floating pile of garbage.

A floating pile of garbage with an Ultimate Weapon.

My idea for the ultimate weapon is this: the island has a volcano cone, but obviously no volcano under it. I figure it would just be a hole down into the ocean below. So we make huge balls of plastic, big enough to fill the volcano completely, like ping-pong balls in a giant Nerf gun: then we push down on the whole island with enough force to make the water shoot up through the volcano and launch that plastic boulder for miles. I don’t know how we aim it; that’s why we have all the brilliant scientists. But I know this part: know how we push the island down? That’s easy: when we clear all the plastic out of the oceans, we’ll win the undying friendship of all the whales. So we get them to leap out of the water, and land on the island, all at once. It’ll shove the whole island down, fast and hard, and BOOM! Plastic volcano launches plastic boulder. The whales will be fine; the island’s just plastic, so it won’t hurt them, and we will quickly help them back into the water, so they can swim around and do it again, as soon as we can reload the volcano with another giant plastic pellet. It’s foolproof! And maybe we can make the plastic pellets hollow, and fill them with — I dunno, something good, something that will dissuade anyone from fighting us. Eight tons of butterscotch pudding or something. Radioactive waste (I bet we could get a good deal on that if we agreed to take it off America’s hands when we get all the plastic.). Maybe sewage? That’s be poetic, wouldn’t it? If we dropped a giant plastic ball filled with slimy, festering shit  right on top of Mar-a-Lago?

Anyway, between all of our piratey scalawags, our continent of plastic, the geniuses who were pushed out of Trump’s America, and the allegiance of all the whales, and probably all the dolphins and porpoises, and definitely the sea turtles once we clear out all those straws, I’m pretty sure we can win this fight. Really, I bet all we’d have to do is threaten to destroy every building and golf course named after Trump, and he’d resign in no time.

Really, I think this is the best plan. It certainly seems more realistic than trusting our democratic institutions and trying to heal all the damage that partisan fighting has done to this country.

So who’s with me?

This Morning

This morning I am formulating a plan.

I know it’s early to be thinking of contingencies, and I don’t mean to be negative or imply that I won’t do my damnedest to see that this doesn’t happen, but: in case everything does go wrong, and Trump wins a second term in 2020, I know what I’m going to do.

I’m going full pirate.

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I like this one because the skull has an eyepatch. Perfect. Though I wish the skull and crossbones on his hat was also wearing a hat with a skull and crossbones, which was also wearing a hat, so we could have an infinite regression. But this will do. Image taken from here.

 

I’m going to take my family and head to the high seas. I have several friends who are both enamored of the pirate life and also as disgusted as I am by Donald Trump’s presidency; I hope they will be willing to join my crew. Some of them are boat lovers, sailors, mechanically inclined, which is good as I am none of those things — I love tall ships and like boats of all kinds, but I know nothing about them, nor about sailing. I’m also uncomfortable with the ocean, as I have a morbid fear of drowning. But that’s okay! Because I know a lot about pirates: such as the fact that most pirates were terrible seamen, as they were often drunk and sailed the ships they could steal, which were never the fastest nor the most seaworthy; also, the pirates of the Caribbean, particularly, couldn’t keep a ship in the water more than about two years before it was eaten by teredo worms (Actually, they weren’t worms, they were long clams: their shells were tiny, attached only at one end, and were what the clam-worms — clorms? — used to burrow into the wood of the ship. And if that doesn’t fucking terrify you, you’re not allowed in my crew.). The pirates didn’t win their prizes with fast or clever sailing; they used knowledge of the local waters to set traps, floating like giant inebriated jellyfish in the shipping lanes and attacking ships that came too close, or else they would fill a ship with so many men that when they managed to get close to a merchant vessel, the mere sight of so many drunken violent filthy scalawags was enough to make the ship surrender. Point is, you don’t  need to sail well to be a good pirate. So I’m in. Also, there is a long tradition of sailors being unable to swim, since the ocean is a bad place to have to walk home from if your ship sinks; most people would rather just go down quickly. I’m not one of them: but I also don’t plan to run that risk.

