Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Recommendations - some happy birthday epic fantasy

It's Book Recommendation Day - and a special one at that. Today we'll talk about the epic fantasy of NK Jemisin on the occasion of her birthday! Happy birthday to Jemisin, and let's read some really good epic fantasy novels. So today, to wish one of my favorite authors a happy birthday, I'll recommend some of her books.

NK Jemisin at the Brooklyn Museum


What do you mean by "Epic Fantasy"?

 If one asks four fans of fantasy fiction what "epic" fantasy is, one is likely to receive about six different answers. My personal definition - and the definition for the purpose of this discussion - is that Epic Fantasy is the subgenre of fantasy which concerns large, world-changing themes. An epic story is grand in scope, a set of events which divide the world into before and after. The Lord of the Rings is epic in that the fall of Sauron and his empire will have effects for generations to come. George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (from where we get the television series A Game of Thrones) likewise deals with world-shaping events. Likewise in Jemisin's books we deal with epic-scale events but, unlike these other works, view them from a more intimate point of view. Jemisin writes grand stories, but shows them through a narrow lens. So rather than the more traditionally epic focus on large numbers of viewpoint characters scattered throughout the world we get very human stories with the larger global changes as somewhat of a backdrop.

The Inheritance Trilogy

These books were my introduction to Jemisin, and a series I had the good fortune to find late enough that all three had been written  by the time I got around to reading them. This saved me the toughest part of being a fantasy fiction reader - the long time between books of a trilogy. I got to read all three books back-to-back-to-back -- and what books they are!

The Ineritance Trilogy takes place in a world which has already had one cataclysm in the distant past - the Gods War, which involved the three eldest gods in the world's pantheon:

Bright Itempas, the lord of the sun, of light, and the father. Lord of creation and order
Nahadoth, the Nightlord, or darkness and death. Lord of chaos and change.

Enefa, of the twilight. The only female of the three, the creater of life, mother.


The Gods war ended, long before the start of this trilogy, with Enefa dead, Nahadoth enslaved by a human race known as the Arameri, who are able to use their control of the nightlord and continuing relationship with Itempas to maintain a position of power in the world. This brings us to the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Here we meet Yeine, a chieftan of a matriarchal warrior-society known as the Darre. Yeine is brought to the Arameri capital where she becomes embroiled in both courtly intrigue and the ongoing struggles between the gods, the enslaved godlings, and humans. We meet a host of memorable characters, including the trickster god and eternal child Sieh who will take a more central role much later in the story. In the end there are revelations, moments in which we realize the assumptions we - and Yeine - have been making for the entire book aren't quite correct and, at the very end, a moment of sacrifice which will change the very foundation of the world.

The next two books deal with the aftermath. I'll not spoil the first by getting into plot, but suffice it to say that we meet humans who become gods, gods who become human, and finish in a place which surprises us while being true to the earlier story and feeling - even if surprising - still fair. It's a wonderful set of books, well worth reading. If you've not, I urge you to go experience them now. You'll be glad you did.

The Broken Earth Trilogy
This isn't quite a trilogy yet, as we're only two books into it. It's again a secondary world fantasy, opening with the twin shocks of personal and global disasters:

LET’S START WITH THE END of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche’s broken little body with a blanket—except his face, because he is afraid of the dark—and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She’s old hat at this by now.
Thus we meet Essun, as a mother grieving over the death of her son. It's an opening paragraph which not only grabs our attention, but hints at what will follow: stories of grief, of endings, of cataclysms both personal and global. The death of a child is a shocking note on which to begin, but The Fifth Season is a novel which earns that shock, pays it back, and makes it a real and organic part of the story.


 We soon learn that the world - ironically known as The Stillness - is so beset by cataclysmic  earthquakes as to have an entire culture and language built around them. A disastrous global event is  season. Words carved into rock to survive seasons are stonelore. It's created a very pragmatic, literally downward-looking world in which not only is studies of the heavens and astronomy considered silly trivia, but the giant floating stone obelisks which drift above the world are, for the most part, completely ignored.

