The Silence Of Snow

There’s something about the forest – the deep, untrod forest – in a snowstorm. It is one of the quietest, most still places you will ever experience. The feeling isn’t one of death, or even of the wildlife seeking shelter. No, rather it is one of anticipation.

It’s almost like everything, like nature itself, is holding their collective breath.

I went hiking through the forest today…hiking in a snowstorm. A place that, just yesterday, was alive with elk, and with the predators stalking that herd. A place of noise and life and a certain amount of chaos.

Today it had that profound magic, that still silence…that anticipation. I loved it.

That hike got me to thinking. Thinking about the metaphors I am using in the current story, and about the messages I am trying to send. The Silence That Never Comes, to give the story its full title.

What would that wood feel like to someone who had never heard silence?  Who had no conception of peace, of quiet and still anticipation?

That is getting to the heart of the story…and to the scene that is building in the back of my mind. The scene of my protagonist – that kid who has known nothing but violence and cynicism and despair – in the middle of just such a storm, in just such a wood.

The vision is there…the knowledge of what I want – what I need – to include is there…now it just has to be executed.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons why I write: the challenge. The challenge of putting into effective words a feeling, and an imagination, so initially vague and formless.

And, more importantly, the feeling that comes when you get it right.

I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: to get it right, to nail a scene, is a feeling that has few peers. The closest I can come, at this moment, is that feeling when I summit one of the more challenging mountains here in Yellowstone.

Is it the view? Is it the effort? No, it is the elation that comes when you do something you know so many people have either failed at, or have refused to even try.

There is a drive to that, and a certain joy…and, to put this in terms of the underlying theme to all of Silence, a certain meaning.

Connor still has yet to really discover, let alone understand, that theme, that understanding…but there really is more to life.

Note – just to put everything in context, I figured I would offer some proof…would show just what Yellowstone looks like in late summer:

I Say “Potato”, You Say “Idiot”

Apparently the Emmys are on tonight. My apologies if you are one of those who find the autoerotic narcissism of Hollywood awards shows interesting, but I personally would rather remove my own spleen with a sharp rock than watch…

Not that I don’t do self-indulgence or narcissism, I just try to make it make it less…pathetic.

So I’m gonna sit here, instead, and plan my final hike of the year. The hike that caused the backcountry rangers to tell me, very emphatically, “Don’t be an idiot.” The hike that caused my friend to preemptively put up “Missing” posters with my picture. “Just getting a head start,” he explained.

*sigh*

But it’s such a cool hike! So what if 15 of the 20 miles are through the most dangerous “Bear Management” region in Yellowstone? So what if there is no longer a trail of any sort? So what if it really only exists on old maps from the early 90s?

Yeah, yeah, I know…the rather large odds of a disastrous ending are not a good idea, but…well…c’mon…no one has done it in almost twenty years!

Wait, what was that I was saying about self-indulgence?

Ahem.

Now, if I was the protagonist of a story, this hike would kick off all kinds of danger and adventure. Kind of a “Into Thin Air”…although preferably with a happier outcome.

But, no, I’m not a protagonist. I’m not the lens through which adventures and lessons come. I’m just a guy who looks remarkably like a Happy Meal to a pre-hibernation grizzly.

Our characters make bad choices so we can advance the plot, so we can have conflict and tension, and so we can – frankly – experience a bit of repeated schadenfreude at their expense.

And, even when they die, they live on…

That won’t work so well for me. There’s a popular book up here called “Death in Yellowstone”. One of my cashiers took great delight in explaining to me, in great detail, just how many of the screw ups in that book I am repeating every time I take off on my solo, off-trail hikes.

I’ll still plan the damned hike – oh, will I plan it! – but instead of doing it before I leave here in a few weeks, I am going to return this winter and do it when everything is sleepin’ the winter away.

How’s that for a compromise?

Hey, I said I wasn’t a protagonist, I didn’t say I was smart!

Pop-Tarts & Beer

I had an eye infection today: I just couldn’t see doing anything.

Now, keep in mind, my normal “I Hate Humans” Monday involves a hike of somewhere around 16 or 20 miles. Occasionally, more.

Today?

Today, I went four miles and stalled out for a picnic lunch. Sat in the shade and stared at a meadow.

