So Long, And Thanks For All The Dirt

IMG_0720A life of adventure and exploration.

A life of travel and learning.

A life well-lived.

I don’t know about you, but those are the things to which I aspire.  And when someone passes who has achieved those things?  That is a life to be celebrated.  A life to be appreciated…although not without a certain hint of envy.

So, a toast, then, to MER-B…better known as the Mars rover Opportunity.

“Wait, what?” you scream.  “You’re leaving a drink on the bar to a freaking robot?!”aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1hZ2VzL2kvMDAwLzEwNC8yOTUvb3JpZ2luYWwvY3VyaW9zaXR5LXJvdmVyLmpwZw==.jpeg

Yes.  Yes, I am.

Astro-nerds everywhere know by now that the little rover has finally died.  Now, many of the news stories I saw about Oppy’s death were pretty damned shallow, not to mention inaccurate.  Some were even faintly mocking: “NASA’s $400 million dollar probe killed by dust!” and shit like that.


Let’s get some facts, shall we?

Opportunity, and its twin sibling Spirit, were both designed to travel a few thousand feet, to live a “life” of just a shade over 90 Earth days.  Those were the official goals when they landed on Mars in 2004 (pay attention, now, there’ll be a quiz on this later!).

190213150035_1_540x360Spirit (MER-A) died first, in 2009.  Well over five years later, for anyone not counting!

Opportunity, however…

Opportunity didn’t die until 2018 – a life of over FOURTEEN YEARS!!

Of all the rovers the various space agencies have landed on Mars and the Moon — including Oppy’s big brother Curiosity — not one has traveled farther than Opportunity.  The little robot-who-could ran a literal marathon; over those fourteen years, it travelled 28 miles.

mars-opportunity-rover-dies-1That’s 28 miles in terrain that would be considered harsh and destructive even here on Earth, let alone in a place where the nearest mechanic is well over six months away, where commands have to be sent minutes and hours in advance due to light’s travel time.  That’s traveling with nothing more than solar panels for power…and still spending the bulk of each and every day performing science.  Testing and sampling … digging and analyzing … and photographing.  Oh hell yeah, Opportunity photographed the shit out of Mars.

A few random shots, in collage form:

And, just to bring a tear to your eye, I’m adding the very last photo Oppy’s took as death finally came:


So raise a toast, folks, for the little robot who never gave up, never surrendered*.  Raise a glass, also, to those engineers and designers and planners who turned a tiny budget — in space-probe terms — and turned it into 14 years of absolutely killer science.

*Ahem…of course I had to have a “Galaxy Quest” reference!  That movie still cracks me up…



Flash Fiction Friday: “Good For Nothing”

As a reminder, when I use the tag/term “flash fiction” I am doing so in a very specific sense.  The stories I post as flash fiction are conceived, written, edited and put into WordPress for posting in one hour.  That’s it, that’s my time limit.  If I can’t complete a story within that window, it gets moved to my “short fiction” file for later work, but it doesn’t get posted here to my little seat at the bar…

So, well, as is so common for me, it was a song that kicked off the image I wanted to use for this piece:

Good For Nothing

A scream, then, as background to the sound of fist hitting flesh.  Over and over, that sound.

She clutched at his arm, tried to stop the jackhammer blows.

Her voice became a whimpering cry, just short of despair, “Stop…oh God, please stop!”

The face on the floor…it wasn’t much of a face.  Not anymore.  Not after the rain of blows.  She pulled at the arm, tried to pin the blood-spattered hand to her chest.

The arm jerked and pulled, then the other looked at her.  That face was hard, had nothing in it but rage and murder when he looked at her.  He stopped pulling, then, and his eyes…melted.  Pain came, and helplessness, to replace the rage.

“This fucker…he hurt you!” he cried.  A child, wailing at the universe.

Sirens and yells in the distance.  In the distance, but coming nearer.

A touch to his face, and a tear, then the sirens were on top of them.

Shouts and thuds and a whirl of chaotic violence and both were on the ground.  Rough, gloved hands cuffed them, searched them.  She felt her wallet taken, knew the cops had everything…

The hands holding her relaxed — a bit — and a voice, harsh and hoarse, spat, “Fuckin’ good-for-nothin’ kids…”

The Where Matters

I’ve been thinking lately about writing.  Not about the how, nor even about the why, but about the where.  The where matters.  Well, to me, at least, it matters.  It matters a great deal.

0C2242BA-2FCF-4416-8D51-B4F3762EAE78Now, look, I’ve talked before about my…uhh…questionable writing habits.  Talked especially about the fact that I write best and most in coffee houses and taprooms.  I am, I should probably add, a creature of habit.  While I can — and do! — walk into any coffee place, brewery or bar and start banging away on my keyboard, I very much tend to go to the same places, at the same times, and do the same things when I write.  

I’m pretty damned sure I’m not alone in having friends and acquaintances come up to me and say, “Writing must be so cool!  You can sit at home and work whenever and however you want!”

Umm…no.  Not even freaking close.

If I stay at home and try to write, both I and my story are fucked.  Oh, I can sit down and start trying to work…but, well, home is not for work.  Home is for distractions.  Whether I end up with the cleanest shelves in Colorado, or a record-breaking winning streak in Football Manager, Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 9.51.16 AMI will pretty much end the day with anything and everything but actual…you know…writing.

