Scar: Losing Grip

I tore open the flesh of my dominant hand on the night I said goodbye to my childhood friend. It was the end of summer after high school. I was drunk. He, moving away. The first, great precipice of life, lay before us. I could feel the edge. Rough, uncertain. Dangling.

The warmth of the day fled as late August in Montana will do. The night crept in coldly, we had a gasoline campfire going at Black Sands, by the river. Many of us came to see him off; in a tourist town, bordering nothing but beauty, there were no cliques.

Campfire

I had grown up in the shade of older brothers, majestic and fated. Their prowess, one in the physical, the other in the creative, put shoes too great to fill, ever before me. Like a parody of the original, I caricatured both labors with a frenzy, hoping to conceal forgery with hysteria. I labored so that no one out-drank, out-ate, out-lifted, out-joked, out-spoke, overlooked or discounted me.

By the end of my senior year, all athletics behind, heading to college in the fall, I put shoulder to the cogs of Time, praying to escape that place. If I could just get away, a distant and brave new world, I could be remade by my own hands. Finally know who I was and wanted to become.

The end of that night, my friend having left sometime earlier, me too drunk to notice, was the nadir of my falling out and through the facade. Months earlier, having trained four weeks in a row with friend of a friend in karate, I had found a new pursuit; both physical and creative, I was drawn to the Art. I would study with a passion over the next three years, but that night, my nascent concept of control in depth of striking objects, bloomed in my intoxicated mind to a degree surpassing every Bruce Lee flick, every Sunday morning Kung Fu theater binge.

About to leave with a friend, I swept my lips with finality across my last bottle. In a fitting farewell, I persuaded myself the likelihood of crushing the glass, bottle on its side, without so much as scratching my skin, somewhere near a one hundred percent chance of success. A glimmer of doubt in the deep, rational center of my brain was borne away on a tide of malted hops. After all, no one would out-stupid me, including myself.

I buried my right hand, with open palm striking, into the ruins of the vessel. I still recall, the gleaming edges of perfect sharpness, rending the softness of my hand, many years later. Instinctively, I recoiled, holding my maimed limb loosely, too horrified to look. My mind cleared suddenly, the harsh tonic of regret.

The friend who had arranged a ride home, saw me, lingering near the fire, hand stuffed into my other arm. Wobbling toward him, he pulled my hand free to examine the wound. By the light of the Ford pickup cab dome, we all gazed at a fistful of blood. Numbly, with a detachment as though someone else’s hand were in view, I would feel very little that night as my friend dressed my hand after soaking in peroxide. Afraid to wake our one doctor, I waited till morning for the clinic. After the verbal chastising, he immersed my hand in a bowl of iodine. Hungover and properly sick, I nearly went unconscious with pain. Stitches free of charge, just this once, it was more than physical trauma clinging to me as I went home.

I had finally hit the point I sensed had been coming for some time. That my out-doing would finally be my undoing. And it was. Whatever words my dad might have said when I returned, the admonishing look, the disappointed heft to his shoulders, the pregnant sigh — none would have the impact as patently clear and enduring as the scars I would carry on my right hand, for the rest of my life.

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In the Half-Light of the Goodbye

This post from The Carter Library – Finding Marnell « Carter Library. – has brought back to mind the friend I lost along the way; and with him, a different life, perhaps.

It is embedded into my mind, forever, the last day we left Maryland. Everything in boxes, the house torn apart, people from the neighborhood helping load the trucks, my dangerous and dramatic Uncle Ralph who worked in television came from the West Coast to help with the cross-country movement. The day was warm and golden with light filtering through the old trees, shadows played over the yard one last time for me. The dampness in the air I would leave behind, made things grow effortlessly. Things like bamboo and oak trees, things foreign to my new home which classmates would scoff and ridicule because they were preposterous in their minds. I could have more easily claimed Jupiter’s red dot as a family member then ask them to imagine bamboo in the wooded backyard of my distant home. There was a castle behind our house. Yea, get kids to buy that one.

