Suspended in My Masquerade

So, I gave some of those young kids from the last post my blog address. Maybe that was a mistake…

The funny thing is that it wasn’t the important bit about cynical manipulation in the last post that drew them, it was my focus & fixation on music that I talked about in other posts. They didn’t care that the grizzled old bastard could make them do whatever the hell he wants…they only cared that he actually listens to music they might like!

A (big) part of me actually really likes that outlook.

Since I’m not in the mood to write a decent post right now, I’m going to oblige the kids. It’s a song…it’s a song I’ve talked about before. It is quite literally the musical version of why & how I write.

Yep, it’s an old song. It’s older than me, actually…but the version I am posting here is solidly from my own life. It is also the best version of this tune that I have yet heard…

By the way…if this doesn’t make you dream and fantasize, nothing will…

Wait…I’m Dracula?!?

I had two posts stacked up, ready to post…

Yeah, the important word in that sentence is the verb: had.

One of the benefits of getting ahead on posts, by the way, is that you gain the time and distance you need to read and honestly evaluate the material before you hit the “Publish” button.  On review, both of those posts saw me hit the trash can icon rather than the button to post them.

One of those posts I kinda regret nuking, but only because it was basically harmless.  It was, in all honesty, just an exploration of the meaning and impact of a couple of songs.  Unfortunately it also wasn’t any more than that; it offered nothing new, nor anything particularly interesting for anyone but me.

That is the great danger of this kind of writing, by the way: the urge to devolve into internal monologues and self-absorption.  It is all too easy to forget that even a blog has to have a point.  Even a blog has to work to communicate something to its audience.  A work that is nothing more than the stream-of-consciousness spouting of internal thoughts and feelings with no purpose is a diary,* not a blog.

*Or freaking “Prufrock”…but, then, I hate that damned poem.  “Dare I eat a peach…” my ass.  Harrumph!  Those who love that poem, however, have a totally different opinion.  YMMV.

One of those posts that I deleted, however, had a core that did have something to say…even if that core needed to be stripped of the bitter, half-drunk trappings with which it was surrounded.  Now, what got me started on this particular post was re-reading that bit, while simultaneously thinking about a couple of discussions with some new friends…

Just like when I was living in Yellowstone, I find myself surrounded by — and socializing with — those who are significantly younger.  That’s not entirely bad, to be honest.  There is an energy and an honesty to youth that those of us who have weathered more of life’s shit can quite easily lose.  I know I personally have lost quite a bit of that energy and hope.  Unfortunately, youth also owns a callowness and naivety that can grate on your damned nerves…

One kid — 19 or 20, and dreaming of wealth and better things — talked about getting into “affiliate marketing” and “drop shipping”.  Now, whether you go old school and call them pyramid schemes, or adopt fresh new terms, those things are still nothing more than vehicles to abuse the young and stupid.  Sorry, Ethan, but that’s the truth…

Others with girlfriend/boyfriend troubles…

The loss of an apartment, and couch-surfing with friends and acquaintances…

When you get right down to it, the pure naive belief that the world makes sense, and that the universe is — of all life’s dirty words — “fair”…

I’m still utterly convinced that Dracula, and his particular brand of magic and mesmerization, is nothing more than an allegory for someone with decades of life and experience living among the young and naive.  A deep, dark part of me — one that I don’t invite to parties — knows it could manipulate these “kids” into, well, pretty much anything.  Experience can predict response; wisdom can guide impetus and action; cynicism can manipulate reaction…

God, I’m an evil bastard.*

*Errr…actually I’m a writer.  Which amounts to the same thing, when you get right down to it.  Who else but a serial killer or a writer would ever Google shit like “castration” and “eunuch” and actually read the damned results?!

“Why would you do that?” is the cry, of course.  “Why would you ever abuse the naivety and inexperience of the young?”

Just wait until you are over forty, then go talk for a half-hour with someone who is less than half your age!  You have two choices at that point: nostalgic memory for your own youth, or bitter cynicism at everything you have lost…

Shit, someone should write a story about that!

Wait, I think I might have that covered…

Okay, so someone should open a brewery where that can be written!

Ummm…well…I pretty much have that covered, too…

Shit…wait a damned second!

Did I just take away my last excuses for not producing my long-brewing fantasy series?  Dammit!

Plot Points

I got an email the other day from an old friend.  Coming from someone with whom I’ve been close for many years, the contents of this email were more than a bit mocking.  Now, most of that mocking —err, “catching up” to kids nowadays — had nothing to do with this blog.  One part however does pertain:

 “Now that you’re on the whenever-the-hell-you-feel-like-it plan for posting…”

Wait…what?  I deny that!*

*Also, I am not overweight!  I just have big bones!  Harrumph.

“…when the f—k are you gonna write about COVID?”

First off, only I can swear on this blog, goddamit!  And secondly…COVID?  Really?!  Haven’t we heard enough about that shit?  What, should I write about the bubonic plague, too?

At this point — with my fiction-writer-hat firmly on — there are really only two interesting subplots to the ongoing COVID drama.  The first is the impact this pandemic/crisis/stress-event is having on society itself.  Look, disease and outbreak and pandemic are probably the most influential things in human history; they have had effects on us far more significant and far-reaching than any nation-state, war or political event.

What, you don’t believe me?  The aforementioned Black Death rewrote life, society and culture  throughout the world.  The only change that can be considered even close to comparable is the First World War, and that really only “rewrote” Europe…

No, not the fall of the Roman Empire, not the Crusades, not Genghis Khan, not even the Second World War affected the world more than the bubonic plague.

Then you throw in tuberculosis…

And smallpox…

And leprosy…

Welcome to the history of the human race.  The governments of man are insignificant in comparison to the power of disease.  It is the small things — the tiniest of things, in fact — that have truly driven the evolution of human development, culture and society.

At first, I thought COVID was an ephemera.  I thought is was something that would come and go quickly.  I thought it was the disease equivalent of the Kardashians, to be honest.

I was wrong.

Oh, the disease itself can’t bear a candle too those true monsters I mentioned above, but the simple truth is that COVID is here to stay; it is endemic now, rather than pandemic.*  But the effect of it?  The true impact of COVID is far more psychological and social than physical, and that impact is amplified immeasurably by the “right-now” nature of modern communications and media.

*Note for the historically curious — the bubonic plague is actually endemic, too.  It is endemic to three places in the world (parts of India, Mongolia and the US) if I remember correctly, with periodic outbreaks elsewhere.

The problem really traces back to the fact that it has been a long time since humanity felt at prey to the natural world.  A long time since we were not — perceptually, at least — in control of, well, everything.  Oh, we have long known that nuclear weapons are a genie that can and will destroy us as a species if we let them out of the bottle.  We know that, but only in the most passing, intellectual way.  We do not feel it.  It is not visceral.  It is not truly real, not to a species and culture whose every history and proclivity is so totally focused on the emotional and the immediate.

COVID is real to us because of the deaths, yes…but also because of the social and political reactions to it.  COVID has had the most direct, powerful impact on human society since “we” watched millions die in the days of mid-20th century.  The effect — still playing out, mind you — looks to be more far-reaching, too.  Will it equal the world-changing impact of the Black Death or the First World War?  Very doubtful…but it has already far surpassed the impact of the Spanish Flu.  It has even, arguably, outrun the impact of polio (socio-politically, not physically).  

That, to me, is the first great subplot from COVID.  That is the background to a story yet to be written.

The second…

Oh, the second…

It could be argued that the second is but an unintended consequence of the first, but my own personal beliefs and outlook give it more weight.  What is that second? I hear you ask…

Acquiescence.

Humanity is notoriously fractious — rebellious, even — and given to protecting our personal needs and welfare pretty damned aggressively.  Now, different societies have different levels of this, I admit.  My own society — I was raised in the western US, and have lived the vast majority of my life there — strongly reflects the “ideal” of the strong, tough, independent sort.  Other places & societies differ.  And, yes, geography and topography have a dominant influence in this.  The outward bounds of culture — literature, music, art — merely reflect the spirit of geography and topology, they do not define it.  

And, yes, there are in fact very real, very physical reasons, why the Japanese culture — as an example — developed so differently from the culture of, say, Montana…

But…what about…

Let’s get down to brass tacks — and to why I why I think acquiescence and surrender are the second great subplot to the COVID pandemic — Australia.

Australia, when you get right down to it, is geographically a hell of a lot more similar to the sparsely populated reaches of Montana than it is to the necessarily dense population centers of Japan or Singapore.  And yet Australia has willingly surrendered, due to COVID, more freedom than any other place in the world.  The Australian people have willingly surrendered their personal liberty and independence.  Period.  And there is no going back for them.  They have chosen a dubious safety over freedom in ways that no other country or populace has come close to mirroring.

Look, I think anti-vaxxers are nuts.  Hell, I think the anti-mask zealots are also nuts; as nuts the pro-mask zealots.  I think masks in general — at this point — are nothing more than kabuki theater to make folks feel good, but when someone asks me to wear a mask, plain-and-simple courtesy means I wear a damned mask.  

I wear a mask, but surrendering all human interaction?  Even a misanthrope like me wants to go out for pizza and a beer and be with other people once in a while.  You expect, to be honest, folks like Americans and French to protest because…well, we protest everything.  But when the far more complacent and compliant Germans and Danes start protesting restrictions, too?  Yeah, that right there a sign.  But the Aussies?

*Sigh*

The Aussies have given up.  Plain and simple, they have given up.  Their post-COVID society will be unrecognizably different from what it was before.  For everyone else it is a matter of evolution, but for them?  For them it is revolution.  And not the good kind of revolution.

That is the acquiescence I find so fascinating: the willingness to give up all vestiges of freedom and independence for an ephemeral notion of safety.  And, yes, it is an acquiescence that has been used in plots and settings many times before.  In many, many books, plays, movies — even video games! — it has been used before…and will be again.  It will be used again because it is powerful…and because it carries with it such an element of truth to give with the shiver of dread.

Think of my second great COVID subplot as a question: Just how much are you willing to surrender to be ‘safe’?

I have my answer.  The Australians have a very different one.

{Musical Note — I had one song in mind when I started to write this post, but this one works so damned well I just couldn’t say no…}

Frustration, Distraction, and the End of the Snippets*

*For now, anyway — they will come again for Act One of The Flicker of Ghosts

Ever shop for bar-height tables and chairs?  Sure you have; anyone who has thought even remotely about redoing their kitchen or dining room has looked into various options.  Usually, for most of us, the price tag of new furniture ends those dreams of a “new living space” pretty darned quickly.

So, take that (expensive) furniture shopping/fantasizing and multiply it to 15-20 tables, and 100 or so seats…

*sigh*

I wish I had paid a lot more attention when I took wood shop all those years ago; at least then I could have pretended that I could make my own stuff!  At this point, I have no choice but to go with what others want to charge for their stuff.

Err, never mind.  Time to stop distracting myself with that stuff.

If there is one firm commitment I have made to myself, it is to not let my work and efforts to open the brewery overflow into my writing.  Oh, it will undoubtedly flow into the content of my writing, but (hopefully) not into how I go about things.  For very good reason I am doing my best to keep both this blog and my personal writing completely separate from my real world business efforts.  That is, of course, also why this blog has been so sporadic lately…

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to sitting in the corner of my own taproom, with my earbuds firmly in place to keep the customers at bay, and writing the words and emotions that I have allowed to build up behind my own personal dam of worry, stress and hope.  Hell, half (at least) of the reason I want to run my own place is so I always have the perfect to go and write!

At any rate, I thought about doing a quick snippet on Connor, but then I realized just how much of The Silence That Never Comes I have already put up on this blog.  The entire first act, in fact.  Oh, in terms of word-count that is only something like 20% of the story, but it is still an awful lot to put up for, well…for free.  So, I am going to stop posting snippets.

Err…umm…I’m going to stop after I (re)post this last one!  The final scene of that book, as a matter of fact.  Now, just how Connor goes from a 50th floor office to this last scene is, well…it’s the other 75% of the damned story!  Oh, and yes, this really was in fact the very first scene I wrote for this entire story!

“Hi, Mom”

The room was dark, but Connor didn’t need the light.  Hell, he didn’t want the light.  Not for this.  This was private.  This was his.  Maybe the only thing in the miserable fucking universe that fit that description.

The screen snapped open, still crisp and new, and the icons displayed there glittered in a bright cheerfulness that annoyed the shit out of him.  Connor still couldn’t bring himself to use his new implant, however.  Not when he had other options.  He knew that implant was safe — that he had made sure of himself — but it still was something far too new, and far too dangerous, to ever really trust.

Several taps of his fingers and the screen scrambled in a wave of colors.  Less than a second later a logo appeared.  He had come to know that logo…and to fear everything it represented.  He punched in a code — a very specific, very special code — and waited while the network routed his call.

There was a hint of static on the screen, and a buzzing through the speaker newly implanted in his inner ear.  The jamming and security measures he had set up were fighting the taps and tracers he knew were seeking him.  He hoped he had done his work well; if that security failed, a lot more people than just he were going to die.

Another wave of colors, in answer to his code, then a face appeared.  It was old, that face.  Older than he would have thought.  The light hair was turning distinctly grey and there were lines around the mouth and eyes.  Those eyes still held life, however, and a lightness that he had never really seen before.  Certainly no Docksider had ever had eyes with that much humor and hope in them.

A puzzled expression and the woman opened her mouth, about to speak.

Connor cut her off — he had thought through this moment a million times over the past days, had envisioned how it would turn out.  The fact that every single one of those dreams ended in misery and pain was just a fact of life.  How could it ever be any different for him?  Shou ga nai.

A choke for a moment, a second to find his breath past the block in his throat, then he spoke, “Hi, Mom…”

{Musical Note — I’ve mentioned these guys more than once as a major influence on me, but I wanted to go with them again. This song, especially, has as much to say to me personally as it does to Connor. And, yes, to ”get it” you really do have to listen to the lyrics! I post the live version because, well I absolutely love live music…and because I was actually at this particular show (at Denver’s Red Rocks amphitheater), so it has a huge place in my heart.}