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.

the curious case of dying publicly

David Bowie died last night. I saw it and was surprised that I had someone been one of the first people I knew to see it announced online. Of course, this assumes that everyone who learns of news must share it [more on that later].

I didn’t post anything then because I almost never do when famous people die. It’s just not in me, generally, even when I’m a fan of what they did. But I think the whole thing has kind of grown in an uncomfortable way for me. The way we discuss Death and dying. The way we grapple with it publicly and make a show of our grappling.

The last time I wrote about a celebrity dying, actually, was when Robin Williams died. It could be argued that that’s less about Robin Williams and more about suicide and how it’s discussed and perceived and what it means to commit suicide publicly, which is the only way for a celebrity to do it, unfortunately.

I’ve been thinking about today, though. How every post on social media seems to be about David Bowie. I find it interesting and kind of bizarre, because even in the age of ubiquitous oversharing and grandstanding, you tend to get a wide spread of people who simply don’t care and so they post about their every day life, since, to them, this is just another day.

Too, what’s surprising is the way that these posts are almost uniformly positive. and strangest yet, how these posts are all deeply personal and mostly mournful.

I have no strong attachments to David Bowie. I didn’t grow up with his music or Labyrinth. I’ll always have fond feelings for him because of what he did for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, but David Bowie has always been more a force of nature for me than anything else. He’s this embodiment of the oddity that’s possible in popular culture. It’s more like a gale than a human to me, and I love the way he played with gender and sexuality, opening gates for decades of men, women, and other to explore and accept that which doesn’t conform.

But, at the same time, I don’t feel much about his absence. Partly because the music I enjoyed by him came out–at the latest–around thirty years ago. Because I had no early life attachments or associations to him and all of his music that I’ve enjoyed came out before I was born, he’s mostly been this mythic figure of pop, this living legend.

His absence doesn’t reduce that. He is still David Bowie. His albums still exist and maybe even one day I’ll listen to all the many albums I never explored by him.

But he had little direct impact on my life.

That’s not to say that he didn’t influence others greatly.

Obviously he has.

I wonder, at times like this, if the absence of emotion for the Death of the famous says something about me. Because, in general, I feel very little for them.

That’s nothing personal against them, mind, but it’s simply that, to me, they’re more like trivia than they are people.

But then I think of Mark Linkous and how astonishingly powerful his Death was for me. I feel it every year, but only because his music impacted me so strongly. It still does. And he had so many years ahead of him.

I think of someone like Tom Waits. If he were to die today, it would gut me, but I would still know that I had hundreds of songs to hold onto. To live inside.

I think I would mostly feel happiness and nostalgia. Not for his Death, but for his life. I would miss him the way I would miss Thom Yorke or Bjork or whoever, but his Death wouldn’t leave an absence, because he already gave us so much.

The same could be said of David Bowie. I don’t even know how many albums he made, but he’s been making them for what seems like forever. Sometimes prolifically.

His Death is not the end, because he gave us decades of his life to hold onto, to love. He shaped us and he will continue to shape us because he opened his life to all of humanity.

But Mark Linkous?

Tragically little remains of him. That beautiful and delicate genius.

And I think of Elliott Smith and how I cried the day he died, even though I had only recently discovered his music. Since his Death, he has come to shape much of my life.

So we’re allowed our grief and our mourning, but remember, at times like this, that people like Bowie gave so much to fill our lives with. He didn’t leave us with an absence. His life wasn’t cut tragically short.

He lived long and large. He lived loudly and beautifully.

And I could even argue that he lived for all of us.

I can tell Bowie was different than the Death of many other celebrities because of how overwhelmingly present it was. When most with fame die, many post a simple missive of inanity. They talk about how they loved such and such a book or film or song.

And then come all the posts about how you should care more about whatever else.

And then come all the posts about how such and such people aren’t real fans.

None of that interests me.

But I do find it distasteful how we occupy and consume the Death of those with fame. How we determine their life’s meaning. How there’s almost this social pressure to declare who someone is, how they influenced you, and why you’re allowed to take part in the narrative of their Death.

My point, if there is one, is that Death is a private thing, despite the public nature of being famous.

Bowie’s Death is not our tragedy.

It’s not ours at all.

It doesn’t belong to me or you or anyone we know.

It belongs to his family and friends.

So while I appreciate how present he is in people’s lives, I find the outpouring a shockingly distasteful display of public consumption.

That view is probably controversial and most will disagree with me, but I think it cheapens who and what and how and why people are.

But this has maybe more to do with the nature of social media and how it skews and contorts the worldview of the average human than it does with anyone.

I mean, after saying all this, who am I to tell you what to feel, how to feel it, or how to express it?

Maybe it’s because I value silence and contemplation more than I do extravagant declarations of feeling. Maybe it’s because I’m a Minnesotan. A cold northern man descended from the cold northern blood of the Prussians and the Irish.

But I tend to disagree with those kinds of definitions as well.

Anycase, if nothing else, remember that Bowie lived well and he lived large. His work exists ever after. His son continues to make some of the most interesting art being filmed.

And then there are the millions of artists he influenced over the decades and all the millions he will influence in the future.

David Bowie is forever.

But he doesn’t belong to you or me and our words will only try to tame his legacy, his humanity.

So let him lie in peace. Dead but never gone.

Because you cannot kill the starlight or the stardust.

looking back on 2015

First, I want to thank Janice Lee for being the absolute best. Also Berit Ellingsen, who’s a great and generous friend. And Kyle Muntz, who I talk to more than just about anyone on the internet, and probably more often than a lot of people off the internet.

It was a very interesting year. It contained some very negative aspects but also some very positive ones.

I’m going to talk about all the negatives first, because that’s what this post is really about.

It’s about having a year full of minor failures, serious heartaches, and how it can still be one of the best years of your life.

Anyrate, I’ll go from minor to serious, and then I’ll talk about the good stuff.

In the last couple years, I’ve made new year’s resolutions, which is kind of a stupid thing to do. I firmly believe that and I never used to do it, but I did it I think three years in a row. It was all right, and I was generally successful, but this year I came up short in just about every category.

I wrote a post about it way back at the start of last year.

I had a lot of big plans for 2015 that mostly had to do with personal artistic goals, so let’s lay it out!

I managed to somehow play fewer videogames than the previous years, despite my plans to play more. More than that, I managed to make zero videogames. I made less than any progress on that front.

Why?

I guess I don’t have a good reason, but laziness should suffice. See, I had no idea how to make one and I don’t really know how to program, so I guess I just never bothered to do it? Never sat down and tried to learn, so I never managed to do much on that front.

I definitely didn’t watch a movie every day, though I did keep this up for several month. Still, over the last eight months I’ve seen very few films in general.

Why?

Life. Simple as that.

Did I publish work created by other people?

Absolutely not, though this is still in progress and I should have some news and announcements coming soon. So while I failed to do it in 2015, I didn’t fail entirely. It’s just these things take longer than you expect them to.

I also didn’t get back into drawing, probably because I forgot. This is what happens when you plan on doing a bunch of small things in a year that aren’t actually important. They slip your brain and then kind of disappear altogether.

All those writing projects: nope. No progress.

Didn’t continue with Girl with Ears.

Just didn’t, though I keep planning on it. I mostly just need to sit down and make it happen.

Didn’t write a short story every week, though I did this for nine weeks.

I quit this for very real reasons. I figured, why spend 100,000 words on things I won’t really be that happy with and very few people will read? I was growing increasingly unhappy with the stories I was writing, though I did fall in love with that character, and she will appear in many things in the future. The thing about writing a story every day is that it’s a great idea. The problem was that I was publishing them on here, which makes them unpublishable elsewhere.

I chose to make a real effort towards getting paid for writing, which meant not giving it away for free.

See, I would love to give it away for free, but there are too few people who read this blog, so I felt I should focus my energy differently.

I also didn’t write a poem every day because it began to feel like a chore, which is the opposite of enjoyable.

Anyrate, those are the things I set out to do which I failed at.

My successes?

I wrote two novels! And they [and another] are going to be published by one of my favorite publishers.

I also wrote about 40,000 words writing about Studio Ghibli films, which I very much enjoyed and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it as well.

It’s funny since I planned on focusing on shorter projects but ended up only working on longer pieces.

I also read a whole lot of books!

Lots of things planned for this year, but I’m not making resolutions or goals, but expect to hear news of at least a few novels getting finished. Hopefully you’ll even see some shorter work published.

Okay, onto serious stuff, like my real life.

