Friday, June 29, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part 3

This is the third piece of a three-part four-part short story. You can read part one here. Feel free to leave thoughts or corrections in the comments.

We gathered in the crazy old man's home. The sound of the rain was muffled here, but we still had to raise our voices in order to be heard. The air was still damp, and we had no dry clothes - but at least we were out of the rain.

I was surprised by how few people were here. Including the children, twelve of us had escaped together from the town, and we were easily a third of the overall crowd. Most of the others had come in smaller groups, and ours were far from the only children. There was one older couple, a group of four children who seemed to have come on their own, a handful of individuals, families of various sizes... and all of us wet and miserable, bedraggled and profoundly lost. We stood or sat, with barely enough will to speak, and looked at each other. We knew this shelter was only temporary.

The situation hadn't changed. If we didn't keep moving, we'd die where we sat. I forced myself to stand back up, and started a circle of the room. I asked for names and gave my own; I asked questions, knowing already that I wouldn't like the answers.

The old man wasn't in the house. His family wasn't in the house. All those animals and supplies that they'd spent months collecting -- after months of laboring on their crazy project -- were in the structure outside, and we had no doubt that the old man and his family were in there, too: safe in their ridiculously oversized boat.

Of course we'd made fun of him. Who decides to build a boat miles away from the nearest water? Who makes a boat that's too large to navigate the river, even if you could get it there somehow, and it didn't collapse under its own weight when you put it in the water? We'd called him crazy because the entire project was crazy. When he filled the boat with animals, we called it the world's most elaborate barn, and went to gawk at his madness. When he told us the world was going to end, and loaded his boat-shaped barn with enough supplies for a year or more, we laughed -- or we nodded gently and helped him on his way, humoring him. What else could we have done?

But now that boat was our only chance of survival. If the old man had known that the rains were coming, maybe he'd also known how to build a boat that could withstand the rising waters - and who knew how long they would rise? I kept thinking of the river, covering more and more of the landscape as it rose and spread, following us here a few hills and valleys at a time. How much time did we have?

Some of the others had tried pounding on the hull, hoping someone would let them in. Nobody had responded; either the old man and his family were ignoring them, or they couldn't hear them over the rain.

So I went back outside and looked at the old man's crazy boat. It was a giant block of a thing, a good fifty feet high. There was only one door that I could see, and that was sealed and too high up to reach. I thought again of the river, rising to devour everything; and I wondered how much time we had.

We were going to have to get up there, somehow. Despite the height, despite the merciless downpour, despite our exhaustion... somehow. We had to find a way to get on that boat.

Continue on to Part Four...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shock and Awe, Parenting Edition

Is there a stronger word than "ambivalence"? Something off in the same direction - you know, feeling two very different things at the same time - but less, I dunno, wishy-washy?

I ask because Secondborn... Well, Secondborn just turned two back in April. But he's watched his brother using the restroom, and, well... he wants to do that, too. To that end, the boy has started trying to potty train himself. And this is no idle whim on Secondborn's part. In this, as in all things, he is determined.

It's probably worth stopping to observe that Firstborn wasn't really potty trained until he was much older. Four, maybe four and a half. As far as I know, that's pretty normal.

So on the one hand, I'm tremendously proud. I'm thrilled that Secondborn has set himself a goal, and that he pursues it so relentlessly, and that he is -- by the standards of a two-year-old -- remarkably good at it. Seriously, he climbs up onto the potty and stands on the rim, leaning forward to grip the back of toilet with his hands: that's the only way he can angle himself correctly. (He's too short to stand on the ground and do it.) Or he climbs up, seats himself, and does his best to poop.

In both cases, he discards his diaper first. We've even bought him some pull-ups (for the uninitiated, sort of a cross between diapers and underpants) to help him with this. And therein lies the rub.

You see, once he's decided that it's time to visit the potty, he is wholly untroubled by other concerns. Those are for the grown-ups, and would only slow him him down. Not for Secondborn are such petty considerations as cleanliness, modesty, or even basic hygiene. No, regardless of his current circumstance -- his present location, the state of his diaper, any nearby toys or piles of clean laundry -- when the need for the potty arises, he discards his diaper and races for the potty.

...Which leads to the second problem with this adventure: his legs are too short. He can't run all that fast. And at two years old, his body doesn't give him a whole lot of advance notice.

So this is where my ardent ambivalence comes in. While I am tremendously proud, I am also at the same time deeply and profoundly appalled by the, um, side-effects of this ill-chosen quest. Secondborn's self-imposed attempt at potty-training has produced some of the most vile and disgusting scenarios I have ever seen. (Given that we have a six-year-old in the house, that's no small achievement.) It has given me psychological scars which I will, no doubt, carry to my grave; for example, I cannot hear the phrase "yucky poop" without leaping to me feet in a panicked effort to reach the toddler before his horror can spread. It has cost us untold hours in additional cleanup, and easily tripled our bleach-related spending.

If Satan himself rose up to begin his conquest of Earth, and by some misfortune arrived first in our house, I firmly believe that he would take one look at this and go right back down. "Sorry, guys, I've got nicer digs down in the Pit Of Burning Sulfur. Good luck getting that out of those pillow-cases, though. See ya!"

It's that bad.

I'm so proud.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reflections on Retrieval

It was Billy who brought me back. I'm not sure how. He's not sure how, either. He tried to tell me about it, but I can't hold together that long. Maybe I can get details later.