I even pretended to write for a while.

Then pretending to write began to feel too much like work, so I decided some napping was in order. Remember that backpack hammock I mentioned a couple of posts ago? Yep, in that. Hey, if I can’t see the bears, they can’t see me…right?

Now, I’m sitting in front of the store to do some actual — err, well, semi-actual — writing. And, yes, I did extend the hike a bit…but ten total miles is still more of a stroll than it is a real hike.

But, and this is important bit, I have to call it a hike…if ain’t a hike, I don’t get my favorite post-hike snack.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s snack is strawberry-flavored, washed down with a nice pale ale. The people behind me are having granola bars and water…I feel so much better about myself as a human being!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pretending to do…

From The Prosaic To The Profound

I was walking through Sears, back when there really was a Sears. Just walking through to go into the mall and do that most pointless and prosaic of activities: shop.

Still on my first cup of coffee, still disgruntled from being out of bed after having worked late the night before. I’m in the electronics section, not paying attention to anything in particular.

Then it strikes me: why the hell is the World Trade Center on fire?

I stop a minute, to watch one of the hundred or so TVs all showing the same thing. The sound is up, but — as usual— I just ignore the idiot talking.

An image, blurry and indistinct, of a plane. Of that plane flying into the second tower of the already burning, already doomed, WTC.

Then I did start to listen.

It sounds trite, it sounds like cheating to use a phrase so often tired and overworked, but everything really did change that day.

As ever, I keep myself and my own politics out of this blog…very intentionally. But…but…but, there’s always a but.

But, that day started a chain of events, and of stresses, that are leading very, very directly to that civil war here in the US that I think is so inevitable. Inevitable, and coming nearer.

Leaving aside Iraq and Afghanistan and the rest of the world, the US is beginning to tear itself apart. And this one won’t be the relatively simple two-sided affair of 150 years ago. No, this one will be seven- or eight-sided, with economics and geography and sociology creating a pool of hate, resentment and blood that will put the struggle of North and South to shame.

That is, however, not the topic of today’s post. Today’s post is here to pay my respects to those who are no longer around to type their idle and cynical thoughts sixteen years later. To the three thousand who died that day, and to those who died in the days and months and years since.

I’ve mentioned before that Naval History is a passion of mine. It is actually a mite more than that, and I have many good friends who were, and still are, in harm’s way.

A good friend was an officer aboard a destroyer that day, was headed back to port after a training exercise. No one believed the captain, at first, when he announced what had happened, announced they were heading back to sea.

My friend did not see the US for another nine months.

Another friend, ostensibly a “support” specialist who typically would live “in the rear with the gear”, was attached to an SOF element. He never saw home again.

Two examples.  Two examples of the dozens I could give.  Two examples just to offer some perspective. I could talk about the friend who never said “No” to a deployment, who is now paying with his soul for eight straight years of war and stress.  Of another, an accountant by trade, who did enough to make even the most hardened and cynical of veterans sit up and take notice…and has never said a single word about it.

I am, I have said before, a libertarian. I don’t care what are your politics. I don’t particularly care what you do, so long as you don’t hurt anyone else. But today…today I talk about what I care about.

Don’t tell some random person “Thank you for your service.” Don’t throw five or ten bucks at some feel-good charity like Wounded Warrior.

Be real, do something real.

Give your time, give your passion. Money helps…oh, yes, does money help…but so much more do people help. The disconnect today between the military and the rest of the population has never been greater…and that is part of the problem.

Go to a VFW and talk. Don’t offer platitudes, don’t talk about yourself…buy some drinks and listen. Listen to those who know, those who lost and who understand the reality. Listen and learn, and make sure your children learn.

Give your time to a charity/clinic helping those with PTSD. I don’t care if you’re cleaning the fucking toilets, do something to help. I have too many friends, too many loved ones, who still hate and fear the nightmares to give two shits about your pride. Just help.

Throw a fishing trip, or a tailgate party, or a backyard barbecue, for those in your area who served, and those who are still serving. Don’t go to your Rolodex, don’t go to your own pool of friends, go to theirs.

And, by the way, the spouse who is still at home, who is trying to do it all, is just as much a hero…do not overlook them. Those still in the sandbox and the rockpile do not, of that I can assure you.