My old roommate died last summer just a few days before he turned 27. It was shocking to say the least and one of the most emotional weeks of the year. I actually found out about twenty minutes before I taught classes for four hours. So I had to bottle that up hard and tight immediately after hearing about the way too soon Death of my friend.

He had a beautiful funeral service though. One that could have been the most depressing experiences of my life, but it was a celebration of his life. His humor, his beauty, and the way he shined on so many who knew him.

Afterwards, a big group of us who knew him went out for dinner at a Russian restaurant, which was a great way to commemorate his life.

About a month later, my grandmother died. She was in her 90s, so it wasn’t exactly tragic, but it wasn’t a happy time. A few weeks after that, my grandmother’s little sister died.

My grandmother was an amazing woman and I’d write a whole essay about her life and how I didn’t know about most of it till I was 23. Her husband died when she was young and had six children. She fought to be able to buy a house, to keep that house, and to keep her children fed. She was resourceful and hardworking. It was the 60s when my grandfather died. My own dad was eight. Most women didn’t work and most who did weren’t exactly treated well, but she had to work. She never learnt how to drive but she kept working, kept raising her kids, and never stopped fighting.

It’s a testament to her, I think, that each of her sons became very successful.

Those were the hardships of the year.

But the year was, on the whole, a positive one, I think. Or, rather, I feel.

I got married to the most wonderful person in the world. Chelsea is amazing in every way. She’s smarter, more talented, and more resourceful than me. She’s driven and ambitious and just great at everything. Also, she’s beautiful and kind and gentle.

We also became homeowners! It’s an exciting and terrifying and rewarding and frustrating experience. But it’s great to see how the house is transforming since we moved in.

For our honeymoon, we also went to Ireland, one of my former homes. It was a glorious time, and I’m realising now that we never shared those photos, so I guess I never will.

My little brother also got married to his long time girlfriend and bought his first house!

My new sister-in-law also got married and built her first house!

My sister had a baby!

Two of my cousins had babies!

My cousin beat cancer [he discovered first that he had cancer, but the important part is that he doesn’t have it]!

So there’s been a lot to smile about. A lot of good news.

Even though I failed at all kinds of things this year, it’s completely fine because most of those were small and stupid things.

And, yes, there were tragedies, but there was a great deal of love and happiness.

Not that it makes sense to weigh those against one another and I don’t think anyone should try, but I enjoyed 2015, weird as it often was.

I hope 2016 turns out to be a great year as well.

the next big thing

So several people have tagged me in this sort of thing and I’m meant to do it [meant to do it yesterday/a week ago yesterday] as it seems everyone’s doing it. Just about everyone I know has already done this so I won’t be tagging anyone else. Anyrate: selfinterview!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

To Live

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from a thousand different ideas falling into the same idea. I’ve been planning, in a sense, a new world for most of my life. It’s going to be the setting for several novel[la]s and sort of what all of this is for, all the writing: to one day be good enough to create a new world, new lives. And so everything and everyone has fallen into it, from way back when I wanted to be a cartoonist or a videogame designer [when I was, like, ten to fourteen] all the way up to now. It’s built on a mythology that all my other books, the ones that take place in the real or realer world follow.

But, anyway, it was meant to be a quick 20,000 words about a man who accidentally becomes a demon and the little girl who follows him through the world while a war occurs offscreen while an ascetic castrated monk follows them. It ballooned well past 20,000 up nearer to 100,000 words and I think I managed to capture everything I meant to do, even if it took me five times as long to do it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy. It’s sort of an inverted epic fantasy taking place in a steampunk world. There are dragons and gods and angels and demons and species between human and animal and airships and metallic men and wizards and people of various races and cultures and technologies. It’s about imperialism and war and Death and dying and living and what it means to be human–especially that. To be human.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are essentially three characters that the novel follows and one of them begins at infancy and goes well into old age so I’ll just stick to them.

Sao, who the novel circles around though I wouldn’t really say the novel’s about him. He’s the core in a lot of ways. Anyway, hard to say exactly who should play him. He’d have to be an asian actor and I suppose he’d have to be played by a few actors as we begin at his infancy and move into adulthood. I’d prefer the actors to be Japanese because that’s what his culture is modelled after, so maybe Joe Odagiri as an adult. As a child I would’ve said Yuya Yagira but he’s an adult now, too, so maybe he could play Sao as an adult.

