So, about my day gig.
I teach ancient history to eighth graders.
And like I tell them all the time, when I say, "Ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s.
For thirteen/fourteen year-olds, mired hopelessly in the present by a
relentless combination of societal trends and biochemistry, there's not
much discernible difference between the two eras.
It's a great job. But even great jobs have their stressors.
Like being assigned chaperone duty during the end-of-the-year dance.
Maybe you're familiar with what currently passes for "popular music"
among fourteen year-olds these days. I gotta say, I don't much care for
it. Then again, I'm fifty-one. And I can't imagine that most fifty-one
year-olds in 1979 much cared for the stuff that I was listening to then.
And it's not as if I'm saying *I* had great taste in music as a
fourteen year-old. If I were trying to make myself look good I'd try to
sell you some line about how I only listened to jazz if it was Billie
Holiday or Miles Davis, and thought the Police were smokin' and of
course I bought Dire Straits' immortal "Makin' Movies" album, as well
Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" when they both came out that year.
In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album ("Go West," with "YMCA" on
it), and a number of Elvis Presley albums and 8-track tapes. I also
listened to my dad's Eagles albums quite a bit. An uncle bought
Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" for me, and I was hooked on a
neighbor's copy of "Freedom at Point Zero" by Jefferson Starship, but
really only because of the slammin' guitar solo Craig Chaquico played on
its only hit single: "Jane." And I listened to a lot of yacht rock on
the radio. I didn't know it was "yacht rock" back then. Would it have
But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.
Anyway, my point is that someone my age back then may very well have
cringed hard and long and as deeply if forced to listen to what *I* was
listening to at eardrum-bursting decibels, and for the better part of
That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.
Two hours of rapper after rapper (if it's not Eminem, Tupac,
or the Beastie Boys, I must confess it all sounds the same to me)
alternating with "singing" by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.
Thank God we got some relief in the form of the occasional Bruno Mars song. Bruno, he brings it.
And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.
One group of these kids in particular caught my attention. Three
girls, all fourteen, all of whom I knew. All wearing what '80s pop-rock
band Mr. Mister once referred to as the "Uniform of Youth."
the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.
in embracing that change, does youth itself actually change? Bear with
me while I quote someone a whole lot smarter than I on the matter:
"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of
getting off their butts and moving around."
The guy quoted (in translation) was Socrates, quoted by his pupil Plato, 2,400 years ago.
And some things never change.
Getting back to the three girls mentioned above, their "uniform of
youth" was the one au courant in malls and school courtyards across the
length and breadth of this country: too-tight jeans, short-sleeved or
sleeveless t-shirts, tennis-shoes. They looked a whole lot like so many
other girls their age, out there shaking it in ways that mothers the
world over would not approve of.
In other words, they looked like
thousands, hell, millions of American girls out there running around
today, listening to watered down pablum foisted on them by a rapacious,
corporate-bottom-line-dominated music industry as "good music", for
which they pay entirely too much of their loving parents' money, and to
which they will constantly shake way too much of what Nature gave
them–even under the vigilant eyes of long-suffering school staff
Yep, American girls. From the soles of their sneakers to the hijabs covering their hair.
Oh, right. Did I mention that these girls were Muslims? Well, they are.
One from Afghanistan. One from Turkmenistan, and one from Sudan. At
least two of them are political refugees.
You see, I teach in one
of the most diverse school districts in the nation. One of the main
reasons for this ethnic diversity is that there is a refugee center in
my district. The center helps acclimate newcomers to the United States
and then assists in resettling them; some in my district, some across
So in this campaign season, when I hear some
orange-skinned buffoon talking trash about Muslims, stirring up some of
my fellow Americans with talk of the dangerous "foreign" *other*, it
rarely squares with the reality I've witnessed first-hand getting to
know Muslim families and the children they have sent to my school to get
an education: something the kids tend to take for granted (because, you
know, they're kids, and hey, kids don't change). Something for which
their parents have sacrificed in ways that I, a native-born American
descendant of a myriad of immigrant families, can scarcely imagine.
