Quote of the Moment

Maybe you’re just imagining that you have a good imagination.
- from ConceptArt.Org forums

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Finding Hope

Today, I was at work, trying not to think about what's coming for my country. Trying not to think about the damage an out-of-control GOP stranglehold on our nation has already done, about what a cabinet of unqualified billionaire backscratch-picks nominally led by a mentally unbalanced narcissist who very likely is compromised by foreign powers (if not voluntarily corrupted by them) will do over the next four years. Trying not to think about how our rights to speak out and protest, guaranteed by our Constitution, are already being compromised and curbed.

As you can guess, I didn't have much luck in that endeavor. One good thing about my job is that I can think while working. It's also a bad thing, in times like these. It's even worse when, with every item that passes through my hands, I find myself wondering what its fate will be if the authoritarian playbook continues to be followed. The free exchange of ideas is a hallmark of freedom, after all. Ideas balance, opinions weigh against each other, viewpoints and stories are recorded for all readers. Knowledge can flow, if one chooses to seek it out. But this free exchange is not what those in power want… particularly when so many have ties to extreme theologies that discredit science and critical thinking in their own flock and abhor such traits in others.

A picture book on racial equality? It'll go.

The story of a woman scientist? In the burn pile.

A book on finding spirituality without religion? Firestarter.

Anything in a foreign language? Not in Red America.

A book about Christianity… oh, wait, the author's name looks foreign. Burn to be safe.

And then I saw a familiar face: Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.

Many said he couldn't do what he did. Many still say he only got to his office on a fluke, or a fix, or whatever other theory they choose to believe. A perfect man, or a perfect presidency? No – there is no such thing. But I never felt this scared under his regime. I never honestly wondered if that man knew what he was saying or doing from one minute to the next. I never feared he was trying to play mind games with me, or the rest of the country, or the rest of the world. I never thought he'd literally sell the land out from under our feet for a quick buck, as changes already passed through Congress make much easier to do.

I never would've thought we'd be where we are today, facing the threats we are, in a world where truth no longer matters if a lie plays to our innermost demons. I would've called it impossible, even after Bush's regime showed me where the Republican party was headed... and after Brexit and other world events demonstrated how Western civilization seemed to be tilting toward backward-looking xenophobic populism. But sometimes impossible good things can happen too. In his last addresses to the nation, President Obama reminded us of what we'd done, and what we can still do - if we don't give up hope.

The book was toward the bottom of the tote, and as it filled – with more books I mentally assigned to Burn or Safe piles tumbling down from the ever-moving conveyor line – I kept lifting it up whenever I passed by. I didn't want hope buried. I didn't want what he'd done, what America had been and should be again, to be forgotten and lost. Until at last the tote was full, and I finally had to send it on its way, to whatever fate might eventually await its contents… with The Audacity of Hope resting squarely on top. When that tote reaches its destination, it will be the first thing to see the light.

As gestures go, I suppose it meant less than nothing in the grand scheme. It didn't change anything. It didn't stop the power-mad rush over the cliff. If and when the book-burners come, I doubt I'll be able to stop them.

But it was what I could do, where I was, to keep hope from being buried... if only for a little while.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Bluer than Blue, Madder than Mad

Forgive me if this rambles - I haven't slept. I couldn't. The knot in my gut over what just happened to my country, to my belief in what I always thought of as my country, wouldn't go away. So I figured I'd try writing them out.

Eleven years ago, when what I thought was a routine gut bug suddenly turned into a (mis)diagnosis of malignancy and I was staring down major emergency surgery without a job or insurance, I was told by everyone from the surgeon down to the desk assistant that I'd qualify for assistance. The government had safety nets for just this reason. I'd never been on welfare, never asked for a handout, never asked for anything from them before, but boy did I need them then. I went over the forms as carefully as possible. I even called them up to be sure I was doing it right - I wasn't asking for perpetual disability, just a little help to get me through this alive so I could become a tax-generating employable citizen again.

And I was denied.

Now, of course, I didn't die. (I did realize that I never wanted to work around medicine again, and I never returned to that lousy walk-in clinic, but that's beside the point.) By what I still regard as sheer luck of the draw, I'd managed to be in the hospital's charity program, so neither I nor my family wound up homeless due to expenses. But I've never forgotten that feeling. Sick, scared, helpless, and - despite numerous assurances - being told essentially that I was worthless, I was expendable, I wasn't worth the temporary investment it would take for me to recover. My government would just have happily seen me die. I didn't matter. I wasn't worthwhile.

I haven't felt that way again until last night, when the country ran red.

I suppose it's my fault for being so naive. Oh, I knew there was injustice and prejudice and hate and corruption, but it wasn't the majority. All my life, I've thought America was the land of the free and the home of the brave, a place where justice eventually came through, a place where lies couldn't last forever, a place moving forward, a place to be proud of.

Now I'm facing an America that is none of those things.

More than half of the states watched a major political party carry out unprecedented, likely even illegal obstruction of a legally-elected president. They watched as hypocrite after hypocrite abandoned their purported beliefs and consciences and convictions to fall into line behind the single worst candidate ever to run for major office, a man who couldn't even make money in the casino industry. They watched unprecedented, 24/7 coverage of that man as he openly mocked the disabled, encouraged racism, endorsed sexism, expressed incestuous fantasies, contradicted himself on innumerable occasions, blustered and bellowed and leered and otherwise unquestionably demonstrated a personality and grasp of issues (or lack thereof) that made the thought of that man as the head of a donut cart, let alone the nation, utterly abhorrent. They saw that the next president would be in a position of tremendous power to influence the Supreme Court. They saw (or should have seen) a world in which a third world war was becoming ever more possible, if not yet (I naively hope) inevitable, where a strong and intelligent commander in chief would be absolutely vital to national survival.

And they still voted for not just him, but for his party. They saw all that... and wanted more.

This is the America they want. An America where faith trumps facts, where science is meaningless, where the environment is expendable, where basic human rights depend on one's origins, accent, skin color, and gender, where tolerance is passe, where money rules, where rape culture is openly endorsed, where we accept constant fear in lieu of freedom, where the clock rolls back fifty-odd years to a Golden Age that never existed save in a television script, where "alt-right" policies stand a terrifyingly real chance of becoming the law of the land, where the Statue of Liberty and her promise to the tired and poor and huddled masses might as well be sold for scrap metal for all the people of this country care. A land of the fearful, home of the cowards.

David Bowie, Prince, now Lady Liberty... what else will 2016 steal?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Restless Reader Syndrome

The other day, in the break room at work, I deleted a book from my Kindle... the fourth in a row. What had been billed as a romance quickly became two characters who, though in a state of mutual loathing at first sight, could not stop fantasizing about each others' stereotypical hot bodies. These are utterly incompatible sentiments... often jammed into the same sentence. People may do this, lust over someone they despise, but simultaneously? While dealing with other, immediate emotional issues unrelated to chemistry or rampant hormones? No.

Before that, I killed a story in which every single person was an idiot to some degree, one of them (the main male lead) possibly even sociopathic in his inability to deal with emotions or consider the long-term ramifications of his actions. The only way the plot could possibly play out was for them to continually do the dumbest, most short-sighted thing possible in a given situation - and they'd have to have grown even less intelligent to facilitate the romance promised by the blurb.

Before that, I tried reading a middle-grade fantasy. The concept was interesting, and the world had intriguing points, but I felt like I was reading a checklist rather than a story. Lone, picked-on protagonist boy: check. Meets a friend on the way to Hogw- er, their new boarding school: check. An eccentric adult turning up in a way designed to let me know this man will figure in heavily with future adventures: check. Drawing out what's "different" about the main character until intrigue became annoyance: check.

And before that was a by-the-numbers light fantasy romance which not only failed to explore anything truly original or amusing about the potentially great set-up, but had an added touch of objectifying/belittling women that set my teeth on edge.

There was also a Western with an idiotic heroine and over-the-top antagonist, a fantasy starting with a wall of description like a wrought-iron fence, so ornate and solid I couldn't make it past the first page of the prologue, a young adult fantasy with such a tired opening and unremarkable main character I just walked away and didn't bother looking back, and that string I hit a while back of three titles in a row with the same exact opening: a picked-on boy sneaking down an alley/back path to avoid bullies, being caught by the bully henchman who demands the in-world equivalent of lunch money, the boy dropping the money on the ground (to demonstrate cleverness) and getting away when the henchman lets him go to grab said money - only to run head-first into the main bully during his escape. (I swear, somewhere there must be a writing course handing that opening out as a freebie...)

