The Past is Prologue

9 Sep

As my new book is coming out on Sunday, it’s time to pimp it out! (“Pimp My Book” – next reality TV smash?) So today, enjoy the prologue of Defending Our Sacred Honor, which will be available on Kindle and Print-on-Demand paperback September 13th!

Blood sprayed onto his helmet when his shipmate was ripped apart by a shredded bulkhead. Where the hell did the Rebs get this much firepower? he wondered, quickly shifting the life support away from non-functioning decks. The old-fashioned push buttons–the same ones he’d been complaining about for years–suddenly didn’t seem as obsolete with sparks and bodily fluids dancing in the fluctuating gravity.

“Jax!” The captain called out, gripping her chair in a death grip. Her face was outwardly calm, but the rest of her body told him she was just as terrified as him. “What did we lose?”

“Boat Bay, Third Habitat Ring, and Water Reclamation, ma’am,” Specialist Second Class Javier “Jax” Jackson answered without checking the status board. “Sealed them off.”

“Guess we won’t be having showers for a while,” the captain gave a wan grin. “Polly, have we managed to hit them at all?”

The assistant weapons officer—the primary was down in sick bay after getting his leg crushed—checked his sensor readout. “They’re streaming atmosphere, ma’am, but they keep firing.”

“Nothing but freighters, Intel said,” the captain said. A shudder went through the ship as a nuke got a little too close to the hull. “Seems like someone added some firepower. Do we have anything to stop them?”

“We’re out of missiles, ma’am,” Polly answered, “but shells are working just fine. I got Manny trying to rig the com laser to fuck up their sensors, but they’re dancing out there. Getting a solid hit seems nigh impossible.”

“If you don’t mind floating in zero gee, you can maneuver all you want,” the navigation officer piped up.

“Nothing’s impossible, Betty,” Captain Jenny Fullerstein smiled, “so why don’t we do the same?”

“Spin’s not gonna slow us down, ma’am,” Jax answered. “We’re not a thrust-only ship. Besides, we stopped pushing the spin when they opened fire.”

“I need options,” the captain demanded.

“We’re almost out of shells,” the weapons officer explained, “but then again, so are they. I swear they’re shooting trash barrels at us every other shot.”

“Trash barrels?” Jax asked.

“When it’s flying at several thousand feet a second,” Polly replied, “an apple peel can rip you to shreds.”

“If Manny’s laser works, it’s gonna dazzle them,” the navigation officer—Lieutenant Beatrix—explained, “but I don’t think they’re gonna stand down because they can’t see us.”

“And we’re running out of hard weaponry,” the captain admitted. The fact that they had double the normal load of nuclear weapons was in violation of several Space Force regulations… but those were written before the Confed declared war. “Polly, can you tag them before we run out of shells?”

“If I’m lucky,” the assistant weapons officer admitted sheepishly.

“Then hold fire,” Captain Fullerstein ordered as Third Lieutenant Herb “Polly” de Paulo cancelled the load cycle. “What’s it gonna take to get a hit?”

“A lot closer, ma’am.”

“We could probably use the grapples at the range you’re talking.” Jax scoffed.

The captain gave a small smirk. “Then we’d definitely get a hit, wouldn’t we? Betty, move us danger close.”

“But that’ll…” Beatrix started to object.

“If we’re out of shells, so are they. I want to read the serial numbers on their maintenance covers before we launch our next nuke. Understood?”

The senior lieutenant gulped and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
CSS Community of Harmonious States hit the thrusters and bolted towards its opponent. A couple more shots came their way, but no one charting the projectile trajectories on the converted freighter would have imagined the drastic change in course. On the bridge, the spin section soon found all its gravity shifted to the left side of the ship, and only the safety harnesses on their chairs kept them at their stations.

“Time to intercept?” Captain Fullerstein asked.

“Five minutes,” Beatrix replied, “assuming they don’t break off.”

“Oh, they’re not breaking off,” the captain smiled evilly, “not unless they want a nuke in their ion drive. Polly, I want you ready to fry their ass when I give the word.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Herb nodded, sweating profusely in his helmet as he constantly updated the calculations.

A flashing light came on Jax’s screen. He hit the report button and announced. “Engineering reports strain in the fuel containment. Estimate auto-shutdown in ten minutes.”

“We don’t need ten minutes,” the captain shrugged. “How’s it looking, Polly?”

“I only got three shots.”


“Their erratic maneuvers means I’m lucky if I make a near hit at range. Standard spacer radiation shields make nukes useless unless you can actually rattle their hulls loose.”

