quiet breaths

I was feeling pretty down earlier today. Pretty down for the last week, plus a few days. I probably don’t need to tell you why, but a lot of it has to do, I think, with how often I kept tabbing over to facebook or twitter.

I’m forming bad habits again. Unhealthy, stifling habits. It’s something I’m actively trying to prevent: spending so much time online.

Tonight I’m going to play Final Fantasy XV, maybe try some origami or draw some maps, or maybe write some more of this novella I’m working on.

The current title is vulgar and only a placeholder, but it’s about two women in a pretty traditional fantasy world. But instead of going on a quest or fighting for some cause, they mostly walk around and talk. Both of them have no education and very little understanding of the world they live in. They know kings and gods have a place but they don’t understand any of it, so much of the novella is made up of philosophical discussions between these two incredibly ignorant characters as they make sense of the world and try to sort it out to one another.

The dynamic is pretty interesting to me, because the novella is about 85% dialogue with very little extraneous descriptions. Because of this, it has kind of a meandering and hopefully naturalistic feel.

The other 15% of the novella is them killing monsters and other people.

So it’s a very violent text, but weirdly fun to write, and endlessly amusing to me. Not the violence, but the conversations. I might even just toss a short section of it in here to give you a taste:

The girl said, “There are no gods. Everybody knows that.”

“Then what is the Tesha?”

The girl shrugged, “Don’t know. Probably just some guy. Who cares?”

Her companion gestured to the dead bodies, “Priests.”

“Priests work as much for the king as they do for the Tesha.”

“What king?”


“You said—”

“The fucking king! Shit,” the girl threw down the bone she was whittling. “You know,” she whirled her knife as if the gesture encompassed the whole world, the bracelet of teeth clacking, “the fucking king. Everywhere’s got a king.”

“But which king?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Wherever we are.”

“If we don’t know what he’s king of, what makes him king?”

The girl slumped where she sat and sighed, “You’re really pissing me off.” She picked up the whittled bone and went back at it with the knife, the teeth bracelet rattling with every stroke. The scrape and grind of blade on bone vibrated up her wrist to the elbow.

Across the fire, her companion flayed the head of one of the dead priests, “Don’t see what there’s to get mad over.” Struggling with the skin on the nose, she gave up and sawed through the cartilage and let the severed nose fall to the dirt. “Who says there’s no gods?”

The girl snorted and shook her head, “Everybody.”

“Everybody don’t mean shit. You mean Alton and his family.”

The girl blew the bonedust from her hands and examined the blade she was making out of the bone. Her jaw clenched on one side and she reached down to her feet and groped for something with her eyes still on the bone in her other hand. Grasping at nothing, she looked down and then around her.

“What?” Her companion paused what she was doing.

“There was a grindstone here.”

Her companion whistled and when the girl looked up, her companion tossed it to her. The girl went to grinding the boneblade smooth. “What’re you making?”

Her companion giggled, “Don’t know. Thought I’d make, like, a guitar.”

“With a skull?”

Her companion shrugged, “Not sure I know what a guitar looks like.”

“It’s like,” the girl paused, then giggled along with her companion, “like a thin thing and a hallow thing,” her words collapsed into full on laughter and her companion laughed with her.

The night wore on and the fire burned down to embers.

Her companion said, “Should we add more wood?”

The girl shrugged, “You tired?”

Her companion shrugged and tossed another log onto the embers, then a second. They sizzled, popped, and eventually lit.

“What got the wood wet?”

Her companion shrugged, “Blood, probably.” She was deboning the leg of one of the dead priests. “If there’re no gods, then why is there a Tesha?”

The girl sighed, “Same reason there’s kings, I guess.”

“Why’s that?”

“Shit, I don’t know.”

That’s how the novella begins and it continues in that manner. So it’s a mix of comedy and brutality that’s sort of oddly therapeutic to write. It helps me breathe easier.

It’s interesting to me what I’ve written since completing Songs of My Mother last year. I’ve written a novella inspired by Greenlandic cuisine, Taoism, anarchy, and pacifism, and now I’m writing something that is, in many ways, its opposite: a violent, meandering, chaotic text with ignorant characters who have an undescribed past.

I don’t know what inspired me to write this current novella. In the Greenlandic novella, I was seeking to find an answer to the violence I see in the world. In this, I can’t say I’m looking for anything. Maybe I’m running from something, or trying to explain bits of reality to myself, bits of america to myself. Because I see how the recent frustrations, fears, and concerns are playing out in this short, brutal, comedy.

But, yeah, I’ve also written a handful of poems about Trump. I’m collecting them into a collection titled The Golden King. Maybe it’s a form of resistance or a way for me to write out my greatest fears for the future, but it’s a pretty unpleasant text so far. It’s draining to write those poems and so I’ve only written five, but I think the rest of the collection will be from a different kind of perspective, and hopefully those will give me a sense of hope and peace.

Which is what I’m seeking, first in my own life, and then in the world. It’s why I’m going through the Tao Te Ching every day.

Trying to breathe and live quietly.

Which is not to say passively.

It’s difficult to be at peace right now, to find balance, and sometimes it’s making me feel hopeless, since I see no balance to this. But, ultimately, it’s helping me. Allowing me to step back and see the world with cleaner eyes. Eyes less stained by the brutality of the present.

And I need that. I need to remember that the world is still a beautiful place. That resistance is more than shouting loudly online. Resistance is a complex, multifaceted thing, yet it can be as simple as clearing your thoughts, playing chess, or folding laundry.

