Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I hadn't posted here for, what... three weeks now? MANY APOLOGIES!

My absence is largely due to ten million little tasks all piling down like a deluge of weasels, weasels driven like furry rain across the Great Plains, lashed on and on by all this stuff. Let's start with the fun and move into the rest:

  • I've made many thousands of words progress on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Current word-count:

    LOOK AT HOW CLOSE I AM TO DONE!

  • I've been doing this "300 Swings a Day Challenge," an idea promoted by the Breaking Muscle folks (who are awesome) and presented to me by clevermanka. Except for one day when I literally didn't have a minute to spare (but spared enough to do something like 100 anyhow, because FUCK ALL THAT I'M PRACTICING TO BE A BADASS), I've made my 300 swings EVERY DAY THIS MONTH. I started with my 55-pound kettlebell, but couldn't do more than about 40 with that, so switched to the 35-pounder. But for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing them ALL with the bigger weight, and in much shorter time (completed 250 swings last night between 7:30pm and 8:00pm, aw yeah), and with ever-improving form, AND starting to see some real changes in the musculature of my legs and ass and, honestly, all over. (I promise to post before-and-after shots at the start of April. Let's hope there's something to see!) I've tried to keep up with my other movements (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.), but the last two weeks have been... well, what got me started with this post.

  • My novel, Transcendence, was February's book selection for the PBR Book Club, which meets at the 8th St. Taproom (yes, friends, book fiends gathering at A BAR). Booze, books, and intelligent conversation - great tastes that taste great together. They had really insightful observations and questions. So much fun!

  • Saw the AMAZING Latenight Callers in concert at The Replay. If you haven't yet heard this band, DO IT NOW. I think of them as "Electro-Noir," and they're unlike anything you've heard for a long time, or maybe ever. They're seriously one of my favorite bands, and they operate out of the Kansas City metro area, and they formed in the cultural center that is Lawrence, KS. And I Knew Them When.

  • Went to Planet ComiCon in Kansas City's Bartle Hall Convention Center. Got to hang with LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (who's now working on a hip-hop comic!), Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Wil Wheaton, the Xenomorph from Alien (and his Predator buds), plus about a zillion local fans - many of them in costume. Wow. This was my first media-con since the 1990s (hello, Weaselmom!). I had no idea a local comicon could be so HUGE. The lines to get in wrapped around TWO city blocks. Once I adjusted to the crowds and lines, I realized that everyone was there among their tribe - polite, friendly, and HAPPY. A lot more fun than I'd expected. I'll do one of these again.

  • Finally, FINALLY, got the CSSF Lending Library fully alphabetized, including organizing our magazine holdings by publication and year. Just an off-hand guess, but I'd say we hold about 30,000 volumes. That was a monumental task, I TELL YOU WHAT, but my office (aka The Center's Space) is now the coolest room on campus. Before-and-after photos coming soon.

  • Designing my first Freshman-Sophomore SF course, which I'll offer this coming fall: Science Fiction and the Popular Media, where we'll study science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more. Hook 'em young, as they say. I made a request for suggestions on Facebook (which, sadly, is where I've been posting lately, also on my Tumblr blog, because if I'm only dropping something quick, that's where I go. Sorry for contributing to LJ's Long Decline.) This class should be a BLAST!

  • Hosted the English graduate-student recruitment party at our place, and met with one of the (hopefully) incoming creative writers.

  • Reading (and doing all the other logistics and setup) for this summer's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (June 1 - 15). We'll again have BOTH science-fiction Grand Master James Gunn and the inimitable Andy Duncan as this year's guest authors! Yours truly leads the Workshop. Are you thinking about applying, or know someone who would love to participate in an intensive but only two-week-long workshop? Now's the time!

  • Doing the thousand-and-one things necessary to host an international scholar here at KU. This year, the Center is host for a professor from Turkey! She'll be here until the end of May. (The last two were from China. We get around.)

  • Did a ton of thesis-project reading and critiquing and meetings, especially with one of my grad students who's working on an SF novel.

  • Teaching: Nothing unusual this semester, but teaching three full, writing-intensive courses always starts to crush me as we approach the middle of the semester. I was hoping to get caught up this week (Spring "Break"), but I have so many other things to do, including...

