Empathy

I was walking home from the bus stop, holding a diner cheeseburger and fries, trying not to slip on the remaining ice and slush.

Ahead of me on the sidewalk, an older woman (or maybe I should say a woman of around my own age) and a young man, maybe a teen or early 20s, were hugging each other fiercely. Their arms were wrapped tightly and I could see, under his warm stocking cap, that the young man’s eyes were closed tight.

As I approached, I could hear them, over the hiss and rumble of cars driving by; both the woman and the man were crying. Sobs, gasps, that choking sound when someone is trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back the sadness.

The sidewalk held only the three of us. The office we were all in front of was unlit, empty. The cars might as well have been robots.

I think they noticed me and it broke their hug. They pulled apart and started to walk away in the opposite direction, holding mittened hands, talking softly, their eyes red, their voices trembling.

I have no idea what caused their sadness. I reflected that I was glad they at least had each other in this moment.

And that thought alone was enough to bring tears to my own eyes.

A new lang syne

2016 wishes

May everyone have food to eat, a bed to sleep in, and a roof under which to shelter, because I think that’s a basic human right. Hard to be the best you if you’re struggling for survival.

Once that’s taken care of…

May everyone be free to do the things you love the most, because that’s your best contribution to society.

May everyone who wants a partner find their perfect match, because sometimes life requires a teammate.

May everyone who has felt loss, find connection to fill the gaps, because we are all of us stronger together.

May everyone give as much empathy as they require themselves, because the world is made better with kindness.

May 2016 be the year you look back on as the start of something big, because every great story has to start sometime.

I love you all. Happy New Year.

Another year done, a new one just begun

Are new year’s resolutions stupid? Maybe they are for some, maybe not for others. But it’s not a bad thing to reflect on the year past, and look ahead to the year to come, and try to be a better human. I’m lucky in that my personal new year happens so close to the common Gregorian calendar New Year, so I thought I’d write down some of the good things I did this year, and some “maybe next year” thoughts, too.

Consider this an incomplete list, because perfection is not only difficult, it’s boring. Humans are mistake-based learners, after all.

What I’m most proud of from 2015:

  • This past summer, after being blocked for far too long, I began writing at least something on my novel first draft every single day. Even if it was only a couple of sentences. Because of that, I added over 30,000 words to the draft, and I only missed two days out of those 6 months. I’m happy that I’m telling this story again.
  • Because of that little mental trick, I have also been writing more on other things, like my blog or other stories, too. Writing is easy when I treat it seriously.
  • I spent more time with my closest friends and family. Y’all know who you are. Thank you all for your friendship.
  • Specifically, I went on a road trip with my dad, and also got to visit Christi, Brian, and Izzy in SoCal. I love traveling, and I love my family and friends.
  • This may be silly, but I’m really happy with my Halloween costume this year. It was fun, I had help from my sister Lisa, my nephew Max, and my friend Diana, and it was both easy to navigate a party in, and got a lot of compliments. What a great project that was! Also, Fallout 4.
  • I was generous with my money, donating to causes I believe in, and helping out friends when they needed it. What good is money if you don’t use it to help others when you can?

Maybe in 2016 I can…

  • Actually sell my writing for near what it’s worth? That’d be terrific. I don’t really have any idea how to do that. Or maybe I already know the trick (sending it out to people who might buy it?) but I’m still a bit afraid of trying.
  • Get back to exercising regularly. I miss running, and this nagging foot problem may prevent me from returning to it, but there are other kinds of exercise I could be doing. I do like my bike. That’s a good thing.
  • Dress better. My default is grungy baseball cap, black t-shirt, jeans, Chucks, maybe a hoodie when it’s cold. I could put more effort into looking nicer. It would require me caring about myself and thinking I deserve to treat myself. I could do better on that, too. Finding clothes that fit my shape (potato shaped? That’s a shape, right?) is difficult sometimes, but I have a potential solution for that: find, or learn how to, tailor my clothes. A cheap sewing machine, some YouTube videos, and an hour or two of practice, would serve me quite well, I’m sure.
  • More travel would be awesome. As a writer, I don’t necessarily have a lot of money to spend, but I’m sure there are cheap ways to travel, and maybe I could trade some of what I love doing (let’s not call it “work”) for travel arrangements?

I’m sure there’s more I could be doing, and I’m also certain I’ve forgotten some big things both in the year past and the year ahead, but I’m going to hit “Publish” now just to get it out there.

Happy birthday to me, and here’s to the future.

I love you all.

