An Ode for a Cat

The noblest cause in life:
To preserve that which brings joy,
To seek elevation above base strife,
To hold what rust and moth destroy.
And such you were, my little cat:
A beacon that once brought light.
I will forever enshrine you,
And all that you contribute.
Even as you join eternal night,
These words will have to pay due,
A solitary lasting tribute.

A mere momentary thing,
It seems so short a span we knew you,
And what life you could bring.
Now you are gone, life seems askew:
Looking for an apparition, seeking
A glimpse of our faithful companion,
Listening to the silence that fills the halls
Now that you are no longer living.
You were taken in tribulation,
No longer to reside within our walls.

We had known that this day would come,
You following a sliver of our life’s arc
Would return before us to where we are from,
So may you find peace, and not fear the dark
Know that you have fulfilled a worthy purpose
And have proven yourself the greatest friend
Who lived along us for such a joyful span
For because of you our hearts know surplus
And even though your body’s course may end
Our memory of you shall forever stand.

Today we had to have our cat of many years put down; she had suffered a stroke and was unable even to drink water. I managed to get this photo of her while testing the camera on my phone back in July. She was never much of a lap-cat, but she would perch in a fashion on my leg whenever I would let her, once she warmed up to us.

It was a hard emotional journey, especially watching her suffer in her final hours. Now that she is gone, I keep looking for her everywhere, a reminder of how important she was to me back when she was around. Although I know that cats don’t have the same sort of consciousness and spirit as humans, I think there’s something profound in the way that they bond with us; they don’t need us, they choose us.

One of the reasons that I write is because good things should be immortal. They cannot, of course, truly be so, because the world is a fallen place touched by evil and destructive chaos. But we can still draw together and treasure what is meaningful, what brings virtue instead of destroying it.

And a good place to start with that is to remember the simple joy that a cat can bring, what the companionship of a fellow creature can stir in our heart.

Sapientia, a Fable

Wisdom is like a mouse: she is small and unassuming, and if you approach her on your own terms she will flee.

Sapientia wore a dress adorned with cowrie shells of every color as she walked down the path away from her village.

The day was drawing near an end, but even as the sun began to burn red in the low sky she was not afraid: she did not have far to go. She was returning to her house, which overlooked the sea. She found the people of the village too quarrelsome for her to dwell among them, so she had built her own abode some distance away.

However, when she got to her home, she saw a boar standing between her and the door. She approached it slowly and called to it in honeyed tone:

“Will you let me into my home, so that I can rest?”

The boar snorted and replied that he would not move; her home was his home now.

Sapientia argued with the boar. She had built it with her own hands! However, the boar kicked up dust and swiped at her with its tusks, tearing shells from her dress and sending her running back to town.

It was too noisy for her to get rest there, so she went to several of the hunters who had taken up lodging in the town, and asked them to help.

The first refused her request because he was tired and he had already hunted for the whole day.

The second refused her request because he did not hunt boars; he would hunt only wolves, who hurt the shepherd’s flocks, not boars, who he had no quarrel with.

The third refused her request because she could not pay him. She offered him the shells from her dress, which were worth quite a princely sum, but he still declined. It would not do, he said, to take the very clothes from such a distinguished elder, but he could not hunt for free on principle.

Sapientia turned and left the town, and was never seen there again.

How to Write Every Day

I don’t update this blog as often as I perhaps should; I’m trending toward a post on at least a bi-weekly basis, but I do update the Loreshaper Games blog for my company every day.

It’s something that requires a lot of discipline and time, but I think it’s worth it in the long run for the practice it gives in becoming a better writer and the social networking that it builds.

One of the hardest parts of writing daily is just figuring out stuff to write. I keep Loreshaper Games on-brand as much as possible by sticking to gaming; not always our own products but always something that is industry-significant.

However, when worst comes to worst it’s just important to write every day. A lot of the posts that go up here are products of weeks of development, and writing so much tends to burn through all your inspiration quick.

You need a way to replenish that if you want to keep your creative juices flowing.

Be Creative On Demand

As I was reading the Harvard Business Review the other day, I came across an article that touched on some productivity techniques, and one of the quotes stuck with me.

Do things that don’t interest you. Early in my career, Will Marre, the founding president of the Stephen Covey’s training company, admonished me to subscribe to a handful of business journals he listed, then added, “And every time you read one, be sure to read at least one article that holds no interest for you.” I’ve been rewarded time and again for doing so. Many things that end of up in my shoebox have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things “boring” simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.