The Fifth Season, like the books of the inheritance cycle, is an intimate story, following only three women in different stages of their lives: a young girl, the young adult Syenite, and the grieving mother Essun. The three are linked by the rare ability to control earthquakes - an ability which caused them to be feared, hated, and persecuted. Like The Ineritance Trilogy, The Fifth Season and its sequel deal directly with class conflict, with racism, and with how hatred directed by society can become internalized. It's a smart book, a wise book, and an all too relevant book.

It ends with a hint as to why the world is as it is, even if it isn't quite fully explained as of yet. There's not yet an explanation as to why Essun's sections are written in second-person while Damaya and Syenite are in the more traditional third-person, but I trust that will come. There are already hints in the second book, which I'll not discuss save to say that it's a worthy followup. We begin to see more of the world, we learn that some of what we've taken for granted - including the works of this earthquake-controlling power - might not be what we thought it was. We spend more time with our small cadre of characters, come to know and love them.

There is, of course, much more to say. I'll not say it here, as the more you read about the book the less joy you'll have in experiencing them. They're books worth reading. Trust me on this.


And yes, those who've read the books will know that the above includes, in addition to a call to trust me, a lie. It's certainly a white lie, and one for which I'm sure you'll forgive me after you've read whichever book about which I'm keeping secrets.

So enjoy. And happy birthday to NK Jemisin.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

More than One Way to Reach the Moon


Here's a women-in-STEM kind of trifle, inspired by the well-known image of Margaret Hamilton standing before the absurd stack of computer code it took to get the Apollo rocket where it should go.

We all should remember three things. First, while men did first walk on the moon, women helped get them there. Second, computer programming was once considered women's work, before it gained in prestige and become somewhat of a boys' club.

And, third, there's more than one path to the moon. 

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""More than One Way to the Moon"

The picture wasn't all that impressive at first; just a smiling woman standing next to a stack of paper, as tall as she was. You found it in your big sister's schoolbook, along with a sentence. No, it wasn't that impressive. But what was written under it was.

Arcane symbols scribed in her hand
We would take them
Stack them high past her head.
We would climb them
To the moon.

That was all it took to reach the moon? To write words about it, stack them up until you had a ladder of paper that could reach the sky? You could do that. It would be not only easier than the cardboard-box rocketship in the garage, but more grown-up. You'd climb there on words.

This is how adults went to the moon. 

Words and "arcane symbols". You don’t know what that means, but you know how to draw the moon.

So you do.

It's fall, but still close enough to the summer that nights are warm enough to linger in the backyard as the sun sets. You don't know how to write "arcane symbols" nor, truth be told, do you know what they are. You do know how to draw circles.

That means that you can draw the moon.

So you do.

Each night a circle, or a circle with a sliver cut out of it. Those shapes and shadows that some say is a man  but you've never quite seen that way. It always looked like a broken plate to you, with weird stains that didn't quite come out in the dishwasher.

No matter. You drew it.

You drew it every night. A dozen times. You kept asking for more paper, and more. When it was cloudy you'd close your eyes and draw it from memory, but when the sky was clear and the moon was out, you'd stare.  You’d sometimes take the poor handful of drawings, set them on the ground and, carefully slip off your shoes to stand on them. When you did the moon seemed closer, bigger, lower in the sky. It felt like you could reach out and touch it if you could just get a bit closer.


Your mother never asked what you were drawing. If you were quiet, she was quiet.

Your father never asked what you were drawing. After his return from work it was dinner, the TV news, and then bed.

So it was your sister who found the drawings of the moon, after a week.  It was your sister who found all of the stacks of drawings of the moon, who asked the obvious questions.

"I want to climb to the moon. Like the woman in the picture."

This lead to confusion, to explanations, and to her telling you a sad truth.

The woman in the picture never got to the moon. Not with her own feet. She taught the great computers at NASA how to get a rocket there, so others could walk on the moon.

So men could walk there.

"What you saw in my notebook was a poem.  It was about her struggle to get us to the moon and about how, at the end of the day, she was left behind. I called it Tomorrow's Moses."

"So you can't really reach the moon by climbing a stack of drawings."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. You're determined. I'm sure you'll get there someday."

It isn't until years later - that you realize that she was wrong. You don't need to get to the moon someday.



You already have.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Flash Fiction: Another Man who Sold the Moon

Greetings, friends, and happy Flash Fiction Friday.

