Category: General (page 1 of 3)

An Expected Chill: Full Story Now Available

Back in late October, I began a story here on Litterfall, “An Expected Chill.” Set in the near future in Portland, Oregon, the story played off the oppressive political atmosphere of the time (an atmosphere that obviously remains to this day), as well as some of the housing issues that currently plague my hometown. It wrapped these elements into a future beset with some of the sort of troubles we might expect to see in our lifetimes and placed its characters within this future storm in an effort to see how they might weather it, how it might impact their relationship, and what challenges arise from living in very troubled times.

The story came about as an intended prequel to another story I began writing in the aim of publishing it in a future edition of Into the Ruins. However, as I shifted my attention away from weekly updates of this blog and toward a busy life that was demanding more of my attention, it slipped into the background and stalled. A few weeks back, I picked it up with a vengeance and I’m happy to announce that the finished product has now been published in the Winter 2017 issue of Into the Ruins. If you’re a subscriber to the magazine, your copy should be arriving shortly. If you aren’t, then you can purchase the new issue and my story within either directly from Figuration Press or via Amazon. I think the story turned out well and I hope that you’ll seek it out, give it a read (not to mention the rest of the issue, which is pretty fantastic) and drop me a line to let me know what you thought of “An Expected Chill.” I have a particular interest in feedback as I consider expanding the story that originally sparked “An Expected Chill” into a possible full fledged novel to be released by Figuration Press sometime next year.

So go read, and let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I hope you all are doing well and that you find yourself navigating these tumultuous times with a surprising (or perhaps unsurprising) grace. Take care.

Mea Culpa

Back when I started this blog, last August, I came to it with a bevy of ideas and inspiration, with some grand plans, and with a commitment to update weekly, regularly, to better build an audience and an expectation of regular content. For awhile, I maintained that plan, and I worked toward a long series of posts on Closed Systems Economics—some of it already in mind and some of it still forming in the ether. I planned, as well, to delve into serialized fiction on this blog and other subjects as they caught my fancy.

As readers can see, these plans have withered and morphed into alternate plans. The election proved distracting and a busy holiday season that included a major life milestone initially knocked the regular schedule of the blog off track. An increase to full time in my day job starting at the beginning of the year kept me struggling to update the blog. It’s not that I don’t still have ideas for posts that I would like to communicate, but that I’m feeling less and less that this is the most important use of my time.

I’ll be honest: There’s a good chunk of me that simply wants time to read (I’ve returned full bore to it in recent months) and to spend time relaxing with and talking with and enjoying the amazing woman in my life. In addition to my currently full time job, I have another issue of Into the Ruins that I want to get out into the world (and which I’m behind on putting together) and my own personal fiction writing I want to pursue. I have books calling to me and a partner, as well—not to mention friends, family, and all the people in my life I sometimes struggle to find time for. For many years now, I have made it a habit to take on more than I can do, and I’ve done it as someone who—aside from his many ambitions—intensely loves and in many ways needs a good bit of down time. Frankly, I also love to walk, preferably at least an hour each day, and it’s hard to do that and write a blog post at the same time.

Finally, in thinking on this today while out for just such a walk, the thought finally knocked me upside the head that I want more tangible things in my life right now. I spend too much time on the computer creating digital ether as it is, given my day job. Even though it will still involve a computer, I would rather craft my writing a bit more slowly, a bit more privately, and then release it into the world (hopefully) more fully formed and in hard copy. Thanks to my works publishing Into the Ruins, I know now how to do that, if only I get the actual writing done. I would rather focus on that goal than trying to meet a weekly deadline.

Therefore, I am stepping away from Litterfall. I know, it didn’t last that long, and I made the unfortunate mistake of publicizing it in the third issue of Into the Ruins right before I stopped updating it. (Whoops!) And hey, I’m not saying I’ll never update here again; I imagine there will be some moments when inspiration will strike and I’ll simply want to put something out into the world. But that’s more like to be once every could months than once a week.

