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Descriptions of what I did recently; what most people think of when they imagine a “diary entry.”

Dreamhealer: The First Draft Is Done!

Earlier this afternoon, after literally three and a half years, I finished the first draft of my first new novel since 2012. Oh, there’s lots still to be done; editing, finding a cover, thinking about prices and promotions, all the usual. But without a first draft, none of the rest of it matters.

The novel is Dreamhealer. It’s what I call “suburban fantasy,” by which I mean no grittier than Chicago’s suburbs. The action spans Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Park Ridge, Arlington Heights, and South Barrington. Oh, and the subtle planes of dreams, imagination, and memory. Here’s my logline:

A lucid dreamer discovers he can enter and heal the nightmares of others, and declares war on the mysterious creatures living in the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on the terror they evoke.

And the back-cover hook:

Meet Larry. He’s your worst nightmare’s worst nightmare.

It’s not entirely serious, though it’s not humor in the strictest sense. I was looking for a sort of Secret Life of Walter Mitty, played out in what the esotericists call the subtle planes, or the Akasha. By day, 51-year-old IT nerd Larry Kettelkamp maintains a room full of ancient PDP-8 minicomputers for a dying industrial bakery in the shadow of O’Hare Field. But by night, he busts nightmares. The thing is, nightmares aren’t some accidental consequence of human psychology. Nossir. They were invented 15,000 years ago. The inventors were creatures living in the collective unconscious, called archons. Archons feed on human emotion. One particularly powerful and nasty archon developed a scheme to keep himself and his minions well-fed: Scare the hell out of sleeping cavemen and harvest their terror as emotional energy. It worked well–until Larry, having read stacks of esoteric works touching on everything from Theosophy to Persian Dualism, figures out how to enter other people’s nightmares, banish the archons, and inoculate the dreamers against that particular nightmare. This process involves an ancient symbol (everybody loves ancient symbols, right?) that restores at least part of the ancient bicameral mind.

And then the Boss Archon decides that his scam is in jeopardy, and begins fighting back.

My goal is to publish it before the end of June, and in truth as soon as I can manage a cover and some editing. But in the meantime, to give you a flavor for what I’m doing, allow me to present Chapter 1 of Dreamhealer:


1: Larry

Larry Kettelkamp slipped out of his body and dove into dreamspace. There was no down and no up in dreamspace, only focus. He did not consciously choose the focus. The rational mind could focus only on itself. Those dreams-his personal dreams-were good and necessary, but they were for other nights.

Tonight, this night…was for war.

Slowly dreamspace coalesced into light and darkness. Tiny glints like stars lay in every direction. Each glint was a dreamer. Each dreamer lay at the center of an aura that was a dream. Each dream was a color: red for warm comfort; orange for pleasant wanderings; yellow for joyful exuberance; green for study and discovery; blue for anxiety, shame, and sadness; indigo for fury; violet for terror. What had been indistinct clouds grew sharper. Larry closed his rational eyes. He knew his deeper mind was choosing. He felt the decision when it was made, as the silent emergence of up, down, time, and motion.

Larry opened his rational eyes, and saw the nightmare his unconscious had chosen, burning in violet below him.

 

A man was falling from a great height. His silver hair whipped in the vertical wind as he thrashed with all his limbs. This, one of the commonest of nightmares, Larry had dealt with many times. He dipped one shoulder, stretched out his arms, and banked toward the dreamer. Below them lay the entire United States, still wrapped in night, its great cities and small towns jewels scattered across the velvet darkness. The two men were high enough that Larry could see the curvature of the Earth, the blue layer of atmosphere, and the bright arc of the approaching dawn in the east.

The dreamer clearly knew what the Earth looked like from 90,000 feet.

That was a clue from Larry’s unconscious, which he needed to trust as his navigator, even if it had no language and could only speak in hints and symbols. He had gotten fairly good at interpreting what his deeper mind sent up to guide him over the thirty-odd years he had been invading other people’s nightmares. Ten thousand nights and thirty thousand dreams had proven that the collective unconscious was indeed collective, and included a universal symbology and grammar.

The dreamer, eyes wide and mouth agape, watched Larry approach. He wore a dark blue business suit, jacket buttoned, wide tie flapping over one shoulder. Larry’s unconscious sent up the insight that he was highly educated and used to getting his own way. Falling dreams symbolized lives that were out of control. For such a man, that could be an overwhelming fear.

