I’m Ruined, By The Way

This was a day that started all wrong.  A day of driving and dealing with crowds and traffic.  A day of frustration and irritation.

At least that’s how it started…

How it ended?

It’s been fucking stunning.

I don’t use that word very often — stunning, not fucking…I use that one all the fuckin’ time — but when I do use it, I mean it.

The greens were lush and vibrant, bright and alive.  The grass and trees absolutely bursting with new growth.  The black rock and soil of the mountainsides rising in stark contrast above the valley floor, capped by the still-white peaks.  A sky as blue as a newborn’s eyes with just a hint of clouds to provide some contrast and context.

If you’re religious — or even if you’re lapsed and fallen, like me — it’s a reminder that the entire world really is a cathedral.  There was a sense of peace and serenity, to go with the feeling of purpose that seemed to permeate the air itself.

It was magic.

Okay, so what the heck does that have to do with the title of this post?

I went into town today.  When you live in a village of a couple of hundred, by the way, going into town is a necessary deal.  Now, instead of going to my preferred town of under 20,000, I went all the way into Bozeman.

Shit, I thought just seconds after getting off the highway, this is as bad as LA!

Okay, I grew up in LA, so I know just how stupid and wrong is that comparison, but it was still what I felt at the time.

Cars everywhere, driving like nutjobs…

People everywhere, crowding and talking and in general irritating the living crap out of me…

Smells and sounds and a feeling I haven’t felt since I left “civilization” behind…

I hated it.  I hated every single second of it.

I cursed and cussed and stressed until I realized I can never go back to that kind of life.

Not to go all hippy-on-a-commune on you, but my days of living in a place like that are pretty definitely over.  I can’t do it anymore.

But even that wasn’t what made me realize I was ruined.  Nope, it was the drive home.

South of Livingston, Montana lies a place called Paradise Valley.

The greens and blacks…

The whites and blues…

The smell of fields freshly mown for hay…

The pace of life determined by…well, by life itself rather than by the artificial urgencies that so characterized my morning.

That is how I realized I was ruined.  How the hell could I ever leave this?  How could I leave the wilderness and the fields?  The bears and the wolves?  The elk and the bison?  It’s all right outside my damned front door.

Sometimes, living in the middle of all this, it can be easy to take it all for granted.  It can all become “commonplace”, and so be overlooked and forgotten.  But then…

But then…

But then, you have a moment of magic.  You have a glimpse of perfection, and you remember just what the hell it is that truly matters.  You can keep the cities and the cars and the crowds, thank you very much, I’ll take a few seconds of perfection — a moment that’s fucking stunning — over all of that.

I Know What A Combine Does!

I can give you all kinds of reasons why I don’t like to write at home.  I can talk about the stillness and the quiet, and how those (usually welcome) qualities result in prose that is too introspective and contemplative.  I can talk about the distractions and having the cleanest kitchen in the entire town.  I can talk, even, about how this blog got started one quiet afternoon at home.

Err, that last one would be a lie.  This blog did indeed get started at home, but it did so after a (mostly) drunken conversation with a friend/colleague.  We were both lamenting the lack of a very specific type of writing blog that night.

Wait, that’s not quite it, either.  We were actually lamenting the end of the bottle of scotch, and then just went on to lament everything else from there…

In spite of a raging hangover the next day, I pulled up my seat at the bar and have been blogging random, off-topic stuff ever since.  My colleague, on the other hand, decided writing was a bad bet and went back to work as a sales-weasel.  He still likes to tell me how he envies me and my persistence…right after telling me, of course, all about his new house.

Ahem.

Never mind.

Believe it or not, there is (was?) a point to today’s post: this plague sucks donkey balls.  Oh, sure, I can go out to my local coffee shop…on their very limited hours.  Just like I can go to my local dive bar…and listen to the, uhh, rather unique regulars who dominate the place when the tourists aren’t around.  I can even — *GASP* — stay at home and work.

I tried that today, in fact.  The staying home thing, not the dealing with the “local culture” thing.  It…

Well…

Err…

It didn’t go well.

Now look, you all know by now that I love video games.  Hell, I still make freelance money in that industry (although I refuse to dive too deeply, nor am I interested in making it a professional focus).  Work and cash aside, I also like to play the damned games.  Mostly the more complicated, steep-learning-curve simulator and historical games, so when a special sale item comes up on Steam in those categories, I usually jump on it.

Seldom do games overwhelm my urge for writing and reading, however, for more than a day or two.  Seldom do I get so caught up that I not only lose focus on my work, I lose all track of time, too.  It just takes so much more to immerse me, now, than it did when I was seventeen or eighteen.  Back then, I could lose myself in an RPG for days on end…and don’t even get me started on shit live the Civilization series.

Nowadays, however…

Nowadays, it takes a great deal more.  Nowdays, games are a distraction for an hour or two — as they should be, mind you — not a sink in which I can lose myself like I can in a good book.CB3AD4DD-9CFF-44F8-A4A5-FFF267798D0B

Then along comes a spider…

Or, in this case, the freaking nerdiest and most inane of games: Farming Simulator.

3E9EFC63-AED1-4776-8607-EBEF4D3E3F92Shit, I grew up in LA, ferchrissake!  The closest I’ve ever come to a real-life tractor was on a date with a local Montana girl and a combine harvester…

Err…let’s just gloss over that one, shall we?  Yet another reason why wine is…well…what it is.

At any rate, I got sucked into this game.  In stupid, overwhelming ways did I get sucked in.  Crap, I drive up the highway, now, and I recognize the difference between silage and hay…

“Hey, look, that’s an old Challenger tractor!6004E79C-EE33-4A68-BC15-331EA97E6881

Ooh, they’re baling with a Krone!”

*Please insert your own series of swear words now.*

At any rate, since I have to get back to harvesting my largest field of canola, I figured I would dodge out of writing a real blog post today by posting something here I wrote for another audience entirely.  Below is a bit I threw together on a whim, after a long session playing FS:

787089A4-8FEF-4D36-82D9-5BFA9D5D310FMarwell Manor

Chapter 1 — Uncle Vic, Is That You?

Do you remember that one relative?  You know the one I’m talking about, the one who scared the hell out of you as a kid?

For me, that was my great-uncle.  I met the man once, when I was nine.  We went to his farm in England to pay our respects, as my father put it, to our family, and to the old family home.  My great-uncle — Uncle Vic, to my Dad — met us at Heathrow.  He smelled like pipes and old socks…and that is, honestly, pretty much the high point of what I remember.  Well, that and the fact that he looked a lot like Freddie Krueger.  Thank God for my GameBoy.

Fast forward, then, twenty years.

I’m still as single as I was when I was nine, but the money is a hell of a lot better.  I build bridges, you see.  Well, I don’t “build” them, I just design them.  It ain’t glamorous, no sir, but it does garner enough to pay for a nice condo, a nicer car, and the odd bit of travel to far-more-interesting places.

The bell ringing at the door, then.  Me, still in bed and without my first of cup of coffee.  It took a few minutes to figure out how to work the deadbolt…

“Sign here,” the man ordered, proffering a fancy clipboard.  His voice was serious.  His suit was serious.  Crap, he was serious.

What the hell?

I signed, of course.

A huge file he handed me, all wrapped up in a heavy envelope.  I’m not sure what was worse: my confusion, or my need for coffee.  Screw it, when you can’t decide, you work on both at the same time.

A deep gulp, finally, of that lifesaving brew and I opened the envelope to pour its contents onto the counter.

Papers.  Certificates.  Bills.  Deeds.  Even some heavy, weird thing I could barely read…Letters Patent, it called itself.

Wait…

What the hell?

A letter I found, finally, under all that other detritus I couldn’t understand.  A note from a law firm in London.  Lawyer, solicitor, bloodsucker, whatever you choose to call them, they’re the same everywhere in the world.  You always read their stuff — carefully — but you never, ever trust them.

Blah…blah…Hampshire, UK…blah…blah…Marwell…even more blah, blah…wait, go back a bit.  Skip the lawyerly blah-blah crap, what the hell did that one paragraph say?

Baron Marwell.  Of Marwell Manor.

Huh?

I build bridges, for Pete’s sake!

I read the letter again.  And again.  And yet again.  Then I checked the deeds.  Then I read it all again.  There was a note, even, from Uncle Vic, in a spidery, struggling hand that was all-but impossible to read.

“…resuscitate the manor…succeed where I could not…better at selling the manor than working it…  Congratulations, Baron Marwell.  Now get to work.”

I don’t remember a damned thing from the next couple of weeks.  A leave-of-absence from my job.  A renter for my condo.  Some stupid rom-com on the flight.  A big Land Rover to pick me up from the airport, and a man who took the “serious” thing and turned it up to eleven.  More papers to sign, more people to see.  A flurry of names and faces, of facts and figures, and not a single bit of made it through my skull.

