Thursday, May 30

In the meantime, he worked on his book.

Why he was writing a book he could not have told you. Back on earth it would have been termed a political pamphlet against the colonial system. Here there was no one to convince of his thesis, nor had he any expectation of being able to present it to a reading public. Venus was his home. He knew that there was no chance for him ever to return; the only way lay through Adonis, and there, waiting for him, were warrants for half the crimes in the calendar, contract-jumping, theft, kidnapping, criminal abandonment, conspiracy, subverting government. If the company police ever laid hands on him, they would jail him and lose the key.

No, the book arose, not from any expectation of publication, but from a half-subconscious need to arrange his thoughts. He had suffered a complete upsetting of all the evaluations by which he had lived; for his mental health it was necessary that he formulate new ones. It was natural to his orderly, if somewhat unimaginative, mind that he set his reasons and conclusions forth in writing.

— "Logic of Empire", Robert A. Heinlein

I never liked "Logic of Empire" much. It's the last story in a collection titled The Green Hills of Earth, maybe the least impressive of any of them. A minor work by a guy capable of much more. And depressing. I never wanted to agree that slavery wasn't so much deliberate evil as kind of an inevitable consequence of human stupidity. But I start to wonder: What's the difference?

"The Green Hills of Earth", the reason I picked up the book again in the first place, looking for those lyrics: There's a story. (I always pictured Rhysling as a black guy for some reason. Make a movie and you'd want, who, Morgan Freeman? He'd work for the older Rhysling, anyway.)

Tonight, I want to write something big. Big by whose standards or what measure I'm not even sure, but big.

It's summer now, and I've done little this past month but think. Or try to think, I mean. About everything mostly, though my brain won't really cooperate. Some about nothing, which it likes even less. It used to work better when I thought about everything. It's amazing how ignorance leaves you free to decide the big questions about life and the world. I don't even know what the big questions are any more.

I used to be able to think really well about nothing, too.

There are a hundred moths flying around up here. They keep hitting the ceiling fans with little thwacks or flying into the screens. Who knows how they got in or when; they were just here last night when I turned on the lights. We must not have built this place all that tight, which comes as no surprise if you were there when we did it.

I tried writing a song this month, for the first time. Just lyrics to a tune Eric sent me - a few simple chords on the guitar played over tape hiss in the mp3 he sent. It's hard to write something you think is good, harder still to write something you're not ashamed to give someone else. I don't know that I quite did either. Time might tell. I want to try it again.

My dad's cousin Fred died this month. Cancer. We went to the funeral. Lutheran service in a church at Salemsborg, Kansas. I don't think Salemsborg exists any more. Just the church and the cemetery. Beautiful country down there, not too far south of Salina. Fred was in his early fifties maybe, and I knew him hardly at all, which wasn't enough.

I talked to my cousin Rachel after the service, for longer than I have in a while. She's been married almost a year now. We talked about churches and institutional weirdness and Monty Python. About being pretty settled in a place, still not knowing quite what you want to do, having kids in a few years, building a house.

I think my non-Lutheran relatives find the liturgy and chanting and benedictions a little weird. Or a little disturbing and ridiculous. A little too Catholic. Something. Growing up with it, it was just boring. Somewhere, I started paying some attention. Now I'm not sure what it is. Or what it was. Things change, rituals bleed together, forms and movements cease to signify, meaning becomes implicit and fades. But it's still there, if you look in the right light. So, I guess or hope, is everything else. Sing How Great Thou Art. Watch the casket roll down the aisle. Think whatever this is, it just is, nothing I can say will change that and it's not my place to say anything much. Words really do fail, just about always.

I had someone tell me not too long ago, Calvinism is basically the Gospel. The hell it is, I wanted to say, but who am I to claim a knowledge of Calvinism or a handy definition of "the Gospel"? What I know is, these things are both deeper and shallower than they seem, and brother, if you haven't been there maybe you oughta keep your mouth shut a little longer.

If I lapse into some kind of almost-verse thing here, extra line breaks and no pretense of organization, will you keep reading? Or did I lose you already? I guess we'll see. Maybe I'll just keep going like this. This isn't a coherent essay, though chunks of it were going to be. It's just what it is, which is to say it's me nursing a second beer and sitting here sweating getting closer to deep tired and maybe half waiting for a storm to roll in and signify a little nothing overhead.

Late afternoon, I put Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on the stereo in the living room (the big, ugly Pioneer, with the bigger, uglier speakers) and stretched out just about dead center on the rug to listen, or sleep, or meditate. Something. That state of mind you only hit not quite comfortable stretched out on a floor, or rolling down interstate, someone else driving, leaning on a window and feeling the tires hum all the way up through the frame. Pillow over my head and sunlight streaming in, one critically acclaimed and quite possibly overhyped post-alt-country pop-noise genius album washing through my brain. Twice.

(Wilco: Beulah meets... What? The Beta Band channeling Bob Dylan? The Band? Nope, won't work. I just don't have the referents. I asked my sister, is this sad-bastard music? Probably, she said.)

Ever heard a song and thought, this says everything I want to say? Sure you have, if you dig music much. What does that really mean? Ever tried to play a song for someone in lieu of just plain saying it, 'cause you don't even know what you mean but you're pretty sure if they'd just listen it would make sense? Did it work?

Somehow I haven't had much luck.

Ever heard a song and thought, if I could just make something like that, I could say everything I want to say?

Yeah, me too. But then I squandered my youth, and somehow I got to be 21 without becoming a guitar-wielding lyrical genius. We won't even talk about the vocals. Ever wondered if you could do it just with words on a page? Set up an echo of what you're feeling and knowing in someone else's mind, so powerful they might be listening to you pour your soul into some brilliant music they can't ignore? It's not really the same thing but you know people come close once in a while. Maybe.

Robert Heinlein was the writer I wanted to be when I was a little kid and it was easy to say, hey, I'm going to be a writer. That voice I heard in my head reading his stuff, the guy narrating Have Spacesuit, Will Travel or Time for the Stars or The Door Into Summer all fifteen or twenty times I read it in a decade - that was *my* voice, somehow. The one narrating my own life, at least some of the time. The one that'd tell my story going to the stars, fleeing some alien horror across the surface of Luna or sitting in a bar in some post-WWIII vision of Denver, ca. 1970, watching my cat drink gin.

Things change.

(Yes, I have been reading too much EGR. No, this is not finished.)