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.”

Ramblin’ On

I meant to do this post back on Monday, but I got distracted by planning & preparing for my (imminent) Yellowstone departure.  Oh well…shit, as they say, happens.

At any rate, I’ve accumulated enough things I wanted to talk about, that I think it’s time for another list post.  Just as a word of warning: this post got away from me.  I went into with no plan, but a few things I wanted to talk about, and…well…welcome to random and unorganized bloggin’!did-paul-revere-1

  1. The elections are coming! The elections are coming!  The silly season is upon us!
  2. Of course, the US being the US, elections are always coming. Gone are the days when normal folks got a break from the constant din and chaos of campaigning and politics.  Okay, so the House was intended to be that way, to be the “immediate expression” of the “popular will,” but the Senate and Presidency…those longer terms were supposed to make them not on-going popularity contests but rather stable positions able to focus on the longer term and the bigger picture.  Holy crap, did the Founders got that one wrong…
  3. Okay, so on the topic of elections, it’s probably good to remind folks that nothing and no one on the news right now matters one bit.  Yes, there are more and more stories about the various Dem challengers for the 2020 ticket, more stories and biographies and speculation, more stories reflecting the electioneering and posturing and positioning of the “candidates,” but none of them mean a thing.  Look, all those stories are just like another big stretch of silly-seasons that’s going on right now: the NFL Draft.  There really is nothing to talk about in terms of the NFL prospects — let alone the Dem “candidates” — as not a single one of them can do a damned thing before the season (or the election) starts, but the talking heads (of both species, sports and politics) need something to talk about, something to drive viewers and interest.  They need something, when you get right down to it, to make them sound smart and connected.  And so we get showered with speculation and statements about this “can’t-miss” prospect/candidate and that “sure-thing,” and all the while the Truth just gives up and decides to go out and get drunk.  So, when you’re looking at these stories and either hoping or dreading in regards to a certain candidate — depending on your political team — just remember this: when the election actually starts, you won’t remember a damned thing that happens right now.11260C46-9429-4BEF-907D-D8D0AFF3A5CC
  4. I know, I know, I’m talking about the silly-season I just told you to ignore.  But, well…I never claimed to be particularly consistent, did I?!  Ahem.  I do want to say one more thing about the current Dem field: I like the fact that there are some new names getting involved — and the Repubs should take note of what their opponents are doing.  Far too often in the past both teams put up the same names, the same faces, that we always see. They put up the same praetors and pontiffs to run for the consulship, with the same bios and the same CVs and the same views.  If the 2016 US election — and others in Europe and elsewhere — showed nothing else, they showed that the rest of us, the normal folks, are looking for something different.  We are getting heartily sick of the same elites pushing the same policies and politics.  Just one look at this world is enough to show that change is very much needed.  Which, by the way, explains the popularity of guys like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — whatever you may think of each of them, they most definitely represent something “different” from what is/was usually forced down our political throats…character-war-soldiers-character-military-demotivational-posters-1313084604
  5. Crap…last political point, I promise!  I also want to call out a couple of names in the Dem field for a very specific reason — not for their politics, nor for their positions in the race, but for their titles: Major Tulsi Gabbard and Lieutenant Pete Buttigieg.  Both served honorably and well.  Both deployed to the Middle East.  Whether you agree with them or not, they bring a view the primary needs — on both sides of the aisle.  After twenty years of conflict and war, only now is the House of Representatives once again seeing the entry of veterans in decent numbers…of folks who know what it’s like to serve, and to deploy.  It is vital that we have that experience represented in DC.  Without veterans, without their experiences and knowledge, in positions of influence and power, it can — and has — become far too easy to use the men and women of the military for posturing and politics.  Honorable mention, by the way, goes to Joe Biden — although he did not serve, his son did, and the experience of those back home, of the parents and spouses and loved ones, matters.

Err…well…that went on too long.  I’ll cut the list short there and save the other stuff I wanted to talk about for Friday’s post, I think.  Black holes and the environment and The Matrix