Your Life Won’t Be Ruined

Err…okay…so I probably shouldn’t think about how long it’s been since I wrote a blog post…

No, I don’t need to think about that at all.

What I need to think about instead is what actually got me to wanting to write a post tonight in the first place…

It was a long — and kinda shitty — day at work.  All I wanted was pizza and a beer.  Or beer and a pizza.*

*Amazing, isn’t it, how changing the placement of just two tiny words can change the emphasis and imagery of a sentence…and don’t even get me started on changing one tiny word!  “My arms around her neck…” versus “My hands around her neck…”  Ahem.  Vocabulary and syntax for the writing-win, Alex!

At any rate, pizza and beer.  That’s where I was.  Yeah, that’s it…

I went music shopping tonight, while I was drinking.  Oh, it wasn’t the old-school flipping through albums and CDs that used to be such an important part of my life.  No, this time — as has become my norm — it was mousing through the electronic catalog that is Apple’s iTunes Store.

Crap, I don’t even own CDs anymore, let alone the old vinyl albums that took my music-virginity.  Gah, don’t even get me started on losing the visceral satisfaction of actually “putting on” on a new album!

Okay…crap…talk about squirrel moments…that whole 200-word attempt at an “intro” was one giant squirrel-moment!  But…well…at least it gets me started…

One of the songs I was listening to tonight had a line that resonated.  It was in fact a line that damned-well better resonate!  “You’re life won’t be ruined…” that song said.

Your life won’t be ruined…

Your life won’t be ruined if you accidentally buy the low-pulp orange juice.

Your life won’t be ruined if the Broncos lose by 24 points to the Chiefs.

Your life won’t be ruined if Britain leaves the EU…or if it fails to do so.

Your life won’t be ruined if Donald Trump is impeached, or wins the ‘20 election…or not.

Your life won’t be ruined…

Your life won’t be ruined.

As someone who has fought the twin demons of depression and despair; as someone who has questioned whether any of this shit is actually worth it; as someone who has sat on a branch with a bottle in one hand and rope around his neck; as someone who has known both highs and lows that most folks don’t get to experience, all I can say is this: your life won’t be ruined.

Part of me wants to write this post to reassure my friends and family — to reassure those who have learned, if only through this blog, of my struggles with life — that I “get it”, that I’m not quite as fucked up as they think I am.

But only part.

Most of me, however…

Most of me just wants to speak to anyone who is staring at the same forbidding terrain through which I have spent a lifetime traveling.

Your life won’t be ruined.

In spite of everything the judgmental and the superior and the vindictive can do, your life won’t be ruined.  Second chances are everything in life, and most of the world appreciates that fact.  Shit, most of the world needs that fact.  More than that, however, anyone who doesn’t believe in second chances is far more fucked up than any of the rest of us could ever be.

So go ahead and vote for whoever or whatever you like.  Win or lose, your life won’t be ruined.

Go ahead and try to write that novel or poem, or paint that picture or compose that song.  Win or lose, your life won’t be ruined.

Most importantly, however, go ahead and be YOU.  Go ahead and be honest with those who love you.  Whether they accept and embrace, or turn their backs, you will survive.  You CAN survive.  Your life doesn’t have to be ruined.

If you live in the closet and are terrified of coming out…

If death and suicide stalk your thoughts…

If failure is an everyday companion…

If everyone looks, or acts, or feels, different from you…

You can make it.  You can survive.  It might be hard…it might even be hell, but there is far more to life than now.  To quote a charity/movement I whole-heartedly support and believe in: “it gets better.”

When you get right down to it, your life won’t be ruined.

The Eyes Tell The Real Story

I was writing a microfiction piece to post later this week.  Nothing new in that, although I haven’t been as good at keeping up with the whole “Microfiction Friday” thing as I should be.  At any rate, I had finished writing the piece and I was looking for a photo to go with it.

Hoo boy, did that search send me down a rabbit-hole.  I wanted a very particular picture — a particular timeframe, a particular composition, a particular subject…

But I framed my initial search too broadly.  I framed it too broadly, and I ran into a whole lot of “other” pictures.  Oh, not the BAD kind of “other”, but rather the good kind…the kind that gets us writers to thinking.  To imagining and projecting.  To writing.  Pictures that, like the old saying goes, say a thousand words.  Pictures that say more than that.

Private-Edwin-Francis-Jemison.jpgOne of those pictures truly stuck with me.  It still sticks with me.  It sticks with me because it tells an entire freaking novel

It’s not a comfortable picture, not when you look at it for a while.  And it gets worse when you learn his story…and his fate.

Private Edwin Francis Jemison, 1844 – 1862.

Look, child soldiers are bad enough, but look at that picture…really look at it.

You know what gets me?  It’s the eyes.  Those are the eye of someone who has seen death, of someone who has fought and feared and suffered.  They are certainly not the eyes of a boy, of one we should be able to call an innocent.

Shit, I write about 16-17 year old kids.  I write about them as addicts and thieves and prostitutes.  I write about them, when you get right down to it, as who they truly are: the inhabitants — the victims, really — of the society we have created…and are still creating.  Now, I write about them in terms of sci-fi, but the eyes in that picture are a reminder that the same damned thing has been happening for centuries.  Worse than that, it has been happening as long as we humans have been around…

I do sci-fi and fantasy.  I’ve never tried my hand at historical fiction, but…

…but, holy shit!  How can you look at that picture and not want to tell the story behind those eyes?!  How can you not want to use Private Jemison’s short life to tell the story of those kids who still get pulled into every war — into every disaster and problem — we can create?

We lure them…

IMG_0720We draft them…

We propagandize them…

We indoctrinate them…

Then we kill them.

*sigh*

Musical Note — I’ve used this particular song in a post before, but I can’t think of a single damned thing to better accompany Private Jemison’s picture:

 

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?!

Climbing The Second Mountain

I’ve mentioned before that my news and opinion reading is pretty dang broad.  I do my best to take in info and viewpoints from all across the spectrum, then run all of them through my own perspective (and BS filter) in an effort to come up with something approaching the “whole picture.”

You come up with some surprising results that way, by the way.  You come up with writers that you like — that you take quite seriously — even though you may not agree with the policies and positions and opinions they express (I’m looking at you, Richard Cohen).

That’s rare, however.  More commonly you find those writers who simply make you shrug, who are there just to read in the moment.  Every once in a while, however, one of those “blah” people surprises you…every once in a while you find a column or an essay that makes you sit up and take real notice of someone you had dismissed for years…

I ran across one of those this past weekend.

Maybe it was because the piece had nothing really to do with politics, but rather was about life itself…about life, and second chances.  Given that I, in the essay’s terms, am on my “second mountain,” this piece really resonated.

I cannot for copyright reasons quote the entire thing here, but I am going to put a pull-quote to give you an idea of what he has to say, along with a link to the piece itself.  It is…erm…a terrible title for the piece, by the way.  The headline has nothing whatsoever to do with what is actually written, but that’s not the author’s fault…blame the editors for that one.  Ignore the title and just read the essay, it’s worth it.

David Brooks, “The Moral Peril of Meritocracy”

“Life had thrown them into the valley, as it throws most of us into the valley at one point or another. They were suffering and adrift.

Some people are broken by this kind of pain and grief. They seem to get smaller and more afraid, and never recover. They get angry, resentful and tribal.

But other people are broken open. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that suffering upends the normal patterns of life and reminds you that you are not who you thought you were. The basement of your soul is much deeper than you knew. Some people look into the hidden depths of themselves and they realize that success won’t fill those spaces.”