For those of you who have followed my writing from back in the Of the Hands days—well, this is likely to come as no surprise. Apologies; I suppose I’m nothing if not predictable. For everyone else, I’m sorry for not better following through. I have a nasty habit of taking on more than I can realistically accomplish and fooling myself about that fact. It’s something I continue to work on. And for those of you who have followed my story, “An Expected Chill,” I hope it isn’t too much a jerk of a move to say that I now plan to finish that story not here on the blog, but in the pages of the fourth or fifth issue of Into the Ruins. I’ll be sure to make an announcement here when its available.

Thanks for the readership, everyone, and for all the comments. If you have something to say, please do so in the comments below, as well. I promise to answer, unlike some of the last few posts when I’ve let that habit slide. And I’ll almost certainly be back at some point. It’s just that those returns will probably be few and far between. With luck, whenever I do come back, it’ll be worth a visit from you. If you want to see it when it happens, you can always sign up to follow the blog by email to your right.

Onward into 2017: a year promising interesting times, indeed.

Disquieting Vistas

into-the-ruins-fall-2016-coverEditor’s Note: As I continue to work to balance my personal life, my day job, Into the Ruins, Figuration Press, this blog, and my other writing desires, I am finding that keeping this blog going with a significant new post every week may be a bit more than I can handle. Moving forward, it’s likely that I’ll transition to updates more along the line of every other week. In the meantime, though, I wanted to provide something this week and so am including a lengthy excerpt from my “Editor’s Introduction” in the newest issue of Into the Ruins. Want the full read? That’s easy—you can purchase the individual issue directly from Figuration Press, from Amazon, by asking your local independent bookseller to order it, or by subscribing to the journal. Frankly, I think it’s a pretty fantastic issue, featuring five new deindustrial science fiction stories, a good number of letters to the editor, the full essay excerpted below, a new “Deindustrial Futures Past” column from John Michael Greer, and Justin Patrick Moore’s lengthy survey of James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand series. It also has a fantastic cover featuring art work from Jack Savage, as seen at your left.

And if you like that? Well, you’re probably going to enjoy the first and second issues, as well. Frankly, there aren’t too many outlets right now for speculative fiction set in the sort of futures we’re going to get, rather than the shiny, outer-space spectacles so often portrayed as our destiny. I think the more realistic futures as depicted in the stores in Into the Ruins are much more fascinating, much more honest, and well worth your time and consideration. If you aren’t already a subscriber or haven’t checked out one of the issues yet, give it a shot. And read on for a taste of the sort of editorial content that comes with each new issue.

I aim to return next week with the continuation of “An Expected Chill,” and then we’ll go from there.

— Joel Caris, 11/28/2016

In The Geography of Childhood‘s opening essay, “A Child’s Sense of Wildness,” Gary Paul Nabhan makes the observation that children tend to focus on small, micro elements of the natural world. Exploring the outdoors with his own children, he notices as they pay their attention to “the darting of water striders [and] the shapes of creek-washed stones,” and “scramble up slopes to inspect petroglyphs and down arroyos to enter keyhole canyons.” Meanwhile, he observes how adults pay their attention to the macro elements of the natural world, “scanning the land for picturesque panoramas and scenic overlooks,” the sort of scenery we take long hikes to come upon. Reading it some years back, I found it a fascinating observation that rang true, sticking with me as one of those remembered insights that has many times helped me make sense of the world.

As it happens, that insight has helped me once again. One of my challenges in expecting a harsh future lies in my tendency to think of these possible futures in broad, macro terms—as scenery that’s stunning in all the wrong ways. I see the possibilities of economic trouble, geopolitical flare ups, destructive wars, political and social upheaval, domestic insurgencies, and so much more. I imagine how it might feel to be caught in the cracks of a clash between world powers, to not be able to provide for myself or the people I love, to be at the mercy of cascading political chaos or vindictive social reprisals. Since I can’t truly know the future in advance, my imaginings of its trouble sometimes take the form of a certain suffocating foreboding—a general, dark malaise.

It’s a change of pace from other times of my life, particularly when I was young. At that point, I believed in the beneficence of progress and the ability of the onward march of time to provide me a better life. It’s not that that’s what always happened, it’s just that I believed more often than not that it would, even if the current moment suggested the opposite. I considered such dispiriting moments a setback, and little more.

I still sometimes feel that way. It’s an odd discordance that I often expect our collective future to be harsh but still hold out hopes that my own future will be an improvement: stronger and better interpersonal relationships, more satisfying work, modest but comfortable financial success, a sense of contributing to the world in a positive way—and perhaps even having a super awesome weekend. It’s not that I think this is crazy or deluded; such a divergence of fortunes is entirely possible and happens regularly. But I don’t know that there’s any particular reason I should expect to escape the negative impacts of the hard times ahead. A crumbling economy, dark political undercurrents, social upheaval, a major war, and an upending of the current socio-economic order all threaten to impact me. I’m not the most vulnerable person in this country, but I’m far from the least. I would place myself somewhere solid in the middle, and such troubles may have a very large impact on my life indeed.

Therefore, the macro picture is a dangerous one for me—or so I believe. The stunning vistas are disquieting, the picturesque panoramas foreboding. They threaten my comfort and stability. And so sometimes, when I feel as though these panoramas are coming into a disturbing focus, a darkness falls over me. This happened to me recently, as the American election devolved into a toxic stew of bitter anger and betrayal—furious conflicts in interest, values, and worldviews—and I found myself caught in a wary sympathy for many voters on both sides, as well as glimpsing the beginning of a too-close upheaval that I could all-too-easily imagine cleaving my life into too many pieces. From there, I began to expand my view, moving from one dark element of the overlook in front of me to several others, taking a hard look at the chaotic outline of geopolitical reality, the simmering anger against the establishment, the crushing opioid epidemic ripping through this country, particularly within our heartland, and the utter discord and disconnect between the significant chunk of this country that is well off enough to feel an investment in the continuation of some version of the status quo and those who have been so utterly crushed by the economic and political dysfunction in America that, their backs against the wall, they would consider most anyone or any course of action that might bring acknowledgment of their plight and change in the organizing principles of this country.

It took me a few weeks to extract myself from that miasma. I will never claim not to have my bad habits, and I am skilled—at times, anyway—at backing myself into a single-view corner and drilling down into one particular, nagging sensation. I had to make a few messes, so to speak, and make myself crazy for awhile before I finally began backing away from the self-sabotage and recognizing my need to seed some different perspectives and create other foci. Granted, it’s not that I felt my concerns were unfounded or unrealistic, but that it did me little good to maintain such a laser focus on a troubled outcome I had little control over. I could not change that vista in front of me, after all—or if I could, it would be only the smallest chiseling of a tiny point upon one of its peaks, so small that it could never be seen from any sort of encompassing vantage point.

What was missing? Reflecting on it, I believe it was the micro. So caught in my macro views, I ignored the multitude of micro views also available to me. That doesn’t mean that all those views are enjoyable. Some are dark and foreboding themselves, of course, but the detail provides variety. It means that there are joyful views mixed in with those dark ones, even when they exist within the darker vista. It means, as well, that the dark views that remain can still take on a certain palatability, rooted in the small intimacies of human interaction, far too often destructive but just as or more often kind and heartening. We are all too quick to judge and create sweeping categorizations—all of us, across all ideologies—and yet I’ve watched people I admire as well as those I very much don’t act with a kindness and neighborliness toward those in their lives, even when they are humans of strikingly different color (literal and otherwise).

In addition to the complicated tendency of human kindness and human division, there is the encompassing beauty and alleviating grace of the natural world. I have written before of its savings—of shattered ice on river rock, the singing of frogs, the sudden nighttime yips and howls of coyotes—and even at a time of such national upheaval, it provides its daily blessings and respites. Of late, that has taken the form of crows hopping around our backyard, poking at the grass and ground beneath with their beaks, no doubt searching out treats and sustenance, their demeanor steady, alert, and by all appearances happy. It takes, as well, the form of autumn-crazed squirrels, darting back and forth and at times jumping wildly, through no obvious prevarication, digging at various intervals, ransacking bushes, chasing each other in wild abandon, and searching manic for their winter keep. I’ve watched all of this with a steady amusement and low-key delight, thankful each day for these seasonal set pieces . . .