Those of you who follow me closely may know that my work situation has changed; no more do I commute to the Isle of Manhattan, but a much shorter distance down the stairs and into my basement. This is obviously to be a great personal shift and has the side-effect of taking away what has been my writing time; it's easy to write on the train, hard to on the way down the stairs. I will try to keep these pages alive and awake as I find a new schedule for myself.

Today's Flash Fiction Friday is another Deal with the Devil story and another involving the moon, loosely inspired by another image prompt. Enjoy.


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"Another Man who Sold the Moon"

You can't blame me.

It was after the last strorm, after I lost damn near everything. Even being smart, even evacuating early, even making plans, it still didn't help. Yeah, I know I'm lucky, I know I'm alive. Most people are alive, even if the news lingers too long on those who aren't. I am and I was lucky and I still lost so damn much. You have to know that to know the state of mind I was in.

You can't blame me.


Anyway, the stories are mostly right on this one; it's surprisingly easy to find the Devil if you want him, and he's always ready to make a deal. That's what he does, but that's what I do. And I read all the books. From that old German one The Art of War to The Art of the Deal. Well, not those, but books like that. I need to give you a frame of reference. If I was gonna make a deal, I was gonna make a killer deal. You can take that to the bank.

No, it doesn't matter where I met him. At a crossroads. In a clearing in the woods. At a graveyard. A great dealmaker never gives away all his secrets. And that, my friend, is a secret.

It's the deal you want to know about, and I suppose you want an apology. First, remember that it isn't my fault. I read up, I planned.

I was clever.

Yeah, I asked for a lot. For us to be spared for the next storm and the storm after that and the storm after that, for all of eternity.

When you ask for a lot, the price is high, so very high.

He wanted the moon.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I was clever. It was clear we couldn't sell the moon. There's no way to get it down, for one thing. But what I could sell, what he could take and put in a jar next to all the pretty skies he's keeping for the proverbial rainy day, what the deal could REALLY be for is the idea of the moon. I knew it had worked the next month, when the moon would have been full and no men shed their man-skin to walk the wilds in wolf-shape. When madness came to become a matter of outbalanced humours in the brain and not the influence of the heavens.

When a little bit of magic faded from the world.
Bottled Sky
by Lukasz Wiktorzak

It didn't matter. We were safe.


Until the next storm came.

The seas rose.

Our city was gone.

I fled by boat as I watched the waves overtake the last and highest of the towers, cursing his name. The current took me to land where, after a days' wandering, I found him at a crossroad, I accused him of breaking our deal. The moon was his, my city was gone.

"You gave me the idea of the moon. I preserved the idea of your city. A thought for a thought. A fair deal, no?"

So, since that time I wandered. I tell my tale.

But enough about me. Let me tell you about the lost wonders of my home.

Atlantis.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

On Science and Myth, Physical and Virtual Realities: thoughts on The Hubble Cantata

Stars, like people, are born, live, and die.

Last night I trekked to a distant and wondrous land called Brooklyn for the debut performance of The Hubble Cantata, a live multi-media event featuring operatic music, visual imagery, a three-dimensional sound system and a three-dimensional virtual reality visit to the Orion Nebula.It was a  fascinating event, for what it said as well as how it chose to say it.

The Hubble Cantata - introduced by a real life astronaut
After a welcome from BRIC, a Brooklyn-based presenter of of arts and cultural events,  the piece was introduced by two people: first was Mike Massimino, known to the Twitterverse as @Astro_Mike. Massimino owns a footnote in history as the first person to have sent a Tweet from space. Second was astrophysicist and popular science writer Mario Livio, whose words we would later hear as part of the performance.

The piece, when it began just past sunset, involved a choir, a twenty-piece ensemble, two opera singers, and a multimedia presentation. The story, introduced before the show began, was a human one of loss and grief, involving the suicide of a mother after a child's death and a grieving husband. Interwoven with this human tale were snippets from Livio's lectures. Lectures about the origins of stars. About dark matter and dark energy. About the question of whether we're alone in the universe.

