Write or Flight

Fight or flight.  Along with “sex or food,” that is perhaps the only biological constant that holds true no matter the species, no matter the environment, no matter the situation…hell, as a sci-fi guy I have zero doubt that those two hold true no matter, even, the planet or star!

Well, for those like me, those of the writerly bent, that evolves into “write or flight.”  You either have something to say, something to write, or you don’t.  Or, more to the point, you run away until you do have something to write.

It goes back, honestly, to that old and overused bit of “advice” we’ve all heard or read: writers write.

If the number of people who said they were writers actually wrote, we would need one hell of a lot more bookstores…

“I’m a writer, you know.”

“Cool, what was the last thing you wrote?”

“Well, I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet.”

“That’s not what I asked.  What was the last thing you wrote?”

“Err…  Umm…  I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet…“

“*sigh*”

Screw overused, it really is true: writers write.

Okay, sure, Dickens pimped his ass out for a publisher from the get-go, but Twain wrote his best stuff long before anyone ever thought his little nom-de-plum was worth a damn…

The Tale of Genji was hand-copied a thousand years ago…

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch was passed by samizdat* long before Khrushchev ever let it go “officially” to print…

*A uniquely Russian word — and concept — for the underground press.  Mostly it was individuals copying a work on old-school mechanical typewriters and passing it along to a handful of others in the “chain”.

The Outsiders was written during high school classes, with no thought or dream of it ever seeing the light of day…

The Aeneid was written as pure propaganda-for-hire….okay, so that one really was written for the publisher, but it is the exception that proves the rule!  Or something!

My point is this: if you have a good idea, if you have a good story, you write it.  Period.  That’s it.  Once it’s written — err, once it’s been revised and revised and revised and perfected — then you figure out how you’re going to make money from it.

Writers write.

Whether it’s good or bad…whether it’s publishable or not…whether it’s “acceptable” or not, writers write.

When you come to that point where you have a choice…

When you come to that point where you just don’t know…

When it comes to that point where you wonder just who you are…

You write it.

You always write it.

Screw the rest of it the bullshit.  Screw all the nonsense and advice and random worries, just write it.

Anything else will make you miserable.

And, by the way, if it doesn’t make you miserable to not write, then maybe you ain’t cut out for this life in the first place…

They Lied To Me!

The folks I bought the trailer from ran through a checklist for me of all the stuff they had done to get everything ready.  One of those things was, “filled both propane tanks.”

Ahem.

I ‘bout froze my testicles off from that one!

Look, I know I should have checked the damned bottles myself, just to be sure they really had filled them, but…well…headed into Yellowstone for six months like I was, I had a lot of other crap on my mind at that point…

533F3DB3-8CFE-4EFE-A781-761C2CA49D53I should probably point out something about Yellowstone in spring: it ain’t really spring until summer starts.  Look, it’s May 2nd as I write this and there is 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Well, a few nights ago, the temp dropped to -10 farenheit* and…okay, I think we can all guess what happened then…

*For you Celsius folks, that’s freaking COLD — that’s something like -23 C

Yep, you win the prize!  My freaking propane ran out!

Do you know what happens when the furnace in a 28-foot trailer conks out in that kind of cold?!

Tears, that’s what happens!5F48ECD4-0D02-47A5-AB69-DF75CE577593

The bastards lied to me. They had half-filled one tank, and ignored the other entirely. That deserves a major HARRUMPH!

I would be more pissed, I should add, except…

Except…

Except…I’m back in the middle of the damned wilderness.  My house may be small, but my backyard is fucking awesome!

The baby bison — called red dogs, and cute as hell — are just being born right now…

The wolf pups are cautiously coming out of the dens with their parents…

The bear cubs are going absolutely nuts, playing in the snow…

Everything is hungry as hell right now, from the bison down to the chipmunks, so they are all out and eating everything in sight.  Just this evening, in fact, I already had my first close encounter with a grizzly. He was a small one — barely a juvenile who had just recently struck out on his own — but it still was a great reminder just how NOT on top of the food chain I am in this place.

8CFB9B28-9B56-4FD2-8DFC-0E5A4744BF04It was also a majorly cool reminder not just of where I am, but why I’m here.

I can feel the chains falling away, and the words coming back.  I can feel the rhythms and cadences of sentences and phrases and scenes.  I can feel the emotion, and the truth, that is the best driver for any writing.  I sat already, I should add, in a place I wasn’t technically, umm, allowed to be, and the words and images just started to flow on their own…

Can You Smell That?

That’s the scent of fresh air.  That’s backcountry hiking.  That’s decomposing trees and melting snow and grizzly poop.

As beautiful as the main parts of Yellowstone are, they’re not what keep me coming back.  Nope, what has me here yet again are the parts you don’t see.  The parts that only those who live inside the park see and feel and experience.  The mud pots and mineral pools and geysers with no trails leading to them.

Screw the bison herds ambling along — and across! — the roads, a short off-trail hike will take you to a bison graveyard.  Yeah, it’s only three miles from the road, but none of those tourists visiting only for a day, or a week, even know it’s there, let alone are willing to walk through the sage-covered hills to reach it.

During bison mating season, I see all kinds of folks lining the sides of the roads with massive binoculars and spotting scopes trying to catch the barest glimpse of one of the wolves stalking the herds and I have to laugh.  “Give me a couple hours,” I want to shout, “and I’ll you take you to a freaking den!”

You will also never, by the way, well-and-truly appreciate your can of bear spray until you get lost and stumble across an adult grizzly’s main lair.  I would not, of course, recommend that particular adventure — but it sure as hell is a cool memory/experience to have!

