A Christmas Memory

I posted this on Facebook, but, on reflection, I kinda like the story, so I’m going to post it here as well.

One year when I was, I don’t know, about 12 I guess, someone outside the family gave Mom and Dad a game—one of those, “Read the question from the card and guess how the other person will answer” games. We played it, I think, Christmas afternoon. The question came up between Mom and Dad (I don’t even remember of whom it was originally asked) “How important is your job in making you happy?” and whoever did the guessing got it wrong, and was very surprised, and, it being a batch of Brusts, discussion ensued.

In the end, it came out that Dad’s position was that a person shouldn’t have to devote hours every day to something hateful and oppressive, but rather everyone should be able to do work that was rewarding and personally satisfying, and that was one reason he was a socialist.

Mom, on the other hand, thought that the job you held was unimportant, what mattered was the fight for socialism; being a revolutionary socialist was her profession, and her day job didn’t matter at all while that work was still to be carried out.

Just a matter of perspective.

That was Christmas in the Brust household. Merry Christmas, and long live the Fourth International.

Sixteen Credits

Co-written with Mark Hall

Some people say a man is made out of gore
Well a student is just a credit score
A credit score and a mind that’s spry
A future that’s bleak, and a bank that’s dry

You take sixteen creds and what do you get?
Nearer your degree and deeper in debt
St. Peter don’t you call me cuz I must stay
I owe my soul to Sallie Mae

Enrolled one morning, it was drizlin rain
“Get a degree” was the school’s refrain
Should I study English, or should it be Math?
Decades of debt was the only path.

You take sixteen creds….

I enrolled one morning I was at an impasse
Picked up my laptop and I walked into class
I took sixteen creds based on aptitude
And the T.A. said, “Well son, you’re screwed.”

You take sixteen creds…

This job pays just $8.95
It ain’t enough to keep a man alive
I can’t rent a roof to stop the wet
‘Cause $5.50 of that goes to service my debt

You take sixteen creds….

If you see me coming just say hello
I’m working a job that don’t pay what I owe
I earned a liberal arts degree
And all it got me was bankruptcy

You take sixteen creds….



(Yeah, there are scansion problems, I know. Suggestions welcome.)

On Patreon and Life (Yes, and Socialism)

Some time ago a combination of medical bills, veterinary bills, delayed payments from my publisher, and financial mismanagement landed me in a horrible position.  I woke up in the morning terrified about not being able to afford food (or, worse, tobacco), and spent most of the day trying to put it out of my head, with as much success as you’d guess.   I was over a year behind on rent, which would have been worse if I didn’t have the World’s Most Understanding Landlord, but it weighed on me all the same.

Eventually, Jennifer Slaugh wore me down and convinced me to start a Patreon—just the kind of thing that is naturally difficult for a Minnesotan.

The response was humbling; it seemed there were a lot of people who wanted to help me.  And help me they did.  In a fairly short time, there was enough pledged to make a huge difference in my life.  The day I pulled in that money, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I mean, seriously–that day, I sat down and words started tumbling out of my fingertips.  I was no longer terrified.  I could sit there, relax, groove, and just do what I wanted, which was write, which was tell stories.  My gratitude to those who have supported me is too great to express, and I can only hope that the work I do going forward will please them enough for their sacrifice to feel justified.

I am telling you this now for a particular reason.  I was talking to Will Shetterly, relating the story to him in reference to the Patreon that he’s started, and he pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me: For many of us—I would even think most of us, perhaps nearly all of us–we do not work better because we are terrified about not having enough; on the contrary, many of us work better when we don’t have to fear for our basic necessities, when money is not an issue, or at least not a pressing one.  This is certainly true when our work is not “toil,” that is, the sort of mind-numbing body-killing, soul-destroying labor that provides a paycheck but little or no satisfaction—the kind of work that in a rational society would either be done by machine or not done at all.  For those of us fortunate enough to make a living doing something that gives us satisfaction, it’s different.  I have been much, much more productive since the fear of being broke has been removed.

I am not saying this to ask you to support my Patreon.  On the contrary, right now, I have what I need to keep going, and not be scared, and that’s all I can ask for.  If you’re going to support someone, consider supporting Will, because I, like all right-thinking people, want to see more of his fiction.  I’m saying that those who think people (and they always seem to mean “other people”) have be kept in a state of financial terror or they won’t do anything are, not to put too fine a point on it, full of crap.

Some Things I’ve Learned in 50 Years of Politics

I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that this year marks 50 years since I began my political activity and study. Steven Patten on Facebook asked what I’ve learned in that time, which is a fascinating question that’s been buzzing around in my head ever since. Here are some answers:
  • To study nuance, to go after detail, to dig deeper, to be suspicious when I think I finally understand something complex.
  • How impossible it is to the separate the pieces: philosophy, economics, history, news, politics. Every time I try to focus on one, it keeps leading me into another.
  • To look critically at the SEP’s positions rather than accepting them blindly, and yet, after doing so, I nearly always end up agreeing. (It took a year of beating my head against the wall attending protests to come around on #BLM, and I’m still not quite 100% about their position on trade unionism in the abstract, but they’re certainly right in the specifics of unions today).
  • I’m still learning to avoid the glib in favor of serious analysis; I screw that one up more than I should.
  • I’ve learned I’ll never make a really good communist because I have too much Kamenev and too little Trotsky in me, and, above all, because I’m lazy–the hard part involves detailed study and research, rather than repetition of abstractions and slogans. I do that when I’m writing and can only rarely get myself to do that kind of work politically.
  • I’ve learned that it is utterly pointless to argue with hardened reactionaries, unless there is a good opportunity to use the argument to advance my own positions in a positive way for lurkers.
  • I’ve learned that discussions on Facebook and on my blog are not, in fact, the waste of time I’d once considered them. There are people here searching for answers, and there is additional value in sharpening my own understanding.
  • Marxists are very good at Who, What, How, and Why, but really suck at When (at least, when talking about the future).
  • I’m still learning to patiently explain rather than letting myself get frustrated, and that anyone genuinely looking for a way forward is deserving of the time it takes to explain. Working on that one.

Anyway, that’s some of it.  And that is certainly enough time spent on personal reflection.  Back to the fight!

The Perfect Place

I’ve mentioned before about how much of my career has been defined by extraordinary luck.  I was just reflecting on this again.

As a writer, one dreams of awards, of #1 NYT bestsellers, of the Hollywood money copter appearing and dumping barrels of cash.  Nice enough fantasies, but some things—I’ll leave it to you, gentle reader, to supply the specifics—are better left as fantasies.

For reasons I don’t feel like going into right now, I’ve recently been in touch with a number of other writers, many of whom are significantly more successful than I am.  They have layers between them and the rest of the world.  They need these layers so they aren’t bothered so much they can’t do their work.  I don’t need layers.  My email address is fairly public, I’m active on my Facebook page and Twitter (and here) and interact with people as much as I feel like.  I don’t have to buffer myself.  And, with all of that, I make a living.  Thanks to the level of success I’ve had (and to Patreon, and the amazing people who’ve been kind enough to kick in), I’m caught up on rent, I can buy groceries and tobacco, and I can even take vacations once in a while.  Would I like to be able to buy a Tesla?  Sure.  But it would come with all sorts of things I don’t want, things that would be bad for me.  In the worst case, I’d have to isolate myself at conventions.  That would suck.

I’ve been fighting off mild depression for the last year.  Shit happens, I’ll get over it.  But it helps to remind myself that, with one thing and another, I have stumbled into the perfect place.  I can write here, and enjoy the people and things I love while doing it.  Overall, I’m one lucky son of a bitch.