My Night in Dorcas Fields (free fiction!)

By Dexter A. Prowley

As told to Jason M. Hardy

[Note that Mr. Prowley is the uncle of radio psychic Oliver Prowley. Other tales of Dexter’s discoveries are available, including stories of a possessed portrait and a haunted theater. This story is shared as part of the Infinite Bard project, presenting free fiction every other week!]

As a professional parapsychologist, I have been blessed to have one of the most haunted sites in America virtually on my front patio. Ghost hunters from around the world travel to experience the wide variety of hauntings present at the legendary Dorcas Fields, which for me is reachable by a short walk. Indeed, I most likely have spent more time in Dorcas Fields than any other ghost hunter (or any other living human, for that matter).

However, as the century was coming to an end, it was brought to my attention that I lacked one of the choicest experiences that Dorcas Fields has to offer–I had never spent an entire night within its grim wrought-iron confines. While I had many memorable experiences on my previous visits to the cemetery, I had to believe they would be eclipsed by a full night steeped in its eerie zephyrs.

The person who helped me notice this gap in my learning was Ms. Annabel Lee Gunther, a gifted psychic and devoted mother. As she saw my excitement at the prospect of visiting the cemetery at night, she felt a touch of anticipation as well, and she volunteered to accompany me. We quickly chose a date in the near future that left us barely enough time to prepare for the outing.

We arrived at the imposing gates around 7:30 on an appropriately foggy November evening. Of course, as any dedicated spirit seeker knows, the front gates of the cemetery are firmly locked after 5 PM, and the best nighttime entrance is a quick clamber over the fence near the old groundskeeper’s shed. When we reached the appropriately rusted spot in the aged crosswire fence, I leapt over forthwith, then lent a hand to Ms. Gunther as she flopped over. When we were both safely within the haunted confines of the fence, we paused to take inventory.

We were on a patch of ground that had more dirt than grass, due to the excessive foot traffic in this spot. The immediate area was free of graves, as no one had wanted to be buried near the shed.

We were carrying the following items: a tarpaulin to sit upon; a sleeping bag for each of us (though we did not intend to sleep); a backpack full of technical equipment busy producing readings that I would analyze after the night was over; a journal to record my impressions; sandwiches and crackers to eat; a canteen of water; and an air horn so we could call for trouble in case the thuggish, living individuals who occasionally frequented the cemetery threatened our well-being.

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Donald Trump is disqualified from being president

On Facebook, I’ve been posting a series of reasons why Donald Trump is disqualified from being president. I decided to gather them here for reference. Additions will be made to this post as I write new reasons.

Note that any one of these is reason enough for him not to be considered for president. The fact that there are so many of them is appalling.

Reason 1: Covid response. I could go on for pages, but let’s do it this way: If the US had the same per capita death rate from Covid as France (where many mistakes were made), then we would have saved 50,000 lives. If we had the same per capita rate as Canada, we would have saved about 100,000 lives. If we had the same per capita rate as Germany, we would have saved more than 180,000 lives.

That’s inexcusable, but all the Trump administration has are excuses and denial of responsibility. They don’t understand the role of testing, contact tracing, and masks in this whole thing, so they’ve never pursued an adequate strategy. Disasters like this are a major reason to have a federal government in the first place. The Trump administration proved to be entirely not up to the task. We shouldn’t give them a chance to keep dealing with this disaster–and heaven forbid they get a chance to respond to another one.

Reason 2: Donald Trump is disqualified from being president: Treatment of marginalized people.

Honestly, this could be three or four items on the list, but I’m trying to be compact. From his nods, winks, and re-tweets of white supremacists to his abysmal words and actions related to immigration to his chopping away of LGBTQ+ rights and on and on, Trump has shown that if you’re not part of his base, he doesn’t have to care about you.

When we have a crisis like we dealt with over the summer as the nation’s legacy of racism once again became plain, there are several harmful actions that can be taken in response, including ignoring the harm, minimizing the harm, blaming the victims, and amplifying the words and actions of oppressors. Trump did all of that. That’s the last thing we need if we want to work to become the country we have imagined ourselves to be.

Reason 3: Donald Trump is disqualified from being president: Self-dealing.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, here’s the definition: “engagement in a transaction for the benefit of oneself rather than for the benefits of someone to whom one owes a fiduciary duty.”

I’m expanding this beyond fiduciary duty to the whole range of powers the president is supposed to use in the public interest. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has done a lot of the spade work on this issue, and they sum it up with this stunning headline: “President Trump’s 3,400 Conflicts of Interest.” That’s a huge number. Sampling from the list, we find things like:

* 88 political events and 130 special-interest-group events held at Trump properties.

* Spending a third of his time at properties he owns, which directs government money to those properties.

* Using the office of the president to promote his own business interests, as well as those of family members and supporters.

* During Trump’s time in office, 67 patents have been issued by foreign governments to the Trump Organization.

Clearly, the list goes on. And this focuses on conflicts of interest, not other times when he has attempted to turn the government to his interest and his alone. He thinks the Justice Department should be prosecuting his enemies and personally defending him. That’s outrageous. Trump has shown that he knows nothing other than how to use the tools of government for his personal interest. We need better officials.

It also doesn’t cover things like former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who resigned as the investigations against him for misuse of government funds piled up. (Zinke’s best line, when accused of incurring large expenses flying a private jet for his duties, was that the private planes he used had propellers, and thus could not be properly classified as “jets.”)