Chevy Chase Castle

This house/castle was one street behind our house in Maryland. We fished the pond as kids.

But it was at the curb to our home that I left my heart when my friend, David Massoni, son of an Italian architect and well-to-do resident of Bethesda, came to say goodbye. He had been my best friend. Period. There were no other, “best friends” plural like we have nowadays, ridiculously tossing out the term ‘BFF’ as if that explained everything.

No, we were friends who had been tried and true at that tender age. From the time we made it to his house for a sleepover and found the home broken into with valuables stolen. The time we spent at his family’s country retreat and I woke his mother in the night because I thought he was choking to death but found out he  was merely grinding his teeth. I had never heard a sound so horrible. When I confessed to him that my brothers taunted me with the voice of The Exorcist demon and how it frightened me and birthed new terrors nightly in my sleep. The day at school when we swore to enter the military together, someday. The girl I swooned for in our class who came between us for a while, then she moved, our friendship stronger than ever. I’ll never forget, Show and Tell in 2nd grade Spanish Immersion class with Senora Senger when I shared our vinyl LP of the Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, slipping out of the cover, onto the floor with a huge chunk broken out. My heart and soul crushed. David felt bad, too.

All of these moments were held between two kids in the half-light of a goodbye, too young to say proper farewells. We just looked sad, hugged and promised to call. He got in his mother’s car, drove away and I never saw him again. We talked on the phone once, maybe a year later, an effort that required permission from parents on the level of passing a bill into the law of Congress.

I found him on Facebook, his life utterly different. A whole youth-life apart, we were acquaintances. He remembered me, but not longingly. Maybe he meant more to me than I did him.

More than just my friend stayed behind. There was more mystery, with more possibilities in the East coast of my youth than the distant wilds of Montana. The raw beauty that was forced upon our family in transition, which shattered but a few years later, could hardly be enjoyed for its potency. Hell, we had had a pro football team that just won the Super Bowl! I felt the shared glory of a professional sports team bringing it all home for the fans. I would never know that again. The Smithsonian! That rock and gem collection glittered in my dreams.

There really is no going home again. The house my parents sold in 1983 now goes for around $900,000. The old Rolling Road neighborhood is now filled with diplomats, senators, cultural attaches and other worldly people. The Rock Creek Forest Elementary School (was there ever a better name for a primary school?) was torn down, rebuilt in modern fashion and choked with students from another closed school. The Smithsonian now includes one of Tony Hawk’s skateboards as vital American history. So there’s that.

I promised myself that I would not pull my kids away from their friends, their neighbors, the town they’d grown to love for my own desires of some far off will ‘o the wisp. Strangely though, their friends moved, our part of town has closed up shop; dwindled despite our commitment to stay.

Who knows what might have been had we stayed? Maybe I’d be blogging about how awful growing up on the East coast is and was and oh if only we had moved!? Looking back can be a dodgy ordeal. You think you learned something but then time reveals instead that it affected your behavior, choices, your thoughts. Other times there was a friend, like too many, who moved beautifully, briefly in, then out, of your life.

Here’s to good friends we had and good friends we lost. May we be worthy of their gift.

Is it great or only made up of great things?

sold out show

The difference between a hit song and something that is not can be readily detected, particularly by fans of The Artist in question. Sweeping along on the ‘shuffle mode’ of iTunes recently, brought to ear a song by the beloved band Journey that I had never, ever heard before: Lay It Down. The album it came from that I’ve held in my account for years now, never happened to select that particular track when shuffling. And long past are my days when I would listen to EVERY TRACK on a new album I purchased in view of a quiet respect to The Artist.

