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Piers Anthony, Aug. 1, 2020
Piers Anthony, Aug. 1, 2020

JewelLye 2021

HI-

As I remarked last year, I am a writer, and when other things crowd out my writing, I have to act to recover my working time. I try to get seven hours of sleep each night; big chunk of time, but necessary. Eating several meals a day, ditto. My wife MaryLee takes time; that's a given, for marriage. Shopping regularly for groceries takes time; since we'd get hungry if we didn't, that's another given. I exercise regularly, for my continuing health; more time expended. Writing letters and handling email takes, time, especially when the balky email program, Thunderbird, loses my letters in progress, but staying in touch with my base is another necessary thing, for me. Doing chores like maintaining the property, ditto. I play some Mahjongg tiles each day, which I regard as perhaps equivalent to meditation, relaxing me and stabilizing my rampaging thoughts. So I don't get a lot of daily time for my writing. Reading and reviewing the books of other writers I have done through the years as a favor, but this now competes directly with my writing time. So it still has to go. I regret this, as the books are worthy, but so it must be.

However, a compromise. I have two books by Daniel Christopher June. They are not novels so much as compendiums of thoughts and reactions to the complications of personal life. They are The Allays of Master Play, published in 2020, and For Care of Crea, 2021. I am going to glance in them more or less randomly, and share with you what I find there, together with my own reactions. For example, in Allays #484: “Because I am nothing I can dare everything. Because nobody listens, I can say as I wish.” I suspect that applies to many of us. #531: “I recall a polemic of a fellow student at Michigan State University philosophy club: 'Why would we bother eating meat, which is morally reprehensible, considering it offers only five minutes of satisfaction?'” The author's response is that that five minutes makes us feel good all night. Um, as a lifelong vegetarian now bordering on vegan, I don't much like that response. Are we to be morally reprehensible for a few minutes of pleasure? How does that speak to the honor of mankind? #586: “The soul is invented by pretense of discovery. The theologians, pastors, gurus, scientists, philosophers, and psychologists all tell us what we will discover within.” Surely they do, but do they really know? I doubt it. #766: “Life is too important to be taken seriously; we only lose the game when we care too much.” #941: “From glints and gleams we stitch a whole.” #1040: “I chase the will-o-wisps from book to book, through read and reread tomes to volumes I never touched, following a phrase, following a whim through her echoes, seeking finally that absolute blessing: inspiration.” #1176: “Music and math are the two poles of language.” And in For Care of Crea, #1: “In youth, we wore clothes to hide our beauty; in old age, we wear clothes to hide our ugliness. So with our words, the clothes of action...” #386: “I dislike the story of the virgin birth of Jesus. Christians snoot their noses at the popularity of the holiday they themselves stole in the first place – December 25th had nothing to do with their gospels! – and they speak of the 'true meaning of Christmas' as if they alone have a right to the holiday and they alone can determine its meaning. It begins with God the Father using the Ghost to put his Son into a virginal human, without her permission or even her knowledge...” #435: “Editing is endless. So is organizing. I am spending my night fussing over this messy basement.” #443: “I read of a psych experiment that ran something like this: students entering the lab were given an innocent glass of water, a small refreshment before the study officially began, a glass of water also innocently laced – unknown to them – with an anxiety-producing chemical...” Then they were led to believe that it was nervousness about the experiment, or something in their diet, or that God was angry with them. I can't say I like this kind of prank. #452: “A surefire way to write a fantasy novel, or a sci fi for that matter, is to say 'Here is a world where X is the case. And our protagonist is the exception.'” Yes, I did that when I made Xanth a land where everybody had a magic talent, except, seemingly, the protagonist. #549: “If you wish to disarm a man, compliment him. If you wish to disarm a woman, insult her. His ego, her vanity: have at it!” Wow! Could I have changed my life had I had such insight? I hope not. #565: “My childhood and adolescence were haunted by one question: What is wrong with me? What makes me different...” You and me and the world! #583: “There are layers to our Belief. There is what we do, what we say we believe, what we think we believe, and what we actually believe.” #597: “Everything is true. Whatever is possible to be believed is the image of truth.” As you can see, there is provocative material here. If these pretty much random peeks stir your interest, Google the author or the titles so you can see about getting the full treatment.

Mannison Press published my 50 page booklet Read the Read, featuring three short stories relating to children, wherein a little girl befriends a walking skeleton boy, a man and his inner child fall in love with a supportive ghost, and girl, skeleton, and inner child become playmates. Your children or inner children should like this mini collection; I dare say it is not typical children's fiction. I like Mannison Press; they are local, and they publish some nice books. Look them up.

I have a fairly broad vocabulary. Sometimes it goes beyond my dictionaries. For example, pie, pied, to mess something up. To pie a computer would be to make it inoperable; it has been pied. I recall the word being common in my day, but my dictionaries never heard of it. Does anyone else know of it?

MaryLee and I have now been married fourteen months. At times I still marvel at how my life has changed in the past two years, and the same is true for MaryLee. Had the pandemic come slightly sooner and trapped us apart—we wince to think of it. As it is, the pandemic did cut off our honeymoon. Some day we hope to travel and see interesting parts of the world. Yes, we are Senior Citizens; fresh wedlock remains a wonder regardless.

Piles of solicitations come in via any avenues they can find. Robocalls now pester my cell phone as well as my land-line. I tried looking at a picture that arrived on my cell: naked young woman, legs spread wide toward the camera, available any time. For some reason MaryLee preferred that I delete it. Email ads like one from Elite Singles. “Expect the unexpected in 2021: Love.” Thanks, no; I already have that covered. There is CFI, Center for Inquiry, say “We know nonsense when we see it,” and gives persuasive examples, such as QAnon, claims of the paranormal, and alternative medicine that can't pass a double blind test. One of the more active snail mail solicitors is the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC. They systematically track all the American hate groups. It is appalling how many there are, in every state, and yes, right here in my area. Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazi, Racist Skinhead, Anti Immigrant, Anti LGBTQ, General Hate—this is America? It's shameful. They also discuss “accelerationism,” the claim that the entire economic and political system must be dismantled through apocalyptic race war. They want a “cleansing fire” of violence as they eliminate democracy and invoke Hell on Earth. I hope they never succeed. In a thought experiment I picture asking one of them “What would Jesus say?” and he would respond “We got rid of that loser-loving radical long ago.”

One of the fundamental assumptions of science fiction is that there are aliens out there with advanced technology. Indeed, they may be here among us, maybe watching to make sure we don't get out into the galactic civilization with our poisonous racism and destructive lifestyle. Maybe they are getting ready to invade and use us as a meat farm. I am skeptical about that, because unless there is a way to bypass the limitation of the speed of light—wormholes, anyone?—it simply would not be economic for them to mess with us. We may be lucky that the universe is so big. But they could nevertheless be watching from a distance. Astronomers calculate that there are 1,715 stars in our neck of the woods, and hundreds of probable Earth-like planets circling those stars that just might support advanced life forms, and that have an unobstructed view of Earth during human civilization. So maybe we had better see about reforming, so as not make too bad an impression, if it is not already too late. Perhaps related is a report on the enduring mysteries of contemporaneity UFOs. Mostly they are inventions or confusions, but not all of them. There is something there, but what is it?

Juneteenth: an interesting and worthwhile new holiday, June nineteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in America. It turns out that slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation, or even the end of the War of the Rebellion, i.e. the Civil War, since Texas did not then acknowledge the authority of the Union. But finally it did catch up to them, and every slave was freed. Thus officially ended the abomination of slavery, at least in this part of the world. There still seem to be some who haven't quite gotten the word, as the racism cited above continues. Maybe slavery should be restored, this time with the racists and haters becoming the slaves.

I'm old fashioned, and one of the ways it shows is that I read the newspaper. One thing annoys me: in my day a fundamental tenet of journalism was when you use an acronym, that is, capital letters in lieu of the original words, like SNAFU instead of Situation Normal, All Fouled Up – yes I know, some may think I have one of the words wrong; to them I say “Foul you!” -- the first time you spell it out so that those not conversant with it are not baffled. Today they don't necessarily bother, so that I am left confused. No wonder circulation is declining.

I continue slow work on my serious novel Deep Well. Slow because I am old and the nuisancey incidentals of daily life like eating, sleeping, grocery shopping, and email demand time, and being newly married takes time, and the technical research can be mindbendingly complicated. So I made a decision to make it a collaboration. My collaborator is Nicholas Young, who has had hands-on experience with geothermal power. His input is invaluable, and I am sure it will be a better novel than it would have been had I continued to wrestle with it alone. It will be a steamy story, because of the super-heated steam that runs the turbines.

The Sunken Garden continues. The Pink Hibiscus that grew from a broken branch of the original plant, ironically the only survivor of the four we planted, is thriving, now that it is protected from the ravages of the wilderness, sporting lovely seven inch wide flowers and growing as tall as I can reach. The Papaya is growing so big we fear it will collide with the screen ceiling, and its fruits are ripening. The little Cherry Tomato plant we were given has now taken over the shallow end of the garden, covering, oh, maybe 400 square feet, and branches have climbed the old pool steps and reached ground level. It helps that JeJune here now has about 15 inches of rain, more than the prior months of the year combined. We are also growing tomatoes inside, using artificial light, that sprouted from seeds saved from exotic little fruits plus a plum tomato that rotted before we could eat it. Most of the little ones seem to sprout and die soon, unfortunately, but some are bravely hanging on. There is interest and sadness even in routine vegetables, when you give them a chance. MaryLee marvels how I care for the welfare and feelings of such plants, but accepts it. I am not exactly a garden-variety writer.

