Day 415

Didn’t blog much last week, and while COVID and my increasingly busy schedule are convenient excuses, the truth is that I didn’t feel inspired. Rather than go through the motions, I decided to take a week off. Now I’m back to continue this odd little journal of pandemic-inspired observations.

***

Went to the gym this morning for the first time since at least November, most likely further back.

Today was about feeling comfortable and getting re-acclimated rather than pushing myself. Got on the treadmill and jogged for 25 minutes, with a maximum speed of 3.0 MPH and no incline, a pace brisk enough to produce a full-body sweat. My knees are always the most sensitive part of my body when running, and I felt enough tension down there to convince me not to dial up the speed or incline. As I write this a few hours later I feel fine, but the chance of overnight stiffness is pretty high. Assuming I’m not terribly laid up tomorrow, going to the gym on Tuesday morning will return to my weekly routine.

I wore a mask designed for exercising the entire time. When properly tightened the edges fully cover the nose and mouth, with the fabric around the mouth molded into a kind of pouch that makes heavy breathing noticeably easier. It never went unnoticed, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. If I have to wear it to work out, I’m more than willing.

How that mask will hold up when I return to the fencing club, where I get my most rigorous and enjoyable exercise, could be another story. Until I stopped going in the fall when the pandemic reached dangerous levels, wearing a cloth mask under my fencing helmet, with its sturdy metal cage close to my face, was at times unbearable. I had to take frequent breaks when sparring at practice; competing in tournaments was overwhelming. But if I employ the take it easy approach I used today at the gym, I expect to enjoy getting back to stabbing people (and getting stabbed by them) for fun.

I’ll use the busy schedule excuse to explain why I’m not going to the club this week. Next week should work out, and I’m looking forward to seeing my people again. Some of my friends there I haven’t seen since the fall, others in over a year. Walking into the club will be a victory far greater than any I could achieve in a bout.

Cough Syrup Magazine

The subject of the most recent in my series of literary journal and genre magazine reviews is a publication I have a hard time describing yet enjoy very much.

Cough Syrup Magazine publishes both online and print editions four times a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Wyrd. Those In Between moments you experience at 3AM that you try to explain, try to make someone understand but no one gets it. The Fourth Dimension, the Fourth Plateau. The Creeping Strangeness. The Clarity of ‘Oh shit it’s always like this’, but no one can sees it. The Fucking Weirdness that’s always around. And the reverse alchemy of trying to distill that feeling into a story or poem or art. The Glimpse of Horrible Ecstatic Clarity and we all just want everyone to have a taste. You want to see it , to feel it. It’s here. Dig the day.”

Issue Reviewed: “It’s Working,” a collection of short stories

Genre: All over the place. Mostly literary realism, some speculative content, very adult oriented.

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “The Day Off,” by Mark Keane. An anonymous Irish Civil Service worker decides to take a day off from work. Not much happens that day, mostly because the narrator doesn’t know what to do with himself. This darkly comic tale made me laugh out loud with the line: “My choice, my decision to take a day off and I had to get through it.”

Exploding HelicoptersThree Explosions. Good dramatic tension in most stories.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. The story cited in my review actually had no profanity at all, but some stories in this collection did turn up the dial on the coarse language.

Day 405

It took 24 hours after the shot, but I did have a reaction to my second inoculation — severe aches to almost every joint in my body. Fortunately a couple of Advil relieved the pain almost immediately, and it never came back. Four more days until I return to the gym and the fencing club.

***

I recently joined a Saturday morning writing club. We all get on a Zoom call, spend a few minutes talking about what we’re currently working on, then go on mute and write for the next couple-few hours. There are days when I miss sleeping, but I like the discipline of starting the weekend with a solid block of writing.

There was talk today about meeting in-person starting in June. A studio has offered a bargain rate on rental, and many in the group seem eager for the face-to-face interaction. After over a year of isolation, I can’t blame their desire.

The topic of vaccinations came up, with one member asking if vaccination cards would be required. The feeling among the group was that inoculations should be emphasized but proof won’t have to be demonstrated. There was also talk of setting up one laptop in the studio and running a Zoom session from there for participants not comfortable with in-person meetings. I probably will choose remote attendance, not so much out of pandemic concern but rather for the convenience. Why drive half an hour each way when I can get the same meeting benefit from the comfort of my home? Maybe I’ll make the drive once a month, just for a change of pace.

