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January 23, 2004

Good Night, Captain

Bob KeeshanMister Green Jeans. Mister Moose. Bunny Rabbit. Miss Frog. Slim Goodbody. Dennis the Apprentice. Grandfather Clock. Picture Pages. Miss Worm. Mister Bainter the Painter. The Professor. Ping Pong Balls. Carrots. The Treasure House. The Captain's Place. Dancing Bear. Picture Pages. Mr. Baxter the Math Teacher. Debbie. The Toothbrush Family. Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.

These are touchstones to a time on television when a major network could allow for gentleness, goodness, and warmth without panicking or selling toys. This was an era of thirty straight years, when a show for preschool children could rule the morning, and the most important lessons it taught were about reading and wonder. This was a time when we had a friend, and his name was Captain Kangaroo.

Bob Keeshan brought the Captain to life, as part of a rich legacy of characters and children's television which he truly pioneered. How much of a pioneer was he? Bob Keeshan was a member of the first nationwide true television program for children, Howdy Doody, starting all the way back in 1947. In fact, he was the silent clown Clarabell, who honked a horn to communicate. He disliked Howdy Doody's frenetic style, however, and pushed for a gentler kind of children's show -- one where kids would find learning a source of delight and wonder. One that didn't pander to kids and didn't preach to them. And against all odds, he found it with Captain Kangaroo. At one point even after the start of Captain Kangaroo he created Mr. Mayor, for Saturday mornings. After the end of Captain Kangaroo, he went on to continue promoting reading with CBS Storybreak. He promoted musical education for children, releasing albums that would introduce kids to jazz and classical music. He used to tour with Pops orchestras, drawing children to come out and see him introduce classical works, and inculcate a love of music in them. In a world where so many media figures fought to promote themselves or their sponsors, Bob Keeshan promoted children.

Captain KangarooMost famously of all, he promoted reading. On every episode of Captain Kangaroo he read a book, his voice comforting and lulling, even as he provided the sound effects for sirens or cars or cows or what have you. And what books they were. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. Caps for Sale. Make Way for Ducklings. So many, many more. Books that told a story and usually had engaging pictures, but also encouraged thought... and encouraged a love of reading. Captain Kangaroo didn't have to convince us books were special -- he made them special. He believed it, and he passed that belief onto us.

The sketches were funny. The puppets were allowed to trick the Captain, who was generally the butt of the jokes. Bunny Rabbit found a way to get carrots from the Captain. Mr. Moose found a way to get the Captain to say 'Ping Pong balls,' and drop a load of balls on the Captain's head, time and time again. Nickelodeon might have refined the art of dumping disgusting things on actors, but the Captain pioneered the art and didn't even need gooey slime to do it.

Bob Keeshan died last Friday. He was 76 years old. He hadn't been on television for several years. Back in 1985, CBS decided that they wanted to compete with the Today Show and Good Morning America, and so they cancelled Captain Kangaroo while Keeshan was in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack. This had been after several years of changing what time he was on and reducing the length of his show, all for the news. Saturday Night Live satirized the moment perfectly, running a sketch where the Captain and Tom Snyder -- recently thrown out of his traditional timeslot for a then-once-failed David letterman -- were forced to work for Ted Turner. The Captain (in the sketch) told the story, Captain Kangaroo style, of his being a beloved figure to children, an icon of America, and then he had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital -- rrrrrRRRRrrrraaaaaaaaarrrrrr -- and while he had tubes in him and was trying to get better, 'some sleazeball from the network' showed up and told him he was fired because they wanted more time for the news.

Captain KangarooKeeshan would never have said such a thing in public, of course, though of course SNL was right. That many, many different iterations of the CBS Morning News/CBS This Morning/The Early Show have all failed in their time slot, over and over again seems to highlight the sheer hubris of cancelling the distinctive, beautiful, gentle children's program. Keeshan brought his program to PBS for a time, then retired after Hugh 'Lumpy' Brannum, who played Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Bainter the Painter and so many others passed away. In later years, he worked to return to television as the character he embodied, but he didn't own the rights, so "The All New Captain Kangaroo" didn't include the one person who made it all work, and failed. (From all accounts, this new Captain Kangaroo sacrificed honesty and wonder for political correctness and talking down to the children -- things Keeshan never did nor would do.) However, he kept busy. He wrote children's books of his own. He helped produce videos of the Captain and of other worthy subject. He was an advocate for children's issues and for children's right. He was an advocate for the control of advertising to children and controlling tobacco advertising. In a world where children's performers were often disgruntled actors who yearned to 'make it' and escape their signature roles, Bob Keeshan walked the walk. He was the real deal.

It's sad. We all know that. And we're going to miss him terribly. We know that too.

But as with Mr. Rogers last year -- a man who was Bob Keeshan's close friend -- we know that we carry the Captain with us where we go. He is a part of who we are. He is a friend. And, so long as we remember him, he will be there, ready to set sail or perform some magic or introduce a cartoon where dreams come true with the scribbling of chalk.

Good night, Captain.

Good Night, Captain

Bob KeeshanMister Green Jeans. Mister Moose. Bunny Rabbit. Miss Frog. Slim Goodbody. Dennis the Apprentice. Grandfather Clock. Picture Pages. Miss Worm. Mister Bainter the Painter. The Professor. Ping Pong Balls. Carrots. The Treasure House. The Captain's Place. Dancing Bear. Picture Pages. Mr. Baxter the Math Teacher. Debbie. The Toothbrush Family. Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.

These are touchstones to a time on television when a major network could allow for gentleness, goodness, and warmth without panicking or selling toys. This was an era of thirty straight years, when a show for preschool children could rule the morning, and the most important lessons it taught were about reading and wonder. This was a time when we had a friend, and his name was Captain Kangaroo.

Bob Keeshan brought the Captain to life, as part of a rich legacy of characters and children's television which he truly pioneered. How much of a pioneer was he? Bob Keeshan was a member of the first nationwide true television program for children, Howdy Doody, starting all the way back in 1947. In fact, he was the silent clown Clarabell, who honked a horn to communicate. He disliked Howdy Doody's frenetic style, however, and pushed for a gentler kind of children's show -- one where kids would find learning a source of delight and wonder. One that didn't pander to kids and didn't preach to them. And against all odds, he found it with Captain Kangaroo. At one point even after the start of Captain Kangaroo he created Mr. Mayor, for Saturday mornings. After the end of Captain Kangaroo, he went on to continue promoting reading with CBS Storybreak. He promoted musical education for children, releasing albums that would introduce kids to jazz and classical music. He used to tour with Pops orchestras, drawing children to come out and see him introduce classical works, and inculcate a love of music in them. In a world where so many media figures fought to promote themselves or their sponsors, Bob Keeshan promoted children.

Captain KangarooMost famously of all, he promoted reading. On every episode of Captain Kangaroo he read a book, his voice comforting and lulling, even as he provided the sound effects for sirens or cars or cows or what have you. And what books they were. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. Caps for Sale. Make Way for Ducklings. So many, many more. Books that told a story and usually had engaging pictures, but also encouraged thought... and encouraged a love of reading. Captain Kangaroo didn't have to convince us books were special -- he made them special. He believed it, and he passed that belief onto us.

The sketches were funny. The puppets were allowed to trick the Captain, who was generally the butt of the jokes. Bunny Rabbit found a way to get carrots from the Captain. Mr. Moose found a way to get the Captain to say 'Ping Pong balls,' and drop a load of balls on the Captain's head, time and time again. Nickelodeon might have refined the art of dumping disgusting things on actors, but the Captain pioneered the art and didn't even need gooey slime to do it.

Bob Keeshan died last Friday. He was 76 years old. He hadn't been on television for several years. Back in 1985, CBS decided that they wanted to compete with the Today Show and Good Morning America, and so they cancelled Captain Kangaroo while Keeshan was in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack. This had been after several years of changing what time he was on and reducing the length of his show, all for the news. Saturday Night Live satirized the moment perfectly, running a sketch where the Captain and Tom Snyder -- recently thrown out of his traditional timeslot for a then-once-failed David letterman -- were forced to work for Ted Turner. The Captain (in the sketch) told the story, Captain Kangaroo style, of his being a beloved figure to children, an icon of America, and then he had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital -- rrrrrRRRRrrrraaaaaaaaarrrrrr -- and while he had tubes in him and was trying to get better, 'some sleazeball from the network' showed up and told him he was fired because they wanted more time for the news.

Captain KangarooKeeshan would never have said such a thing in public, of course, though of course SNL was right. That many, many different iterations of the CBS Morning News/CBS This Morning/The Early Show have all failed in their time slot, over and over again seems to highlight the sheer hubris of cancelling the distinctive, beautiful, gentle children's program. Keeshan brought his program to PBS for a time, then retired after Hugh 'Lumpy' Brannum, who played Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Bainter the Painter and so many others passed away. In later years, he worked to return to television as the character he embodied, but he didn't own the rights, so "The All New Captain Kangaroo" didn't include the one person who made it all work, and failed. (From all accounts, this new Captain Kangaroo sacrificed honesty and wonder for political correctness and talking down to the children -- things Keeshan never did nor would do.) However, he kept busy. He wrote children's books of his own. He helped produce videos of the Captain and of other worthy subject. He was an advocate for children's issues and for children's right. He was an advocate for the control of advertising to children and controlling tobacco advertising. In a world where children's performers were often disgruntled actors who yearned to 'make it' and escape their signature roles, Bob Keeshan walked the walk. He was the real deal.

It's sad. We all know that. And we're going to miss him terribly. We know that too.

But as with Mr. Rogers last year -- a man who was Bob Keeshan's close friend -- we know that we carry the Captain with us where we go. He is a part of who we are. He is a friend. And, so long as we remember him, he will be there, ready to set sail or perform some magic or introduce a cartoon where dreams come true with the scribbling of chalk.

Good night, Captain.

Good Night, Captain

Bob KeeshanMister Green Jeans. Mister Moose. Bunny Rabbit. Miss Frog. Slim Goodbody. Dennis the Apprentice. Grandfather Clock. Picture Pages. Miss Worm. Mister Bainter the Painter. The Professor. Ping Pong Balls. Carrots. The Treasure House. The Captain's Place. Dancing Bear. Picture Pages. Mr. Baxter the Math Teacher. Debbie. The Toothbrush Family. Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.

These are touchstones to a time on television when a major network could allow for gentleness, goodness, and warmth without panicking or selling toys. This was an era of thirty straight years, when a show for preschool children could rule the morning, and the most important lessons it taught were about reading and wonder. This was a time when we had a friend, and his name was Captain Kangaroo.

Bob Keeshan brought the Captain to life, as part of a rich legacy of characters and children's television which he truly pioneered. How much of a pioneer was he? Bob Keeshan was a member of the first nationwide true television program for children, Howdy Doody, starting all the way back in 1947. In fact, he was the silent clown Clarabell, who honked a horn to communicate. He disliked Howdy Doody's frenetic style, however, and pushed for a gentler kind of children's show -- one where kids would find learning a source of delight and wonder. One that didn't pander to kids and didn't preach to them. And against all odds, he found it with Captain Kangaroo. At one point even after the start of Captain Kangaroo he created Mr. Mayor, for Saturday mornings. After the end of Captain Kangaroo, he went on to continue promoting reading with CBS Storybreak. He promoted musical education for children, releasing albums that would introduce kids to jazz and classical music. He used to tour with Pops orchestras, drawing children to come out and see him introduce classical works, and inculcate a love of music in them. In a world where so many media figures fought to promote themselves or their sponsors, Bob Keeshan promoted children.

