Thoughts on my Mom

by Michael  


My mom is dying. Let me reiterate that in a way that emotes more closely how I feel: I’m losing my mommy. But don’t be sad… Okay, that isn’t easy. Not by a long shot. I’m not even there myself yet. But… Yet. See, there’s the thing: she isn’t dead. Not YET. She will be, sooner than I’d like, but the fact is, it’s ALWAYS sooner than we’d like. Always.

There isn’t a way to escape death, and I hate that. I don’t know what perils immortality might bring with it, but there’s part of me that wonders if I could get through the loss of everyone I know… Not a chance. Not alone. And there’s another thing: I’m not alone. And neither is my mom. My sister lives close, and she has an amazing husband who’s love for her may rival even that of her own children. And my grandmother is with her right now too as she starts her chemo. My friends and family have been fantastic so far, reaching out and letting me know that they are there. It’s pretty amazing, and within this maddening shell of sadness, as much as I want to feel isolated in my fear and pain and loss, I cannot. I just can’t. You bastards won’t let me, and I love you all for it from the bottom of my heart.

I’m losing my mommy… But not today, and probably not tomorrow, and in a way, we, she and I and all who know her, are the luckiest types of people in the world. We KNOW it’s coming because we have guys in lab coats telling us so. Most people end up getting to deal with the surprise of death, and that’s another kick in the face that we just don’t want or need when dealing with that loss. Most of all though, it’s a LIVING reminder, here and now, to make the most of whatever sweet, precious time we have. We might like to imagine that we’re never going to face that, but the fact of the matter is, we all do. Everyone you know, have known, or will know, is already dying. They’re already gone in a sense, and we can’t do a thing to stop it. But we CAN love. We can remember. We can make the time we DO have count for something.

I’m an atheist, and my daughter, my precious four-year-old ginger, only understands that I’m sad. Now, she’s a bright kid, and I don’t want to burden her with philosophical or theological debates at bed time, but I felt I needed to explain to her why I’ve been so edgy and sad lately. In the course of our talk, I asked her if she knew what happened to us when we died. She did not. So I asked her if she knew what we were all made of, thinking of Neil Degrasse Tyson. She replied, “Chemicals”. Leave it to her to cite Hank Green, right? Anyway, I explained to her that when a star gets very, very old and dies, it explodes, and becomes a great gaseous nebula. She knows what nebulae are. She’s obsessed with space and wants to be a Martian astronaut some day. I explained that then parts of those dead stars floated through the universe and eventually became part of what makes US. There is part of a dead, ancient star in each and every one of us, and when we die, those parts of us go on to become other great, vast, beautiful things. Forests full of trees are made up of the dead stars that once made people who were loved, and cherished, and remembered. That seemed to comfort her just as much as it did me. She hugged me, and then she went to sleep. I love that kid. And my mommy loves me.

I’m not losing my mommy; the universe just let me borrow her for a bit, and for that I am grateful. I am the luckiest man in the world to have had a mother like her, through the ups and downs, crazy times, happy days, and all the rest. I am a better person for having her give birth to me and raise me. I am an idealist, feminist, and a humanist all because of her. I went back to school and got my degrees and wrote and got published because I believed in myself, but it was my mom that taught me to do that. I’ll miss her when she’s gone. I miss her all the time anyway because she’s a thousand miles away and never picks up the damn phone. But I’ll miss her a little more when the chance of her answering becomes nil… Instead, I’ll talk to my own kids, my wife, and my step-dad. You see, even when we do die and pass back to the stars from whence we came, we also live on… For as long as people remember us. We are eternal in that way, in the things we leave behind. It’s the marks that we leave behind that define us. Maybe it’s a book, or a piece of advice, or a tradition we pass to our children, but what we do NOW… It matters.

Mom, if you happen to read this, thank you. I will always love you. And no matter why you don’t answer when I call, you will always be in my heart and the hearts of those who you have touched throughout life. I will be positive. I will stay as happy as I can and never forget that you taught me the skills I need to be a happy person. I love you…


by Michael  

So, I've been smitten with the idea of vlogging for a while, and figured that now is as good a time as any to start. I've had a channel for a long while on which we had posted my interview with Jim Butcher a long, long time ago, so I figured, what the hell, let's give it a go. For this first one, I wanted to open a vlogging dialogue with my teenaged son. We already talk a lot, and we're very close, but more communication cant hurt. Hopefuly we'll get into this habitually and we can go from there.