Harvard Business Review

I try to keep up with a certain amount of news every day. I’m a subscriber to Foreign Policy, for instance, and I follow a couple video-based news outlets every day.

These, however, rarely give me any meaningful inspiration.

You find that a lot of things repeat. While news is great for having a conversation starter, it’s not great at giving us a whole ton of inspiration.

It’s also a matter of lacking an ability to comprehend things that you need to explore to move past your current stage of understanding. Being a good writer is part of an evolutionary process: every time you write you should reflect and improve, but you can’t do that if you’re not giving yourself fertile soil in which to plant roots.

Varied reading goes a lot further in giving that inspiration and opportunity

How-To

One of the things that I’ve been using a lot is the Recommended by Pocket function in Firefox (which I use both on my desktop and smartphone). It pops up some interesting stuff, and whenever I’m tempted to “waste time”, I go there and read. I think I’ve probably had more “eureka” moments as a result of little articles I’ve read in the past year than from any conscious attempts to seek out inspiration (and, probably, improved my writing style by osmosis).

However, I’m also an Audible (affiliate link) subscriber, and I get two credits each month. I use one for something that interests me or something that I’ve been recommended, and the other for something more or less “random”.

One of my best experiences last year came when I accidentally purchased a copy of Educated (affiliate link), Tara Westover’s memoir; a consequence of having too many tabs open and not enough attention. Amazon One-Click is the bane of my existence, apparently.

However, I decided that my penance for carelessness would be to read a book that I had actually ruled out of the running for a late-night book search, and I was really glad that I did (you can read my review of Educated here).

New Horizons

One of the advantages of this more hap-hazard selection of readings is that you have an opportunity to broaden your experiential horizons.

The brain is funny in the way it works: it’s not a computer with neatly categorized information in separate files. Everything that it experiences and records goes in a sort of soup, and while our consciousness is fairly good at putting the most important stuff at the forefront, anything learned can resurface at a later date in an unexpected way.

It’s also just good practice. I don’t think I put Educated down for more than a few hours to sleep from the time I purchased it to the time that I finished reading it, and that’s an experience I’ve had over and over again with these random things.

Learning new stuff is, frankly, fun, something that we’ve drilled out of ourselves with our industrialized education system and its love of meaningless tasks.

Improve yourself, broaden your horizons, and give yourself something to write about. Not everything that inspires me makes it to public view, but if you write even a little about something every day you’re more likely to write something that goes out to the public.

Right now I’ve got my Loreshaper Games blog, this blog, and freelance writing on the side, and having a little bit of everything in my literary diet makes doing all that writing (and maintaining a day job) a whole lot easier

The Dust Part 2: Arrival

I think that before I really started working on the Dust, I hadn’t really thought of a whole lot of the setting, and then I just sort of made it up as  I went along.

You can tell that there’s some inspirations in mythological tales for the names, but there’s also elements of American culture and other things as well.

Irkalla is mythological, Nuada and Atreon are references to things (I think? Atreon may just be “It sounds cool”), and Aspera is based off of the Latin word for hope (or, more particularly, the saying “Ad astra per aspera”).

Extropy is named after the transhuman Extropian movement, while Providence, Liberty, and Opportunity are all inspired by early American trappings.

The little intro exposition for this piece is inspired by Biblical stylings, and it was really the first effort I made in defining the setting’s boundaries outside of the titular dust of New Haven. I don’t remember if this was the first or second story I wrote after Grace, but I think it came really close after.

Eynsford is inspired in name by the Eynsford-Hills of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, though I don’t know if there’s really any significance to the choice of the name. I’ve sort of taken to picturing him like Sadavir Errinwright (spelling?) from The Expanse, for no particular reason other than the beginnings of their names and their similar political role.

The focus of this story was to introduce who the Federals were in a relatively “objective” light. They’re the “villains” of the setting, but I wanted them to not be mustachio-twirling damsel kidnappers. They provide for their own, but they’re also willing to foster conflict and perpetuate themselves where they aren’t needed.

Apparently I’m really fond of Bradford as a military name. I feel like that’s due to the influence of a particular historical figure, but I can’t put a face to the name, as it were. Likewise, I think I got Mikkelsen from a random name generator, but I at least remember Mads Mikkelsen’s existence.

Or it could just be that I went with the first Swedish/Scandinavian name I could think of, though Rose isn’t a particularly Nordic name.