“I need the odds, lieutenant,” Captain Fullerstein reminded him, “before we overfly them and give them a shot up our ass.”

Herb hit a few more buttons on his screen. “The computers say we’ve got a one in three chance in one minute, 50/50 in two minutes.”

“Three shells, three chances,” their commanding officer chuckled, “perfect symmetry. Plan your attack for one minute.”

Jax tried to focus on the ops screen—the specialist knew he wasn’t even supposed to be on the bridge. He was repairing a loose power converter when all hell broke loose and the freighter jumped them. Lord knew where the ops officer was, if she was even alive, but luckily they all had their suits on them since they catapulted in system.

The seconds passed by—even Polly’s mad calculating had stopped—as they waited for the inevitable shot. Ten seconds before launch, Beatrix announced, “Target’s changing course.”


“Turning right towards us!”

The captain looked at de Paulo and said, “Hit ‘em!”

Herb slammed his firing key and their last three shells blasted out of the ports five seconds early. The freighter had predicted their plan and tried to narrow its target profile; but de Paulo had them locked up with his guns for the past minute. Anticipating their next erratic shift, he planted one nuke ahead, one on top, and one below them. The turn completely threw off the forward nuke, but it slowed the ship enough that the freighter was sandwiched between the two remaining shells. The first shell rattled the ship enough to weaken it, but the second finished the job.

Within seconds, the target was nothing but scrap metal.

An audible sigh escaped from everyone’s mouths. After an unexpected moment of silence, Fullerstein said, “All right, Betty, cancel the thrust, and get the spin working again. I’m starting to fly off this seat. Lollipop?”

“Dead,” Jax reminded her, looking at the remaining torso of the communications officer.

The captain paused—the shock was quickly replaced by her duty—and it was only a moment before she replied. “Jax, see if our comm console is still working. If so, send a message to the planet. We demand their surrender before we reach orbit or we’re nuking their settlements.”

“But ma’am,” de Paulo said, “we don’t have any nukes left.”

“Yeah, but they don’t know that,” Fullerstein laughed. “Let’s finish this and go home. I’ve had enough war to last my lifetime. Pity it wasn’t that long for others.”

Community returned to Earth orbit a month later. As they braked in from the catapult point, Space Force sent them the awful news; half the ships sent out to handle the insurgency were lost, presumed destroyed. Since the declaration, more colony worlds had seceded from the Terran Confederation and most of their personnel had either died in combat, or worse yet, resigned their commissions and joined to fight with the rebels. Once the model of orbital perfection, Earth was now a mess. Every dock was full with new construction; stable orbital paths and La Grange points were all jammed solid. The Confederate Senate had imposed a massive new tax on all its member states to pay for the war effort. Of course, that was in violation of the Articles, but so was seceding from the union. Space Force found itself rewriting the regulations as they were suddenly shifting for a war footing they weren’t built for. But even with all the new ships that would soon come online, after Space Force’s disastrous first campaign, there were few soldiers left to fight it.

Specialist Jackson’s own ship was directed to a stable orbit, the hole in space was carved out by a rapidly departing freighter. Even though Community’s damage demanded a dock, there were no docks to be found. Tugs were intercepting to keep her in place until a dock could be found.

“Incoming message from the CNC,” Jax said, now the de facto communications officer on Community, ever since Lollipop lost her head.

“Put it up, Jax,” the captain nodded.

The holoproj appeared and a smaller version of the man with too much gold braid appeared on their ship. “Captain Third Class Fullerstein?”

“Yes, sir. As I reported once we jumped in system, the rebellion on Teegarden…”

“Thank you, captain, I did receive your report,” the commander-in-chief cut her off. “Did you receive mine?”

She nodded. “I was sorry to hear the news. We lost a lot of good people, sir.”

“That, Jenny, is the understatement of the century. So much for the object lesson.” He quoted the propaganda phrase that senators had been bandying about when they left the fight. “When we received the first news back—from the Rebels, no less—that’s when the Senate kicked into gear and started the construction boom you can see up there.”

“I see. But if we need ships, surely a dock can be opened up for Community…”

“No, Jenny,” the CNC abandoned all formality, “maybe you didn’t read the report as well as I thought. We might need ships, but we’re all out of qualified men and women to fly them. I’ve ordered shuttles directed to Community. They will ferry off your personnel to Unity for debriefing and reassignment.”

Reassignment, Jax went pale at the words, that’s the worse news of all. After two years with this crew, I can’t believe I’m losing them.