Read the rest of this essay in the third issue of Into the Ruins, now available for individual purchase through the Figuration Press store, from Amazon, or as part of a subscription to the journal.

A Nation’s Fears Realized

Last Monday, I wrote a Litterfall post about the election, noting my prediction of what would happen, my uncertainty about that prediction, my fear of potential fallout from the election, and my hope that whoever won might prove surprisingly effective at addressing the very real and legitimate grievances being expressed by voters on both sides. For personal reasons, I took it down within an hour or so of posting it. At the advice of a few people, I am now republishing a lightly edited version. It follows in italics, with some new comments after a week of reflection tacked on at the end.

It is one thing to write about, speak about, and theorize about the decline of one’s nation and society. It is another thing to viscerally feel as though it is happening. For the past several months, I have felt that here in America. As the 2016 presidential election has rumbled down its disquieting tracks and geopolitical events have appeared to push us ever closer to some very frightening potential breaking points, the collapse of the American empire has never, in my lifetime, felt closer at hand. And as our political system has suffered the convulsive impacts of a surprising and erratic populist uprising, the very real threat of an unbridgeable divide opening between segments of my country’s population has never felt closer at hand, either. As the people around me have reacted with disgust, vehemence, dismissal, anger, fear, and shock at our current state of affairs, my own mood has dipped at various times into foreboding, frustration, depression, and fear. I admit also to a certain fascination and anticipation, curious about how far down this unknown path we may go and what the consequences will be—but once the potential consequences are staring you in the face, they become as much or more unnerving as they are fascinating.

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Gun to my head, I would say that Trump will win. I think the wage class is going to come out in surprising numbers. However, I also have little confidence in that prediction. Clinton has a small but clear polling lead and I have lived through enough elections at this point to have heard Democrats and Republicans alike make elaborate arguments about why the polls are skewed, only to have those arguments largely discredited once the actual votes were counted. At this point, we would need a Brexit-sized polling error for Trump to win and while that’s possible—especially this year—I can’t reasonably say it’s more likely than not. There is also the very real likelihood that Hispanic voters are going to come out in force this election and strongly favor Clinton, and I would be surprised if Clinton did not do very well with women voters given the contours of this election. Still, it’s been such a strange election season with broader trends twisting the usual electoral assumptions in so many ways, I can’t help but lean toward expecting a surprise, anti-establishment outcome.

While I find all this compelling in a certain way, I can’t move myself past the feelings of pain, anger, and betrayal emanating from both sides of this divide. Making it all the harder, I feel stuck in this strange gray area in which I can both sympathize and empathize with those feelings, but I can’t replicate the full investment that a number of different groups have in this election. I don’t mean that I feel no investment in tomorrow’s outcome. No, what I mean is that the people who, it seems to me, personally have the most at stake all fall into various categorizations of which I’m not a part. My skin is most certainly in this game—everyone in this country and a good deal of people throughout the world, to my mind, have skin in this game—but it’s not at the same visceral, personal level as some broad groups in either candidate’s camp.

This boils down to a simple reality. I am white, male, currently working a managerial office position, living in an urban area, and doing relatively well financially, though my financial picture would cloud quickly should I lose my income and not be able to reestablish it with minimal delay. Without question, this election impacts me and the people around me. However, to my mind, I see two broad groups that this election seems most meaningful toward, and I don’t fall directly into either of those two categories of people.

The first group is the wage-earning class of people living in rural and economically depressed areas, many of whom once succeeded financially or come from families who once succeeded financially—largely through blue collar work—and whose lives have been devastated over the last several decades thanks in large part to bipartisan policies supported by a good number of establishment Democrats and Republicans. On top of that, these people are routinely mocked, demonized, and berated by far too many (but not, let me be clear, all) affluent liberals who often live in coastal urban areas and are completely disconnected from the harsh realities and tribulations that they have suffered as rural areas and broad swaths of America’s interior have been economically devastated and hollowed out.

