Paint Creek, from Lake Orion Village southwest to the mill ruins in March flood.
It says “Please Add”. Took me awhile to get it.
They don’t call it Paint Creek for nothing.
And a last year’s spent puffball.
Paint Creek, from Lake Orion Village southwest to the mill ruins in March flood.
It says “Please Add”. Took me awhile to get it.
They don’t call it Paint Creek for nothing.
And a last year’s spent puffball.
Hey! How are you? I hope you’re weathering all this horribleness okay (and if you’re not, please let me know if I can do anything to help).
It’s been awhile, I know. Time for an update.
I’ve been neglecting the Mossy Skull in favor of a certain publishing venture I’ve embarked on. If you’re here, you may have heard of it. Reckoning is an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice. I started on it last July; the first issue came out in December. The submission deadline for the second issue is the autumnal equinox, September 22nd.
It’s going well, I think. I’m learning. I’m paying reasonably good money for amazing work that might not have found a home otherwise, or at least not earned its creator quite as much. I’m getting to know some of those creators a little, by interviewing them and working with them. Some of them are getting to know each other. It’s even possible that at right this very moment someone is making something beautiful and thoughtful they might not have made if Reckoning didn’t exist. And of course I hope somebody somewhere is reading it all and being amazed and inspired.
But it’s a hard thing to assess as a whole, at this early stage.
I’m trying hard not to be glib.
“Reckoning” is, I think, a lovely word with quite a breadth of applicability; I feel like I see it used more and more these days, partly as a result of the ascendancy of a certain gumball-colored sociopath, but also it seems it’s the way the collective consciousness of the human race was already going. We’re being asked to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, or the lack thereof. We’re trying to figure out what that responsibility looks like. This is what I wanted Reckoning to be about. But it becomes clear that publishing Reckoning and a reckoning with my own life and choices are separate undertakings, and one can’t take precedence over the other.
Here, then, by way of an update, and hopefully as a stopgap for the ongoing benign neglect I expect this blog to suffer for a good while yet, is how I’ve been reckoning of late.
So that’s some kind of tally, anyhow. Something on the way to a reckoning? I don’t know, it never feels like enough. But I guess that’s what life is.
Cheers, peace, love, solidarity, as I’ve begun signing all my emails. See you around.
It’s funny how things come around.
Many years ago now, fresh off the nihilistic high of selling a series of brutal sixgun-and-sorcery stories about centaurs conquering the West to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I got the idea for something even darker and more sardonic, a story about horribly downtrodden, poor and desperate human beings, trapped by oppression and circumstance, using the most awful means at their disposal to grasp at a shred of personal agency and self-determination. And I did it. It didn’t make me feel particularly good about myself, but I wrote it. “Decay”, it’s called. This was not like anything else I’d written nor am likely to again. It’s an incredibly dark, bitter story. No, not like chocolate. Let me be completely honest: I wrote a story about shit. Maybe the only shred of lightness about it is a thread of humor so black it’s practically psychedelic.
But, I thought, it’s powerful. So I shopped it around.
And it got rejected. A lot. A few times, for months, years, I pulled it from circulation, thinking this is just too awful, too disgusting, nobody was going to buy it and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it in print. But every once in awhile, I’d get in a dark mood and send it out again.
Fast forward to twenty sixteen. Andrew Fuller of Three-Lobed Burning Eye has decided to take a chance on it. And I do think he’s taking a risk; I told him so. He seemed convinced–more convinced than I was. I admire him for that. Me, I even thought about taking my name off it.
So now in this, the first week of November, just when a lot of people are looking forward with dread to the awful, disgusting, unconscionable thing that just might actually happen one week from today, “Decay” is out in the world.
And I went and read the story again, just to remind myself of what I’d committed to. And suddenly, astonishingly, it seems like there just might be a redeeming message in there somewhere after all. I’m thinking in this context, maybe that blacker-than-black sense of humor might actually look brighter than I thought.
There’s a place for catharsis.
Or, to think of it another way: if it’s a choice between helplessness and taking the only other option available to stop the world from turning to shit…as for some of us it seems to be….
