Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Two guys in my neighborhood bought land, lots of it, out in the country. One's moved out already. The other is going to slowly build the house, build the grounds. These guys aren't young guys. I guess I think of things like you get forty years of vigor. I've had a few years of vigor already, and I've only got about three or four decades of vigor left before I will start to get so slow. How long will any of us get to ramble around our countryside, ride tractors and plant trees? I watched someone retire, once, into this big house. It was their dream. They sold the house and got a smaller house because the big house was so much cleaning, so much working. We never get what we need when we need it. If you're twenty-four, vigorous, with decades of vigor to come, that's land your kids can spread out in, garden, run wild. When your kids are older, it's just you alone in the woods, with land you have to mow on a tractor. It's land that sits there, waiting for you to do something, and there's nothing to do but make work for yourself, or let it go wild. A smarter old guy I know, who keeps busy, has his family farm and they plant paper trees for a paper plant and they mostly leaves the acreage alone. He stays in the city, walks to a job he enjoys in his retirement near his little house, and keeps young by keeping busy. Out on the land, he occasionally oversees workers that come out after a while to take the trees for the paper company, the same as his dad did, and the same as his grandkids will do someday. One of those guys in my neighborhood doesn't seem to have kids that I've ever seen. The other did, and left his house for his yougnest son's care. This land he goes out to build and refashion in his own image, slowly, over time, well, I bet there will come a point where he can't keep up with it. The house he builds will be too big for his tired hands and legs. He will stop climbing the stairs, if there are any stairs. The tractor he uses to mow the grass down will be too much for him to clambor up on. The work will be too much. I suspect this because we all get there, to this place where the work of getting out of bed and dressing ourselves is hard because our body is falling down on the job. He will have to step away from it, then. Likely, he will try to do the same, and hand it to one of his sons, and from what I've seen they'll probably sell the land, and let their dad slip away into a condo, then an assisted-living facility, and a whole new entity will come to take the house, refashion it in their own image, tear down the landscape and replant everyting, mow the grass again. What was the point of all that time mowing grass? To what purpose was this idyll in the field, when the sons slip into the condo, themselves? There was a community here, trying to replicate itself, is what. There were people living here that tried to live the same sort of way, with the same systems. The system we're replicating is older than us, but it is a path of consumption and destruction, where we take too much and take too much and take it all away and take too much. How much vigor do our cities have? How long will we have it? What will happen to what us when we run out of vigor in the soil, and the water runs out and the dirt is hardpan and salted from so much build-up in the irrigation of shipped-in water? It used to be the kids rose up and filled the family properties. Estates expanded to be divided. Colonists devoured continents to build estates just like the ones that crowded them out of their home countries. There was only so much land. Hold the land. Manage it well. Pass it on to sons and daughters. Take the land from anyone that didn't deserve it. Excepting how we live here is not a way that can possibly last. The way we teach our children to live is built on the system that cleared the New World with illness and war and stole what wasn't ours to take. We don't do all of that Colonial stuff anymore, though. There's one difference. We surrender the land to the next generation by selling off the land, liquidating the assets into a cash cushion that moves through us in a wadded bubble. We live in the liquidity of the economy, then, not in the land itself. Our soil is our bank account, now, and our colonial estates. The rural dream these men go to - a dream that I share in my way - is a myth fashioned out of a history that is no longer our way. The land that used to be the foundation of generational wealth is this thing that people do in one phase of their retirement, their first house when they retire that's just so big - a dream house. What happens next is the time gets so long, and the fields so full of high grass, and the house so cluttered, and we shrink it all down. We shrink, too, our properties diminishing with our bodies until we are monks in a nursing home cell, chaste and praying in the darkness that we at least feel no pain. The book I am writing on spec, it is almost done, and it ends like this, following the pattern I see of the men around me, who expand and expand because the generations before us expanded and expanded, and then the tides shift inside of them. Vigor turns to glass and dust. We shrink, then. We shrink into the liquidity. It buys the medicine, the doctors' offices, the cleaning staff and nurses that dress us in the wee hours when we can't help but wake up, thirsty in the dark for a drink that never quenches. The true soil is invented, now, in economics. We have invented our own aether in which to return to dust. We are turning ourselves from flesh to steam. The next step is abandoning the expansion of life into property. Once this is beat out of us, as children watch their fathers and grandfathers and everyone doing this thing where they flee to the hills for a while and it gets sort of ridiculous, we'll stay in the cities, then. We'll stay and build our own soil in the air, itself, and invent our retirement palace there.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Working All the Time, or Also.