The second group is a mixture of women, people of color, immigrants, refugees, and other minority groups who have suffered very real and still-present discrimination, have to day in and day out run a gauntlet of institutional and societal prejudices, and are currently staring down the barrel of a presidential candidate who engages in rhetoric that has the potential to fuel misplaced violent responses to real socioeconomic injustice, who may attempt to implement policies that put at risk for certain immigrants the hard-fought lives they have pieced together here in America, and who is documented having made degrading and dehumanizing comments about women that too clearly reflect the many ways in which sexism and misogyny remain ingrained in American society and directly impact women across the country.

I should note, of course, that these broad categorizations are far more complex than the two paragraphs above, and a person who might fit into either or both of those groups may or may not vote as the collective wisdom assumes they will. That said, I do feel that there are a lot of wage-earning and working class citizens who support Trump and a good many women and minorities who distrust him and support Clinton, and many feel very strongly in their support of one or the other candidate, fueled by their own experience of the world around them. Meanwhile, I don’t belong to either of those groups. So while I remain invested in this election, I simply can’t grasp the intense emotional reaction and meaning inherent in this electoral choice for many of the people as described above. Much as I don’t know what it is like to be a woman in America dealing with all-too-common prejudices, assumptions and abuses; or a person of color suffering the multitude injustices of discrimination; or a rural wage-class worker who has watched his or her economic well-being go down the tubes and feels ignored and abused by the political establishment, I don’t know what it is like to have a presidential candidate either acknowledge my plight when so many others have not or to seemingly threaten my very well-being, livelihood, and safety either through behavior, policy proposals, or both. Granted, I have my own complicated opinions, reactions, and so forth—but I don’t necessarily have many of the visceral, intensely personal reactions that so many have been experiencing throughout this election. And at such an intense moment in our collective, national experience, that puts me in what I experience as a strange and in many ways disheartening gray area.

I’ve seen Trump’s rise be attributed to pure racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. I don’t believe that’s the case. Obviously, there are some people supporting him that are doing so primarily out of such disturbing motivations—there are plenty of cruel and hateful people in the world. I think more of his support, though, comes from people who have suffered under the current system, all while being told that the policies that have helped to destroy their livelihoods are actually good for them. Of all the articles I have read attempting to explain the support behind Donald Trump, as well as his resilience in the face of statements and scandals that would have sunk most any other candidate, I have found few that have explained it as well and succinctly as this missive from David Wong over at (the NSFW) Cracked. I would encourage anyone who cannot comprehend Donald Trump’s support to read and really try to comprehend and remain open-minded to that article.

Not being able to pay rent or put food on the table is a powerful motivation. That’s true for rural, wage-class men and women and it’s true for women and minorities abused by systemic violence and discrimination. Not feeling safe is also a powerful motivation, and it’s one being experienced by millions of women and minorities across the country who look with trepidation upon Donald Trump’s words and actions and wonder what kind of country he might make for them with the power of the presidency. Throughout the electorate, it feels as though fear and frustration has run rampant during this election season. I have a hard time seeing how this ends well, no matter the outcome of tomorrow’s vote.

I think what I have hated most about this election is that I feel both sides have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed and I don’t feel like either candidate is capable of addressing them—not fully. Most likely, I suspect whoever wins will make token efforts at addressing the grievances of their base, probably won’t do much, and will largely ignore the pain on the other side. If that does end up being the case, that strikes me as both a cruelty and a disaster. I think we are running out of time to address the very real concerns of large swaths of the American electorate. There is quite a lot to be angry and frustrated about; if there is not at least an attempt to make amends and to improve the lives of the many people who continue to suffer in this country—millions of people who hold widely varying political beliefs and cast widely varying votes—than this cannot end well. And at that point, I imagine I will find myself at long last in a very at-risk group.

I don’t know what awaits us tomorrow. But I do know that, whoever wins, a continued absence of redress in this nation is guaranteed to lead to dark places. I don’t want to see that, and so I hope that whoever comes out of this election with the crown upon his or her head looks clear-eyed over this pain-riddled American landscape and surprises me over the next four years by beginning in earnest the hard work of making right the ills and abuses that have been brought to bear against so many here in America, and helps spare us all the traumatic outcomes we appear to be barreling toward. I do not want to see this country devolve into domestic insurgency and civil war, nor do I want to have to live through that. So I hope that tomorrow we have a peaceful election, a clear outcome, a grudging acceptance of it by the losing side, a leader who rises to the occasion, and a populace willing to step back from their fear and anger long enough to make an honest appraisal of the challenges facing us and to then work toward tackling those challenges, including in all the ways that demand personal sacrifice for the greater good. Hard as it promises to be, it will be far easier than suffering continued anger and betrayal to this nation’s breaking point, and then suffering the consequences that lie on the other side.

