October 31, 2005

Two Books in Two Years

I realized today that for the first time I actually feel like a writer. For years, ever since I was in junior high, I wanted to be a writer. I've written as part of my jobs since college--articles in high-tech magazines like EE Times, vast reference tomes for operating systems programming, press releases and brochures, and hundreds of thousands of words of web content. But I really have had that yearning to be a fiction writer. Stories, novels, whatever. But that's where I wanted to be.

And all along, the thought that I was really just a poseur, a wannabe, hovered just behind me saying "no" constantly, just like the "bit" that followed Jeff Bridges around in Tron. I read articles about writing, and every one of them says things like, "A real writer has stories that just have to be written. A real writer simply can't not write." And the dread that I was getting older and no stories had knocked me in the head to say, "WRITE ME" kept growing.

Earlier this year I finished my first novel, which began as an experimental foray into NaNoWriMo. Nope, haven't even tried to publish it yet, but the three people who've read it seem to like it. This year I will write another, then return to the first to revise with the intent to publish in the future.

And now, today, for the first time, I feel like a real writer. NaNoWriMo doesn't start until tomorrow. I can't officially start my novel until then. But my characters have been with me for a year, like friends who moved away and are coming back to town, and they are tugging me forward into November, eager to fill me in on what they've been up to and the people they've met and the changes in their lives. There is a story there that wants to be written. It may not make a publishable book in the end, but it's a story I want to hear, and the characters are ready to tell it.

I think I'll wait until December first to see how well I do. Needing to write is only part of being a writer. Actually writing is the other part. My "bit" hovering behind me won't start saying "yes" until December 1st, and maybe not even then because revising is the third part of being a writer, and I've not conquered that yet. But I can feel the tide turning, and now I know that indeed, a writer is what I am in the same way that a father is what I am.

October 25, 2005


2,000 casualties in Iraq. That's deaths. Of American military personnel. Not counting deaths of other country's soldiers. Or Iraqi police deaths. Or civilian deaths. Or injured or maimed soldiers. Or soldiers who come home and end up sick or emotionally scarred. Or orphaned children. Or injured or maimed civilians.

2,000 is a lot. My high school had about 1,600 kids in it. Maybe 1,800 people when you add up all the administrators, teachers, custodians, etc. You'd have to throw in 200 more and kill them all to reach 2,000.

If every life is sacred, why does it seem that the life of a fertilized egg is so much more sacred to some people than the life of an American soldier?

October 20, 2005

Hungry Cougars

So, the Bears lost again last week in another stinker against Oregon State. Somehow Cal manages to stink against the Beavers most years. Not sure why. Now WSU comes to town the best 0-3 Pac-10 team on the planet. They are, I think, better than the Beavers but manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory where OSU does the opposite. In my preview, I say why I think this game could be a defensive battle right to the end, and I do end up predicting that the Bears will make it back into the W column.

October 17, 2005

25... 24... 23... 22...

Just in case anyone has forgotten, US soldiers continue to die in Iraq. At this moment, the stats say that we're just 24 martyrs away from two thousand.

I've been pretty silent on this topic for a long while now. I didn't chime in with the obvious, "Where were the national guard when Katrina hit? Oh, yeah, Iraq!" I have not mentioned the indictment of Tom Delay or the growing black cloud over Carl Rove and Scotter Libby. It's good to know, though, that if any are convicted of a crime, Bush will probably ask them to leave their jobs before he pardons them at the end of his term. I've stayed away from the supreme court nominations--mostly because I have no opinion on them--and only stood by silently, mildly amused at the run-up to Hurricane Rita, as I pondered the no-win situation for Bush: If Texas were over-served by military and national guard, he'd look like he played favorites. If Texas were under-served, he'd look like a two-time failure.

There, I've had my say on those. But let's not forget Iraq and the soldiers there, the Americans being killed and injured for the sake of... what, exactly? I forget. First it was WMD. Then it was to get rid of a brutal dictator. Then it was to secure and rebuild the country we'd bombed to smithereens. Then it was to "stay the course" in order not to disrespect the deaths already suffered.

A week ago I was chatting with the custodian at my kids' school. He mentioned he was treated like pond scum when he returned from Viet Nam--people actually came to the airport to insult and accost him and his fellow soldiers as they finally arrived back on US soil. Tragic. I have another good friend, in the Army, who has a support role for troops in Iraq; he lives on a base overseas and frequently visits Iraq as part of his job. Many wives and children live on the base, often not hearing any news of their husbands and fathers for days at a time, knowing they are in danger every minute.

We just held a memorial service for my father-in-law on Saturday, and it was really wonderful how many friends showed up, the stories they told, the love for him. Most of us would consider him young at his death--just 63. All of us will miss him, think about him often, feel the absence of him at holidays, on sunny weekends, when the wind is high, whenever I see a sail on bay or lake or river or ocean.

