Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not keeping up with like anything that I ought to be. But I’m very busy workshopping a joke where the punch line is “and that one sentence completely changed everything I ever thought about Heraclitus!” That I’m having trouble figuring out how to frame it is definitely not because it’s too minor a jest to use as anything but an offhand remark in a professional setting. I know there’s some setup that’ll make it a killer joke when I’m just chatting with, say, the guy at Penn Station subs taking my order for a grilled artichoke and mushroom. It’s out there somewhere. I know I’m in fighting form to get this joke worked out. Just yesterday I was able to deliver “Oh, no, that’s Tiamat of Samos you’re thinking of. This is Tiamat of Ephesus”. That’s a great joke about the pre-Socratic philosophers plus dragons marred only by how I couldn’t think of Ephesus right away and had to say “that other place”. But that’s still the level I’m working at and that’s why I know it’s going to be worth it getting this Heraclitus setup figured out. Oh, Miletus would also have worked there. Thank you. Also Philosophers and Dragons should be a thing so I’ll thank somebody to work on that now. I’m busy with my project.
We got a message about a lost cat on the answering machine. I mean the message was there. I had no idea there was some kind of service in the area spreading the word about lost pets. It was one of those messages created by stitching together prerecorded phrases that I guess they figure can describe a lot of animals. And all delivered in this weird upbeat tone. So what we got were chipper sentences about how this cat “is a friendly talkative type; he’s been neutered, and gets along great with dogs!” I’m still working on whether the logic of that sentence makes sense.
I’m glad to know the service exists. I suppose I don’t expect our pet rabbit to get lost, since he’s quite busy keeping a suspicious eye on me. And our other pets are goldfish. If they make a break for it I’ll be impressed. But I know they’re not likely to, not until they gather a thousand of their kin and manifest a dragon. Which, if they do, I want them to know I’m very supportive of their dragon existence and really want to know whether they have lost-pet messages recorded for that.
So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.
My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”
In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.
My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.
Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.
I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!
Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.
PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.
I have to explain right away what kind of dream I mean here. I don’t mean dreaming about how to alter your life so everything is great and happy and wonderful forever and ever. Those are all the dream to be an accomplished celebrity, and the trouble with that is you have to accomplish something worth celebrating. That’s a big pile of work, and even after that, you have to get really lucky, and after all that, you’ll just want to do something else anyway. And anyway the part you really want is people saying, “I’m sorry for all the times I wronged you”. It won’t happen. They’re waiting for you to apologize for the same thing.
What I mean is the kind of dream you have between when you lie down at night, trying to sleep and thinking about all the people who wronged you, and when you wake up in the morning because someone, somewhere, in the neighborhood has a dog. Dreams are a good way to distract from the feelings of helpless and loneliness and it’s a pity people aren’t trying that more.
The fundamental unit of dreaming is to deal with a thing that is also, somehow, another thing. Let me show. Start with one thing, such as a living room. Now pick another thing, such as a dining room. Imagining a place that’s both a living room and a dining room probably won’t explode your mind, what with having heard of efficiency apartments. But remember, there are some people reading this essay who don’t know how to dream to start with. We have to work up to the more complicated ideas.
Take as much time as needed with the living-room/dining-room dream. Explore its implications, such as whether in this context you may set a fork on the throw pillow. Or set a throw pillow on the serving plate. No: that serving plate is too nice for a throw pillow. Try one of the nice souvenir pillows that you keep locked up in the breakfront because they’re too nice to put on the sofa. But wait: why are you putting the nice serving plate on the table when it isn’t even Thanksgiving? It’s too nice for that. Because it’s a dream. You can take all the nice stuff out for that even when nothing special is going on.
