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Monday, October 22, 2018

Days of Claus

I was 10 years of pissed off.

It was a friend's dad who spilled the truth. We were in the backyard and they were insisting he wasn't real. I was arguing hard the other way. Lying came easy to me and I'd been in trouble for it more times than I'd watched Gilligan's Island. My parents made it clear, they weren't into lying.

So he's real.

But then our friend's dad broke the truth. He said it out loud and for some reason it landed. Suddenly, it all made sense. A fat man in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer? Coming down a chimney and leaving presents all in one night? I knew it. I always knew it.

It's a lie.

All that sitting by the window and watching the sky, laying in bed awake to hear the reindeer land, sneaking out to see the cookies half eaten and the milk gone. The stockings stuffed, the presents in mysterious handwriting. The special feeling.


That was a milestone, a sort of lame passageway into adulthood. Some cultures are sent into the wild or stung by insects to be considered an adult. We had to admit Santa isn't real. And we were pissed. My brother and I confronted our parents. My dad just shrugged, I think. My mom tried to crowbar the lie back in place.

The spirit of Santa is real. 

Not the same. The spirit of Santa wasn't downing those cookies. You were. The spirit wasn't wrapping those presents or stuffing those stockings--and don't tell me the spirit was in you. Not the same, Mom. Not the same!

So anywho, I wasn't going to do this when I had kids. You have kids? You don't? Let me tell you the worst kept secret about parenthood. All those ideas you have right now about how you're going to parent? Flush them down the toilet. Sometimes you're just hanging on till the ride is over (another secret: the ride never ends).

So I had kids. And I did the Santa thing. I just couldn't rob them of the magic, couldn't outcast them among all the other kids. It just seemed not right. So we put out the carrots for the reindeer, drank the milk and ate the cookies, the whole nine. They had all those sweet sweet sleepless nights waiting for the reindeer to land. The only difference was this.

"Is Santa real?"

"What do you think?"


"Don't tell your sister."

And that was it. They weren't pissed. Of course, they weren't quite the caliber of liar I was growing up, but that was besides the point I think. We didn't drag it out, no forcefeeding the myth. It was make-believe and it was fun. They figured it out and now they were in on it.

So then what's this Claus Universe all about?

I've written six books now about Christmas legends in a way that portrays Santa and elven and flying reindeer and living snowmen as real, using sciency means to tie together the magic threads. My wife reminded me, at one point, what are you doing? Isn't this just a different version of the  He's-Real feeding tube?

She might be right. Maybe I'm trying to recapture the mysterious magic that was lost in growing up. The blanky, the pacifier, and all those childhood toys are back there. Maybe I just wanted to climb into the toy box again.

So here I am, six books into the Claus Universe. I keep finding more toys to dig up. Ronin, the last reindeer, is the latest installment. He's like Rudolph, but bigger and badder. His story is like all the other ones in the Claus Universe, standalone novels with some crossover characters.

They aren't exactly bedtime stories. They're more like Harry Potter without the wands. It's growing up problems, it's adult problems.

And plenty of my mom's Christmas spirit.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Birds and the Psycho Bees (Pondering Love and Death)

Our bees got slaughtered.

We started a hive in the backyard last spring. It had problems and never really got going. Bottom line, it was a weak colony. Then we made a rookie mistake. We spilled sugar water. 

Technically, I did. But this is a team effort. My wife and I share the victories and defeats. We spilled sugar water on the hive and didn't think anything of it. The next morning, the bees were swarming. 

They were active. Like super active. Usually they're only like this when they're returning with pollen before sunset. Now it was all day. And there seemed to be more of them. A lot more. And there was fighting--super aggressive, dead bees on the ground fighting.

Here's what happened. 

It's autumn. Flowers are folding and pollen is scarce. But winter is coming. Bees store honey to make it through winter. Bees also take it from other bees. Especially weaker colonies. So essentially what we did was invite another colony to annihilate ours. That's exactly what we did. 

They slaughtered their own kind--their own species--stole their honey and drank their sugar water and that's it. It's like Vikings in the insect world flying in on their boats and just taking shit. Total annihilation. Nature is to the goddamn point. No police, no lawyers or laws or any bullshit. Kill and survive. Do what it takes. Sucks to be you.

I win. You lose.

We're out of that food chain. I don't think we're necessarily kinder than nature, perhaps our cruelty is more sophisticated and, in that case, more devious. I mean, bees just take honey because they want it and need it. They only slaughter their own kind because they're in the way. They don't pretend to be your friend, they don't gloat or dance on the corpses of little dead bees. They just do it.

So what do bees love?

My wife and I have been married 26 years this week. We started out together relatively young and made it this far. A lot of that is luck--luck in the sense that we're both very sincere in making our relationship work. I'd say we love each other, in the traditional sense that word is used. We say it all the time. 

But I'm not sure what love is, exactly.

Is it being physically attracted to each other? Is it liking the same things? God, both of those help. I mean, when we're into the same things, in particularly each other, oxytocin is a powerful drug. But then we aren't always on the same page. So then what, we love each other less? We like each other less? 

What does like have to do with love?

We got lucky. We matched up early on when we didn't know shit about ourselves or the world just that we liked how it felt when we smashed our faces together in the back seat. High on oxytocin, we kept the dance going. Then life got real, we didn't always get what we wanted, one of us would sacrifice something for the other and vice verse, sometimes resentments would linger, we went through some real real shit, sought counselling, learned to meditate, had kids, a couple of dogs and here we still are. 

It's 30 years. 

Marriage, I think, is a great vehicle for personal and spiritual growth. It pushes buttons, forces us into corners, keeps us from holing up in a bachelor pad with an Xbox and a cooler of tall boys. Always on our toes. And sometimes growth means ending a relationship. A friend once said divorce was not an option for his wife and him. I said divorce always has to be on the table. Choose it or don't. This ain't the Great Depression. No one is trapped.

I don't know what love is. I know bees love honey. I mean, they kill for it so they must. I know I'm in very deep like with my wife. I like her company, the way she laughs, her compassion and sincerity. We give each other room to screw up, to reflect, to grow and to come back to the table. That's the love part.

Plus she's hot. 

I started writing this thinking she would read it and it might get me laid. But then I read through it and that's probably not going to happen. The bees are dead and I don't know what this is. I just know I love her. And hope we keep dancing. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Organic Prisoner

I cracked the seal on a 31 year abstinence.

I quit using Skoal when I was 19 years old. I started when I was 15. My grandpa did the habit for almost 70 years. He was from the old country, a man who worked the steel mills and didn't trust doctors. He once refused to let a doctor look in his ear because he would charge him if he did. He was just there for the medicine. Later that week, he was politely informed he was not welcome at the clinic.

He didn't trust dentists, either. A waste of  money. And he never brushed his teeth. Maybe ever. His teeth were a disaster. Eighty years without a toothbrush and seventy of those years marinating in tobacco juice. They looked like rotten logs. But at the age of 80 he still had most of them. A modern day miracle.

But I didn't start dipping tobacco because of him. All my friends did it so I did it. But at 19, my gums were hurting. The day I went through two cans was the day I dropped the habit. It was not an easy one to give up. None of my friends ever did. And then last summer, 31 years later, I decided it was time to plug back in.

It was glorious.

It was like 31 years went by in a wink. I was right back in the summer of my youth as I systematically rationalized my way back into the habit. The good news, it only lasted a month. The hooks weren't deep enough for the habit to haul itself on my back. I mean, if I got throat cancer I was going to feel like a real tool.

We're prisoners to the nervous system.

Most of my motivation comes from sensory pleasure. The more subtle forms come from other things--winning, succeeding, pleasing others, ripped abs, you know the deal--but it's all in the same pot. Most of the time, I don't realize self-gratification is the pheromone I'm sniffing. I wish I could turn the compass off. All these emotions that allowed us to survive the hard years of evolution are a bit of an albatross these days.

Wouldn't it be sweet if we controlled our nervous system?

You know, willed it to not be so hungry. Willed ourselves not to be irrationally frightened, emotionally needy, or unnecessarily cruel. I don't want to feel the way I do a lot of times. I'm irritated over silly things, holding a grudge that's not helping anyone, feeling hurt over the slightest oversights. It's stupid. I would like to say just stop it and stop it.

It's questions like this that drive my story lines. I also can't help but imagine how one of my Zen teachers would answer the question. Who is doing the willing?

Solid answer there.

HALFSKIN was my first series to explore this question. Now I'm plunging deeper into that quicksand with the MAZE. What if we could control our nervous system? What if we could synthetically produce stem cells (biomites, Halfskin fans, amma right?) that would put our bodies in our control. Would the world be a better place? Would we be happier?

Is happiness the point?

We interpret the universe with 5 senses. Maybe more, but 5 are all we can measure. And those 5 aren't always accurate. There's a lot of research that highlights our delusion. The rubber hand experiment, for one. The disappearing dot, another. So we control our nervous system but we're still prisoners to the senses.

And senses can be manipulated.

Once under the influence of THC, I had a glorious experience with my wife. Weed, like other substances, magnifies our emotional state. And my wife and me were in a great place. I was full of oxytocin that evening. And every word she said was like a jewel. I couldn't wait to hear her say something, the words so delicious and lovely. I could not have been more in love with her. Why, I wondered, can't we just exist in this state every damn day? Why isn't this our default setting?

We probably wouldn't survive.

So can our senses be trusted? I dunno. I mean the world was a completely different place when I was in that beautiful space of THC. I was only there for a couple of hours, but if I was there 24/7 for like 30 years, I would have a completely different opinion about life. I would totally not understand depression or fear. If I could will this body into submission, I would put it there.

But we're products of organic evolution.

So the Maze: The Hunt for Freddy Bills (Book 2) (I changed the title, if you noticed), explores the 5 senses, who we think we are, how we determine reality, and what exactly is true nature. How did all of this begin? What's the point? I'm more than halfway through the rough draft. And I like the way it feels.

Of course, that's just my perception.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Killing Time and Illusion

I kill an hour every day. Minimum.

I get in the truck and drive half an hour to work. That's a round -trip hour of staring through glass. Used to be I'd listen to Bob and Tom but the commercials were insufferable. Ever watch the last bit of the nightly news or Oprah?

Welcome back from commercial. We'll be right back.

Like half the people in Charleston, I race to work so I can get there 3 minutes earlier. But it's not so much to save time, it's something to do. It's winning the race to the next light.

We don't want to die but we're constantly treating time like it's a burden. Half the time I'm lost in daydreams. It takes a great deal of effort for me to stay present and only lasts several seconds when I do. On the meditation cushion, I'm in my head at least 97% of the time. As a writer of fiction, that plays in my favor.

Daydreaming gets a lot of writing done.

For a while, I killed time with audiobooks. I read (past tense) a lot of books (That's what I tell people, that I read a book when I listened to it. Is there a difference? There is, but still. I read it.). In fact, when I was reading a good one, I couldn't wait to get back in the truck. I didn't mind traffic. I went the speed limit.

Now it's podcasts.

They've been around a while, I know. But not until I got Bluetooth in the truck did I really dig in (if you don't have Bluetooth in your car, get this nifty jumper, it'll change your life) . You can download this app (Overcast) and choose from thousands. Currently, here's my queue:

The Joe Rogan Experience
Rogan is good. Uninterrupted, long form interviews. Everything from Neil deGrasse Tyson to Ron White. They get drunk, they get high, they go on for hours. Rogan is not afraid to challenge his guests, he's funny as hell and can carry a conversation with any person. This is my go-to.

Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
Relatively new, Dax's podcasts have soared up the charts. He's my wife's favorite. He is a Howard Stern superfan (Stern is, hands down, one of the best interviewers. If you haven't listened to him in a while, try again.) and sort of emulates his style. He's dead honest, completely transparent, and witty as hell. Sober 14 years, it's different than Rogan but just as captivating. 

Waking Up with Sam Harris
One of the most notable modern day atheists, Sam's podcasts are often well above my intellect. I know his guests are speaking English, but I have no idea what they're saying. I don't get through many of his podcasts anymore, but occasionally one drops down to my average intelligence. The thing about Sam is his command of the English language. I sometimes just want to hear him talk. His word choice always seems so perfect. His delivery, though, is as dry as a saltine and, at times, sounds arrogant. 

I know, I know. There are way more and better podcasts out there. Trust me, I know. There's only so much time in the truck, though. I can barely get through all the Rogan uploads. In fact, I'm way behind now. I just finished Rogan's interview with Banachek. What makes Banachek so interesting--besides the mindblowing magic--is his dedication to exposing fraud. Like Penn and Teller, he tells you this isn't real magic, he's not actually reading minds, there is no evidence of real telepathy. He's using deception to make it appear that way.

But man, it sure seems like it.

Banachek has quite a few episodes on exposing charlatans who claim to speak with the dead, who see the future, and, more importantly, swindle people out of money. He's well known for exposing a televangelist who was straight up conning people to throw away their medicine and fill his baskets with money. Banachek is an honest liar. And a damn good one.

