Saturday, November 12, 2016

Getting my Bearings in a Haze of Futures

Today, I happened to click on a tweet of someone I follow and discovered that he was a HUGE Trump supporter.  A banner photo of the president-elect standing proudly seared my vision as I got to his account’s homepage.   
In a knee-jerk reaction, I unfollowed him and went back to my own page.  
Right after doing that, I had second thoughts.  Part of the reason we are in the mess we made for ourselves is because everyone, on both sides of the fight, are tailoring their informational input to suit themselves.  Following channels and people that reinforce their worldview and beliefs rather than give them something to think about.  
So, I looked for this person on Twitter.  I remembered part of his Twitter account.  Twitter probably has algorithms that ID him as someone I might want to follow, since I followed him before.  I figured that it would be easy enough to find him.  
It was.  I went back to his account.  I looked at his tweets and postings.  Without re-following him, I went back to my home page, wondering why I ever came to follow someone whose worldview was so very different from mine in the first place. 
Actually, I know the answer to that.  He followed me over something I posted.  I saw that he was a writer and I followed him right back.  I’ve always seen my Twitter feed as being an extension of my writing efforts.  Any writer that follows me will automatically (now “almost” automatically) get followed right back.  I figure other writers are like distant cousins of sorts.  All of us trying to get the words we find in the dictionary arranged in the right order so the worlds in our brains will be visible to all.  
But clearly being in the same social gene pool doesn’t mean we have the same outlook.  Being in the same genetic gene pool doesn’t guarantee that, either.  I’m sure I have family members that voted differently that I did as well.  I can’t be sure since neither I, nor they, have spoken openly about it.  Probably for the same desire to not put too much of a strain on family ties than they can bear.
Pretty much everyone I would call friends voted for Clinton this election.  Some voted “For Hilary.”  Others voted “Against Trump.”  I’m in the later camp.  I can’t tell for sure the breakdown of everyone else, but right now it doesn’t matter much.  Both groups are dazed, confused, upset, depressed, scared or some combination of those things.  We’re all in the “OMG!  What Just Happened?” camp.  
At work I know a couple of people who voted for Trump.  I ignore this fact and continue to work with them.  One I don’t get along with very well, but I felt that way before their political views became known to me.  That discovery didn’t alter how I felt, nor changed the way we work together.    
The other is a close colleague of mine.  Someone I enjoy talking to.  She’s a citizen now, though she’s originally a Russian from Kazakstan.  Trump has a way with Russians, I guess, from their president, to his wives, on down.  Again, I ignore her political beliefs, work with her and talk about other things.  I’ve not spoken to her a lot this week.  Not unless it was work related.  
I did say one thing to her.  After checking on something with her, I stopped at the door to her office and turned around toward her.  She was already engaged with her emails.  
“So…  How long do you think it’ll be before we all break down into civil war?”  
“Eh?”  She shook her head as her fingers continued to type.  “What…?”  She took her eyes off her screen and looked up at me.  
“Never mind.”  I turned around and left.  “Forget it,” I said as I walked through her department.  It was a dumb question, motivated by some dark feeling that slipped through my filters before I had a chance to consider it.  She didn’t ask me about it again when we interacted later in the day, so I guess she took my suggestion to forget it.  
I’ve been feeling for a while that the future was getting grayer.  Less full of sweetness and light.  With my sister’s cancer in resurgence, for the third time now, things at work becoming more difficult and unsettled, and my increasing awareness that I’m well into the second half of life, I’ve been feeling that there is less future out there ahead of me that I’ve been wont to think of it before, and that it has less to look forward to than I might hope.  The election of someone I believe is completely unqualified to hold the office that almost half the nation voted him into has only darkened my mood.  
But, I have things to do, assignments to finish, achievements I’m still working toward.  A future that still needs facing.  
The question for me is, which one?  The hunker down, go to ground, become an insurgent in word and thought future.  The sit still, keep my mouth shut and hope the Deportation Squad doesn’t mistake me for someone from somewhere else?  Or the healing, understanding, be a force for love and good, peaceful warrior that will give safe haven to all that need it?  
Or none of the above.  Or, some combination of them.  I don’t know.  

What I think I do know, though, is that I ought to keep my eyes and ears open, and listen to what everyone else is saying, even if I think it’s vile, self-promoting, bigoted garbage.  If I only listen to what I want to hear, I might find myself just as surprised by events as everyone was this last Tuesday.  