(And it ought to go without saying that this truth holds for the
countless *Latino* families I've known over the years as well.)
I'm not saying they're saints. I'm saying they're people. And they're
here out of choice. Whether we like that or whether we don't, they're
raising their kids *here*. And guess what? These kids get more American
every day. Regardless of where their birth certificate says they're
Just something to think about, as we kick into the final leg of this excruciating election season.
Oh, come on. You didn't think this piece was gonna be just me grousing about kids having lousy taste in music, did ya?
(And they do, but that's really beside the point.)
30 June 2016
28 April 2014
by Fran Rizer
IN THE EIGHTIES
Did she win the contest? No, but an interesting thing happened.
On the last night of the conference, one of the "big" names sought her out.
"I was one of the short story judges," he began.
Being more in awe of successful authors back then than she is now, she replied quietly, "Yes, I know."
"I wanted to tell you that I fought for your story. I thought it should have won first place, but I was outvoted." He smiled.
"For some reason, they went with that usual southern memoir kind of story."
|Fran Rizer in the Eighties|
"Thank you," she replied and thought no more about it. Her first fiction was no more 'southern memoir' than what she writes now. It was about the Kennedy assassination.
The writer continued selling pieces to magazines and really had no desire to delve into fiction again. "Positive Proof" lay dormant for several years. I am that writer, and the story of "Positive Proof" is my story.
IN THE NINETIES
Every time I took in nonfiction or even magazines with my articles printed in them, I heard, "Oh, that's fine, but fiction is a different ballgame. It's a hard nut to crack."
One night the man I thought of as "the guru" (I had private nicknames for each member of the group), passed out brochures about the Porter Fleming Fiction Competition, sponsored at that time by the Augusta, GA, Arts Council. (The contest is now in its twenty-first year and sponsored by Morris College.)
That's the first and last time I ever paid anyone to read something I've written, but I dusted off "Positive Proof," wrote a check for ten dollars, and entered the contest.
No, I didn't win first. That went to George Singleton, an already successful short story writer from the Greenville, SC, area whose fiction had been published in Playboy.
George won $1000. With my prize came $500 and an invitation to read the story at the Arts Festival. I accepted both.
The reception and readings were a wonderful experience. To make it even better, George came up to me at the end and told me he liked my story and was positive I could sell it.
I sent the manuscript to only one mag, which was a big mistake because it was a mystery magazine, and that story isn't a mystery. Devastated when I received a personally written rejection letter stating that the story wasn't suitable for them, I put "Positive Proof" back in a bottom drawer. My magazine features always sold first time out. Why should I inflict this self-induced agony of rejection on myself?
IN THE 2000s
A few years after my retirement on disability in 2001, I ventured into fiction again. In 2006, I contracted with Berkley Prime Crime for the first three Callies.
I still haven't heard from them, so I assume they didn't want it.
|The Fran Rizer who sold|
On a whim, I sent that story somewhere else a few months ago. I am pleased to announce that "Positive Proof" has found a home and will be published next month. Check back in two weeks to see who is publishing it and where you can read it.
Until we meet again… take care of you.
31 July 2012
by Dale Andrews
"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."
-- Niels Hendrick David Bohrs, Danish physicist
|The (doctored) display from Doc's DeLorean|
As it turns out the Facebook post was a hoax – a photoshopped version of the DeLorean screen. In fact the actual date that Doc flew off to in the movie was October 21, 2015. But Devon’s larger disappointed point is still valid – unless we come up with flying cars in the next three years the movie’s view of the future turns out to be definitionally anachronistic.
Two weeks ago I wrote about Michael S. Hart, who had the prescience to foresee a world that would embrace e-literature long before the internet or the home computer existed. Hart’s foresight is all the more remarkable when one considers how poorly most of us perform in the prediction department.