“But what about Community?”

“The Association-class corvettes are being retired.”


“Don’t look at me like that, Jenny,” the CNC moaned. “Ships like Community are just science platforms with defensive systems. We don’t need science vessels—we need warships.”

“Then what happens to…”

“We do need the battle steel. Community will be scrapped and the materials used to build new construction. And before I hear you whine about it, Jenny, I’m doing that to all of our cur… surviving vessels.”

“Where will my crew be reassigned?”

The CNC sighed. “That’s why I’m calling you myself, captain. I need to spread out your experienced personnel across the new fleet. Hopefully, they’ll leaven the rest of the new recruits we’ve got coming in.”
Fullerstein blinked. “So… they’re no longer my crew.”

“I’m sorry, Jenny. You’ll need to clear your possessions from the ship and take it with you on the arriving shuttles. You’ll each get your marching orders when you get to Unity. I’m sorry it had to be this way, but I need you—all of you—now. We can’t win this war without you. Do you understand?”

“I don’t like it, sir, but I’ll obey.” Despite the fact that (until recently) the Space Force was a primarily exploration and scientific unit, it was still a military organization. When command said jump, you asked how high.

“Good girl,” the CNC nodded. From anyone else, that comment would have been insulting, but the youthful-looking commander-in-chief of Space Force was old enough to be the captain’s grandfather. Near immortality had led to some strange social mores on Earth, and a lot more colonists wanting to get away from the homeworld because of it.

“I’m sending the formal orders on a separate circuit on this comm line. Please thank your crew for their dedication… and victory.”

“If I know them, sir, they’re already watching you on a hacked circuit.”
The CNC gave a wan smile. “The shuttles will be there in an hour. Discom.”

“You heard the Old Man. Start packing your bags,” Jenny said, and with her eyes tearing up, she said, “don’t leave anything behind you want to keep. And… most importantly, I’ll miss you.”

Jackson crammed into one of the waiting shuttles and took the fifteen minute ride to Confederate Space Station Unity of the World. Through the random perversity of the universe, all of his close friends were split off into different shuttles, and he was stuck next to Lieutenant de Paulo. He really didn’t know the officer socially—most of them lived in a different world than the enlisted—but in a crew compliment of fifty, the specialist knew everyone personally. “Guess we’re traveling together, sir.”

“Hey, Jax,” the weapons officer smiled, “did you get any hint on where we’re going?”

“No time,” the specialist shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out when we hit Unity.”

“Wonder what we’ll get. What ship, I mean.”

“Knowing you, Polly, they’ll put you as captain of a freighter.”

“Very funny.”

“Hey, you know important supply ships will be!” Jax gave him a wide smile. Herb de Paulo had big ambitions and little experience. How he managed to get past Vice-Lieutenant is one of the great mysteries of the universe, Jax thought.

“Well, when I get that freighter, I’ll make sure to ask for you as my laundry officer.”

“It would be a good career move,” the specialist rolled with the joke, holding up his lapel. “Have you seen whiter whites?”

De Paulo smiled back. “Eh, I’ve seen better. Remember when we served on Bright April and Sergeant Iyer kept demanding a spotless uniform?”

“Who do you think programmed in the extra bleach, Polly?”

“I thought that was you! Everyone thought it was MacNamara.”

“But the sarge never said a word,” Jackson shook his head, “he kept wearing that star-white outfit for the rest of the tour.”

The lieutenant chuckled. “He was an amazing ball-buster.”

“I hope he made it.”

“Iyer? Trust me, if he ran into the Rebs, pray for the Rebs.”

“At least his uniform would survive a supernova.”

The shuttle started its final braking towards the station. The weapons officer sighed and held out his hand. “It was good knowing you, Jax. When I see you again, you’ll probably make Major.”

He shook his hand. “Not without another eight years of college, Polly.”

“This is war, Jax,” de Paulo shrugged, “anything can happen.”

Once they docked and everyone filed out of the shuttle, the shore patrol flunkies were there in force. Before he could say goodbye to everyone else on the shuttle, he was shoved and pointed down a corridor, just like everyone else. With regret, he followed the hallway and kept walking. It didn’t take long before the specialist soon found himself at a desk, manned by a bored little private second class, who seemed upset that he was taken away from whatever game he was playing on his console.

“Name, sir?”

“Specialist Jackson, serial number 27 Alpha Omicron…”

“That’s enough, sir,” the private intoned, “I have your file right here.”

