It Doesn’t Take a Rigorist: Why All Catholics Should Be Concerned About Pope Francis

3 October, 2013 at 10:12 am

I was accused of being a rigorist last night. I didn’t know this about myself. Simcha Fisher accused me, and a group of other concerned Catholics on Facebook discussing Pope Francis’s ardent defenders, of having this disposition. Apparently that’s what you call Catholics who think that Pope Francis’s words of late have been utterly reckless, theologically misleading, and borderline heretical.

Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m no rigorist. If anything, I’m a laxist. By nature I am a lazy hedonist. I find the motto, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die” far, far more appealing than “Turn the other cheek” or anything you find in the Beatitudes. I have no interest in the trite niceties of religion. I struggle to care sufficiently about the poor. I hate praying the Rosary. I’d far rather have an acid tongue than a charitable one. When I read the lives of the Saints, I often think that they sound like impossible caricatures which only mean I am more damned than I ever could have thought, because how could I be that good? I am much more inclined to pursue wine, women, and song than I am the Cardinal virtues. I am a sinner first and foremost, and my selfishness is almost limitless. I have yet to reach a point in my life where my sanctity might inspire the heathen, though I count myself fortunate to know that my words have helped to bring about conversion. Anything that I can count in my favor on Judgment Day, I’ll cling to.

No, I am no rigorist. I am simply a man who needs boundaries, who knows that the (apocryphal) Dostoyevskian adage, “If God is not, then everything is permissible” would apply only too strongly in my own life if I were to try to live without Him.

The Catholic Church was, for the better part of 2,000 years, the one place on Earth where such boundaries were set in stone. So despite my empiricist inclinations and occasional flirtations with atheism, despite my immense struggles with believing in or perceiving a personal God who loves me, I had the law and intellectual tradition of the Church to fall back on. I had Pascal’s wager, much as it always irked me. I have spent many years of my life studying theology, and I have always found comfort in knowing that if I want to know what the Church teaches, I can look it up. Because it’s written down somewhere. Somewhere like this:

catalog544But beyond the words and the laws of theology written in the books were the rubrics of liturgy, sacred art and music, church architecture, adoration, Eucharistic processions – in short, a tapestry of creative genius, pietistic impulse, ritual actions, the collective obeisance to the transcendent through work and worship that is and has been, in point of fact, enough to inspire the heathen. As a little card in my uncle’s bathroom reading rack used to say, “The Catholic Church: Never Popular, Always Attractive.” These things appealed to my aesthetic impulse, to the part of me that seems unable to disbelieve that truth and beauty are two facets of the same gem.

Catholicism was, historically, a magnificent thing. It was grandiose, majestic, and inspiring. It was always greater than the sum of its parts. There is no more profound feeling than entering the Vatican grounds or walking through St. Peter’s Basilica, but for an understanding of the absolutely astonishing peasant faith that built the great European Cathedrals, one needs to look at, for example, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux in Normandy:

Bayeux

 

This amazing structure, dedicated in 11th century (in the presence of William the Conqueror!) absolutely TOWERS over the surrounding homes and buildings, even to this day. An edifice such as this can be seen for miles, and it tells the visitor that God, not man, is the most important thing to the inhabitants therein. Think of the work, the toil, the craftsmanship of the common that went in to building such a structure year after year until its completion is truly humbling. It speaks of something far greater than one can find in the mere treasures and pleasures of this world.

Catholicism in its greatness was always a religion that inspired and demanded the best from its adherents. It was a “stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” It made protestants uncomfortable by its very nature, its liturgy was steeped in tradition and mysticism, and its armies fought off the Muslim hordes. It brought kings low and made emperors do penance. The traditional burial ceremony of the Hapsburgs gives me chills, when the only entrance to the church that is permitted to those of royal blood is not their impressive list of earthly titles but the statement, “I am a poor mortal and a sinner.”

Belloc said that “the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith” because the history of the two — and really, of Western Civilization — were inextricable.

And the Church’s claims on exclusivity left no doubt as to the seriousness of standing outside her gates if one wished to attain salvation. Pope Eugene IV laid this claim on the line in the Council of Florence in 1441, when he proclaimed:

The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, and heretics, and schismatics, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire “which was prepared for the devil, and his angels,” (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this Ecclesiastical Body, that only those remaining within this unity can profit from the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and that they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of Christian piety and duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

The Church is attractive because she is beautiful. The Church is appealing, despite her many rules and requirements, because she alone claims fullness of truth. The Church is inspiring because she is noble, and her traditions and customs give witness to her profound sacramental beliefs.

Much of this, perhaps even most of this, has been lost since Vatican II. The Church has become an instrument of compromise, of syncretism, and of mediocrity. A bourgeois, bubble gum-chewing religion of suburban good cheer. Her architecture has become banal, her music profane, her liturgies humanistic. She no longer challenges the world with witness to Christ Crucified, but instead tells the world that there are many paths to heaven for people of good conscience.

 

For the life of me, I can’t fathom why anyone faced with the Church of 2013 would choose to convert to Catholicism. For fellowship? I can get fellowship from the local MegaChurch, with far fewer impositions on my personal liberty. For the sacraments? But most Catholics don’t even believe in the Real Presence, most parishes have no adoration or Eucharistic devotions, most priests offer an hour or less per week of confession time on the parish schedule.