And it was recorded among the first arrivals that there were six-hundred thousand among the frozen. Around the binary stars of Aspera, there were six colonies: Irkalla on New Haven closest to the sun,  Providence and Liberty on Jefferson, Extropy on Narcissus, Opportunity on Atreon, and Dublin-II on Nuada.

Eynsford leaned back in his chair and sighed. Despite his triumph, he could not help but feel a bittersweet twinge of regret in the founding of a new empire. “So it is settled then?”

Aspera had never seen a real war. They were conspiring to shatter that peace. Such had been the vogue on old Earth, or so he had been told. Such things were far in the past.

Of course, so were shooting wars.

The reply came from a gravel voice with the patience of one rarely interrupted underpinned by the urgency of one used to making demands. “The coalition is solid. There is no reason for us not to cooperate. After all, New Haven’s resources are barred from us if we lack a military capable of taking them.”

“You always worry, Secretary Eynsford. Our worlds are more than capable of coming together to mutual prosperity.” Rose Mikkelsen was Aspera’s most dangerous woman, whether or not Extropy would formally pledge allegiance to her, and Patrick Eynsford had to admit that he had thought of her more than once when he was nursing a glass of wine alone after a diplomatic hearing. Her red dress was the sort of thing one expected to see at a gala, not the negotiating table, but he couldn’t help staring just a little.

That was her intention.

“I’ve already prepared replicants for deployment. Give the signal, and we’ll launch a precision strike on Irkalla and bring New Haven to its knees—if we can count on Providence for naval cover.” General Bradford’s rough voice and straightforwardness only added weight to Eynsford’s sorrow, and he found himself reflexively reaching to pour his new cabal drinks. The rumor was that the general was a quiet drunk. Eynsford felt the pressure of wearing his face very distinctly now. It was bad enough to want Mikkelsen and be so close to her without a chance of even the smallest romance, but to have Bradford cheerfully buying into the cult of destruction was too much for his stomach.

He poured each glass himself, passing them to the heads of state from the whole system—barring, of course, the unfortunates of New Haven. They would find out what had transpired the next day, when they found out that they had been condemned to die. He raised his glass, hoping that the poison inside would work on him the same effects their venomous coalition would work on Aspera.

“To the Aspera Federation, may it last beyond our days.”

The estimates had been wrong. Irkalla was not difficult to assail, and each combat replicant was worth dozens of New Haven’s soldiers. The first newsfeeds showed that the new Federal forces were capable of covering the ball of red dust with an ocean of blood.

The elites rejoiced, proclaiming a mission accomplished and anointing their followers with promises of land to settle and minerals to exploit. In exchange for New Haven’s resources, the Federation promised order, law, uniformity. Each citizen would be equal because of their inherent dignity, not their altered carbon sheathes, being the metric of their worth. The tiny settlements squabbling over water and held in the grasp of cybernetic warlords would see their world turned into an oasis and a model for the system.

But when they went on the broadcasts to announce the annexation of New Haven, the rebels punctuated it with violence. He supposed that frauds built on other frauds ought to be repaid in such a way, but the opposition raised a sleeping anger within him: the spite a booted foot feels as it plants its heel into a dissident skull.

Eynsford remembered the confusion in the moment. A bomb had gone off on the stage, turning his earlier proclamation of the Federation’s era of peace and stability into an ironic echo of itself. Bradford and Mikkelsen disappeared in the blast as he had been walking back to the seats. Only the premature detonation had saved his life, not that he had very much of his body left. The doctors were patching him back up, and the vat would regrow his flesh, but he felt he had lost something else, something more important.

The rebels had taken responsibility immediately,  wearing the labels heaped on them by the media with pride and defiance. On New Haven the Federal garrison was hit with a viral attack. Footage circulated of men and women clawing at their faces, the pirate streams reaching out across the mesh on waves of fascination and horror. An image of a soldier who had wandered into the dust and fallen in the scorching sun, his scarred body blackened by the heat was seared in Eynsford’s mind, a haunting image that was the talk of every newscaster on Jefferson.

The victim’s family could not be reached for comment, but that wasn’t enough to buy silence. Everyone had an opinion, and for a while it looked like the Federation might bring its guns on itself, dividing into cells and organs of disparate interest.

It was too early to be sure that the bombing was even a rebel act. There were factions operating behind the scenes, and there were many inside the Federation who would be happy to open up the higher echelons of control for themselves.

Eynsford wanted to cry in the cold blue nebula of the healing pod.

This was the image that had broken his sleep for months. From the first talk of exploiting the reserves of New Haven to the formation of the Federal state. Such a structure was beyond men and women, beyond humanity, somehow greater and more horrible and more terrible. The factories were retooled for war, their labors turned from plowshares to swords. The replicants were too few. Boys and girls were sent to war alongside them.

For every rebel they killed, more took up the banner. The most fervent agitators proclaimed that New Haven’s resources would be opened up all the greater with the extermination of its people. Instead of the expected capitulation, bombs went off on Jefferson and Atreon, the wages of sin. Eynsford’s people paid the price.

Eynsford had become accustomed to eating alone. At the state dinners there were too many ghosts, seats left unfilled by faction or by death. He tried to remember that his intentions had been pure, that this was the natural outcome of unification. The next day would show that it was worth it, that the small pieces of the system came together for a greater machine.

The filet mignon turned to ash with the sorrow. There had been no great intention, no great hope. Just the promise of opportunity. Each grasping hand reached for a rung above it, until the only move left was to claw past others for a clear hold.

He thought of the latest news, a troop transport holed by accidental friendly fire. Fifteen sons and daughters of the Federation who would not be returning home. He had killed them. Eynsford pushed the thought out of his head. Stray railgun rounds had killed them, nothing more or less than the uncaring calculations of a universe in which humanity was an accidental combination of particles and energy.

He wondered when his glass had become empty, and filled it once again. The bitterness washed the ash away, but it was only temporary. The next bite was just as barren as its predecessor. He got up and looked out the window. The light from outside washed over him, casting shadowy reflections across the polished steel surfaces of the flat.

Despite his folly, Providence looked the same as it had for decades before his birth. The same towers slid out of the ground and into the sky, their inhabitants had circulated like blood through the living organism of the colony, but the bones stood tall. The bombings had stopped in recent months. The rebels withdrew to their homefront. It would be over soon.

The security system gently chimed to announce authorized access. Eynsford didn’t bother looking to the doorway. He knew what had come for him. The first shot missed, shattering the window.

They hadn’t even bothered to send a professional. A tear rolled downward, battered by the wind. The second shot pushed him forward, and he felt the sensation of weightlessness.

The Dust Part 1: Grace

The first part of the Dust collection was inspired by the dust storms that occasionally sweep through the Phoenix area.

Out in the middle of the desert there’s not really anything to stop the winds and the sun, so the city winds up getting some pretty big storms. Monsoon season is pretty dramatic, but the dust storms are tremendous by themselves.

Continue reading “The Dust Part 1: Grace”

Writing Again

I’ve mentioned the Dust collection before. It’s my experimental science fiction collection that I have been using to explore writing methods.

One of my goals for it once upon a time was to get it to the point where it would be worth publishing.

I think I’m going to take some time to do a few more short stories for it and also update some of the older ones to fit into the continuity and post them here, since I don’t use the Wattpad account I posted them on anymore.

I’m open to criticism or feedback on these. Many are writing exercises, so they’re not exactly intended to be perfect, merely test my ability to do certain things.

Separation

After seeing his name on the list, he was almost relieved when the black car arrived at the far end of the street. At least he had a few moments left.

He turned to his wife. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she’d wait for him, but he wasn’t coming back. He bent over and kissed her forehead, trying to ignore the quivering of her thin nervous lips. They would put on a brave show for each other.

The only way that they would leave her alone is if he was there to meet the car as it pulled up. He drew in a slow, lingering breath and cursed himself in his own mind, wishing that he’d made different choices in his life. He ran his fingers through the dark tresses of her hair, falling as elegantly as ever like a funeral veil.

He could hear the motor pick up a little, the tires plowing a fresh path through the freshly fallen snow. If they had to go into the other house, they had been very efficient with their time.

He grabbed his coat from the hook, shrugging it over his shoulders. She said nothing, standing frozen in stillness. It was time to go, and he looked away, reaching for the door.

He could swear he heard a sob as he stepped out into the chill of the winter night.

Trying to Write a Character with Meaning

I’ve been trying to keep on top of writing recently, and while I’ve been fairly bad about actually writing anything fictional (at least on purpose), I’ve been doing some musing about why a lot of the stories that I’m coming up with the seeds for turn out to be non-starters.

Continue reading “Trying to Write a Character with Meaning”