Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why Space Matters, Part 1





I thought about titling this post Why Science Matters but that way is fraught with political landmines. It's not that I'm at all silent about my political philosophy or how I arrived at my core beliefs. I'm not, nor am I ashamed. The calculation involved in the way I view politics and policy is a simple one:

Does this belief or policy do good for the largest number of people?

Do research.

Make conclusion.

Yeah, we might differ on what qualifies as good, but at that basic a level of disagreement there's really no way to change a person's mind.

So instead of talking about why science matters--and it does, clearly, as human civilization to this point wouldn't exist without it--I'm going to move forward under the assumption you agree with that premise. If you don't, that's fine. You can stop reading. Avoiding politics here means I'm not interested in being convinced that the scientific method is invalid. Chances are pretty good that if you believe, say, that the world is 6,000 years old, you're probably not reading any more.

So. Onward.

Space matters. In ways as vast as space itself and as small and mundane as everyday concerns like wanting a comfortable mattress, it matters. My goal with this series of posts is to explain in my wandering, often tangential way exactly why this is true and why we as a society should value the technologies and investments needed to make space exploration of all kinds an integral part of our cultural psyche.

Space=Technology

One thing that never ceases to confound me is how, in one breath, people will praise the technological breakthroughs made by space programs while damning the idea of space exploration as a priority.

You can see some Nasa spinoff technologies on Wikipedia of Nasa's own website at these links, but the benefits span everything from the enrichment of baby food to chemical detection. The simple truth is that you don't work for Nasa or any space agency to get rich. You don't spend years learning mechanical engineering or astrophysics because it's going to make you a rock star. 

I mean, Neil deGrasse Tyson aside. 

People get into space--even private space companies--because they love space. Or rockets. Maybe they have a lifelong jones for making some obscure mechanical process more efficient. I'm not judging. The point is that there is also a simple formula for near-certain breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of the scientific field.

Take a large group of passionate, educated nerds. 

Give them resources. 

Give them a problem. 

Wait. 

In fairness, this is less true in any of the biological sciences, since biology and medicine deal with much less predictable systems of much greater complexity. They take longer to have breakthroughs, but when they do, as Albus Dumbledore would say, they're correspondingly huger. 

If you need a good example of what I'm talking about, let's look at SpaceX, the private space exploration company founded by real-life Tony Stark/potential Bond villain Elon Musk. 

There are plenty of excellent resources out there where you can (and should) find everything you need to know about Musk and SpaceX, so I'll skip the details. 

Musk started his company after posing himself a question: why is space exploration so expensive. After doing some research and figuring out the math, Musk realized that the actual cost of the materials that make up a rocket capable of reaching orbit are about 2% of the total. That leaves a lot of room for making rockets more cost effective. Which is exactly what he did. 

Musk and company looked at rocket technology and, funded by Musk himself and some investments, decided to do something no one had really done since the 1960's: build their own damn rocket from the ground up. By doing this, they were able to utilize half a century of experience and practical data to create the most efficient booster in the world for a fraction of the cost ULA (United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin that has been mercilessly bilking Nasa for years) could manage. 

It should be noted here that ULA has been using Russian rocket engines made in the 1960's for their Nasa contracts. Not designed in the decade Kennedy was still alive, actually fucking manufactured in it

As a result of SpaceX being given resources, they were given contracts that provided even more resources, which allowed SpaceX to do something that changed the world. 

They created a rocket that can land. 

Yeah, I know. Doesn't sound like too big a deal. But consider the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket, which is the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet: about 90 million dollars. That's about the cost of a jumbo jet. Imagine if jets could only go one flight, and were then scrapped. That's how space exploration has worked until now. 

With the advent of a booster that can land and be reused, the face of space exploration and as a consequence humanity's place in the solar system has changed forever. The cost of sending rockets into space will drop by staggering margins, allowing cheaper and cheaper flights. 

This means we'll have the ability to create large orbital structures in a cost-effective way for the first time. Space stations are within our grasp, as are larger spacecraft capable of exploring and exploiting the resources of the solar system. This is not an exaggeration or science fiction, but rather the critical point much science fiction has hinged on before possibly becoming science fact. 

Had Nasa been given the sort of funding they enjoyed during the space race in the 60's and 70's (wherein the exploration of space was a national contest with the Soviet Union, a sort of proxy war using scientific achievement as its ammunition), we'd have seen these advances long ago. 