Placement of the physics lectures so close to the human tale gives the science an almost spiritual weight: the oft-repeated scientific/poetic thought that, as the elements necessary for life are created in the fusion of old stars, that we all are star-stuff is familiar to many of us. Taken in this context, it gains the weight of a creation-myth.  Human were formed of clay, in the image of the gods. Humans stole fire from the gods.  Humans are born of star-stuff. A meditation on intelligence in the universe becomes a portent of doom. The question of simulation, of taking the leap towards artificial intelligence took the place of an afterlife. It's a form of mythmaking for the modern age, another chapter in our continuous search for meaning.

For most of the show, the music was accompanied by a series of images projected onto a semi-transparent screen between the audience and performers; we'd see an image form of a woman, a star-field, a face. Then the images would vanish and we'd see the performers again.

The beginning of the performance. 
Then came the final act, in which the audience was invited to don VR headsets handed out at the start of the evening for a trip through the Orion Nebula.  It was a transcendent moment involving the birth of stars, Livio's voice, and the musical experience took advantage of the multiple loudspeaker locations to give us a three-dimensional experience. Although everyone was viewing through their own headset, it still felt like as communal experience as any night at the theater.


Trying on the VR viewer
I'm not qualified to discuss the music, but I can say a few words about the technology. One important element was the ability to use multi-challen audio to enhance the three-dimensional aspect of the experience. This is especially interesting to me personally as one of my former colleagues was part of the team at Arup, the engineering firm that designed the sound system for this event. In addition to column-arrays in the front of the space, concentric rings of pole-mounted loudspeakers created rear channels to give a three-dimensional effect. It really worked for me and even made the "cheap seats" on the lawn feel central (cheap seats is a metaphor in this case. The event was free).


On the VR side, the use of Google Cardboard headsets is an interesting one; cardboard is low enough cost that six thousand can be purchased to hand out to the audience as a loan for the performance, and any damaged or not returned can be easily enough replaced. The biggest technical risk would be creating an infrastructure to support the literally six-thousand  simultaneous video streams in an application for which an interruption in playback would effectively ruin the experience. The simple and obvious solution was to not stream the movie at all: audience members were instructed to download it ahead of time, and given a signal to begin playback via the cardboard viewers. The obvious drawback is that it's impossible to synchronize audio with video; for this performance, that didn't much matter. Livio's voice, discussing the lifecycle of stars, is a companion to the piece visual but didn't need to perfectly match up with the visuals to be effective. There's an important lesson here for the technologists in the world: the limits of technology creates constraints. If the technological side and the artistic side work together, they can find ways in which an impactful experience can be created despite the limitations.This should be a lesson to anyone who's said "it can't be done".

Yes, some things can't be done. Sometimes, one can find a way to make the artistic vision work within the confines of what things can be done. If entertainments such as this one become more common we may eventually need to find a way to send the VR video in real-time.  The key is understanding what is required, how to create an experience in which the technology serves the vision and the vision can be interpreted in light of the available technology.


In this case, all parties involved found a way to make it work. It's exciting to see artists taking advantage of current technology, and technologists working with the arts to create new experiences.  Last night was a wonderful adventure; it's the kind of thing I hope we can all see more of as the technology matures and artists work to take advantage of it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Flash Fiction Monday - The First Pitch


Good morning everyone! I missed flash fiction friday last week, so I'm giving it to you on a Monday. Once again, it's an image prompt from Bliss Morgan's "Prompts and Circumstance" project - this time without attribution because the source is unknown. So far as I can tell, nobody else has done anything with this prompt yet.


The First Pitch
by Leonard C Suskin

"Never swing at the first pitch."

That was the first  lesson your father drilled into us in little league. It's the lesson his father taught him, that his brothers taught your cousins. And your learned it.

After a time, you came to never swing at the first pitch.
Ever.

When you were very young, it was take a pitch or face the belt. After a while it wasn't even about the belt anymore. It was about how if you got a fat fastball down the middle of the plate and smoked it into the gap for a double you'd come back to the bench to see a stern frown. The next day, the crack of the bat would still be echoing in your hears,  your father would cooly say, "We need to work on plate discipline", and that was that. The joy

It was as if it didn't count, not to them. Not if you didn't follow "process".

There were other lessons, of course.

"Count your change twice."

"Always push for a better offer. Even if it means losing the deal."

"A steady job with a steady paycheck is better than chasing a dream."


It took you years to realize that all of the lessons were the same lesson.
That all that mattered is not to take the first pitch.

Years later you'd read about the new focus on statistics in baseball, as opposed to instinct. About the value of on-base percentage. On seeing more pitches. You'd realize your father was right.

Now that you have kids and a house and suburbia with a white picket fence it's time that you get to be a little league coach.

The first lesson you teach will be on plate discipline.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday - Ambience

It's Flash Fiction Friday again. Today we start with an image prompt from photographer AlexStoddard, leading to a quick discussion of a pre-construction report.

I'll try to be better about posting flash fiction for those of you who like this sort of thing.

As is often the case, writing community-builder extraordinaire Bliss Morgan started the ball rolling on this. If anyone else takes on the same prompt, you can perhaps find links to their responses here.


"Ambience"
By Leonard C Suskin

I know not to clean it out too thoroughly. It's what sets me apart from the other guys.

Oh, I can clear'em all out. The full Murray we call it. In my experience that's best for office buildings. Especially government. You see, they want those places to feel a bit dead, and if we do the full Murray, that's what you get. As dead as the arctic. Soulless places, as if never inhabited before.

Well, there's two problems with that. First is that too empty the place feels dead. A place with no ghosts is to the soul what an anechoic chamber is to the ears. It feels empty and wrong. Ask your acoustic guy if you want no echo.

Second is if we leave the place too empty there's no telling what'll come in. I know it's an island, but I've seen leakage from the sea. Drowning victims are unsettling, nasty ghosts. Leave a wet, cold, scared feeling. You don't want to leave it too empty for a drowner to come in.

What're you building here anyway? Condos? It's usually condos. A hotel? Nice. Maybe I'll walk the room afterwards. Maybe.

Anyway, did you read the report? What we used to have here, obviously, is a sanitarium. Most of the people here were mentally ill. Violently so. The first section of the report list the poltergeists, your noisy spirits. Those we need to get rid of. They're the ones who'll bang around the pans in the kitchen and rattle the plumbing. Yeah, even if it is new. We'll clear all of them out. I promise.

Don't worry; we're doing them a favor. It's a kind of living death to be stuck here afterwards. I'm not a priest, but I always figured after we cut'em loose and get 'em out they'll go on to wherever they were supposed to go. Anyway, there's more.

The ones in the next section seem angry.  They won't manifest as loud as the poltergeists, but might give an overall sense of unease and a desire to be outside. We'll need to clear them out too.  Especially in a hotel. You don't want to push people to leave, right?

Then there's these last few. These are the ones I'd keep. They're mostly quiet, and felt as if they were waiting for something. That's why the ghosts linger sometimes. I know unfinished business is a cliché, but sometimes a soul can get so used to waiting for something that they keep right on doing it after they die. There's a woman here who gives that off especially strong. You can feel it when you walk through the shell of the old building, especially by where the windows used to be. There's longing, a feel of heaviness, but a faint whiff of hope. The sadness might be a little strong, but taking away the old walls will mute it. She'll still be there, but quieter. They'll still be that longing, and just enough melancholy will filter through to make the place feel tranquil, a bit introspective. People will like having been there and won't know why.

Anyway, that's the recommendation. You'll find it all in the report.

Like I said, it's easy enough to clean 'em all out. What we do is better. The ones that remain will be a part of what you build here, as much as the glass and stone and wood.


What we do is not just cleanup.

What we do is art.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth of July - On Love of Country and Redemption

What is patriotism?

This question came to mind after a Gallup poll, a new low of 52% of Americans are "extremely proud" to be American.  So what on this day, I ponder: what is patriotism? Should we be proud or extremely proud of where we live, or is that misplaced  pride in an accident of birth or the piece of land in which we live? Is it more?

Those who follow me on social media may have noticed a bit less of me over the past week. That's because it was, for the Suskin family, vacation week. Appropriately enough on the eve of Independence Day, we traveled south to Colonial Williamsburg and environs, where we spent several days immersed in a facsimile of eighteenth-century America on the eve of revolution. We also spent some days riding roller coasters and waterslides, but that's less germane to the discussion.



