I Chose This

Some people have panic attacks.  Others have rage attacks, or attacks of uncontrollable loneliness, or lust, or greed…  Let’s be honest here, we humans are subject to attacks by pretty much every single one of the seven of the deadly sins, and then some.

For me — because I am constitutionally incapable of being “normal” — I have attacks not of the negative and base emotions, but of civilization.  No, honestly…I am not going all writer-ish and making shit up; there really are times when the concrete and cars and people become so overwhelming that they send me into full freak-out mode.

Kinda like today.

Coming back from lunch, I pretty much lost it.  I got back to my AirBnB — driving like I was a sixteen-year-old on the LA freeways again — and spent the next two hours hiding inside, coming down.  It ain’t a lot of fun, in case you’re wondering.  It is also something I haven’t felt in several years…

*sigh*

This is pretty much why I abandoned the real world in favor of Yellowstone in the first place.  I have — quite literally — stumbled between a mother grizzly and her cub; I’ve been lost in terrain vastly different from what the old maps showed; I’ve climbed trees faster than any fat man should in order to avoid charging bison; I’ve had to skip the bear spray and go straight to the pistol on more than one occasion…

And in none of those instances, nor in the dozens of others I could relate, have I been even a tenth as stressed and panicked as civilization can make me in a single bad afternoon.

Now, like all of the good problems and challenges we set for our characters, I have no one to blame for this shit except myself.  I chose this.  In more ways than one, I chose this.  I chose to leave paradise and once again immerse myself in the “real world”.  I chose to give up the peace and stability I crave for the chaos and uncertainty I loathe.

It’s more than that, by the way.  It is something I hinted at in my last post: I chose to embark on an entirely new venture…alone.  Now, like most writers, I’m a creature of solitude and privacy.  I don’t share of myself often or easily, and I certainly don’t seek to share with others my burdens and challenges.

This new venture, this re-immersion into civilization, however…it is frightening to me.  It is, in fact, more frightening than “civilization” itself.  Oh, sure, I have friends and family with whom I can talk; friends and family who care and will do everything in their power to help.  But, well, when those friends and family are surprised that I’ve reached out to talk to them more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years?

Yeah, I chose this.

And sometimes it overwhelms.

This is, in fact, one of the few times I can actually wrap my head around Bilbo, and his fear and uncertainty at the choice to leave the Shire with Gandalf and the dwarves.  Now, keep in mind, Bilbo leaving the Shire was Tolkien’s way of expressing — of finally talking about, after several years — his own choice to volunteer for the Royal Army in WW I.  Bilbo fought at the Battle of Five Armies; Tolkien fought in the charnel house that was Battle of the Somme…

Me?  I get stressed out because there’s too much fucking traffic.

“Hi, perspective!  Thanks for coming…”

Ahem.

Some have asked me, by the way, why this blog is sometimes focused and on-point, and at other times is completely random and stream-of-consciousness.  My answer is always the same: “I think with my pen.”

Okay, so that answer is old school, but to say “I think with my keyboard” just doesn’t have the same resonance.  The sentiment and meaning are the same, however.

I think by putting the words together.  Simple, silent contemplation is not useful for me; that just leads to sidetracks and roundabouts, and a waste of time that is dangerous for someone who fights depression.

No, I need to see the words come out — I need to feel them — in order to give shape to the thoughts, and so to exorcise the ghosts of creativity and imagination that gave rise to them.  Plus, well…it’s fun to sit out on the deck with nothing but a beer, some loud music, and a blinking cursor…

{Edit — eek! I forgot to add a song. Let’s fix that…}

That One Moment

It doesn’t matter what you think of the British Royal family.  It doesn’t matter what you think of them, or their nation, or anything else, as a matter of fact.  I don’t care if you are the most ardent Irish Republican, or American Trumpist, or Indian anti-colonialist: all you have to do is take one look at this picture and you too will get a tear in your eye.

There’s an old, old saying that everyone dies alone.  Even if you agree with that as truth, you can still share in a truth that is almost as important: No one should mourn alone.

Leave aside the politics and history and just share the humanity.  This woman has lost the most important thing in her world.  For more than three-quarters of her life, she has shared the burdens — all the ups and downs— with one man, and he is now gone.  You can lie to yourself for some time after a loved one has died.  You can lie to yourself until that one moment comes…

I know this because I’ve done it.

For Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor, this picture is that one moment.  This is the moment where it all becomes real.  I don’t give two shits about the rest of the family’s Kardashian-level stupidity.  I don’t care about her feuding grandsons, or her legally imperiled son, or anything else.  All that truly strikes me is one woman, bereft and alone…

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years, at Windsor Castle, Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. Prince Philip died April 9 at the age of 99 after 73 years of marriage to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. (Jonathan Brady/Pool via AP)

Raise a Glass to the Brave

Given yesterday’s anniversary, there’s only thing I can write about.  Only one thing worth the words, or the sentiment: Yuri Gagarin.

Now, the first iteration of this post moved past Gagarin and became a piece about the divides of nations that have prevented that brave, brave man from achieving the level of recognition he deserves.  It became about the rivalry and adversarial relationship between the US and Russia.

It became, in the end about the futile waste and foolishness that saw a brave, brave man ignored by two-thirds of the world.  Oh sure, that man was named a Hero of the Soviet Union…but who in the US or Western Europe, or that vast majority of Asia that lies outside of old USSR borders, remembers jack shit about him?

