Welcome to my library

Here in the place where the wind chimes peal like church bells in the Lord’s steeple,

Here in the place where mythical creatures and legends come to play,

Here in the place where traveling the stars is child’s play,

Here in the place where quests and heroes come to dance,

Here in the place where centuries of creative energy are preserved inexpertly but with quiet enthusiasm,

Here in the place of calm before and after the storm,

Here in the place where words play and metaphors gambol in far-flung fields of clover,

Here in the place where crimson and clover make an apt combination,

Here in the place where there’s a song to sing and heaven to pay,

Here in the place where tomorrow is a solemn promise and a rousing adventure,

I greet you with joy and whimsy.

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I was born near the spring equinox, on the first day of the fourth week of March.

Music has always drawn me in, and so has a good story — and sometimes bad stories — and always wonder stories, superheroes and spaceships and dinosaurs and giants and princesses who slay dragons.

All those dreams are in this place, and so I fold a blanket around my shoulders and open the nearest one. The last thing I want to do is stop dreaming.

There are two chairs here. Sit, and enjoy.

A book of celebrations

Each of us has two choices every day: Add to the beauty or add to the despair.

… to ride the light out of darkness and live in peace, striving for harmony against the discord … to celebrate our best angels or our worst instincts.

That has been a constant theme of this blog during these times, and I’ve collected many of those writings in a little book dubbed Gladness is Infectious.

I thought it might be fun to start the new year with a nice warm blast of optimism instead of further cold obsession over a certain virus.

Gladness is Infectious contains 60 fragments of thought and bursts of creativity over the last few months from this little corner of the internet. You can find it at Amazon (free at Kindle Unlimited through March) and soon at a paperback retailer near you.

Another New Year’s Top Ten list

I have adapted a New Year’s habit from my friend Wally Conger, who would list a “Top 10” for the year just finished from his brushes with pop culture and life in general. Here’s my list for an infamous year.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the Arts have taken a hit from the COVID-scare lockdowns of 2020. I had that thought as I compiled this list and realized I haven’t been to a movie theater since The Rise of Skywalker at Christmas 2019, and we attended no live concerts or theater productions this year. Until now my Top 10 always had stuff I experienced as part of an audience. It’s a darn shame.

But 2020 was not devoid of delight. F’rinstance:

Continue reading “Another New Year’s Top Ten list”

… so that death can never win

This year isn’t the first during which famous and beloved people have died. A most basic fact of life is that famous and beloved people die every year.

In fact, Wikipedia has a running page called “Deaths in 2020,” listing all of the notable individuals who have died this year, and it is constantly updated. In fact, as I write this early in the afternoon of Dec. 29, 10 famous people have been added to the list. They died today.

That’s how it is. We are born; we live our lives; we die. Because of the worldwide scare, people are feeling their mortality more acutely this year, but the running death toll is nothing new.

Some die well before their time, like Kobe Bryant. Some die after a century of giving, like Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas. Many die before we’re ready to lose them, like John Prine or Sean Connery or Chadwick Boseman. Many have died of COVID-19; many others have died of cancer, diabetes, heart disease — all of us die of something, someday.

I wrote this just before the calendar turned to 2017, and four years later it still feels worth saying. I shared it again last New Year’s Eve, and I share it again:

Quite a few famous people have died in 2016. Quite a few famous people die every year; one of the regular features of the Academy Awards is a review of all the great actors and filmmakers who have passed in the previous year, and it’s always overwhelming how long the list is.

Somehow people seem to be taking it harder this year. The sad and sudden deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher in recent days provoked an outpouring of grief not only for those two fine talents but for all of the people who passed this year – David Bowie, Prince, George Martin, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen …

It’s sad. It’s always sad. When people die “before their time,” it seems especially sad, as in the cases of Michael, 53, and Fisher, 60.

In the case of famous, brilliant performers, however, there is some solace: Their work will live, if not forever, then for a very long time.

That’s the one comfort we have thanks to the technologies of recording and publishing. The words, the images, the performances survive.

And so I am sad about George Michael and Carrie Fisher dying before we were ready to say goodbye. But then I pop When Harry Met Sally or The Empire Strikes Back into the DVD player, or call up “Faith” (or the brilliant TV series Eli Stone) on the web, and there they are.

Death reminds us to live life. The death of my hero Ray Bradbury in 2012 made me sad, and then I got up and wrote a novel.

The other day I was browsing a book called The Bradbury Chronicles, which was published in 1991 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the master’s first published short story with a parcel of short stories by great writers who were inspired by Bradbury. He also contributed a story (“The Troll”) and an essay (“Fifty Years, Fifty Friends”) to the collection.

In the essay he wrote that his optimistic outlook about life and the future was gained through others:

So, you see, that my feeling of optimism came from the encouragement I got from those listed, and some not, who caused me to write/work/play joyously every day and thus achieve the optimal behavior I am always yelling about.

To live at the top of your lungs, your genetics, the rambling and incoherent half-awake, half-asleep dreams just before dawn, or in the morning shower, or on your pillow during afternoon naps. To NOT KNOW what you’re doing but find out in the doing. To always be surprised and never damn or turn away from surprise. To love life while surrounded by so much that is annihilation. To answer, as I did one night not long ago at a lecture, when asked, “Why do you write so much about death?” To which I said, “Because I am alive.”

Are you grieving for George and Carrie and all of the others? I understand. I grieve, too. But rather than curse 2016 and rail against the inevitable, I suggest the following.

Compose a song. Do a dance. Write a story or a screenplay or a book. Record a video that tells one of your favorite memories. Create something that will live long after you’re gone, so that people know you passed this way. Encourage someone so that they will live in joy, knowing you believe in them.

Live, so that death can never win.

Glad … for what ifs

I’m so glad … for speculative fiction.

Of course, ALL fiction is speculative. There are science fiction and fantasy what-ifs …

What if a farm boy in a distant galaxy grew up to be a new hope? (Star Wars)

What if a farm girl accidentally traveled to a magical kingdom and saved her friends? (The Wizard of Oz)

… but all stories begin with “What if.”

What if a shallow rich girl was caught up in a war and had to defend her mansion alone? (Gone With The Wind)

What if a cynical bar owner met the woman who broke him and found out her side of the story? (Casablanca)

What if a sad man on the brink of suicide had a chance to see how much he means to people? (It’s A Wonderful Life)

What if a little girl in a racist town saw her attorney father defend an innocent man? (To Kill a Mockingbird)

I’ve had people say they tend not to like speculative fiction. But every story is speculative fiction: What if this happened? What if he met her? What if he met her again years later? What if they returned to the scene of their triumph? or their most bitter loss? What if someone was murdered? What if some developer wanted to tear down the old town hall?

If you like good stories, you like speculative fiction.

A time for seeking the light

Mom would make magic bars – those delightfully tasty, baked combinations of graham cracker crumbs, coconut, chocolate chips and walnuts held together with butter and sweetened condensed milk – and Dad would sit us down in the living room and crack open the Good Book.

It was the only time of the year he would read it out loud to us, so we knew it was special. Luke 2:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree went out from Caesar Augustus …”

This is that time of year, when Christians mark the birth of the Prince of Peace. It doesn’t feel so peaceful lately.

People are going out of their way to be nasty to one another, to drum up our fear of our fellow man. If they’re not doing it with words, they’re doing it with weapons.

They want us to be afraid that Those People want to take our jobs, our way of life, and maybe our lives themselves. They want us to be afraid of what would happen if this or that man, or this or that woman, or this or that political party, is put in control of our vast government.

And in the midst of this fear fest, we pause to give gifts to one another in the name of a baby whose arrival was announced by a host of angels who began their message, “Fear not.”

Monday we lived through the shortest, darkest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. Beginning with this celebration of the Prince of Peace, there will be more light in our lives.

The amount of daylight will increase every day, and after a period of cold the days will grow warmer as they grow longer, until the fields begin to grow food and there is far more sunlight than darkness every day.

It’s a cycle, of course. Externally, 12 months from now, we’ll be in the darkness again, needing another reminder of the promise of the Prince of Peace.

But the light always comes again.

The light can shine all day and all night, all through the year, if we choose to follow the example of this Prince. My hope and prayer for this season is that more of us turn to the light.