Memories. A Blast from the Past

When I was very young we would often visit my great grandmother’s house.  It was a big, two-story place in Portsmouth Virginia (where we lived, along with a lot of extended family.  Well, Portsmouth and Chesapeake).

I remember her baking biscuits from scratch.  She’d roll out the dough and use a glass to cut the rounds.  Instead of re-rolling the odds and ends and cutting more rounds she baked them “as is”.  These odd-shaped biscuits were called “goosie goosie ganders” (no idea why) and were for the kids (including me).

One memory that stands out dramatically from that period was the big (or so it seemed to me at the time) pot-bellied stove in the kitchen.  Oh, she had a gas range to cook on, but that pot-bellied stove provided heat and one could cook on it.

I want one.  I want one badly.

I remember how toasty warm that house was on cold winter nights (not entirely because of that pot-bellied stove, I have to admit).  I remember going there for the Christmas holidays.  I remember playing with the “cooties” game (not playing the game, just building the bugs). And, yes, that game is still available:

I remember gathering there with more of my extended family, with my mother (divorced, single mother), with Aunt Pauline and Uncle George (actually a great aunt and great uncle–an additional generation back), sometimes with my grandparents, but not often with them.  My grandfather was retired military and “double dipping” with a State Department job and they were usually stationed in various other parts of the world–Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, many places.

Those people are all gone now.  Of the group who spent so many happy hours in that house only my sister and I remain.  But that image lives on, an image of comfort and home, an image of happiness.

And it’s what a lot of my characters are trying to achieve for themselves, even if they don’t know it.

Genre research and a “wow” (not in a good way)

I’m doing Genre research.  That’s where I read a bunch of stuff in a particular genre of fiction to see what the reader expectations are and to see if I can work within those constraints.  The two genres I am looking at now are “Men’s Adventure” and “Paranormal Romance” (yes, some might consider them almost polar opposites, but that’s kind of the point).

One of the things that appears to be the case in both is that I’m going to have to learn to write sex scenes.  So far in all my fiction I’ve been able to elide over any sex–that it happens might be important to the story (a couple of cases of that) but the details are not.  However, in these genres (at least the books that I’m calling “Men’s Adventure”, books of the genre that includes the long running The Destroyer and Mack Bolan the Executioner series, and the short Viking Cipher series) sex to some extent appears to be one of the reader expectations.  Likewise with Paranormal Romance.

So, yeah.  Going to have to learn to write that so that it doesn’t sound stupid.

However, what prompted me to write here today was something I encountered in one of the books I’m reading (not going to name it).

Chapter One of this book was written in the heroine’s POV.  Chapter two, in a break from most of the PR I’ve read was written from the heroe’s and, while he was holding a gun on the bad guy, had this line:

“Blowing Mordred’s skull apart would be far too quick.”

No. No. No. No. No. He did not just think that.  Tell me he didn’t.

He did.

Shooting the bad guy is _not_ too good for him, dammit.

Look, there are reasons to have the hero not pull that trigger.  “It was too quick” is not one unless you want to signal that your hero is an utter moron.

Frankly, utter morons make lousy heroes.  Normally, this is where I’d put down the book because, frankly I’d be rooting for the bad guy since the hero is too stupid to live (why I can’t tolerate much of modern slasher “horror”) and I just know the author is going to have Mr. Moron stumble his way to defeating the bad guys (or, more likely being this is Romance, assisting the heroine in doing so) and get the girl so he can be her Happily Ever After. (Romance, dontcha know.)

However, the purpose of reading it is familiarization with genre expectations (Happily Ever After being the obvious one for Romance, but there are plenty of others) and it’s been shortlisted for the Rita Award so I expect it will serve that purpose and I’ve spent limited budget dollars on it.  So I’ll press on.

But, seriously, when you’re writing heroes, and villains too for that matter, try not to make them stupid.  If there’s one thing I hate it’s the “idiot plot”.  There are three grades, each more egregious than the last:

  1. The plot only works if a major character is an idiot
  2. The plot only works if all the major characters are idiots
  3. The plot only works if the reader is an idiot.

To help avoid some of the common pitfalls of making sure the villain is not an idiot, a kind soul compiled the Evil Overlord List.

Here are a few examples:

  1. My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
  2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
  3. My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
  4. Shooting is NOT too good for my enemies.
  5. The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.
  6. I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.
  7. When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

Likewise for the Hero.

For the Sidekick.

For the True Love.

Smart, capable, heroes and villains are much more interesting to read about than morons stumbling into a plot resolution.  They just are.

They’re more interesting to write about too.  Harder, but much more interesting.

Casualties of War

Prohibition II, The “War on Drugs”, whatever you want to call it, is an abomination.  It’s the driving force behind multiple assaults on the Constitution.  There’s far more violence and bloodshed caused by drugs being illegal than by the drugs themselves.

The cure is very much worse than the disease.

Among the casualties of late are people suffering from severe pain, especially chronic pain.  Among the very best medicines to alleviate the suffering of those people are opioids.  The problem is that they have a loose family relationship with illegal Opium (thus “opioids”) derivatives like heroin.  Yes, if abused they are addictive and care needs to be taken in ceasing their use when one has made heavy use of them (more on that later).

