Tuesday, January 28, 2020

You're In My Light

In case you missed the news, I've abandoned the Atheism for the Religious series for now, maybe forever, and I'm exploring having some fictional characters talk about it.

The first 7 pages of a book I've been thinking about for a long, long time
Words in italics are just for me to keep track of things, they may or may not end up as headings in the final draft.

Last Updated: 4/26/2020

You’re in My Light
A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store

You’re in My Light
A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store
An attack on a drone
A few million years of evolution left the ape descendants with a fear of something rustling in the underbrush. Some ape like ancestor ran when they thought they heard something, and another ape never became anyone’s ancestor because they didn’t run. They became lunch. On a sunny day in Northern Indiana, in a world with satellites and self-driving vehicles, in some underbrush by a dirt road, there appeared to be a face taking shape in the leaves. The face appeared to have eyes. They were moving slowly higher. A bunch of leaves and branches that could be a face with eyes doesn’t all move in unison. It was eyes, and a face, and a person, with ash and clay smeared around them to match the brush.
 “What’s with the camo Pete?”, a second ape descendant blew his cover with a question that sounded like he was standing around at the neighborhood barbeque.
“Shhsh, it will hear us.”
“Of course it will hear us. It’s more sensitive than any animal on earth. It literally has advanced alien technology.” For someone being stalked by an alien drone, he seemed rather casual. His dress was too, khakis with some grass stains and a T-shirt with the names of several bands from the 70’s that were harvested out of the Midwest.
“Then what are we doing here? You said we were going to shoot at the aliens. You look like you’re having a picnic.” The intensity of battle was wearing off in this conversation but he wass still ready for a fight.
“We aren’t shooting at aliens. We’re shooting at a drone that people made with some alien technology in it. You’re reading too much Star Trek fan fiction and not enough of the tech journals.”
“I know it’s a drone. What I mean is, if we are taking on the aliens, and they can see us hiding here, how can we possibly hope to mount any kind of resistance?”
“Maybe history should be on your reading list. How did the Palestinians get the attention of the rest of the world? How did Afghanistan take down the Soviet Union? It was one helicopter at a time, sometimes getting civilians involved. This isn’t conventional war. They were out matched and so are we. It’s called ‘trying to win’.”
“Yeah, I read the ‘Freedom Fighters’ speech, bin Laden was a freedom fighter, and so was George Washington. They are going to call us terrorists and so on, but we’re not fighting for some religious ideal or against some despotic King, this is our planet. We aren’t just fleas arguing over who owns the dog, we have 4 billion years of biology behind us here. See, I read. But all I was told is shoot down a drone and run back to town.  I’m trying to figure out how all that fits in the master plan.”
An “m” started to form on the lips of Pete’s brother in arms as he tried to process this “master plan” comment but that question would have to wait. One eye squinted and his head turned to the side like a dog trying to hone in on the sound of something strange it had just heard. A whir caught their attention and the fight or flight response switched on, to fight. “Okay, we’ll talk master plan when we get back. Here it comes now. I need you for your marksmanship right now, not your political theories. One shot to get it to bank then it’s all yours.”
“This part I know.”
The drone whizzed by, noting the heat outline of a couple people by the side of the road, nothing to report home about. A shotgun popped out from underneath a blanket and was fired without taking much time to aim. The drone dipped sharply into a turn to avoid the spray. Pete had drawn his weapon at the same time (describe the gun) from under a poncho that was laid beside him. He tracked the arc of the drone as it recovered from its dive. The butt of the rifle was quickly up to his shoulder and followed the motion of the panicked drone.
Miles away in a room lit only by surveillance screens and low lamps over clipboards and small devices, someone set down their coffee and said, “Kids, we should put some ‘Deer Crossing’ signs back up, give them something to shoot at”. His screen showed a country road, forested on either side. It was mostly a blur and the horizon was not where it should have been. As the scene whipped back and forth, he just barely caught two figures silhouetted by their heat signatures. When the screen went blank he had a one word response, “Shit.”
“Nice shot. Let’s go.”
That order wasn’t necessary. Both men moved at double time down a deer path. Pete carried both guns. They split up as they started down toward a stream which they crossed at different points, neither one of them looked back. The forest turned to corn field. He moved down the rows swiftly being careful not to jostle the tassels above him. He slowed to listen as he neared the edge of the field, looked left, right, and more important above.
The guns were tucked in to the poncho he was carrying and then slung over his shoulder casually. He strolled toward the nearby barn.  Inside, he found the ring in the floor under some hay and heaved open a door that revealed many more weapons and ammunition. With loving care he unloaded and placed each gun in its designated place. Water and some grooming utensils that could have just as easily been there for the horses, were used to wash off the unnecessary camouflage and transform him back into just another boy in town. As he left the barn, he stuck his finger and thumb in his mouth to hold his tongue for a loud whistle. It was impressive with two notes even. On the other side of the house someone who looked like a farmer checked his watch then returned to making some motions that looked like working the land.
When Pete arrived in town for a well deserved adult beverage, the man who was his superior officer less than an hour ago was already well into an electronic trivia game. Pete asked what’s new and the standard reply of “nothing” actually meant something this time. It meant they hadn’t made the news, yet. Police reports of course, but he wasn’t worried about those, yet. Gun shots in a corn field in Indiana in late summer are not news. The shooting down of a federal drone would remain a matter for the Federal Government. Local police weren’t going to get involved until they had done some investigating. The next step in the plan was to see how the drone patterns changed or if police presence increased.

