Thursday, January 27, 2011


I'm writing again, though still daunted by the idea of rewriting the novel.

Here is a paragraph that ended up on the cutting room floor, or the recycle bin, or wherever pieces of writing go that never see the light of day. It's a little hyperbolic, though it does have a nice rhythm working for it.

Jetsam, incidentally, is cargo that has been purposely discarded. Flotsam is unintended wreckage of a ship or its cargo.

People kept telling him to go see a counselor, go see a therapist, a priest, an old friend; get drunk, get laid, go to church, go for as walk, take up a hobby, lose a bad habit, and he wanted to give one or even all of these things a try, he really did, but never pulled the trigger. It was just too tiring to contemplate. Life was a river, they’d say. Life was a garden that needed careful tending. And the nature imagery resonated, albeit in unintended fashion, as life felt to him like half-starved grizzly bear that had wandered into camp late at night looking for food and found the beer instead, drank all of it and then found the whiskey, smashed the bottle to open it and got the glass shards in his throat and was now stumbling through the campfire, drunk and angry and hungry and mean, fur singed and stinking, mouth agape with drunken hunger, eyes burning demon red as the Damned Thing staggered in the dark toward the flimsy, listing tent where he and his family lay sleeping.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A great name for a zombie repellent, innit?

First things first: during my vacation from blogging in December, the zombie satellite came back to life. It's power supply fully drained, it died, then unexpectedly rebooted and came back to life. Ah, sweet resurrection! Sadly, my dreams of an interstellar apocalypse are now dashed.

I perfected my Alan Rickman impression during the Christmas break. Huzzah! The trick, it turns out, is not to try and ape his performance as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, which is surprisingly difficult, but rather to hearken back to his dizzyingly effective work as the bad guy in the first Diehard, specifically when he pulls down the sweatshirt of the dead guy and reads "Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho." It's on Youtube, but embedding is disabled; seek it out, you can play at home!

I wrote last week about how my Dad is part of a crowd-sourcing find-a-grave community. Fresca commented that crowd-sourcing maked her feel optimistic about the human race. I'd agree. Here's more proof: KY Tunstsall asked her fans to recreate the music tracks behind her song "Glamour Puss" and submit them via Youtube. The result is a mash-up - video and audio - of their efforts. All that's left is her original vocal track; the music is all crowd-sourced. Pretty cool. Plus, she's kinda cute. Be sure and look for the guy playing the carrot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clockwork Universe

This thing is called the Antikythera Mechanism, and according to the IPOD entry was found at the bottom of the sea aboard an ancient Greek ship, thought to have sunk around 80 BC. It's an analog computer used to predict the motion of the planets, sun and moon, and display the results on a clock-like face. It even predicts eclipses!

No one thought such mechanical sophistication was possible back in 80 BC, and some have offered it up as proof of ancient alien contact. More likely it is proof we don't give those old Greeks nearly enough credit.

Anyway, as cool as all that is, it is not as cool as this: somebody made one out of Lego! Not an exact replica, as is uses, according to the video, twice as many gears as the original. But still. For a discussion of some of the math involved, skip to about halfway through the clip.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Prairie Flowers

My Dad is a member of a find-a-grave internet crowd-sourcing tool, where you can ask for pictures of specific gravesites, and in turn find graves for others. This weekend he and I and the girls drove out to the local cemetery to take pictures of graves for people requesting them on the site. It's a pleasant and relaxing task, walking the rows of gravestones, searching for a specific name, looking at the dates and doing the math, pondering the lives (and deaths) of others.

When I found one of the graves we were looking for, I yelled, and my youngest came running over, tripped and fell, cried for a few seconds, got over it quickly. My Dad told me that when my grandmother died, someone's boy was running around the cemetery during the service, and almost fell in an open grave. He said it was refreshing, to see such youthful energy at a funeral.

His sister Lois is in that same cemetery. She died when she was nine. Here is what he wrote about her in the family history:

Lois died 3 days before her 10th birthday. She received a small scrape on her foot that became infected. She died from what was then called blood poisoning.

It was the winter of 1934-35 and the whole country was in the grip of the Great Depression. The Wood family lived in the woods about 5 miles NW of Idabel OK. There was no money for funeral homes or caskets so her dad (Everett Ellsworth Wood) and her uncle Bud (Jesse B Clardy) made her a coffin of pine boards. Bud bought her a new dress in which to be buried. Walter Wood carried her coffin to Forest Hill Cemetery on the back of his truck. A line of wagons formed the funeral procession following the truck.