People in Washington, including President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are talking about an Opioid Crisis and pushing for every more restrictions on the use of these medicines.

The problem is, they don’t offer even a plan for a good substitute.  Jeff Sessions “suggestion” for dealing with the “Opioid epidemic” which is being blamed on prescription drug use is “People should say no to drug use.”

Have screaming pain so bad you can’t even see straight? “No thanks on the Vicodin. I’m just saying ‘no’ like Jeff Sessions suggested.”

Well fuck you, Jeff Sessions.

I don’t usually use that kind of language on this blog, but…

Look, I have friends who have serious pain issues that nothing else will touch.  I’ve been in “can’t do anything but curl up in the corner and whimper” pain.  But go and try to get one of than handful of medicines that actually put a dent in that pain, not make it go away but just cut it back enough so you can…mostly…function and you find yourself facing the inquisition for “drug seeking behavior” (yeah, I’m having cluster migraines just so I can get some drugs here).

And it’s truly ironic that they call it a “war on drugs”, considering that some of our nations defenders are among its casualties.

One example:

Late one summer night in 2014, Kevin Keller broke into his best friend’s home. Keller was a U.S. Navy vet wracked with constant pain, and because his right arm had been crippled by a stroke, he had to use his left hand to scrawl a note of apology to his buddy: “Marty, Sorry I broke into your house and took your gun to end the pain! FU VA!!! Can’t take it anymore.” He then drove to his nearby Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Wytheville, Virginia, and pounded on the locked doors of the medical office, probably out of frustration or as a final protest, since the facility had been closed for hours. Keller then put the barrel of his friend’s 9 mm pistol to his head and shot himself.

Grieving friends told The Roanoke Times that Keller couldn’t handle how the VA was weaning him off painkillers. His doctors had told him cutting back would extend his life, but Marty Austin, whose gun Keller stole that night, told the paper, “He did not want a longer life if he was going to be miserable and couldn’t do anything because of the pain.”

Cutting back on his pain medication was going to extend his life?  Yeah, how did that work out exactly?


Zach Williams came home to Minnesota with two Purple Hearts for his military service in Iraq. He also carried other lasting war wounds.

Back pain made it hard for him to stand. A brain injury from the explosions he endured made his moods erratic.

Williams eased the chronic pain with the help of narcotics prescribed for years by the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center. Then the VA made a stark and sudden shift: Instead of doling out pills to thousands of veterans like him — a policy facing mounting criticism — they began cutting dosages or canceling prescriptions, and, instead, began referring many vets to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga.

On Sept. 20, 2013, police were called to Williams’ Apple Valley home, donated to him by a veterans group grateful for his sacrifice. Williams, 35, lay dead in an upstairs bedroom. He had overdosed on a cocktail of pills obtained from a variety of doctors.

Authorities ruled his death an accident, officially “mixed drug toxicity.”

In desperation to relieve the chronic pain, and probably dealing with withdrawal from what he has previously been prescribed, he goes to multiple doctors to get relief resulting in “mixed drug toxity”–which could have been avoided had one doctor been able to prescribe medication adequate to relieving his pain.

And look at those suggested alternatives.  Acupunture?  Yoga?  Yoga might have some benefit in certain cases but is worthless for a large number of others.  And acupuncture?  Basically a placebo.  There may be a slight counter-irritant effect that helps in some cases (the “chi-meridian” stuff is pure nonsense).

People are dying, accidentally or deliberately by their own hand, because they cannot get adequate relief from pain.  That’s the price of this “drug war.”

It needs to stop.

Snippet: In the Hall of the Giant

I’m working on a small collection of themed shorts.  It was a little thin so I thought I’d fill it out with an adaptation of one of the Norse Myths, in this case, Thor’s Journey to Jotunheim.

It’s basically a retelling of the tale, fleshed out with detail and dialog, with a few additions of my own that I do not believe are inconsistent with the mythos but that serve to round out the tale and the characters.  Here’s a brief snippet:


Sleet fell in slanting streams from the iron-gray sky.  The barest hint of carmine indicated where the sun neared the western horizon.

The two-wheeled chariot, drawn by two enormous goats, rumbled to a stop in the lee of a hill.  The larger of the chariot’s two occupants shifted the reins to one hand and twisted to look at the young man who trotted nimbly behind the chariot.

“Thjalfi,” the burly one said, “find us shelter.  The weather is worsening.”

The young man stopped and bowed. “At once, master.”

As the young man dashed off, the smaller of the chariot’s occupants hopped to the ground.  He stretched.

“Why do you insist on using that thing, Thor,” the smaller said. “A horse would be more comfortable.”

The burly one, Thor, laughed. “It is what people expect.  I am the charioteer.”

“Yes, yes,” the other said. “And when the goat-drawn chariot approaches with hoof beats like thunder, all know it is Thor who rides.  Have you thought that when you journey in Jotunheim, that perhaps it might be a good idea not to let everyone know that it is Thor who approaches?  Could you find some wit in that skull of yours for once?”

“Why, Loki,” Thor said. “Do you fear your kin might give you cold reception?”