I expect a similar conversation will take place during my monthly critiquing group’s next session. We haven’t met in person since at least March of last year, and members were eager to resume face-to-face meetings by summer. There was even talk of meeting in a parking lot and address each other through open windows; fortunately that absurd proposal never came up for a vote. We had been meeting in libraries, but I don’t know if meeting rooms are available there yet. Attendance at our Zoom meetings has been declining the last few months, and I suspect fatigue is a major contributing factor to the decreased enthusiasm. Perhaps some type of hybrid model will work for this group as well.

New Strategy, Same Result

PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

So much for finally beating Musgave at Stratogem.

After dividing his blue tokens into two camps I stopped the attack of my red tokens, letting them gather strength over several turns. Being too aggressive was a mistake I wasn’t going to repeat.

Musgave must have sensed my new approach, and used it against me.

When individual blue tokens began appearing in my sea of red, I attacked them before they could assemble. As I launched these defensive attacks, he slyly repositioned both his camps.

Despite being outnumbered, he had regained the strategic advantage. His eventual victory was assured.

Bastard.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Parable of the Sower

Rarely do I regret not having read a book, but I’m kicking myself for not discovering Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 novel 20 years earlier.

The story begins on the 15th birthday of Lauren Oya Olamina, whose journal comprises the novel’s entirety. The year is 2024, and the world depicted in a little over three years from the time of this post seems disturbingly similar to the world we have now. Gated communities, disinterested and often criminal police forces, rampant drug use, violent gangs, disastrous climate changes, labor laws enabling employers to enslave workers… Dystopian novels set in the near future tend to not age well (I’m looking at you Mr. Blair), but Butler’s prophetic ability is as brilliant as it is unsettling.

Another problem with this genre is tone; once you read the fate of Winston Smith, Robert Neville, or Dwight Towers, you can’t help feeling hopeless. Dystopia is at its best when it offers a solution, a way to escape from mankind’s dark fate, whether it be from a belief that survival is insufficient or an unlikely military victory. In Butler’s novel, hope is seen in Earthseed, the “religion” founded by Lauren in her journal. Quotes are needed because Earthseed, while it borrows language and thought from multiple established religions, is unlike any belief system that came before it. Lauren views God as an independent being, but one that needs to be shaped by its followers:

God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought… ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace — and how to deal with the others.

Lauren, through her thoughts on Earthseed, also looks beyond this planet, and sees humanity’s potential being realized on worlds beyond our solar system. In other words, there isn’t much hope for Earth, but there is hope for its people when they reach the stars.

Butler wrote a sequel to this novel, but her plan to complete a trilogy died with her in 2006. I don’t know when I’ll get to the second book, but it will probably be right after reading another dystopian novel gets me feeling helpless.

Neon

Another in my series of literary journal and genre magazine reviews.

Neon is a British literary magazine that has published two issues a year since 2006.

What They Say About Themselves:Neon is a magazine of slipstream fiction, poetry, and artwork. We publish creative work that is fantastic or surreal, and which crosses the boundaries between science-fiction, horror and literary fiction.

It is one of the longest-running independent literary magazines in the UK. It is supported entirely by its readers: no adverts, no sponsors, no public funding – just a community of people who all enjoy the same kind of weird literature.

The magazine is published in print and in a range of digital formats. You can set your own price for a digital copy.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue 51 (Autumn 2020)

Genre: Slipstream fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Instead of a story from issue 51 I chose one of the site’s recommended stories, “Best of Drive-Thru” by Mack Gelber. The customers who pull up to the speaker at Large Burger don’t often ask for a hamburger, which is a good thing since the staff isn’t that keen on serving them. An entertaining piece about unfulfilled desires.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. The focus is on language and innovate form rather than compelling narrative.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. A few PG-13 and All-Audiences tales mixed in with some grittier matter.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown wouldn’t have had much use for the Diversity Training workshops I attended during my corporate work years. Those sessions featured a lot of polite dialogue, along with plenty of numbers and dates demonstrating our company’s commitment to diversity. These were harmonious affairs, comforting and reassuring to anyone save an unrepentant bigot.

