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?”

“What?”

“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.

don’t punch left when monsters dance on your right

The blame game has gone on for about three months now and it’s really time to stop.

It’s time to come together and build a real, broad coalition of resistance.

Every time you find yourself posting online, We need to focus on the future, but… and then go on to blame communists, anarchists, socialists, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, working class whites, working class non-specific, the Midwest, the Southeast, non-voters, Putin, or whoever else, you stifle what you say you’re seeking.

We can’t build a coalition by first demanding apologies from everyone who isn’t us. Firstly, there’s no point to it. Secondly, you’re making a demand of someone you hope to embrace in open cooperation, which is the opposite of a cooperative starting point.

A lot of people were wrong. In fact, every major publication in the world was wrong about the outcome of this US election. If you think the blame belongs somewhere, maybe just accept that almost every single one of us was wrong about the election.

That doesn’t mean everyone was wrong about everything.

Hillary Clinton committed war crimes as Secretary of State. That’s not a debatable opinion. That’s just something that happened. It’s a fact.

The Obama Administration committed numerous war crimes and spied on us and our allies and tortured whistleblowers and tortured prisoners and repealed civil liberties and extended executive powers and empowered the Patriot Act. Also not an opinion. Those are things that happened.

And similar things have happened with every US Administration going back to at least Teddy Roosevelt, but probably back to Andrew Jackson, and then maybe even farther.

We have done terrible things as a nation. We have done them unrepentantly. We have done them for as long as we’ve been a nation. Genocide, slavery, and other crimes against humanity are in the fabric of our national identity. These things happened. They happened and we need to account for the fact that they happened when we move forward.

But we need to move forward. We need to understand where we were, what we supported, and how to move forward to make sure none of this happens again. We must remember the past and hold it tightly because our collective crimes are our burden as a people, as a nation.

Because Trump and Bannon are demanding that we relive the worst moments of American history again, right now, and for as long as they hold power. They want genocide. They want war. They want surveillance. They want bombs. They want christian supremacy. They want white supremacy. They want fascism. They want poverty, death, and total control and all the economic advantages that come with that place of power.

It’s not about demanding apologies or standing on a soapbox to tell everyone how right you were or how you are blameless.

And it’s not about when you joined the movement or became politically active. If you didn’t care yesterday but care a whole lot today, that should be good enough.

We are all to blame. Wherever you stand politically and whoever you voted for and for whatever reason you voted that way–we all did this. Together. As a nation.

This is our country. It’s not just a place we live. We are all complicit in the actions of our government because we allow them to govern us. We give them their power through voting, through consent, through passivity, through apathy.

And so we need to build a way forward, together.

Stop punching left, especially. Stop accusing those who have spent their lives as activists, as lawyers defending civil liberties, as confrontational journalists who demand more and hold power accountable just because they disagreed with you.

They had reasons to do what they did, just as you had reasons to do what you did. Also remember that being critical of one powerful person was not an endorsement of a different powerful person.

Unfortunately, there’s no longer a place for moderates in American politics. Being a moderate right now is being complicit with Bannon and Trump. To seek a compromise with them right now is to lose parts of yourself.

You cannot seek compromise with someone seeking genocide and widespread poverty and slavery. There is no compromise to be made that will not reduce you as a human. The only response is defiance, non-compliance, and resistance.

These are the people standing to your right: Nazis, white supremacists, christian supremacists, con men, fascists, and robber barons.

If you look to your left and still see enemies, then maybe you need to look harder at yourself.

What do you really want? Is it acknowledgement of your righteousness? Is it for someone to just tell you that you’re right? Is it for someone to take the blame of what 350 million people decided? Is it to mince words and argue about the right way to resist or talk about resistance? The right way to be a progressive, to be an American, to be a journalist?

We’ve all done this. I don’t exclude myself from this.

This isn’t a call out.

And if you need an apology, you don’t deserve one.

I will say that I was wrong. I was wrong about so many things about this election. And about a lot of other things too. I’m often wrong, and I’m often wrong about most things.

And while that might matter a bit, we have more pressing concerns.

So look to your left and take someone’s hand. It’s time to stand together.

Then look right, with your brothers and sisters, and hold that line, because there are monsters rushing our way and all they seek is blood.

finding new ways and other thoughts about action

The title will make more sense a few paragraphs down, but first I’m going to ramble about writing a bit.