The song was notably not good, interesting, catchy or lyrically poetic. Yet it held all the attempted trappings of a hit song in that era: the twin guitars’ power chords, multi-harmony chorus, BIG ARENA SOUND, lyrics vaguely directed at sex and rock ‘n roll. Somehow, in the assembling of these Frankensteinian (not a word) musical appendages, they lost all appeal and turned out ugly and forgettable. I’ve never heard the song on any radio anywhere, nor has anyone ever pointed it out to me as some of the best of Journey. For a Youtube of the song, you must enter it manually as it does not come up on their list of popular hits.

Contrasting this with their ever-popular and rebooted, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (that made for a punctuation nightmare) you find the similar formula: Keenly processed sound, voices, chords, lyrics. But what you get with this combination is, of course, ARENA ROCK DYNAMITE. Or, rebooted high school choir tribute ad nauseum/cutesy.

This made me concerned for my writing. Not because I’m worried that I have the pieces of a blockbuster hit and joined them together poorly. No, no, we’re dealing with much simpler issues such as proper grammar and how to make it. More to the point, if I ever start unearthing gold nuggets by the heapful (not a word) into my literary wheelbarrow; will I even recognize them as such, will I even know what they are?

I read a lot right now, new writers, old writers, published, unpublished, self-published, bloggers, Great American Novelists of the Golden Age Who Shat Diamond-Encrusted Prose for Dinner. I know what I like, I can hear what sounds good, even what I WANT to emulate, but at the moment my own writing voice still feels oddly unfamiliar. As the first time you heard your own answering machine greeting (remember when we called them THAT?!), self-consciousness poured over and you hit the record button again, saying nothing the next time. Letting the beep answer for you.

I don’t know if what I’m making is any good or if I can even trust the feedback I receive. If, as I suspect, it is not, will it ever be? To extend further, if the writing is not good and will never be of high quality, that feels terribly, unusefully (not a word) wasteful and tiresome to me. I think learning an ancient dead language would seem more fulfilling because at least I could say at my death bed, “Well ONCE UPON A TIME someone knew what I was talking about!” Instead of working, correcting, drafting, editing, disciplining self not to go eat something and stay at the damn laptop.

Perhaps I’ve finally found the truth of Jack Black’s dictum:

not hardcore

Please forgive the lack of ‘you’re’

Which reminds me I need to practice my bass. Digression.

Still, if becoming a writer who writes, okay I’ll say it, GREAT writing, is something to be grasped, if it takes time, commitment, hardcore-ness (not a word), chocolate, gritty keyboard determination, frequent pots of coffee, humility in the cold, stark light of edits, good posture, a hungry mind, chiropractor visits because of not having good posture, a quiver-inducing stubbornness to just GET IT DONE.

Well, I don’t know if I have all that. But finding out, even if I’m unsuccessful in the journey, may prove more illuminating than learning an actual dead language and bearing with the inevitable requests of, “Hey, how do you say ‘Dude, that’s such b.s.’ in Phoenician?”

“Bummer of a birth date, Hal.”

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Radiant as ever.

As a kid, I dreamed a lot about who I would one day marry. Longing for that unique person kept me up evenings, composing long lost poems of ardor and devotion. I also ate a ton of ice cream pints. Foreshadowing, indeed.

I had a lot of preconceived ideas of what my wife would look like, what would be her name, her laugh, what she liked, things she wanted to do, places to go. When I actually met the woman I would marry, I found many of my presumptions shattered. Her name was old fashioned, maybe even plain, her likes were often not congruent with mine, her goals much more firmly planned; plus side, she was more gorgeous, kind, generous and funny than I ever could have imagined. Thank you, God. You ARE good.

As her birthday would approach, I wanted to celebrate her, elevate her so that she could see the vast beauty she created in my life and others who knew her. I wanted her to be the center of the universe for a day; exactly how I like to be treated on MY birthday (in case you were wondering/planning). This was counter to her nature, however, and she always demurred.

On one impossible morning, our future changed forever, collectively. Bad guys flew planes into the commercial epicenter of New York City, the Pentagon and thwarted brave but bittersweetly into a field in Pennsylvania; thousands murdered in a few hours.