The author of this 2018 book writes about leading these sessions, during which she felt pressured by her employers to not offend the feelings of her white participants, to instead re-affirm their goodness. Dissatisfied with these experiences, Brown now advocates more honest talks, uncomfortable discussions about the continued dominance of white supremacist ideology in America, with a focus on actions rather than feelings.

Like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Brown’s book combines personal narrative and social analysis. Brown’s narrative style is more effective than Kendi’s, mostly because she chooses a thematic rather than chronological format. She doesn’t match the lyricism of Coates, but not many writers can.

Christianity plays an important role in Brown’s work, and this focus sets her apart from the other two authors. While acknowledging the church’s role as a champion oppressor, Brown believes in a Jesus who is a champion of the oppressed. Hers is a Black Jesus, and she cites the influence of James H. Cone’s liberation theology on her beliefs.

One of the most memorable portions of the book comes in the description of an interracial journey through the south during college. A visit to a museum which documented the history of lynching provoked righteous anger from black students, defensiveness from whites. Brown records only one statement from a white student: “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” It was a declaration focused more on action than on feeling, and could serve as a theme for the book. Like Kendi, Brown cares little about what people feel or believe; how they act, and how those actions support or attack the ideology of white supremacy, is far more significant.

Unintended Sculpture

PHOTO PROMPT © Anne Higa

drip… drip…

The pipe’s leak had begun in September. Every attempt to find its source failed.

The first icicle formed over a frigid October night. The leak continued, and the icicle grew.

By December more icicles formed, each growing over the subzero months as the leak continued. January’s thaw was too brief to melt the unintended sculpture as it continued to reach the floor. Lights from the adjacent bar cast the object in a supernatural glow.

It finally touched the floor during a final arctic blast in February.

Spring reduced the sculpture back to its original form.

drip… drip…

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

The Woven Tale Press Magazine

There’s a lot of literary journals and genre magazines, and just about every week I read one and write a review.

Founded in 2013, The Woven Tale Press Magazine publishes 10 electronic issues a year.

What They Say About Themselves: “The cornerstone of The Woven Tale Press is our magazine—a rare breed, at once a literary journal and an art publication. We take pride in the careful balance of the writing and the visual arts in each issue; distinctly different but equally resonate fine art forms that are perhaps best appreciated when one is complementing the other.

With our site interviews, reviews, guest posts, and more, we are also a premier online platform and conduit that links distinctive writers and artists with both those seeking a cultural domain and with literary and art venues actively searching for new talents to showcase or represent. We are committed to serving those in the literary and visual arts by offering our publication, and opportunities to become practiced in today’s changing dynamics of artistic success — increasingly measured by an aggregate online presence and audience.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume IX, #3

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Fire on Ice,” by Kevin Loughrin. A young boy and his father from the city go on an ice-fishing expedition, but the first thing they encounter in the lake is not a fish. The curiosity of the story’s anonymous boy is engaging.

Exploding HelicoptersTwo Explosions. Not much action, but plenty of suspense.

Profanometer: Dannmit. Occasional coarse language just to keep things real.

Day 394

Received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine this afternoon. Two weeks from now, after my body has built all of its viral antibodies, I’ll be able to resume some of the activities I’ve had to put off during this difficult fall and winter.

I now have a 4″ x 3″ (10 cm x 7.5 cm) sheet of cardstock that shows where and when I received my shots:

There’s been discussion of using these cards as “vaccination passports,” and restricting access to indoor events and even air travel to those who possess them.

I’m all for inconveniencing those who refuse to get vaccinated, but I’m somehow certain the religious zealots, political whack-jobs, and science deniers will find a way (such as paying for counterfeit vaccination records) around any vaccination passport restrictions. Requiring people to show their record will only affect those who don’t have access to the vaccine — which isn’t the point.

***

It’s been three hours since the jab, and not a hint of side effects. Not even a sore arm. I’ll wait until tomorrow morning before declaring victory in that battle.

I’ll be amazed if I don’t need a booster shot in the fall. By that time the vaccine might even be part of that season’s flu shot. Inoculations are going to be frequent in the coming years, especially for people my age. If they’re as uneventful as the two shots I received for COVID, it’ll be like dental checkups — not something you look forward to, but the health benefit far outweighs the temporary inconvenience.