Category: Language


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt (common attribution – if someone has factual backup for a better one, I’d love to know)

Here’s the thing.  We’ve already stuck ourselves in a ghetto – look at how we all congregate to the kink-friendly, open sites, and many of us put a sharp delineation between kink life and real life.

Well, fuck that.

I am kinky, and queer, and a raging cunt, and probably one of the simultaneously funniest and most offensive/abrasive/irritating people you will ever meet.  I am myself, with no apologies for the content of my character, unless it’s something that I am trying to uphold and failing to achieve.

Remember, there is a difference between judging someone’s activities, and their person.  A first hand example, that will speak to many of you in the Florida area and other places:

I knew a girl.  She was a lovely girl, quite bright, and determined.  The thing holding her back was her addiction.  She got hooked on some very nasty shit, very early in life, and it became both a physical and psychological crutch.  There came a day when she needed to dose, badly.  She told me so, and asked me if I wanted to leave.  We were in a conversation, and sharing parts of ourselves that don’t see a lot of light.

What are you, crazy AND addicted? I asked.  (our relationship made this a joke, not an attack.)

No, she says, I just don’t know if you want to see me do this.  I don’t know what you’ll think of me afterward.

Let’s get this straight, says I.  You’re an addict, and you must have an external chemical dump in order to keep your brain in order.  Well, welcome to the club.  I’m a crazy motherfucker, and if I don’t keep my meds on schedule it can go bad in a hurry.  Just because you take your meds differently than I do, because you get them a different way, doesn’t make you less than me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to know you.  I already know you – seeing you going through your daily routine isn’t going to affect me any more than watching you brush your teeth.   It’s part of the ritual that gets you by.”

And as she got spoon and tab and needle ready, I told her the very short version of my own wrestle with that particular demon, which goes on to this day.

So I watched her shoot up, and she was afraid, even after, that I would think differently of her, or not want to be her friend/confidante.  “Listen,” I told her, putting all the sternness in my voice I could manage,” You were my friend before, and you’re my friend now.  If you tried to shoot me up, it’d be different, because you know I don’t want that.  But you’re a grownup, same as me, and I have no right to judge what you do with your own body, your own mind, your own life.  You know, rationally, that it’s not the best decision for you right now.  But it’s not my decision.

“All I can do is give you the best, most unbiased information I have, and hope that next time, maybe the consequences will be enough to help you make a healthier decision.  If and when you ask me for help, then I have right to try to convince you to do the right thing for yourself, and the people who still love you, unconditionally – those people you can ask to help, who see the junk and still can’t stop loving the girl underneath, even though they may have tried, time and again.  Until then, it flat fuckin behooves me to keep my nose here where it belongs, and my trap shut about things that are quite certainly not my damn business.  And anyone who wants to flap their gums about it learns the very first time not to do it around me.  End of story.”

And she laughed, and finished her process, and I watched over her while she cried with pain and relief,  vulnerable.  So agreeable, so malleable, so obedient while the drug coursed through her, carrying her on its broad white back to places I couldn’t and wouldn’t go with her, not anymore.

There are some things you just do for people you care about.  No cops, no hospitals, no sentencing them to incarceration in a system with too few staff, too many inmates, and no time to try and help, just to keep the arrest record looking right, and the comfortable people’s happiness level just above the place where she might be able to apply for a real job, with real hours and steady pay.  And, no need to look over her shoulder every time a car slowed on her block.  And I wrote her a letter.

“You may or may not read this, but I can hope.  Following is a list of little shit, baby steps that helped me try to climb a little way out of where you are.  You’re unhappy with where you are – the first thing, the only important thing to remember is that you, and the people you love, deserve the best of you.  The worst is inside that needle, and we both know how bad it is and how good it feels.  This is my contact info.  When you’re ready to try one of the other roads, let me know.  I will always be here for you.  I love you, little sister, and all I want is to show you what I’ve learned, without having to go through it all the hard way. I love BOTH the person you are, and the magnificent star you may become.  No matter what happens, you are loved.”

I do things that a lot of you find bewildering, unpredictable, or downright offensive.  I’m not sorry.  I don’t ask you to participate with me, where you are not comfortable.  I refuse to feel culpable for your emotional state anymore.  You do not have the privilege to shame me.