“Holding the sprays of beech as though she were marching on Dunsinane, she went to a bookseller’s.”
–Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes
Last year around this time I poisoned myself, rather severely but not life-threateningly, with a mushroom by the name of Boletus sensibilis. A surprising amount of hilarity ensued. People love to hear that story; I will never live it down, and I can’t say I feel bad about that. It’s a story I enjoy telling, a cautionary tale, and something not a lot of people have or hopefully will experience.
However, it has had the inevitable side-effect of making people doubt my mushroom hunting erudition and caution. Believe me, both have improved dramatically as a direct result of poisoning myself. But I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life combating that judgment. And that’s fine, well and good. Don’t eat wild mushrooms unless you know what the fuck you’re doing.
To that effect, this summer I have undertaken a hands-off study of genus Boletus, a rather large class of mushrooms that distribute spores through a porous membrane rather than laterally separated gills. I don’t expect to be eating much in this genus ever again; among the people whose faith in my skills at positive taxonomic identification I have permanently shattered is my wife, who forbids me from eating any mushrooms I haven’t previously eaten without poisoning myself. I can still look. I can touch and smell. I can learn.
First, the easy ones.
Strobilomyces strobilaceus, the old man of the woods mushroom. Found on the North Country Trail, Newaygo County, MI. A hard mushroom to mistake, and yet I learn it has three subspecies distinguishable only through microscopic identification of spores. All three, as I understand it, are edible only when very young, otherwise rather unappetizing.
Boletus edulis, aka porcini, like you’d find in the grocery store, this one again found on the NCT in West Michigan. A rather aged specimen, though lovely, as you can tell by the bug-eaten decay in the cross-section. I am surprised to learn that there are not actually very many species of buff to tan, white-pored boletes, mycorrizal with mixed deciduous and evergreen woods, fruiting in late summer in the American northeast. And all of them appear to be choice edibles. Not that I would know.
Now on to the scary, confusing, variously blue-staining, variously poisonous red and yellow boletes, at which my gorge rises Lovecraftian despite their beauty.
Baorangia (formerly Boletus) bicolor? var. borealis? This is (perhaps) the mushroom I thought (hoped) I was eating when I poisoned myself. Found a mile from my house in Bald Mountain Recreational Area, Oakland, MI. Beautiful soft creamy flesh, smells wonderfully of something very much like Indian yellow curry, tastes…well, I’ll never know. But delicious, they tell me.
Boletus sensibilis, aka the Brick-Red Bolete? The one that poisoned me. Maybe. Or maybe it’s another variation of bicolor. Beautiful thing, isn’t it?
Boletus flammans? or etc. Note red pore surface and blue coloration in pore cross-section, which came on almost as soon as I sliced into it. Here we have the trouble. There are just too many of them, with too much commonality of season and habitat, too much commonality of color and form factor, too much variety of color and form factor depending on age and habitat.
Boletus subvelutipes, the red-mouth bolete. Or not. Just look at that monster’s deadly, blue-stained jaws. I feel like a mouse hypnotized by a snake. How could I not be fascinated? After an experience like that, how could I not want to learn more?
Now I’m going to go donate some money to Michael Kuo, whose website is dauntingly detailed about all this and makes very clear what a vast and complex discipline is mushroom identification, and at which I have probably spent more time this month than facebook.
In conclusion: I need a microscope.
Also, here’s that caveat again:
Don’t eat any mushrooms you find in the woods unless you really, seriously know what you’re doing or have someone with you who does. Don’t come crying to me if you do and it doesn’t work out. If you do, and it doesn’t work out, and you find yourself violently expelling the entire contents of your digestive system, go to the hospital. You’ll live, and if nothing else you’ll have a very interesting story.
Readercon is next weekend. I’m excited. I signed up for the utopian fiction track, which I think I also kind of sort of helped suggest, after last year’s eco-futurism panels went so well, and which fits quite serendipitously with my new project, Reckoning Magazine. It’s a literary journal themed around environmental justice…but let me say more about that in a week.
In the meantime, here’s my panel schedule, including a reading of some utopian fiction of my own.
Friday July 0811:30 AM Reading: Michael J. Deluca. Michael J. Deluca. Michael J. Deluca reads “#Anon and the Antlers”, a short story that came out in Orthogonal SF Volume 1 this winter.
Saturday July 0912:00 PM The Apocalypse Is Already Here; It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed. Michael J. Deluca, Haris Durrani, Paul Park, Vandana Singh, John Stevens. Countless cultures and peoples have experienced, or are presently experiencing, apocalypses: invasions, genocides, civil wars, natural disasters. Why do so few apocalyptic science fiction novels acknowledge that worlds have already ended? How does the experience of reading those stories change depending on one’s personal or familial connection to recent apocalypses? If science fiction moved away from the idea of a globe-spanning apocalypse to explore smaller, localized, but equally devastating apocalypses, what might those stories look like?3:00 PM What Good Is a Utopia? Michael J. Deluca, Chris Gerwel, Barry Longyear, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Andrea Phillips. If an author sets out to write a utopia, several questions arise. Character and interpersonal conflict can drive the story, but how do you keep the utopian setting from becoming backdrop in that case? Were the Talking Heads right in saying that “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”? And how do you showcase how much better things would be “if only”?
By the brook today, I had such a fruitful and thoroughly representative comedy of errors I decided it was worth more than the usual tweet.
I arrived at the brook with my foraging kit (bag, basket, camera, knife) not expecting much. It had rained a bit that morning, not enough to get my hopes up.
So I started with a visit to the nettle patch. The brook is Paint Creek, so called because the textile mills used to dump industrial dyes in it. That was 150 years ago; it has been cleaned up–but not so much that its environs don’t remain very obviously a post-industrial landscape. The Grand Trunk Railroad used to run a stone’s throw away; now it’s a bike path. The nettles are native—they’re native practically everywhere—but here they’re fighting a pitched battle with invasive garlic mustard, acres of it, so much there’s no hope of getting rid of it. Still, the nettles hold their own. I help as I can, ripping up the garlic mustard by the roots before I harvest the leaves, harvesting only the top few leaf pairs of each nettle so they’ll grow back bushy. I get stung. I don’t mind.
Then I climbed over the brook along this branch. I had figured out this was possible (and really very satisfying, though it’s touch and go there in the middle) back in the fall. I’d never done it with my foraging kit, but I wasn’t worried. There’s another way back, hopping across the graffitoed bridge ruins a quarter mile downstream; I always go back that way, it’s less acrobatic, and safer, as long as the water isn’t running too high. Much less risk of losing any found riches.
I forayed upstream a bit, then cut uphill to the top of the ravine and then back downstream again, not looking very hard for mushrooms because I didn’t expect to see any. I never expect to find morels. I’ve never even seen one in the flesh. And like I said, it was relatively dry. So I made it to the bridge ruin, I skipped across, dropped off my nettle and garlic mustard harvest at my bike, then lingered by the brook a bit more. And that’s where I came across the dryad’s saddles, growing in profusion out from under this old, burl-ridden willow log dragging its roots in the brook.
Polyporous squamosa, lovely, tawny-textured on top, hexagonal-pored white underneath. Considered a poor consolation prize for the morel hunter, but I love them. They’re best when young, which these were, brand new, some no bigger than a quarter.
Gleefully, I reached for my knife…but it was gone. Lost! The precious! It had fallen from my pocket somewhere. A sinking feeling. Then a stubborn resolve. You have no idea how often this happens to me. I drop things in the woods. Important things. Wedding rings, garage door openers, phones. I’ve had remarkable luck finding them. I retrace my steps. I search, keen-eyed.
Back around through the nettle patch I went. Had I left it when I went to pack up my basket? No. Two other possibilities: I’d climbed a black cherry tree up above the ravine on the far side. Or there was that branch across the brook. But if I’d dropped it there, wouldn’t I have heard the splash?
In fact it appears I would not have. Yay! Finding of lost things streak sustained.
On my second trip up and over the ravine and down, I paid more attention. I was tireder, slower. I saw this:
False morel, Gyromitra brunnea. Easily distinguishable from true morel by lack of a hollow central cavity in the stem.