It was something to do with his dreams. He dreams of the future sometimes. Or the past, if there's any difference. Distant past, distant future. Found me out there somewhere, being something. Pulled me back somehow? Or gave me a direction to follow? I don't know.

He's looked for Claire, too. He can't find her. And I can't help. Not yet. I have to... reintegrate... first. Reorient. Can't find her til I'm sure of who and where I am.

It's coming. I can talk now, sometimes. The words don't dissolve when I say them. They don't slip past me when I hear them. Sometimes. And I'm starting to notice other things, like hunger and thirst. Not always, but it's getting more reliable.

So I should be able to help, soon. Whatever soon means...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's the illnesses that make parenting worthwhile...

So, we're sick again. All four of us. Some sort of tummy thing. I'm guessing it was something we ate, because it really hit us all at almost exactly the same time. (For regular diseases, there's usually a staggered progression: one of us will come down with it, then another, then another...)

It's not the worst thing we've had, but it's plenty unpleasant and I'm more than ready for it to go away.

This particular round of illness has left me with a question, though. Why is it that the more tired (and sick) children are, the more they fight against actually going to sleep? Seriously. I'd think it would be the other way around, but no...

Anyway, blogging may be a bit erratic until I get my guts my feet under me again.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bagpiper

My mom sent this one along in an email. Since I'm probably not the only one who could use a chuckle, here you go:

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral
director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no
family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in
the Kentucky back-country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost; and being a
typical man I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late
and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in
sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating
I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.

I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was
already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played
out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played
like I've never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep.
They wept, I wept, and we all wept together.

When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though
my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I was opening the door to my car, I heard one of the worker say,
"Sweet Mother of Jesus, I never seen nothing like that before and I've
been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Apparently I'm still lost.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Morning (Barbarian) Prayer

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
Even after years, this remains one of my favorite prayers. It's such a complete break from the "Oh Lord, we humbly give ourselves into Your hands, please care for us in accordance with Your will" school of prayers that I grew up with. It reflects a completely different relationship with the Divine - one in which humility isn't necessarily a virtue, and a god who doesn't help his worshipers is worthless.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Two

This is the second piece of a three-part short story. You can read part one here. Feel free to leave thoughts or corrections in the comments.

The countryside was better. There were people here, too, but they were doing the same thing we were: fleeing the city. I only hoped that we didn't all share the same destination.

We staggered along for only a few minutes before we left the road. I don't know who suggested it, or if we all just realized it at once, but the road was hopeless: the hard surface lost beneath a stream of mud that sucked at our feet and slowed our steps. The grass was better, the trees better still -- though there was no escape from the merciless rain. The water was just as deep here, but roots and grasses held the soil in place.

I took a guess at our direction, and we staggered on: away from the town, towards the crazy old man in the hills. We splashed across a field that was now a shallow lake, scrambled up hillsides that were trying to dissolve into mudslides.

The rain pushed against us at every step. It was a horrible, monstrous thing -- I hated it as if it were alive. The deluge left us half blind and nearly deaf. It weighed down our clothes and sucked the heat from our bodies. We carried the children, now: they were exhausted and shivering. Our weapons were our only supplies, and we carried them only from fear of more bandits. If we didn't make it to shelter, we would starve -- or drown, whichever came first.

By midday we were well into the hills, alternating between walking on thankfully-solid ground and carefully crossing the impromptu streams and cascades that had grown between the high places. We stopped to rest, huddling together like a herd of sheep for warmth; there was no way to start a fire in this, and no shelter to be found.

It wasn't courage or determination that kept us going. It was simply the knowledge that there was nothing else to do. We could either keep going, or die where we sat.

The children surprised me. They were colder and more tired than the rest of us, but they staggered to their feet when we started to move again. Those who could, walked; those who couldn't, we carried.

Somewhere in the afternoon, our path took us close enough to see the river. Or, rather, to see what the river had become. Once slow and tranquil, it was now raging and wild. Once narrow enough to swim across, it was now as wide as the greatest of lakes. Once safely contained within its banks, it was now reaching out to tear away anything it could reach. We could feel its presence as a steady, rumbling vibration in the ground. The docks could not have survived this. The town could not have survived this.

Fortunately, it curved away as we continued on. We hurried, and I felt that we were not so much avoiding the river as trying to escape it. I couldn't see it through the steady rain, but I knew it was back there: growing, spreading, climbing. Reaching. We hiked on, eager to stay ahead of it.

And, finally, we saw it: the high hill where the crazy old man had done his work. With the rain, we were nearly on top of it before it came into view; but the massive wooden construction was unmistakable. Better still, there were only a few other figures crowded around it: only a few that had made it here from the town, or from the surrounding countryside.

With our goal is sight, our steps grew lighter. We hurried forward to safety.

Continued in Part Three.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bacon Intervention

I think my wife is getting ready to stage a bacon intervention for me.

Yes, really.

She's started leaving articles around where I can find them.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, she brought home a pack of "turkey bacon". Which... I can't even... Okay, look: I know, she said it was just an experiment. She said she just wanted to try it.

I wasn't fooled. Nobody wants to try turkey bacon. It's the O'Doul's of Pork Products: it has none of the things you'd actually want from your bacon, and it tastes horrible into the bargain.

I'm just worried that we're headed for another Cauliflower Incident.

On top of that... wait, I haven't told you about the Cauliflower Incident? All right, then. Here's how it went down:

I'm innocently eating my evening meal. There something on my plate in the place where the mashed potatoes should go. And it's... close. It's white. It's mashed. But the texture is all wrong. It looks like the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation developed a Nutri-Matic machine to dispense side-dishes: the result is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike mashed potatoes.

