For the first time since 2006, I’m going to be attending the World Science Fiction Convention! This year is the 79th WorldCon, DisCon III, which is being held from 15-19 December 2021 in Washington, D.C. Generally, WorldCon has been too proximate to Dragon Con (including often being the same weekend), but thanks to the apocalypse, the con is in December this year, plus it’s closer to me geographically than it’s been in ages (the last time it was this close was 2004 in Boston).
And I’m going to be doing programming as well! Here’s my schedule (the schedule I was provided doesn’t include the other panelists, so I have no idea who I’ll be joined by on them at the moment). EDITED TO ADD: I’ve been given another panel on Friday on Orphan Black, and I now know who my other panelists are for all save “Inspired or Copied?” EDITED TO ADD SOME MORE: I now have the panelists for everything!
5.30-6.30pm: reading (Capitol Room) — I will be reading “The Light Shines in the Darkness,” my story for the upcoming shared-world superhero anthology Phenomenons: Every Human Creature
7-8pm: “Plot a More Fantastic Four,” w/Tenaya Anue, Robert Greenberger, Jennifer Rhorer, and Sumiko Saulson (Forum Room)
2.30-3.30pm: autographing (Autographs 4) — also signing at the same time, and in the same area of the dealer room, are Randee Dawn, Joe Haldeman, and Rebecca Kuang
7-8pm: “Welcome to Clone Club: Orphan Black,” w/Brick Barrientos, Leigha McReynolds, Eddie Louise, Jennifer Povey, Benjamin Rosenbaum (Forum Room)
A particularly intense song by Cat Stevens, “Miles from Nowhere” is a song that was particularly going through my head two weeks ago when I was going on a 25-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail, which was, indeed, miles from nowhere. Here’s four versions: the original from 1970’s Tea for the Tillerman, a live version from 1971, another live version from 2011, and a new studio version from 2020.
Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine, mainly because its purpose is at once so very basic and so very important: giving thanks. Gratitude is very important, as the good things in our life are things that could very easily be taken away from us (a lesson 2020 taught us quite harshly).
I’m thankful for Wrenn, my amazing wife, who is the best life-partner I could hope for. I remember something my friend Laura Anne Gilman (who was Best Woman at our wedding) said when Wrenn and I first started dating: we suit each other. And we really do in pretty much every way.
I’m thankful for Meredith and ToniAnn, and also for Anneliese, Sas, and Kyle, for oh-so-many reasons.
I’m thankful for the rest of my family, both blood and chosen, especially the Forebearance, the Godmommy, and Matthew.
I’m thankful for all my dear friends, some near, some far, some whom I see every week, some whom I rarely see, some whom I haven’t actually met in person yet, but all of whom mean the world to me. I’m not even going to try to list them all here, because I’ll leave someone out, but they probably know who they are. I love you all.
I’m thankful for various furry creatures who have wormed their way into our hearts, most especially the ones who live with us, Kaylee and Louie, who have become even more affectionate and sweet with age, and also Tempura, Jazz, Thor, Loki, Professor Zoom, Eden, Jax, Spot, Hima, Ginger, and Mickey.
I’m thankful for the dojo, which managed to stay functioning during the apocalypse, and which was one of the things that kept me going during same. I’m also thankful for our sister dojos in Italy, South Africa, Japan, and Chile, and also for other fellow martial artists in other unaffiliated dojos who are nonetheless wonderful and inspirational and nifty. I’m additionally thankful for all the kids I teach in my afterschool program, who are a delight (even the ones who misbehave). I’m especially thankful for having the privilege of going for yondan and achieving it this month. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about being called “Sensei Keith,” but having had the rank for ten days now, I gotta say, I really like it.
I’m extra thankful to Sensei Charles, who went up with me for fourth-degree. We encouraged each other so much during this promotion, and I don’t think either of us could’ve done it without the other. Osu, Sensei!
