19 Years

Today marks the 19th birthday of Whatever, and once again I’m left to reflect that it’s a hell of a thing to be doing anything for as long as I’ve been writing here. Nineteen years ago today was four presidents back; Krissy and I lived in Sterling, Virginia; Athena, who is now in college, was about three months out from being born; and I had written but a single novel, which at the time only three people besides myself had read, and which was seven years from actual print publication. It’s odd to think of what a very different time it was.

It’s also odd to think of how very few of those first set of blogs, the ones that were up and running in 1998, still exist out on the Internet, in non-archived form, anyway. Out of my regular 1998 blog reads (or “online diary” reads, since the word “blog” had no currency then), only James Lileks is still putting posts out there on what could be called a regular basis. Most of the rest of the sites are shuttered and the ones that aren’t, update sporadically if at all. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that James and I have kept at it regularly all this time. We both come out of newspapers and I suspect we both think of our blogs as another news hole to be regularly filled with… well, something, anyway.

Also, unless you’re trained for writing or at least posting every day it’s not that easy a thing to do. People back in the day who started blog with endless enthusiasm would often realize that the infinite maw of a blog could be daunting, especially when you felt like you were throwing words out into the void and who knows who was catching them on the other end. This is the secret sauce of Facebook and Twitter, incidentally. You follow all your friends, they follow you, and then when you post, you know who your audience is and (more or less) that they’re actually listening. And if you don’t post on Facebook or Twitter for a day, or a week, or whatever, well. Someone else in your friend circle is. The pressure is off. It’s a much more congenial set-up for someone who isn’t hypergraphic by nature.

This last year has been an interesting one to try to write here regularly, in no small part because while our current administration certainly generates lots of heat and controversy, in many ways it’s difficult to say anything pertinent or insightful about it; once one is done saying “well, this is what happens when you elect an incompetent and incurious narcissistic bigot to the highest office in the land” the first few dozen times, everything else seems repetition.

Rather than being energized to fight the fumbling, shambling fascism of Donald Trump and his pals, I’ve found myself dispirited by it. It’s neither interesting nor fun to chronicle the stupid and malicious. I’m glad it’s not my job to be a full-time political writer in this era. Nevertheless I swing away at the current administration, although less than I imagined I would (here, anyway; the brevity of Twitter lends itself to my level of engagement). Fortunately there are always cats and sunsets and talking about writing.

If I had to describe the last year of writing, here and elsewhere, it would be to say that it’s been a year of recalibration, and trying to stay engaged and creative while the world is on fire. As I’ve noted before, it’s not like this is a new sort of thing — writers and other creative sorts have had to learn how to keep at their gig in awful times before, including some times that have been objectively rather more awful than this one. That said, this time certainly isn’t great, and presents its own set of challenges. I suspect it’s not just me doing some recalibration these days.

Be that as it may, and once again, I’ll keep on writing here. I still like doing it, and I still have an urge to write on many topics, and post pictures of pets and family and sunsets. And people still come by to see what I’m up to. It works out. And thank you for coming by.

This time next year will be the 20th anniversary of the site. I’ll have to figure out something special for it. I have some ideas. I’ll let you know what they are when I get them sorted.

The Big Idea: TR Cameron

We all make mistakes — but as TR Cameron recounts regarding his new novel Trespassers, some mistakes are bigger than others.

TR CAMERON:

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?

Thinking about my own contenders for that title is a nightmarish undertaking. I relive countless relationship blunders, work miscalculations, and poor life decisions. It’s a part of being human to have moments we would take back if we could, to avoid hurting others, to avoid hurting ourselves.

But to quote an ancient proverb, innumerable legal cases, and Caine from Matthew Woodring Stover’s brilliant Heroes Die, “You can’t unring the bell.”

Barring time travel, what is, is.

We are left with the fallen pieces of whatever we’ve broken and the challenge of reassembling them. But we know the fixed version will always be compromised, rendered weaker than the original, no matter how we try to mend the breaks. For small things, this is an acceptable finish, and we can resume our lives unburdened by the incident.

But what if the mistake is so big you can’t fix it?

This question lies at the heart of Trespassers. A young officer in charge of a battleship’s night shift makes a choice driven by a combination of ego and patriotism. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Lieutenant Commander Anderson Cross’s decision would be a mistake of the first kind, easily fixed and put away. This time, it puts his ship on the path to disaster. For the rest of the series, he must contend with the realization that his decision directly results in a holy war that will claim countless lives. He must contend with the realization that his decision turned the dream of first contact with an alien race into a nightmare. Cross’s story is the Big Idea of the tale—how do we come to terms with a choice gone wrong?

Despite the best intentions, Cross makes a mistake—partly a result of his actions, partly a result of circumstance, but now entirely his to own. In facing this failure, he has more choices to make. Some of them naturally go awry because perfection is more often sought than achieved.

How can a person, any person, bear up under such intense pressure without shattering?

His long-time-friend and sometimes-romantic-partner Lieutenant Commander Kate Flynn faces her own set of choices as events unfold. She must decide how to help Cross overcome his error, how to tell him that his fear of confronting that failure is causing him to make more poor decisions. She has to choose whether to risk their friendship by telling him the hard truth.

Cross and Kate are you and I, are all of us. We consistently wrestle with the fallout from our own mistakes, and we strive to help others through the pain and confusion when they fall. Often, we find the edge of the thin line that separates help from harm only after we’ve left it behind.

These are the moments when we discover who we really are.

These are the moments when we identify our true friends.

These are the moments that make us.

For the characters in Trespassers, the stakes are monumental as they travel the thinnest of paths at the border of life and death. Hopefully, the mistakes we make in our daily lives have lesser impact. In both cases, these ongoing challenges we create for ourselves are pivotal in our learning, growth, and maturation. Each new mistake teaches us vital things about the world and our place in it.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca once said, “a gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a [person] perfected without trials.” Our mistakes are self-imposed trials, granted by the universe to inspire our growth. Our response to them may lead us on the path toward perfection—or at least toward a better self.

Perhaps the best result we can hope for is embodied in the Japanese practice of kintsugi, which finds beauty in the rejoining of things once broken. The restoration is made obvious with application of gold lacquer, and the glittering repairs add to the history of the item being preserved. The original then incorporates the art and vision of the restorer and becomes somehow greater for its destruction and resurrection.

Cross will grow through his own rejoining, or he will remain forever broken. Kate will grow through her efforts to help him bring his fractured pieces together, or she will sacrifice their relationship in the attempt. The rewards are high, and the risks higher.

I have undeniably grown as a result of my own mistakes, and though I don’t always have it in me to display them with pride, they are nonetheless a vital part of the person I am now. I sincerely hope you can say the same.

So, the Big Idea once more: how do we best face our mistakes? Perhaps the key to success is a simple shift of perspective—to abandon the natural desire to unring the bell and instead accept our trials as an opportunity to become. To remember, as John Campbell aptly put

it: “The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” That light reveals our true self.

Cross’s true self will be revealed against a backdrop of space battles, alien invaders, adventure, and enough explosions for three summer blockbusters. And, of course, mistakes and more mistakes as he grows and learns. Writing a book driven by a mistake threw my own into greater relief, and allowed me to find a way into Cross’s head. I believe the way he faces his challenges, both successfully and unsuccessfully, is authentic to the experiences we all share. It was a pleasure to write such a conflicted character and watch him find his way onto a path, even if it is not (yet) the path to perfection.

I wish you the smallest mistakes necessary to find the way to your own light, and strength in your continuous becoming.

—-

Trespassers: Amazon

Read a sample. Visit the author’s site.