I was drawn to Catholic tradition and the Old Latin Mass not because of some nostalgia, or even a predilection for dead languages. I’ve never taken a day of Latin class in my life and I still don’t understand it. I love traditional liturgy and theology because they mean something. Because they show me my place in the cosmos. Because one can’t help but notice the absolute seriousness and importance of what is going on up at the altar when one isn’t dodging giant puppets and felt banners and Eucharistic ministers and guitar-strumming minstrels and the tinkling of glad tambourines. Because traditional Catholic piety and worship give rise to a feeling that this religion I have been a part of all my life ACTUALLY ACTS AS THOUGH THE COMPLETELY FANTASTIC THINGS IT CLAIMS TO BELIEVE ARE TRUE rather than perpetually undermining its own teachings with watered-down “worship spaces” and infinitely regressing theological nuance.

Catholicism is a “Go big or go home” religion. Catholicism is radical. It is radical in its claims, in its demands, in its beliefs, in its scope, and in its trappings. When it ceases to be radical, the whole enterprise becomes significantly less credible. It becomes merely one choice among many in a spectrum of religions all more or less following the natural law. It ceases to be the fulfilment of a covenant with a chosen people, and instead becomes a lifestyle choice.

 

So back to Pope Francis. What is my problem with him? Well, let me start by saying that I had hope for the papacy that followed Benedict XVI. I had an inclination that maybe he really knew what he was doing with his abdication and that something was coming that the Church needed. And yet, when I saw Francis that first moment as he stepped out to face the massive crowds in St. Peter’s square, I found myself filled with inexplicable dread. I had no idea who the man was or what he was about – I had never even heard his name before that moment. But there was something in his face, in the deadness of his eyes, that inspired in me a feeling of revulsion. I have always had a strong ability to judge character, but I tried to suppress it. I attempted to find ways to give the benefit of the doubt. I could not discount a successor of St. Peter because of nothing more than a feeling. But that feeling was strong, and I have never been ill-served by listening to my feelings about people.

Then he started speaking. And the statements he has been making are intensely problematic. Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere. Many of his other statements, by and large, are less egregious, though they are still quite problematic. They are open to wildly varying interpretation because they are made without context, thus leaving it open to the will of the interpreter to apply it. And look at the sort of context one can apply:

 

The-Greatest-Evil

 

Or how about:

 

good-and-evil

Or perhaps:

Martyrdom

 

It only takes the barest scraps of creativity and one can apply his words — which on the surface seem simply gentle and eminently reasonable — to whatever situation one wants. Which is why I’m not the only one applying his words to unintended situations. It is the reason why this happened:

 

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In a world where the pope speaks like Eugene IV, or even Benedict XVI, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. A pope who knows Catholic doctrine and hews close to it in his public statements does not provide opportunities to be co-opted by some of the most evil people on the face of the planet. You want to blame NARAL? Go right ahead. But he’s the one who said we talk too much about abortion. And when you combine that with statements about the greatest evils in the world being unemployment or the loneliness of the world, I can’t see why they wouldn’t thank him. It’s a dream come true for them. They were on their heels, and the greatest single point of opposition to abortion in the world — the papacy — just decided to let up when momentum was finally building.

 

There are a lot of Catholics out there – good ones, probably far better ones than I am – trying to put a positive spin on every foolish thing the pope says. They don’t like it, not one bit, when other Catholics say things like, “Hey, what this guy is saying doesn’t sound at all like the Catholicism I’ve lived and studied MY ENTIRE LIFE. It sounds like something far different. It sounds like something intended to change the way Catholics believe.”

I can’t say I blame them. It’s tough when you find out that the pope isn’t doing things in the best interest of the Church. I remember how I felt when I first discovered that during my study of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent liturgical revolution. I was a JPII-We-Love-You Catholic with my BA in Theology from Steubenville, of all places, and a life spent in the Novus Ordo Missae. I wanted to find the flaws in the traditionalists’ arguments, because I couldn’t wrap my mind around what they would mean for the Church. Instead, I found myself agreeing and then ultimately joining their cause. C’est la vie.

I don’t think Pope Francis’ defenders are insincere. I don’t think they’re saying these things just because they want to continue their working relationships with the mainstream Catholic publications they write for. Working for the Church, in whatever capacity, is one of the quickest paths to financial insolvency, and it’s hard to lose that income. I’m glad I don’t depend on my Catholic writing gigs, because I’m finding it very hard to publish anything positive about the Church right now. But that doesn’t make them opportunists.

I like Simcha Fisher. I think she’s a good person and a faithful daughter of the Church. She has a lot of kids and she’s trying to raise them right and she is, often as not, more sensible than many others when it comes to her take on issues in the Church. Hell, I’ve sided with her on more than one occasion. Even on the issue of (gasp!) women wearing pants!

I don’t have any ill-will for Catholics defending the pope, but I do wish they would stop already. He is doing a lot of damage. He is muddying the already unclear theological waters and making it very, very easy for a world hell bent on seeing Catholics as the bad guys to misinterpret things until we have no chance of having an honest conversation about anything anymore. They’re already using “but the pope said” arguments against people out there defending the unborn and arguing against gay marriage. It isn’t going to stop. So while there may not be malice at work, I think these papal apologists need to step back and ask themselves if they’re maybe, just maybe, being a bit willfully obtuse.