Yes, if we had kept giving Nasa the budget it once had, commercial space travel would be so normal by now we'd all be bored of it. But the budget cuts over the years meant Nasa couldn't build its own rockets, which meant whatever advances were made at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or anywhere inside the organization) were at best passed on to private third-party vendors like ULA, who were operating on contracts and looking to squeeze every penny or profit they could. 

Nasa could have been SpaceX. Would have been, if the money had been there. 

Even so, things are working out. We're on the edge of a boom in space travel. Successful demonstration of what we can accomplish with the increase in space travel brought on by the decrease in its cost will be vital to perpetuating the use of space as a resource for humankind. On the large scale, this will mean mining asteroids, dwarf planets, comets, even the gas giants. The things we could do with enough raw materials in orbit and the fuel (water, basically) we could collect from the solar system are almost endless. 

But that's not what this section is about. Just think of what sorts of technology we'll see as a consequence!

Right now we have dozens of spinoff technologies working for us every day. That's just from a space program that's public, severely underfunded, and only able to focus in very narrow directions. Think for a second about the possibilities we'll see once we as a society are looking down the barrel of mining asteroids or building a base on the moon. Those are both immensely difficult prospects, with countless problems that will need to be solved. 

The solving of them will produce technologies, both intentional and accidental, in numbers and variety we can scarcely imagine. That's totally ignoring what sorts of fantastic things we might learn to manufacture in microgravity. 

People complain about the expense of Nasa, and they say it's money down the drain. No return. 

Well, first of all: horseshit. Beyond the very real and very material return that is the growth of our understanding of the universe, physics, and a hundred other things, the technologies resulting from our investment in Nasa (and thus space) have a subtle but large economic benefit. Hell, the space program gave us memory foam, and you can't swing a dead cat in this country without it having its weight evenly distributed across some damn thing or another made of the stuff. 

Second of all: so what? Even if space exploration costs this country $18 billion dollars a year, which is less than Americans spend on Pizza, and made zero money back, so what? The non-economic benefits are still hugely important. Space exploration and the attendant discoveries which come with it have vastly increased our understanding of physics to the point where we have things like GPS and tons of other non-commercial benefits. 

Now we've covered the basics on why space exploration isn't an economic waste of time, which has hopefully created some nice squishy feelings toward the idea of paying for rockets, or increased them if you already had them. 

Which is good, because next time I'm going to explain why having a positive attitude toward space is the only way humanity can survive in the long term. 

See you then. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Resolute

I generally don't make resolutions for the new year, and this year isn't any different. Rather than set myself a goal that creates some arbitrary condition I have to meet in order to feel like I've achieved something, I'm just going to work on, you know, achieving things.

I haven't put out a post on this blog in almost two years. I'm resolving to change that. It's something I need to do, both because it gives me another connection to my readers and because it serves as an outlet that isn't facebook. Not that I have a problem with facebook at all--it has been instrumental in giving me a career I love--but it doesn't lend itself to longer posts. Also, people kind of make a choice to come here, and judging by my hit counter they've been doing it a surprising amount considering I've been ignoring this place for so long.

So this year I find myself resolute. I'm already more productive than I have been, and I feel like I can keep that up. This year is going to be make or break for me. I need to make more money than last year. I need to build up another nest egg in case I ever need another surgery and find myself unable to get much writing done like I did at the end of 2014. To do that I need to get back in the swing of things and put out work more regularly.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most authors I read only put out a book a year. Maybe two. I always put out two at the least, and this year I'm planning on at least three, maybe as many as five.

Earthfall, my first foray into straight-up science fiction, is well on its way to being done. I'm quite far along. Then I'll take a crack at Book Five of The Fall. After that it's a toss-up between Dark Flow, which is book 3 of The Next Chronicle, or Devil's Due, the first book in a new series called The Hellbreakers.

That list is subject to change based on my financial needs, reader demands, or my whims. Writing is a thing that requires some inspiration and desire to do well, and it's not always there when I reach for it.

I'm probably going to be posting here more often, so make yourself a bookmark or a speed dial link on your browser if you want to check back more than once in a blue moon. I can't promise it'll be as often as you want, but I'll do my best to be entertaining.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fell In Love With A Girl

...fell in love once and almost completely.

I love that song. More important, I love my wife.

Storybook love is one of those things other people have. People in stories. It's not an experience most--if any--of us get to have. More than eight years with Jess, and as of today five of them as a married couple, have taught me the value of a real relationship.