  • Journal-article writing: I'm finishing a research-intensive article about one of my greatest science-fiction heroes, a man with whom I had the great privilege and honor to spend anywhere from a few days to a week each summer: Frederik Pohl. Wonderful to go back and read so much by him again, but not so great to have to do this on top of things like...

  • Gary K. Wolfe's "Bold Aspirations" visit and talk for KU. SO MUCH planning. SO MUCH spreading the word, and setting up contacts, and writing press releases, and organizing gatherings, and ferrying him here from the airport, and so forth. Which was all great, mind you, but in the end a massive disappointment due to things I cannot discuss publicly. Friends, my fondness for academia is on the wane.

  • Building and organizing a group of Center for the Study of Science Fiction Faculty Affiliates. This has been really cool, setting up interdisciplinary relationships with faculty from all across the University of Kansas, but also a huge investment of time and energy. Expect Big Things out of this! More to come.

  • Similarly, I've been working with another brilliant group of interdisciplinary faculty and KU administrators in a think-tank named "Tech 2070," whose goal is to prepare the University for the kinds of changes we'll see over the next 50 years. FANTASTIC stuff, these bi-weekly meetings, but they also require hours of homework (seriously, but it's all stuff I'd read anyway given the time), including preparing to give presentations now that we've started to gel in our purpose.

And because it's not a post unless I share a photo of our Outdoor Pets, I hereby present "Squirrels Combating the Blizzard By Eating Tons of Birdseed" from the storm that whacked us recently (just days before the temps climbed back up to their present 60s and 70s!):


Click the chilly squirrels to see my Facebook photo albums.

Speaking of cute animals, want to see tons more photos of space-stuff and baaaby animals (among other things)? Then check out my Tumblr blog:


Click the fierce baby elephant to see my Tumblr blog.

...aaand now I've just spent an hour writing this post. So that's what's kept me away for so long. What have you been up to?

Chris
Just dropping in to share a charming urban-wildlife discovery: A few days ago, a robin made a nest in the ladder under the eaves of my garage. Well, it seems she's laid her eggs and is now incubating them. She saw me photographing her, so started eying me:



She wasn't fond of my mowing yesterday. Yes, the ground finally dried enough here in Lawrence, KS, to crop the jungle that had sprung up in the last few days of warmth. We went directly from winter (snow a week or two ago, freezing nights just a few days ago) to summer, and the grass has been exploding upward, unevenly, such that the yard looked like abandoned property. No more!

In other urban-wildlife news, my buddy Spot the Squirrel has taught two of his buddies (first-year squirrels) his little trick for getting food whenever he's hungry: First, he draws attention by standing on the fence outside the kitchen window, looking cute while trying to catch your eye:



Next, he jumps on top of the grill, right outside the back door, peering around the corner into the kitchen. If that doesn't work, he leaps onto the sliding-screen door and peeks inside, as demonstrated here:


If no one's in the kitchen when he does that, he starts leaping onto the screen - a rather noisy event that even gets my attention while working upstairs in my office. Well, now a young male and a pregnant young female have learned how to get more food, faster. I would like to think that these intelligent little critters have learned from one another a rich survival technique that their behavior earns reward, but I suspect it's more along the lines of they have trained the humans how to respond.

Apologies for the rare and intermittent posts; this semester has been killing me. So much work, so much unnecessary work-stress, so much prepping for Science Fiction Summer... yowza, it's almost May!

Hope you're doing well!

Best,
Chris
Yesterday, when I got home from an all-day English Department strategic-planning meeting, I saw a dead squirrel. Someone had driven over it. This was distressing, because I've gotten attached to several neighborhood squirrels. Also, if one of these poor bastards is going to die, it should be in the talons of a hawk or something, not a senseless death beneath the mindless wheels of a car.

When I parked my scooter, I picked up the little dead thing from the road and placed it in the grass beneath a tree in front of my house. It was still warm, flexible, but very dead. I spent a few seconds examining it to see if this was one of the regulars, my "outdoor pets," but it showed no markings I recognized.

I wonder if its siblings will perform another squirrel funeral like they did last time.
*

And then, this morning, I witnessed another little urban-wildlife tragedy. A few days ago, I put a big, clear-topped, metal live-trap on my back porch. See, I've apparently been breeding mice by feeding the squirrels and birds. Baby mice are about some of the cutest things you'll ever see, darting out of cover just long enough to fetch a seed, than darting back under cover like a furry lightning-bolt. Heck, I've even made videos of the tiny things, and will share them soon. Just need to upload.