No, I can’t remember a damned thing from that frantic, hectic period.  All I can remember is waking up in bed to the ringing doorbell, and then…

And then…

Here I stand, in this muddy, wet yard, surrounded by rusting sheds and looming machinery.  The lowing cattle and the cry of hungry sheep.  The smell of diesel and machine oil, of must and loam, of seed and grain.  Hulking marching with logos that said Massey-Ferguson and New Holland, washed almost clean of mud in the rain starting to pour on my head.

What the hell do I know about farming?  I build freaking bridges!

Chapter 2 — Wait, What The Hell is A Combine?!

*pending*

I Ain’t Gonna Lie…

It feels good.

It feels damned good.

C1EB3D0B-4C1C-4DE8-8058-CFB7B40B1B34Look, for whatever reason, ever since the day after everything shut down, I’ve been jonesing for a burger and a beer sitting out on the deck of my local dive.  Yeah, I know, beer isn’t exactly hard to come by, and I can cook my own burger.  It might make sense to do it that way — hell, it’ll probably even taste better to do it that way — but that doesn’t even come close to scratching this particular itch.

Crap, do I really have to remind you about the fact that I only really write when I’m sitting out at coffee places and taprooms/bars?  I’m not talking about tossing out a few hundred words here and there of marginal quality and little relevance.  No, I’m talking about a few thousand words of meaning and effort.  I’m talking about writing, dammit.

So, here I sit, reading stories before I start writing — stories off of even pro-Trump, ultra-conservative sites, mind you, to go with the neutral and liberal ones I also read — about 3,000+ deaths a day expected by June.  About the growing possibility of a “second wave” of coronavirus.  About the fact that those woods we’re walking through?  Yeah, they ain’t really any thinner yet.

Do I feel guilty?  Do I feel like I should be sitting, still, inside and isolated while I contemplate what to cook for dinner?

Err…

No.  No, I don’t

Look, I fully realize that eating a greasy, fatty burger and fries sitting on a public deck is killing me.  In more ways than one it is killing me.  But…well…it’s worth it, for the high.  Yeah, yeah…I just compared my afternoon to a drug.  Because, well, it is…at least to me.

001F8B7C-C3E1-4F34-9EC2-698204B2768ALook, I’ve spent my time with various potions, powders and pills.  I (probably) spend too much time with beer and coffee.  But my real drug of choice?  Yeah, today is it.  Grease and fat and beer sitting — socially distant, of course — in the sunshine while I write and contemplate the world.

So, this afternoon, I mainlined an oversized dose…and the high is everything I dreamed it would be.  I know there’s going to be consequences, but those are for tomorrow.  For now?  For right now, I’m gonna shove another french fry down my gullet, have another drink of beer, and revel in my personal version of escape.

Sweeping Out The Corners

I spent the last day and half of my newfound freedom — err, “furlough” — doing what it is freelance writers do: I worked up a finished article to send to a few pubs I’ve worked with in the past, and a couple of proposals to send to…well…anyone who might bite.

At least I wasn’t doing lists!

1237636_f520Lists are the freelance writer’s version of, well, selling your blood plasma — all you have, in the end, is a few new scars, a few loose coins left over, and a nasty hangover…

So, with all that in mind, what to throw into a blog post?

Well, crap.

Given that I’m sitting outside (after a day and a half in front of the computer), enjoying the sun with a gin & tonic in one hand and my iPad in the other, I’m struggling to put my thoughts, as scattered and pointless as they are, together into anything resembling a cohesive whole.  So…well…maybe I’ll do a list!

Ahem.

Do as I say, not as I do…right?  Okay, so it’s not really a “list” so much as my writer-version of sweeping out all the crap and dust and cobwebs cluttering up the corners of my mind…