So I say this: Be not ashamed of who you are, who you want, who you love.  Be not ashamed of what you want or don’t want, what you don’t know yet whether or not that you want at all, or maybe sometime.  You get what I mean.

Do not give power to the people who would make you less than you are, you beautiful and complex human being.  Do not cut off your arms and legs so that you’ll fit neatly in their comfort boxes.  They aren’t worth it, because somewhere there is a person who wants all of you, intact, so that they can frolic within without about around between and inside the whole person who is you.
And I say this to you, the makers of boxes: please, I beg you.  Stop cutting off the arms and legs and heads and hearts of the people I love, or wish I knew well enough to extend the hand of human love to.  I ask nicely, because you are people like me worthy of civility, and of a chance to change. Be aware, though; I will be here, and I will be watching.

But there’s a plus side to that, too.  You, the makers of boxes, are not evil, any more than I and my loved ones are.  You don’t know any better, because no one has shown you how to love someone who doesn’t fit in a box.

Here’s a dirty little secret: none of us fit in boxes.  You are cutting just as much off yourself as anyone else when you try to regiment the inherently entropic human experience.

Hold out your hand to me, and to us.  We love you, no matter where on the path you start, or which path(s) you choose.  There will be someone to take your hand.  Even if it’s not who you expected to be, not someone you want to partner with, accept the hand.  It leads into a bigger, brighter, more diverse world than you ever imagined.

Come play with us.  We have a fierce joy that we only want to share – no strings attached.  We want you with us, happy and free and fierce and loving.  Come talk with us, play with us, teach us, learn from us.  We will find love in similarities and differences, and together we will create something new from the still-blazing embers and fires of the old.

You are loved.  Every piece of you.  Whether you are a box-maker, a box-dweller, or a box-smasher, you are loved for every fallible inch of yourself.  Do us the favor, the kindness, the lovely joy of showing us who you are, so we can love you more deeply for the complex and fascinating creature that you are – or want to be, or might be, or desperately want not to be, or wish you could be but “know” you can’t.

You are loved.  Deeply, and without hesitation.  Every part of you, every strange fractal vision and equation, becoming more complex the more deeply you explore – all of you is loved.

Welcome home,
– Motley

(Post script and polite request: Please feel free to take any piece or the whole of this and link/like/love/dry-hump/repost with attributing links.  If you’d rather repost outside the walled garden, please do! An almost verbatim copy of the text can be found at my regular blog. https://motleymayhem.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/take=-pride-in-your-complexity If you patronize FL.com, I will be happy to provide a direct link via email or fmail.  Please, if you choose to do any of these things, link back to either here or FL.  If you can, I implore you, tell me what you ignored, what you hate, what you wouldn’t mind seeing more of.  If I don’t get feedback, I have no idea whether I’m doing any good, or just ranting in the dark, alone.)

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Monster Enough.

What is Monster Enough?

That question started out as a rumination on how those of us who dream we are monsters are always afraid of not being Monster Enough.  We are pragmatists.  We know that no matter how good you are at your game, there is someone who is better, or faster, or just luckier today.  We bank not on being the best monster (because there is no best monster, o best beloved, only the monster who wins right now), but on being Monster Enough to win right now and to scare away all the need to win eventually.

When you ask it that way, what is Monster Enough, there is no real answer.  It is a hard question, I think, but not a true question.  It is a question for the place between childhood and realism where you can dream that all your fights will have a winner and a loser, that everything really is that simple.  Certainly, if you pick enough of that kind of fight, it seems like that’s the only thing that’s important.  But that blows away any chance of knowing Monster Enough.

Ask it another way:

Who is Monster Enough?
I am.  You are.  We are.

We are Monster Enough to make the people who love us feel safe in our arms.  We are Monster Enough to make the people who try to chain us tremble when they think of the word “reckoning.”  We are Monster Enough to be soft and good to cuddle, and Monster Enough to roar loudly in pain and fear at the dark.

