On-words and Up-words

So, last time we spoke, I was having a bit of a bout with ennui. Sort of. Not quite. I was suffering from declining interest and enjoyment in the things that normally brought me joy. So, a kind of mild depression, perhaps. Anyway, I’m happy to tell you that I have emerged from that gray place and am having a positively lovely summer. I believe a couple of realizations helped me turn the corner and get my groove back.

“Groovey…” Image credit: Bruce Campbell and Evil Dead.

Now, before I tell you what these realizations were, I want to stress EMPHATICALLY that I do not know the cure for depression. I am NOT prescribing general advice here. This is just something that worked for me, a person who does not suffer from chronic depression but knows and loves several people who do. It is a very real struggle they have to deal with and I would never presume to imagine that what worked for me to chase away a small bout of “the blues” would in any way, shape, or form work for them in their situations.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll tell you what helped me in my time of malaise.

First, I realized I missed Donald Trump.

Image credit: Kevin Hart.

What? Where is everyone going? No, no! Wait! I didn’t miss him miss him. I mean to say, I missed the constant barrage of stimuli he provided to my senses every day for the past four years. This is a real thing! You can look it up. Almost every day there would be a story about some ludicrous thing he had done or said. The stimulation to my senses, ranging from bewilderment to abject terror, altered (for a short time, at least) my brain chemistry.

I became used to the anxiety he provoked. I became perhaps a little dependent on the adrenaline rush I would get feeling my rage boil over at how a ridiculous moron like him could have ever been elected president.

And I missed it. I don’t anymore. I don’t think so, anyway. I think making the realization put me in a mental place where I could grapple effectively with the sort of thing I was missing.

Second, I realized that I had been drinking way too much.

No, it’s true! This is another thing that was not at all uncommon during the Trump years, specifically 2020. For me, though, I had been drinking fairly regularly for years before that as well. Nothing that ever got in the way of work or relationships, but it was something I had certainly formed a certain level of dependence on nonetheless. A functioning alcoholic, some might say, but I hate that word. It’s just got so much stigma attached to it.

Anyway, this spring I made the decision to control my drinking. I’m doing pretty well with it. I don’t plan to stop completely. I like drinking. A well-made cocktail or a nice cold beer on a hot day is one of the joys of life for me. I plan on keeping that. But, in order to keep that joy, I have to let go of drinking regularly. And I’ve found I’m able to do that without a problem. I drink only a fraction of what I had been consuming before and I feel much more energetic and even a little less bloated.

But… I’ve found I’ve had to relearn how to enjoy things without drinking. That was the toughest hurdle. And it remains a tough hurdle. It probably always will. But it’s getting a little easier. When I sit down to write or to play a computer game or watch a show, I find I no longer am missing alcohol. Well, not as much as a couple months ago, anyway. And there’s also the realization that by not drinking, the thing I am enjoying will turn into a firm memory for me rather than a fuzzy recollection.

That’s important, y’know? It’s basically all life really is, in my opinion. Every moment you enjoy you only get to hold onto it for a brief second before it turns into a memory. Much better to have those as clear as possible than fuzzy-boozey.

Fuzzy-boozey never quite got the same recognition the other Muppets received.

And one last thing has also helped me turn the corner. I’ve recommitted to my Grant Scotland writing. A few weeks ago, I decided I needed to make time to finish this book this year or it was not… ummm… going to get finished this year. That’s just how these things work. If you don’t have time for something that’s important to you, well… you just have to make the time. It’s not easy. There’s nothing easy about writing, it seems. But if it’s rewarding? Then I think you owe it to yourself to make the time.

I guess I actually am prescribing this one thing as a general one-size-fits-all piece of advice – not just about writing, but about whatever it is that is important to you in your life. If it matters to you and you get fulfillment from it, whatever it is, then you make time for it.

So, I committed myself to at least 2,000 words a week to Grant. That’s a modest and very achievable goal. And, seeing as how the book is already about a third written, it should get me very close to actually finishing it before the New Year. We’ll see. Anyway, forward progress is being made. The first week after I made the commitment, I barely got 1,000 words out. Disappointing, but better than nothing. The next week, 1,200. This week? I’m already at 1,500 and the week’s just started.

I’m feeling good about my chances. And – AND! – as I mentioned in a prior post from last year some time, making time to write goes a long way toward helping me stay mentally healthy, so I got a cool ancillary benefit going on there.

Well, that’s it. Just wanted to let everyone know I’m doing great and making good progress on all sorts of projects…. except hanging the new window shades. I swear, it’s on the to-do list. I’ll get to it.

Hope your summer is going well. Talk to you later.

The Doldrums

I swear I’m not depressed, but I have neither been interested in nor greatly enjoyed anything for several weeks. I don’t feel sad or tired or anxious. In fact, I feel pretty good. My energy is good. I’m productive. I’m making plans for the future and I’m goal oriented. I feel… fine.

But at the end of the day, when I’m satisfied I’ve been productive enough and can reward myself with some recreation, I just simply am not interested in anything. I used to play computer games at the end of the day to unwind, but I haven’t found a single title that can hold my attention for more than a half hour before I’m bored out of my mind. Even old favorites seem stale!

It’s like if Joshua tried to get me to play a game right now, I’d get right up to the point where we are about to nuke each other and then just yawn and turn off the computer and say “yeah, just not feeling it.”

Streaming TV shows is a little better, but not by much. Not a lot is asked of me to just sit and watch, so I can tolerate a disinterested viewing of a complete forty or fifty minute episode, but I’m far from compelled to binge. I’ve been re-watching Burn Notice because I missed much of the mid to late seasons, but the predictable plot twists and improbable action scenes I used to enjoy now just seem kind of lame.

I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that I cut way back on my drinking recently, but I’m not sure. I did “Dry January” and that went fine and I didn’t feel any different at all. February and March were pretty wet. April was up and down. May has been predominantly dry. I don’t know. I think about drinking to liven up my mood, except I know exactly how it will work (fine at first, then hazy, then waking up feeling bloated and tired) and I get bored thinking about it.