This morning, I saw that the live trap caught two little mouses since I checked yesterday. One had been dead for a while, the other had just died and was cuddling it, nose pressed on top of its dead sibling.
*

Finally, last week, my grandmother Violet McKitterick died. She had been sick for a long time, living in a nursing home, but getting frequent visits from her five children, their partners, and even grandchildren. She hasn't been fully cognizant for a few years, but she seemed to enjoy the company. I thought I'd share a few of memories of my Grandma Vi:

When I was a little boy, especially before I started school or in the summers, I would often stay with Grandma Vi during the day when my parents were at work. I always looked forward to spending time with her. She was so kind and patient, letting me play with Matchbox cars all over the floor, or take apart old clocks or other things so I could figure out how they worked – even if they never did again.

Grandma Vi taught me to paint when I was barely old enough to hold a brush. I remember once, while she was doing rosemaling on the kitchen cupboards, I sat at the table and painted scrap pieces of wood in a similar style. One of these is still around somewhere. It says, "Violet is very beautiful."

In the hot summer when I had trouble falling asleep, Grandma would sometimes gently brush her fingernails along my back, giving me goosebumps so I felt cooler. It was such a comfort.

When I discovered she had played the accordion, I was so proud! It seemed like such a magical and complex instrument that surely she had to be a musical genius to be able to make that thing work.

Most of my earliest memories of Grandma Vi and Grandpa Harvey together were of them laughing and chasing one another around the house. She would laugh and say, "Oh, Harvey!" then giggle and swat at him. This ritual often ended with them scurrying off to the bedroom. They seemed so happy together. I still think of that as a model of how two people in love behave toward one another.
*

In other news, I'm still SWAMPED with new-course development. Sorry I've been away for so long! Now I've got to get back to work.

Best,
Chris
First up, I want to tell everyone that Summit Racing is awesome. I spent a couple days last week working on removing the rear suspension setup for the Chevelle in preparation for installing modern, awesome-handling parts. Full write-up with photos here. Summmit comes in because I noticed I was missing something. See this photo:



You probably noticed that there's no new lower control-arm in this photo side-by-side with the old one, like with the upper control-arm and the cross-brace. You'd be right. I also noticed this. But not right away; instead, I only noticed when I was setting up this shot, six months after ordering the parts... and failing to notice back then. Oops. A few emails and some calls with Summit Racing resolved the problem, which was that the manufacturer simply failed to ship them! Now they're on their way, and Summit is even reimbursing me the $40 price-drop since when I ordered the parts. I love Summit! Not only do they have great selection and prices, but their customer service rocks.

Next: You know I love my squirrels. Here's Spot, one of my "outdoor pets," a charming and clever fellow who has taught me to feed him whenever he's hungry. How? By getting my attention like this. He's also fearless, and when I toss out a cup of seed, all the other squirrels run away. But not Spot. He gets dibs, so intelligence DOES equal higher survival fitness, at least in my back yard....


Finally, today is Hadley Rille Books' 7th anniversary, and they're celebrating with 99¢ Kindle and Nook e-books for a limited time! Hadley Rille's specialties are SF, fantasy, and archeological - check 'em out!

It's also publisher Eric Reynolds' birthday. As a gift to himself in 2005, he fulfilled a long-time dream of starting a publishing company with Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future, a fantastic collection of short fiction - and it's still available. This is one of the things I love about this publisher in particular but the small press in general: As long as there's still demand, the books remain in print. Because Eric is such a great guy and Hadley Rille is such a cool business, I went with him to publish my first novel - and several short stories in a variety of collections.

Not into e-books? Well, Hadley Rille offers even more great novels and collections in both trade-paper and hardcover. Books make great gifts. Just sayin'. For example:


Click the cover to see more about the book, links, sample chapters, and more.

Now it's back to grading. I seem to say that a lot. Friday will be an all-day The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella write-a-thon, and Saturday is slated for working on the Chevelle, at least for part of the day, and then maybe going to see the new "Life of Pi."

