In those days…

30 04 2016

CascadeMountainsBecause I live up here out of town in unincorporated King County…at night I hear frogs, and bats, and the wind howling off the mountains. Sometimes when it rains, the rain comes in sideways and I better have closed my bedroom window. Sometimes on a clear early morning, I see the Cascades. The part I see isn’t high enough to have snow year ’round, but mountains are synonymous with majesty for a reason. I miss wilderness. When I was young, I remember outhouses, and all the creepy crawly things I imagined in the dark.

In Houston, a friend of the family built his own house out in the woods. I would go sleep over, and we would hear a mountain lion yowl, or a black bear snuffling in the night. The windows were small, and high, and the frames were thick and strong. Come morning, “Now don’t you children go outside without an older boy and a gun.” I was 5. That land is a suburb now, deep in the heart of Houston.

My parents would sit outside in the summer dusk with cigarettes and highballs, laughing at me as I walked on the grass to keep away from all the frogs that came out to warm themselves on the sidewalk. But there was also the DDT truck, moving slowly down the street in the evening, spraying poison in the air to kill mosquitoes.

My father had a massive heart attack when I was 3. He almost died…no one understood why he didn’t. Children weren’t allowed, so at night the nurses would sneak me in through the side door. Once, because of car trouble, we didn’t go. They killed an enormous copperhead lurking in the shadows by the door that night.

Now there is so much concrete. But I can see the mountains.


How To Not Be Unhappy

23 03 2016



“For me, curiosity is a helpful trait. What happens next? How will the future unfold? That helps to keep me going.”  Ben Bova

I was sitting around, drinking, moping, and complaining. I was trying to figure out when I would die. I was living like I would die tomorrow. My brother Ronnie died suddenly last year. My best friend Dink fell over dead. I have three other friends who just up and died. My worst fear was a stroke, being trapped inside my body.

Renowned writer Ben Bova is a friend. He wrote a book on immortality. He introduced me to immortality researchers. Science can now replace the telomerase, the endcap on our DNA strands. These deteriorate as we age. Science used to think the deterioration had something to do with avoiding cancer. But they have restored the telomerase in rats, and the rats got younger, and did not get cancer. We are so close.

Look at Jimmy Carter. He was dying of cancer. They used gene therapy on him. His cancer is gone, 100 effing percent gone. Gene therapy only works in 20% of the cases, but when it works…it really works! And there are many more new cancer treatments.

Every day we live, the odds of living longer increase. As Ben says, if you can live to be 100 or 200, imagine where science will be.

We’re almost there. Nanotechnology lets us store 3 terabytes on a drive the size of your thumbnail. Now there are  nanobots that can create new nanobots so small we couldn’t produce them without…well, nanobots. Nanotechnology is the true future of immortality. That and stem cells. Soon, stem cells will be used to grow a new prostate, a new heart!

I read short science articles daily. I read Flipboard on my phone.

There is great hope. I believe, Gulley Foyle, in The Stars My Destination, was looking for evidence of hope. He didn’t need the hope, he just needed to know it existed.

Now, how to change the attitude? Your computer has ROM chips, read-only-memory. What’s written there, stays there.

The amygdala is a very old part of your brain. Among other things, it records threats. You’re walking through the jungle. You see a snake. Before you can make a conscious decision, your amygdala has you jump back. Then your conscious brain takes over, and sees it was just a stick. This is why people develop fear of flying, and various other phobias. Something bad happens once, and that old reptile brain amygdala records it as a threat and you are done.

But the amygdala can be re-written. It takes patience and repetition. So I took something very simple. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees us the right to pursue happiness. It does not guarantee happiness.

Many of us, me included, mistake the lack of happiness for unhappiness. We want happiness, damn it! Where’s my happiness?

Some weeks ago, I made the decision to settle for not-unhappiness. I’ll be happy if the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, or I get a bonus check, or I see an old friend. Happiness is not a constant state. Chinese Traditional Medicine has a treatment for too much happiness.

I constantly lived in a state of unhappiness, mainly because I wasn’t happy all the time. I found new reasons to be unhappy. I would wake up in the morning and wish I was dead so I wouldn’t have to go to work and face a difficult problem. Many, many times, I lay in bed in the morning, facing despair. I was an unhappiness generator. I threw out unhappiness all over the place. I criticized everything. I agreed with those who already were unhappy. The easiest solution—alcohol.

That was not working, so, I decided to rewrite my amygdala using positive feedback. I’m sick? So what? That too shall pass. Every time I found myself in a position to moan about poor little me, I changed it. Even if I griped about being ill, I added on at the end…”But my attitude is still great.”

I told people I was changing. I told myself 100 times a day that things were okay, and I would be fine. Through repetition, I am reprogramming my amygdala to accept not-unhappiness. And it is working. Never stop. Not for a second. I still wake up sometimes, like now when I’m sick, and think “Why should I go on?” And I stop that cursed thought right there. I am not unhappy. I AM NOT UNHAPPY. And it’s working. I swear to God, it is working! And when you stop being unhappy, your health improves.

One of my mentors, George Carl Ball, used to ask, “Who ever said you have to be happy?”

Repetition, repetition, repetition. What I say three times is true. “I’m not unhappy, I’m not unhappy, I’m not unhappy…”now say it one hundred times…one thousand times.

“My grandfather always told me, ‘Tom you get what you look for in life. Look for good things, you will find them. If you look for bad things you will find them too; it won’t make you happy.'”  Tom Doherty


From The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

Fit the First


“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,

As he landed his crew with care;

Supporting each man on the top of the tide

By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark!  I have said it twice:

That alone should encourage the crew.

