Speak Out with Your Geek Out: Sense of Community

It’s Speak Out with Your Geek Out week, during which self-described geeks blog about various positive aspects of geek culture.

As an unabashed geek, I’m all over that.

One of the most important aspects of geek culture is the fact that geeks have each other’s backs, as illustrated by the very idea of SOwYGO; Monica Valentinelli came up with the idea after witnessing the development of a geek-bashing thread on a pay-per-click website.  It’s also illustrated by the outpouring of support for one of geekdom’s most brilliant lights: sf/f/h writer, critic, and mentor Edward W. Bryant.

Ed has been a fixture in the speculative fiction world since the early 1970s, when he first began publishing short fiction.  Not long after that, he founded the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop, from which many of the most successful writers in speculative fiction and mystery have graduated, including Connie Willis, Dan Simmons, Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem, and John Dunning.

Although Ed has published hundreds of stories, essays, and reviews, perhaps his greatest legacy will be his longstanding mentoring in the sf/f/h community.  He is an unabashedly kind man, and has patiently helped hundreds of fledgling writers and pro writers alike improve their writing and critiquing skills.  He is well-spoken, with a resonant, commanding-yet-gentle baritone voice, and he has irresistable charisma and charm.  If we were to apply old-school D&D stats to him, I think his charisma would be a natural 18, and his intelligence would have to be up there, as well.

Ed has been a Type I diabetic since 1968, the same year he attended the Clarion writer’s workshop and launched his writing career.  As he has progressed in years, the diabetes has become a frequent issue due to nerve degeneration.  He recently finished a ten day stay in a Denver-area hospital with a bout of gastroparesis, his fourth in the last three years.  In addition, doctors discovered that his esophagus has slowly been turning to scar tissue over that time, a result of the repeated bouts of gastroparesis.  He also had open heart surgery a few years ago.  The health problems have taken a toll on his writing, and his output has dropped dramatically since the heart surgery.  Unfortunately, this also means his income has dropped accordingly.

Here’s where the geek community shines.  Ed’s friends, students, and neighbors banded together in late 2008 to form the loosely-knit Friends of Ed Bryant organization.  The Friends of Ed Bryant website and Facebook group formed shortly thereafter.  The purpose was to get the word out to all the people who love and respect Ed that his health and finances were in jeopardy; it was time for the geek community to step up and pay back some of what Ed had given to us over the last four decades.  And pay back we did!  Within a couple of weeks, we had enough donations of money, labor, and medical supplies to dig Ed out of the financial bind he was in at the time.

Folks, it’s time to pitch in again.  Ed is currently facing the very real possibility of losing his home due to unpaid property taxes.  Eventually, he will likely sell that house and move into some form of assisted living arrangement, but right now, he needs to get the taxes paid so he can buy time to sell the house.  The Friends of Ed have mobilized again to solicit donations on his behalf, as well as brainstorming ideas to help him out over the long term.  Donations have started rolling in, some as little as $5, others in the hundreds, but we’re still far short of the amount he needs in order to pay the tax bill.  If you can afford anything — even $5 — please consider visiting the Friends of Ed website and giving what you can.  The donations are processed by Paypal and go directly into an account managed by the Colorado Fund for People with Disabilities.  Unfortunately, this is not a tax-deductable donation, but it does go to support one of the kindest, most influential writers in the geek community.  Ed has stood with us for nearly 40 years; it’s time for us to stand in support of one of our own.  Visit the Friends of Ed Bryant website, make a donation, and join the Facebook group to stay in the loop about Ed’s status.

Make me proud, fellow geeks.

About those resolutions …

Back in February, I followed up on how I was doing with my New Year’s Resolutions after only a month. I was surprised to find that I was doing pretty well. Let’s see how I’m doing now that we’re five months into the year.