We argue. We disagree all the time. I get on her nerves and she gets on mine. We have very different tastes in food and a dozen other things. I like comedies, she likes foreign films including weird Korean indie stuff she finds God-knows-where. I'm outspoken and loud, she's quiet and shy. I have a deep connection to family, she's mostly indifferent to her own.

And yet, we work. We work better than any couple I know. The things we argue about are silly, small things. Most of the time they're fun, like who would win in a fight between Nikola Tesla and Cthulhu. Sometimes we go days only seeing each other a few minutes at a time, mostly when she's leaving for work, and it's okay.

We're perfect for each other. We have the same dark, twisted sense of humor. We make each other laugh more than anyone else could manage. Our priorities mesh, and a billion other things that don't matter to you because they're specific to us.

We fit, do you see? Of course you don't. You aren't here. You don't watch us get along.

But all that isn't why I'm writing this. I don't want to rhapsodize about how well we work. I want to praise Jessica Guess, my wonderful Jess, because she's amazing in ways she doesn't understand.

I had a habit of falling in love, but with her it wasn't that way. I'm four years her senior, and we met when I was 19. You do the math. I was floored by her appearance right away, because she's looked like a horny-teenage boy's drawing of a female comic book character since she was twelve. Jess developed early, which was a problem for her because she looked much older. That's part of why she grew to be so shy.

So when we met, she was too young for me. A few years went by where I saw her only occasionally. We didn't talk much. I didn't really see many people during that time. I was in a relationship that screwed me up badly, made me terribly afraid of being with anyone. A few months after that relationship ended, I was cleaning out my car and found a card from Jess. She had mailed it to me a while before and I'd carelessly put it in the glove box without even opening it.

I found that note while cleaning my office. It reads, in part:

"...I just felt like telling you that even though our relationship is pretty much nonexistent now, I'll never forget you. You are someone truly special, and I wish you the best in the future..."

There I was, two months out of my longest and most painful relationship, and I was a broken man. That's not hyperbole; I really was shattered in ways I had never experienced before. I read that letter and felt, for the first time in months, a faint ray of hope. A little bit of joy. Someone out there thought I was worth something. Someone cared.

So I called her that night. We've been together ever since.

I was reluctant to love her. I had a history of falling in love easily and hard, but my heart had hardened. I was wary as any kicked dog is wary, fearful and nervous. She was patient with me, loving me without holding back while understanding why I couldn't do the same.

Eventually I grew to love Jess so thoroughly and completely that I can't imagine living any other way. Who else could make me laugh the way she does? Who is as funny, or smart, or dedicated? Who knows me so well that she can predict my mood and words as if reading my mind? No one. There's simply no other way to live than with her.

She is the most understanding person I know. Jess puts up with my faults but never lets me get away with lying to myself. She was the first person to encourage me to try writing for a living, way back when I was thinking about starting Living With the Dead. She was worried about our finances when I told her I was quitting my job, and that was a promise to her I had broken. I always said I'd wait to go full-time *after* I had made enough money writing to be off for a year. Still, she agreed, and now she's thrilled at how well it has worked out for both of us.

As always, she's my biggest fan and supporter.

The most frustrating thing in the world for a writer is the inability to convey the emotion you're feeling to the reader. That's impossible here, both because Jess is awesome (in the truest sense of the word) in a thousand ways too subtle and grounded in context to explain here, and because how I feel is very much a thing specific to me.

She's hardworking, smart, teaches herself skills and disciplines on a whim. She's hilarious and without filter at all times. She'll say things that would make the bluest comedians blush. She'll wrestle the shit out of you with zero warning. One second you're standing there talking to her, the next she's taking you to the ground and going for the pin. She knew nothing about computers, then spent a weekend learning them. I've been screwing with PCs for a decade and a half, and in those two days she surpassed me.

Jess is adorable. Her scowl is cute enough to make Japanese schoolgirls fall over in diabetic shock from the sweetness.

She is so many things, but the best one of them all is this: she's mine. For whatever reason (possible brain damage?) she chose me. I get to see her every day, and that's as close to heaven as I can imagine.

Today we've been married five years. They have been the best five years of my life.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Joshua Guess: Year One

I posted on my Facebook page a little while ago that the anniversary of my first year as a full-time writer happened. To be honest, I'm not sure when it came and went. Sometime in early March up to possibly today. I could probably go back and look at a pay stub or something, but it's really not important to me what the actual day was as much as what that year signifies.