The clerk took a moment to read the file and shrugged. “You’re promoted to Vice-Sergeant and need to report to the CSS Our Sacred Honor as soon as physically possible.”

Jax just stood there at the clerk’s desk, stunned. Within the hour, he had just lost his crew mates, the next he knew, he had been jumped up four full ranks! It took him twenty years to reach Specialist, and he only took the technical rank after he realized that it would take another ten years before he could even hope for Vice-Corporal, and finally become a non-commissioned officer. Now with the stroke of a stylus, he was suddenly one of the Lords after God… on a brand-new spaceship!

“Do you need a printout of your orders, sir?” the private asked when the newly minted sergeant hadn’t moved.

“No,” Jackson tentatively said, “but, uh… what dock is Our Sacred Honor at?”

“The Our Sac…”

“It’s not the Our Sacred Honor, private,” Jax corrected, “it’s a ship. That means you treat her as a lady, not a thing.”

A confused look came across the clerk’s face. “If you say so, sir.”

The new sergeant became annoyed. “How long have you been in the Space Force, Private?”

“Two weeks, sir.”

“And you’re already second class?!” Jax turned red in anger crossed with astonishment; it took him three years to earn the second thin chevron.

The clerk cringed a little before the veteran. “Things have changed since you went out, sir.”

“Sergeant,” Jackson shook his head in disbelief, “not sir. I work for a living. Now… tell me where to find Our Sacred Honor.”

Do you like it? Do you hate it? Tell me in the comments below! Are you interested in reading more? Click on the link to pre-order!

“They’ll Like Us When We Win!”

8 Sep

Some folks seem to think that if the orange one goes away, that our overheated rhetoric will die down, and people will have a civil society again. I disagree. But this level of political acrimony has happened before in the US… 220 years ago. How did their overheated society calm down?

Let’s return to 1796 – Washington announces he’s not running for a third term. He could have easily won, but he was getting older, he was tired of the political infighting, and decided to retire. That left his vice president, John Adams, to take up the role as the Federalist party standard bearer. However, Thomas Jefferson wanted the job as well, and became the Democratic-Republican party’s chosen one. Mind you, political parties were just recently established, and they were not the well-oiled machines that we have today. No one actively campaigned (Aaron Burr changed that) and they let their partisans snipe each other in the press.

Things got ugly… fast. An anonymous poster named Phocion said that Jefferson was having an affair with one of his female slaves. He also accused Jefferson of running away from British troops during the Revolution. It turned out both of those were true (he was governor of Virginia when the redcoats marched on Richmond, so what did you expect him to do?), but didn’t make it any more damming. Alexander Hamilton, the actual writer of those early “attack ads,” knew what he was doing.

Jefferson’s allies (in this case, James Madison) shot back with Adams wanting to be a king and starting a dynasty by having his son succeed him as President. He was also accused of being overweight and given the nickname “His Rotundity.” Again, he was overweight, and although his son did eventually become president, he wasn’t a monarchist. Plus it didn’t help that Hamilton was secretly trying to manipulate the electoral college to get Thomas Pinckney elected by pretending to make him vice president.

If the election of 1796 was bad, 1800 was far, far worse. The level of political debate involved accusing the other side of delving into witchcraft, of returning the republic back to British rule, and all the stuff that sounds eerily familiar.

So we return to the question, “How did it end?” The War of 1812 – the Federalists opposed the war, and when America “won” the war, they looked like idiots. Their party was trounced in the election and they ceased to exist. For eight years there was only one political party in America – the Democratic Republicans. (They drop the “republican” part a few years later.) During this “Era of Good Feelings,” there was no need for political infighting, so we lost the taste for it. When the Whigs emerged as the opposition, we had overt civility (although we still had that nasty incident where one member of congress beat another to unconsciousness).

So when do we calm our political nerves? If you’re wondering why I keep using Toby Ziegler from The West Wing, it’s because he tells us in an episode (talking about Islamic terrorists), “They’ll like us when we win!” Until one political party wins so overwhelmingly that the other side realizes they have to change their tactics, waving the red flag will keep working.

Depressing? Is it more likely that people will stop listening to the overheated rhetoric and THEN parties will have to change tactics? Have you got another theory? Tell me in the comments below!

Kyoto Protocol – Spy Novel or Rock Band?

7 Sep

Ever look at a phrase too long and start thinking… “That’s a great band name!” Well, since my job involves building an online course for international environmental law, I kept having to research the Kyoto Protocol, so this thought came to me. Apparently, somebody beat me to it.

