But I am constant as the northern star, of whose true-fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the blogosphere.

Julius

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another installment of my weekly blog.  It’s the first Thursday in March of 2019.  [This is just one of many declarations of the patently obvious that you can often find here.  Enjoy!]

I’ve had a relatively eventful week, at least as far as writing goes.  I think I mentioned last time that I was feeling under the weather; I’m still fighting the tail end of that illness, but it’s on its way out, so I’m not complaining.  Of course, I’ve continued to write my novella, the working title of which is Safety Valve.

Also, I’ve begun editing Unanimity.

I don’t know if I was fooling any of you, but I don’t think I was fooling myself with the occasional thought that I might go beyond the bare minimum break time of a month that I’d set for myself before starting to edit.  Shakespeare wrote that “men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.  Yet in that number I do know but one that unassailable holds on his rank, unshaked of motion.”  Well…that I am not he, let me a little show it, even in this:  that, though I successfully enforced upon myself the minimum wait that I had required before returning to Unanimity, there was just no way that I was going to hold out any longer than that.

In addition to this blog, and to my fiction writing, I’ve been positively aching to write some “Iterations of Zero” posts…which is to say, discussions of nearly any subject matter in science, politics, philosophy, psychology, etc., that don’t deal directly with my fiction.  There are huge masses of subjects about which I want to comment, from General Relativity to vaccination, to the cosmic perspective about everyday life, to mathematics, and so on and on.

Many such thoughts and ideas are triggered by items I encounter on Facebook.  These are topics about which I want to comment in no uncertain terms, but often I fear that such commentary might hurt the feelings of friends or family.  This is not because I’m especially mean in the way I put things; I try very hard to be polite, and I take no joy in insulting others, generally.  It just happens that, sometimes, when one says what one thinks is the truth, even if one is being careful, one hurt people’s feelings.

Even worse, commenting on memes and posts often initiates back-and-forth discussions, debates, and/or arguments, of a type which can easily become acrimonious…something I find terribly unpleasant.  All of which leads me not even to want to get on social media at all.  Such interactions bring out a very negative side of my personality, and I don’t like that piece of me.

For this reason, I’ve been on Facebook much more intermittently of late.  This is a problem, because Facebook is really my only means of socialization, my only connection with many people who matter to me.  Most importantly, it is my main route of interaction with my daughter.  Yet seeing so much misinformation and disinformation and misunderstanding about topics in which I have expertise—or just about which I have thoughts—without responding can be maddening and depressing.

Perhaps it’s egotistical of me to want to write about such subjects, but I’m okay with that; writing is egotistical to begin with.  So, I’ve decided to try a new approach to how I write nonfiction:

I work in an office in which there are quite a few smokers, and of course, several times throughout the day, smokers tend to step outside for a cigarette…or for whatever they smoke.  That’s fine, that’s their decision, but these are obviously moments in which such people are not, strictly speaking, working.  So, in parity, I’ve created a Word file called, “This is my smoke break” and during periods when others go outside to smoke, I’ll write and/or at least a page a day on some topic on which I want to comment.  Once such a subject gets in decent enough shape that it’s worth sharing with the public, I’ll post it on “Iterations of Zero.”

Hopefully this will help me scratch my itch and keep me able to abstain from comments on Facebook without feeling bad about myself…and will also keep me from feeling bad about myself because I’ve commented on Facebook.  We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, and as always, my primary concern is my fiction, whether writing it or editing it (or promoting it, which I don’t do enough of), and that’s what I’ll continue to work on first thing every day.  I hope you all stick with me through thick and thin, and that you enjoy my already-published and my upcoming works.  Many such journeys are possible, and I hope to bring as many people along for the ride as I can on each of them.

You should buckle up, though.  It can get a bit bumpy, and I’m not the most cautious of pilots.

TTFN

 

I would forget it fain, but oh, it presses to my memory, like damnèd guilty deeds to bloggers’ minds.

Hello, good Thursday, and welcome to yet another weekly edition of my blog, that electronic periodical which so many people find so necessary for their ongoing well-being.

