The New Yorker Fiction

One of my favorite magazines is The New Yorker.

The section of the magazine that I appreciate the most is the fiction. The magazine regularly includes a short story. They are something I look forward to each week.

I’ve made a table with links to the stories organized by publication date. Most of the time, the online copy of the magazine also includes an interview with the author and a podcast where the author reads their story. The table includes links to those as well.

The page helps a reader find to the different stories if they want to go back and read an older story.

It’s interesting to notice the authors who have published more than one story since I started tracking them. These include Lauren Groff, Souvankham Thammavongsa and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.

The table is available is in this blog’s menu as “The New Yorker Fiction

Hats and coffee mugs

In the summer, I forget what it is like to be chilled and cold. The rain is the closest I come to that. I avoid the rain mostly unless I can wear a hat. My wardrobe of hats isn’t very fashionable. I’ve got some baseball caps and some knit stocking caps. Even though I want to keep my head dry, I don’t use them.

I got one of my hats when we were working with Macromedia to make the Flash library work with our screen reader, Window-Eyes. At GW, they complained that I never gave them the swag that we got.

The Macromedia hat is a kind of trophy. When I was at Purdue, I took a computer graphics class. One project was to simulate a 3-d moveable arm. The memorable part was that I did it so well that they gave me a special Megatek coffee mug as a prize. I feel that it is one of my favorite trophies. I still have it 35 plus years later.

I get chilled also when I get stuck working on a project and it seems like I am doing it wrong. This week I’ve been really devoted to a computer program. It is going well. I didn’t get very far but I am getting close. With all the effort that I am putting in, I’m glad that it is coming through.

It is a good day and I want for tomorrow to also be good. If I see people, I could be glad for my striving for a better life.

Alone Tomorrow

I’ll be alone tomorrow.

My friends have found the truth.
I have said it aloud; now I’m in shame.

I thought they would forgive me.
I wanted understanding and acceptance.
Instead, their judgment was unanimous.

Will I be stuck as an eternal “I”?
“We” and “our” are foreign words now.
I know that I have made a grievous error.
With no one to share with, I began to despair.

The days have been passing slowly.
I cannot expect freedom again.
The world around me is black.
I can wish for friends, but it will be in vain.
I will be alone again and again.

William Wayne Smith

One of my worries had been that I do something bad and lose a friend.  My imagination can be vivid so that I can compound simple conflicts into a lost friendship.  If I can’t forgive myself—why would anyone else?

This poem takes that fear to new levels.  Not only have I made a mistake, it is so severe that everyone abandons me.  They reject me because some secret sin had been revealed.

If I am alone, I cannot use “we” and “us” again. This is as if one mistake would be a dead end for my life in the world.

I make mistakes all of the time.   They do not mean that I am unworthy of the caring and friendships that I cherish.

This poem paints a bleak outlook on reality.   I don’t embrace that perspective, but my imagination could bring it forth at times.


I published the poem initially at Alone Tomorrow. The image It takes a lot to give, to ask for help is by 10 Mix licensed with CC-BY-NC 2.0

Nerd sniped!

There is an xkcd comic by Randall Munroe titled Nerd Sniping. In the comic, Black hat creates a game along a busy highway. When a mathematician, engineer, computer scientist or other nerdy type crosses the road, he yells out an interesting problem. He wins points if the victim freezes to think about the problem and is hit by a passing truck. Mathematicians are worth more points than physicists.

Poetically, today I got nerd sniped by a different xkcd comic. Bracket shows a fictional tournament listing people or items that are put against each other. Usually, the names are related by similar sounding names or by theme. For example, Mr. Spock, Doctor Spock and Doctor Octopus make one bracket. I remember a set of polls to run the tournament, but I can’t find a link to it.

I was looking through the list. I saw a few that I recognized but are less well known such as Amanda Palmer. I found one I didn’t know, Mark Shuttleworth. I went to his Wikipedia page and saw instantly why he was on the list.

The nerd sniping happened when I saw how much money he paid to be launched as a space tourist in 2002. The article gave an inflation adjusted value to 6 significant figures which was obviously more precise than is mathematically justified.

I spent an hour fixing that. Most of the time was learning how the {{Inflation}} tag works on Wikipedia. Nerd sniped!

Fortunately, I didn’t get hit by a truck!

Talking with a friend

A meditation I wrote a while ago…

As I spend time with people who care about me, my happiness grows. I don’t feel so lonely. Life seems worthwhile when I can offer my time and spend it with them.

As I grow closer to my friends, we develop jokes that are hidden within our memories. There may be a pun that we’ve said several times. It becomes a cliché that breaks us out into laughter.

When I spend time with nature, I can find a peace. I, by myself, don’t have the power to raise a fawn or grow a forest. I can assist by avoiding the negative, but I cannot do it on my own. 