I don’t know. Maybe I am depressed. Is this what depression is? I feel like if I was depressed, I’d be equally disinterested in work, except I’m not. I’m going full blast on the writing for the computer game and the pizza delivery gig is steady and enjoyable if not exactly interesting. I am even making some progress on finishing the last Grant Scotland novel. Not much, but some.

So, instead of doing something fun, I guess I can use my old recreation time to be more productive. I guess that’s what I’m doing now, writing to you. Not that it isn’t enjoyable writing to you, but… well, I honestly can’t tell anymore.

It’s springtime out there. Weather’s been nice. I’ve been going for walks – walks without a mask! – and that’s been… fine.

You know what I feel like? I feel like the water from the melted ice from an iced coffee. Y’know? That little bit that gathers at the bottom of the cup once you’re done with it? It’s still sort of cold. It’s still sort of coffee-flavored. You may as well drink it, so you do and it’s… fine.

I don’t know. It probably is the booze, right? Or absence thereof.

But I’m also busy! I honestly never have a moment where I have nothing to do. I have the two jobs and the book and a long list of projects of all kinds I need to get to. Every waking moment I feel like I should be doing something. That’s what this post is, by the way. I haven’t posted in a while, so I felt like I should post, even though I am thoroughly not interested. I just also happen to be not interested in anything else, so here we are.

Well, except work. I still seem to be interested in work, but I refuse to go full bore all-work-and-no-play. I’ve heard that can do bad things to writers.

Although he DID keep his word count up, I’ll give him that.

Maybe I need to pick up a new hobby, except that would require me to add it to my already long to-do list. Maybe it’s some sort of vitamin deficiency. I just took a multi-vitamin. I’ll let you know how it goes. I don’t like taking those because they actually end up weakening your immune system if you take too many. Also, they make my pee turn a weird color. I’m not sure what color, because I’m colorblind, but it’s weird. They’re also certifiable choking hazards. Have you seen these things? They’re huge!

Ah, whatever. Get tough, McClure.

Well, it’s been a few minutes. I do feel a bit better, but that could be because there’s a thunderstorm outside. Those are always exciting. They add an instant dose of drama to whatever you’re doing. It’s like having your own personal soundtrack. I always want to clean during a thunderstorm, because it makes me feel like I’m in a scene where I’m trying to get rid of evidence.

That’s a lie. That’s not true at all. I just thought it would be a funny thing to write.

Know what I haven’t done in a while? Listened to music. I mean, I do listen to music while I write, but it’s nearly always soundtracks. I have a whole Pandora station devoted to them. I’m listening right now, in fact. I think it’s something from Star Wars: Force Awakens. Soundtracks are excellent company for writing because they don’t have any lyrics to distract you and are entirely devoted to setting a mood.

But I don’t listen to bands anymore. When I’m in my car, I listen to talk radio. Sometimes sports, sometimes NPR or a podcast. I just feel like if I hear one of my favorite songs even one more time, I’ll hate it and then a whole piece of my past will become tainted. I suppose I could try to listen to new music, but is there anything more pathetic than a forty-seven year old man who has to try to listen to music?

I’m wondering if this is some weird side effect of the vaccine. Perhaps in exchange for becoming immune to a deadly virus I have also somehow become immune to joy. Now, that is a depressing thought. Never mind. Let’s not think about that. I didn’t mean to bring you here to bring you down. Here, look at this:

Awwww… Actually, now that I’ve looked at it for a few seconds, it looks like that puppy has the kitten in a merciless headlock.

Okay. Forget it. I’m going to go to bed now. I’ll let you know how things go with the multi-vitamin.

“Why, anything, but to the purpose.”

My god, it feels good to write about writing again. It feels good to wake up in the morning and not have to cringe when checking the news. I mean, there’s still a lot to cringe about, don’t get me wrong, but at least Cheetoh-lini has been dethroned and I don’t have to worry the country is going to explode in flames every time he opens his fat, stupid mouth.

For now, I mean. The people who believe his garbage are still out there and there’s still a lot of them.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t allow myself to feel good…

Yep, still working through the trauma from that asshole.

But let’s set that aside for now. I want to talk about writing!

First off, the concluding book of The Adventures of Grant Scotland is coming along, albeit quite slowly. Sorry for that. The writing tasks for the computer game project I’ve been working on have reached a fever pitch and it’s difficult to set aside time for my own projects. I’m having a blast, though, so I hope they announce it soon so maybe I can talk a little more about it. As for Grant… well, I still aim to finish and release his “final” adventure this year, but I’m afraid I can’t quite guarantee it.

I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, please send me positive mental energy, creative writing booster thoughts, well wishes, cat memes, enchantments of eldritch power, etc.

Secondly, and to the purpose, do you recognize the quote above? It’s from Hamlet. It’s when he’s trying to get Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to tell him why they came to Elsinore and they’re being all cagey about it. He badgers them a bit and then commands them to say something and they’re all like “uh… say what?”

Image credit: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. This was a great movie (and a wonderful play, I’m sure).

And then he lays that line on them. The wording there always confused me a bit. Is he saying “get to the point” or is he saying “just bullshit me, because I know you’re going to anyway”? Knowing Hamlet, it’s probably both. That moody little bitch had a dizzying talent for saying two things at once.

You know what made me think of it? The Marvel franchise, weirdly enough. In addition to watching the wonderful Wandavision (a must see for all Marvel fans but I imagine it’s a little confusing for anyone else), I’ve been re-watching the MCU movies. And I’ve noticed something I didn’t quite catch the first time I saw those films.

I always thought those scripts were so tightly constructed that you had to hold your breath and squint for two hours just to make sure you didn’t miss a single piece of critical information. And that’s mostly true, but there are times when things are mentioned by the characters that are not quite “to the purpose.” And it’s wonderful. I would also argue that it is essential to good fiction writing.