Milestones; or Reflection On A Happy Birthday To Me

by Michael  




Thirty-five. There was a time when I seriously didn’t think I’d make it to this age. Some of that was just being young and unimaginative, but there was one time, the first time I failed out of college, that I gave myself the unimaginable goal of being “known” the world over by the time I was 25, or I promised I would kill myself. Of course, the internet happened, I made friends as far away as New Zealand, and I was spared coming up with a ridiculous excuse for why I wouldn’t take what I considered the coward’s way out. The truth is, it was little more than a sad, depressed note I’d left myself somewhere, and I never would have committed suicide, but there it was. I’m a little ashamed that I ever even put that thought into the world.


When I was in high school, I wrote a screed about how we had three options in life. We could join the mindless, mind-numbing zombies of the MTV generation. We could give up, admit defeat and take ourselves out. Or we could wear what Grant Morrison called “The Blank Badge” in The Invisibles. The idea was that we could choose, for ourselves, who we were, or we could be the failures of conformity society wanted us to be. I went off in that handwritten manifesto about how those who committed suicide were selfish and worthless, and deserved none of the sympathy some might give them. I said that suicide was still the failure of conformity, because it meant that you admitted that you had settled for someone else’s standards instead of your own. Essentially, if you took your own life, you won nothing and deserved nothing. There’s a lot of me that still believes that. I might add, now that I’m older, exceptions for the terminally ill, but then again, why not fight to the bitter end? I think about mortality a lot. I fear death in many ways, but I fear not satisfying myself more than I do death itself. But I digress.

I have had two people I cared about, though from a distance because I’ve slowly become more and more agoraphobic as I’ve aged, commit suicide in recent years. I miss them, but I am not sad for them. If anything, I’m angry at them. Even more angry when I consider them amongst those I looked up to when I was 19 and telling myself I only had until I was 25 to make it in the world. I wish they were still around. I wish they hadn’t been selfish. I sometimes start thinking about what might have been if I’d gotten over my self-imposed hermitage and reached out, but I stop myself. They never reached out to me either, so it’s not my cross to bear. Sorry, guys. I love you, but fuck you.


Here I am, ten years past one milestone, and now facing a new one. I’m the age required by law to run for the office of President of the United States. I won’t, mind you, because I curse too much, do not suffer fools, and I’m an atheist who likes porn, smoking, and English Football more than the NFL. Still, if I wanted to, I could. I was thinking about the idea of milestones tonight and I realized a few things. First, after 35, the age milestones are silly. At 16 you can drive. At 18 you can vote. Then at 21 you can drink, and 25 your insurance rates go down. The one at 35 is kind of deflating. Next is 65 and Social Security eligibility? Yuck. Second, milestones are what we make of them. It goes back to that Blank Badge idea, and something one of my former professors asked me once.


We were studying Virginia Woolf and I asked him why we studied her instead of someone more popular like Agatha Christie. I admit, my prejudice against suicides may have had something to do with my bias And besides, I told him, Agatha Christie was clearly the more successful of the two women. Dr. Russell asked me, “By what standard of success are you measuring?” Yeah, threw me for a loop. Sure, people still made movies out of Christie’s work, and her books have been read by more people, but have her books had an impact on anyone anywhere near the level of Woolf? Most people don’t know it, but when they get excited to get a glimpse inside the head of their favorite character, when the author gives them the ability to understand where a character is psychologically, it’s because the ghost of Virginia Woolf haunts all writers today. We explore epiphany and inner motivations because Woolf is our DNA. She changed the game. She forced writers and readers to do something new. Woolf is a weird case for me. She clearly embraced The Blank Badge, and for that, bravo. Yet, she was also a suicide, and for that choice I can’t help but feel animosity toward her. My thoughts on the issue are more complex than I feel I can deal with here. Woolf had a lot of milestones in her career, and while I’m tempted to compare myself to her and other writers, I know, deep down, that I cannot.


Chuck Wendig gave me some advice the other day. He said, “You’ll come back to it.” You see, I finished my novel a couple months back, and I want to do one more draft of the damn thing. I feel like I am afraid to start this last draft though, thus Chuck’s advice. I want this to be the first of many books I write, and so I want it to be as good as I can get it on my own before I start shopping it around. In my mind, finishing the book was a bigger milestone than any birthday has been. I do not have to bind myself to any age. I can and should set my own goals. If I don’t, I’m not embracing The Blank Badge. So, here’s to another year on the planet, but what I’m looking forward to this year isn’t some silly celebration with cake, but writing more, editing more, and hopefully selling my first YA novel. Cheers!




Somethin' A Teacher Can't Teach

by Michael  


What’s a god to a non-believer? I have no clue, but Jay-Z and Kanye West ask it, and it gets my juices flowing. I read a lot of posts from other writers talking about music, and most of the time I’m unimpressed. I mean, if you’re a white guy and you write Nerdcore shit, you probably listen to Prog-rock, or maybe something from the 80s. Last week you probably got excited about My Bloody Valentine. You have a special place in your heart for some New Wave, or maybe your youth was all about Alterna-rock.


Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of this stuff too, but I like a lot more than that too. Lately it’s been all about hip-hop. And let me tell you, it is not easy writing about a teenaged boy that hates hip-hop when you love hip hop. For the record, I’m a HOVA fan, and while I like Nas okay, if I had to take sides, fuck Nas. I don’t get into the whole East/West thing, mostly because I hated rap when that all went down. When the world lost Biggy and 2-Pac, I had two friends named Laurel and Rachel who had to explain it to me. They tried really, really hard, and I finally gave up… But something happened over the course of my life that I fellin love with rap music. The first for me was Dre’s “2001”. I don’t smoke weed, and my only real experience with gangs as a kid was staying out of their way because I wasn’t Latino or black, so they wanted nothing to do with me anyway. But that album wasn’t really about drugs or gangs, not really. It was about success and respect. It was about inspiration and mentorship. It was poetry, and I wish I hadn’t waited to see that.


Today I sat outside of my son’s school waiting for him to get out. He’s a freshman, and I’m that embarrassing dad who sits outside blaring his music. What? Dads don’t usually do that? Big brothers you say? Well, shit… I’m my own man I guess. Anyway… I was sitting out in front of the school, across the street actually, because since 9/11 it’s illegal to park in front, but I’m sitting there, and my music is thumping along. And I’m listening to this:


That’s Sage Francis, a rapper from the Twin Cities. He’s a “slam poet”, and I think his music is fucking awesome. The kids leaving the school in today’s blizzard seemed to dig it too. The non-hipster kids at least. They’d never heard this shit before though. They might have been more familiar with this:

That’s Jay-Z and Kanye. Great song. Great video. It's like the Tottenham riots brought to life and made into a sculpture of light and shadow! These are some of the songs that get me pumped. I get psyched hearing these songs. Saul Williams, T.I., Ludacris… These people aren’t just musicians, they’re poets. MC Lars, mc chris, even The Lonely Island… All poets. I don’t care if they make you laugh, they reach out and do something that I, as a writer, only wish I could do: They touch your soul. There’s something primordial that rap and hiphop taps into. Wretch 32, Example, The Streets… These voices aren’t just black, urban, and American. They’re universal, and they tap into something that’s inside all of us. Maybe it’s the rhyming, I don’t know, but damn if I don’t feel like dancing when Lupe Fiasco or Missy Elliot comes on. Look, if you’re a writer and you limit what you have coming in, you limit what you can put out as well. Shit, Ferlinghetti and Bukowski would be rappers today, and they’d be damn good too. If you don’t listen to rap or hiphop currently, I really, really encourage you to broaden your horizons. It’s a wildly diverse genre, full of men and women who bend words like Neo bent space/time; like Wesley Gibson bent bullets. What do you have to lose in partaking in a journey through some of the names I’ve mentioned? Come on, Sam-I-Am, try them and you may I say! Just for shits and grins, here's a fun one from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis:

Why Worrying About Book Piracy Is A Waste Of Time

by Michael  

This began as a response to Chuck Wendig's Why I Hope You Won't Pirate My Book” post at Teribleminds. Go read it and buy all his stuff. You won't be sorry.


I agree with Chuck that artists, especially writers, should get paid. I wouldn't work in this field if I didn't. I might finish editing my novel to a “ready to submit to agents” level even if I didn't imagine I could make some scratch on it, but not with the sense of urgency I have. And I certainly wouldn't put up with some of the negativity I get from some of the people I edit for now if it didn't pay well. But I don't worry about piracy. Let me make myself unpopular for a moment.

I was poor growing up. I'm talking “Toys-For-Tots, powdered milk, and government cheese” poor. Most of my neighbors didn't speak English. I was lucky and eventually escaped because I'm white, and let's face it, that makes it easier. A few months ago, one of my old classmates was arrested for being one of the biggest coke dealers in Chicagoland. Like I said, we were poor, but I was also really into books.  

I rode my bike to the library every couple of days for something new to read. I exhausted my age category by the end of the third grade, and moved on to adult sci-fi in the fourth. The books got heavier, but I kept going back. In fifth grade, we moved to a nicer neighborhood and I was still poor, but within walking/biking distance of a comic shop and a used bookstore. I traded paperbacks from whomever would give them to me for “new to me” books at that used bookstore for years. Then, when I was done reading those I'd trade them again. The lady who ran the shop must have liked me because she seldom made a profit off me after the first year. I read everything, from Choose Your Own Adventure to Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. I still have a few of those books. My comic shop also had a .25¢ bin. I used that a lot too, just to get a fix of The Hulk or The Fantastic Four.

When I was old enough to work, I learned how to game the system. First it was being the first to request a new book at the library. If they got enough requests for the book, even fake ones, they'd order the book and I'd get to read it first. I got a job at a video store and they gave me free copies of movies. Then I worked at a record shop and we would get to keep the promo copies that came in, just like the video store. I spent very little money on these things, electing instead to buy my own car and my own insurance so I could get to these jobs, but I discovered all sorts of great art through these free copies, like Reservoir Dogs and Bad Religion. I took a job at a bookstore and learned I was allowed five books a month for free as long as we tore the cover off and sent it back to the publisher. The Koran, The Story of O, and even the latest Star Wars pulp were game.

Oh, and I also had friends. Friends meant I could borrow and lend even more. I read Watchmen this way, and exposed my friends to Arkham Asylum. Novels, comics, movies... We traded it all. I still have the Maxell copy of Pearl Jam's “Vs.” I got from one friend, and I watched Akira and Vampire Hunter D until the VHS copies I had of those crapped out utterly.

So what’s my point? The secondary market has always existed. I didn’t pay anything for most of the media I consumed growing up, but I don’t consider the notion that I “stole” any of these books, movies, or music. I’ve purchased books, and I’ve borrowed books, and I’ve traded books, and I’ve given books away just as freely as they’ve been given. But I refuse to believe that if I set off this very moment and downloaded a copy of someone’s book, I’d be doing more harm now than I ever did with any of the things I mention above. For me, sharing has always been part of the culture of consuming art and media.

I accept what we cheekily call “piracy” for what it is: massive sharing. The difference is that if I have one copy to share of a physical book, that’s only one sale they miss out on, but if I can make infinite copies and give them all away, that’s an infinite amount of sales lost, right? On the surface that makes sense, but is it really an issue? Look at The Pirate Bay for a moment. Just surf on over some time and look up authors who are “mid-list” or bigger. As of this very moment, around noon on February 5, 2013, Margaret Atwood has 26 people “leeching” her book. That’s 26 people actively downloading torrents of her books on the biggest torrent site on the planet. John Scalzi has 8. Joe Hill has 7. Chuck Wendig has zero. Joe Hill’s dad, Stephen King, has a lot more, but he’s also written a lot more. His biggest single leech count is 7, on the book “11.22.63”. A search for Neil Gaiman leads to a surprisingly small list of titles, and including comics and audio books, a total of 53 people are downloading his work without paying for it.

So, if this is a problem, and not getting paid always is, it isn't as big as what Disney faces with pirated copies of The Avengers. But that already made a billion dollars and everyone involved got filthy rich. The bigger and more popular something is, the more it gets pirated. So, the only way us writers will come to a point of having to truly worry about piracy effecting us in meaningful ways is if we get filthy rich and popular off it first. I'm having a hard time seeing what about that makes people panic.

If anyone knows the value of a dollar, it’s me. I get the economy is tight. I’ve lived in welfare conditions, and it ain’t easy. Writing isn’t a great gig for getting rich, and never has been. Sure, you might gain “fame”, but all that means is that more people know who you are than you actually know yourself. That doesn’t put bread and cheese on the table. Writers really should be able to expect to make a living. They contribute to our society greatly and bring us much joy, so why shouldn’t they. All artists should. The problem isn’t the people sharing though. Calling it “piracy” is a ruse, because it isn’t like all these other people are making profits from someone else’s work. The problem is that the market itself devalues the writer and all artists really. When Amazon can sell your work for less than what it is worth, THAT is a problem. When the publishers, recording companies, and movie studios take more than their fair share, THAT is the problem. When self-styled “indies” try to get around the system by giving away their work or pricing it cheap in order to compete with the predatory pricing tactics of the big companies, THAT is the problem too.

So share away. Support your favorite artists however you can, and as directly as you can. If you love something, and you bought it, share it with others. Get them to buy more art too. Most of all, stop whining about piracy unless you find a knock off of your work in a store somewhere. The secondary market is valuable in its own way, and it’s always been there, even if it takes a new form now. For all the music, books, comics and movies I didn’t pay for as a kid, I still bought t-shirts, posters, buttons, etc. We all did. We still do. When we love something, especially as dorks and nerds, we support that thing. We make movies into blockbusters. We vault writers to the tops of best seller lists. We give Disney a reason to turn Darkhawk into the next big comic-to-movie franchise. Okay, that’s wishful thinking, but we really need to try and stay calm about things like “piracy” because it distracts us from our real problems, like bad deals from mega-corporations and writing as prolifically as Stephen King. We don’t need a “Please Don’t Pirate My Book” day. We never have.

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