1,976 American soldiers dead in Iraq. Every one of them has a story, people who loved them, people who will mourn them for years to come. I am no expert on grief, and I hope I never become more than its casual acquaintance. Grief knows no economic, ethnic, or educational boundaries.

Where are all those voices who cried out in support of Terry Schiavo's parents? All those who tried so desperately to keep that one unfortunate woman on life support indefinitely? Why are they not crying out to save #1,977? Will not the parents, spouse, children, friends, cousins all mourn #1,977 as sincerely and powerfully as Terry's parents mourn her?

October 13, 2005

why do I even bother...

If there's anyone left out there reading this blog, you can see my preview of how Cal will lick the Beavers this Saturday here. Go Bears.

October 12, 2005

ashes to ashes

This Saturday we will be laying to rest my father-in-law, spreading his ashes in the bay from the deck of a sailboat owned by one of his best friends. Afterwards, we will retreat to his yacht club for a memorial of sorts, with a looped slide show of photos from his life.

I have been so busy the past month that I have not had time to reflect deeply on Gary's passing, but many thoughts and feelings have been lurking behind me, making themselves felt like when you walk into a dark room from a dimly lit hallway and feel that someone has passed in right behind you.

Gary was a wonderful man, a truly kind person. We got along very well even though we held diametrically opposed political views. We rarely argued; it's an unwise son-in-law that does not nod, smile knowingly, and keep his mouth shut when his father-in-law discusses politics. Yet I always respected his viewpoints no matter how misguided I thought them for he always had logical and consistent thought process behind them.

Through this past five weeks, however, I have come to learn a bit about myself. I am surprised at how easy I have found it to let go, to say goodbye, to continue on. At first I felt a guilt about that--shouldn't I be feeling devastated and stricken with grief, shouldn't I be crying a lot and feeling a deep void in my life? The truth was that although I was sad and am sad, and I do miss Gary somewhat, those things did not happen to me.

It's not that I don't feel emotions, and feel them deeply. One look at either of my sleeping children reminds me the depths of the feeling that can strike me. Rather, I have a strong sense inside, an unconscious and innate sense, that all things are temporary. Everything has an end, and tomorrow I will wake up and adjust my life based on tomorrow's reality, not based on how I used to think tomorrow would be. When things change around me, I flow with that change rather than rail against it like many of my coworkers. I do not think of life in linear terms but rather as a wholistic totality, ebbing and flooding and swirling in patterns simple and complex. We all are part of this beautiful pattern, both shaping it and responding to it just as the planets pull and push each other as they glide around the sun.

It is a nice philosophy, I think. Yet it leaves a cold, empty spot that is filled by most religions: mortality. I like to think of an afterlife; it is comforting to hope that we all move on to some other place and retain our essence, our self, our soul. Yet I can not bring myself to believe in it as most religions have proposed it to be. Our bodies are made, as Carl Sagan would have said, of starstuff. All living things die, and their physical components are reduced to their base forms and recycled by the universe, to be made into other living things. Dust to dust. This is true of the wealthiest robber baron and the basest crackhead, the most beautiful starlet and the most inane talk show host.

I do not pretend to know whether our "souls" are distinct things that transcend the physical world, or whether our essence is just another aspect of this swirling soup of a universe. The living may never know. What I do know is that we all return to the earth, and for whatever reason, that thought allows me to let go.

When I was little, we had many cats, and it seemed that at least two a year would get run over by cars. It also seemed that several more were born each year in my sister's closet. So perhaps I grew up with a vague, mixed sense of the circle of life: all things die eventually, and there are more where those came from.

I have also had many goodbyes in my life. My parents divorced when I was two, and my dad moved out. When I was not much older, my mom moved across the country. My brother and sister moved off to college when I was in middle school. Through the years, I have never been much troubled when friends fade from my life or when coworkers move on. It seems natural, and there are more where those came from. The wheel turns.

I know there are not more Garys where Gary came from. I know my boys can no longer say things like, "Maybe Grandpa can fix it." I know I will surf past McLaughlin Group some night and feel a sharp emptiness where Gary's voice would have been. And I know that some day I will follow him and the billions of other people who have returned their bodies back to the earth. What happens afterwards, I have no idea. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps something. Perhaps both.

On Saturday we will commend Gary's ashes to the waters of the earth, and we will each contemplate not just the man and his vast roles in our lives but also our own mortality and the part we each play in this ever-changing cosmos, and the parts we each play in the lives of so many others. Life is a wondrous and mysterious thing.

October 5, 2005

Cal Visits UCLA (eat my shorts)

The Bears travel to the Rose Bowl this week, hopefully for the first of two appearances there this season. My preview is now posted at The Bear Insider.