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Piers Anthony, August, 2021

SapTimber 2021


The AwGhost HiPiers Column suffered a glitch when posting here; apparently the internet wasn't functioning correctly and our geek was unable to upload for several days. I received concerned queries from fans. This is to assure them that I remain functional and as ornery as ever; these things happen.

We have been busy here, with all manner of minor but time consuming complications, so when Hurricane Ida formed, we just didn't have time for her so we sent her away. I hope the folk in Louisiana aren't wroth with us. The rule on hurricanes is that every one of them aims for me, but its eye isn't very good, so usually it misses. Then it heads for Virginia where my paralyzed correspondent Jenny lives. Ida, thwarted, headed for Tennessee, thinking to catch my wife MaryLee there, but she is safe here with me. You have to be alert to avoid hurricanes. In the Land of Xanth Ida is a princess; maybe they will meet.

The author sent me a copy of her coloring book What Cheek! by Rosemarie Neumayer. Website I understand that coloring books are big these days, and not just for children. This one is Adult, in the sense that the anonymous social powers that be require you to hide it from children, who are not supposed to have any idea that things like cussing, dirty words, excretion, or s*x exist, and whose innocence is supposed to be preserved, if possible, until they die of old age. I was never very good at following those strictures. This copy is inscribed “To Piers, Thanks for warping my sense of humour. Without you, this book wouldn't have been possible!” So if you are under the age of whatever, skip the rest of this paragraph, lest you be warped. Which makes me wonder about Warp Speed in Star Trek. What are they secretly doing out there in space? Children beware! The first coloring picture is of the head of a horse with a horn, saying “Bitch Please I'm a Unicorn.” The second is “Balls!” whose picture is of a candy ball vending machine, with the balls having a ball. The third is “Go Fly A Kite” with the kitist getting electrocuted by lightning traveling down the kite string. Well, he should have known better; just because Ben Franklin did it doesn't mean it's entirely safe. The fourth is “Who are you calling a F*cking Fairy Princess?” with a cute little winged girl. The fifth is “Money Talks and Bullsh*t Walks,” with small pictures of a five dollar bill saying “I'm not cheap!” and a walking turd being harassed by flies. And on, with “Grow a Pair,” “Limp Dick,” “Twat Waffle,” “I don't give a flying F*CK about it!” and my favorite, a cowgirl riding a little cloud in a storm, titled “Thunderc*nt” (my asterisks throughout this paragraph). So next time you get caught by a storm, you'll know where the thunder is coming from. Be wary of getting under it and looking up, you know, up-skirting, lest you get an electrifying eyeful. And on through more, concluding with a rocket being launched, “F*ck Off!” So if you have time on your hands and naughtiness on your mind, buy this book and get cracking. I mean, coloring. It will drive the ASP (Anonymous Social Powers) nuts. They might even shrink a pair.

About asterisks: they can be useful for veiling obvious crudities without in any way concealing their essence, as demonstrated above. Fake decency. They can also on occasion speak for themselves. I may have mentioned this in a prior column; my senescent memory is chancy. But for those new to these intemperate ramblings, I learned the word from the astrologer Marc Jones, whom I knew personally, when I was young. He showed me a little poem I have remembered. “Mary had a pair of skates/ With which she loved to frisk./ Now wasn't she a foolish girl/ Her little *” Read it out loud, pronouncing the asterisk, to your maiden aunt and give her a heart attack, you vulgar *ss.

Things catch my eye as I wander about the house. I can discover items I never knew existed. That's what comes of living into my dotage – I had my 87th birthday AwGhost 6th – and suffering fading memories. One is a series of booklets, lessons of a JOURNALISM COURSE, lessons No. 4 through 10. I mark things when I receive them, and these are marked 2-4-70, which means I've had them 51 years. There does not seem to be a date of copyright. From where? Only the letter A, which I think means my father Alfred, who was alive then. They were published by The Regent Institute, Regent House, Palace Gate, London. The topics are Writing the Short Story, How to Get the Right Touch, How and When to Specialize, Journalism for Women: Humorous Writing – um, does that meant that women were not taken seriously? – Profitable Sidelines, What NOT to Write About, and How to Increase Acceptances. I glanced through randomly, and their advice seems generally on target. The length of a short story is between 1,500 and 7,000 words. It is a dramatic representation of a single episode, complete in itself. Begin with a crisis. The characters are not puppets; they think for themselves. The best way to characterize is indirectly, showing rather than telling. When you finish writing it, read and revise it at once. Then put it away for a few days and revise it anew, because you have a slightly changed perspective. Then market it. I can't fault this advice; it is essentially the way I do it. Skipping on to the last booklet, How to Increase Acceptances, I see it starts “Writers who wait for inspiration are not numbered among the successful free lances.” Amen! I knew early on that I could not afford to wait for ideas, or to suffer Writer's Block, so I learned to summon inspiration at will and to abolish Block. I also knew that if I allowed my parameters to be governed by the tastes of my maiden aunt (the one who expired above), I would soon wash out. And of course the critics. I remember reading about a successful author who then foundered. Why? He listened to his critics. As I like to put it, a critic is a work of art finely fashioned from feces. Yes I know, there might exist somewhere on some obscure astral plane a worthwhile critic, but what are the writer's chances of finding that one among the myriads of mouthy ignoramuses? Better to ignore that will o' wisp and do it my own way. Anyway, it was fun going through these lessons, half a century later, but they won't do me much good, because the first three are missing. So maybe I'm doomed to be a failure. My critics will have a gleeful party, having predicted this at the outset.

Another thing that caught my eye was on another bookshelf. I have a database of my books, about three thousand in my library, and I update it periodically as new books come in, so I can find them when I need them. But the part of the house that my wife Carol kept is unindexed. I saw a small brown book there, and checked it, and lo, it was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Because it wasn't my book I don't have the date and source of it written on the back cover. I think it must be from her father, who was a U-U minister. I'm glad to have it. I have commented before on The Moving Finger. Now I discover it is the source of another popular stanza: “A Book of Verses underneath the Bough/ A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou/ Beside me singing in the Wilderness—/ Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” What a lovely thought.

Songs are among the memories that run through my mind at odd moments, such as when I'm making supper, washing dishes, handling email or heading out to fetch newspapers or mail from beyond our gate three quarters of a mile away. Sometimes I can remember every word; more often only snatches. One day it was “Waltzing Matilda,” the Australian song that starts “Once a jolly swagman camped beside a bilabong, under the shade of a koolibah tree...” if I have the spelling right. He poaches a jumbuck, which he hides in his tucker bag, and gets caught by the warden: “You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.” A fun song, with the odd Australian words. Obviously waltzing Matilda means accompanying someone involuntarily, like the swagman getting arrested. He escapes that by plunging to his death in the bilabong, and now you can hear his ghost “You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.” But here is my question: who is Matilda? My Names book says Mathilda(sic) means brave in battle. Another says Matilda is a Latinized form of a Germanic personal name of an early German queen (895-968), wife of Henry the Fowler, noted for her piety and generosity. Okay, but that doesn't fit the Australian scenario. How did her name become a cruel waltz?

Back in Jamboree I developed pain in my right arm, preventing me from doing my exercise bowstring draws on that side. So I braced the bow against a door-frame and was able to do it that way. Finally in AwGhost I managed to do one draw away from the frame. A week later I did ten draws, essentially recovering, after seven months. I'm glad to have that back. I exercise regularly not to improve my fitness but to preserve my muscle, stamina, mind, and perhaps my life. When a neighbor expressed surprise at seeing me exercising vigorously at my age, I replied that I wouldn't be my age if I didn't exercise. I believe the average lifespan for American men is about 79 years, maybe less now with the pandemic, so I'm pushing the limit. I also keep my weight down, try to get seven hours sleep a night, and exercise my mind with reading, writing and games. I married MaryLee when I was 85, and told her I hoped to give her ten good years. So I'll be annoyed if I don't make it at least to age 95. You'll come a waltzing MaryLee with me. Incidentally I received an email solicitation from EliteSingles, a dating service. I'm not sure how to tell them I'm married without breaking their heart. China's lonely hearts are finding romance with AI, Artificial Intelligence. Were I not married I might be interested. My novels are populated with friendly lady robots. Did I mention games? I used to play Free Cell, which I regard as the best solitaire card game extant. Five years ago I switched to Mahjongg, a game of matching tiles. Now I have switched back to Free Cell, and it remains outstanding. Every card is exposed in the initial layout, and theoretically every game is winnable, but some are real challenges. I often block up, then take the option of starting over. So far I have managed to win every game I played, eventually, though the times range from four minutes to forty minutes. Sometimes I play for hours, which disrupts my writing schedule. I pride myself on my discipline, but Free Cell, like MaryLee, can mess it up galore. Women and cards, ever a man's nemesis. Sigh.

