The rich win again…

They always do.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61928898

Look, it’s not like this decision will affect them – worst comes to worst, they can put their wife/daughter/mistress on a plane to wherever and hey! presto!, problem solved.

But making sure that everyone earning less than multiple hundreds of thousands of $$$ every year is stuck with big expensive families and desperate to do anything to keep the roof over their heads and food on the table? Living in fear of losing their three part-time, minimum wage jobs? Unable to afford to leave an abusive relationship?

Worth all the billions…how do you think they got them in the first place?

No matter what you think, this is not about “life” in any way, shape, or form.

It’s about power and control, and it’s measured by how much money they can make out of your misery.

Emergency? What Emergency?

We’ve actually been here before.

If you watched History Channel back in the day when they didn’t define “history” as including the current lives of truckers in the Arctic and entire programs breathlessly reporting on the latest mouthbreather  ordinary citizen  claiming to have seen Bigfoot, they ran entire one-hour programs about dead civilizations that had done themselves in by various forms of disregard for the condition of the land they lived on.

On Easter Island, the major theory, borne out by considerable archaeological evidence, the Rapa Nui depleted their natural resources which, in turn, physically eroded the soil, leaving a weakened and declining remnant population that was easily finished off by the introduction of European diseases.

Thy must have read the signs – but they refused to change their ways. In fact, some researchers believe that their attempts to appease their gods and their chieftains pushed them to redouble their efforts, using up what little remained in ever-greater monuments and sacrifices.

What the Anasazi of the Southwestern United States left behind them show that deforestation, along with water management problems and long term drought conditions precipitated violence and religious and political upheaval, which in turn led to social collapse and abandonment of their homes and major centres.

The Mayan, and the Moche, too, failed to adapt to changing environmental conditions on land and in the oceans and continued to exhaust soils and forests, despite a noticeably shrinking resource base, and ultimately, these societies collapsed, as well.

The Late Bronze Age collapse, which affected most of the Mediterranean and the Levant, shows strong evidence of climate change that included volcanic eruptions sending massive amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrochloric acid and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, which possibly played a decisive role in almost every civilization’s implosions during that period, because the crops failed, over and over again.

Hunger on a mass scale inevitably leads to social instability and collapse.

Once upon a time, the Fertile Crescent was just that: a place where agriculture flourished – until overuse and poor planning turned it into a desert. That’s why there aren’t all those “Cedars of Lebanon” any more.

There were the Norse in Greenland. While the unexpected climate change (the “Little Ice Age”) was partially due to a volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia, the underlying demise of the colony was exacerbated by deforestation of the already limited timber resources, along with overgrazing by domestic livestock, which in turn contributed to soil erosion. The inability of the colonists to change their European ways and adapt to the new conditions saw the entire population wiped out by the early 1400s.

And closer to home: what do you think precipitated the 1930s Dust Bowl that destroyed the lives and livelihoods of thousands of farmers across the Midwestern USA was but a blithe disregard of what their farming practices did to the land?

All over the place – Europe, Asia, North America – we’ve suffered from both natural and man-made climate change.

And if you watch any programs about the societies, you will notice the smug superiority.

The condescending tone that implies (when it does not outright state) that obviously these people could see what was happening to their land, to their culture.

Such stupid people, to not have acted promptly, and taken care of their land, to not have addressed the problems head-on, before they became not merely problems, but a death sentence.

We, of course, are much smarter than that.

Well, aren’t we?

The Real Connection

Most of us, when we look back, were either bullied in childhood, or watched/tacitly participated in bullying.

And we all know how the bullies were so good at slanting the situation. How good they were at lying and making themselves out to be “just fooling around”, or even positioning themselves as the victims.

Schools and adults swallow these lies. Frequently, the actual bullying victim is punished. How often has the child who was bullied and finally hits back been the one who gets the suspension?

And the other thing we know is how, in job interviews, when the “Why do you want this job?” question comes up, to produce an answer like “I want to be part of a strong team effort”, or “I feel like my goals align with your company’s mission statement” or some other bullshit word salad – there are literally thousands of websites that tell you how to lie your way into that job.

We are taught never  to tell the truth, which is that we need the goddam money, and we don’t have a choice. No one ever says “The rent is due and I’ve got  kids to feed” when the HR lady asks this.

And these two things are intimately connected to policing.

Policing is just a place for bullies to go on bullying, with an entire power structure backing them up, buying them both weapons and immunity, and giving them a way to pretend that when violence occurs, they are the heroes.

The media bends over backwards to excuse the violence, and to vilify the victim. They delve into the injured (or dead) individual’s past and point out that the person beaten or shot to death had a prior conviction for drugs or shoplifting or “was rumoured to be gang member”, as if that justified allowing the police to administer summary punishments without stuff like trials and juries and the actual committing of crimes at the time of the incident.

Sit with these things Think about them.

And then, when a cop tells you that they became a cop to “protect and serve their community”, you absolutely should not believe them.

Reality Checks

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/uvalde-shooting-chris-murphy-newtown-gun-control-1358691/

Maybe Chris Murphy is right.

Maybe if we stopped pretending that being exposed to the visual reality of the horrors was too much a violation of “community standards”, we’d rebel in deed as well as words, and end the madness.

Maybe if we’d had the pictures of the bloody corpses from Columbine, the USA would have gun control.

Maybe if we had to view and experience people living in warzones – had to smell death in our living rooms, or had to wash away the stains those corpses leave behind – we’d vote more strongly against the people who send others out to kill. Maybe we’d stop footing the bill for destroying other people’s homes and lives.

Maybe if people had had to watch their loved ones gasp out their last tortured breaths in our own homes, we wouldn’t have had people claiming the pandemic to be a hoax.

Maybe.

We’ve sanitized so much. People don’t die at home – someone else cleans up the vomit, and the urine and feces, and they lie on crisp white sheets while we hold their hands, say good-bye, and walk away – an d after that, the undertaker uses make-up to smooth away any signs of their final pain.

Wars? Well, they all happen somewhere else, and we never need to confront the carnage except by reading the words on a screen.

Maybe if our squeamishness wasn’t pandered to, we would not tolerate so much death and destruction.

Maybe.

Then again, the bulk of western, “civilized” humanity votes for arresting the homeless, or to moving them to “somewhere else”, and even when we don’t, we step over the starving as just one more slightly distasteful inconvenience of urban living.

So I’m not sure that enough of us still have those ounces of human decency left to be moved by the mangled bodies of children killed by angry white men whose “right to bear arms” is deemed of more importance than anyone else’s right to life.

***NOTE*** There’s no relevant picture for this. That’s because nowhere on Google can you find a picture of people lying dead from gunshot wounds.

At the Setting of the Sun

It’s time.

It’s actually long past time.

I really wanted to leave this subject alone. There’s so much grief and anger this weekend, as if the accumulated troubles of the world just coalesced and ignited as we saw US cops stand around as children and teachers were mowed down, and frankly, despite all this anger and grief, there’s not really that much surprise.

What there is, though, is the large number of people who, despite this, are still trying to paint every person who dons a blue uniform as automatically becoming a hero, absolved of every sin, and that issue, along with its wider implications, really does need to be addressed.

There’s this huge double standard: if you kill a cop (oh, hell, if you even *criticize* a cop), it’s somehow intrinsically worse than killing other kinds of people.

That’s because before we even get to grade one, we’ve been told, over and over, that the police are our friends, that they are here to help us, that they are incredibly brave.

For some if us, that mythology gets worn away early.

Maybe we meet cops, and realize that they are just ordinary people society has given extra power to, and that they are just as prone as anyone else to abusing that power.

Maybe we meet some wives of cops, or their children, and discover that their cop parent took that job because it meant an extra layer of protection from charges of domestic assault.

Maybe we are POC and our parents had to have “the talk” so that we maybe wouldn’t wind up dead from a jaywalking offense.

But for many, many people, it doesn’t matter how badly the police forces behave, they MUST be heroes, and any bad behavior or cowardice is excused.

When someone dies by violence at the hands of police, there’s usually an attempt to blacken the victim’s character, as if police are entitled to kill anyone not demonstrably a saint.

There’s that old bromide about bad apples, except that those who trot it out never quote more than the first three words. FYI – here’s the whole quote:

One bad apple spoils the bunch.

You can sit with that and the implications, if you need to.

But here is what I want to say.

No police officer is better than you. They are not instant heroes. They are not especially brave, and they have no ingrained belief that they are here to help you.

In fact, bravery doesn’t even come into the equation. Policing doesn’t eve make the top ten of most dangerous professions. Garbagemen rank higher. You can check.

https://www.invictuslawpc.com/most-dangerous-jobs-osha/

It is *possible* that some people join the force with the intention of helping their community, but that generally doesn’t last long, because in order to remain in that job, they have to stay silent and watch as their comrades behave in demonstrably bad ways.