I must confess, this morning I almost didn’t write this blog.  I boarded the train, took out my computer, and just started work on my new short story.  From this, you can conclude—if you’re as clever as my readers tend to be—that I am writing a new short story, and that I’m enthusiastic about it.  That conclusion would be correct.  It’s going to be a reasonably short short story, at least for me; after five and half “days” of writing, it’s nearly done, at just a little over twelve-thousand words.  It’s not a deep story; there’s no message to be conveyed, as far as I know…except perhaps to be careful, even if you have the best of intentions, because there are people—and <<things>>—in the world that will take advantage of your beneficence, to your cost.  But most of us learn that lesson early in life.

In any case, I only started this week’s blog entry after I realized—well into the day’s writing—that I was working on the “wrong” project.  Thus, I’ll keep this brief.  If that disappoints you, I apologize.  If you’re gleeful about it, well, why in the world do you read my blog in the first place?

I must say, it feels peculiar not to be working on Unanimity any more for the time being.  At some level, it’s a welcome break; as the old Chicago song says, even lovers need a holiday.  Yet, contrariwise, even the most harried of parents often start to miss their children when they’ve been away to summer camp for a few weeks.

Boy, this bag of mixed metaphors tastes delicious, doesn’t it?

The bottom line is that I’m going to need to exert some effort of will to keep from working on editing Unanimity during the month of February.  I beg you to help me if I falter!

Of course, as you’ve probably seen, Penal Colony is available for purchase for Kindle, and I finally added an entry here for it as well…though I haven’t yet put it in the “My Books” page, since I’m lazy when it comes to little things like that.  I do, of course, invite you to read the story.  If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want to spend the ninety-nine cents, I offer two alternatives.  First, Penal Colony—like, I think, all my works—is available on Kindle Unlimited, which means you can read it for free if you use that service.  If that isn’t a tenable solution for you, then I offer you this:  if you’re really uncertain that you want to spend the money for my stories, long or short, I offer—at least to the first several people who ask—to buy the story for them (or one of my other stories, if you prefer).  I would need an email address to do this, since a Kindle story purchased for someone else requires an email to which to send a link.  Then, even if it’s your first ever Kindle purchase, you can download the app for free, and see whether or not you like my works.  This has the benefit for me of being both superficially generous and deeply narcissistic at the same time; it’s a win-win scenario.

With that, I think I’ll cut things short for this week, adding only that I may soon start hitting a wall of increasing difficulty with respect to Shakespearean quotes for my weekly blog titles.  It may seem hard to imagine this being an absolute difficulty—Shakespeare wrote an awful lot, after all.  Still, not every line is truly worth quoting, even with Shakespeare (gasp!).  Also, I have to find quotes into which I can work some version of the word “blog”, and that can be somewhat difficult.  But, well…life is hard.  Just know that, if you see me give a post a title such as “Blog Post for February 7th, 2019”, you’ll know that I came up dry that week.

TTFN

…and he must needs blog that the devil drives.

Good morning and welcome to another Thursday.  There’s no longer anything very interesting or specific to say about the date.  It’s not the week before Christmas, or the week between Christmas and New Year’s, nor is it even the week immediately after.  It is, instead, yet another featureless span of time, trapped in the wasteland of days that marks the first part of every year.  The next truly celebrated holiday—in America, at least—is Valentine’s Day, and that’s a highly artificial, commercial holiday, mainly celebrated by people in romantic relationships (known to the rest of us by various uncomplimentary epithets).  After that comes St. Patrick’s Day, which is a little better, and then the Easter/Passover time, which has much to do with the arrival of Spring.  Once Spring is here, certainly for those who live up north, one hardly needs a holiday in order to feel like celebrating.

Of course, here in South Florida, at the same latitude as Upper Egypt*, Spring arrives a bit earlier.

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I’ve gone back and forth a bit on the topic of how many projects to work on at once.  Well, I’m thinking of going back (or forth) yet again.  As you may recall, I decided to write Penal Colony and to publish Solitaire because Unanimity was taking so long, and I needed to give myself some variety so that I could maintain my pseudo-sanity.  But all along I’ve dabbled in other matters, such as my experimentation with audio versions of my stories and trying to put out a weekly posting on “Iterations of Zero.”

