Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mountaineers of the Information Age

Hello, folks! Sometime back, I tossed up a post in response to a hateful (and, naturally, anonymous) comment this blog garnered. Generally, I'm all for free speech but speaking your mind doesn't entitle you a Get out of Jail Free card from consequence. Thus, the troll in question found him- or herself appropriately spanked and later (also anonymously) apologized via an undoubtedly false email account.

I can hear you now: What's your point, Gudmunson? You're rambling! Get on with it already!

The point is, we've come to a sorry spot on the ol' timeline, folks. In eras past if people felt the need to confront someone on an issue they did it face to face or, at worst, over the phone (e.g. in real time with the identities of both parties taking responsibility for their words and actions). Now a big bloody chunk of confrontation--real or contrived, the latter of which seems to be cropping up with greater frequency--is channeled through the wonderful cybersage of the Information Age: the Internet!

Yes, the Internet, that insular filter which ironically serves to remove all filters. Through the 'Net, and specifically social media, individuals are now able to hide behind false faces to lob their insults . . . and the best part for them is they can do it without threat of retribution! They feel safe throwing stones because there are no glass houses online.

But what happens when the identity of a cyberstooge sockpuppet floats to the surface like the stinking carcass of something lying decades at the bottom of a cesspool? 

What does one do when one realizes the person is someone without the benefit of a social life, someone whose upbringing included stark oppression under an inflexible belief system? What happens when you find out the person behind those pitched stones is only pitching them from out of the pit of a pathetic existence?

Well, you kind of feel sorry for them, that's what. You realize you're a target because they've been a target. Because they feel pain. Because, just maybe, they feel jealousy and are seeking some form of vindication for perceived slights.

Then you kind of just want to give that person a hug and tell them everything's going to be okay. Because you're not like them. You don't want to hurt, you want to help. Sometimes life can seem a lot like climbing a mountain--let's call it Mt. Motherfucker. And Mt. Motherfucker is one monstrous son of a bitch whose apex is lost in a fleet of thunderheads veined with white lightning. Climbing to the top is far easier if there's someone beneath you to scurry over, to drop the tread of your Pacific Trail size 9 onto, to leave behind in the grit.

But one thing's for sure. It's far more difficult to climb that fucking mountain alone than it is without full support of fellow climbers. You brave mountaineers of the Information Age, all limping alone into the terrifying stormy future ahead of you, might do well to remember that before dropping your little stones into a sling and flinging them for all you're worth.

Which, let's be honest, isn't much.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness Available Now!

Firbolg Publishing has recently released Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness - a wonderful anthology combining stories from classic genre writers and their contemporary counterparts. With tales from Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Saki, D.H. Lawrence as well as Jonathan Maberry, B.e. Scully, Gregory Norris, K. Trap Jones, Holly Newstein, Roxanne Dent, and many others. Edited by Dr. Alex Scully. Contains my story "The Morgue."

"The morgue, my friend informed me, was the place old newspapers went after their publication date. In essence, the place they went to die..."

Order your copy today! Available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Age of Entitlement

I watched a reality TV program the other day which focused on people who let their parking meter expire. Okay, to be honest it was only the commercial. I couldn't actually bring myself to watch the show. Anyway, cameras were on-hand to film the reactions as violators returned to their vehicle to discover a parking ticket. The violators invariably freaked out. "It was only a minute!" they argued. My response (and the response of the official who issued said citation) was: tough.

Maybe it’s just me, but have you noticed the growing sense of entitlement in America? Sure, we’re the world’s only superpower and the defenders of liberty and all, but does that give us the right to act elitist (especially among ourselves)? Now before you denounce this as simple paranoia, let me cite a few instances based on personal observations and see if you can apply them to your experiences.

The Shoppers. I deal with this every time I go for groceries and the experience inspired me to postpone this errand as late in the day as possible to minimize occurrences. Few people pay attention where they are going, you see. They push their carts obstinately forward, staring off at oblique angles as they browse. Without a few dexterous maneuvers on my part, collision would be inevitable. And while shopping cart crashes do not tend to be fatal, they certainly fall squarely into the nuisance category. I realized many modern Americans subconsciously (or perhaps consciously) remove responsibility from themselves and, in doing so, place it on others. Thank goodness these entitled folks pay greater attention behind the wheel, right? Wrong. Read on:

The Non-signalers. Speaking of driving, I estimate roughly one-third of motorists whom I encounter fail to engage their directional signal when making a turn. Big deal, you say. But this is more than a petty inconvenience – it’s dangerous. It’s not their fault, though; they have their hands full. One hand clasps a cell phone against an ear (despite growing distracted driving laws) and the other tips coffee against the lips. Mother Nature made feet for pedal controls and knees for steering wheels, but neglected to add an appendage for signaling. How unfortunate. And can someone please tell me how it’s possible to speak into a phone and drink coffee at the same time? Entitled yet talented, I admit.

The Pedestrians. Non-signalers aren’t the only road hazards. The Pedestrians feel so entitled they imagine themselves immortal. I’ve stood on my brakes so frequently in the past year to avoid hitting jaywalkers, it’s a wonder they haven’t yet required replacement. (The brakes, that is, not the jaywalkers.)  If I had a dollar for every time someone has traipsed into the street without gaining the right-of-way or a even so much as a flippant backward glance, I’d be writing this post from a luxury resort in the Caribbean. It’s a good thing I bought pedestrian insurance – I have a feeling I’ll need it one day.   

It is not my intention for this discourse to be a rant. It should be read merely as a warning for a few things of which to be wary in our ever-expanding world. No one wants to claim responsibility for anything anymore and, really, who can blame them? Entitlement is so much more glamorous…and easier. I move that we make a conscious effort to resist this temptation and accept accountability for our actions. Who’s with me?

Of course, you may disagree with me completely. No problem. You are, after all, entitled to an opinion. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's a Mean, Mean, Mean, Mean World

I first noticed it in college. Overt rudeness, that is. Before that time, I was evidently lost in the syrupy oblivion of youth. But when I hit my college years, I was suddenly and rudely shaken awake by the perpetual foul moods greeting me at seemingly every turn.

I thought – hoped, actually – that it was isolated to the fine, stalwart university I attended. Boy, I couldn't have been more off-the-mark. Since recognizing blatant discourtesy running rampant at my alma mater, I have since discovered it everywhere. So when did this happen?  When did the world get mean? 

I tried an experiment. Each day while walking to class, I greeted ten people. Invariably, at least eight failed to respond. In any way. Most appeared utterly unaware of my presence. The rare subject who bothered to reciprocate would do so with a curt nod or a mumbled monosyllable. Then I started to worry. Was I real?  Had I died without realizing it and now haunted the route between my apartment and the Student Center?  Did Bruce Willis and I have far more in common than I suspected?

No. That was almost certainly not the case, though I wish sometimes it was. It would at least illuminate this inexplicable lack of cordiality.

Soon I tested my experiment elsewhere. The movie theater, a rock concert, grocery shopping. Same results. People simply did not wish to return simple salutations. It was easier to look away than it was to smile. The world has soured like a cup of cream in the sun.

I should recognize the small minority of friendly folks who prove the exception to the rule: the loud hailers, the high-fivers, the huggers, the goosers. I'd laud them for keeping me from losing all faith in humanity, but these overly-aggressive individuals are somehow worse, as if they felt invading another's personal space with as much fanfare as possible was their obligation.

Oh, we could start listing reasons we no longer seem capable of fellowship and good will. We could debate the whys and the hows. We could pontificate for hours on the subject, but why bother?  Reasons don't matter; solutions do.

Here, I'll start. I'd like to take this opportunity to extend a warm hello to everyone. If you see me on the street and don't wish to return my simple greeting, I'll not hold it against you. It is a sign of our times. Every man, woman, and child for him- or herself. Forgive me, though, if I long for the days when neighbors borrowed cups of sugar and chatted idly over fences. Human beings have turned a corner somewhere on this twisted road. We've grown up, grown jaded, and grown resentful. We live in bubbles and refuse to step outside their gossamer comforts.

It's time to lighten up, folks. I wish you no harm and I hope that sentiment is mutual. I know there are more of us today than ever before, but it's no reason to let slide our most fundamental manners. Let's make our parents proud. What do you say?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I saw the first robin of spring a few weeks ago. It touched down in the back yard, pecked twice at the soil wet with snowmelt, and took off again in search of terra firma. It was a happy occasion for me, even if Ms. Robin fluttered away empty-beaked.  

Why? Because the first robin signifies the end of winter. It is as much a symbol of spring as holly is for Christmas or Cupid is for love. A few tattered rags of snow still clung to the ground along the fence line where the sun daren't send its oblique rays, but Ms. Robin appeared undaunted. It picked my yard, of all the yards in town, to try for a meal. And even though it found the pickings slim, I still felt a wave of happiness at the sentiment.
I also felt happiness that spring had finally sprung. Because, let me tell you: it has been one cruel crone of a winter.

As a child, I loved snow. What wasn't to love? Snowballs, snow forts, snow angels. There was no worry about how to get from Point A to Point B when the roads were iced over; that was the concern of my parents. All I had to look forward to was no school over winter break, Christmas presents, and three solid months of sledding.

Of course, all that changes when you grow up. Now I am the one who must worry about frozen patches on highways and scraping windshields and shoveling driveways. And, of course, the bitter cold that Old Lady Winter flaunts like a white-frosted frock. It's no wonder many folks suffer from seasonal depression. Something to do with serotonin deficiency due to the remoteness of the sun in relation to the earth.

While I've never been officially diagnosed, I would make an educated guess that such a malady afflicts me to some degree. Winter just isn't the same now as it was twenty-five years ago. Instead of breathless exhilaration at a blizzard warning, I feel only a kind of thick, gelatinous angst . . . how I imagine Charlie Brown must feel each and every day. Instead of graduating from toboggans to snowmobiles, as seems the natural progression from childhood to manhood, I feel only a dull, devouring winter weariness.

The worst part of seasonal depression, though, is an exaggerated sense of cabin fever. That deep, numbing cesspool of the soul that comes from being closed up for weeks indoors, desperately hoping to keep subzero temps at bay. The holidays are an instant remedy to seasonal maladies, but they zoom by so quickly and often present more problems than they cure. They leave behind a nostalgic-steeped hangover before we are forced to face the wicked one-two punch of January and February, with a goodly stretch of March still squeezed in Old Lady Winter's gnarled fist.

But now I can breathe a little easier, thanks to Ms. Robin Redbreast and her brief foray in my back yard. Sorry the provisions here were lacking, ma'am. Wish I could have been more help to you, but I'll tell you what--you sure were a big help to me. Happy spring, little friend. And happy spring to all of you. 

It's about damned time, wouldn't you agree?