There’s a term for people who help, either by action or inaction, other people committing crimes.

It’s called “accessory”. It’s called “aiding and abetting”. and non-cops can go to jail for that.

It’s common for individual police officers to occasionally perform acts of kindness, such as letting a single mom who shoplifted some diapers off the hook, or being nice to a kid selling lemonade. This frequently winds up on the front page of a newspaper/going viral on social media, as if being a nice person in a uniform was so unusual that it required special mention.

You might want to sit with that one for a while, too.

I mean, these things are neither heroic nor superhuman, and we need to stop believing in the propaganda about serving and protecting, because it  is just that: an empty slogan designed to make us obedient and biddable, and to keep us from choking them off from the money river of tax dollars that keep them afloat and growing ever larger and more unassailable.

And we need to expand this outward.

We need to let go of these mythologies and hold police forces to account, but we need even more to stop believing the myths about their masters: the politicians, and soldiers, and royalty, and rich people.

They are not worth more than us.

They don’t deserve more than us.

They need to be reined in and reminded that they are few and we are many, and that in the fatcat, wealthy west at least, they have paid in blood for their crimes before this, and may well pay again.

Textiles, Language, and Change

This is not about “political correctness” or about slurs or gender or anything like that.

Or maybe it is…

It’s something that goes far deeper, and the roots of this lie in so distant a past that it is hard to understand why we don’t notice it every day.

The terms we use to describe our relationships with each other and with our world, and especially with the economy are all about textiles.

Think about these phrases:

The material world

Spinning out of control

Rags to riches

The thread of the discussion

The fabric of society

The rich tapestry of life

This is no accident, nor is it just people trying to be poetic. This is based on the simple fact that cloth (making it, using it, exchanging it): it’s been a major factor in human life for over 20,000 years.

It was used as money before we invented coinage. It figures very large in trade and exchange from the Neolithic to present-day.

And yes: the making of cloth has been heavily gendered from the beginning, although in different ways at different times in different places.

Textile production was seen as having other-worldly associations, if not downright magical in itself.

In several northern European cultures, women were spoken of as “peace-weavers”, but there was a considerable amount of poetic imagery that tied weaving to war, too.

The mythology relating to women working with textiles as a metaphor for Fate (spinning the thread of your life, measuring it out, and then cutting it off) occurs in more than one geographical location.


Textiles, and textile manufacture are literally woven into our entire way of life, whether we notice it or not, and while western  countries especially have relegated cloth and clothing to cheap, outsourced, and undervalued commodities that we take for granted, the basic and intrinsic nature of textiles still underpins our lives.

In the past, it framed a great deal of how we related to the world around us – it reflected to interconnectedness of our lives with the world around us.

It’s probably time we got back to that way of thinking.

The Anthology Dilemma

There are, if you google it up, a lot of anthologies/collections of short stories out there.

It’s very prevalent in what is loosely termed “genre fiction”, and an awful lot of writers complain that sales of these are, well, less than profitable. My own collection of short stories is a perennial under-seller and I think I know why.

Readers don’t really trust them, and with good reason: they frequently disappoint.

Now, I don’t very often give writer advice (because I know how *I* write, and that’s not very useful to anyone except me) but I think I’ve isolated the problem, so I thought I’d share a nugget of wisdom.

It is simply this. Emerging writers are – very, very often – told this piece of received wisdom : Start with short stories, before tackling the “real” thing of full length novels.

And this is, quite plainly, bunk.

Look, novels and short stories are two different things. They might share some vague similarities, but essentially, they are two separate skill sets, and while some elements are transferable, there are enough really glaring differences that no one should assume that being able to do one will make you any better at the other.

I know this because I have read a vast quantity of short stories and novels. I started reading when I was four years old, and I’ve never really let up.

I’ve read first time efforts and the classics. I’ve read astounding novels and short stories by people who only put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) yesterday, and I’ve read some simply atrocious tripe by well-known and critically acclaimed best-selling authors with world-wide reputations.

There was one anthology of fantasy stories, edited by a super-famous author and an equally renowned fantasy editor, chockfull of also well-known writers that I had read and admired, and there were literally only two stories in it that I got past the first page of.

The rest were boring as hell, and when I tried skimming them, I discovered that either the characters lacked qualities that made me feel anything at all (I couldn’t even feel annoyed with them, they were that bland) or the plot, such as it was, didn’t go anywhere interesting.

