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

Jamboree 2021

HI-

I have mentioned that I seldom remember my dreams, and those I do remember usually aren't much. But once in a while I do discover novelty. Here is one I had the morning of DisMember 8, 2020. I was a pro wrestler, up against a larger man. I figured I could take him, but I would have to be careful. You know, skill rather than blunder, for all that pro wrestling is an act, a kind of stage play put on for a credulous audience. Then I noticed that he had no trunks on. This is not normally the kind of show wrestlers put on, though in the old days, circa the Greeks of three thousand years ago they did compete in the Olympics naked. I'm a bit sorry I wasn't around to watch the women's events. I inquired, but he didn't seem to understand. I am reminded of a TV skit I saw once where a man had a banana in one ear. His friend tried to tell him that, but couldn't seem to get through. Finally the man said, "I can't hear you; I have a banana in my ear." So I gave up on that and tackled him with a judo throw to bring him down. I felt something at my feet and discovered a pair of sneakers, not belonging to me or my opponent. I picked them up and put them over the edge of the sunken arena, the setting evidently drawn from the sunken garden we have now, and called out to the officials "Do these belong to anyone?" I don't think I got an answer, so I set them down and returned to the match. My opponent had changed, and I realized that this must be a tag-team match. He was evasive, so I moved my arms vigorously, trying to get hold of him, and someone called "Are you all right?" and I woke. It was MaryLee, who said I was waving my arms in my sleep. I explained about the dream. I don't know where it came from, as I was never a pro wrestler. I took judo classes for three years, and co-authored half a dozen martial arts novels, but that's hardly the same. So I do on occasion remember odd dreams.

I now have three programmable ergonomic keyboards, one at each computer I use, so that I no longer typo quite as villainously. As I believe I have mentioned before, I type touch using the original Dvorak keyboard layout, dating from before the programmers messed with it, so I am surely one of a very small minority, and anyone trying to use my computers would soon be driven as crazy as my critics think I am. Now I have it my way, and am satisfied. In fact this ERGODOX (ergodox-easy.com) keyboard is like a computer in itself, with about five levels, including one that makes the keyboard emulate the mouse, and one that has the QUERTY layout. I recommend it to those who have had similar struggles with the anonymous programmers from Hell.

I completed writing Xanth novel #47 Apoca Lips, she of the potent kiss, and am making notes for #48, tentatively titled The Ugly Nymphs. The thing about nymphs is that they all look pretty much alike, lovely bare girls who scream cutely, kick their legs high, and fling their long hair about. They are good for only one thing, and love it, and don't need clothes or smarts for that. They are ageless, and have no memory of the prior day. Female fantasy partners with none of the balkiness of real women. But there is evidently a foul-up in the Nymph Works, and three of them turn out ugly. One has hair that looks like tangled seaweed; she actually belongs in the sea. Another is smart, which makes her mind ugly as it gives her foolish ideas about independence, purpose, and other feministic heresies. The third has a magic talent of seeing one day into the future, which ruins her for nightly memory erasure. How can these problems be fixed? That will surely be what the novel is about. Stay tuned. With luck and fortitude I hope to make it to Xanth #50. What was that sound? Oh, just a group puke by my critics.

At this stage I have been remarried eight months, and yes MaryLee and I are happy. Except that she came down with shingles, a later complication of chicken pox, and has been in intermittent pain that disrupts her activities and her sleep; I have to watch where I touch her, which is a frustration for newlyweds. We trust that in due course she will mend, and the pandemic will pass, so that we can finally celebrate our postponed honeymoon. We had a nice small Christmas together with Daughter Cheryl, but otherwise remain under house arrest, I mean, on virus lockdown. We'd like at least to go out on the Kawasaki Mule ATV to explore the crannies of the tree farm, but she can't do a shingle thing at the moment. Yes, I still miss Cam, her nickname from her maiden name Carol Ann Marble, my wife of 63 years, and there are constant reminders of her around the house. One example: in earlier times we had four plastic cups, one for each member of the family. Mine was blue, matching my blue eyes, which in my age have largely faded to gray, like my beard; Cam's was brown, for her brown eyes and hair. But my cup eventually developed a crack, so Cam gave me hers. Now when I drink a cup of water, as I do every hour so as to keep my urine diluted so I won't get another kidney stone—kidney stones are like hurricanes; when you experience one, you never want another—I think of her. She is gone but her cup remains, clothed with its memory. There's a semisweet sadness there. But I can't bring her back, and I am getting on with my life. That is the way it has to be. MaryLee understands; she is now living in a house whose every detail was crafted by another woman. They say that in second marriages, folk would rather marry a divorcee than a widow/widower, because the newcomer can never measure up to the image of the dear departed, while the divorced partner is relatively easy to deal with. So I have no trouble competing with MaryLee's Ex; she tells me that I am more of a man in my 80s than he was in his 20s. Surely an exaggeration, but I can live with it. Still, MaryLee is slowly carving out her niches here that are truly her own. Such as her office, converted from our long unused spare bedroom; she is the first and only woman to set up shop there.

Our Sunken Garden continues. But a cold snap came, and took out some of the leaves of the plumeria plants; we are hoping that more will grow. The papaya and pink hibiscus are okay. Outside, our Christmas Cactus plants had over a hundred fancy flowers. Those are the ones we rescued from three fragments the opossum dropped when raiding them before. This time I enclosed them in chicken wire, and with that protection they have prospered. It's a constant fight to preserve our innocent plants from the forest raiders, but we are getting there. Yet still none of the old wildflowers I planted have come up, only ones like dandelions. Sigh.

I exercise regularly; it is one of the secrets of my longevity and health. But that, too has its complications. I used to run three miles, three times week. When we moved to the tree farm I tried using a treadmill, but it broke after three times, so I went to an exercise cycle, but it broke in due course, so I went to an exercise rower and it broke. Apparently these things aren't built to actually be used. So I jogged the 1.6 mile round trip to fetch my newspapers in the morning, and that worked well enough, except that every so often I would trip and fall, always landing on my face. So a couple years ago I slowed it to a fast walk, and I haven't fallen since, but I may just have been lucky. I used to do archery for arm exercise, but I hated losing five dollar arrows when they went their own ways instead of the target where I aimed them. Finally I switched to twice weekly Chore Hours, doing the jobs I would not get to on my own. That cleaned up the drive, getting the brush clipped back, the yards cleared, the study cleaned up, and so on; it was one of my smarter notions. Sometimes it provides supplementary exercise, such as Christmas Day when a dead pine tree with a trunk almost a foot in diameter fell across the drive. Daughter Cheryl and I got it clear, mainly using a long pry bar. I also do supplementary exercises, using 8 and 20 pound dumbbells. Also the bow, which remains operative without the arrows, drawing it 20 times right side one day, 20 times left side the alternate day. It is set at a 55 pound draw weight, which isn't a lot, but at age 86 I am satisfied to carry on with that. My object is to keep doing it as long as I can, not trying for more, just maintaining that level of strength. Left side continues okay, but the right side is a challenge, because the muscle in my back that holds the bow in place has faded out and now it pulls forward and around, so that I can't complete the draw unless I do it rapidly. Why this should be the case when I used it regularly for over twenty years I don't know. So it's a constant nervous effort, and I have to repeat draws that are not quite complete before the bow comes all the way around. It is a frustration. Apart from that I believe I am about as healthy as an octogenarian can be. My father lived to age 93, and that is a target for me. My wife MaryLee thinks I should try for 100 and be just as eager to grab her as I am now. We'll see.

I exercise in significant part for my mind. The best way to have a healthy mind is to have a healthy body. As far as I can tell my writing ability remains sharp; as I have said, if that skill starts declining I want to be the first, not the last, to know it. But there are early signals. Too often I can't remember the particular word I want. It is there in my memory, but I can't access that memory. For example years ago I wanted to make something for supper, but I couldn't remember its name. Finally I told Cam "It is round and flat, and we put mushrooms on it." She said "Pizza." That was it. This past week I was trying to remember the brand name of a chocolate. "The lady rode a horse through town, naked." MaryLee said "Godiva." See what I mean? It is really bad when I can't remember the necessary descriptions for the missing word. Yes, it happens to everyone, but I am concerned by the increasing frequency. Suppose some day I want to write a novel, and I can't remember the word "novel" or long "story"? I live to write, and dread the prospect of ever being unable to do it.

Then there's my hearing, which has faded somewhat, so I got hearing aids. They worked but about a month ago the left one stopped working. I continued to use the right one. Then one evening it was gone. It must have dropped out of my ear unnoticed; maybe when I was driving the Mule out for the mail, and is gone. Sigh. These things are designed to be almost invisible, so that strangers don't know you're wearing them. I think I'd prefer having some that are obvious so I can't lose them. I am old and don't mind showing it; to me age is not a shame but an indication that I've been around a while. Why hide what I am? The alternatives are fakery or death, neither of which appeals to me.

And the clippings. I remain months behind on my magazines, but I do go through the local newspaper daily. Here is one from December 2, about a parallel between Bigfoot and QAnon. Our local version is the evil smelling Skunk Ape, splashing around Lake Tsala Apopka, known as Lake Tsoda Popka in Xanth, and we may even have our own Tsala Apopka Monster to rival the Loch Ness Monster. When the monsters are fake, why not? But this article is about a related phenomenon: what kind of person truly believes in Bigfoot or QAnon? Now that interests me. I am a total skeptic on the supernatural. I make my living from fantasy, but I don't believe it. It seems that a Republican congressman from Virginia, Denver Riggleman, is investigating fantasy belief and conspiracy theories. He even self published a book about the subject, Bigfoot — It's Complicated. My guess is that he couldn't find a traditional publisher, they being hideboaund. Pockets of America are falling into conspiracy wormholes such as QAnon, the "boogaloo" movement ( I have not heard of this before), and President Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud. The author concludes that like the Bigfoot hunters, they see what they want to see. Facts oftentimes don't matter. To have this attitude seriously affect politics can be alarming. Riggleman has been an Air Force intelligence officer, so surely has a pretty sharp insight into the way people think. This objectivity was considered a betrayal of his political party, when he spoke up, and he got squeezed out. It seems that today's Republicans don't much like common sense. Not that Democrats are necessarily better. As a registered independent for 60 years I scorn them all.

Remember the Mystery Monolith? It disappeared shortly after being discovered in Utah. Then similar ones appeared in other parts of the world. Now one has appeared made of gingerbread. A lesser mystery is local, here in Citrus County, Florida. When they moved an old shed they discovered that it was supported by grave markers of former military servicemen. Huh? It turned out that these were ones that should have been destroyed when new ones were installed, 17 years ago. Too bad they were left face down in the dirt. If there is an Afterlife, there must be some angry ghosts. There was an obit for Charley Pride, country music's first black star. I was not aware of him, not being much into country music, but I note that he was my age, born in 1934. There are fewer folk of my generation than there used to be. Maybe age has something to do with it. There has been a local sign in a yard that has recently attracted some attention. ETERNITY IN HELL IS A LONG TIME! Now some folk are taking offense, thinking their religion is being smirched, and they want the sign taken down. It doesn't bother me; as an agnostic I don't believe in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. But if someone wants to state the obvious, that eternity anywhere is a long time, why not? We do theoretically have freedom of speech. Maybe someone should put up another sign saying something like IT'S A SHORT TIME, YOU MORON. Hark! The vaccines are coming. Let's hope they stifle the pandemic and allow normalcy to return. Meanwhile in Xanth we have a pundemic, causing pundemonium, where folk get pundigestion and emit such foul puns that nobody can stand to be near them. Don't worry; it seems likely to be years before Apoca Lips sees print, so you are not in immediate danger of mind rot.

More seriously, we have in the past mentioned useful sites, though I have been cutting back on that in the interest of focusing on this site's real purpose: to promote my books. I'm a commercial writer, not a philosopher, as this column may indicate. So here is a passing mention of the American Addiction Centers, americanaddictioncenters.org, a leading national organization that is dedicated to helping people with their mental health and substance abuse problems. They provide free books of statistics on addiction, explaining how to find free rehab centers. Also free Virtual Support Meetings hosted weekly by a person in recovery. I know that holidays can be tough on folk in trouble; I feel it in my grief for Cam, who can't share the festivities. Here, perhaps, is the help you need.

They are testing robot dogs in Florida to see how useful they will be in war. They were designed by Ghost Robotics. No you can't have one to guard your house; prices start at $100,000. I am waiting for when they make robot men, so that living men don't have to fight in wars. In the Anne advice column is a letter from a man who married a fourth time, and his wife and three exes get together with their husbands amicably for family events. That's a good way to do it, if you can. A prominent AI (Artificial Intelligence) researcher is leaving Google, because it seems they put profits ahead of ethics. I remember when Google advertised to hire the very smartest folk; too bad their bosses aren't smart enough to appreciate the value of ethics. Article in the October 10 2020 issue of NEW SCIENTIST titled "The balancing act" says we are becoming less steady on our feet. That's mischief; balance is one of the defining qualities of the human species, as I explore in my GEODYSSEY series, with such odd incidental effects as permanent breasts on women, something unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom. The Tampa Bay Times lists the early downplaying and denial of Covid-19 virus as the Lie of the Year. I am inclined to agree, but with a caution that this newspaper's decisions aren't always apt. Remember when President Obama, introducing the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, was asked about competing insurance? He replied that if you liked other insurance, you could keep it. Then some shady companies concluded that the strictures required by Obamacare, such as not rejecting applicants for preexisting conditions, and actually paying the claims when they came, made it too difficult to do business their way, so they went out of business. That meant that their policy holders couldn't keep them. And the newspaper called that Obama's Lie of the Year. See what I mean? Dairy-free yogurt has arrived. I have now tried some, and it tastes much like regular yogurt and has similar nutritional value. Good for it! Now let's do the same for milk, meat, fur coats and all. Yes I am a lifelong vegetarian, nudging toward vegan. Hollywood is said to be in panic because the pandemic has caused the death of the cinema houses. However, TV streaming is taking its place. The business will simply have to reorient. The Hightower Lowdown reports that in a blind survey that presented the choice of living in a country with high income inequality like the USA or one with modest inequality like Sweden, 92% of Americans, including the rich, preferred Sweden. The 1918 to 1919 pandemic of the Spanish Flu is estimated to have killed between fifty million and one hundred million people worldwide. That's way worse than covid-19 so far. But checking the mortality rate in developed industrial countries, it was about two percent. I think covid-19 is running around three percent. There's a mysterious light in space. When astronomers add up all the known sources, they account for only half the light that exists. So what is the source? I would have thought that a source of light would be readily visible, but I'm not an astronomer. Maybe Dark Matter is not so dark after all. Of course I remain a skeptic on that; I don't think Dark Matter even exists. Article in the October 31 issue of NEW SCIENTIST says we are on the cusp of a new age of sail. No, not on earthly seas; in space, where giant sails can catch the solar wind and similar radiation by other stars. Sigh; I fear I won't be around for that tourist cruise. Here is wishing all of us a return to a new normalcy and a satisfied future. I do believe we are turning the corner as we leave 2020 behind.

PIERS

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