I'll start with a particular event we attended at Williamsburg. Between demonstrations of eighteenth century crafts, stirring political speeches and musket demonstrations there was a play in one of the outdoor theaters: Redemption and Remembrance, about both the lives of slaves and, afterward, a discussion of the experiences of reenactors portraying both the enslaved and slave owners.

The play was surprisingly powerful and well-done, interweaving the stories of several slaves, including a carpenter, a house slave, and a field-slave. There was one stunning moment of violence when one of the slaves was branded on the hand for being [falsely] accused of stealing a sheep, and of human emotion in which a childless slavewoman and her childless owner were physically held apart by the other actors, forbidden from finding comfort in their shared experiences by the places in which society had put each of them. Other characters included a schoolteacher who educated young slaves in an attempt to Christianize them. A wealthy man, proud to have inherited several slaves from his parents and their parents.

After telling their characters' stories, the actors stepped out of character to talk about their experiences playing these roles for visitors, day after day. One of the things about which I'd never thought was the hatred the guests would sometimes feel toward them. The actor who played a wealthy woman - a character in which she very much immersed herself - described the changing attitude in those following a tour she gave of "her" house when the inevitable question about slave ownership was asked - and she responded that she did own slaves and that it was the natural order of things that she do so. Another spoke of feeling a wall of hatred as he answered a question about slavery in character. He was initially hurt by this, as anyone would be, but later realized that people SHOULD hate him for it, that giving face to the villain is important work.

But it isn't really about the white people.

One of the African-American reenactors recounted a story of a guest seeing him in character and, in what was meant to be a sick, nasty joke, asking "Isn't there someplace you're supposed to be, boy?" Shocked, he had to ask the guest to repeat himself to know that he even heard it correctly. His response, "In what realm is that supposed to be funny?" elicited a muttered apology, the offending guest not meeting the reenactor's eyes. Was this just a poor attempt to be funny? A "safe" chance to voice the racist impulses he already felt? Complete ignorance to the history about which he was speaking? In any event, it was an ugly and painful thing. Afterwards, I reflected that it must be fun for a reenactor to play the role of an eighteenth-century blacksmith, or carpenter, or even a weaver. It must be fun to portray an eighteenth-century politician.  It cannot be fun to spend ones days pretending to be a slave.

Afterwards, the audience broke into groups for a question and answer with the reenactors about the play, about the topic, and to share our thoughts about it. I ended up the "scribe" for our breakout group, taking some notes on a a wide-ranging discussion from the actual performance to how the world - even if it has changed - can still be an ugly and hateful place. We also discussed horrors more subtle and nuanced than the obvious cruelty of a slave owner or even the knuckle-dragging troglodyte with the "where are you supposed to be, boy" crack. The schoolteacher, for all of her piety and supposed kindness, wanting nothing better than to make them become more like us. After the group discussions, the scribes from the various breakout sessions took the mic and addressed the larger group, I appreciated the chance to share a few words on what we'd discussed, particularly about that schoolteacher, and how the bigger horrors of the past can leave us feeling smug about the progress we've made, while not seeing the distance we have yet to go.

The First Colonists en route here
At the very opening they placed, in a heavy-handed but effective bit of symbolism, a rope was stretched across the front of the stage, standing for the lines we have to cross to move toward an uncertain future beyond the prejudices of the current day. At the close of the performance, the actors stepped symbolically [and literally] across the line together. After the discussion, they invited the remaining audience to join them on stage, and take the step with them together, into the future. After the group discussion, the audience was invited on stage to take the same step together, hand-in-hand. Friends, family, and strangers.

Earlier, I spoke of patriotism, about pride in our country. and what it means. This country is the place where Thomas Jefferson wrote stirring words about freedom and independence. It's also the country that maintained the practice of slavery well into the nineteenth century, and Jim Crow laws for a century after that. It's the country which took until this century to elect an African American president and has STILL never elected a woman as president.

It's also a country with many people who WANT to be better. The country of Martin Luther King. The country that, even if it took far too long, DID elect an African American to be president, and is [I sincerely hope] on the cusp of electing a woman. It's home.

Is patriotism telling a pollster one is "extremely proud" of the place in which one lives. Perhaps for some. For me, it's about caring enough about the place to try to make it better.

It's about joining hands with strangers and family to cross the line together, towards an uncertain future.

Happy Fourth, friends.