I have mentioned the Sunken Garden in prior columns, our replacement for the swimming pool. It continues to thrive. Some plants fade out, but the papaya tree is reaching for the top of the enclosure, about twelve feet up. I hope it eases off soon. It is madly fruiting, but the fruits seem to rot before they ripen. Maybe its second season will do better. The pink hibiscus, grown from an accidentally broken off branch on the original plant we bought, is now about eight feet in girth, and flowering constantly. The tomato plant, after producing hundreds of cherry tomatoes, is dying off, but we have a number of little plants growing in pots, from tomatoes we planted. Some potatoes MaryLee bought to eat developed eyes, so I planted them, and now have about fifteen plants in a big pot. I will be interested to see whether they eventually make new potatoes. My vague memory is that the second year they go to seed instead. We now have volunteer ferns spreading across the garden, plus some that rise on a central stalk then branch out into about seven fern leaves. Are they a variety of fern? Also a brief volunteer flower plant that had lovely round yellow petals. So yes, the garden is interesting.

Related is a letter I received from Daniela Gonzalez, who sent a link to her piece titled “Benefits of Having Composting Toilets at Home.” I believe in composting toilets; they make ultimate sense, compared to the flush toilet that washes gallons of potable water into the sewer while the country is running out of it. We planned to have one when we built this house in 1988, but then learned they are illegal in Florida. That seems almost as crazy as the way our current governor is trying to prevent schools from using masks, with Florida already leading the nation in new Covid cases. It's as if legislators want to do as much harm as they can. Whatever happened to the mission of facilitating the welfare of the people and the nation? Fortunately many school districts are defying such nonsense.

Every so often I receive a letter informing that my website is inferior, and the writer will improve it for a price. Actually I run this site as a promotion for my novels, and as a service to my readers who crave information about publishing or details of my warped thinking. So trying to use key words or special devices to improve my ranking on Google or Amazon are beside the point; readers who look for me will find me. So I ignore notices like this.

I continue to check out vegan alternatives to animal products, as I nudge ever closer to veganism. There are several brands of yogurt that are fine for me, like Chobani, Silk, and SO Delicious. Alternative milk has been slower, for me; some tasted thin. Then I tried real milk again—and it tasted thin. Hmm, could there be a subjective component? Perish forbid! (That was a phrase my mother used; I find it apt, 30 years after her death.) Then I tried a high fat one, and it tasted too thick. So I think fat is the key. But I note that while one regular one was vegan, their high fat version wasn't. About five grams per serving tastes about right to me. Close ones are Ripple, Publix, Mooala, Oatly, Simply, and Silk. I like the personality evinced by the Oatly carton, which even clues you in on which sides of it are interesting or boring, and has pictures you can color in. Sorry, they're not into thunderc*nt fare. No need to be bored unless you really want to be. Now I'll start zeroing in on price and nutrition. Stay tuned, would-be vegans; this could get interesting.

On alternate mornings I do my exercise walk. It used to be an exercise run, then later an exercise jog, but after I fell and smashed my face one more time, nigh three years ago, I slowed it to a fast walk. You might think that would be dull. Not necessarily. Sometimes I see deer or a gopher tortoise, or a rabbit, or other passing wild creature. Once it was a pair of otters. During this column I encountered two white-faced cows, who had evidently found a hole in the neighbor's fence and come through to sample our wares. One-was standing in the middle of the drive gazing at me. I approached her carefully, aware that this horned animal probably weighed about eight times what I do. She started to spook. I spoke reassuringly to her and walked on by. In due course the owner should discover the hole in the fence, or the missing cows, and do something about it. Meanwhile we're getting along. I'm keeping our gate closed so the cows don't wander out onto the highway where the speeders govern; that could get messy.

I continue to work slowly on my serious collaborative geothermal novel, Deep Well. We are destroying the world as we know it by polluting our atmosphere using fossil fuels, causing global warming, and we have to stop. Geothermal energy is one way to accomplish that. Yes I know, far bigger outfits than anything I can muster are similarly concerned, but I want to do my bit before I kick that nefarious bucket. You know, the one that says KICK MEE but for some reason no one wants to oblige it. So I hope to help popularize the solution that too many “experts” seem to be blind to. Myriad things constantly intervene to take my time, but I am nudging along at my tortoise pace. Remember the fable about the tortoise and the hare...

