Twenty years and a month ago I rebooted my life.
I resolved to look only forward, and to ask myself hard questions, and find bottom line answers. Twenty years later, I think it’s fair to look back at the reboot, though not what inspired it.
In that time I have raised four children who delight me, married a wonderful woman, reconnected with my family of orientation, earned six college degrees including a PhD, written and sold sixteen poetry collections, seen a feature film I wrote on the big screen, and spent nineteen years as a professor of various flavors. I have seen my poetry and short stories printed in markets I never thought I’d crack, and I won a fairly large award for poetry.
I’m pretty sure I crammed seven lifetimes of living into twenty years.
All of that has been gratifying, but I think it’s time to slow down a little. In recent time I have been researching family history, and playing games with my son. These are small pleasures to be nurtured; as is this blog. I am hoping for more of all these things, such as drawing with my daughter.
I hope you’ll check in to see if it happens. At least the blog part.
Part of the reason I qualified to become an English professor is that I had sold over five hundred poems by the time I applied for the job in 1998. For years friends and writing colleagues have had a certain fascination with the fact that I have sold over a thousand poems. The thing is, you have to sell a lot more than five hundred or a thousand poems to get five hundred, or a thousand, published. And even then, it’s hard to tell which poem actually counts as the landmark publication because poems overlap, publishers sometimes forget notification, forget to send contributor’s copies, and sometimes they even forget (gasp) payment.
In addition, you have to set standards for what constitutes publication. For example, I insist that the work be accepted by an editor. It’s not that there aren’t great websites and newsletters that are self-edited. I just don’t choose to count such things. Those are postings not publications, valuable, but not the validation of an editor's acceptance. Another limitation was that I did not include my master’s thesis Lines of Separation. While the thesis director certainly constituted an editor, only one copy was produced. Moreover, I continue to sell those poems as unpublished (while making sure editors know their pedigree), therefore I don’t think I should include them in my publications unless they have appeared elsewhere.
Some years ago, when I rebooted the paperwork of my creative writing career, I compiled a list of my first five hundred and two published poems. Happily, the five hundredth poem is "literature" from my chapbook Wedding Songs, a favorite poem from a favorite book. (This is not particularly clear from the chronological list of publications on my website as a significant number of poems all appeared for the first time in that book. I choose to number the new poems front to back.)
But the big fascination for many people is number one thousand. And one night over a glass of wine, while I was catching up on a little publication paperwork, I realized that I can now verify that by my definition, over 1000 different poems of mine have seen print. It is pretty much impossible to accurately chart the order of publication. My best guess would be that the thousandth poem appeared in Scifaikuest online for November 2016. I have four poems in the issue, and the fourth (and one thousandth overall) is a fibonacci poem titled “unstoppable force”. I’m good with that. Hundreds of more poems have seen print since.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably the sort of person interested in numbers, and particularly in the bigger numbers. So I will take my best shot at where I am right now, on December 28, 2017. Over the last 32 years I have had 1,455 different poems published. Eight hundred and ninety two have been reprinted, many in the two books and thirteen chapbooks to be published. Twenty-nine more poems have been accepted and are in press. About five more books and chapbooks are written and in submission. I have records for at least 99 occasions on which a poem got published but not where it was first accepted. Twenty-two poems have been accepted and never been published anywhere that I can tell. Four of those poems I cannot find manuscripts of, and may no longer exist.
At the end of the blog is the obvious message that numbers are just a measurement. They are not life, they are not poems, they are not perfect. They are a mishmash because they reflect a mishmash. They are an arbitrary imposition of order on the chaos that is life. And I'm good with that. Maybe 2018 will bring the publication of poem one thousand five hundred. Maybe not. In the end, it doesn't matter. It's just another pencil line on the door jamb measuring the growing height of children. Life goes on. So does poetry.
I knew when I started a blog that I was unlikely to be a regular blogger anytime soon. There was just too much going on in my life, and, for at least a little longer, there still will be. The first year I thought that if I could get one blog a month out that would be great. The second year, I thought one blog per season would be great. The third year, it got to be December 28, and lots of blogs had been started, but none posted. This got me to thinking a little about what exactly a blog is.