It was also my dear wife’s birthday, that morning. Years went by before we celebrated anything again that day, it seemed. Suddenly, it was as if she were one of those rare kids born on Leap Year Day and we felt compelled to move it arbitrarily one day to the left or right on the calendar. Like all things that are meant to be great, some get trimmed away for good reasons others, not. Her day, her very special day meant just for her, got squeezed into the margins of life because of our nation-wide sadness.

In the early wake of the disaster, it put things into perspective when we celebrated. Over time, it made more and more sense to celebrate her birthday, to cherish this great gift of God, to remember the fallen, to let show the love in your heart while you can.

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Swoon!

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She is my shield, my queen, my wild heart’s beat.

These days, I find myself reinvented and reinvigorated by her. I workout regularly, I look for the paths and trails of our youth when I made excuses to leave them behind. Far from settling into my ‘favorite chair,’ I find myself pursuing her at all costs. Her love is that strong.

‘Happy Birthday’ sometimes seems like the most idiotic way to express the acknowledged respect, reverence and treasured concern of a life lived among holy matrimony. It seems a clumsy salutation akin to Tarzan’s fumbled introduction to Jane. I find it so hard to use words that aptly shine the intention of gratitude, understanding, adoration and sheer honor it is to know — let alone be made one flesh as only God can do — and be known by this once child, now woman, whose heart was purposed for mine.

Thank you, Most High God, for having vision beyond what I could conceive in my mate and for such generosity in sowing her into my life. A fruitfulness that would not otherwise have been totaled from the parts summed, but for your hand.

THANK YOU, my sweet wife, for not fleeing at the first sight of my toenails (worthy of their own post someday, I’m sure – eesh). May this day bring you more than sorrow for others, something beyond thankfulness for notching another year; a glimpse of the eternal. A hope for everyone lost at the center of their own universe.

Go with love, bringing truth.

And gluten-free cake to all.

 

 

I, have become, Suddenly Glum.

Mood swing

Except now she’s 14.

 

I feel as though I had been there, on scene of the burnt shell of the Colossus roller coaster at Six Flags, recently. Seeing something so classic, loved, with brilliant memories held by many of earlier days, come to a sudden end is eerily similar to the days I remember of my daughter before her emotions toyed with the peace of our household.

Now, I have to tread carefully here because she will read this and if I’m not deft in my handling of this delicate issue, well, let’s just say that burned roller coasters will be the least of my concerns. (I love you, sweetheart!)

Before I get going too far, let’s have some back story. 1) Our daughter is incredible, honorable, respectful, chaste, law-abiding, modest, bold, tough, sweet, tender, has a crushing handshake and tickets to her own gun show. Genius, did I mention genius? She’s probably one of those, too. Also 2) my wife and I were her age once, with emotions bleeding out of our skin from psychotic levels of hormone free play and we were much, MUCH less judicious in the outward expression of their administration.

Now that we understand where we’re coming from, let’s proceed. The roller coaster analogy is apt in this area so let’s continue with it. Each day, there are highs and lows in her facial expressions, word choices and tone, posture, effort output and emotional status . . . let’s call them Focal Representations Using Internal Thought Yearnings (FRUITY). Like the roller coast in motion, her, dare we say, FRUITY-ness has a measurable impact depending on the velocity with which it might change direction, altitude or suddenly stop. Indeed, as with your favorite park ride, you may hear screams, shrieks, crying, laughing, possibly vomiting all within the space of a few minutes when the FRUITY is powered up. For others acquainted with this tumultuous ride, it’s not so much about getting on or off, trying to start or stop it but more to the point of giving it respect.

One of my favorite sayings in the bible is, “And it came to pass . . . ” A comedian once noted that it never says, “And it came to STAY.” These things move on, they go, eventually. Getting through it all intact, as a family, in love and with honor toward each other is the real challenge.

The rest is simply wiping some tears and cleaning up a little puke, now and then.