At the farm
In the southern half of the state, on a farm that was more of very large garden, in one of the out buildings, a Betamax video player whirred quietly as it played lecture #213. Dave was paying more attention to the lights and dials than the content. The home maintenance series was not his favorite, but there were still homes that needed maintenance and fewer people who knew how to maintain them. Not the homes around this farm of course.  He had been in just about every one of them and had tuned all of them like a Stradivarius. Some of the inhabitants were on to him that the best time to fix something was always just before dinner but now that money was not so important their informal arrangement worked just fine and the smiles and warm conversation over the table made it all alright.
The analog signal streamed out of the back of the player connected by cords with red, white and yellow connectors. It followed a winding bent path to the much smaller less dustier black box with one small green light on it.  From the other end of that box a thin gray cable went out through the wall. It sparkled a bit from the early morning sun coming in through the small window on the east side of the shop.  The signal finally found its way out to an antenna. Dave swore that antenna could not possibly do anything the first time he saw it. It was too small and the elements weren’t positioned in any way he’d seen antenna elements positioned. But according to all available evidence the now digitized signal was making its way to space.
When they gave it to him, Dave thought they were joking. He said it looked like they designed it based on watching a Jetsons cartoon. They just smiled. They do that a lot. They told him his father’s collection of educational lectures and demonstrations needed to be preserved. He asked why they couldn’t just take them and do whatever they needed to do. They said they don’t work that way. They say things like that a lot too. He didn’t care for that answer but couldn’t get much more of an explanation out of them.
They had come here from somewhere a little further out along the Orion Arm to save the planet, or so they said. They didn’t say it directly. They didn’t say very much directly. Although a few billion people now accepted that as true, Dave was still not ready to go with them. That they weren’t big on answering questions was one of his reasons. His grandparent’s generation had gone off to Europe and then Indochina to die without getting their questions answered. In his time parents’ time, people were beaten and harassed and couldn’t get decent jobs because there were people who had answers that couldn’t be questioned.
Introduce that they are offering to take people to other planets
Dave preferred hearing evidence and his father’s series on logic and logical fallacies was always right there, just below the little voice in his head that reminded him that being pleasant was more important than being right. Usually the voice remained in charge of his mouth, but sometimes not, and words like “that’s an argument from ignorance” came out at the most inopportune times. That could make for awkward conversations. But being convinced by aliens that there are other planets ready to welcome someone just like him was not just conversation.
Thump, thump, thump.
Dave snapped up from his day dreaming that had been initiated by the shiny cord going out through the wall. It was Marianne. Dave always thought that was funny especially since according to her hair she was a ginger, but not everyone got the Gilligan’s Island reference anymore, and after mentioning it four times, he figured out Marianne didn’t like it either. When he opened the door her smile retold that story and also said she needed something fixed and would like him to come by but only if he kept his conversation on gardening or canning or perhaps electronic gadgets. Recounting long stories of obscure science fiction characters was another thing he had figured out not to do.
The full, warm beverage she had was held in her palm and gently kept there with two fingers from the other hand. The breeze from the opened door blew across it and freshened the room with a hint of cinnamon and honey. It was raised as if being presented, not as if she was going to sip from it.
Remembering to let her open the conversation before he reacted to all the cues, Dave said, “Hey Marianne, what’s up?”
“I figured you were out here and working since early this morning, like always, without breakfast, so I brought you some tea.”
He suddenly made the connection between his inability to focus and his lack of sustenance. He reached for the steaming cup. Their fingers just touched in the exchange. Dave was thinking about that touch as he reached. He knew this was a good thing that helps people feel better about their encounters. Marianne had no specific thoughts about it. Encountering people wasn’t something that required that much thought for her.
“I probably should grab a bite to eat.” Dave finally returned her smile. Baggage from their past encounters slipped to the floor.
Marianne didn’t let the silence get awkward, “Sooo, having a little trouble getting my root cellar door to close tight. We should have a good harvest this year and I’d hate to lose any of it.” She trailed off, sort of suggesting good times for him to come by but hoping he’d help close her sales pitch. Graciously, he did.