Chris
Here's what I've been up to over the past week or two:

Visited Free State ComicCon


This is always a blast. Picked up a pile of graphic novels (and an awesome T-shirt of John Brown, Superhero).

Later that week was the "Weird Edition" of Super Nerd Night at the Jackpot.

Chased off a Home Invader


At 4:10am on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, whichever you prefer), the doorbell went off. Being a light sleeper, I woke instantly, if not clear-headedly, heart pounding within my ribcage, wondering, "WTF?!" A few seconds later, it rang again. Worried that a friend was in trouble, I set about searching for pants (found some stretchy shorts in the dark), glasses (no luck), and dagger (beneath the pillow, natch), and then headed downstairs. This is when the doorbell began ringing in eanest, as the visitor pressed it repeatedly for at least a dozen times. Now my concern turned to irritation and a bit of worry, because my friends wouldn't do that, would they?

Downstairs, I found my phone. No missed calls, so not a friend. Unfortunately, the front-door motion-detector light was turned off, making it tough to see outside very well (no Moon, either), so I inched the front curtain open. The doorbell-ringer had left. Whew.

Just then, I heard the back sliding-screen door open. Here's when I went all HOLY CRAP INTRUDER! The ensuing adrenaline cleared out any remaining sleepiness. The back-yard motion-detector light on the garage was unplugged, I learned later (probably my own fault from turning it off with a long stick), and the back-door light is switch-only (and off at the time), so no light back there, either. I peeked around the corner in the kitchen as the man - a little taller than me, I judged, and wearing bulky clothing - tried to open the sliding-glass door. Because of last year's adventure with locking myself out (this involved a drill, lock-puller, chisels, hammers, Sawzall, and such), the back door doesn't have a lock but is instead blocked; ironically, this is much more secure than a simple lock, so the door only slid an inch or so before hitting the rod in its runner. He put his hand INSIDE THE HOUSE, searching for a chain or something, I suspect, then pushed the door again.

Pissed off now, I turned on the overhead kitchen light. The intruder-dude CONTINUED TRYING TO GET INSIDE. Unfortunately, the sliding-glass door is virtually impossible to see through when it's dark outside and the overhead is on inside, so all I could see was a hand. CREEPY. At this point, it was time to go upstairs and fetch something more menacing than a dagger.

In the back bedroom where I store the menacing stuff, I discovered that, naturally, chernobylred had slept through all this. I turned on the light, informed her what was going on, found what I was looking for, and went back downstairs. En route, I also found my glasses.

When I reached the kitchen, he had left.

chernobylred, being more level-headed than I, asked, "Shouldn't we call the police?" Uh, yeah, good idea. Ahem.

They arrived within minutes. A cruiser rolled past on the street out front, lights off like a land shark, while another pulled into the alley with lights everywhere. Two police walked the alley with flashlights as bright as the sun, and another walked through my yard. The intruder was gone.

I gave them my report and discovered that they had found a suspicious man nearby on a bicycle. Of course I couldn't give any description, but if that was him, perhaps he'll be more cautious in the future. As in, NOT TRYING TO BREAK INTO HOUSES.

My theory? The doorbell-ringing was to find out if anyone was home. If someone meek had answered, he might well have busted inside for nefarious purposes, but I bet he'd have run away. I think he wanted to find an unoccupied house, break in, and steal stuff. I wish I'd gotten a good look and we could finally catch - assuming it's the same guy that's been robbing neighborhood houses - this serial burglar.

I'm double-locking the doors now and sleeping with more-substantial equipment within reach. Oh, and now all the outside motion-detector lights work.

Wrote a New, Um, Thing, Plus Jack and Stella


At last Thursday's Write Group, I finished a new piece of writing. My first sub-1000-word work in a long time! Now some polishing and off it goes.

Oh, and is coming along nicely. Over the past week or two I've written another couple thousand words. Best of all, I worked out parts of the plot-arc that were shaped more like nebulae. Also wrote a scene for the next book in the trilogy (I think it'll be three...).
The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:

Went to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival


Since the KC RenFest opened three weekends ago, I've gone three times! Different goals each time, naturally, with next time being a group trip to the Barbarian Battles region, where I intend to pummel my friends with foam swords. This last weekend, I caught a whole bunch of shows and finally rode the bungee-trampoline. HOLY COW was that fun! I aimed for the sky, and reached a good 30 feet or more toward it. The combination of trampoline below and gnarl of bungees attached to each side of a climbing harness = HUGE AIR. I leaped so high that the bungees were actually pulling me down, and upon hitting the trampoline, I sank in knees-bent several feet before it launched me back up.