So it is a stone cold fact that some of my favourite authors of long and enthralling novels cannot write a decent short to save their lives.

A lot of it has to do with a difference in structure. Sure, you need a beginning that reels them in, and a climactic moment/mid-point that turns stuff around, and a landing that satisfies at the end.

But the way those things are built are not at all the same.

Novels give you a lot of room for error. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to start a novel with a giant hook on page one: readers will give you at least a chapter before they jilt you to hook up with someone with more zing. Probably two chapters, if the prose is engaging, even if they don’t quite see where you’re going with it.

Short stories cannot do that. They don’t need to start with Fourth of July fireworks, but they cannot waste even one sentence in the first two paragraphs – every single word needs to count.

Believe me when I tell you this: if a short story doesn’t feel earth-shatteringly crucial and compelling from the very start, the anthology reader will flip to the next offering in a heartbeat. The writer establishes the feel of the story – tells the reader what kind of story it is going to be – from the very start.

Give it something that tastes like day-old porridge, and the reader will go off to find a steak.

The second problem derives from the first. Novels have a lot of time – at least an eighth of the book – to raise the stakes or at least make the reader feel in sympathy with the protagonist, the two things that keep the pages turning. There’s room to drop in world-building developments, to immerse the reader in the details.

But an awful lot of short stories seem to misunderstand this crucial difference. There’s more emphasis on description and that bromide about involving all the senses than in grabbing the reader by the throat and telling them how much they need to care about this – and the problem with that is that it’s essentially boring in a short work, because the reader feels that nothing is going on.

And because there are generally accepted word counts in short stuff (usually a maximum of 10K words, although some anthologies are much lower than that) by the time you’ve spent 2K building up that minutely-detailed world, the reader has put it all down and gone to defrost the fridge. It’s just a cleverly disguised info dump, and we all know what readers think about those.

A short story needs to be structured more like a joke: there needs to be a feel of familiarity at the start, a set-up, in comedy parlance, with a turning point and a punchline – a twist or a route to the outcome that both resolves and satisfies.

A short story has to go somewhere, and that seems to get forgotten by a lot of writers.

After I wrote my first fantasy novel (shameless self promo: A Spell in the Country, written in 1999) a published writer told me that I was “brave” to have started my fiction career with something so big and difficult as a novel.

But the plain fact is that because I was new at it, writing a novel gave me the room to maneuver. A full length book gave me the chance to make mistakes, and the space to correct them. It’s really lucky that I started there, because it has taken me years to learn how to write a decent short story.

You can (and maybe should) learn to write short stories, because they can give you some pretty useful skills, and they can even be fun.

But you should never think of them as training exercises for writing longer works, nor should you think that because you can craft a 100K epic, a short story is easy. They are each their own selves, and just because you can do one of the two, it doesn’t mean you have the ability to do the other.

Our Second Selves

There is the me I think I know.

Brash, smart-mouthed, passionate, crusading – the public me is outgoing and tries hard to remember to be kind. That me believes in her own innate goodness, believes in your goodness, too, and will dance to crappy music in the mall, throw snowballs, march in protests, make dinner, and write novels.

I admire her. I like her.

But late at night, there is the other me. Deep inside, the other self is lying in wait.

Trembling, because this world is so frightening. This world is so hard.

This me is hesitant. This me fears the risks. This me wants nothing more than to curl up under the blankets and sleep to the end of time.

This me sees only her shortcomings: the gaps between – the ways she has not fulfilled her own promises. The lack of patience. The rush to judgement.

She sees your faults, too: she nurses the pain you cause, she carries the grudges like unsheathed swords. She will cut you, to prevent you from cutting her first.

You might not know her, but I do, and I have to live with her. Believe me, it is not easy.

We all have those second selves inside. 

It’s important to remember that, when other people hurt you.

Because I strongly suspect that when they do, it isn’t their first, best selves that cause the pain. It is that second self, the one that is so scared, the one that lashes out, the one that is too quick to battle unseen foes, that’s the one who hurt you.

On the sideline, their first, best self is standing, openmouthed in shock and dismay, longing to take it all back.

Be good to both selves. Neither of them are perfect, but they try.

No More Fridging

There’s a “thing” in movies/fiction that’s been called “fridging” – it’s where the inciting incident for the main character to go out and seek some kind of justice/vengeance/new life/adventure ONLY because someone close to them (usually – especially in films – a woman or child) is horribly mutilated/killed within the first five minutes (or first chapter).