I am going to do something I have never done before: I am going to steal from someone I admire.  This has nothing to do with politics today, with the White House today.  I have my own opinions thereon, but they have nothing to do with this.  Read the letter…read the letter and feel.  Whether you agree with his politics or not is of no import; this man knows.

From: Kelly LtGen John F
Date: November 12, 2010 10:23:20 PM EST
Subject: FW: My Boy

Family and Friends,

As I think you all know by now our Robert was killed in action protecting our country, its people, and its values from a terrible and relentless enemy, on 9 Nov, in Sangin, Afghanistan. He was leading his Grunts on a dismounted patrol when he was taken. They are shaken, but will recover quickly and already back at it. He went quickly and thank God he did not suffer. In combat that is as good as it gets, and we are thankful. We are a broken hearted – but proud family. He was a wonderful and precious boy living a meaningful life. He was in exactly the place he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do, surrounded by the best men on this earth – his Marines and Navy Doc.

The nation he served has honored us with promoting him posthumously to First Lieutenant of Marines. We will bury our son, now 1stLt Robert Michael Kelly USMC, in Arlington National Cemetery on 22 Nov. Services will commence at 1245 at Fort Myers. We will likely have a memorial receiving at a yet to be designated funeral home on 21 Nov. The coffin will be closed. Our son Captain John Kelly USMC, himself a multi-tour combat veteran and the best big brother on this earth, will escort the body from Dover Air Force Base to Arlington. From the moment he was killed he has never been alone and will remain under the protection of a Marine to his final resting place.

Many have offered prayers for us and we thank you, but his wonderful wife Heather and the rest of the clan ask that you direct the majority of your prayers to his platoon of Marines, still in contact and in “harm’s way,” and at greater risk without his steady leadership.

Thank you all for the many kindnesses we could not get through this without you all. Thank you all for being there for us. The pain in unimaginable, and we could not do this without you.

Semper Fidelis

John Kelly

Knob Polishing: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Norovius

“Honey, how was your day at work today?”

“Just peachy. I had to polish everybody’s knobs.”

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t find this as funny as I do. Ah, hell…who am I kidding? I found today hilarious…mostly because I was off work and didn’t have to actually experience any of the miserable crap.

A bus load of tourists, you see, came in carrying norovirus. Now, if you don’t know that particular little bug, it is…umm…pretty damned unpleasant. Take Montezuma’s Revenge and strip away all the fun and laughs and you start to get a picture of the results of norovirus. An optimistic picture.

And apparently this thing is passed by, well, pretty much everything. Just touching a surface can pass it to the next person who touches that surface…

So, today, every single employee at the store has been basically bathing in hand sanitizer from head to toe every two-and-a-half seconds. In between those baths, they’ve been wiping down every square millimeter of the store…including having one person clean every single latch and door handle in not just the store, but also the dining room and the dorms – hence my (juvenile) joke above.

I should point out that I took a random, extra day off today. And, yes, I did schedule it before this whole thing hit…even I’m not that cheesy!

As soon as my boss came into breakfast wearing gloves, and telling the kitchen that they had to go to “norovirus protocols”, I grabbed my pack and decided to go spoon with amorous bears instead.

I’m a goddamned history major, what the hell do I know about “protocols”?! I’m pretty sure the guy who does the prostate exams is a protocologist…and I don’t need that, thank you very much.

Keep in mind, I’m also the idiot who ignores common sense, and perfectly good trails, so I can go see what’s on the other side of that big hill over there… That means, of course, that I am currently sitting out in front of the store, at a public picnic table, and typing away.

I think tomorrow might suck…

C’mon, Sign Up…You Know You Want To!

There’s a month left. That’s it. A month left in the half-year I signed on for, up here.

What the hell happened? It seemed like such a looong commitment when I signed the contract.

Hell, a month ago it still seemed like a long commitment.

“Nah, not gonna think about afterwords. There’s plenty of time.”

Ahem.

By my estimate, I’ve hiked about a thousand miles total…I’ve had close encounters with five bears (three grizzlies, two black bears), and more distant encounters with half a dozen more…I’ve had to make my way around more bison than there are pigeons in NYC…and I’ve dealt with enough tourists to well-and-truly renew my loathing for Homo Touristus.

