Losing Your Pants in a Dumpster Fire

It’s almost gone!

No, really…it’s almost freaking gone!

Let’s be honest here — 2020 can’t die soon enough.  Sadly, I have the strangest, most disconcerting feeling that this dumpster fire of a year will not actually end.  Maybe it’s just the looming, ominous music I can hear playing behind every story about 2020 that I read, but this freak show has all the hallmarks of turning into Freddie Krueger and coming for us over and over (and over and over and over…ad infinitum).

Harrumph.

Even the inevitable, inane stories and pieces that accompany every new year — the best and worst lists, the memorable moments spotlights, the year-in-review diaries — are more than a little grudging and bitter this year.  It’s like the folks writing those bits are doing so because they have to, rather than out of any real desire.

Oh wait, that’s exactly why they’re writing those pieces.  To focus on art and quality and exploring the human condition is all well and good, but well…the bills have to be paid, and editors stopped listening to what writers want a very long time ago.  Nowadays, those decisions about content and tone are made by SEO teams and marketing committees, not writers.

It’s rather like the old, old wisdom: we complain about politicians being self-serving and dishonest, then turn around and vote for the most narcissistic, dishonest politicians we can find.  Well, translated into writing terms: we complain about the shallow inanity of articles, then turn around and click on those very same pieces. So long as we keep clicking on the, well, click-bait, they’ll keep producing it.

I am, as a matter of fact, more than a little guilty of that myself. I’m complaining out shallow, shit articles…right after spending an hour of my morning clicking on those very same pieces. There aren’t enough harrumphs in the world for that one.

Okay…so…well…New Year’s Eve has come, and it’s the time for the inevitable, annual festival of always-broken resolutions.  Except that I don’t actually do resolutions.  Hell, I don’t even do New Year’s Eve, really.  When you get right down to it, New Year’s is just an excuse to go to a party or a bar and get roaring drunk.  I can do that just fine without the excuse, thank you very much.

Fine, fine, the resolution-thing is expected, so I’ll give it a shot anyway.

I resolve to be better about regular posting here on the blog.  For a couple of years I was posting three times a week, as regular as clockwork.  Then, well, life got in the way and I started the (not so) long, slow slide into posting only when the “mood was right.”

To all my fellow writers out there: there ain’t no such a thing as a writing “mood”!  There is no waiting for the “right mood.”  To wait for the right mood is nothing more than an excuse.  Like most excuses, all that one amounts to is an internal salve for failure.

“I sat down to write, but I just couldn’t get in the right mood” isn’t, as excuses go, a whole lot different from “I saw the kid run into the street, but I didn’t save her because I wasn’t in the right mood.”

And, yes, I fully realize just how incredibly hypocritical that is, coming as it does from someone whose freaking choice of music defines his writing mood!

Ahem…back to resolutions…

I’ll add a resolution here to ignore the 2021 version of the political circus that 2020 has been.  That particular brand of national insanity isn’t going to get any better, and it just is not worth the frustration.  Crazy folks are gonna crazy just fine with or without my attention, so why bother?  I will — hopefully! — let the crazy play out all by itself, and focus instead on putting my thoughts and opinions on the current insanity into my fiction works, rather than these blog posts.

Oh, and as a little addendum to that, I most definitely will stop going to the more extreme websites (on both sides of the political spectrum) just to read the comments.  As amusing as that can be, the Google algorithms have looked at my search history and decided I’m completely, hopelessly insane.  I’m pretty sure they have me listed in a special file now…

Of course, like all writers, I just have to do a Year in Review bit as well:

Calling 2020 a dumpster fire is an insult to honest dumpster fires.  If 2021 follows in the same vein, I may have to join a cult and go live in the jungle somewhere.  Hey, the Kool Aid can’t be as bad another year of this shit!

Happy New Year, then, and here’s a toast to our collective responsibility to make this new year better than the last!  Now go get stinking drunk so you can properly send 2020 off in an alcoholic haze, and wake up fresh in 2021 like you should: hungover and missing your pants.

Hmm…what to do for a final Musical Note for 2020? I could go all serious and introspective and put a song here to really explore things…

But I’m not in that “mood,” so let’s try something completely different, shall we? It’s starting to get pretty long in the tooth now, but it’s still a song that has some awesome lines and insights:

Meh

It’s Christmas time.