Captain KangarooMost famously of all, he promoted reading. On every episode of Captain Kangaroo he read a book, his voice comforting and lulling, even as he provided the sound effects for sirens or cars or cows or what have you. And what books they were. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. Caps for Sale. Make Way for Ducklings. So many, many more. Books that told a story and usually had engaging pictures, but also encouraged thought... and encouraged a love of reading. Captain Kangaroo didn't have to convince us books were special -- he made them special. He believed it, and he passed that belief onto us.

The sketches were funny. The puppets were allowed to trick the Captain, who was generally the butt of the jokes. Bunny Rabbit found a way to get carrots from the Captain. Mr. Moose found a way to get the Captain to say 'Ping Pong balls,' and drop a load of balls on the Captain's head, time and time again. Nickelodeon might have refined the art of dumping disgusting things on actors, but the Captain pioneered the art and didn't even need gooey slime to do it.

Bob Keeshan died last Friday. He was 76 years old. He hadn't been on television for several years. Back in 1985, CBS decided that they wanted to compete with the Today Show and Good Morning America, and so they cancelled Captain Kangaroo while Keeshan was in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack. This had been after several years of changing what time he was on and reducing the length of his show, all for the news. Saturday Night Live satirized the moment perfectly, running a sketch where the Captain and Tom Snyder -- recently thrown out of his traditional timeslot for a then-once-failed David letterman -- were forced to work for Ted Turner. The Captain (in the sketch) told the story, Captain Kangaroo style, of his being a beloved figure to children, an icon of America, and then he had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital -- rrrrrRRRRrrrraaaaaaaaarrrrrr -- and while he had tubes in him and was trying to get better, 'some sleazeball from the network' showed up and told him he was fired because they wanted more time for the news.

Captain KangarooKeeshan would never have said such a thing in public, of course, though of course SNL was right. That many, many different iterations of the CBS Morning News/CBS This Morning/The Early Show have all failed in their time slot, over and over again seems to highlight the sheer hubris of cancelling the distinctive, beautiful, gentle children's program. Keeshan brought his program to PBS for a time, then retired after Hugh 'Lumpy' Brannum, who played Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Bainter the Painter and so many others passed away. In later years, he worked to return to television as the character he embodied, but he didn't own the rights, so "The All New Captain Kangaroo" didn't include the one person who made it all work, and failed. (From all accounts, this new Captain Kangaroo sacrificed honesty and wonder for political correctness and talking down to the children -- things Keeshan never did nor would do.) However, he kept busy. He wrote children's books of his own. He helped produce videos of the Captain and of other worthy subject. He was an advocate for children's issues and for children's right. He was an advocate for the control of advertising to children and controlling tobacco advertising. In a world where children's performers were often disgruntled actors who yearned to 'make it' and escape their signature roles, Bob Keeshan walked the walk. He was the real deal.

It's sad. We all know that. And we're going to miss him terribly. We know that too.

But as with Mr. Rogers last year -- a man who was Bob Keeshan's close friend -- we know that we carry the Captain with us where we go. He is a part of who we are. He is a friend. And, so long as we remember him, he will be there, ready to set sail or perform some magic or introduce a cartoon where dreams come true with the scribbling of chalk.

Good night, Captain.

January 22, 2004

The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker

I used to say that I was culinarily impaired. "I need special ramps to use the toaster," I would say. That would get a chuckle, and then I'd tell the regretfully true story of how once I toasted a plate, while leaving the bread on the kitchen counter. This was when I was a teenager. The counter was orange. The plate was quite small. It was four in the morning, so perhaps there is some slack that can be had.

I don't tell those stories now. Instead, I have begun, slowly, to learn the arts arcane. The alchemy of the kitchen is rich and warm, and raw foods combine to make the most remarkable creations. Set free by the wild magic of approximation and experimentation, any two edible things can together make something new. New and often better than the components.


Last night I prepared for tonight's dinner. As with all good spells, it began with a cauldron. This one was black and ceramic, however, fitting in a metal sheath with a low and high setting. Crock. Pot. One fits within the other. Its scientific name is 'slow cooker,' but no matter what magicks I learn from Alton Brown and no matter what scientific names he ascribes to it, cooking is not science. Perhaps one day, for me, it will be art, but for now it is a craft. It is construction paper cut apart and pasted together with Elmer's, for my own pleasure. If I do it well, my mother may hang it on the refrigerator.

This is my best alchemy. It starts with chuck roast, steak cut so the muscle fibers are short. But that sits in the fridge. I need it to begin, but it is the last to be added to the slow cauldron.

Onion is first. It would be best to have fresh, they say, but onion's purpose in this pot is to change and almost vanish, to impart flavor to the broth and become texture without form. To make the parts that aren't meat all the grander. So I take the frozen chopped and slide some in. White crystal chunks of onion spread out over the black ceramic of the pot's bottom.

The first is potato. I have potatoes now. Real ones, that wait for peeling. But this was late and I was not prepared to play with knives, no matter how grand my Christmas knives are. So out come cans. A can of whole potatoes that turns out to have two tiny potatoes and one giant one, so I drain and dump within and, with freshly washed hands, I reach down and break the large one apart. Chunks of potato in my hands. I then add a second can, this time sliced, and there is potato enough. I do not need to touch the sliced potato with my hand.

I have carrots too, sitting in the bottom of my fridge, but pot roast is not a time for slicing. Tonight, when the dregs of one meal becomes the base of another, I will slice fresh potato and fresh carrot and add them, but for today, another can gives up orange goodness, mixing with the white of onion and the gold of potato. A blend of colors.

And then comes spice.


The modern alchemist has his own tools and accoutrements. Gone are the days of beaker and crucible, for the most part. Only the most arcane and well rounded enchanters use mortar and pestle. And for all too many, the open flame is disposed of in lieu of the glowing red electrical coil or the microwave.

The microwave itself is a wonderful, terrible device. It allows for the heating of food made elsewhere, the application of heat without cooking. For years, I 'cooked' with it, a panorama of premade meals and prepared things. The closest I came to cooking was pasta, and that rarely.

Then, I started making what I termed "Bachelor Casseroles." I learned a good method of making rice in the microwave, then added frozen vegetables, sometimes some kind of meat and some kind of sauce base -- golden cream of mushroom soup being the traditional -- mixed and microwaved again until hot. If there was cheese to be had, it would top it to make a crust. Not as good as a baked casserole, perhaps, but a casserole nonetheless, and with appropriate Mrs. Dash or Garlic or other simple spicing, something cooked. Something made. Something which, by virtue of its very randomness had never existed before in quite that form.

Then came the George Foreman Grill. This is a sandwich style grill, heating top and bottom at once, as no doubt you know. And sandwiches was its first result, of course. It took roast beef or turkey and cheese and vegetable and resulted in panini, the bread grilled flat and the foods combined. And the fear and surety of my non-cooking ability began to fade.

Then came the steamer. The steamer which turned eggs into perfectly hard cooked eggs, made a different quality of rice than the microwave, made vegetables glorious.

And then the Crock Pot. The Slow Cooker. Magical thing, that took ingredients and, unattended, made glorious things from them. And then I was cooking not just pot roast but stews and soups and dishes. Now I was truly cooking. Now the craft came easy, and fear was banished. Even a failed beef stew did not ruin it for me.

And make no doubt, I was learning new arts. Alton Brown and cooking shows and books and experimentation began to teach me the black sorcery of the kitchen. Oh, I was a hedge wizard at best, unsuitable for court and perhaps not able to call down rain, but I was learning which spices to use when, and what herbs were best on what vegetables, and how to coax what I wanted from my tools and -- if need be -- from my oven or stove.

Most recently, George Foreman brought his Rotisserie into my home. Now comes simple oven roasting. I am still learning this magic, but it goes well. Pork is now a glorious thing, and I have seen the black spice glaze of roast beef form before my eyes.

There are other tools -- a juicer, a bread maker, a cuisinart -- but these see little use, comparatively. For now. Given time, who can tell how often I might use this.

In the meantime, we have gained utensils. Good knives. A zester. A peeler. Spoons and ladles.

Slowly we learn.


For the spicing, I chose a bold blend. Old Bay, unknown to me until now but as familiar to Alton Brown as his beloved Kosher salt, made its first appearance. A pinch of said kosher salt -- a pinch more than my mother would use, but hardly much added sodium. Black pepper. Garlic powder. All over the potatoes and carrots and onions.

Then, the liquid. I usually use broth, but today beef consommé takes its place. A can of Campbell's, and then a can of water.

And then the meat comes out, and out of its package. It is deep red, somewhat marbled but not too badly. With this cut of meat, it looks almost like a too-thick steak, and perhaps that is apropos.

I start with the kosher salt again. Just the tiniest bit. Kosher salt is thick -- flakes and chunks, rather than grains -- and settles across the meat visibly. It is visceral. Then, I dust with garlic powder, then Old Bay, then Black Pepper. The same blend as before.

My hands freshly washed, I press the spice into the meat. Perhaps this is silly, but perhaps not. It connects me to the meat, to the food. I am part of this process. I am part of the cooking.

And then the meat is turned over, and the spicing is repeated. Both sides needed. Balance must be achieved. Both sides rubbed.

I lay the meat across the spiced vegetables and consommé, sitting atop it all. I add the lid, and lift the crock out of the pot, putting it in the fridge where it will lie in wait. I wash my hands of spice, and set a timer to remind me of dinner in the morning. I let it sit. I walk away.

Comes the dawn, just before seven, the timer will go off. At 6:58 I will lift the crock out, and set it in its chrome enclosure. I will turn the dial to 'low,' and I will again walk away. The magic, prepared hours before, will begin to flow. The alchemy will begin to occur.

By 7:40 the meat has changed color, and steam has collected on the top of the heavy glass lid. I leave it to work. All the day long, it will change and alter and percolate and cook. All the day long, it will become. And when I return home, sometime after five, its smell will have filled the apartment and the transformation will be near to complete. I will sit and chat with my cat, and then I will eat. Good food, made from base components. Hot and tasty and wholly unlike any other pot roast that came before or will come since. Gold from lead. Health from cans and packages.

Food.

I am no chef, but I can cook. I am no artist, but I have craft.

The remaining juices and consomme, blended together in the pot after I have eaten and packaged the leftover pot roast, will become the stock for beef stew. This will be where fresh carrots and potatoes are added, along with yet more frozen onions and some other frozen vegetables. This is where stew meat and flour will come to thicken and hearten. Thyme and cumin and basil and onion powder will join the spices already within. From this, food. Days worth of pot roast, days worth of stew.

And then? I have a yen to make Beef Bourgogne. I have all the ingredients. I have rice to serve it over, and two ways to cook it, not counting the stove.

Magic.

The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker

I used to say that I was culinarily impaired. "I need special ramps to use the toaster," I would say. That would get a chuckle, and then I'd tell the regretfully true story of how once I toasted a plate, while leaving the bread on the kitchen counter. This was when I was a teenager. The counter was orange. The plate was quite small. It was four in the morning, so perhaps there is some slack that can be had.