Of course, it can be different things to different people. For me, in monologue form it is a frozen conversation. If we chatted about a given subject, what might it read like if the through line were removed and edited? I want to post that. What are the clear ninety seconds of thought on any given topic.
And I think that is what my incredibly sporadic blog has been. Ninety seconds here and there.
This is not a resolution. (Perhaps resolutions will be the topic of a future blog.) I find I cannot keep track of more than a few resolutions at a time, and the approaching New Year will no doubt cause me to renew my resolves regarding healthy lifestyle, savoring friends and family, and being kinder to the world. But I will try to remember more often to grab ninety seconds of conversation or monologue and throw it in the freezer.
And to thaw it out here, more often than I did in 2017.
My friend David A. Kyle died at 4:30 September 18, 2016 at the age of 97. We knew each other for a little over seven years. I met David at the 67th World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal where he was holding court in the hall outside the party suites, chatting up attractive ladies, and anyone who liked to talk about science fiction.
Before long David and I were talking, and I was surprised to find out he lived in Potsdam, New York where my daughter Shannon attended college. I asked if he might want to appear on the podcast I cohosted. He said yes, but that it would be better if I came to his house in Potsdam and brought Shannon along for the interview. I’m not sure he thought I would follow through, but that fall when Shannon was returning to college at Clarkson University I gave him a call, and we made an appointment. He gave me directions to “the big white house at the corners”. There was no particular street address for the GPS.
So Shannon and I drove out to the big white house in the middle of nowhere. It would have been a great setting for a contemporary rural fantasy. David greeted us, and introduced us to his wife Ruth who joined us for the interview. I set up the recording equipment in the spacious living room and began, thinking it was time to ask questions. But that’s not how it worked with David Kyle.
First he interviewed us for forty-five minutes. He wasn’t going to give us an interview until we proved we were “genuine science fiction people”. The fact that I was at a convention for which I was on the organizing committee when my wife’s water broke and we had to rush to the hospital where Shannon would be born certainly was a good credential. But he asked a lot more.
Once our status as members of his tribe had been established he was very forthcoming telling countless wonderful stories. I thought it was telling that once the recording devices were turned off, David and I exchanged scurrilous stories about Isaac Asimov and Judith Merrill whom we both knew. Throughout, David and Ruth were warm and friendly and accepting. And David wouldn’t let us leave without giving us signed copies of several of his books. Treasures, to be sure.
For anyone interested, but especially those friends of David who would like to hear from him one more time, those audio podcasts are archived at: http://www.herbkauderer.com/orthopedic-horseshoes.html. So that you don’t have to wade through the show descriptions, the episodes with David & Ruth Kyle are episodes 27, 30, & 31.
I never made it back to David’s house. Soon thereafter I had to enter a Ph.D. program to continue my career. At times it threatened to suck the life out of me. I saw David regularly at conventions, and he invited me to visit again with prepared questions about the first World Science Fiction Convention and the great political divide that happened there. I was excited by the idea. He also suggested I might want to organize his papers and put together a scholarly book or two from them. I was excited by that idea, too.
But years passed while I was busy with career, family, and education. The excess at times took a toll on my health, and there were a few times when I saw David that I wanted to limit the contact because I didn’t want to take any chance of making him sick. But I didn’t say that to him because David would have pooh-pooed it. He was a ‘life-is-for-living’ sort of person.
As my health improved I started finding reasons to go to conventions that David might get to. David continued to hint that perhaps I should visit again, and brought up his papers. I would have loved to do that.
I know there is a level at which David understood that I have spent the last seven years doing important work on my life and family, and so chose not to take time away from that. David was a family man, and active in his church and community.
On another level, David was a major contributor to American SF which has become the dominant cultural power in the world. While SF and its relatives Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are lots of fun, SF is also about looking forward, and doing so without limits. In this era of rapidly advancing technologies, looking forward is important.
The Asylum Street Spankers once sang “the ones who make a difference are few.” David A. Kyle was one of the few. He made a difference and he was important as a publisher, editor, artist, writer, organizer, fan, and spokesman for SF.
And he knew I might take him up on his offer to organize his papers because, like him, I believe that SF is important, worthy of study, and I understand his role in the creation of the field. His life in science fiction is important in the larger sense, while my life in family and academics is important in the smaller sense.