Now, normally, the sentence above would have had an exclamation point or two.  That’s the key word, however: normally.  Just what about this freaking miserable year is normal?  Right now, in spite of the Christmas season that I so love, about all I can muster is one big “meh.”

Oh, it’s not anything bad, nor anything specific…it’s just…well…2020.

All of my Christmas stuff is still in storage — along with the rest of my life — back in Colorado, so I don’t even have that to help me out.  I finally picked up a couple of strings of lights and a small fake tree when I was grocery shopping, just to try and force myself into the mood.  If there is anything more sad and pathetic than buying twenty bucks worth of cheap Christmas shit along with some bread and a dozen eggs, I don’t what it is.

Err…hold on…need to change the music…

There, that’s better.  Remember when I talked about how music really, really influences the words?  How my mood and the tone of what I write are far too intertwined to ever separate, and how that mood and the music influence each other in an infinite feedback loop?

Wait, what?  No?

No, you don’t remember?  Or, no, I never got around to writing that particular post?

Crap, even I’m not sure which it is.

Oh well, there you have it: what I’m listening to influences not just what I write, but also how I shape it.  Conversely, however, the flow and tone of what I’m writing very much determines just what I listen to as I work.

By the way, if you can figure out which is the chicken and which the egg, please let me know because I have no freaking idea.  Honestly, I just go on a combination of gut-feeling and success.  If the words aren’t coming out right, if the mood/feeling of the piece isn’t what I intended, I either need to change what I’m writing, or change my music. Err…or change my drink.  Given that it’s nine in the morning, I figured it is probably better to try a different artist rather than switch my coffee for beer…

Of course, the historian in me just has to point out out that Churchill drank champagne for breakfast.

Ahem.  Never mind.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that old, traditional bit of wisdom, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing.”  I believed it then, and I still (mostly) believe it now.  So…well…no writing on the current state of affairs in the US…

My original intent with this post, as late and delayed as it is, was to put in a snippet from one of the stories I’m working on.  That was the intent, but as is usual in my world, intent and result don’t always match up too well.  The snippet I was going to post just didn’t come along like I wanted, and I really can’t muster the focus to replace it with a flashfiction piece this morning.

Maybe switching to beer isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

*sigh*

Okay, so a small writing lesson — there is a certain frame of mind, a certain feeling, to creating.  I can’t really describe to you what it is because it is different for everyone.  When you are first starting out — when you are producing in fits and starts, with no predictability — you learn to recognize that feeling and take advantage of it when it comes.  When you get into a routine and are producing regularly, however, you can start to create that feeling for yourself, rather than passively accept it when it comes.

It takes routine, however, and constant production.  It takes also — at least for me — the right mix of surroundings and subject matter.  It takes a plan, and a song.

I know this post has been rather pointless and forced.  I know the last few have all suffered from those particular sins.  COVID has been part of it, as has the toxic cloud of politics and strife suffocating the US, but those are excuses not reasons.  I won’t justify not producing like I should because, well, if I won’t believe my own words, why the hell would you?

All I can say is that I feel the need to write.  Not a post…sorry. These posts are fun, but they are light and easy.  They don’t scratch that deep-seated need to really write.  You know the itch I’m talking about, the one you can scratch only by creating your own worlds.

The music has come, by the way, and the plan…the plan is always there.  Time to start scratching…

[Musical Note — I can’t remember if I’ve yet posted these guys or not.  If the singer sounds familiar, and if you are within the right age range, you will know him (and two others in this band) as being part of a very, very different group.  It takes a special creativity to produce stuff like this at the same time you are producing stuff as Blink 182…]

Random Thoughts, or Please Stop The Crazy!

The sci-fi I write tends to be dark and pretty damned dystopian.  That will come as precisely no surprise to anyone who has read any of the snippets I have posted here.  The fantasy on which I am working also has a dark edge, albeit an edge not nearly so strong nor as personal as the stories of Connor and Oz.

Remember, I’m a student of history — I don’t think it’s possible to NOT have a dark edge as a historian!  History is not something to lead you to optimism and hope. To paraphrase Twain, history might not repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

With that being said, I have completely had it with today’s constant crises, craziness and catastrophes.  C’mon, when the guy who willingly kills off his favorite characters in scenes of blood and despair has had enough, you know the crazy has gone too damned far!