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Voter Qualifications

The first election I participated in was the Presidential Election of 1980.  But the birth of my political awareness came about four years earlier when I marked up my father’s sample ballot without asking him first.  
It was 1976.  A few days before the election.  I was 15 and I don’t recall myself being particularly interested in politics.  I was aware of it going on, but I wasn’t the most political of beings at the time.  My best friend from Jr. High School was VERY politically oriented and aware.  He would talk to me about politics, foreign and domestic, and I would nod and listen.  
On this particular day, walking home from somewhere on my way to somewhere else, I noticed my dad’s sample ballot sitting on the coffee table in the family room.  Prompted by something lost in memory, maybe a discussion my political friend, I picked it up and started flipping through it.  Then, I started checking off how I would vote, using my dad’s pen sitting next to where the ballot had been placed.  Some of the candidates I didn’t know or recognize, and a couple of the propositions were confusion, but I checked off who I would’ve voted for in all the races.  
Done, I set the ballot back where I found it with dad’s pen on top.  
Sometime later, after going somewhere else and coming back, I walked through the front door of my house, heading toward my bedroom.  
My dad was in the family room, sitting at the end of sofa where he could see who came into the house.  The sample ballot I had marked up was now on the arm of the sofa, under his hand.  
“Yeah?”  I walked to the entrance of the family room.  
“Were you the one that wrote your choices in my sample ballot.”  
Uh-oh.  My parents have never been hugely political, they never volunteered or campaigned for anyone.  But they voted and I knew they had strong beliefs about who or what should win.  
“Uh…  Yeah…”  
“Sit down here a moment.  I wanna have a talk.”  
I sighed.  I tromped my way to the love-seat, which was against the wall on the other side of the corner next to the sofa.  I kinda threw myself down on the seat.  I shrugged.  I was already trying to figure out how I could get through whatever lecture I was going to get as soon as possible.  
My dad ignored the display of attitude.  He flipped open the ballot and pointed at something.  
“You checked off that you’d vote this fella.  I was wondering why…”  He handed the ballot to me, nodding at where I marked it.  
I hemmed and hawed.  I shrugged.  I said, “I dunno.”  I wanted to be let go and allowed to back to whatever it was I was planning on doing.  It was something I did on a lark.  Something that was fun to do for the twenty minutes or half hour it took to do it.  
But my dad was having none of it.  He began to push back.  “What d’ya mean, ‘I dunno.’  That guy might send you to war one day.  Why would you pick him over this other one?”  He kept pushing me for reasons on every single candidate and measure.  
I probably could have kept up my teenage indifference, but something happened in core part of my brain.  I began to suspect that he thought I was “just a kid,” that had marked up his ballot.  The way a toddler might use a box of crayons to “improve” pictures in a magazine.  
I began to answer back with, “Because I think he’s better.”  When asked why, I try to find a reason that felt right.  Sometimes I’d end up with, “Just because.  I just…  Trust him more.”  My dad would grunt and go on to the next candidate or the next measure.  
It went on like that.  It got dark outside.  I felt cornered, but I was fighting back.  Trying my best to stand up for my opinions.  