Loki snorted. “I have lived among the Aesir for how long now?  I don’t think even my own mother would recognize me as Jotun now.”

Before Thor could respond, Thjalfi returned. “Master?”

Thor nodded.

“There is a cave to the left of our track but not far, large enough for us all, with enough overhang we can build a fire and…” He cast a sideways glance at the goats.

Thor chuckled. “Well done, lad.  Lead on.” He looked down at Loki. “Will you ride or do you prefer to walk?”

“Fine.  Fine.”  Loki put a hand on the rail of the chariot and lightly vaulted up onto it.

“Lead, Thjalfi,” Thor said. “Tanngrisnir, Tanngnjóstr, on.”

Thjalfi was as good as his word.  They soon came to the yawning entrance to a cave, barely visible in the gloom.

Thor pulled the chariot up to the entrance and stopped.  The opening was low.  Thor would need to stoop to enter.  But it was large enough to hold the three of them and the interior was dry.

“This will do.” Thor hopped off the back of the chariot. He removed the massive hammer from where it hung at his belt. “Bring firewood.”

Thjalfi bowed before turning and speeding off into the gathering darkness.

With measured blows, Thor struck each of the goats once in the head.  Long practice let him measure the force and location of the blow, just enough to kill the goat from shock without cracking bone.

By the time Thjalfi returned with an armload of wood Thor had the two goats dressed and skinned and was carving chunks of meat from the best parts.

“Uncle Fox,” Thor said with a grin up at Loki. Fire is your province, I believe.”

Loki snorted. “Just because the similarity of name does not mean that I am a fire god.”

Thor paused in his carving. “Can you start the fire or not?”

“Of course I can start the fire.  I’m just saying…”

Thor held up his hands. “Peace.  Peace.”

Loki closed his mouth and looked toward Thor, not directly into his eyes, but close.  Thor followed the direction of his gaze to his own right hand, still holding the knife that dripped blood, spoiling the peaceful nature of his gesture.  He laughed.

“Please, Uncle, if you would start the fire.”

“Very well, nephew.”

Thor flipped the knife in the air and caught it be the blade.  He held the grip toward Thjalfi. “Continue the butchering while I inspect our shelter.”

“Yes, master.”

Thor started to turn toward the mouth of the cave then paused and looked back. “And, Thjalfi?”

“Yes, master?”

Thor tapped his thigh with one finger and cocked his head to the side.

“No, master.  I will be careful.”

Thor grinned and turned back to the cave.  It was, perhaps, unkind of him to continue to tease the boy for that long ago incident but Thjalfi took the teasing with a good heart.  While Thjalfi’s effrontery of breaking the goat’s thighbone to get to the marrow had earned him much more severe punishment than being made Thor’s bond servant, Thor liked the lad.  The arrangement had worked well for both of them.  Bilskirnir was a far better dwelling than the peasants cottage and his work for Thor, relying mainly on his fleetness of foot, was far lighter than guiding a team of oxen plowing a field.

Then there were the apples, why Thjalfi remained but a lad after so many years.

How about another musical interlude?

I had so much stuff going on yesterday that I didn’t get a post up.   Sorry about that.  Things are still kind of stressful here so…another musical interlude:

Let’s start with something good and follow some related videos to see where they go.


(Skip another video of the same song)







And that’s a good one to end with today.


“adhering to their enemies giving them aid and comfort”

So there was this:

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin headed to the United Nations in New York Thursday to ask for help fighting violence in Chicago where he said (among other things): “I’m hoping to appeal the UN to actually come to Chicago and meet with victims of violence and maybe even possibly help out in terms of peace keeping efforts.”

Excuse me?  “Help out in terms of peace keeping efforts”?

How does that mean anything other than “send ‘peace keeping’ forces”?  In other words, foreign troops invading US soil.

Now, arguments could be made that doing so would be an admission that the Cook County government, as well as Chicago’s, are completely incompetent at dealing with their crime issues.  After all, when we look at places where UN Peacekeepers have gone, we don’t generally think of “well run” places with competent leadership, but do we.

But the issue is far worse than that.

Doing so, having UN forces come into the US to “keep the peace” without the express permission of the US government (which in this context would never be acceptable) would be an act of war.  Yes, I know the US has been involved in “peace keeping” missions overseas but you know what?  You can salve your conscience if you want calling them “peace keeping missions” or “police actions” but they were war, pure and simple.   And foreign troops engaging in military operations on the US would also be war just as pure and just as simple.

Now there’s this bit in Article 3, Section 3 of the US Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.

Were Mr. Boykin to get his wish, those foreign “peace keeping” forces would be an enemy of the US and you couldn’t, then, find anything better to meet that definition.  In fact, IANAL but I would think the UN even making moves in that direction would bring the “aid and comfort” element of that to bear–he asked them to invade.

So he’d better hope and pray that nobody takes him seriously lest “Boykin” become a term of deprecation similar to “Quisling” or “Benedict Arnold.”

Snippet: The Beasts of Trevanta

From the in-progress sequel to The Hordes of Chanakra.

How strange, Keven thought, to treat his own father, the King of Aerioch, as a servant.

