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Fourth Quarter ’07 Update

So my webmaster son, Jonathan, who is a 23-year-old filmmaker and hip to these sorts of things, tells me the other day that if I don’t start doing a little more blogging in this space no one’s going to visit any more.

I have to tell you that I’m fairly reticent to plunge into this blogging thing, which is no surprise to anyone who’s taken a look at this website over the months and noticed that I update it once or twice a year, when a new book or something else of mine comes out. I figured that would do the job, but apparently not.

Okay, look. Here’s the deal. When I was Jonathan’s age, the closest analogue to blogging we had was fanzines, little magazines done for the sheer love of it, usually having to do with comic books or science fiction and fantasy or old pulp magazines and other nostalgia/escapist topics. A few of us like-minded kids would talk our way into church or school offices and commandeer a duplicating or mimeograph machine, and crank out these little publications in editions of 20 or 50 or 100 and mail them off to people across the country, hoping to get back at least what we called an LOC (letter of comment).

Yes, those were the ’60s and early ’70s, and things change. But chances are if you’re one of those folks who were around when dinosaurs ruled the earth, like yours truly, you’ve got a bit of an approach-avoidance problem with cyberspace. I think some of it can be boiled down to this: It just seems too easy.

Probably, this is just the latest manifestation of that line the old folks have used on every new generation: “Well, in my day, we didn’t have it so easy!” Of course, that’s true. Things do get easier in a lot of different areas as the years pass, thanks to unrelenting technological breakthroughs. And that’s all fine. But I’m with another old poop, the unfortunately late Kurt Vonnegut, who opined toward the end of his life that we’d advanced technology enough – how about trying to advance humanity a little bit?

These days, anyone in the world has the potential to communicate with loads of people via the internet. A person can do this regardless of whether he or she has anything to say, or even whether he or she has the skills necessary to communicate it. (And don’t get me started on how cowardly it is to hide behind a fake name and take ugly potshots at others.)

Chances are, if you’re of a certain age (hint: mine), you’ve blanched at the execrable communications skills flaunted by many of the denizens of cyberspace. Forget such niceties as subject-verb agreement, modifiers that don’t dangle, correct spelling, or actual sentences. Some of the stuff is absolutely incomprehensible, and it’s going out there where tons of people are supposed to see it. In some cases it’s like – as Raymond Chandler wrote in a different context — an idiot with a machine gun. There’s all this power to communicate, and, if you’ll excuse the expression, it’s being pissed away by people who don’t care enough to learn how to communicate.

It’s the same thing with radio call-in shows. Now, I don’t spend one millisecond of my life listening to the saliva-slinging political airhorns, but I do like sports talk about major league baseball and pro football, and I especially like the syndicated Jim Rome show. But we have some good local guys on our sports-talk stations around here too, people who know their topics and do their homework and come up with some intriguing ideas and angles –

And then, they open the phone lines. And here come people who, in what seems to me to be the overwhelming majority of the cases, haven’t given any real thought to what they plan to say (something along the lines of “How ’bout my Sooners?” is all too typical) and don’t have any new angle and just take the air out of everything. Even the callers to Rome’s show — who tend to be of a higher caliber, or at least a weirder bent – are hit and miss, and I find myself switching the channel when they come on almost as much as I do when our local guys open up the phones. I simply prefer to be entertained by professionals.

Just because you can get access to the airwaves doesn’t mean you automatically have something to say. Or, as my pal Jim Millaway once put it, there’s a reason you have a radio receiver and not a radio transmitter in your car.

Now, of course, thanks to the internet, we all have our freaking transmitters, and we can use them at any hour of the day or night. We don’t have to go with an unexpressed thought, and I’m not sure that’s particularly healthy.

I’ve brought up a lot of this with Jonathan, and he’s asked me how communicating on the Internet is any different than writing for the fanzines.

It’s a good question, and maybe it’s simply the far greater number of participants, but I think it’s more than that. I remember when I wrote my first piece for a fanzine – Paul McSpadden and Steve Fears’ MASTERMIND, back in 1964 – I saw it as a huge opportunity, and a big responsibility. I strove to get everything right. I used every English skill I’d learned in school, and went over it several times, looking for the slightest error. I did not shoot it out into cyberspace like some wobbly, slapped-together projectile and go on to something else. I took a lot of time with it.