It is not bad to have things happen in your stories that do not tie-in neatly to the overall plot. In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are essentially a completely expendable side plot. Take them out of the play and the whole thing still hangs together just fine. But keep it in there and you have a more robust world. Who are these guys, really? What are they planning? We never know, not for certain anyway. They could have been merely giving lip service to the King and never seriously meant Hamlet any harm, but Hamlet deals with them before ever letting them affect the larger plot.

SPOILER!

But does that make it a distraction for the audience? I don’t think that it does, even though it is entirely extraneous. And here I’m sure there are hordes of Shakespeare scholars who would disagree with me and say that R & G are critical to underlining Hamlet’s mental state and punctuating his destructive potential and blah, blah, blah. Speak not, ye hoary old sages! Back! Back to your dusty tomes! This blog is no place for you!

Anyway, my point is that it’s a bunch of words that technically don’t have to be there in order for the play to work and most writing advice you’ll find says that something like that needs to be ripped out. And my personal preference is to lean in that direction as well, but it is good (nay, critical!) to let your pen stray a bit every now and again and discover or express some things that are not necessary to advance the plot.

In Iron Man 2, for instance, we see Tony repeatedly express his revulsion at being handed things. We didn’t see it in the first Iron Man and we don’t see it in the third one. What is it? Is he a germophobe? Was it some sort of trauma from what happened to him in the first movie? A little poking around the internet reveals there are two theories. One states that it is because he was so traumatized when handed the news about his parents deaths as a kid, that he doesn’t want any strangers handing him anything. This isn’t well supported, but it sort of fits with how his character handles trauma. Another theory suggests it is because he is, in fact, a germophobe and this is well supported by both Stan Lee’s vision for the character and a deleted scene where Pepper follows Tony around with a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Given Tony’s, ahem, proclivities, I imagine his hands weren’t the only things that needed to be sanitized.

Ultimately, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of the plot of the movies or even the overall arc of his character, but it does add a little color and it makes a viewer wonder. It certainly made me wonder about it and made me go search for answers. And in that search, I gained a broader appreciation of the Marvel universe.

So, it worked. It pulled me in deeper, even though it was clearly a few throw-away lines that they just left in there because they didn’t feel like reshooting the scenes to take them out when they decided to abandon the germophobe aspect of his character.

Now, Wandavision almost makes the entire show about things we’re not sure we should care about… and then slowly, delightfully, brings to light the things we maybe should have been paying better attention to all along and shows how most of them knit together to form a story. It’s a wonderful demonstration of story-telling through the lens of a fractured psyche. I won’t go into all of the questions that every little detail from each early episode raises, because that would fill an entire encyclopedia set. But, if you’re watching the show and you’re curious to know more about what’s going on (although that last episode certainly answered a lot of questions) I highly recommend checking out New Rockstar’s episode breakdowns.

Well, that’s it. That’s all I got for February. Just getting this one in right under the wire. Remember to let your characters breathe and let yourself throw some neat junk into your stories from time to time.

This Isn’t Over

This isn’t going to be one of those I-told-you-so articles about the coup I’ve seen popping up all over the place the last few days. We all knew some crazy shit was going to be carried out by some Trump die-hards as we tried to throw him out of office. NO ONE WAS SURPRISED, so all the pundits saying “I told you so” can go flush themselves.

Were we shocked, though? Of course. There’s a difference.

We were shocked because the MAGAts gained access to the Capitol building so easily. We were shocked because it was DC and not some red state capitol. We were shocked because it was a brazen attack on democracy and not just a wack-job resistance to it in the form of a militia group fencing off a large hunk of land somewhere in the Midwest and trying to secede and inviting Trump to go live there and be Grand Poobah.

“Yes, a very grand Poobah. Perfect. Beautiful. Some say the grandest Poobah ever. I don’t know.”

We were shocked because it was an actual coup and not just something-like-a-coup. You can quibble about how well planned it was or how well-equipped – it doesn’t matter. The intent was to storm the Capitol and overturn the results of a fair and legal election.

THAT IS A COUP.

But is it over?

Nope. That’s where all those “I told you so” pundits can now unflush themselves, because all of them seem to believe that this is far from over and not only do I agree with them on that, I also agree with them that most people don’t realize it. Over 74 million people voted for Trump after witnessing his ridiculous brand of malevolent buffoonery for four years. That’s 74 million so trapped by lies and fear of the “other” that they would choose a deranged moron over a Democrat. The sickness in this country isn’t Donald Trump. He is merely the symptom.

But what is the sickness? I wish I had a neat and tidy label for it, but unfortunately it is many things. It’s provincialism. It’s tribalism. It’s xenophobia. It’s belief in the myth of American exceptionalism. It’s seventy-plus years of government and business being heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex. It’s anti-intellectualism. It’s bigotry. It’s the first fit of death throws of the white male patriarchy as it feels itself being pulled down. It’s all these things put together in a big pot and set to boil by conspiracy theorists who may (or may not) have realized they’ve found the right recipe for Fascism.

“Are you making Fascism? Because this dish is literally killing me.”

And how to cure it? I truly have no clue. But I do know one thing is for certain. Like with any sickness, you can’t just turn your back on it and hope it goes away. It won’t go away and it’s dangerous to believe otherwise. Instead, we have to confront it.

That’s why I’m glad Facebook and Twitter and many others have (finally!) taken firm stances on throwing users off their networks if they persist in spreading bigotry and hate and lies as truth. I’m glad it didn’t take a law. I don’t want it to be a law. I just want people to encourage, forcefully if necessary, other people to act like sane, rational adults. We all need to take ownership of our society and work to change it for the better. We all want everyone, including ourselves, to be better people.