The seeming Shillond had given Keven was that of a moderately well-to-do merchant.  Marek’s, of a simple workingman, shorter and broader than Marek’s natural giant size.  Mute, of course, given his inability to speak Chanakran.

Keven wondered for a moment where Kaila had gotten the coin to fund their ruse then decided he did not want to know.

The cafe sat across the square from the North Gate.  The gate proper stood open but twin portcullises blocked the passage through the wall.  The setting sun cast long shadows across the square, a square filled with people seeking exit from the city.

Keven took a sip of his ale and let his gaze drift over the square.  Large crowd, clamoring at the gate seeking egress.

Keven nudged Marek and nodded in the direction of the gate.  Spear armed soldiers barred the way as the inner portcullis rose.  Keven watched as the soldiers ushered two carts, a wagon, and a half-dozen people on foot through the now open gateway.  One person tried to dash through only to face a leveled spear.  The man backed away.

The portcullis dropped, leaving the little party isolated within the gateway.  Keven could not see, but he could imagine the arrow slots to either side and the murder holes in the roof ready at any instant to rain death on those within.

A green glow descended from the ceiling of the gateway and washed over the people within.  It held for several heartbeats then faded.  Keven fancied he could hear a shout within the gateway.  No.  He must have imagined it.  How could he hear even spoken word over the clamor of the crowd?

The outer portcullis rose and the party within the gatehouse departed.  Another party, from outside, entered.  As Keven watched, the outer portcullis closed and the inner opened.

So, Keven thought, they were only interested in those leaving the city, not those entering.  No doubt they sought him and his companions.

Motion to his left caught Keven’s attention.  He turned his head.  Marek seemed different.  Was he taller than a moment before?  Yes.  Yes he was.

“Come,” he said, still playing his role. “We have business to be about.”

Marek cocked his head to one side, staring at Keven then his eyes grew wide.  He nodded and rose.

Keven dropped some coins on the table as he stood.  Marek was definitely taller, his body shaped shifted from the stocky shape of a serving man to the more defined musculature of a seasoned warrior.

The spell, Keven thought.  Whatever spell had caused that green light had, weakened by distance perhaps, had started to dissolve their seemings, their magic disguises.

Ahead, Marek pushed through the crowd, forcing a passage between the people and the buildings.  Keven followed in his wake.  Despite their faltering seemings, changing their appearance and their voices, Marek retained his true size and strength.

Marek now stood a full head taller than the tallest other person visible, his true size.  Instead of the clothes of a man serving a moderately successful merchant, he wore a simple tunic and breeches.  His hair had extended to below his shoulders, the length it had grown to during his captivity.

Keven looked down.  His own seeming was likewise gone.

“There!” The shout came from the soldiers at the gate. “Stop that man!”

In the confusion, Marek snatched a pole from an awning that shaded a shop’s entrance.  He swept the tip of the pole at knee height.  Keven heard the thumps as the pole struck several men who did not move back fast enough.  Marek reversed the poll, bringing the opposite end back around at head height.  The crowd retreated further.

For a moment Keven hesitated.  Marek’s great size marked him but Keven’s appearance did not stand out.  No one had yet noted him.  If he slipped away he could come back with the others and, what?  Rescue his father?  And if they decided not to capture but simply to kill?


He regretted that he did not have a sword as he drew the dagger from his belt.

Marek had turned, seeking to drive his way farther from the gate.  Despite no longer needing to maintain their subterfuge he still had not spoken.

A stocky tough moved into the gap between Keven and Marek’s turned back, a club upraised in his hand.

Keven struck.  His dagger bit deep between the ribs of the tough.  The tough stiffened and dropped the club.  With a practiced twist Keven drew the dagger free and pushed the falling body of the tough aside.  The body fell to the ground, twitching.  Keven leapt lightly over it and shouted, “Run, father!”

Marek thrust three times with the staff.  Three men fell gasping to the ground, curled around their own bruised guts.  Marek darted forward.  Following, Keven scooped up another of the awning poles and slid his dagger back into its sheath.  A staff would be a better weapon in this crowd than his dagger.

Keven kept close behind Marek, striking judiciously with the staff to keep the disorganized crowd from closing too near behind them.  He spared a glance in the distance behind and saw the detail of soldiers from the gate forcing its way through the crowd.

Unshy about using their spears to speed the crowd’s separation the soldiers were gaining.

They were not going to escape.


Keven struck twice, knocking two more of the surging crowd back.  It was not enough.  Whether the soldiers reached them first or the crowd pulled them down by sheer numbers, they could not keep fighting long.

Ahead of him, Marek ducked behind a vendor’s cart, squeezing between the cart and one of the many mud-brick buildings.  Keven followed, pivoting and backing into the tight space.  Now with the cart to one side, the building to the other, and his father behind him he only needed to worry about the few who could reach him from the front.  The cart began to rock as the crowd surged against it.  Keven stepped back then stopped.  A gap appeared in the wall of the building, one of the many constricted alleys.

“Father!” he called. “This way!”

“Go,” Marek said.



Keven unleashed a flurry of strikes, taking down three of the pressing crowd so that their falling bodies momentarily blocked the opening between the cart and the wall. He turned and dashed into the alley.  Behind him he heard a loud groan.

Keven turned back toward the opening of the alley.  Marek stood, back to him, in the entrance to the alley.  His hands stretched in front of him, pulling at something.  Marek groaned again and fell backward accompanied by the sound of a loud crash.

As Marek rose to his feet, Keven saw beyond him the overturned cart plugging, for now at least, the entrance to the alley.

“Run, Keven, run.”

Keven nodded, turned and ran.

There.  The ruddy light ahead marked the end of the alley.  A form stepped into light just beyond the end of the alley and turned, a man–no armor that Keven could see, but armed with a long poignard.  Keven scrambled at his belt.  He had lost the staff on entering the alley.  His dagger would have to serve.

Keven’s hand closed on the hilt.  A hiss went past his left ear.  A dagger hilt sprouted from the chest of the man blocking the exit to the alley.  Keven leaned back, stamping to a stop as the man dropped his poignard, clutched at the dagger hilt, and sank to the ground.  Keven looked back to see his father grinning.

“You forget, I wasn’t raised to royalty, boy,” Marek said. “Now move.”

Keven lightly hopped over the body at the exit from the alley and looked around.  Not a street, but a small courtyard.  More of the tiny alleys broke from it.  He looked left, then right, then chose the alley to the left.  Behind him, he heard the soft sounds of his father following.

He paused before the exit from the next alley to catch his breath.

As he was about to continue Marek said, “Hold, Keven.”

“We cannot remain, father,” Keven said. “They will search and….”

“Nor can we run,” Marek said. “Let anyone see us and word will spread.”


Marek grinned, a bright spot in the fading light. “Perhaps we may hide in a place they will not think to look.” He looked up then gestured down at where a rude ladder, consisting of a single pole with pegs hammered alternately up two sides, lay along the foot of a wall.

Keven followed Marek’s gaze and nodded.

Together, they wrestled the ladder upright and leaned it against the wall.  It reached to just shy of the roof, but close enough that Keven thought he could reach it.  Marek certainly could.

“You first, father,” Marek said.

“No, Keven, you….”

“Father, I may not be able to reach.  In that case…”

“Well thought, my son.  Very well.”

Marek swiftly ascended the ladder, with a grace that belied his size.  Keven followed near as swift.  At the top, precariously balanced on the top rung, his fingers just overtopped the lip of the roof.  He stretched, seeking a more secure grip.  The ladder shifted under him, falling with a clatter to the dirt below.  Keven hung by one hand, swinging the other up in an effort to grasp the rooftop.

Strong hands grasped Keven by the arm.  Above him Marek heaved.  Keven felt himself lifted until he rolled onto the roof.

Marek gathered Keven in a rough embrace. “I will never let you fall, son.  Never.  Remember that.”

Keven returned the embrace. “Nor I you, father.  I swear it.”

If you liked the snippet you might like the first book in the series.

$2.99 in Kindle Store, Free to read in Kindle Unlimited, $14.99 in Paperback

When even the gods are at a loss, all they can offer is a spark of hope.

Kreg lived an ordinary life as a computer consultant–safe, secure…dull.  He was content, with his hobbies and a passion for history.

Thrice weekly judo classes and weekends at the archery range imagining he was at Agincourt or Crecy let him at least pretend to excitement in his life.

When Kreg saw a rape in progress he tried to be the hero and was struck from behind.  He woke in a world he had never imagined, a world of blood and pain, a world that seemed mired in the Middle Ages.  Trapped and despairing he met and befriended the rough swordsmistress Kaila and her wizardly father.  With new friends came new foes, a horde that poured from the small nation next door in seemingly endless numbers that threatened everything his new friends cared about.

Now, Kreg was in a race against time to find the source of this horde, and to stop it before everything he had come to care about ended in fire and death.

What did I want?

Came across this recently:

And it reminded me of this bit from Glory Road by Robert Heinlein put in the words of the first person narrator Evelyn Cyril (Oscar) Gordon:

“What did I want?  I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword,. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get u feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a like wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”

Gordon was about to get that.  However, very few people get selected by Her Wisdom, Star, the Empress of 20 Universes to tread the Glory Road.

As a kid I wanted so very many things.  I wanted to be a super hero.  I wanted to walk on the moon and Mars.  I wanted to venture beyond the solar system and be the first to see some star and its planets up close with my own eyes.  I wanted to find a world of magic where I could help to defeat dark forces in the service of the light.

I wanted a lot of stuff that I couldn’t have.

I couldn’t have it, but I could at least write about it.  A lot of my early fiction was me imagining myself in these places what I hoped to do, what I hoped to accomplish in them.  Oh, I never went full “Mary Sue” (Marty Stu) giving “myself” unlimited abilities–the gallant hero, master of every form of combat, handsome, brave, wise, educated in all the arts and sciences, so wonderful that lesser men grovel at his feet.  Okay, I rarely went full Marty Stu.

It was a learning experience.

But always I had to come back to a humdrum existence.