It’s based on this incident: “… named the trope after the fate of Alexandra de Witt, a murdered superhero girlfriend whose body is stuffed into a refrigerator and left for her boyfriend to find, in an infamous 1994 issue of Green Lantern.”

And as tropes go, it’s become so ubiquitous that pretty much everyone wishes it were over, but it isn’t. It just keeps happening, either because people can’t imagine any other reason someone might want to do good in life or risk themselves in any real way except because of deep-seated rage.

Or they are just, as writers, plain bone-lazy.

Because you know what? Lots of real, flesh and blood humans go out and sacrifice themselves for others every day. Heroes abound, and most of them are not suffering trauma because their wife or child was murdered by some random bad guy.

Some people – in fact, most people – can, in the right circumstances, risk themselves to save someone else, given the right moment or situation. There are tons of heartwarming stories of six year olds knowing how to dial 9-1-1 to get the medics to Grandpa when he has a heart attack, and we get pretty weepy and impressed over that.

Passers-by running into burning buildings to save someone. Teens climbing trees to get the neighbour’s cat down. That bartender noticing someone putting something into a woman’s drink, and intervening to make sure she doesn’t drink it. Those young men who stopped Brock Turner in mid-rape.

Greta Thunberg, and the millions of young people and Indigenous persons getting out into the streets to save all of us.

And probably what they all have in common is a simple sense of decency, and nine times out of ten they got it from the way they were raised.

What I’m willing to bet is that they probably didn’t find their girlfriend dead inside a refrigerator last week.

What would be wrong with someone being heroic because they thought it was the right thing to do at that moment?

What would be wrong with someone simply being raised to be conscientious and mindful of others and therefore choosing to act instead of leaving the work for someone else?

Oh, you say, but it’s not very dramatic, is it? No “action”.

Perhaps not.

I therefore dare you to read “A Spell in the Country” then. It’s Book Two, but it stands alone, and no one gets fridged in the first chapter.

A Spell in the Country

One girl. One demon. One very bad-tempered horse.

What if you weren’t “The Chosen One” but still had to try to save the world?

https://www.amazon.com/Spell-Country-Book-Averraine-Cycle-ebook-dp-B07VJB8XFY

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-spell-in-the-country-book-two-of-the-averraine-cycle-morgan-smith/1132774535

https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/a-spell-in-the-country-book-two-of-the-averraine-cycle

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/543278

Listen up!

I want to talk to you about audiobooks.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about whether audiobooks are “the same as reading” and it’s a weird question.

I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t they be?

One part of this is the entire history of people in general. We literally, for bloody eons, sat around fires and told stories. We took heart from tales of heroes, and we bonded as groups, by the shared experience of hearing stories together.

Take Homer: the entire Iliad and Odyssey were poems that were, at the start, only recited. That was the bard’s essential skill: to memorize and declaim these enormous works from their hearts, for the delight of their listeners.

While there’s no firm evidence of when someone wrote these things down, the poems themselves date to around the 8th century BCE.

And then there’s Beowulf – an Anglo-Saxon classic that scholars still argue about and pick apart in universities all over the western world every day.

It was a long and poetic saga composed, it is believed, sometime between the 6th and 8th century CE, but the earliest manuscript version is from around 1000 CE, and did not appear in print until 1815.

It was something recited from memory in a thatched-roofed hall, in dim and flickering light on those long dark winter nights when very few people could read at all.

Is it better to read it or to hear it as it was meant to be heard?

Or Shakespeare: both plays and sonnets were intended as music to the ears, and the real beauty of them only reveals itself when spoken, as many a high school student could probably testify. Reading them silently doesn’t come within even shouting distance of how they were meant to be experienced.

Are their values in any way enhanced because someone sits alone and silently reads them to themselves? Do you think they are somehow superior, or better alone, or in company, as their author meant them to be experienced?

We are storytellers, and modern fiction is still storytelling, first and foremost.

Then there’s the other part of this, and it’s a wonder to me that no one seems to mention it.

How do the experts tell us to inculcate a love of reading in children?

By reading aloud to them, from the very earliest possible opportunity, and frequently, too.

Because we are storytellers, and story listeners, and while reading, as a “universal” skill, is a pretty recent phenomenon, storytelling and story listening is in our very bones.

Audiobooks may, in fact, be truer to us than the solitary act of reading, and while many of us adore that comfortable stillness of a book on our lap and a mug of tea at our elbow, we should not ever ignore the equal pleasure of the spoken word.