Except maybe the MAGATs. We’re asking them to be better people and they’re smirking at us and saying “Or what?” We need to show them there are consequences for trying to destroy a democracy and turn their backs on truth. It starts with prosecuting every single person who set foot in the Capitol building January 6th, but it continues with you and me and our everyday lives. Do not suffer a fascist. Whether you want to engage with them or cut them out of your life is up to you, but let them know there are consequences for their words and actions.

I know you may be thinking “Well, the high road is to just respect everyone’s point of view and let everyone feel free to express themselves” and blah, blah, blah. Yes. That’s a very noble opinion and maybe it’s the morally right thing to do. But, to borrow a line from Battlestar Galactica’s Laura Roslin in her advice to a neophyte politician Lee Adama, “…you’re so hellbent on doing the right thing that you sometimes don’t do the smart thing.”

Mary McDonnell stole every scene she was in and I loved it.

The smart thing is to be intolerant of intolerance. People who spread hate and lies are the intolerant. The smart thing is to shout them down. Take away their microphones. Sweep them back under the rock they crawled out from under.

And I’m sure plenty of people have been doing that all along. I’m positive of it. But the thing is, hate and fear is easier to spread than hope and love. It’s just the way our lizard brains are programmed. We haven’t evolved enough as a species yet to weigh those ideas equally. We’ll always respond to “Watch out!” more instinctively than “Here’s a cookie.”

So, as I sign off this post, I’ll leave you with a “Watch out!” of my own. The next five days are very likely to be rocky. Stay safe. Stay away from state capitols if you can and definitely stay out of DC! Let the police and National Guard ensure a peaceful transfer of power.

God, it feels weird to type that.

Anyway, I know there was some funny business with the Capitol police during the coup attempt, but I still believe most people in law enforcement are basically interested in enforcing the law. Besides, if I’m wrong about that then all of this doesn’t really matter much anyway.

And it definitely sucks to type that.

So have a good weekend everyone! Happy Martin Luther King Day! We could all use some guidance from him right about now. Be good and be safe.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK jr.

The Sidecar Hero

I finished watching the second season of The Mandalorian (beware of falling spoilers ahead) a few days ago and my general opinion is that I liked it at least as much as the first season. It may not have had quite the same impact, but I thought the storytelling was much more refined. There were some episodes from season one where the plot was so shallow you could wade into it without even getting your feet wet (looking at you, Episode 4: Sanctuary). The second season had plot threads that filled out Din Djarin’s corner of the Star Wars universe a little more meaningfully and added supporting characters with much more interesting motivations.

It’s that second part that I want to talk about a bit more in depth, because it seems a bone of contention among viewers. Some people objected to the strength of this season’s supporting cast, claiming the series seemed more like Din Djarin accidentally wandering into other people’s stories instead of pursuing his own. It’s a fair criticism. Din spends a lot of time wandering around trying to find a home for Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) and is so spectacularly unsuccessful that by the middle of the season it seems like it’s just a thinly veiled excuse to introduce a host of major characters, each with their own quest and spin-off possibility.

I can see why this would be a let down. What happened to my steely-eyed (steely-helmed?) bounty hunter? Where is my lonely outlaw? Where have all the Cowboy Be-Bop’s gone? Din has to share the spotlight with so many other powerful figures (Ahsoka Tano, Bo-Katan Kryze, Boba friggin Fett!) that it seems like more of a floodlight. Just whose show is this, anyway?

It’s the story…of a man named Mando…who was bringing up one very baby yoda!

But I have to say… I kind of dug it.

Typical narrative follows the adventures of one or several protagonists who are all tied together, either loosely or tightly, into the same plot. There are subplots, to be sure, but the narrative can never stray too far away from the main thread or risk losing the audience. And it looks like The Mandalorian did just that and suffered the loss of at least some of its audience because of it.

But I liked it. It’s a style that intrigues me. It’s a form of storytelling that I experiment with in the Grant Scotland books. Although I’m telling the story in first person from Grant’s perspective, there are other characters in the books who have their own quests that are just as important (if not more so) than whatever mystery he is currently trying to solve. Grant stumbles into their various plots and each one must decide what to do about him. It’s this push and pull between characters that I believe allows them to grow and invites the opportunity for more organic plot twists.

But because the story is in first person, you the reader will only ever get glimpses of that. I like the idea of a first person narrator in a fantasy story because instead of the story sounding like some sort of heroic ballad, I can make it more personal and (hopefully) more memorable for you. It’s risky to do that and yet also have powerful supporting characters who do very much more than simply support, and I’m sure my writerly arrows are very often wide of the mark, but I’ve been tired of the third person subjective form for a while. Jumping around from one person’s head to another is probably the best way to go in genre fiction, but I just feel it’s just been done to death.

We spent time in EVERY ONE OF THESE PEOPLE’S HEADS!!!

And I think this type of stretched first person narrative is similar to what is going on in season two of The Mandalorian. For all practical purposes, Din is the hero we’re following. His overall quest is to deliver Grogu to the Jedi, but it leads him on an intersecting course with powerful characters like Ahsoka and Bo-Katan and Boba (friggin) Fett, each of whom are all on their own quests. So, we only get glimpses of them and we see there is far more going on in this series than just the trials and tribulations of our bounty-hunter-with-a-heart-of-gold.

Who are these people? What are they up to? Will we see them again?

I can see how these questions would frustrate someone who just wants to focus on Din and see him grow as a character and pursue his own agenda. I mean, he doesn’t really have one this season, does he? It’s really more the kid’s agenda than his own. He’s just the chauffeur.

Except… When you reflect on the events of last season, you see that perhaps this is his agenda. Din is haunted by the murdered parents he can barely remember and is forced to turn his back on the Mandalorian sect that adopted him. Carrying “The Child” to a place where he can be safe is a way for him to pursue a new home for himself, a new sense of his own place in the universe. You could call it convenient that he meets Bo-Katan along the way as she is trying to resurrect a home for all Mandalorians, but their meeting was by no means completely out-of-the-blue.