Resistance is persistence.

I saw an interesting thread of tweets by an Iranian responding to americans on twitter. He highlighted how Iranians live and enjoy life, even though they live under a brutal theocratic regime (and he reminds us that the US toppled a liberal, democratic government to put the theocratic dictator in place).

It gave me a quiet sense of hope. That life goes on. That even when things seem hopeless, even when life is at its darkest, people still find beauty and love and laughter. They dance, and they sing.

That’s resistance. It’s the kind few talk about, but it’s a terribly important form of resistance: to persist. To love. To live. To laugh. To create art and collaborate with other people. To build friendships.

And it’s inspired me to act on some long-standing plans. Like hosting monthly gatherings (this is in the planning stages, but Chelsea and I have some simple ideas) and then I have some other ideas that require a lot more planning and some funding, but we’ll get there. Even if it takes me years. We’ll get there.

I guess what I mean to say is that it’s important to remember to enjoy life.

So take some quiet breaths and look away from your screen at some point every day, and just talk to another human. Not about politics or current events, but about what interests them, or what interests you.

Maybe just have a beer with friends or take a walk by yourself with headphones on, jamming to music you love. Or take the headphones off and listen to the sounds of winter.

It’s a good day to live, even if everything seems terrible.

not making war

A Taoist wouldn’t advise a ruler
to use force of arms for conquest;
that tactic backfires.

Where the army marched
grow thorns and thistles.
After the war
comes the bad harvests.
Good leaders prosper, that’s all,
not presuming on victory.
They prosper without boasting,
or domineering, or arrogance,
prosper because they can’t help it,
prosper without violence.

Things flourish then perish.
Not the Way.
What’s not the Way
soon ends.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Imagine a time in American history when we had a president who wasn’t devoted to violence.

I think we’d be a very different nation had such a president ever been elected.

Instead we’re a culture of violence and death.

But that’s beside the point. It’s perhaps easy to see my attachment to Taoism most clearly in this poem, as it is a strong and definitive stance against violence and for pacifism. I don’t know exactly when I became a pacifist, but it’s been a very long time. I want to say it’s when I was in sixth grade, but it might be more useful to think of it as being when I was fourteen, which is a bit later and when I had time to think more about it. Though I do remember arguing very strongly against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan when I was just a kid.

But it’s hard for me to not think of my own identity as an american. I’ve always felt disconnected from this country, and not just on an ideological level, and yet I am forever bound to it by accident of geography. No matter where I go or how far I wander, I will always belong to america because nationalism is still such a powerful (toxic) idea in the hearts and minds of so many people.

Lao Tzu talks about the price of war here, which is something I often describe as a disease. In the wake of war, only thistles and thorns will grow. I take that as a metaphor for the cost of war. It’s more than simply a body count. There’s a price we pay as a society for violence, and it’s steep. It debases all of us. Strips us of humanity.

Last night, it was confirmed that Trump’s first dronestrike as president killed an 8 year old american citizen named Nawar al-Awlwaki. Her 16 year old american brother, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in 2013 by dronestrike under Barack Obama.

There was little pushback against the Obama Administration for murdering a child, an american citizen, and there’s still little pushback now that Trump is president for murdering another child, another american citizen.

Our government has now murdered nearly an entire family for the alleged crimes of their father (we used to have courts that judged who was innocent and guilty, but now we have drones). We also murdered him, as you can see from the link there.

We have poisoned ourselves for so long with violence that we no longer even understand the price we paid, the loss of our own humanity.

What Trump did was despicable, yet few people are discussing it. And I think it’s because it draws an uncomfortable reality about the Obama Administration, who liberals love. Obama’s Administration committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dronestrikes are terrorism, and we use them as tools to secretly murder anyone that the presiding administration sees as a threat. Or even just a potential threat. I don’t have anything to say in defense of Anwar al-Awlaki. By all accounts, he was a miserable excuse for a human. Just as I have no words to defend Osama bin-Laden.

But I watched my country cheer over the illegal murder of him. We cheered like savages. We are the barbarians of the world, toppling civilisations, and I am reminded of it daily by our neverending war for supremacy against poor Arabs in decimated nations.

Osama bin-Laden and Anwar al-Awlwaki were terrible people if even half the crimes they were accused of are true. If even one of them is. But the way civilised humans deal with monsters is by making them account for their crimes.

We don’t murder them in secret and then dance on their graves.

Even Osama bin-Laden deserved his day in court. Partly because his crimes were not solely against the US. Entire nations wanted him held accountable. They didn’t want him murdered like an animal.

The same is true of Anwar al-Awlwaki.

And his children–children–did not deserve to die because of the accident of genetics and geography.

The Tao asks for balance. For kindness and empathy. For understanding. And it’s hard to find that in america. There are bright spots, of course, and entire sources of light, but I see so much darkness and death and destruction in the will of my people that it’s hard to hold my head up sometimes.

This is a fitting poem today.

It’s fitting as a rebuke to our government of blood and chaos and ash and smoke.

I see no balance today. I see no future for this benighted nation of cowards, savages, and thieves.

Sorry to be such a downer, but it’s becoming more difficult to make a daily consideration of the Tao when I’m inundated with such violence.

But I keep trying. I’ll keep trying.

I hope you’ll try too.

And I hope this new appetite for activism in the US will extend justice to the countless people we’ve destroyed from the Middle East.