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Reckoning Reckoning

March 24th, 2017

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.

A preliminary, non-final version of the cover for the print edition of Reckoning 1

A preliminary, non-final version of the cover for the print edition of Reckoning 1

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.

  • I moved away from my huge, loving family and the elite liberal socialist utopia of Massachusetts for the post-industrial, post-working-class kleptocracy of Southeast Michigan. I did this for economic reasons: it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to live here, because no one wants to. Plus my wife got a very good job for the equivalent of which on the east coast competition would have been prohibitive. We were able to make this move at all only because of our privilege. We’re white; we have expensive east coast liberal educations and loving family with the long-term economic benefits of same. And I am aware of this privilege, the extent of it, only because I moved here. The distance allows me to see the stratification of this country for what it is. Did I start Reckoning because of it? Yeah, probably.
  • I bought a hundred-year-old former church parsonage for one fifth what the equivalent would have cost in the Boston suburbs where I grew up, and therefore could afford to outfit it with solar panels despite active discouragement from my new state and energy utility. I’ve had them for three years and am nowhere near earning back my investment.
  • I converted my barren food desert of a lawn to a permaculture food forest: apple and cherry trees, elderberry bushes, blackberry brambles, native grapes, hops, asparagus, nettle, strawberries.
  • I wrote, workshopped and revised a novel. I sent it out to a few agents, then got too wrapped up in Reckoning to follow through, and now it languishes.
  • I leased an electric car and spent a few months convincing my utility to let me plug it into the solar panels.
  • I guest-edited an environmental-themed issue of a respected literary zine. I liked it so much I started my own.
  • I spent a year reading diverse fiction.
  • I joined my local government. I volunteer on my town’s environmental resources committee, trying to convince a bunch of working-class white Republicans to recycle. It sucks.
  • I voted for Hillary.
  • I sold a story to BCS, a weird western set in turn of the (twentieth) century Michigan, stuffed full of references to the Grateful Dead and the Great American Songbook. It comes out in July or thereabouts. Apparently I also get to read the podcast.
  • Speaking of podcasts, Far Fetched Fables will be running “Asleep in the Traces” sometime soon.
  • I gave a bunch of money to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center and etc.
  • I bake a loaf of sourdough bread once a week. Lately it has flax seed, brewer’s yeast and honey.
  • I called my congressman (Mike Bishop, R, Michigan 8th district) a bunch of times, about a lot of things, to no noticeable effect.
  • I brewed a lot of beer, cider, and mead, using ingredients I grew or foraged wherever possible. I drink it with help from my friends.
  • I did my taxes. I did Reckoning‘s taxes. Still waiting for my application for 501c3 status to come back from the IRS. Any day now.
  • I secured help with Reckoning from an amazing and far-flung editorial staff.
  • I had a kid, and now am in the process of adapting to his sleep patterns, while also learning about the fascinating hallucinatory and life-shortening effects of insomnia.
  • I’m out in the woods and fields and brooksides pretty much every day.
  • I loved and appreciated my family and my friends.

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.

Michael

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Decay

November 2nd, 2016

3lbe28_cover

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….

   Angry, Horror, Monumental Metaphor, Realities | 1 Comment »

Antlers

January 15th, 2016

Today drops the inaugural issue of Orthogonal SF: The War at Home, which features my story of technopagan populist revolution, “#Anon and the Antlers”. Yes, that’s a hashtag in the title. Yes, I did take leave of my senses a little. Not a little. That hashtag is the tip of the iceberg.

There’s not much I like more than a cautionary tale. This one starts with mad ambition, as I suppose cautionary tales tend to do.

Read the rest of this entry »

   Environmentalism, Realities, Writings | No Comments »

That City, with Cherry Blossoms

May 2nd, 2013

Cherry Blossoms, Boston, April 2013

I suffered through the recent horrible events in the city that was once mine from a distance of about seven hundred miles. I tried not to look at the news; I didn’t do very well. I didn’t know anybody directly involved. Until recently I didn’t think I had any great attachment to my city beyond that it was the only one I’d ever really known. I don’t love cities, though I can’t say I’m not fascinated by them. I love trees. I don’t consider myself a particularly emotional person. But for some reason, distance and homesickness combined with disturbing current events to make me cry silently while watching the news, wait to wipe away tears when my wife wasn’t looking, and dread the moment when what had happened came up in conversation (inevitable, since it was all anybody seemed able to talk about, even from seven hundred miles away).