I love you, kiddo.

Motorcycles, why?

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Dime City Cycle’s custom Triumph Bonneville T100 . . . drool.

Fear kept me from riding motorcycles and finding one of the most beautiful things life has to offer. Some background here may help. I have been in the fire service for fourteen years now and as a paramedic for twelve. In that time, I’ve seen and treated the sundry horrors that acquaint themselves with public safety workers. Among the most consistently awful have been motorcycle crashes. Even the simplest of falls have given way at least to broken ribs and shredded skin. Aptly, they are referred to as “donor-cycles” by the cynical and for many years I counted myself among them.

It had to happen while memorializing a dear relative who died amidst horrific circumstances from domestic violence, that some cousins of mine spoke the deftly-timed words, “You should get a bike.” It was in relation to the glee they had while riding the outlands of California; dirt bike territory. Their words were both a challenge (there were three of them encircling me) and aptly timed because it was about then that I had felt the deep loss of not only another immeasurably adored family member, but also something of the glee I once had in the unknown and wild places of my life.

Seeking a true and honorable embodiment of the virtues of my profession (I read a lot of Morte d’Arthur as a kid), I eschewed all the dangerous things likely to rob my loved ones and myself of years of life, quality of teeth or functioning limbs. I belted myself and my family in, I wore helmets, I exorcised second-hand smoke, scoffed at drinking coffee everyday (Doctor Recommended) and emptied the lint out of the dryer obsessively (IT’S DYNAMITE IN YOUR HOME!). A poster child for CDC and WHO best practice pamphlets, I had married a woman who cultivated a passion in public health – staunchly stemming the tide of under-age smoking in a rural Oregon school district. We shooed away risk factors in ours and our children’s lives with a zeal reserved for fire-brand preachers. You could not find a better fireman to give the talk to the kids at school.

My life was not always this careful, this aware of its mortality. I taught karate once upon a time, I was a bouncer in a bar in downtown Missoula, I clung to the back of a buddy’s motorcycle without helmet, without even considering one. My mom is most proud of the change, I’m sure. While I’m not advocating the recklessness or willful disregard for safety devices, the total sum of them had created a hyper-sensitivity to threats and danger. Became numb to the chronic low-dose, histamine response of adult responsible behavior (aka ARB syndrome – alert your friends, say something, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE).

When my cousins’ suggestion touched my ears, something inserted itself into my consciousness. Like a break-in team from Inception, I now held an idea that would change my life forever (Turns out I wasn’t waiting on a train but on a motorcycle – SEQUEL or REBOOT! (excuse the double parentheses but it has been, what 6 years since Inception, MORE than enough time for a reboot to be considered in Hollywood’s ridiculous sense of time – another post, someday)). I had to find out if what they were talking about was really that much fun and if it was worth the risks.

I had already anticipated the counter-argument from my wife, who incidentally, had taken not one but two, week-long trips on the back of a BMW F650GS Dakar version with her father at ages 18 and 28. We had life insurance, a will and a trust in place, I would argue. Of course I would take the safety class required by the state. On it went. But like a great matador-ess, she simply parried my pre-emptive presumption of her supposed concerns. “I think you should do it – why did you think I wouldn’t want you to?” I had no response. She simply trusted my judgment and my capacity to make good decisions at speed.

The rest, then, is history. I took the class and acquired my endorsement (a week before I had treated a woman hit broadside on her Harley as she’d left the dealer, amputating her lower leg – some would call that an omen, it merely crystallized my resolve, I had counted the cost.) I found a deal on some good gear – I prioritized that over the quality of my bike. Got ripped off in a deal for my first bike but it was still well within my cheap price range. Spent double the amount I paid for the bike in repairs and maintenance over the first three years getting it up and running. Have since taken more classes on how to ride on the road skillfully and aware.