Creativity

1. Write more consistently, whether journaling, blogging, or creative writing.

I haven’t been able to attend my writing group for the last month or so because the meeting day changed due to a scheduling conflict for Melanie, the group’s instructor. I don’t have to have a writing group to write; I could blog every day if I simply had the motivation, and that would count as writing. In other words, I just used the writing group as an excuse for not writing. Sorry, Melanie. I take that back and restate it thus: I have not met my goal of writing more consistently.

I did, however, finally check out Ficlets.com after reading about it a few times on Wil Wheaton’s blog in exile. More on that a little later in this post.

2. Find another outlet for article writing (since ComputorEdge has gone virtual.)

I never heard from one of the computer magazines to which I sent a query letter, but I did hear back from another one, which is in its startup phase. We’ll see how that one works out. In the meantime, I wrote a second pro bono feature article for ComputorEdge, officially my 25th article for them. (Link goes to a PDF of the online issue.)

3. Publish some fiction. (Didn’t I say this last year?)

Other than putting a little piece up on Ficlets, I haven’t done anything in this regard except think about it. I think I like Ficlets, though. I’m a fan of structured writing, and the 1K limit on posts forces me to write tightly.

4. Play more musical gigs.

SR3 has played a couple of gigs recently, and we have a few more lined up. We will probably play at Federal Heights Day on September 20, as well.

5. Start teaching my stepson how to play guitar (his request, my responsibility to follow up.)

We haven’t done much with this since our initial attempts. It’s clear that Logan needs a Logan-sized guitar with standard tuning, but I haven’t had the money to get him one.

6. Transplant my Variax electronics into a Carvin Bolt kit or Warmoth guitar body.

I’m still not in a position to do this yet. I have scaled back my grandiose plans, though, and will be simply transplanting the Variax electronics into a nice body and adding a tremolo. I’ll save the passive pickups for a future project.

Physical & Mental Health

1. Learn how to get up earlier, consistently.

Through March, I did very well with this. However, I’m back to having a hard time getting up on time in the morning. In an effort to make progress, I have stopped taking the medication that was making me bleary-eyed in the morning, with no apparent negative effects. The key is going to be consistency. I need to get to bed at the same time on most nights, and then I will be able to get up on time easier.

2. Utilize my handheld BalanceLog software to track my eating and exercising habits.

Again, I haven’t been using it, but I’m at my lowest weight in the last few years. Go figure.

3. Ride my bike or walk to work more often. (If I get up earlier, this is not a problem!)

I still have not ridden my bike to work as much as I would like. Now that spring is here, I really have no excuse.

4. Schedule dental appointments to get my teeth taken care of.

I have not done this yet, despite my wife’s repeated urgings to do so. I’ve definitely dropped the ball on this one.

Financial Health

1. Get the amp out of the pawn shop, and never put it in again.

I had planned to get the amp out in February, but then I got a major wage garnishment from the State of Colorado for back taxes. (This relates to the 401k disbursement I took to buy my house not long before Intermountain Color — now Signature Offset — fired me and two other managers with no severance pay.) With this garnishment almost behind me, I’m hoping to get the amp out soon, as well as the two guitars I had to pawn in order to make rent and mortgage payments. 🙁

2. Continue to provide quality computer consulting, but stop devaluing my services as much.

I’ve been doing well on consulting. In the last week alone, I have made over $200 on consulting. I also have decided to take on the web hosting and design for a liberal poetry and essay site. In the interest of no longer devaluing my services, I parted ways with Flying Pen Press in March. The amount of time I spent working on the site was not worth the return I received when compared with other consulting jobs, so I officially resigned as their webmaster. I wish no one in the company any ill will, and I still want the company to succeed. I simply won’t be part of it when they do.

3. Keep current on space rent, car payment, mortgage, and car insurance.

Because of the garnishment I mentioned earlier, we did get behind on mortgage and space rent again. With my next check, the garnishment will be over, and we have a payment plan in place to have both space rent and mortgage payments current as of May 31 (including the June mortgage payment!) After August, things will be easier, because our mortgage will go down by about $275 per month. Before then, I should be receiving a raise at work, as well. See that light at the end of the tunnel? It’s actually daylight, not a train this time.