Suppose you’ve gotten good at the living-room/dining-room dream. Now you can advance to more complicated things that are also other things. For example, imagine a public library that’s also a friendly dragon. What are the implications of this? Are the books the dragon’s teeth? Or scales? Do you have to venture warily into the dragon’s mouth to get your card renewed? Might it be necessary to go into the more advanced parts of the dragon’s digestive system in order to get the DVDs you’d put on hold? No, of course not. The dragon is a public library only to meet certain zoning requirements. Left to itself the library would rather be a griffin. Now you can have adventures in arranging exemptions to municipal zoning policy. These go well, because you are having a dream, which does not have to comply with open-public-meeting requirements.
Now, you may occasionally hear about really wild dreams. Like, ones where a chance hop out of the excessively large convenience-store/art-museum by your rabbit tips you off to a plan by some gangsters in an Adam West Batman-style Dive Bar (it’s tidier than the efficiency apartment your parents had when they first got married) to finally rub out Shemp, of the Three Stooges. And then you have to help the Fun, Pleasant Batman and Robin on a chase through New Year’s Eve Boston to keep the Stooges alive and maybe make their big show(?). These should be left to the advanced dreamer, one who has experience with all the legal clearances required for this kind of scenario. While you’re learning, stick to imagining people telling you how sorry they are for wronging you. It’s way easier to get the rights.
Do remember, though, there’s no truly wrong way to dream. Whatever things you want to put together are fine. And there’s not any wrong details to expand upon. So make sure to write down all the salient details of each night’s dream, so you can compare them with other people in your dreaming circles, and see who wins.
So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.
First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.
Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.
Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.
Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.
Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.
Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.
Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.
So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!
Is it better when my mathematics blog is followed by some obviously non-mathematics-oriented site with a name like “CatsImitatingTerryThomas.WordPress.com” or when my humor blog is followed by some vaguely-STEM-looking site with a name like “ThermoplasticPhysics.WordPress.com”? Or does it matter since I know they’re just hoping I’ll follow them back and neither of us will ever read the other? Please reply care of my writing-advice blog, NebusForgottenNewJerseyHistory.WordPress.Com.
Source: The C E Hooper Radio Survey of the 2nd of June, 1939.
Please, take what you can use. There’s so much more to give.
- Overpants. — Cut because which of the two logical ways do you go from there? A new article of clothing solving some body-hiding problem we didn’t before suspect? Maybe. A method of disguising the United States’s ever-crumbling infrastructure particularly for highway travel? Maybe. Plus there’s probably some obscure article of possible Victorian-era clothing actually called “overpants”. I bet it has a Wikipedia entry that manages somehow to be six hundred words longer than Wikipedia’s entry for the Taiping Rebellion.
- So you could do a story recasting the struggle about bimetallism and the gold standard and all that as a secret history. It’s really the struggle for power and survival between different types of dragons. Like, the silver dragons would be pushing heavily for gold to be the only recognized human specie. That way there’s less demand for their scales as units of trade. They can get used instead as scales. Whereas gold dragons might be well aware there’s no keeping humans off of them. So backing the Populists would at least lessen the demand on their scales. Or make trouble for the silver dragons. Meanwhile I the copper dragons are off to the side grumbling about how everybody is happy to use them and yet nobody respects them. The precious-metal dragons answer hey, who tarnishes beautiful around here? Fractional-reserve fairy folk pushing for a wholly notional medium of exchange could solve the whole problem. But they’re too longwinded and boring to listen to. — Cut because oh good heavens this could be the most anti-commercial story ever. Publishers would line up to gawk at this and ask who, exactly, is the supposed market for a dragon-fantasy story about the 19th century United States specie debate? “Look,” I can see them saying, “you were on to something spectacularly unmarketable with that idea for a 4X video game about standardized time. I mean, or we mean, in unison, you had a perfect capture of a nonexistent market with that. But this, this is just … this could destroy the very concept of money.” Anyway, if you can do anything with the premise go wild. I’m thinking the true secret power behind it all: aluminum dragons trying to destroy the concept of money. I know, there’s no doing anything with this.