Now we  get to the good part. Ready? I’m going to create a pirate nation. Because I can’t swim well and I can’t sail at all — and I have no ability nor instinct nor interest in anything violent — but by gum, I can think up insane ideas as well as anyone else here, and better than most of y’all.

Here’s my plan. We will get some of the large booms that have been proposed to help clean the ocean of floating plastic debris and use them to collect as much plastic as we can. We will then sail to one of the five “garbage islands” — preferably the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — and push all the additional plastic we can into the 100,000 metric tons already there. We’ll surround the GPGP with booms, and shove everything together, until it is dense enough to walk on.

That’s where we’ll live.

We’ll establish ourselves as environmentalists (though we’ll let the actual environmentalists in on our plan, so they’ll help us gather the plastic and won’t oppose us) and we’ll also tell Trump that we’re going to help him. It shouldn’t be hard; the man only understands sycophancy and animosity, so if we suck up to him, that means we aren’t enemies, we’re “very fine people.” And we’ll keep working to bring in all of the plastic we can, to extend the size of our garbage island, piling it higher and higher until we can actually have a stable land base — hopefully with a volcano and a lagoon, like a proper pirate island — and hopefully getting some assistance from Trump. We’ll name the island after him. It’ll be perfect.

Not piratey enough? I see you’ve never heard of the privateers. They were pirates who were granted a letter of marque from the government of a European country, which gave them permission to attack the ships of that country’s enemies. A license to pirate, as it were. Captain Henry Morgan himself was as much a loyal soldier of England as he was a pirate; he was made the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica after he retired from pillaging the Spanish colonies in the New World.

So once we’re got the sanction to build up our island, and we’ve cleared the oceans of all of the plastic we can find, then the time comes to put Part II of the plan into motion.

But I think Part II will have to wait for tomorrow’s post.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about giving up. No, not like that — giving up something, as Catholics do for Lent, as Buddhists do as part of their daily practice. Fasting, essentially, though not necessarily with food. I am also thinking about taking on new things. I am thinking about habits: how to change the ones I have, how to cherish the ones I want to keep, how to gain new ones despite my general inertia.

I’ve changed habits in the past. Probably the biggest one was giving up smoking. I started smoking cigarettes my senior year of high school, quickly rose — or fell — to a pack a day (20 cigarettes a day, for those who don’t have experience with the short straws of death, a little more than one an hour), where I stayed for almost all of the next seventeen years. Sometimes I’d smoke more, often I’d smoke less; I quit for nine months, and then slid right back into it for another year or two before giving it up entirely in 2008. That was a tough change, because so many things I did were closely associated with smoking: I never finished a meal without having a cigarette, and I never drank coffee or alcohol without adding burning tobacco fumes. Whenever I talked on the phone, whenever  I took my dog outside, whenever I walked anywhere — always smoking, all of the time. I thought of myself as a smoker as much as a liberal, or a teacher, say. It defined me. I watched the clock all day long, not intently, but always aware of about how long it had been since my last cigarette and how long until I could justify  having another one. (My rule was 30 minutes. Unless there was an external deadline, such as getting to work or getting on a plane; then I would chain-smoke as much as possible, to “save up” extra nicotine for the time I would not be able to smoke.) I  had to change all of that, and it was extremely difficult, to say the least.

To be honest, the habit bothered me more than the actual smoking. The addiction. I hated not being in control. I hated that it was so damn hard for me to change the way I did things, once I decided to change. I wanted my willpower to be enough to break my physical need for nicotine. It wasn’t, of course —  I highly recommend nicotine patches for those who are thinking about quitting — but what was worse, was that my willpower wasn’t even enough to change my habits: even after I got past the craving for nicotine, I wanted to smoke just because I was used to it, familiar with it; it felt strange to put my things in my pockets in the morning and not add my lighter and my pack. I wanted to smoke while talking on the phone just because I had done it for so long, and I didn’t want to change.