Temporarily, I've returned to audiobooks. The producer of The Roots of Drayton has submitted his files. I'm using truck time to listen for quality control. The hard thing about having someone else read my books is hearing it match the voice I had in my head when I was writing it, whether it's the sound or the quality or even the emphasis. This guy is pretty close to what I heard. And a bit of a Morgan Freeman vibe sometimes.

The Roots of Drayton audiobook will probably launch in October. Just in time for Halloween. And I'll be giving them away. So it's sort of like Halloween meets Christmas. Not the Krampus kind though.

Just the presents.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wake and Bake: The Lucid Dream Experience

My brother and I grew up in the same bedroom.

Our dad took the door off the hinges when we were little. It was because we were fighting, I think. Probably. I don't remember. We lived in the same house forever and all I remember was never having a door. It didn't seem like a big deal, since we never had one.

He was two years younger (still is) and slept on the top bunk (not anymore) during the age of Freddy Kruger and Exorcist. Older kids would scare the shit out of us with urban legends. Bloody Mary was the worst. All you had to do was say her name three times in the bathroom and she'd come scratch your face up.

That's all it took.

A time or two my brother woke up screaming. He had that faraway look like Mary was standing right in front of him. I'd get the old man who couldn't talk him down. He'd go into the bathroom and say Bloody Mary like 200 times. It was hilarious and terrifying. And he was unscathed.

Some folks seem to have a pretty good grip on what they want to think and feel. Their focus is unshakable. How do you hit a golf ball with a million people watching or throw a baseball from third base in the World Series for the final out?

I can't.

My mind is sometimes out of control. The absurd nature of dreams makes it obvious. How many times can my penis fall off? I've had the dream so many times that eventually I  think, "I used to dream this would happen, BUT THIS TIME IT REALLY DID."

My fascination with consciousness and the nature of reality started with dreams. I think it began with a 1984 scifi movie Dreamscape. Member that? It's Dennis Quaid looking seventeen along with the bottle psycho from the Warriors (come out and plaaaay).

It's a dream, Alex. You can do anything you want in here.

Dreamscape was long before Inception, but at the time it was cool and corny and planted the seed of doubt. What is reality?

It was college when I read Stephen Laberge's Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreaming, the ability to wake up in your dream. Like Dreamscape, only real. I began recording my dreams as soon as I woke up, no matter how surreal or illogical. I had gotten into the habit of looking at my hands (I don't know why that was some sort of reality litmus test) during the day and asking myself if I was dreaming. When I'm awaken, there's no doubt. I know 100% I'm not dreaming. It was almost a year into the practice when it happened.

One day, I was 99% sure I wasn't dreaming.

A sliver of a doubt, and that was it. I still remember 30 years later passing through the veil of lucidity and becoming fully awake inside the dream. I don't mean like I knew I was dreaming in that sort of passive observer way. I mean like being there, like in another dimension. I was standing on the porch of the house I grew up in. A car went down the road. I heard the tires on the bricks. I talked to a girl I went to high school with. I went into a house across the street. A nun was sitting in a chair. Her face was black. I shouted and leaped, my voice echoing.

You can do anything you want in here.

There would be many  more lucid experiences the following couple of a years. Some were more vivid than others, but they all required the tightrope between waking and unconscious sleeping. If I was too conscious, I would wake up. If I was too relaxed, I would fall back into the hypnotic dream state.

I jumped off buildings, had conversations, explored the strange and vivid detail of my environment. And had tons of sex. Even that got boring. I couldn't make myself fly because I was too bound by the concept of earthly rules even though they didn't exist (Is that air you're breathing now?).

The impression lucid dreaming left behind was indelible. I had experienced another dimension. I was in a body, even though it wasn't real. This was all in my  mind, but I truly experienced going somewhere. Real or not.

The seeming relativity of reality is what formed the basis of some of my stories, Halfskin in particular. The Maze, though, is fleshing it out.

The rough draft of book 2, Maze: The Essence of Sunny Grimm, is about 25% done. The roadmap is roughly charted. It is the stuff of dreams that is the basis of reality, our minds giving rise to entire universes unbound by time. If we can imagine it, it is somewhere. Maybe that's how this universe was born. Maybe we're just players in someone's dream. That would make them God. I'm pretty sure we're not.

At least 99% sure.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Magic at Twilight (not sparkly)...

The twilight of sleep. When the conscious mind begins pulling the shutters and the subconscious goes out for the night.

The other night I was between the sheets and going under when I heard and saw a girl at the side of my bed. I will repeat that. I heard and saw a girl lean over my bed. It wasn't long, happened in a less than a second. She whispered so clearly.