If you’re going around advertising the fact that you are specifically looking for Mandalorians, chances are good you’ll run into this bunch.

My point is, we never actually did stray away from Din’s storyline. We didn’t see his own character’s growth stagnate. We merely spent some time watching him share his place in the universe with others. And that might have been the biggest thing his character needed to learn this season. He does not always need to be the one deciding whether to fight or to run. Perhaps he learns it’s just as important to be there for the other people in his life and support them as they make their own decisions about whether to fight or run. Maybe the show didn’t fully earn that, but it is a space opera adventure after all. Characters can’t do too much naval gazing – things need to explode and the requisite number of stormtroopers need to die every episode.

Still, I think the journey Din started in season one is carried out in season two. And now it seems like in season three Din will have to decide what kind of home Mandalore will be for him, or even if it will be one at all. Looking forward to it!

Oh, and Happy Holidays to you all! We’re almost done with 2020. Just hang on for a few more days!

Loyalty Should (Almost) Never Be Personal

It’s not that heavy of a topic, I swear. I mean, I’ve got some stuff to say that relates to politics and history, but mostly I’m just going to talk about Kingsman (the first one). It isn’t that this movie is a favorite of mine or anything, it’s just that I was more or less challenged to watch it and then come up with a blog post about it by a guy I work with at the pizza shop. I am a sucker for a writing prompt, so here we are.

Let’s go behind the mirror, shall we?

If you haven’t watched it, Kingsman is solid, popcorn-munching fun. It’s an action-spy movie (sort of like if Marvel did a Bond movie… which, seeing as how they own the people who own the thing, I guess they did) with predictable plot-twists and mediocre acting, but some truly memorable scenes. The throwdown in the church is one that sticks with you and I’m not at all sure that’s a good thing. Anyway, the point is I’m saying there are spoilers ahead. It’s not a complicated movie, so chances are that the spoilers won’t spoil the movie if you were planning on seeing it, but I just thought I’d put up the warning.

At one point in the movie, Eggsy (our hero) is given one final test before he can become a Kingsman (a super-secret super-spy). He is told by the head of the Kingsmen, Arthur, to shoot a dog – a dog Eggsy had been given to raise during his training. He’s passed all the other tests. All he has to do is shoot the dog and he’s in like Flynn. Aside from the obvious emotional problem of killing something he loves, Eggsy also grapples with his sense of loyalty. Does he have the ability to obey an order from someone to whom he has pledged loyalty even if the order makes no sense and even seems counter to the mission statement of the organization he’s trying to join? I can’t remember exactly what the mission statement was, but I’m sure it was some sort of generic do-gooder crap.

This is the crux of the problem with personal loyalty. Owing obedience to an idea is one thing. Owing it to a person is another. The far, far better thing is to be loyal to yourself, where the concept of “yourself” is defined by a set of morals, mores, ethics, preferences, – “to thine own self be true” and so on. Ideas are much more stable than people and can help to create and maintain a reasonable society, whereas relying on slavish obedience to any one person very often results in the opposite of that. As an example, up until 1935, the German army was loyal to the nation of Germany. It was sworn to protect a national identity. An idea. At some point in 1935, it took the Fuhrer Oath and instead became loyal to Adolf Hitler. A man. And well, we know what happened after that.

It’s one of the reasons Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the Constitution and wield greater power and stay in office after he’s been voted out have failed. Most people in his administration (and ALL of the military) have chosen to remain loyal to the idea of the United States, not to the man in the oval office.

“Fake news. Totally fake. I won. I win all the time. Some people are saying I’m the winningest person in history. I don’t know. We’ve got people looking into it.”

So, to no one’s surprise, Eggsy chooses not to shoot the dog. He gives up his chance to become a Kingsman, along with all the rewards associated with it, and goes back to being a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Of course, it seems like he made the right choice, but did he? It’s going to sound counter to everything I’ve just been talking about, but it turns out he didn’t. The gun was loaded with blanks. The worst thing he would’ve done to the dog was give it a good scare.

But should Eggsy have known this? Should he have known Arthur would never have given him such a ridiculous and cruel task? In fact, he should have. All of the tasks he had been given from the beginning of his training showed him time and again that although he seemed like he was being put in impossibly hostile situations, he was never in any real danger as long as he remembered the Kingsmen’s principles. He never learned to trust the Kingsmen, including the guy in charge, and so he failed his last test. There’s some universal truth there. I think we can all agree that if you cannot trust the people who are supposed to have your back, then you’re never going to get anywhere in life. It’s just too big and too hard to go it alone.

And yet…

The movie gives this question of loyalty one last twist, because it turns out Arthur was corrupted by the main villain of the film (Samuel L. Jackson doing some weird kind of Flavor-Flav imitation) and actually COULDN’T be trusted. And because Eggsy placed more faith in ideological loyalty than in personal loyalty, he winds up being one of the few people left in a position to be able to save the world.

So, where does that leave us, the viewer? What’s the take-away? Is ideological loyalty still meant to be seen as mightier than personal loyalty? It certainly seems that way, but now that Eggsy has become a Kingsman without having to pass the trust test, what if he finds himself in a situation where a fellow Kingsman tells him he needs to shoot his dog to stop the world from exploding (and we’re given to understand it’s for real) and there isn’t any time to explain why? It seems certain Eggsy’s natural instinct would be to mistrust. And then we all die.

“At leatht in my plan, the dog might have thurvived. Thit.”

I don’t think there’s a one hundred percent right answer. It’s just one of those things we all have to grapple with to one extent or another as we go through life. Pretty generally it’s “Do I stick up for my buddy even though he’s acting like an asshole, or do I tell my buddy to take a seat because he’s acting like an asshole?” There’s no right answer and even if it seems like there is, that answer may not be right on another day.

But, for the most part, it seems obvious to me that ideological loyalty is the one that at least guarantees a more stable and safe world. You can make it up to your buddy the next day after telling him he’s being an asshole. You CAN’T make it up to your buddy the next day if he pissed off some dude who then proceeded to kill you both.

