Descriptions of the Nondescript


"It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done."

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch artist

To Be Outside of It All and Wish to Change the World

Enemy_of_the_StateI feel like Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State. You know: that movie with Will Smith where Hackman's character is the old guy who knows how corrupt and all-powerful the system is and Smith's character is the one who gets stuck in a web of intrigue far enough that he desperately needs Hackman's help to survive.

The system in that case was the spy and counterspy world of the NSA and international electronic surveillance. It's a system that exists beneath the radar of Everyman so far that virtually no citizen knows it exists. And yet it does exist, and the extent of its tentacles' invisible involvement in the life of Everyman is unbelievably entangled. Smith discovers all of this and awakes to understand a part of reality he had been supporting with his own efforts --- taxes paid, votes cast --- but would probably not have done so if he had known what was going on. I feel this way a lot lately.

The_Matrix_PosterIt's a bit like The Matrix too. We're all "copper tops" powering something we're intimately intertwined with, but we have no idea it's there or that we're making it possible. This invisible part of the world we live in is made possible by our contribution --- and here I mean in way more ways than simple taxes and votes --- and the resulting invisible superstructure of society not only exists and benefits from us, but actually acts to control us so that we never really perceive it. But even more importantly, these invisible puppeteers who live off the proceeds of the labors of the world act directly to maintain their power over us and our ignorance of their manipulations of us to keep it that way.

Imagine any of the really rich families, for example. The Koch brothers of energy, chemical, pulp and paper, the Waltons of Walmart fame, or the Rothchilds, the Rockefellers, the Romanovs, the di Medicis, or even the Hiltons. There are hundreds or even more than a thousand of these groups, families that are wealthy beyond belief, whose connection to the real world you and I occupy is tenuous at best. They exist as they do because the system of our world gives people with wealth like theirs enough power to never have to even see the world upon which even their elevated and distanced existence depends.

joe-sixpackConsider Joe Sixpack, the guy next to me on the train or the bus nearly every day of the week. He's a great guy, with a family he loves, a big morgage and several credit card balances and car loans. He loves football and beer and barbecuing in the back garden on summer evenings, and his contributions to his church are significant fraction of his disposable income because he's someone who works hard and wants to give back to society. He works for Boeing, having made his way up from sweeping factory floors to leading a manufacturing team making carbon fiber composite wing tips. He votes Republican because he believes in hard work and not allowing our government to tax and spend its way into becoming even more a bloated burden on business and work people, giving away American wealth to support lazy, stupid poor people who need to just get up from their couches and get a job and become like Joe.

girl-sunglassesAcross the aisle on the train is Ms. Lila Liberal. She eats organic fruit and nuts and yogurt on the train and reads Huffington Post articles on her iPhone. She carries a bag made from recycled materials she bought while on a working vacation in Haiti helping to rebuild low income housing destroyed during recent earthquakes there. She works as a legal assistant in a high rise building in Seattle, often exceeds her boss's expectations, and is getting noticed for it. It seems her future is very bright. She's an atheist, and lives with her partner who is a woman. She always votes Democrat, although she does so reluctantly, knowing her candidates are funded by corporate and other interests expecting to receive concessions in return. She believes the world could be a much better place if only the influence of the gigantic corporations in our government could be eliminated.

Never mind which of these people's beliefs are the ones I agree with. Never mind which you agree with. Think about them in abstract for the moment. These two people would seem to be opposites in many ways. They are opposed in views, and effectively cancel each other out in terms of political power. They represent a continuous source of conflict for which there appears to be no resolution.

What of it? Why do these two people matter? It's the work that enables their very existence, creating things in the world, lending the energy of their bodies and minds and creativity toward the forward progress of an economy that matters. They work, trading their time for money --- the very same money that they need to live and pursue their interests, to raise their families or pets, or simply to keep their surroundings beautiful and comfortable, and to continue to work so they can earn money to continue the cycle. As they work, they put energy into the system that is our economy. In spending their earnings, they help to move everyone's money along, again adding value in the sense that they are choosing products that are better than competitive products, taking them home, and using them --- perhaps eventually needing repairs or replacement parts or a subscription to continue to be useful over time.

These people, like most of us, are hamsters on a wheel, running forever to get what they need to continue to run. Ah, you'll say, it's what they do with their lives along the way that matters. Sure. It certainly is. But that's not the point of my little rant here, so I'll continue on to that point having said enough on the subject of hamster wheels for now.

What matters is that they keep running. Adding value to the economy, building its energy level up and up and up. This powers the continuation of what all have built over the centuries: human civilization as we know it. This is a good thing. We're all improving our standard of living, building wealth, getting safer, more comfortable, healthier, etc.

364px-AinBut along the way there is a group that is buoyed upward by this process as an invisible side effect of the world's self-enriching climb upward. The rising tide may raise all ships, but some of the ships are rising faster than most, and they're so high already we can't even see them. We never could. These are the richest of the rich, whose existence depends entirely upon the efforts of Joe and Lila and billions in the world just like them. These wealthy, privileged people depend on the continued balancing act of the political process that keeps everyone arguing while true control of the world is actually in the hands of those who provide the funding to power the election controversies and the mannequins who run for office in the first place. They pay a little to get control, but that control provides them with an astoundingly huge return on that investment.

As long as Joe and Lila continue to oppose each other while working to put food on their tables, build their homes into comfortable places, keep themselves entertained, and doing all the things we have come to believe we are free to do in life, the Rothchilds, the Waltons, the Kochs, and all the others can keep printing money and pulling the strings.

Or not. They have so much money they can hire someone to handle all of the sordid details of running the world. They have more important things to do --- there is an island in the Hawaiian island chain that's available if they buy their way past laws and make it theirs before someone else does.

Light, Life, and the Elephant in the Room

It was the wheels on the carriage supporting her open coffin that led me to these thoughts, sitting there among the other family members. I looked back along her lifeline --- the one I'd been discovering over the last frantic few days of scanning family photos, seeing her life for the first time as more than the caricature age had made of the beautiful, vibrant person she was. She'd been born, played, learned. She had loved and had been loved. She had laughed and wept, been filled with the love and loneliness and joy and sorrow that comes to all of us --- if we're lucky.

She had lived. I knew it intellectually. But there it was --- a life, full of thrills and crises and loves and losses and joy.


Sitting there streaming my own tears and choking on a lump in my throat among the whimpers and sniffles and whispers of those around me, I thought of the inevitability of the process of life. Those wheels, straight and strong and rubbery and sure, supported her there in still silence, ready to go. Those wheels and myself and most of the men around me were the last to carry her to rest, she who had flared as a bright flame of baby and girl and woman, giving off sparks of herself to everyone she came close enough to ignite or to see. Now the direct, immediate light of her was gone, soon to be quenched forever in the earth from which it came. But we still carry bits of her in us, now only as memories to be mulled and treasured.

What did she ponder alone in the wee hours of the night, sleepless and unable to still that bright mind as she felt her life slipping inexorably toward the end? Did she hope it would be quick or soon? Was she angry or bitter that her dimming light would be so ignobly extinguished? I'm sure she was; I'm certain she thought constantly about the unfairness of it --- to herself and to her family.

Without doubt she remembered people she knew, had known, might have met. Great- and great-great- and even greater grandchildren she would never hold, and endless ancestors thereafter could never know. I'd have to guess that she imagined looking down on the world from above to see our lives going on, watching the world turn, carrying on with its endlessly bustling, intertwining lives.

What if, at the moment of her conception, she could have seen the world as she did when death neared, would she have chosen not to live? Of course not. There certainly are those whose lives are so empty of meaning and so painful that they would choose never to have lived, but not her. She had lived, drinking fully of the fuel of life, stoking her fiery luminance to shed far and wide. Without her, dozens of those remembering her today would never be and the world would be much dimmed in many ways.

No, her life had been worth all the pain and fear and uncertainty of the cancer that spread inside her, worth every bit of the sorrow she'd felt as those she'd loved had gone --- parents, sister, friends. Babies and birds and puppies and flowers, candy and loving and giving birth --- the joys of these brightened even that what she felt now.

Death is the enormous black elephant glowering in everyone's living room. But there is living to do in that room, and the dark bulk looming there is easy to ignore, as it must be. Being born leads to its cold embrace as surely as it does to the joy of jumping into piles of autumn leaves and "I hate you!" door slamming and "I love you" and cuddling your babies. Life goes on --- until it doesn't.

But those sparks? They go on forever.

We'll miss you Helen. We'll remember your light. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Autism as a Character Trait


I'm writing a story right now where one of the main characters is an autistic child. I have been doing a lot of reading to try to understand just what that would mean to this young man in the situation I'm injecting him into. I got the idea for this a few years ago when I saw the movie Temple Grandin --- about a woman with the same name --- starring Claire Danes.

The boy is stuck with his mother in the middle of semi-apocalyptic maelstrom so severe as to make them struggle to survive. I call it "semi-apocalyptic" for a reason. You'll have to read the story to find out what that reason might be.

I wonder if anyone else who might come across this post has done something similar --- building a character trait (sometimes called a "flaw") into a source of drama and character interest?

What's in a Name? Everything Important!

[rose] Long ago, before I knew much of anything, I tried writing a short story where each character was unnamed. I called them things like "Mr. X" and "Young S" - thinking they would reveal their names and personalities and history as I went along. This didn't work at all.

In fact, precisely the opposite: I couldn't "go along" writing without having met the characters. Once I realized this, I started over and took the time to build up the people beforehand.

Of course anyone who has written very much will recognize this as a "Duh!" realization. But in my naive charioteering I had put the cart before the horse.

I just caught myself doing this same thing again just now in another story. But in this case the character I was leaving unnamed was an entire civilization and star system. Finally, with a sense of déjà vu, I realized why I couldn't continue.

So now I have a star these people come from - a binary star near Sol. And as a bonus I've taken the opportunity to invent an entirely new way a civilization might arise in such a place. The people of this civilization are coalescing out of the mists of my imagination and I can now proceed.

I suppose I'm a proper idiot for having to learn this lesson twice when most writers, using some writerly instinct that I lack, would never gone this way in the first place.

Other Worlds Beckoning to Us

Carl Sagan's words and voice narrate this lovingly crafted short movie, showing scenes from our own Solar System with human explorers among the particles of the rings of Saturn, or flying in the hydrocarbon atmosphere of Titan. It is these vistas that can captivate the spirit of those who will eventually make such experiences possible for everyone. These are the visions are the sort of view we all need to infect our souls with the unscratchable itch to go to these places and to build a new life for ourselves and our progeny. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have.

[vimeo 108650530 w=500 h=213] Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Create the Future and Tell the World What It Will Be

"Let’s not only watch or follow trends, let’s lead them"

This is like the old saw "The best way to predict the future is to create it" or the inimitable Steve Jobs' version which goes something like "Users won't know what they want until I show it to them." Yes, I can tell you Jobs certainly was like that.

But the fact is that neither ground up creation of the future nor riding along and trying to predict the swerves is a complete strategy. You have to do both in just the right proportions.

Science fiction is the art of doing this on a fairly long time scale.

U.S. DARPA-E and DOE Finally Notice Aneutronic Fusion

The idea of aneutronic fusion using hydrogen and boron is to produce heat and electricity without any radioactive particles. That means clean energy from cheap fuel using relatively inexpensive devices on a small and local scale. No pollution, no long wires for transmission, no huge infrastructure and regulations, and effectively "free" energy.

The people at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics have been moving forward a nickel and a dime at a time, making progress, slowly but surely. I admire their dedication and their technology.

They need around $2 million to prove commercial feasibility. Why wouldn't someone of more than adequate means provide that funding to find out if their little widget will save us all from global warming and kick off a new age of free energy and wealth for all without warring over oil and gas?