A long time ago, and might as well be in a galaxy far, far away

In the summer of 1980, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, my friend Terry and I would take the long bus trip from Milwaukie to Beaverton to see The Empire Strikes Back at the Westgate theater, every time we could scrape together the bus fare and ticket price (which I vaguely remember to be about $1.00 round trip + $3.00, maybe? It was a long time ago and might as well be in a galaxy far, far away). I think we saw it at least 4 or 5 times, maybe more.

Afterward, we would walk across the street to the Beaverton Mall, where they had a Star Wars arcade game, and we would play that until we only just had enough quarters left to get home again. On the bus ride back, we would discuss the movie and just generally be nerds.

Someone in a Boba Fett costume made an appearance at the Lloyd Center Meier & Frank that summer, and we were there, pretending he really was the infamous bounty hunter, demanding he tell us where he had hidden Han Solo or if he had already delivered him to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. I’m sure whoever wore that costume thought he wasn’t getting paid enough for that gig, but we had fun, regardless.

So many memories of Star Wars and Terry and me. I could write a book about it all. Someday I will.

I was Luke to his Han, a bit of role-playing that would become even more true as the years past. Except I never did gain Force powers. He did marry a fiery princess, though, and was father to twins.

Terry and I are still friends today, and I am grateful for that friendship. Few people understand you when you’re older like those who were there when you grew up.

Terry has been incredibly excited for the new Star Wars movie, Episode VII, The Force Awakens, since three years ago when it was announced. I’ve been more cautious, worried about the possibility of disappointment, but it’s difficult not to catch some of my friend’s passion and optimism, remembering those days long ago.

Thursday evening, he and I were together again, side by side, playing in a Star Wars RPG, fighting for the Rebellion or maybe just fortune and glory, and as I post this, I am on my way to the theater where we will be seeing a brand new Star Wars story again.

“How we doin’?”

“Same as always.”

“That bad, huh?”

Just like old times.

City of Unused Characters

Over on /r/writing, turtleofsorrows asked “Do you have any abandoned characters you love too much?

Yes, turtleofsorrows. Yes, I do.

The first that came to mind were Tristan and Esteban, who first showed up in a story I co-wrote with my brother-from-another-mother, the dearly departed Kevin W.

In the story, Tristan and Esteban were henchmen of a secretive redheaded woman whose name escapes me now. They were a pair of Latino men, snappy dressers, one tall, one short. They may, or may not, be brothers. They were one part Jake and Elwood Blues, and one part Penn and Teller, and one part Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever. Except, y’know, Latino.

Their names are an homage to a friend and former co-worker, a person who was empathetic but sarcastic, and who had appetites larger than life. I miss him, but I doubt he’d want to hear from me after all this time and the mistakes I made in that particular social circle. Ah, well.

Tristan and Esteban, though, were wry, laconic, unflappable. They were loyal to their current boss but I always got the sense that this was just a gig for them. They did their job, which in that story (unpublished, alas) they were tracking down mystical artifacts which manifested as ordinary mundane objects, starting with an empty mayonnaise jar which had welded itself to the hero’s hand, annoyingly. But at the end of the day, they would probably do whatever paid the best. They had few scruples or morals, though, so finding work was never difficult for them.

I don’t think any of that made it into the original story, however. It’s all just backstory. I liked the characters, and thought that they would be fun to write. I wanted to find out more about them.

But I’ve never been able to crack their mysteries. I’ve tried using them in another story but they didn’t fit in well. And I even started writing a story with them as main characters, and I just couldn’t figure out what they wanted.

If I had to cast them for a movie, I would go with someone like Benicio del Toro as Tristan.

And Gael García Bernal as Esteban.

They’re always in the back of my mind, though, waiting for the right opportunity to spice up a story with some menace and wry sarcasm.

Any other writers out there carrying around abandoned characters? I would love to hear about them.

Aspirations

To help me re-focus on getting out there and seeing my words published (and paid for!) elsewhere, I’ve been following along with Nicole Dieker’s article A 7-Day Plan for Starting Your Freelance Writing Gig.

The hardest part for me was during Day 1: coming up with five publications I’d love to have bylines in. I’m not sure if it’s modesty, insecurity, or simple ignorance, but it took me the longest time to think up, and write down, five different publications where I would be proud to see my work.

I say “simple ignorance” because I’m just not aware of a lot of different journals, magazines, or publications. Especially so in the last few years, where I tend to read articles online that I gather from Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I rarely connect those individual articles with their overall publisher or publication. Which means I need to start doing that, again, with an eye towards “places I might want to pitch”.

But there’s also the underlying fear of “am I good enough?” and “they wouldn’t like me or my work” to deal with.