It’s the thing that discourages dictators and encourages philosophers and that’s all right with me.

So there you go, Tomas. There’s your blog post about Kingsman. Now, go buy my books and tell everyone you know how cool I am. It’s the right thing to do. Just trust me.

Halloween Is Scary This Year

Hi there! I’ve been crazy busy lately, but I just looked up and realized the month is almost over and I haven’t posted anything. So, this’ll be quick. Just a few thoughts about a couple things.

The first thing I want to say is that I totally get if you’re completely freaked out by the pandemic and don’t want to do trick or treating this year. Completely respect that. Who wants to take their kid from house to house and watch them fill their bags with tiny bits of Covid-19? It’s like a bag full of potentially lethal tricks instead of delicious treats. No one wants that. Sounds terrible. Maybe just stay at home and you and your kids can LARP in your costumes, solving riddles and disarming traps and slaying household rodents and plundering the pantry for edible riches. I don’t know. Younger kids would probably dig it and older kids would roll their eyes and stare at their phones, but what else is new, right?

“Okay… One mini-adventure and then I get my phone back, right?

However, if you and the people in your neighborhood DO want to do trick or treating, then let me offer you some assurance you’ll likely be fine. I’ve been delivering pizzas throughout the pandemic – which is exactly the same thing as trick or treating on a purely mechanical level – and I (as well as all the other delivery drivers at my store) have been fine. We wear our masks, we do the exchange outside (on the few occasions we’re not simply just dropping the food on the porch), and we sanitize anything that’s been handed to us. You can also wear gloves, but the thing with gloves is you have to remember to keep changing them or else they kind of defeat the purpose.

But I’m not a doctor. Don’t take my word as that of an “expert.” If you’re still freaked out, stay home, crack open a family-favorite game or watch a Halloween-themed PG movie and ORDER SOME PIZZA!

The other thing I wanted to say was that I turned 47 this month. For most of the year, I was convinced I was turning 48. So… that’s good, I guess? Good and bad. It’s nice that I gained a whole year, but it’s bad that my mind is already slipping.

Okay, that’s it! Hope you have a fun Halloween whatever you do. This will likely be my last blog post before the election, so I’ll see you on the other side. That’s a bit scary, too, isn’t it? It feels like we’re about to turn our country off and then turn it back on again to see if that fixes anything. I hope it does.

Participatory Government Works, But Only If You Participate

Hey, look, I get it. There’s a super big ton of stuff going on right now. There’s this whole pandemic thing, which apparently has mutated to the point that it is now this whole other pandemic thing. A lot of people are working from home, which started out pretty neat but has now become somewhat nightmarish because home responsibilities have clashed with work responsibilities and now all the responsibilities won’t stay in their respective drawers and crowd every living space like errant socks and t-shirts. A growing number of people are out on the streets protesting systemic inequality and advocating for police reform and your news feed won’t shut up about it. And then there’s kids and schools and that whole thing. I don’t have kids, so I can only imagine how confusing and exhausting that must be for everyone (except possibly the kids) and when I imagine it, it makes me tired, so I stop imagining it. And I am a person who never gets tired of imagining things!

And then there’s the whole “our country is teetering on the edge of transforming itself into a fascist autocracy” thing. You’ve probably heard something about that.

At this point, you should know this is an anti-Trump post.  I’m way past equivocating on politics. I hope one day to go back to being politically ambiguous on this blog, but that’s just not going to happen anytime soon. If after four years of Trump, you still support him, you may as well just stop reading. This blog isn’t for you. This is for the people who are thinking they still may not vote or might vote third party.

The president has gone on record saying he will outright accept the outcome of the election if he wins, but if he loses he says “we’ll see.” He’s the first president to go on record saying that he might not respect the peaceful transfer of power. That’s… ummm… not good. His administration is spreading lies and misinformation about mail-in voting while at the same time hamstringing the post office. He is trying to fill the late Justice Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, when he and every other two-faced Republican said Supreme Court seats shouldn’t be filled in an election year. And… well, I could just keep going, but you get the idea.

 

“I have a great face. It’s a beautiful face, some say the best face. It’s such a good face, there are two of them.”

 

The point is, there’s a whole bunch of stuff on our plates right now, right? I’m sure you could add a side item or two just from your own life. So, now we’ve got Thanksgiving-sized meals of troubles piled onto the flimsy disposable plates we call our lives as well as a side dish or two of ordinary run-of-the-mill daily problems. And for dessert, here I come along, all Lumbergh-esque while I sidle up with my empty coffee cup and lean against your (now empty) cubicle and speak into the air above your head, “Yeeaaaah, I’m gonna need you to also go ahead and save democracy for us, mmm’kay? Thanks, bud!”

That’s not a dessert I want to serve you! I want to give you cheesecake! I want everyone to have cheesecake. Life is hard! You deserve cake!

But cake isn’t on the menu. In fact, nothing delicious is on the menu at all. Furthermore, there is no menu, there is only a massive to-do list filled with projects none of us are qualified for and precious few of us are eager to embrace.

 

Do dishes… Mop kitchen floor… Stash empty whiskey bottles in neighbor’s recycling bin… Rebuild public trust in democratic institutions…

 

But we have to. We live in a democracy. I think many of us have forgotten what that means. All the time I hear the government referred to as ‘they” when it is really “us.” It always has been. It may not always work the way any one of us wants, but it works best when we can all contribute to it in some way and have the representatives we choose amplify our voices when meeting to decide the best way we can all live together in peace. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s thankless. It’s necessary. I think many of us have forgotten that.

Participatory government works when we participate. It sort of works when we don’t participate, but not very well and not for very long. Without attention paid to our institutions of power – namely oversight in government and regulation in business – corruption and malfeasance are the inevitable result. Participatory government ONLY works when we participate. Right now, only about half of us are voting, which means half of us are shouldering the responsibility of participatory government while the other half just sits back and enjoys living in a free (for now) country. In 2018, 53% of people voted in the midterm elections, and THAT WAS A FORTY YEAR RECORD HIGH.