A MUST-DO BLAST FOR ALL!

This was a day when I intentionally wore jeans, not the kilt. Ahem.

Saved a Baby Snake


I was working in the garage today and discovered that one of the sticky traps I put down in there to capture horrid things like Brown Recluse spiders had captured what looks like a baby Brown Snake. It was still alive, but barely moving. Only about eight inches long, thin as a pencil at its thickest, with a teeny pointed tail and wee face with long, black, nervously flicking tongue. It was stuck upside-down on the glue trap, face first, looking like it was trying to eat the cricket stuck there.


Click the image to see the Great Plains Nature Center's website.

I felt so bad! I looked up how to humanely free a critter from the trap, and it seems that vegetable oil will do the trick. So I trimmed the glue trap down to near the snake, then drizzled olive oil (the only oil I could find in the house) along both sides of its body. I set it down in the shade in the grass upside-down so that the snake would be upright, then soaked the back (paper) of the trap, too, thinking it would loosen the glue faster.

Went back out after an hour, and the snake is gone. Hooray! Go free, little Brown Snake, and eat bugs and snails!

Conclusion


Sorry I haven't posted much in the past week. I've been busy with teaching, writing, and so forth. Hope you're well!

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: Thanks for the art, M'chelle! (robot joy)
( Jul. 12th, 2012 11:49 pm)
Just dropping in for a moment because 1) I'm still alive, and 2) I HAVE TO SHARE SOMETHING FANTASTIC!

On my way home tonight from the CSSF summer program's scholarship hall, a fox trotted across the road in front of me. I slowed down and pulled over, only to notice that this one little fox had joined up with THREE OTHERS! I've been seeing them almost every night. They look much healthier and larger than they did last year, and their tails now display big red poofs of fur in the middle.

No way could I have gotten a photo of them, so small and silent-swift in the night, so here's my little fox friend from a couple of years ago in the Colorado Rockies:



Life update: Yes, the Workshop is a wrap, and it was just wonderful this year. Two writers from Canada, one from South Africa, and several from across the USA brought unique writing styles and critique POVs, and it was a joy. Tiring as all get-out, but just great. The Campbell Conference in its new digs was lovely, our guests charmed all and the attendees had great conversations, and everyone made it home safely. Right now the SF Teaching Institute is underway, and the discussants are so lively that just a few questions keeps us going for three hours... and then into dinner and lunch the next day.

Pics to come of the events.

In summary: Hooray foxes! Hooray SF!

Chris
The tree frogs in the back yard are DEAFENING. Wow, what a crop this year! When I first heard them, just a few years ago, I thought they were some kind of mega-voiced insect. But as they grew more vocal, I though no way could a single bug make that much sound.



A couple of years ago, I happened to be talking with a herpetologist who asked me to make the sound (which I only barely can, a super-fast high-pitched warble), and he declared it a tree frog. Apparently, they can go through their entire egg-tadpole-legged life cycle in 24 hours, given nice deep rain puddles. Viola! Frogs inland from water, like charming, noisy mosquitoes. They might wake me, but I much prefer them to their winged counterparts.

Chris
mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Jan. 11th, 2012 03:45 pm)
Just finished the massive task of updating all my class syllabi, websites, handouts, online readings, and so forth for the coming semester. This included at least 10 hours of converting legacy Word .doc format syllabi to more-useful and appopriate Web .htm format... which made my eyes bleed. 'Nuff said.

Getting over a little flu. I love being healthier overall, when "I have the flu" means "My nose is runny and I feel a little weaker" for a day or so.

Last weekend, I installed a couple of solar-powered motion-detector lights to illuminate the dark areas of the back yard. More on that in a moment.

Last night I rewarded myself for a 12-hour day by watching disc #2 of the Star Wars saga (I refuse to call it "Episode 2"). It was much cooler than I remembered, not nearly as irritating as disc #1, and very pretty. Gorgeous sound, of course, what with this being Lucas and all, who frakkin' invented modern movie sound.