I’ve spent the past week speaking and thinking about this election, having wide-ranging conversations with friends, family, and my partner, and wondering what the long term impacts of this result will be. In many ways, having the election over is a relief. That’s not because Trump won, mind you; it’s a relief because now we have an actual reality to face rather than an imagined one. That’s the funny thing about the build up to a presidential election: it often feels like the most consequential thing in the world, and imagined victory and defeat both seem total and absolute. In defeat, it feels almost certain that your opponent will do every awful thing that he or she has promised to do. In victory, it feels almost certain that your team will succeed in every glorious promise, revolutionize the world and single-handedly lift all of us into a bright future. And yet, with each passing year it seems as though the political establishment of this country is less and less able to function, more crippled by the grinding crises of our time and less able to break through the grip of entrenched interest groups. It may turn out that Donald Trump is truly transformative, but I’m highly skeptical. Then again, I say that as someone who has not been in Trump’s rhetorical crosshairs. As noted above, I simply do not and cannot understand what Trump’s win means to a whole host of people who have.

Thinking on past elections in my lifetime, I was devastated in 2004 when Bush was reelected and elated in 2008 when Obama was elected. In both cases, the politicians in question made indelible impacts on the nation, but their effects were more limited than I feared and hoped. To my mind these days, there are much bigger forces driving the fate of this country. While I believe presidents and politicians can have large impacts, they still are dwarfed by natural processes and limits, by the surprisingly similar lifecycles of civilizations, and by the sheer power of collective human decision-making and the hard reality that one figure, no matter how powerful, has a hard time corralling, coercing, and cowing 350 million other people. I wrote not that long ago, in the Editor’s Introduction for the second issue of Into the Ruins, that the future will be far less determined by humans than we tend to think, and far more determined by the processes and vagaries of the natural world of which we are a part. I think that’s as true today as it was then. Similarly, the future of America will be, to my mind, far less determined by the person who won our presidential election last Tuesday and far more determined by our collective decision-making—political and otherwise—on a whole host of critical issues.

With that thought in mind, the silver lining from this dispiriting election cycle is that nothing is inevitable and the future is open to us, to our hard work, and to what we are willing to fight for. Clinton was inevitable until she wasn’t, just as a black man couldn’t be elected President until he was, just as in 2004 gay marriage looked like a pipe dream many decades in the future until the opposition fell faster than ever expected. Time and again in my life, the world has felt locked into a certain course until, suddenly, it wasn’t. As we continue to suffer depletion and decline, hit up against natural limits, and suffer the consequences of our shortsighted actions, I suspect that dramatic course changes will become ever more common. That’s scary in its way, because there are plenty of very bad paths we can go down—and that feels as true to me now as it ever has before. But it’s exciting, as well, because it means that for those of us who believe we are on a bad and shortsighted path, other and better paths are real and surprisingly available to us.

I don’t believe the future is guaranteed to be better. I’ve made it clear that I think there are ways it is going to inevitably become worse. Yet I don’t believe for a moment that there isn’t room for hope or for efforts toward a better future—whether or not you win or lose in the end. I will always believe that the reason I’m here is to do my best to make the world a tiny bit better, and to enjoy the beauty that is being alive on this incredible planet. Thing is, I fail at both of those. A lot. But I think I succeed at them time and again, too, and I will strive to be better at them as long as I live. I don’t see much point in doing anything else. And so, if anything, last Tuesday just makes me more determined to get to work. If this election taught me anything, it’s that there are more viable paths forward than I thought, both bad and good. My impact may be tiny, but I’m determined to steer us toward the good ones, and that feels oddly more possible today than it did a week ago. There’s a hope in that, however dark the election just past proved to be.

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