I can’t help but think, though, that if I hadn’t allowed myself to be distracted, that Unanimity might well be done by now.  Of course, that would mean that it would probably be slightly different than it’s going to be in this universe, but it would be done, and that’s the point.

So…I may go back to the purist’s recommendation and stick to one story at a time (except during the cooling off period between the first draft of a novel and the rewriting/editing process, which is a very good time for a short story).  Of course, there’s little doubt that, someday down the road, when I feel bored or impatient, I’ll switch it up again.  I’ll keep you posted on how that all goes.  I’m sure you can hardly wait.

One reason I’m thinking about this is that I’m frustrated that editing Penal Colony is going so slowly…or feels like it is.  By my usual standards, it’s not that long of a short story; it’s only about twenty-five thousand words.  But of course, for the moment, most of my writing time is dominated by Unanimity, as I come ever closer to its end…it’s hard to walk away from it when my schedule calls for me to do some work on Penal Colony.

This would all be easier, of course, if I were able to write full time, but alas, I must needs make my living in other ways for the time being.  Perhaps in days or years to come this will change.  Hopefully at least some of my Everettian branches have a full-time-writing future…which would mean that I will have such a future, even if I also have other futures, in which no such thing happens.  Each of those futures will be just as contiguous with—just as identical with—the current person writing this blog as any of the others.  All of which speculation assumes that Everett’s “Many Worlds” interpretation is right, of course, which is my personal suspicion.

Isn’t quantum mechanics fun?

I hope all of you who live in climates north of me are staying safely warm to as great a degree as possible.  It feels cold down here when it goes into the low fifties overnight (as it did last night), but I know that’s just because we’re all soft and weak.**  On the other hand, I have mangoes and papayas and avocados and bananas and coconuts all growing in my yard, so there are compensations to such softness and weakness.  I know that you’re all enduring much greater privation.  You may console yourselves with the knowledge that, before long, my home may be (literally) underwater.  A little schadenfreude helps keep the blood warm in winter; indulge yourself.

And what the hell, a belated Happy New Year to you all.

TTFN


*The “Upper” part, by the way, apparently refers to the course of the Nile, so Upper Egypt is actually farther south than Lower Egypt.

**I grew up in Michigan, did my undergraduate degree in upstate New York, then lived in Chicago for two years before med school…so I’ve known what it’s like to be through real, relatively severe cold.  Of course, people from North Dakota, from Minnesota, and from Canada may laugh at my presumption.  I accept such laughter as a just rebuke, even as I stand outside in the sunshine without a jacket in mid-January, wondering why creatures such as we—with almost no fur, and with the highest concentration of sweat glands of any living organism—ever left the rift valley of Africa.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determinèd to prove a blogger…

Good morning and Happy New Year to all!

I was just idly wondering, is New Year’s Eve/Day the single most broadly celebrated holiday in the world?  I wouldn’t be surprised if it is…and I suppose I wouldn’t be much more surprised if it isn’t.  Still, considering the general adoption of the Gregorian calendar by, as far as I know, all the nations of the world, I would suspect that New Years is the most generally recognized possible day of celebration worldwide, across all cultures.

That said, I hope all of you who do celebrate it had a wonderful time doing so this week and didn’t suffer too many ill-effects in consequence.  This new year number sounds just a bit like the beginning of a count-down (20…19…), which could be the lead-in to good things and/or bad, but next year at least we should all have clear vision to face whatever comes.

Okay, enough of that nonsense.  I have few new things to say with respect to writing this week, but I’ll give you such updates as there are.  First, of course, I am very close (relatively speaking) to the end of Unanimity.  Interestingly, just yesterday I re-started taking the train—both to save vehicular wear and tear and to force myself to get in some walking every day—and between the train and then some time in the office before work, I got significantly more writing done than I had on any other day in weeks.  Some of this may simply be because I’m approaching the end of the story, and the excitement is building, driving me to push out work more quickly.  Some of it may be from resting over the dual holidays (thankfully, I did rest, being neither very social nor much of a drinker).  But I think just not having to drive (except to the station in the morning) and thus not having to worry about traffic, to say nothing of getting a bit of exercise, really seems to do me some good.  Here’s to hoping I’m right.

