About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

See you at Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe

We are getting some traction on “Chalice,” and thank Dudley’s for their enthusiasm. Stop by on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the reading (look upstairs if we’re not downstairs), and 25% off on coffee. It’s a very cool book store.

Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe
“This Friday is Friday Art Walk PLUS Fall Festival. We are privileged to have Kelly Riley & The Range Benders playing their amazing set of Americana, Blues & Folk with attitude!! Originals, traditionals & a few surprises! 6.30pm. ALSO, on Sunday October 6th we will be having a signing and reading by Erik Dolson of his new book “Chalice”. Erik is a local author and I promise the book is fabulous! All drinks and treats will be 25% off from 2 to 4pm.”

Reading canceled

The local book store in my home town has canceled my reading. They’d received an email from a woman who said the book was about her. They got three phone calls from the woman’s friends. The owner admitted that not one of those who complained had read the book, but he just didn’t feel comfortable promoting it at this time.

Now questions will be asked. Now the book will be perceived as being about this woman, and I won’t have the chance to explain that it is a work of fiction based upon conversations with countless people over decades, woven together to create a novel hopefully rewarding to read.

So much for art. For meaningful discussion. For relevance.

I had just written another reader, “The book is fiction, a story constructed of bits and pieces, yes, some you will recognize… but it was constructed, and therefore a fiction, to build a theme that I hope is universal; that relative standards are no standards at all if driven by fear, irrational hope or selfishness… how we find morality within ourselves… that faith is required to leap the abyss… how losing everything can be redemption… how what we seek is connection.”

These are the topics I was prepared to discuss at the reading. And what it is like to create, why a story has parts and arc, what it is like publishing a novel, how hard it is to know something, and someone, whether objectivity is even possible, how all of us live in a world of our own creation. And why I chose an optical illusion for the central metaphor.

Now the discussion has become about something else, about something it was never about in the first place. Which, I suppose, is what it is about, in a way.

Turn it off, Part III

Whoa. The phone companies have been keeping records of all our calls! They have employees embedded with the Drug Enforcement Administration to comb information! And because it’s a company, not the government, that stores all these records, it’s legal!

May I be forgiven an “I told you so?” May I be forgiven for repeating, again, that we don’t know the half of it?

Think back to the beginning of our nation, when we learned hard lessons that economic power was as corrupting as political power. The East India Company was the target of the Tea Party, as much as the Crown. Railroads were broken up because they strangled the nation. Oil companies were broken up for the same.

A few decades ago, the phone company, Ma Bell, was dismantled. Wire taps had to be court approved. But we don’t use wires anymore! The Baby Bells have morphed into a technocorp, an oligarchy extending tentacles ever deeper into our lives. The lifeblood of our nation flows through portals of the internet, and they tap all communication with only a passing nod to courts protecting the Bill of Rights.

When oligarchs take control of vital services, corruption inevitably follows.

I was stupid when ranting on these “pages” about why there isn’t greater effort to promote competition in the telecomm industry. The government doesn’t want an effective “market!”  The oligopoly serves the government interest. It is easier to collude with four companies than a dozen.

A friend calls the government/corporate beast “Leviathan.”  2,000 years ago, Plato warned against the power of “Oligarchs.” The enemy is within the gates, and we have failed to defend ourselves.

We must not be stampeded into servitude by fears of terrorism or concerns about drug-fueled chaos. Privacy laws must be updated, and made ferociously effective.

Turn it off, Part II

I have renamed my “cell phone.” It is now my “Link.” Not just because it links me to the world via communication and information. But also because it is one link in the chain that binds me to their intent.

Cell phones, Internet. Visa Cards. All this noise about the NSA and cell phones: Does anyone really believe, once they have spent four minutes thinking about it, that the NSA has not compromised your (easily revoked) VISA card, your Master’sCard? In exchange for the ability of card companies to condition you into spending more than your limits, or missing payments, so they can charge rates that once were considered usury?

Is anyone so naive to think that VISA, MasterCard, AMEX and the rest don’t slurp your data? And share what they learn with the NSA, and their corporate “partners” (i.e., those willing to purchase the info)? Read the fine print.

Have you ever bought a gift card? Have you received one that represents a corporate “refund” (talking about you, T-Mobile)? Did you know your “money” on that card can evaporate? Read the fine print. And then realize that a percentage of those cards never get redeemed.

Where did that money go?

When in hell did banks take ownership of our money? Our transactions? And how do they get to rent it back to us at discounted value? It’s too late to do anything about it, because they own too many political waterboys like Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, and many others, but it’s good to think about once in a while. Next time you buy something, ask if there’s a cash discount equal to the highest rate your retailer pays for you to use the credit card.

If only for an hour, turn it off. Use cash for your next transaction, at least while you can. They won’t know where you are for that period of time. Until they get the cameras up, or satellites start recognizing cars and addresses… oh, crap. Drones. Too late.

It won’t be long  before there is no “money.”  It’s good for you, it’ll help you keep track of all your expenses. And it’s good for them, they won’t have to pay to print all those $5, $10, $20 and $100 bills. Or keep track of them.

Or lose track of you.

Turn it off.

Turn off the Security-Technology Complex

On January 17, 1961, when President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address, he warned the country about the “military-industrial complex.”

Acknowledging the need for a strong military during the Cold War (Eisenhower was a five-star general leading troops in World War II and Supreme Commander of allied forces in Europe), he cautioned against the loss of liberty if Congress, the military, and industry colluded to hijack the public interest (emphasis mine):

“Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

It’s been nearly three generations since that speech. During that time, we have unwittingly initiated the greatest experiments in the history of our species on what it means to be mankind, and society. Television. Cell phones. The internet.

But Eisenhower’s warning is not only relevant today, it is more important than ever before. The phrase “military-industrial complex” sounds nearly quaint. But its spawn, the “security-technology complex,” is not only alive but very active, very aware of itself, and very sophisticated in its manipulation of information and abuse of power.

It’s not just politics, or the illusions of freedom. Hiding behind false facades built of threats and promises, they analyze what you buy, what you read, what you drive, where you live and where you go. They use sophisticated tools to learn what you think, then tailor information you receive to create perceived threats and solutions that serve their interests, not yours.

They manage you. They herd you behind fences of fear, corral you with a tight focus on “message,” follow you and quickly respond if you get out of line. They feast on the heart of what our founding fathers worked so hard to achieve.

It may be too late, but there is one response they can’t control.

Turn it off.

Chalice is available

Late last night, I received notice that “Chalice” is now available on Amazon, Apple’s iBook store (go to iTunes and search on “Erik Dolson”), Barnes and Noble (not quite yet), and the Vook Store.

I should have a hard copy in my hands next Tuesday, with the first print run available soon after.

What an odd mix of emotions. Fear, elation, pride, anxiety. Chalice was close to two years in the writing, some of that the hardest work I have ever undertaken. After four or so hours, I would stagger from my table and run the river trail, lift weights, get the mail, or just vegetate away from where I work, unable to string two sentences together.

“Chalice” is not perfect. Every time I opened the file, I would find things that just had to be changed. So I finally “locked down” the file. After 20 or so readers reviewed writes and rewrites, after endless edits, after the second round of proofreading by a professional, I had to let it go and be what it is. And it is not perfect.

But it is the best I can do, at this moment, on this book. And I am proud of it. “Chalice” is an exploration of ideas that are significant to me and many of you. It is a sharing of my playground, an intersection of language, passion, and reflections on what’s real and what’s important.

“Chalice” is not for everyone. As an exchange of emails, “Chalice” is in a format that some  may find difficult to follow. The characters are flawed, and many might find their exchanges  unpleasant. There is a sex scene that was called gratuitous by one reader. It’s not, but it is graphic. If that’s going to disturb you, please don’t read. Another was put off by the fact that I dipped deeply into my personal experience to give the text “life.” Yes, I did, but “Chalice” is still a work of fiction.

But about a third of those who read early drafts found value in “Chalice.” Some said that value was significant for them. This validates the effort.

A word on pricing: I finally came to the conclusion that I had to be my own guide on this. I priced the ebook at $4.95 because I think “Chalice” is worth the price of two cups of coffee, even for readers who don’t like it.

I initially set the price of the paperback at $14.95, then learned I would receive 3¢ for each book sold. Three cents. At the print distributor’s suggestion, and his noting that the book would be discounted by book sellers anyway, I repriced at $19.95 and will receive about $2.30 of that.

If enough sell so we can go to offset printing, I hope the price will come down.

Thank you, friends, family, and readers I’ve never met but feel I know fairly well: You are the reason this book was written. I hope you think it was worth it.

~Erik

Anonymity

Okay, I drank way, way too much ice tea last night, and am cruising into this lovely Sunday morning on far too little sleep. But still…

Public garbage cans in London have screens that display advertisements.

Those same garbage cans can recognize smart phones of people walking by.

And if the garbage can sees you going into a different coffee shop than usual, it can flash a “loyalty” message as you walk by.

Who told Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam they were in charge?

In the past, I loved the future. My first favorite books were science fiction: Assimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, then on to Phillip K. Dick , William Gibson and Samuel R. Delany. There was something liberating about the future, not quite chaotic, not anarchistic, nor autarchistic, but a place… unbound, I guess.

Perhaps the only thing unbound was my imagination. I’ve heard that before. There was, of course, the threat of Orwell, but 1984 came and went and big brother had not arrived.

But now, maybe it has: The NSA. Black boxes under your dashboard record every stop and go, in your car or on your computer. Your cell phone broadcasts a constant stream of who you are, where you are, what you are doing and when. Drones. Verizon. Xfinity. CenturyLink. AT&T.

Yes, I fear corporate snooping more than government snooping, primarily because corporations are better at it and they own our lawmakers. But it doesn’t matter who is perched on my shoulder. Laws protecting privacy are in serious need of review. Because what we feel and what we do can be modified by those who anticipate our behavior through study of the habits of people just like us.

We are losing control not only of our freedom, but of what we think. And it may already be too late.

Dead or Alive

From my couch, I look out at mountains mottled green and gray. Over the years, fire has eaten into the smooth blanket of trees; from life to ash where it bit most deeply. For now, draw no lines and call each shade part of the forest.

Forest fires, from very close up, are terrifying. They howl as they run among the trees, pulling life from each branch, each blade of grass. The sizzling crackle and rushing inhalation as flames suck needles from an incandescent pine is with me still, years after I last heard it.

I can only imagine the final moments of 19 firefighters who died recently in Arizona, then even my imagination flees.

Fire and forest, firs in flames, made me curious about the line between what we think of as alive and what we believe is not. Blame Disney.

Life is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants … including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change…”

From an embryonic smolder at the base of a ponderosa struck by lightning, the fire gestated in pine needle duff, creeping outward to find small nourishment in drops of sap and drying decay. Four days after conception, maybe a week, a hot brisk breeze found the nest, brought oxygen and an appetite.

The fire changed. First, it climbed the tree that brought life from the sky. Lower branches gave it a ladder, and it grew upward with each step. It didn’t take long in the heat of August, and while it licked its way to the top, it dropped flaming sticks and cones into the breeze to land in the bushes at the base of other trees. With that, what we think of as “the fire” climbed the ridge outside my window.

Was this reproduction? Was it still one fire, or many? Ants or colony, cells or man, genes or species? Where is that line?

Did the men on that mountain feel they’d been ambushed? They were at the edge of the fire, they had a plan. How did everything change so suddenly, flames coming for them so quickly and with such lethal intent?

In 1943, physicist Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture on “What is Life?” From that grew the knowledge that, locked in our DNA, is information. A code about structure, about what has been successful, that can be modified as needed to fit new circumstances.

Fire may have no such code within. Perhaps that’s why we do not think of it as alive. But perhaps the DNA of fire lies outside its skin, its code an ability to respond to the code of the forest, it adapts as it needs to once it has been awakened.

Two trees outside my window, one living, one dead, one growing upward and one crumbling to fertilize the next. They are part of the same living forest, itself an organism that grows and adapts and is rejuvenated, often by fire. The words are easy, but it is hard, at times, to find the lines.

Controlling the Internet

Last weekend in Seattle, fellow racer Rick Korn said I should focus on social commentary rather than my literary efforts. Rick and I were having a conversation about publishing, crowd-sourcing, and how the Internet has become an essential utility for commerce and communication, the major information artery of our society. It carries blood, not iced tea.

And it is controlled by a few oligarchs who have increasing power to dictate what we see, and when we see it, through ownership of the access points. The uproar about the National Security Agency collection of “meta-data” is really only the tip of the iceberg.

While no one “owns” the Internet, how we get there is owned by ATT, Verizon, Comcast (Xfinity?) and a handful of others. Those access points have sniffers and filters by which they take our personal information. So, not only do they charge us for access, they turn around and sell the information they sniff out to others, or give it to the government. They have the power to examine every place we visit, analyze wherever we go for information, filter what we see, and wrap it in ads.

The Internet is too essential to allow corporations to control the on-ramps and off-ramps in any way. ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Google, Apple and the others are not to be trusted. Not because of obvious malfeasance, though there is evidence of that, but because the past has shown that control of an essential commodity or service will be abused. See the history of oil companies, or railroads.

Here are my suggestions: Every effort should be made to maximize competition in every identified market at every level of integration. We should be allowed to buy any phone we want and use it on any compatible carrier. Their blather about compatibility and security is just a smoke screen.

Usage should be charged on an actual metered basis. A friend of mine pays $50 per month for data. She was charged an additional $10 one month because she went over her 5 gig limit. But she had not used any service the previous month, nor any the month after, and paid $50 for each of those. So the total was $160 for less than six gigs.

This is like buying water by the barrel, delivered every month. It’s one thing to charge if you order another bucket, but how many of us would stand for it if the water we had paid for but not used was engineered to evaporate on the 10th of every month?

The law has lagged so far behind the technology, and often been written by the oligarchs themselves, that it no longer serves the interest of those of us who own the spectrum.

A toll road is a freeway where you pay someone to get on or get off. It’s one thing to pay to get on. It is another when the owner of the toll booth tracks where you go, and maybe sells that info later, or blackmails you with it, or gives it to an agency that pulls you in for an interrogation even though all you did was drive past a mosque or synagogue or a pro-peace rally.

Ownership of all personal information should belong to the person about whom the information is about, not to those collecting the information. Any attempt to collect information without a court order must be disclosed, and approved of, with the ability to say “no” as easy it is to say “yes.”

One final point: these are very conservative, Republican concepts. They are offered in the spirit of the real Boston Tea Party, where the East India Company, in collusion with the English monarchy, was taking advantage of their control over transport of tea to the colonies.  That not only led to a declaration of independence, it’s why there are so many Starbucks in Seattle.

Thank you, Rick.