“Yuri who?” is all you’re likely to get if you bring up his name to the next person at the bar…

For those who have forgotten — or who never knew — let me remind you: a full month before Alan Shepherd flew Freedom 7 on a fifteen-minute-ish suborbital flight, Yuri Gagarin became not just the first human into space, but also the first to orbit the Earth.  A US astronaut would not follow into a similar orbit for damned near a year, when John Glenn flew Friendship 7 through three full orbits.

Today, we make far too much of “firsts.”  The first left-handed tailor to use right-handed scissors.  The first idiot to piss on an electric fence.  We celebrate the most trivial of firsts like they were the first summit of Everest…

…or the first human into space.

Just put your mind back into that morning: Thousands of tons of highly explosive fuel were set to propel a basically untested craft into an environment completely and totally inimical to life.  The courage of that first man to strap himself into that thing…

The courage to put aside thoughts of his wife and kids…

The courage to nod and give a thumb’s up, knowing death rode just a few feet behind him…

Look, let’s be honest: the Soviet Union is not a country folks look back to for inspiration or reassurance, or competence, even.  But the Russian men and women of courage?  Those who — in the terms of one of my favorite books — had the Right Stuff?

Raise a glass, then, to Yuri Gagarin.  Raise a glass to one of those few men so brave — or so crazy — that they extended the boundaries of our entire species.

Oh and, by the way, if the first human-crewed ship we send to Mars is NOT named the Gagarin, there’s something freaking wrong with us!

Nothing To Lose

I don’t often write here about politics.

Err…DJT aside, I try not to write about politics, at least.

On the other hand, my fiction very much has modern/current politics as a subtext to pretty much everything, whether character or plot.  Like most writers, I just can’t help it.  They tell you in the writing intro classes to “write what you know.”  What they really mean, by the way, is that you need to write about those things that are important to you. When you write stories about things that do not truly matter to you, it is pretty damned obvious.

To me, writing is a way to talk about and explore the things I would otherwise keep to myself.  Yes, I put into words things on this blog that I would never say in any face-to-face setting.  Yes, these words scratch part of that “important to me” itch, but not all of it.  Not by a long shot does this blog scratch all of it.

I say more in my fiction writing than I ever would here.  In those characters and scenes I write about concepts and themes and ideas that I will not — cannot, even — express in any other way.  I’ve talked on this blog about depression and suicide and the power of music and words. I have talked about them, but never have I actually explored here the true emotional power those things hold for me.  Only in my stories have I let go of myself enough to explore the truth behind them.

With the words and opinions I have expressed here, and in my fiction, I have been told that I should “shut up and write.”  I should not focus on the dark side of life.  I should not expound on politics, nor on a universe and society that is seemingly inimical to fairness and equality and simple human dignity.  I should, instead, write about how those at the bottom have failed themselves.  I should, instead, write about how those at the top are the worthiest.  I should, I have been told, leave the dark underside alone so it can decompose and disintegrate in forgotten and ignored peace.

To answer that I have only my words. Whether those words project out into the world, or sit quiet and alone, they are still a shout.  They are shout of opinion and belief, yes, but they are more than that: they are a shout of defiance.  They are the throwing of emotion and thought into the teeth of a universe uncaring and cold.

When folks tell someone like me to “shut up and write” — or a musician to ”shut up and sing” or an athlete to “shut up and play” — they are showing not strength but fear.  Fear of those words and concepts with which they do not agree; fear of those things that might disturb the comfortable bubbles in which they have chosen to live.

Our first instinct, of course, is to respond with our own fear.  Our own fear of reprisal; our own fear of having our bubbles penetrated; our own fear of the darkness waiting for those who stumble and fall…

When you recognize that fear, however, you are freed to ignore it.  That is surprisingly liberating.  Oh sure, failure and darkness are still very real — and always near — but who honestly gives a damn?  We are all going to fail and fall at one point or another.  Most, actually, will fail and fall far more than once.  I know I sure as hell have.  I’ve fallen so often that I’ve lost count of the scars on my psyche, my soul and my liver…

I have put more than once into my protagonist’s mouth the words and concept of someone with nothing left to lose.  Beyond the agency and power of that concept for him, lies the agency and power of that concept for me.  I’m pretty damned sure I could never have taken the step to put personal emotions and truth into my words until I decided I had nothing left to lose.  I certainly could not have learned to give the mental finger to those who tell me to shut up and write without admitting to myself just how little I had to lose.

For aspiring and new writers, then, there are all kinds of articles and interviews out there with more advice than any one human can absorb.  Many of those pieces will tell you to harness your fear, or let go your inhibitions, or channel the wisdom you learned in kindergarten.  Plenty will also focus on the practical advice that writers need, too.  But the one bit of advice I wish I had received when I first got started?  I’ll give that bit to you in the form of lines from a song:

The beat-up side

Of what they call pride

Could be the measure of these days

p.s.

Musical Note — By the way, when it comes to music, if you’re not listening to Dave Hause, you’re doing it wrong.  I listened to the song below quite a few times before I decided to link it here.  In the end, however, I had little honest hesitation because, well, not only is it the song I quoted above, but its final line says it all for a writer with nothing to lose: “it’ll be alright.”