Penal Colony also approaches its end.  Which is to say, the editing process is nearing completion; the story has been finished for some time.  I’m enjoying editing it, and I’ve certainly cut a lot of fat out*.  It’s at least a little bit light-hearted, despite its dire predictions about a possible sinister side of social media in the future (I know…can you imagine!?).  It’s certainly not as heavy as Solitaire, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear.  Of course, all of this means we’re going to have to start working on the cover design any day now, which is its own special, and sometimes stressful, task.

In other news:  I don’t recall whether I’ve blogged about this already, but I recently read the book, Bird Box, responding to all the hype (and some interesting-sounding hints) about the Netflix movie (which I have not seen), and it was quite good.  I left a nice review, not too long, but hopefully useful, on Amazon, and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to cajole all of you readers—especially if you read independent authors—to rate and, if possible, to review the books you read on Amazon, or at least some significant fraction of them.  I know, I tend to harp on about this a bit, but it makes a tremendous difference.  It’s also very useful for an author to get feedback from general readers, who after all are the market for whom the books are written.

I don’t have a tremendous lot more to discuss this week, and I’ve almost reached my stop.  I wish you all, once again, the very best of new years, and I hope you enjoy yourselves and read plenty of books in 2019.  While it’s true that there are a great many other good sources of information and entertainment available, some of which are more seductive—and certainly more passive—than reading, written language remains the lifeblood of civilization, and the most direct and efficient means by which to convey information and stories between human minds.  As physicist Lisa Randall points out in her wonderful book Warped Passages, sometimes a few words (and perhaps a bit of math**) can be worth a thousand pictures.

TTFN


*I have a darkly humorous fantasy of some future person reading Penal Colony and thinking, “This is the story after you cut a lot of fat out?  What was it like before?

**which is, after all, just a special type of words

Come what come may, time and the hour blogs through the roughest day.

Well, Thursday has caught me off-guard again.  This really shouldn’t happen, considering that it comes every week at the same time—like clockwork, or at least like calendar-work—but I guess I’ve got a mental block in that area.  The days do all seem much the same, with very little that stands out from its surroundings; certainly, there exist plain few inherently exciting events.  Goodness knows the news cycle is too depressingly idiotic to vouchsafe much attention without losing IQ points each time; it’s probably worse for your brain than sniffing glue, though I’ve never tried the latter, and I don’t intend to do so.  If glue-sniffing is worse than paying attention to popular and social media—well, then it is very bad indeed.

Of course, there are exciting things coming in my personal future.  The writing of Unanimity proceeds well, with the story arcing gracefully (I hope) toward its climax, but it continues to be longer than I expect.  I’m pretty sure the first draft is going to be over half a million words before it’s through!  But I do expect it to be complete before the end of the year, and then rewriting/editing can begin, leading ultimately, in the fullness of time, to the release of the novel.  So that’s fun.

I also finished rewriting the original portion of In the Shade, that short story I pulled out and decided to complete.  I am not, however, going to finish writing the story until after I’ve completed at least the first draft of Penal Colony, which is going more quickly now that I’m not splitting my secondary writing time between it and In the Shade.  I expect that both short stories will be complete, rewritten/edited, and released well before Unanimity is ready to go.

I have a tentative plan to put together a new collection of short stories before long, since I write them with some frequency, and release them as the equivalent of “Kindle Singles.”  I know there are people out there who prefer to read physical, paper-and-ink books, and sympathize strongly with that point of view (though I do love being able to carry my library around in my pocket).  Since publishing even my short stories (which tend to be long) in paperback individually just makes for a product that’s probably too expensive for what you get, I like the idea of releasing a new collection of stories, like Welcome to Paradox City, but with more stories than that collection.  I’ve even started playing around with title ideas, like Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, or something along those lines.