You could argue this is the worst time in the history of driving, to learn something as crazy as riding a bike in traffic. There are more people on their phones than ever, while driving. I should know – I respond to their accidents all the time. More drivers, driving faster than ever, road rage as common as a personality trait. Still, I feel something when I ride that I don’t feel when I drive. It wouldn’t matter if I were in a Ferrari either (as awesome as that would be). When I drive, I feel like I’m in something like this:

us mail truck

What driving feels like

But when I ride, even on my jalopy, about as uncool and out-dated as can be but still a motorcycle and NOT A MOPED OR SCOOTER; I transcend the road, the space that I travel. A dog with his head out the window, a raptor in flight, a cheetah on the run. A motorcyclist. If you can, physically, financially, intelligently commit to it, riding a motorcycle is a reward with benefits that linger, warming you through the cold and dreary days.

Someday, I may leave this earth because of motorcycling – I have to acknowledge that. But there are worse ways to go and I have seen many take those roads. Alone in a nursing home riddled with dementia. Coughing out the last of your breath from ravaging lung cancer. Fatally in the crosswalk –obeying all the laws and best practices– by a hit and run driver. I have tried to put my family in the best hands I can if I happen to go sooner that I had imagined. I’ve looked deeply into as many possibilities and consequences as I can fathom. It may not be enough. Still, I refuse to live this life, hedging my bets ad nauseum, while waiting for my last days. The comedian quips, “Don’t worry about your health, you’ll never get out of life, alive.”

I do worry, still.

Also, I ride.

“What’s the difference between lust and sexual desire?”

As I’ve often said, nothing wrong with admiring another but to desire them for yourself beyond that is too far. I love Multnomah Falls here in Oregon, it is beautiful and impressive – but I don’t wish that it were mine.

Ray Comfort's Daily Evidence

There is a difference between lust and sexual desire. God did give us sexual desire and it is not a bad thing. In fact it is a good thing. How else would we be attracted to a prospective spouse, and why would we even procreate if there was no “desire”

So what is the difference between sexual attraction and lust? One dictionary says that “lust” is “uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness.” Or to put it another way, lust is pornography of the mind.

How then do we know the difference between “looking” and lusting? The answer is to listen to your God-given conscience. It will tell you…if you have a mind to listen. There is nothing wrong with simply seeing someone and having the automatic thought that she is attractive. But that is different from then formulating sexual thoughts about that person to lust for her. In…

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Zombies, why?

That’s right, zombies. I wanted to pose the question to you, dear reader, and to assist my speculation into why they have become such a huge meme throughout our culture of late. It appears the last few years have been rife with their appearance in everything from kids’ shows, blockbuster movies, video games, classic novels reimagined . . . the list goes on.

A little more than a decade ago, it was hard to find much at all about the mind munchers, yet, here we are neck-deep in all kinds. Slow, shambling stepped zombies; fast-moving Lance Armstrong doped-up super-enduro zombies, virus-fed zombies, classic undead/cursed, alien zombies, exaggerated real-life tales of Voodoo-induced zombies now turned into movies, Nazi experiment zombies, cybernetic zombies — on and on the pageant goes — with even more countless variants imagined. There are zombie fun runs, flash mobs and other events which sometimes coincide with Halloween.

Why this particular villain all of a sudden? They’ve been around forever, why did they just now become so popular? Let’s explore, shall we?

#1 Zombies are reflecting the mindless crush of conformity we see in society.

I can see this to some extent. The idea that we hate the very common nature of humanity to rush Lemming-like into the next Great Stupid Thing. Still, I doubt this because I see so much glorification of ending the zombies – we identify more with those stopping the horde than with those among them.

#2 George Romero was upset with how the 60’s went down so he brought back zombies and, well, that’s good enough for everyone else, I guess.

This is a great explanation of why his movie from the late 60’s developed a cult following but it doesn’t really fulfill the question of why now.

#3 Zombies are an opportunity for everyone to feel like a hero.

