Martian thoughts about a confrontation in NW Portland

I can’t stop thinking about this post. I saw it Sunday, on /r/Portland, and read it, and lots of the comments, both from the original poster, and others arguing against him or praising his actions.

In the vast majority of those comments (827 as I post these words) I didn’t see my own thoughts reflected. But maybe my point of view is so different from those around me that they might as well be from Mars.

The OP clearly states, in the post and further comments, that he feels powerless and vulnerable. More than anything else, he wants to feel safe. From his post, he’s threatened by the man he drew on, of course, but also by the petty criminals, tweakers, and homeless people he sees all over his neighborhood. But even more so, he’s disgusted and powerless against the mayor, city government, and law enforcement.

But he’s also a man who plays by the rules. He pays his rent, and his taxes. He works within the rules of his neighborhood and building management. And, again, in his own words, he has tried to soothe that fear by buying guns. 40 of them, over the course of years; he admits to only owning 12 right now. He’s followed the law in getting a concealed handgun license (CHL), and from his words it’s clear he’s knowledgable about how and when to use deadly force.

He’s staying inside the lines, but he sees those lines being ignored by people everywhere; both the authorities, and the common citizens. So he still feels powerless, and vulnerable. And that is not a good way to feel. No one should feel that way.

And so, in the Pearl District, while he was out walking his dog, a man rode quickly past him on a bike, the OP reacted as if he’d been wounded, and a confrontation happened.

I’m glad that no one involved was physically injured or killed. I’m happy that all three of them (let’s not forget there was a dog involved, a labrador/whippet) walked away.

The reason the OP cites for not actually pulling the trigger, despite the training he received that drilled in to him the idea that he should not even draw if he is not willing to fire, despite his training to shoot to kill if he’s going to shoot at all, despite his fear being enflamed by the actions he describes, is that he was too, yes, afraid: afraid of being second-guessed by society, law enforcement, and the media.

I’m not going to second-guess him. I don’t know what happened, exactly. I am far from an expert on gun laws or even the kind of training given to those who feel the need or desire to carry a handgun. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, you either know about my own feelings on the topic or you’re just a couple of clicks away from finding out. But here, that’s not my point.

In contrast to the OP’s dehumanizing language, though, I bet that the man who had a gun pointed at him also feels powerless and vulnerable. I know I’m speculating here, but it’s just for a moment, just for this paragraph. I bet that bike-riding man feels just as abandoned by society. But because of the different paths each man has taken through life, they each express that deep fear and loathing in different ways.

One goes riding through the streets of one of the richest, most developed neighborhoods in the city, screaming and yelling, ready for a fight.

The other walks his dog, a gun at his side, wishing the police or government would do something about the petty crime, ready for a fight.

We’ve alienated both of them. We need both of them, and so many more, back.

Letter to Kevin 1

Dear Kevin,

Today, the thing that made me think of you was having Queen’s “It’s Late” come up on my iPhone. You were always a fan of Queen. I remember when you told me that you liked Freddie Mercury’s music no matter what his sex life was like. That was in the mid-80s so that’s what a progressive liberal viewpoint was back then. It was all the more remarkable because you were then, and remained until you died, a generally conservative Christian, devout in your beliefs. Or maybe it only seemed remarkable to me because I had only noticed bigotry from Christians up until then.

I’ll tell you another remarkable thing about that conversation: it may be the effect of time passing, blurring and foreshortening my memories, but your comment about Freddie’s possible gayness might have been the first time I was told, or that I even considered, that he might have been gay. It wasn’t a big part of my context for him, or any celebrity, really. I didn’t think about celebrities’ sex lives. Wait. I take that back. I assumed they were straight, if I thought about it all. My privilege blinders. The only major celebrity I thought was gay was Elton John, and that’s only because my high school girlfriend, Amy, love him and knew all about him, including that fact. How did she know that? What were her sources back in 1980? Was Elton out back then? Or was it just gossip and hearsay? No internet back then, just magazines and liner notes and unauthorized biographies and talk shows. I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t important to me.