- And in your refusal to recognize that fifteen years of demands for ever-more stringent shows of loyalty just might result in one of the people who thought themselves friends expecting the slightest show of consideration from you — Cut from that still-unsent letter because you know, it is getting harder to figure out why I want to save this friendship after all.
- Overwear. — Cut as being just the overpants joke again and no more promising this way.
- Exclamation points are way too much. You can’t go on demanding that sort of attention if you’re an even slightly introverted person like me. And I admit I don’t set records for introversion, but still, an exclamation point is too much. Even a period feels too much like a demand on people’s attention. I’d love to end my sentences with ellipses, since that makes writing look more like it’s from an old comic strip. And it makes sentences look less like I’m committed to them. Except you make ellipses out of three periods. That’s three times as much period as one period would be. It’s even more attention-demanding. We need something for people more reserved. — Cut because while “punctuation for introverts” might be a good idea it’s going to draw out people trying to push interrobangs. Interrobangs aren’t happening, people, and trying to push them is just sad at this point. It’s not as annoying as people trying to push how chickens are dinosaurs. That’s not doing anything to make chickens look better and it’s not doing dinosaurs any favors either.
- Overshirt. — It’s too far away from the overpants concept and is just a hoodie anyway.
- It’s a fine trafficky day. The kind of day that makes you want to surround your car with a fifteen-foot-thick block of not-too-compressible foam. — Cut because it wasn’t all that much of a day. But I bet people would love to ride one of these. Or watch a YouTube video of it. But if the foam block does extend fifteen feet in every direction then you’ll need cars modified to have extremely tall wheels. And if you manage that then the cars will have trouble on the highway by the overpants.
- Robots (the good kind)
- Small rocks
- Robots (the morally ambiguous kind)
Note: I mean eyeglasses. Drinking glasses is a completely different thing.
In my reading I just came across a mention that the moon has something called the draconitic cycle, or sometimes, the draconitic period (or “draconic” if someone is getting all tense about “draconitic” as a word). The term is a bit of a holdover from medieval astronomy, when everybody was worried all the time that an eclipse might sneak up on them, and so you can see the use in a term which represents how long it takes between successive passages of the moon through its ascending node. Really, it’s amazing they thought they needed to name that at all; surely the idea of successive passages through the ascending node is so common that it barely needs a word, the way we express such concepts as “ ” or “ ” or even “ ” by leaving a gap hanging in our conversations and just waving our arms frantically at people who don’t know what we’re going on about. Anyway, it picked up the name “draonitic cycle” just as you might expect, by astronomers watching the skies night after night to see how long it takes the Moon to be run over by a bicycle, which took until about 1890. Before then bicycles were just those hilarious things with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one that you could ride for parts of a second before tipping over and falling down. The cycles are much quicker these days.
So the groundhogs have seen their shadows, or they haven’t, or in one case the shadow came up and was frightened to see its groundhog. But consider these other animals and their prognostications:
- A fruit fly emerged into the dining room, forecasting the throwing out of the bananas that have been in the pantry since October.
- A buffalo poked its head out of a tree knothole in northern Rhode Island and sneezed. This forecasts that Mrs Wall will be giving a surprise pop quiz in English class Monday. Despite being so observed this should still catch everyone by surprise as Mrs Wall teaches science.
- A dikdik in southern Indiana checked Facebook to find her best friend had written a lengthy essay that mentioned “reverse discrimination” in the first paragraph. It’s going to be at least three weeks of her telling her that gosh she’s eager to read it and get involved in the comments thread but she’s just got so much to do she can’t possibly respond tonight.
- Xoredeshch Sfath, the great cosm-dragon, opened one eye in a panic, noticed that it was still 5:32 and his alarm isn’t for nearly 45 minutes, and went back to dreaming sleep. This gives the universe another 1,728 years of uninterrupted existence unless he has nightmares.
That’s not to say people are wrong to pay attention to groundhogs, just that they aren’t everything. Yet.