Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know

We are all human, analog creatures, never completely this or that, and we all slide in and out our of better selves as we make our path in this world.

Every so often I write something I like. I reread it and think I’m not sure where that came from but that’s profound. Then it passes, of course, and I go on writing normal stuff.

I had that experience when the lead sentence here showed up while I recently wrote a post about world peace for my qigong instructor and friend at Flowing Zen. None of us are completely this or that, and it’s worth remembering in our current heated political climate. It’s also worth remembering as we each reach inward, embracing ourselves for what we are.

What I am is a worrier, among other things, and I know in my heart that it is tied to my story-telling abilities. If you want a mind that makes up exciting scenarios from everyday events, well then, you get a mind that sees exploding cars, intricate scams and paranoid plots around every corner.

But there are limits to how much worrying a healthy person can do, and, to be honest, recent events in the international arena have catapulted my concerns to an unhealthy level. That’s where coping mechanisms come in.

Last November, I developed a new habit to calm my mind. I already do qigong, which is wonderful for creating calm, and I do a good bit of yoga as well. Gardening helps also. But sometimes I’m sitting at my computer and I read something disturbing and I need a quick reboot without leaving my seat. Sort of an “instant calm.”

And that’s when I play solitaire. I go to the World of Solitaire site, zip through a two minute game while breathing deeply, and somehow I’ve trained myself to emerge calmer. I don’t know why it works, but for me it does.

“Where do you the get the ideas for what happens in your stories?” It is a question I get asked. Okay, I do get many ideas from the things I worry about happening. But every once in awhile, I am able to get one from something that kept me from worrying, like in the scene below.

I got a real kick out of how my psychic hero Ariel finally sorted out a particularly complicated set of future probabilities. I hope you enjoy it too.

She wandered back into the hut she shared with Teddie and Vanida, and sat the kitchen table. She was trying to save the last bit of battery on her phone and her computer, so she aimlessly dealt out a hand of solitaire from a deck of cards that had been provided. She had played the game years ago on a computer, which made it more fun because it was easy for the player to redo moves.

But this would work to relax her. She started the game, doing the obvious first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which of your important choices will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

She kept dealing and thinking and replaying and after awhile she wasn’t so much paying attention to the cards as she was in a sort of trance. Teddie was the Two of Clubs and her mom was the Queen of Hearts and for some reason she was the Nine of Spades. The man who ran Reel News was the King of Diamonds, of course, but there were two of them; no, not really, the Jack of Diamonds was pretending to be the King which made no sense.

The worst of it was that the Ten of Clubs was trying to get that Jack to kill Queen of Hearts who could only be saved by the King but he wouldn’t know it and the Jack of Hearts who was Nell could stop the King of Diamonds but only if the Queen of Clubs who was Yuden did some random thing she probably would not do.

Ariel leaned forward and put her head between her knees and took deep breaths until the dizziness subsided. She could do this, use this, to see the arbitrary combinations and how the little things worked together in ways in she’d never understood before.

She dealt again. And again. A different sense of how events tied together began to connect for her as she used the cards to sort out a complex tapestry that would have confused her logical mind.

After awhile Camille came in and lit the gas lamp, saying nothing. A little later Fernando brought her a sandwich. She mumbled thanks but never touched it. She just kept playing.

Not long after Teddie and Vanida tiptoed by her as they went to bed. Sleep came early in a world without electricity. By then, every card had taken on at least one identity or location or time. Some had many of them. It didn’t matter. After a while the confusion subsided and the interrelation of all of them made perfect sense to something deep within her brain.

(Images shown are from the various victory images used at the World of Solitaire website. They add an extra bit of fun to the game.)

(For a companion piece to this post, see Worry about those you love and write about what you know.)

Solitaire and Nuclear War

10371641_sMy new goal is to be a butterfly. Not in the I’ve just metamorphosed from a caterpillar sense, although I think that’s a nice idea, too, but more in the a-butterfly-flaps-its-wings-in-North-Carolina-and-then-the-world-changes for the better kind of way.

Yes, one reason is that I do feel small and powerless these days, like I’m no match for the storms around me. And part of it is that I am more concerned about man-made catastrophes than I’ve ever been in my adult life. But much of it, really, is that I’ve been playing a lot of solitaire lately.

3I had no idea that is was such a fascinating game. My favorite part of it is how one little decision, like whether to put this king at the top of the stack instead of that one, can make all the difference as to whether you win or lose even though both moves were equally logical based on what you knew at the time. But, thanks to the fact that I play on a computer with an unlimited “Undo Move” feature, I’ve played many of my games two, four, or even eight different ways. I’m fascinated by how one series of more or less reasonable decisions yields a totally different outcome than another. And the problem is that while you are making the choices, you have no idea that you are locking in victory or disaster.

And  then there’s what happens if you make a couple of stupid decisions, or outright mistakes, mixed in with a fair number of those okay choices.

I’m thinking about how wars start and how peace is made, how markets crash or don’t, how criminal activity succeeds or is uncovered, and how alliances are forged or broken. How many if-that-little-thing-hadn’t-happened components are there to any major world event? I’m thinking there are a lot of them, most of which we never know.

5We are all basically playing solitaire, aren’t we? We get up every day and do the best we can trying not to make a mistake while hoping that our random choices don’t paint us into some corner where we find ourselves saying if only …..

Because we all know that life doesn’t have an “Undo Move” button, and it probably should.

(For more thoughts on Solitaire and life, see Mindless entertainment?)

 

Kill free meat: the future is coming?

flying carYou find the future in the oddest places. I mean if you are like me and have been reading science fiction for decades, you probably go along feeling like nothing has really changed all that much compared to the future you read about. Yes, yes, our cell phones can do all kinds of cool things but where are the Jetson cars and colonies on the moon and cute talking robots and all those other things that the future was supposed to bring?

And then, blat, along comes a piece of that science fiction that has turned real, and you find out about it in a place you least expected it.

A few years ago I ended up on a Pop Sugar Fitness email list by virtue of downloading a workout video. The articles were short and often interesting, enough so that I was willing to ignore the others with headlines like “28 Healthy Zucchini Recipes” and “The Best Gym Bags by Personality Type.” (I did not make either of these up.) Then the other day I saw this.

Scientists Have Found a Way to Make Meat Without Killing Animals

The article went on to say that a company called Memphis Meats “has found a way to manufacture meat in a lab” and that the product’s appearance, smell, and taste are “identical to real meat.”

chickenSo. There it was. The giant blob of factory grown chicken flesh from “The Space Merchants” (and how many other novels) in which human hunger is finally assuaged by scientists figuring out how to grow meat without bothering with the rest of the animal.

Two things popped into my mind right away. One, I’m surprised it has taken this long. Given claims of all we have done with modified food and genetic engineering, this doesn’t seem like a giant leap from current technology.

Light Within 2The other is that this makes sense. It’s more humane, possibly more healthy, probably more ecological, and certainly more efficient. And yet it is somehow totally creepy. Who wants to eat a slice of animal part grown in a lab? On the other hand, why is eating a slice of an animal that once was alive any less creepy?

To the credit of Pop Sugar, they got that this technique would meet with both praise and disgust and asked for readers to weigh in with their opinions. Want to to speak up? Leave a comment at their site and feel free to leave it here as well.

The potential reality of factory-grown blobs of animal flesh reminded me that every day we do wake up in the future.  And every so often, we’re just not entirely sure how we feel about it.

 

 

 

The Future of Christmas

treeI write speculative fiction because asking “what if” is my favorite form of mental entertainment. Today I bought a Christmas tree, and a gift for a child I’ll never meet, and I started the process of figuring out what to buy for my own already well-supplied family.  While standing in line to pay, the speculative part of my brain kicked in, and I began to wonder what Christmas would be like in a hundred years, or even two. In my novel d4, I try to get my readers to think 337 years into the future, all the way to the year 2352. So then, what do you think Christmas will be like in 2352?

  1. Will there be such a holiday? Will the world have moved away from organized religion and its celebrations entirely? I know many Christians worry that someday there will only be a secular holiday season. If church attendance world-wide continues to drop, maybe this could happen. Or perhaps another religion will manage to convert so much of humanity that its traditions will replace Christian ones much the way Christian customs wiped out pagan celebrations. It could be an existing religion, I suppose, but I think something so sweeping would almost have to be something entirely new that takes hold over the next hundred years. What do you think? Is this possible?
  2. Will there even be humans left to celebrate it? You know: asteroids, aliens, computers taking over, epidemics, nuclear war and so on. Or will the humans who are left be far to concerned with mere survival to celebrate anything?
  3. On the other hand, maybe human existence has become so easy and pleasant that the need for holidays is all but gone. Every day is party day when your replicator can make you anything you want for free, you know. Christmas could be something history buffs remember, back when there were needs and wants.
  4. Perhaps the trend to commercialism continues, with the world’s yearly economy now dependent on the population of earth overspending every December. Perhaps laws dictate how much each family must spend as a minimum. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which the ads start in February, and the decorations go up in August. By October the gift-giving slackers begin receiving notices from the state.
  5. Then again, maybe Christmas is much the same as it is now, except we finally get hover boards and flying cars. About time.

What I do know is that those who try to predict the future by extrapolating from the present make poor predictions. All of my above scenarios are extrapolations, and sure to be off of the mark. Check out this paragraph from d4:

Baldur stared out of his office window, considering black swans. Not real black swans, of course, but the theory for which they stood. As a man well schooled in all types of economics, Baldur was acutely aware of the occasional occurrence of an event that was outside of the realm of normal expectations and yet appeared so obvious in hindsight. He knew these metaphorical black swans by definition went on to produce significant consequences, and they were thought by some theorists to in fact be what drove human history.

I’ve come to agree that “Black Swans” are the main agents of changing the future in significant ways. Whatever December 25, 2352 is going to look like on earth, the big differences between now and then will be due to things that have not occurred to you and I, and yet will appear very obvious in hindsight.

One other way to try to imagine what sorts of changes 337 years could bring would be to look harder at a Christmas Day 337 years ago. I couldn’t find much specifically from 1678, but I found this wonderful excerpt from The Painter’s Apprentice, a book by historical fiction writer Charlotte Bettes. It is from her December 2012 post called Christmas in 1687, on her blog which is simply called simply Charlotte Bettes. Please check it out and contrast the day she describes with your own celebrations this year. How different is it, really? And do you think the characters in her story could possibly have predicted those differences? No, I don’t think they could have either.

For other slightly offbeat looks at Christmas, see my posts “Christmas is Not about Love, but“, “The Women of Christmas” and “Duct Tape and Christmas Cards.”

 

Taking care of your own kind (a science fiction quiz)

It has been decided that one of the finer features of the human race is that humans do not only think of themselves. When it comes to survival and even happiness, this species usually takes quite good care of those they love, often makes sacrifices for others, and sometimes even risks their own lives for those they identify as being “one of their own kind.”

Recent world events have caused certain entities to ask the question “What exactly constitutes ‘your own kind’?”

You have been selected to take the following very short quiz. Please tend to this matter soon. Quite a bit may depend on your answers.

your own kind 2There is no need to send the completed form anywhere. Merely answer, even in your own head, and the information will be received where it is needed. Thank you for your participation.