The last time I saw David on March 5th, 2016 at Albacon, the papers were casually brought up again and he told me, “you’d better get to it! How much time do you think I’ve got?” We talked for about two hours as he started by keeping me company at my book signing, and then we just kept talking.
One of the gracious things about David is that he wouldn’t let anyone in the discussion sit back. He would offer his thoughts only as long as everyone was willing to share. Through the years he has shared thoughts and memories with me because he knew I would understand; because I had known the cast of characters in his life.
This time I got to tell him one of those things. I said “it’s funny how encompassing SF is. I’ve gotten to do so many amazing things in my life, I’ve known so many amazing people, and against great odds I grew up to be an English professor. But selling to Asimov’s and Analog in the last year was really special.” I could see he understood. And after nodding and thinking he told me a story about Isaac Asimov, one I’d heard before, but was happy to hear again.
This is the short form remembered six months later. “Isaac wouldn’t allow a formal religious service when he died, but we had a memorial where a lot of the people who loved him showed up to talk about him and his life and science fiction. When I left the memorial I walked around the corner and there was a man sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, and he was reading Asimov’s magazine. I was overwhelmed. This is what Isaac cared about. And I went to the man and said, ‘do you know what you’re reading? I just came from a memorial gathering to recall the man who founded that magazine.’ And the man listened and we talked, and the man loved the magazine but didn’t know about fandom. So I told him.”
As we continued reminiscing, at one point David said, “so much of the past was the future.” “Hey, that’s pretty good! Write that down and send it to me would you?” I did send it to him via Facebook. And now I’ve written it down again, this time for you.
I went to Friday Night Family Fun Night at my daughter’s school. I have been to many such events through the years. It’s a good way to get a feel for the school and its administrators. This was pleasant and well run. Over by the lunch room I saw an official looking flyer on the wall illustrated with something that looked like a food pyramid. I walked over to check it out, and it turned out to be a “Be Active!” poster or an activity pyramid.
The photo is below:
At the bottom of the pyramid, representing the desired majority of activity, was the category of “Active play: Playing Outside”. The middle section is titled “Aerobic Exercise” and calls for thirty minutes of jumping rope, dancing, bicycling, etc. three to five times a week. The top section is labelled “Sitting*” and adds, “one hour or less per day” of TV or computer, or presumably other sedentary occupations. What’s wrong with this picture?
I will go on at length in a moment, but first and foremost, where is reading in this pyramid?
Inside an elementary school they are advocating a lifestyle anathema to school and schoolwork. While asking young humans to sit and be still for most of seven and a half hours of a school day (including bus time), they are telling kids not to do that. They have an official poster telling these young humans that they should officially not be sitting for more than an hour a day for screen time. In other words, they are encouraging these young humans to behave in ways likely to make them social outcasts.
For the duration of this rant I will not consider the argument that we should let people lie, cheat, advocate bad ideas, promote social inequality by damaging these students’ social skills, or any other negative outcome because ‘they mean well.’ In my life I have more abused by the well-meaning than the malicious brutes of the world, and this is my blog. Well-meaning can sit in time out for this eight hundred words.
Studies show that people under the age of twenty-five read more than ever before. I am sure a number of factors contribute to this. For example, there are far more writings and kinds of writing available to appeal to young readers than ever before. More importantly, there are more platforms on which to read.
Last time I checked, reading was about the best possible activity for the brain, and definitely sedentary. Given my excess of college degrees, and extensive personal library, it is likely I have read a few books. I am also exceptionally fit for my age. These two statuses are not mutually exclusive.
My ten year-old reads many books every week. Hardcover books from the library, paperback books from everywhere, e-books on the e-readers (I own four), and in a pinch, she has read books on my smartphone. She plays tens of hours of video games per week on the PC and the handheld gaming system (DS). She watches videos on the PC, and movies with her mom. In addition, my daughter draws, creatively writes, and plays the violin multiple times per week. These are all sedentary activities, most of which involve the dreaded ‘screen time’. I’d wager that my daughter is physically fit, and can certainly outswim me.
At the end of this complaint is the simple question, ‘who thought this was a good idea?’ I haven’t even explored the fact that the internet and TV carry countless messages reinforcing social and generational behavioral guidelines. For better or worse, the internet and TV do a lot of social teaching, and without it a young human will have a hard time navigating social situations. (Can you tell I minored in sociology?)