With a friend, there is a similar peace. I don’t have the power to create it on my own. We like to give each other the priceless gift of caring each time we visit each other.

Keys to our friendship are feelings of love and feeling loved. By building a relationship carefully, feelings of fear and anger are rare. We may have a disagreement, but we don’t allow that to tear down our bridge.

I keep a friend with peace and happiness.

When I do not understand, I ask a question and we communicate. When I don’t say what I meant, we talk about it. I give an answer to explain what I meant.

When we laugh together, we feel happy. We feel a part of a bigger world. We watch each other’s back. Our lives together are enriched.

Being Pulled

Today I am being pulled in several directions. It’s up to me to find the path. As I go through the day, I constantly make decisions. In the end, some fall out better than others.

I notice that many decisions that I make are made by default. It’s not that I wait until a decision is forced. Instead, it’s that there are many things I might choose but I do what is habitual—I do it without planning.

I don’t like making decisions. A big reason is that they lead me to judge two or more options. Rather than have the answer up front, I must evaluate what works best for me. They also force my hand so that I lose other options.

It is paradoxical that while I like to have a lot of options, I don’t like to actually make a choice. I don’t know if this is a common quirk. However, I like it better when I must choose between several positive options. As I look across the field of what I can do, the possibilities can multiply exponentially.

When I have three choices, in addition to the positive of each one, there is an additional negative of not getting the positive that the other two offered. So, instead of just weighing the worth of each my mind, I can create more complexity.

It is just overthinking the situation. In practice, I never get that far into my head to decide. Often, I do the one that is closest or the one that is obvious.

By making many of my actions automatic, my mind is freer to do other things. It doesn’t always give the best results, but I can limit my consideration to the decisions that don’t have an easy solution.

If I dig deeply into my head about making a decision, I start to take life too seriously. As things become more of a challenge, I would benefit to keep my heart light. When I am deadly serious about my life, all decisions become harder. I worry about doing the wrong thing. I am concerned with what other people think.

I do best when I have a level perspective. Most decisions are not that important. Often the choice is something that just doesn’t matter.

A Sacrifice for Billions; A Sacrifice of Billions

Sometimes I think a little expansively. I wonder what I would be willing to sacrifice for billions of lives. Quite an astounding proposition. I have no idea how such a thing could come to pass.

People are willing to sacrifice for one. Some would offer their life to save a loved one. Others have sacrificed themselves to save a child in their charge. It’s something that one can understand. I can contemplate whether it is something I would be willing to do. Their offering is celebrated as the work of a hero.

A soldier makes many sacrifices to save his platoon or to save the neighborhood or to save the nation. Such service leads to more sacrifice than just risking their life. The soldier might give up a career, his health and well-being, and time with loved ones. It’s still understandable how and why one would do that.

To sacrifice for billions, it suddenly becomes metaphysical. Beyond sacrificing one’s life, perhaps someone sacrifices not just their life, but the promised future life in the world to come. Many people may not believe such a concept, but to others it is a concrete reality. Would an individual suffer the unimaginable to protect not just a life or a nation but rather the possibility of any future at all? Such a sacrifice would not just be to save a race or a way of life or a community.

To sacrifice for billions, one would be sacrificing for things one did not agree with, for those who do not believe the same, those who are considered in the wrong. It would be toward the goal of preserving Life overall rather than a lesser group life or lives. Through the sacrifice, one would not be able to decide who is worthy of such grace.

In the opposite direction, it’s easy to see someone sacrifice another for themselves. To murder, to maim or to select another as less worthy and with no value to preserve. It is a form of insanity, but still common.

Some are willing to sacrifice a neighborhood, a nation or some abstract group counted as valueless. The victims may be the antagonist in a delusional story. The fable says that they are a threat, or of less value and more akin to an animal than human. This kind of sacrifice takes place too often. The access to weapons that make such horror easy is considered an unalienable right.

In decades past, such violence would be unimaginable but now is an ever-present reality. Places of worship, what should be the host of life and love, now must take steps to protect themselves. Rather than offering welcome to all as a sanctuary for the lost, the faith community becomes a victim of fear and must lock their doors.

For one to sacrifice billions for some gain is, unfortunately, possible to imagine without expansive imagination. The weapons, diseases and poisons are all available to sacrifice billions. That this is imaginable is, itself, abhorrent. In past centuries, it was possible for the great powers to sacrifice communities for some cause. Now the stakes are much higher. Thankfully, the destruction of this scale is only available to a few, but is available, nonetheless.

While some are capable sacrificing billions for their insane delusions, how many are willing to sacrifice for a group they will never see?

With an open mind, one can see how they could sacrifice to save another. In faiths that revel in a sacrifice as their central tenet, too few are willing to give up something for the benefit of the stranger, the ones they disagree with and those they abhor. A sacrifice for one’s friends can be done by anyone.