Back to Freddie. The song that kicked off this madeleine sounds to me like an apology. Freddie (or the singer, if you consider the song fictional and not autobiographical) is singing to a lover who appears to be fed up with the singer’s infidelity and wandering. It’s about pleading with a lover to stay, but being unable to promise to change. He can’t be loyal, if he’s true to himself. At least, that’s my impression of the lyrics. And thinking about the context, that he was possibly closeted, unable to be his true self in public, makes the song all the more sad.

Why am I writing about this? Why am I thinking about this song, and gay celebrities, and you, and being sad? The easy solution to why this is all on my mind and why I connect it to you would be that I’m closeted or self-denying, that I’m gay, that I loved you. Some stranger reading this, my letter to a dead person, might think all that. But as always, more context makes the picture clearer.

Of course I loved you. You were a brother to me. By blood, you were my nephew, my half-sister’s son. But an accident of timing, that put us exactly 6 years apart in age, to the day, and that my mom, your grandma, spent a lot of time at your mom’s, my half-sister’s, house, conspired to make us closer than the family tree would suggest.

You were my cheerleader. No one could motivate me like you could. No one complimented me or told me the positives they saw in me, like you did. There’s maybe 2 or 3 other people I feel completely comfortable around, as I did around you.

You and I could be on opposite sides of an issue, big ones like the existence of God, or divisive ones like taxes or crime or welfare, and we could talk it out and understand each other and not abandon the conversation in anger or frustration.

Now that you’re gone, I feel that loss daily.

If you were here now, you’d tell me… I don’t know. What would you tell me? Probably that you miss me, too. Probably that I should just write. Probably that I’m OK and that I should trust my instincts and that I just need to do what I love and it would all work out. Probably you’d make a joke about not being gay “not that it matters!” (Seinfeld reference) but that, seriously, you love me, too.

Not the same, imagining it. I’d still like to hear you say it. Will never happen again.

It’s almost like love is complicated. Love doesn’t automatically mean that sex is involved. Love is just connection, and time, and patience and understanding. And grief is all that being missing.

I remember my last day of high school, the summer of 1983, at Milwaukie High School. Everyone was going around signing yearbooks and making promises to stay in touch and feeling nervous about moving on, or losing touch with the seniors who were graduating. Fear of change. And there was a guy, a year younger than me, who was an amazing artist and incredibly funny, someone I had spent a lot of time around because we had been in Journalism class together, truly a bonding experience. And when he signed my yearbook, as he was handing it back to me, he said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but, I love you.”

I accepted that, but the thought stayed in my mind. My biggest question was, what could the wrong way be? What was his intention of the right way? Romantic love? Was it more like brotherly love? I am pretty sure I talked it over with my best friend, Terry, and the advice he gave me was, don’t worry about it, it’s a compliment. I did not feel any special romantic feelings for him. And honestly, the idea that he might possibly feel romantic, or sexual, feelings for me, more than anything else, was a giant empty space. It was beyond imagining. Confusing. A void. I filed it away as Terry suggested, a compliment.

I often feel the same way now, trying to think of someone else seeing me as attractive or sexually or even as someone to spend more time around or get to know. Even if it’s someone I acknowledge as attractive, the idea that they might return those feelings doesn’t connect. It’s a black hole, an absence. It doesn’t follow. The logic breaks, the story stops there. I worry that I’m too old to feel that again, the feedback loop of two people’s attraction looping around and intensifying until it’s all consuming. What an intense experience that can be. Can it really be gone? Is it dependent on age, on hormones, on energy and inexperience?

Sometimes I’m glad I don’t feel that, though. But not always.

But I also know that that’s not the feeling I had around you, my nephew, my brother, my closest friend. It was never passionate and enveloping and crazy-making. It was patient, and simple, and clear, and reassuring. And even now, years after you’re gone, I miss it, and I miss you. So forgive me if I write these letters you’ll never see.

I need to be who I am. You understand that, right?

Love,

Brian

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.

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.