“Yeah, yeah, today is good. When there’s good sun on it.” He moved to the doorway, where she was still standing, and they danced their way to an understanding that he was coming out. For a moment the tea and her breath and her hair transported him to a land of princesses and ballrooms. Marianne had no idea what he was thinking but like Ginger Rogers, she could do everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels. When the spinning was done, the two of them faced the rest of the world and greeted the morning that was already warmed and inviting.
The promise of a good harvest brought all the feelings of a healthy community out on display. From the eyes of people born before 2000, Dave and Marianne could see Halloween and Thanksgiving and just a hint of Christmas.  The smaller humans just saw the bounty of something that the old people did all day that magically made sweet and juicy things come out of the ground and end up on their plates. Their heads weren’t bothered with a man in a red suit arriving at a department store who also is somehow concerned with how they acted all year. They weren’t working on a costume so they could run around asking for candy. Why would they do that? They knew who had the best candy.
Their little voices added a soundtrack to the scene. Screams could be heard, and they were pretty sure they were joyous, but sometimes it was hard to tell. One of the critters broke from a group that was running by and latched on to Dave’s leg. She looked up at him with her brown eyes surrounded by a milk chocolate face and started telling a detailed tale of adventure and romance. None of the words were in a language that Dave knew, or anyone knew, but they flowed like a sailor singing a song after returning from whaling in Kachemak Bay.
Dave provided the chorus of “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” on queue as he lifted her into his arms. Somewhere in there he interpreted the word “crackers”. As she said it, she used the non-violent resistance technique of going limp, laying her head back toward the dining hall. Dave did not need to hold her for questioning, so he rolled her to her feet that were already running before they touched the ground.
These weren’t just any crackers, these were Marjo’s sourdough crackers, merely a byproduct of a weekly batch of sourdough bread. Bread that sustained this community like it had sustained communities for thousands of years. It was not the kind of bread that comes in a plastic bag and has to be sliced by a machine because it is so delicate that a human hand would rip it to shreds. It was the kind that you keep on the counter wrapped in a towel. The kind that you break and experience the chewy crust, experience it kicking in enzymes in the mouth and your whole body settles as the soothing process moves toward your stomach.
Marianne could see he was now on a mission and she waved him off and headed for the fields. Dave caught up to his little friend pushing against the large dining hall door. She put all of her body into it. She called upon the power of her ancestors to move that massive door that was between her and crackers. Dave used a few fingers over her head and gently guided it to balance her back to vertical and to release that kinetic energy across a big room full of empty tables. Marjo knew to have a plate of crackers for dirty hands to grab so they wouldn’t intrude any further into the baking area. Dave also respected that barrier. She would invite him to cross it if he waited for the invitation.
Marjo always had that look for Dave, a smile with a little sadness. Not quite, “bless your heart”, but not exactly “hey, you been working out?” Marjo was the big sister Dave didn’t have, the girlfriend that might have been if she were younger, the mentor he didn’t want, and the drinking buddy who actually didn’t drink, all rolled into one. He was not in the mood for the story of yeast again so he had been working on his cheeriest “good morning” from a couple steps before hitting the door. Marjo was always a few steps ahead of him though.
Marjo meets Dave – this could come earlier
Before the arrival of the Orions and their space port, Dave had happened upon this kitchen while biking in the well known hills in and around the farm that he now called home. He held a flat tire in his hands and a sheepish grin on his face. Marjo knew he needed a hug and also knew that wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t her first flat tire. Back then, the nearby University was thriving. People came here from all over the world, to learn from the best minds, to see the beauty, to improve their art, to demonstrate their athletic skills. Most were not that aware of the people who lived there all year round. They were just there for ambience or something.
So a flat tire out in the country was an inconvenience, not a chance to interact with a real person. Most people like that couldn’t just have a flat. There had to be a lot of pacing and hand wringing and tales of schedules disrupted and questions of why this happened to them, with some certainty others did not have this same problem as frequently as they did. Dave however just had a flat. It wasn’t about how much it was bothering him or how suffering the flat was somehow different than suffering the muscle pain of a long uphill pedal. He was just as happy doing the work of fixing it as he was doing the work of riding the bike.
Or was that just as un-happy? The flat tire wasn’t bothering him but something was. Marjo could see there was a shadow a step or two behind him. Something he could keep ahead of by biking or fixing things or doing whatever else he did other than slow down enough to let that shadow catch up. Of course it would, they always do. If that was all there was to it though, she wouldn’t give it another thought. But she had seen so many shadows.