Oh…that fantasy story I mentioned…

Yeah, I made the decision.  I already had the characters, and now I’ve finally found the voice.  The plot and details will of course morph as I start working on the ebb and flow of the story itself…and as the characters get their say in how things go.  Now comes the hard part…now comes the days, weeks and months of writing up all of the background material.

That process will not be made any quicker, I should add, by the fact that I’m still not done writing Connor’s story.  Actually, I’m not sure I will ever be done with Connor’s story.  Every time I see “the end,” I find that he has something more to say…

Anyway, a few non-cataclysmic thoughts:

  1. They say movie theaters are a dying industry — well, no shit, I say.  Now look, I know I’m not exactly normal in my (relative) misanthropy, but is going to an overpriced, uncomfortable den of dirt and lunacy any way to watch a freaking movie?  Twenty bucks for a ticket and some popcorn in one of the herpes-laden torture devices they call seats?  Or twenty bucks for beer and chips and the comfort of my own couch?  Jesus, talk about the inevitable end of the buggy-whip industry…  Ahem.
  2. Bear spray is (still) a thing — uhh, it’s been kinda warm and dry up here.  Oh, the females went to bed a while ago, and the younger males, but the big boys?  The grouchy old guys who know every trick in the book?  Much like me at two in the morning, they’re still finding food so why go to sleep?
  3. I re-watched Star Trek during my quarantine — no, not an episode or five.  When has my nerdism ever been that half-assed?  I re-watched all of freaking Star Trek!  SIX long running series and TWELVE freaking movies…!  I tried to focus on the writing — I really did — but that ain’t easy with something so closely tied to my younger years.  Of course, it doesn’t help that the writing is inconsistent as hell.  Some storylines were great, and others just plain dumb, but well…it’s freaking Star Trek!  Kirk is still the captain I’d most want to have a beer with, and Sisco still the one I’d most want on my side in a fight, but I have to admit that I kinda like the newest series, Discovery, too.  The writers did a huge disservice to Captain Lorca in the first season, however.  There was a storyline there about redemption and preconceptions and prices to be paid, but they took the easy way out and went for a “comic book” character arc instead.  That pretty much ruined it for me, along with some major plot inconsistencies, in spite of the solid acting and great production values in the show.
  4. Killing the keg — yes the flashfiction piece in my last post was Animal House based…and yes, I have had my share of similar mornings gathered with friends to lay to rest a keg suffering from terminal partialfillitis.  C’mon, really…this surprises you?
  5. I need to travel again — okay, so that is kinda…err…ironic coming from someone who lives where I do, but if I don’t get out of this freaking country at some point in the next year, my freak-out will be biblical!

Musical Note — one of my favorite songs, it just hits all the right notes…

On Courage and Strength

I finally sat down to write today.  Oh, it hasn’t been all that long since my last post — certainly it has been nothing like some of the pauses when I was still living inside Yellowstone itself— but it has felt like forever.  It hasn’t been just this blog that I haven’t been writing, by the way, it has been everything.

I haven’t written a word since that last post.  Not a word on my personal stuff, not a word on my professional stuff, not a word on anything.

That honestly has sucked worse than the COVID itself (which sucks pretty damned bad).

I still can’t quite catch my breath, but at least I can see some daylight ahead…

At any rate, I want to get a post put together.  It’s more than want, really.  I need to write these few hundred words in order to flip that switch inside my brain from “meh” to “create.”  

I am not, however, going to write about the election.  Bah!  No more!  No more robocalls!  No more texts!  No more bullshit, I can’t take it anymore!  I put my phone into a box, then I buried that box.  I poured some cement on the dirt.  I built an altar on top of the cement and sacrificed a goat to the old gods of silence. I put a nuke on top of the altar…

Yeah, you get the picture.

So, what am I actually going to write on?  Err…well…”manliness.” 

And, no, I’m not trying to make this about sex or gender.  Linguistically speaking, I’m using the word to denote the complex set of beliefs and behaviors our culture has associated with concepts like strength, endurance and courage.  These concepts have nothing to do with the fun bits below our waists, by the way.  They have, however, everything to do with who a person is, rather than what.