Never seen one of these before either. Wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t dropped my knife. I call that a win.
Broken arrow. Took it home for propping up tomatoes.
Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, naturalized European ground cover; flowers widely used in Germany for flavoring May wine.
And then again across the graffiti bridge and back to harvest the dryad’s saddles.
Quite a gratifying and productive day in the woods, I must say. And that’s not even counting the wild mint I picked up on the bike ride home.
Today on their website, the art-rich and beautifully designed short fiction zine Middle Planet, made by Julia Gootzeit and (LCRW 33 contributor!) Eric Gregory, features my story “Asleep in the Traces”, about a sleepwalking giant that steps on a girl’s hometown, then sucks her up onto its back to live with the refugees, which Julia has generously interpreted with the deliriously surreal artwork above. Please support and patronize them, should you feel inclined! There will be new pieces coming live on the website from the second issue once a week through June, and ebook and print versions eventually. And they have a Patreon.
I’ve gotten in the habit of coming up with something rambly to say about a story of mine when it comes out. I’ve tried to make it something not so much about the story as tangential to it, because I hope the stories speak for themselves. I think it’s a good habit, or I’d break it. But this one I’m having a little trouble with.
“Asleep in the Traces” is a story about how you can never go home again. It’s a story about finding out what you took for granted. I wrote it from my tower of isolation, the year after I moved from my home city of Boston to north suburban blight Detroit. As such, it’s of a piece with “Virtual Goods”, which was in Ideomancer a few years ago, and “Cloud Mountains”, which is forthcoming in Strangelet sometime soonish. They’re all three rather desolate stories, concerned with loss and alienation, though ultimately, I hope, redemptive. And I love all three of them, don’t get me wrong. Particularly this one. Because figuring out how to move on from loss is a pretty essential human skill, and Marie has it harder than most, and I think she manages beautifully. But the place I wrote those stories from–it’s a hard place to want to go back to. I mean, I wrote them to try to get out. Into my head, since I couldn’t actually get away the way the people in these stories do. Look back in this blog and you’ll find posts that pretty clearly illustrate my mindset in that period, should the stories themselves prove too obscure.
When I first found out I’d be moving away, a few well-meaning friends reminded me of a stereotype familiar to writers, that of the artist expat. Maybe, they were saying in not so many words, you’ll find out you need to get away from a place before you really understand it. At the time, I hated this advice. It was insufficient comfort, offered at no cost to themselves from people who didn’t have to leave.
They were right. The longer I’m away, the truer it becomes, the more deeply I understand the place I come from, and through it, myself. But being away from home doesn’t just help me understand it. The phenomenon being observed is altered by the act of observing it. The more clearly I understand it, the further removed it becomes from the place I remember. I can’t go back.
On the other hand, I am suddenly able to understand and empathize with a whole category of narratives in ways I haven’t before. The immigrant experience, for example. Also certain traditional laments.
Is it a fair tradeoff? I don’t guess anyone has much of a choice but to make it worth their while, whether in fiction or otherwise. Like Marie, I’ll keep trying.
Last March, I decided to accept Tempest’s challenge: read no books by straight white dudes for a year.
Do I need to explain this decision? Do I need to say why I thought it was necessary? I feel like I shouldn’t. Suffice it that when I started, I felt that the reading I’d done in my life had been woefully top-heavy with white men. And I still do. White male authors were pushed on me at every level of my education, and even in my pleasure reading I defaulted to them. Ursula Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan was the first book by a woman I can recall reading of my own volition. The first by a person of color? Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros, as best I can recall. Both books completely changed my way of thinking, yet they were very much the rare exception. I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to realize how long I’d been working under this bias. And I have Tempest to thank.
Here it is April. I did it. It really was not hard. At all. In fact, it was so effortless and so satisfyingly mind-expanding I have felt quite a bit of inertia to continue not reading books by straight white dudes. So please do not take the fact I’m compiling this list as any indication I’m quitting right this second. I do have a small pile of books by straight white dudes waiting for me, accumulated over the year, and I’ll get to them. But maybe, first, I’ll finish this thousand page epic romance by a centuries-dead Japanese woman. And who knows what after that.