We see the Everyman show up in the movies to end the scourge, or at least make it out of town alive, and we find ourselves there, too. I can understand this, we all want to have an impact on our world, we see it going down in flames all around us and if such-and-such were to go down – get me my trusty flamethrower.

#4 Zombies are a way for people to fantasize mass murder without feeling guilty about it.

It’s hard to deny the popularity of the vast swath of shows, movies  and books with vivid serial killer portrayals, mass-murder plots, gangster/organized crime wars or ritual massacres. However, these bring a feeling of vengeance or guilt depending upon which role you voyeur through. With zombies, everyone wins because the entire neighborhood, school, political structure has become infected/cursed/eaten-too-many-GMO-foods and now you HAVE to shoot the co-worker you can’t stand, the parking maid who gave you the ticket, the official you don’t like, the neighbor who runs their car late at night in the garage. It’s a subtle anesthetic while we consider the end of the world.

#5 The world is gonna end soon – might as well get your mental game ready.

The world may or may not come to an end soon but that doesn’t keep us from playfully getting ready. Like children playing war years before they enlist in the service to do it or play doctor ahead of their medical school admission, we plot and script the what ifs of horrible outcomes. Just in case. We buy handguns with colorful green ammo “Zombie-Stopper” or put stickers on the back of our H3 Hummers “Zombie Tactical Response Vehicle.”

I think we have enough evil in the world already that we don’t need to invent it. I eschew these fictions, by and large, knowing the next day at work might have enough to keep me awake at night with visions I can’t get past. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve seen some of the movies over the years. Zombieland was a personal favorite because of the black humor and skillful aplomb of the characters. However, the more I see everyone engrossed in these shows, the more I see ourselves, devouring and infecting each other with someone waiting, standing by, ready to blow the other’s head off. It’s happening in the ways we’re being poisoned and treated like cattle by corporations (paying them to do it!), the way governments tell you they’re looking out for everyone as they repeal freedoms and spy on their citizens, the selfish way we flip out when the very idea of all people having access to healthcare immediately threatens what level of care WE might get first before those dirty people who can’t afford it get any. Then there are the direct problems with gun violence and murder.

I’m not of any strong political bias, I hold beliefs that both liberal and conservatives abhor and cherish alike, but I do not tolerate humans pretending to be animals. I don’t really have a beef with you if you like zombie shows –really I don’t — but be careful that you’re not being carried away by the subtext of the media you consume. Ask yourself, why do you watch/read/game/listen to the things you do?

 

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, actually.

There are several benefits to having a highly common name. Many ways that fate screams by you and with just a tiny dodge – unscathed. I am not the Matthew Miller you are looking for (waves hand at guard checkpoint).

The phone calls threatening to bury my credit under a mountain of pain and anguish are never for me. What’s my middle initial and my address – yep, wrong number, no problem – have a good day. The vitriol on the other end rapidly drains away with a now rational-sounding person on the line. I can’t imagine what it must be like to drum up a Samuel Jackson-esque interrogation with every call connection.

Similarly, ordering pizza is a breeze. Here’s my phone and name – a two second pause without asking how to spell either first or last and it’s on the way! They don’t mix up my name at the coffee counter either, because I don’t have a name generated by Googling something loved and portmanteau-ing it. My brother did this – he took two beloved family names and named his first child with a mashup of them, creating (in the early days of her birth, at least) an awkward arrangement of syllables with repeating stress accent.

Consider my poor wife who, with her maiden name, had a terrible disadvantage in daily roll calls at school or in sports, confounding announcers at every turn. While there is now a famous athlete whose surname is nearly identical, back then, when he was not yet on the scene, people would spew something more akin to the volcano from Walter Mitty. When she changed her last name to mine, she not only shortened it by more than half the number of letters, she also made paying bills by check a breeze.

Not diminishing the heavy despair that must be oppressive in a North Korean prison, I find myself thankful for being free to do what I want today. To sit here and write, reaching out to others wherever they might be, in whatever work they find themselves is a massive blessing to be sure.