I don't tell those stories now. Instead, I have begun, slowly, to learn the arts arcane. The alchemy of the kitchen is rich and warm, and raw foods combine to make the most remarkable creations. Set free by the wild magic of approximation and experimentation, any two edible things can together make something new. New and often better than the components.


Last night I prepared for tonight's dinner. As with all good spells, it began with a cauldron. This one was black and ceramic, however, fitting in a metal sheath with a low and high setting. Crock. Pot. One fits within the other. Its scientific name is 'slow cooker,' but no matter what magicks I learn from Alton Brown and no matter what scientific names he ascribes to it, cooking is not science. Perhaps one day, for me, it will be art, but for now it is a craft. It is construction paper cut apart and pasted together with Elmer's, for my own pleasure. If I do it well, my mother may hang it on the refrigerator.

This is my best alchemy. It starts with chuck roast, steak cut so the muscle fibers are short. But that sits in the fridge. I need it to begin, but it is the last to be added to the slow cauldron.

Onion is first. It would be best to have fresh, they say, but onion's purpose in this pot is to change and almost vanish, to impart flavor to the broth and become texture without form. To make the parts that aren't meat all the grander. So I take the frozen chopped and slide some in. White crystal chunks of onion spread out over the black ceramic of the pot's bottom.

The first is potato. I have potatoes now. Real ones, that wait for peeling. But this was late and I was not prepared to play with knives, no matter how grand my Christmas knives are. So out come cans. A can of whole potatoes that turns out to have two tiny potatoes and one giant one, so I drain and dump within and, with freshly washed hands, I reach down and break the large one apart. Chunks of potato in my hands. I then add a second can, this time sliced, and there is potato enough. I do not need to touch the sliced potato with my hand.

I have carrots too, sitting in the bottom of my fridge, but pot roast is not a time for slicing. Tonight, when the dregs of one meal becomes the base of another, I will slice fresh potato and fresh carrot and add them, but for today, another can gives up orange goodness, mixing with the white of onion and the gold of potato. A blend of colors.

And then comes spice.


The modern alchemist has his own tools and accoutrements. Gone are the days of beaker and crucible, for the most part. Only the most arcane and well rounded enchanters use mortar and pestle. And for all too many, the open flame is disposed of in lieu of the glowing red electrical coil or the microwave.

The microwave itself is a wonderful, terrible device. It allows for the heating of food made elsewhere, the application of heat without cooking. For years, I 'cooked' with it, a panorama of premade meals and prepared things. The closest I came to cooking was pasta, and that rarely.

Then, I started making what I termed "Bachelor Casseroles." I learned a good method of making rice in the microwave, then added frozen vegetables, sometimes some kind of meat and some kind of sauce base -- golden cream of mushroom soup being the traditional -- mixed and microwaved again until hot. If there was cheese to be had, it would top it to make a crust. Not as good as a baked casserole, perhaps, but a casserole nonetheless, and with appropriate Mrs. Dash or Garlic or other simple spicing, something cooked. Something made. Something which, by virtue of its very randomness had never existed before in quite that form.

Then came the George Foreman Grill. This is a sandwich style grill, heating top and bottom at once, as no doubt you know. And sandwiches was its first result, of course. It took roast beef or turkey and cheese and vegetable and resulted in panini, the bread grilled flat and the foods combined. And the fear and surety of my non-cooking ability began to fade.

Then came the steamer. The steamer which turned eggs into perfectly hard cooked eggs, made a different quality of rice than the microwave, made vegetables glorious.

And then the Crock Pot. The Slow Cooker. Magical thing, that took ingredients and, unattended, made glorious things from them. And then I was cooking not just pot roast but stews and soups and dishes. Now I was truly cooking. Now the craft came easy, and fear was banished. Even a failed beef stew did not ruin it for me.

And make no doubt, I was learning new arts. Alton Brown and cooking shows and books and experimentation began to teach me the black sorcery of the kitchen. Oh, I was a hedge wizard at best, unsuitable for court and perhaps not able to call down rain, but I was learning which spices to use when, and what herbs were best on what vegetables, and how to coax what I wanted from my tools and -- if need be -- from my oven or stove.

Most recently, George Foreman brought his Rotisserie into my home. Now comes simple oven roasting. I am still learning this magic, but it goes well. Pork is now a glorious thing, and I have seen the black spice glaze of roast beef form before my eyes.

There are other tools -- a juicer, a bread maker, a cuisinart -- but these see little use, comparatively. For now. Given time, who can tell how often I might use this.

In the meantime, we have gained utensils. Good knives. A zester. A peeler. Spoons and ladles.

Slowly we learn.


For the spicing, I chose a bold blend. Old Bay, unknown to me until now but as familiar to Alton Brown as his beloved Kosher salt, made its first appearance. A pinch of said kosher salt -- a pinch more than my mother would use, but hardly much added sodium. Black pepper. Garlic powder. All over the potatoes and carrots and onions.

Then, the liquid. I usually use broth, but today beef consommé takes its place. A can of Campbell's, and then a can of water.

And then the meat comes out, and out of its package. It is deep red, somewhat marbled but not too badly. With this cut of meat, it looks almost like a too-thick steak, and perhaps that is apropos.

I start with the kosher salt again. Just the tiniest bit. Kosher salt is thick -- flakes and chunks, rather than grains -- and settles across the meat visibly. It is visceral. Then, I dust with garlic powder, then Old Bay, then Black Pepper. The same blend as before.

My hands freshly washed, I press the spice into the meat. Perhaps this is silly, but perhaps not. It connects me to the meat, to the food. I am part of this process. I am part of the cooking.

And then the meat is turned over, and the spicing is repeated. Both sides needed. Balance must be achieved. Both sides rubbed.

I lay the meat across the spiced vegetables and consommé, sitting atop it all. I add the lid, and lift the crock out of the pot, putting it in the fridge where it will lie in wait. I wash my hands of spice, and set a timer to remind me of dinner in the morning. I let it sit. I walk away.

Comes the dawn, just before seven, the timer will go off. At 6:58 I will lift the crock out, and set it in its chrome enclosure. I will turn the dial to 'low,' and I will again walk away. The magic, prepared hours before, will begin to flow. The alchemy will begin to occur.

By 7:40 the meat has changed color, and steam has collected on the top of the heavy glass lid. I leave it to work. All the day long, it will change and alter and percolate and cook. All the day long, it will become. And when I return home, sometime after five, its smell will have filled the apartment and the transformation will be near to complete. I will sit and chat with my cat, and then I will eat. Good food, made from base components. Hot and tasty and wholly unlike any other pot roast that came before or will come since. Gold from lead. Health from cans and packages.

Food.

I am no chef, but I can cook. I am no artist, but I have craft.

The remaining juices and consomme, blended together in the pot after I have eaten and packaged the leftover pot roast, will become the stock for beef stew. This will be where fresh carrots and potatoes are added, along with yet more frozen onions and some other frozen vegetables. This is where stew meat and flour will come to thicken and hearten. Thyme and cumin and basil and onion powder will join the spices already within. From this, food. Days worth of pot roast, days worth of stew.

And then? I have a yen to make Beef Bourgogne. I have all the ingredients. I have rice to serve it over, and two ways to cook it, not counting the stove.

Magic.

The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker

I used to say that I was culinarily impaired. "I need special ramps to use the toaster," I would say. That would get a chuckle, and then I'd tell the regretfully true story of how once I toasted a plate, while leaving the bread on the kitchen counter. This was when I was a teenager. The counter was orange. The plate was quite small. It was four in the morning, so perhaps there is some slack that can be had.

I don't tell those stories now. Instead, I have begun, slowly, to learn the arts arcane. The alchemy of the kitchen is rich and warm, and raw foods combine to make the most remarkable creations. Set free by the wild magic of approximation and experimentation, any two edible things can together make something new. New and often better than the components.


Last night I prepared for tonight's dinner. As with all good spells, it began with a cauldron. This one was black and ceramic, however, fitting in a metal sheath with a low and high setting. Crock. Pot. One fits within the other. Its scientific name is 'slow cooker,' but no matter what magicks I learn from Alton Brown and no matter what scientific names he ascribes to it, cooking is not science. Perhaps one day, for me, it will be art, but for now it is a craft. It is construction paper cut apart and pasted together with Elmer's, for my own pleasure. If I do it well, my mother may hang it on the refrigerator.

This is my best alchemy. It starts with chuck roast, steak cut so the muscle fibers are short. But that sits in the fridge. I need it to begin, but it is the last to be added to the slow cauldron.

Onion is first. It would be best to have fresh, they say, but onion's purpose in this pot is to change and almost vanish, to impart flavor to the broth and become texture without form. To make the parts that aren't meat all the grander. So I take the frozen chopped and slide some in. White crystal chunks of onion spread out over the black ceramic of the pot's bottom.

The first is potato. I have potatoes now. Real ones, that wait for peeling. But this was late and I was not prepared to play with knives, no matter how grand my Christmas knives are. So out come cans. A can of whole potatoes that turns out to have two tiny potatoes and one giant one, so I drain and dump within and, with freshly washed hands, I reach down and break the large one apart. Chunks of potato in my hands. I then add a second can, this time sliced, and there is potato enough. I do not need to touch the sliced potato with my hand.

I have carrots too, sitting in the bottom of my fridge, but pot roast is not a time for slicing. Tonight, when the dregs of one meal becomes the base of another, I will slice fresh potato and fresh carrot and add them, but for today, another can gives up orange goodness, mixing with the white of onion and the gold of potato. A blend of colors.

And then comes spice.


The modern alchemist has his own tools and accoutrements. Gone are the days of beaker and crucible, for the most part. Only the most arcane and well rounded enchanters use mortar and pestle. And for all too many, the open flame is disposed of in lieu of the glowing red electrical coil or the microwave.

The microwave itself is a wonderful, terrible device. It allows for the heating of food made elsewhere, the application of heat without cooking. For years, I 'cooked' with it, a panorama of premade meals and prepared things. The closest I came to cooking was pasta, and that rarely.

Then, I started making what I termed "Bachelor Casseroles." I learned a good method of making rice in the microwave, then added frozen vegetables, sometimes some kind of meat and some kind of sauce base -- golden cream of mushroom soup being the traditional -- mixed and microwaved again until hot. If there was cheese to be had, it would top it to make a crust. Not as good as a baked casserole, perhaps, but a casserole nonetheless, and with appropriate Mrs. Dash or Garlic or other simple spicing, something cooked. Something made. Something which, by virtue of its very randomness had never existed before in quite that form.

Then came the George Foreman Grill. This is a sandwich style grill, heating top and bottom at once, as no doubt you know. And sandwiches was its first result, of course. It took roast beef or turkey and cheese and vegetable and resulted in panini, the bread grilled flat and the foods combined. And the fear and surety of my non-cooking ability began to fade.

Then came the steamer. The steamer which turned eggs into perfectly hard cooked eggs, made a different quality of rice than the microwave, made vegetables glorious.

And then the Crock Pot. The Slow Cooker. Magical thing, that took ingredients and, unattended, made glorious things from them. And then I was cooking not just pot roast but stews and soups and dishes. Now I was truly cooking. Now the craft came easy, and fear was banished. Even a failed beef stew did not ruin it for me.

