An Update, and some more philosophical musings

First of all, I’m sad to report that I’ve been laid off from my job of fifteen years. It was a good job, and I know the decision was hard for management to make, I got a good severance package from the University, and all in all it was… Well, it was painful, but I would say it was amicable. The department and I met up a couple of weeks after the event for a farewell get-together, and I feel like I got some good closure to that chapter in my life. I’m still sad, though.

What’s next? I’m not sure. Definitely looking for a new job (and if you check out my resume, you’ll get a good idea of my skill set). Waiting to see what happens next.


It’s Halloween time, of course, which is my favorite time of year. I like scary stories, Jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, all that silly stuff. And it means there’s a lot more scary stuff to consume. Specifically, lots of scary content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Last night, in particular, I watched a few episodes of an original Netflix show called Haunted. Basically, it has people sitting with friends and family and recounting horrifying events from their pasts. For example, the first episode, entitled “The Woman in White”, was about a man’s life-long experience with the ghost of a woman from an apartment he and his family had lived in when he was a child. His telling is interspersed with reenactments of the events. The makeup on the ghost was well-done, and the way she simply appeared in the kid’s closet were really spooky. Well done as far as that goes.

It was the episode on alien abduction that really struck me, though. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of alien abductions for many years; not because I believe in aliens that abduct people in the night and perform ghastly experiments on them, but because the story of the abduction is so similar to fairy abduction stories of yore, including missing time, bright lights, similar-looking creatures, and even the occasional sexual encounter.

So I began to wonder, back in the late 90s, about these similarities, and I wrote a story called “LTM” (for Long-Term Memory) in which I tried to create a “third mythology” that would explain the two experience archetypes and unite them into a single story. It was a bad story, full of passive voice and vague characters with no agency, and I don’t intend to share it with you (and it definitely hasn’t aged well; the men in black and UFO stories are straight out of the time it was written in and all hearken back to The X-Files).

Then I began to wonder about ghosts, demons, and other paranormal entities, and about the human brain’s ability to misinterpret what’s happening around it and tell a story to itself about what it experiences when it doesn’t quite understand what it’s experiencing. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but this is a personal blog so I don’t have to. But maybe there’s something going on or something that the brain sees that it doesn’t understand so it pulls into its cultural background and assigns a story to that input. If one person sees, say, a strange face lurking above them in the dark, they may say “Ghost!” because that’s what they’re used to thinking about when it comes to such things, while another may say “Demon!”. Furthermore, even among the people who say “Ghost!” there might be those who believe the ghost they see has malevolent intention, and some will believe it’s benign.

So maybe there is some sort of external event going on that we can’t interpret, so we assign cultural archetypes to it. Perhaps there something that causes us to see flashing lights, feel like we’re floating, and like we’re seeing bizarre creatures doing awful things to us. In pre-movie times, when we had no cultural story about aliens, we would interpret such events as fairy abductions. In our modern era, where we don’t think about fairies as existing but we have aliens built into our cultural milieu at all levels, we think of alien abductions. Personally, I’m inclined to think that such events are purely phenomenological in nature: entirely within the mind. I’m open to the possibility that something external is going on, but I haven’t seen any evidence that there is.

Anyway. This is the sort of thing that my brain thinks of at this time of year (well, at any time of year, but Halloween season brings it out more fully.

What goes on in your mind during Halloween season?

A Thought for the Ontologically Inclined

The other day I was watching Mighty Mouse (one of our foster kittens) playing with a little felt ball in the kitten room. She’d pick up the toy in her mouth, run around with it for a bit, drop it, bap at it, run after it, pick it up again, then run around like mad with it in her mouth again. It was incredibly silly, and very cute.

So I got to thinking about the toy itself and what it represented in Mouse’s brain. Cats are primarily predators (except possibly for Nutmeg, our 16-pound “potato cat”), so many of their play behaviors would be hunting behaviors in the wild. So what, to Mouse, did that little felt toy represent? A bug? A bird? A mouse? Some other small mammal? I mean, she clearly knew it wasn’t food, since she wasn’t eating it, but something about that toy was definitely triggering her latent hunting behavior.

From there, my brain, as it is wont to do, spun on to the same question but about human brains. What high-level behaviors of ours are actually representative of something else? I don’t mean simple symbology, such as looking at the Washington Memorial and thinking of — Well, you know. I mean those higher-level “noble” pursuits that we make so much of. Let’s say science, for example. We as a civilization1 pursue science pretty doggedly (cattedly?), and we’ve made great strides in our understanding of the cosmos and how it works.