I’m thankful for conventions, which started happening in person again this year, and also continued virtually in some cases (Shore Leave, Bubonicon, e.g.). I’m particularly thankful to Alexi Vandenberg and Bard’s Tower, which is back in business with in-person cons, and which has sent me to several shows that have enabled me to peddle my fiction. I’m particularly grateful to those con organizers who have insisted on attendees being vaccinated, which is just being responsible and sensible. (Alexi has also insisted that all Tower participants be vaxxed.) I’m extra thankful to Dragon Con, which had 42,000 people, and still managed to stay safe: all attendees not only had to be vaxxed (or have a negative test within the previous 48 hours), but also be masked, and the latter was very well enforced. (Which, by the way, has eliminated my patience for people who won’t mask in public indoor spaces. If 42,000 nerds crammed into five hotels can do it, you can do it.)
Speaking of that, I’m thankful for the existence of COVID-19 vaccines, which have enabled the world to start getting to a semblance of normal. (I’m less thankful for morons who refuse to get vaccinated for no compellingly good reason — and please note the adjectives modifying “reason” in that phrase, as I’m not referring to people who haven’t been vaxxed for solid medical reasons as advised by legitimate medical personnel — and also those who refuse to mask in public indoor spaces, who have made this whole mishegoss last way longer than it should have.) I’m also thankful for my hometown of New York City, which has mandated that you must be vaccinated to enter indoor restaurants, bars, theatres, etc. (We live on the edge of the city in the northern part of the Bronx, and we’re not patronizing places in Westchester County just north of us because they’re not mandating that.)
I’m thankful for the places that release my scribblings to the world: eSpec Books (the Precinct books, Without a License, To Hell and Regroup, All-the-Way House, Devilish and Divine), WordFire Press (the Bram Gold Adventures, Animal), Plus One Press (the forthcoming Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet), Crazy 8 Press (Bad Ass Moms, Pangaea: Redemption, Phenomenons: Every Human Creature, The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 series), Fantastic Books (Three Time Travelers Walk Into…, Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles), Titan (Alien: Isolation, Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus), Modiphius (Star Trek Adventures), Atthis Arts (Icarus), TokyoPop (the forthcoming Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness–The Beginning), ATB Publishing (the Outside In series), the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (Turning the Tied), Obverse Books (Star Trek: Gold Archive), and, of course, Tor.com (my Star Trek reviews and rewatches, “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch,” and various other pop-culture prognostications).
I’m thankful for the support I’ve gotten on Kickstarter and Indie GoGo for various projects over the years (most recently “The Gorvangin Rampages,” “Ragnarok and a Hard Place,” and The Four ???? of the Apocalypse), and also for the wonderful folks who support my Patreon.
I’m thankful for everyone who reads my aforementioned scribblings. Without readers writers are just people who curse into the keyboard a lot. Mind you, we’re that also, but readers help us delude ourselves into thinking there’s more to what we do than that. So thank you all….
I’m thankful for music, which keeps me going. I’m especially grateful for various online sources like iTunes, YouTube, etc., which has given me access to far more music than I could possibly have imagined in the twentieth century.
I’m thankful for Star Trek, which has been an important part of my life for all 52+ years of it, from providing entertainment when I was a child to providing a source of income as an adult (seriously, I’ve been writing for and/or about Trek professionally for 22 years now). Most importantly, though, is that Trek continues to posit a future where Earth is united and where compassion rules the day. Consistently throughout 55 years of TV shows, movies, novels, comic books, and games, Trek has solved its problems through talking and being nice to each other rather than through violence: from helping a ship in distress despite that same ship nearly killing them in “The Corbomite Maneuver” in 1966 to the Dominion War ending because Odo agreed to return to the Great Link in “What You Leave Behind” in 1999 to the Burn being reversed because our heroes rescued someone who was, in essence, a one-hundred-year-old child in “That Hope is You, Part 2” in 2021. Especially these last two years, the message of Trek has been very important, and I’m particularly thankful that in the period between January 2020 and now we’ve gotten six new seasons of Trek shows (two each of Discovery and Lower Decks, one each of Picard and Prodigy), with the promise of much more to come.
I’m thankful for my life and my career. It isn’t perfect — there isn’t enough time for everything, and I feel like I’m perpetually behind on everything, but I still wouldn’t trade my life for anything. I’m making a living doing the thing I love surrounded (both in person and virtually) by folks whom I love with all my heart.
And I’m thankful for you people who read this blog. You’re awesome.
“Anomaly” is chock full of consequences, and while the most impressive one is what is suffered by Book, I want to take a moment to talk about how very brilliantly we saw Tilly and Adira being affected by the death of Commander Nalas last week. Nalas is exactly the kind of guest character whose death moves the plot along but who is generally forgotten, often before the episode is even over much less beyond it. So it’s incredibly heartening to see that Nalas’ manipulative death was manipulating us for a reason. Tilly is having trouble processing it, and her conversations with both Saru and Culber are strong examinations of Tilly’s trauma at watching him die after trying to rescue him.
While I appreciate that Kenneth Biller tried very hard to address some things that had gone unaddressed, they half-assed it to such a degree that you kind of wish they hadn’t bothered. Plus there was a certain level of not thinking things through that was maddening. Like addressing the Maquis-Starfleet divide in “Repression,” but doing it in a totally absurd way that defies credulity and makes absolutely nothing like sense. Like finally acknowledging the number of casualties among the crew over the past seven years in “Repentance” and “Renaissance Man,” but not actually addressing it in any kind of logical, emotional, or interesting manner. Like continuing to not promote Kim beyond the rank of ensign and repeatedly drawing attention to it and trying to explain it away even though that explanation is inconsistent with both Tuvok and Paris being promoted at various points.
In 2004, I was 35 years old, living in Riverdale with my girlfriend Terri. My writing career was going quite well—that particular year, I had a USA Today best-selling Star Trek novel, the first novel in my original fantasy series Dragon Precinct, and two movie novelizations all published, as well as a couple of short stories and an essay or three. Most of my income derived from writing, though I also did some freelance editorial work. My cell phone was a Motorola flip-phone, and I spent a great deal of time at Palumbo Bakery with my laptop doing my writing. I hadn’t owned a car in twelve years.
And on the 20th of September of that year, I walked into our dojo for the first time and took a white-belt class.
Seventeen years later, I’m 52 years old, living in Woodlawn Heights with my wife Wrenn. My writing career is still going well, though the face of it has changed considerably. My per-year income from writing has actually gone down in the last seventeen years, and I’ve had to diversify, with writing for a pop-culture web site and teaching karate to kids supplementing the fiction writing and editing income. We now own two cars (I have no idea how that happened, really). I have a Samsung smartphone that has more computing power than the laptop that I used to take to Palumbo Bakery—which has since shut down, and these days I do most of my writing in my home office in any event.
And on the 10th of November of this year, I will walk into our dojo again as a white belt, this time with the hope of starting my journey to yondan.
In many ways, I’m the same person who walked into the dojo seventeen years ago. My personality hasn’t really changed all that much. I’m still a generally happy and optimistic person. A dear friend once said something that I still consider words to live by: “pessimism is a misuse of imagination.” I’m still a writer of science fiction and fantasy. My circle of closest friends has been pretty much the same since the mid-1990s. I still love to travel and go to museums and zoos and botanical gardens. I still love baseball and comic books and TV shows and movies.
And in many ways, I’m completely different. While the circle of friends is pretty much the same, it’s not completely, and there are people who I thought were friends for life in 2004 to whom I don’t speak anymore in 2021. In 2004, I would have identified myself primarily as a writer of Star Trek fiction (and it still makes up a huge chunk of my bibliography), but that is no longer the case. And instead of being Terri’s live-in boyfriend, I’m now Wrenn’s husband.
But the biggest change, and the one that still freaks me out a little bit, is that, prior to 2004, I never considered myself physically strong. I was never athletic, didn’t really do sports, and considered exercise to be this weird thing that health nuts and athletes did, but certainly not for me.
Obviously, that part has changed considerably. Now I’m the guy who lifts the heavy things, who carries all the groceries, who hauls the laundry up the stairs and the garbage and recycling down them, and so on. When my septuagenarian parents need something physical done, I’m the one they call on. (Well, sometimes. My 75-year-old father is stubborn and delusional about his own physical capabilities more often than not…)
The black-belt application that Shuseki Shihan Paul has us fill out before these promotions includes writing down the dates that you got each kyu promotion, and going through those dates was particularly eye-opening, especially with regards to the subject of this essay. Mainly because the arc of my deteriorating relationship with Terri tracks almost perfectly with my rise through the color-belt ranks.
May 2005 was when I achieved my blue belt, and got to shift from the white-belt class to the color-belt class. That same month, Terri and I had a particularly vicious argument that almost resulted in our breakup. And, honestly, looking back, it should have resulted in our breakup. But I can be very stubborn, and I don’t like to fail. That same stubbornness that kept me coming back to the dojo those first few months at the end of 2004 when every pushup was purest agony and comprehension of the techniques was often elusive also made me determined to make things work with Terri.
In August 2005, Terri and I took a trip to Scotland and Ireland. It started as a great trip, and ended that way, too, but in the middle we had another huge argument that nearly torpedoed the relationship, and might have done if we weren’t an ocean away from home at the time. The weekend after we returned to New York, I got my advanced blue belt.
In a fit of madness, Terri and I decided in early 2008 to get married in the summer of that year—right around when I got my brown belt. We postponed the wedding, and finally broke up in the spring of 2009.
The year 2009 turned out to be quite momentous. For starters, I turned forty. In April, Terri and I realized that this was never going to work, and we split up. In addition, 2008 ended with the editor I did most of my Star Trek fiction writing for being laid off (along with a third of the publisher’s staff—this was right after the market crash in the fall of 2008), and suddenly that particular well of work dried up, as his successor evinced no interest in hiring me. In May of that year, I met Wrenn, and we started dating the following month. In July, I was the subject of a comedy roast for charity at a science fiction convention in Maryland, which was a great (and hilarious) honor bestowed up on my by my colleagues, and later that month, the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers presented me with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
And in October 2009, I was awarded my shodan.
Being a black belt has been such a critical part of my self-image over the past twelve years that it’s easy now to forget what a big deal it was for Shuseki Shihan Paul to tie that belt on me in the fall of 2009. And it was the culmination of a year that was full of so much change in my life, though every micron of it was for the better.
The Keith who walked into the dojo in September 2004 could not possibly have imagined the notion of being called Senpai Keith. Indeed, the concept of me as a black belt didn’t even occur to me as a possibility until my advanced green belt promotion (the first promotion that involved sparring). Certainly the Keith who was told by his doctor in the fall of 2004 that he should consider regular exercise would never have seen a black belt in his future…
One other big change between who I was in 2004 and who I am in 2021 is in how I describe myself. Back then, it would have been as a writer, editor, and musician. Now, I can add teacher to that list. I have taught classes to kids and adults in the dojo, as well as private lessons with individuals, plus since 2014 I’ve been teaching karate to kids as part of an afterschool programs in upper Manhattan.
Being a writer is something I’ve always wanted to be, ever since I was six years old and put together a “book” on construction paper called Reflections in My Mirror. Being an editor is something I discovered in college, and was how I made my living for the first eight years after I graduated until my writing career took off. Being a musician is something that has also been part of my life since I was a small child, and while I’ve never made significant money at it, it’s also been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.
But being a teacher was new. That was never something I expected to be doing or even necessarily thought I’d be good at. And it’s become one of my favorite things—both about being a black belt and about being a person. I absolutely adore teaching, as it has brought me a fulfillment I never expected, and truly enjoy.
In so many ways, the Keith DeCandido who walked into the dojo in September 2004 is the same guy who’s going for his yondan this week. In so many other ways, I’m not remotely the same person in the least.
But I can say this for sure: I liked who I was seventeen years ago, but I like the person I am now a great deal more, and my journey as a karateka is a big part of why that’s so.