…in Pog form:
Hey-hey, all my Best Belovéd:
Just a quick heads-up that Chapter 8 of my novella Expiration Date is now available free online (as are the discussion questions, the Ann Arbor District Library Summer Games points and badges—all that).
This chapter brings us a chemical event, a reunion, a revelation, Bram’s magic chopstick (of limited utility), and something mysterious high in the sky. Come grab your copy of Chapter 8 now!
And please spread the word: If you know someone who might dig this, drop them a link. Thx!
… and it’s got a humdinger of a hook at the end! I don’t want to ALERT your SPOILERS, but Columbus, Ohio is gonna have issues, folks. Serious, serious issues. Just sayin’!
You can read this chapter—and every one that preceded, and every one that follows—for free online, courtesy of our dope-fly pals at Arbor Teas. If you’re down with book groups, Arbor Teas is even furnishing discussion questions. If you’re an Ann Arborite, you can earn special EXPIRATION DATE points and badges in the Summer Games!
The good folks at Arbor Teas have now released the first fifth chapter of my latest novella, Expiration Date. (All current chapters are available for free online in both a lovely web versions and nice, tidy PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—click on the chapter’s “Print” button to open and save that PDF).
What’s more, the good folks at the Ann Arbor District Library have included Expiration Date in this year’s Summer Games: You can earn points and badges by sussing out clues found in each chapter (scroll down to the “Expiration Date” section of the badge list to get started).
We have four chapters to go, oh my Best Beloved—and, trust me, you have no frikkin’ clue where this one is going (but, SPOILER ALERT!: Bram and Lizzie do indeed die on October 10, 2017, around 8am.)
BONUS: Wanna know more about how the sausage gets made? You can check out this interview with Gabie at Tea End blog.
I don’t wanna belabor the point, but this tweet got me thinking:
Sometimes it can be a long ride from the start of a story until the day it gets published. https://t.co/E6hDH8j1ii
— F&SF (@fandsf) July 2, 2017
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) September 14, 2014
Part of the reason this story took so long to go from this first longhand page to hitting newsstands was because, over the course of the winter that followed that tweet, I was steadily loosing my mind.
Since my adolescence I’ve always had seasonal affect issues, my mood steadily sinking until February—I’m from Michigan; Bob Hicok famously characterizes us as “a people who by February / want to kill the sky for being so gray“—then rebounding with the thaw. Lots of people are like that, especially here; no big. But that year the mood never rebounded; it just sank and sank and sank. I ate more sugar and drank more coffee and skateboarded as much as I could, and soldiered on. But by summer the hole was too deep. Once I’d slam a coffee and another coffee, eat some cookies, skate hard, and be OK. But by July I’d skate so hard I was seeing stars and woozy, and 20 minutes later feel like crap and be desperate to go back to the skatepark. My speech was getting slow and ponderous, my behavior erratic. I got in a fight with my wife over something—I can’t even recall what, something our son had done—and lost my temper. I don’t remember what I said, just that I was in the backyard screaming, my chest collapsing, so angry I was dry-heaving and chanting “I’m sick; I’m sick; I’m sick.”
I didn’t want to be alive any more, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being separate from my children, and the thing running constantly in my head was how I could get careless enough to be killed in an accident where my life insurance would still pay off. Then my family would be on easy street and not burdened by me; my kids would be able to afford college, my wife would own our house outright, and I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, because I wouldn’t have to be at all. And being, it had become apparent, was my core problem.
PRO-TIP: If you need to quickly diagnose depression that has become dangerous, just ask them: “If you could push a button and have never existed at all, would you do it? No pain, no trauma, no one mourning you, just *poof!* and you never were.”
If the answer is “Yeah, sure,” then that person needs to talk to a doctor very, very soon.
At any rate, by the time I had that screaming fit I had already made an appointment to talk to a doctor—something that I’d kept a secret for reasons I can’t really explain any more, because they make no fucking sense; I’d made that appointment under false pretenses, telling my doctor I’d re-injured my ankle—the whole point is that nothing I was doing then made a lot of sense.
But part of that logic had to do with this poisonous, murderous goddamn myth we have that taking meds for your psychiatric illnesses is somehow “weak” or “unnatural” or damages the purity of your artistic fucking whatever.
I wrote 50,000 words of stories while my brain was collapsing that just aren’t much of anything. I sat on revisions of my novella “Where There is Nothing, There is God” (which was in Asimov’s in 2016, and was a finalist for the Asimov’s Award) for a goddamn *year.* I’d sent it around, got feedback from Ann VanderMeer at Tor and C.C. Finlay at F&SF—really good advice, advice that ultimately made it the strong story it was—and then did nothing for a full calendar year. I wrote “There Was a Crooked Man…”, put it through my writing group, got great feedback, and then just sat on it.