Marjo’s story
Years earlier, her uncle came back from Iraq with no scars, just a bit weathered from the desert sun, but she knew there was something wrong. Everyone treated him differently. No one talked about it. Marjo was given specific instructions not to. She knew she had to live by the rules as a little girl, but she also knew it would be different when she grew up. But childhood aspirations can turn to adult frustrations. She watched as more and more men and women were not allowed to grieve for the lives they had ended. When a war ends, there is a time for rebuilding and for reconciliation with the enemy, but in endless war, that time never comes.
The time for celebration never comes either, as the war is never won. In Vietnam a hill would be taken one day and lost the next night. In Iraq whole regions were liberated and then soldiers who did the liberating watched the news from home as those places were occupied by the latest group with some new initials. For some, the best way to deal with it was to go back. At home, you hear more about how war is tearing the country apart, or you see that nobody really cares, or someone wants to debate it with you. You can’t grieve the deaths of your friends or of the people in the country you occupy, but at least you can get back and try to find that person you were.
Marjo watched this grief go undigested. Not digested by the culture because the culture that developed it was one that was accustomed to knowing that a victory would be followed by a new escalation somewhere else. Not by the government because the military budget just kept growing and debt along with it. There was no job at the Pentagon or anywhere that could undo this, but she resolved to make some sort of dent in this collective un-grieved loss.
Her uncle came over for game night one evening. He brought a grocery bag full of snacks. He pulled out a big bag of pita bread and two different tubs of hummus. Mother gave her that look that said, “don’t ask”. After a while, when people were commenting on the good company and good food, he said, “That’s what they eat. The people from around where we were based. We would load up on that, a big pile of pita bread. Have it on the plane while we were bombing them.” Marjo locked her eyes on his. “Kinda sick really”, he finished. She started to smile because she didn’t want to just stare at him like an idiot. She held that back and matched the droop of his eyes. Whatever move or turn it was in the game kept that from going on for too long.
She knew there was work to be done in the world. She didn’t know what that would be but she had a sense that whatever it was, it would not be found on television or on some glossy pages. She didn’t want to cut herself off from the world but she wanted to be around people who were using their hands, not just consuming culture but creating it. Creating it in the way it had always been created, by listening to the voices from the past and taking the best of what they had. She sought out the mentors, the marginalized, the ones they called old fashioned. In them she found the roots of all that stories that had been synthesized in to pop culture. They were in those old stories, those stories that were not even written down.
She tried sitting around fires and getting lost in the rhythmic drumming and the voices of the story tellers. She gained friends and insights, but it was too passive for her. She tried working with wool from the time it came off the sheep, spinning it into yarn, then working it into fabric, but there was too much surrounding that, too much animal husbandry and complicated machinery. She found she could stand in a wheat field and just watch it flow and lose herself in that. She learned that the wheat we grow today was once a much smaller grass and it changed our culture as we changed it into those amber waves we see now.  
When she discovered bread making, she found her muse. It was one a lost arts she should pursue. She looked at bread making machines but immediately had a vision of it sitting in a back alley waiting for garbage day next to someone’s treadmill or whatever other piece of unused good intentions that might be found there. She bought a cook book but she could tell that there were aspects of this that could not be put into a recipe. She started looking around for anyone with a little flour on their clothes, any hint of a passion like her own. It didn’t take long to find a class in sourdough bread making.
She was amazed to find out that you didn’t need a yeast packet, you just add some water to some flour and put it in a clay crock and throw a towel over it. The yeast finds it. It’s in the air. When she first saw it growing, she stammered and asked if this made sense. To be letting something attract mold and bacteria didn’t seem like such a good idea. But that’s not what was happening. The starch in the flour doesn’t attract that less healthy stuff. The yeast though, takes that nubby living seed and transmutes it into something that sustains life.
She hadn’t just found out how to make bread, she had found her story. The yeast that she couldn’t see in the air was like the sadness that she saw that others did not. It grew and generated carbon dioxide and lactobacilli bacteria and just a little alcohol. This gave the bread that sourdough flavor and in the same way, she knew she could let sadness express itself and help digest the sorrows that are always growing their hardened seeds. She became that person that knew there was always something going on with you and everyone else knew she was the one to come to when they needed that big shoulder to bury their face in. Dave was more of a long term project.
She didn’t know if she’d ever see him again after that first random encounter. She didn’t try to draw anything out of him. He talked of his love of the hills in the area, noting that he hadn’t spent too much time on the flat spots like the one they were on. He loved thinking about the wall of ice that had been there twenty four thousand years ago.
North from there it had scraped clean whatever was beneath it bringing bits of it south as it slowly pushed forward. As it receded, it washed into the landscape that it hadn’t reached, creating a less organized work of art beyond its reach. Rivers formed through hilly landscapes and underground, exposing million year old sedimentary stone. This land was not good for a whole lot in the world of commodities like the flat land the glacier had created. Marjo mentioned Aldo Leopold and Dave said he felt a kinship with him, seeing value in land that did not do well as a real estate holding. He found comfort where others would see imperfection and obstacles.
“Hungry?” asked Marjo, keeping her eyes on the little one, but speaking to Dave. A few crackers in the face were enough to keep those little legs energized, but Dave would need a little more. The bread makers on the farm rotated, so each could tend to the rest of their lives while all of them together maintained the supply, enough for their families, plus a little extra for whoever might wander through. Yesterday’s sweet rolls would be a good start for Dave and hopefully the chickens were producing too.
“Yes actually”, he replied before stuffing his face. “I get focused on something in the shop and forget to eat.”
“Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” Marjo, always had the pithy sayings.
“And then you find out you’re not alone in the universe.” Dave meant that in the human race sense, but Marjo lowered her head a bit, giving him that look from her third eye. Then glanced down to the cup of tea is in hand, knowing where it came from.
“Yes, Marianne needs something fixed. And that’s all. You know that’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t know much. I know there will be a dance in a couple weeks, maybe a hay ride later, and you haven’t considered the contents of your closet.”
“Does new rain gear count?”
“It does not.”
“Well, I need to get to Chicago. I suppose I could do some shopping.”
“Chicago! That’s a hike. Or are you taking the shuttle?”
“Shuttle? Are you forgetting who you are talking to? I’m looking forward to a week and a half on the bike. I’ll stop by the Tippecanoe River to see some friends and the reason I’m going is for parts, so I’ll see Old Dave at his electronics shop.”  
The storefront for that shop actually said The Electronic Shoppe. Old Dave thought it was funny because you can’t be an electronics shop and be pretentious. If someone looked at the sign and thought it was pretentious and didn’t come in, then he didn’t want them coming in anyway. No one called him Old Dave either except this younger Dave, and Dave’s father, while he was alive. He had been there when new Dave was born and Dave’s father didn’t like the idea of calling him “Uncle” although he knew this man would hold that special place in his life. He would be the one who could tell his son the stories of what his father did before he was born. He would be the one who could tell him when it was okay to break the rules. Dave’s father would play the role of father, the one who had to enforce those rules.
Not understanding the words, but sensing the grown-up talk, Dave’s little friend exited through the screen door, letting it slam.
Marjo never forgot who she was talking to, “Oh good”, she said without stopping the kneading, the checking of the oven or the other tasks she was managing that Dave could only guess. He had just revealed something to her, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He thought about correcting the awkward situation by offering to help, but that would just take them down a different awkward road. She knew who Old Dave was and how important it was that the two of them see each other now and then. Dave, young Dave, would use the excuse of keeping his mouth full of food to justify the silence. He salted his second boiled egg from the jar on the counter, being careful to do so over the garbage can of course. He was eating outside of the scheduled meal time which meant he had to clean up after himself. He brushed some crumbs off the counter, waved with the egg hand while grabbing his tea and juggled it all out the door.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy 2020

Yes, I've been remiss in my blogging duties. My writing energies have turned to fiction. My attempt at a blog series to explain my spiritual "Theory of Everything" petered out. Not so much petered out, as I realized that either I get a degree in something like history of the psychology of religion and write some obscure paper on a detailed aspect of the mind, or, I try to write something people will actually read. So, that's what I'm doing these days.

Maybe I'll start publishing excerpts.

BTW, there is no year zero, so this is the end of the teens decade. Just like you normally count. Do you start counting at zero when you are counting something? No. You are not a computer. You count, 1,2,3, up to 10. That's a decade. Your welcome.