During the show, the light mounted on the wall of my shed came on repeatedly. Apparently, I was ignorant of the variety and frequency of urban wildlife who visited me at night. The list, just during the movie:
  • fat opossum

  • large coyote (!!!)

  • little opossum

  • more visits from the coyote; every time I went for my camera, it would turn and trot away.

  • raccoon

  • red fox

  • another large opossum

  • tortoise-colored kitty

Here is the best of several awful photos of said coyote:



As soon as I moved to within ten feet of the sliding-glass door, it would trot back out into the alley. It stood about two feet at the shoulder - didn't know they got so large in town! Or that they even lived here. Wow.

About 30,000 words into my next novel, The True-Life Space Adventures of Jack and Stella.

And I just emailed all the students in my large classes with links to their syllabi and online resources. All set for the semester!

Best,
Chris
There's this charming little squirrel I've named Spot (because he bears a light-colored spot on his back; clever, I know) who is not terribly afraid of people; in fact, when we toss seeds onto the back patio (in response to his begging), he doesn't run away but instead waits while his siblings dash off to safety. In fact, Spot seems as if he wants to come inside. Lately, I always close the garage door behind me when I enter.

In re: the charming photo: This scene takes place several times a day. Spot climbs to the top of this fencepost, right outside the kitchen window, and looks cute and globular in an attempt to get more handouts. It usually works. Most often, he trundles up to the back door, a sliding-glass affair, and peers in as if to say, "Hungry out here. The seed is gone. More please!" When the dumb humans fail to heed his call, he finds other ways to get our attention, such as this. He also climbs the wall and gets on top of the back-yard floodlights, so as to reach eye-level and peer inside. "Ahem. Hungry!" Clever boy.


Because I'm an optimist and a fool, today I decided to try something new. Holding an almond in my outstretched fingers, I opened the patio door, knelt down, and made the universal tongue-smacking-feeding-time sound at Spot. He nervously hopped around, looking at me, at one point uttering a chittering sound with his teeth. I think it translates roughly as, "Stupid human. Just drop the almond and no one gets hurt!" Of course I didn't listen.

Eventually he decided to take the almond. Now, don't think Disney-princess interaction here, imagine something more along the lines of Cujo. Yup, charming little Spot leaped onto the back of my hand and then jumped away, skittering around a bit until coming to rest a foot or two away from my now-scratched-up hand. "Warned you, buddy. Now drop it."

I tossed him the almond and closed the door.

Moral of the story? In the immortal words of Guy Fleegman, "Of course they're cute now. But in a second they're going to turn mean and ugly somehow and then there are going to be a million more of them!"

Yeah, maybe I won't continue my efforts to hand-train ungrateful little Spot.

Chris
A few minutes ago, I had ten (10!) squirrels eating the seeds I put out this morning! This might be a new record. I didn't even know that many lived in my yard.

One was eating bird-seed out of the bird-feeder. Now, I love my squirrels, but the seed is also intended for the neighborhood bird population. We have Jays, Cardinals, Doves, and many varieties of Little Brown Birds. So I went outside to have a chat with the fellow in the feeder to encourage him to leave. Most of the other squirrels scattered when I opened the sliding-glass door; however, en route, one squirrel on the back patio refused to move more than a few steps out of my way. Brave little beggar - I think this is the one who stands at the door asking for dinner every day. Here's a before-shot of the party; Brave Dude is in the center-front, nearest the glass:



When I reached the garage, the bird-feeder squirrel just looked at me for a few seconds as I stood mere feet away. "Hey, little fellow, those are for the birds." *blink-blink*

Then he hopped to the ladder on the side of the garage (a foot or two farther away) and stared at me for a few more seconds until finally getting frustrated that I wasn't leaving. I went back inside to heat up some coffee. Minutes later? Yeah, back in the feeder. *sigh*

Just in case you missed 'em in the last photo, here is a visual aid. Note that three are not visible: one each to the right and left, and one in the fire-pit gnawing on dead Jack-O-Lanterns:



Every day is a party at Casa del McKitterick!

