I Ran Out of a Funeral, and Then the Weekend Got Worse

Skip this entry if you don’t want to know how pathetic I am.

I should have known, when I got out my black suit for the funeral this past Saturday, that it was not going to go well. I had left the program from the last service I attended in the breast pocket of the jacket. It was the program from Jill’s memorial service.*

I should have known, when I read through the funeral program, that it was not going to go well. Instead, I barely saw the words. I was too caught up in my own thoughts: first, selfishly and (admittedly) angrily wondering why this person got to live 21 years longer than Jill did; second, just as selfishly wishing my recent ladyfriend was there, so I could hold her hand to try to make it through the service. But we had broken up a few months ago — itself a tragedy of errors, many caused unwittingly by me — and I had no one there with me.

Then the first song in the program began: “In the Garden,” a song that featured prominently in Jill’s life and, as a result, in her memorial service.

So I fled.

And came home to a very disappointing package in the mailbox. I’ve only told a couple of people about it, and I won’t go into its contents here; suffice it to say that it was disturbing and disheartening.

Now, I must admit that the weekend wasn’t all bad. I had a nice visit with friends I hadn’t seen in some time, and got to spend some time in the recording studio where we made some progress on the last couple of songs for the new album.

But the worst was yet to come.

.
(Image: “.,” by Jeremy Lelievre, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Because, by the diabolical magic of social media, on Sunday evening I was treated to pictures of my old ladyfriend — whose hand I had wanted to hold, and who I secretly hoped might one day wish to rekindle the romance we had — with her new fellow.

It wasn’t completely unexpected — I knew she was seeing someone, and had convinced myself that as long as she was happy, I could be happy for her. And, in the main, that’s true — my deepest wish is for her to be happy. But I wasn’t prepared for how much it would hurt to see her happy with someone else. (I recognize that it’s a hurt I earned, by being stupid, and careless, and even a little callous. It may even be a hurt I deserve.) When I was wishing I could hold her hand at that funeral, I had no idea just how far from me she had grown. But then, when I looked at pictures of the two of us on social media, I saw that she had untagged herself from every one. I can’t express how bad I feel, knowing that she must hate me that much. I’m gutted.

I do hope the man she’s with now is good to her, and good for her. I still care for her a great deal, and I will always love her. But this was a very difficult weekend to learn that she no longer cares for me, and is better off with someone else.

Such was this most recent, most wretched weekend of my pathetic life.

___
*As in, Jill my wife, who died in October 2019.

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North Charleston, Here I Come

This weekend is the 2022 iteration of the “All Types of Media Arts Convention,” better known as AtomaCon! It’s a small but well-run science fiction and fantasy convention, being held at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Charleston, South Carolina.

I’m going to be busy with a variety of activities this time:

Friday:

  • 6 p.m. — Improv Game, “Whose Con is It, Anyway?”
  • 10 p.m. — Open Filk

Saturday:

  • 11:30 a.m. — Panel, “What Was Your Gateway Book to Fandom?”
  • 2 p.m. — Concert!
  • 7 p.m. — Game, “Well, Actually” (I’m running this one)
  • 10 p.m. — Open Filk

Sunday:

  • 10:00 a.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 1 p.m. — Filk Open Mic (if I haven’t headed home by then)

Should be a good time! and it’ll give me a chance to stop in and see my dad on the way.

If you’re in the area, come by and see us!

___
Related Items of Interest:
Available for preorder! My new album, Taking You Out to See the Stars
– Watch the music video of “Tauntauns to Glory”

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Abortion is Sad Enough Already

I’ve long considered that abortion is a tragedy no matter how we look at it. In the wake of the reprehensible leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision on the subject, I’ve thought about whether my view of the subject has changed. It has not.

In the final analysis, abortion makes me sad. It saddens me in the essential fact of it, and it saddens me that it would ever be deemed necessary or the best option for a pregnant woman to pursue. I know that my sadness, my emotional response, does not and cannot make it right or wrong. My assessment of it as a sad thing rather than a happy thing, a bad thing rather than a good thing, is my own and can form no reasonable basis for anyone else’s opinion or any policy action.

It just makes me sad. It makes me sad to think of a baby that will not be born. It makes me sad to think of a woman driven to the extreme that it represents. It just makes me sad.

I’ve written about abortion before, and my take on it in “Ladies, Stand Your Ground” was perhaps a bit unconventional. Early in that post I made this statement: “I believe the decision to abort a baby must be one of the most difficult decisions a human being may ever make. I do not intend to second-guess anyone who has made that decision, nor do I intend to criticize or vilify them.” I still believe that, and I still refuse to second-guess, criticize, or vilify anyone for their decision either to have or not have an abortion. I don’t believe it’s my place to do so.

Toward the end of that piece, I wrote

It is possible to wish for every unborn child to be wanted and to be cared for, in utero and beyond, just as it is possible to wish that there might be no thugs, no rapists, no burglars, no threats against people’s lives, persons, or property. Wishing for these things, however, does not make them come to pass, and so we are faced with difficult decisions that have far-reaching consequences.

The fact that these situations exist — if you will, that these evils exist — makes me sad.

I realize that many people disagree. I’ve written before about why we may never agree on various issues, including the issue of abortion. Disagreement can be uncomfortable, and sometimes “Once we have established our relative positions, and do not take the time or make the effort to examine our differing assumptions and premises, [no] argument is particularly convincing.” In that post, I made up two positions on abortion that appeared to me to be diametrically opposed:

  • “I object to abortion on demand despite a woman having the right to subject her body to whatever procedure she chooses, and because of the effect such a procedure would have on a potential human life growing inside her.”
  • “I support abortion on demand because a woman has the right to subject her body to whatever procedure she chooses, and despite the effect such a procedure would have on a potential human life growing inside of her.”

I don’t know that anyone holds either position in such unsparing terms, but they served as examples of positions that seem irreconcilable.


(Image: “Baby Heart Womb,” by Jeff Jacobs, from Pixabay.)

Many years ago, on an old version of my website (so old that I can’t find a link), I presented the “Anti-Candidate position on abortion” as follows:

We like babies. Babies are pretty neat: little miracles of DNA, little potentialities, little images of God. We especially like them when they’re ooh-ing and aah-ing and exploring this world that’s so magical to them and so mundane to us.
We don’t so much like changing diapers.
We know that some people can’t take care of their babies, but it seems as if these days there are plenty of people who can’t have babies who would love to take care of one or two or several. And we like the vast majority of the human race, in general, so we come down on the side of life.
Babies are cool, and mostly so are the people they grow up to be.

Having recently become a grandfather and therefore reacquainted with changing diapers, I can still say it’s not my favorite thing to do — but it’s not so bad. My grandson is a fine little chap, even though he’s not quite to the exploring-the-world stage, and I look forward to getting to know him better.

So I still come down on the side of life, by which I mean the whole of life: birth, growth, discovery, calling, relationship, adventure. I wish that every baby, every child, every teenager, every adult, every person could live a long, healthy, happy, fulfilled life.

Unfortunately, as I wrote before, “Wishing for these things … does not make them come to pass.” (How well I know that.)

So where does that leave me, other than sitting comfortably and signaling my virtue?

It leaves me hoping that this Supreme Court decision, if it comes down even close to the form that was released, results in a more open debate of the issue in state legislatures and even on the floor of Congress. As I recall my Schoolhouse Rock, a law has to first be a bill, and a bill has to be passed to become a law, and all of that is the responsibility of the Legislative Branch. That’s how representative democracy is supposed to work.

It leaves me hoping, if the debate results in legislation, that the law is more graceful, more restorative, than punitive. Abortion — in theory and even more in practice — is difficult enough that we need not pile more difficulties atop it.

Abortion is sad enough as it is. We need not make it sadder.

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Coming Soon(ish): Taking You Out to See the Stars

After being postponed last year, we’re back at it for my third album of original music, which (like my first two) will contain some truths, some lies, and some make-believe—but it’s safe to say that Taking You Out to See the Stars will be my most personal project by far.


(As of 27 January 2022, all we have is a placeholder for the cover art.)

To mark the arrival of the James Webb Space Telescope at its designated orbit on Monday, I put up the title song (which you can listen to for free at the link). I’m not sure what the final running order will be or if we might swap out a song or two, but the current lineup of songs is:

  • “Another Space and Time”
  • “Midnight”
  • “Questions”
  • “Remembrance”
  • “My Bonnie Lies Over an Ocean of Stars”
  • “Safely Through the Storm (Legend of the Gray Man)”
  • “Alice Flagg”
  • “On the Prowl”
  • “Prayer for an Epiphany”
  • “Taking You Out to See the Stars”
  • “All That is Gold”
  • “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”
  • “How Fair, How Far”

Over the next few months, as we finish additional songs, we’ll upload them until the album is complete. That’ll give me something to blog about once in a while, though I may provide more insight in my newsletter. But if you’re of a mind, the album is available for preorder here!

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This Weekend: ConGregate!

How nice it is to be going to science fiction and fantasy conventions once again! This weekend’s gathering, ConGregate, has consistently been one of the best-run of all the conventions I attend. This year it’s moved from High Point to Winston-Salem, NC, and is playing host to the 59th DeepSouthCon — which should make it even better than usual!

And, I just might have a surprise in store for my concert!

Here’s what I have going on:

Friday:

  • 5:30 p.m. — Open Filking
  • 7:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies: E Como Mai
  • 9:00 p.m. — Panel, “What is Filking?”

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Open Filking
  • 3:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 5:30 p.m. — Concert — the usual mix of silly and serious songs, possibly featuring a special guest!
  • 9:00 p.m. — Panel, “Writing Outside the Lines”

Sunday:

  • 9:00 a.m. — Prayer & Praise Service
  • 1:00 p.m. — Round Robin Filking

I wouldn’t be too surprised if we found some additional time for filking, and I hope to attend some of my friends’ concerts, but as it is the schedule looks both manageable and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I won’t make it back to the Raleigh area in time for Sunday afternoon’s Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse, but it will go on as scheduled under the watchful eye of another local science fiction author!

Let’s have some fannish fun, friends!

___
Related Items of Interest:
– Watch the music video of Tauntauns to Glory
– Listen to Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Visit Gray’s Online Store

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Mastery-Based Grading? Finally!

In the MindShift blog this morning, I read this little tidbit:

This kind of standards-based grading approach is a growing trend in some corners of education. It’s part of a push to make sure kids are actually mastering the information they’re supposed to learn, not just playing a points game.

The article is “How Teachers Are Changing Grading Practices With an Eye on Equity,” and it carries on an interesting and important discussion.

Interesting and important to me, at least! But, then again, I wrote about mastery-based teaching and ditching traditional grading systems in Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but … I told you so.

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At Elysium Planitia

Congratulations to NASA on another successful Mars landing!

I enjoyed watching the live feed of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team as they received the signals indicating that the InSight vehicle had successfully completed its approach to the red planet, deployed its parachute, and landed. Well done!

For more on the Insight mission, see Overview | Timeline – NASA’s InSight Mars Lander.

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The Villain is Not Always a Person

This question came up on Facebook the other day, when someone was looking for examples of books without definite antagonists. Many folks said that in stories like The Martian (and another recent book you might have heard about), the antagonist — the villain, if you will — is Nature. Man against the elements, as it were.

This morning, in the latest in his Writing Wednesdays series, Steven Pressfield wrote:

Sometimes the villain is entirely inside the characters’ (almost always the protagonist’s) head.

The villain can be a fear, an obsession, a desire, a dream, a conception of reality, an idea of what “the truth” really is.

That’s an interesting thought.

What this means is that the ultimate antagonist is not a man-eating shark or a monster from space. It is an idea carried in our own heads (we’re the heroes, remember, of our own lives) [and the] turning point for us … comes when we see through the Wizard’s curtain and reject this idea once and for all.

Food for thought!

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Zombie Blog Post: ‘Training’ is NOT a Bad Word

(Nothing horrific here: a “zombie” post only in the sense of coming back from the electronic dead.)

Here again I’m reprising an old blog post that I particularly like. It was published on this date in 2012 on the old NCSU-IES blog, which unfortunately no longer exists.

At the time, we had been having an internal debate over whether we provided “training” or “education” to our clients. There was a definite push by the unit leadership to say we were not trainers but instead were part of the “education” mission of the university.

Unsurprisingly (and perhaps unwisely), I pushed back:

The distinction between the two, as I understand it, is a matter of practicality. Training gives us skills and techniques we can practice, hopefully with enough knowledge to know when and where they will be useful. Education, meanwhile, gives us new knowledge and insights, and a better understanding of the world. When I taught CPR, I trained my students in how to apply the life-saving methods; when I taught leadership and management, I educated my students about different aspects of and approaches to the two.

[In 2011] one of my colleagues showed a tag cloud she made of comments from our clients and “training” was the largest word in the cloud (i.e., had been used by clients most often). Immediately, a discussion started about how we might change that perception and the relative worth of one versus the other. The discussions have been interesting. From what I’ve observed, on one side of the debate are folks who came from industry and say of course we provide training. On the other, folks who grew up in the academy tend to downplay the T-word in favor of education. In the middle, folks who have spent time in both camps lean one way or the other, depending on how deeply they’ve immersed themselves in the campus culture.

Color me unimpressed by the whole thing, and firmly on the side of training.

I admit, I started out with my share of the “we’re-the-university-so-of-course-we-educate” mindset. But recently I’ve been studying and refining a model of how we … should fit into the academic side of the university, and after thinking about it I’ve (to borrow a phrase) come to the dark side.

The way I see it, education and training are two sides of the same coin: teaching. Both imply the delivery of knowledge — or at least information — from a person who has it to a person who needs it. I’ve flipped that metaphorical coin a few times and come up with what I see as major differences between training courses and classroom education….

At this point the original post presented the differences in tabular form, but I’ve arranged them in a bulleted list for this “zombie” version:

  • In terms of Location, EDUCATION is mostly On-Campus, while TRAINING is mostly Off-Campus
  • In terms of Audience, EDUCATION is mostly aimed at Traditional Students, while TRAINING is mostly aimed at Nontraditional Students
  • In terms of Source Material, EDUCATION is primarily based on Theory, while TRAINING is primarily based on Practice
  • EDUCATION mostly delivers Facts & Ideas, while TRAINING mostly delivers Skills & Tactics
  • In terms of Desired Outcome, EDUCATION primarily emphasizes Thinking, while TRAINING primarily emphasizes Doing (but smartly)
  • EDUCATION is taught mostly by “Professors”, while TRAINING is taught mostly by “Practitioners”

Adult Students in Business Class
Whether education or training, it’s all teaching and learning. (Image: “Adult Students in Business Class,” by Newman University, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

As part of its transition to become the “Industry Expansion Services,” the staff deleted the finale of that old blog post (and the entire blog itself,* which I still think violated the rules for retaining official state records). A former co-worker recovered what was left of the blog and sent me the results, and that post ends right after the table with the enigmatic “From that p.”

However, thanks to the “Wayback Machine” Internet Archive, I found the remainder:

From that perspective, our … courses and services fit much more into “training” while the university’s more general offerings are clearly “educational.” And that’s okay! In the end, it’s all teaching.

Finally, on the Internet I found an interesting paper on the subject of education versus training, which included this amusing item:

Think of it this way. If your sixteen-year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school? Would that elicit the same response? Training is doing. Training improves performance.

So I say: of course we train people (though, not in sex). And if we educate folks at the same time — and we often do — that’s a bonus.

My perspective on this hasn’t changed: Education and training are both good and useful things. It’s all teaching.

And if you’re involved in the business of teaching — wherever you do it and whatever you teach — my hat’s off to you.** Thanks, and keep up the good work!

___
* I can’t even provide a link to the old NCSU-IES blog, since they now redirect to the College of Engineering page for some reason. I find it ridiculous.
** For more on teaching and learning and organizing schools and systems for better teaching and learning, may I present Quality Education.

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Monday Morning Insight: Do You Like Books? Great!

I spent the weekend at the ConCarolinas science fiction and fantasy convention, where I had the great pleasure of talking with a few people about my novel that’s in the publication pipeline — which is a bit surreal to me — so it seemed fitting to select a quote that relates to books to start the week. Teddy Roosevelt wrote,

Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls “the mad pride of intellectuality,” taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.

All of us who write and who hope our writing reaches an audience would do well to remember that some of what we publish will “meet the needs of one person, and some of another.” That follows along with Lincoln’s observation about not being able to please everyone all the time. We can only hope that our work finds its way to those who will appreciate it, and perhaps even to those who will value it.

Old books

(Image: “Old Books,” by Moyan Brenn, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

But Roosevelt is right that we should beware of dismissing books that meet other people’s needs, and thereby of dismissing those other people. In the science fiction and fantasy field, especially recently, fans and even authors have taken sometimes excessive delight in disparaging works we consider hackneyed or offensive or otherwise worthy of derision.

In some cases we’ve reacted to what we perceive as unmerited success (“How could so many people buy X?”), and in our most self-conscious moments we might admit to coveting that success for our own work. Alternately, we might think we are being discerning, perhaps even sophisticated; we might think we are making important statements about art and its relation to the world; we might just be trying to make a joke.

Regardless of the reason we find to scorn a book or someone else’s taste in books — we dislike the author (or the person) on some level, we prefer another subgenre, we haven’t had enough fiber that day — we would do well (I would do well) to realize that what we think of as a book’s faults or merits will differ from what someone else thinks, and we should allow one another our different opinions. The market, and time, will always be the final arbiters.

So, do you like books? If yes, great! If no — if you don’t like any books — then maybe you just haven’t found the right books for you yet. I hope you’ll keep looking!

And if so, what books do you like? Excellent! Whatever books you like, for whatever reason, that’s wonderful. Keep reading!

And have a terrific week!

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