As I type this, I am sitting on a wide veranda overlooking the Prescott National Forest. Okay, maybe not overlooking. More surrounded by. The wind is rushing through the tall pines, lending gentle sway and mimicking a burbling brook, while chimes tinkle intermittently from their place on the habitat side of the deck. It’s a magical moment. The smell of bacon wafting through the screen door is a bonus. This is the kind of morning of which I often dream. Maybe that’s what makes it so special.
This particular trip wasn’t really planned. We were already makin’ like bacon in Mordor, and I’d undergone the first Panglossian assault on my dark passenger, when the opportunity presented itself. Friends of the family were planning a trip up to their cabin in the mountains and invited us along. There was no hesitation on our part. Get out of the burning plains of Mordor and up into the cool pines for a weekend? Yes, please!
Our hosts, the Chapmans, have been nothing but welcoming and generous, which really comes as no surprise considering I’ve liked them since the first time I met them, ten or eleven years ago. They, like Donny’s parents, exude magnanimity and truly epitomize the Christian ideal to which they profess fealty. That, in and of itself is a rare thing, I have come to find. Refreshing doesn’t even come close to describing its appeal. It is at times like this that this deteriorating old sinner feels truly blessed.
And why shouldn’t I? To date I have undergone three out of five fractals – what they call treatments in the Citadel – and am none the worse for wear. A little tired perhaps, but none of the more heinous side effects I was told to expect have presented themselves. I’m not complaining, of course. I don’t mind being the unicorn in this bizarre scenario. I’ll take a little extra sleep over disgruntled bowels and a leaky faucet any old day.
As for the Citadel, I am very happy to report that the people there continue to be as warm, caring and personable as they have been since the first time we set foot on hallowed ground. Even when they’re sliding well-lubed harpoon dildos, rectal balloons and Tesla coils up my butt, they smile and chat me up like bros at a bar. Disconcerting? Sure, but highly preferable. My radiation techs, Rich, Mike and Jenna, are the kind of lovely people with whom I would love to spend more time. Clothing optional, of course. Don’t judge. I have cancer. Heh.
Um… wait. Where was I? OH! Right. Relaxing in the mountains…
There was a time when I didn’t really know how to relax like this. Sitting for long moments, eyes closed and soaking in the atmosphere wasn’t something I found a lot of time for. That’s changing, whether I’m amongst singing pines or in my own backyard garden, surrounded by hummingbirds, bees and those annoying grackles (I swear I am going to buy a pellet gun…). Mordor, not so much. I mean, what am I going to do, sit out on the porch, stewing in my own juices and watching the flaming eye of Sauron obsess over follically-disadvantaged little people and costume jewelry? I think not.
And I’m doing so much more reading for pleasure again. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. I am currently reading (Rereading actually, as I have a good half dozen times over the decades) an anthology edited by one of my favorite authors Harlan Ellison, way back in 1967, called Dangerous Visions. What is so remarkable about this book is how well the stories (not all of the stories, but most) stand up 51 years later. The stories in this collection were, at the time, considered groundbreaking and sometimes even shocking by the standards of the day. I would argue that many of them still are.
The list of contributors reads like a who’s who of literary rabble-rousers – Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Bloch, Larry Niven and Philip K. Dick among them – who, at the time, were fighting to make speculative fiction less sterile and regimented. The best part for me are the forwards written by Ellison – who is ALWAYS a good read – and the afterwards by each of the authors themselves. Which is why I’m even bringing this book up. No review here, I promise.
One passage, no doubt read several times before over the years, by a then unknown scribe named John T. Sladek (honestly, I think he’s still unknown, but his story is one of the most prophetic in the bunch) jumped out at me. You don’t really need to know what the story was about to sympathize with the sentiment expressed once the story was done. Food for thought from the mid-twentieth century. No seriously, this one really made me think:
“If we decide we really want health, security, freedom from pain, we must be willing to exchange our individuality for it. The use of any tool implies a loss of freedom, as Freud pointed out in his Civilization And Its Discontents. When man started using a hand ax, he lost the freedom to climb or walk on four legs, but most important, he lost the freedom not to use the hand ax. We have now lost the freedom to do without computers, and it is no longer a question of giving them power over us, but of how much power, of what kind, and of how fast we turn it over to them.”
That’s scary, isn’t it? In 1967 the only people who used computers were scientists and programmers. Oh, and NASA. Almost forgot about them. Typical. (And the Russians. And Doctor Evil. You get the picture.) Ol’ Sladek must have been talking about those hulking, blinking, magnetic tape spinning computers, because any other depiction was fantastical at best. (Yes, I’m looking at you George Jetson.) There’s no way he could have known about laptops, iPads, Nooks and cell phones, but he sure nailed the number one issue facing mankind today. Can I get a ooooOOOOooooooOOOOoooooohhh, while the Twilight Zone music plays?
Good grief, as fascinatingly paradoxical as that paragraph may be, I appear to be turning digression into an art form. I blame it on my current surroundings. The sights, sounds and smells have gone to my head. I’m overcome by nature and reduced to a babbling stream-of-consciousness. Can you hear it, rushing through the pines? It’s at times like this that cancer loses its grip on my consciousness and ceases to matter. It is, without a doubt, the respite I need at this exact moment in time. Despite the genially inserted Tesla coils still pending. #fuckcancer