Chris
In this wonderfully illustrated talk about "preparing the groundwork for an empathic civilization," Jeremy Rifkin discusses the evolution of empathy how it has shaped human development and how we interact. Check it out, then come back and we'll talk:



What he's saying here is that we need to broaden our sense of identity from selfish or tribal or religious or national identity to identifying as part of human civilization, as a fellow living being, as part of the Earth's biosphere - and I would add, as part of the Milky Way Galaxy, as part of the universe as a whole. He says that we are "soft-wired for sociability, attachment, affection, companionship," and that our "first drive is to belong. It's an empathic drive."

He summarizes, "If we are truly Homo Empathicus, then we need to bring out that core nature. Because if it doesn't come and out it's repressed by our parenting, our educational system, our business practices, our government, the secondary drives take over: the narcissism, materialism, utilitarianism, violence, and aggression."

This is the primary theme in all I write. It's what Transcendence is about, what Empire Ship is about, and what my upcoming young-adult SF books will be about - that we must be empathic in all we do, because all we produce (our "fictions," technology and nationalism (in its broadest sense) and religion build barriers to understanding one another. Those walls we build rise so naturally when we don't exercise empathy - which is hard! It hurts to feel the suffering around us - and the wall-building grows as we stifle our empathic capacity, thereby limiting our ability to see others as like us in some way, even as human.

Lack of understanding leads to lack of empathy. Lack of empathy leads to easy dehumanization (or de-bunny-ization or so forth). Next, our identity shrinks until at some point it shrivels down to just Me. Then selfish drives take over, and it feels right and sensible that all I care about is what I want, because I can't imagine what others would think or feel. Now it's easy to hurt others; it's easy to disregard others, to lock them away in dungeons, to steal from them or take advantage of them, to rape or kill them.

It's only natural that prisoners and victims develop powerful empathy for their abusers, because the victim's world makes no sense: Why would someone do this to me? So they grope for understanding, exercising their empathic powers, delving into the minds of their abusers. This is why we have Stockholm Syndrome, why people stay with their abusive parents or partners.

It also explains why people who consistently behave in sociopathic ways - guards at secret prisons, habitual criminals, investment bankers - appear to lose their humanity. It's why military training works hard to erase the humanity of the target, and why soldiers make poor police. In fact, I would like to see a study that seeks to cure "sociopaths," because I hypothesize that such people might be curable over time if they exercise their atrophied empathy.

The dude who wandered around the Middle East a couple thousand years ago preached love and understanding and forgiveness: He preached that we must exercise our empathy or we will descend into Hell, which - In a literal sense - means that our world will become horrific if we are incapable of understanding and empathizing with one another.

Saving the world is simple: The sooner we start embracing the people and animals and natural wonders around us as part of us, as our identity, the sooner we will solve all the problems facing us.

This is also what I love about science fiction: It is the literature of the human species, not limited to the individual or nation or religion or even species or planet. Taken as a whole, SF says that we are all in this together, and when we're not - and when we lose our capacity to think of us as in it together - things go to hell in a hurry. As our technology grows more powerful, so too does our capacity to dehumanize and destroy others.

The Cold War was so horrible because it institutionalized anti-empathy. All wars are like this, including the current "war on terror" (and we all know that, right now, that means against Islamic fundamentalism), which is worse in many ways because it is not nation vs. nation or ideology vs. ideology: It's Us vs. Them. There's no reasoning with that, and the side-effects are pervasive and creeping. We all know The Terrorists are evil, right? And they all know that the West is evil. There's no room for understanding when our walls rise up and meet at the top.

When we cease empathizing, when we lose the capacity to imagine the other as our self, we build mausoleums around our cultures, nations, religions, and everything else that constitutes our identity - around our very selves! But empathizing is hard, I know. Listening to the news is painful, because it's all about suffering and loss. As the Dread Pirate said, "Life is pain, princess. Anyone who says differently is selling something." Heck, every week I see an animal on the side of road, needlessly killed by inattentive drivers, and that makes me suffer a little more. When I can, I stop and move the dead thing to the bushes and tell it that it's safe now, but at a deeper level that's just for me, to ease my empathic suffering.

One can argue that the most selfish thing you can do is to empathize. But as Rifkin says, "To empathize is to civilize," so this is one need we should satisfy whenever we can.

To be able to feel others in our heart: This is what it means to love. When people say that love is what life is all about, that there's nothing greater than to love and be loved in return, they don't mean some cheesy Hallmark version of love; they mean empathize with each other. This is all that matters in life. This is how we save the world.

Go out and empathize today!

Love,
Chris
Especially for [livejournal.com profile] weaselmom:


Click the image to see more wonderful photos by Chris Buzelli.

What do you think happens next? What's in there? Is this curious squirrel about to embark on an adventure into places we can only imagine? Is this the transformational moment in Squirreldom?

I love this guy's art, how each piece suggests an entire story, usually something magical. I discovered Chris Buzelli because of the art he painted for Kij Johnson's creepy new story, "Ponies."

If you like this piece, check out his galleries.

Chris
This pic is from [livejournal.com profile] photo_squirrel, and it might as well be from my front yard. The squirrels in my neighborhood love that my neighbor has new grass seed on the ground: It means she has to water every day, because August in Kansas is hot and mostly rain-free. So squirrels 'round these parts are rubbing their bellies in the mud to cool down! Wheeee!


*ded*
Chris
I haven't seen this little guy for months, but here he is again, healthy and as silly as ever:


Hooray! I was getting worried. Note that, unlike other squirrels, he just sort of hoovers up the seeds rather than pick them up and nibble.

Best,
Chris
It's pouring rain outside, and this little fella is nibbling clover and dandelion leaves. I love bunnes: Almost no dandelions have reached adulthood because of their appeal to bunnies.


And here it is kind of nervous about my camera in the window:


Best,
Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (squirrel jedis)
( Jun. 4th, 2007 10:51 am)
OMG! There's a young bunny lying on her belly on the stone walkway between my house and the garage, eyes closed, basking in the sun!

*ded* from the cute.
In other news, I just finished mowing my lawn, so four fist-sized dinosaurs are roaming the freshly mown grass in search of prey, tearing their victims from newly exposed terrain. Four different breeds, too. If you squint just right, you can imagine how this world must have looked when dinos taller than the trees stomped the land.
 = 

And oooh! A bunny just hopped past! It kinda breaks the suspension of disbelief when a bunny stands three times the size of the feathered T-Rexes.
I don't know if I've mentioned before that my house is regularly assaulted by woodpeckers. My chimney has a steel UFO-thingy on top of it to keep birds from nesting in the chimney proper. One particular bird finds this to be a wonderful tool for enhancing his mating call. Here he is, roosting on top of the chimney:
cut for bird photos )
What you can't tell from this peaceful photo is that, just a minute before I took this shot, I was working inside when RAT-A-TATATATAT! Like a machine-gun's bullets pummeling a lightly armored vehicle, his beak assaulted my chimney. This was not the first time. No, pretty-boy here:
Read more... )
regularly pounds out a wake-up call in the morning, a "calling all female woodpeckers!" message in the afternoons, and pretty much every time in between. I decided that today I'd catch him in the act, because today was special: I had two competing woodpeckers pounding away on my roof's sheet-metal. Here's the second one on the vent out back:
Read more... )
Duelling machine-gun fire. Note the war-wounds my house has sustained: Those dents aren't from hail.

Moving on. Does anyone know what this alien growth is?
Read more... )
It's growing beside my house from that leafy mass on the bottom. I have three such leafy masses around the house; the leaves are long and sharp and very fibrous, but never before have they sprouted giant green pillars. It's about six feet tall! What comes out of the top? The invasion force? Or will it one day just open its eyes, stretch its legs, and walk away?

Houses: endless entertainment.

Chris
Tiny baby squirrel eating yard strawberries! Oooh, they're so cute when they're brand-new! And still free of scars from the neighborhood cats.

Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (squirrel jedis)
( Apr. 9th, 2007 11:08 am)
A squirrel in front of my house is digging through the leaves and helicopter-seed detritus in the grass near the street. Two robins are doing likewise. I assume the birds are looking for something different from what the squirrel seeks.

Well, this squirrel seems to be a trouble-maker. (NOTE: He is an adolescent fella.) Every so often, he hop-hop-hops past the birds, arms and legs wide to present a Big Squirrel persona, threatening to hop on top of them. The robins hop away, then stare at this freakish little beast for a while. You can almost hear them thinking, "Since when have squirrels become predators? Hm, doesn't seem to be pursing me. Damn kids."

One of the robins has decided to turn this on the squirrel, hopping at him with wings a-flutter. Squirrel mostly ignores this.

I love my little wildlife shows!

Best,
Chris
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