Her mother, Ruby Lorene Clardy, refused to continue living in the house so the family moved shortly afterward. When she was in her 70's her mother said she still thought of Lois daily.

Tough family. Tough times.

I've tended her grave several times now. It sits on a hill next to a white clapboard Baptist church in rural Oklahoma, tenacious prairie grasses and wildflowers rooted in the hard clay ground between the graves. I will tend it again this summer, when we take my Mom's ashes to that same hillside, and scatter them to the wind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


As most of you who read this blog probably know, our two girls are adopted, and came to our home at the ages of 18 months and 3 years. We've always been pretty open with them about the process, though what we tell them about their parents is necessarily abridged. There has been one exception to this: they have a sister. Somewhere.

We didn't tell them right away. I'm not sure why we held that one huge piece of information back. Partly to spare anxiety on their part, partly because we know so little about her. No name, no age, no city.

Regardless, we decided to tell all this past summer. We told them they had a sister, and that we knew nothing about her, not even her name. We took out the deep pile of documentation and paperwork and let them see it, take it to their rooms, read it. My office functioned as kind of a lending library for this bit; they had to turn in what they had to get any more (there were detailed and sometimes painful histories of their bio-parents buried inside, but you had to really dig to find it). They were obsessed with the papers for awhile. After a couple of weeks they quit checking out the documents, seemingly forgetting about them.

Hux and I combed the stack for any info about their sister in there, and found not a single word. We called Social Services, got no answer, called back and got no answer, called again and finally got a callback months later with some basic info: name, who she lived with, where they lived seven or so years ago when all this went down.

We told the girls their sister's name. Told them the town she lived in back then. The pattern stayed the same: they were tripping over their words asking us questions, then the questions slowed, then stopped.

Thst's not to say they don't think about her. I suspect they think about daily. But there are no more questions to ask, nothing to say. Their sister's presence has moved beyond words.

So. The reason I bring up any of this is because a metaphor presented itself to describe the experience. I just finished China Mieville's clever genre-bender of a book, Kraken, which, amid all the very weird goings-on, talks of a monstrous being, deep under water, in silent motion, unseen, its true shape unknown. The thing is worshiped by some as a God. And it is rising slowly toward the surface, this huge mass. Rising. And when it breaks the surface, when its true shape is known, the world will change irrevocably.

Now that I reread that last paragraph it sounds oddly apocalyptic, and while I did not mean for that note to sneak in there, I won't edit it out. There will be a day when their yearning will break the surface, and they will want to seek out their sister, meet her. There is no way to know how that will go. There are a million ways in which it can go badly. And a handful of ways where it can go well. All I know is that we'll help them find her, if they ask for our help. And we'll be there afterward, whether in celebration or in sorrow. Or, likely, both.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tumble Into Darkness

The hand-off of 2009 to 2010 was accompanied by a full moon (a full blue moon if I recall), and I love that image as a visual metaphor of year's end: one orb setting just as another rises, with you at the fulcrum, balanced between them, the past calling from one horizon, the future from another (Marilynne Robinson describes this much better than I in the opening pages of Gilead). The sky becomes a mirror of the mind. We watched the moon rise from the bluffs of the Arkansas last year, came home, celebrated the New Year six-ish hours later.

This December's lunar eclipse didn't fall on year's end, but it came the day before solstice, the day before the darkest day, and mirrored my own mental landscape so well it follows me into January, as I write this. Perhaps the sky is not the mirror. Perhaps I am the mirror.

Skies were cloudy, it was cold out, and I wasn't expecting much. But clouds began to clear as the eclipse started, just before midnight, so I fired up the clay stove and set up the big dumb telescope. Just before totality I woke the rest of the family up, dragged them outside.

Eldest lasted about a half an hour, til totality began, then stumbled back to bed, familial obligations fulfilled. Hux fared much better, well into the thing, but she too wandered back inside after an hour or so. And then it was down to me and youngest. We snuggled close to the stove, talked some, went to the telescope a couple times, but mostly just watched as the moon turned eerie red, then dull brown as the moon slid fully into shadow. It was a long, cold wait for light after that, but light, when it came, was dramatic. It was preceded by that same weird red glow, and then, not quite suddenly, the edge of the moon lit up, and light slowly spread across the surface as the red glow faded. Lovely, startling, moving.

After that even youngest gave up the ghost, went to bed. I tucked her in, poured myself several fingers of good bourbon, and went out to watch the end. Things were about half in shadow by then. I sipped my bourbon and smelled the woodsmoke and watched the moon slide into sunlight, surrounded by darkness, and thought about that tumble into darkness, that long cold time in shadow, and the slow but inevitable progress back into the light.