4. Make a spending plan (a.k.a. budget) and stick to it.

The “Mad Money” budget that I made is working pretty well, although most of my Mad Money has either gone into the gas tank or to help pay bills. Again, after my (hopeful) raise and reduction in mortgage payment, it should be much easier to stick to the budget, as well as pay down other old debts.

5. Track finances better with Quicken on computer and handheld.

I have completely fallen off the wagon with Quicken since my last post about this. I need to take statements for the last three months and reconcile them with my Quicken account so I can get back on track.

Home Improvements

1. Clean cat boxes daily.

I started out the year well with this chore, but I’ve fallen back again. I’m not as bad about it as I once was, but I’m definitely not in the habit of cleaning the boxes daily. This is one of the simple things that I can control; I just need to do it.

2. Help more with household chores without having to be asked.

I still help out in the kitchen, though not as much as I was. Again, I’ve backslid on this, and again, it’s something I can control.

3. Reduce household clutter gradually (this will help mental health, too.)

This is a tough one. Lannette and I have too much stuff and not enough room, and although I consider myself to be fastidious, I get overwhelmed with clutter and give up. We have made some changes; the city had a trash amnesty day recently, in which we got rid of quite a bit of unused stuff, and we’ve re-arranged some of the storage cabinets inside the house to make them more useful. Lannette found a china hutch and buffet on Freecycle, which allowed us to free up one of our huge bookshelves that we had been using as a pantry. This means I can bring in the books that I still have in storage in our shed. 🙂

4. Upgrade my computer (new mobo, RAM, and video.)

Eventually, my old motherboard died forever. The culprit: bad capacitors. I have fixed other motherboards with similar problems, but this one had far too many capacitors leaking brown fluid to spend time replacing them all. So, I was forced to upgrade to a new board, and now I have a great base upon which to build. Unfortunately, I’m running onboard video because I couldn’t afford to get a new PCI-E video card to go with the new board. When I can, I will get a good video card and maybe get back into gaming a bit.

5. Replace carpet with hardwood flooring throughout the house.

No change here. I really hope we can do this this summer. It will take a good chunk of money and a lot of work, but it will get rid of the carpet that the cats ruined, will make the house easier to keep clean, and will increase the value of our home.

6. Landscape yard.

Things are moving on this front. The park where I live replaced some poorly made rampart walls with better ones, driving piles into the hillside to help support the walls. This left a lot of old rampart bricks available for resident use, so my neighbor collected a lot of them. His lot sits about four feet below mine, and we would both like to see a low wall placed along the property line, which I would backfill with the dirt I moved into our back yard when building our shed three years ago. I just found a $10 used wheelbarrow to help with this task. My neighbor doesn’t have enough bricks to run the length of the yard at the height we need, but I promised him that I would purchase the necessary bricks to bring the wall up level with my yard later this summer.

7. Install carport/awning.

Nothing has changed in this regard. I would love it if I could build one of these this year. I can envision it, but I don’t know if I can afford to do it, either in terms of money or time.


Overall, it feels like I’ve backslid since February, particularly in the areas of keeping up with the catboxes and the household chores. The garnishment didn’t help things any, and if I’m able to rescue my amp and guitars, I will be very surprised and happy. I just hope there’s not another garnishment waiting around the corner.

The Man on the Ceiling

A few weeks ago, my wife and I did something we haven’t done for a while; we read to each other.

We’ve done that off and on since before we married, but lately it’s been more off than on due to different sleep schedules. The particular night in question, however, the timing was right, the decision to read was spontaneous, and we couldn’t have picked a better story to read each other.

In 2000, American Fantasy Press published a chapbook by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem called The Man on the Ceiling (as opposed to Jules Feiffer’s The Man in the Ceiling.) The little book, sold only in a limited edition run, garnered critical acclaim and is the only work to have won the a literary trifecta of the International Horror Guild Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award in the same year. In March of 2008, Discoveries (the literary fiction imprint of world-renowned gaming juggernaut Wizards of the Coast) will release a full-length novel version of The Man on the Ceiling, a complete rewrite of the original by the Tems themselves. The book is available for pre-order through Amazon. Better yet, have your local bookseller place an order for ISBN-13: 978-0786948581.

The Man on the Ceiling is a unique book. Part autobiography, part nightmare, and all true (though not necessarily factual), it alternates between Steve and Melanie’s tales of their encounters with the Man on the Ceiling. Who is the Man on the Ceiling? I can’t — no, I won’t — tell you that. It’s not my place to tell you about things you already know.

What you may not know is that The Man on the Ceiling is a wonderful read for couples. When Lannette and I read it to each other, we passed the book back and forth. I read the “Steve” sections and she read the “Melanie” sections. A few times, we paused to shiver or say “Wow” after particularly well-crafted paragraphs, and it was interesting to note that such different writing styles could produce the same effects in us. Steve’s writing is surreal and very visceral, and Melanie’s writing addresses the deeper, less tangible fears that we all face. But the shivers induced in us by both styles were the same. The two writers took different paths, but arrived at the same fearful, insecure, vulnerable spots within us, and that is simply astounding in a work so concise.

The story works exceedingly well for reading aloud in separate male and female voices, and I recommend that other couples do the same (if they can find a copy of the chapbook; otherwise, wait for the full-length release in March.) When we finished the book, we sat on the couch and cuddled for a while, grateful that we could experience the story together, secure in the realization that some fears are universal, and glad we have someone with whom we can share the burden.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that we are friends with the Tems, and you might think that gives us an edge in appreciating the story. Maybe; I thought so at first, too. But the more I think about it, I don’t think knowing them makes that much difference. Sure, when they mention the house that they share with the Man on the Ceiling, images of that house jump immediately to my mind, and since we know what Melanie and Steve look and sound like, we automatically “hear” their voices reading the text and “see” them in the story’s scenes. But those elements, real as they may be, are not the story itself. The story is about him — the Man on the Ceiling — and our interactions with him. The setting could be any Victorian house in any historic neighborhood, and the people could have any faces concocted by the reader’s imagination.

I think that’s one of the things Melanie and Steve mean when they say in the story, “Everything we’ve told you is true.” Whether the details provided by individual readers match the “real” details is irrelevant; the experiences in the story are universal, and the Man on the Ceiling is, himself, universal.

Y? Or Y Not?

The writing assignment for Melanie Tem‘s next writing group session is to write a story using only one vowel. I wrote a short-short using E about a prostitute named Sweet Jem, but I used the letter Y. When I read the story aloud to my wife, she stopped me at the word “endlessly,” claiming the Y in that word was a vowel.

I was ready for her, I thought. “I checked it out on Wikipedia,” I said. “It says there that it’s considered a consonant, but used more commonly as a vowel.” Since we were dealing with the spoken word, I could get away with that without a hyperlink. But this is the Internet, and rather than hold forth without substantiation, here’s the full quote and link:

The letter Y was originally established as a vowel. In the standard English language, the letter Y is traditionally regarded as a consonant, but as a survey of almost any English text, including this one, will show, Y more commonly functions as a vowel. In many cases, it is known as a semivowel (a type of consonant). — (Wikipedia, “Y” entry.)

I finished reading my short-short to her, and we let it stand.

Tonight, at Stories for All Seasons, we ran into Melanie. I told her that I might have cheated because I used “Y” for my assignment. She seemed to agree with Lannette that “Y” was ineligible, but also acknowledged that it was a consonant at times. “In school, they taught us that the vowels were A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y,” she said. Her husband, Steve Rasnic Tem, happened to be passing by and said, “They also taught us that the Indians were treated fairly.” (I may be paraphrasing; I don’t remember the exact words, because I was laughing too hard.)