So, yeah, it was harder. Maybe I even made it harder than it should’ve been. But the people who really interest me in cyberspace are the ones who insist on taking the time to craft something, who realize that just because it’s easy to communicate on your computer, you shouldn’t just throw something out there. Scattering some random thoughts with no regard to communications skills doesn’t make you a writer, just like a bunch of blank verse scribbled after your girlfriend dumps you doesn’t make you a poet. To be good at anything, you’ve got to work at it. I think it may just be that simple.

I realize that I’ve tackled a number of different notions here – but, hey, isn’t that a part of blogging? And please don’t construe this as a rant. I’m more bemused than anything else, and I’m just trying to dope the whole thing out rather than dismiss it out of hand. So, if you’d like to enlighten me, or explain why I’m not looking at it right, or even agree with me, please feel free to send me an LOC. Yes, I’m kidding. Please email me at [email protected]

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things written in the spirit of the holiday season. The first is a little poem that came unbidden to me yesterday morning. The other is a story I wrote back in 1995 for the Tulsa World editorial section. Those of you who are comic-book fans might want to know that the man I refer to in the opening paragraph of the newspaper piece was the great Funk Age artist and writer Leonard B. Cole, whom I was proud to call a friend.

Puppet plays in black and white

And a starry sky

Gently snowing Jesus Christ



    About a week after we’d sent him a chatty Christmas letter with a
picture of the family, my wife, Janis, and I found out that an old
friend in New York had died. The death of any friend is a tragedy;
the death of a friend you haven’t seen as much as you want to can
be especially unsettling — especially at this time of the year.

“You know,” Janis said as we talked about it that evening, “it
just doesn’t seem right for people to die around Christmas.”

No, it doesn’t. All the accouterments of Christmas, from the
manger scene on the living-room table to the star at the top of the
tree, symbolize joy and hope, not sadness and death. The whole
story of the Savior’s birth is the story of hope fulfilled by God,
delivering on a promise. These days, we react to the spirit of that
fulfilled promise by giving some of what we have to make other
people joyous. The Tulsa World sponsors a drive to help the area’s
neediest families. Churches and radio stations and service
organizations and merchants all organize efforts to help others,
and it’s a rare working man or woman this holiday season who won’t
be helping someone else — a stranger — realize some Christmas

Maybe in the middle of all of this necessary and wonderful
effort, though, it would be good to remember that without sadness,
there would be no need at all for hope. If we were all joyous and
content, why would we have to hope? For me, the most poignant
Christmas moments of all are those in which sadness and hope are
intermingled, with people nobly overlooking their own sadnesses in
favor of providing hope and joy for others.

It’s the sight of cardboard letters proclaiming “Merry Christmas”
in the smeared window of a subsidized apartment on the wrong side
of town. It’s the aging members of a dying organization pulling
together to decide how many Christmas baskets they can afford to
give away this year. It’s a poor kid, a kid that’s maybe been
kicked around, buying a can of peas — or taking one out of a
meager pantry — to donate to a church food bank. It’s a guy, two
days off the street and two days sober, volunteering to pull on a
Santa hat and ring a bell in front of a Salvation Army kettle. It’s
a child wrapped in rough garments approximating the clothing of
Christ’s time, shivering as he or she stands stock still in a
“living nativity,” watching the cars roar by on the street in front.
It’s even ourselves as adults, remembering our Christmases as
kids, and the precious innocence and sense of wonder that gradually
fell away from us like shed, shimmering skin as we grew up.
There’s no joy, no hope, without sadness. Even the Savior was
born in a stable, to bedraggled and undoubtedly stressed-out
parents who’d looked all over town to find a decent bed and instead
ended up sharing a stable with animals. The moment their blessed
child was born, he was on his way to the cross. And the star of God
shone over it all, over this sweetly transcendent mixture of hope
and pain, sadness and joy.

In this season, we strain toward the light of that star, and its
light, in turn, illuminates us from within, lighting up the
darkness of our lives. We call that light the Christmas spirit, and
nothing is more holy. It continues, as long as we live, to see us
through our sorrows and to shine just often enough through our
mortal eyes in this, the most joyous, most hopeful and saddest
season of them all.

If you’re a fan of ’60s and ’70s music, you might want to catch another piece I’ve just reprinted, concerning my musical hero Augie Meyers.

(Click on the picture to read the article)

That’s it for this go-round – except for a piece of subliminal advertising buy my books and my best holiday wishes. Many thanks, as always, for dropping by.




           — Back atcha soon, you bet…