And just now, literally, as I wrote this, it occurred to me that—going in the other direction—I could also publish the individual short stories from Welcome to Paradox City as Kindle additions.  These would be The Death Sentence, If the Spirit Moves You, and of course the titular Paradox City.  Interesting.

Of course, if I release these as individual works, it might be tempting to produce audio versions of the stories, which could be fun and rewarding, but which could reinstantiate the trap in which I use a lot of my spare time recording and editing.  I really need to find a way to dedicate more of myself to writing, and its associated pursuits, in the rapidly diminishing (and highly unpredictable) life that remains to me.  Maybe I should set up a Patreon account or something.

Discussing audio leads to an amusing little side-note.  As I think I’ve commented before, I have a longish daily commute, and I like to listen to podcasts and audio books during the trip.  Well, recently, I was fiddling through my phone and found the old, unedited recordings of some of my short stories and the early chapters of The Chasm and the Collision.  I listened to one of these on the way home the other day, and it was quite amusing to hear all my mistakes and retakes, and the inevitable copious profanity that went along with them.  But it was also surprisingly fun simply to listen to myself reading my stories, so last night I opened up the YouTube app on my phone and listened to the first part of Hole for a Heart on my way home.  I don’t know if this is the most narcissistic thing that’s ever been done, but it certainly ranks right up there in my personal experience.  It was, however, honestly enjoyable.  I wonder what, if anything, that says about me, but it’s at least reassuring in that I still find the story to be a good one, and it makes me want to write more.

I just wish I could finish Unanimity more quickly.  Sometimes I think I’m never going to live to see it published, or even to see the finished first draft.  Probably that’s too melodramatic—I do tend to be a bit dark, but then again, if you read my writing, you know that already.

And that’s pretty much it for today, on this surprisingly unexpected Thursday.  I hope I haven’t shortchanged you, but then again, if you enjoy my writing, there’s plenty of it available commercially.

TTFN!

They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time blogs many parts

Well, you wouldn’t think it would catch me by surprise—it’s something that happens every month, after all, in an entirely predictable fashion—but I didn’t realize until this morning that today was the second Thursday of October and is thus the “official” day for me to write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Obviously, since I wasn’t thinking about it, I haven’t given a second’s thought to what villain I should discuss today.  Rather than pick a random baddie from my memory’s hat and produce an off-the-cuff essay on him or her, I’ll push that project back until next week or next month.  I apologize if anyone out there was looking forward to a new episode today.  Then again, if there are such people, I haven’t heard from them; I’d be quite gratified if you’d make yourself or yourselves known.  I can exculpate myself a bit for my oversight by admitting that I’ve been rather worn down, tired, and slightly ill, this week (see my IoZ entry here for a brief discussion of the nature and effects of my troubles with insomnia), so I’m behind my mental curve.

Even as I wrote that last sentence, I realized that I’ve often made comment in these, my public venues, about being under the weather.  Now, I don’t think that I’m too whiny and hypochondriacal, as a general rule, but I certainly don’t seem to operate at my physical optimum much of the time.  It’s a problem that I need to keep in mind, going forward.

I will say this, in tangential reference to the above issue:  I’m glad that I decided to put my audio productions on indefinite hiatus.  It’s a melancholy gladness, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because I really do like those audio productions, and if you’re interested you’re welcome to partake of the ones I’ve made, either here, or on my YouTube channel.  But making them requires a lot of mental energy and physical time.  Since putting the audios on pause, I’ve gotten more writing done on Unanimity, and I’ve worked steadily on my two other short stories during the the hours I would have spent recording and editing the audio, leading to an increased total output of about five pages a day versus only three on average (or roughly 2500 words versus 1500) before.  This is a serious improvement.

It would be nice to be able to do all this full-time, instead of in the interstices between actions of daily necessity required to put food on the table, so to speak.  Then I could write just as much and still make my audio files, which would be a lot of fun.  I hope someday to reach that state, but I obviously haven’t done it yet.

Unanimity goes well, though, and is honestly approaching its climax and resolution (I swear!  No, really!).  I still expect—if I work on it as steadily as I ought—its first draft to be finished before the end of the year, and probably well before that long novel is ready to be published, I’ll release one or both of the short stories I’m working on, Penal Colony and In the Shade.

It’s amazing how something can take so many hours, so much effort, and yet yield a product that can be consumed within the course of, say, a few days for a novel, or at most an hour or two for a short story.  It would be nice if I could give the readers of my work as much lasting entertainment as I get durable engagement from producing them, but I guess that’s the nature of all creative arts.  Even a small, independent film is created through untold hours of effort by astonishing numbers of people, to be then enjoyed within the space of two hours.  A great painting or sculpture can take perhaps less total work, but is then enjoyed in mere tiny, minutes-long chunks by even the most passionate enthusiasts of the arts.

I wonder how many people would have to read my books to make the “man-hours” of reading surpass the man-hours of production; it’s a hurdle I’d love to cross with all my stories.  I don’t know if anyone’s done the math on such a question—I assume that the numbers would be different for different people and different works—but if they have, I’d love to know about it.  I’m sure that Stephen King, for instance, passed that milestone decades ago.  He probably passed it with Carrie, and I doubt that he’s ever caught up in the time since, despite the staggering pace at which he writes.  To match such an outcome is a high bar for anyone to set, but as I’ve long said, only those who attempt the impossible can achieve the unbelievable.

And now, I think that will just about do it for today.  I’ll say, tentatively at least, that I’m going to put off the next episode of “My heroes have always been villains” until November, unless I receive any complaints or protests from those who don’t want to wait.

I’ll close with an exhortation—probably preaching to the converted, but there it is—that you all be cautious of falling prey too much, too often, to the easy distractions of videos and memes and other short-attention forms of entertainment.  Keep reading.  Read “real” books, read e-books (they’re just two forms of the same thing), read fiction and nonfiction, read articles and blogs, read poems, read plays, but do keep reading.  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization, and stories are the default mode of human thought (or so it seems).  To read, and to write, are affirmations of and contributions to the health and longevity of the human project and are well worth anyone’s time.

So I am convinced.  I may, perhaps, be biased.

TTFN

He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not blog upon his like again.

 

Hamlet:  My father—methinks I see my father.

Horatio:  Where, my lord?

Hamlet:  In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

-Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2

 

It’s Thursday, October 4th, the day of my father’s birthday.  He would have turned seventy-nine today if he were still alive, but he died just under two years ago.  I don’t remember the exact date of his death, and I see no reason to memorialize it.

My father and I didn’t always get along; in many ways we were too alike to avoid butting heads, especially since one of the ways we were alike is a deep stubbornness.  But my father was an admirable man in many ways; he always took care of his family to the best of his ability, which was usually very good indeed.  He and my mother were married right up until the day he died, which is more than I can say about myself, and I admire them both for it.  That they were best friends and constant companions is an unarguable fact, and they got along as well as any long-married couple I’ve ever known.

It was from my parents—both of them—that I got my love of reading, and more indirectly, my love of writing, of making stories.  It was my father who received as a gift, and who proudly wore, a tee-short quoting Erasmus in saying, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.”  This wasn’t quite my parents’ literal attitude, but it was damn close.

I didn’t quite realize how proud and supportive my parents were of my love of reading and writing until in college I came to a point of crisis.

I had always intended—for as long as I thought about it—to become a scientist, though I’ve also always written stories, books, plays, and even screenplays (the latter too laughable to discuss).  By the time I was ready for university, I had decided that I wanted to be a physicist.  I went to Cornell as a Physics Major, and in my first year did quite well in all my physics and mathematics coursework (while also thoroughly enjoying my freshman seminars, first Fantasy and then Writing About Film).  But then, during the summer after freshman year, I underwent open-heart surgery to correct an atrial septal defect (quite a large one) that had only been discovered that year.

In later times, in medical school, I learned more about some of the central nervous system effects of open-heart surgery, and I even wrote a review paper on the nature of the (usually temporary) cognitive decline that heart-lung bypass in heart surgery frequently causes.  Its effects in triggering mood disorders such as depression (something for which I already have a familial and personal predisposition) are probably more widely known than the temporarily diminished mental capacity that comes to most people who have undergone such surgery.  The state of the art may have improved since 1988, but I doubt the problem has been eliminated.

