Microfiction: ”Broken”

Broken

“Happy Mother’s Day!” the clerk chirped, all brightness and light.

The smile the lady returned was genuine.  If that smile was a bit slow, it still was sincere and heartfelt.  “Thank you.  My son…Mother’s Day is always special.”

The woman gathered the flowers into her arms and headed out.  More smiles and greetings in the parking lot.  Those were exchanged with strangers for the most part, but there were moments with those she knew, too.  Those moments mattered, she thought.  Those moments, with those she knew, they offered depth and color to the day.

Green was finally taking hold again as she crunched through the last vestiges of winter.  The flowers were starting to grow on the verges of the rapidly greening grass…could summer be far behind?  With summer life would return.  With summer would come warmth and visitors and new life.

New life.

She hadn’t cried, not for a month.  She’d sworn she wouldn’t cry that day, either.  Not for Mother’s Day.  He loved Mother’d Day.  He always did something special, even when he didn’t have the time or the money.  She wouldn’t ruin that; she wouldn’t cry.

She just wouldn’t.

The lines were still sharp and clear when she approached.  Wind and rain had not had time to wear them away, but…

Nor had they had worn away the paint, either.

The flowers were laid gently, her few tears breaking that earlier vow.  A choking gulp, convulsing her entire body, as she forced the words into being, “It’s been a great Mother’s Day. Thank you for the flowers.”

She rose and turned to leave. The brown of the leaves marred the black of her dress. A step and she had to turn for a last glance.  The fresh lines and clean whiteness of her son’s headstone were marred by the hateful black paint she’d tried so hard to ignore: God hates fags.

Some of those in the parking lot that morning had been among those who had painted those words.

“I love you, son,” she whispered, heartbroken.

{Musical Note — I have written 5-6 pieces trying to touch on some of the emotion and reality of the piece above, but I’ve held them all back. It’s complicated. “It’s complicated” — what a shitty, stupid excuse. But it’s an excuse I’m stuck with. Anything else I have to say is going to cause problems, so I will let the piece above, and the song below, stand for themselves.}

Yoda’s Failure

I made a mistake as I started lunch.  I know it’s hard to believe, that mistake thing.  I mean, c’mon…when have I ever made a mistake?

Okay, then.  Moving on…

My mistake?  I read the comments sections of a number of news & opinion websites I follow.  Now, look…I know internetland.  Hell, I grew up in internetland.  I grew up in the frightening old days before Reddit, cesspool that it is, managed to actually raise the level of discussion.  I grew up in the days when Usenet was the only place to go for active conversations and interaction.

*shudder*

To all the permanently outraged and indignant out there: before you find yet more library books to ban and burn, try visiting some of those old-school places first.  Stay away from the alt.binaries areas though.  You do not want to see that shit.  Trust me on that one.

So you have cynical, well-armored me reading the comments…

You have the me who has yet to find many moments when my fellow Americans have not found a way to live down to my worst expectations, let alone delve beneath them…

And still I found people managing to lower the bar.  Not by a millimeter or two, mind you, but by entire freaking miles did they manage to sneak under my already sewer-level expectations.

Have I mentioned just how fucked we are as a nation and a society?

I have?  Oh.  Okay.  I’ll move on, then.  Just give me a minute or two to wash the taste out of my mouth…

You ever see those old war movies where they sterilize a wound by pouring booze on it?  Yeah, it works for that taste in your mouth, too.

A friend once asked me how to keep his kids safe on the internet.  “Join the Amish,” was my reply.

Ummm…

Remember way back when I warned you just how wordy I could be?  About how I started this blog all those years ago specifically to improve my short-form writing?  Yeah, I just used 300+ words for a semi-joking, mostly real, and 100% cynical intro that has nothing, really, to do with what I sat down to write about.

Yep, no matter how huge the changes in my life lately, I’m still me.

So what did I actually sit down to write?

Well, I thought about the news story I read about the rapper whose fans had a party with his embalmed body.  I thought about that one, but I’ll save it for the next post.  There is just too much fun to be had with that whole entire concept to squeeze in to this one.

No, today I sat down to write about something I have talked about before.  I wanted to write about a concept that has been a recurring theme in so much of my writing, not just here on the blog but also in my fiction stuff.  It has especially been a part of the personal (private) concepts I have used to explore characters and settings…and myself.  That concept?  To put it in words I have used before, I’ll refer to a flashfiction piece from a few years ago: someone else’s skin.

I have worn someone else’s skin.  For far too long did I wear someone else’s skin.  For far too many reasons — excuses all — did I wear someone else’s skin.  I have made a habit of being what others want me to be for a very long time now.  I did so because I thought I had to. That I will write about later…

No, for the moment let me tie this back to the theories and philosophies and reality of writing — you know, what this blog is supposed to be about — that truly define writing for me.  And when you boil everything down, there is only one thing that truly defines writing for me: characters.

Look,  I know you can write characters who are exactly what they seem.  I know you can write someone interesting and compelling who is, well, exactly what’s written on the tin.  You can also write about a can of tuna.

No, to me, a character has to be real.  A character has to have good days, and bad.  A character has to have bad breath at the worst possible moment; a character has to stumble over his or her words;  a character has to occasionally be what others need him/her to be, rather than what they are…let alone what they want to be.  In the end, a character has to answer to the people and the world around them as much, if not more, than they have to answer to themselves.

Just like real people.

Now for the “but” that inevitably comes with an assertion like I just made…

BUT…things change.  But…people change.  But…your characters have to change, too.  Oh, I know, we all make the proper noises about growth and change and development in our characters.  We all know that we have to use the plot, and its various crises, to show how our characters are evolving and changing.  We all know that, but still we tend to restrict those changes to the “big” things.  And we forget the small things.  We forget the real things.

My favorite example of this is Luke Skywalker, of all people.  Look, he grew over the three movies in which he was the protagonist.  He grew and changed and improved himself.  Lucas showed that quite well.  He even managed a nice emotional touch when Luke’s rage in his fight with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi turned to pity and regret when he chose to spare his father in that fight.

Okay, golf clap there.  Good job, Luke.

While Lucas had a great image of Vader’s mask disintegrating, he forgot to show the mask Luke himself was wearing.  What Lucas didn’t show was the expectations and burdens that Luke bore from the failures of the old Jedi.  The failures, when you get right down to it, that belonged to Yoda and Obi Wan…but for which Luke, and ultimately his nephew Ben, paid the actual price.

Luke wore someone else’s skin when he took up the mantle of Jedi and teacher.  Luke tried to be what his teachers told him he should be, and failed to be what and who he really was.  It was that failure that, by the way, that caused Ben Solo to fall and become Kylo Ren, not any innate drive towards evil.  Hell, one could argue that it was Yoda’s own failure to understand and embrace the gray areas — and Obi Wan’s weakness in not standing up for what he knew to be true — that drove Anakin himself to turn from neurotic, angsty teen into the world’s best antagonist.*

*Don’t believe me on that score?  Watch again one of my favorite ever movie scenes, linked below.  Luke is all speed and tension and urgency, and Vader is just…relaxed.  Luke is a rabbit, terrified and scurrying, while Vader is very much the predator, toying with his prey.  To (mis)quote the movie Patton, “God help me, I do love it so.”

So…just who are your characters trying to please?  Just who are they trying to be?  Chances are, if they are at all “normal”, that answer is not themselves.  It doesn’t have to be some plot changing answer, by the way.  No, as the writer you can go all Greek-drama on that score and have the answer be very much offstage, but you do have to answer the question.  So the question when you create your characters is not just “Who is your character?” but also “Who is your character trying to be?”

{Clip: Nerd Mode enabled!}

Musical Note: I had a list of songs I was going to choose from, to match the theme of what I wrote above. But…well…I decided not to. No, instead I decided to answer here an email from my Dad. My Dad responded to some of my previous music choices with some of his own, and I realized that I have very much limited what I use here in my posts. That is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, as I try to match things like mood and tone and intent between post and song, but it does to shortchange the breadth of my choices. So, below, I am posting a song that really is a favorite of mine. One funny note about this tune: y’all know hockey is my thing. I actually teach hockey, to be honest. Or at least I used to. One of my favorite exercises has been to take this song and make the folks I am working with do agility & shooting drills to its timing and rhythm. You will never laugh so hard as you will watching high school and college players — all confidently arrogant in their youth and abilities — stumble over themselves trying to keep up with a song that is almost a hundred years old…}

Welcome To The Jungle

Today’s flashfiction: “Welcome to the jungle…”

You would think the smoke would be all the impetus you needed.  Okay, so maybe the smoke and the explosions…

How do you miss all of that?

Easy.  All you have to do is decide it doesn’t apply; not to you, anyway.  That smoke, those explosions…those are someone else’s problem.  My passport…my passport is blue.  My passport has an eagle on it.  My passport says no one can ever fuck with me.

My passport aside, the bomb still struck.  My passport aside, the smoke and the fire and the violence, they all still fucked with me.

“One minute!” my friend screamed from a thousand miles away.  Weeks ago, we had worked out our escape plan.  One minute to gather our shit and get out.  One minute to grab everything and run for the one car we had all ensured had a full tank.  “One minute!” my friend screamed from right outside my door…

How do you grab a life in one minute?

My books…

My first editions of Tolkien?  Of Dostoyesky and Tolstoy?  My Shakespeare folios?  Hell, my volumes of Japanese manga, even?  When the building is crumbling, who the hell worries about their Norigami collection?!

I do.

Or…at least…I did.

Then the smoke.  And the explosions.  The sirens, and the screams…

The screams…

My life exists in a pair of boxes, and a lifetime of screams.

p.s.

I have friends in Ukraine.  I have friends I have not been able to contact since the Russians invaded.  I have friends in the Baltics, too.  I have friends that fear — as do I! — that they are next.  The worst thing I have ever had to flee was a vengeful ex-girlfriend.  Falling mortars?  Enemy snipers?  Mines?  Yeah, I top out at the fucking Call of Duty series…

Some of my friends are terrified…

Others of my friends are already refugees…

“…as you have done to the least of these, My brothers, you have done to Me…”

This is not a thing of Trump versus Biden…no matter what FoxNews wants you to believe.  This is not a thing of capitalism versus socialism…no matter what MotherJones wants you to believe.  This is a thing of human suffering.  This is a thing of war, and death, and the threat of far, far worse…

In the years before WW2 we as a society missed the signs of the worst that was to come.  We as a society were far too complacent in our isolation and self-absorption, to be honest.  It took violence and blood to break that isolation and self-absorption.  In today’s world, we have missed many, many signs…

Just how much blood is it going to take for us to realize that we are actually a part of this world?

Just how much blood and violence will it take for us to realize that things are not as we want, but as others demand?!

Just how much suffering will we endure before we decide true leadership is more important than partisan infighting?!

My friends talk to me about their fears.  My friends talk about tank divisions, and speed of advance.  My friends talk, even, of chemical and nuclear weapons.  My friends talk of what is to come in the same way Jamie Lee Curtis talked of Michael Meyers fifty years ago…

My country, on the other hand…

My own country…this beacon of strength and freedom…

We can’t get over Donald Trump’s speeches, or Hunter Biden’s emails.

We are so fucked.

{Musical Note — I looked and looked for the perfect song for this post. I failed. Then I decided to look at the music choice not as a commentary or an appenage to the writing, but as a (pretty blatant) subtext…}

I Don’t Usually Do Silver Linings…

Okay, so I’ve spent the last couple of days deciphering government websites.  And staring at spreadsheets, playing with variables & formulae.  Good Lord, do I need a beer — I wish there was a brewery around here!

Ahem.

Okay, so…I’m gonna switch gears for my own sanity.  My big (first world) problem is that I have two things I want to write about; two things that, I should add, have absolutely nothing to do with each other.  Of course, after spending hours upon hours reading government regulations, thinking about & doing two opposing things at once seems perfectly normal!

Alright, so the first thing…Russia.  And Ukraine.

Yup, startin’ off light, ain’t I?

In 1938 Hitler annexed Austria to the German 3rd Reich in the Anschluss.  The rest of the world worried and fretted and shook their fingers at him.

Six months later he appropriated the (badly misnamed) sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.  The rest of the world worried and fretted and shook their fingers at him.  There was Peace In Our Time.

In 1939 the first shells started falling at the Battle of Westerplatte as he moved to take Poland.  The rest of the world burned.

In 2008 Vladimir Putin took a large chunk of Georgia.  The rest of the world worried and fretted and shook their fingers at him.

In 2014 Vladimir Putin took the Crimea.  The rest of the world worried and fretted and shook their fingers at him.

In 2022 the first shells started falling on Ukraine.  Do I need to go back to my Yeats from a couple of posts ago and talk about that rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?*

*If you don’t get the allusion, go read some freaking poetry!  Harrumph.

As I write this, the fighting is hottest around Kharkov — for those whose historical perspective is a bit lacking, Kharkov is (previously) best known to history as the sight of the largest tank battle in history.

Now, to counter that dark cloud with something a bit more silver lining-ish…

On February 26, 2022 Christian Eriksen started a game for Brentford in the English Premier League.

Gee, I hear you mutter, that’s nice, but who the hell cares?

On June 12th, 2021 Christian Eriksen died on the field during an international game in Copenhagen.

He died, but the medics started CPR within seconds…

He died, but the doctors got his heart going again…

He died, then he lived.  He had a tiny, permanent device implanted to keep his heart going later that year, but no one expected anything more.  It was a great story, for a world-class athlete to die and then live again, but who could expect more?  How could anyone do anything more than live again?  Hug your kids, watch a new sunrise, and just get on with a new life…

Christian Eriksen just played the first game of that new life in the toughest league in the world.

How’s that for a freaking silver lining?

{Musical Note — because Irish music makes everything better!}