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fiction and other neurological spasms

“You’re Pre-Selected!” A Short-Short SF Cautionary Tale

 

I was at the end of my rope, like millions of other citizens. Ready to give up. Broke, way beyond broke, out of work and down to the last of my savings. I stood in front of the VRC machine, remembering the afternoon I received the message that I hoped to God would save me:

USE THIS CERTIFICATE TO GET [37 YEARS] TODAY! 

You are preselected for a 37-year bypass from Virtual Freedom International, Inc. Just bring this certificate to our offices today. Your new life could start right away! Imagine: all your financial troubles vanish… while you enjoy a vacation in whatever world you desire!

Too good to be true? Probably thousands of companies like this preying on washed up, financial failures like myself. I should say that I’m not a total mark. I did do some research on VFI International before I walked into their stunning office building. Sure enough, I read reviews from people they’d screwed over. Reviewers complaining that the machine had failed and that they’d only slept for days or weeks. I convinced myself those review writers were paid by competing services. I couldn’t let go of the idea that all my troubles would be gone! What other choice did I have? I had to at least investigate. I’d come by the offices, talk to the Crisis Manager, and feel out the situation. 

After talking to my Crisis Manager, a nice older man named Jim Harrison, I knew I wanted to take them up on the offer. Yes, I could awaken penniless – but that would’ve happened anyway. I signed over what little money I had left, feeling confident that VFI International would invest the money wisely for me, and that my rate of return would be exactly what they promised it would be. (Besides – what if I slept for 37 years and awoke to a new world? Banks failed. Creditors gone … I’d be debt-free that way too!) Jim promised that I would awaken in 37 years as man with a comfortable savings. He warned me, though, that I shouldn’t expect wealth. Not with my small initial outlay. To be honest, I didn’t want wealth. Wealth seemed like too much stress. I wanted to live the rest of my life comfortably, and this, according to Jim, would be the exactly result of my signing up. 

Perfect. 

Before entering the VRC machine, I was told to meditate while holding a “Personal Sphere.” This was a brand-new part of the service. The Sphere would read my subconscious and choose the best virtual experience for me. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Jim explained that before the Sphere people had never asked for what they really wanted deep down. Men, especially, went for the surface things such as living in a mansion, sailing a yacht … basically living the life of a sex-god billionaire playboy.

I held the Sphere. It was a burnt-orange color, and soft. It resembled a furry, yarn-like child’s toy. I pulled on the fibers, and stretched them, trying to “read” the Sphere. No luck. I began to feel sleepy though, and before I knew it, Jim was leaning me back into the VRC. 

The VRC was like a stretcher. Metallic, roughly rectangular, and about the length of my body. Jim made a few adjustments, and the VRC shifted its shape and size to accommodate my six foot one, one hundred ninety-eight pound frame. I asked Jim if it was really true that I would awaken into a new comfortable life without having aged even a day. He smiled warmly, held my hand for a moment, and told me not to worry. I would be thirty-four, I would be comfortable, and I would have a new lease on life. 

An energy field soon surrounded me. The freezing process wasn’t cold. Not that I remember, anyway. I was sleepy, as I said, and then, then, softly, I was submerged within the VR world. 

I was directing a popular SF film. I’d seen the picture. Not one of my favorites, but it had made billions worldwide. Closest I’d ever come to directing anything was my little nephew’s 5th birthday party, the result of which was never played in front of the family because my artistic camera movements would always make Aunt Jenny sick.

But I knew, in the VR, that I could make no mistakes. It was wonderfully freeing to know that no matter what choice I made, the film would go on to make billions. It was sort of like being back in time, somehow living for a while the life of a famous film director … but without any of the stresses that would go along with such a job. I called for sweeping dolly arc shots of the Captain’s chair, wild crane shots of the planet’s fiery volcano, lens flares that really had no place being there… yet I knew that what I was doing would make the film successful. Oddly, I had to keep convincing the financiers on the set that I was the right man for the job. This made me feel like myself in the old world, the world I was supposed to leave behind entirely. I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake on the part of VFI International, or if it was me: the surfacing of one of millions of my psychological issues I’d never dealt with. Issues that if I had dealt with, perhaps I would’ve been a success in life. 

It felt like those 37 years went by in minutes. I’d really only had time to direct a handful of scenes, and the scenes didn’t connect in any meaningful way. I think the purpose of the VR was to make me feel confident about my choices, but without any burden of the possibility of failure; however, I couldn’t figure out why the VR had glitched on me, forcing me to explain myself to those financiers. I’d read somewhere that in dreams everyone you meet is an aspect of the dreamer. So perhaps the financiers are me. As a director I’m desperately trying to prove myself to myself because I don’t think I can do anything right. Bet that’s why I’ve failed so spectacularly in life. Just thoughts from the armchair.

37 years later, Jim. He looked not a minute older. Shouldn’t he be… in his nineties?

“What happened?” I asked him. “Has it really been 37 years?”

“Yes, it has.”

I tried to sit up. I was far too weak. I was shaking. I felt terribly ill. I grabbed the railing on the side of the machine. When I saw my arm… old, withered, fragile… I could only stare. Jim told me that the world economy had shifted. There was no way to foresee what had happened. The interest rates on my investment had plummeted. I had no backup finances to take the hit, so they subtracted my debt in terms of years of life. 

He told me I was eight-one.

“Eighty one…” The math didn’t hold up.

Jim shook his head, sadly. “We were also forced to add years to your life. Otherwise you would’ve been seventy-one.”

Eighty-one and penniless.

Jim – who had had the foresight apparently to invest intelligently – was the same age as when I had entered. He released me to the bright sunlit world outside the offices, patted me on the back, and wished me luck. I stood in the hot sun, horrified, terrified. How would I survive? I knew no one! My friends and relatives would be dead or too old to take me in. I didn’t think my five-year old nephew – who would be 42 now – would care to hole me up in his life. I would be a stranger to him. I would do anything to go back in time. Before VFI… before I began making such horrible financial decisions… I turned around and wished to God that the offices would vanish and I would realize that this was all part of the VR – a way for my subconscious to kick me in the ass and make better decisions when I would awaken, 37 years in the future, age 34. 

I tottered off down the street looking for a place to rest, somewhere, anywhere away from the harsh sunlight. 

 

 

The Love of Storytelling

When it comes to Star Wars stories and characters, my 8-year old son is quite knowledgeable.

Although he has not seen all of the movies – we won’t show him Revenge of the Sith until he’s at least 12 or 13 – he knows enough to have corrected the speaker at a recent Barnes and Noble Star Wars event. Of course, the speaker did pronounce Leia as “Lee-ah,” which, in my son’s mind, is an error only allowed for those witless creatures under 5, or perhaps the family dog. Any respect he had for the speaker was lost, then, and rightfully so. Now, it must be said that much of his knowledge comes from having read dozens of SW chapter books as well as a George Lucas biography. Story excites him – in whatever form it is delivered.

Recently, we discussed the similarities between the TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and the climactic fight near the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In the Star Trek episode, Kirk nearly loses a battle against the godlike Mitchell until finally the second godlike being steps in and sacrifices her life to finish off Mitchell and save Kirk. In the Star Wars movie, Luke nearly loses a battle against the godlike Emperor until Vader sacrifices his life to finish off the Emperor and save Luke. Watch the TOS episode and Empire scene yourself – look at the story – but also pay close attention to picture edit and character blocking. At one point, it’s nearly shot for shot.

My son dives into books with passion and excitement, whether Diary of A Wimpy Kid or a selection from the SW universe; he is years ahead of me, as I began reading SF about the age of 10. Although I do not remember my first SF book, I do know that my love of the written word has stayed with me ever since the day I finished Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern. It was a copy from my local library. Green hardcover. Smaller than most other hardcovers. Roughly square shape. I remember exactly because – incredibly – I recently held in my hands the same copy! “Years later, Christian would find himself standing in a different L.A library holding the identical copy, as, just a few feet away, his son is browsing for SW books and his daughter giggles over the mischievous antics of a pretty pink princess kitty…” 

And now, yes, to my daughter, who witnesses her brother’s love for reading, and therefore, demands to read. She is five. For her, all books MUST BE PINK AND THE STORY MUST INCLUDE KITTIES. If she were running a publishing house, any book that came to her desk – whether over the transom or from an agent – would be published … as long as it is pink and is about cats. If the book is pink, has cats, and a Princess, well, that book would be published tomorrow. She would get it done. She’s that determined. 

We are a family in love with Story. That love will only deepen over time, and I can’t wait. Perhaps they’ll grow up to write as a team. A book about pink cats battling emperors could prove interesting.

 

A Writer’s Bad Morning

You are cold. It’s only sixty degrees in your house but you feel like you should be shoveling snow out your bedroom door. You’ve never lived outside of L.A. so this is the ice age for you. You huddle over your laptop computer. You press your left hand flat on the smooth  surface. You drink the interior battery’s heat emanations through your pores. You’re about as desperate as the last vampire on a bloodless planet. Your fingers spasm and miss the keys you want to press. Your first words are a scrambled mess. Delete, delete, delete. Your organic angora knit gloves, chocolate brown and off-white, interfere with your usual 75 words per minute, and now you’re down to… God forbid… egads, no, please… hunt and peck typing! This is something you haven’t done since typing class, half-stoned as you were, way back in the deep past: tenth grade. Yes, your mind is wandering now, you can’t stop the fall… away from your unwritten story, your work, your future paycheck that may or may not come some distant quarter of your future. Where have they gone, my old compadres? Those wild moments throwing back MGD in parking lots, chasing each other through malls, jumping on beds in the furniture store and pretending to have sex when the salespeople weren’t looking, those impossibly long kisses and sharp tingles and yes those first date horrors. First date horrors, you think to yourself, first world problems. Like me now, you consider, taking a look at yourself from an objective and what you feel is a valuable and even praiseworthy spiritual point of view. Here I sit inside a house, unheated as it is, safe and sound. Which makes you think of your yoga practice, which you’ve absolutely sucked at recently, haven’t gone in Lord knows how long, so your body is heavy and thick and lumpy and whining at you, ‘For the love of all that is holy, stretch me, you lazy bastard.’ You reign in your thoughts. Focus! Write! Screen went black. Of course. Your computer’s told you, ‘I give up on you, you’re taking too long, you’ve got an embarrassing, horrible sense of responsibility; you’ve got the work ethic of a five-year old on speed.’ You hit the spacebar. Whiteness laughs in your face. Blow on hands. Rub hands. Get blood flowing. First word. What shall it be? Need coffee. That’ll do the trick. Good, strong, black coffee that could put an elephant into orbit. So you grind some beans and get your machine gurgling away. You hang out, post an update, tap a tweet, #amwriting, all that, check your e-mail, nothing new, coffee’s done, great, now it’s time to work, let’s go, let’s do this, I can do this. I’m on it. Sip coffee. Hold cup. Warm up those hands. Let’s get started. Wait. I need a muffin. Yes. That’ll do the trick. Chocolate chip. Goes great with coffee. Inspiring! This is fantastic! I’m so going to write 2,000 words today! To the fridge, grab that last muffin. Into your chair. Pull it up to your desk. Bite and sip, bite and sip, repeat, repeat. First word. What shall it be? Close eyes. Breathe. Sink. You write. You got this.

Cat jumps on your lap. Cat is nice and warm. Pet cat. How can you not pet the cat? The cat is right there. Makes you remember how cold it is. Sixty degrees, you think. Should be shoveling snow out my damn bedroom door. Huddle over laptop. Hand on silver surface…

The Ledger

A digital file has been discovered by forty-three year old Austin Masters. He came across the file while rummaging through his parents’ garage during his father’s wake. Looking for old photos of his father on a discarded PC laptop, Austin discovered what has been confirmed as a ledger account of humanity’s failings. For every one of humanity’s missteps, it seems, a certain number of years has been deducted from the lifetime of the universe. For example, Adolf Hitler’s holocaust has taken nearly ninety billion years off the life of our universe. But considering the nearly unimaginable amount of time before heat death, or “The Big Freeze,” sets in, should we be worried?

Well, let’s add up just a random few entries and see where we are…

World War I: subtract three billion, seven million, eight hundred thousand three years

The Christian Crusades: subtract four hundred million years

American Civil War: subtract ninety million, one hundred thousand four years

The Koch Brothers’ activities: six million eight hundred thousand four years

Not everything in the ledger is a subtraction, however. For every step humanity makes toward positivity and unity, years are added to the life of our universe. Now, it isn’t clear by what criteria we are being judged, or by whom, only that the ledger has been confirmed. The ledger is not a hoax. Here are few examples of additions to the life of the universe:

Polio vaccine: add one million two hundred thousand years

Diffusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis (without war): add eighteen million six hundred thousand two years

(This may seem cheesy, but it’s in the ledger): Every time someone says ‘I love you’ and means it: add nine million four hundred eight thousand years

Non-profits giving to education, health, well-being of society so far: add one billion one hundred six million three hundred thousand two years

The ledger, of course, is too long to reproduce for this article. Experts are reporting that even after taking into consideration the additions, the sum of all subtractions leaves us with only ten more years of life in this universe. Ten. Not ten trillion, or billion, or even thousand. Just ten. One decade.

What will you do with your ten years?Image

Just Being Me

My father, a middle-class citizen of the United States, worked full-time and received 401K, health insurance, and bonuses at holidays. That age has passed into dust. As we well know, the age of company benefits is just a history chapter in economics texts. The overall job market seems to be heading toward a freelance system. I know the freelance system well. My entire professional television production career has been as a freelancer. To survive as a freelancer for the past 14 years, I have cultivated the mindset that no company I ever work for will ever offer benefits. I have cultivated the attitude of an individualist.

In the world of publishing, the large houses are losing their grip on the careers of writers who have opted for self-publishing. Writers are realizing the power of an individualist’s attitude. As self-published writers report successes both creatively and financially, more writers want to copy this success. Why wait months, even years, to be published when you can do it today? Hire a good copy-editor and a jacket artist and you can upload your book – and be published – in a fraction of the time than you would’ve through traditional means. And, potentially, make more money. Writers are gaining more leverage. Have you self-published? Are you selling well? It’s possible now for you to use this as leverage to  negotiate a solid contract with a traditional house if you so choose.

As many North Americans struggle financially, some are pushing aside the brittle relics of economic ruin. They are CEOs or Presidents of successful startups. Many of these startups are filling the needs of those still struggling. Many are creative approaches to a new economic model – such as renting out a personal car and charging people day/hour rates, renting out a parking space, or offering time as a personal assistant for a day.

The strength of the individual is rising in the professional world. 

However, in my view, the strength of the individual should not supersede the well-being of the collective. We have an opportunity to empower ourselves as human individuals, and we also have the potential to become a unification of powerful human beings – protecting each other as well as ourselves. Raising each other’s quality of life as we raise our personal quality of life.

I believe that as individuals, we should fight for what we know we are worth (in both the professional world and personal lives). We should believe in our product, be excited about it, and get others excited about it. If that product is our book, our movie, our TV show script, our face, our line of knit scarves or jewelry, our comedic streak, our nose of numbers, our ability to rebuild an engine, to run a camera, to paint, to orate, to dream, to do Yoga or meditate or talk someone down from a cliff… whatever our gift, whoever you are, own it – do it – and help others join us in the rise of the individual collective.

Spacetime and Superman: Can Superman Save The Love of His Life?

Remember Superman: The Movie from 1978? You know, Marlon Brandon as Jor-El and Christopher Reeve as the titular character? Let’s get a dialogue going: through the lens of quantum physics, how could Superman use the superpowers that he has to reverse time to save the love of his life (as he did in the movie?)

I’m a lay person – I’ll lay it out there. I work in TV! But I’m going to try to work through this from a physics perspective. Why? Because as the Facebook meme states: I *&%^$ love science!

OK. Here goes. My thoughts:

Moving that fast around the Earth, time would have crawled for our hero from Krypton relative to time as experienced by the people on Earth. An experiment in 1971 illustrated this: an atomic (Cesium) clock was placed on board a jetliner while another atomic clock remained on the ground. When the jet landed, the atomic clock on board showed that less time had passed in comparison to the clock that had remained Earthbound. So what does this mean for our man with the “S” hair curl?  The 1971 experiment did not point out that time alters for the relatively stationary ones on Earth. Wouldn’t Superman’s high-speed journey simply have meant that he would return to find an Earth much, much older? Lois long buried? While he’d only aged a minute?

The movie posits that Superman traveled so fast that time on Earth slowed … and then reversed, thus saving Lois. But special relativity has shown that time slows for the object in motion relative to the stationary object (someone standing on the ground while the jet zips overhead would not experience the slowdown of time – only a passenger on the jet would – as both accounts of time would be accurate.)  Also, as an object moves through time and through space, any acceleration through space means we must borrow from movement through time. The sum of our movement through time and space can never be greater than the speed of light, yes?

So… what… did Superman slow and reverse time for himself and carry a bubble of… uhm… negative time (?) to Earth, and somehow, spookily, envelop Lois into this … uhm… bubble!? … and I don’t even want to get started on how he simply reversed direction, flew at apparently the same speed – and made time move FORWARD again! Both can’t be true, even in the construct of the script – it seems this event breaks any logic present in the story at all.

Yes, it’s just a movie! But bear with me…

So how could Superman reverse time? In the manner of a thought experiment, perhaps: To alter Earth trajectory in spacetime in the desired manner, perhaps Superman would’ve needed to use his abilities to SLOW his trajectory through space so much that his trajectory through time SPEEDS UP, and therefore, by comparison, the trajectory of Earth through space-time slows down … and actually reverses. But only from his unique perspective. Perhaps this logic breaks down, for when Superman would return to Earth, he would find Lois still dead.

And besides … this gets into quantum mysticism – how still can one get?? Any Zen-minded readers want to chime in on this one?

Thoughts? In terms of special relativity, how could Superman reverse time and save the love of his life?

Starving The Parasite of Fear

Get rid of fear. Lose it, leave it behind, say goodbye. That’s it, no more. Fear that drives decisions, fear that overwhelms serenity, fear that has become an addiction. Slough it off like an ugly worn out snakeskin, leave it to rot in the desert.

 

Easy to say, so hard to do. Can’t just snap my fingers and make fear go away.

We’ve heard about suffering and fear from so many Yogis and Eastern spiritual leaders. For many thousands of years, yogis have cautioned against letting fear into our lives. The Buddha said, “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.” Dalai Lama XIV once said, “If you have some fear or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it. If you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” A Jedi Master once said, ‘Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.’

Fear is a root cause of suffering. It’s one of many, for sure. Yet knowing this does not make it any easier to shed fear, does it. Fear is a parasite. It’s eating us from within constantly, and it cries out in fear if it is under threat. The death throes of fear cause us greater pain and horror, and in this way, the creature of fear protects itself. After all, isn’t that fear’s main goal? To protect itself at all costs? Isn’t it fear that can drive competition against others, and isn’t it the engine of homophobia, of racism, of xenophobia, phobia this, phobia that, so many phobias. Fear of heights, of outside, of snakes, of clowns, of chopsticks, of teenagers…fear that your neighbor has a nicer car, and therefore you are worth less than he as a human being, fear that the sky is filled with contrails that are poisoning the land, fear that you are aging… fear of death. Fear, fear, fear.

The news media uses fear to haul in big ratings and big money because they’re terrified of losing valued advertisers: “Hey! Your house is killing you! Find out how at 6!” Do you know what they’re really telling you? They’re telling you, ‘If you don’t watch our show, you could die.” Take a moment with that one. Fear of death is a weapon in the war between television networks, and the viewers like you and me and our children are collateral damage as well as ammunition. Ha. See. I kinda used fear to make a point, here, didn’t I. I’m guilty of living a life of fear. I’m working on this.

Fear is fed constantly, and it’s a glutton for fear itself. Fear is getting fatter and fatter, and the weight of it crushes the joy and serenity right out of our lives. Fear pervades society. And to live healthy lives within this society, we must shed fear. But how!? Under a barrage of fear, this is indeed a difficult challenge. Attachment – how many of us could honestly walk away from everything we have? Do we really have to, in order to live without fear? How many North American city-dwellers can unlock their doors at night before going to bed, with the reality of home invasions and gang warfare? How many people would willingly turn in all their weapons, fearing the loss of the ability to protect? How many kids can throw away their Call of Duty games, and not feel residual desires to destroy, to protect, to return to the war and fight again, to feel that thrilling adrenaline, that transformation of fear into violent action? With so much fear in the world, with North Korea threatening to turn the US into a nuclear slag heap, with terrorists threatening to wage holy war on any society that does not fit with their view of a perfect Allah-fearing world, Christian Crusades waging holy wars eight hundred years ago, others waging war against the gay community in today’s world, with a war on French Fries, a war on this and that, and this war and that war, is living without fear impossible in the modern world?

No. Living without fear is possible, one person at a time. And over time, fear can be abolished. For me, it’s a conscious decision to let it go, to track fear in my life, to observe it, to understand it, to realize when I am acting out of fear. And it may take a lifetime to slough it off. I have plenty of fear for one man. I have a fear of what others think of me. I have a fear of losing what I have gained in life. I have a fear of failure. Of the unknown. Letting it go, starving that parasite, is difficult to say the least!  So I meditate, I do Yoga, I try to stay aware of my thoughts and actions throughout the day. I try to correct wrong-thinking and wrong-action. I try to frame my actions and words in a way that can help others, instead of viewing my life as a constant competition with others. I try to Breathe. I try to have moments where I am not thinking at all.

Every day presents new challenges, and new difficulties. It’s a constant test. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I lash out. But I’m working on it. So here I am. Goodbye, fear.