So, after all that, I figure it’s time I gave some thoughts and/or advice for anyone considering doing something like this (whether in Yellowstone, or elsewhere):

Overall/general stuff

First and foremost: do it. The opportunity to live in a National Park is the opportunity to know and understand that Park in ways that no tourist ever will. You will see and do things that most people never realize is even possible.

Second: be prepared. No, really…be more prepared, and plan better, than I did coming up here! I left behind things – for reasons of space – that never should have been left behind (more on this later).

Third: understand what you are in for…the environment up here is a whole lot like a mix of freshman year in college and summer camp, especially for the first two months. Relax and go with the flow, get to know your co-workers – the socializing and friendships you build are tied with experiencing the Park for importance in why you came.

Specific stuff

Okay, so you’ve signed a contract with one of the concessionaires in the Park system and you’re committed to coming. Here you go, the important shit.

  1. Pack smart. By that, I mean don’t pack shit you don’t absolutely have to. Whether you are driving up, or flying in and taking a shuttle to your new “home”, space & weight are very much at a premium. On one hand, I didn’t pack a whole lot of crap…but on the other, I could’ve left behind half of what I brought in favor of a couple of those things I left behind.
  2. Amazon is your friend. Basics like laundry soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc… can all be bought at (or near) where you’re working, but you’ll save money and frustration by just ordering it. This also means, of course, that it makes no sense to pack that stuff in the first place. Just bring enough for a week or two, then order what you’ll need for later.
  3. Do your research on the Park. You will be confused and out of sorts for the first month, so have ready a small list of the stuff you want to do in those first weeks. There is so much to do, and so many returnees who are already “experts” on the Park, that you will be overwhelmed…give yourself some structure to start with, then you can go free-form after you’ve settled in and mastered the basics.
  4. Do random shit. In spite of #3 above, when someone offers a midnight hike to somewhere you’ve never heard of, or there’s an easy group stroll to Bumfuck Falls, do it! You will regret neither the time nor the energy…even if the hike/trip/excursion isn’t your thing, the time getting to know your fellow inmates is worth it. As time goes by, you’ll have all the time in the world to do the “killer hikes”, or solo fly fishing trips, or camping outings, or whatever else draws your fancy.
  5. Don’t judge. The folks you work with will, in the main, be either young college kids or older, (semi)retired folks. The young kids are gonna go get drunk every night…and sometimes the older folks will, as well. Go with ‘em. Relax and enjoy life. Keep in mind, you will be working with international kids with varying levels of English and different habits, as well as with gay folks, social misfits, and even a few people so socially awkward (or just plain nuts) as to make you uncomfortable…deal with it. You have your own life, let them have theirs.
  6. An RV or trailer beats the dorms, every time. If you have the means, just go with me on this. I have my own room and my own bathroom, i am a hundred yards away from the employee dorms, and I still regret being this close. That being said, the best parties ARE in the employee dorms! (Ahem…there’s a future post there…oh, yes sir, is there a future post in that)
  7. Believe the horror stories. The “long-time” returnees will tell horror stories about weather and animals and rangers…and pretty much everything else you can imagine. Believe them. I can, err, well, confirm a lot of those. From getting three feet of snow in late June, to almost getting eaten by the biggest fucking grizzly you can imagine, I can most definitely now add my own “wisdom” to those stories.
  8. Be prepared to suffer for your fun. The hours can be long, and the work surprisingly hard. Specific to Yellowstone: the altitude can and will fuck with your system. It will also make your hangover MUCH worse…and, if you have even the tiniest of social bones in your body, you will get a hangover or two…
  9. Cell service, cell service, cell service. It’s still chancy, but it’s better than nothing. Research the main provider in whatever Park you’re going to – here in Yellowstone it is Verizon. Since I have Verizon, I get decent download speeds at night…in the day it ain’t worth it, since everyone and their five cousins are all hitting the same cell tower that I am.

And, finally…that which I dearly wish someone had given me before I left for Yellowstone: the packing list!