When I quit my job, I had no illusions at all about living the dream. I had enough money to get me through a couple months. Jess was worried about me getting another job in enough time to prevent the money squeeze both of us expected. I stressed over it a lot, and that stress took its toll on me creatively. There were whole weeks when I could barely tap out a few hundred words.

Imagine my surprise that the success of Victim Zero and Dead Will Rise, as well as The Passenger, was enough to keep me going. More than enough, actually, which is good because I like keeping my taxes paid up.

In general, I would not have made it this far without you. Yes, you. All of you. You're the ones who have supported my work, bought my books, and kept me from going insane. Without you, the readers, I would be working a regular job right now instead of making up things and killing fake people for your entertainment.

Very specifically, I wouldn't be here without James Cook. Jim and I co-authored The Passenger, but the story doesn't begin or end there.

You see, back when I was still writing Living With the Dead, Jim was not an author. He was, like me, a voracious reader. Stumbling across my books, he found out I was self-publishing and decided that if a schmuck like me could do it, so could he. He put it in much more flattering terms than that, but I'm allergic to self-aggrandizement.

Jim wrote a book, the first in a series, and it was successful right off the bat. His own success makes mine look like small potatoes, and that's okay. Writing isn't a contest, nor is it a zero sum game. The sale of one of his books does not prevent me from selling.

More than that, we're friends. We got to know each other well over the course of our collaboration. Without his support, Victim Zero would not have done nearly as well. Without a timely payment from him relating to The Passenger, I would have run out of money completely and had to go back to work. In very real terms, Jim gave me the help I needed right when I needed it, without which I wouldn't have published Dead Will Rise when I did and would be back at a regular job.

I will give myself some credit. To do otherwise would be disingenuous. After all, I did write these books, and they aren't bad stuff, at least according to most of you. So I'll pat myself on the back, but with the crystal clear understanding that without you as an audience and James Cook as a lifesaver, I would not be here in my office right now.

And man, it's awesome. It's only after 365 days (or so) of not punching a clock that I realize how stifling and stressful my job was. Physically, mentally, spiritually, pick pretty much any aspect of your life and it was rough on me in that way. I hate to sound like I'm bragging, because I feel for every person who has to put up with the same to make ends meet. I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to make myself sound awesome for living my dream.

You did this just as much as I did. You who have been there to support me to the hilt, you who have put up with my delays and problems, never wavering in your support. You're generous and excellent, and you're beautiful/handsome/whatever the appropriate compliment is.

But the truth is, it is awesome. Setting my own schedule, working at my own pace, not having to put on a brave face at some job because my miswired brain is telling me the world is going to end. Being my own boss is the best, because that guy fucking loves me.

I like being at home. I didn't know if I would, but I really do. I get to see my wife more, spend quality time with our bevvy of furry creatures, and cook real food.

A year in and I haven't lost the appreciation for what I have. While I feel it's a less tenuous situation than it once was, it's still not a guarantee. I'm not rolling in money or anything. I have enough of a reserve to see me through a slow month or two, maybe one month of no other income whatsoever. If I get to the point where I have that huge wad of extra cash, I'll feel more able to pursue projects with greater ambition and risk. I'm not there yet, but I can at least imagine it as a possibility now, rather than as the punchline to a joke.

It has been an exciting, amazing year for me, and I'm looking at year two with greater hope and confidence.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let's Talk About Depression

Before I dive in, I want to dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. I've been reading her blog for a few years. People have called her one of the funniest women in the world, but for me the qualifier isn't necessary. Jenny Lawson is one of the funniest human beings alive, period.

But it isn't her humor, or rather, not just her humor, that I've grown to appreciate and almost depend on. Jenny is also bitingly honest about her anxiety and depression, and always manages to convey her experience in ways that make me truly feel like someone else is as weird as I am. And that it's completely okay.

A lot of my regular readers are also my friends on social media. You know to one degree or another about my struggle with anxiety and depression. My mom, who like all mothers worries that writing something like this will affect my ability to get a job should this whole novelist thing stop working, probably won't like me writing about this. But I feel at this point that I'm doing a disservice to other people out there who suffer from the same problems.

In short, Jenny Lawson helped me through some of my worst times, and it's time to pay that forward.