Clippings: buncha items in THE WEEK for 8-13-21. Missouri Governor Mike Parson pardoned folk who waved guns at racial justice protesters. Republicans cheered the gun wavers for doing it. Meanwhile the same governor declined to pardon two black men serving life sentences after being wrongfully convicted. Smells like racism to me. In 2012 Rev. Paula Stone Williams came out as a transgender woman. She was promptly fired and shunned and even hated. That smells like sexism or worse. A medal winning gymnast Aly Raisman says that USA Gymnastics is rotten from the inside out. Molestation is wholesale, as Simone Biles revealed. That smells like exploitation. America is supposed to be the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all. It seems it isn't. In the past decade the “retail apocalypse” has shrunk the middle class, and stores are going out of business. It is not clear where we are heading, but I worry about a return to feudalism, where a few filthy rich barons lord it over a myriad dirt poor serfs. Billionaires are increasing, and so is poverty. Pandemic aid dropped the number of poor Americans 45 percent, but that aid is ending. How could America endure abolishing the poor? Meanwhile Donald Trump raised $82 million in the first half of 2021, in his quest to return to power. The pork industry is in trouble because new rules require pig pens to be big enough for the animals to turn around, and only four percent of them are. Vegetarianism, anyone? Vegan pork will soon be more widely available. The police shot and killed 1,021 people in 2020, the most on record. It doesn't say how many were black, but I suspect a majority. Was Jan 6 a coup attempt or just a riot? The answer depends on the political party you serve. I find it sad that politics now defines justice, rather than the merits of the case. From their Wit & Wisdom quotations: “The past is never where you think you left it,” writer Katherine Anne Porter. Pegasus Spyware enables clients to steal messages, photos and location data, even from supposedly secure systems. It is a serious global security threat. My rule of thumb is that when you go online, you are vulnerable, and you are fooling yourself if you think otherwise. It is one reason I seldom go online. Cartoon: man in a DON'T TREAD ON ME shirt being trodden on by the Virus. Drinking half a glass of beer or wine may lower the chance of a repeat heart attack by 50%. Interesting, as elsewhere the indication is that any alcohol is bad for you. What is the larger picture? Jupiter's moon Ganymede is thought to contain more water than all of Earth's oceans together. Maybe we should send a space tanker for some of it. Facebook has nearly 3 billion active users, and puts the goal of world domination above any concern about misinformation or the spread of deadly hatreds. In some countries nearly two thirds of the people get their news from Facebook. The message is clear: Facebook will never fix itself. All this from that one issue of THE WEEK. I do read it with interest.

