Tag Archive: culture


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.

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Get up.

There are some stories, O Best Beloved, from which even the moon turns her face.  So tonight, as we sit here huddled around a fire that gives no warmth and no comfort, she hides herself from us in the clouds, because she knows that I will tell you a story that she does not want to hear.  She will not stop me, though, O my Best Beloved.  Even the moon knows that all stories must be told in the end, because every story has a name, and all names are true in some turning.

But remember: all storytellers are liars at heart.  There are three lies in this story, and this is one of them.

This is a story that is not mine, but one that I was told by the one who lived it, who whispered it in my ear when no one else would hear it, when the moon was dark and all was quiet in her hiddenness.  I was told so that it would be told to you, when she was hidden again, so that you could sift the truth from the lies and learn from the sifting.

This is the story I heard:

“The concrete was cold and hard on my face, but warm against my hip, where I was bleeding on it.  I liked the places where it was warm, because I couldn’t remember the last time I had been warm all over.  I was so hungry, and so tired, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept more than a couple of hours.  I just wanted to sleep.  I wanted to be warm, and I wanted to sleep.  That was all.  I wanted it so so so badly.

“She was laughing at me, purring her laugh, like a great cat that’s just heard a good joke.  ‘Get up,’ she says to me, laughing.  ‘You’re fine.  Get up.’

“I can’t, I tell her.  I’m so tired, and I’m so cold.  Please, can’t I just lay here for a minute and have a little sleep, and maybe a little something to eat?  I’ve tried to be so good for so long.  I’ve almost got it perfect.  Please, please, can’t I just go to sleep?  I promise I’ll do better when I wake up.

“She’s not laughing anymore.  She’s slapping that stupid stick against her boot, tapping it to make noise, looking at me, making her mad face.  ‘Get up,’ she says again.  ‘You’re not hurt.  You’re just lazy.  Get up.  If you want to rest, you have to work first.  So get up.  Now.’

“I can’t help it.  I start to cry.  Not out loud, because then she’ll be really mad, but the wet just wells up and leaks out of my eyes and onto the floor.  I try to push myself up on my strong arm, and it just shakes and drops me back down again.  I try pushing with my legs, and they just won’t work at all.  Nothing’s answering right anymore.  It’s so scary.  I’m trying so hard to be good, to do right, but it’s not working.  Nothing will work, and now she’s so mad.

“‘Well.  I see how it is then.’  She’s walking around me, tapping the stick on her boot some more, making that whap-whap-whap sound in the quiet.  ‘You told me you would do as I asked.  You told me you were worth the work.  I should have known you were lying.  I should have known you were just a girl all along.  We both know girls are too weak to be of any use.  When you can be bothered to get up, then get out.  I have no use for girls.’

“She put so much hate in that last word, so much contempt.  And she was wrong! I got so mad.  I’m not a girl.  I’m not weak.  I can do it.  I can do anything.  I. Am. NOT. A. Stupid. Weak. GIRL.

“It hurt, when the chain around my ankle tore into the skin, pulled on the bone.  I don’t remember getting up.  I don’t remember running at her, yelling.  But there I was, on my feet.  I am not a GIRL.  I am USEFUL.  I can WORK.  And I can GET UP, see? I am UP!

“Then she laughed again.  She was happy.  I was useful.  My blood was dripping down my leg from my hip, where she’d hit me before I’d fallen down, and it was going faster now, and I was out of breath.  But I got up.  That was what was important.  I had proved it.  I was not a girl.

“I got up.

“I got up.

“And so she loved me another day, and I got to stay another day, because I got up.

“That was a long time ago now.  I can’t change what happened.  There are a lot of days where I think it would have been better if I’d never met her.  A lot of days where I think it would have been better if I’d stayed down, or never been sent away.  But those days aren’t today.  And as long as those days aren’t today, I’m getting up for me, instead of her.  So that’s all right then, I guess.”

This is a story I wept to hear, and I weep to tell it to you, and the moon hides her face from us to hide her tears.  Put another log on the fire, O my Best Beloved.  All of us could use a little light, a little warmth, and a little comfort against the stories the moon hides her face from.

So join me in weeping, and help me lend a hand to those who would get up for themselves.  Even liars have hands, and every hand is useful.

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.

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.

Engage as equals.

This could be a diatribe filled with profanity.  It could be a gripping personal memoir of everything I have seen and done and been in the last year, providing every sordid moment in glistening, horrific 3-dimensional detail.  It could be a long, woeful ramble about what a horrible person I am, how much I regret being myself, and how I should never be trusted to make choices about anything of note, ever, because I am also an idiot.  It could be a lot of things, but really it’s just one thing: I have distilled everything I have learned from all that into three words, easily understood.