Keeping young humans physically active is a great cause that recognizes social changes that have reduced physical play among the young. But once again a good idea has been taken to a ridiculous extreme. The truth is that sedentary jobs and lifestyles are prized and highly sought after in our society. Therefore, the “Be Active!” pyramid is encouraging young humans to eschew the most valued lifestyles of our society. Looking at it that way, perhaps it’s a good idea after all, indeed, a revolutionary one designed to overthrow the status quo. But I’m pretty sure they did not intend to deliver a counter-cultural message. And I’d like my daughter to be able to interact with her peers.
In the end, sitting one hour per day or less is not just bad advice, it ventures into idiot territory. We aren’t supposed to use such harsh and politically inappropriate terms, yet some projects are worthy of such things. We live in a society that is consistently willing to do the wrong thing if it feels like the right thing. At some point, realism must exert itself. And realism excludes a world in which anyone deemed a success sits less than an hour a day.
An adult student auditing my class on Detective Fiction wrote elegantly about her new experience in the classroom for The Buffalo News. The article is available at the link below. I would be the “very tolerant professor” referred to in the article.
I was described as very tolerant because of my willingness to read and grade and comment on her assignments. This should have been a given, but of course, it did not reflect the world she grew up in, a world where women were not respected as scholars. And the world we grow up in continues to affect us.
I have a wife, three daughters, two sisters, seven nieces, and seven sister-in-laws covering a wide range of ages, so I think about these things more than many folks. They have faced different amounts of past market discrimination. Simply put, past market discrimination is when the actions of the past limit the pool of appropriate candidates for various careers.
Until women became members of Congress, or held other high ranking political office, it was difficult for them to run for President. Once women were allowed into the military, it took time for them to reach the highest ranks, and they still haven’t really. The first female four-star generals are among us. The first five-star female general remains in the future.
This also affects careers far less high-sounding than president or general. For example, sports-casting. Until CBS invited Phyllis George (a former Miss America) to become an NFL sportscaster in 1975, there simply were no women with that experience. Lesley Visser, more recently Michelle Tafoya, and others followed. But the largest pool of NFL sportscasters are former players and coaches, which excludes women.
While the NHL and the NBA have had preliminary explorations of female players, the NFL has not. However, the NFL has had explorations with a female coach, Jen Welter who had an assistant coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals, and a female full-time official in Sarah Thomas. There is a growing corps of female NFL sportswriters who may qualify for future sports-casting positions.
This may sound funny, but I look forward to the day when there is a wise and gnarled old female sports-caster commenting on the NFL. Lots of the male sportscasters are handsome. Many more are not. Some such as John Madden and Paul Maguire were fun bigger-than-life characters, and how handsome they were (or were not) was not an issue.
Phyllis George (66), Lesley Visser (62), Michelle Tafoya (51), and Andrea Kremer (56) are aging remarkably well. As a healthy middle-aged man I am appreciative of their appearance. But they haven’t held their positions for so long because of their looks, they’ve had their jobs because they are good at what they do.
I look forward to women who do what John Madden, Al Michaels, and Paul Maguire did, sports-casting into their 70’s, bringing experience, cantankerousness, and fun to the job. And with no concern for their appearance.
When it comes to home repairs I much prefer working on electrical items, carpentry, or even masonry. Plumbing is at the bottom of my list. And yet I have been involved in occasional plumbing projects for over forty years.
Electrical work fits my temperament. On any given attempt, there are only three likely outcomes, and I achieve the outcome quite quickly. The electrical project works, doesn’t work, or I get electrocuted. Any way you look at it, I immediately know where I stand.
It’s only with plumbing where you can feel like the project is solved, only to discover three years later you were wrong because the upstairs bathtub falls into the downstairs kitchen due to an undiscovered slow leak. For the record, that hasn’t happened to me yet, but appears to have happened in our house some years before we owned it.
And as long as I’m throwing in disclaimers, I’ll add this. Two years ago we hired a licensed electrician to do some small work around the house. Something about my attitude regarding electrical work made my wife uncomfortable with me doing more of it. I was very happy to see someone else doing labor usually relegated to me, but I couldn’t help noticing that he worked in much the same way as me. He did not turn off the electricity, nor wear gloves. I think it made him very careful. Me, too.