The part I remember best was the last.  There was a proposition on the ballot that year that created smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants.  The first of its kind, I believe.  At least in California.  I had voted to approve the measure.  
“Don’t you think people have a right to do what they want?”  
“Within reason, yeah…  But I have a right to live how I want, too.”  I was clear on this one.  I was sitting on the edge of the love seat, leaning toward him.  “I don’t want to smoke.  But if I go to a restaurant and sit next to someone who smoke, then I’ll be smoking whether want to or not.”  
“So, you’ll have the government make them stop ‘cause you don’t like it?”  
“No.  I’ll have the government make them smoke and eat away from me, so I can not smoke and eat as much as I want.  They can smoke outside, at home, wherever.  But places like that, I want to have my own space to live as I want.”  
So there, I wanted to add.  I was poised on the edge of my seat.  I braced myself, waiting for his next attack.  
My dad looked at me for a long moment.  Peering at me like he was trying to find something in my face.  He reached out and took the ballot from me.  He tapped it against the palm of his hand.  
He tossed the ballot back on the table.  He got up and started to walk out the room. 
Dad turned back at the entrance.  
“That’s it?”
“I’m…”  A dangerous question was coming, but I had to ask.  “Not in trouble or nothin’?”  
“No.  Why would you be?”  
“I dunno.”  I shrugged.  “What was all this about, then?”  
He nodded back at the ballot.  “You choose a number of things that I wouldn’t have picked.  I just wanted to find out where you got the idea to do so.”  His expression changed to something more considering.  “I wanted to make you weren’t choosing what you heard from someone else.  That you were thinking for yourself.”  
“Oh.”  Another dangerous question…  “And…?”  
“You are.”  With that he nodded and walked out.  
After that, I wanted to vote.  I felt QUALIFIED to vote.  When I finally did, in 1980, it made me feel a part of something bigger and brighter than I had thought it could be.  
I remembered that story as I stood in line to vote at my poling place yesterday.  I wrote it at work.  I planned to finish it off when I got home and post it before the results of the election became “official.”  I ended up not doing that.  
I have been disappointed in the results of presidential elections before.  This is the tenth time I’ve voted for President.  The person I voted for has lost six of those time.  
Looking at my story now, trying to take a lesson from it for today…  I’m thinking of the anger.  The desire to push back and show someone over me that I had an opinion that needed to be heard.  That same sort of thing has happened to us, to the nation, yesterday I think.  
Yesterday, while waiting for my turn to vote, I kept looking around at the people standing in line with me.  These are all people who live near me, I kept thinking.  Neighbors.  People that drive the same streets.  Shop in the same stores.  Eat at the same restaurants.  I didn’t recognize one of them as someone I’d seen before.  But we were brought together by a process that I felt was beautiful.  It gave me a lift.  It made me feel good, happy to participate.  
What this morning is teaching me is, I think, is that voting is just one part of the process.  It is the expression of your opinion, your choice.  But like going to church on Sunday for a person of faith, you need to take that choice and make it work in your life on a daily basis.  
Something like that.  It’s kind of a lame ending to this posting, but that goes with how I think things went yesterday.  