So I turn the Beautiful Wife and ask: "What is this?"

"Mashed potatoes," she replies, radiating enough innocence to take the tarnish off silver.

I look again at the spongy, fibery mass that I've just prodded with my fork. At least it hasn't actually reacted to the prodding. "That," I say, "did not come from a potato. Not unless Monsanto has developed a new species that can also be run through a loom to create Organic Potato-Weave Shirts."

There's a long pause. "It's cauliflower," she admits.

"Uh huh," I reply, and promptly eat everything else on my plate.

Anyway... I do not have a bacon problem. I can quit anytime. I mean, okay, yeah - sometimes I overindulge a little bit. Who doesn't? And okay, sometimes I sneak a nibble or two in the breakroom at work, or during my lunch break. It's not like it's affecting my job performance. I do not have a problem.

Well, you know, except for the part where my arteries are so stiff I can't bend my fingers anymore. But aside from that, I'm doing JUST FINE!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Science Fiction Headlines

Just a random list of possible headlines for a near-future Science Fiction story...

Transplant Patient Sues ViaClone
Says, "With my new liver, I can't get drunk anymore."

Dolphins bring suit against City of Venice
Following their successful litigation of Exxon and BP, the Dolphin Council of Elders took aim at Venice, Italy. "Hundreds of years, they've been using the water as a combination of toilet and rubbish bin," said Elder Tiktikthresqueak, speaking through an interpreter. "Frankly, we're sick of it."

Two Injured, One Killed In Collision With Thomas Jefferson's Nose
Two area teens remain hospitalized after crashing their hovercar into Mount Rushmore on Sunday. A third teen was pronounced dead at the scene. The incident is believed to be part of a nationwide trend of "brake-breaking", in which drivers disable the traffic control circuits and other safety features of their hovercars. Officials have not determined whether drugs or alcohol played a part in the crash.

Altairan Church Protests Human Immigration
Members of the Sacred Light caste entered their third week of protests outside the Homo Sapiens Embassy Building in Irulichar today. Following the Transcendent Illuminator's pronouncement that the souls of dead humans are polluting the afterlife...

Vat-grown Artificial Intelligence Announces Retirement
Adam, the first human-created artificial intelligence, was developed by Dr. Lola Rosenbaum. The artificial mind successfully lobbied for human rights and citizenship in 2097, afterwards accepting a position with Orbital VisionCore. Following the AI's successful resolution of the Martian mining riots, Adam accepted a place on OVC's Board of Directors. Yesterday, the Intelligence announced that it would be stepping down on the occasion of its upcoming fiftieth birthday...

Repairs Made to Joseph Smith
Workers from commercial mining hauler Stetson completed repairs on the generation ship Joseph Smith, which was launched in 2056 and is still on course to reach GJ 667C in another 40 years. The inhabitants of the Joseph Smith have refused all offers of faster transportation, despite the fact that modern jumpdrive ships could bring them to their destination in a matter of days. "We will complete our journey as a show of faith," said Prophet Walter Collins. The Smith had developed an atmosphere leak following a collision with a meteorite, and its crew was unable to make repairs on their own due to the extreme age of their equipment.

Leviathan Conservation Project Begins
Officials from the Interstellar Wildlife Conservation League joined representatives from the Earthgov Xenobiology Bureau on the deck of the Ouroboros. The former hauler has been extensively modified for the purpose of removing and transporting one or more leviathans from the oceans of Cynosure...

Sabotage Suspected In Explosion At Apple BioFab
Bioroid Rights Group Suspected
Negotiations between Apple, Inc. and a coalition of workers' rights activists broke down on when Steve Jobs8.2 accused the No True Life group of masterminding the weekend's explosion. The incident, which collapsed one wall and forced an emergency shutdown of the facility's reactor, occurred around 2:00 a.m. on Sunday...

Franciscan Monk Contacts Arcturian Hive Mind
In what scientists are calling the first verified case of interspecies telepathy, Brother Gregoire Lemarchand successfully merged his mind with the Arcturian racial consciousness. "It was like being inside the entire world," he reported. "I can only think that this is how God must see the Universe, being one with all of us." Vatican sources on New Rome did not respond when asked for comment...

Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Terminology: agnosticism, atheism, antitheism

I don't have anything prepared for this morning - so, so very tired - so I'm borrowing a piece on terminology that I wrote for something else. And now I must get to wor... zzzzzzzzz

I'd love to tell you that this is going to be definitive, but it's not. These are terms that people use in different ways, with different meanings, and any attempt to absolutely define them is pretty well doomed to failure. However, there are some distinctions that I want to point out here because I think they'll be helpful.

Agnosticism: basically, this is the position that we don't know (or can't know, which is sometimes called "hard" agnosticism) whether or not God exists.

Atheism: this is either not believing that God exists (called "soft" atheism) or the belief that God does not exist (called "hard" atheism).

Antitheism: this is the belief that religion is inherently harmful; generally, that it slows and suppresses social, scientific, and technological progress; that it discourages critical thinking, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

I'm breaking these down this way because it's very easy to confuse these qualities, or to think that they're all basically the same thing. The most common misconception I see is the idea that all atheists are also antitheists. That really isn't the case, but it's an easy mistake, since the most vocal atheists are vocal precisely because they're also antitheists - and also because a lot of newly deconverted atheists go through an angry-lashing-out stage as part of the process of letting go of their former beliefs. (This has been compared to the tendency to demonize ex-wives and ex-girlfriends after a breakup, and I think the analogy is apt.)