So, my question to you is: are there yet higher-level orders of consciousness that could look down on us, view those ideals which we strive for, and wonder what they represent for us? We humans watch the cat play with a felt ball, and figure that the felt ball represents a bug; what would the aliens of Trafalmadore think we’re pursuing when we think we’re pursuing science?

Watching cats frequently makes me ponder the nature of human intelligence and the limits of our consciousness.

I know, this question is an easy one, one that should go up on Facebook or Twitter. I just want to save it here on my own blog.

More adventures in spam

About a week ago, I received an email in my spam folder that had the subject line “rscrawford: XXXXXXXXXXXX” where that long line of Xs was the deprecated password of a website I rarely visit and which I knew had been compromised at one point. The email was wordy and poorly written, but the gist of it was something along the lines of, “I know what you did and I recorded it and I’ll send it out to every person in your contacts list unless you pay me $7,000 in BitCoin currency,” along with a link were I could send that currency.

This amused me, since, really, I have nothing to hide. I thought about writing back with a message to that effect — “Go on, do your worst!” — but I know it’s never a good idea to engage with these kinds of people. I mean, I know President Trump is doing his best to end unfair and unjust discrimination against the idiotic criminal class, but, still.

Meanwhile, I’ve had bronchitis for something like two weeks now. The breathing is better now, though the cough remains. The Prednisone remains fun stuff to take. When I get sick for this long, I tend to get emotional. Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa runs away and Homer holds her saxophone? Yeah, that one did me in.

And yesterday while working I had Young Frankenstein playing in the background. And when it came to the scene where the creature, having just performed “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, panicked at the sight of a flame and was dragged away by the police… Yeah, I started crying at that as well.

A co-worker of mine tells me that their reaction to Prednisone is exactly the opposite of mine: for them, the drug causes euphoria, energy, and hyperactivity. This is unfair. I’m going to file a complaint somewhere.

We’re still fostering kittens. After Delilah and Fern were adopted, the fostering agency sent us eight (8) to foster. That was about a month ago, I guess, and now we’re down to one. Mouse is a feisty orange and white kitten, lots of love and lots of energy and personality. I was sure she’d be adopted her first week at placement, but that didn’t happen.

The writing is continuing. I’ve finished the Evil Barf Draft of my fantasy story involving fossil hunters in America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century. I am going to be pushing it to get The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster and Padma done by their due dates, but that’s okay. Last minute panic is a great motivator.

I’m also drafting a contemporary (well, set in the 1930s) fantasy involving jazz music and baseball, and I’m in the early stages of putting together a “noblebright” (as opposed to “grimdark”) fantasy story for an anthology that I’d love to be published in. All that, on top of my goal of keeping six active submissions going all at the same time, is keeping me mighty busy. Good for me.

What’s on your plate or your mind?

 

So…. Here’s what’s been happening

Since last we saw our hero:

Suffered a major crisis at work. Yes, our server went down. Totally down. As in, nothing there. No backups after July 2017, and thank God that was there. The other programmer and I managed to recover just about everything we lost, and I’ve taken Measures to make sure it never happens again, but you know that feeling when you look at your server status and see “Terminated”? Yeah, that sucks.

Lost weight. I’m down thirty pounds from my heaviest ever. In another pound or two I’ll reward myself with another classic Universal monster movie. Not Frankenstein. I’m saving that one. No, it’s probably going to be WolfmanCreature from the Black Lagoon was a neat movie. The sequels, not so much.

Written. Okay, not so much. I’m stuck in one particular scene in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster and have decided to move on and write a different scene, but I’ll have to come back to the problematic one at some point. And while I haven’t done much of anything on “Sauromancy” for some time, at least I’ve created a playlist for it that has been inspiring me. I blame Michael Crichton, though. That bastard had my idea before me, and now I’m stuck.

Fostered. Jennifer and I are fostering two cats right now: a mama cat and her kitten. For awhile, Mama was in heat, and that was… annoying. More to Jennifer than to me, since Mama yowled mostly at night and while I can sleep pretty much through anything Jennifer can’t. She (the cat) has been spayed now, and the nighttime yowl has stopped. The kitten, Fern, is awfully cute, with her big ears and paws, and has already been spoken for.

In other news, I’m thinking about starting up a Patreon account. I still have asthma, but that’s doing well these days. I also still have Bipolar II, but that’s leaving me alone right now. I’m pondering signing up for an MFA program.

And that’s about it.

Sundry

I’m not sure why this is happening to me, but by my estimate I’ve now received five spam emails over the course of a year advertising “quick and easy” sex changes. This is not something I’ve pondered. This is not something I’ve ever hunted for online. I’ve never inquired into the possibility with my physician, nor mentioned in passing to any of my friends. I doubt I’ve ever clicked on an ad that would send me these messages.

I’m starting to become curious in spite of myself…


Writing continues, though I’ve fallen pretty far behind in both Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster and “Sauromancy”, my two current projects. I had a good conversation with my friend Michael recently who helped me gain some much-needed perspective on my career as a writer, and who has been encouraging me to have at least two novels (or at least their outlines) ready by WorldCon in August. STSM (or at least a first draft thereof) will definitely be done by then and I’ll have a solid outline of Padma by then as well.

Have I mentioned that Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster is basically a rewrite of my 2005 NaNoWriMo novel, Fred Again? Because it is.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, two weeks ago I officially submitted the form to not be a Municipal Liaison for our region this year. I started MLing in 2007, which means I’ve got eleven years of it under my belt. I still haven’t decided whether I’m even going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I like the camaraderie and company that I get during November, but I also feel like I’ve gotten all I’m going to get from it, after having participated for sixteen (!) years.

This seems like a good place to mention that I’ve moved things around and added a couple of pieces to my Writing site (linked to above).


Weight Loss is coming along, slower than I would like, but it’s happening. I’ve set up some non-food rewards for myself for every ten pounds that I lose. The rewards are mostly DVDs of the classic Universal horror monster movies; last week I purchased The Creature from the Black Lagoon, because I loved that movie when I was a kid and because I have a story idea that involves the Creature.

I also bought a FitBit Alta, one of the models that fits around your wrist, because my Zip, the one that slips into your pocket, cracked and stopped working and new ones are on back order, shipping within two to three weeks. Which is a lot for someone like me, who grew up in the 80s and its instant gratification culture.

am eating healthier foods, at least. And I’ve got some special tasks in Habitica to help me keep on track.


So that’s what I’ve got going on in my life right now. What about you?

Our Tiny Rock

Sometimes I have Deep Thoughts and have to find a way to express them. This is one of those times.

Sometimes I marvel about Earth and its inhabitants. In the grand, grand scheme of things, against the backdrop of the Cosmos, we’re barely a mote of dust. Smaller, even. We, and everyone we know and love, now and in the past and future, are just tiny biological organisms clinging to a small planet in a relatively small solar system in a mid-range galaxy in a universe the size of which beggars the imagination. Carl Sagan, in his famous “Pale Blue Dot” monologue, above, said it far better than I could ever hope to.

Sigh. I miss Carl Sagan.

Our downfall as a species is likely to be our hubris. We like to think that our daily struggles with each other and our morality plays have cosmic consequences. They don’t, of course, but our egos need to be fed; and when we elevate our human struggles to cosmic ones, we only cause harm to each other and often to the planet itself. We’re only sentient goo that thinks it’s better than it is.

Even as an Espicopalian, I’m aware of this.

The thing that baffles me about this is the number of people who think they’re “winning” at life when in reality we’re all going to end up in the same place. Accumulating wealth, power, and prestige is not going to let you win at life. You’re still going to die. And to acknowledge that fact and still play a game of “winning” is selfish; that vast aggregation of wealth will do you no good at the end. The best thing to do, I think, is to use whatever power and wealth you have to improve the lives of others. Part of this belief is fueled by my Episcopal faith, but I think part of it is just common sense, informed partially by a certain element of existentialism that I learned in college. We’re all going to die; why not make life pleasant for others of us who share the road?

 

Oh hey!

Several people pointed me at this story from the Daily Press in Victorville, CA. They probably did so because of this story that I wrote a few years ago. My story’s online, and free for you to read. Share and enjoy!

Writing and Depression, Part Two

So, here I am, over a month later, and feeling pretty much the same way: Struggling with my depression and struggling with my writing.

According to the National Novel Writing Month website, I’ve written 772,303 words in various NaNoWriMo projects. Add to that the number of words I’ve written on short stories, aborted novels that I never bothered finishing, and so on, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve written around about one million words of fiction, and that’s in this century alone, when I decided I was going to take this writing thing really seriously.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo sixteen times; in 2012, the novel I wrote was merely a continuation of what I wrote in 2011, so I guess I’ve written fifteen novels during that time. Only a few of those I feel were “completed”, in that they had the words THE END on the last page. And even so, I have not revisited most of those novels, to revise or rewrite them. The only exceptions are the Fred Again, which I wrote in 2005, and which I’m rewriting now as The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster; and Padma, which I wrote in 2016 and which I’m rewriting as well. Still, though, shouldn’t I have at least one completed novel by now?

In short, through writing those million or so words, I’ve accomplished very little.

I don’t think this is imposter syndrome; I see imposter syndrome as being the sort of thing you contract when you achieve some sort of accolade or accomplishment, and feel as though you don’t deserve it. No, this is just me feeling frustrated that I’ve come this far without having moved past the “early career writer” stage, and feeling like I never will.

That Time I was Inadvertently Racist

My parents did a really good job of raising my sisters and me, I think. We learned that racism exists, and we learned that it was bad. My mom tells me of the time she deliberately hosted Black friends at a party when she lived in Texas in the late 60s, and was subsequently booted from her apartment. We learned that that was wrong, that the landlord was racist, and that racism was just wrong.

Imagine. That was in the late 60s. We’re just barely fifty years away from that.

Me, I’ve gone out of my way to not be racist, but I know from personal experience that racism lurks somewhere deep in my bones. Here’s my story of that:

It was the second Tuesday of November, 2008. I know that very well, because it was Election Day, and I was swollen with liberal pride, having just come from a polling station where I’d voted for Barack Obama (our last great President). Imagine! Me, a white man, voting for a Black man for President! How noble!

But as I was sitting in my car at an intersection on Stockton Avenue in Sacramento, waiting for the light to change so that I could pull into the parking lot at the public library, I saw a young Black man crossing the street toward me.

Without even thinking about it, I locked the door of my car.

He wasn’t running. He wasn’t carrying any weapons or anything that looked like a weapon. I don’t recall if he was carrying anything at all. It wasn’t a “bad neighborhood”. He was just a teenager, going about his business.

I locked my car door.

That moment, that one incident, taught me that despite my parents’ best intentions and my own liberal pride, I still had racism built into me. After I realized what I’d done, I unlocked my car door, and the kid just passed in front of my car, not paying attention to me at all (or if he did, I didn’t notice).

I’ve thought about this a lot. I went to a private high school that had a significant Hispanic population; when I was at UC Davis, I studied with plenty of people from marginalized communities, and one of my favorite Philosophy study partners was a man from Ethopia. I live in Sacramento, California, which is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. I belong to the Episcopal Church which, despite its own problems in some areas, does teach that racism is a sin. I’ve had plenty of chances to confront my own racist sensibilities, and talk back to them. But they still lurk, I know, and confronting them is a constant conversation with myself.

Racism is such a pervasive part of culture, that so permeates our educational, political, even our religious systems that sometimes we whites don’t even believe it’s there, like a fish who doesn’t even notice the water it swims in. It’s always been there, lurking. It’s generational, and will take generations to solve. I mean, it’s only been fifty years, more or less, that my parents were booted out of their apartment in Texas. We’re less than sixty years away from the Jim Crow laws. Less than two centuries away from slavery. How can we possibly expect to have overcome racism in such a short period of time? We white people have an obligation to see the racism that lives inside ourselves, confront it when we see it, and do our best to promote those marginalized voices when they speak up.

Personally, I don’t envision a day when Black men and women get to participate in the same American dream that we whites do. I envision a day wherein we’ve built a new American dream that embraces Black culture as much as it embraces any other culture. We’re far, far away from that, and the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency has probably hurt our chances of reaching it anytime soon.

All we white people can do is our best to have this conversation with our racist selves. Racism is a power structure built right into our culture, and we have the obligation to tear it down.

P.S.: A friend of mine on Facebook noted that I hadn’t made mention of specific actions. I quote her here (with her permission):

We as white folks can actually do quite a lot. We can participate in government to vote in (and perhaps be) the white folks who use their privilege and power to create space for POC. We can call in our fellow white folks. We can educate each other and practice inclusive language and actions. And there’s more.

P.P.S.: I don’t believe for an instant that the incident above was the only time I’ve ever been racist. It’s just the one that stands out the most to me. I’m aware of some of my own biases and problematic behaviors, and I strive to overcome them; but I’m sure there are some that I don’t even identify.

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