I do look forward for my chance to vote again.  As I always do.  Even more than before. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Diving into Nostalgia: A Memory from World Con 2007

My sister posted a video on Facebook.  It was a POV video of someone riding a roller coaster that dives under the ocean through a tunnel.  Here’s a link if you want to see it yourself:  
The coaster is called “Vanish,” and it’s located in a small amusement park in Yokohama, Japan called Cosmosworld.  I know this park.  I walked past it every day walking from my hotel by the train station to the convention center.  I bought souvenir pins for people at work right under one of the turns of the coaster.  
I found myself looking at the buildings in the background.  I saw Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan, which was right across the street from my hotel.  And I saw the International Grand Hotel, which is at the Pacifico Convention center where the convention was held.  It’s the sort of knife-shaped white building you see numerous times either through or behind the giant Ferris wheel, which acts like a giant analog clock, with its spokes lighting up to indicate the passing seconds and minutes.  
Looking at these places, I remembered a story of something that happened to me while I was at my first World Con…
It was in the International Grand Hotel, on the “party floor.”  One thing I learned is that there are a lot of parties going on during a World Con.  Typically, one floor of the convention’s headquarters hotel will be set aside for different groups to rent suites or rooms to host their parties.  I learned this from my friend Joe, whom I had met during my pre-convention tour of Japan, and with whom I went to my first baseball game in Japan, along with another friend, Sylvia.  
This was the first night of convention.  Joe was leading me to the party floor, telling me about the different parties we would find.  Bid parties for groups wanting to host upcoming World Cons, organizations or groups that met at the convention every year, like the Heinlein Association, or groups that showed up each year, like the “Norwegian Party,” a group of people from Scandinavia that always brought the most and best booze.  
When we reached the party floor, we discovered that night there was a twist.  The lights were out.  The air conditioning was off.  There had been some sort of power outage affecting the floor.  
It didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the people there.  Joe and I pushed our way through the crowd in the hot and stuffy darkness.  We could hear several different strains of competing music coming from the open doors of the party suites.  Emergency lights and candles provided us with our only signposts to get from “here” to “there,” wherever here and there were.  
“Have you seen my wife?!”  
I found my pressed against the wall of the hotel corridor.  Someone had separated themselves from the crowd, stepped right up to me, and was almost nose to nose with me.  One of his hands were on my shoulder.  Not a threatening grip.  More like a guide to ensure he didn’t actually collide with me.  
What startled me was that I knew this person.  More accurately, I recognized him.  This was David Brin.  One of my favorite science fiction writers.  The man responsible for the Uplift Series, and the standalone novels, The Postman and Earth, and the wonderful non-fiction book, the Transparent Society, which had shaped my own opinions about privacy and surveillance in the future.  
My brain went into a fugue at that moment.  This is David Brin.  It’s hot in here.  He’s right in front of me.  He thinks I know his wife.  Do I know his wife?  I’m backed up against the wall.  I can barely breathe!  Have I ever seen his wife?  I’ve seen his son.  He brought him to Comic-Con one year.  This IS David Brin.  What should I say…?
Before I could get my thoughts untangled, my friend Joe inserted himself into the other half of my personal space and interposed his face between mine and David’s.  
“I saw her over by the Norweigien party!”  Even though he was practically shouting, I could barely hear him over the thrum of noise in the hall.  Joe made a vague gesture pointing back toward the way we had come.  
This wasn’t the answer David wanted.  He screwed up his face.  He made a dismissive gesture.  “I’ve been that way already.  Thanks.  I’ll find her.”  He was then absorbed back into the noise, the darkness and the shuffling crowd.  
I turned toward Joe.  “That was David Brin!”  
“I know.”  
“He was looking for his wife!”  
“I know.”  
I looked back where David had been, but there was no trace of him.  Joe continued to push his way through the stream of people.  I dutifully followed him as my guide.  
It was sometime later, don’t ask me how long.  I’m not sure time flowed in a normal fashion in what felt like an alternate dimension.  We were coming back the other way.  People ahead of us were jumping to one side of the hallway or the other.  Something, big, moving, a jostling mass, was heading toward us.  There was music with a latin beat.  Joe moved out of his way to the right.  I joined him.  
It was a conga line.  Someone in the front had a boom-box that was playing the music.  Someone behind him was dancing/walking to the beat with her hands on his shoulders.  Cut and paste that image again and again and again.  The rest of the party-goers were crowding to one side or the other to make way.  
Pressed up against the wall again, I waited for them to pass.  I was probably smiling.  It was ild.  It was fun.  It seemed to go on forever.  Then, at the end of the light, I spotted him.  
It was David Brin again.  He was the last in the conga line.  He was wearing a crown made from shiny gold paper.  Even in the darkness I could tell his face was flushed.  He was grinning from ear to ear, swaying, dancing and being pulled along by the conga line.  
“Hey, David!”  Joe called out to him.  “Did you find your wife?”  
“No!”  His smile got even bigger as he waved over his shoulder at us and disappeared into the darkness again.  
I turned to Joe and said, “I’ve GOT to keep coming to these World Cons.”  

