i don’t know what i’ll do tomorrow

The cat is dead.

I can hardly believe I wrote those words. But they’re true and there it is. My morning companion, my afternoon nap buddy, my evening pest, is dead. I know there are people who object to that term and I understand, but it’s necessary for me. The only way I can accept her absence is to acknowledge the fact that she’s dead. Nothing else would prevent her from being here with me. No rainbow bridge could stop her.

I’ve written about the cat before (here and here). I’ve always referred to her as “the cat.” She had an actual name, Abby, though I’m not sure I’ve ever used it. I really don’t know why. I always told folks I didn’t use her name because it seemed presumptuous for a human to attach a human name to an independent non-human being. I’d tell folks I didn’t use her name because I respected her autonomy. There’s probably some truth in that. I’m not sure how much.

I’d say she was an odd cat, but that’s true of every cat I’ve known. She was a small, stubborn, commanding creature. She liked things a certain way; she liked predictable ritual behavior. Every morning we’d check the perimeter, which basically amounted to the two of us standing at the back door and looking out at the yard; some mornings she’d stand or sit on my foot as I stood there. It was just a few moments, but we did it every morning. 

We did something similar every evening. I’d got in the habit of retiring to the basement at some point between eight-thirty and nine PM, where I’d write or watch television. She adapted to that and every single evening she’d come striding into the living room around that time, and she’d make it clear I needed to pet and feed her, and get my ass downstairs. She’d sit and stare at me if I didn’t follow the ritual. If I resisted, she’d move a bit closer and keep staring. The cat ran a tight ship. 

I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow. 

Like most cats, she napped a lot. In the summer she liked to nap in the hostas; she’d bury herself amongst the leaves and act as if she was invisible. In the colder months she liked to nap in a patch of sunlight. Or on my lap. I say she ‘liked’ it, but the truth was she was insistent. She wanted me to sit a certain way, with one leg tucked under the other. If I sat wrong, she’d fuss and fidget until I sat properly. She made me her nap monkey; she decided when and how the napping was to be done, and I just tipped my hat and went along.

She’ll never nap on my lap again. 

She wasn’t a talkative cat; she communicated mostly by staring at you. Sometimes, if you failed to notice her staring, she’d rear up and gently tap your arm. “Hey, pay attention to me.” I never thought of myself as the sort of person who talked to animals, but I surely became one. I talked to the cat often. I never talked ‘baby talk’ to her. Not once. We had adult conversations. She had a peculiar purr–it was more of a stuttering rhythmic grunt than a traditional purr. And she was stingy with it; she didn’t purr much. But when she did–when she was really contented and happy–it was the most wonderful sound.

I’ll never hear that sound again.

I’ll never hear that sound again. She’ll never nap on my lap again. She’ll never send me downstairs to work again. We’ll never check the perimeter again. I miss her so much.

I’m not prepared to miss her. I was prepared for her to die; we knew it was coming and having too much experience with death, I was ready for it. But I wasn’t ready…I’m still not ready…for how much I miss her.

I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow.

the intersection of rigged, crooked, and evil

I want to be optimistic about the mid-term elections. And I kinda sorta am, because I know there are more Democrats than Republicans.

But I also know that having a majority of voters isn’t enough anymore. I know Republicans have wildly gerrymandered Congressional districts to give themselves an advantage, I know Republicans have pretty much decided in advance NOT to accept any result other than a victory, I know Republicans are doing everything they can get away with (and they can get away with a LOT) to make it more difficult for Democratic voters to vote, and I know the news media is generally unwilling to report that a LOT of Republican candidates are flat out lying. I know that Republicans maintain a media advantage. I know there’s a massive double standard for reporting on Democrats and Republicans.

Here’s an example: yesterday Comrade Trump (on his Twitter-facsimile) wrote this:

Our Country is Rigged, Crooked, and Evil.