  1. You’re (presumably) a big kid – figure out your own clothing situation. Believe people when they tell you it can snow in mid-fucking-July.
  2. Bring separate shoes for work and play: I originally used the same pair of boots for work and hiking, and I walked through ‘em in three months.
  3. Bring a good daypack. You will either never hike a bit (about 10% of folks), or you’ll hike your ass off. A good daypack, and plenty of water, makes all the difference.
  4. Bring camping stuff. Your know: a tent, a good sleeping bag (small, for backpacking, and cold-weather-capable for, well, snows in June), a backpack stove, that kind of thing. One additional pice of advice: get a good backpack hammock and tarp. Trust me on this – it can actually take the place of a tent 75% of the time, and is a hell of a lot smaller and lighter.
  5. Don’t bother with a bike. I love riding…for the last couple of years, I’ve done a lot of it. Riding in a National Park just plain sucks: you can’t go on the trails, so all you have are the roads…and the most dangerous things in the park system are the tourist drivers.
  6. Equipment is more important than clothes. Since I got here, I have either been given (by my company) or bought (at discount) something like ten t-shirts, a couple of fleeces/sweatshirts, and a bunch of other stuff. I could have left a lot of stuff at home in favor of some equipment that I badly miss right now…
  7. Bring a laptop that has TV shows and movies loaded on it, or on a removable hard drive. You absolutely cannot count on the internet (trust me on that!), and DVDs take up a lot of space. A big 500 GB, or 2 TB, portable hard drive packed with music and videos will make you the most popular kid in school.

Go Where The Story Takes You

IMG_0163It’s IWSG day again – yay!

If you haven’t guessed by now, this blog is pretty much a free-form flow of rambling thoughts. I have, of course, always planned to completely avoid stream-of-consciousness posts…and generally failed at that.

Oh well.

But…but, at least IWSG-day gives me ONE day a month where I can be planned and structured!

Err…well…sometimes…

Hey, what can I say? I’m sitting in the Yellowstone sun after a relaxing hike (just eight miles), with a beer in hand and my iPad open and ready for the words…

Life doesn’t suck right now, and fully planned & structured posts ain’t really at the top of my mind.

Okay, with that in mind, it’s time for the post itself: Has writing ever surprised you?

Every time.

No, really…every single damned time.

Honestly, it would be better to say that if my writing ever stops surprising me, it’s time to burn all the pages and hang up my pen.

My writing is my characters, and my characters have voices and minds of their own. They are – as I’ve mentioned before – the little ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind, always talking, always telling their stories to me.

For me to write a story, I have to believe in my characters. They have to be real, they have to have their own needs and demands. The creative process is very much a tug-of-war between me and them. What they want is not always what I want, or what I had planned.

And sometimes they win.

I suppose the best way to illustrate that point is to go back to my planning & preparation steps. After I’ve come up with the characters themselves, and the basic plot outline, comes the single biggest prep item in terms of time and effort: I write a summary of the entire story from each and every significant character’s POV.

Keep in mind, these ain’t little 300-word synopses, these are 3,000-5,000-word detailed summaries. In a lot of ways, they are stories in and of themselves. To do that, I have to put myself into all of my characters’ heads. And that, very often, surprises me.

I’ve said before that Oz (from Wrath & Tears) is my favorite character, bar none. Well, his (never shared) POV document is the most heart-breakingly painful thing I’ve ever read (let alone written)….it also completely changed the story I had planned.

Not only is that the best example I can think of for why I do what I do, it is also a very good example of why a writer should always look for surprise, and always be open to change: before I wrote that bit, Wrath was Connor’s story, it was the story – both upfront and in subtext – of a simple street kid trying to fight his way out.

But after?

But after…the story became real, and it became very much Oz’s story. Yes, my protagonist was the same…yes, my plot was the same…but after that, all of the subtext became (or was supposed to become) about the despair and self-destruction that led my favorite character to commit suicide.

And that surprised me. Suicide has always been far too personal, and far too real, for me to ever write about.

Until Oz made me.

I could write about the other surprises in my work: I could write about how creating Silence’s final scene first made me go back and rewrite the entire fucking story…I could write about how, every time I sat down to write the conspiracy theory story, the words that came out were for another story entirely…I could write about how planning and structuring in too much detail ruined the first two novels I ever wrote, and how letting go of my inhibitions made all the difference…

But, in the end, it comes down to one thing for me: if your writing does not surprise you, if it does not make you want to keep writing just to see what the hell happens, why bother?