I didn't used to do this. I used to make myself finish every story I started. I may have ground my teeth and clawed my eyes, but if it was intriguing enough to start, I figured I should try finishing it. I still remember the first time I failed to finish a Kindle title: in the work break room, where I do much of my reading on the device. I won't name names - I still have a policy of not reviewing anything I haven't read cover to cover, so deleted books get the dignity of anonymity - but I remember that feeling: I was staring at the screen, trying to pick my way through another sentence, and it struck me that I did not care. This was not a world coming to life, characters becoming more than mere contrivances of a plot, questions I needed to know the answers to before I could walk away. It was a wall of words to which I could not, for all my efforts, form an attachment. It must have held meaning and feeling to someone, as it had gotten some excellent reviews, but for me it was empty. When I finally gave up and it vanished into Kindle oblivion, it was a tangible relief. Now, I only push myself to finish if it makes it far enough to rate mention on my book review blog's Currently Reading section - generally, 10% in, though I've been known to pull the plug a little later.

Am I getting too picky? Sometimes, when I go through cold streaks, I wonder if I'm losing it: the sense of wonder, the ability to immerse in a story, to go along for the ride. I wonder if I've become too critical, too mindful of nitpicks and flaws - the problems I try my best to avoid in my own writing efforts - to see the forest for the trees, or the book for the words. I feel restless, looking for something and wondering if I'll ever find it. I don't honestly consider myself that difficult to please; a quick look at my reviews should be ample evidence that I am hardly a literary elitist... but, then, why does it sometimes seem impossible to find something that satisfies? Does it stem with my own ongoing dissatisfaction with my writing efforts? Am I judging others more harshly because I can't seem to get the words right myself, can't seem to grow my own story-forests into anything more than a scraggly copse - if that? Am I doomed to keep deleting titles, even possibly good ones, until I manage to satisfy my own creative urges... maybe never?

Then I find a story that draws me in, words that reach that elusive, ever-shifting itch - at least, for a time. And I decide that, like so many things, I'm likely just overthinking it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a book to read...

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Time Flies, Regardless of Fun Level

And so it's been a few months... time for a little cathartic whine.

I'd wanted to have at least one story finished and making the rounds by now... but I can barely open a Word document without cringing anymore, and my freewriting exercises turn into me yelling at myself to write something. And I know I need to stop doing that, but there's nothing else in my head right now but the yelling. That, and the escapist daydreaming I use to escape the yelling.

I'd wanted to get my website overhauled... but the inspiration well ran dry while I was trying to figure out HTML 5. I need to give the thing a nice facelift, or at least cut the deadweight I'm not maintaining.

I'd wanted to get some art projects finished... but between them fighting me and various demands on my time, I don't expect it'll ever happen. And I have projects coming up I need time and space for.

I'd wanted to make some manner of plan or headway for a future beyond slinging books, but education options are still prohibitively expensive, and my only other employment option is the retail trap.

I'd at least wanted to get away from the family for a little vacation... but then most of the state became a fire zone, the rest got damaged in a windstorm, and it turns out I couldn't have gone anyway because of car issues in the household. Even though I really, really need a break from my family, and they need a break from me.

Guess you really can't get what you want. Or even what you need...
Logically, I know I've done a few things.

I did the usual camp logos this year, which always makes me feel like I've accomplished something even though I really haven't.

For a while, I had a beta reader buddy, which counts as a bravery test.

I've taken several small day trips.

I've read many, many books... some of them even good ones.

That health issue - some tingling and weirdness in the feet and lower legs - seems to be mostly gone; the rest I'm pretty sure comes down to poor posture and standing for so long at work.

I got some nice new toys to play with.

And I shouldn't be complaining anyway because I have a job and a roof over my head and family and all that other stuff I know I'm taking for granted as a sheltered, spoiled rotten citizen of a First World country.

Still... is it so wrong to wish just one thing I wanted would go right? Or is the best I can ever hope for simply "I suppose it could be worse - and probably will be, soon enough"?