And not a single major news source reported it. Imagine if a Democrat had said that. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or Barack Obama had said “Our country is evil.” Every Republican would be screaming in outrage, every news agency would make it a major story, every evening news broadcast would cover it and it would be endlessly repeated in every GOP political advert in every state. Any Democrat who said that would be vilified, and rightly so. But Trump can say it and all it elicits is a shrug. Because that’s what we expect from MAGA assholes.

(Tangent: to create an image to illustrate this, I typed Trump’s line into the ‘detailed description’ box of DALL-E2 to see what it would generate. What it generated was this: “It looks like this request may not follow our content policy.” Even artificial intelligence is offended by the line. I had to modify Trump’s words to make the description more palatable to the AI, which then generated the following image.)

“Our cities are rigged, crooked, and in ruins.”

I don’t believe our country is generally rigged, crooked, and evil. I DO believe many of the systems of the US are rigged against the poor and minorities. I also believe capitalism is inherently crooked. I’m not sure I believe in the concept of evil, though I’ve seen enough awful, horrible things that I can’t deny the possibility that it exists.

But if there is an intersection of rigged, crooked, and evil, it’s manifested in MAGA and the MAGA vision of America.

I want to be optimistic. I want to be convinced that enough Americans believe in democracy to vote to save it. I want to be confident that representative democracy is strong enough to stand up to MAGA. I really, really, really want to be optimistic.

But I’m just not. I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful. And I’m afraid of being hopeful.

on the buying of books

I used to read everything. For years, I always had two books going–a novel and some work of nonfiction. The novels were almost always literary fiction (with the occasional dip into genre fiction); the nonfiction could be anything at all. Plate tectonics, a biography of Isadora Duncan, a history of clocks, the Boer war, a book on beekeeping. Seriously, I’d read anything and I read all the time–two or three books a week. I was basically a book slut.

Over the years, my reading habits have changed. That’s due partly to technology. In 2011, I was given a Nook–the ebook reader developed by Barnes & Noble. I didn’t ask for it and didn’t really want it. I was of the opinion that reading on an electronic device couldn’t be truly satisfying. I believed there was a feel and a scent that belongs to a physical book and it contributes to the reading experience.

Maybe it does. But it doesn’t contribute that much–at least for me. I’ll never go back to reading physical books.

The best thing about e-books is also the worst thing: the ease with which you can buy a book. I absolutely love hearing somebody talk about a book, and being able to buy it and have it in my collection 90 seconds later. I love having all my books with me and easily accessible at any time, wherever I go. I still have a Nook (which, by the way, is terrible tech, but it’s good enough to keep by the bed for late night/early morning reading), but most of my reading is done on a tablet.

Most of my nonfiction reading is now comprised of the weird, interesting, esoteric stuff I can access in online magazines or blogs or websites. The biggest change in my reading habits has been a shift from literary fiction to genre fiction.

This is partly because buying e-books has freed me from the tyranny of cover art. I used to have very strict cover art rules (mostly applied to genre fiction). For example, I would not buy a book with a cover featuring a woman warrior in ‘sexy’ armor. Or a detective in a trench coat. Or a skeleton. Or a goddamn dragon. In fact, I refused to buy a book if it had the word ‘dragon’ in the title.

That changed when a friend whose literary taste I respected, suggested a novel called His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik. The title was bad enough, but it also had a dragon on the cover. It was described to me as ‘Jane Austen, but with witty dragons.’ Witty dragons, for fuck’s sake. But buying it online meant I didn’t have to hand the book and my credit card to an actual person, who’d look at me like I was the sort of person who’d buy a book with a dragon on the cover.

The novel turned out to be smart, funny, well-written, full of adventure, completely charming, and the dragon…well, she was witty. Even before I finished reading the novel, I bought the second book in the series (which also had a dragon on the cover).

That novel sort of broke the genre dam. I’ve discovered that the large ideas that drive what I used to think of as ‘serious’ literary fiction also exist in genre fiction–and often in a more accessible form. For example, Novik’s dragon series intelligently examines gender norms, as well as civil rights and liberties–both for women and for dragons. This may sound stupid, but it works.

For the last five years or so, I’ve been reading mostly genre fiction. Now the vast majority of my reading is divided between a metric buttload of genres. Cozy mysteries, hard scifi, detective fiction, mannerpunk, historical fiction, a smattering of fantasy, police procedurals, some urban fantasy, speculative fiction, military scifi, slipstream, almost anything.

But there are exceptions. I’m still reluctant to buy a novel that features elves or dwarves. I’m still skeptical of any novel that deals with magic or the supernatural, unless the writer provides some sort of internally consistent ‘rules’ for how the supernatural stuff works. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll repeat something I said then:

If a writer is only using the supernatural as a convenient way to move the story forward, that writer is not respecting the reader. As far as that goes, the writer isn’t respecting the craft of writing. As goofy as it sounds, ghosts (and the readers of supernatural stories) are better served when the ghosts have rules. It’s really that simple. And by the way, that’s also true for witches, and necromancers, and kitchen boys who inherit magic rings, and vampire librarians, and half-demon private detectives, and travel journalists who find a djinn in an antique bottle, and and and.

I’ve strayed a bit from my point (if you can call it a point–and really, who would be surprised by me straying from it?), which is that e-books have changed what I read. It essentially liberated genre fiction for me; it allowed me to see the great beauty of its flexibility, of its capacity blending ideas and concepts and approaches from different genre forms.

The only problem with e-books is the problem of impulse control. I buy a LOT more books on impulse, which is sometimes a bad idea. I have bought some truly awful novels on impulse. On the other hand, I once bought a novel based entirely on a nine-word blurb (Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space) and it became one of my favorite books. The cover art was dramatic, but doesn’t do justice to the brilliant and charming complexity of the novel. When I was halfway through Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, I wanted to recommend it to a friend. So I did a google search for reviews to help me describe it. The review on NPR said the novel “…is too funny to be horror, too gooey to be science fiction, has too many spaceships and autodoors to be fantasy, and has far more bloody dismemberings than your average parlor romance.” That review leaves out the humor, the fencing, and the love story.

I have friends who continue to limit their reading to serious mainstream literary fiction. I actually feel sort of sorry for them. They’ll never get to meet clever dragons during the Napoleonic wars or lesbian necromancers in space, and their world will be the poorer for it.

house of nope — or my ‘game of thrones’ evolution

At some point in the late 1990s a friend who knew I was skeptical about fantasy fiction passionately suggested I read A Game of Thrones. It was, she said, the first novel in a proposed trilogy, and unlike anything she’d ever read before.

So I read it. And hey, it was good. Even a fantasy fiction skeptic like me could appreciate the unpredictability of the narrative. About a year later, the second novel of the series was published. It was equally good, and I became fully invested in the narrative.

A year after that, the third book–and by then the author, G.R.R. Martin felt the original trilogy would require a fourth book. The story was strong enough that I was willing to wait for a fourth book and the end of the ‘trilogy.’

It was a long wait. Five years. Sure, I had to re-read the first three books to remember what was going on, but I didn’t mind. Except that now Martin was saying the story required six books. At least six. I was less invested in the narrative, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait another five years for the fifth book.

House of Nope

It took six years. And I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, why not? I wasn’t as invested in the story itself, but there were characters I loved and I wanted to see what happened to them. Second, HBO was producing a television series based on the novels. I told myself that meant G.R.R. Martin must be about to release the final book(s). Otherwise why would HBO even begin the series? It would be monumentally stupid for them to start filming such an expensive (and expansive) series without having an ending. Right?

I made a conscious decision not to watch the HBO series. I liked the books and I figured the series would be a pale version of the story (let’s face it, the book is almost always better than the movie or television series). I figured I might watch it after I’d read the final book, which I expected to be released in the not-too-distant future.

A couple of years went by. I heard a LOT of friends talking about the series. I decided it couldn’t hurt to watch the first episode. You know, just to confirm that it sucked. Besides, I was almost out of patience waiting for G.R.R. Martin to churn out another book. One episode wouldn’t ruin the books for me.