A prime example of failing this challenge is the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember seeing this movie for the first time in 1968 and being completely blown away. I think it was the only movie I saw that summer and I also think I saw it seven times. Viewed today the movie is . . . well, . . . dated. Twelve years after Y2K we are nowhere close to Kubrick’s vision of future space travel. In fact, we were closer in July of 1969, one year after the film premiered, when we were actually walking on the moon.
|On board the 2001 space station -- HoJo's sign at right|
But to my mind just about the best examples of stumbling over the future are sprinkled throughout Robert Heinlein’s classic novel The Door into Summer. I need to note at the outset that Heinlein’s book, even with its predictive flaws, is one of my all time favorites and I re-visit it regularly. The Door into Summer was originally serialized in three issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in late 1956 and then published in hardcover in 1957.
The novel opens in 1970 and then jumps to 2000, giving Heinlein the opportunity to prophesize about not just one, but two different future eras and us the opportunity to shake our heads as to how wrong he got it since we have now lived through both. I read the novel for the first time in the 1960s, when I could still wonder at whether the author foresaw the 1970s and 2000s correctly. I then re-read the book again in the 1970s, when I was able to see how the 1970s predictions didn’t work out, while still holding out hope for the 2000s. Alas, I then re-read the novel most recently a few years ago. From those perspectives it has been interesting to watch, over the course of a lifetime, how the novel’s view of the future vectored from reality as I caught up in time with each era portrayed in the novel's timeline.
As I’ve said before, I don’t do “spoilers,” but there are still aspects of the novel that can be discussed without giving away too much. For example, the protagonist, Dan, is an inventor of robots -- “Hired Girl” (yeah, I know, even the name alone wouldn’t work now) and “Flexible Frank” -- which, in both 1970 and 2000 perform virtually all household chores. Never quite got there, did we? Those inventions and many other projections concerning life in both 1970 and 2000 that did not in fact come to pass provide an interesting, if unintended, subplot to this otherwise fine little story.
But my favorite Heinlein creation is Dan’s namesake invention: “Drafting Dan,” a machine that can automatically create engineering draft drawings. Drafting Dan creates these drawings using computer driven arms that draw on a drafting easel utilizing directions inputted from (gasp) a keyboard. The computer needed to power this invention has been shrunken to near room size by the use of super powerful new vacuum tubes.
|The earliest mouse!|
Like most predictions that go wrong, the blame can hardly be laid solely at Heinlein's feet. If anything has proven itself, it is the difficulty involved in figuring out what happens next. To envision the computer of the future Heinlein likely turned to those who in the 1940s and 1950s were at the forefront of the then-incipient computer industry – an industry that at the time involved figuring which of the spaghetti mess of multi-colored wires should be plugged in where.. Andrew Hamilton, a noted computer expert of the time, had the following to say in a 1949 article in Popular Mechanics hypothesizing on the future of computers: “Where a [computer] calculator . . . [in 1949] is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1½ tons.” (“Hmmm,” we can almost hear Heinlein thinking.) In 1957, the year that The Door into Summer was published in hard cover, the editor of business books for Prentiss-Hall had this to say: “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year.” At least Heinlein saw past naysayers such as this, and boldly chose a future where computers thrived. Other rejected paths include the prophecy of Ken Olsen, then chairman of DEC, who twenty years later, in 1977 “presciently” observed that “[t]here is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” And printers and copiers? Here is IBM’s 1959 advice (to a team that later went on to found Xerox) concerning the future of the novel copying device the team was attempting to sell: “The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most.”
Well enough of this picking on Heinlein. In fact, we are surrounded by prophetic mistakes that rear their humorous heads in literature. And they are not confined to technology. I have read a number of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford books, all set in Florida, and many dealing with Cuba. Five years ago, when the press was telling us that Castro lay dying and would not last the month, White apparently viewed that as gospel and took what looked to be a safe leap – he submitted a new installment in the series to his publisher in which Castro was already dead. Oops. White now has authored several additional books in the series over the last five years, each of which treks an alternate reality from ours, a world in which Castro has indeed already departed the mortal realm.
And, as illustrated by the computer quotes above, prognostication errors are not relegated solely to written fiction. They spring up all around us. Here is one of my favorites: During the Civil War it is reported that the last words of General John Sedgwick as he looked out over a parapet toward the enemy lines during the battle of Spotsylvania Court House were the following: “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist . . . .”