Tag Archive: living


Let me never be complete.

Let me never be compliant.

Let me never be content.

 

Let me never be a person, whole and finished, who is happy to be whole and finished.  Let my jagged edges scrape, and my unfinished margins have scribbles in all kinds of tools.  Let my footnotes have footnotes, and let my footnotes’ footnotes go out and drink in bars and bring back in-line citations that have no manners and wreck all the previous pagination and fuck the formatting until it cries and goes running for a new editor.

Let me never say “Enough!” because I am afraid I cannot take more.  Let me never run from my boundaries before I run face-first into them.  Let me never be satisfied with my limits.  Let my fears be challenges, adversaries to face with a hipshot grin and a sharp word, a sharp point, a sharp edge.  Let me never be held down, held back, held up or held over by anything I can drag into the light and eat, one bloody and satisfying bite at a time.

Let me never fall down, fall back, fall out or fall over when it is time to stand up.  Let me never put convenience before principle.  Let me never fail by refusing to commit.  Let me never excuse my own failure with “I tried.”  Let me never accept the failures of others quietly, when they limit me.  Let me never be tired enough to stop fighting.  Let me never give up being myself, fiercely and fabulously.  Let me never sell myself short.  Let me never keep myself from being.  Let me never slide into mediocrity.

Let me never be complete.

Let me never be compliant.

Let me never be content.

Let me never forget that I will fail at all of these things, time and time again, and that is no excuse to stop.

Walking with a bowl

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, there was a woman with a bowl.  It was a wide, round stone bowl, and it was her dearest possession.  This was a very once upon a time indeed, and she lived in a hard and rocky part of the land, where nothing would grow but gnarled little weeds and hard and twisted trees that gave no fruit.

There was, though, a small and lively stream beside the little shady building where she lived.  It had the clearest water you could dream of, and she carried that water out to the road every day in her beautiful, wide bowl.  It was a long walk to the road, but once she got there, she could trade the water for food and news and clothes.  The road always had traders, headed to the larger city, and she could trade her water to them, without having to go into the loud and dangerous city herself.

But of course, walking with a beautiful, wide stone bowl is difficult, day after day, many times a day.  The path was neither smooth nor flat.  And of course, you know what is going to happen, O Best Beloved, because it is such a beautiful bowl, and because her whole life depends upon it.

One day she falls, and the bowl breaks.  Her foot turns on a stone she cannot see, past the bowl full of clear water in her arms.  She and the bowl both go tumbling into the path.  She fares better than the bowl does, and is only scraped up a little.  The bowl, the beautiful stone bowl, is shattered beyond all hope of repair.

She has walked this path every day, many times a day, her whole life.  She has worked hard, her whole life.  She will not give up easily.  So she returns to her little house, and gathers up everything she has that might be worth something to a trader.  Then she goes and sits by the side of the road, and waits.

It takes two days, but eventually she meets a man who has what she wants to trade.  He has a waterskin.  He has never needed her bowl, but he has traded for a drink from it anyway, and always been kind.  He trades her for a waterskin, so that he can still stop for a conversation with her (for he thinks her pleasing) and a drink (for the water is cool, and always a blessing).

The skin doesn’t work.  She doesn’t understand why, until she drinks from it, and then she has a fight with the man who traded it to her, and he beats her badly for the words she screams at him.  She believes he has traded her a rotten skin, something poisonous and foul.

The skin is fine.  The water is different.  It doesn’t feel the sun on its skin for hours walking to the road.  It doesn’t hear her voice singing as she walks.  It doesn’t lap against the sides of a beautiful stone bowl in the breeze and taste the air of a thousand miles around as it makes the journey from spring to road to throat.

Instead, it is trapped in the waxed hide of a dead animal, bound up in the dark, blind and deaf and dumb.  It is neither the living spirit of the spring nor the soothing medicine of the bowl, and it tastes of darkness and binding.  It is no wonder the traders will pay nothing for it.

With nothing to trade, the woman is starving.  She is alone, she has nothing left to bargain with, no trade left to ply.  So she begins to walk to the city, hoping to find an answer from the king there.  They say he is very wise.

She goes into the very center of the city, and asks an audience to see the king in his temple.  She is told that he is not seeing anyone today, and that she must go away and wait.  But she is starving, and she cannot wait, so she does a thing that is not good at: she lies.

She tells the guards that she had a dream.  She was a water-seller, and that she had a dream that her bowl broke, but that the king could fix it, and the next day her bowl broke.  She tells them she has walked to the city to see the king, to tell him this dream, because she is afraid.  She tells herself that it is mostly true, and that she is only trying to survive.