But does existence have to be so humdrum?  I may not be the first to climb Everest but any slope I ascend for the first for me.  I’d never been there before.  I may not walk on the moon, but there are places I haven’t walked.  There are places where you can go and do a full three hundred sixty degree turn and not see one sign of human habitation from you to the horizon.

So maybe I have to be responsible, to see that my daughter gets to school every day, that there’s food on the table and a roof over our heads.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t find things to stretch myself, to challenge myself, a world beyond the humdrum.

So, while in between all the bills needing paid and dirty socks needing washed, find something exciting.

Go skydiving.  Challenge gravity and win.

Take a flying lesson.  You may not have the time and money to get a license but just once you can have your hands on the controls of an airplane and have it respond to what you do.

Leave the ordinary behind, if only for an hour.


Dum vivimus vivamus.

While we live, let us live!

Asatru Leaning Agnostic

This is a topic I’ve talked about before so there will be much rehash.  I was raised in a religion that, well some consider it “Christian” but others not so much.  In any case, I was taught Young Earth Creationism in it and…the more I learned the less viable that became.  Either the religion was wrong on that aspect–and if I couldn’t trust it on that, how could I trust it on anything else–or the God described by that religion was playing an enormous practical joke on mankind, deliberately designed to mislead most and lead them astray.  This latter one would mean that what the religion said about the nature of God was wrong.  And if I could not trust it on that, how could I trust it on anything else?

The answer was, I couldn’t.  And not being the White Queen on the other side of the Looking Glass, I could not believe seven impossible things before breakfast.  It didn’t happen instantly but over time I found I just didn’t believe it any more.

Humans, however, have something deeply hard-wired into us that demands ritual and symbolism, a look for something outside ourselves.  I didn’t recognize that for a while but eventually the lack caught up to me leaving me open for other possibilities.  Oh, not necessarily for belief.  And thus why I couldn’t fill the need with the common monotheistic religions–belief is the core of their philosophy; that one has to believe is what makes whatever “salvation” they offer possible.  Cynically following a practice without belief simply because it fills the internal need for ritual and symbolism was contrary to my own ethos.  I couldn’t just pretend.

Pagan religions, however, don’t have that problem.  The gods and goddess as described in them generally do not care whether people believe or not.  (This, incidentally, breaks the “magic systems” in many games and books which postulate that a god or goddess’s power depends on the number and sincerity of believers.  But if that were the case then all these gods would encourage their believers to proselytize, to convert others to their belief so that they, the gods would have more power.)

I first got introduced to modern Asatru via the novels of John Ringo, specifically part 2 of Princess of Wands and an oblique reference near the end of Through the Looking Glass.  Curious, I followed up by getting Greg Shetler’s book Living Asatru and Diana L. Paxson’s Essential Asatru.

It was like a flashbulb (and doesn’t that date me) going off.  Here was a system that was not only full of symbolism, but with hooks on which I could build my own rituals that suited me.  It was also built around an ethos that I found highly congenial.  And ones status in the afterlife (should there be such a thing) was based on deeds, not the belief in which I was simply not suited to give, not without a lot more evidence (not “proof” mind, I never asked for proof) than any gods that exist have ever seen fit to offer.

One of the first things the books said was that the myths were stories about the gods, told to convey principles.  Indeed, when I studied mythology in college, that was the very definition of myth, the stories told in a culture to define that culture.  We tend to think of “myth” to mean false, but whether they’re literally true or not they contain a greater truth–the values and ideals that make up a culture.  So the myths are not truth in the literal sense that there’s a large tree and the world is stuck in one of its branches with Asgard in another, Nifflehiem down by the roots and so on.  They were stories told to convey ideas and ideals.

No need to reconcile modern science with Young Earth Creationism here.

That said, on a somewhat humorous note, I am a physicist.  And so I find it interesting to note that in the Norse creation story the sparks from Muspelhem, the land of fire (heat) meeting ice from Niffleheim, the land of ice (cold) was the driver behind the creation of the world.  In much the same way the meeting of heat and cold is the driver behind the science of thermodynamics which is behind everything interesting that happens in the Universe.  Neither Relativity nor Quantum Theory has altered that.  All that happens in the world comes about because of the meeting of heat and cold and energy flowing between the two.

Likewise when it comes to right and wrong, the common monotheistic religions tend to base that on “God said so.”  Pagan religions like Asatru are more like the gods say so because it’s right and wrong (and don’t try to pretend that the gods are ultimate examples of “good”.  They can be flawed just like people are.  Indeed, the ultimate deciders of fate in Asatru are the Norns and you’ll have to look long and hart to find someone claiming that they are “just” let alone “loving and merciful.”)  There is the concept of ørlǫg.  Basically, that’s the weight of ones actions to that point, and to a lesser extent the weight of the actions of those that came before.  It’s what determines ones fate.  Ones fate is determined by the sum total of all that ørlǫg.  One can change ones fate my making different choices but its hard because it takes a lot of effort to shift that ørlǫg into a different direction.  And the direction the ørlǫg pushes you is not simply because the gods say so, but rather the nature of the thing itself.  I have examined that a bit in my post on Morals, Ethics, and Religion.