The Halfway Mark

I’m currently watching a toddler stagger around the plaza in front of the store, bottle in hand and legs shaky and unsteady. Weaving a course in and out of people and falling down every once in a while.

Hmm…I seem to recall being in that condition once or twice…

Trying to think about tone today, and the various tricks of voice, characterization and description we use to create the mood and feeling of a story. I’m thinking about it because I have to sit down and do some planning and rework of the outline for the rest of the current story. No big deal – I would only worry if I didn’t have to make changes at this point!

At any rate, I’m halfway through Silence, and that is a damned nice milestone for me…in spite of being badly behind schedule*.

*Hey, YOU put in a full day of writing when you’ve got mountains and valleys and meadows – not mention bears and bison – calling your name!

But with all of that said, the changes I have to make are pretty big. I like, at least in concept, the changes I have in mind, but I am concerned at the change in tone, as well. I’m already struggling to maintain the bitter, jaded and angry tone that characterized the first book, and anything that makes that harder is something I have to be careful about.

I might be in a better frame of mind as I write this book, and Connor may be in a better situation than he was as a dockside ikiryo, but that only changes the circumstances, not the reality. He is still bitter and angry, he is still abandoned and alone, and in the end he is still a broken, hurting kid. That is what I can’t lose sight of, that is the heart of the character and of the story.

How do you do that with a kid who is, essentially, living “under cover” as a yuppie?

Well, the glimpses into music and the dive bar in which Connor plays are part of it, but also the booze and the drugs still come in to play. I’ve been told the drinking and drug use in Wrath make Connor and Oz less likable than they otherwise would be. But, to that I can only reply that clean and nice aren’t who they are. It’s not what the stories are. It’s not, honestly, who I am.

Go to the downtown area in any moderate-to-large city and find yourself some streetkids. Just how many of those are clean and nice? Just how many of those are stone-cold sober?

Yeah, I couldn’t find any, either, when I was doing research for the books.

I did try to change the scenes I’ve been told are problematic, but those scenes are there for a reason. Hell, I do remember saying once that I don’t care if you like Connor and Oz as “people”, so long as you feel for them. And I still hold to that. These ain’t American high school kids, these are guys whose youth hides scars the rest of the universe can barely comprehend. These are guys who have seen the worst the universe has to offer…if their worst sin is to drink too much, and pop the occasional pill, then they’re doin’ pretty damned good, I’d say.

In Vino Veritas

Another snippet, one I wrote a while ago.  I’m still working out where and how this comes into Silence, but come in it does.  I’ve lived too many scenes like this myself to ever leave it out:

Connor pressed himself as deeply into the corner as he could. The shadows around him, the bottle in his hand, the worries and fears that he wouldn’t live to see the sun come up again—it was like being back dockside. He could all but hear Oz asking him just how fucked up did he plan to get?

“What the hell are you doing out here, Connor?” a voice asked. He knew that voice. He knew it, but it didn’t fit. Not with dockside, not with the memories.

He looked up. It was Matt. Innocent, earnest Matt. Poor foolish, naive Matt. The one who still believed in…anything.

A move of his hand and he offered the half-empty bottle. “Sit down and have a drink. I could use the company.”

A hesitation as Matt looked at the cold, wet ground before he sank down with a small shrug. He took the bottle and sipped cautiously. “Holy…what the hell are you drinking? This could strip paint from the walls.”

Connor laughed, then, with more than a hint of pain and bitterness. “Good ol’ fashioned shochu. Makes me feel young again. Y’all don’t get this kuso around here, so you don’t know what you’re missing.” Connor knew he should be careful about his speech, about letting dockside slip back onto his tongue, but he just couldn’t muster the energy. Or the care.

The bottle came back to him and he took a long, long drink.

It really was kuso, but he needed that particular burn from the harsh liquor. The burn of memory, the burn of forgetting. For a time.

“It’s, what, ten degrees out here? Are you insane? Why the hell are you sitting in the darkest, coldest corner in this whole city?” Matt asked, his voice full of care…and of the emotions and tells that Connor could so easily use.

No. Not this time.

Matt wasn’t a kamo, wasn’t someone to read and scam. He was a friend. That was all, just a friend.

Connor hadn’t realized just how much he needed a simple friend until he met Matt. Hopefully he wouldn’t kill this one.