But I did want to change: it’s just that my habits told me I didn’t want to. It’s like when I started flossing regularly, which I didn’t do until I was in my 20s (After I had one dentist visit that revealed 16, yes SIXTEEN cavities. Not only did I not floss, but I smoked and I drank unending cups of coffee that were probably 60% semi-dissolved sugar.), and at first I hated it just because it wasn’t what I had done before. It wasn’t difficult, didn’t take too long, wasn’t too expensive or morally questionable; none of the things that make habits hard to adopt. It was just  hard because it wasn’t what I was used to. No other reason. Now, of course, if I don’t floss, my teeth feel filthy. Now it would be hard to give up flossing.

So there’s the thing, really. I want to be better at changing habits, at giving up things I don’t want and taking on things I do want. It’s not always hard: I moved to vegetarianism without many qualms, and I quit arguing on debate forums cold turkey; I’ve given up television more than once, and this isn’t the first time I’ve managed to adopt a daily writing habit — though I am a little ashamed to admit that those habits don’t last, that there is always a day when I decide not to write, and then a few more days after that one, and then I’m back to not writing for days or weeks at a time. I suppose, then, that I want to be better about keeping some habits as well as getting rid of others. And it seems to me that the way to get good at this is to practice: essentially to get into the habit of changing habits.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to start with one week at a time: every week, starting on Sunday, I’m going to change one habit for the week, either give something up or take something on. It doesn’t have to be something I consider vital and life-changing, like giving up smoking was; it just has to be a habit. The new ones don’t have to be good, either: I’ve always been inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, and his subsequent TV shows with the same theme of changing a lifestyle for a pre-determined time. So I may try doing something not so good for me, but maybe something I have wondered about, or feel like I’ve missed out on. (Those won’t be big things. I’m not going to try heroin for a week.  Nor, like, picking up a girl in a bar every night. This is not going to be exciting.) I don’t have a definite plan for this; we’ll see where it goes.

The first thing I’m going to give up, for this week, is — background noise. Specifically, music and podcasts and radio news. I’m giving up my headphones and my speakers.

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This comes partly because I take my dogs on long walks on the weekends, and I’ve been listening to NPR, except I FREAKING HATE SCOTT SIMON, the cheesy self-indulgent grief monger who hosts Weekend Edition on Saturdays. So I started listening to a podcast, Sunday School Dropouts, which is about two non-Christians reading through the Bible, book by book. And that’s great, but I’m not always in the mood, so sometimes I dial around the radio, and sometimes I listen to the songs I have on the iPod I carry with me.

But sometimes, recently, I have listened to — nothing at all. I have thought my thoughts, instead. Doing that was inspired by and inspiration for this new blog format I’ve been doing, this daily recording of my thoughts in (generally) shorter form than my usual post. I’ve thought about things I’m writing, my novels and stories, and I have had very productive times doing it. This morning I listened to a little of NPR (I hate that maudlin putz Simon, but I like Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who runs the show on Sundays. But I loathe Will Shortz and his damn puzzles, so I shut it off every time that twit comes on.) and then the podcast, and then music. And I realized: I’m not enjoying any of these right now. So what if I listened to none of them?

What if I did that every time I walk the dogs? Or drive to get groceries, or to work? What if I didn’t turn on Pandora first thing when I get into my classroom? What if, for the hour every night  I take the bird out of his cage, we sat in silence — and my only music was what he might feel like whistling to me? What would that be like? Would I hate it? Or would I enjoy the peace and quiet? Would it make me anxious to sit in the looming quiet, or would it help me think my  thoughts?

So to answer those questions, and to work on my control over my habits, I’m going to try it. This week, no music, no radio, no iPod. No Pandora, no YouTube. If there is ambient music around me, in the grocery store or the gym, that’s fine; but I’ll try not to listen too close, try to block it out and stay in my own head.

We’ll see how it goes. I’ll report on it next weekend.