To combat that fear, here’s the list I finally – finally! – put down on paper. I would be happy to see my name on a story in any of these five, whether in print or online:

  1. The Portland Mercury – Portland’s best independent newspaper. Covers politics and local topics with a liberal, irreverent edge.
  2. Mother Jones – Also a liberal bastion of politics and current events. My anti-corporate skepticism and empathetic view of people would fit in very well here, I think.
  3. Wired – I’ve been reading Wired since the first month it came out. It’s where I honed my views on technology and the culture that surrounds it.
  4. Atlantic Monthly – In my mind, it’s the classiest place for narrative non-fiction.
  5. The New Yorker – Pretty much the pinnacle of prestige for writers of all stripes. They don’t normally accept unsolicited work, though, so I need to work my way up to this one.

I can think of a few other places but those five are a good target for my aspirations. Perhaps as I work on this, and do more research and reading, I can find more. There’s a whole world of paying publications for writers these days.

Right?

 

ReNoMeShaMo #1 – Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars, by Tarwater & Ricker

Cross-posted from my Amazon review of the book, because I felt the best way to start was with something by the instigator of the idea. 

Shamsee is clever, charming, and great at working the problems of being poor, which is to say, he’s been known to steal, or trade sexual services for, the things he needs. But what else can he do? His sister’s the one with an actual job. Shamsee is job-averse; at least the kinds of jobs where they expect you to show up on a regular basis indefinitely and actually get sweaty and dirty.

Because of his job-averse-ness he owes money to Blighter, and Blighter is not amused. Blighter wants to put all this behind him; he knows that Shamsee will never pay him back the money he owes him, and it might just be more fun to watch his dogs, Hands and Faces (named for the things they most like to bite, I think) eat Shamsee. Certain satisfaction in that.

Shamsee is nothing if not charming, though, and manages to buy some time to avoid being dog food. That’s where the story starts.

Tristan Tarwater’s dialogue sparkles and she drops in place names, swears to new gods, and other tidbits that set this story and these characters in a fully realized fictional world, Tarwater’s The Valley of Ten Crescents. The characters’ motivations and personality are built on a solid foundation, and then Adrian Ricker illustrates them with a deft hand and helped by an assist from Michelle Nguyen’s gorgeous colors, expanding the world even further. That world has a subtle tilt to it, one that I found intriguing and left me wanting to learn more.

The comic is a brisk, delightful read, and I was glad to have backed this project on Kickstarter. Both writer and artist are locals in my hometown of Portland, and I could not be happier to support creators of this caliber.

Regional November Media Sharing Month

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Tristan Tarwater, over on Facebook, came up with the idea to share, review, or rate one cool thing, every day in November. It’s an alternative to National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a., NaNoWriMo.

I like this idea, and I will attempt to do it, starting today. I dub this Regional November Media Sharing Month, or ReNoMeShaMo (I’m terrible at naming things, just terribly bad at it).

Nuclear Wasteland

I spent several days last week at my sister’s house working on my Halloween costume. It’s mostly finished and I could not be happier with it. I could not have done it without the help of my sister Lisa, my friend Diana, and my nephew Max.

Here’s a small preview:

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Can you tell I’ve been playing a lot, and I mean a lot, of Fallout lately?

Mostly I’m writing this to push the “pardon my dust” post down the page, because for the most part, the move is done. I’m happy with the blog for now, except for the giant yellow box in the sidebar where, eventually, AdSense ads will appear. I’m not sure why it’s just a giant yellow box devoid of content. I’d rather, if nothing else, that it was a giant black box or giant blue box to at least match the color scheme. My understanding, and I may not be right about this, is that I have to leave that there until Google decides to start letting me run actual ads. It’s necessary for the approval process, I guess? Apologies for the ugliness.

Also over there in the sidebar is a handy Amazon link. Yes, I’m now using affiliate marketing. If you find yourself needing things from Amazon, feel free to use that search box. If you buy something that way, it should not affect the price you pay in any way, but I do get a small kickback for sending you there. It’s a small way to support my writing.

You can always support my blog by reading it, sharing posts you like, or just telling others about it. For all of that, if you’re here now reading these words, thank you. I am happy you’re here.

 

Pardon my dust

I’m in the process of moving my site to a new host (Site5, as recommended to me by a friend who knows this stuff much better than I do, Steve Libbey) so things may look weird today and tomorrow.

Posts appearing or disappearing, the theme changing and being unreadable, stuff like that.

Bear with me until I get this all sorted out, OK?

In the meantime, you can always find me in other places, too: