The Post That Once Had A Point, But Lost It

Well, that didn’t take long.

Welcome back, introverted cynicism. I’d try to throw you out, but…well…you’re the only girl at the dance right now. And you did put out the last time we dated…

I swear to all that is holy, Connor threw a party when I was writing last night. “Finally!” he yelled, then proceeded to get drunk and tell me off for basically ignoring him for the last six months.

Ahem.

The writing felt good, though. It felt very good.

At any rate, that wasn’t what I planned to talk about in this post. That whole intro was, in fact, an overly-caffeinated squirrel moment.IMG_0155

Nope, what I wanted to talk about was perception, and point of view. Not our characters’ POV; there are a million posts and articles out there on that. No, what I wanted to bring up was our own internal thoughts as writers.

The genesis for thinking about this was, strangely enough, immortal characters. Specifically, what an character means to us as writers, and what they (often) say about us. And, yes, I realize just how goddamned arrogant it is for me – of all people, ME! – to presume to speak for anyone else…but what the fuck, just go with me on this one.

Let me sketch the scene a bit: a friend was telling me about a story of hers with a character who cannot die. Now, this friend is, well, there’s only one way to put it: she’s young. No big deal – she’ll grow out of it (while, of course, I’m busily trying to regress back into that particular “sin”). Now, the heart of the discussion came about because, at the same time, I have a story floating in the back of my mind about fallen gods, and the painful weight of eternity…

That got me to thinking. Thinking about what those characters meant…and how, in my little world of character uber alles, those characters define the scope and intent of the story.

To my friend, immortality was an expression of strength, a tool to be used and valued. To her – and her character – the world was a place on which to work her will. More importantly, those people/friends/characters ‘met’ along the way were pawns & tools with which her character could play.

To me – and my own main character – it was something very different. The years, and the world, were a weight to be born. More importantly, those met along the way were memories and loss. The isolation of such a character – whether wistful nostalgia or bitter regret – cannot help but define a completely different story.

And, yes, this is how I come up with story ideas: not with intricate plot threads or impressive climaxes, but with characters…and the what/why/how that comes with fleshing them out.

*shrug*

Hey, it (sorta) works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tolkien actually touched on the price of immortality in some of his background material: the weight of millennia wore on Galadriel more than the movies, or the main books themselves, were ever really capable of showing. That weight – the fading that was a major subtext to the elves – along with her original backstory from The Silmarillion of overwhelming pride and her fall, make her a far, far more interesting (and semi-tragic) character to me than almost any other from those stories*.

*Those that most interest me may surprise you: Luthien, who gave up glory and strength for love (and, yes, she was a complete foreshadowing of Arwen)…Saruman, who fell because he believed you could use the tools of evil without becoming corrupted yourself…but most of all, Finrod – Galadriel’s older brother, and a bad-ass in his own right: he gave up everything (including his life) to keep a promise…and, yep, all embody the themes of LotR that meant so much to Tolkien. Crap, maybe some day I’ll do an entire post – or a week – on Tolkien’s stuff. Writers for the win!

Err…back to immortality, and the subtexts and themes that drive characters like that. Nearing 700 words on this post, already, so a point (and a conclusion…yay!) may be in order:

The immortal, uber-powerful character of our youth – of comic books and movies – is, well, boring. What satisfaction can there be in writing – let alone reading – about someone for whom the inability of time and death to touch them is a triumph? No, for that character to truly be interesting (to me), immortality has to be a burden. For me, time and death have to be lovers always out of reach, always running away, not enemies long defeated.

Or, maybe I think about this shit too much…

The Definition Of Insanity

Way back when – no, really, waaaay back when – I mentioned that I don’t write the scenes that come together to make my stories in anything resembling the order in which they appear. I have had, for a long time now, the habit of writing things whenever the mood strikes: a love scene here, a fight there…

You get the idea.

Well, for Silence, I decided to try something different. I decided to go in order.

Umm…what the hell was I thinking?

I do, of course, realize that my major problem with actually, you know, getting shit done was because I’ve been far too distracted by Yellowstone itself for the last six months, but there definitely has been more to the problem. Trying to force myself into writing scenes that I just didn’t feel at the time was one of my stupider decisions*.

*And, trust me, if there’s anyone on this world who knows stupid decisions, it’s me!

Believe it or not, I managed to figure out that problem about two months ago. But…well…I’m as stubborn as I am crazy: I tried to keep at it, anyway.

Ahem.

Thankfully, my return to ‘reality’, and to my regular writing locations, gives me the perfect excuse to make some long-needed changes.

No more going in order: it ain’t working, and I don’t need to prove Einstein even more right. Nope, back to cherry-picking the scenes I feel like writing. The set-up for that ain’t actually all that easy – I have to pay a lot more attention to the prep material I create for each scene – but it is more than worth the extra effort.

Shit, I can feel a weight lifting already. Just wait until I really sit my butt down in my taproom for a full afternoon of writing! I am literally – embarrassingly – all-but giddy with excitement.

Giddy.

Me.

The bitter, cynical asshole.

Crap, I can hear Connor and Oz laughing at me even as I type this.

Shut up, you two! You did this to me!

Umm…

Nope, not nuts at all.

Flash Fiction: Click

I don’t do these pieces/contests often…mainly because I am very much a long-form writer.  From time to time, however, I love the challenge of doing something so very different. To restrict myself so tightly is hard, and like watching what I eat, I have to learn to “enjoy” the things so very hard for me.

This is another piece I did for a flash-fiction contest.  Like the last piece I posted, this was a very tightly limited contest: one hundred words to tell a story.  There were no other parameters…I just happened to be in, well, a particularly dark mood at the time:

The rain poured down, plastered hair to head.

It wasn’t enough. Not enough to wash away the pain; not enough to change a life.

The cold iron pressed, made its mark.

A breath…two…it was time.

“I almost didn’t find you,” she said, “I’m sorry I’m late.”

He did look up, then. Only one thing did he see: those eyes. The eyes that encompassed his life.

“You’re not late,” he breathed. The rain was unnoticed, now.

A hand on his head. Fingers through his hair, trailing the warmth and strength so long missed.

He closed his eyes.

Click.

That Peaceful Place

I really need to tell my brain to stop working. No, honestly – I just spent three hours working through the basics of a story that has built in the back of my mind over the past couple of days.

*sigh*

I have another book-and-a-half to write in Connor’s story, I can’t even begin to consider something new right now.

It is a good idea, though…

No! Bad, writer! Bad, bad writer! Focus!

The good news is that I am…well…there’s no other way to put it: I’m home. Back to that place where I’ve done 90% of my writing over the past couple of years. Back to the place that so helped me to learn to let go of my inhibitions and just write.IMG_0879

Hey, you can go write in a quiet office…and you others can go write in libraries… Me? I need me a nice taproom.

I have a lot of stuff to write today, so for the rest of today’s post a (very) brief snippet will have to suffice.

One note: this is a very early and incomplete version of a significantly larger piece…but I like this little bit for a lot of reasons. I wrote it – by hand – while sitting in the woods in my own snowstorm. I had a lot more to say at the time, but the last line – and the personal memories & sorrow it evoked – ended this particular writing session:

Nothing. Not a sound. Not the trees, not the few small animals…not a fucking thing. Connor had never heard anything like it.

He had, however, dreamed of it.

The snow fell in fat, soft lumps, piled unheeded on head and body. The thin, wide-set trees offered little protection from the weather. They were companions and witnesses, not protection. The cold and wet meant nothing, however. They couldn’t penetrate the distraction, nor the shock. Couldn’t, at the root of it all, penetrate the silence…and the peace.

In Connor’s early days on Redux, the trees had been the worst of the many oddities the planet had thrown at him; worse, even, than the alien concept of weather. They had been, to the eyes of one raised in the claustrophobic misery of dockside, the most unnatural things in the universe. Beneath all the bravado and cynicism, they had reminded him far too much of just how much he didn’t know, didn’t understand.

They meant something very different now.

In that snow, in that silence, he began finally to understand. He was surrounded, now, by life…by more life than ever he had imagined in those years of squalor and pain and death. Surrounded by the silence, and the peace, that he had never expected to find.

I told you it was there, Spog. I knew you would find it.

That old rule, that first lesson from Oz, no longer ruled his life. Solitary, under those trees, Connor still wasn’t alone.

I’m sorry, bozu, he thought, the pain of Oz’s suicide fading to sad regret under the spell of that moment. I wish you could be here for this…for this peaceful place we always wanted.

I am here, Connor.

Bitter & Cynical For The Win!

I’m home.

Yay…?

Getting into a real city again was weird. For all that Yellowstone’s surrounding towns have to offer, not even the most charitable could call Cody or Bozeman “cities”. That is, of course, a big part of why I like them.

Hell, half the reason I went to Yellowstone in the first place was to run away from the crowding and craziness that are starting to take over the area I currently call home. The area to which I just returned.

I almost didn’t, by the way.  Didn’t return, that is. A winter in the vast, sprawling metropolis of West Yellowstone wasn’t sounding too bad to me at the end, there. But…

But family comes first, and right now family has to take priority over self-indulgence and my introverted desire to continue running away.

The trip home*, however, did have one very big saving grace: time and quiet to take stock of the writing I did in Yellowstone.

*Thanks, airport shuttle, for having ZERO heat in twenty-degree weather!

Umm…

Ahh…

That stock-taking kinda sucked.

The plan was to write something on the order of 80,000 words while I was living in the park.

“Hey,” I thought, “there’s nothing around…I can write my ass off.”

Yes, I was that big of an idiot.  80,000 my ass – I wrote 20,000. That’s it. Shit, I should be writing 20,000 in a couple of weeks, not over the course of five months!

And you know why I got even that much done? Nagging guilt and shame had their roles, of course, but also the faith and support of my friends.  Especially of those that read my rough draft stuff and tried to keep me focused.

Hell, I don’t think I can ever really describe just how much I appreciated one friend’s…well, there’s no other way to describe it: her outright bullying.

“How much did you write, today? Nothing? Go…shoo! Go write! Now!”

Now, I’m a pretty big guy, and Billy small enough to stuff into my pocket, but I just hung my head and went to write. And valued the friendship as I went.

The time up there did, however, change the tenor of the story a little bit. That’s fine for the last third of Silence – it was intended to return a sense of hope, and of meaning, to Connor’s life – but for the first bit?

Err…

It sounds weird, but I have to recover that bitter cynicism that so colored everything – both for me, and for him – before I left. One glance at the traffic as we drove home, and I decided that rediscovery probably wouldn’t be as hard as I’d first thought.

What A Crew Of Blessed Souls*

*Note – from Dave Haus’ “Meet Me At The Lanes”

I don’t leave for a couple of days, but this is probably the last post I’ll have time to put together before then. I figure Monday – while I actually am leaving to travel home – is probably a good time to put up another snippet…

At any rate, I decided it was time to sum up some things from the past 5+ months. Now, I don’t really have to say that I really did love it up here. That has, I think, come through in past posts, both written and photographic.

All I can really add on that score is a simple statement that Yellowstone was worth every minute, and every drop of the frustration that cropped up from time to time. Even if you never venture off the trail, even if you never try to follow me into places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), it is well worth it.

No, what I lay awake thinking about last night was the people who are about to scatter to the wind. The people that I never would have met under any other circumstance. With only one exception, the group that remains to close the store is the same group that opened the place so long ago.

We didn’t know each other back in that first week of May. Hell, we had not even the slightest idea about each other. Yet, as different as we all are, we’ve become close…we’ve become real, lasting friends.

Those of us who write, like to think about how to break our protagonist’s stasis, how to shake him or her out of comfortable normalcy and throw them into the situations in which they can (and hopefully will) grow.

Well, five months up here broke my stasis.

I thought last night about what would have happened if I had not come up and, instead, any of these remaining twenty-ish people had walked into the brewery.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

If we interacted at all, it would have been solely on the most surface and shallow of levels. And that would have been very, very sad. I would have missed that which has caused me – like any good protagonist – to grow and change.  And, worst of all, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Crap, I’ll reiterate: I generally don’t do nostalgia. Err…well…oh hell, let’s just go with it, anyway.

Now, like any human, I’ve grown closer to some than to others, but all are people I like, and people I am the better for having met.

From Bridget yelling at me for change, to Ian failing to work through biblical hangovers…

From Mark’s pro-Trump sermons, to Onni’s anti-Trump jokes…

From Chandler’s retro-goth hair and nails, to Jess’s Shy Guy tattoo…

Twenty-plus people up here, all with their own foibles and tics…all with their own stories, and their own worth. A few, though…a few are the ones that really stick with you:

Steve R and Sarah N – for making me laugh…a lot. And people wonder why we all spent so much damned time in the office.

Sara P and Jarrod – for the friendship, and the pending marriage. There’s no way I’m not coming out to Mass. to visit.

Kody – for making me laugh…for skipping right past the few lines even I wouldn’t cross…and for just being that comfortable, confident kid you are.

Billy – for late nights of anime and podcasts and D&D…for reminding me I’m fucking old, and (most importantly) becoming one of my closest friends, anyway.

So many I’ve met, that I’ve come to know, but those few…those few really stick with you.

Thank you, all.

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.

I Love This Job

Note – Yes, I’m aware I forgot to post yesterday. Well…actually…I didn’t forget, so much as seriously edit the shit out of myself. After a reread, I decided it would be a good idea to spare you the pissed-off post I wrote following a particularly obnoxious day. At any rate, below is the post that should have gone up yesterday…

Four months ain’t a long time. Hell, I’ve had hangovers that lasted longer than that…

Four months, however, is a long time when you’re at “adult summer camp”. It’s more than long enough to get to know people, and to form attachments. it sure as hell is long enough to make it hard to say goodbye.

IMG_0149But, in one of those inevitabilities of adulthood, sometimes you have to say goodbye.

On a personal level, I don’t do nostalgia. Hell, I barely manage sentimentality, let alone anything more. In my world, emotions like that are for writing, not for showing.

Saying goodbye to the Taiwanese kids, however, really did challenge that little gem of sarcastic, cynical “wisdom”.

I know people all over the world…I’ve said more goodbyes than I can count, some (obviously) more permanent than others.

Shut up, Oz.

Ahem.

Anyway: goodbyes.

These kids earned my respect very, very quickly. With only a couple of exceptions, they worked their asses off. I would hire any of them in a second. I’m not sure a reference from an American ex-sales & marketing-monkey means much in Taiwan, but I would give one in a heartbeat.

More than that, though, they became people I genuinely liked…and that, given my usual “I Hate Humans” Mondays, is more rare than I should probably admit. One of these kids is, in fact, the sweetest human ever born*. I didn’t start to cry when I hugged her goodbye…nope, no way. I just got something in my eye.

Crap, if I keep up like this, I’m gonna ruin my reputation for misanthropy.

*She also drank a lot of the Americans under the table – I should’ve married her!

Okay, to turn this topic back to writing – and, yes, I should at least try to make these posts at least somewhat writing-centric – one of the challenges of mood and tone is in writing those more subtle emotions.

Anger? Joy? Love? Frustration? Honestly, those are easy to write. They are basic, primal feelings that are instantly identifiable to both writer and reader. There’s a reason why they are some of the first emotions we, as humans, experience. The more subtle, more nuanced emotions? Those are a great deal harder.

Think about it, think about explaining the bittersweet mix that comes with a heartfelt goodbye. About the blend of sorrow and joy that comes with nostalgia and memory {there’s a line from a song that captures that particular one: The price of a memory / Is the memory of the sorrow it brings}.

To capture those, to make make your character (and your reader) honestly & realistically feel those, can be one of the real challenges in writing. But when you nail it…

But when you nail it, it becomes one of those days…one of the days that make it all worth it.

I’ve said before: in many ways, I write this blog for others…for the readers. But the stories, the stories I write for me.

In Silence, that means how Connor finally says goodbye to Oz, finally comes to terms with his death, has a great deal to do with how I’ve come to terms – or, at least, am still coming to terms – with the suicides in my own life.

It also means that the bittersweet that remains when loss becomes memory, is very real and very personal. And, yes, I’m writing this because the other day was one of those days: I nailed it. I cried like a baby, but I nailed it.

I love this job.

Video Games As Art

Sooo…I’m trying to convince this raven that, even though I’m not at the top of the food chain up here, I’m higher than he is.

It ain’t working.

Damn this bird. He’s reminding me just how little control I have over the critters around here…

At any rate, as you can guess from the late posting today, I have once again failed to go with my “Yellowstone Practical” theme.

Nope, not gonna do it today, either. Ah well, so goeth most of my plans…

I was watching podcasts last night with a friend of mine, and I got to thinking. As a general rule, “getting to thinking” is dangerous for me.  I should probably add, these were video game podcasts…and, yes, my friend (Billy) and I are very much nerds-of-a-feather.

Two things I miss up here, more than just about anything else: cooking and games. I love to cook…I live for cooking…and yet I have to eat three meals a day prepared by other people. I already have about three weeks worth of meals planned for when I get back…

Just below cooking, however, comes video games. I miss playing games…especially good games.

So, at any rate, Billy and I got to talking about games…and especially about games that mattered, games that had something to say. And, to those of you that scoff, I’ll reissue a challenge I gave a year or so ago: go play This War of Mine. Better yet, go play That Dragon Cancer. Only after that can you try and tell me that games don’t have anything to say. The first of those made me well-and-truly uncomfortable (in the best literary sense of that word), while the second made me cry like a broken-hearted six-year-old.

Now, look…I know that most games are mindless trash. I know that most games have no message beyond, “Me mash button…me kill…rawr!”  But – and this is the important bit – not ALL games are that way. In fact, as a writer, I have to admit that there are things a game can do that a written story cannot.

There is an immersion to games that no book, no matter how good, can match. With a book, you (the reader) are simply too far removed from the circumstances. In a game – err, in a well-made game – it is very much a personal, intimate thing. Think about it: as writers, we use dialogue and action to carry and move the story. Hell, most of the time, we use them for exposition and set-up just as much as we do for action.

In a game, however, you can use many, many other things to carry that message. Lighting, “set” design, color scheme, character design…

“But, but, movies!” I hear you scream. Nope, not the same. Think about it: in a movie, we need movement and action and dialogue in order to create tension.

Try this exercise: imagine a scene with one single, lone character walking down a dark hall. Pretty simple, when you get right down to it. In a book, I would need to have certain things happening in order to create tension. Whether those things were internal, like flashbacks or internal thoughts/monologue, or external like noises or movement, it would be something that was NOT integral to the scene itself, something “beyond” the dark hall.

In a movie, that problem gets nothing but worse. I would have to have a great deal of “external” stimuli in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Whether those stimuli were music, or dialogue with an off-screen companion, or sound effects, it would have to be (like the book) something external to the dark hall.

But in a game…but in a game…but in a game, I could put you walking down a dark hall and, if the perspective and set-up were right, do nothing else. With the intimacy and immediacy of the player experience, the simple tension of walking down a dark, unknown hall can make the experience terrifying.

I have, I should add, written for video games in the past, so I am not completely objective in this discussion. I love long-form writing. I love, especially, novels. Shit, you all know enough about me, by now, to know that I’m a wordy bastard, so novels are about the only way I can really sink my teeth into writing a story. But, and this is a big but, the options and imagination that game-writing opened for me were some of the best training I have ever had.

Apologies to all of my professors from college (err, both colleges), but I learned more about writing from those times I wrote for games than I did over all the years it took me to earn two liberal arts degrees.

Got paid better, too.

And, yep…if you haven’t guessed…we’re well into real-time, drunk-bloggin’ at this point. Just deal with it. I haven’t done one of these in a loooong time, and I needed the outlet. Returning to the the real world is right around the corner, and I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not ready.

Seriousness and business and work? Paying attention to shit over which I have no control?

I would much rather be heading off for one of my solo, off-trail hikes. When I’m off-trail, I own everything. Which, in the end, really just comes to the most simple of facts: if I survive, I did it right. If I die, I fucked up.

When you get right down to it, that’s what life is all about…isn’t it?

What Could Be

I had this great plan to put up some details about various hikes I like, to keep going with the “Yellowstone Practical” idea. I even started a post on that for today…

As you can tell from the lack of a morning post, I didn’t really follow through. Not because I couldn’t have, but because something else rose in my mind last night. Now, I’ve mentioned before one of writing’s primary rules: when an idea comes to you, YOU WRITE IT!

Last night I, err, did not write it. I didn’t quite forget the thought, but I did have to spend the better part of today reconstructing it while I worked in the store.

At any rate, here goes:

I spent some time reading the news on my day off. I know, I know…that is always a mistake. You’d think I would know better by now, but nope.

Most of the crap I was able to ignore, but something stuck with me: the whole damned NFL-anthem-flag controversy. How the hell is this still a thing?

Look, I realize I am not the most grown-up person in any room (including a room full of kindergarteners), but even I can see how stupid is this whole thing. And by stupid, I mean everyone involved. I know we’re talking about the confluence of politics, culture and sports here, but isn’t there someone who can be the adult in the room?

Apparently not.

So, what the hell, I’ll throw in my two cents. Actually, I’ve got two opinions/thoughts here, so I’ll round it all up to a nickel.

First of all: I am a sports guy. All of my life I have been a sports guy. More than that, I have been a team sports guy. Team sports are the everyday embodiment of self-sacrifice. Well…at least…they should be. In all of the bullshit, dating back to last year, I saw very little conception of team-first. I saw an awful lot of “me-first”, but not much else.

I will, however, call out for credit those that did put team first, that acted like the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. I think the Seahawks nailed it last year when they linked arms as a team. Much as I detest Jerry Jones, the Cowboys this year got it right, as well.

Those teams that had no unity? Truly sad.

And the cowardice of those that simply hid away in the locker room and hoped to bury their heads? Beyond sad, beyond weak, and well into the territory of truly pathetic.

Right or wrong, at least the other guys picked a side. I’ll always take someone who picks a side, whether I agree or not, over someone who tries to ride the fence and please everyone.

Okay, so that’s the first bit. The less important bit. Now comes the second part…

By definition, no society, no country, no people is perfect. To dredge up an old quote, “All are judged and found wanting.” The United States is anything but perfect. The flaws in our society today are manifold…and, in many cases, obvious.

Hell, I write about many of those flaws: about the exploitation of the weak, about the vast, indefensible chasm between rich and poor, about the evil one human can do to another for the smallest of reasons, about the suffering and despair that suffocate so many lives…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think and dream of better. That doesn’t mean I think we as a species, as a society, as a country are irredeemable. If I thought that – if I bought that deeply into cynical nihilism – it would be time to just plain give up, and that I refuse to do.

To redeem ourselves, however, we need aspirations. More importantly, we need aspirations that can pull us together. We need symbols, and dreams, that we can all share.

I cannot comment on other countries, nor other peoples, but to me the dream of what the US could be is one of those aspirations. But to get there we have to value in common the effort and work it will take to get there.

The American flag is just a bunch of fabric stitched together, in one sense. It is nothing more than a glorified bed-sheet tied to a stick. In another sense, however, it is something very different: it is a symbol of what could be. It could/should be, when you get down to it, something to unify, something to symbolize all of our aspirations.

See the problems…speak out on the problems…give your time and your money and your life to fixing those problems…but dream and aspire together. Value what could be together.

You and I don’t have to agree. We can argue and debate and oppose each other all we want, IF we both believe in and value where we’re going…value what could be.

If, however, we hold nothing in common – if we share no aspirations or dreams – then we are doomed to strife and discord. And, eventually, to the disintegration of the little that still holds the many, many different strands of the US – as a nation and as a people – together.  In the end, all we will have left is the regret of what could have been.