I'm not sure how depression is for most people. I say that because the only actual experience I have to go on is my own and seeing it in one or two people close to me. My own variety is, thankfully, not as severe as what many people have to live through. People who don't suffer from it have a hard time understanding, and the people who are suffering from it get frustrated and down trying to explain.

So, here's my depression, which I've thankfully avoided for the last two months or so:

Think about a time when you were sadder than you've ever been in your life. You had a reason, right? It may have been a funeral or some larger and more distant tragedy. Think for just a moment about that feeling. Got it?

Multiply it. Imagine that feeling wrapping around you, trying to crush you, and smothering the light from the world. Now imagine it hitting you for no reason whatsoever, at a time that makes no sense. It has happened to me in the middle of a trip to the grocery store.

Keep that vague sense of helplessness and frustration in mind the next time someone you know says they're sad or depressed. The most common thing depressives hear is that they should cheer up, or fight through it, and there isn't any reason to feel this way.

That's the rub. We know there isn't any reason most of the time. We know it's a bunch of chemicals in our brain clamoring for attention. Being told this fact by someone who expects you to just throw it off is maddening.

The same can be said about anxiety, which is honestly a bigger problem for me than being depressed. I'm very lucky in that when I'm down, it's rarely as deep as many go, and that I've been able to work through most of my problems over time. At this point in my life, I think the depression aspect of my issues is smaller than it has ever been.

Keep in mind, I'm one of the very lucky few. Don't use these words on someone who is still struggling by using me as an example.

Anxiety is a weird thing. I talked about it while I was getting tattooed the other day. I described it in much the same way I did above about being sad, but used the example of nervousness instead. Ever had your heart race and your muscles burn in anticipation for something? Felt like your chest was going to explode? That's anxiety, and for us, it can be a nightmare.

It's not about crisis. I can handle crisis. My degree is in Fire/Rescue, which involved a lot of crisis management training. I've practiced martial arts, which rules out fear of violence as a cause. I worked in a nursing home for several years, and never lost my head when some emergency or another came up. Anxiety isn't about the big stuff. It's about many small things adding up.

Jenny Lawson started out as a blogger and became a novelist, not dissimilar to my own trajectory. I own three different versions of her book, which I've read or listened to no less than six times. The whole memoir is a sort of ode to being strange (though I think she's perfectly normal, but then I also have random conversations with strangers about the best way to survive the apocalypse) and threaded through the book are many references and examples of her own struggle with anxiety. Jenny is less fortunate because her triggers are things like social gatherings or meeting new people.

Mine are different. I can go to an amusement park with no problem. Put me in a crowded bar with no one to talk to, and my heart starts beating against my sternum like a cracked-out heavy metal drummer. I don't stress much over having to make my living through writing, or at least no more than the average person would. Yet knowing I have to go to an appointment with a doctor or insurance agent sends my nerves jangling.

Which in terms of the whole anxiety spectrum isn't that bad. My point isn't to make you feel pity for me. You absolutely shouldn't. I'm a full-time writer, for the moment at least, and I'm living my dream. My problems are manageable and I'm making decent progress against them.

I'm only talking about my own issues because they're what I can write about with honesty. What I hope to accomplish here is to open a dialog. I used to be one of those people who couldn't understand depression or anxiety at all. I had never been there, and my honest outlook was that it seemed like people were being overly dramatic, maybe even using them as an excuse.

If you know someone who suffers from either problem, consider this disjointed and rambling post in the future. Every person is different. No one handles their problems the same way. Lots of people who have never been depressed or on the edge of a panic attack lose their shit when confronted with even the regular stuff people deal with every day. That being the case, it makes sense to take a moment and try to understand when someone you know or love is hit with a metric ton of surprise depression for no reason at all.

I'm not accusing people of having cold hearts or a lack of empathy. I don't make friends easily, but every one of mine are very understanding about this stuff even if they've never experienced it firsthand. I'm talking to people like me, first and foremost, in the hope that these words will help. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to look for help. It doesn't make you weak or a bad person--both thoughts I've directed at myself time and again--to admit these feelings. The way to begin shifting that burden is by breaking down the walls containing it. As trite as it sounds, talking about it is the first step to getting healthier.

Healthier, not healed, because false hope is rarely a good thing. Chances are, if you're like me, this will be something you'll live with to some degree for your entire life. But it does get better, if you want it to. Living with it isn't nearly as bad if you don't have to do it alone. There are medications and other treatments able to change lives, but it all begins with opening up and telling someone. I promise you, you'll be amazed at how much just talking can help. On this subject, my door is always open.

To the other group, the small number of people who may not be (or have been) as understanding as they could have been: I hope you take my ramble here seriously. I don't think badly of you. I was one of you. I grasp perfectly how hard it can be to put yourself in those shoes. All I hope is that you listen if someone wants to talk, and keep in mind that while you may not be able to feel the way they do, they certainly feel it. And they've trusted in you enough to share it.

This post didn't come out the way it sounded in my head. That's one of the advantages in writing fiction. It's much easier to seed kernels of truth in all the constructed lies. Writing about zombies and superhumans is cake compared to honest discussion of serious topics. I'm not sure if I did what I set out to do, but as I reread this post I find myself oddly satisfied. Maybe there isn't a crescendo of enlightenment to be found here, but I believe I've said the things I needed to say. It's not a pretty subject, mainly for its lack of easy answers, but if even one person starts addressing those powerful feelings because of this post, and one person listens who wouldn't have before, then it's a win.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Projects

I don't post here often enough, and that's recently due to the fact I haven't written a word at Living With the Dead since the big finale. Now that the last book is out and I'm on track to get some things done, I think it's time to let everyone know how the work is going.

Dead Will Rise, the sequel to Victim Zero, is growing fat. I've been dealt a bad hand of problems over the last few months and have yet again struggled with anxiety and similar problems, but I'm back to working on it with gusto. The tentative plan is to have it out by the end of November, which is contingent on me getting it done in the next two weeks and edited *super* fast. Whether that's possible I don't know, but I'm going to try. Assuming I manage that, the print edition will be out before Christmas. 

After DWR is published I'm going to take a break from the Living With the Dead universe. After seven collections of the blog, two parallel novels and a collaboration also set in a zombie apocalypse, I need to work on something else. 

Fortunately, that isn't a problem. After I send out DWR to be edited I'm going to spend a week or so working on a novella set in Hugh Howey's Silo Saga universe. If you haven't read those books--and I don't see how you could miss them considering their immense popularity--then you might want to read the trilogy. Hugh is very permissive in allowing anyone to write fiction in his universe and to make money with them. I'm going to try to get mine published through Kindle Worlds, which is a fan fiction section of the kindle store. Failing that, I'll publish it on my own. 

My next novel will be the much-talked about (by me) superhuman story, Next. Though a glut of superhuman/superhero novels have been released over the last few years, I've seen few that tackle the ideas I'd like to read about. That's the same reason I wrote LWtD in the first place; I wrote the story I wanted to read. So Next isn't going to be the tights-and-heroism story of people who have secret identities or who hide from society. This isn't a world where superhumans exists as some fringe subculture most people don't know about. It's a balls-to-the-wall examination of what the most dangerous power--superpower--would do the to world if it were exposed to everyone. All of that conveniently framed in the story of one main character and several secondaries. It's different than anything I've written and I have a hard time putting a genre label on it. 

The really good news is I wrote about 30,000 words before switching over to write VZ. So I can get this baby done in a relatively short time once DWR and my Silo novella are done. The novella shouldn't take that long considering how short it is and how fast I write. I look to be working on Next full-time by the second week of December, give or take a week. 

After that I'll decide which project I'll take on next. For purely business reasons the smart thing to do would be the third book in The Fall. It's going to be a bit trickier than books one and two, and maybe with another novel and a novella between books two and three I'll feel refreshed and ready to go back to that world. 

So many things I want to write, so many genres! Some of you have seen the list before, some haven't, but I'll post again soon and maybe do a poll on the facebook page about what book you're most interested in. 

Until then, keep reading. I like paying my bills. 

Josh

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grown Up

A friend of mine posted on Facebook a short while ago that someone we went to school with died. The name wasn't familiar, but I graduated twelve years ago, so that didn't surprise me. I looked up the person he was talking about, and thought I knew who it was. So for the first time in many, many years I broke out the yearbooks I could find--those from my Junior and Senior years.

He wasn't there.

I don't know why or how. He wasn't even listed among the people not pictured. The mystery will probably remain, but the experience of looking back over those images, single smiling slices of a life, stays with me.

I wasn't a popular guy. I was known, but that isn't the same thing. Popularity implies people like you. A lot of people didn't. I was smart but lazy, defensive of others and with a fuse so short it might as well not have existed in the first place. I was confident with women--very much so--but sought the approval of people who could barely stand me. I think I did that because I knew they didn't like me.