Engage as equals.

Easy to understand the concept, but hard to understand how it applies in so many walks of life, and why it is the first tenet I have added to my own personal code in a very, very long time.  I will give you some examples of why I think engaging as equals is critical, is necessary, is indispensable in being a functional adult.

DON’T BANK ON WHO YOU ARE:  If you make your living with your brain, but you are not willing to take your statements, opinions, and arguments into a forum where no one knows who you are, you are refusing to engage as equals.  That is demanding a handicap of reputation, and in many cases, a handicap of perceived superiority over the individuals who may disagree with you.  Your professional reputation was (I hope) based on your ability to state your case well, to research well, to debate intelligently and to prove your points or convince others that you had.  Refusing to engage when the other party is seen as your equal (in intelligence, in reputation, in ability, in whatever) is cowardice, and I will not abide it.

DON’T PITY FUCK:  If you have any interpersonal relationships that involve any level of intimacy, it behooves you to engage as an equal inside them.  Even if you have a negotiated unequal power dynamic, that power dynamic does not change the equality of the partners as people.  And, in a more mainstream sense, it is all too common for one partner to assume that they are more intelligent, more resourceful, more qualified, more attractive, or more *something* than the other.  The catch is this: that usually cuts both ways.  If you are both in a relationship where you feel like you are doing the other one a favor, on some unspecified level, that seems to be to be a great big giant red flag.  You must engage each other as equals – persons of equal value, of equal worth, who may have different things to contribute to the relationship, but whose contributions as people are essentially impossible to measure on a quantitative scale.  If your relationship devolves into measuring who has done more for whom, get out.  Refusing to leave just because you’re used to where you are, or you feel that your partner deserves your treatment of them, or you deserve their treatment of you, is laziness and cowardice.  Again, I will not abide it.

MAKE FRIENDS YOU LIKE:  This is a corollary to the previous point.  If you are in a friendship or acquaintanceship, and you feel like you are doing the other person a favor, get out.  It will drain you and make them feel small.  The same logic applies for friends who feel they are doing you favors – it will drain them, and make you feel small.  Neither situation is one in which friendship can flourish.  The only people who can last as friends, honest and open with each other, are people who engage as equals.  If they do not believe that the other person is bringing as much value to the table as they are, then there will (of necessity) be some sort of commodification of the friendship.  Doing people favors is only kind if you are not waiting to call them in, and not waiting to capitalize on being “that guy” who does people favors.  If you do it expecting a return, that is not friendship, and cannot effectively be masked as such.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS: There are people in the world who are less intelligent than you.  There are people in the world who are less adept than you.  There are people in the world who are less attractive, less motivated, less everything-you-think-is-important than you.  I have bad news for you, chum – those people are still your equals.  No more, no less.  Your criteria for importance are just that – yours.  Those criteria have no bearing on their actual validity as human beings.  Those people are your equals, and if you want to get anything out of your interactions with them, you have to treat them as such.

KNOW THEIR LIMITS:  Corollary.  There are people in the world who are more intelligent than you.  There are people in the world who are more adept than you.  There are people in the world who are more attractive, more motivated, more everything-you-think-is-important than you.  I have good news, this time.  Those people are still your equals.  No more, no less.  Your criteria for importance are just that – yours. Those criteria have no bearing on your actual validity as a human being.  You are the equal to those people, and if you want to get anything out of your interactions with them, you have to treat them as such.  And, corollary again, they have to treat you as such if they want to get anything out of those same interactions.

REMEMBER, CAESAR: Thou art mortal.  Even when you are in the height of your field, at the top of your game, in your best element, and absolutely top-flight of where you will ever be… There is still someone who knows more about it than you do, for a correctly phrased definition of “it.”  That is not a reason to despair – it is a reason to make sure that “someone” has to be so narrowly defined that it takes serious research to find anyone who *does* know more, or is better, in your chosen field.  “Thou art mortal” – praise and damnation all neatly wrapped up in one package.  Thou art mortal, and so is everybody else.  You are, at the basest level, and from a fundamental human perspective, their equal.

Engage as equals.  Give your friends and your opponents the respect they are due as human beings.  Anything less is ego, hypocrisy, cowardice, or outright denial of fact.

Book time!

I just got done reading a thoroughly fabulous book, by a man whose brain I now want to not just lick, but chew on until all the gristly bits come out.  The book is The Name of the Wind, and its author is Patrick Rothfuss.  I am now going to blather on about it – if you have not read it, and you consider anything that may in any way be related to its plot to be a spoiler, GO AWAY NOW.  Go read the book and come back.  I promise, the book is worth the time, and the blog post will still be here when you come back.  If you have read the book, or your experience will not be spoiled by spoilers, read on.

 

First, Rothfuss’ use of language is exceptional.  His differentiation of character voices and speech patterns is good, and even his differentiation between different iterations of the same character is noticeable but coherent.  I was thoroughly impressed at the way Kvothe was different-but-the-same in speech and thought patterns between time periods.  It made me quite happy.  The way Rothfuss plays with the way people talk makes me, as a language nerd, extremely engaged.  It is easy to tell the difference, even in extended periods of dialogue.  Small irritation: there is relatively little honest back-and-forth dialogue, as so much of this volume is straight first-person or third-person narrative.  The plot carries itself well enough that the lack of speech only becomes apparent to me in hindsight, and Kvothe’s inner monologue is interesting enough not to be cumbersome, but it’s still something that I could see giving the work as a whole more movement, and a greater sense of space.  We are trapped, most of the time, inside the confines of Kvothe’s head – and although it is quite a spacious, flexible, and capable head, it is only one head, nonetheless.  It will be interesting to see whether or where that changes in the second book.

 

Second, I absolutely, wholeheartedly, and without reservation ADORE his willingness openly to acknowledge fantasy tropes, hold them up to the light, and shred them mercilessly with Kvothe’s hands or words or thoughts or deeds.  Highly, unerringly entertaining, and worked cunningly into the plot so as to make the action more realistic, the characters more interesting, and the overall slowness of the development bearable in its pace.  Make no mistake – this is definitely set at “Civilization: Epic” speed, where every moment counts.  The movement is often bogged down by minutiae of the everyday, but they are fascinating minutiae, because they are not saved by fantasy convenience.  Most often high fantasy of this kind is moved along by plot devices so obvious they could make an eighteen-wheeler double-trailer on fire driven by a meth-addicted demon with hookers dancing on the roof dressed in neon seem subtle and understated by comparison.  Rothfuss doesn’t use these very much – and when he does, the answers to them are inventive, unpredictable, and often inconvenient.  Grant you, this is a double-edged sword.  Without a taste for the epic, this could as easily be a habit that irritates instead of entrances.  For me, it’s fucking fabulous.  I will read a 700-page book that could have been 400, because it is well-written and not lazy.  I prefer it, because it is intelligent and does not cut corners.

 

Things I am not certain of yet: I don’t know whether it’s Kvothe or Rothfuss who so enjoys foreshadowing events as yet unrevealed.  I do know that I, as a reader, do not enjoy being blatantly teased.  It seems too clumsy for Kvothe, and exactly the sort of thing that I have seen from a number of authors whose first works of length are excursions into high fantasy.  It does not match up with the grace of the rest of Rothfuss’ writing, however, and just seems… off.  We’ll see how he follows up on it (or doesn’t) in the next book.  I don’t know how I feel about the fact that the entire first volume is, essentially, a prologue.  I am thoroughly in love with the fact that the way the book is set up is different – very different, story-within-a-story, without feeling the need to bring either story to a resolution.  I must hold judgment on that in abeyance until I see whether either story can be brought to a resolution, or whether the promise in either of the two main threads will wither on the vine because of the convoluted construction.

 

Things I hate: the cover art on the mass market paperback.  The fact that I did not take notes on the phrases, sentences, constructs that jumped out at me to spark my own writing (he has a knack for using turns of phrase that make my right brain sizzle and spark and snarl).  The fact that I will never get to buy Kvothe a drink, or sit down and have a smoke with Denna and talk to her about being a woman in the world she lives in.  That surprisingly few people will not look at me with surprise when I pick up using “blackened body of God” as an expletive or intensifier, because it fucking works if you spit it out.  That it will be next year before Day Two comes out.

 

It is a good book.  Tomorrow I may read it again.

Stand up and kill.

If you’re going to cut somebody up, have the decency to do it face to face.  If you’re going to gut a person, it behooves you to be a human being about it and do it right up close, where you can see what it does to them, where you cannot escape the consequences of the actions you take, where you cannot deny the essential humanity of the person you are cutting.

 

I am thoroughly tired of watching maiming and murder by proxy.  I am not a nice person; anyone who has known me for any length of time is well aware of this.  I am eminently pragmatic, and this often leads to me thinking thoughts that are quite uncivilized and extremely antisocial.  My brain is, by and large, short, nasty and brutish.  (Pun definitely intended.)  That being said, I am completely fed up with watching people who do not have the balls to pick up a knife pick up pens or keyboards instead, and go on tirades and rampages about the denial of rights and humanity to their fellow human beings.

 

These are humans, you ignorant bureaucratic cowards.  They eat and sleep and love and live just as you do.  They have lives and dreams and aspirations and loves big and small, just as you do.  They are three-dimensional, complex, and fascinating, just as you are.  So if you are going to call for them to be made small, to be made to fit, to be denied rights or reasons or justifications or simple humanity and complexity, it fucking well behooves you to do it to their faces, to gut them in person.  Pick up your damned knife and watch them bleed, because you owe them that as people.

 

It is even more infuriating to watch it happen in small communities, rather than large and impersonal ones.  Watching relationships dissolve, and then the partners dehumanize and demonize each other, or uninvolved parties take sides, and only talk about or villainize the participants in their absence, is becoming actively and aggressively repulsive.  I have always tried to maintain a policy of being unwilling to say things about people that I will not say to them, and I am finding it more and more intolerable to see that other people do not hold the same.  People are not steak, to be bought cleanly dissected for your convenience and consumed at leisure.  They are messy and must be butchered in the first person if you want them to fit into neat packages.  Pick up your own knife.  Do your own dirty work.  Don’t murder by proxy.  Stand up and kill.  If it’s a crime worth killing for, do it yourself.  If the person they are or the behaviors they engage in are worth cutting or gutting for, get your hands dirty and keep your fucking gorge down, because it’s work that needs doing.  If you can’t make yourself do it in person, then question whether it needs doing at all.

 

If you can’t do it to a real human, standing in front of you, what gives you the fucking right to do it at a distance, where you don’t have to feel it?  Because they do.  I guaran-damn-tee you they do, because they’re people.  They are not steaks, or Guy Fawkes effigies stuffed with straw.  Just because you distance yourself from them in the confines of your own mind does not make their selves any less real.  You cannot unmake them for your convenience, and pretending you can is hubris of the most disgusting kind.  Murder by proxy is cowardice.  Stand up and kill, or sit down and shut your fucking mouth.

 

Pick up your own knife, or put down your weapons and deal with them like people who have rights.  There is no middle ground.  Not in my world.

 

(This rant has been brought to you by the Stop Feeding Me Coffee And Then Getting Me Started On Politics and Ranting Fund.)

“Don’t fight what you need or it will fight back. The more you deny the essential the more belligerent the essential becomes.” – DiViNCi, from the Solillaquists of Sound

(It may be a quote from one of their songs; I don’t know their work well enough to tell.  Found it on DiViNCi’s Twitter (@solilla) and it stuck in my head.)

Too many people play Gandhi and Attila and Hannibal to their own needs.  They make their own lives into a constant battle of needs against wants, themselves versus the world, and they pit their own desires of flesh and spirit against those of everyone else, as though there could only be one winner, as though there had to be a loser in the game.  As though there was a game to begin with at all, as though the pie was only so big, and could be no bigger.  Fuck that.  Stop starving your needs, because needs are predators in their own right, and a starving predator will fight for its territory.

Belligerent essentials.  They will take back their ranges, and tear up your life in the doing, if you tear down the wild places that they need to survive.  Belligerent essentials will ravage the nice, neat little cubicles and boxes you build to keep them constrained and orderly, to compartmentalize and organize and satisfy the civilized outlook and the calm and sedate way of putting the civilization and its needs before your own.  Belligerent essentials will bully you, will berate you, will badger you and tree you and howl down your walls and crash through your windows and blow down your houses and eat your children and your creations alive in the dark forests of your mind, because you refused to give them enough room to grow and live in their own wild places.

If you don’t ruin the wild places with paving and portraits and politeness, the wild creatures have no reason to eat you.  Isn’t it nice when we all get along?  Don’t fight what you need, and your needs won’t eat you alive.  Belligerent essentials.

And by you, I mean me, of course.  I mean us.  No dodging, no assuming innocence.  We are all guilty until we shoulder our own work and fucking haul.  Belligerent essentials accept no less, and no one can excuse us from ourselves.

I love language, and words, and the power that using a particular turn of phrase can have when I am truly in the flow of my native tongue.  I have often thought what a complete power trip it must be, to be multilingual and to be able to dance in the stream of meaning in so many different worlds and cultures and contexts.  To understand the meaning of a word – denotation and connotation alike – one must understand not just where the word is right now, but also where it’s been in the last decade or two, and also have at least a vague notion about where it came from in the century or two before that.