And make no doubt, I was learning new arts. Alton Brown and cooking shows and books and experimentation began to teach me the black sorcery of the kitchen. Oh, I was a hedge wizard at best, unsuitable for court and perhaps not able to call down rain, but I was learning which spices to use when, and what herbs were best on what vegetables, and how to coax what I wanted from my tools and -- if need be -- from my oven or stove.

Most recently, George Foreman brought his Rotisserie into my home. Now comes simple oven roasting. I am still learning this magic, but it goes well. Pork is now a glorious thing, and I have seen the black spice glaze of roast beef form before my eyes.

There are other tools -- a juicer, a bread maker, a cuisinart -- but these see little use, comparatively. For now. Given time, who can tell how often I might use this.

In the meantime, we have gained utensils. Good knives. A zester. A peeler. Spoons and ladles.

Slowly we learn.


For the spicing, I chose a bold blend. Old Bay, unknown to me until now but as familiar to Alton Brown as his beloved Kosher salt, made its first appearance. A pinch of said kosher salt -- a pinch more than my mother would use, but hardly much added sodium. Black pepper. Garlic powder. All over the potatoes and carrots and onions.

Then, the liquid. I usually use broth, but today beef consommé takes its place. A can of Campbell's, and then a can of water.

And then the meat comes out, and out of its package. It is deep red, somewhat marbled but not too badly. With this cut of meat, it looks almost like a too-thick steak, and perhaps that is apropos.

I start with the kosher salt again. Just the tiniest bit. Kosher salt is thick -- flakes and chunks, rather than grains -- and settles across the meat visibly. It is visceral. Then, I dust with garlic powder, then Old Bay, then Black Pepper. The same blend as before.

My hands freshly washed, I press the spice into the meat. Perhaps this is silly, but perhaps not. It connects me to the meat, to the food. I am part of this process. I am part of the cooking.

And then the meat is turned over, and the spicing is repeated. Both sides needed. Balance must be achieved. Both sides rubbed.

I lay the meat across the spiced vegetables and consommé, sitting atop it all. I add the lid, and lift the crock out of the pot, putting it in the fridge where it will lie in wait. I wash my hands of spice, and set a timer to remind me of dinner in the morning. I let it sit. I walk away.

Comes the dawn, just before seven, the timer will go off. At 6:58 I will lift the crock out, and set it in its chrome enclosure. I will turn the dial to 'low,' and I will again walk away. The magic, prepared hours before, will begin to flow. The alchemy will begin to occur.

By 7:40 the meat has changed color, and steam has collected on the top of the heavy glass lid. I leave it to work. All the day long, it will change and alter and percolate and cook. All the day long, it will become. And when I return home, sometime after five, its smell will have filled the apartment and the transformation will be near to complete. I will sit and chat with my cat, and then I will eat. Good food, made from base components. Hot and tasty and wholly unlike any other pot roast that came before or will come since. Gold from lead. Health from cans and packages.

Food.

I am no chef, but I can cook. I am no artist, but I have craft.

The remaining juices and consomme, blended together in the pot after I have eaten and packaged the leftover pot roast, will become the stock for beef stew. This will be where fresh carrots and potatoes are added, along with yet more frozen onions and some other frozen vegetables. This is where stew meat and flour will come to thicken and hearten. Thyme and cumin and basil and onion powder will join the spices already within. From this, food. Days worth of pot roast, days worth of stew.

And then? I have a yen to make Beef Bourgogne. I have all the ingredients. I have rice to serve it over, and two ways to cook it, not counting the stove.

Magic.

January 11, 2004

Confessions of a Liberal Heinlein Fan: Worldbuilding and Utopia

My friend Bruce pointed me to a discussion he thought I'd be interested in. (He thought that, by the way, because he is right. He is often right when it comes to what I'm interested in.) Later, I also found that discussion referenced on Boing Boing, which, besides being one of the online homes of Cory Doctorow contains tons of links to cool things.

The discussion in question was on Electrolite, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog, and contains many extremely interesting layers of discussion around the common themes of Robert Heinlein, Heinlein's 'new' book For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, and John Clute's Excessive Candour column reviewing For Us, The Living. The discussion is fascinating because of the sheer plethora of authorities contributing to it. Scientists, futurists, fans, literary critics -- there's something of everything in it, and the content of the discussion is unusually high for the web.

Which isn't really what I'm going to talk about here. Though interestingly enough, I'd already seen the Clute review. In fact, the Clute interview was what told me the book was now available. I knew the book was going to be published, because I'm a member of The Heinlein Society. Somehow, however, I'd missed the publication announcement, so it came as a surprise to find a post-publication review.

I was home in Maine when this happened, over Christmas break. This was a wonderful time, mind, and my first real vacation in a very long time. I was relaxed, going through electronic things, chatting with my folks, hanging out with my cat (Sarah) and their two dogs (Buddy and Teddy). And I found the review in question, and read it.

I imagine it was pretty startling both for parents and animals when I started bouncing on the couch going "EEEEEEEE!"


They say that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12. I think it may have been a couple of years before that for me. But, I can remember it very clearly -- the moment when I became an SF fan. And it involved Robert Heinlein.

We were in New York City. We did that a couple of times when I was growing up. And we were in a bookstore. I'm certain it was a bookstore and not some kind of game store. Besides, this was before I got into gaming. Before Dungeons and Dragons and all the rest. But I remember clearly walking through the bookstore and looking at different things, and I remember turning and seeing a game.

It was purple and blue and lurid red, and golden armored men were in the process of falling from the sky. Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers it declared itself. Man vs. Monster. Interstellar Warfare in the Twenty-Second Century.

I was in love. I don't know why. I don't know why my father decided to buy it when I asked, either, but he did. And he even played it with me a couple of times. Looking back, I'm a little surprised we ever played it at all. It was a pretty complicated wargame for someone as young as I was.

But even if I rarely played it, I read through the rules over and over again. Especially the rules on the different scenarios. Especially the 'in character' descriptions of those scenarios. I loved them. I loved the descriptions of Rasczak's Roughnecks and the tremendous esprit de corps of the Mobile Infantry.

And then I found out there was a book. I don't even know how. But I bought it. And read it. Many, many times. Most recently I reread it last May, actually.

From there, I worked my way through every Heinlein novel. Every one of them. I anxiously awaited any new one. I bought books by writers Heinlein referenced, eagerly. From there I bought other SF books. I bought Fantasy novels. I read glorious works and crap, alike.

But always I read Heinlein.

He shaped my early political and sociological opinions. This meant I went through the Libertarian phase almost every Heinlein fan passes through (and a good number never come out of, and there's nothing wrong with that). It also meant that my concepts of personal honor, of liberty coupled with responsibility, of duty, of sin and of love were shaped in part by Heinlein's writings. As I later entered a moderate and then liberal phase of my thoughts, I still found much of who I was shaped by Heinlein and his own evolving beliefs.

I was in the theater alone (one of the rare times I went to a movie by myself) to see Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. I went with my friend Russ to see Starship Troopers, and had a great B movie time while decrying the loss of opportunity to make an actual movie out of the book. I know where I was when I heard (on NPR) that Heinlein had died. I remember that moment like the generations before mine remember where they heard that Kennedy was dead.

After his death, I bought each 'new' book as it came out. I bought Grumbles from the Grave and devoured it. I bought and cherished Tramp Royale. I read Requiem and cried at the parts that all the other fans cried at. I bought the "uncut" Stranger in a Strange Land. I bought the 'sad ending' Podkayne of Mars.

When I was at Baycon last year, I went to some of the Heinlein panels, and discovered that regardless of my current ethos, Heinlein's children are my people, and I'm proud to be among them. I joined the Heinlein Society after that convention, and discovered I still had plenty to learn about a man whose writing I can now put into a proper perspective -- but which will always have tremendous personal significance to me.

Imagine what it is like, for one of Heinlein's children to learn that an unpublished manuscript had been found. Imagine what it is like to learn that a Heinlein novel -- in fact, his lost first novel -- had been found. And then to learn that apparently when he wasn't looking, that book had been published.

Tremendous.


I called ahead to Borders. They had one copy left. Sales, I was told, had been brisk. I asked them to hold it.

My parents and I drove down. I got the book, along with Cory Doctorow's short story collection and the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel. I started reading on the way home.

By the time my vacation was over, I'd read the new Heinlein twice, straight through.


Clute's review of For Us, The Living is excellent. He has a truly valuable understanding of what this book is and what it isn't. And as much as I loved the book, I do understand what it isn't.

For example, it's not a novel. It's barely a story. But more on that in a bit.

Clute also recognizes the value of Dr. Robert James's afterward. Dr. James is an excellent scholar and researcher -- and clearly a very cool person. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Baycon, and am hopeful he'll be at Arisia in a couple of weeks. Clute is less charitable toward Spider Robinson's introduction, and I admit Spider does come across as a little silly. But, I'm inclined to cut him a lot of slack -- during a period when the SF establishment couldn't find anything good to say about Heinlein (an attitude which is fading but still clings here and there) Robinson went loudly and on the record in support of the Dean of Science Fiction. And may have had his career suffer as a result. As a result, he gets to be as silly as he likes, for my money.

(All right, I think the idea that somehow Virginia Heinlein's influence on her husband extends clearly into this work, written several years before they'd even met while he was married to a different woman entirely, is as silly as Harold Bloom's contention that Shakespeare influenced Chaucer. Still, having written an unapologetically sappy reunion story after Mrs. Heinlein passed on, I'm not about to cast stones at Mr. Robinson's reverence for the lady.)

Clute goes on to discuss the remarkable points of the work -- particularly Heinlein's advocacy of liberal issues and attitudes, born of his reverence of the time with Upton Sinclair, who he knew and under whose theories Heinlein ran for public office (unsuccessfully) -- in great detail. And certainly, those who have decided Heinlein was an ultraconservative will be more than a little surprised by his love of fiat money, social credit and government control in this story. However, before one decides Heinlein's views were wholly different later they need to see all the myriad ways his most famous opinions are echoed in this first major work. Most significantly, Heinlein's lifelong commitment to personal privacy is echoed in the constitution of his Utopia:

Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.

That paragraph would fit in perfectly in works from Beyond this Horizon through Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all the way up to To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Heinlein may have been a fiat money advocate in For Us, the Living and a hard currency advocate in Time Enough for Love, but the banking conversation Lazarus Long has in Time Enough's "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" finds its roots in the extensive economics lessons in For Us, the Living. Heinlein's advocacy of homosexual rights, womens' rights, and racial rights can be found in For Us, the Living and are echoed throughout the rest of his work. And as Liberal as Heinlein seems to be in For Us, the Living, he still clearly sees the military as both honorable and necessary. And even the service-franchise of Starship Troopers is presaged in a Constitutional amendment in For Us, the Living: in this future time, any time the United States Congress or the President wants to go to war without the United States first being attacked, a referendum is called -- and only those people eligible to be drafted for that war are allowed to vote. If the vote carries, those who voted for the war are the first to be conscripted into service, the very next day, automatically. The next group pulled into service are those eligible soldiers who didn't vote. Those who opposed the war are called up last.

(Don't you wonder how the last two years would have been different if the Invasion of Iraq had to be voted on and approved by those required to register for Selective Service before it could have begun? Heaven knows I do.)

It's a fascinating view of Heinlein's work, and made all the more fascinating by the hints of Heinlein's later content. Quite apart from the political and economic themes, echoes of Heinlein's future writing appear again and again. Elements that would appear in the Future History, in Beyond this Horizon, in "If This Goes On..." and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, in Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice and many, many other stories -- right down to some of the conflicts in The Number of the Beast and To Sail Beyond the Sunset appear in this book. Clute and Robinson and James alike note these elements and similarities.

And also note that as a novel, it's not much of a novel. It doesn't have much plot. Its story elements are, in Robinson's words, a sexy but thin negligee the book wants you to tear off, so that it can seduce you with its long essays on Utopia. And make no mistake -- this is a Utopic Work. This is more an essay than anything else, they say. They even point out Heinlein's use of footnotes (rather pretentiously attributed to "the Author" but clearly written from within the fourth wall, not through it.)

They're right about this not really being a novel. But they're wrong about it being an essay, really.

I recognize this form, you see. And I'll bet everyone else in my own profession does too.

This isn't a novel, and this isn't an essay. This is Heinlein's notebook for his Role Playing Game and campaign.

I'm quite serious. I've seen this any number of times. Hell, I've written it more than once. The same way my 2nd Edition AD&D game 'house rules' broke 200,000 words and had 230 footnotes, this is an extended work of Worldbuilding on Heinlein's part. He puts in huge pieces about how they got there, he follows them up with all the ways this world is different than we might expect, and despite a token effort, there's really no conflict to be found anywhere within. At the end of the book I expected to find hyperlinks to his game logs and to system mechanics.

Naturally, Heinlein wasn't a roleplayer, but the RPG Worldbuilder's phenomenon is also the budding SF writer's Worldbuilder's phenomenon. Before anyone can become a writer, they have to learn a core lesson -- setting is not story, and no matter how fascinating your fictional world is, until you put real people into it and give them problems, no one's going to care. Eventually, writers evolve out of the habit and, if they're smart, mine the huge backstory they've so painstakingly worked out (believing they're preparing to write, but really doing it for their own sake) and use it where appropriate for their later works.

As Heinlein himself does, it's worth noting. His decline and fall of the United States into Theocracy under Nehemiah Scudder, the fate of a United Europe that descends into 40 Years War (and predicts the European Union pretty amazingly, in ways), the rolling roads, the Crazy Years, Coventry and its rules, the essential "An it harm none, do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" nature of the Constitution, the Privacy Customs, the pneumatic tube internet... all of these things, mutated and changed somewhat, found their way into later Heinlein works, almost always as elements of backstory instead of the lead element.

The book's tone reminds me the most of Beyond this Horizon, all told. And anyone who enjoyed that book will enjoy this one. Anyone who read more than a couple of Heinleins will also enjoy this, and if you read more than five Heinleins this book approaches a must-buy, sheerly for the insight into the development as Heinlein, the writer. As a standalone work, it's weak, and as a Utopia it's passable. But no matter what this does to my New Critic credentials, the value of For Us, The Living is contextual, and from that standpoint this work couldn't be more important.

Hey, I read it through twice in three days. And I'm going to read it again. What more do I need to say?

Confessions of a Liberal Heinlein Fan: Worldbuilding and Utopia

My friend Bruce pointed me to a discussion he thought I'd be interested in. (He thought that, by the way, because he is right. He is often right when it comes to what I'm interested in.) Later, I also found that discussion referenced on Boing Boing, which, besides being one of the online homes of Cory Doctorow contains tons of links to cool things.

The discussion in question was on Electrolite, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog, and contains many extremely interesting layers of discussion around the common themes of Robert Heinlein, Heinlein's 'new' book For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, and John Clute's Excessive Candour column reviewing For Us, The Living. The discussion is fascinating because of the sheer plethora of authorities contributing to it. Scientists, futurists, fans, literary critics -- there's something of everything in it, and the content of the discussion is unusually high for the web.

Which isn't really what I'm going to talk about here. Though interestingly enough, I'd already seen the Clute review. In fact, the Clute interview was what told me the book was now available. I knew the book was going to be published, because I'm a member of The Heinlein Society. Somehow, however, I'd missed the publication announcement, so it came as a surprise to find a post-publication review.

I was home in Maine when this happened, over Christmas break. This was a wonderful time, mind, and my first real vacation in a very long time. I was relaxed, going through electronic things, chatting with my folks, hanging out with my cat (Sarah) and their two dogs (Buddy and Teddy). And I found the review in question, and read it.

I imagine it was pretty startling both for parents and animals when I started bouncing on the couch going "EEEEEEEE!"


They say that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12. I think it may have been a couple of years before that for me. But, I can remember it very clearly -- the moment when I became an SF fan. And it involved Robert Heinlein.

We were in New York City. We did that a couple of times when I was growing up. And we were in a bookstore. I'm certain it was a bookstore and not some kind of game store. Besides, this was before I got into gaming. Before Dungeons and Dragons and all the rest. But I remember clearly walking through the bookstore and looking at different things, and I remember turning and seeing a game.

It was purple and blue and lurid red, and golden armored men were in the process of falling from the sky. Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers it declared itself. Man vs. Monster. Interstellar Warfare in the Twenty-Second Century.

I was in love. I don't know why. I don't know why my father decided to buy it when I asked, either, but he did. And he even played it with me a couple of times. Looking back, I'm a little surprised we ever played it at all. It was a pretty complicated wargame for someone as young as I was.

But even if I rarely played it, I read through the rules over and over again. Especially the rules on the different scenarios. Especially the 'in character' descriptions of those scenarios. I loved them. I loved the descriptions of Rasczak's Roughnecks and the tremendous esprit de corps of the Mobile Infantry.

And then I found out there was a book. I don't even know how. But I bought it. And read it. Many, many times. Most recently I reread it last May, actually.

From there, I worked my way through every Heinlein novel. Every one of them. I anxiously awaited any new one. I bought books by writers Heinlein referenced, eagerly. From there I bought other SF books. I bought Fantasy novels. I read glorious works and crap, alike.

But always I read Heinlein.

He shaped my early political and sociological opinions. This meant I went through the Libertarian phase almost every Heinlein fan passes through (and a good number never come out of, and there's nothing wrong with that). It also meant that my concepts of personal honor, of liberty coupled with responsibility, of duty, of sin and of love were shaped in part by Heinlein's writings. As I later entered a moderate and then liberal phase of my thoughts, I still found much of who I was shaped by Heinlein and his own evolving beliefs.

I was in the theater alone (one of the rare times I went to a movie by myself) to see Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. I went with my friend Russ to see Starship Troopers, and had a great B movie time while decrying the loss of opportunity to make an actual movie out of the book. I know where I was when I heard (on NPR) that Heinlein had died. I remember that moment like the generations before mine remember where they heard that Kennedy was dead.

After his death, I bought each 'new' book as it came out. I bought Grumbles from the Grave and devoured it. I bought and cherished Tramp Royale. I read Requiem and cried at the parts that all the other fans cried at. I bought the "uncut" Stranger in a Strange Land. I bought the 'sad ending' Podkayne of Mars.

When I was at Baycon last year, I went to some of the Heinlein panels, and discovered that regardless of my current ethos, Heinlein's children are my people, and I'm proud to be among them. I joined the Heinlein Society after that convention, and discovered I still had plenty to learn about a man whose writing I can now put into a proper perspective -- but which will always have tremendous personal significance to me.

Imagine what it is like, for one of Heinlein's children to learn that an unpublished manuscript had been found. Imagine what it is like to learn that a Heinlein novel -- in fact, his lost first novel -- had been found. And then to learn that apparently when he wasn't looking, that book had been published.

Tremendous.


I called ahead to Borders. They had one copy left. Sales, I was told, had been brisk. I asked them to hold it.

My parents and I drove down. I got the book, along with Cory Doctorow's short story collection and the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel. I started reading on the way home.

By the time my vacation was over, I'd read the new Heinlein twice, straight through.


Clute's review of For Us, The Living is excellent. He has a truly valuable understanding of what this book is and what it isn't. And as much as I loved the book, I do understand what it isn't.

For example, it's not a novel. It's barely a story. But more on that in a bit.

Clute also recognizes the value of Dr. Robert James's afterward. Dr. James is an excellent scholar and researcher -- and clearly a very cool person. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Baycon, and am hopeful he'll be at Arisia in a couple of weeks. Clute is less charitable toward Spider Robinson's introduction, and I admit Spider does come across as a little silly. But, I'm inclined to cut him a lot of slack -- during a period when the SF establishment couldn't find anything good to say about Heinlein (an attitude which is fading but still clings here and there) Robinson went loudly and on the record in support of the Dean of Science Fiction. And may have had his career suffer as a result. As a result, he gets to be as silly as he likes, for my money.

(All right, I think the idea that somehow Virginia Heinlein's influence on her husband extends clearly into this work, written several years before they'd even met while he was married to a different woman entirely, is as silly as Harold Bloom's contention that Shakespeare influenced Chaucer. Still, having written an unapologetically sappy reunion story after Mrs. Heinlein passed on, I'm not about to cast stones at Mr. Robinson's reverence for the lady.)

Clute goes on to discuss the remarkable points of the work -- particularly Heinlein's advocacy of liberal issues and attitudes, born of his reverence of the time with Upton Sinclair, who he knew and under whose theories Heinlein ran for public office (unsuccessfully) -- in great detail. And certainly, those who have decided Heinlein was an ultraconservative will be more than a little surprised by his love of fiat money, social credit and government control in this story. However, before one decides Heinlein's views were wholly different later they need to see all the myriad ways his most famous opinions are echoed in this first major work. Most significantly, Heinlein's lifelong commitment to personal privacy is echoed in the constitution of his Utopia:

Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.

That paragraph would fit in perfectly in works from Beyond this Horizon through Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all the way up to To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Heinlein may have been a fiat money advocate in For Us, the Living and a hard currency advocate in Time Enough for Love, but the banking conversation Lazarus Long has in Time Enough's "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" finds its roots in the extensive economics lessons in For Us, the Living. Heinlein's advocacy of homosexual rights, womens' rights, and racial rights can be found in For Us, the Living and are echoed throughout the rest of his work. And as Liberal as Heinlein seems to be in For Us, the Living, he still clearly sees the military as both honorable and necessary. And even the service-franchise of Starship Troopers is presaged in a Constitutional amendment in For Us, the Living: in this future time, any time the United States Congress or the President wants to go to war without the United States first being attacked, a referendum is called -- and only those people eligible to be drafted for that war are allowed to vote. If the vote carries, those who voted for the war are the first to be conscripted into service, the very next day, automatically. The next group pulled into service are those eligible soldiers who didn't vote. Those who opposed the war are called up last.

(Don't you wonder how the last two years would have been different if the Invasion of Iraq had to be voted on and approved by those required to register for Selective Service before it could have begun? Heaven knows I do.)

It's a fascinating view of Heinlein's work, and made all the more fascinating by the hints of Heinlein's later content. Quite apart from the political and economic themes, echoes of Heinlein's future writing appear again and again. Elements that would appear in the Future History, in Beyond this Horizon, in "If This Goes On..." and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, in Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice and many, many other stories -- right down to some of the conflicts in The Number of the Beast and To Sail Beyond the Sunset appear in this book. Clute and Robinson and James alike note these elements and similarities.