I decided to include among the restricted category Latin-American men of European descent, who I think according to the letter of the challenge would have been allowed. I’d read so much fitting that description what with my magic realist obsession that I didn’t think reading more would fit the spirit of the challenge. This is, I realize, an arbitrary line to draw. But they’re all arbitrary lines; the problem is that when we don’t interrogate our lines, they start to dig ruts it’s harder and harder to get out of, until they’re imposing drastic limitations on our understanding and thought. I wanted to pick up and move away from my ruts for awhile.
If I may sum up, then: this was amazing. It has changed the way I think about writing and fiction and people and the world. I shall continue in this vein, and I encourage you to try it yourself. If you do, let me know how it goes.
My review of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by Naomi Klein.
Around two-thirds of it I found to be an exhaustive litany of depressing information with which I was already familiar. Capitalism is a bankrupt mythology no more rational than an organized religion and with even more inertia and power. Capitalism is the force that puts fingers in the ears of politicians regarding the obvious and immanent threat of extracting and burning any more fossil fuels than we’ve already extracted and burned. Corporate greenwashing is a hell of a pervasive thing. Oil companies are fucking evil. International climate initiatives have been toothless windbaggery for more than thirty years. International environmentalist organizations, by virtue of their size and need for funding, end up in the pockets of those same corporations, helping with the greenwashing, in some cases even helping with the fossil fuel extraction and burning. Geoengineering is a reckless, shortsighted, stupid idea. The technology to save us (solar) already exists, but the fingers-in-ears, hands-over-eyes capitalist mindset that controls all the money will continue to cock-block its implementation right up until it doesn’t matter anymore.
The depth and focus with which she runs through this litany is impressive and not without value in itself. Reading it I found myself looking back on my past environmentalist actions (solar panels, electric car, permaculture, LCRW 33) and deeming them pathetically inadequate. I found myself looking back at those environmentalist projects I’d left hanging (convincing my family to divest from fossil fuels, starting a nano-nonprofit) and feeling newly motivated to take them up again.
I was a little disappointed to find the book had been written in 2014 and not this instant, now. It indicts the Kyoto protocols, but doesn’t cover the Paris climate agreement. There’s a chapter called No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us, but it devotes itself to the ways in which Richard Branson has failed to live up to the promise he made in 2006 to be our Climate Savior™ rather than speculating about whether Elon Musk will fail equally spectacularly at same (luckily, I have the internet for that).
The real value of the book, though, I found in that remaining third, where Klein starts talking about WHAT IS TO BE DONE. The glib answer is revolution. The harder, unavoidable answer is widespread, individual, overwhelming personal commitment, fighting the hard legislative and activist fight, town by town, street by street, taking hard losses every step of the way but gritting through it because it’s that fucking important. The people on whose shoulders the solution squarely rests, unfair though it undeniably is, are the people who are being most hurt. Indigenous peoples whose livelihood is tied to the land. People whose drinking water has been fracked into flammability or poisoned by austerity corner-cutting. People who have to wear masks to go outside. Citizens of low-lying island nations about to disappear. Ranchers and farmers along the paths of pipelines. People who look out their windows every day and see and acknowledge the incredible, beautiful natural resources that will be destroyed if capitalism is allowed to keep on as it has. I count myself among that latter group. And I daresay if you’ve read this far, you do too.
And that’s the thing about Klein’s book, as it turns out: it’s not trying to convince anybody of anything they didn’t already believe. I doubt anybody not on the environmentalist bandwagon could even manage to get through it. What it’s trying to do is galvanize those of us who do believe, to show us the facts, in exhaustive detail, and point to the painfully obvious conclusion some of us (yes, even me) are still shying away from: that it’s time to go all-in. Foot-dragging is not getting it done. Switching to reusable grocery bags is not getting it done. Giving money once a year to the NRDF is not getting it done. Waiting and hoping for the market to correct itself is sure as hell not getting it done.
We have maybe 35 years to get off fossil fuels completely or it isn’t going to matter anymore.
In the past, when something has gotten me this worked up about it, I have exhorted people to DO SOMETHING. I realize that’s no good anymore. It’s time to DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN.