The State of My Union – An Personal Assessment
By Chris M. Barkley:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.
– John Allen Paulos
Until recently, I really hadn’t given too much thought to the opening to Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, which remains one of the most memorable opening lines of any English language novel.
But it became uppermost in my mind when I sat down to write this particular column. I wanted to express my unease at how I look at the world and how it is balanced out by the joy of being alive in this time and place.
I paired Dickens with a quote from eminent mathematician John Allen Paulos because it perfectly summarizes the same point Dickens had made more than a century earlier. While I despair about the condition of our world, I am continuingly amazed at how aware I am and the amazing technology and we have at our fingertips each day.
On the evening of January 31st, my partner Juli and I went to see an excellent historical drama about the Pentagon papers, The Post. Staying home and watching The State of the Union Address was out of the question.
For the most obvious of reasons; the United States is currently led by a vile, anti-intellectual and profoundly stupid man. And by writing that, I want to extend an apology to all stupid people.
As we drove home, I began thinking about what was going to be the subject this column (who is intimately involved with The Post) but as I sat down to write it, I changed my mind.
This column, which is now more than a year old, was intended to be a sounding board for my thoughts and concerns about all things fannish. Looking back, I see that while there were some pretty serious columns, it seems that lately, it has been a little too top-heavy with media related reviews. So, it seems as though I was long overdue for an introspective look at something else. Myself.
My heath is rather nominal. I say rather because while I feel well enough, I have discovered after a discussion with my doctor, that I have been undergoing an extended bout of hyperglycemia brought on by my overuse of Splenda. I know how crazy that sounds but it is true. This is particularly bad news for me because I am a fanatical tea drinker and I like it sweet. Since I have type-2 diabetes, I just assumed it was safe for me to put 4 or five packs of Splendas in a 16 ounce serving. My body had different ideas. The theory is that my body, in the absence of real sugar, has been tricked into producing more sugar and insulin (with a sidecar of dopamine) which, in turn, has thrown everything out of whack.
My doctor has given me eight weeks to get my blood sugars under control or I will be prescribed to undergo insulin injections. Needless to say, my fear of needles is driving my urge to eat properly, walk and exercise on a daily basis.
Officially, I have been unemployed since April 30th of last year. I walked away from my position as the periodicals manager at one of the best independent bookstores in America I felt undervalued by the management and my boss was…well, let’s just say I lost confidence in her and let it go at that.
My current job right now is being a primary caretaker of my two-year-old granddaughter, Lily Bug. She is a delight to watch and I am quite privileged watching her growing and learning each day. She learns quickly and has an uncanny knack of showing that she is self-aware and confidently self-assured before she turned a year old, which I found a bit unusual for someone her age.
As the only child (at the moment), Lily is afforded special privileges from her overly indulgent, such as her Christmas gift of a thirteen-foot-diameter trampoline, which she lovingly calls “jumpy-jumpy”.
I’m also looking forward to her being properly potty-trained by her parents REAL SOON NOW because I would really like to put my toxic waste disposal days behind me.
Books are my life. I have sold them for over a quarter of a century and reading them all of my life. I am overwhelmed with books. I have a very bad habit of starting several books at once so my nightstand is rather swamped at the moment:
Tau Zero (1970) by Poul Anderson; this would be a perfect vehicle for a director like Kathryn Bigelow, Alex Garland or Duncan Jones. Someone should send a copy to each of them so there would be a bidding war. If you haven’t read it, it is one of the finest examples of hard adventure sf ever written.
Mary Astor’s Purple Diary (2016) written and illustrated by Edward Sorel – The Great Sex Scandal of 1936; Mary Astor was a revered character actress in the golden Age of Hollywood. Her personal life became fodder for the tabloid press when her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman was revealed because her salacious diary was discovered by her husband, Doctor Franklyn Thorpe. To say that hijinks ensued would be an incredible understatement. Woody Allen, in a rare move into literary criticism, infamously reviewed this tome for the New York Times Review of Books, which led to a backlash of virulent protest against the book editor, Pamela Paul. As Spock would say, fascinating…
The Nashville Chronicles (2000) by Jan Stuart; a lucky find at a library book sale because I had NO IDEA this book existed. Nashville is one of my top ten favorites of all time and I am enjoying this book as much as I adore Aljean Harmetz’s making of Casablanca, Round Up the Usual Suspects.
Will Eisner’s The Spirit: A Celebration of 75 Years (2015); When I started digging into the history of comics back in 1967, the very first book I came across was Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I skipped all of the mumbo jumbo analysis that I could barely understand and dove right into the comics. The most thrilling find was Eisner’s tough talking masked man, a comic strip hero I’d never heard of before. I instantly became a lifelong fan.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017); This is a compilation of the ten short stories that comprise the first season of the Amazon Prime series that dropped in late December.
Of course, once the Hugo nominations are announced, all of the above will be put aside to assess what I will be voting on…
There are some days that some of my most creative writing is done on Facebook. While I find it personally satisfying to get the better of trolls and other malcontents whom I verbally cross swords with, but it is very distracting and very time-consuming. I could be doing research, reading and honing my craft and so I might stand a chance of getting paid for this writing gig some day.
But I am passionate about a few things online; censorship, police relations with the public, political corruption of all stripes and most of all, gun control. The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago [at the time this was written] pointedly illustrated out how polarized and partisan Americans feel about the struggle between those who strive to protect their gun rights against gun control advocates.
I don’t want to confiscate anyone’s guns unless it is absolutely necessary. I have only held an actual firearm in my hands twice in my entire life. I have no problem telling anyone that guns terrify me. I’ve been stopped by police officers over a dozen times and managed to survive all of those encounters. I have no need of a gun and absolutely no desire to own one right now. I sincerely doubt I will change my mind but I remain open to being trained one day, just in case.
But over the past few weeks, I have compulsively and aggressively engaged many people on this issue, especially the overly officious people who would dismiss the survivors of the Parkland Massacre because they do not meet their narrow and dogmatic standards:
R: Yes. I have around 70 years familiarity with weapons of all kinds, weapons history (not talking just firearms, here), and literally 50 years of participation in the FAPOL (Firearms And Politics) arena. I pretty much qualify as an expert.
What they saw was horrible, but has absolutely no relevance to what they say about guns, gun owners, or gun laws – I haven’t heard one speak yet who wasn’t absolutely clueless on the subject.
When people insist on vague – or specific but ridiculous – changes to something they don’t know anything about and get wrong every time they open their mouths, it leaves people who do know something about the subject staring at them like they have their heads on backwards.
The fact that they, and other people like them, refuse to listen when you try to educate them, or correct their misstatements, doesn’t buy them any credit whatsoever – it subtracts from whatever credit they started with, and ultimately it gets them ignored as irrelevant.
ME: R, I am ten years younger than you. I have seen plenty myself. I have no problem telling you that you are dead wrong. As wrong as Johnson and Nixon were about the protesters of the Vietnam war. I could cite other examples, but you should keep that one primarily in mind. Historical movements have been started with less provocation. The kids who survived that ordeal on Valentine’s Day are now the spokespersons for an ENTIRE GENERATION who have had enough of the proliferation of guns, enough of the platitudes of politicians who have been paid off in money and influence by the NRA to do their bidding, enough of attitudes like yours, R., that weapons and the right to own and carry them are more important than their rights and their lives.
It’s all going to change R, whether you like it or not.
Change is hard. You can sit on the sidelines harping about these kids all you want.
You can’t stop them. You won’t stop them.
With their help, am I hoping they will be the vanguard of a range of social changes, and that sir, will bloody well include gun control in various forms.
Now, either you or your friends can continue to be part if the problem or you can be part of the solution. I intend to be in the right of history.
I’m supporting these kids.
Mind you, R. was at a distinct disadvantage because I was watching the recent Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour and I felt as though I was directly channeling him as I was tapping out this reply.
And there was this exchange:
V.L.: I believe in liberty and the constitution. The 2cond amendment and the individual right to bear arms is guaranteed by our constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court in the Heller case. As a reasonable person I’m open to some of the ideas being discussed; raising the age to 21 for purchase of certain weapons, universal background checks, banning bump stocks ect. The ‘assault weapons’ ban has zero merit. There’s nothing about guns made with black polymer that look like military weapons that make them more deadly than ordinary wooden semi-automatic rifles. It’s really magazine capacity, not the gun, that makes mass shootings more deadly. My issue with many on the left is they don’t believe people should own guns at all, or they say everyone should be allowed to own a musket because that’s what was available when the founding fathers penned the Constitution. The rationale of the 2cond amendment was a well armed militia to defend the country from a tyrannical government (which had just occurred) so the weapons of the militia should be equivalent to those of the government. I’m not advocating that citizens have access to tanks and rockets, but at the same time the 2cond amendment never had to do with hunting which is now what the left uses as the ‘need’ for guns. “I don’t want to take away Uncle John’s hunting gun”… This was never the basis for the second amendment. Murder is already illegal. Guns shouldn’t be the main focus; hardening school security should be.
To V.L.: ”Hardening school security”? What are you suggesting? Because it sounds like you’re suggesting more of a settling for a prison than school.
And, for the record, those of us who are level-headed folks who believe in some changes in the gun laws want law abiding gun owners to STOP acting like the 2nd Amendment, as written, is the most important thing in your lives. Your “gun rights” are not more vital than any human life.
We want to live in a world where guns are just as hard to buy as houses, cars and a Lear jet. That would include licensing, insurance for each weapon and regular recertification. Anyone caught without those accreditations should be prosecuted to within an inch of their lives and jailed.
THAT’S what we want. Some ideas in your post are a good start. But they don’t go far enough. Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.
Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado stated in an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on February 27 that on the whole, we are terrorizing ourself over what to do about gun violence in America. When he was asked by host Rachel Martin whether or not the country had reached a tipping point on gun control with the Parkland tragedy, he said, “Well, there’s an accumulation of sorrow. And I think people’s hearts are just breaking, and there is a frustration now. For the first time, I keep hearing people talking about, you know, long-term Republican funders saying they’re going to fund people based on how they respond to gun safety, the introduction of gun safety laws, and that’s new. I mean, I haven’t heard that before where Republicans, who historically have been fighting for, you know, more traditional Republican goals, right? Lower taxes, smaller government, that kind of thing. Now they’re looking at gun safety as a large enough issue that it will define who they donate money to and who they vote for.”
I plan on working on posting a Gun Safety Manifesto to Change.org in the next month or so. The emphasis of the petition will be on gun safety, not “gun rights. Gun culture, either through the machinations of the National Rifle Association or other gun rights groups have had their day. Repealing or changing the Second Amendment will be on the table one day soon.
The sooner the better I think.
“Those who never change their minds never change anything.”
Dedicated to the students, faculty and administrators of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.