And also note that as a novel, it's not much of a novel. It doesn't have much plot. Its story elements are, in Robinson's words, a sexy but thin negligee the book wants you to tear off, so that it can seduce you with its long essays on Utopia. And make no mistake -- this is a Utopic Work. This is more an essay than anything else, they say. They even point out Heinlein's use of footnotes (rather pretentiously attributed to "the Author" but clearly written from within the fourth wall, not through it.)

They're right about this not really being a novel. But they're wrong about it being an essay, really.

I recognize this form, you see. And I'll bet everyone else in my own profession does too.

This isn't a novel, and this isn't an essay. This is Heinlein's notebook for his Role Playing Game and campaign.

I'm quite serious. I've seen this any number of times. Hell, I've written it more than once. The same way my 2nd Edition AD&D game 'house rules' broke 200,000 words and had 230 footnotes, this is an extended work of Worldbuilding on Heinlein's part. He puts in huge pieces about how they got there, he follows them up with all the ways this world is different than we might expect, and despite a token effort, there's really no conflict to be found anywhere within. At the end of the book I expected to find hyperlinks to his game logs and to system mechanics.

Naturally, Heinlein wasn't a roleplayer, but the RPG Worldbuilder's phenomenon is also the budding SF writer's Worldbuilder's phenomenon. Before anyone can become a writer, they have to learn a core lesson -- setting is not story, and no matter how fascinating your fictional world is, until you put real people into it and give them problems, no one's going to care. Eventually, writers evolve out of the habit and, if they're smart, mine the huge backstory they've so painstakingly worked out (believing they're preparing to write, but really doing it for their own sake) and use it where appropriate for their later works.

As Heinlein himself does, it's worth noting. His decline and fall of the United States into Theocracy under Nehemiah Scudder, the fate of a United Europe that descends into 40 Years War (and predicts the European Union pretty amazingly, in ways), the rolling roads, the Crazy Years, Coventry and its rules, the essential "An it harm none, do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" nature of the Constitution, the Privacy Customs, the pneumatic tube internet... all of these things, mutated and changed somewhat, found their way into later Heinlein works, almost always as elements of backstory instead of the lead element.

The book's tone reminds me the most of Beyond this Horizon, all told. And anyone who enjoyed that book will enjoy this one. Anyone who read more than a couple of Heinleins will also enjoy this, and if you read more than five Heinleins this book approaches a must-buy, sheerly for the insight into the development as Heinlein, the writer. As a standalone work, it's weak, and as a Utopia it's passable. But no matter what this does to my New Critic credentials, the value of For Us, The Living is contextual, and from that standpoint this work couldn't be more important.

Hey, I read it through twice in three days. And I'm going to read it again. What more do I need to say?

Confessions of a Liberal Heinlein Fan: Worldbuilding and Utopia

My friend Bruce pointed me to a discussion he thought I'd be interested in. (He thought that, by the way, because he is right. He is often right when it comes to what I'm interested in.) Later, I also found that discussion referenced on Boing Boing, which, besides being one of the online homes of Cory Doctorow contains tons of links to cool things.

The discussion in question was on Electrolite, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog, and contains many extremely interesting layers of discussion around the common themes of Robert Heinlein, Heinlein's 'new' book For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, and John Clute's Excessive Candour column reviewing For Us, The Living. The discussion is fascinating because of the sheer plethora of authorities contributing to it. Scientists, futurists, fans, literary critics -- there's something of everything in it, and the content of the discussion is unusually high for the web.

Which isn't really what I'm going to talk about here. Though interestingly enough, I'd already seen the Clute review. In fact, the Clute interview was what told me the book was now available. I knew the book was going to be published, because I'm a member of The Heinlein Society. Somehow, however, I'd missed the publication announcement, so it came as a surprise to find a post-publication review.

I was home in Maine when this happened, over Christmas break. This was a wonderful time, mind, and my first real vacation in a very long time. I was relaxed, going through electronic things, chatting with my folks, hanging out with my cat (Sarah) and their two dogs (Buddy and Teddy). And I found the review in question, and read it.

I imagine it was pretty startling both for parents and animals when I started bouncing on the couch going "EEEEEEEE!"


They say that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12. I think it may have been a couple of years before that for me. But, I can remember it very clearly -- the moment when I became an SF fan. And it involved Robert Heinlein.

We were in New York City. We did that a couple of times when I was growing up. And we were in a bookstore. I'm certain it was a bookstore and not some kind of game store. Besides, this was before I got into gaming. Before Dungeons and Dragons and all the rest. But I remember clearly walking through the bookstore and looking at different things, and I remember turning and seeing a game.

It was purple and blue and lurid red, and golden armored men were in the process of falling from the sky. Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers it declared itself. Man vs. Monster. Interstellar Warfare in the Twenty-Second Century.

I was in love. I don't know why. I don't know why my father decided to buy it when I asked, either, but he did. And he even played it with me a couple of times. Looking back, I'm a little surprised we ever played it at all. It was a pretty complicated wargame for someone as young as I was.

But even if I rarely played it, I read through the rules over and over again. Especially the rules on the different scenarios. Especially the 'in character' descriptions of those scenarios. I loved them. I loved the descriptions of Rasczak's Roughnecks and the tremendous esprit de corps of the Mobile Infantry.

And then I found out there was a book. I don't even know how. But I bought it. And read it. Many, many times. Most recently I reread it last May, actually.

From there, I worked my way through every Heinlein novel. Every one of them. I anxiously awaited any new one. I bought books by writers Heinlein referenced, eagerly. From there I bought other SF books. I bought Fantasy novels. I read glorious works and crap, alike.

But always I read Heinlein.

He shaped my early political and sociological opinions. This meant I went through the Libertarian phase almost every Heinlein fan passes through (and a good number never come out of, and there's nothing wrong with that). It also meant that my concepts of personal honor, of liberty coupled with responsibility, of duty, of sin and of love were shaped in part by Heinlein's writings. As I later entered a moderate and then liberal phase of my thoughts, I still found much of who I was shaped by Heinlein and his own evolving beliefs.

I was in the theater alone (one of the rare times I went to a movie by myself) to see Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. I went with my friend Russ to see Starship Troopers, and had a great B movie time while decrying the loss of opportunity to make an actual movie out of the book. I know where I was when I heard (on NPR) that Heinlein had died. I remember that moment like the generations before mine remember where they heard that Kennedy was dead.

After his death, I bought each 'new' book as it came out. I bought Grumbles from the Grave and devoured it. I bought and cherished Tramp Royale. I read Requiem and cried at the parts that all the other fans cried at. I bought the "uncut" Stranger in a Strange Land. I bought the 'sad ending' Podkayne of Mars.

When I was at Baycon last year, I went to some of the Heinlein panels, and discovered that regardless of my current ethos, Heinlein's children are my people, and I'm proud to be among them. I joined the Heinlein Society after that convention, and discovered I still had plenty to learn about a man whose writing I can now put into a proper perspective -- but which will always have tremendous personal significance to me.

Imagine what it is like, for one of Heinlein's children to learn that an unpublished manuscript had been found. Imagine what it is like to learn that a Heinlein novel -- in fact, his lost first novel -- had been found. And then to learn that apparently when he wasn't looking, that book had been published.

Tremendous.


I called ahead to Borders. They had one copy left. Sales, I was told, had been brisk. I asked them to hold it.

My parents and I drove down. I got the book, along with Cory Doctorow's short story collection and the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel. I started reading on the way home.

By the time my vacation was over, I'd read the new Heinlein twice, straight through.


Clute's review of For Us, The Living is excellent. He has a truly valuable understanding of what this book is and what it isn't. And as much as I loved the book, I do understand what it isn't.

For example, it's not a novel. It's barely a story. But more on that in a bit.

Clute also recognizes the value of Dr. Robert James's afterward. Dr. James is an excellent scholar and researcher -- and clearly a very cool person. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Baycon, and am hopeful he'll be at Arisia in a couple of weeks. Clute is less charitable toward Spider Robinson's introduction, and I admit Spider does come across as a little silly. But, I'm inclined to cut him a lot of slack -- during a period when the SF establishment couldn't find anything good to say about Heinlein (an attitude which is fading but still clings here and there) Robinson went loudly and on the record in support of the Dean of Science Fiction. And may have had his career suffer as a result. As a result, he gets to be as silly as he likes, for my money.

(All right, I think the idea that somehow Virginia Heinlein's influence on her husband extends clearly into this work, written several years before they'd even met while he was married to a different woman entirely, is as silly as Harold Bloom's contention that Shakespeare influenced Chaucer. Still, having written an unapologetically sappy reunion story after Mrs. Heinlein passed on, I'm not about to cast stones at Mr. Robinson's reverence for the lady.)

Clute goes on to discuss the remarkable points of the work -- particularly Heinlein's advocacy of liberal issues and attitudes, born of his reverence of the time with Upton Sinclair, who he knew and under whose theories Heinlein ran for public office (unsuccessfully) -- in great detail. And certainly, those who have decided Heinlein was an ultraconservative will be more than a little surprised by his love of fiat money, social credit and government control in this story. However, before one decides Heinlein's views were wholly different later they need to see all the myriad ways his most famous opinions are echoed in this first major work. Most significantly, Heinlein's lifelong commitment to personal privacy is echoed in the constitution of his Utopia:

Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.

That paragraph would fit in perfectly in works from Beyond this Horizon through Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all the way up to To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Heinlein may have been a fiat money advocate in For Us, the Living and a hard currency advocate in Time Enough for Love, but the banking conversation Lazarus Long has in Time Enough's "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" finds its roots in the extensive economics lessons in For Us, the Living. Heinlein's advocacy of homosexual rights, womens' rights, and racial rights can be found in For Us, the Living and are echoed throughout the rest of his work. And as Liberal as Heinlein seems to be in For Us, the Living, he still clearly sees the military as both honorable and necessary. And even the service-franchise of Starship Troopers is presaged in a Constitutional amendment in For Us, the Living: in this future time, any time the United States Congress or the President wants to go to war without the United States first being attacked, a referendum is called -- and only those people eligible to be drafted for that war are allowed to vote. If the vote carries, those who voted for the war are the first to be conscripted into service, the very next day, automatically. The next group pulled into service are those eligible soldiers who didn't vote. Those who opposed the war are called up last.

(Don't you wonder how the last two years would have been different if the Invasion of Iraq had to be voted on and approved by those required to register for Selective Service before it could have begun? Heaven knows I do.)

It's a fascinating view of Heinlein's work, and made all the more fascinating by the hints of Heinlein's later content. Quite apart from the political and economic themes, echoes of Heinlein's future writing appear again and again. Elements that would appear in the Future History, in Beyond this Horizon, in "If This Goes On..." and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, in Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice and many, many other stories -- right down to some of the conflicts in The Number of the Beast and To Sail Beyond the Sunset appear in this book. Clute and Robinson and James alike note these elements and similarities.