Actually, my first thought was spy novel. Can Bourne get the US Senate to ratify the document before he’s found by enemy agents? (Hmmm… need a better catch line. I’ll have to work on that one.) If you’ve been anywhere near Malaysia for the past ten years, you may have run into this band. It’s good… it’s got a slightly-harder-than-boy-band sound to it, so in my opinion, it falls under Pop or Light Rock. And of course, it’s in Malay, so… you might still enjoy it, you just won’t understand the words.

This is an extension of the “if you stare at a word too long, it looks misspelled” principle. Or… the problem when you’re trying to make international law sexy. You hit a limit of what you can do with pictures and highlights and start focusing on what you could do if the topic was far more sexy. I’m guessing this is what Al Gore had to deal with in An Inconvenient Truth. So you get a big globe, lots of flashy graphics, and tell everyone they’re going to die.

Oooh! Maybe you could go with a Yakuza story… eh… still like spy novel better.

Sometimes you run into this problem as a writer – you’ve got a cool story set in the… uh, not sexy situation. Such as Other People’s Money, which was a great story about a business takeover, or The Social Network, which is all about people typing on computers. The answer? Don’t make it about the subject, make it about the people. Tell their story, which happens to be set in a not sexy setting.

That way you can take a topic you like (but no one else is going to) and get people really engaged. Mystery writers do this all the time, setting their amateur detectives in landscape design, or on the Navajo Reservation, or even as a 13th Century Monk (those are all actual mystery book/movie settings, BTW). I had this trouble with my most recent writing project. I really wanted to write about merchant marines, but got so caught up in the setting that I didn’t focus on the plot. 56K words and boring as #*$&. That’s gonna sit in the electronic desk drawer until I feel ready to tackle that again. Maybe I’ll have to add so much it’ll get bumped up to 80K!

What’s a topic you find fascinating but others would see as watching paint dry? Let me know in the comments below!

“It is Easier to Ask Forgiveness than Permission”

6 Sep

This has been the hardest maxim to write about – because although it’s my favorite, it’s also the one I’ve been burned by the most. It IS easier–if only because most people don’t care about the details as long as they get the final result.

This is Maxim #6 for me (and the last, although there is actually 8, I can’t remember the others, so obviously they’re not that important) and it should have been number one, but I really, really didn’t want to delve into this one. Mostly because I’ve lost too many jobs to this major fault of mine, and yet, I keep following it… and there are good reasons to keep following it.

The reason I keep coming back to it should be Maxim #7: People don’t know what they want, but they do know what they DON’T want. My entire life revolves around creating a project, then having people criticize it, fixing the criticisms, have more criticisms, fixing those, and finally running out of time to have any more criticisms (because they’re always more) and finally finishing it.

As a person with ADD, I’ve learned that my brain has been conditioned to expect people to be upset with whatever you did. It’s something that happened in childhood – you’d rush ahead with a job, usually screw something up, and get chided for it. I used to say “Sorry” perpetually from 10 to 15 years old. (My son does it now – drives me crazy.) What happened in my mind is what are called ANTs or Automatic Negative Thoughts. “You hate it, don’t you?” “What did I #&$* up now?” It still happens, but I’ve had to train my adult self to realize that most of them are ANTs and to ignore them.

So I find that if I just go ahead and build/write/do something, most of the time I’m going to have go back and fix it anyway, and ever so rarely, they like it and I go on with the fifty other things that have to get done. The problem becomes if that your screw up gets caught too many times, you are labeled as a screw up, and sooner or later, you’re out of a job. Which is why (along with the ANTs), I always feel like I’m on the verge of getting fired.

It’s a terrible needle to thread, that’s for certain, but as I learned in college, there’s a stress threshold you hit where you just say “@*#$ it!” and go to sleep or go doing something fun rather than the work you’re supposed to, because you’re causing yourself more fault by staying there than if you just stepped away from it for a while.

Do you think this is a valid maxim? Have you paid the price for seeking forgiveness because you knew the answer would be no? Let me know in the comments below!

“To Seek Simplicity Rather Than Sophistication.”

5 Sep

I don’t like to come across too profound; I find it rather silly… too easy… and rather insincere. I find that to also be the case in other parts of my life. I can appreciate the fancy car, the formal tea time, the Persian rug… but I fear it is wasted on me.

Which is why this is Maxim #5 – and I read it on the side of the tea mug at a restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina. (That’s how specific my memory works sometimes.) It seemed profound enough that I wrote it down and it has stuck in my head enough to become another of my maxims. Because there is so many ways it can be applied.