Today’s (and yesterday’s) project was replacing a broken pipe below the kitchen sink. All the pipes were made of PVC plastic of the kind that comes in standardized kits. Those kits are a small brilliance.
I removed the offending piece of plastic pipe and went to the hardware store with it. They had a piece that looked just like it except the top nut screwed downward instead of upward. None of their sink hardware worked for a sink with threads on the bowl downspout.
Over the last forty years, every sink but one that I have worked on required a nut that screwed upward. Or was I just going crazy?
The next hardware store also had downward-only pieces. And the next hardware store. At this point I did what I should have done in the first place, and researched it on the internet. Lowe’s had the correct piece. When I went there I saw that two thirds of all their sink plumbing had upward turning nuts. I was grateful for the endorsement to my sanity.
At this point I went home, added a gasket missing from the kit, and assembled all the pipes below the kitchen sink using no tools. That’s another example of brilliance: no tools plumbing.
You can be certain that I have dramatically simplified and reduced a process that took about seven hours spread over two days. There were a lot more complications than are fun to read about, and I didn’t even swear or say colorful things. I wrote a blog instead.
Now for the quiet terror of waiting to find out if the repairs were perfect. Tick, tick, tick,... drip, drip, drip..........
Recently I posted an album of photographs I took in 1990 with the note, “@1990 I got famous East Kingdom people to pose for formal portraits. It was some of the worst photography I ever did. But I’m glad I made the effort.” The comments on the photos were very kind, as many people were happy to see photos of old friends and photos from another era when we were much younger.
It got me to thinking how incredibly different photography is now compared to twenty-five years ago. The first digital camera was developed by Sony in 1981, but that wasn’t really relevant for quite a while. I had a decent analog camera, which had to be loaded with blank film. On the day in question I was shooting black and white high quality analog film. Thirty-two photos per roll of film.
Let me go over that again. I put the film in the camera and took a maximum of thirty-two photos. That was a large roll of film, as most rolls took twenty-four or less photos. I would have no idea which photos turned out well, and which did not for days. Not until I took the film to a developer and picked up the prints they made from them. (Yes, I have developed my own film in the distant past. I did not find it superior to letting professionals do it.)
Let me compare that to today. The camera in my smartphone is NOT better than that analog camera. But it is in my pocket nearly all the time. It has a very high resolution, which is nice. However, it will always be worse for the simplest and most obvious of reasons. It does not have an external shutter over the lens, ergo the lens is always dirtier than it should be.
My camera phone has some ability to adjust, but it is not intuitive, and not really good at it. It has two sets of features that are superior to the old analog camera. The second is that there are different ways to take a photo including, strobe (many shots quickly in a row), panoramic, split screen, 360 degrees, and selfie. The first, and far more important superiority, is that the phone can hold an effectively infinite number of photos before I need to change the micro card. In this case, effectively infinite is 38,250 photos. A typical photo on my phone requires 822 kilobytes of storage. My phone generally has about 30 gigabytes of free space. The micro card contains sixteen gigabytes of that space. Should I need to expand to 50,000 plus photos, I would have to stop for ten seconds to change cards.
When you can take 38,000 photos at a time, you can take a photo every second for over ten hours. And this costs almost nothing, and does not harm the environment, either. A few electrons are inconvenienced. That’s it.
When I took those portraits in 1990 I had to determine how the camera would be best used. The camera I had then was much better indoors as can be seen in the album I posted. The camera in my phone is much better outdoors. Despite this, I chose to take most of those portraits outdoors.
The photos were posed because I was so painfully limited in what I could take. The subjects were kind enough to queue up and wait their turn, and then work with me while we fussed around trying to get a good composition. Good composition for a portrait is a lot different than an art shot or an action shot. In many cases, the other subjects helped arrange the shots, and encouraged each other to embrace the process. I am grateful for that.
I probably took two hours to take sixty-four photos. With my camera phone it takes less than five minutes to take a couple hundred photos. The portraits did not turn out well. I managed to salvage fifteen of sixty-four photos largely due to the ability to scan them into a computer and digitally improve them. The results are far better than the absence of any photos from that day.