The Lore of Asatru does not come with a nice convenient set of commandments akin to the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity.   Some modern practitioners, however, have distilled a number of ideas from the surviving Lore into what they call the Nine Noble Virtues.  I find them a good guide, myself.

This is just one of several different lists.  I don’t particularly say it’s better or worse than others, but I had to pick one to go into here.  So, here it is:

I’ve generally seen this defined in modern Asatru as the bravery to do what is right at all times.  Determining “what is right” might be open to question, of course, but for me the other virtues serve as a good guide.  It’s also possible that different people may come to different conclusions about what is right:  a soldier defending his home against invaders may see this as the right thing to do.  Another soldier serving his nation in invading and stopping a dangerous “evil” (by his standards) regime may see that as the right thing to do.  And, here’s the thing, they could well both be right.  The solder defending against the invasion is doing the right thing for him.  The soldier invading is doing the right thing for him.  And, in the end, when the dust has settled, the victory has been won by one side or the other, and the soldiers  of the victorious side can honor the courage of their vanquished foes while the soldiers of the defeated can respect the courage of those who bested them.

Courage need not just be courage on the battlefield either.  The political activist who risks arrest to stand up for a position he believes to be right, the scientist who braves ridicule by saying to his peers “you are wrong and I can prove it”,  and the medical personnel who risk infection to minister to the victims of a plague all exercise the virtue of courage.

Courage is also, I think, a virtue that is its own reward and its lack is its own punishment.  There is no need for some stern lawgiver to say “if you do not have courage you will be punished.  If you do, you will be rewarded.”  From the punishment aspect consider Kipling’s poem “That Day”:

There was thirty dead an’ wounded on the ground we wouldn’t keep —
No, there wasn’t more than twenty when the front begun to go;
But, Christ! along the line o’ flight they cut us up like sheep,
An’ that was all we gained by doin’ so.I ‘eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man,
Nor I don’t know where I went to, ’cause I didn’t ‘alt to see,
Till I ‘eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ‘e ran,
An’ I thought I knew the voice an’ — it was me!

And that’s the way it’s been.  The horrible death tolls in battles weren’t usually (not until the “modern” age anyway) caused during the battle itself but in the pursuit.  Shakespeare put it another way: “Cowards die a thousand deaths. The valiant taste of death but once.”  That certainly has been the case in my own life.  When I’ve let cowardice dictate my actions the result has usually been misery, even if I avoid whatever it was I was afraid of.  When, on the other hand, I am moved by some small measure of bravery the result is that I’m usually happier even in “failure” than otherwise.

And yet given all of that Courage is a hard one for me.  Fear is a powerful motivator even if one knows, in ones head, that it tends to lead to more misery than it saves you from.  And so this is one I struggle with.

Say what you know, or at least believe, to be true and right and it’s generally better to be silent than to lie.  Now, according to the Norse beliefs (remember, we’re talking about Asatru here) there is no obligation to be true to those who lie to you.  In the mathematical field of Game Theory a strategy of tit-for-tat is often the most effective strategy and I find it interesting that a mathematically sound approach is what has come out of Norse religion.

I would add my own thought that Truth may sometimes conflict with other virtues such as Hospitality.  This is the concept of the “white lie” told to spare others hurt.  I’m not particularly opposed to that concept just be sure that 1) it doesn’t cause greater  hurt later and 2) be absolutely sure that you’re telling your “white lie” to spare the other person and not to spare yourself (see “Courage” above).

Oh, this is a hard one.  I’m tempted to retreat to the “I know it when I see it” but that wouldn’t be fair.  I’ll try to give my own thought on the matter rather than repeat some other folks words.  To me, honor is the natural tendency to do the right things for the right reasons.  An honorable person doesn’t have to think, doesn’t have to figure the angles, doesn’t have to calculate the odds, he just does it.  It’s what you have when you take all the other virtues and pull them together into one smooth whole.

As individuals we are rather small things in the vast universe but by giving our devotion to something outside ourselves, whether it’s a cause, a belief, or a person, we can become something greater.  But this only holds so long as we remain true to that something outside ourselves.  To abandon the something is to lose all that one has gained and then some.

Now, this doesn’t mean that devotions cannot change with time, but if they do we need to deal with them honestly.  A clean, honest break with old devotions is better for all concerned than betrayal, deceit, and trickery.

Anything worthwhile takes work.  It takes effort.  It takes putting off immediate gratification in favor of future, greater, satisfaction.  Whether its sweating and aching in the gym three times a week to build a strong body or spending six hours a day studying to learn a difficult subject or pushing doorbells every day to drum up support for the political candidate who supports the causes you favor it takes work, lots of work, to get the greater rewards in life.  And yet every time one takes that road it’s a gamble.

The work does not always pay off in the ways you might like.  When I was younger I wanted to be able to sing well.  I spent hours every week working on it.  I took classes.  I had voice coaches.  The result?  I got to the point that if I practiced a particular song long enough with the right preparation I could stay mostly on key.  But sing well?  I don’t have the voice.  I don’t have the ear.  And I never will.  So that exercise of discipline didn’t pay off.  Or did it?  Humans are creatures of habit.  Simply applying the effort, the discipline, made it that much easier to do so when next I wanted to accomplish something.  Years later when I wanted to get good at Judo, I spent hours every week practicing, exercising, studying everything I could about Judo.  And, while I will never be a “great Judoka,” I got good enough to earn the respect of my peers in the dojo–and the respect and honor of the instructors.