Anyway, I returned to college at the beginning of sophomore year (only two weeks after my surgery!), and over the course of that semester and year, with the combination of a low-grade-sometimes-veering-into-high-grade depression and a dip in my mental acuity, I had a hard time keeping up with the higher level math courses (and the physics was getting into the intro to serious quantum mechanics and other areas, with matters requiring vector calculus, tensors, partial differential equations, and all that fun stuff).  I think if I’d just had the temporary cognitive impairment and not the depression as well, I might have muscled my way through, and brushed up on things once my mental clarity improved.  Alas, not only was I not so lucky, I also had no idea why I was having such difficulty; I felt merely that I was an intellectual and moral failure as a Physics Major.

I didn’t fail any classes or anything like that—I don’t think I got anything below a low B—but I could see myself having more and more trouble as I went forward, if things remained as they were.  At the time, I was already close friends with the woman I would eventually marry, and she had read some of my writing (and really liked it).  She talked to me long and hard about my options, and with her help, I came to the decision to switch majors to English.

I was mortified about this.  I felt that I was failing myself in some important way, and worse, that I was letting my parents down, but I didn’t see any alternative.  So I called them, and I very nervously told them the decision I had made…

They were practically ecstatic.  My father in particular said that he just thought that English suited me better, because I loved reading and writing so much, and was good at it.  They’d always been supportive of my love of science, too, of course, and had been behind me all the way in my goal to become a scientist, but they’d apparently thought that such a career wouldn’t fulfill me…though they were wise enough not to try to change my oh-so-stubborn mind.  I think my parents—and particularly my father—would have been prouder of having a son who was an author than of having a son who won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  I hadn’t ever thought of that before.  But the fact that they were so supportive of, and even excited by, my choice was an incredible, tremendous relief and encouragement.

I’ve occasionally wistfully looked back and wished I’d gone farther in my formal studies of physics and math, but…well, those are things I can study on my own, and I do so when the mood strikes me.  But as an English Major, I realized my deep and abiding love of Shakespeare (at one point I took two Shakespeare courses at the same time; that was fun!), and I learned of the works of Spenser and Mallory and Milton.  I read Paradise Lost (my personal nomination for the greatest English language work of all time), and innumerable other great works beside, ancient and modern.  I’ve never regretted those exposures.  Who would?  I also learned how quickly I can write at need, when I discovered that I’d mis-marked the due date for my honors thesis, and I had to write the whole thing in one weekend.  That was pretty stupid, but maybe I can blame it on the residua of my cognitive impairment, which thankfully seems to have faded completely in the intervening years.

Anyway, it was thanks to my parents’ support, and my father’s words—and the example he set—that I was able to feel good about my choice.  We had some pretty serious interpersonal problems in subsequent years, but eventually we put them behind us, and though I didn’t become an “official” writer directly after college (I went to medical school instead…go figure) I am finally now finally fulfilling my destiny, as the Jedi and the Sith are prone to say.*

I’m tremendously happy that my father lived long enough to see me publish my first few books, though I wish he’d been alive to read The Chasm and the Collision, since his advice had real, beneficial impact on its style.

And now I have my own version of his tee-shirt that reads, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” It was a gift from my sister, and I come as close to embodying the words as my parents did, if not closer.  I’m more like my father, probably, than I am like any other person I’ve ever known.  I’m a little more playful than he ever was—he was quite a serious man most of the time, and he was exceeded in stubbornness only by his youngest son—but he’s still the only other person I’ve known who had the patience and desire to spend as much time in zoos and museums as I do.  He always loved to learn new things, and I consider that shared love (which also came from my mother) perhaps the greatest gift that I could ever have been given.

I miss him terribly, and my mother as well.  But as Arthur Bach said in the original movie, Arthur, “I was lucky to know him at all.”


*If there is such a thing as destiny, then surely it’s impossible to do anything but fulfill one’s destiny.