I sent out Songs of My Mother to several beta readers (want to be one?) a few weeks ago, and have already heard back from one!

I’m ridiculously pleased with the response. It’s not all positive, of course, but the reaction mostly fell in line with what I expected and what I wanted, which is good. The weaknesses I was worried about were called out, but none were really added. Some places I thought might be weaknesses proved to be strengths and, overall, the reaction was jsut positive. I’m ecstatic about that, truly. I’ve never spent so long working on a novel, and never written a novel even close to this length, so to hear good things about it was kind of exactly what I needed (especially since the Fear shrieked inside me almost immediately after I sent the novel to people).

And so I’ve been feeling good this week (got the feedback on Monday). Had to do a lot of driving (currently in Ohio and on my way to Pittsburgh), which means I’ve listened to several audiobooks and eaten a lot of Panera and just been spending a lot of time inside my head.

About a week ago, I got a new idea for a novella, too. What I usually do when ideas strike me is sit on them, let them percolate, but I decided to just start writing this one about an hour after the idea came to me, and it’s been extremely pleasant and fun and just kind of a joyous experience.

Several ideas kind of banged together at once, and all because of a wikipedia hole. Was looking at pictures of Greenland, and then reading about ancient piracy, and then, somehow, about Kasper Hauser, and was already rereading the Tao Te Ching for the hundredth time, and thinking about the Voynich Manuscript, and it all kind of came together for me. And because Kasper Hauser is such a bizarre story, it got me thinking about Visitor Q. And then because Greenland was on my mind (and cooking’s always on my mind), I was wondering what they eat there.

And so, in short, I’m writing a novella inspired by Greenland, pirates, Visitor Q, and Taoism (more on this in a bit). It’s called Days of Glossolalia and All the Days After.

It’s been fun and interesting. The Visitor Q influence is probably much milder than people would expect from such a claim (at least so far), but I’m hoping for this to be at least relatively normal, since everything I’ve written in the last four years has been kind of ridiculously bizarre.

But mostly it’s just kind of a come down from the arduous process of writing a 310,000 word novel. I wanted to do a lot of things differently, and a big part of that is writing something sort of bitesized. Something people can read in one sitting with relative ease, so I’m hoping it tops out at around 30,000 words. It’s already at 10,000 so I may be underestimating again, but I can’t imagine this being much longer than 40,000 words, even if it blows up on me.

I’ve been listening to real old Iron & Wine while writing it. I forget how much I love those albums and EPs. That kind of breathless beauty they have. But, yeah, mostly just The Woman KingThe Sea & the Rhythm, and Our Endless Numbered Days, though sometimes I go all the way to The Creek Drank the Cradle.

Trying to get a gentle feel in my head.

And I think part of this is because I’ve been thinking about Taoism a lot lately. I say that this new novella is inspired by it, but that could be said about most of my novels. The Tao Te Ching came to me at a strange time. Excerpts of it were assigned reading in my junior year of high school english class. The same english class that would introduce me to Dostoevsky, existentialism, nihilism, and other philosophical isms. But Taoism has always been the one that fits best in my head (besides the one I invented).

Someone even once asked me why the Twilight of the Wolves cover has a zen symbol on it, and I told them it’s a Taoism symbol (Zen Buddhism is basically a mix of Buddhism and Taoism). To me, Twilight of the Wolves is very much a Taoist text, and I think that’s partly why it means so much to me and why it still sort of breaks my heart that no one likes it.

But the Tao is in Songs of My Mother as well, and even Noir: A Love Story, and definitely in a handful of unpublished novels I have that are both extremely strange and extremely meaningful to me.

Pacifism is the driving force behind all my work, and Taoism has played a part in shaping that, too. My firm belief in nonviolence.

And so this new novella is dealing with that. How do you respond, as a pacifist, to pirates raiding your society?

The real reason why so much of this has been on my mind is because of Ursula K Le Guin’s blog. Click those highlighted words to see her post on the election, which goes into the Tao and resistance.

I’m going to excerpt kind of liberally here.

Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.

[. . .]

I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.

Emphasis mine.

Le Guin is a writer and thinker near to my heart. She’s one of my favorites. Maybe even my actual favorite. She’s the one that inspires me most, I think, and she’s the one whose worldview is most similar to my own. And in her blog post she discusses how we see the world and how we talk about the world.

It’s useful for me to see this, because she gets down to something that’s incredibly heartbreaking for every pacifist who must also be an american. It’s a neverending tragedy. We’ve been at war for generations and have no intention of stopping or even slowing down (all signs point to becoming more belligerent and aggressive, starting with China and Russia and Iran). There’s so much I could say here, but I’ll try to stay focused.

Though we’ve had some great scholars of peace, such as Martin Luther King, studying it is something Americans have done very little of.

The way of the warrior admits no positive alternatives to fighting, only negatives — inertia, passivity, surrender. Talk of “waging peace” is mere glibness, you can’t be aggressively peaceful. Reducing positive action to fighting against or fighting for, we have not looked at the possibility of other forms of action.

Like the people who marched to Selma, the people who are standing their ground at Standing Rock study, learn, and teach us the hard lessons of peace. They are not making war. They are resolutely non-violent. They are seeking a way out of the traps of anger, hatred, enmity. They are actively trying to get free, to be free, and by their freedom, free others as well.

Studying peace means in the first place unlearning the vocabulary of war, and that’s very difficult indeed. Isn’t it right to fight against injustice? Isn’t that what Selma and Standing Rock are — brave battles for justice?

I think not. Brave yes; battles no. Refusing to engage an aggressor on his terms, standing ground, holding firm, is not aggression — though the aggressive opponent will always declare that it is. Refusing to meet violence with violence is a powerful, positive act.

But that is paradoxical. It’s hard to see how not doing something can be more positive than doing something. When all the words we have to use are negative — inaction, nonviolence, refusal, resistance, evasion — it’s hard to see and keep in mind that the outcome of these so-called negatives is positive, while the outcome of the apparently positive act of making war is negative.

This final paragraph is especially interesting to me, since I’ve never thought about the language of peace. But it’s true: we always use it as a negative (linguistic negative, not moral one). It’s a subtle kind of thing built deep into english (and maybe many other languages?).

It brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and might write a post about eventually. But I’ve been thinking about technological development. Not even new development, but the development of technology through history.

To keep it brief: Might is Right has been the prevailing moral and technological theory since Columbus crossed the ocean blue. Which means it’s probably been there longer. Since the Crusades, probably.

It’s not the idea even that technological advancement makes you morally correct (Silicon Valley ideology), but that having a superior military with technological advantages makes you also morally superior.

This was absolutely Europe’s policy in the americas, Africa, and Asia. Because it is worth remembering that when the west first encountered China, we were like baboons when it comes to their (at the time) advances in technology. We didn’t understand it and saw no use for it, until we discovered that their exploding powder could be used to propel metal balls through metal tubes at incredible speeds, allowing those same metal balls to tear through a human body, even when it’s armored.

That’s a simplification, of course, but I’ll leave it at that.

But war and might have been seen as positive moral attributes to cultures for a long, long time. Whereas peace has always been an undesirable alternative. Something for cowards and malcontents and agitators.

We confuse self-defense, the reaction to aggression, with aggression itself. Self-defense is a necessary and morally defensible reaction.

But defending a cause without fighting, without attacking, without aggression, is not a reaction at all. It is an action. It is an expression of power. It takes control.

Emphasis, again, is mine.

And this brings us back to that other way. What is it? How do we find a new way?

I see so many posts on social media about our need to fight. Some even are saying that we must fight in any way necessary.

It scares me, to be quite honest. I see nothing but ruin ahead of us, when all our solutions are fighting. Our only metaphor for action is combat.

I think it shows how terrible things have become. How terrible they’ve always been.

We have glamorized the way of the warrior for millennia. We have identified it as the supreme test and example of courage, strength, duty, generosity, and manhood. If I turn from the way of the warrior, where am I to seek those qualities? What way have I to go?

I won’t keep quoting this, but we come to an interesting point, because Le Guin doesn’t answer this question. She leaves us, instead, with Lao Tzu and the Tao.

So how do we act? How do we resist without fighting? How do we remain peaceful when threatened by belligerent and aggressive forces?

Unfortunately, I have no answers. I very much doubt that anyone does.

But it’s something I’m trying to answer in this new novella. Or at least it’s the idea that’s at the heart of it.

How do we act and resist?

For me, as a person, this may take several shapes. But it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Pacifism is at the core of who I am, and it’s perhaps the only beliefI know I can’t exist without. And since I have no answers (the Tao teaches that there are no answers), I intend to learn how to act. How to be.

Anyrate, some thoughts to chew on. Maybe you’ll like the way they taste.