I always chalk this up to the fact that I grew up in rural Illinois, but when I say that, people might think I grew up on a farm. No, I grew up as a “townie” in a place with 4,000 people. The bigger city was a half-hour drive away, the regional center was an hour. So we were rather limited in our ways to be sophisticated. I thought Chinese food was Chow Mein, bagels were bready doughnuts, and I could listen to opera I didn’t understand on Saturday afternoons.

That being said, we had a strangely robust arts program for a small town. We were exposed to a lot of good drama, music, and art. All of our teachers were award winning in their field. Mr. Nesti was frequently had the back page of Art and Man magazine, which was a high school visual arts magazine that was given out to kids. We didn’t know that that was highly competitive and that our teacher was that good!

Sure, I could listen to opera and felt rather smug about that, but I was far more impressed when our choir teacher had us listen to Les Miserables. Then I also got to travel to Cedar Rapids and actually see it with the rest of my class! Now that I’m older, I realize it’s a musical… it’s not meant to be high art, it’s meant to be a enjoyable mass market production.

And is that so wrong? Sure, I could watch the “Red, White, and Blue” French art film trilogy and probably be completely bored and wonder why I wasted six hours doing that. I don’t seek out drama because I feel there’s enough drama in my life. I seek out comedy and comfort… sure, I’ll actually get a nice Persian rug or watch a dramatic something (usually with the wife), but what’s wrong with beer and a baseball game?

So I learned that I can appreciate sophisticated things (whiskey, especially), but I rarely enjoy them, and unless I’m really interested in the subject, I don’t feel the need to take the time to cultivate an interest. Therefore, I’ve learned that I don’t have to seek these things out to make myself feel better; the Camenbert cheese may be out of my price range, but the Swiss is right there.

Do you agree with me? Have you found that cultivating an interest in something is far more worthwhile? Tell me about it in the comments below!

“It Costs You Nothing To Be Polite.”

4 Sep

The full quote is “When you kill someone, it costs you nothing to be polite.” Winston Churchill was great at the quip, but the point is, even when you have nothing to gain, in modern society politeness means more.

This is my Maxim #4 – and part of it, I’ll admit, is that politeness is one of my defense mechanisms. It’s hard to be angry at someone whose being polite… it’s even harder if they’re standing in front of you. However, it tends to defuse a lot of explosive situations in life, and in the end, might get you a little better treatment at a time you’re not expecting it.

Recently I took my kids out to a restaurant and the waitress brought us drinks. I had to remind them to say “Thank You,” which annoyed me – they should know better than that. Again, it’s their job to bring out drinks… you’re paying for them, but you want that waitress to come back out and check on you more than every 15 minutes? A “thank you” goes a long way in ensuring that.

When I used to work at a call center doing tech support, I realized that it was far easier for people to get angrier on the phone than in person. It’s the same reason the stormtroopers in Star Wars have masks–you can’t be sympathetic to a mindless, faceless drone, so blast away! So it wasn’t enough to be polite on the phone, you had to be sympathetic. You had to go that extra step to avoid stepping on people’s toes. They were hurting, they were vulnerable… and people don’t like to be either, so they’re gonna lash out.

If that’s how it is on the phone, it must be doubly so on the Internet. No face, no voice… you’ve just taken away 70% of communication! So I use emoticons a lot… because as much as I feel they’re stupid and vapid, they convey at least some of that non-verbal communication which translates a statement that they could interpret as aggressive to one that’s neutral or friendly.

Some people think that getting angry online makes you powerful, or snarking someone gives you strength… no, it just makes you angry and snarky. I’ve muted so many folks on my social media feeds because I don’t want their negativity (and… let me be honest, their political rants) in my life. Yet rarely do I unfollow or drop someone unless they’re interference in my online enjoyment (usually raiding my comments) becomes too much.

Am I just deluding myself? Is the world just a world of shadows and pain and I need to toughen myself more? Or does civility still matter in today’s society? Let me know in the comments below!

“You Can Get Everything You Want But Not At The Same Time”

3 Sep

When bidding for apartments, I was frustrated about the choices. When I told this to a co-worker, she said “You can get everything you want, but not at the same time.” Guess what? She wasn’t just talking about apartments.