In the analog era I had dozens of photos published. In the digital era I have had dozens of photos published. In the analog era, the challenge was capturing the moment. In the digital era, the challenge is finding the moment that has been captured. Have you ever looked through 38,000 photos?
The process is very different today. There are some aspects of analog photography I miss, but for the most part I much prefer the digital age. I just need an external shutter for my camera phone. And ten hours to look through all the photos to find the fifteen good ones.
One of my least favorite classes taken for my first undergraduate degree was MUS 301: Intro to Music Literature in the fall of 1986, but I admit to learning a lot in the course. One of the most interesting parts was when the professor played the same album on the same stereo and with the same speakers, but with different input formats; first vinyl, then newfangled CDs.
The rumors of the era were that CDs had low fidelity, and the digitization process removed the soul from the music. Listening to those albums I came to the conclusion that stringed instruments sounded worse on the CD, but pipe organs sounded much brighter and better. Of course this was before remastering and improvements in CD technology vastly improved sound reproduction. What does that mean? Mostly that I bought the same albums over and over, on vinyl where I wore them out, bought new vinyl, converted a lot to cassettes, bought the CDs, bought the remastered CDs, and then put all that music on flash drives to play in the car. I skipped the 8-track phase. (Honestly. The timing was all wrong.)
The problem with the process described is that not all music has made the transition to CD. No, really. Some great music has never been released as CD. My side project for the weekend is a good example. Johnny Rivers is the greatest American rock star to be largely forgotten. Rivers had nine top ten songs among his seventeen top forty hits. A lot of those hits came from his six live albums recorded at the Whisky à GoGo night club. The hits are collected on compilation albums, but the rest of the albums that created the go-go sound, have been unavailable. They are landmarks of rockabilly, but still strangely undermerchandised. Since the last time I ranted over their lack, the first two live albums have finally been released on CD, the next three albums still haven’t been released. (Further research shows that two more are digitized in an import version.)
As I type I can see the Johnny Rivers albums in vinyl on one of my bookcases between the Howling Wolf CD boxed set, and the Billy Joel rarities on vinyl. If I could buy a digital version of the vinyl, I would, even though I believe a court ruling says I have the right to make a copy from an obsolete medium. Instead I’m listening to the songs from Meanwhile Back at the Whisky à GoGo as posted on YouTube to help decide if it’s worth borrowing a turntable to digitize my albums. And I am stunned by the differences in speeds of the various turntables. I had completely forgotten what a difference it could make.
I played a lot of albums at least 10% faster than their intended speed. In fact, my first air guitar solo was performed to Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” the day the Glass Houses album was released. I played that vinyl at least 15% faster than recorded, and it rocked.
Listening to YouTubes of vinyl I can see that posters played the songs at many different speeds from 20% slower to 20% faster than the official versions. I forgot that we used to have that control, and that expression of individual taste. It’s not that I can’t figure out how to get the same effect with software. It’s that it used to be built into the system. It was once assumed that we would want to play with what we were hearing in that way.
I believe I’m living in the best world I’ve ever lived in; one so wonderful I can muse over this small loss. Even so, it’s nice to know there are still improvements to be made. Tinkering with playing speed, and greater availability of classic music are on the list for the future.
One of the big lies told to writers is that you have to write every day. I have written the vast majority of days of my life, but it doesn’t mean spit if I take a few days off. Sometimes you need time off to fill the well.
Which is not to say I did no writing on vacation. I always do. My point here is that I live in a society devoted to selling the lie of overwork. Perhaps this is appropriate as it seems more young people want to work too little than too much. But experience has a way of changing that, so I don’t endorse the selling. Age cures a lot of things without my input.
American society sells that you have to work too much until you’re rich. Even if you don’t particularly want to be rich. I don’t think that’s special. Selling is what American society does. It sells the good and the bad without regard for which is which. So it’s up to each of us as individuals to choose what story we buy. (I also fail to see why being rich exempts one from the company line of working too much.)
I like to work hard at work I like. (That last sentence is almost palindromic, isn’t it?) But life is far more than that. A lot of things I choose to buy don’t cost money. I can’t get more meta than that, so I’ll sign off and do things that are fun. And free.