And I have no idea why.
Or, more to the point, I know precisely why: Because my brain had drifted from doing a fairly crappy job of managing serotonin to not really bothering to manage it at all.
I started taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning about two years ago (with the ongoing support of a psychiatrist). It’s cheap, I haven’t suffered major side effects, it’s been really good for my personal relationships, and has spared my wife and children having to plan and attend my funeral—and it’s done fuckall to harm my “art”:
This story, “There Was a Crooked Man…”, saw the better part of its revision after I went on meds. The last three pieces I’ve sold—Expiration Date, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (forthcoming in F&SF) and “In the Sharing Place” (sold to Asimov’s)—were entirely written on anti-depressants. These latest pieces are among the best work I’ve done, precisely because (*SPOILER ALERT!*) it’s a lot easier to do good work when you aren’t struggling to keep being alive.
If you need help, please get help. Needing psych meds is no more a moral failing than needing a cast when you break your leg, and seeing a therapist isn’t touchy-feely “snowflake” BS any more than seeing a physical therapist after you wreck your car is touchy-feely bullshit. Your brain got injured, you need some medicine and therapy to get it back on track; that’s fine. Go do that thing. Don’t waste ~300 days that you could spend Getting Things Done or hanging out with your kids or having a beer or reading or playing video games. Go get well; if that’s not possible (because, the fact is, it often isn’t), at least get better.
(UPDATE: Same great post, now with the correct date for the event: June 28, 7pm)
Good news, everyone: My latest novella—Expiration Date—is available free online this summer! Here’s the official blurb:
This science fiction “till death do we part” story follows young Lizzie and Bram in a relationship on fast-forward. Armed with the knowledge of her scientific discovery, Granny Gin burdens the couple with the question “What would you do, if you knew your end was near?”
First chapter went live early this morning; check it out! New chapters every week.
But wait! There’s more: The official book-release kick-off party is next week:
- WHEN: June 28 @ 7pm
- WHERE: Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
- WHAT: A reading, some chit-chat, free tea and snackies from the sponsors, Arbor Teas, and free high-fives from me!
- DETAILS: Expiration Date Book Launch Event
See you there!
Sideshow Bob: [chuckling] Mr. Simpson, you are forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha.
Homer Simpson: I am not!
For those who slept through Buddhism 101—or failed to see The Simpsons Episode 8F20 (season three, episode 21, first aired April 9, 1992)—the First Noble Truth of the Buddha is this:
There is suffering.
Which isn’t such a revelation at first glance, but like a lot of things with the Buddha, the big reveal isn’t in what he’s said, but what he’s omitted:
The First Noble Truth is not: There is suffering because you’ve done bad things.
nor is it: There is suffering because you didn’t try hard enough.
nor is it: There is suffering because you are a screw-up.
nor is it: There is suffering because man is born of Original Sin.
nor is it: There is suffering because God is dead!
nor is it: There is suffering because God is a jerk!
nor is it: There is suffering because there was never any God!
There is no “because” at all. It’s a simple statement of fact that should be obvious, but which we all deny on a daily basis: There is suffering. There just is. Often with no one to blame. Often for no reason at all. And that’s fine; stop beating yourself up over it (which, handily, brings us to the Second Noble Truth—Suffering is born of craving and desire and clinging to How Things Should Be—which is important, but not really germane to skateboarding).
I bring this up because I need to share something with you:
If you are an adult person getting on a skateboard,
YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT.
Full stop, no ifs, no becauses, no unless, no provisos.
If you are really careful… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.
If you always wear your pads… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.
If you are lucky or unlucky, careless or stupid, cautious or clever…YOU WILL GET HURT.
It might be minor or major, might land you in the ER or sit you on your sofa for an afternoon with ice on your knee, but one way or the other YOU ARE GONNA GET HURT.
… and that’s fine. If is fine and just and right that you will be injured, because, as the Buddha and Sideshow Bob remind us, There is Suffering.
Every time I start talking to someone my age about the fact that I returned to skateboarding at 36, they voice admiration, and then something like envy, and always lurking around is the sentence “I’d break my neck if I tried that!”
And the thing is, while you will certainly get hurt, you probably won’t break your neck. There is, as it turns out, quite a distance between hurt and crippled, and even a further reach to dead. I’ve seen folks take tremendous falls and pop right back up, I’ve seen—and taken—minor falls that have turned out to be sprained ankles and broken wrists and concussions. I’ve seen—and worn—bruises every color of any Michigan sunset in any season. I’ve seen plenty of broken bones, but not a single death or black out.
So let me share with you something my doctor told me when I told her I’d taken up with skateboarding—on the visit I scheduled as a follow-up after a trip to the ER:
“Good. Keep it up.”
Her rationale: If you are an adult American, than it is almost certain that you aren’t getting nearly enough exercise. And—Noble Truth alert!—you aren’t likely to start getting more exercise as you continue aging. So, in the absence of everything else, the choice here isn’t between taking a risk by jumping on a skateboard and playing it safe by not doing so: Not getting enough exercise absolutely guarantees a shorter life with degraded quality. Absolutely, with no exceptions. Full stop.
Getting on the skateboard? You’ll get hurt, but you won’t die. And, hell, I regularly hang with a 70-year-old dude at my local skatepark. Does he tear it up? Nope; he cruises around, carving on the transitions, working on dropping on. But he’s having hella fun, and I’ve seen him take big falls and pop right back up.
… ‘course, he goes on to say the exact wrong thing, in terms of reducing or eliminating acts of terror (which, fundamentally, are acts of the alienated—which is why I think he zeros in on the terrorist psyche with such clarity), but he starts strong, and says something that few GOPers have managed in the last 16 years:
Terrorists are humans, crappy, fallible, shitty humans, but humans all the same. Not super villains to be grudgingly admired, certainly not desperate freedom fighters, jut numb-nuts shit-heels who are almost below contempt.
Just a quick take here. These flyers were found posted around the University of Illinois Chicago:
The argument looks kosher—there’s a neat graphic, and even footnotes to a reputable, impartial source! But if you actually look at the link indicated for footnote #2, you find pretty much nothing other than this graphic:
While this graph does show 46% of Jews to be in the top 18% of earners (the largest percentage for an identified American religious group), it is not possible to extrapolate what percentage of which religious persuasions occupy the 1% from this graphic (i.e., those earning in the $500,000 to $1.2 million range).
Anyway, just another reminder that on November 8, 2016 me and my kids were fired from being White—again. 🇺🇸🔥
“On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015.” (source)
If your position is “Trump said we should kill the families of ‘terrorists’—an abominable, authoritarian war crime—and now he’s doing just that!” well, way back in 2016, when we had a President with a Noble Peace Prize on his mantle, we dropped thousands of bombs on Yemen (google it), and it isn’t like those somehow magically only killed sworn soldiers of AQAP. A bomb dropped from a drone isn’t somehow more accurate than a highly trained SEAL with an excellent rifle standing in the same room as someone. But, man oh man, do we suddenly give a fuck about Yemen, and military operations in Yemen, and civilian casualties in Yemen! Better late than never, amiright?
I’m once again reminded of Penn & Teller’s Fishes and Loaves:
Penn and Teller were scheduled to appear on Letterman, and so they prepared a new twist on a classic “broken and restored watch” routine. In their improved version, they’d borrow Letterman’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them. Letterman would then freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!
But the network standards and practices lawyers wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen. So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the routine: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it. They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch. Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.
The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that everyone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.
Same here: Dozens, hundreds, thousands of Yemeni kids are killed by bombs Made-in-the-USA, and we’re fine with it—as long as we don’t have to see her fucking picture, as long as it’s done from 36,000 feet by a drone piloted by some dude drinking a Sprite in a cubicle at Creech AFB and there’s no chance of one of “our boys” having to come home in a box in order to git ‘er done! God forbid we should look at what our tax dollars are buying.
It’s harsh, but it’s an apt summation of American foreign policy: Killing people’s families is our business model.
It was our business model in 2016, it will continue to be in 2017, the party, skin color, generation, and gender of the president notwithstanding. If you don’t like that—well, you’re in decent company, because I don’t like it either. But let’s be honest with ourselves, and just take a damned second to sort out of we really don’t like being in the Murder Business, or if we simply dislike it when a mouthy, pudgy, tactless New Yorker is the one murdering on our behalf.
Finally, if you’re suddenly worried about Trump triggering “World War III,” then I invite you to consider something: Maybe—just maybe—WWIII has been going on for the last 15 years. We just outsourced all the suffering to developing nations—the same way we do with all the rest of our dirty work.
Maybe this is something else to talk about tomorrow, when you call your reps. I dunno; that’s between you and them.