The fear wasoverwhelming, and where there was overwhelming fear, there were archons. Larry couldn’t yet see it, but the bitter reek of a feasting archon was everywhere. Over the past year they had gotten better at hiding from him. Later, later. Larry pulled himself up and crossed his legs beneath him, as though sitting taylor-style in empty air. The dreamer was an arm’s length away.

“Help me. Please help me,” the man said. His words were clear to Larry even against the blast of air past their ears. That was good: Dreamers who asked for help were easy to help. The man lived by reason rather than emotion.

Larry reached out his right hand. The man frowned, hesitated, then reached out his own hand and took it. At once the roar of air passing around them ceased, as did its chaotic motion. They still fell, but now in silence and stillness. Only the man’s tie continued to flap, in a wind that was no longer there.

Gotcha!

Larry released the dreamer’s hand. “My name is Larry Kettelkamp. I fix bad dreams. Take off your tie.”

The man pulled his legs up beneath him in imitation of Larry’s posture. “My tie?”

“It’s not a tie. Take it off. Then give it to me.”

The man glanced down at his tie, which still flapped over his right shoulder. He shrugged and reached up with both hands to undo the knot. The tie writhed in his hands like a live thing. It was still writhing as Larry took it in his right hand. Larry stared at the tie, gathered inner strength, focused his attention on the tie, and squeezed.

The tie screamed. As it screamed it melted, contracting and flowing into a pale, blank human figure as long as Larry’s forearm. It had no face, ears, or mouth, nor any other features. The scream was not sound, but a polyphonic disturbance appearing directly in his mind. He had wondered often if it was an expression of pain, fear or perhaps anger. His unconscious had given him no clues on that question.

No matter. “Begone, archon,” Larry said in a soft voice. The scream ceased, and the creature vanished. With it vanished the smell of fear.

The man squinted at Larry’ hands where the archon had been. He smiled. “Hey, thanks. What the hell was that?”

“Archon. Emotional parasite. It creates nightmares, and then feeds on the emotions that the nightmares cause.” Larry held out his hand again. “I’m Larry Kettelkamp. Tell me your name.”

The dreamer took Larry’s hand and shook it. “Erwin McKinley, Ph.D. Astrophysics. Did thirty years in satellite guidance and space navigation. Wrote the textbook on it.”

“This dream tells me you need to take control of your life.”

Erwin wrinkled his brow, and was silent for a few seconds. “Life? Do I have a life?” He sighed, and looked down past his knees. “My wife’s dead. I haven’t had a job in ten years. They just put my book out of print. My kids ignore me. I’ve been forgotten, pretty much.” He looked down again. “By the way, we’re still falling.”

Larry shook his head. “No, we’re not. We’re flying.”

“Flying?”

“Yes.” Larry reached over one shoulder to the backpack he always wore when he battled the archons. The end of something like a roll of cloth protruded from under the flap. He grasped it, pulled it out, and shook it. It unrolled to a long, narrow rectangle of deep blue, printed with the constellations and the pale band of the Milky Way. “Like Superman.” Larry handed the cape to Erwin. “Put it on.”

Erwin took the cape, chuckling. “Hey, I saw The Incredibles. ‘No capes.'”

Larry shrugged. “Stay away from aircraft. You’re in satellite guidance. You can manage that.”

Erwin took the cape’s two clasps and brought them around his neck, snapping them together. “I can.”

“Now let’s fly!”

Larry stretched out horizontally with his arms in front of him. Erwin followed suit. The rush of air returned, but was now a headwind that rustled Erwin’s cape.

“Look down there,” Larry said. Below them, across the shadowed vastness of North America, the jewels that were city lights had vanished. Instead they saw a dusting of softer green lights plus a few brighter ones in yellow-orange. “Every light you see is someone with an emotional connection to you.”

“Huh! Like friends? I don’t have that many friends. And most of the friends I have are in Omaha.”

“Not friends.” Larry stared down at the lights, listening to his unconscious for clues. “I think they’re people who’ve read your book, and liked it. They admire you, respect what you know, and learned from it.”

“Ha! I’ve sold a hundred thousand copies over the last twenty years! No other textbook on guidance and navigation ever got anywhere near that kind of sales. The publisher says it’s obsolete, even though I’ve updated it every few years. They won’t say the rest of it, but they’re all young punks and I can tell: They think I’m too old.”

Larry banked to the right, toward where a constellation of many yellow-orange spots dotted Omaha. Erwin evidently had more friends than he thought. “Well, they’re wrong. Screw ’em. Build a new life. Get the rights to your book back. Update it. Turn it into a seminar series. Give lectures. Don’t just lie around the house.”

Erwin nodded. He twisted his body back and forth, as though testing himself against the strength of the wind. “Flying, heh! I can do this!”

“You already are. In fact, you’ve been flying by proxy your whole career. Don’t stop now.” Larry felt more clues bubbling up from his deeper mind. He pointed with his right hand. “Down there, west of Omaha. Lincoln, I’d guess. See the bright yellow light?”

Erwin nodded.

“A woman lives there. She rejected you a long time ago. She changed her mind.”

“Lincoln? I don’t know any women in Lincoln. I haven’t lived there since I left home for MIT, and…wait a second! Diana?”

“I’m not getting her name, but it sounds right.”

“Diana Zaborski! That was over fifty years ago!” Erwin’s voice softened. “She told me I was too weird for words.”

Larry swallowed hard. Did he understand that or what? “So? Maybe you were. You’re not anymore. And maybe she grew up a little herself. Fifty years will do that.”

“I can’t imagine she likes me that much…”

Larry pointed again. “Look how bright her star is. Maybe you treated her better than the boys who came after you. So send her a card. A letter. Look her up on Facebook. Ask her to get in touch.”

Erwin was doing barrel rolls. “Yeeee-hah! I can! And I will! I’m…flying!” He turned skyward and did a tight spiral loop around Larry, before vanishing into the rising dawn.

Larry watched Erwin’s contrail drift eastward. He raised his right hand and made an ancient symbol in the air. “Erwin McKinley, go in peace. Build yourself a new life. You will never have this dream again.”

Daily Penny Report

  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 1998-D, near-unciculated, 90% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 2016-D, extremely fine, 60% mint luster.

Daily Penny Report

  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 1988-D, extremely fine, 30% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Whole Foods: 2013-D, brilliant uncirculated, 100% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Whole Foods: 2011-D, extremely fine, 85% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Whole Foods: 2005-D, very fine, dirty, 25% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Whole Foods: 1975-D, extremely fine, 60% mint luster.

Daily Penny Report

  • 2 pennies at Safeway: 2019-D, brilliant uncirculated, 100% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Safeway: 2000-D, extremely fine, 60% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Safeway: 2001-D, fine, 5% mint luster, corrosion
  • 1 penny at McDonald’s’s: 2012-D, extremely fine, 85% mint luster

Remember, if I don’t post a penny report on a given day, that day I didn’t buy anything for cash and get pennies in change. And no, I won’t be doing this forever. I’ll stop when I get some stats on the age of pennies in common circulation.

Daily Penny Report

  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 2019, brilliant uncirculated, 100% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Fry’s: 2007-D, very good, dirty, no mint luster.
  • 1 penny at Fry’s: 2012-D, near-uncirculated, 85% mint luster
  • 1 penny at Fry’s: 1986, very fine, 10% mint luster
  • 1 penny at Fry’s: 1959-D, brilliant uncirculated, 100% mint luster

This last one was a bit of a surprise: a 61-year-old penny that looked like it had never been touched. Photo below, beside the 2012-D with just a few smudges.

Uncirc 1959-D - 500 Wide.jpg

I’m not sure where a penny would have hidden for 61 years except in a penny jar. And so the experiment continues…

Daily Penny Report

  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 1985, fine, no mint luster.
  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 2005-D, extremely fine, 50% mint luster.

Daily Penny Report

  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 1978, very fine, 5% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 2000, near-uncirculated, 60% mint luster.
  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 2002-D, extremely fine, 20% mint luster

Let me clarify how these reports work: I am posting a line item for every penny I receive in change on any given day, not a line item for each transaction. (Actually, if I get two pennies with the same date, I’ll report them in a single line item, as I did yesterday.) Today’s pennies came to me in one purchase at MickeyD’s. If you don’t see a Daily Penny Report, it means I didn’t buy anything that day that gave me pennies in change. Big stuff I typically charge, but I pay cash for little stuff so as not to clutter my charge statements.

Daily Penny Report Intro

I’m getting 25, 30, and 35-year-old pennies almost every day when I get change at all. So for awhile I’m going to post a short entry each day when I get pennies in change. I’ll give a year, a condition, and where it came from, for each penny I get. Maybe there’s no trend. Maybe I just notice the older pennies more. Except…I look at them all. The old ones outnumber the new ones. I’m doing this more to keep a log than to provide engaging reading. Is this a passing phenomenon, or is it real and long-term? I won’t be adding this intro each time. So you’ll see a lot of one- or two-line entries, even on days when I post something bigger. Let’s see what the numbers eventually say.


  • 1 penny at McDonald’s: 1985-D, near-uncirculated, 50% of mint luster
  • 2 pennies at Natural Grocer: 2019-D, brilliant uncirculated, 100% mint luster
  • 1 penny at Natural Grocer: 2016-D, uncirculated, smudgy, 90% mint luster

The Not-So-Fondly Farenheit Tuner

AH3 and AH4 tuners - 500 Wide.jpg

I’ve been slow to come up to speed on the radio front since we’ve moved here. Until March 2017 we were bouncing back and forth between Phoenix and Colorado Springs, furiously working on both houses, one to sell, and the other to live in. Given that I was trying to write a new novel during that time (and was now in my mid 60s) time was tight and personal energy scarce. But more to the point, I wanted to do it right. Most of the trouble I had with my station when we lived here in the 90s was a lousy ground system. A year or so ago I took the time and built a Bentonite ground with a water pipe down the full depth of the Bentonite to keep it wet, ideally with Epsom salts in solution. The ground rod is right next to the entry box through which all my cables go through the wall of the small garage where my station is.

With the ground in place, I strung 75′ of #16 solid copper between one of my two big palm trees and the mast on the roof of the garage, where the TV antenna used to be. On the mast I mounted my venerable Icom AH-3 autotuner. I had to make an extension cable for the control line, which was only 16 feet long, but the cable path was close to 30. The antenna was finished and in place, in fact, a few weeks prior to getting the entry box mounted. Once I got the coax, ground, and control cables into the garage, I took a break (it was a hot job up there on the roof in the actinic Arizona sunlight) and came back after supper. Fired it up and everything worked like a champ. Worked a guy in Colorado, called it victory, read for an hour, and collapsed into bed. Didn’t get back to the station until the next day.

So late morning I turned everything on, selected 20 meters, and pressed the Tuner button on the front panel of my IC-736.Tink! The rig’s meter needle slammed against the high peg. Whoa. Didn’t do that last night. I tightened all the cables, ran up the ladder to look at the mast setup, and tried again. NFG. I checked the cables for shorts, re-checked all the connections to the ground bus inside the garage, but no joy. I let it set and went back to my office to get some words in on Dreamhealer. That night after supper I went back out there and tried the tuner. Shazam! Everything worked! I didn’t hear much traffic, sunspots being what they weren’t, but the AH-3 tuned my longwire and the IC-736 was happy. I worked a couple of guys and heaved a sigh of relief.

The next day I bopped back into the shack after an hour or two writing, and scanned the bands to see what was live. Heard very little on 20m. Switched to 40. Hit the Tune button. Tink!

I was starting to see a pattern: Works at night. Craps out during the day. Hmm. I opened up the tuner and saw nothing obviously amiss. That said, I had bought the AH-3 in 1992, and it had spent the rest of the 1990s out in the sun, matching my 180′ longwire, lousy ground notwithstanding. It got plenty hot during the day, and I worked plenty of stations all day, irrespective of temperature. Alas, electronics don’t live forever.

I did try a few things. I modified a cardboard moving box into a sunshield and placed it over the tuner so that the bottom of the box faced south and the flaps taped open. The AH-3 was thus shaded entirely but still open to the air. On a whim I put the sensor unit for our wireless thermometer inside the box with the tuner. With the carboard box in place, it worked for a little while longer–maybe another hour–after full sun hit the box. I did a lot of testing and temp recording over the next day and a half. Results: It worked until the air temp hit ~90F. Then, Tink!

Hell, I’ve been a ham now for 46 years. I fix things. I used to fix things for a living, in fact. But at some point I realized that troubleshooting an intermittent 28-year-old tuner was becoming a bad use of my time. Icom had released a newer but compatible tuner ten or twelve years ago. I found a place online selling NOS AH-4s at a discount (Gigaparts in Las Vegas, if you’re interested) and ordered one.

The AH-4 is a little over half the size of the AH-3. I still had to make a custom control cable, but with that done it works like a champ, even in the noonday sun. Granted, it’s not summer here anymore. We’ll see how it performs next June. But in the meantime, I have 75 feet of wire working against a good ground. A guy can do a lot with that alone.

I do intend to get a vertical for the higher bands. The longwire will remain for 40, 80, and 160. (The AH-4 tunes the wire easily on 160. The AH-3 had trouble sometimes, even during the night.) My (not yet purchased) vertical will be ground-mounted close to the ground rod. If I need a few radials I’ll throw them in. At that point the antenna farm will be mostly complete. I have a VHF discone but I also want a 6-meter vertical somewhere, and there’s more thinking to be done about what goes where.

My other ham radio project is still incomplete: An uninterruptible 12V power supply system to run my IC-729 mobile HF rig and shack lighting. With AC power, the panel will draw on a 30A 12V supply I built back in the 1990s. If mains power drops, power will automatically switch to a battery supply of some sort. Near-term, probably gel cells trickle-charged off mains power. Ultimately I want to put a couple of panels up on the roof and buy a husky lithium-ion pack like those sold by Goal Zero. More on that as it happens. It’s the first time I’ve ever used Anderson PowerPole connectors, about which I have mixed feelings. But like everything else in electronics, the journey is the education, and the results are the reward. This time it’s been slow coming together, but better slow than never.

More as it happens.

Fifty Years of Love and Friendship

HA Cruise March 2018--500 Wide.jpg

What does it take to love a person for fifty years? Now that I’ve done it, maybe I can provide some insights.

Most of you who’ve been reading Contra for any length of time know the story: I met Carol at a Teen Club event in our church basement on July 31, 1969. I asked her out to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, but since it wasn’t playing anywhere convenient anymore, we settled on Yellow Submarine. No matter. We clicked, and date followed upon date and months became years. I asked her to marry me in July 1975. We married in October 1976. And here we are, fifty years on from that fateful night, having lived in six states, every bit as much in love as ever, and then some. We’ve learned a few things about relationships along the way. Let me throw out some of the most important ones:

1. It helps to want the same things.

This is part luck and part persistence. I had three (and maybe four, depending on your definitions) failed relationships before I met Carol, and they all failed because the girls involved didn’t want the same things I did. Fersure, a good part of that is just being young, and in truth (in my case, at least) dating worked as designed. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted when I was 17. My hunch was that I wanted a friend who would become a girlfriend and then a best friend. My father told me this when I was 15: “If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll marry your best friend.” I wasn’t thinking about marriage by any means, but I wanted the same sort of warm friendship my parents had. When I met Carol I hit the jackpot: She wanted a friend who would be good company and good conversation. We were both interested in science, although she leaned toward biology and I leaned toward astronomy and electronics. We had a lot to talk about, and our relationship was founded on fascinating conversation. When I remember our early years, that’s what I most clearly recall.

2. Allow yourself to be changed.

This is easier at 17 than at 27 or 37, fersure. Over our early years, Carol gently pulled me away from my borderline manic eccentricity. I helped her get past her shyness. She taught me to dance. (More or less; lacking a strong sence of rhythm, I’ve never been good at it.) In countless ways we adapted to one another, on the one hand looking past each other’s quirks, and on the other minimizing our quirks so that over time there was less to look past.

3. Give each other time and room to grow.

This is the other half of allowing yourself to be changed: giving your loved one time and space to integrate those changes. Not being posessive is part of this. We both dated other people here and there for the first few years we knew one another. We were smart enough to understand that love is not the same as infatuation. We allowed our physical relationship to grow at its own pace. Social relationships with other people illuminated what we already had, and helped us put the forces that bear on a relationship into perspective.

4. Learn apology and forgiveness.

We had arguments here and there, and it’s telling that I now barely remember what most of them were about. We learned to ask forgiveness, and we learned to forgive. Our skills in conversation here helped a great deal: Being able to talk from the heart helps to heal hearts that are aching.

5. Want, offer, and appreciate committment.

Finally, commit to one another. Love powers committment; committment shapes love. It took a number of years for us to become absolutely certain that we both wanted a lifetime committment. It should take that long, because infatuation has to burn out, and the relationship has to have time to grow strong enough to last a lifetime. I grant that this is a hard thing to gauge without previous experience. Sometimes relationships fail, and those who value love at all will learn from their failed relationships. Although I know a lot of people in successful second marriages, I know very few in third or fourth marriages. Divorce is a hard lesson.

Ours didn’t fail. In fact, it has succeeded beyond our wildest imaginings. We wanted warmth, and found it in one another. When we were old enough to harness the fire that emerges from the primal differences between boy and girl, that fire happened. When we understood what lifetime promises actually meant, we made those promises.

And here we are. Fifty years. Yes, we were lucky, but hard work is the best luck amplifier going. Friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit. We built a lifetime on that cornerstone.

And we are by no means done yet!

The first picture ever taken of Jeff & Carol together: Labor day 1969

Above: The first photo ever taken of us together, Labor Day 1969.