One can flip the story and prevent the insane from sacrificing for their selfish benefit. That has a much lower cost than those sacrifices of a teacher or a soldier. Why is whatever necessary to save a life considered impossible? It is never brought to the table of those who can write the words that can save lives.

What kind of sacrifices will bring life rather than death?

Surprising

People are really surprising. Each person has so much experience that feeds who they are in the moment. There is always something new to learn from them.

Recently I was having dinner with friends. One had a really big burger. The woman on the side said, “that’s really huge.” The man between them said “thank you”. The innuendo was surprising, and it made me laugh.

One quality that I value–freedom. Freedom has different meanings in different contexts.

The generic meaning of freedom is to not have the political system controlling what you can do or say. The Soviet Union would punish dissidents so that their citizens couldn’t express their feelings freely.

Another sort of freedom is to be able to decide where you live, who your friends are and what kind of work you do and who you want to be employed under. Freedom to make and act on decisions is more valuable than what one could believe and promote politically.

My friends demonstrate a different sort of freedom. They aren’t constrained to have stereotyped and one-dimensional reactions. The ability to be surprising is a powerful form of freedom. If I make a decision in the moment, I could either do what I normally do out of habit, or I could do something new.

In the past, I was a finicky eater. I wouldn’t try new foods because they looked different or they weren’t familiar. Now I’ve changed my attitude. I take the opportunities to try new foods. The things that I like now are much broader in scope than what I used to eat. I have more freedom because I can accept new things in my diet.

Freedom can be taken to extremes. If I make new decisions freely, I could pick things that work against me instead of for me. I could sabotage an interview and lose the chance for a new job possibility. That loss could cascade into many other consequences. I might not meet someone who could have become a lifelong friend. I might not be able to support a charity for a cause I’m passionate about.

Freedom can be good and I think usually it is, but it can still be harmful if used unwisely. Finding the location of this transition is a challenge. Where the boundary is can evolve over time.

My friend’s joke was an example of him taking advantage of a creative process to make us laugh. I am not so spontaneous. I like to think before I speak. Perhaps the caution comes from a lack of security. I’m afraid that someone won’t like what I say–I might offend someone or they might not like me anymore–that’s what goes on in my head. This is an area that my freedom could increase.

With self-confidence I can become more spontaneous even though I might say the wrong thing or embarrass myself. I wouldn’t be so worried about what might happen and I wouldn’t lose the opportunity for joy.

At times I am more free than others. My behavior in the moment is the sum of my experiences and thoughts. That means that I am processing and in control over my freedom. I can surprise people to make them laugh or to make them think.

Optimal

The principle of optimal hangs heavy over my life.

My purchases should be available for the optimal price. My investments need to have optimal gains. My technology should have the optimal features. If I had children, I would need to be the optimal parent. I should use the optimal services for my needs. On many questions, my strategy needs to be, first, find the optimal.

By searching for optimal solutions to apply to a problem, it implicitly forces me to think about money and other numeric scores. The optimal can make sense when cost is the primary concern. But what is the price of that optimal cost?

An alternative to optimal is good enough.

Good enough doesn’t look for the cheapest article at Amazon but considers how the purchase affects others. It doesn’t ask what the best way is to store and prepare an ingredient when I plan my menu. Good enough lets me find a service that does it well.

Good enough means that I have more freedom to take into account other considerations. Looking for the optimal avoids asking the questions that make me human.

Looking for the optimal seduces me to expect the illusion of perfection.

Pocket Oxford Dictionary

When I was in 6th grade, I made a trip to London to see my Grandparents. Grandpa was working as an executive with Lincoln National Life Insurance. They were living there for several years as Lincoln Life was working to set up an affiliate in France.

It was a nice visit. We got to see a lot of sights.

One goal was to go to the prime meridian in Greenwich, so we were able to do that.

Grandpa and I at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich

We went to a miniature village that was an exhibit in a near town. Another incident I remember was getting scolded by an officer for trying to climb a statue of Peter Pan to get a nice photo.

At the miniature village

I have a Pocket Oxford Dictionary that I have appreciated since then. The inscription reads “Given to me by Mrs. Ann Porter the nice woman who lived in the flat across the hall in England.” It’s my favorite dictionary. The copy I have is the 5th edition from 1969.

It might be optimistic to call it a “pocket” dictionary. It might fit in the side pocket of cargo pants, but a shirt pocket is out of the question. The first edition from 1924 was the “Concise Oxford Dictionary” which seems a more accurate title.

When I returned home, I arrived at the Montreal airport. The family met me there so that we could continue on to a vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone. I was perplexing to the customs inspectors that interviewed me. I didn’t know how long we would be staying in Canada and couldn’t answer their questions very well.

The flight was on BOAC and I remember getting a few souvenirs from them. I think they’re in a scrapbook my mom put together.

So, Mrs. Porter was very kind. I’m sure she didn’t know she had given me a gift that would be appreciated for 50 years.