I know, I know…how can I make a short blog post about something so big?  And just how did this come up anyway?!  Yeah, I just read a good article on it, and I got to thinking.  That’s always dangerous, of course.  Actually thinking is just asking for trouble…

Now, I’m not going to even begin to try to fully unpack the concept itself.  That would take several thousand words…and enough beer to drown me.  What I do want to say, however, is just how screwed up is our surface level view of this concept.  If you ask anyone for an example of “manliness” without giving time to consider and think, you will get some silly ass answers (no matter their location on the socio-political spectrum).  You will get the kind of “manliness” that is anything but.  You will get the false “tough-guy” persona of a Trump, or the false “real man” persona of a Bernie Sanders.

Neither of those is true, nor admirable.  Both are, in fact, the merest masks worn to cover inner deficiencies, and to give a shorthand route to popularity among their shallowest of followers.

No, what is true “manliness” — what defines true strength, endurance and courage — is something far more than shallow bravado and meaningless belligerence.  Equally, it is more than the shallow and meaningless showboating of “virtue” and “righteousness.”

No, if you have to talk about your strength and courage, or if you have to signal to others that you have it, you have already failed.  You have become an empty suit more prone to villainy than heroism.  Period.  End of story.

I’m going to offer an example to make this point.  An example not of those who come instantly to mind — those showboating and wearing masks — but of one whose strength and courage were true…and made a difference.

The story, then:

Tensions were rife everywhere.  The world was on the edge of war.  A single mistake and hundreds of thousands — millions, even — would die.  Those who made the decisions were not at risk, of course.  They pushed and pulled and manipulated from places safe and insulated from all threat.  Those on the front lines, however, were not so insulated.  They were instead educated and trained to fight and to follow orders to the cost of life itself.  They were taught just how much of a threat were the “others” (humans will always find “others” to hate and fear), and that survival rode on their ability to fight and win.

The ships above were carrying death.  Even worse, for our hero, they were seeking him.  Seeking him, and his shipmates on the fragile little submarine.  They would kill him, he knew, if they found him.  Every bit of training he had, and all of the secret intelligence so hard-won by those living among the enemy, told him that.

There was no contact with home.  Submarines at the time could not communicate when they were deep underwater.  Even today they struggle with such communications when down a thousand feet.  The world was on the brink of war, they knew.  The enemy was hunting them, they knew.  And that was all they knew.

Then the enemy found them.

There is no doubt, when on a submarine, that you have been found.  Your main defense relies solely on your invisibility.  When that invisibility fails, you have few options.  One of those options, however, is as old as war itself: overwhelming force.  If the other guy tries to stab with a knife, you shoot with a gun…

The sub was dying already.  The air was foul and batteries almost flat.  They could wait no longer.  The order came from the captain, then.  Fire.  Fire everything.

The torpedoes on the sub, they weren’t those of this man’s father.  The torpedoes would do far worse than sink a hunting destroyer.  They would do far worse than sink the entire fleet, even.  Detonating nuclear weapons underwater, you see…that would sink the entire world.

This man…this man of quiet strength, he refused to fire.  Without his approval, as first officer, the  sailors could not — would not — carry out the captain’s order.  The torpedoes stayed in the tubes, the sub surfaced to quietly face the circling enemy, and the world lived on…mostly unaware that the strength and courage of one man saved them all.  Even the enemy, those who had hunted so hard, quietly acknowledged this man with the highest of praise: “he saved the world.”

Oh, who is he?  Not who you may think.

Vasily Arkhipov, Soviet Navy.

Submarine B-59

There are other examples I wanted to offer.  Examples of names you no doubt know, and others of which you have never heard.  Examples, even, that would surprise you.  I wanted to offer those, but verbosity got the better of me, as it so often does.

Courage and strength — that which we in the US call “manliness” — it is not a thing of posturing and shouting and the shaking of fists.  It is a thing of heart and meaning and conviction.  It is, when you get right down to it, a thing inside you, not a mask to wear.

P.s.

Can you guess who has spent the morning thinking about his next protagonist…?

Edit — I don’t think I need to add this explanation — err, I hope I don’t need to add this explanation — but I will, just in case. When I mentioned the wearing of masks above, I was referring to the wearing of a false face. To the external projection of qualities not present internally. I most certainly was not referring to the wearing of masks as a tool in the battle against this damned virus. Forget the false masks of pretense, but wear your real mask!