 

Not all popes are chosen by the Holy Spirit, folks. Not everything a pope says is infallible, either. Heck, most of it isn’t. It’s OK to distance yourself from a dangerous pope. You don’t need to keep saying that things he said or did are being taken out of context, or that he didn’t contradict doctrine. The pope is not the faith. Eastern Catholics have been getting along fine without much input from him for millennia.

History shows us the truth of this. Pope Stephen VI wasn’t taken out of context when he held the cadaver synod. Pope John XII wasn’t misunderstood when he was committing adultery and murder. Pope Urban VI wasn’t being taken advantage of by the media when he tortured members of his curia who opposed him.

And none of these popes contradicted doctrine. They were all real popes. Valid popes. They were all protected by the Holy Spirit from promulgating doctrinal error in an official capacity, and that guarantee worked out just fine. But they were all asshole popes. Terrible, lecherous, murderous people. May God have mercy on their souls.

The thing they couldn’t do that Pope Francis can do? Give interviews that can be read by a global audience. Talk about doctrine in a non-doctrinal capacity in a way that gets everyone all confused. You can argue that they were worse while they were bedding women and killing enemies and digging up the corpses of their predecessors, but I honestly find that a lot easier to deal with. Nothing like, as Nancy Pelosi likes to say, a “Wolf in wolf’s clothing.” I like an enemy I can see.

No, what’s worse is when the enemy speaks in half-truths. When they veil themselves in cryptic language that can be taken to mean one thing by the orthodox and another by the progressive. When they speak in code that tells their brothers in revolution that the fight is still on, that the 1960s aren’t dead yet and getting better. When they say nothing at all the can be definitively denounced as heterodox but everything that can be embraced by the heterodox if they so choose.

Stalin had a word for the people who sympathised with the Soviets in the West: useful idiots. This papacy is looking to be a continuation of the revolution that began before Bl. John XXIII invoked the council. This is a battle for the soul of the Church that is happening within the boundaries of papal infallibility, but make no mistake – a lot can go wrong without changing a single doctrine.

If you love Catholicism, take some time to read up on what it teaches. Or, I should say, what it taught before the second half of the 20th century. Understand the continuity that existed between popes in the past, and compare that to what you’re seeing now. You might be surprised.

If you want, in charity, to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, you have every right to do so. But I urge you to ask for discernment. To question with boldness whether your benevolent papism — an entirely noble but ultimately unnecessary aspect of the life of faith — is enabling something that will damage the Church’s ability to evangelize for years to come.

 

UPDATE 11/10/13: If you are arriving through various links, or the New York Times article itself, I have written a followup to this post that helps answer some of the questions that have arisen in the comments.

It’s Like There’s This Guy Behind Me With a Knife, And The House Is About to Explode

8 July, 2013 at 3:12 pm

the-christian-martyrs

This country, man. It’s on a trajectory straight for FUBAR. There’s so much. There are so many things going off the rails.

When you pay attention to those things, they drag you down. But it’s hard not to. It’s like a plane crashed into a car and the big flaming wreck went over the railroad tracks just in time to get hit by a train. A HAZMAT train. In front of a pre-school/puppy shelter. And you’re just driving by, and you’re telling yourself, “keep your eyes on the road!” But you just. Want. To. Look.

Yeah, I’m in the mood for hyperbole. So sue me.

A few months ago, my lovely wife asked me to stop paying so much attention to the news. She accused me of being way too negative. I argued with that one. I said, “It’s not negative or positive, it’s just reality.” And technically speaking, that’s true. But reality = negative right now. Seriously. Google that shit. True story, bro.

We’re building a business right now, and that is a many-splendored thing. I left my job a month ago and haven’t looked back. Business is coming in faster than my most optimistic projections, and it’s a fantastic feeling. And so that’s where my focus needs to be. Too much to do and not enough time to do it.

But it’s like there’s this guy behind me with a knife, and the house is about to explode.

Permit me to explain: I have this real and pervasive sense sometimes that it’s all going to hit the fan. That we’re going to turn a corner and suddenly wake up in Orwell’s America. We’re really damned close already. There’s this part of my brain, though, and I’m SO thankful for it, that just keeps singing its Pollyanna song. “It’s a beautiful day,” it says. “It’s an amazing country. The bad guys won’t win. We won’t let them win. Go kick some ass today!!!”

And I want so freakin’ badly to believe that voice is the one I should listen to. Like I said to the wife the other day, “The world’s not allowed to go to hell in a handbasket just yet. There’s too much of it we have yet to go see.”

But the news. Oh lordy, the news.

So I’ve been staying away from the news. Mostly keeping the Facebook usage to a minimum, too, because that’s where many of my friends post this stuff too. It’s like a Trojan horse of awfulness: I go on to see pictures of your 4th of July BBQ, you post a link talking about the fission reaction that is the “Arab Spring” or one of the seventeen-jillion concurrent scandals that should be rocking this administration if they were ANYBODY else and the Bolshevik revolution didn’t hinge on their continued existence. Game. Set. Match. Suddenly I’m down the rabbit hole again. And when I’m doing that, I’m not giving all the TLC I should be to the business, the family, or my personal grooming.