Aya would be played by a few actresses starting in childhood and moving to adolescence and then old age. As a child I’d pick Quvenzhane Wallis and as an old woman I’d choose Toni Morrison and just pretend she’s an actress.

My nameless monk could be played by just about anyone because he needs to be somewhat androgynous, hairless, and pure looking because he never says a single word until. Maybe Cillian Murphy fifteen years ago. I’d have to find some unknown, probably. Maybe that little kid from The Road.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where gods still live and dream, To Live is a story about language and love, mythology and morality, and what it means to be human as it follows three people’s journey through a world torn apart by war.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Those aren’t really the same things, but it won’t be selfpublished, though I’ve no idea who’ll publish it, though. Hopefully someone cool and somewhere I can be proud.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm, in a sense you could think of it as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire told only from perspectives of those without power. Imagine one of those novels narrated by a kitchen maid or a farmer or a vagabond and you’d sort of get a feeling of it. It’s a bit more contemplative, maybe a bit in the vein of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun or Samuel R Delany’s Neveryon. It’s concerned more with simply what happens on the page or even what’s expressed by the characters. It’s a novel about the disenfranchised, I suppose.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My whole life. Everything has been leading to me finally diving into this world, as I said above. This is the first novel there, but I’ve several short stories and a novella that also take place there with many more novel[la]s and stories to follow. It’s a world and now we live in it and though the stories aren’t explicitly connected, they all happen across the same globe, in different countries and continents and time periods. It’s been inspired by everything I’ve ever read and watched and listened to. Every videogame I ever played, every novel I’ve fallen in love with, every song I couldn’t get out of my head, every time the world seemed like too much, every time I feared I was too dissimilar, too foreign, too everything I wasn’t meant to be. It’s my whole life and it’s To Live.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Dragons fly, gods die, new ones are born, war everywhere, love here and there, sprinkles of happiness in a world where little goes right. It’s a novel about hope, and, because of that, it’s tragic, but hopefully beautiful. It’s the most realised thing I’ve written. It’s what I’m most proud of and it means the world to me. I typed through tears, through nausea, through pain, all selfinduced. I love every word in it and I’m afraid of every space between them.

To me, it’s perfect and I hope one day you’ll see it.

i’ll never know

Almost a week since Lily’s Death and it’s been hard on me, so I’ve buried myself in films and the words of Others and alcohol in order to not drown on my own sadness, a collapsing star with nothing left.

The first couple days were filled with me crying every few hours. Just breaking down, fetally, holding myself because there’s no one else left. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this lonely. To live without her, to be without her.

I hear her every morning coming up the stairs but there’s no one there. And every night’s so empty without her here in my bed.

This house is a mausoleum of all the moments that meant all the world and more to me.

But I push on. Keep walking because what else is there? I can’t even bare my soul to others, tell them how much she means to me or I break down again, and all I have are the tears she used to keep away.

In other news, I need to find a date for New Year’s, which is kind of difficult, if only because I don’t actually know that many people anymore. So it goes.

Reading lots of books, breaking my own heart.

But there are still women and there’s still wine.

Beauty still exists, even if you no longer do.

i lost the best part of life

Lily Belle is dead. Even typing that, even knowing it is too much for me. I can’t stop shaking or crying. It hurts. Everything hurts but I can’t even name where it hurts, how it hurts. I feel like the dead. Lost. Miserable.

She’s dead and she will never be here with me again. I’ll never hold her again. I’ll never even see her again.

I’m destroyed, far past broken.

She’s not just a dog. She was forever more than that. She was my everything. My whole world. The center of my everything. She was my best friend, my oldest friend. She was there when I went to sleep and when I woke up. She was there through every bad moment, through every good one. She kept me alive. She pushed my heart, made it keep beating, made me breathe, gave me something worth breathing for.

When I talk about love I talk about Lily.

She kept me safe, kept me free from loneliness. She was there to comfort me, always. Through all of my darkest moments and days and months, she was there. She held me up.

And tonight she died. She vomited her life away.

I’ve been dreading this for years. She was fourteen.

I can’t even speak. All I can do is type.

All the words are dead and gone but I’m still here. Without her.

Goodnight, Starchild.

i have only the memories