The second most common misconception I see is that agnosticism is somehow better or gentler or more honest than full-scale atheism. And, actually, there is some truth to that, particularly because the sorts of people who don't believe in God, but also don't think religion is necessarily evil, are often a lot more comfortable referring to themselves as agnostics than as atheists. (In fact, up until a couple of years ago, I did that myself.)

Mainly, though, there's a lot more overlap between atheism and agnosticism than those categories would tend to indicate. As a practical matter, it doesn't make much difference whether someone doesn't know whether God exists (and so carries on their life as if He didn't), and someone who believes that God doesn't exist (and so carries on their life as if He didn't). Looking at that another way, most atheists - if they're being honest about it - will freely admit that they can't be absolutely sure that God doesn't exist. I've only met a few "hard" atheists, and for them the accusation that they rely on faith just as much as believers seems perfectly legitimate. That's not to say that there aren't any hard atheists out there; I'm sure there are. But most of the forceful "I'm absolutely sure that God does not exist" opinions are part of the rhetoric, rather than cogent philosophical positions.

...Which brings me to my last point: the idea that atheists are secretly just antitheists. Basically, this view says that atheism is just a smokescreen - that the so-called "atheists" really do believe in God, they're just angry at Him or in rebellion against Him. This is, as far as I can tell, absolute nonsense. I mean, I'm sure that somewhere out there, there exists a pure antitheist: someone who, to quote from Pitch Black, absolutely believes in God and absolutely hates the M--- F---. But I've never met anyone like that, in any context. (And, really, is there any meaningful way to oppose an all-powerful being?) For most atheists, the belief that there is no God is not really a choice; it's a conclusion, the best they can come to from their experience and other evidence.

There's probably more to add to this, but I think this is a decent start - and it's certainly long enough already.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Into the Game 005

I drove through downtown, paying more attention to the traffic (light as it was on a Sunday evening) than to the glass-and-steel structure of the buildings. Sharon and Adrian had moved down here to follow a job, and chosen a house in the suburbs; I'd moved down here to follow Tom3, and chosen a house outside of town, beyond the current ring of development. My particular job skills -- which amounted to programming and troubleshooting -- didn't require a physical office, so I hadn't had to choose between my career and proximity to my son. I liked to think of that as having a sound strategy for living, but as I got older I was more and more convinced that a lot of it was just luck.

I stopped at a drive-through and ate dinner on the way home. I really had meant to do more work on my current project, but the time at the zoo and dropping Tom3 off with his mother had worn me out. So, instead, I took the opportunity to collapse into bed and get a really long night's sleep. I did that a lot in my teens, and I still enjoyed it -- just nowhere near as often as I once had.

In my dreams, I was chasing Tom3 through a 10' x 10' dungeon corridor. He didn't seem to be in any danger, but I kept having to stop and fight monsters, and I couldn't catch up with him. Finally, I got up and used the restroom, and when I went back to sleep my dreams were less coherent and memorable. I was okay with that; boring dreams made for easy sleep.

And that was really it. It should have been just another weekend visitation, one among hundreds; vital to me, but not particularly important to anyone outside the family. And it would have been, but three days later my son's friend Daniel came knocking at my door, and that changed everything.

This concludes Chapter One of the first draft of Into The Game. I'm still writing the thing; as of this morning, I've got nine pages of Chapter Two. (So it's coming along about three times as fast as anything else I've tried to write recently.) However, this is as much as I'm prepared to put online; if I can actually manage to finish, I'll probably try to e-publish it.

And while I'm at it... if you're still looking for something to help you avoid working, Ann Lamott has some wisdom to share on the subject of first drafts...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

We're doomed.

Okay, so -- we've just finished dinner. Firstborn has retreated to the living room to continue his epic quest to restore the Core of Light to the Skylands, and taken his mother with him. I'm cleaning up.

Secondborn -- who just turned two back in the middle of April -- has been puttering around the kitchen with me. Now, as I watch, he reaches over and rips the child-protective cover out of the electrical socket on the wall. Still holding the protective cover contemptuously in one hand, he reaches down and picks up the cord for the air filter. This, he promptly jams into the wall socket... seating it correctly on the first try, I might add.

Then he casually drops the protector on the floor, reaches over, and turns on the air filter.

Explain to me again how this "baby proofing" stuff is supposed to work?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part One

The end was near. We all knew it, though some still screamed denials.

I led my family down the center of the street, staying away from the sidewalks and alleys. We kept the children in the center, while the adults encircled them with weapons ready. We'd fought twice already, once with another family and once with a group of men. My brother lay dead three streets back; when his wife wouldn't leave his side, we left her behind. The steady rain hid their forms from sight, but I carried that last glimpse with me.

Once, I would have prayed that she would be safe. Now... I could only hope, and I hoped with all my heart that her end would be quick and painless.

The rain continued its relentless descent, weighing us down, trying to drive us into the earth. The street was a steady stream, as deep as my ankle. We struggled against it, up the hill and away from the docks. One of the children slipped; another helped her up. Nobody slowed their pace.

The forecasters hadn't predicted this downpour. They had been as surprised as anyone when it came - maybe more so, not that it mattered. Surprised by its appearance, surprised by the way it covered everything, surprised by the way it never let up. We'd had stormy weather before, to be sure; but this was different. A week of storms was one thing, but this was one unbroken storm, and it had been going on for nine days, now. None of the forecasters could say when it would end; at least one swore that it wouldn't, not until it had consumed the world and everything in it.

We passed a shattered church and kept going. Two days ago, the steady flooding had chewed through the foundations and collapsed the building, crushing the minister and a crowd of devout worshipers; but still there were people clambering over the rubble, screaming for rescue and salvation. Their wails were audible even over the steady roar of falling rain.

No place was safe. Houses and places of business were targets, not shelters. The streets were even more dangerous. The docks... everyone wanted to get to the docks. Everyone wanted passage on a boat. Never mind that half the ships were gone, swept down the river and splintered by floating debris or underwater obstructions. Never mind that the docks themselves were half-shattered and sagging. Never mind that the remaining boats were overwhelmed with passengers, packed almost too tight to breathe. The docks were a steady riot of desperate violence. We wouldn't stand a chance there.

So we went in the only direction we could: the crazy old man in the hills. It was madness, but what choice did we have? There was no other way to go, no other way that we might survive. Not unless the rain stopped, and it showed no sign of doing that. So the old man was crazy - so what? So we'd all laughed at him - so what? If he'd done what he said he was doing, he was our only chance.

Continued in Part Two...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why my boys go to church

I take my boys down to my parents' church nearly every Sunday morning. The little one stays in the nursery, while the older one sits with his grandparents for part of the ceremony, and attends Sunday School for the other part of the ceremony. I park myself over in the other building - the one with the classrooms and the big meeting hall, and usually do a bit of writing on the laptop.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it hardly seems fair to lock the boys into something I'm unwilling to do myself. But, well, they aren't really locked in; the first time one of them expresses a clear desire to stop attending, I'll pull him out. It'll mean giving up one of the few stretches of reliable writing time that I have, and it'll make the grandparents sad, but I'm not keeping them in there if they really object.

And, secondarily, I really do want them to be exposed to Christianity. Which I suspect sounds extraordinarily odd coming from me, so let me try to explain.

It's not about God. As far as I can tell, God doesn't exist; and if He does, I seriously doubt that Christianity presents an accurate picture of Him. Nor is this anything to do with Pascal's Wager. I could be wrong about the existence of God, but if so I'm at least honestly mistaken, and I stand by my conclusions.

No, it really comes down to two things. The first is something that I'm going to call "cultural fluency". (There's probably a better or more formal term for it.) Basically, Christianity is ubiquitous in the modern United States. Attending church will, I hope, give the boys some understanding of the dominant world-view, along with its language and its references - even if they come to disagree with that world-view later on.

The second reason is basically a matter of inoculation. Not against Christianity itself; the boys are going to have to draw their own conclusions there, though I'll be happy enough to share my own views if they want to ask questions. No, here's the thing: religious beliefs can be very compelling, especially if they're presented by the right person at the right time. And some religious beliefs can be very destructive. So I hope that by exposing the boys to what I'd consider "Christianity done right" -- heavy on the grace, light on the guilt -- it will help to inoculate them against the more destructive, authoritarian, manipulative version of religion.

(That's how it works for me, at least; I haven't considered myself a Christian since my teens, but every time I run into someone whose presentation of Christianity focuses on the idea that we are all worthless and evil, I still reflexively think, Wow, you have completely missed the point of the Gospel. So I'm hoping to build a similar response in the boys.)

* * *

Last Sunday, one of the church members was passing by in the hallway, and stopped to compliment me on how sweet and well-behaved the boys are. She was about the sixth person to do this, over the last couple of years. So clearly, a fair chunk of the congregation knows who I am (in fact, quite a few of them remember me from when I was a kid there). Of those people who have stopped to make contact, not one has asked why I don't attend the service myself. Either they genuinely aren't concerned about it, or they figure that it isn't any of their business. Either way, I appreciate it.

That's my parents' church. The church my wife's parents attend is a different denomination, and the congregation is a little more... "aggressively friendly," I guess I'd call it... but it's a similarly laid-back theology, and we've taken the boys there too, from time to time. In both cases, while I don't share the core belief, I can feel secure that I also won't hear anything hateful or judgemental.

More Zombie Dreams

More zombie dreams last night - probably a result of the Benadryl finally kicking in. I don't remember too much of the details, except...

Getting a four-car caravan together is hard enough normally; during the Zombie Apocalypse, it's a complete pain in the... tuckus.

Also, I can't believe that the handle on my daikatana was made of such cheap materials. Seriously, I ought to be able to dent the brain-pans of more than three zombies without the wood in the handle trying to splinter.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Cuddles Versus Facehugger

One of my friends... Well, okay, he's not exactly a friend.

One of my fellow researchers... Well, okay, there isn't too much fellowship there.

One of my rivals... Yes, that about covers it. A few weeks back, one of my rivals stayed up late watching every single Alien movie ever made. (He may also have been drinking at the time.) When he was done, he went back to his laboratory (with, I suspect, a drink still in his hand) and fired up his gene sequencer.

Five days later, the pills he'd been taking finally wore off, and he dragged himself to bed and slept for three days straight -- but not before sending me the results of his work, for independent verification. That, after all, is how the scientific process works: you share your results so that others can check them for errors, or confirm your conclusions. In this case, Doctor X (not his real name) believed that he had successfully created a being which reproduced the life cycle (though not the full acid-for-blood physiology) of the Xenomorph from the movies. So, naturally, he sent it to me in order to have a competent scientist check his results.

Or possibly he was just trying to kill me.

Either way, the package arrived intact, and I brought it down to the lab. Naturally, I placed it in the Cryptozoo and left orders for my assistant, Jeffries, to open it up and situate it near the buffadillo pen.

Now, Jeffries is in most ways an exemplary assistant. However, he has an enthusiastic interest -- actually, more of a monomaniacal obsession -- with safety precautions. Everything he does for me requires, at the very least, three times as long as it would have for any of my previous assistants. I firmly believe that were he ever to be placed in charge of OSHA, in less than two weeks his elaborate and comprehensive safety requirements would paralyze all production within the continental United States. Still, this is his only noteworthy flaw, and he has remained under my tutelage for at least twice as long as any of his predecessors, so I am willing to grant him a little leeway.

And, when he reported that the egg was in place, I was fully confident that the arrangements were just as he had said. He is nothing if not meticulous. And, I wish to be clear, what happened next was in no way his fault. Jeffries is not responsible for the physical maintenance of the Cryptozoo, nor does he monitor Cuddles.

So the fact that Cuddles broke the door which separates his area from the rest of the cryptozoo, made a beeline for the buffadillo pen, and for his troubles received a faceful of genetically-engineered prototype Xenomorph can not, in any way, be blamed on Jeffries. No, that responsibility falls squarely on the now-rotting shoulders of Mr. Howell, my cryptozookeeper. Naturally, I would fire the knave, but it's more than little bit too late for that now. You see, the Xenomorph was designed to gestate inside a living host of approximately human mass. And, so far as I can tell, it worked very much as designed.

Cuddles, however, is undead. And now so is the small-but-mobile worm that burst from his chest. I am, of course, deeply disappointed.

Oh, I'm not worried about the buffadillos; I can create more of them. Nor am I especially concerned about Mr. Howell, who clearly deserved his fate. And Cuddles, of course, is fine -- one more hole makes no difference to the zombie velociraptor. No, the true tragedy is that owing to its experience with Cuddles, I will not be able to see if the Xenomorph would have have grown into a full-sized warrior-drone.

Also, I have a foot-long undead worm rattling around in the vents and pipes that surround the cryptozoo.

Have no fear on that account, however. Jeffries has promised to capture the beast... just as soon as he can figure out how to do so safely.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reflections on Good Days

It's still slow. I'm me again, more and more often. Me enough to wonder how long Billy has known that I was writing on that guy's website, and to wonder why he never told. Me enough to wonder how I wound up here, in Billy and Crystal's spare room. I think I've asked them about these things, but I can't remember what they told me. Words, spoken words, they don't stay put the way writing does. They shimmer and blur and fade. Writing is easier, to make or to understand.

This is a good day. I have thoughts, make sentences. I eat food. I try to talk, though it's almost too much to process. I can get up and move around. It's amazingly clumsy... I keep forgetting where I put parts of my body... but it's something.

On the bad days... Nothing. I'm just not there. Shattered, scattered... Catatonic. That's what Billy says.

But this is a good day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Into the Game 004

The zoo was everything I'd hoped for: animals, activities, education. I think we spent about five hours there, all told -- if you want to count lunch, anyway. We talked a lot about the different kinds of animals, the different environments that they lived in, and the countries where those environments could be found.

When it finally got too hot, we got back in the car and I drove on to the suburban neighborhood where Tom3 lived with his mother and her new husband. I called ahead to let them know we were coming, and was told that they'd have dinner waiting. On the way, Tom3 and I talked about what we'd seen at the zoo, and what we'd liked best. I asked him if he'd had a good time, and he said he had.

"Bladefang liked it too," he assured me.

It wasn't a terribly long drive; half the time it had taken us to get to the zoo, maybe less. And because of the way we'd chosen our neighborhoods, it would take me only a little longer to get from their house to mine, than it had taken to get from mine to the zoo. I had the route committed to memory, a method I preferred to any of the electronic forms of navigation available. Sharon had always thought that was funny, but Tom3 never mentioned it. If he noticed, he didn't care.

The house was a medium-sized two-story structure near the middle of the street. They'd chosen well, I thought: there were several full-grown trees around to offer shade for house and yard, the location gave them access to good schools, and the rest of the street was varied but well-kept.

Tom3 glanced up at the house when we stopped. His face was expressionless -- either blithely indifferent, or perfectly controlled, and I couldn't tell which -- but he hopped out and collected his things from the back seat with no sign of tension. He hadn't packed much; he never did. His bag of clothing was only a little larger than the case that held his game pieces, and probably weighed less. He didn't seem particularly happy or sad about being back home, but then he never seemed particularly happy or sad about visiting me, either.

I followed him up to the front door, where Sharon and Adrian were waiting. Tom3 hugged them both, then slipped past them and disappeared into the depths of the house. He hadn't said goodbye, but that was fine. I didn't like saying goodbye, either.

"You want to stay and eat?" asked Adrian. "We did burgers on the grill, and we've got plenty to go around."

I hesitated. I think I would have liked Adrian, if he hadn't been married to my Ex. As it was, the best I could manage was a sort of distant courtesy. Eating with them would be awkward, and not because of them; because of me. "No," I said, as deprecatingly as I could manage. "Well, I have to get back to work on this project."

Adrian nodded as if he understood, but I saw Sharon's eyes narrow slightly. She might not be bothered by it, but she knew I was lying. "You guys have a good night, though," I added.

I made it three steps down the front walk before Sharon said, "Tom?"

I turned back, and saw that Adrian, too, had disappeared inside the house. Sharon was still standing on the step; now she came forward. "You've seen this game he's playing, right?" It was clear from her tone that she was talking about our son.

I nodded.

"What did you think?" She studied my face. "Is it like the things you used to play?"

I sort of smiled-and-sniffed at the same time. "Yes," I told her. "I mean, not exactly. The games I grew up on had big, heavy, hard-bound books, and no cards -- but we had little figurines, and maps to place them on, and... yeah, it's very much the same thing."

"Okay, good." She looked relieved.

I looked a question at her, and she explained: "One of the neighborhood moms dropped by. She's convinced the game is dangerous and satanic. Said the little statues were actually familiar spirits, and she'd heard one talking to her little girl."

"Heh," I said. "Now it's really like the games I grew up with." I shook my head, remembering...

After a moment, I said: "I heard Tom3 talking to one of his figurines in his room, too - but it was just him, taking turns and speaking for both of them. Roleplaying." I shook my head again, more slowly. "I've watched them play. It's just a game, and it's probably better for his basic math skills than anything the school could come up with. I mean, if it starts interfering with his homework..."

A slight shake of Sharon's head indicated that that wasn't the case.

"...but otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it."

"Great," she said. "And, thanks." She hesitated. "I'm glad you're still in his life, you know."

"Me, too," I said. And, since that was about as much solidarity as we were likely to get, I added: "Good night."

"Good night," she said. We didn't embrace, or even shake hands; we just turned and walked away from each other. Ours was a relatively amicable divorce, and we'd been divorced for five years, now, but some wounds just don't heal. Or, maybe that's not right. I had a friend in high school who broke his leg in a skateboarding accident. He favored it for years, even after it healed completely; he couldn't seem to break the habit. Maybe that was a better analogy: even after the wounds had healed, we couldn't stop guarding our scars.

What we still had in common was Tom3, a shared concern for his welfare and an agreement to put his needs ahead of everything else. Adrian wanted us all to be friendly, but Sharon and I had figured out years ago that we couldn't be in the same house and still be civil. In e-mail, easily; over the phone, sure; but in person, it just wasn't reliable. Too close, too intimate, too much the way things used to be. So we remained friendly, as much as we could - and that meant keeping ourselves at a safe distance.

Being a grownup really sucks, sometimes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I don't write Children's Books

I shouldn't be allowed to read children's books. My brain always goes off in odd directions. I wonder about things... some of them things I probably shouldn't be wondering about. Or my fingers start itching to make edits, even to beloved classics.

It can't just be me. All you other parents out there - surely some of you have had the urge to fix your children's books? Right? Of course you have. Correcting the length of the stanzas. Making the rhymes actually, you know, rhyme. It's okay to admit it. It's a perfectly normal reaction.

Or maybe you want to correct some minor thematic issues. I mean, I can't be the only one who thinks that the father in Guess How Much I Love You is weirdly hyper-competitive. Haven't you ever wanted to add a scene where Little Nut-Brown Hare says, "You know, Dad, you could just say, 'I love you, too, son.' You don't always have to go me one better. Psycho."

And then there are those cases where... and, okay, maybe this one is just me... you want to be reading another book entirely.

An example? Well, okay. How about,  Elephant and Piggie Get Chased By Zombies.

In a sensible world, this would already have been written by the estimable Mo Willems. Tragically, in our world this has not happened, and so - as is often the case - I find I must fend for myself. Like so:

Go on, click on it. (It'll take you to a PDF.) You know you want to. You know you'll like it. I'll bet Mo Willems wishes he had written it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reflections on Diaries

I kept a diary. I didn't really think of it that way... I think... or I don't think... but that's what it was. It wasn't supposed to be a record of my existence. Am I typing this?

Reading. Or staring at words. Sometimes they make sense. Sometimes I drift apart. I wrote down who I was, when I was now. Here. No compass, but sort of a map in the letters. The more I read, the more I can read. The pieces of me are schattered, but sometimes they look the same direction at once, and I understand again. I am again. Does reading help that?

Crystal is bringing me food. I know those concepts, for here. For now. Eat. And then stare at the screen again, until the letters become words.

It's slow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let me tell you about my evening...

My wife is teaching a summer class right now. It meets in the evenings, Monday through Thursday. Fortunately, my work schedule is fairly flexible, so I'm able to come in a bit early and leave a bit early.

So last night I went home, collected Secondborn at the house, collected Firstborn from his swim lesson, collected food from Sonic, and went back home. We ate dinner and watched a bit of WALL-E. I got the boys bathed, brushed their teeth, read them books, and put them in their rooms.

Then I sat down at the computer. We had a few more minutes until it was time to turn out the lights, and the boys were playing quietly in their rooms. I caught up on Facebook, and then went to put the boys in their beds.

...And that was when I discovered that Secondborn, who just turned two, had Gotten Into Something.

At first, I wasn't sure what it was - just that it was messy, and he was smearing it on the top of his shelves. It was all over his arms and forearms, making them look slightly deformed and covered with strange growth. So I picked him up and headed for the shower, and in the process I discovered what it was: Vaseline. Petroleum jelly.

About thirty second after that, I discovered that petroleum jelly is completely immune to soap and water. At which point I left Secondborn in the shower and put up a slightly panicky post on Facebook.