So by sheer force of will, I pull my head out of the maelstrom and re-focus. Disengage. Resist the urge to click-n-cry. And the feeling I sometimes have is that I am turning my back on encroaching danger. Life is so much happier when I don’t know what’s going on, but I can’t escape the sense that it’s only because it hasn’t happened to *me* yet. And it’s coming for me. But I can’t run from it and I can’t fight it if I don’t have the means to do anything about it. I need resources (aka, a fat stack of Benjamins or the gold equivalent thereof) and a go-bag for me and mine. I need a cabin in the woods. I need an off-the-grid master plan and edible copies of the Constitution. Which means I need to be focused on the now – the making of money, the getting of things done, the acquisition of resources – rather than distracting myself with the vague and omnipresent threat that “something wicked this way comes.” It’s either/or.

It’s like I’m in a house with a serial killer. There’s a bomb rigged up in the basement (don’t ask why, exposition isn’t the point here) and it’s going to blow in about 14 seconds. I’m running for the door, and the dude is behind me with his big, scary knife. I’m focused on the exit. If I get there first, and the bomb blows, the killer is done. It can’t happen if I keep looking over my shoulder. I just need to stay concentrated on staying ahead of him. Maybe he’ll trip and gut himself on his own big, scary knife. Maybe the blast will get him. (No, I don’t know what the blast represents – this is a sucky analogy, just go with it.) The point is, if I gun it for the exit I might make it out alive. If I try to stay and fight, I’m out of my league at this point, so I’m human tartare.

I don’t like turning my back on a threat. But what choice do I have? There’s no part-timing the onslaught they’re throwing at us. You’re either in or out. You’re either fighting the borg-like takeover of this country and its ethos every day, or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re either creating an anti-borg virus, or you’re going to be really surprised when they assimilate you.

I’ve lost my way here. No, literally, even I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. But you get the point, right? RIGHT??

It is at this moment that I find myself jealous of the Christian martyrs of ancient Rome. There was no running from Diocletian or Nero. Shit was just real, and they threw down with the Lions. They knew – they just knew that freedom didn’t come from the law, from a document, or from a nation. It came as part of being made in God’s image and likeness. Free will. That’s where the rubber meets the road. “I choose freely to let you slaughter me, and my children, to show the world the monsters that you are. I go to a better place, where I will pray for your conversion.” What’s it like to be like that? What would it be like to live amongst people who had that kind of courage?

That is why the Roman empire converted. Not because of moving rhetoric, or force of arms, or giant steampunk war machines forged from spare aqueduct parts. They converted because they respected the Christians, who were absolutely, terrifyingly fearless in the face of torture and death. They knew what they were about, and they stared down Caesar and his legions and said, “Do your worst!”

We are not like them. We need to be. We need to be a people who doesn’t flinch, doesn’t cower, and doesn’t run. We need to face evil and we tell it how ugly it is. Right to its face.

If you figure out how to muster up that kind of awesome, would you mind letting me know?

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaaanges!

31 May, 2013 at 10:24 am

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Bless me blogreaders, for I have sinned. It’s been 3 months since my last post.

I’ve been a genuinely very busy guy lately, so I won’t apologize, but I hate to neglect this space. I aim to spend more time here in the coming months as I get back to more personal writing again. I left off on that novel draft just shy of 50,000 words back in February. So close to crossing the big milestone set by NaNoWriMo. And yet…so far.

So what’s been happening? Well, today is officially my last day as Director of Community Relations for the Society for Technical Communication. It’d be 3 years on the job this November, and it’s been a fascinating ride. I’ve learned a lot, spent a lot of time developing my skills in relationships management, corporate communications, marketing, design, and diplomacy, among other things.

I’m a better man for it. No doubt about it. But it was time to move on.

In early 2012, I convinced my wife Jamie to leave Long & Foster real estate and go solo. She had already obtained her Real Estate Broker’s License in Arizona and Virginia, and I couldn’t see any reason for her not to capitalize on that. When you work for a big brokerage, you pay out lots of money on commission splits and desk & marketing fees, and when you’re already working on commission only, that’s a tough row to hoe. If you have a broker’s license, far better to do it your own way and bring home 100% of the split.

So on St. Patrick’s Day of last year, Home Source Realty was born.

What started as a part-time job for extra income has quickly grown to the point where Jamie couldn’t manage it alone. This year, Jamie’s income as a real estate broker has outpaced my own, and she needed help. The juggling of both our schedules was getting out of hand. She was teaching all-day homebuyer classes two Saturdays a month, heading out to show houses the minute I got home from work, or trying to cram as many home inspections, closings, and business meetings into my work-from-home-Fridays as she could. It was getting to be too much.

Since I’d already been doing a lot of graphic & marketing work for STC, I took that experience and had been putting it straight back into the development of logo, branding, and marketing pieces for Home Source. It’s a great time to be in business for yourself, especially when between social media and self-publishing options you can put out materials every bit as good as the guys with multi-million dollar budgets, as long as you have the chops for it.

So when the time came where we knew it was time to go all in, we held our breath and took the plunge into our family business. Tomorrow, I will make my official as the Vice President of Communications & Marketing for Home Source Realty. (Yes, on Saturday. Welcome to real estate.) In addition to web, marketing, graphics, PR, and vendor relations, I’ll also be getting my real estate license in the coming months. Oh, and helping out as a co-stay-at-home-parent, a new faculty member in our ongoing homeschool project, and adjunct chef and house-cleaner-upper.

It’s going to be a wild ride, but I’m really excited to build something of our own. Are there risks? Sure. Is this a great time to be in real estate in the DC area? Best it’s been in a while, yes.

Will I have time to write fiction, finish those novels I’ve been yammering about, and win a Hugo award? I’ll make time. It just may take a bit longer than I’d hoped. So be it. The adventure begins, and adventure is what every writer needs.

 

Short Story – Vaccination Clinic

17 February, 2013 at 10:58 am

I had to take Oscar (our illustrious Shih Tzu) to a vaccination clinic yesterday. As I began observing the many…interesting people I found there. The descriptions were writing themselves in my head, so I came home and scribbled them down. What began as a writing exercise in describing people emerged as almost a story. I slapped an ending on it just to give it a stopping point, and because I was feeling a bit ironic.

This is an unedited first pass. I enjoyed writing it, but your mileage may vary.

* * *

When they arrived, there were already dozens of people. Some were milling about outside in the cold, each tethered to a dog, sometimes two, all of them waiting for their chance to step into the back of a mysterious white van parked at the curb. The van itself was a Dodge Sprinter, awkwardly tall and cavernous, and through the tinted windows he could darkly see figures moving within.

Chewie had finally stopped shaking. He had been trembling the entire trip there, vibrating at a frequency Rob was pretty sure was biologically impossible. He was excited, pulling at his leash, making his way toward the store. Rob made his way to the back of the misshapen huddle of people, wondering if the light hoodie he’d worn was going to keep him warm enough. The weather had been erratic lately, and despite spring-like temperatures earlier in the week, today it was cold. Rumor had it there might even be snow.

A middle-aged woman with an eighties perm and denim jacket smiled at him. Her eyes were like slits in her face, squinty, but with no visible eyelids until she blinked.

“You filled out your paperwork yet?” She asked.

“Me? No.” He said. “I wasn’t really sure how that worked.”

With a motion of her head, she gestured toward the store, winding the leash she was holding around her hand an extra time.

“Inside.” She said. “There are two lines in there. The first one you see, the long one? That’s for people paying. The second line is farther in, by the pets and reptiles. That one is where you fill out your paperwork before you come out here.”

“Thanks,” he said, and turned to walk toward the door.

“I just didn’t want you to find out after you’d already waited on this line.” She said helpfully.

“I appreciate it.” He said.

He made his way inside. She hadn’t been kidding about the line. It was at least 20 people deep, each of them strapped up to an animal of various shapes and sizes, mostly dogs, but a few cats, too. The animals looked out of place inside the store, but he supposed that pet stores like this didn’t exactly have conventional rules about such things. After all, they were probably of the mind that “pets are people too.”

He made his way past the line of people shifting from foot to foot on the hard, department store tile, waiting their turn to shell out big bucks for their pets’ annual vaccinations. It was cheaper doing it this way than it was to just go to the vet, which was why so many people were here giving up their Saturday mornings to stand there and have a turn. He passed a gigantic Saint Bernard that appeared absolutely iconic, and he checked himself as he began instinctually to look for a little whiskey barrel around its massive neck. Chewie was roughly the size of the big dog’s head.

The girl signing people up for paperwork looked the part somehow. Late teens, maybe early twenties, she wore a gray and black striped long-sleeve tee under a teal polo shirt. She had a caution yellow stocking cap on her head, and it held back stringy blonde hair that framed an unremarkable face devoid of even a hint of makeup. Her khakis were dirty, and they were tucked into a pair of fur-lined gum boots. He thought she looked like an eco-terrorist.

A woman in a dark green apron sporting a pin that said “Nature’s Best,” which he assumed must have been a brand of pet food, approached Chewie and began petting him.

“He’s so cute!” She said.

“Thanks.” He said. Please don’t ask me what breed he is. I know nothing about dogs.

“What kind of dog is he?” She asked.

Fantastic.

NOBODY Expects the Papal Resignation!

11 February, 2013 at 9:47 am

Because I’m a smartass, I made this:

resignation

 

You’re welcome, Internet.

Seeking Answers on That First Novel As a Means of Procrastinating About Writing That First Novel

4 February, 2013 at 10:05 pm
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Bonus points if you get the reference here.

I’m pathetic.

I should be working my story right now. I’m at 37,000 words, which is half of a real novel, and only 13,000 away from the NaNoWriMo novel goal. I have a basic idea where the plot is going, and plenty of scenes to flesh out, but I’m stuck because it’s gotten hard. I don’t know that I like my book. I don’t know that my story idea will pan out. I’m freaking out about continuity. I am doubting that my BBTTGTH (Big Bad Thing That’s Going To Happen) is a compelling enough conflict to drive character motivations. I’m struggling to write all the in-between stuff that strings together the really important plot-development scenes or the really fun-to-write action scenes. “Jade put on her shoes. They were brown. Jade walked down the boring gray street to the other place I haven’t really thought out where she’s going to do that thing that still isn’t very important, but it’s building up to it. Dear God, why am I so stupid and unable to do this and fill THE DAMNED SPACE ON THIS PAGE WITH WORDS THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ?!?!”

Larry Correia, novelist extraordinaire, covers this on his post about “The Writing Process.” Says Larry:

Here comes the dirty little secret of this business. Writing is hard work. Now, work can be lots of fun, but it is also work. You need to set a schedule, put your butt in the seat, hands on the keyboard, and friggin’ TYPE STUFF.

This is the part that stops most aspiring writers. They have a great idea. They’re enthusiastic as all get out. They sit down and start writing… and writing… and writing… and about 40,000 words in they discover that this is HARD.

Yep, now finish the book.

Give yourself time to work. Don’t kill yourself over it, but you have to put in the time to produce words.  The reason I’m blogging right now is because I’m too sick and high on cold medicine to work on my current novel. I’ve got a killer deadline looming, but a man has to know his limitations.

Writers write. If I have only a limited amount of time, that’s when I’ll go back and edit bits and pieces or tackle small scenes. I save the good stuff for when I’m in the proper frame of mind. If I’m working on a part that’s not clicking, I’m not going to stop the whole project until it does. Nope. I’m going to skip ahead and write the next scene that I feel like writing. I can always go back and fill in that earlier scene when I feel like it.

Writer’s Block is a filthy lie. If somebody says they have Writer’s Block, they’re either being lazy and they really want to go play some Call of Duty, or they’re working on something that they’re just plain not interested in. Okay, fine. Stop that particular project that is boring you and go work on something else instead. If you’re absolutely stuck, go Free Write something to see if you can kick up the creative juices.

Let me tell you though, once you become a professional, and you’re doing this for a living, it doesn’t matter that you don’t feel like writing a particular thing at that time… Because your publisher has paid you an advance for that book and it is now on the schedule to be released at a certain date. You like having a job? I bet you do… Try telling your boss at your current job that you have Accountant’s Block and you just don’t feel like completing these taxes.  “Oh, I’m sorry you’re having a cerebral hemorrhage, sir. I’ve got Brain Surgeon’s Block and I just can’t perform right now.”

See? Put your big girl panties on and write the darned book.

You put in enough time, eventually you’re going to have a finished book.  Yay!

 

I wrote to Larry recently, and asked him about this whole writing thing. I talked a little about my struggle, and about how I have 57,000 kids who interrupt me when I’m in the zone (yes, I blamed the children, can you believe that?!?!) and yadda yadda.

He kindly responded:

On the writing, it just comes down to butt in seat, hands on keyboard. Even with the kids, I’d say just pick a time and schedule it as Daddy’s writing time. Sort of like going to the gym. You just have to do it. Then it just comes down to practice.

I agreed with him without ever telling him I never go to the gym.

o_O

Anyway, tonight, as I was procrastinating along, I decided to write back to him.

Said I, in a manner reminiscent of someone on crack:

So I’ve been thinking about all of this, and I’d like to submit a question for “Ask Correia.” You’ve mentioned that nobody will ever see the first novel you wrote because it sucked, even though you drew characters and concepts out of it for other stories.

But for people like me, grappling with this first, ugly, unwieldy draft of this first, ugly, unwieldy novel, what I’d love to hear about is what you learned from writing that first novel? How did it teach you in ways that changed your writing on future books? Was that whole process really just a trial run to figure out all the things you could never know about writing a complex work of fiction without actually writing a complex work of fiction? I’ve heard people say the whole reason you write a first novel isn’t to get it published, but to figure out how to do it at all so you’re better the next time.

I’m learning a lot already about how poorly I planned this out (I *did* just go with the first thing that came to mind for NaNoWriMo) and how little thought I really gave to the complexity of creating a self-contained, isolated, dystopian world. All the logistical problems of that command-and-control structure, the problem of food supply and manufacturing, of border security, of what the outside world was really doing that allowed this little bubble to continue, etc., it all didn’t even enter my mind.

I just thought, “Oh, yeah! PLOT REDACTED took over a city-state after a crazy war and used a PLOT REDACTED to fool the people into PLOT REDACTED! And there are all these weird animated-corpse cyborgs (like in the Black Hole but more ninja-esque) who do the PLOT REDACTED’s bidding and our hero is a young hacker chick with an anti-authoritarian streak and technokinesis put there by her father who worked for the government and saw this all coming but PLOT REDACTED EXCEPT HER MOM WHO WAS ACCUSED OF KILLING HIM AND IS NOW DRUGGED UP IN AN ASYLUM TO PLOT REDACTED?!?! F@*K YES!! I CAN’T WAIT TO SELL THE MOVIE RIGHTS!!!”

Anyway, grappling with this weird North-Korea-esque world I created and making it cohesive and interesting and not implausible is killing me, Smalls!

So I would be comforted by hearing what you learned. Sorry if this was a bit ranty and run-on. I’m procrastinating about writing, and searching teh interwebz for advice that will warm the cockles of my fearful, ADD-riddled heart.

Did you honestly think I was going to reveal critical elements of the plot here? COME ON! Sure, I told Larry, because while he might read my email is probably never going to read my book so, you know, caution to the wind and all that.

You see, though? These are the things that go through my head as I sit down to write. And I haven’t even opened the document and I’ve been here for an hour.

Make. It. Stop.

OK seriously. Time to dive in.

I’m really going this time.

Not even kidding.

Riiiiiight….now.

 

35 More Reasons Your Three-Year-Old Might Be Freaking Out

3 February, 2013 at 8:06 pm

A few days ago, someone posted a list of “46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might be Freaking Out.” It was the first thing I read after I woke up as I waited for the shower to get warm. I laughed so hard I was crying. I might have drooled on the floor a little bit.

Since I have five kids running through the house and one arriving soon, I have some experience with three-year-old freak outs. Our current 3-year-old is the reigning champion. I thought I’d add some of my favorites to the list.

 

He tastes pepper.

He tastes pepper.

 

His eggs are falling off his fork.

He wanted his eggs prepared differently.

He tastes pepper.

He doesn’t want fruit.

His sleeves are wrinkly when you pull them up.

His sleeves are too long when you don’t.

His pants got a few drops of water on them.

The house is “shaking.”

I cut up his pancakes.

I didn’t cut up his pancakes.

He thought I was getting him water.

We cleaned up the toys he’s not using.

His bed is too squishy.

I covered him up when he’s cold.

I put the wrong shirt on him.

I put the right shirt on him but he wanted to do it himself.

A vegetable touched his plate.

I put kale in his “hamburger spot.”

His fingernails are “smoky.”

It’s time to go to church.

I want him to wear pants.

The light is off in the bathroom.

His cheese fell on him.

His cheese slice is too small.

His cheese is the wrong kind.

He wants to sit in a different chair.

He has to buckle his seatbelt.

I got him the wrong beverage.

I asked him about something he said.

I misrepresented something he made up.

His cape isn’t tied.

He can’t transform the robot.

He hates the day.

He hates everything.

I told him he’s freaking out.

 

UPDATE: As I was hitting “publish”, he started freaking out. Because he was asking a question and nobody was answering him.

 

How Old Do You Have To Be To Rationalize Abortion?

25 January, 2013 at 11:28 pm

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Tonight, I was looking at photos of the March for Life. As I was scrolling through them, Ivan, my six-year-old, came into the room.

“What’s that, Daddy?” He asked, as he looked over my shoulder.

I found myself wondering if I should tell him. But then again, why not? Evil exists. It’s part and parcel of the world he is growing up in. I tried to find a way to tell him gently.

“Well,” I said. “There are some pregnant mommas who don’t think they can take care of their babies. So they have an operation that makes their babies go away. They don’t like to think about it, but that operation kills their babies.”

“But why?” he asked, looking confused. “Why would they do that?”

I pointed to my wife, standing in the kitchen, 8 months pregnant.

“You know how mommy has a baby in her tummy? We don’t know him yet. We haven’t ever met him. We’ve seen some pictures, but it’s not the same as when they’re born, is it? These mommies who do this, they don’t think about it. They don’t know their babies. It’s easier for them not to think about it because they haven’t seen their babies yet. And unfortunately, our government — the people in charge — they say it’s OK to do this. It’s not against the law. So all these people you see in the pictures? They have something like a parade. They all go and March in Washington to tell the people in charge that it’s not OK to let people do this.”

“But why would they allow that?” He asked, his face transforming into an angry scowl. “That’s SO MEAN!”

“I don’t know, Ivan. I really don’t understand it.”

At that moment, his mother called him to dinner, so he left the room. I didn’t. I just sat there, tears welling up in my eyes. How do you explain to your children that in this country, a country that is supposed to represent freedom and justice for all, it’s legal to exterminate children in the place where they should be safest? How do you tell a child who knows nothing of motherhood except unconditional love that there are mothers willing to end their babies’ lives, just like that?

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It’s impolitic to talk about this at all, of course. I can’t have a discussion this rational with many adults, because somehow we’ve come to a place in our national discourse where we have to “agree to disagree” over whether dismembering an unborn child is murder. Both sides of the argument have heard the same positions laid out again and again, countless times. It’s a rhetorical war, a sort of endless cultural détente, that keeps us civil and goes nowhere.

But children know. Show a 2-year-old a picture of a 12-week-old fetus and ask them to tell you what it is, and they immediately point and say, “Baby!” Their minds are simple. They have not yet developed the capacity for guile, for nuancing away the truth of a thing. A toddler will come right out and ask you why you’re so fat. A kindergartener will tell you that your cooking tastes bad. They don’t mean anything by it, they just don’t know any better. They see reality for what it is and call it that way.

I mourn for this country. I mourn for a people who can’t see what a six-year-old boy can see. I mourn for adults who have become so intellectually dishonest that they refuse to acknowledge the humanity of a helpless baby.

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How can you explain such incomprehensible evil to the noble mind of a child? It’s not the kind of thing they can process. There is no room in their way of thinking for such self-deception.

I wish they didn’t have to know. But it will be their fight soon enough. Evil thrives when it is hidden. It needs to be dragged out into the light. They are the second-generation survivors of Roe v. Wade, just as I am the first. 40 years of this senseless bloodshed in what was once the greatest nation on Earth?

How will we survive it? I don’t know for sure. But the people who love children keep having them, and the people who want the freedom to kill them don’t. Maybe it will just come down to a demographic equation. I can’t say. But the truth is on our side. We can’t lose this battle forever. I give humanity too much credit.

After all, children can see the truth. Maybe if we teach them now, they won’t forget it when they’re old enough to complicate things.