Just the place for a Snark!  I have said it thrice:

What I tell you three times is true.”










Way Out West Down South

22 07 2010

One of my favorite films is Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West. When they rescue the girl Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), Ollie pronounces it “May-ree” they learn that she is from the South, as is Oliver Hardy who is Georgia-born and Georgia-bred. “You’re from the South? Well shut my mouth,” says Ollie. Even Stanley declares his southern origins, “The south of London…” So here I am winging my way  down the coast from Seattle as straight as a crow could fly, and perhaps even straighter. I am bound for San Diego and Comic Con.

In the mid-1970’s I lived in Long Beach, California. It was a time of idylls in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. The economy was good and living was easy. I enjoyed living in my brother’s house with my niece, and later my nephew, and my mother. My brother was a fine host. It was one of the few times when our family dwelt in close proximity of one another. And there was Autumn the dog and Lillian the housekeeper. Idyllic indeed in the land of eternal spring.

And we were near San Diego, just up the freeway. When friends came to visit, mostly from Texas, we always planned one day for driving down to San Diego and visiting the zoo. The San Diego Zoo was one of the true marvels of the world in the 1970’s. The animals were housed in an approximation of their natural habitat instead of cold steel cages.

My favorite memory was visiting the zoo with my friends and roommates from  college days. Just inside the entrance, in a rounded clear enclosure, were several Komodo Dragons. Oh those dire beasts from the tropics, dread lizards with poisonous and infectious fangs. They were fearsomely magnificent.

As my chums and I entered the zoo, a stream of small children, grade school children from a nearby bus, flowed around us running and chattering as children do. And those dragons were enthralled. Here was food just the right size, and so much of it. They crouched and crept around the inner circle of their enclosure, eyes never leaving the wee ones. But, that was all they could do and the spigot was closed. The flow of children ceased, and the dragons drowsed.

On that same trip, returning to Long  Beach, there was a search for illegal aliens and traffic on the freeway was stopped. One of our group, Nick the Chicken who, was blessed or cursed with a Mediterranean complexion despite his English surname, was closely inspected by the border guards. Nick spoke with a definite Texas accent, and they let us go.

In later years a major magazine distributor was based in San Diego and I made periodic trips down to see them, and the subscription fulfillment house used by Wizards of the Coast and then Paizo was also in San Diego and I have spent many a day completely lost even though I was within feet, sometimes, of my destination. But this was before cellular telephones and GPS. For some reason Jimmy Durante Boulevard springs to mind.

This is my first Comic Con in about ten years and I have been told that things have drastically changed. I remember my last convention, I helped work the Wizards of the Coast Booth. We were right next to Del Rey, and I met editor Steve Saffel for the first time.

In the past I had been a sales rep for Ballantine and Del Rey and had enjoyed dancing and also sipping fine single malt scotch with two other Del Rey editors, Shelly and Veronica, that being at an upscale resort in Laguna Nigel at a sales conference. So I was happily reunited with those two. And I met the Del Rey Publisher, Tim Kochuba. Some time later, Tim visited Seattle and Wizards of the Coast and we had dinner. But I most remember sitting in the dark in the WotC parking lot in Tim’s rental car and listening to him talk about his beloved dogs. Tim had come to Del Rey from House of Collectibles and he was part of the lineage.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing Ian and Betty Ballantine, Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey, Owen Locke, Tim Kochuba, Kuo-Yu Liang, and Betsy Mitchell, every person who was responsible for the fine line of science fiction and fantasy from Ballantine Books. What a pleasure and an honor.

But that Comic Con where I met Tim was quiet, sedate, calm. Now, or so I have been led to believe, San Diego Comic Con has become four days of media madness. The focus has shifted away from comics to movies and TV and games and it is for certain the house is full. The place sells out months before the event. There is nary a table to be had nor a walk-in ticket.

As I write this I worry about making my first appointment on time today. Facebookers yesterday were lamenting the long lines to get badges. But, this is beyond my control. How many attendees are there? I have heard up to 140,000. I suspect that is high. But I have read online that estimates of the money it brings to San Diego run from $40 million dollars all the way up to $160 million.

And there are rumors that it will move. The Los Angeles Convention Center is vying for the business. I attended a BEA there several years ago and the venue was nice enough and downtown Los Angeles was enjoyable, even if it was not New York City. But the other possibility is the Anaheim Convention Center. I attended an ALA there and I do not want to go back. It is within a stone’s throw of Disneyland and I quickly had my fill of mouse ears and little girls with princess hats, tiaras? The only good thing about that venue was the onsite vending of Hurst Ranch grass fed beef hamburgers. That was very nice and a pleasant change from the Jacob Javitz Center six dollar hot dogs at BEA in New York.

I am an hour away from a different city by the bay and this has much potential. The buyers from most of the major chains are here and it affords me the opportunity of meeting with many buyers on one trip. And the Saturday attendees are our kind of people. Gamers, comic fans, film buffs, these are the folks who play roleplaying games and who read science fiction and fantasy.

I expect costumes galore and noise. With games and films and TV and one hundred gazillion people, there will be noise. Oh, and hype, and pretension, and money squandered. One company of whom I had not heard until they approached me at BEA, has rented a yacht and anchored it in the harbor just outside the convention center. Conspicuous consumption and display and arrogance and hubris will all be there.

But also awe and joy and memories for young folks. And Green Lantern, I bet Green Lantern will be there, and Thor, what about Thor?

So, Comic Con here I come, are you ready for me?

Next, in the belly of the beast.