My Monster Enough is big, and loud, and cuddly if you are nice.  She makes pancakes and knows how to sharpen a knife.  She dries tears on her fur and sings songs while her den falls asleep, and tends the fire and watches the dark outside the cave, just in case.  Monster Enough is not afraid of “going soft,” just because she loves.  Love makes her fiercer, stronger, more desperate.  Monster Enough knows that things which are too hard are brittle, and break easily.  Monster Enough is not afraid of being unready.  She knows that she was ready when children came, all unexpected, and that she was ready when danger came, all unannounced.  She does not have to plan to be ready – she just is.  She is Monster Enough.

My Monster Enough is not afraid to be weak sometimes, because being weak sometimes makes the strength she has stronger, more lasting, more tempered.  She is not afraid to nurture, because nurturing takes more strength than yelling, even if it is not as loud.  She does not need to prove anything, because she is already Monster Enough.

She and I are not the same, and may never be.  But she is someone I would be proud to grow up to be, and I am grateful to have met her.

Who is your Monster Enough?

Words mean things.

DESERVE.

“You deserve this,” she whispered into the cup of my ear, nibbling on the outside ridge of it.  “You deserve everything.  I love you.”  We curled up into each other, a nautilus twined in on itself in the gravity of infatuation.  We slept together, and woke together, still tangled up and relaxed, still so in love that it permeated around us.  We were beautiful, together.

“You deserve this,” she whispered into the side of my neck, clinging to me as if to life.  “You deserve everything.  I loved you.”  I pushed her away from me, frightened, repulsed.  She fell back, leaned on the wall, clung to me still with her deep, wet eyes.  She staggered back to her feet, slowly.  I looked around at the unholy mess our little apartment had become as she tottered out.  I barely heard her open the front door, but I heard the click-whoosh of her lighter.

 

NEED.

“I… I need a favor.  Please.”  It shocked him to hear it, almost as much as it must have hurt her to say it.  She was not the type of person to ask for things, ever.  He had never, in all his years as her friend, heard her say she needed something.  It was new, and frightening.  He knew, in that instant, that whatever it was, it was something she needed as she needed breath and light, and that he would do anything to give it to her.

“Look, I just need a favor, all right?  Nothing big.  Just a favor.”  The words were fast, too fast, trying to overrun her objections.  He was cupping her face in the palm of his hand, like he knew she loved, and she knew he was trying to make her see it his way, like it wouldn’t cost her anything.  She knew, too, that it would work.  Just realizing it made her tired, sad, and a little sick.  She was so tired of “compromising” with the things that he needed.

“I need you.”  I looked her in the eye, and did not flinch.  It was a powerful statement, left bald that way.  She was afraid, and I wouldn’t let that stand.  “I love you, and I need you.  I will not be the same if you go.”  I took a deep breath, and let it sigh softly out of my lungs, deflating all my defense, all my ego.  “I need you.  You are still my sun, my moon, my starlit sky.  It hasn’t gone away.  It’s not going to.”

 

Words mean things.

Words are the birds that take flight, and show you where your enemy is hiding.

Choose your words as carefully as you would choose ammunition, a love’s or lover’s gift, a mode of travel, a medium in which to burn and create.  Words mean things – have a care that the things you say are the things you mean, or ‘ware the dragons that live outside the edges.

Because today was a day full of work, and then tonight was a night full of work, and now it is almost today all over again, and I will fuck up today’s work quite thoroughly if I don’t at least pretend I intend to sleep in between.

But there are things that need writing, and will not leave me alone until I acknowledge them.  It’s been a very right-brain-eating-my-face week, and for some very good and very interesting reasons, and some very bad and very interesting ones.  I am sorting through all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, and now here is a list, because that way I can pretend to the things that need writing that I will get to them, at least long enough to sleep.  And maybe, when I wake up again, I will remember what I meant by all this – or, even more interestingly, I will half remember, and make something not-quite-new-but-curiously-rewrought out of the bits.  Upcycled memory.

Words mean things.  It needs writing because it is true.  Because deserve is a blessing and an epithet.  Because need is a plea, a bargain, a comfort, a curse, a coward’s way out, a pretty lie, a naked and trembling truth. Because words mean things, and people mean things by words, and what we mean by things means everything – and when what we mean is not what it means to someone else, things can go very awry, or just very else.

The trouble with torture.  The trouble with torture, O Best Beloved, it’s that it’s predictably and practically pointless to do it to anyone else but one’s very own private, potent, purulently penitent Self.  No one else has the tools to hone the edge of the tool so fine that it cuts precisely where the intent meets the deed, so that the Self is reminded of what it couldn’t be bothered about before any of this silliness began.

Hookers, whores, call girls and storytellers.  We lie.  We all lie.  And the ones of us who are paid the most to lie to other people are paid to do it because our lies sound like something that those people want very, very badly to be true.  Find the truth that your john wants, and feed it out, micron by micron.  Get paid in the coin of your choice for every morsel.  Wrap as much of what you believe or want to be true in it as you can bear – every word that comes out of your cocksucker that you can believe, your john will believe because you believe it, and it will be easier to sell the ones you know are lunacy and pap.  Cut yourself on true words to feed him watered down lies that taste like lifeblood just enough to make him want more.  And while he’s swallowing, pilfer his wallet.  Or tell him why he had the idea to sign the contract.  Where is the line between fantasy and sociopathy?

Brains are tuning forks. Songs are the note to which mine resonates right now.  The shortcut drug is in full effect, and it is digging things up out of trunks long left locked to rust in the dark.  Pieces of Split City are slotting together, and I think I expected that to be a good thing.  It is definitely becoming something very else, though, and I don’t know what I think of that.  I am becoming, slowly, hesitant to think of these things that I am putting words to as part of some linear work.  There are too many parallels, overlaps, whorls.  Plotlines run like fingerprints.  It is confusing, fascinating.  I have told and retold the story of my own life to myself so many times, in so many ways, trying to make sense of it – perhaps I have worn parallel sorts of paths in my brain, so that it creates not single things, but what if bouquets of possibility and potentiality.

We shall see.

The problem is follow through.  So, about a day ago (22 hours, for those of you counting), I had what struck me as a beautiful, stunning set of stories.  I am never short for ideas about stories, but this was a framework built for me, that I could just people with people and love the exploration of finding out what they think and why.

The lack of ideas is never the problem – so this is my own attempt at accountability.  I forgot to borrow the book that gave me the amazing vision, but I remember that book.  I will remember to borrow it, or find a copy of my own so that I can deface it and make something new and fascinating (at least to me) out of it.  Probably both.  Hopefully both.

A book, a knife, a dream.   These things have come in threes, and as the moon waxes gibbous and prepares to achieve her fulfillment, to begin a new cycle.  What that cycle is is up to me, and me alone.  I am determined to make it one that tells stories that have voices and will sing to the people who listen when I talk.

 

The dance of the cosmos is whirling and singing in my brain.  This is my statement of accountability that I am too determined to let it go.  Let there be voices heard, mine and everyone else’s, and let stars become people who become stars again.  Round and round we go – bell, book, candle: knife, book, dream.  We will see.  It is a good thought, looking forward to sleeping soundly and waking up to stories that deserve to be heard.

 

They are all my voice, in one way or another.  But they are also not my voice, and not myself, or only prisms of facets of myself.  And I want to meet them, ask them questions, and learn who they are, what they want, who they love.  So, tomorrow, we begin.  Wish me luck.

Mythology of self

We tell ourselves stories all the time, every day.  You’ve heard me talk about this before, and it’s a theme I come back to a lot, primarily because I spend a fair portion of my time asking myself what story someone is telling themselves about a particular set of facts, events, circumstances, whatever.  There are lots of stories to tell about any particular event, and the story that you tell yourself will materially and significantly change the way you look at the event, how you feel about it, how you feel about yourself and other people in relation to it.  The facts form a very, very low percentage of the actual opinion and emotional resonance that a human forms around any important event: most of what goes on in our heads is the story we are telling ourselves about what happened, what is happening, what will happen, what might happen.

That becomes even more pertinent, even more common, even more influential when we think about people instead of facts.  People are mutable and interpretable in a way that facts are not.  Though we spend a lot of brain power excusing or ignoring internal motivations, on some level we (as humans) are basically incapable of ignoring the fact that other humans’ internal motivations DO exist, in a theoretical sense.  So, based on the fact that it can only ever be a theoretical sense, we create theories of who they are, what they are thinking, how they are feeling, what they might or might not think or feel or do in regards to us and what we feel and think and do or do not do or think or feel.

How, then, do we reinterpret and recreate ourselves?  We are, from an internal perspective, a complex mix of both fact and perception, of concrete certainties and guesses.  When you ask someone why they did a very important, very emotionally loaded thing, they will often have a logical, rational, prepared explanation.  They have a story.  They will tell you their story about why they acted the way they did, what they were thinking, what they were feeling, and why all of that makes sense in the context of what was going on.

The problem with that (or at least, this is my theory today – ask me again tomorrow, it’ll probably be different) is that it’s bullshit.  It’s a story they’ve devised to explain to themselves why what they did was right, or why it made sense, or just why it was okay to do at the time.  It’s a construct, a fabrication, a creation designed to uphold their certainty that they do have reasons for doing things, and that they understand why they do things.  People, in general, devise their sense of self and identity from identifying common characteristics in the stories they tell themselves and other people about themselves, and then basing their future stories and behaviors on those characteristics.  It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of identity reinforcement.

Here’s the chink in that armor: ask someone why they engaged in an action that has no real resonance, that wasn’t important, that didn’t have any real meaning to them at the time.  Preferably, ask them about it both right after they do it, and then again some time later (best if you ask after they have forgotten the first conversation about the action).  At first, usually they will not know why they did that thing.  It was a small action, an unimportant thing, that didn’t need a story.  But when questioned, they will create a story, no matter how small, no matter how poorly constructed, to uphold their self-identity.  They will seek a story that holds a reason that somehow jells with the way they see themselves, through the lens of years or decades of stories repeating the same themes.

After they have forgotten the first conversation, ask again.  The story will probably have changed, although in many cases not by much.  It will hold together better, and small details will be altered to make it flow more freely and coherently.  It will be more according to the standards they expect of themselves, positive and negative, and it will be a better brick in the wall of self-identity.  The story gains stability the further away from the action the person is – because memory is a strange and mutable thing, and we color it in with details that make it easier for us to make sense of it in context of our world.

So, the thing I am going round and round trying to get at is this: we create our own set of stories, our own mythology of self.  My mythology of self is complex and at times incoherent, and interacts with others’ mythology of me in interesting and sometimes very surprising ways.  Everyone I know has a mythology of self – a series of stories that they have told to themselves and others that is part truth, part fiction, told and retold, honed and refined so that it supports and reinforces the person that they have convinced themselves they are.

The mythology of self is a critical part of human experience, I think.  It is utterly inseparable from the way people self-identify in a more scientific and psychological sense, and it is crucial to creating a bridge between separate people, so that they (like fractious deities in totally unrelated pantheons, forced to overlap and interact) can mingle their mythologies to help form a society that we can all thrive and find wonder in.

There is something in this idea, I think, that I will find really useful for exploring the concept of deity as self, and self as deity.  I will have to chase it down one day soon.  For now, I am having great fun poking holes in my own mythology, squinting skeptically at what ego and mis-memory created to convince me that I am me, and there is no other way to be.  We are humans and gods, children and crones who have a fascination with the other and the self, and we are inherently mutable and adaptable.  The mythology of self may well be one of the most powerful tools we have in reinventing our selves and our worlds to be people and places that we are invested in, joyful about, and in love with.

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question that I’ve heard at pretty much every writer’s panel I’ve ever been to, ever.  (And, all bullshit aside, I’ve been to a lot of them.  I get a *lot* of writer crushes. Don’t judge me.)  Every time someone who has managed to get together the combination of talent, intelligence, drive, dedication, and circumstance that allows them to become famous (or semi-famous, or somewhat popular, or well-known in their field) comes before an audience that is invited to ask them questions, inevitably that one question comes up.  (Well, okay, I’ve never heard it asked of a non-fiction author, so assume I’m speaking only of fiction authors, here.)

Where do you get your ideas?

And it’s been answered a billion billion different times in a billion billion different ways – everything from angry, sarcastic non-answers to joking, sarcastic non-answers to genuine attempts to explain the answer in metaphor to attempts to explain the answer by example to any number of other things.  All these men, women, and other humans do their best (or their best at the time) to answer that one topologically simple question: where do you get your ideas?

Now, I’m not famous.  I’m not popular, except for a *very* limited definition of the word.  I’m not well-known in my field.  But I do write, and over half what I write is fiction, and most of the things I write end up baffling the reader(s) as to their genesis.  So I am going to engage in that ultimate egomaniacal exercise, answering a question I have not been asked, that no one has cared to ask me.  (Telling me that my brain works in very strange and unpredictable ways doesn’t count as asking even by a very generous standard, I think.)

I think the reason that it’s so hard to answer is this: the answer is different for every idea.  Beyond that, it’s different for every facet and every flavor of every idea, and sometimes it goes on to become different again as the idea grows and morphs and develops ideas of its own about what it should be.  So the concept of it having some brilliant moment of genesis is a little fundamentally flawed .

Most really creative ideas, at least in my experience, are a little like a mad scientist kitchen with fifty different experiments going at once.  Imagine having each different experiment in a separate container, and not making any notes on what goes into any of them – just having confidence that you’ll be able to remember it, or figure it out again, when you get back around to really working on that one.  So you’re working on fifty different experiments at once, throwing a little of this and a little of that into each pot.  And every so often, one of them will explode – either in a cloud of noxious gas, sending you fleeing from the kitchen, or in a brilliant ball of flame and light that makes you go “How in the HELL did I do that, how can I do it again, and now how do I make that work for me so I can put it in something useful?”

Then add in the fact that all of the containers leak, most of the countertops are crooked, none of your measuring implements are quite accurate, and there are gremlins who change around what’s in your ingredient jars while you aren’t looking.  So eventually you can figure out how you got the noxious gas or the beautiful flame, but usually it takes a lot of back-analyzing and chipping off residue from the counter and occasionally licking it to see what’s in it, and then ending up in the hospital because you had the terrible, terrible idea of licking the burnt-on shit that came off your countertop.

So, when you get back out of the hospital, you can sort of remember what you were doing, and then probably recreate something like what you had the first time, but mostly you’re working on memory and instinct, and hoping for a lot of luck.  And asbestos underpants.  That’s what having ideas is like, for me.

Here’s the reason that the question is inherently unanswerable, though: that’s just me.  And that only explains the genesis of about half my ideas, at most.  Don’t get me started on the Bai Ling-turns-into-a-zombie-who’s-really-a-rocker-dyke-who-just-wants-to-be-loved-but-probably-we’re-talking-about-an-accidental-apocalypse-thing-here, which, as of last night, doesn’t actually contain Bai Ling at all anymore.  There is no answer, because the answer is always different.  Even for one idea, there’s no one answer, because there are so many things that go into the synthesizing process of creativity that there is really no point in trying to give a technical explanation of the process.

And, at the same time, it is possible to distill the answer into a couple of pithy phrases, if you really really want to.  Where do writers get our ideas?  Life.  We get them from living.  We get them from tilting our heads funny and asking the wrong questions that turn out to be the right questions.  Where do we get our ideas?  From not being afraid to lick the countertops.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go refinish the kitchen in my brain with an all-new activated-charcoal chic.  It’s the new thing this season for the cerebral experimental gastronomer.

Remember monsters.

(Author’s note: Usually, with stories, even with little moments in time that have a flavor that wants to be written, I have context.  I know who the people are, what they want, where they are coming from, where they are going.  I have some kind of an idea what the larger story would be, if I wrote the things before the beginning and after the ending.  For this, I have nothing.  I have no idea.  I know that both of them are pieces of me and people I have known, shot through prisms that are both harsh and just.  So I present it to you as it is in my head: out of joint, out of whatever world it belongs in, the players wandering in to live through something in front of our eyes, then disappearing again without ever explaining why.  In a lot of ways, I like it better without the why.  So remember monsters.)

“Live like any minute now, they’re going to figure out why no one else wanted you, either,” she said quietly, staring down the steps at the sidewalk, not meeting his eyes.  She huddled around the coffee he’d bought her, as if trying to save every bit of warmth and life it could provide.  She sipped it slowly, savoring it as they talked, and took drags off a cigarette she’d pulled from somewhere in the depths of her giant hooded sweatshirt.
“Why wouldn’t they want you?”  His question was innocent, caring, hopeful.  He wanted her; she could tell that.  He wanted, partly, to fuck her.  Mostly, though, he wanted to save her.  He wanted to be the man who saved her, and feel like he was worth more because he’d saved someone pretty who needed saving.  It was an old, old story, and he wanted to be an important part of a pretty story with a pretty girl who needed him.  She knew the look.
“Because I’m not someone people want, because I don’t want people.  You don’t know me, and I don’t care.  I don’t want to be understood.  I don’t want to be cared about.  The important word in that sentence is live, not want.  Live, so that when they figure it out, you can keep living.  Survive, so you can keep surviving.”  She looked up at him then, straight in the eyes, demanding.  He saw something in her that frightened him badly – something hard and reptilian, something that had no warmth or softness or prettiness in it.  The only beauty in the survivor’s eyes is the beauty of function, and he was not equipped to see it or appreciate it, not in someone he wanted to save.
“Look,” she said, standing up and dropping the butt of the cigarette, grinding it on the concrete stair beneath her boot.  Her voice was the same flat, quiet, pragmatic tone it had been since he’d first spoken to her.  “You’re a nice guy.  You want to find a nice girl down on her luck.  You want to be someone good to her, good for her, good with her.  Take it from me – don’t do it.  People who need saving once need it all the time, and nobody you save is ever going to love you for it.  All they’re ever going to do is need, need, need.  Eventually, they’re going to hate you for making them need you.  You don’t want a pretty girl to hate you, so find one who doesn’t need you but loves you anyhow.  Don’t pick up strays.  You don’t have to be a hero to be important.  And get a fucking haircut.”
He was confused, hurt, beginning to be angry.  He stood up to match her, topping her height by inches, trying to be intimidating, trying to look aggressive.  She laughed merrily, throwing her head back and howling with mirth.  It was the first time she’d been loud at all, or drawn attention to herself, and she was obviously beside herself with glee.
“Don’t posture with me, nice boy.  You are nice, and you’ll make a nice girl a nice boy sometime.  Now go back to your nice apartment and your nice things, and leave the monsters to our street corners and our steam grates.  Don’t try to save us.  We don’t need you, we don’t want you, and we’ll eat you if you try.”
Then she kicked him.  Not hard, not to injure, just knocked his knees out from under him.  He went rolling down the concrete steps, screaming as joints and head bounced off the unforgiving corners, skidding to a stop on the sidewalk, just shy of traffic.  She walked calmly down after him, and looked down at his form, sprawled ungainly against the black of the gutter.
“Remember monsters, nice boy.  Remember strays.  Stick to your nice life, and stop trying to save things that are surviving just fine on their own.”

Storytime!

 

Once upon a time (because all the best stories begin with “once upon a time,” O Best Beloved), there was a tradition.  It was present in any number of carnivals and fairs.  Without doing significant research (so I am thoroughly willing to have my information corrected, if I am wrong), I would be so bold as to say that it was present in almost every traveling carnival, fair, sideshow, or other entertainment that featured a carousel or calliope.  That tradition involved a brass ring.  Theoretically, any rider could see the ring, and risk anything from minor embarrassment to actual injury in order to reach up at the appropriate moment and grab it, thus winning some kind of prize.  The prize would range anywhere from a free ride ticket to an evening’s hospitality by the carnival in question to actual cash to any number of other, less predictable, more unique offerings.

 

I liked that tradition, and I am sorry to see it falling out of use.  It is to the point now that carousels are very often permanent installations in permanent buildings – and I have never seen a brass ring on any of those installations.  Even traveling fairs often feature it only as a decoration, if at all.  Some of them have gone so far as to permanently attach the ring to the ride – even if one were to grab it, one would end up holding on to it, dangling in the air, no one understanding that it was meant to come off.

 

Why does this matter?  In the larger scheme of things, losing the brass ring is a small thing, nothing worth worrying about.  Take it as an example of a larger trend, however, it becomes something that is not just worth worrying about – it’s also something that is worth fighting for and over, because it means everything.  If I look at the symbol instead of the object, it makes me very, very angry.

 

Give me back my brass ring.  I want there to be something to strive for, even in a passing entertainment.  Give me back the opportunity to go above and beyond, and have there be something worth the effort at the end of it.  Give me back the idea that everyone is expected to want to go further, because there’s always something waiting for people who do.