 

(Images courtesy of Alicia Skojec Photography)

Reports That JJ Abrams Will Be Directing Next Star Wars Film Causing Nerd Head Implosions Worldwide

25 January, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Comic–Con

Seriously. It’s a brilliant choice if the reports are true. Look what he did with the Star Trek reboot.

Still, if the same guy directs both the Star Wars and Star Trek movies, I’m pretty sure the ensuing paradox will destroy the space/time continuum. Nerds everywhere will never be the same.

 

Amazon Autorip – A Game Changer In The Intellectual Property Debate

25 January, 2013 at 10:53 am

CD DVD Disc

Yesterday, I got an email from Amazon. It read:

Dear Steve Skojec,

We thought you’d like to know that eligible songs from 3 CDs you have purchased from Amazon are being added to your Cloud Player library. This means that high-quality MP3 versions of these songs are available for you to play or download from Cloud Player for FREE. You can find your songs in the “Purchased” playlist.

In addition, we’re excited to announce AutoRip. Now when you buy any CD with the logo, the MP3 version of that album will instantly be delivered to your Amazon Cloud Player library for FREE.

 

I don’t know if I squealed in excitement like a girl, but I probably should have. This is a major development in intellectual property distribution, and it will undoubtedly influence any number of other decisions in the ongoing debate over who owns content, and in what form.

It doesn’t matter whether you buy a CD or a digital version of music, you bought the music. Having Amazon recognize this and ensure that you have access to both after purchasing the physical medium is a logical step. First, because it’s likely to curtail piracy. Think about it: have you ever lost or damaged a CD you bought and downloaded the album illegally to replace it, figuring that you already owned it? Don’t lie.

Secondly, it’s undoubtedly a strategic move to shift more content in the direction of digital and away from physical media as painlessly as possible. This will win over many of Amazon’s customers who like having actual CDs of their favorite albums on their shelves and aren’t yet ready to move to digital. Many of those people probably still buy physical albums out of habit, or even distrust of new technology. Once they become familiar with the ease and convenience of non-physical media, any number of those individuals may make begin making future purposes of digital media alone, thus alleviating shipping costs for Amazon, reducing overhead and fulfillment center staffing, and increasing profit margins.

This needs to happen with books. You may recall that I wrote something a while back about this very topic, albeit from a different angle. My proposal was intended to give print an extended lifespan by providing free ebook copies of any work to a person buying the hardcover. I wrote:

I got a Kindle Touch for Father’s Day, and I absolutely love it. The compact size, the convenience, the built-in book light in my case, the ability to store hundreds (or thousands) of books all on one tiny device – all of it is very appealing to me. Since I got it, I haven’t picked up one of the many, many physical books that are piled around my house.

At the same time, I wouldn’t dream of replacing them. Books that are worth owning are worth displaying, and if I read a good ebook I want a physical copy on my shelf. I want to know that when the EMP strike comes that will take out the American power grid and all of our devices, I can still read. Books are a status symbol. Books should be seen by the people who visit your office or your home. There’s nothing like the smell, feel, and heft of a book. When you have your head buried in the pages, everyone else gets an advertisement about what’s inside by looking at the cover.

But they say the print industry is dying, and the sales numbers I linked to are hinting that this is more than anecdotal. So here’s my proposal to book publishers:

With every physical copy of hardcover book you sell, package a free copy of the ebook as well.

That’s it. Simple. No magic there. It doesn’t cost anything to distribute an ebook. You can charge more for a hardcover. But if you’re like me, you want the hardcover on your shelf or for your lazy afternoon Sunday reading, and you want the ebook for the plane, the train, and the trip to the beach. I want to know that if I’ve purchased a book, I can read it in whatever format I damn well please. That doesn’t mean I think I should get a free hardcover if I buy an ebook; I understand that there’s a cost to produce something and that it needs to be covered. But if every hardcover came with an ebook version free of charge, I guarantee it would shore up the print industry in a real and immediate way.

Interestingly, my opinion on physical books is beginning to change. Now that I’ve had a Kindle for half a year (and with a recent upgrade to the new Kindle Paperwhite, I’m moving even faster in this direction) I am losing the impetus I had to keep buying physical copies of books just so I can display them on my shelves. It starts feeling like a waste of space because I now absolutely prefer, every time, to read on my Kindle. That said, I still like to display the cover art, be able to hand someone a copy (I’m no fan of DRM – I want to be able to loan books I own to anyone, even if they are in electronic format) and to know that if the power goes out, S.M. Stirling-style, I still have a library of good reads at my disposal.  There’s a real value to physical books in a way that there isn’t to CDs. CDs still need a power source to be used. Paper books will be good even after the bomb.

But I do believe that regardless of whether print is doomed or you want to keep it alive, the idea Amazon is applying to music simply has to also be applied to books. The time has come. And honestly, if you give me an ebook with the hardcover, I’m probably going to spend the extra dough on the hardcover more often than not, because I’M GETTING TWO THINGS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE. Decision: made.

I doubt the product strategists at Amazon are reading this, and if they are, they probably already know this is an inevitability. So get to it! Let’s make it happen. And if that just means that people transition away from print (thus fulfilling the profit motives I intuited above) and toward digital, well, that’s a consequence I’m prepared to deal with. There will always be a market for paper books, even if it’s small. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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