And one final note about the nonpartisan nature of CREW: Ever since their founding in 2003, they have regularly filed lawsuits against conflicts of interest in the government. They filed 41 such lawsuits in the George W. Bush administration and 37 during the Obama administration.

They have filed 180 lawsuits during the Trump administration, on their way to labeling it as the most unethical presidency in US history.


Reason 4: Dishonesty

I’m not going to say I’ve never seen someone as brazenly dishonest as Donald Trump, but all the other ones are children. His dishonesty is so bad that the Washington Post created a whole new category for him, which they call “Bottomless Pinocchios.” These are verifiably false statements that he has repeated 20 or more times. How many Bottomless Pinocchios are there? 48. Not only does he lie, but he does so repeatedly, even after correction.

The Post further says he is at about the 25,000 lies mark for his presidency. He has been president for around 1,400 days. That’s almost 18 lies _per day_.

I hope I don’t need to explain why that’s a problem. I hope I don’t see whataboutism or claims that “everyone does it.” This is reality distortion on a scale I’ve never seen in an important position, and I hope I never see it again. It makes it tough to deal with any problems, including hugely serious ones like Covid, because a basic agreed-on set of facts can’t be established. This continued dishonesty is a national disgrace, and we should put an end to it.

[CW: Sexual assault]

Reason 5: Sexual assault.

If you’re still struggling with the concept of rape culture, consider this: Let’s say a man graphically describes his preferred way to sexually assault women. Then let’s say that description is caught on tape and released to the public. The man defends himself by saying, “That’s not something I’d do! I just sometimes talk about assaulting women for fun! Like people do!” And that defense works.

That’s bad. Conversations centered around enjoyable ways to sexually assault women are not the things of good-time fun talk. Someone who does so habitually should not lead the nation.

But, of course, this is worse. Much worse. Remember how Trump himself described his actions: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

There are at least 19 accusations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump. As this news story shows, “Thirteen of the 19 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault or non-consensual physical contact said he kissed them without consent, often out of the blue, sometimes holding them firmly in place.”

Donald Trump’s happy-fun sexual assault fantasy matches what most of the women accusing him of sexual assault said he did. What a coincidence!

Trump was not fantasizing to Billy Bush. He was describing how he works. And many women have come forward to verify that yes, this is what he does. But we’ve brushed that all aside, just so some people could have the tax cuts and Supreme Court justices they want.

That’s rape culture.

Reason 6: Impeachment and the Mueller report

The Trump administration has been a cavalcade of astonishments, but these are two of the largest. First, a well-respected law enforcement official issues a comprehensively detailed report saying that while standing interpretations of the law says the president can’t be charged with obstruction of justice, he can’t be cleared of that crime, so Congress should look into it. Second, clear evidence emerges that the president has improperly bent foreign policy around an effort to get dirt on a political opponent—that is, he has been using foreign policy to directly serve his campaign.

And both times, the Senate says, “Meh.”

Trump was impeached for the second one, and properly so. Congress didn’t do anything about the first—they decided their best approach to obstruction of justice was to punt and hope Trump learned his lesson.

Robert Mueller testified to Congress on July 22, with no new bombshells beyond his report. Trump made his Ukraine phone call on July 25.

Time after time, Trump has shown that he thinks the government exists to serve him personally. And every time he gets away with it, he reaches for more. He wants the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and represent him when he is sued for defamation. He wants foreign policy and campaign research to be one in the same. He interleaves his foreign policy with his business interests. The actual interests of the country may be in there somewhere. But it’s very hard to see.

Reason 7: He hates governing and is bad at it.

Let’s say you had some money in the bank, and the bank appointed a new president, and the president said, “I think banking institutions are a blight on our national landscape and all should be driven into bankruptcy.

Would you keep your money in that bank?

Or the new manager of a restaurant thought it was okay to let people come in and sit, but making food for other people was a silly waste of time. Or the new president of a computer company thought their products should break more often so that people could spend more time outside.

The point is, it’s best to have someone lead an organization who has at least some conception of how that organization can do good things, and then has the skill and knowledge to make that happen. When it comes to governing, Donald Trump has none of that. He filled his cabinet with people bent on destroying what government can do. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has little use for public education. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar administers the ACA and is also strongly opposed to the ACA. Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke opposed many environmental regulations while in the House of Representatives. And on and on.

But even if all you want to do is destroy government, there comes a time when you have to actually make policy. Trump is terrible at it. He’s been promising a health plan for four years; it never materialized. He made some executive orders, but either he’s unclear on how they work or he’s lying about them. Or both. His website has no policy statements. His only policy on immigration tends to be “hurt them.” He picked up gun policy briefly as massacres peaked, then dropped it without displaying any leadership on it. And his COVID policy has been a disaster.

At bare minimum, government should be led by someone who has a clear idea of the role government can play in society. Even if they think government should be smaller, they should be able to articulate what it can do and why. A nihilist who just wants to destroy government has no place leading it.

Free fiction–Full Voice, featuring fun with a radio psychic

I love real-life ghost story books so much that I wrote one, only it didn’t have the virtue of actually being real-life, as I felt the freedom to just make stuff up allowed me to make the ghost stories start and end the way I wanted them to, as opposed to being stuck with the dictates of reality. Two of the stories from that book–“The Portrait Séance” and “Alone with Rittenhouse’s Ghost“–are available for your reading pleasure.