So this is Maxim #3 that I live by because it works so well for so many aspects of my life. Of course, there is a better way to phrase it, as I heard CGP Gray say in a recent video, “There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

If you’re wondering what “bidding for apartments” means, this was back when I worked at Woodstock School, which is up in the Himalayan mountains next to Mussoorie, India. Unlike most international schools, they offer free room to their teachers because a) they’ve got a lot of leftover missionary homes to give out and b) they can pay their teachers a whole lot less. However, instead of choosing an apartment, you had to bid for them, and just like any socialist system, rank and seniority mean everything. So as a new teacher who had only been there a year, my choices were between the really nice places that involved a 15-30 minute walk to work everyday (we lived on the side of a mountain, forget driving or biking), or the close place that was smaller and had a yippy dog downstairs.

Thankfully, someone was leaving and I bid for their place (called the “Shoestring”). Plenty of space, but dingy. 15 minute walk, but it was at the same level as the school (not up or down). Had a couple of strange neighbors, but not annoying, although the turnip liquor still was difficult when he fired it up (hillbillies are the same the world over). In other words, I made trade-offs to find a good solution.

Of course, that was true about the school itself. Gorgeous location, wonderful students, free room, cheap to live there… but they paid incredibly little. When I was there (2003-5), we got paid $300/month. In the US, that’s below the lowest poverty level. In rural India, that meant upper middle class… and I mean rural. We were fifteen minutes from the edge of civilization–you walked around the corner and there was NOTHING for miles. What there was when you crossed those miles are very limited. I had two servants (who also worked for others and made a good living) and saved up enough in one year to go home to America. Of course, I had to sleep on friends’ couches, but I spent little while I was actually on site.

Later on in life, when I decided to follow the money and become a travelling consultant, I got paid a ton of money (1.5 to 2 times my previous job). I stayed in great hotels, got my meals reimbursed, and my credit score went through the roof. However, that meant I only was home with my family for 2.5 days a week. Now I work at home (have before the pandemic started), get paid far less (but more than my job would be in an office), and work far harder. But I basically get to work wherever I want… and sometimes that’s a cafe, a restaurant, or a bar. The pandemic meant that my kids and wife were with me all the time which killed most of the incentive for this job in the first place. Now I dream of an office… who knew?

So that’s when I understood that everything was a trade off in life. You want the hot car? You either earn more or get crappy everything else. You want the hot girl? You either earn more or get in great shape yourself. This is why this statement has become a maxim of mine and reminds me that I can’t have it all — I have to make decisions about what I’m willing to sacrifice to get what I deem a priority.

Do you find this to be valid? What are you willing to give up to “have it all?” Tell me about it in the comments below!

Defending Our Sacred Honor

2 Sep

In space, no one can laugh at your ships… but they can send you a nuclear missile as a comment.

My book is available on Kindle for pre-order, coming out on Sunday, September 13th! I’ll release the paperback version at the same time. What’s it about? Well, read on!

When the Terran Confederation decides to impose their will on their colonies, civil war breaks out, and they call on the Space Force to crush the rebellion. Unfortunately, the TCSF is a scientific research body, and half their fleet gets eliminated in the first month. To fight the insurgency, the Confederate Senate resorts to begging rich patriots to fund their war machine, but they need some incentive… so they let those donors command the ships.

So it’s up to Javier “Jax” Jackson, an old hand in the Space Force, who went from repair specialist to Chief of the Boat to save this mess. Can he train his new crew of inexperienced trainees, his group of  even more inexperienced officers, and keep their new captain from blowing up the ship? Meanwhile, there’s a war to fight, and what the rebels lack in technology, they make up for in creativity.

The only question is… is Jax sneakier than the Rebels AND his own crew? For Jax, the answer is the difference between life and death.

This little space opera has been seven years in the making… not that I worked on the whole time, it mostly sat in an (electronic) drawer. However, once I decided to get serious about working on my self-publishing press, I took another look at it, edited heavily, and now it’s ready again!

And it’s available for the low, low price of $1.99 US online! ($7.99 if you want the dead tree version.) I try not to pimp my own books on my blog too much, but I’m trying to make it easy for you to get it!

Not that you can comment on a book you haven’t read yet, but if you’ve read any of my blogs or short stories which I give away free, have you noticed anything I do that you like… that you hate… styles I keep repeating? Let me know in the comments below!

“You Pay For Convenience”

1 Sep

Convenience itself is a commodity – you can sell it as much as the product you’re selling itself. It’s important to remember that when approaching two-day shipping, getting into easy classes, or easy relationships – the prices are going to be higher even though you’re satisfied now.