Then, a few days after it had all wound down (except for the questions), I found myself obliged to return, as a result of an entirely unrelated tragedy, a sad, strange, serendipitous coincidence that allowed me an excuse to walk around and feel the breeze and drink beer and hug people and take pictures of spring in the city I only irrationally realized I missed when fear and uncertainty and mortal danger beset it.

Everybody seemed a little jittery, shell-shocked, not sure how to act. Freshly printed t-shirts for sale everywhere said “Boston Strong”. But otherwise everything was still there, pretty much how I’d left it, except for the person I’d come there to mourn. And even she, wiser heads soon made me realize, was still there too.

Happy spring.

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Sympathy for the Lorax

March 29th, 2012

The other day I went to see this indie documentary, Kalamazoo River: Us, which tells the history of that river’s pollution since the frontier era and the efforts of activists to get it cleaned up. It’s a bizarre film, full of hilarity and musical numbers. The director, Matt Dunstone, was on hand to answer questions afterward: a quiet, humble guy about my age, with two young kids and a wife in academia. He made immediately clear the love and dedication and enormous heaps of painstaking work that had gone into making it.

I came away full of turmoil. Sure, it made me happy to be reminded there are people who care that much and the news isn’t all horrible. And it filled me with sympathy for those tireless activists and the frustrations they’ve suffered in the face of indifference and corporate stonewalling. I know a little of what that’s like. A tiny bit. But not enough to keep me from wondering what heartwrenching environmentalist tragedy I could have made a documentary about, or written a book, or chained myself to something in protest against, if I’d just left off banging my head against fiction.

They tell you a writer is someone who just can’t not write, and there’s truth to that. But they also tell you short fiction is dead, and they’re not entirely wrong about that either. And I didn’t have to be writing short fiction. I could have written environmentalist documentaries or journalistic research or bitter political screeds. Not that it’s impossible to send a message or win hearts to a cause with fiction, but it’s hard. And doubly hard with short fiction because nobody reads it but other writers, for most of whom it’s all they can do to glance up from their own navels at the world. Didacticism, it’s called: trying to teach people something in a medium intended to entertain. People hate it. Not everybody, certainly. I’m not one of those people. In fifth grade, not long after seeing the maligned Ferngully for the first time, I helped write and appeared in a play about the importance of protecting the rainforest. Looking back, I feel bad for the parents who had to sit through that. They were probably bored, annoyed out of their skulls. That, no doubt, was didacticism done badly. It certainly can be done well, or at least better. Swift and Voltaire have survived this long. Ayn Rand still hangs on, though she’s bored plenty of people out of their skulls. Even Dr. Seuss had his conservationist masterwork, The Lorax. But look what’s happened to it now: neatly neutered and injected full of SUV tie-ins for a new generation of the coddled oblivious. Fiction wins people over and changes minds by happy accident, not because that’s what it’s for.

Of course, I know why I chose short fiction over film. For one thing, with film you have to rely on a ton of other people to help get your final product out there. With fiction it’s just you and the page: control. The selfishness, the unwillingness to engage, the navelgazing: these things are inherent in the form. And they’re common flaws in writers. Go look at your nearest online writers discussion forum (yeah, you know the one) and see what they’re talking about, fencing their way endlessly through meaningless nitpickery week in, week out, exploding like moldy confetti the moment anything really serious comes up. Who cares? But who can blame them? If writers could be heroes, pathmakers, changers of the world, they wouldn’t be writers. Except for the rare, unspeakably lucky few who can be both.

Which I guess is why this blog post: my feeble effort to try and get there. I do what I can, I tell myself, but it’s not very much. Not compared to those activists or to Matt Dunstone. I’m too busy gazing into my own bellybutton trying to divine the universal truth. But the dream, the thing that lets me sleep at night, is the hope that of course on of these stories will be so fucking good that it makes people care, enough of them that, even though maybe I’ll never know about it, they’ll go on to chain themselves to trees and make heartwrenching documentaries.

   Angry, Environmentalism, Film, HM, Realities | 2 Comments »