The main character of those stories is a man named Dexter Prowley, who is extraordinarily good at finding ghosts but not quite as skilled when it comes to understanding people. I enjoy characters who have considerable gifts along with big blind spots, and Dexter is fun to write about because he sees lots of eerie things while also missing a whole lot of what is happening around him. He also carries himself with a certain academic detachment, which sometimes makes him as separate from reality as the ghosts he investigates.

Not long after finishing the book about Dexter I came up with a character who was a radio psychic. Like Dexter, he has considerable gifts. He’s no charlatan–he really can look into the thoughts and emotions of other people. His weakness is that’s he’s an asshole. He’s incredibly fun to write, because no one is as good at calling people on their nonsense as someone who knows the secrets they’re trying to hide. He has the arrogance of someone who thinks he’s always right, which is all the more annoying because he is, in fact, frequently right. I named him Oliver and decided he should be Dexter’s nephew.

I’ve written about Oliver on and off over the years but never published a story about him. The stories were more like plays than short stories, exchanges of dialogue to build on the fact that Oliver, for most people, exists only as a voice floating through the air. But earlier this year, some thoughts about Oliver struck me–an opening line, a way to start digging into how he thought and how he operated as a psychic in a crowded city. I didn’t know where the concept was going, but I pursued it on the page for a while, and that meant I eventually had to figure out a plot. In fits and starts, a story came together, with plenty of moments where I wrote myself into problems I didn’t know how to solve. I took several walks around the block or park to figure them out, and finally, a complete story exists. The Infinite Bard project, which offers a series of free stories from a bunch of talented writers, started up as I was in in the middle of writing the story, and I thought that would be a good home for it. And now my slot for the Infinite Bard is here, so I’m happy to finally unleash Oliver Prowley, in all his glorious abrasiveness, on the world! It’s especially fun to have it come out just before Halloween, as that’s a fine time to read about psychics, old grudges, disembodied voices, and hair-raising decisions. Click on the cover to find PDF, Mobi, and Epub versions of the story! Enjoy!

Thoughts as a championship banner is about to fly over Wrigley

Ever since game 7, I’ve thought about trying to write something to capture why a bunch of guys swatting at a ball meant was significant, but after working over a few different approaches in my head, I finally decided I don’t need to explain anything. The crowds outside of Wrigley during each World Series game, whether it was played there or not, knew. The celebrating strangers we walked by and high-fived that night knew. Everyone at the rally and watching at home knew. No one needs me to explain it to them.

I’ve watched Game 7 highlights a dozen times at least, and every time I’m amazed when Zobrist’s double goes through. The celebration happens on the field, and it’s not imagined, it’s not a video game commercial, it’s a thing that happened, and I know it because I remember and will always remember. Just after the game, my sister-in-law posted a video of my oldest brother crying at the end of the game, and I laughed and was happy no one in my family had thought to pull out a camera and point it at me as the game ended.

The video of my brother did not go viral, because why would it? It was one of a million such videos. There were eighty-year-olds, ninety-year-olds celebrating. There was the guy listening to the game in the radio next to his father’s grave. There was Bill Murray in the stadium, and John Cusack, and longtime fan Dorothy Farrell. Who could rise above all that?

But who needs to compete? The thing about this is, there are very few moments in life when you need absolutely nothing more than the moment itself. Debate the time, the money, the emotional investment given to a baseball team all you want. That ground ball rolled slowly to Kris Bryant, and he picked it up with a smile, and slipped as he threw it, but it went where it needed to go. And for once, it was absolutely perfect.

Weirdly perfect. Maybe undeservedly perfect. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray—none of them lived to see this. They did a lot more for the Cubs than I ever will, so why should I be able to enjoy this when they never could? It’s a weird event because of it’s rarity, the years of bad luck and curses that made so many losses extra painful suddenly doing the reverse and making a victory way better. The good fortune grows directly from the bad, and the current of history is abruptly reversed.

None of us deserve it more than Ernie, Ron, Harry, and Jack, but like I said, it’s not a competition. We still deserve the moment, for the simple reason that we cared. So we’ll hoist pennants and wear patches and flags and do whatever we want to remember it. We earned the memory. No other explanation is needed.

Commitments on Inauguration Day

Well, here we are. On this day of making commitments and looking forward, I want to share what I’ve been thinking about this week—what I plan to do. The summary comes first, then I’ll break down each element. Here’s what I’m committing to:

  1. I won’t just get over it.
  2. I will remember.
  3. I’ll strive for accuracy.
  4. I’ll listen.
  5. I’ll support advocacy.
  6. I will not use tools of oppression.

1. I won’t just get over it. One of the impressive sentiments shared in the past two and a half months went (repeatedly) something like this: “Democrats lost because they failed to show enough empathy for others, so they should stop whining about being losers and just accept it already!” It’s impressive that people can pull off a pivot like that without straining a hamstring or something. Sometimes, our understanding of empathy seems to be limited to “something other people should show more of toward me.”

The point being, it might be useful to understand why people are more upset about this election than other elections. Get some understanding of people who are worried about losing and freedoms and safeties that, in many cases, were not too secure to begin with. Those sorts of worries do not just disappear when people tell you to just stop whining and get over it. Because we know what happened in the campaign. We know what was said. We didn’t forget. Which brings us nicely to point two:

2. I will remember. Words matter. I’m not just going to forget what was said in the campaign. We got a blueprint for how to break the nation (dividing people, exploding the deficit, alienating allies, and on and on), vague ideas that don’t count as plans, and lots of broken promises. It’ll take action to fix that. All that stuff doesn’t just get forgotten because the calendar turns. I’m not going to forget the broken promises, the racist sentiments, the sexism, and on and on and on. I have no interest in normalizing that behavior by pretending it didn’t exist.