Writing is this sort of workaholic disease. You just work all the time. You go home from work, and you go to work from home. You work all the time. I blame the economy. There is no way for most of us to be fulfilled in our careers. May I take your order please, by the way? What service can I provide for you, and how much abuse must I take in the name of customer service? What are all the rules I must obey at work even though I do not understand them? Work all the time and find fulfillment. Also, remember, there is only one shot at retirement, so work for that, too. I am working. I am working all the time. Read a book in the mean time, if you can. Also, plant something. I'm going to write a book someday about how we always live so close to our maps and GPS signals that if we ever bothered to wander off the habitable, manicured, prepared trails, we'd find something that wants us to stay where we are, and that thing, in real life, is just nature. Work harder, so you don't have time to think about nature, and how nature is a messy creep that wants to fill you up and eat you. Also, if you have a neat and tidy yard, you aren't winning against nature, because nature is not supposed to be neat and tidy. Also, try not to start every paragraph with the same connecting phrase because it is a gimmick and gimmicks are terrible in prose. Also, if you can make a buck with your gimmick, that's good, because retirement and working all the time. Sleep will come for me soon enough. Push on and work, into the late hours. Push on until the nonsense of restless mental energy becomes a kind of honesty that glows on the page straight through. Also, anything that is written can be revised. Everything that is written must be revised before it is shared with others. Just write. Get to work. I am working all the time. I won't be able to keep this up forever, but for now, I think it's okay. I live life in a state of Also, jumping from one idea to another.

Monday, October 14, 2013

segregation by smurf

What is the level of income that the community has that means your kids and your elderly mother would be living in a crime-riddled, drug-ruined, hellhole? At what point does the poverty line climb up enough to mean that your neighbors will be good neighbors? These are ridiculous questions, but they are the questions that Americans answer and ask amongst themselves all the time. Poverty is a state of crime and failure that means if your neighbor is poor, you need to get out. If your neighbor looks poor, your home loses value and you can't sell it for as much. I've lived in some poor neighborhoods. I know what it means to look around and wonder when your apartment door will be kicked in, and think maybe I don't check the mail because it's dark out right now. I know what it means when people see you driving by and they wonder about you, because everyone is a little afraid just to be there. So we moved. We lived in a suburb, with a family member for a while until we could get on our feet solid-like. We moved again into a suburb. Segregated by wealth, we are safe from the people that drift among the bus stops and the garages and fast food. We are on a dead-end street surrounded by people who are upstanding citizens with good jobs and bright futures. Do I even know anyone anymore that leads a different life than me? The wealthier communities look down upon us. I have long hair, the worn-in clothes of a book-ish writer. I don't belong in your neighborhood. We segregate by wealth. I do it and I know better. Because there is a fear. It is a fear I cannot shake. Keep the streets empty at night. Let wild cats and dogs own the night. No people there. All good people are in home, asleep, pulling into driveways and home. By sundown, all the kids must come in from the yard. Segregate by wealth, and live behind high fences. Then, we line the voting districts around the neighborhoods to maximize the effectiveness of the votes of the economic segments. This is our insanity. How can a community absorb and mitigate the horror of poverty if we just push all who are poor into an area and quietly, systematically wall them all off, and wait for the desperation to eat itself? The government has shut down because rich people would rather blow up the world then pay a little extra for healthcare for people that live behind that wall. When will the civil war end? The rich and racist don't want to do anything to help the "other" of a race when so much money is made and so many cultural institutions are built around... The rich and racist convince the poor whites that the "other" is going to get more than them, take it immorally, become some sort of welfare socialist hog devouring resources that hard-working, generally white, individuals will not be able to match. They will come for your daughters. They will take your things and harm your children because they are... Think of the children who are not safe at night, and are influenced by such horrible things in the schools, in their communities, flee to the suburbs, to the exurbs, to the hills where real America hides from the urban blight and rural plight, an in-between place with manicured lawns and good schools and no connection to either the industrious city or the productive farmland, just an in-between place as much in a state of limbo as the ideals upon which they were founded. Isolation, and separation of the falsely named "real America" that is as fake and damaging as the bushido code. The real America is indifferent to denominations of codes, but exists as a border on a map, and a massive, massive cluster of bodies pressed into a legal boundary that moves and moves and does not move towards justice when you aren't white, rich, etc. In conversation, I like to think that you should just take anything someone says about another person or community and replace it with the word "smurf" and see if it sounds like you have an irrational hatred and/or fear of smurfs. Replace the words "illegal immigrant" with smurf in every newstory and speech and you hear this strange, confused, confounding relationship with the little blue men and women that have turned up as if like mushrooms at the edge of our towns. Hear the discussion of smurfs as a problem, a work force, a dangerous thing because the background checks, a blessing of expanded taxbases, and all the other strange things people say about the magical apparition-like things that have been here all along, and suddenly we're acknowledging them, trying to resolve this thing that's happening. Liberals are like smurfs, too. They live in communes, like socialists, obeying their bearded master, without religion, sharing everything they produce, and getting nowhere with no innovation and no change and no improvement while the whole free world passes everyone by. Smurfs are fools, then. Talk of the Tea Party and use the term smurf, instead, and see the irrational fear and hatred of folks who are simply fed ignorance. Media is a powerful tool that can turn even good-hearted folks into tools of insanity. These news memes are already viruses. The cyberpunk infection is already here. These mentally sick are fed mental illness by the mentally ill and there is no mercy for their plight, no talk of cures. We just wall them off from the rest of us, in communities that embrace the insanity. Let them go. Let them leave us for their wooded paradise of personal industry, while we know they will return to our towns. We are unable to talk about the problem because free speech means free ignorance and these smurfs are such vermin, and these smurfs are irrational, and these smurfs have a religion that is unscientific, and these smurfs live in isolated communities at the edge of society, walled towns, hiding from the world, where their illogical and irrational ways push up against the real and burn. Stop smurfing. Start talking. Start trusting other people to have the same fundamental values as you do: life, happiness, security, peace, family. Reality does not care about any of our ideologies. Science does not care if you believe in it or not. The point of working towards what's best for a community is that everyone in the community is here, a part of our community, and we will all be happier treating each other like we're fully, reasonably human. We'll see what happens in a few days. I fully expect to see the government start printing money to keep the debt-wheel running, because the alternative is the end of the systems of this world. My prediction is the Trillion-Dollar Coin.

On Wonderbook...

Tomorrow a book is launching and it is called WONDERBOOK and it is mostly written by Jeff VanderMeer, and drawn by Jeremy Zervoss.

I've seen bits and bobs of this book during its creation and had almost nothing to say about it because it mostly renders me mute.

To put another way, all the books on writing I've encountered are crippled by their reliance on a method of production, or a single authors' style and perspective. They are nice for what they are, but ultimately useless beyond the rudimentary level because nobody seems particularly interested in approaching the creative process as an experience truly singular to individual artists. The explosion of the idea of text by a leading subversive fantasist and fictionist, with help from a subversive artist, turns the creative process of fiction around into something that is participatory, contradictory, inspiring, frustrating, noisy, and celebratory.

VanderMeer has no presumption of THE GOLDEN METHOD. He does not promise untold riches, agents, editors, a swooning and adoring public. Instead we are placed into a vehicle for creativity, encouraged to be creative, and to aspire our best work, our best imagination.

What you will find is a compelling argument for imaginative fiction richly illustrated, lots of twisting and twirling point and counterpoint about the chaos of creation, and more. There is no one way. There is only a dreamscape of Zerfoss imagery that spills into the text and out of the text, and hopefully, inspires new creative processes and insights.

Highly Recommended.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Coup de Tit for Tat

This weekend, we were chatting with a former relatively high-ranking military officer at this place we went to, who did some stuff for the UN during her law degree and generally has a finger on the pulse on the world of power, and it came up the whole government shut down. She observed that for a long time there was this feeling that the people in power are wise and their decisions make sense and the generals are wise and they are making rational decisions and the people in power, somewhere up there, are experienced people and they have knowledge that we don't have and training we don't have and access to data that we don't have and... Then, she got up into the upper echelons and realized it was all just people. They were normal, ordinary people with all the failings and misguided emotions and preconceived ideologies and confusions that people have. Anyone can make it to the upper echelons of power, then. Anyone could run for office and win and do something with power. No one knows what they're doing. Everyone is guessing. Everyone is fumbling in the dark and doing their best with the limited information they could digest. There is no wise and masterful Oz beyond the curtain. It really is just some guy from Kansas, or wherever, doing his best to keep the lights on and the trains running on time. This is both the most depressing thing to realize and the most hopeful. There is no master plan. It really is just a bunch of foolish people throwing emotions around and posturing and trying to push for advantage with their limited set of skills and talents. Also, this is the most hopeful thing. There is no master plan. It really is just a bunch of foolishness, and once it ends, a new wave of perfectly normal, everyday folks will stumble out of the darkness into the limelight of political power and they'll do their best. In the mean time, it's such a depressing coup de tit for tat, and it doesn't seem to gain anyone anything. This is the spot where everyone loses, and nobody wants to be the one who doesn't win. Blah politics. Blah.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ooh, Shiny and wondrous!

This just showed up. It is very awesome and pretty and mine.

Thanks Ann and Jeff!