And, no, I do not need you to tell me that I’m weird.  I can do that just fine on my own, thank you very much.


I wish to hell I could write at home.  Life would be much simpler if I could stay at home and work. Unfortunately, even if I somehow could manage to resist the lure of Formula 409 and my current Reading FC save, whatever words I manage to turn out are…flat.  Lifeless.  Boring.*

*None of those things, in case you were wondering, are good when describing written stories…

Okay, look, I do admit that writing just steps away from a limitless supply of beer does help in the creative process — ahem — but that is not, believe it or not, the reason why I love taprooms.  Nope.  It’s counterintuitive as hell, but I need the noise and chaos and distraction that comes with a busy place.  More than that, I need the energy that comes with all that…I need the life.  

Even when I lock myself away behind my earbuds and far-too-loud music, I need that taproom, and all the people in it.

IMG_0728Living up in the mountains, then, is a mistake for me.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the quiet, and being surrounded by the Rockies, but…

…but it ain’t helpin’ me to write.

It is, in fact, hurting me.

A lot.

Hell, I can barely bang out 600-word blog posts at this point, let alone plan and write a 125,000-word novel…

Drinking beer and writing in the midst of dozens — hundreds, even — of folks is one thing…but when you do the same thing at home alone?img_0032

Err, yeah — All Aboard indeed…

So my question and challenge and thought to all the other writers out there is this: where do you work?  What crazy, unexpected, weird place helps you to really write?

The Sum of All the Parts

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Month: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Pretty easy question this month, you would think, since I’ve talked about this topic a few times before.  Heck, I even spent some time thinking about this topic over the last couple of days, thinking about the points I wanted to make, and even about the structure I wanted to use…
Then my unconscious mind remembered just how random and unprepared I tend to be when I write these posts and … umm … well … my train of thought has never met a track it couldn’t jump.

I started thinking less about creative outlets, and more about breadth of experience and quality of life.  I started thinking about the kinds of things that come into play in my own writing, things like balance and adventure and random wanderlust…

Some of what I thought about, I should say, are other creative outlets.Gdansk 1  In addition to writing, I am also a photographer.  Photography is an outlet that very much influences how I write.  It is fundamental to how I envision and create scenes, and to how I try to write them.  When I visualize my scenes, I very much think in terms of contrast and color, in terms of light and shadow.  It’s more than just visualization, however.  That contrast comes into play in my characters and settings, as well.

Personally, I think anyone who lives and works creatively absolutely needs an outlet different from their primary one.  We need a different way to think, a different way to feel, if we want to truly empower our chosen field.  For me, that other expression is photography…

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895…and that’s where my train of thought and planning jumped its tracks.  That’s where I started thinking about other things: things like experience, and passion, and the life I’ve lived…

I can’t play music.  I gave up learning the piano when I was 11,* but that doesn’t stop music from being the other major force in my writing.  Without music, in fact, I have no writing.  Without the passion and energy and inspiration it brings, I sit at my keyboard and stare blankly.

*Yes, Mom, you were right back then, I DO regret quitting!

But that’s not all, not by a long shot.  You need more than inspiration and creative outlets, you need life.

I talk and joke about my “other” life in the craft brewing world, but it is a very real thing.  Beyond writing and photography, I have my passion for brewing & cooking…for flavors and textures and combinations.  I describe it to folks, my love of brewing and cooking, as similar to music: it is the process where you can turn a bunch of disparate and unrelated parts into a whole that is far more than just their sum.

Kinda like writing,* in fact.  When everything works, a completed manuscript is so much more than just “characters + plot = story”…

*Imagine that.  Ahem.

But that ain’t it, either, or at least not all of it.  Those things I talked about, they’re are all parts, but they’re not the whole.  You need more than that, I think … you still need life.

Intellectual passions come into the mix, too, of course.  I love history, as well as astronomy, languages and literature.  I love those things, and they all play a vital part in what and how I write.  As do, of course, other influences in my life: the Russian films I admire, and the Japanese philosophies I’ve explored, and the socio-cultural wrongs I see, and the politics I abhor, and … and … and.

I’ve been just about everywhere, by the way.  I’ve lived at the geographical and social extremes of the United States, and I’ve travelled the geographical and social extremes of the world.  I’ve been drunk in some, ahh, questionable bars in Tijuana, and I’ve sat silently in the most beautiful cathedrals and basilicas.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the ruins of Rome, and lived amidst the awesome wonders of Yellowstone.  I’ve transited the Panama Canal, and swum in the Adriatic.  I’ve windsurfed off Spain, and kayaked the Bay of Fundy.  I’ve spent a day in silence at a Buddhist monastery in Japan, and a night reveling amidst the chaos and excess of a rave in Berlin.  I’ve explored the poorest slums of central America, and the grimmest Stalinist apartment blocks in Central Europe … I’ve walked through all of that, then I’ve walked to the mansions and “palaces” that lie just a few miles away…

I have, in short, tried throughout my life to do it all.  I’ve tried, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  And that is all part of what I need to write, as much as are my other creative outlets.

If you take away even one of those things, my writing is less … I am less.  The sum that is my writing, the sum that is me — the two are the same thing, really — is made of all those things.  It is made of them, yet it is more by far than just their sum…