That first episode? It didn’t suck. It was actually pretty good. I seem to recall there was a lot of gratuitous tits and ass, but that’s what you expect from HBO. In any event, Tyrion was perfect and the cinematography was astonishingly good.

So I started watching the series. Not binge-watching, but every couple of nights I’d watch another episode. I told myself it would be okay, because surely the final book(s) would be published soon. Right? I mean, the series couldn’t continue if the books weren’t finished. Right?

Nope. The series moved beyond the books. The source material had stalled, but the screenwriters–presumably with Martin’s help/approval–continued the story. And…well, it wasn’t as good. There were some amazing battle scenes, and I was still invested in a few of the characters, so I continued to watch. But battle scenes are just that–scenes. Individual scenes don’t move the narrative very far. You have to string a lot of scenes together to create a narrative. The individual character story arcs became simple, almost cartoonish. Everything felt rushed. Some aspects of the show became sort of dumb. In fact, some aspects were completely fucking stupid. Worse, they were stupid without being interesting (yes, it’s possible to be both stupid and interesting at the same time–remember LOST?)

And then the series ended. It ended stupidly, as if the writers had lost interest. As if the writers had given up and just wanted to be done with the whole thing. It wasn’t just that the story resolution was disappointing, it was–and I don’t know how else to put this–it was wrong. It felt wrong. It was cheap.

For those of us who believe passionately in the power of a narrative, there’s no betrayal worse than a resolution that cheapens the narrative. I won’t claim the HBO series was any sort of masterpiece, but it had been good, solid television. Ending it the way they did was like–you remember that 19th century painting Ecce Homo that was ‘restored’ by an elderly amateur? Yeah, that’s how Game of Thrones ended.

Now HBO is producing House of the Dragons, a GoT prequel. G.R.R. Martin apparently signed the deal back in 2018/19, when he was still promising to finish A Game of Thrones. Will the series be any good? I don’t know. And I don’t care. I simply don’t trust either HBO or G.R.R. Martin enough to care. I’ve lost all interest in anything Game of Thrones-related. If Martin ever actually produces a final volume in the book series, I can’t imagine caring enough to read it.

The sad thing is, House of the Dragons has a lot of narrative promise. But we’ve been lied to before.

That said, if HBO would string together a compilation of every scene involving Tyrion and release it as a show, I’d watch the hell out of it. Same for Brienne of Tarth. And Bronn. And of course, Arya Underfoot. Now that would be good television.

House of the Dragon? Fuck that.

what i need

I went to the market to buy beer. I was wandering up and down the aisle, looking at all the local and near-local craft beers, and one of the employees looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Whaddaya need?”

What do I need?

I need some relief from the heat. I need a rain shower. I need a thunderstorm. I need to feel that storm. I need thunder and lightning. I need to go outside in the storm in all my clothes, outside in the wind and the rain, and get soaking wet. I need to run around and around the house barefooted in the thunderstorm, like I used to do as a kid (to my momma’s horror). I need to be able to run again, run like I could when I was 16 years old and still had knees that worked. I need to run and jump like a pagan in a storm. I need to run through the woods at night. I need to be alone in someplace very big and very wild. I need to feel the tension of being near a large, wild animal, holding my breath, trying to be still so it won’t know I’m there. I need to leap over bonfires. I need to leap over stone fences. I need to run and scream in wild delight and know that I’m still part of a natural world where wonderful and awful things can and will happen.

What do I need?

I told him I needed a simple summer lager from a semi-local craft brewery. Or maybe a local ale. Something that could hold its own against a sandwich made with provolone, ham, prosciuttini, cappacuolo, salami, and pepperoni.

I left with a six-pack of Backpocket Brewery’s Tipsy in Tijuana and a four-pack of Mistress Brewing’s Daisy Ale.

inert, but lethal

I confess, I’m fascinated by military tech. Always have been. It’s awful, of course. So much military tech is about killing people, and, well, you know—killing people, by and large, is pretty much wrong, right? Yeah.

And yet, there it is; I’m still intrigued by military technology. I mention this because over the weekend the US, at the order of President Uncle Joe, killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. They killed him with a modified Hellfire missile fired by a Predator drone (and yeah, there’s a whole deeply weird, perverse taxonomy at work here—a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone). They killed him “as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul.”

Him. Just him. Just al-Zawahiri. Nobody else. No so-called ‘collateral damage’.

They were able to do that because the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the CIA and engineers from Lockheed Martin, modified an AGM-114 Hellfire missile and turned it into an AGM-114 RX9—basically a hundred-pound laser-guided Ginsu Knife Bomb. Instead of explosives, this missile has—and I’m NOT making this up—six sword-like blades that pop out of the sides of the missile moments before it strikes the target (and by ‘target’ I mean ‘the person the CIA really seriously no-shit wants to kill’).

Smaller than a six-foot-tall human (not sure why that’s important).

The idea, of course, is to limit the number of casualties. Most versions of Hellfire missiles involve explosives, which are notoriously indiscriminate. When shit blows up, anybody in the blast radius is going to get fucked up. That’s a problem. I mean, if the person the CIA really want to kills is, says, standing on a balcony in Kabul and you fire an explosive weapon at him, you’re going to see a lot of kinetic damage to the building and anybody in it (and anybody near it). Kinetic damage is a nice way of saying blown the fuck up.

When a hundred pounds of inert steel with half a dozen blades hits a target on a balcony, the damage is significantly more limited.

Okay, maybe not a Toyota—I dunno. But still.

This missile is so precise that it can target a specific side of a moving vehicle. When the CIA decided to kill Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was riding in the passenger seat of a Toyota (okay, I’m not certain it was a Toyota) the missile hit the passenger side of the Toyota. And yeah, it also killed the driver, because we’re still talking about a hundred pounds of metal WITH a half dozen sword blades flying at mach 1.3, so it’s not like the driver could duck and escape. And sure, anybody in the back seat probably got dinged up and will very likely require years of serious therapy. But still, that’s better than a fucking explosion, right?

Let’s face it. The Hellfire AGM-114 RX9 is a monstrous weapon. We should look on it with horror. And yet, I’m fascinated by it. I have deep, contradictory feelings about the US (or any nation, for that matter) conducting extra-judicial assassinations. But I also think terrorists like Ayman al-Zawahiri (and yeah, he was a terrorist) can’t be allowed to roam around free to plot acts of terror. Given the option, I’d prefer they get a fair trial and, if convicted of a crime, incarcerated. But that wasn’t really an option, was it. So I’m perversely glad that some heinous engineers put this Ninja Ginsu missile together.

What was it Walt Whitman said about containing multitudes?


I’ve resisted hate. At least I’ve tried to resist hate. I told myself that hate is a pointless, futile emotion, that it only gets in the way, that it warps the process of thought, that it clouds judgment and leads to bad decisions. I’ve told myself that hate harms the hater more than the hated.

I still think that’s true. But I don’t care anymore.

It was difficult at first, but I came to accept the fact that I hated Donald Trump. I don’t need to list all the reasons for hating him — you’re probably aware of them, they’ve been pretty clear for most of his life. But man I resisted admitting to myself that I hated him. Actually hated him. I still hate him, of course. Hate is fucking hard to turn off. But that doesn’t matter, because I have no desire to stop hating Trump.

One of the problems with hate is that once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. It gets harder to resist. Trump taught me to hate. Today I hate Republicans. Right now, as I sit here and type this, I hate Republicans. Not just the Republicans who’ve voted in ways I disagree with, not just Republicans who hold public office at any level, not just the Republican Party — right now, this moment, I hate every person who voted for any Republican in the last five years, Make it ten years. I don’t think this hate will be as persistent as my hatred for Trump; I suspect this generalized hatred will subside over time. But right now, at this particularly painful point in time, I hate them.

They’re all complicit, every Republican, every one of them. The epidemic of gun violence in the US, that’s on Republicans. The erosion of civil rights and liberties, that’s on Republicans. The rise in hate crime against Asians, Jews, Women, Black people, trans people, Muslims, gay folks — that’s on Republicans. The rise of asshole billionaires, that’s on Republicans. The health care desert that so many people live in, that’s on Republicans. The collapse of representative democracy, that’s on Republicans and I fucking hate them for it.

I’ve learned to hate. I’m ashamed of it, but there it is. I’ve become a hater. I hate that they’ve taught me to hate. I feel diminished by that hate; I feel tainted because of it. I hate, but I’m still resisting being hateful. It’s bad enough to hate, to act on that hate…at that point, you’re probably lost. I know it’s possible to come back from that, but it wouldn’t be easy.

Working to defeat Republicans, however, isn’t hateful. It’s just necessary. If your foot becomes infected and gangrene sets it, you don’t amputate your foot because you hate it. You do it because it’s necessary for survival. Republicans are political gangrene; they are necrotic tissue on the body of representative democracy.

That’s where I am now. Right now. Today. I hate Republicans. But that’s not the reason I want them removed from political power and authority; I want them removed because that’s the only way to salvage democracy in the United States.

so much depends

There’s a type of photograph that I generally think of as ‘red wheelbarrow’ images. You know, after the poem by William Carlos Williams. I’m talking about photographs in which the emotional appeal relies heavily on a color/object element. I saw one of those photos last week–a green hat hanging on a doorknob. The moment I saw the photo, I thought “So much depends upon a green hat….”

Coincidentally, over the last week or so, like a lot of people, I’ve become weirdly besotted with a text-to-image program called DALL-E 2. I don’t understand the tech or the coding behind it, but essentially it’s an artificial intelligence system that creates images and art from a description written in natural language. You type in a description, the system interprets it and creates a series of images based on that description.

There’s a waiting list to use DALL-E 2, I suppose because it produces high quality images which undoubtedly requires some serious computing power. But for those of us who are waiting, there’s a mini DALL-E that produces lower quality images. They’re still weird and wonderful and often satisfying.

So what did I do? I typed in a brief description of WCW’s poem. A red wheelbarrow glazed with rain beside white chickens. And DALL-E mini gave me this:

Red wheelbarrow glazed with rain beside white chickens

It’s weird and a wee bit distressing, but I was immediately delighted. Enchanted, even. And eventually besotted (oh fuck, now I have to do a quick etymological dip: besotted comes from the Old English term ‘sott‘ which meant ‘a fool, a stupid person’ and by the late 16th century sott lost a letter and became sot, and was used almost exclusively to describe a person stupefied by strong drink) with the idea.

My point, if you can call it that, is that I became figuratively intoxicated by the notion of mixing red wheelbarrows with random thoughts, straining it through the DALL-E mini artificial intelligence system, and seeing what happened. Some of the descriptions were fairly simple.

Red wheelbarrow by the harbor

It quickly became clear that DALL-E had a rather fluid and elastic understanding of the wheelbarrow concept, but I was okay with that. In fact, that pleased me considerably. It made the result a lot less predictable. It added an element of surprise to text descriptions that were otherwise fairly mundane. Such as:

A red wheelbarrow in a mangrove swamp

After these simple experiments, I decided to try something that wasn’t so simple, something that might test the system. And I have to say, DALL-E mini surprised me. It came through with something wonderfully weird and lovely.

A detective in a dark alley with a red wheelbarrow

It was obvious to me at this point, that the red wheelbarrow concept had the potential to become a project. Since I’d lost interest in the most recent Knuckles Dobrovic project (Japanese are bure bokeh images of Ireland), this seems like a worthy replacement. I’ve no idea how long I’ll do this. Maybe a month, maybe longer, maybe I’ll become disappointed with DALL-E mini and wait to try the big hat version.

Anyway, there it is, Knuckles is back, working the red wheelbarrow corner of the intertubes.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Yeah, I forgot to include a link to the Knuckle Dobrovic Instagram account, so here it is.