I found out later that dish soap (and possibly some other things, including olive oil and peanut butter) would have worked better. At the time, I went with a mechanical solution: lots and lots of old washcloths. I basically just kept wiping until the child wasn't covered in slime anymore. Whatever was left on his skin could stay there.

However, in the midst of this, my Beautiful Wife saw the Facebook post and called to offer suggestions. This did not help, because I couldn't hold on to the phone. Too much Vaseline on my hands. It was pure luck that I didn't drop it into the toilet.

Finally, I had the child clean enough that I could dry him and dress him and put him back in bed. I did not duct tape him in, but I was very tempted.

I don't know how he does it. Firstborn got into stuff, but not like this. Secondborn... I swear, one of these days I'm going to walk in there and discover that he's been building an unlicensed nuclear reactor from Kleenex and Hot Wheels, and I'll be Googling for methods of cleaning up Radium powder.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Evangelizing Zombie Children???

Okay, somebody recently found my blog by searching on "reaching your zombie children for christ". So, whoever you are? I'm sorry. I can't help you with that. 

But as a concept for a particularly bizarre and surreal little horror story, it sounds awesome.

I fought the tree

With apologies to The Clash...

Low hangin' branch looked like... good fun
I fought the tree and the tree won [x2]
Tried for a grip but I... got none
I fought the tree and the tree won [x2]

I scraped my arms up and it feels so bad
Guess my climb is done
Won't try again 'cause I am not mad
I fought the tree and the tree won
I fought the tree and the

Jumped off a park bench 'cause I... had one
I fought the tree and the tree won [x2]
I missed a handhold and then I was done
I fought the tree and the tree won [x2]

I scraped my arms up and it feels so bad
Guess my climb is done
Won't try again 'cause I am not mad
I fought the tree and the tree won
I fought the tree and the

I fought the tree and the tree won [x7]
I fought the tree and the

That's right, we went to a nearby park last Saturday. A park which had a nice little table, with benches, tucked under a broad and shady tree. A tree with plenty of low-hanging branches, one of which ran quite near the picnic table. And I, indifferent to the fact that I'll be forty years old on my next birthday, tried to jump from the top of the table, catch the branch, and pull myself up onto it.

The first two steps in that sequence actually worked.

Unfortunately, the last one - the one where I actually caught myself and climbed up? ...Not so much.

Firstborn, however, figured out what I'd been trying to do. After failing to scale the trunk, he demanded that I lift him up to one of the limbs. So...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Into the Game 003

In the morning I woke to the smell of coffee: Tom3 was letting me know that he was awake and ready to go. He didn't drink the stuff himself (though he could go through sodas like you wouldn't believe); but I always set up the coffee maker before I went to bed. On weekdays, I also set the timer; on weekends, I turned it on when I got up. Tom3 had started turning it on for me about a year ago, I think as a joke; but now it was one of our rituals, something he always did when he was here.

I found him in the living room, chatting with someone on the computer. He glanced up at my face, then down at the cup of coffee in my hand. Then he closed out his session. "Bladefang wants to go to the zoo with us," he announced.

"We'll have to get another ticket," I suggested. "Could be expensive."

He gave me an eloquent look: Not funny, Dad. Well, I used to be funny. Not anymore, apparently. Or maybe it was just too early.

"You just going to carry him around all day?" I asked. It was a lot less of a problem now, but I'd had years of being trained in my son's penchant for leaving beloved toys behind in ridiculously inconvenient places.

Tom3 blinked. "Oh, yeah," he said, as if I'd just reminded him of something. He stood up and headed for his room, a sandy-haired boy whose build had finally filled in from his last big growth spurt. Which meant he was probably due for another; he'd be taller the next time he came to visit, I thought.

I went to splash water on my face and brush my teeth, and when I came back Tom3 was holding a bit of cord. I watched with admiration as he deftly looped it into a sort of sling for the Bladefang figurine. Then, holding up the ends, he asked: "Would you...?"

I tied the ends together behind his neck, leaving Bladefang to hang on chest like a particularly ungainly medallion. Bladefang was clearly meant to be a statue or figurine, and the overall effect was a bit dorky... but then, Tom3 was my son. If he was little bit dorky, well... he came by it honestly. So, with everybody ready -- myself, Tom3, and Bladefang -- we piled into the car and headed for the zoo.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Random Dialogue

"If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off it too?"

"Are you kidding? Mom, you know as well as I do: if all my friends jumped off a bridge, it would because they were following me."

No, that isn't from anything in particular. At some point I'll probably have to drop it in a story, though.

Pimp My Art Friends: Trinlay Khadro

Visual art has been something of a theme in my life just recently. This isn't deliberate; it's just one of those funny little bits of synchronicity. But, since it has been prominent on my mental radar, I thought I'd take a moment and promote some of my artist friends. Some of these are people I've known in person for decades; others are Imaginary Friends (iFriends), people I only know through the Internet. All of them are awesome.

Trinlay is another iFriend, someone I've known for years on the Internet but never actually met in person. (We originally met on a message board devoted to a particular series of shared-world anthologies - the Bordertown books.) She works mainly in amigurumi (crochet plush), making various sorts of critters:
She also creates clothing and accessories for dolls:
A lot of Trinlay's projects feature Fey and similar themes, or kawaii (cute) versions of eldritch horrors; her work shows a mixture of otherness and whimsy that I find particularly appealing. If you'd like to see more of her crafts, she has a shop on Zibbet and a (less used) shop on Etsy. Take a look!