In general, I really like the fact that language is analog that way.  It means that I can become more creatively precise and accurate in how I make pictures and meaning with words, because the nuances and flavors of the different layers of meaning in the words that I choose mix together in a very complex stew.  Talking about something as simple as a cd – if I tell you it is smooth, and slick, and slides across my hand cool and fast, you will get a very specific feeling about that cd.  If I am talking about exactly the same cd, and I tell you it is chilly, and greasy, and slips out of my grasp before I can catch it, you will get a very different image of what happened, and a very different feeling.  The events could, reasonably speaking, be precisely the same – but because the common connotation of the words is different, the meaning conveyed is different, and the emotional resonance with even an inanimate object becomes so different as to make it an entirely different object in the reader’s mind.

To me, that’s a hell of a lot of power packed into what is, essentially, an invisible process.  Yes, I as a writer have some control over it, through understanding what the common connotations and nuances in words are.  What happens when that fails?  What happens when I do not successfully dance the knife-edge of nuance?  The art in the turn of phrase is lost, and it either conveys what I meant to convey poorly, if at all, or it leads the reader into a red herring of assumption that is actively counterproductive to communication.  And what are words for, if not communication?

From the best of my understanding, the only way to combat that failure is to know your words, know the places and histories the people reading your words will be coming from, and do your homework on how those two interact.  How do you explain “chav” to a Southern American, so that they know not just the basic social structure, but also the cultural implications, and the behavioral and mindset indicators or why someone would be referred to that way, and what kind of emotional and social implications it has when used, variously as compliment and slur, and how *that* varies from situation to situation?  How do you explain the same thing about “nigger” to a native of Denmark who has never been to the U.S., nor has much interest in our culture?  These situations are unlikely, but make interesting food for my brain teeth.  Because if you can successfully explain the complexities of an emotionally and socially loaded word (particularly one likely to cause a fight in the wrong situation) to someone who is a total stranger to the history and potential explosivity, then chances are good that you have started to understand how the analog world of words works.

At least, that’s where I’m hoping to get to.  I know perfectly well I’m still in kindergarten on all this, and that makes me kind of happy.  I fingerpaint with clauses and punctuation, and I will gleefully eat the play-doh of staring at my own literary navel for far too long at a time.  Obviously.

We live in the future.

No, seriously.  We live in the goddamn future.  I was driving down I-4 on Saturday: I saw a Cube (you guys know what a Cube is, right?) that had a vanity plate, saying “YAOI QBE.” I am not making this up.

What I did, in fact, make up, was a happy little story to myself about who was in that car, and why, and what they do both for a living and for fun.  I imagined a passle (yes, a passel, and I’m going to spell it two different ways because I like both of them and I’m channeling my inner Ben Franklin today) of giggling twenty-somethings in their treasured YAOI QBE, headed for the coast to spend a couple of days with their perfectly painted toenails wiggling in the sand, occasionally taking a dip in hurricane-season waves and yelling to pretty boys (always technically legal, of course) about just how pretty they were, and how much more fun life could be if they’d just be a little… adventurous.  Girls old enough to feel a little jaded and a little worldly, feeling much older than they really are, like sirens of vice and licentiousness, luring young men into a world of activities only brushing elbows with the acceptable norms of our society.

Why, you ask, would I write this whole little melodrama in my head about their intrigues with and against each other, their frames of reference, their sameness and alienness? Because YAOI QBE is more a future car even than my much-treasured, much-abused Jetsonmobile (a lowly little Honda Insight) – it carries people who, in the past, would have no knowledge of such casual parlance without having been to Japan, and certainly, if they did know its meaning, would not have advertised it so publicly, for fear of the repercussions and social censure that might bring.  They could not have driven a zippy, efficient little car down the highway at zippy, efficient little speeds – travelling tens or hundreds (or, conceivably, thousands) of miles to achieve their destination, using paper or plastic to exchange the dream of money for the goods they need on the way.  Now they have access to untold terabytes of information, from anywhere in the world (and places millions of miles beyond it, thanks to satellite data made publicly available), as they sit comfortably in their future car, zipping down the road towards some unknown place.  They can learn languages, adopt accents, internalize the local habits of peoples previously unknown to them – without ever having set foot in a place before.

And before you completely discount my moment of wonder, boggle with me: you knew what YAOI QBE meant when you read it, very probably.  And even if you didn’t, you had, somewhere in your mind, the absolute certainty that a few seconds’ search would tell you.  Boggle with me at that, and live with me in wonder at the future for just a moment.  It’s a good feeling, wonderment.  It gives you a moment to feel light and amazed and amused and… surprisingly free.

I am going to boggle, today.  That’s my plan.  I have spent too much time focused on the tedium of making things work, or mourning things and people and ideals that I knew better than to believe in in the first place.  It is time for a little wonderment, because we live in the future, and it’s not such a bad place to be.

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