Yet, something I read in the account of the men incarcerated struck me. Two of the men are being held for preaching the gospel and distributing bibles in one of the darkest places, spiritually, on the planet. That is devotion, folks, pure and simple. You have to really get out of yourself to want to see people set free in a country that treats its own citizens no different than prisoners. The third man, the one who shares my first and last, however, he tore up his tourist visa at the airport and shouted for ‘asylum.’

Now, there are hard times in everyone’s life to varying degrees that make them do desperate things. But if you were able to go back in time to your earlier self somewhere and say, “You’re going to be seeking help and shelter from North Korea because of what you’ve done,” it might be a good time to re-evaluate your priorities and consider a new path in life.

itoldyounottodothat

I do hope for a swift return to the U.S. for the men being held. And I hope that whoever gets it done, whether it’s Bill Clinton or Dennis Rodman seducing Kim Jong-un over Eric Clapton ballads, gets a proper thank you. Whatever we may feel about why they’re there, what they are being held for, should they have done it or not and so on – if you were the one being held, you’d be praying to God above for mercy from your countrymen to get you out of there A.S.A.-freaking-P.

From a yet-to-be-announced tourism campaign for North Korea:

Walk into North Korea

Have a great day, everyone, and be thankful.

Change is . . . inevitably fearful

Reading this comment today, about her Hugo award for blogging, Kameron Hurley mentioned how surprised she was to be awarded due to the passion and intensity of her posts given that Sci-Fi/Fantasy critics, publishers, etc are very resistant to change. Having not read her blog before today, I can presume that this is because of a counter-cultural perspective of airing the frustrations with her peers when they conform to formula stories; afraid to break out of the mould.

I read this with some astonishment, honestly, because here we are, delving into stories, ideas, other worlds and so on – looking for an escape, looking for ourselves, finding something different but also familiar; running far away, yet finding ourselves back home as well. But we can’t have too much of that because, well, dear readers, it better be marketable and sellable, lucrative, growth-earning-ratio-to-some-economist-term-I-never-really-studied-this-field-much. GAH! Are you kidding me? This is the world(s) I’m living (traveling across space/time continuum) in?! It sounds like the start of a joke, “So there’s this Science Fiction author whose afraid of change and new things and risk and the unknown . . .” 

Yea, we have a name for those folks – they’re called “Serious Writers” and they don’t do genre fiction, they work in the normal routine of life, forging it into the next Great American Novel. I know, I know, there are many daring Serious authors. Working their non-genre spellcraft of prose bending into the staid, suburban life that still transports you across moonbeams and sunsets without being magical or otherworldly but still feeling as though they are.

Gosh folks, if there were ever more patent evidence that humans have a problem with change across all cultures, borders, organizations, clubs, institutions, departments, villages and mud huts, you couldn’t find it in more pristine representation than the SF/F group that can’t quite seem to find new ideas to make money from. The department I work in, the church I go to, the town I live in, the state legislature I vote for – all of these places are juggling unwieldy lumps of uncertainty as they move into the future from a known past and it creates fear. Each of these looks outwardly brave and inwardly frightened with varying degrees of capability to face the same old, same ‘ol.

Yet, perhaps for Ms. Hurley’s industry, that’s the newest change of all. Perhaps by her award, as she acknowledges, SF/F has begun to look at itself and found something unexpected. Writers who are bold enough to look hard at themselves, each other, their writing, the state of their market and platform, call it like it is, do something about it and move on.

The fear of losing what we’ve known, whether it be profits, accolades, readers, or the plain comfort of none of these – just your own voice on its own page – melts away when we finally embrace the change that cannot be stopped anyway. There you find the bracing cold freshness of new horizons; unknown places devoured by ready audiences sated from a hunger they didn’t know was there. 

I long to be found in awkwardly new places brimming with risks both grand and bawdy. If I had the capacity to write them myself, I would. Perhaps someday, I will.