Look, I don’t want to be a crusader. I want to stay home and write stories, play games and watch cat videos. I don’t want to carry a sign. I hate, hate, hate shouting slogans. And I REALLY don’t want to get shot or have my teeth knocked out by some cop scared shitless that I’m going for a gun when I reach down to scratch my balls. But I’ll tell you what. If we don’t vote Trump out of office this election in such a clear landslide as to abolish any doubt, then all of those things may very well come true, because marching and carrying signs will be the only form of meaningful participation left to us.

Right now, voting can still work – albeit imperfectly – but my one vote can’t do it all by itself. This will take all of us.

Maybe you don’t want to vote because you don’t like Biden. Maybe you don’t want to vote because you’re an anarchist and you just don’t believe in government. Maybe you think the country is a giant welfare state and you’re being taxed dry to support lazy people or maybe you think the country is controlled by mega corporations so what is the use anyway. I get it. I respect those opinions. They are wonderful opinions to have in a free country. In a free country you can organize and give voice to all those concerns and they can be debated and acted upon in legislating bodies and courts. It’s great. It’s neat-o. It’s served us pretty well. We should consider keeping it!

 

“Yes, yes, yes – separation of powers could work, but will it be neat-o?”

 

So vote. Please vote, not just for Biden, but for saving the idea of a free country. I’m not going to mandate a blue wave – I won’t begrudge you your down ballot votes – but Trump has committed crimes in office. There is no debating that. He has publicly stated he may not step down if he loses the election. He has very publicly already tampered with the election. This is no longer about liberal vs conservative values, this is about democracy versus autocracy. He is plainly a wanna-be autocrat who is rapidly dismantling responsible government and implementing a system of toady-ism. He needs to go.

Please be for democracy. Please be for representative governance. Please vote.

And, if you can find time to do just one other thing, let that thing be to contact your representative in Congress. Or your Senator. Or both! Tell them how you feel, not just about Trump, but about all the issues weighing you down. They actually do want to hear from you. They actually are paying attention. And if you really want to see how much of an effect you can have on your government, contact your state and local reps. You’d be surprised just how much of an impact your voice can have on the town where you live.

But all of that will mean nothing if Trump stays in office. All of our democratic institutions will become cynical shadows of their former selves over the next four years, and with a stacked Supreme Court there doesn’t seem to be any reason Trump won’t suspend, or at least severely curtail, voting rights. He may even get the 22nd amendment repealed. With control of the Senate and the Courts, why not?

I know I’m sounding alarmist, but if you’re not alarmed about what’s going on in this country, then it’s very likely that means you are not participating and you are the one I’m aiming this blog post at.

We need you. We need you to get up off the bench and get in the game.

Write.

Film.

Speak.

Vote.

Participate.

 

Writing Off Steam

Everyone has coping mechanisms. We all have ways to relieve stress in our lives. If you’re like me, some favorites include: eating, drinking, binge-watching, binge-drinking, exercising, more drinking, playing games, excessive drinking, a little light drug use, messy drinking, crying and… drinking while crying.

 

Sure, it LOOKS fun, but you really only want to do this on very special occasions.

 

But it wasn’t until 2020 that I realized just how therapeutic writing could be for me. I mean, I always knew it was therapeutic in the way any act of creativity can be, but I didn’t know until this benighted year how it can also flat out relieve stress; soothe the savage breast and so forth. (The phrase actually is “savage breast”, if you were wondering if that was a typo) Maybe not so much in the purely physical way a good massage does it and maybe not in the metaphysical way consuming art can do it, but more in the way of “I did something nice for myself today.”

Because I’m talking about writing for yourself.

For me, writing has always been both fun and hard. Many times the fun masks the hard and I lose track of how involved in the work I am. This is okay if the project is my own. I can do whatever I want with it. I can roam and explore and goof off. The stress relief is built-in. But if I’m writing for someone else, that’s not the case. For instance, I’ve been doing a lot of writing for an unannounced computer game project this summer and it’s been very fun and also very hard, but it hasn’t been therapeutic because it’s not mine. Most of what I’ve submitted has been appreciated, but it has also been torn to shreds, discarded or flat-out ignored. That’s okay. That didn’t mean they didn’t like it. That’s just game development. A game project has a tendency to go all over the place before it finds the direction it needs to go in to eventually get released.

So, that means very many rewrites and alternate versions, which is financially fine for yours truly. I get paid by the hour. You want three, seven, twelve, twenty different versions of the same script? No problem!

But it’s hard. Not just the writing of the thing, which is always hard, but the fact that I have produced so much content that will never see the light of day. I didn’t realize that was wearing on me until several things came to a head sometime in July.

I was stressed out. Pizza delivery had been crazy busy for three straight months (it’s finally calmed down a bit). A once-pleasant way to make a modest living had become a non-stop race around the kitchen, out the door, all over town and then back again without any respite. Add on top of that the constant hand-washing, glove changing, surface scrubbing, etc. and it had become exhausting. Lucrative, but exhausting. I had never imagined pizza delivery guy to be an “essential worker” in my wildest nightmares.

 

Hi! Pizza delivery! Have a… What’s that? Yes, I know everything is awful. Yes, the entire world is falling apart. You’re right. Please stop drinking and crying. Okay… ummm… Enjoy!

 

And there were one or two other stressful incidents over the course of the spring and summer I won’t get into, but suffice it to say, I was redlining it. I was snapping at coworkers and friends and my weekly alcohol intake had basically doubled. Thankfully, the people that care about me reached out and I was able to put some words together through emails and texts to voice what was going on. And that was the thing that perhaps helped the most, but just that act of self-expression also made me realize that I had stopped writing for myself, apart from a couple of blog posts. I hadn’t worked on Grant Scotland or a short story or even just a thought-doodle since before the lockdown.