So the rewards of exercising discipline are not always obvious.  It’s easy to say “it’s not worth it” but trust me, it is.  Oh yes indeed, it is.  And I don’t need any old man in the sky to tell me that.

When I grew up my family had a simple rule.  Well, we had lots of simple rules but I’m talking about one in particular.  Whenever we had guests the rule was that no one went away hungry.  This is a rule I have continued as an adult.  And, I think “hospitality” goes beyond just house guests.  Helping my neighbor at need is also a part of hospitality.  And, in today’s shrinking world “neighbor” can reach very far indeed.Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of people not follow that rule.  Oh, yes, it can be hard to make sure that your guests and neighbors are tended to, sometimes ones duty to guests might mean going short oneself.  Easier to just look after yourself and let others fend for themselves.   Besides, if you’re that hospitable you’ll end up with people who just take advantage of you.

But there’s a catch to that “easy approach”.  A great truth in the world is that if you want to have friends you have to be a friend.  To let others fend for themselves is to end up with a lonely life.  But, there’s another catch as well.  It’s not the cost or the fanciness of the “hospitality” that works the magic.  That it’s provided cheerfully, and willingly.  A table of potato soup and collard greens, provided cheerfully in the presence of good company is far more “hospitable” than caviar and filet mignon grudging from the hand of a stuck up . . . Well, you get the point.

In the myths the Gods were often wandering the world and a guest one hosts could easily be a god.  There’s a lesson there, I think.  Consider any guest as a possible God in disguise and one will rarely go wrong.  And while one might attract a few moochers along the way by that approach, one will rarely lack for friends.

This one I think relates strongly to Discipline.  Where discipline is taking the harder, longer road to great rewards rather than the shorter, easier road to small rewards, Industriousness is pursuing that road with vigor.  When I chose Judo as a martial art, I chose one that took time and work to achieve high rank rather than one of the many “belt mills” where you can show up for class (if that) pay your fees and you, too can be a black belt in six months.  But that choice would mean nothing if I didn’t put in the time and effort.  If I didn’t do the work.  So it is with many things in life.  Discipline and Industriousness go hand in hand if you want to achieve real success.

Self Reliance:
Too many people these days look for other people to take care of them.  I was raised to take care of myself.  Help others in need, yes–see Hospitality–but there’s a difference between “need” and “want” and the old adage about “giving a fish” also comes into play.  Sometimes your neighbor may want a fish but what he needs is to learn how to fish and perhaps someone to give him a shove out toward the lake.  The best help you can give most people is the motivation and ability to fend for themselves.  And, in that, example is a great teacher.  One helps others be self reliant by being self reliant.

One of the great virtues of being self-reliant is that self-reliance is essential to freedom.  If you are beholden to anyone for your survival then to that extent they control you.  To be free you must be able to stand on your own.  And if anyone tries to make you dependent on him or her, flee that person.

Note that fair trade is not a violation of self-reliance.  Both the farmer trading part of his crop and the blacksmith providing iron tools for those crops are self reliant.  Each takes only what they give good value for.  The employee giving honest work for an honest wage and benefits is self reliant.  There is no shame in doing work, even the most menial work, in order to be able to say “I earned my way.”

I think this is one of my biggest disagreements with the traditional Christian concept of God.  Salvation cannot be earned.  It is given entirely and completely at the pleasure of the Christian God.  A person’s eternal future is entirely at the sufferance of another.  This is completely contrary to the very idea of self reliance.  And so people bow and plead and beg and worship in the hope that they will be given as a boon something they cannot earn cannot win of their own efforts.  And why can they not win it of their own efforts?  Because the Christian God says so.

No matter what you do you will occasionally face failure.  The truly successful are the ones who can come back from failure and keep striving until they succeed.  Yes, sometimes the reason for the failure is that you’re on the wrong path and no amount of perseverance will succeed, but all too often people quit when continued striving would have brought success.  In the end you have to make that call for yourself.  Quitting is easy.  Nothing is easier than to drift along with each change of fortune.  Staying the course despite the difficulties along the way is much harder.  But it is only there that greatness is achieved.

Santa Claus is Real

As I told my daughter when she asked that question, “Yes, he is.  He is that part of the human heart which gives to others for no more reward than the joy in someone else’s eyes.  We just dress it up with a red suit and a jolly laugh to make it more understandable to young people.  Sadly, some people never learn that lesson.  But he’s very real and he’s in all of us if only we look for him.”

Terry Pratchett expressed the idea quite well in The Hogfather (Movie version ends just a hair different from the book, and, to be honest, I prefer its more explicit spelling out of the reason):

And so, we can take a moment to look at Santa Claus in action.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the United States Marine Corps:

I don’t usually ask people for things on this blog.  But with this holiday season I’m going to ask that you look inside yourself, find your Santa Claus, and let him out to bring joy to someone this year.

You’ll be glad you did.