3. I’ll strive for accuracy. Yeah, the value of facts has plummeted. They’re trading pretty weak against the dollar these days. I can be darkly amused that the party who has railed for so long against “moral relativity” is now led by a man who is more blithe in his lies than any candidate I’ve ever seen who is not named “Nixon.” He might be more blithe, even, because he seems to derive more enjoyment from lying than Nixon did. Nixon didn’t have much fun. Doesn’t Nixon seem like the kind of guy who would scowl at a puppy bearing a bowl of ice cream on its back on a perfect summer day? But I digress.

So yeah, I went through my dark moment after the election of despairing that facts don’t matter, but in the end I can’t leave them. Maybe it’s foolish to believe that accuracy matters, maybe no one cares, maybe no one will be convinced, but I’d rather go down swinging in this battle than concede it. I’m gong to keep pretending that things that actually happen matter, and we’re better off using facts than not.

And when I have to address an issue? I’ll address that issue, instead of looking for a time when the person who said something critical did a thing I didn’t like, or when one party did something that if you squint hard might look like something the other party is doing. I’ll work to address what’s in front of me, instead of trying to deflect it to some issue where I’m more comfortable.

4. I’ll listen. I am absolutely positive there will be many times in the next four years (and of course the rest of my life) when I need to shut up and listen. I’m going to need plenty of ideas that aren’t mine, and I look forward to hearing them. I’m also going to need to learn who is suffering most and what I can best do to be useful.

5. I’ll support advocacy. When I make charitable gifts, I’m going to look at organizations who don’t just do good things but who fight for change. I know a fair amount about how the nonprofit field works, and how charitable foundations work, and I can say this with absolute certainty: They cannot replace the services government offers. They are nowhere near big enough. If they’re going to be starved—and it seems like odds are good that they are—there will not be a large enough flood of private donations that will replace what is lost. That means I need to support organizations that can make the case for why their work is important, that can hold government’s feet to the fire, and can work for broad change.

6. I will not use tools of oppression. When I first heard of Paulo Freire’s concept that oppressed people tend to adopt the mindset of their oppressors, I had trouble with it. If you’re oppressed, you’re seeing firsthand what oppression does. Why would you adopt that mindset? One of the early comparisons that helped it make more sense was fraternities, where you suffer through hazing to get in, then turn around and eagerly participate in the hazing of future members. It goes beyond that, though. Sometimes it’s a matter of environment—when you are surrounded by certain ways of thinking (like, say, being in a culture that supports clear-cut gender roles), it can be tough to break out of them, to understand that what is happening around you is not the only thing that can happen. On top of that, the tools of oppression can look appealing because they get results. Propaganda, dividing people based on fears of the other, assigning the faults of individuals to an entire group—we’ve seen them all work. We’ve seen them win. So if we want to win, shouldn’t we use those tools? How about attacks on the families of people we don’t like, or doxxing them so they and their families are opened up to threats and harassment? It’s not nice, but it sure generates fear, and fear leads to change. And of course, it’s okay if we do it against them. Because they are the bad guys.

The arguments of certain types of extremists mirror each other. We get to torture them, attack them, open them up to organized harassment, etc., because we are right and they are wrong. In these arguments, virtue comes in thinking the right things, not doing the right things.

I don’t have much interest in that kind of virtue. If you have to employ the tools of oppression to win, then I’ll lose. If you need an argument why it’s not great for one group to be in charge of labeling who deserves to be oppressed, then think about the arguments you’d make for why the people you don’t like shouldn’t do it. Then apply them to yourself.

 

That’s my list. That’s what I want to do. I’m sharing this for a simple reason: accountability. This is here, and it’s public. If I don’t live up to it, call me on it. Tell me I should be better. And I’ll try.

 

Why you can vote for Donald Trump and still be my friend

So I’ve had a weird week where I haven’t felt well, haven’t ate well, and have experienced a wider range of painkillers than I ever have. But I feel better now, for the moment. It’s the kind of better where you brush yourself off, look around, and then try to remember just how much of the past few days were real, and what was pain- or drug-induced hallucination. Did I really need to find my family and get them away from the scary android-type things invading the school we were in? No, that was a dream. Is my head slowly turning into a metallic elephant? No, that was a piece of art my wife showed me as I was drifting off to sleep. Is Donald Trump still running for president?

Yes. That was not a fever dream. That has not stopped. It’s still a thing people are talking about. Hmmph.

While I remain skeptical about Trump’s long-term prospects in this race, he’s not going away immediately. He’s going to suck up some air for a while. It seems I’ll have find a way to deal with him and his supporters. In that light, there are two principle things I want to say:

1) I am not going to become a Donald Trump supporter. Honestly, I don’t see it happening. The greatest virtues I’ve seen ascribed to him—He speaks his mind! He can deliver his message without being encumbered by special issues!—are nullified by the fact that what he does with those virtues is dangerously similar to a monkey flinging poo. Look, speaking your mind is great, but I live in a city where plenty of people can be found speaking their mind, unencumbered by political correctness or special interests, on any given street corner. That doesn’t mean I stop and listen to them, because they frequently make no sense. Similarly, being free to be yourself is great, unless you’re a huge douche-nozzle. In that case, most of us would appreciate it if you dialed back the whole be-yourself thing a number of notches and tried to power back to a mode of expression that did not leave giant personality stains over our nation’s undergarments.