In the newspaper news: someone once took a picture of a naked baby swimming in water and used that picture on the cover of the Nirvana album Nevermind. Billboard ranked the cover #7 on its list of the 50 greatest covers of all time. Now that baby is 30 and is suing the band for child pornography. That's the first I've heard of a person considering himself pornographic. Statistics: consuming a single hot dog can shave 36 minutes off one's healthy life. A hamburger costs about 7 minutes. But eating nuts can add 26 minutes, and a peanut and jelly sandwich can add 33 minutes. Have I mentioned the benefits of vegetarianism? How many octogenarian cow carcass eaters do you know? Folk are now playing the game of “cornhole.” Interesting. In my day that word meant anal intercourse. I guess the language changes while I'm not looking. I remember a dirty joke, um, never mind. Letters evidently by Democrats point out how Republicans voted against the multi trillion dollar infrastructure bill as too expensive, but never protested the Trump seven and a half trillion dollar tax cut for the rich. That smells redolently of hypocrisy. Another says there is nothing conservative about spreading lies and misinformation or trying to overturn a legitimate election. As I like to put it, the phrase “principled conservative” has become an oxymoron. That's too bad. True conservatism has aspects to be recommended, like dignity, honor, financial responsibility, respect for tradition, and family values. It is sad to see those spurned in favor of greed, power, and racism. Article in NEW SCIENTIST for 22 May 2021 (yes, I'm still running behind) titled “Mind-altering moves” by Caroline Williams suggests getting on your feet, running or walking, as that reduces straight-line thinking and allows broader more creative ideas to flow. Indeed, I have gotten good ideas for my fiction during my exercise walks. They also generate turbulence in the blood, rushing it up toward the brain up to 15 percent faster. Try to synchronize 120 steps and 120 heartbeats per minute. Another recommendation is to get strong, as physical strength is linked to higher self esteem and a feeling of being capable in all walks of life. It also helps abate depression and anxiety. Also, dance; nature designed us to do it. When we synchronize with other people we get emotionally closer to them, which is nice. Breathe; inhaling for 5 seconds, exhaling for 5 seconds fill the lungs' air sacs most efficiently, diffusing more oxygen into the blood. It can also lead to an altered state of consciousness. Straighten up; this seems to be good for a positive mental attitude. Finally, stretch; this can help reduce inflammation. I do exercise regularly, covering most of these bases; maybe now I have a better idea how they help me. Another article in the same issue by Richard Webb, who interviews Kimberly Nicholas, who wrote Under the Sky We Make, whose thesis is that if humanity has any hope of tackling climate change, it needs to take action in this decade. She is angry about the fossil fuel industry's denialism, a misinformation campaign decades old. She feels we need to shift to a plant based diet, too. Amen! Another article touts hydrogen; if solar or wind power is converted to hydrogen, it can be stored indefinitely and used at any time. This is another worthwhile avenue. America lags behind other countries here. The quantum dilemma: maybe this way they really can devise unhackable codes. But there are cautions, such as whether this will facilitate criminal activity. NEW SCIENTIST draws a parallel: do we ban fire because it can kill people, or find ways to harness it for mankind's benefit. I suspect that the use of fire is fundamental to our species' dominance of the world. Maybe quantum is the next significant tool. Comic strip “Pickles” for AwGhost 19 has him trying to fold a fitted sheet. She demonstrates how to do it, and suddenly has it neatly folded. He calls that a miracle. Yes indeed. Remember my mini story of a militant feminist approaching me at a convention saying “You claim to do the housework,” thinking to catch me in a lie. I answer “Yes.” She demands “Can you fold a fitted sheet?” I rant “No one can fold a fitted sheet!” Whereupon she goes away, satisfied that I really have encountered that monster. Okay, maybe in a comic strip someone can neatly fold a fitted sheet, but not in real life. Which in turn reminds me of another comic, “Rose is Rose,” wherein Rose's mother tosses the whole basket of just-dried laundry into the air, and it lands all neatly folded. More magic, of course. Newspaper article on Publix, the local grocery chain, now numbering almost 1,250 stores across the Southeast, saying it is a shopper's happy place. Yes it is. We shop there and love it. One example: I needed a bottle of a particular vitamin, so my late wife Carol and I stopped at Publix, located it, and went through the checkout line with that one item. The cashier saw it, paused, walked away, then returned with a clipping of a three dollar off sale on that item that we hadn't seen. Thus something like seven dollars became four dollars. We would never have known had she not caught it. Are we dedicated to Publix? Oh my yes! It seems that sharks almost went extinct 19 million years ago. Science doesn't seem to know why. Maybe it's a glitch in the fossil record. You know the way they thought that fish Coelacanth was extinct for something like 60 million years, until a fisherman caught a live one. Maybe the fossil record needs to clean up its act. A tiny cube of human brain contains 130 million neural connections. Now there is an online tool to map it in three dimensions. Maybe in time they'll get good enough to put a similar brain into my fictional female robots, making them indistinguishable from real woman. Then we couldn't live with them, and couldn't live without them. So maybe stop just short of that. As with the quote by Leela, the lovely one-eyed woman of FUTURAMA (no, I wouldn't kick her out of bed!): “Please try to understand. You're a man. I'm a woman. We're just too different.” And one more from NEW SCIENTIST: it is important that we start believing people when they ask for help with their mental health. Yes indeed. Mental stress is largely invisible, but it can lead to suicide or other destructive behavior. It seems that celebrities don't endure the stresses of overcrowded housing or concern about where their next meal is coming from, but can suffer loneliness and persecution, you know, like being hounded by the press. MaryLee spot researched Princess Di, and that's a horror story. The seemingly perfect woman was in a private hell. Anyone can have a mental problem, and deserves help when it is needed.

Let's conclude with the weather. For my birthday MaryLee gave me a weather stick. This is just a one foot long dry twig that is set up on an outer wall. When it angles up, that means fair weather. When it droops down, wet weather. I set it up, and lo, it works. Today as I edit this column the stick is pointing down, and so far it has rained two inches and hasn't finished. If it starts to flood here, we may have to take it down; enough is enough.


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