I wasn't hated, really. I got along with most people. I wasn't into trendy fashions or sports, and aside from acting I didn't get into school activities. The politics of high school did not appeal to me. That said, I looked back over two years of my life in pictures and remembered my entire experience in that place in flashes, and the man I remember as a boy, the one who passed away, was there.

He wasn't a friend. I knew him to speak to him but not much more. The modern age of technology allows me to reconnect and keep in touch with many people I barely knew in school, others I had deep friendships with but who stepped out of my life for years on end.

There was the guy whose friendship and respect I wanted badly, and twelve years later he's the same guy. Pretentious, talented, arrogant, and with every reason to be happy while rarely expressing anything but ironic scorn. He lives his dream job and seems to detest life.

The football star who did everything in his power to live up to the stereotype. A year after graduation--two years or better since he'd transferred to another school--he came into the restaurant I was working at and tipped me large. He apologized for the way he'd behaved. I did the same.

The prim honor student always so perfect and proper, her nervous state a constant as she ignored joy and being a kid in order to be the best. She's an artist now, a bohemian of the old school.

Boys and girls became men and women. The guy who called me a faggot and got in trouble for it--who apologized while both of us were waiting to see the Principal over it--is a happy adult, a married man and father who finds great purpose in being fair and honest.

I skipped the reunion. I was working at the nursing home, depressed and trying to make a go of my writing career. I had no desire to show up, the weird guy everyone knew but few really knew. I'd seen so many of them talk about their lives online that I couldn't bring myself to go there and tell everyone I was a CNA, though there's certainly no shame in that job, who was killing himself with the constant effort to write for a living. It sounded so sad to me, so deeply cliche. Most of the people I went to school with didn't treat me badly. If I'm being honest, I probably did worse to them on average than all of them together did to me.

Now I'm a full-time writer, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm living the dream. And I realize I still shouldn't have gone to that reunion. All of them have changed in so many ways, but I'm mostly the same. A little more mature, true, but as I looked back on those memories and who I was I realized I was always an old man in that young man's body. Maybe I'll go to the next reunion. Maybe not.

We are the story we tell ourselves. Our lives are books we write each day. They can (and will) take us to amazing places, to happy places, to dark and dangerous places. When the reunion came about, I was measuring my success and who I was against them. Now I only measure against myself.

If I could go back and do it all again, I'd change some things. Oh, you expected me to say I'd change nothing? Hell no. Sorry. No hackneyed trope here. I was a virgin until I was eighteen, people. No, I'd change a lot. Foremost I would have worked harder. In my classwork, sure, though I had no desire to be an honor student. But I'd do more even if just to make my mom happy. Beyond that I would take up two jobs and work myself to death all four of those years and save every penny.

To invest in Apple in 2002, when their stock was at the lowest point in the decade. I mean, what's the purpose of theorizing about time travel if we can't make a buck off it, right?

Most of all, I would have been kinder. I would try to impart some of the lessons I've learning in life. People need to go through hard times to learn lessons, no avoiding that. But I would have tried to show people that no matter how overcast the future looks, it's no reason not to show love and respect. That was something I learned late.

Since the first day of Freshman year, several people I went to school with died. One was a dear friend, in a car crash. That happened while I was enjoying a Halloween party. Another was a guy who hated my guts. That didn't make me special; he hated easily and often. There was the guy who died running back into his burning house to search for his mother.

It's easy to think you've got forever when you're young. I'm only thirty, but I've spent enough time caring for the elderly and seeing death to know on a visceral level how frail it all is. That is why I'd go back and preach kindness and understanding if I could, because our time on the mortal coil is limited and unpredictable. We should not treat it as a test or a trial run, no matter what our faith might tell us. How we treat others is a perfect model of chaos theory. Every wound we inflict adds up and ripples outward, as does every smile we inspire.

Need proof? I said all that, had all those thoughts and introspective realizations, because a boy I barely knew who became a man I didn't know passed away. I learned more about him tonight from his friends, his hidden struggle with illness, his positive spirit, than I ever would have known otherwise. He was a small wave in the water, gently pushing me to be a better person.

Think about it. When the situation comes up where someone is being mean or rude or hateful, you have a choice. You can return it to them, or ignore them, or maybe try throwing a little understanding at them. It's not easy, but someone has to start.

Just remember this when it happens. And from there it becomes easier to not just respond with kindness, but to create it without prompt.