It is very, very frightening when the guards grab her by both arms and drag her inside, straight into the center of the temple to see the king and his priests.  Except there are no priests.  There is only the king, a man standing in front of his throne, staring at nothing.

The guards push her to her knees before the king, and walk from the room without looking back.  It is not quite a run, but the difference is very fine.

“Are you a dreamer?  I told them I needed another dreamer.”  His voice is a cracked drum, a whispering echo.

“No, lord.  I am not a dreamer.  I only told them I had a dream.  What happened?”

“I killed them.  They dreamed terrible things, and I killed them all, because I could not bear the madness of what is coming.  And now there are no dreams at all.  I do not know if that is better.”  He drops, boneless, to the beautiful stone floor.  It sounds like a bowl breaking.  He begins to sob, ragged and rhythmic, as if it is something he has done so much that it has worn a rut into him.

“I broke my bowl, lord, and now I am starving.”  The sound of him falling has reminded her.

“Good.  Starving is better than what is coming.  Go home.  Stay away from here.  Starve.  It is better than what is coming.”

The guards beat her, partly because she lied, but mostly because they were afraid of what was happening to their king and their world.  She did not make it home before she died.  Many of the people who lived to see what happened to their lands in the years to come wished they had not.

Once upon a time, a woman was walking with a bowl, and broke it.  A king could not bear the voice of his dreamers, and had them silenced.  But remember, O Best Beloved, that stories are music.

In the same land, where there was so much madness and pain that a king ordered a woman to go home and starve rather than see a dream come to pass, there was a voice from a hillside.  It waited, that voice.  It waited for a man named Diego, and it waited almost 500 years, but the blood of every dreamer in the land could not wash it away.

“Have you forgotten?  I am your mother.  You are under my protection.”

 

And now let me remind you, O Best Beloved, that all storytellers are liars.  No voice waits.  All voices want to be heard.  When the altars are broken, when the dreamers are killed, we do not gather at altars, and we do not speak our dreams to kings.  We drink from unlabeled bottles around fires in the wilderness, and we do not wait for the altars to be rebuilt.

We cannot follow the steps of your dance, Lady.  Our hearts tremble at the pattern of your making and unmaking.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

We trust in the shadows of your song, knowing its melody is beyond us.  Our days are metered by the clack and hiss of your loom.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be gentle with us, your children.  Hold us warmly in your hands.  We beg you for light, for shelter, for understanding.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be kind with us, your acolytes.  Teach us when we err, guide us when we stumble, show us how to follow your world-shaking steps writ small.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be fierce with us, your disciples.  Bring us order in chaos in order, demand that we burn with you in the dark places, expect no less of us than we expect of ourselves.  Grant us discipline.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

To each of us, your children, grant the blessed, burning love we plead for.  We are yours.  We see you, and we ask only to be seen by you.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart, and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.
Arne Garborg

 

Come sit by my fire, and I will sing you a song, so that you can sing it with me while we sit together, and sing it without me, when the time for you to sit by this fire with me is done.

I know a woman whose heart sings a beautiful song.  It is a song made of hope, and dreaming, and not a little sadness and pain.  It is a song made of all the things a complex life is made of, and it is a song that you already know the pattern of, because it is a song not very unlike your own.

It is a little more full of sadness now than it was, because her heart forgot how to sing it.  Not for long.  Just for a little while.  Just for long enough for the part of her that is her to decide it wanted to be somewhere else instead.

I will miss the woman I know.  Most days, I will talk about her in the past tense, because it is easier for everyone that way.  But we know better, you and I.  Because we are singers, and storytellers, and we will not stop singing her song.

We know that even if her heart forgot for a little while, the song doesn’t stop.  We know that some songs do not have a true beginning, or a true ending.  They only have changes, and movements, and patterns.  Music repeats.  It never truly stops.  We never stop singing.

My friend and I will never have coffee again.  We will never have that long catch-up conversation that we’ve been saying we would have for so long.  She will never graduate college, as she was so close to doing.  She will never see England.  She will never be married.  She will never do so many things that were songs of hope and joy and dream in her life.

That is a song of pain for me.  But her song is not over, because we are still singing.  I refuse to stop.  And I am grateful for your voice, raised with mine.

Some time ago, The Fabulous Lorraine posted a thought about being on fire.  For that, I owe her all the mangoes she can eat, ever.  Let me give you just a taste of what the poem she quotes is like:

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

 

It is, truly, something to have been.  Without it, there would be no knowing what beauty is.  So we try things, and hurt ourselves in the trying, sometimes.  We fuck up.  We do what seems right at the time.  We do what seems fun.  Whatever.  And then, we hurt.

So how does it reflect on an author, when that author is willing to hurt, to injure, to maim, to torture, to kill a character? Or to make up whole new things worse than death, just to do to them?

I will do terrible, awful things to the people I write or write about.  I am a bad person.  I feel no remorse for forcing them to live through things that no sane human being would survive.

It is something to have been.

Who am I, to deny them freedom?  Freedom of choice comes with freedom of consequence.  You can’t have one without the other.  It doesn’t work.

Put it another way: these are the things they must experience, to become the people they will end up being.  Stealing their pain, their anguish, their hurt is only denying them a part of life that is true, and instructive, and necessary to form a child into… something very else.

So I will not cringe from doing genuinely awful things, to characters and readers alike.  I realized that, the day I knew I had written someone that all of us know, that all of us like, someone who had the potential to be everything and to make the world, if not entirely right, at least a vastly better place.  He had the right, the responsibility, the privilege to live and to take pleasure both in living and in making the world a better place to be.

Naturally, then, just as he realized what he might become, I murdered him.

I say it that way because it is my writing.  It is my hand holding both the quill and the sword, and I refuse to shy away from being responsible for the genuinely terrible things I’ve done.

But if I hadn’t murdered him, nothing would be the same.  He needed to die, both for himself and for everyone around him.  So at least it wasn’t a truly pointless death.

I don’t mourn him, because he still lives in my head, where time is whatever I want it to be.  Even if that weren’t the case, I’d still have murdered him.  It was a painful task, one that needed doing.

Truly, it is something to have been.  To deny my characters the right to fuck up, to get hurt, to be strange, to learn by mistakes – to me, that denies them the right to be people, and not puppets.

One more quote, then I will stop:

The puppet thinks
it’s not so much
what they make me do
as their hands
inside me
that hurts.

Charles De Lint

Everything is different now

Everything is different now, and I must be different too. – Lilith Saintcrow, Fire Watcher

 

It’s so disconcerting.  Disconcerting, in the most literal sense of the word.  You being gone has thrown me out of concert with myself.  My brain doesn’t seem to speak the same language to itself or anyone else, anymore.  The tribe is all in concert, and I can’t hear the drums.

I don’t miss you, not exactly.  I used to, because you were part of what made my day tick.  You were part of the hum and throb that set the tempo of my life.  Now you’re not, anymore, and you left long before I noticed you were slipping out the door.

Everything is different without you here.  It hurt a lot, for a little while.  Now it’s just different.  Teaching myself that I can’t send you things that made me think of you, because there’s no point.  Teaching myself not to miss talking to you.  Teaching myself not to think about you too much, because all that will do is make the empty space more noticeable.

It’s shaped just like you, you see.  No one else will fit.  Not yet.

But there will be a day when things are even more different than they are now.  That empty space will blur and fade, and either I’ll stop noticing it, or someone else will be able to fit it, or I’ll forget that it’s not supposed to be empty.  If I’m lucky, it will get smaller, so I don’t have to look around the empty place to see the world behind it.

Everything is different now, and I must be different, too.

If the world were otherwise, you’re the person I’d ask for help with this.  You’re the person I’d pull my heart into my mouth to ask for.

The world is not that way anymore.

This is the way the world is: you’re not here, and you can’t come back.  I’m not angry at you about it.  I just want to forget.

You, of all people, understand self-preservation.  So I will be different, and remember that I am a survivor, and that there’s nothing to feel very much about.

Remember when you met me, how I seemed so very self-contained?  We both forgot that person.  But I remember now.  I remember how to be myself unto myself, because I have to be, and because I want to be.

You will never ask me if I miss you.  I don’t know who I’m turning into, not exactly, so I don’t know what I would say if you could ask.  I know that you never asking will hurt if I think about it too hard, so it’s one of the things that is different now.

I can be different.

 

(Author’s note: I’m going to try to pull at least a few quotes a week and write something based on each quote, and whatever I am listening to at the time.  Fingers crossed that I can manage to do it more than twice without becoming mystically allergic to the habit.)

Which means, naturally, that I am quite likely to be wrong.

 

It’s not about fear.  It’s not about fear at all – fear is just the elephant’s tail that feels like a snake.

 

It’s about trucks.  It’s about everything sudden, significant, and unexpected being a bit like being hit by a truck.

If you’re not used to it, you don’t expect it, it means something, and you don’t have time to brace for it, you’re going to react a bit like you’ve been hit by a truck.  And by you I mean we, of course.  Jumped-up monkeys of so many flavors you can never possibly taste them all.  And we’re all bad at sudden, significant, unexpected things.