The End. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

A Book Report Two Years (and a half) In the Making

This week I finished reading the novel, “If Cat’s Disappeared from the World.”  That’s the translation of the title, which is actually, 世界から猫が消えたなら。That’s the original title in Japanese, which is the language the book is written in.  
It’s the first time in the History of Me where I’ve read an entire work of fiction written in another language.  Without pictures.  
I’m feeling pretty accomplished right now.  Feeling pretty smart.  Wanting to pat myself on the back a little bit.  Hold a second…
There.  I actually did it.  Took a moment to pat myself on the back while sitting in the library writing this entry.  Five times, real quick.  Any more would be bragging.  
I’ve decided to do something else I haven’t done in quite some time.  Not since I was a student.  And that’s write a book report about the experience.  But I guess I probably gave that away from the title.  Oh, well…
The Story
The main character in “If Cats…” is a thirty-something year old postal delivery man.  He is not married.  His mother has passed away.  He is estranged from his father and hasn’t spoken to him in years.  Not since his mother died.  His only companion is a pet cat, named “Cabbage,” his mother’s cat whom he took over custody of when she died.  
One day, he goes to the doctor and is told that the headaches he’s been experiencing are caused by a brain tumor.  Cancer.  Well advanced.  The doctor’s estimate is that he has maybe up to six months to live, though he could go sooner.  
Depressed, the postman takes the rest of the day off work, returns home and throws himself on his sofa.  With his cat meowing at him in a concerned manner, he falls asleep.  
When he wakes up, there is someone else in the room with him.  Someone waring Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian short-sleeved shirt, with sunglasses perched on top of his head.  Someone who, except for the tropical outfit (despite it being cold outside) looks exactly like him.  
Getting up and questioning this familiar looking stranger, he discovers that it’s the Devil.  Not “a devil.”  The “Devil.”  God’s enemy.  And he’s arrived to tell the postman that the doctor didn’t give him the correct information.  He’s not going to live for another six months.  He’s going to die sooner than that.  Like, tomorrow.  But don’t worry, he has a deal, a proposal to make.
And that is this: All the postman has to do is pick something, something important in the world for the Devil to make disappear, and for every thing he picks he’ll be granted an additional day of life.  
That is how the story opens.  And for the next week we follow the man character as he picks things to make disappear, sometimes under prompting of the Devil, whom he calls “Aloha” because of his outfit, and deals with the world that comes about with that thing no longer being there.  
What happens is the postman, whose name we never learn in the story, which is told entire from his first person perspective, discovers how his choices relate to the people and experiences he had that were so important for him in his life.  The disappearance of telephones brings into focus how talking over the phone brought him and his previous girlfriend together.  He rediscovers how his love of movies shaped him as an adolescent when their existence is erased from the world.  And once clocks, watches and all other timepieces are gone, he finds himself forced to confront his feelings about his father, whom he has not spoken to in years, who ran a watch repair shop in their home.  
In the end, when Aloha points at Cabbage and suggest that cats be the next thing to make vanish, the postman ends up deciding that it’s going too far.  Now sensitized to what his choices are taking from his life, and recalling how the family cats, Cabbage and his predecessor, Lettuce, helped hold the family together, the postman decides to not make cats or anything else disappear, choosing to accept is own demise.  
The story ends with the postman riding his bike, Cabbage sitting in the basket up front, to his father’s house to spend his last day with him.  
I liked this story.  I remember English teachers from decades gone by telling me and my classmates to not just say that, but they never said I couldn’t start with that declaration.  
And I did like this story.  It was suggested to me by one of the members of my Japanese Language Exchange group that the best thing to dd in practicing reading in Japanese was to pick something that you would want to read in English.  And when I heard about this novel, the idea of the story fascinated me.  And to keep me working on it for two and half years, I’d have to say that the author, Genki Kawamura, did a pretty good job of keeping my interest.  
First, I enjoyed his use of humor.  This is not a comedy.  There are some very sad, dark scenes in it.  But there are quick little moments where the tension is broken enough for you to bear them.  
A number of these moments are when the postman is dealing with Aloha.  When he first meets him, for example, seeing how he’s dressed, and wondering why he came dressed like that when it’s cold and wet outside, then realizing, “Oh, yeah…  He’s come from someplace warmer.”  Another moment, when Aloha is trying to get the postman to pick something to disappear and sees a box on his living room table.  
“What’s this?”  Aloha the Devil picks up the box.
“It’s snacks.  Chocolate.”  He describes a well known Japanese snack, a mushroom shaped cookie dipped in chocolate.   
Aloha samples one and immediate decides he can’t make THIS disappear from the world.  It’s just too tempting.  
Some of my enjoyment was unintended as it came from my discovery of Japanese idioms.  The most memorable was when the postman is making himself breakfast and decides to have “Eyeballs Fried.”  This is the literal translation of the Japanese term for eggs, sunny-side up.  I think I’m going to make a point of ordering them the next time I go to Japan.  
Mainly, it was how often I found myself drawn into the main character’s perspective that kept me reading the story, sometimes one painfully translated sentence at a time.  Toward the end, there is a scene where the postman remembers how the family acquired Cabbage, after their first cat, Lettuce, died.  The postman argued against keeping the stray kitten that looked so much like their first cat, leading to the similar names, after seeing how much the lost hurt his mother.  The cat was very likely to die before she would, he thought to himself, and he didn’t want to see her put through that pain.  
This scene very much reminded me of my own past.  My cat, Tybalt, died several years ago after a long, painful bout with renal failure.  I remember feeling the same way the postman described regarding his mom, and not wanting to go through that feeling again.  
I find myself considering what his father said to tip the scales.  It was his vote, to keep the cat, that brought him into the family.  He was also the one to name him.  “Cats die.  And people die, too.  We’re the same.  Once you realize that, it’s all alright.”  A stoic man’s way of saying that you can’t keep pain from coming by removing the things you enjoy from your life.  

Which is the whole point of the novel.  What is the value of life, if it has all thing we cherish or find important, removed from it.  In the end, the postman realizes that it’s value of each day that makes life valuable, and one day spend with someone you love is worth almost any amount of time without them.