And also note that as a novel, it's not much of a novel. It doesn't have much plot. Its story elements are, in Robinson's words, a sexy but thin negligee the book wants you to tear off, so that it can seduce you with its long essays on Utopia. And make no mistake -- this is a Utopic Work. This is more an essay than anything else, they say. They even point out Heinlein's use of footnotes (rather pretentiously attributed to "the Author" but clearly written from within the fourth wall, not through it.)

They're right about this not really being a novel. But they're wrong about it being an essay, really.

I recognize this form, you see. And I'll bet everyone else in my own profession does too.

This isn't a novel, and this isn't an essay. This is Heinlein's notebook for his Role Playing Game and campaign.

I'm quite serious. I've seen this any number of times. Hell, I've written it more than once. The same way my 2nd Edition AD&D game 'house rules' broke 200,000 words and had 230 footnotes, this is an extended work of Worldbuilding on Heinlein's part. He puts in huge pieces about how they got there, he follows them up with all the ways this world is different than we might expect, and despite a token effort, there's really no conflict to be found anywhere within. At the end of the book I expected to find hyperlinks to his game logs and to system mechanics.

Naturally, Heinlein wasn't a roleplayer, but the RPG Worldbuilder's phenomenon is also the budding SF writer's Worldbuilder's phenomenon. Before anyone can become a writer, they have to learn a core lesson -- setting is not story, and no matter how fascinating your fictional world is, until you put real people into it and give them problems, no one's going to care. Eventually, writers evolve out of the habit and, if they're smart, mine the huge backstory they've so painstakingly worked out (believing they're preparing to write, but really doing it for their own sake) and use it where appropriate for their later works.

As Heinlein himself does, it's worth noting. His decline and fall of the United States into Theocracy under Nehemiah Scudder, the fate of a United Europe that descends into 40 Years War (and predicts the European Union pretty amazingly, in ways), the rolling roads, the Crazy Years, Coventry and its rules, the essential "An it harm none, do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" nature of the Constitution, the Privacy Customs, the pneumatic tube internet... all of these things, mutated and changed somewhat, found their way into later Heinlein works, almost always as elements of backstory instead of the lead element.

The book's tone reminds me the most of Beyond this Horizon, all told. And anyone who enjoyed that book will enjoy this one. Anyone who read more than a couple of Heinleins will also enjoy this, and if you read more than five Heinleins this book approaches a must-buy, sheerly for the insight into the development as Heinlein, the writer. As a standalone work, it's weak, and as a Utopia it's passable. But no matter what this does to my New Critic credentials, the value of For Us, The Living is contextual, and from that standpoint this work couldn't be more important.

Hey, I read it through twice in three days. And I'm going to read it again. What more do I need to say?

January 08, 2004

Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.


It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.

Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.


It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.

Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.


It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.

January 06, 2004

Hello my friend, won't you tell me your name?

Do we really need a new incarnation of my journal?

It's a fair question. Yes, I certainly enjoyed writing in my full online journal before (from April 18, 1999 to June 4, 2001), but do I have more to say, now? And do I need to say it in the full Online Journal format? I mean, I do have a Livejournal, and don't keep that nearly up to date enough. Why add to my discontent by reviving something that hasn't been active for so long?

Why indeed.

The world is not the same place it was back in April of 1999. This is true both online and in real life. I shudder to think the moments of horror we have all had to endure in the last five years, and the systematic challenges to our way of life, to our essential freedoms, to our Constitution and to our community have come from bombers and terrorists and the highest officials in our own government. We have had ample reason to know fear and lose hope. And yet, we have as a people endured and moved on. We have remembered who we are and why we are, and fought back against both the assault on our nation and the assault on our Constitution.

In the last five years, online journals have also given rise to the phenomenon of Weblogging. Blogs and Livejournals are everywhere now. Everyone has them, it seems. Weblogging was considered the strategic key to Howard Dean's ascent to the front of the Democratic pack in the upcoming primary season. Wil Wheaton, TV's lovable Wesley Crusher, went from a mostly despised afterthought from the 80's and 90's incarnation of Star Trek to a mostly beloved fellow geek and traveller through life, thanks to the power of his blog. Iraqis blogged from the heart of Iraq during the war. Journalists blogged from the heart of the troops during the war. And tens of thousands of 19 year olds wail into the night in their Livejournals. The weblog has both come of age and supplanted the Online Journal utterly, and today Online Journalling of any stripe is not seen as revolutionary or even exhibitionist, but average and normal. It's a part of what folks do when they're online. A part of who they are.

So why should I pick my own journal back up? It's nigh impossible that I'll get the thousands of daily readers I once had back -- there's plenty for them to read out there now, and a substantial portion of it is written by hot young things who like to post pictures of themselves in ragged clothing. How does a fat guy in New Hampshire compete with that?

And does he have to?


I'm reminded of an entry I wrote on April 18, 2000. It was the one year anniversary of Some Days in the Life, and I was waxing philosophical. And I reminisced about all that had happened in the previous year... and how much of it I would never have thought about again without a journal like this one to follow. As I said then:

Without this journal, I'd think back over the past year and, but for my Cardiomyopathy, I'd figured very little has changed. With this journal, I realize everything has changed. The changes are all right here, in electrons and HTML.

That remains true. The last few years are more of a haze, even with Livejournal entries to follow. And the Livejournal isn't nearly as good for essay writing as a true journal is. Livejournal entries are more immediate, somehow. More focused. Less objective. No matter how personal a journal entry is, it seems somehow less like short correspondence and more like serious writing. Like something someone does to actually produce instead of just to ramble.

That means something. That feels good.

The tools are almost entirely different, now. In the old days of journalling, we created and worked on websites and built each new journal page by hand. These days, I'm driving creation with Movable Type, which does all the crosslinking. And I've got an RSS feed for Livejournal, so folks can see when I write new entries. It's all very automatic and magical now. I suppose that makes me a little sad. There is something to be said for handcrafting, even when the hands are really just typing. Mostly, it's more convenient, and that's a very good thing.

So, maybe it's time for a whole new volume of this journal. Maybe it's time to go back to basics. After all, I didn't start this with the idea of getting much of an audience, last time. As I said in my original 'first post:'

It started with Bill Dickson. Bill's a friend of mine from my Relay days (ah, Relay, we hardly knew ye), my days in Ithaca, New York and my days in Seattle. Bill has an online journal which gets addicting to read. There are two reactions to something like this. One is to anxiously await his next entry and follow his links to other journals to ease the pain. I suspect this is what people who aren't colossally arrogant do.

The other is to start your own. Which is what people who don't meet the above requirement do. Guess which camp I'm in.

Arrogance is a part of writing. It's a big part, actually. It's that part that says "I am so good at this that you will want to read it because I'm good enough for that. It's like that in poetry, especially. There are three types of poet in the world. Two are poseurs, and one is a poet. They break down like this:

Poseur sub A: A poet who truly believes that his tortured soul can't withstand the pain any longer. He needs to express himself. So he writes poetry. Reams of it. Enough poetry to make Sir Philip Sydney take up plumbing as a profession. And he never shows it to anyone -- it's too personal. It's too intense. It would be like a woman unbuttoning her blouse on the bus -- most women don't want you to know she's wearing a wonderbra. This is fortunate, as most Poseur sub A's poetry is extended masturbation where they didn't have the decency to clean up after themselves.

Poseur sub B: The Artiste. They talk about poetry. A lot. They talk about the specialized, internal, highly personal world of the poetry. They often wear tweed and smoke pipes or clove cigarettes. Notable because they haven't actually written more than three lines of poetry. In it for the lifestyle and in the hopes they'll get groupies.

Poet: Irritating fellow who writes poetry and then tries to force you to read it. These are the folks who go to poetry slams and scream out "shut the fuck up!" at the top of their lungs to try to get you to listen to their eight hundred line prose poem on breakfast. Carry chapbooks in the trunk of their car.

The third type -- the actual poet -- is arrogance personified. It extends into all media. The person who reads every newsgroup specifically to find idiots to flame because their idiots is a form of usenet artist, striving for a voice and recognition from someone. The person who writes fiction and leaves it under your windshield wiper for you to find coming out of the grocery store. The person who publishes an online journal. Arrogance and a belief that the things they say will be interesting to someone fuels them.

Without these people, we would only have Morality plays and Viking Sagas for entertainment, and those get repetitive after a while.

So, in summary, I'm writing this because I liked Bill's, and am arrogant enough to want to write one.

These are all still true. I still like Bill's Journal -- which, as intermittent as it is, is still being written all these years later, so Bill wins the prize. And I still believe in the artist who simply has to create, who simply has to say something, who simply has to be let it be known, because they're arrogant enough to think someone, someday will want to know it.

That's still me, five years later. I'm a lot more battered, and in a lot of ways more cynical, but in the end I still like Bill's journal, and I'm still arrogant enough to want to write one of my own.

I won't give up my Livejournal. It serves a wholly different function now -- it's the quick fix, the 'oh by the way,' the place where I bitch about Health Insurance bastards and point out online comics I think are funny. This journal's for something else. For something where I want to write for long periods of time. For when I have something to say that's more relevant than 'man I feel like shit.'

In short -- for when I want to get my Opinion on.


So. Here we are again. You and I. Hi there. It's been a while. My name is Eric. I'm a writer. I work as an I.T. Manager at a private school in New Hampshire. I have a cat, a car, health problems and a tendency to think.

Let's see what happens.

Hello my friend, won't you tell me your name?

Do we really need a new incarnation of my journal?

It's a fair question. Yes, I certainly enjoyed writing in my full online journal before (from April 18, 1999 to June 4, 2001), but do I have more to say, now? And do I need to say it in the full Online Journal format? I mean, I do have a Livejournal, and don't keep that nearly up to date enough. Why add to my discontent by reviving something that hasn't been active for so long?

Why indeed.

The world is not the same place it was back in April of 1999. This is true both online and in real life. I shudder to think the moments of horror we have all had to endure in the last five years, and the systematic challenges to our way of life, to our essential freedoms, to our Constitution and to our community have come from bombers and terrorists and the highest officials in our own government. We have had ample reason to know fear and lose hope. And yet, we have as a people endured and moved on. We have remembered who we are and why we are, and fought back against both the assault on our nation and the assault on our Constitution.

In the last five years, online journals have also given rise to the phenomenon of Weblogging. Blogs and Livejournals are everywhere now. Everyone has them, it seems. Weblogging was considered the strategic key to Howard Dean's ascent to the front of the Democratic pack in the upcoming primary season. Wil Wheaton, TV's lovable Wesley Crusher, went from a mostly despised afterthought from the 80's and 90's incarnation of Star Trek to a mostly beloved fellow geek and traveller through life, thanks to the power of his blog. Iraqis blogged from the heart of Iraq during the war. Journalists blogged from the heart of the troops during the war. And tens of thousands of 19 year olds wail into the night in their Livejournals. The weblog has both come of age and supplanted the Online Journal utterly, and today Online Journalling of any stripe is not seen as revolutionary or even exhibitionist, but average and normal. It's a part of what folks do when they're online. A part of who they are.

So why should I pick my own journal back up? It's nigh impossible that I'll get the thousands of daily readers I once had back -- there's plenty for them to read out there now, and a substantial portion of it is written by hot young things who like to post pictures of themselves in ragged clothing. How does a fat guy in New Hampshire compete with that?

And does he have to?