Stop it, Connor, Oz said in his mind. You didn’t kill me. You did what you had to, and the price was paid. That’s how it works. Shit, I thought I taught you better than this.

The silence said Matt expected some kind of answer, so Connor obliged. He could laugh, and did, but he couldn’t stop the bitterness, not tonight. “It’s an old habit. If you’re in the corner, you only have to watch in front of you. Safest place to be. Of course, that means it’s also the place everyone wants. I’ve seen kids knifed for their little spots in the corner.”

A look over and he could read the shock and dismay on Matt’s face, even in the dark.

Fuck it, in booze lay honesty they said. Or something like that. Another pull at the bottle, then, “I saw my first murder when I was eight. This…this carnival you call civilization, it’s a sideshow. I know the truth behind it all. I know the blood and pain it’s built on. My pain, and my brother’s blood.”

“What the…” Matt stuttered, completely staggered, at a loss. He very obviously did not know what to make of Connor’s little speech, so he focused instead on the smallest of the details. “Brother? I thought you were an only child.”

Connor thought about that for a moment. “Some families you’re born into, some families you choose. Oz meant more—means more—to me than some random aho who just happens to share my genes.”

 

“Come pick me up from the night
From the hands of the dark
From the things I didn’t know
That would simply break your heart”

“Have Mercy”, The Gaslight Anthem, Get Hurt, 2014, Island Records

Diversity Pokémon: Gotta Have ‘Em All!

One of my co-workers wanted to go on a hike with me. No problem – as long as it is on a Tuesday, I don’t mind the company. Just leave my Mondays alone, dammit!

Anyway, the time comes to go out and here comes my “partner”. In sandals. With a tiny 12-ounce bottle of water. For a sixteen mile hike.

If I take the guy out like this, he’ll make it maybe five miles before dehydration and exhaustion take him out. If I turn him away and just leave, I get the Asshole of the Year award.

*sigh* This is, by the way, one of the reasons why I hate people.

“Sure, no problem, I’ll change the hike. We’ll skip Hayden Valley and just go to the Upper Falls.”

Great, now I want to go there just so I can jump off the damned Upper Falls…that path is PAVED for fuck’s sake!

Okay…I did NOT sit down with the intention of venting about my sub-par “hike” today. Of course, I am also plotting revenge: I got this particular individual to commit to a twenty mile hike through wildlife-infested meadows in a couple of weeks. If he doesn’t make it, I can at least use him to feed the bears…

Ahem.

Never mind.

One of my readers came to me the other day, had some questions. Now this particular reader has been mentioned in the blog before: the transgender kid slowly transitioning from girl to boy. I should also point out that this individual is someone I respect. In spite of the great difference in ages (20+ years), I listen very seriously to anything Billy has to say: we share a similar nerd-ism, and a love of very similar things (from Star Wars to D&D, and everything in between).

Why is Connor white and blonde? Billy asked.

Now, Billy is an artist. A picture came out, then, of Connor…before I had really described him. Black, this picture was, with dreadlocks. Still attractive…still smart. Shit, it could very well have been Connor…except. Except…

I had to think about my answer before I gave it. I actually thought for quite a while.

I wanted Connor to stand out, to be “a man alone” in the misery of dockside. Tall and blonde – in a society descended very, very closely from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo – very definitely ain’t part of the “scenery”.

I also wanted to fuck with society, and with the power structures. The workers of dockside – the exploited and oppressed – are Asian, but the wealthy and powerful of the Station are black. White folks are most definitely not in evidence out at Port Oblivion…very intentionally so.

Hell, Nat is a mix of black and Hispanic, and Oz is an unidentifiable mix of Japanese and…everything else.

The simple fact is that I refuse to “check boxes”. Nat is not black because I “needed a black character”, but because there absolutely is a power structure to Redux. And because, I will admit, I picture her as a very young version of Zoe from Firefly. And there ain’t many ladies out there that can rival Gina Torres for beauty or presence.

Beyond all of that, however, Connor’s race and appearance serve his character. He is an outsider, alien to the society around him. He doesn’t fit in, and that marks him as prey to the circling sharks. It is only the help from someone who does fit in, from the mostly-Asian Oz, that enables him to survive and learn to thrive…