 

We gape, and stammer, and it takes a tick or two for us to gather ourselves together and respond in anything like a way that makes any damn sense.  Ticks can be shorter or longer – the more often you’ve been hit by a truck, the better you’ll be at dealing with the fallout.  Some people even practice at being hit by trucks so they’ll always have the effective equivalent of expecting a truck.

But that requires being hit by a lot of trucks, on purpose.  Opportunity cost.  Some people get hit by a lot of trucks just because, which probably is quite an irritating thing.  They’re probably better at trucks than most, too.

 

The thing is, though, it’s still a truck.  And the truck makes all the smart bits up in the front run around in a panic, throw their hands up, run into each other, and squeal like five year old girls.  Oh, certainly, the lizards in the basement may well give them A Significant Look and get on with things.  But those smart bits, it will take them just a moment before they’re back at post and back on form, running along like they’d never screamed in their lives, coughing significantly and avoiding eye contact with one another.

 

So now the question is, why do they have to scream and run?  Or scream and freeze?  Or freeze and run, which is quite hard to do?  Why do we have to be trained to be good at being hit by trucks?  We can manage having sex pretty well on the first try (nobody said competently, but there’s usually comparatively little screaming and running around (for most people)), and that’s orders of magnitude more complicated!  Why are we so damn bad at it?  We see trucks every day.  Some of us drive or ride in trucks quite frequently.  So – why are we so very bad at trucks?

 

I’ll get back with you on that one when my metaphor machine isn’t quite so focused on trucks, thanks.  Because right now I’ve run into a double roundabout that seems to end up in Italy, and I don’t know how to get off.

In the initial impact (and the landing of a significant fear upon one’s person is, indeed, an impact in every possible sense of the word), the symptoms run as follows.

Physical: tightening of the pores and follicles, increased respiration and heartbeat (often following a short but notable pause of said facilities), significant tremors in fine motor control, sometimes loss of some or all aspects of gross motor control.

Mental: chemical dump in the sympathetic nervous system, and a tendency to think in circles with an order of magnitude more profanity and less sense than usual.

Spiritual: variable.

 

Like pretty much everything else significant in life, it’s a bit like being hit by a truck.  Sooner or later, all descriptions and analogies come back to being hit by a truck.  Because, sooner or later, all significant events have an immediate, short-term reaction of complete helplessness followed by frantic action at the fastest available capacity, usually in a stupid direction.  We’re monkeys.  We’re bad at significant.

 

I like trucks.

 

Truly, a funny and fascinating thing, when looked at from the outside.  Watch:

 

The eyes glisten bright, sitting at the bar, ears open and brain doing its best to absorb information beyond the gibbering of memories so old and oft-polished that they have burnished down to a single, hard silver spike of fear.  This is the barrel, this the chamber, this the magazine.  Here are the catches and releases that will move slide and magazine.  These are the mechanics behind the physics – here’s how to project your intent out beyond the range of your arms and legs.

A constant, running commentary of terror, buried and ignored, but insistent on having enough of a voice to “give warning,” whatever that means.  It is a voice that doesn’t understand what is going on: it is reacting to events in the now as if they were the events of the then, and the actors the same as those who flicker around and around on the memory loop of the past.

“You’re getting in the wrong side of the car.  You can let him ride with you if you have to but why does he get to drive because what if you can’t get back to your car then what will you do.  Why is he paying don’t let him pay he’ll expect something.  Stop gaping someone will see that you don’t know what the hell to do.  Figure it out, stop letting him tell you, stop being dependent on him.  Why did you look away he has the weapons and you need to know what he’s doing all the time in case he surprises you so why are you wasting eyeball time reading the walls and the other people.  What is that thing that you are putting your hands on, that is a Bad Thing and we don’t like it and nothing good will come of you touching it, stop putting your hands on it no no stop no stop no no Bad stop!”

And then just one long wail, lost long ago to any kind of reason, just a formless howl of aversion and remembered pain.

So, for the first three squeezes, everything hurts.  It costs, ignoring that kind of voice.  If it didn’t cost people something to ignore it, they’d fail to learn from their past experiences. So it hurts, all the way down to feet planted in entirely the wrong stance for shooting.  After that, the wail is deafened in the controlled explosion of new experience, new ability, fresh tape to spool in place of at least one of the old ones.  Projectile intelligence, self-loaded and thrown into an acceleration of forced evolution and adaptation.

 

Fear is a funny thing.  A bit like fire.  Leave it to run, feed it whatever is handy, and it will eat everything it can before it runs into a boundaries made of things tough enough not to be eaten.  Corral it, control it, compress it, direct it – and throw yourself into the future with it, to see what’s on the other side.

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?

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