If you know me, you know that I can’t just let this sit. I thought I had dodged the need to figure it out by checking Wikipedia, but as Melanie pointed out, anyone can edit Wikipedia. (That’s true, but anyone else can call “bullshit” and correct it, too. In recent studies, Wikipedia’s accuracy has been found comparable to the Encyclopedia Britannica, at least as far as scientific topics go. However, in an interesting parallel to Wikipedia’s own model of peer review, those studies are also in dispute, not surprisingly, by the Encyclopedia Britannica.) At any rate, Melanie’s comment did prompt me to do more research.

According to AskOxford.com, Y is both a consonant and a vowel, but:

The letter is probably more often used as a vowel, but in this role is often interchangeable with the letter I. However, the consonant sound is not consistently represented in English spelling by any other letter, and perhaps for this reason Y tends traditionally to be counted among the consonants.

That paragon of online dependability, Dictionary.com, says this:

The consonant sound Y is not consistently represented in English spelling by any other letter, which is probably why we tend to think of it mainly as a consonant.

Okay, so we have justification for calling Y a consonant. However, as all of the above sources point out in their articles, it is also used as a vowel. The real question is how Y is used in the word “endlessly.” In looking back through my assignment, I used Y several times, in all of the following words: every, eye, eyes, westerly, they, prey, endlessly, and yet.

Let’s group the words into similar uses:

every, westerly, endlessly — I’m inclined to say that Y is used as a vowel in this case, because it has the /eː/ (long E) vowel sound as in me, rather than the /y/ consonant sound as in you. I’ll need to change those words.

eye, eyes — In this case, I’m inclined to judge Y as a consonant because it is between two vowels and the unique /y/ sound certainly influences the pronunciation of the E vowels, even if it is not fully formed in these words. It also causes a slight obstruction in breath, which is the hallmark of a consonant. It also acts like a diphthong (combination of two vowel sounds), but my gut says it’s being used as a consonant.

they, prey — Again, Y affects the pronunciation of the vowels, and causes a slight closing of the mouth and obstruction of breath. Like in eye above, it also has properties of a diphthong, but I think the use is more consonant-like in nature.

yet — This case is more cut and dried. Y clearly makes the unique /y/ sound in this word, so it’s definitely acting as a consonant.

I had better start revising. Based upon this analysis, I only have a few words to change, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find replacement words with only E vowels without changing the meaning of the sentences, and in a short-short, word choice is everything.

I’ll post the story in this blog after class on Wednesday.

Podyssey

Jeanne Cavelos, a World Fantasy Award winning editor and writer, runs the Odyssey writing workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire. Odyssey is a six week intensive workshop with a 50% publishing rate for its graduates.

While I was unemployed in 2005, I briefly entertained notions of attending Odyssey; if I had still been jobless in June of the following year, and if I had been able to (somehow) get the money together for the tuition, I would have applied for the 2006 workshop. As it was, I landed a job with IBM, and my small flame of hope for attending the workshop flickered out. (Alas, paying the mortgage and eating is a higher priority than attending a writing workshop. Even this one.)

Jeanne, however, has done a brilliant thing; she is releasing podcasts of past lectures by visiting Odyssey instructors. The first three podcasts are lectures by Charles L. Grant, whom we lost last year (R.I.P., Charlie), Jeff VanderMeer, and Gardner Dozois. Future podcasts may include lectures by Steve and Melanie Tem and Bruce Holland Rogers, as well.

I’m psyched. I can’t wait to listen to these podcasts, especially since my chances of attending Odyssey are slim right now. Because of what Jeanne is doing, people who are unable to attend now have a chance to experience a small slice of the Odyssey experience and gain valuable information from successful instructors in the process.

Thanks, Jeanne!