I will turn 68 years old a week from tomorrow. In sixty-eight years, I have managed to log a couple of accomplishments. I have walked around the block all by myself at least three times. I've learned English, a bit of Mexican Spanish, a smattering of Japanese, plus Morse Code and semaphore. I've even picked up a few words of Swahili from my work on Beyond the Rails. The Morse and semaphore came courtesy of my hitch as a radioman in the navy, where I also learned about a number of other things, from fancy knots to dead-reckoning navigation to how to deal with an exceedingly dangerous class of weapons, the naval mine. Because many of these mines are triggered by the magnetic field of a steel ship, the minesweeper I served on was made primarily of Douglas Fir, making it an almost unique experience in the modern navy; minesweeper sailors learned things that sailors on the USS Constitution had to know. The motto of the Mine Countermeasures Force was "Wooden Ships and Iron Men..." They do it with helicopters nowadays. I played a season of football on a Welfare & Rec team while I was in the navy. I was a pothead for a bit after my discharge, hung out with (and was one of) the colorful characters in a southern California beach town. I got clean, enrolled as a student in the San Diego chapter of the Japan Karate Federation, where I eventually rose to assistant instructor. For all of that, I'm more closely akin to Kwai Chang than Toronaga, charming my way out of trouble when the opportunity presents itself. I've had two fights, won them both, and backed off a snarling dog once on a walk with my wife-to-be. Based on that one incident, she believes to this day that I'm the toughest bastard since Al Capone; I should have bought that dog a beer! For thirty years, I was an avid wargamer. Without going into a lot of detail, these are games that simulate historical events. They simulate the randomness of combat and the fog of war by compiling tables of possible outcomes, and asking the players to roll dice to determine what happens when the two armies finally clash. My life-long best friend has a daughter who is deaf, and inspired by her condition, I read a book on American Sign Language. Curious about how such things work, I bought a Taro deck. Couldn't make heads nor tails of it. My mind doesn't flow along those channels, but I'm aware of their existence, and have a slight grasp of how their practitioners use them. Believe it or not, I have actually done a couple of other things in that brief span of 68 years.
Well, of course you have, you may be thinking. So have I. What's your point?
It seems that two days ago, while attempting to contribute some bits and pieces of my accumulated life experience to a conversation taking place at Scribblers' Den, I was taken to task by a relatively new member for being a bit of a know-it-all, and he eventually wrapped up his discourse by remarking on the remarkably full life I must have led, suggesting that 68 years is not long enough to have learned about (not mastered, mind you) such disparate subjects as sign language, Taro cards, and die-rolling. He even seemed to be suggesting that no one could have possibly figured out how to make a list of possible events, then choose one randomly by rolling dice before he thought of it; makes me wonder what dice were used for before he came along. Anyway, his concluding statement was to wonder "How can your good self always seem to be ahead of others, including sign
language, etc., in a subject that doesn't normally cover such themes
often?" Apparently his point, which I missed the first time through, is that, as a steampunk author, I'm not supposed to be knowledgeable about anything except corsets and dirigibles. Allow me to take this opportunity to apologize for having a life outside the page.
Now, taken in isolation, this event can only be seen as the half-assed joke that it is, but nothing ever happens in isolation, does it? People who have known me for a while are aware that writing has become more and more of a chore for me, an increasingly uninteresting exercise in pounding my head against the wall of a blank page. That seems to describe my lifestyle, and the very reason I have such wide-ranging yet shallow knowledge of so many subjects. I'm a collector of experiences. When my interest is piqued by something, I jump into it and gain enough knowledge to satisfy my curiosity, then move on to the next thing. My approach to the journey is to try on what life has to offer like so may sets of clothes. Writing seems to be no different. I've written two books, which seems to be one too many. My subconscious mind has crossed that accomplishment off the bucket list, and is urging me to move on, and offended, insulted, and angered by my encounter with this gentleman, the day when I do exactly that has moved dramatically closer on my desk diary. I haven't offered any comments to Scribblers' Den since Tuesday, and I may not again. This kind of crap isn't what I go there for. Scribblers' Den is my baby. I created it, and added such peripherals as the shared world of Port Reprieve, and the Empire Booksellers listing of members' published works. This stuff didn't just fall out of a tree, it took time and creative energy, and it continues to take time and energy to maintain them. I don't do this so that I'll have a convenient place to go when I want to be insulted and all but called a liar in front of all my friends, thus making this little near-humorous event the straw that broke the camel's back.
So, what does the future hold? I'm almost finished with Beyond the Rails III, with just a couple of chapters left to go. I'll probably go ahead and complete that, changing the ending to bring the saga to a full conclusion. Stingaree is almost certainly dead. I haven't given anything beyond that more than cursory thought, and now even that cursory thought will be replaced by the next exciting exploration. There's no knowing how long I might have hung on to this writing gig, and all the peripheral social media that goes with it, if I hadn't been shaken out of the doldrums by this one abrasive character, so far from being angry and insulted, if I go on to another adventure or two, I will owe him a great deal for jarring the stalled mechanism loose and getting me moving along to the Next Big Thing. And in answer to the opening question, Pretentious? Yes, I suppose I am!
And that about covers it. I'll see you next week, maybe, with something, I don't know what. Until whatever time we may meet here again, question everything!