  1. Lets have an adult conversation, for once, for the love of all that’s holy: too often, those in positions of influence and power simply refuse to believe that anyone else — anyone beneath them, in their view — are capable of abstract thought, rational decision-making, reasoned consideration, or any of the other adult behaviors we expect from each other every single freaking day.  The government won’t give straight information (both sides, mind you) because they don’t trust you and me to be all grown up and mature.  Similarly, neither will businesses treat their staff or customers as thinking, functioning adults.  No, instead, much like the government, everything is platitudes and generalizations and enough happy-talk to make a bitter, battered cynic like me throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear the same bullshit repeated over and over, ad infinitum (or ad nauseam, take your pick).
  2. Easter is when it all changed, by the way: everyone likes to say the eruption of coronavirus and COVID-19 were the “big change”, but that’s not quite true.  Oh, sure, that was a black swan event that set chaos into motion, but folks were mostly — aside from the conspiracy-theory, “it’s-just-a-flu”, “let’s-build-some-herd-immunity” jack-asses — willing to listen to advice and rules to isolate and and shut down in order to defeat the invisible enemy.  Then, seemingly suddenly, things changed.  But what changed, really?  Yeah, people were sick of self-quarantining, and of seeing the same walls and same family members every minute of every day.  Yeah, people were also starting to run out of cash and run-up ludicrous credit card bills — a problem that is gonna go off like a freakin’ H-bomb, mind you, in a month or two — but that wasn’t what really drove the change and “opening” we’re starting to see.  No, as far as I can tell — with a writer’s eye, as well as a historian’s — it comes/came down to one single, searing image: police breaking up Easter Sunday services.  You can say what you will about the United States, but it doesn’t matter what political or social “side” you’re on for the thought and concept of the government “cracking down” on folks gathering to worship to become strong enough to start a revolution.  It doesn’t matter if it is priest or pastor or rabbi or imam, or whatever teacher you choose to follow, we as a people have an atavistic hatred and fear of the government criminalizing worship.  I’m not sure if most folks can even step back far enough to think and consider and see that, but I very much believe that is true: one video, even one simple photo, of a religious leader led away in handcuffs for holding a worship service is about the most powerfully devastating thing you can imagine to someone in the US.
  3. Wait, coronavirus voted Democrat?!?: rather than have me type them all out, please insert here 15 or 20 of the worst curses, phrases and swear-words you know.  Okay, thanks for that, I feel better(ish) now.  As I’ve said before, I tagged-out of the political match a few years ago.  I’m not on one team or the other, I think they both do far more harm than good.  How hard is it, then, for me to watch the current politicization of this virus?  Err, please insert more curses here, and make them worse this time.  There are legit arguments to be made for both the “shut it all down” case, and for the “cure can’t be worse than the disease” one.  That’s fine, that’s part of — going back to point number one, up above — being an adult.  But when did politics ever involve adults, for fuck’s sake?!  The rest of the world has, for the most part, their shit in order…but here at home…  Oh, here at home…  Jesus H Fuc…err, insert some more curse words, please, and don’t repeat yourself this time!  The fact that the US has reached the point where quarantine/isolation equals “democrat”, while re-opening equals “republican” is the most criminally, pointlessly useless bit of political tribalism that I can fucking well imagine.  Get over it, people.  Microscopic life forms do not give one single shit about what useless sack of nothingness you voted for in the last election.  Just as much, a Depression and poverty also do not give a single shit about who you voted for.  How about, oh I don’t know, we think about the entire country for a fucking change?!?!
  4. Ahem.  Nothing to see here, I’m just using this space to drink some more…and to try and stop cussing.  Move along.
  5. 729318B1-DF21-420C-898E-4CF312DBE7E5“Show me what’s inside your head”: okay, so not really a topic, it’s actually a line from a song.  But, holy crap, is there a line more powerful or pointed for a writer?  Think about it for a minute.  Don’t worry about the song, or the artist.  Don’t worry about what you do for a living.  Don’t worry about the medium or the aesthetic or any of the other bullshit words and phrases we artists like to attach to things.  Just think about the words…and the concept.  To me, that line is not advice or observation or suggestion, that line is commandment.  Every single word I write, in one way or another, is a way to show others what’s inside my head — and, no, it ain’t always pretty.  It is, in fact, quite often fucked up, bitter, and confused.  It has also been known to be drunk, frivolous, silly, and no-holds-barred, squirrel-fucking nuts…welcome to my head!

There is one thing I want to add, and it is not really a part of the list above is.  It’s an explanation about a specific point in my last post.  To (try to) make a point in that post, I conflated Alabama and Saudi Arabia.  Now, I’m a writer…that means words and images and concepts have meanings.  More, it means I am responsible and accountable for the words and images and meanings I write.

I want to be very, very clear: I was in no way condemning the vast, vast majority of Christians or Muslims.  Quite frankly, humanity and our world/society are much better for the thoughts and influence that both have had on our world.  What I condemn, unequivocally and virulently, are the fundamentalist sects of both religions — of all religions — who move beyond personal morality and spirituality to try and impose their own beliefs on others.

I place, to be honest, the Wahabbists of Saudi Arabia in the same basket as the fundamentalist evangelicals of the US.  Both are equally intolerant, and both are equally evil.

As I’ve said more than once on this blog, your morality is your business…and mine is mine.  I respect folks for their faith — especially when it drives them to give and to help others — but as soon as your chosen faith becomes my unchosen commandment, a very dangerous line has been crossed…