Clippings and such: The Equedia Letter says that a boom in the price of silver is coming soon. But I remember in the 1980s when similar authorities were certain silver was about to skyrocket. Instead it sank, relative to the price of gold. IRS – that's Internal Revenue Service, you know, the dreaded tax collector – indicates that the wealthiest Americans pay little in income taxes. The billionaires pay about 3.4%. Compare that to what you pay. Yes, when I became a bestseller in the 1980s we learned how taxes really work. I remember my annoyance when I realized that the government was taking 39.6% of my money when I earned it, and 55% of the remainder when I died and my estate passed on to my heirs. Yes, there was an exclusion of the initial amount, but they pro-rated the estate tax to take more, until that exclusion was eaten up. My sympathies are generally with those on the lower parts of the totem, but there is a case to be made for the upper reaches too. So we had to learn how to play the game to keep the taxman out of my pocket to a reasonable extent. My wife Carol, who handled our accounts, bawled me out: “You're making too much money!” But her ire somehow seemed to lack force. I am no longer a bestseller, and my income is not what it was, but I remember those days with mixed sentiments. Should the US start taxing wealth? One analysis indicates that having to pay taxes every year would have cut Warren Buffett's wealth by 85%. Citrus County, Florida, where I live, showed some touching sentiment. A local boy, Jeremy, a bright and nice guy, has Tourette's Syndrome, and is subject to seemingly random sieges of body twisting and exclamations that disrupt his life. But the cost of surgery and follow-up treatments would be $130,000 plus additional costs. So the community is working to raise the money for him. If you want to donate, visit philroyallegacy.com/jeremys-journey, Sex therapist Lisa Butterworth has had clients who belong to the Mormons, officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter/day Saints. Now she has been kicked out of that church. What was her crime? She wrote a letter condemning a church decision to excommunicate a woman who supported removing the stigma around pornography, masturbation, and same-sex marriage, that has been signed by over 800 mental health professionals. Okay, again: what would Jesus say? My guess is that he would weep at what the Mormons are doing in his name. Perhaps they should remove the name Jesus from their title. Article in NEW SCIENTIST by Dean Burnett discusses the science of grief. Theoretically it is predictable, with five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. But it is far more complex. I agree, as I am not yet beyond grief for my wife Carol, a year and three quarters after her death, though I have remarried and am getting on with my life. As the author says, the pandemic lockdown complicates it further. Time supposedly heals all wounds, but in this situation some may get worse. In fact I am not aware of being in any denial, or being angry, or bargaining with any supposed god, but depression is there, and reluctant acceptance. A huge segment of my life is gone. I attended a local Hospice bereavement group, and it did help, but the pandemic pretty well wiped it out and I lost most of the books on grief I had loaned to other members. Regardless, the group was worthwhile. Article in the THE WEEK reports that there is no safe level of drinking. That has been my conclusion, and is why I gradually got out of even token social drinking. It's not that I fear alcoholism; I have never been drunk or otherwise addicted. It's that alcohol in any amount is bad for the brain, and I value my brain. Another article in THE WEEK says that hackers are wanted, the good kind; a labor shortage in the cyber security industry is undercutting companies' ability to guard against breaches. So if you're a hacker, here's your chance to leave the Dark Side and get legitimate. NEW SCIENTIST, again, has an article by David Robson that indicates that the brains of the smartest animals are remarkably like our own. Even small brains can have general savvy. I think even insects can have feelings. I'm not sure about rotifers. NEW SCIENTIST again: review of the book The New Breed: How to think about robots by Kate Darling says we would do well to think of social robots as animals. Yes; I have gotten to know and love a number of sentient robots in my novels. They are people too. And one by Jo Marchant explores the health benefits of exercise in a pill. I believe in exercise, and believe that this is the main contributor to my apparent health at age 86. I do it for my body and my mind, and not from any delight in it for itself. So if I could take a pill that kept me just as healthy, what then? It seems that 31% of people are physically inactive; could they suddenly rival me in health by taking the pill? I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it certainly is worth exploring. And NEW SCIENTIST again: article by Colin Barras says that four clay artefacts (British spelling) found at an ancient site in Syria have what may be the earliest alphabetic writing ever found, 500 years before we thought. Maybe a 3450 year old inscription. And sleep: a recent study indicates that failure to sleep seven to nine hours a night can lead to heart disease. Your body uses sleep time to repair damaged tissues, fight infections and illnesses, and lets your brain process the day's events. Too little sleep can lead to high blood pressure and possibly diabetes. Yes, I do my best to get seven hours sleep a night, but there are so many things to do that it's a struggle. “Anne offers advice” column on depression says that this is not something you can just smile and dismiss. Don't I know it! I suffered depression for decades, until getting the levothyroxin low-thyroid pill that abated it. It definitely was not all in my mind. Neither was the depression suffered by countless teens I have heard from in the past, some suicidal. Treatment for major depression is about 65% effective. Folk like to claim that depression is easy to fix. They don't know what they are talking about. I liken it to a bottomless pit. I stood a fair distance from it. Those teens stood closer. Those that got too close fell in and are gone. Sometimes it is literal. One girl told me how she planned to throw herself into the Grand Canyon when her family visited it. But when they were there she lost her nerve, and didn't do it, and was disgusted with herself. Newspaper item: “The Political Establishment Doesn't Want You to Know the Economy is Rigged.” That stirred bipartisan outrage—against the whistle blower who revealed it. Par for that corrupt course. Abandoned cats create crisis on Brazilian island, Ilha Furtada, Island of the Cats. Pets left behind by the pandemic are put there. Some say not to encourage them by feeding them, but that would condemn them to death because there is no other food on the island. It remains a problem. Newspaper article by Amy Scherzer titled “Develop the storyteller within you.” Yes indeed. It is my thesis that the Arts are what distinguish Mankind from Animalkind, such as Painting, Sculpture, Song, Dance, and of course Storytelling. I am biased, because I make my living from storytelling, but I am more than ready to defend my thesis. Stories evoke imagination, teach children vocabulary and ideas, and pacify otherwise unruly crowds. Jesus Christ was a storyteller. Radio became modern storytelling, then Television, Movies, Role Playing games, and so on. We are made of stories. Newspaper article titled “Our Other Pandemic,” by a trio of authors says that 2020 had the deadliest gun violence in decades, but so far 2021 is worse. Incidents were 58 per day, and are now rising. Well, if you put guns in the hands of idiots, what do you expect? Other countries practice some gun control, but America essentially lets every nut have his gun. Yes the Second Amendment allows guns—if you join a militia, where there will be some training and discipline. Why not implement the whole of that amendment, instead of just the deadly part?