 

Go even further out into the land of the conceptual, and it becomes both more disturbing and more banal.  “Grabbing the brass ring” is still a figure of speech in our language.  It’s less common now than it once was, but it still exists.  How many people know what it means anymore – that once upon a time there was a real, tangible, achievable brass ring that was worth the effort to seize?  How many people will know that 10 or 20 or 50 years from now?

 

Obviously, language changes.  Traditions change – some fall out of favor, new ones arise, and our language changes accordingly.  Slang, vernacular, and figures of speech are some of the most mutable parts of language, because they are strongly rooted in the popular culture and understanding of their time.  They change almost from season to season in some cases, and that is not a bad thing overall.  But what do we have that replaces the brass ring?  That is a genuine question, because I don’t know.  I’m sure there is something, and I’m sure it’s much more relevant to modern post-industrial culture than the brass ring is.  At the same time, I mourn the loss of that particular turn of phrase, because I don’t think that anything that replaces it will please me as much.  (Yeah, yeah, things were better in the old days, in the snow uphill both ways, get off my lawn.)

 

I wonder if, by losing the brass ring, we are showing that we are losing something more important, more critical, more crucial to the cultural perspective that has made modern Americans what they are.  (I do not speak to the cultures of other countries, because I am not familiar enough with the subject to speak intelligently.)  Are we losing the idea that in every moment, no matter how otherwise passive, there is an opportunity that we can seize?  Are we losing the view that opportunities are worth seizing, even unexpectedly and at some (lesser or greater) risk?  Are we losing the brass ring in our minds, as we are losing the brass ring in our world?

 

Questions, questions, questions – how does language reflect reality reflecting language?  This is what I’m thinking about today: the changes in our thoughts leaking into our words, and how much we can see about ourselves by remembering the things we don’t use anymore.  Give me back my brass ring – I’d rather leap and seize and risk than be left hanging out in the middle of empty space, clinging to a false promise, a lost ideal.

Scream.

Every day when you walk through the world, there are people around you screaming.  They scream all day long, every day, and then scream into the night, and wake up or just stumble out of bed without ever having slept to do it all again.  They are screaming for you, at you, with you.  They are people like you, and they are screaming to try to be heard.

 

Every person walking the face of this planet has a voice.  Some are simple, some complex, some restrained and some impassioned and out of control.  All of them are worth listening to, because every single one of them is unique in some way.  Experience is never repeated, only refracted and reiterated into a new shape, a new time, a new person or circumstance.  When you lose track of the idea that all voices deserve to be heard, you become deaf to the beautiful complexity of living.

 

Every moment you breathe, there is something in your mind that is trying to be heard.  We are island creatures, made of flesh that cannot mingle with itself, and so we reach out to each other and ourselves to try and make the minds do what the flesh cannot.  We scream.  We chatter and stammer and beg, to try and be reaffirmed that we are people, that we have voices that other people can hear, that our voices deserve to be heard.

 

Do not lose track of the beauty in screaming.  Every scream has a meaning, a feeling, a thought, a moment of connection that will never happen again.  Miss it to your own detriment.

 

I scream to myself, to others, to nothing, to everything.  Like every other jumped-up monkey on our tilt-a-whirl rock, I scream all the time.  Often it is silent, and often it is unheard or misunderstood.  That doesn’t stop me, and cannot stop me, because to stop trying to be heard is to start trying to die.

 

Scream.  You have a voice, and it is a voice that has value, that deserves to be heard.  Scream.  Other people will be better for hearing it, because it reminds them that they are people, and that they can understand you a little, and so you can understand them a little.  Scream, and remind yourself and the people around you that you are all people, who have things in common, fears in common, loves in common, being in common.  Scream, and be whole.

 

And when other people scream, remember that they are like you, burning to be heard and understood.  To silence another person’s voice is the closest you can come to the Platonic ideal of sin – it excises and burns up something that is precious in its rarity, its complete immunity to recreation.  We are all fumbling in the dark of sentience, trying to find a way to touch someone else that we can never really see or be one with.  The closest we can come is to scream, to create a voice for ourselves that has something of all of us in it, that creates a bridge between the islands of ourselves, that provides for us the vital sense of connection, of being a creature who is not alone in the dark of its own mind.

 

Scream.  You will be heard, and someone is equipped to understand, and to care.  You are not alone in the dark.

 

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