It isn’t like I can blow off steam by writing satirical little vignettes about how Trump is discovered to be a lizard man or Melania’s programming goes haywire and smoke starts coming out of her ears. While fun, that doesn’t quite cut it. I need my stress relief to be a little more constructive. So… I don’t know. Now that I think about it, maybe something like that could work. Truth be told, I haven’t tried. Seems to me to be a bit more juvenile type of fantasy than I’m interested in, but… I don’t know. Maybe if I add some glowing swords and ray guns and a dinosaur biting a spaceship…

 

RAWWWWWWWRRRRR! PEW! PEW! RAWWWWWWWWWWRRRR!

 

Anyway, the point is, I started carving out an hour here and a half-hour there to devote to my own writing projects again. That’s not just important to my own career development, but I’m also finding it’s helping to keep me balanced. Not sure exactly why. Maybe it just clears my head or maybe it gives me a certain sense of purpose.

This is a tough year. These are bleak times. Stress can mount up quickly. Be sure to take time to do something nice for yourself.

Also, VOTE and find a way to BE INVOLVED in social issues that matter to you. 2020 is definitely going to be a year history books will remember. You don’t want to be that person who, years down the line, teenagers will turn to and ask “what did you do during the (GREAT PANDEMIC…SOCIAL UNREST…WEIRD ELECTION…MURDER HORNET VS GENETICALLY MODIFIED MOSQUITO WAR) of 2020?” and say:

“Well… I… bought a lot of toilet paper… I think?”

I’m Sorry Your Boss Hates You

This is my response to the open letter submitted to Harper’s Magazine by an impressive host of respected authors and academics regarding… well, I’m not exactly sure what it is regarding. The letter seems to be a list of grievances against no one entity in particular about no one specific thing. It has been described by many as a “complaint about cancel culture” but nowhere in the text is that phrase ever used, so I’m not completely sure that’s the main subject. Lastly, the letter doesn’t even seem to be asking for anything specific so I’m not sure what it hopes to achieve.

Regardless of how vague and pointless the letter is, it did manage to achieve one thing. It pissed me off.

Others are already calling out the people who wrote it – I mean, when you’re on the same side of an argument as Trump, it’s really time you check yourself – but I would like to take the opportunity to respond to it as well and air a few grievances of my own.

 

 

Dear respected authors and academics,

I’m sorry your boss hates you. I say this because it seems all of you are terrified you will lose your jobs because of some vaguely defined attack on our “cultural institutions.” Let me assure you that you will not lose your jobs because of some vaguely defined attack, but because your boss hates you.

Your boss hates you because she is sick of you not respecting her opinions, questioning her authority and generally trying to get away with bad behavior when her back is turned. When she tries to get you to respect her as well as your colleagues, you tell her she shouldn’t try to enforce “ideological conformity.” When she tries to point out how “not being a total dick” isn’t really ideological conformity, you give her a sob story about how people can’t have a truly open debate anymore – as if any such thing has ever existed, not to mention how having several completely free and unregulated social media platforms in any way inhibits it. And when she tries to tell you how your actions are harming yourself and others around you, you kick and scream and lament that the “boundaries of what can be said without reprisal are steadily narrowing” – AS IF ANYONE HAS EVER WORKED FOR ANYONE ANYWHERE THROUGHOUT ALL OF TIME WHERE THERE NEVER WAS A THREAT OF REPRISAL FOR YOUR WORDS AND DEEDS.

Sorry for the emphasis. I just simply cannot stress that part enough. In what ivory tower do you live and work where no one judges you and everyone just gives you money?

So, your boss hates you and I know that must be hard. There’s a couple things you can do here. The first is that you can quit your job and find a new boss. You have that freedom. Alternatively, you can take a hard look at yourself and see if and what about your behavior needs to change. If there are some things that need fixing and you’re willing to do the work, then the rift between you and your boss will heal in time. And if you think the criticisms levelled against you are unfair but you still want to work for your boss, then you should not be afraid to stand up for your opinions and tell your boss you think she’s wrong. And if you get fired, you get fired.

I’ve been fired. A few times. At least one of those times was for standing up to my boss. Know what? I never felt like I needed to write an open letter to Harper’s about it. I just made with the picking up and dusting off and got a new job. And the insinuation that you all are somehow “on trial” and seeking “justice” is such an affront to those actually using the justice system to correct criminal behavior as to almost demand an apology. The level of victim-hood pretended by all of you, a bunch of clearly entitled and privileged white collar professionals, is shameful. Where did you ever get the idea you could publish whatever you like through any outlet you choose and not get instant and sometimes harsh feedback?

Every actor working in Hollywood, constantly hounded by tabloids day and night, is laughing at your thin skins right now. Just think about that.

And if you haven’t figured it out by now, “your boss” is the court of public opinion. You were deliberately vague about “cancel culture” in your letter, so I was also vague about what you’re actually afraid of, but I decided to give everyone a break and clarify the analogy. Because many of you are authors with paying audiences and academics working at places with a very public face, you absolutely should consider the literate masses your boss. You should be considerate of them. You should be on your best behavior when on social media or making public statements of any kind. I would hope you would do this even if you didn’t have a boss.

Finally, I just want to say that this so-called “cancel culture” is – everywhere I’ve seen it, anyway – an effort to enforce tolerance, kindness, humility, respect and an end to privilege and entitlement. It is not a whim of the masses. It is not a witch hunt. There is nothing to be gained by the people who cry out that Kevin Spacey should never work in entertainment again or that JK Rowling should quit it with the transphobia. This isn’t The Crucible. The people who call out the bad behavior are not getting money or land or power out of this. But it’s possible, just maybe, they’re hoping to make everyone everywhere aware that we all need to work harder at being better people.

And I refuse to see that as a bad thing.

Signed,

Me