Wake up, Tony.

She said that. I heard it. I saw it. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. There was no girl there. Of course not.

I'm not suggesting she was real. In fact, it's not the first time I've heard something like that, always in the twilight zone (boom!). I don't believe in ghosts, I don't think anyone was trying to communicate from another plane. I guess all those things could be true, I'm just saying I don't believe that's the case.

I can't remember which book it was, maybe Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, that gave pretty good insight into how our brains function. There's a fact that I'm totally going to butcher, but it was something like, given medical technology today, we've learn more about the brain in the last couple of decades than all the time preceding it.


Friday, July 20, 2018

The Biggest and Baddest of them all...

The champion a major theme for me.

Imagine a guardian that's always got your back. It stands at the foot of your bed, it watches over you when the day is dark, follows you down narrow alleys and carries you when you need it most. I think I just described Jesus. But for the non-Christian or secular soul, it could be anything--the angel, the spirit, the good luck charm.

A big scary dog.

Aussie (white) and Jake guarding the kayaks.

It's comforting to believe everything will be all right. Nothing willhurt us. It's not possible, really, but it's the lie that comforts. The truth is, there is suffering. We can't avoid it. And our guardian isn't going to protect us in that way. Not if they're compassionate.

We told our kids, early on, our jobs as parents were to help them grow up. To become adults. When our son turned 21, we was still living at home. He'd just finished college. We told him we weren't helping him by living here. On his 21 birthday, he moved to an apartment on his own. Scariest thing he'd ever done.

Thing of it is, I'm 51 and still growing up. I've been sitting meditation for over thirty years, been to quite a few retreats and listened to countless talks. But it's taken that long to realize something that's obvious.

I'm a consumer.

We have to eat and breathe to survive. Other organisms are harmed in order for us to live. It's the nature of the world we live in. But I'm consuming other things, too. The little addictions of getting... the high of great sex, the charge of a positive review, the dirty thrill of a politician getting just desserts, the sweetness of an email or Facebook mention or Instagram like or the gut-warming thrill of slamming a ping pong ball down my son's throat. I'm an the emotional cookie monster.


I think growing up is the slow awakening to the fact that this is a shit show. We're not here to get what we want. I'm 51 and still trying to get off the tit. It's a tough thing to give up. That protective embrace, the dad who will stop an intruder.

Life, as we know it, isn't here to serve us. The bear eats the baby deer and we all die. Those stark facts are too much for kids. I lost a lot of sleep because I was convinced someone would climb up the TV antennae and do something. I don't know what. Punch me, shoot me. Didn't matter. I remember hearing someone on the news talk about a case of blackmail. It sounded terrifying. At school, I confessed to the teacher I was really afraid of being blackmailed.

I still remember the look on her face.

Then it was The Exorcist. I swear my sister's bed was levitating. Then Freddy Krueger, don't fall asleep. Then Amityville Horror, there was nowhere to hide. My brother would have night terrors of Bloody Mary coming for him and wake up screaming. I was right there with him.

What kind of world is this?

That was all bullshit, turns out. But the truth was just as overwhelming. There are children born into families where they are harmed. Countries where they are punished. Schools where they are beaten. That shit happens and it's happening now. I can't remember what book I was reading, it might have been Sam Harris's Waking Up, where he described a boy's account of being repeatedly raped by his stepfather in brutal detail that had gone on for years. It was gut-wrenching. Even now, years later, it's difficult to accept this is the world we live in.

That explains my reaction to Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls. It was the last time I bawled fiercely while reading. And then the movie, holy shit. The scene in the school where the monster says It is time for the third tale...

How did I not see this theme earlier in my life?

Flury: Journey of a Snowman was the first time I saw it. Flury is the snowman, if you haven't read it, and I started the book with a scene in mind. Made me all weepy when I got to it. Now there's Ronin. This is so obvious, what I'm doing. Writing about the champion in always wished was in my life.

I'm in the final edits for Ronin: The Last Reindeer. If you want a peek into my head, it'll be available November 1 of this year and available for preorder I don't know when. The main character is a boy named Ryder Mack. Strange things have happened all of his life, especially when he's in danger. But a surreal turn of events reveals who his secret guardian is, and the plan someone has to capture him.

Ronin is the biggest and baddest of them all, the one no one has ever sang about, the one who protects the herd and a young boy. He's no Rudolf. He's is the last reindeer.

And he's bad ass.