This is why this is Maxim #2 for me, or to elucidate: “Things that are easier to get usually come at a higher price.” The convenience store is the easiest to understand. Same things you can buy at a grocery story, it’s easier to get to, and the lines are shorter. However, your options tend to be brand name only, there’s a lot less choices, and the prices are always, always higher. So depending on your situation, the reason you might buy that box of Frosted Flakes ™ there is because you believe your time is worth more than the extra money you’d be saving if you went to the grocery.

This can be carried over into many, many areas – which is why it’s a maxim for me. Take relationships: there is Ms. Right and Ms. Right Now. In my own life, I only had eyes for my main crush in high school that I was blinded to the woman who was dying for me as well as the other smart women who (in retrospect) I should have pursued. Because people are unpredictable and unable to be easily categorized, I figured (easily skipping over other factors) that it was less painful (rejection) to pursue the one girl I wanted than the ones I could have.

Better example is after I broke up with my first girlfriend, I simply wanted another woman to date, so I lucked out and found a woman online (for context, this was 2000, so online dating was a relatively new thing). Things took off and we had a good, but brief relationship. This woman was not who I would normally have pursued, but I wanted someone, ANYONE, to help me avoid the grief from losing the woman I loved. Of course, when the new woman decided not to pursue the rebound relationship, that grief came back in spades. I sought out counseling, and eventually, sought out a new career in a new place.

To take it in another direction, our entire online economy is based on convenience. Amazon grew by leaps and bounds because of its ability to get us stuff we wanted now… or sooner than we could find it in our hometown. When the pandemic hit and their supply chain was damaged, Walmart and Target suddenly went big because their system wasn’t affected and THEY had what we wanted right now.

Remember, you pay for this convenience, not just in cash, but in how you perceive the world. You now expect this convenience from Amazon, and when they suddenly couldn’t provide it, you sought it from others. Now we wonder why we can’t get this in other parts of our lives. Why can’t other people in my social media see things the way I do? Why can’t our government fix the problems with a simple click?

And what’s our response to this? We get angry… and depending on your situation, anger reveals itself in many ways. We had riots in several cities across the US last night; interestingly enough, NONE of them were covered by any of the normal news outlets, although Twitter was buzzing about them. Why? Because anger is also convenient. We’ve had riots so long that it’s no longer news. It no longer gets clicks. And it happened on a Sunday, when no one’s checking news anyway. So why bother reporting it–wait until Monday.

So convenience has warped our view of the world, and because things are easier and cheaper, we’re not willing to travel farther to get the things we want at a better price. Gee, no wonder people are lonely and miserable.

Wow – didn’t realize my rant would lead itself there. I try to stay on the lighter side of care. However, I must ask you, did I go too far? Is convenience truly the bane of our modern existence or has it been our salvation? Am I completely wrong? Let me know in the comments below!

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”

31 Aug

In conversation, I’m often quick witted, but I’m not very original. So it’s rather expected that I quote someone else about quotes. I use quotes all the time, and some are so good, they stick with me. These are the maxims I live by.

Anyway, it’s time you knew what the heck I meant when I keep repeating them. A maxim (not the magazine) is a short statement conveying a simple truth. I’ve got about 5 to 8 I use on a regular basis. Now if you’re wondering if they can truly be that profound if you can’t remember how many you have, I’ll just say that life changes, and some are more important than others.

Obscure movies are a great source of quotes… well, obscure to most people. It’s always fun to throw out “I’m a reasonable guy, but I’ve just seen some pretty unreasonable things.” (Big Trouble in Little China) Of course, sometimes it’s things that don’t really count as quotes. I personally like “Okay, I get that. What’s this?” That’s actually from the Blues Brothers and is part of a longer conversation introducing what we think of as the Bluesmobile.

Jake: What’s this?

Elwood: What?

Jake: This car. This stupid car! Where’s the Cadillac? (beat) The Caddy! Where’s the Caddy?

Elwood: The what?

Jake: The Cadillac we used to have. The Bluesmobile!

Elwood: I traded it.

Jake (with disbelief): You traded the Bluesmobile for this?

Elwood: No, for a microphone.

Jake: A microphone? (beat) Okay I can see that. What’s this?

I still wish I could pick up the phone like the villain does in The Long Kiss Goodnight and say, “Who the f@#* is this?!” In fact, the entire film is hard to quote because of the profanity… well, in most company, anyway. I do get away with “Son of a bitch’s got to pay,” also from Big Trouble in Little China, but more often spout out “Six-demon bag, sensational!”

So what are your favorite movie quotes? Let me know in the comments below!

Journal of M the Dreamer

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