Oh, let's start a new paragraph, just in case anyone is reading this far. A Florida story tells how a woman married her sweetheart. Two days later she donated a kidney to his ex. Why do I suspect the ex does not resent the new one? Traffic deaths rose during the pandemic, and the number of Black people killed rose 23%. Folk were driving faster on emptied highways, and infrastructure in poor neighborhoods is worse. Also Blacks tend to have the kind of jobs that can't be done from the safety of home, so they have to be out in the danger zone. Carbon dioxide levels have hit a new high. We're just not going to stop polluting until we wipe ourselves out. Meanwhile the West is suffering megadrought, dryness that lasts for decades. Water is running out. This will impact farming as record high temperatures continue. June 2 was the 134th birthday of Citrus County. There are juicy related stories; this county has had its scandals. Now there's a thriller movie, Feral State, set here. I wonder if I can make time to see it? Snoozing octopuses seem to slip in and out of dreams. Why not? Octopi are people too. Maybe they are dreaming of the future when global warming causes the sea to rise and cover the continents, and octopi will rule the world. It turns out that artificial cells can grow and split like living bacteria. They tried eliminating all the irrelevant parts, and it didn't work, so they had to put parts back until the cells started growing. This reminds me of modern education, where they seem to prune back irrelevancies until it is deadly boring and the kids can't stand it and don't learn much. Maybe these legal efforts to ban things like the broader aspects of sexuality should be curtailed, so the kids are not channeled into bigotry. It turns out that nicotine provides memory benefits. As a man who was widowered by the long-term side effects of his wife's smoking I am cautious, but of course you don't have to smoke to get nicotine. An Australian prison had to be evacuated because it got overrun by mice. A hospital in that section of the world had trouble with mice attacking the patients. Interesting; in my day there were things like mouse traps and cats. Now there is a 6,000 mile boat trip that circumnavigates the eastern third of the United States that goes mainly on rivers. You can do it comfortably in a year. A condo tower in Miami collapsed, burying many whose bodies have not yet been found. Investigation is indicating that there were structural problems the owners were slow to address because fixing them would have been expensive. The strange behavior of a subatomic particle called the muon is hinting that the standard model of physics does not explain everything. Interesting. Actually I'm not sure the standard model explains gravity. Article in NEW SCIENTIST about how to improve your brain suggests that you see to the health of your guts with things like probiotics, which I do. That you watch what you eat. That you exercise. That you keep in touch with others. That you learn a new skill. That you get enough sleep. And that you do what makes you happy. Well, I try. Bill Maher of HBO's Real Time is promoting a new word: Progressaphobia, defined as a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress. Well, I'm a liberal, and I do see progress, but also much that still needs to be done, like eliminating the last vestiges of racism, sexism, and determined ignorance. Article says that charities for the rich do donate – just not to the needy. Yes, that's a problem. More than a million nonbinary adults live in the US. That is, folk who do not identify exclusively as male or female. And migraines are more than a headache. I am no expert here, but my mother suffered from them, and my wife does. Disassociation, auras; it seems like a science fiction malady. I hope science is able to come up with a reasonable treatment.

PIERS

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