Trump’s racism on immigration is appalling (please don’t tell me to read the context of his remarks. I did. Didn’t help). His understanding of economic statistics is either deliberately deceitful or sub-elementary school. He has knowledge about how money works, but other currencies that governments deal with, like influence and diplomacy, seem to be beyond his grasp. His sexism is so ingrained that he does not seem to be able to conceptualize that it could be an issue.

These are just a few faults. Suffice it to say, I think he is a terrible candidate, and I think anyone who would vote for them is using their vote extremely poorly. Which brings us to point two:

2) You can support Donald Trump and still be my friend. If you want to vote for Donald Trump, I will not be thrilled with your decision. I might criticize it. I might argue with you about it. I might get very exasperated and throw my hands in the air. But in the end, I will not stop talking to you, and I will not de-friend you on Facebook. I will likely not even block posts from your feed, unless you decide to be all-Trump, all the time. Here’s why:

I am a politically liberal member of the LDS church—a church that, in the U.S., tends to lean conservative, to put it mildly. As someone who thinks a diversity of ideas and perspectives is a good thing to have in almost any decision-making process, I would often get irritated when people within the church acted, as they would from time to time, that political liberalism disqualified people from having a voice in certain church functions. That was ridiculous, I thought. Can’t someone disagree with me politically without nullifying any contribution I might make to a discussion? It didn’t make sense to me to me to shut me out of life just because of political disagreements.

Then, in the course of life, I have heard about and met people I admire who deliberately surrounded themselves with people who did not think as they did so that they could hear a variety of perspectives and learn from them. I’ve seen the strength that comes from that, the ideas and concepts that otherwise would have been missed coming to light and being addressed. And I have seen the disastrous effects that come from groups making decisions that did not have all the voices they needed and really, really could have used some different points of view. Not to name any specific recent presidents.

Diversity is too important for me to start shutting people out. Like any commitment, I can’t just like it when it’s easy. I have to like diversity even when it makes me listen to ideas that force me to dance little mental Watusis of frustration because I can’t believe what I am hearing. But look, I once had a college roommate who briefly was a fan of Bo Gritz, a fringe political candidate who had a streak of racism in him that makes Trump’s look like a little one-lane country road, and I still managed to find common ground with him. If I’m serious about the things I claim to think are important, I can keep trying to do that.

Now, that is not to say there are no limits. If your regularly mistake blustering argument for discussion; if your relationship with facts regularly shows itself to be long-distance; and if you cannot get over the habit of making race-, ethnicity-, gender-, or sexual orientation-based generalizations, then the chance of positive discussion plunges greatly. But be assured that if de-friending takes place after such behavior, it’s not because of your politics; it’s because of how you apply yourself to discussions and relationships with others. It’s an individual thing, not something applied to a whole group of people who think a particular way.

Does that mean I might be friend with racists, anti-gays, sexists, and all sorts of other –ists? Very possibly. And there’s a few reasons for that. First, I don’t think change happens when people are put in isolation. And second, to restate what I said above, I do not want to discount the possibility from learning from a flawed person. One of my favorite authors has very different politics than I do. I don’t like some of the political statements he has made. But I will still pick up my favorite book of his and hug it, for all the joy it has brought me. I’d hate to have missed what he had to offer, just because I didn’t like some aspects of his thinking.

So to sum up, to all my friends who like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and/or Sarah Palin; to all who unironically listen to Creed or Nickelback; to all who have seen every Transformers movie every opening weekend; to all who think that Risk is one of the great board games of all time: You are wrong. Sadly, desperately wrong, in ways that, to varying degrees of significance, are causing damage in the world. There is a good chance I will argue with you about one or these things or another. Then you may argue with me about something I like, or something I do, that you believe is wrong. It will be fun. We both may learn something, then hold hands, and make a PSA for NBC.

And in all that, I’ll look forward to learning something from you, to re-traveling whatever common pathways led us to be friends in the first place, and to building bonds instead of losing them.

 

 

So Your Nation Has Elected a President You Really Don’t Like

[Note: I don’t do much political stuff on this blog, but I didn’t really have another place for a piece this long. So it goes here. Enjoy!]

Stop me if this sounds familiar. It’s Election Day. A wealthy challenger with a nice political record is challenging an embattled incumbent. There are a lot of reasons to dislike the incumbent. In the eyes of many, the incumbent has weakened the standing of the United States in the world. He has driven up the debt to unconscionable levels doing things that could be called unnecessary and wasteful. He has initiated actions that seem to go against the Constitution on their face and that you believe to be changing the very identity of the nation you love. It seems obvious to you that he should not be re-elected, and yet when Election Day is over, he has done just that, squeaking by with a popular vote victory of just a few million votes. It’s enough to make you want to give up on this whole democracy thing, because clearly the voters can’t be trusted with even the simplest tasks of electing a decent challenger over a terrible incumbent

For liberals, I’m talking about John Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush in 2004. For conservatives, I’m talking about Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012.

Eight years ago is not that long ago. I can remember pretty clearly how I felt back then and what I did about it. So I thought I’d put together a few ideas and concepts in the hopes that it would be useful.

When your guy loses, the first thing to consider is how you look at the voters who voted the person in that you don’t like. There’s a temptation—and believe me, I know how strong it is—to find a way to write those voters off entirely. To act like there is some intrinsic flaw with them, that they lack basic rationality and are incapable of fundamental human decency. You can write them off as brainwashed. Or lazy. Or crazy. Or racist. Or childish. Or socialist. Or greedy. Any of these sound familiar? This is the temptation to dismiss entire portions of the electorate with any sentence that starts with the words “They’re just …” Like this: Why did people vote for Barack Obama? They’re just lazy and want government to take care of them without them having to actually work for themselves. Why did people vote for George W. Bush? They’re just greedy racists who want to keep what they have and not share with anyone not like them.

Both of these sentiments have been shared pretty freely in recent years, but here’s the problem with them. Think about the people you know. Did all of them vote for the same person you voted for? I hope not. I really hope each and every person reading this knows one or more people who voted for the other guy. Now think about any “they’re just …” statement, and apply it to that individual. Are all your liberal friends truly unwilling to work and waiting for the government to do everything for them? Are all your conservative friends heartless monsters who never give to charity or do volunteer work, and who can’t deal with anyone a few shades darker than them?

Eight years ago, my answer to that last question was a firm “no.” For the record, my conservative friends also are not greedy insider traders looking to foreclose on your grandmother while twirling their freshly waxed mustaches, though it would be kind of cool if one of them was. By and large, they’re kind people who are good to their families, who spend lots of time volunteering, and who want an America where people of all sorts can live and work in safety.

If I’m going to be fair to my conservative friends, I can’t rely on darker stereotypes, because they don’t reflect who they really are. And if I keep treating them like the hideous conservative demons from fevered liberal nightmares, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t listen to a thing I say.

Here’s a pro tip: Going up to a conservative and saying something like “Why do you try to oppress everyone with your religion while trampling all over the poor?” is equally as effective as going up to a liberal and saying “Why do you hate America and want to destroy all jobs while turning it into a socialist nation?” I’m not saying you can’t ask these questions. Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes. I’ll tell you this, though—if any sort of positive conversation results from it, it’s because of remarkable restraint on the part of the person you’re talking to. It’s best to not have to rely on that.

What was reinforced to me eight years ago was that I needed to treat people who disagree with me the way I want them to treat me. Revolutionary, I know. But I’ve had those conversations, the ones where people struggle with the concept that I can believe what I believe while also somehow claiming to be any sort of decent person. After all, if I was a real liberal, would I be talking to them? Shouldn’t I be out paying for teenagers’ abortions with the money I collected from my eight welfare checks? I didn’t like being seen that way, so I figured conservatives wouldn’t be fond of me doing something like, say, wondering how they can claim to be good people when they hate women and want to suffocate the poor in their sleep.

There’s a complication in here, and it’s this: There are people who embody the stereotypes out there. There are people who just want the government to do more for them. There are people who want the government to keep anyone different from them at least one hundred miles away, if not out of the country altogether. Each side of the political spectrum has its worst element. What I’ve found, though, is that I can’t treat my friends like they’re part of that worst element. At least not if I still want them to be my friends. And I can’t assume my friends are the only sane members of the opposition in the whole country.

What it comes down to is this: Both in 2004 and in 2012, the nation was not taken over by a bunch of crazy, America-hating, dreadful people. Instead, people voted for a candidate for a number of different reasons. Some of those reasons were insane. Most were not. There is a rationality at work in many voters, and also a sense of what they believe is decency.

I’m not saying at the heart, we’re all the same or any such thing. I’m also not saying there are not really weird beliefs out there that should be boldly countered. I’m just talking about how we do it.

One thing that has been clear to me is that, often, political differences are based on different perceptions of the world; we then go and apply logic to those different perceptions and quite naturally come to different conclusions. That’s a topic for another essay, though. The point is, the differences exist, and they’re significant, but they don’t have to totally alienate us from each other. We don’t have to treat the other side like lumbering, irrational, horrible beasts. When your guy loses, getting through the next four years becomes a lot easier if you believe that the people who supported the other guy might have some decent motivations. Sure, they’re wrong-headed in some ways, but we all have our failings. I’ve got friends I disagree with politically, I’ve got friends I disagree with religiously, and I’ve got friends who do not see the merits of Joss Whedon shows. They’re all heretics, of course, but they’re also people I’m happy to know. I can tell myself that if the people who voted for the other guy are like the people I know, then it might not be so bad. I still disagree with them, but they’re not deranged. At least, most of them aren’t. I can work with them. I can try to understand their thinking better, so that it doesn’t all seem like people trying to destroy America, but rather people trying to do something good. It’ll be okay. And at worst, another election will come along in four years.

P.S. One more piece of advice: I know liberals had a lot of fun talking about moving to Canada after the 2008 election, but with its socialized medicine and higher rate of taxes as a percent of GDP than the U.S., it’s not the best place to go to flee any perceived encroaching socialism, so that’s not the best talking point. Besides, I’d miss you!

Unending Night: A new experiment in social media fiction

Hey folks—an idea struck me yesterday, and I’m going to try it out. It’s a kind of interactive fiction that will allow me to have some fun and take advantage of the gifts of the many clever, witty, and interesting people on my Facebook page. Or so I hope. Here’s how this works: 

  1. Every so often I will post a few paragraphs of a short story. Each section will end with the potential for input from a group of people—villagers, courtiers, soldiers, etc. The comments section will then be used for all of you to interject various in-character thoughts and, well, comments. As much as possible, I will use these comments to shape the story as it advances.
  2. Comments can also be submitted to the Tortile Taradiddles blog. All updates will be submitted there as well as Facebook so that you can track the ongoing story; comments regarded as “canon” will also be incorporated into the post, which is this post right here.
  3. You have the option of commenting as a recurring character (or multiple recurring characters). Just put the name of the recurring character before whatever it is she or he says. You don’t have to create a recurring character if you don’t want to. One-off comments are perfectly acceptable
  4. This is for entertainment only. Should at some point it turn into something more, I promise to confer with all contributors to make sure their material is treated in a way that satisfies them.

Any questions?

The posts begin here!

Post one

When the time of day came when the sun normally would have set, it marked the moment when things had been dark for twenty-two straight days.

Everyone had been quite worried at first, of course, talking of doom and apocalypse, but now that this had been going on for more than three weeks, people were of the opinion that if this truly was some sort of apocalypse, it was an oddly slow moving one. In the early days, conversation at the Moon and Grommet had centered on what kind of disaster had occurred to make the light go away, and how soon whatever it was would come to claim the entire village. But after weeks of waiting, certain doom now seemed less … certain. Conversation, generally speaking, had turned to pettier things, such as the nature and quality of the darkness. Verkor Sugwith, owner of the Moon and Grommet, firmly averred that the darkness now was exactly as it had been twenty-two days ago.

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The Man-Eating Killer Death Snow: A retrospective

On February 1, 2011, the third-largest snowstorm on record hit Chicago. Events of such historic proportion must be remembered; thus, I have dug into my Facebook archives and found all the posts I made related to what I called the “man-eating killer death snow.” I believe that these posts offer an important glimpse into the travails of one man grappling with natural forces far more powerful than he, and thus deserve to be remembered. Mainly because I’d much rather these be treated as a gripping historical document, rather than a potential mental health study, as some have suggested. Anyway, below are the compiled posts.

February 1, 3:39 PM: The man-eating killer death-snow is here! I’ll keep updates coming to Facebook as long as I survive and have power.

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #1: Snow has been falling for about an hour. Food stores already scarce. I’ve been forced to eat my shoes. Fortunately, my shoes were made of graham crackers.

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #2: The dangers I am facing make me identify more strongly with my brave pioneer forebears. I wonder if they also almost slipped while taking their laundry to the basement.

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #3: Decided to burn books for heat. Despite the fact that I don’t have a working fireplace. And the heat in my building is working fine. Look, there’s some books I just don’t like, okay?

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #4: Went to the store to shop for emergency supplies. By “store,” I actually mean “neighbor’s house,” and by “shop,” I mean “armed robbery.”

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #5: Sanity slipping. I blame the snow, snow, the blinding, blowing, omnipresent, unavoidable snow, snow in every place, in every crack, snow snow snow. Though the fact that I’ve been watching Springer for ten straight hours maybe is not helping.

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #6: Stuck in darkness. Inky blackness all around. Nothing but dark. Alone, so alone in the dark. No one will find me, no one will help me, no one will … wait. Found hall closet doorknob and got out. Okay, everything’s fine now.

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #7: After a brief walk outside, I am convinced that nature is a horribly angry god intent on all our destruction who will only be appeased by sacrifice. Kathy is sharpening the knives.

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #8: It’s late. The wind is howling outside like the voices of the dead.

Wait. That’s not the wind. That is, in fact, the voices of the dead. Okay, who scheduled the blizzard for the same night as my séance?

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #9: Cold has penetrated the walls of the house. I might have hypothermia, so I am trying to convince Kathy to offer the appropriate first aid. Given that I’ve tried this in all weather, including mid-summer, she’s not buying it.

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #10: Woke up cold, shivering, lying on frozen ground, covered only by snow, my beard full of icicles. But that’s my normal morning routine, so all is well.

 

Man-eating killer death-snow update #11: Fed my faithful dog companion breakfast to repay him for his unwavering loyalty and devotion. As a reward, he bit me.

Addendum: Finn has informed me that I should no longer refer to him as “my faithful dog companion.”

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #12: Supplies are short, hunger is rampant, but my party treks onward. Somehow, we are caught by a camera while marching through a towering snow drift. (Picture below; not pictured: Mr. R. S. Donner, Mr. T. J. Donner, Ms. J. Q. Donner, Mr. P. T. Donner).

Man-eating killer death snow update #13: Decided to hunt moose in order to procure food. Does anyone have a helicopter they can spare?

 

Man-eating killer death snow update #14: I thought it was over. I thought I was done with it. The snow had stopped, we would dig out, and life would get back to normal. But I’ve been doing some investigating, some poking around, and I can’t ignore the facts any longer. This wasn’t just any snowstorm. This was the SAME SNOWSTORM THAT KILLED MY FATHER TWELVE YEARS AGO! Damn you, snowstorm! Damn you to hell!

 

 

In which I play the Facebook number game

So a bit ago there was a thing going around Facebook where people were supposed to text you some random number, then you would use that number to tell that person, through Facebook, what you really thought of them. I decided to play, kind of, and for your edification and possible entertainment, I have compiled all the entries here and presented them in the order they appeared. If you vote for your favorite in the comments for this post, then you may win the chance to tell me which entry is your favorite!

#64. When our eyes met across that crowded bar, I felt the bullet of destiny penetrate my chest and tear its way through my heart. Unfortunately, at the time you were–and still are–with someone else. So I friended you on Facebook as part of a larger campaign to stalk you. Surprise!