I'm reminded of an entry I wrote on April 18, 2000. It was the one year anniversary of Some Days in the Life, and I was waxing philosophical. And I reminisced about all that had happened in the previous year... and how much of it I would never have thought about again without a journal like this one to follow. As I said then:

Without this journal, I'd think back over the past year and, but for my Cardiomyopathy, I'd figured very little has changed. With this journal, I realize everything has changed. The changes are all right here, in electrons and HTML.

That remains true. The last few years are more of a haze, even with Livejournal entries to follow. And the Livejournal isn't nearly as good for essay writing as a true journal is. Livejournal entries are more immediate, somehow. More focused. Less objective. No matter how personal a journal entry is, it seems somehow less like short correspondence and more like serious writing. Like something someone does to actually produce instead of just to ramble.

That means something. That feels good.

The tools are almost entirely different, now. In the old days of journalling, we created and worked on websites and built each new journal page by hand. These days, I'm driving creation with Movable Type, which does all the crosslinking. And I've got an RSS feed for Livejournal, so folks can see when I write new entries. It's all very automatic and magical now. I suppose that makes me a little sad. There is something to be said for handcrafting, even when the hands are really just typing. Mostly, it's more convenient, and that's a very good thing.

So, maybe it's time for a whole new volume of this journal. Maybe it's time to go back to basics. After all, I didn't start this with the idea of getting much of an audience, last time. As I said in my original 'first post:'

It started with Bill Dickson. Bill's a friend of mine from my Relay days (ah, Relay, we hardly knew ye), my days in Ithaca, New York and my days in Seattle. Bill has an online journal which gets addicting to read. There are two reactions to something like this. One is to anxiously await his next entry and follow his links to other journals to ease the pain. I suspect this is what people who aren't colossally arrogant do.

The other is to start your own. Which is what people who don't meet the above requirement do. Guess which camp I'm in.

Arrogance is a part of writing. It's a big part, actually. It's that part that says "I am so good at this that you will want to read it because I'm good enough for that. It's like that in poetry, especially. There are three types of poet in the world. Two are poseurs, and one is a poet. They break down like this:

Poseur sub A: A poet who truly believes that his tortured soul can't withstand the pain any longer. He needs to express himself. So he writes poetry. Reams of it. Enough poetry to make Sir Philip Sydney take up plumbing as a profession. And he never shows it to anyone -- it's too personal. It's too intense. It would be like a woman unbuttoning her blouse on the bus -- most women don't want you to know she's wearing a wonderbra. This is fortunate, as most Poseur sub A's poetry is extended masturbation where they didn't have the decency to clean up after themselves.

Poseur sub B: The Artiste. They talk about poetry. A lot. They talk about the specialized, internal, highly personal world of the poetry. They often wear tweed and smoke pipes or clove cigarettes. Notable because they haven't actually written more than three lines of poetry. In it for the lifestyle and in the hopes they'll get groupies.

Poet: Irritating fellow who writes poetry and then tries to force you to read it. These are the folks who go to poetry slams and scream out "shut the fuck up!" at the top of their lungs to try to get you to listen to their eight hundred line prose poem on breakfast. Carry chapbooks in the trunk of their car.

The third type -- the actual poet -- is arrogance personified. It extends into all media. The person who reads every newsgroup specifically to find idiots to flame because their idiots is a form of usenet artist, striving for a voice and recognition from someone. The person who writes fiction and leaves it under your windshield wiper for you to find coming out of the grocery store. The person who publishes an online journal. Arrogance and a belief that the things they say will be interesting to someone fuels them.

Without these people, we would only have Morality plays and Viking Sagas for entertainment, and those get repetitive after a while.

So, in summary, I'm writing this because I liked Bill's, and am arrogant enough to want to write one.

These are all still true. I still like Bill's Journal -- which, as intermittent as it is, is still being written all these years later, so Bill wins the prize. And I still believe in the artist who simply has to create, who simply has to say something, who simply has to be let it be known, because they're arrogant enough to think someone, someday will want to know it.

That's still me, five years later. I'm a lot more battered, and in a lot of ways more cynical, but in the end I still like Bill's journal, and I'm still arrogant enough to want to write one of my own.

I won't give up my Livejournal. It serves a wholly different function now -- it's the quick fix, the 'oh by the way,' the place where I bitch about Health Insurance bastards and point out online comics I think are funny. This journal's for something else. For something where I want to write for long periods of time. For when I have something to say that's more relevant than 'man I feel like shit.'

In short -- for when I want to get my Opinion on.


So. Here we are again. You and I. Hi there. It's been a while. My name is Eric. I'm a writer. I work as an I.T. Manager at a private school in New Hampshire. I have a cat, a car, health problems and a tendency to think.

Let's see what happens.

Hello my friend, won't you tell me your name?

Do we really need a new incarnation of my journal?

It's a fair question. Yes, I certainly enjoyed writing in my full online journal before (from April 18, 1999 to June 4, 2001), but do I have more to say, now? And do I need to say it in the full Online Journal format? I mean, I do have a Livejournal, and don't keep that nearly up to date enough. Why add to my discontent by reviving something that hasn't been active for so long?

Why indeed.

The world is not the same place it was back in April of 1999. This is true both online and in real life. I shudder to think the moments of horror we have all had to endure in the last five years, and the systematic challenges to our way of life, to our essential freedoms, to our Constitution and to our community have come from bombers and terrorists and the highest officials in our own government. We have had ample reason to know fear and lose hope. And yet, we have as a people endured and moved on. We have remembered who we are and why we are, and fought back against both the assault on our nation and the assault on our Constitution.

In the last five years, online journals have also given rise to the phenomenon of Weblogging. Blogs and Livejournals are everywhere now. Everyone has them, it seems. Weblogging was considered the strategic key to Howard Dean's ascent to the front of the Democratic pack in the upcoming primary season. Wil Wheaton, TV's lovable Wesley Crusher, went from a mostly despised afterthought from the 80's and 90's incarnation of Star Trek to a mostly beloved fellow geek and traveller through life, thanks to the power of his blog. Iraqis blogged from the heart of Iraq during the war. Journalists blogged from the heart of the troops during the war. And tens of thousands of 19 year olds wail into the night in their Livejournals. The weblog has both come of age and supplanted the Online Journal utterly, and today Online Journalling of any stripe is not seen as revolutionary or even exhibitionist, but average and normal. It's a part of what folks do when they're online. A part of who they are.

So why should I pick my own journal back up? It's nigh impossible that I'll get the thousands of daily readers I once had back -- there's plenty for them to read out there now, and a substantial portion of it is written by hot young things who like to post pictures of themselves in ragged clothing. How does a fat guy in New Hampshire compete with that?

And does he have to?


I'm reminded of an entry I wrote on April 18, 2000. It was the one year anniversary of Some Days in the Life, and I was waxing philosophical. And I reminisced about all that had happened in the previous year... and how much of it I would never have thought about again without a journal like this one to follow. As I said then:

Without this journal, I'd think back over the past year and, but for my Cardiomyopathy, I'd figured very little has changed. With this journal, I realize everything has changed. The changes are all right here, in electrons and HTML.

That remains true. The last few years are more of a haze, even with Livejournal entries to follow. And the Livejournal isn't nearly as good for essay writing as a true journal is. Livejournal entries are more immediate, somehow. More focused. Less objective. No matter how personal a journal entry is, it seems somehow less like short correspondence and more like serious writing. Like something someone does to actually produce instead of just to ramble.

That means something. That feels good.

The tools are almost entirely different, now. In the old days of journalling, we created and worked on websites and built each new journal page by hand. These days, I'm driving creation with Movable Type, which does all the crosslinking. And I've got an RSS feed for Livejournal, so folks can see when I write new entries. It's all very automatic and magical now. I suppose that makes me a little sad. There is something to be said for handcrafting, even when the hands are really just typing. Mostly, it's more convenient, and that's a very good thing.

So, maybe it's time for a whole new volume of this journal. Maybe it's time to go back to basics. After all, I didn't start this with the idea of getting much of an audience, last time. As I said in my original 'first post:'

It started with Bill Dickson. Bill's a friend of mine from my Relay days (ah, Relay, we hardly knew ye), my days in Ithaca, New York and my days in Seattle. Bill has an online journal which gets addicting to read. There are two reactions to something like this. One is to anxiously await his next entry and follow his links to other journals to ease the pain. I suspect this is what people who aren't colossally arrogant do.

The other is to start your own. Which is what people who don't meet the above requirement do. Guess which camp I'm in.

Arrogance is a part of writing. It's a big part, actually. It's that part that says "I am so good at this that you will want to read it because I'm good enough for that. It's like that in poetry, especially. There are three types of poet in the world. Two are poseurs, and one is a poet. They break down like this:

Poseur sub A: A poet who truly believes that his tortured soul can't withstand the pain any longer. He needs to express himself. So he writes poetry. Reams of it. Enough poetry to make Sir Philip Sydney take up plumbing as a profession. And he never shows it to anyone -- it's too personal. It's too intense. It would be like a woman unbuttoning her blouse on the bus -- most women don't want you to know she's wearing a wonderbra. This is fortunate, as most Poseur sub A's poetry is extended masturbation where they didn't have the decency to clean up after themselves.

Poseur sub B: The Artiste. They talk about poetry. A lot. They talk about the specialized, internal, highly personal world of the poetry. They often wear tweed and smoke pipes or clove cigarettes. Notable because they haven't actually written more than three lines of poetry. In it for the lifestyle and in the hopes they'll get groupies.

Poet: Irritating fellow who writes poetry and then tries to force you to read it. These are the folks who go to poetry slams and scream out "shut the fuck up!" at the top of their lungs to try to get you to listen to their eight hundred line prose poem on breakfast. Carry chapbooks in the trunk of their car.

The third type -- the actual poet -- is arrogance personified. It extends into all media. The person who reads every newsgroup specifically to find idiots to flame because their idiots is a form of usenet artist, striving for a voice and recognition from someone. The person who writes fiction and leaves it under your windshield wiper for you to find coming out of the grocery store. The person who publishes an online journal. Arrogance and a belief that the things they say will be interesting to someone fuels them.

Without these people, we would only have Morality plays and Viking Sagas for entertainment, and those get repetitive after a while.

So, in summary, I'm writing this because I liked Bill's, and am arrogant enough to want to write one.

These are all still true. I still like Bill's Journal -- which, as intermittent as it is, is still being written all these years later, so Bill wins the prize. And I still believe in the artist who simply has to create, who simply has to say something, who simply has to be let it be known, because they're arrogant enough to think someone, someday will want to know it.

That's still me, five years later. I'm a lot more battered, and in a lot of ways more cynical, but in the end I still like Bill's journal, and I'm still arrogant enough to want to write one of my own.

I won't give up my Livejournal. It serves a wholly different function now -- it's the quick fix, the 'oh by the way,' the place where I bitch about Health Insurance bastards and point out online comics I think are funny. This journal's for something else. For something where I want to write for long periods of time. For when I have something to say that's more relevant than 'man I feel like shit.'

In short -- for when I want to get my Opinion on.


So. Here we are again. You and I. Hi there. It's been a while. My name is Eric. I'm a writer. I work as an I.T. Manager at a private school in New Hampshire. I have a cat, a car, health problems and a tendency to think.

Let's see what happens.