I think this summer will finally be the time for me to dive into that secondary project I’ve had simmering for a while.  It’s a “low fantasy”* setting, so the unseen and unknown areas of Yellowstone are the perfect impetus to get me thinking “primitively.”  To be honest, after spending so long on sci-fi, I need the mental and experiential kick of being away-from-it-all to get my thoughts moving onto that very different track. 

*Think little-to-no magic, and a bit of gritty realism, and that’s “low” fantasy, versus the usual “high” fantasy stuff of wizards and elves and noble heroes and other impossibilities…

That is, of course, another of the reasons why I like trips & adventures like this: to get my mind exercising and working.  I can’t sit here and stare at the steep, forbidding, snow-covered mountains that ring Yellowstone — like I’m doing as I write this — and not imagine what is was like for the original explorers and settlers.  No roads, no gas, no electricity — hell, no real, accurate maps — just what you can carry with you on foot or horseback.

Think on that for a bit.

As I sit here, my version of such “exploring” is off to my left: a 4-ton, 28-foot trailer with, quite literally, all the comforts of home.  Yeehaw, I’m really roughing it now!  Lewis & Clark ain’t got nothin’ on me!

Ahem.

I look at that trailer, then I look at the mountains.  I look, and I try to forget what I know about the actual geography of the area — I don’t want to cheat, after all — then I try to pick out the path I would try to take if I was one of those folks way back when.  Whether it’s mountains or meadows or impassible forest, I look and I try to imagine traveling and living there a century, or a millennia, ago.

Then I Google the reality of what I studied and I laugh at how fast I would’ve actually died.

It is, when you think about it, very, very true that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Whether you think about scouts on a trail, Vikings on a longboat, traders on camelback or even early pilots like Amelia Earhart, over water with no GPS, no LOFAR, no navigation aids at all, just take a moment and appreciate what they did…and how impossible it would be for 99+% to do anything even close…

Part of the Story

Ahh…the middle of nowhere…

Okay, that’s the wrong description…especially for someone who enjoys the pace of life in smaller towns.

Now, look — I grew up in L.A.  The pace and crowding and insanity of that kind of place is something with which I am intimately familiar, so trust me when I tell you this: I hate big cities.  They are the plague.  They are the purest evil in the universe.

If some race of super-intelligent, super-powerful aliens came to Earth and demanded to scoop out and take New York, My response would be simple: “Have at it!”  No haggling, nothing expected in return, they could just take that shithole — err, “place” — as a tip…as a little something-extra for coming all that way just to visit us…

But even I lose track of what life can be like sometimes.

Let me paint you a picture…I’m sitting here, typing this post in small-town Montana.  When folks around here talk about going “to the big city”, they are talking about freaking Bozeman, for God’s sake, which is no one’s idea of a bustling metropolis.  Hell, the coffee shop in which I had breakfast yesterday had more ATVs and four-wheelers parked in front than actual cars.

So, today, I stopped for gas before going to lunch.  A normal gas station, with a normal convenience store, just off the highway.  Great, everything pretty standard and expected, so far…except that my credit card is old, and its magnetic strip has pretty much given up the ghost as far as functionality is concerned, and it refuses to work in the pump’s reader.  Oh well, shit happens.  I’ll just go inside and pay.

As soon I walk through the door, I get a wave and a call from the woman behind the counter, “Don’t worry about it, honey.  Just pump and come pay when you’re done!”

Wait…what?  What the hell?!

The L.A.-raised part of me started to look for the scam, went instantly to DEFCON-1 on the ol’ suspicion-meter…

Another smile, and another wave, from the lady — presumably for the slow, slightly stupid moron starting blankly at her — and I went back outside to pump my gas.  Before paying for it.

Before paying for it.

Let me say that again: before I fucking paid for it!

Think about that for a minute.

If I had tried to do that same thing back in L.A., I would’ve been face down on the ground, with the business-end of a pistol pressed against the back of my head, before I so much as got my gas-cap unscrewed.  If I was very, very lucky that gun might even have been held a real cop…or if I was very, very unlucky.  It depends on who you ask.

In the world of small towns, however, where folks are still human?

*sigh*

We’ve lost so much of ourselves in our mad rush to concentrate and urbanize.  We’ve lost that sense of community, and of brotherhood — not to sound too hippy — that is what made us what we are…that is also what could make us what we should be.

“Go outside an play.  I don’t want to see you back in this house until the streetlights come on!”

“Don’t worry about the money, just take the gas can now, then pay for everything when you come back.”

“Naw, I’m not gonna write a ticket.  Just slow down a bit and watch out for the cows…”

E670C71A-CB46-4134-923C-01C38F57F0E7We watch it in movies, we read about it in stories and articles…but usually there is that (inevitable) overtone of superiority, of patronizing indulgence, from those “betters” who have spent just a day or two in a small town, and who want to use that experience to highlight what really matters to them: New York, or L.A., or London…

There is nothing on the face of this planet more fundamentally insulting than patronizing superiority, by the way.  That unspoken sense that someone is “better” because they “get to” go home to a 500 square-foot box costing $2,000 a month…that the reality of “the rest” is somehow less.  Less valuable, less important, less real than theirs, just because they have 30 million “neighbors”….

Once again, all I really to say is: *sigh*

I could talk about my waitress at lunch, about the fact that she was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Hell, I could talk, even, about the fact that she could make far more as a cocktail waitress in a “real” city.

I could talk about all that, but I won’t.  Frankly, I don’t particularly want to roll around in the pigsty of recrimination and criticism that going deeper into this subject would bring.  There’s a cigar bar right down the road, and I have better things to do…

Besides, what are fiction novels for, if not to take the foolishness and flaws of our society and make them a part fo the story?!