#178. I was intrigued by you from the moment you said you’d give me some candy if I’d just step into your van. It’s nice that a series of modern online databases allow me to track your current address, as I always know where to send your Christmas card.

‎#25. Okay, look, I know we’ve known each other for 30 years, and we were totally like best friends for a while and all that, but that was a long time ago. I just friended you so I could get stuff from you on FarmVille. Let’s not make this anything more than it is, all right?

‎#192. My fondest memory of you is when we discovered the Lost City of Guatzlepenango together. It was magic as we stood on the rim of the hidden canyon and looked down at those gleaming bronze domes. Then that little mutant griblikk stole you away and carried you into the city. I’m glad they’re finally giving you internet access.

#81. Look, I can forgive you for posting all those “intimate home videos” online. I can even forgive you for the fact that so many other guys–and girls–are involved. But not giving me my cut for the ones where I was camaraman? Not cool.

#1988. Ha! We stole a baby from a stuuuuuupid daikini! Hee hee hee!

‎#25. You were the only one on the spaceship who explained to me why the probes were necessary. Also, you were the only one who did not store his probing tongs in the refrigerator. Those little things endeared you to me.

‎#92. We talked. We laughed. We danced until the sun came up. Then you asked me where my pants were. I wish I’d had a better answer.

‎#137. There have been so many movies about hitmen falling in love, or hitmen finding redemption, and I thought a real-life version of those stories was happening when you and I struck up a conversation while waiting for <NAME REDACTED>’s convoy to pass. Then you shot me in the kneecap. Oh well.

#74. I left you a voice mail yesterday that packs more profanity into 90 seconds than Scarface has in its entire running time. And you’re wondering what I really think about you? Come on.

‎#59. When I saw you carefully ordering the socks in my sock drawer, I thought it was a very touching gesture of affection. Then I realized you were setting up a bear trap in there.

‎#99. I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray. You wore blue. I wore a large fluffy bunny costume, which kind of ruined the moment.

‎#232. When I first saw you, I thought “Wow, that third arm must really be useful!” At the time, I didn’t realize it was actually a trunk.

‎#22. I remain impressed by the breadth and scope of your ambitions. That does not mean, however, that I believe orange HiC, roller skates, a live cat, and a turkey baster should be put to use in the way you intend.

‎#45. That time you convinced me that my parents were werewolves wasn’t as funny as you thought it was. Luckily for me–and for them–it turns out that it’s tough to find someone who sells silver bullets.

#117. I didn’t want to re-hash this argument, but you seem to not be able to listen. So here it is again, for the last time–I’m not saying it’s not okay to eat brains. I’m just saying it’s not okay to do it in front of me.

‎#3.141592653589. I’ll always be impressed by you. I have total respect for the unknowable wonder and majesty that is your very essence.

Note: This is not part of the number game. This is just me expressing my love for the number pi.

‎#70. I regret that you continue to feel anger toward me ever since I informed Inspector Grayson that I had seen you in the pantry the morning Lady Shrewbury was poisoned. If, however, your actions are as innocent as you continue to claim them to be, you should have nothing to fear when your whereabouts receive greater scrutiny.

‎#45. You came into my life like a cold winter wind, but left like a warm summer breeze. That was when I figured out you were actually an air conditioner.

#88. I admire how forthright and direct you are, always willing to tell people just what you think, no matter how painful it might be for them to hear it. I also admire your ability to take a punch.

‎#105. I realize you believe that if you told people you were a vampire, you’d suddenly be cool, because everyone loves vampires. But trust me–you, by yourself, have the power to make vampires uncool. So keep those fangs tucked in.

#225. I’m going to use this to tell you something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time: Everyone knows that those are not real teeth in your mouth. They’re Chiclets. You’re not fooling anyone.

‎#228. When we met, I thought Stockholm Syndrome was some sort of disease. But in the months I was held captive in your basement, I grew to truly appreciate your point of view. Then you disappeared. I still have all your pamphets, but I lost the names of the people I’m supposed to mail them to. Call me.

#160. Remember that summer when we went hitchhiking in Nepal? When we hiked above the clouds and the air was so high, thin, and clear? And then we saw that large, hairy beast, who picked us up and introduced us to his clan? And then he made us Clan Chieftains, and gave us the gift of a golden Slinky? You _do_ remember? Really? Because it never happened. This is why people tell you that you should take your meds.

#133. When we first met, I was enthralled as you provided a detailed explanation of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. If only there had been a fourth one that said “Never break a human’s heart,” things might have been different between us.

#2. You’d look a lot cooler riding your Harley down the highway if it wasn’t for the fact that “Harley” is your great-uncle, and he looks really tired.

#49. Your profile gives you a name, but to me you’ll always be “That S.O.B. who posts nothing but Mafia Wars updates.”

#101. You said you’d walk across a desert for me, but then you wouldn’t even go to the convenience store. Specifically, the 7-11 in the middle of the Sudan.

#222. I understand it’s just an accident when you butt-dial me. I can even be patient those times when you drunk-dial me. But I’ve had it up to here with being deceased-dialed.

‎#99. The only reason I didn’t tell you that there was no such thing as a “professional kabuki nurse” sooner was that I really enjoyed your attempts to become one.

‎#150. I told you that my love for you was a star that would burn on for millions of years, fueled by the wonder of everything that is you. You asked me what my name was, then you slowly backed away. Perhaps my timing was off.

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