The Worst Poison Ivy

I used to be so nostalgic.

This story is a confession of sorts.  I don’t feel penitent, although the regret is enormous.  I’ve already paid for this ponderous sin, as the following words will relate.

There I was, bed ridden.  I’d never seen anything like it, never felt anything like it.  My hands recoiled at the mere thought of casting their digits beside the infection that blistered across the altogether surface of my lower body–nearly the entirety of both my legs and virtually that as well my heavy arms, with a smattering across the upper torso–all oozing and weeping with rivers of puss at my every shiver and unintended undulation of flesh.  I was become a monster in my own form, unable to walk, barely able to stand, suffering with terrible, unbearable heat in what healthy tissue sobbed miserably beneath the surface of my bodily horror.  We tried an ocean of topical ointment, antihistamines, some variety of clay carefully arranged about my broken pores.  Nothing worked.  Not a damn thing worked.  I didn’t arise from my bedroom for nearly two weeks.  In retrospect, I don’t know why I so stubbornly held out so long; I must have assumed the gods to have some modicum of mercy.

You see, about a week or two before this all began, I had consumed quite deeply of alcohol, the exactly consequences of which remain a mystery to me today.  The only evidence at first of the monstrosity of my misdeeds was evident in the severely misshapen longsword leaning against the wood-slatted walls and the clearing that I had apparently composed in the surrounding wilderness, into which I had thrashed and hurled and debased myself, falling repeatedly upon my features.  I should mention, the entire area beneath the canopy of the woods was an underbrush of almost uninterrupted poison ivy, and I’d always been allergic since a child.

Eventually, I was dragged before my primary care physician who, when asked, related that this was the second worst case of poison ivy she had ever seen.  I can only imagine the first contained damage to the genitalia.

I was prescribed steroids.  Six hours after the first dose, I was quite nearly a free man.  It was magical.  More magical was the fount of strength and enthusiasm I had for all tasks, in spite of my sickly handicap.  Fifteen seconds awaking out from bed and I was amidst the throes of a lightning storm, rearranging home-grown tomato plants to protect their bounty from the storm.  The next three days were magical; I’d never been so strong, so upright, and I could eat and drink any other fool under the table.  The aggression was worrisome however.  But being slowly weaned from steroids was almost as bad as the poison ivy they saved me from; it felt like dying slowly.  Apparently my experience is commonplace.

The only blade I have purchased since then is a paring knife when its predecessor went missing.

Heroic Ethos

One of my favorite subjects, not a term I use lightly, passionate as I am in the few things I am passionate.  Heroic ethos, just sounds like the title of a course at a prestigious university that will never grant you that high-powered managerial position at an investment bank.  And it’s a subject deserving of that sort of treatment, but you’d be unlikely to draw any more than any number of students you could count on a single hand or foot if you’d mismanaged grenades in the war.

So what is the “Heroic Ethos?”  I suppose the question would be better asked, “What is an Heroic Ethos?”  There are many types; there are many varieties, but they all share a relatively small but pronounced series of traits that make them virtually incomprehensible to the denizens of the more civilized nations; I suppose that’s why I find these ideas so precious.

I’m sure you’ve heard, somewhere certainly, of the life and times of the chivalric knight–his kindness and charity, piousness before god, and the vicious sting of his blade against the wicked?  Perhaps that’s how a professor might presume these knights would have preferred to be conceived, as the educated tend to perceive the universe altogether as nothing but a set of conspiracies, but that’s not the truth in the slightest.  The chivalric knight, as we perceive him in the popular fiction of the modern centuries, is an invention only extremely loosely based upon the original model.  In reality, knights were quite violent creatures pursuing after three things first and foremost, the same three things most central to every heroic culture stretching back to the time of the Iliad and even before.  The first is that the knight seeks out difficult enemies to defeat in combat.  The second is that, having defeated them, the knight seeks to take their stuff, either by the literal despoiling of their corpse or ransoming the survivor to his loved ones.  Lastly, the knight seeks to get famous in the process, and this is the essence of it.  While the preceding two are both toils and dividends of the heroic life, it is the last aspect that is the most alluring and the most eluding.  Assuredly a man could become temporarily famous for defeating a difficult man, but this glory would ebb in time.  Rare is the glory that does not die, singular is the honor of Achilles.  And that’s the most important part.  A man might live and die, for the flesh is weak and exceedingly wicked, but the fame of a man’s deeds might live on–even forever live on–and the man survives in some capacity in that alone.

Before Achilles agreed to join the Achaeans in their expedition against Troy, his mother–the goddess Thetis–provided him an oracle that if he stayed in his native country, he would live to be a fond old man surrounded by his children and grandchildren and die at great age in the loving bosom of his family, but if he went off to war, his life would be consumed within the time of ten years, but he would nevertheless have for it–glory unfleeting.

Does this make the heroic ethos a sublime way of looking at the universe, despising the material matter of the universe as nothing but an means to an ends, or does this make it the overestimated insanity of those that loved their weapons too much?  I’m not going to make any decisions for you.  I’ll only say that I wouldn’t pontificate as such on the subject if I didn’t find figures heroic so fascinating.

Update, Week of May 22, 2017

I don’t think I’m going to do an update for this Friday.  I’d rather keep my work a secret, vexing as it is.

Looks like I’ll be traveling again.  Kiss the weekend goodbye.  Events that can’t be missed and the misery of return to one’s home town again.  I know some people enjoy travel.  I suppose I like trains.  What I never liked about traveling, and I’ve done a fair amount of it through my life–almost entirely against my will–is depending on some foreign body to get me to my destination, whether train or plane or whathaveyou.  Maybe I’ve just learned not to trust other people, or maybe it’s the misery of being around other travelers.  They always crowd around the terminal like a legion of flies circling the presented turd of a house-kept animal.  Makes me nervous.  Then there’s all the waiting, time accompanied with similarly miserable travelers, and there just isn’t the time to enjoy the folly of your own thoughts.  It’s one of the reasons I prefer to drive nowadays, that and I don’t want to be beaten and dragged, with a smashed nose and palate, from my rented seat.  There’s not one flyer that doesn’t engage in this practice; it’s just that United got videotaped doing it.

I had a class in university, one I actually rather liked–with a teacher as serious about the subject matter as she was about the contributions of her own students–where we studied the “Essay” as a delivery of anecdote occasionally as argument.  Makes it more comfortable to just rant tangentially and hope for the best.  It’s a strategy I sometimes fall into when I don’t know what to write next.  Speaking of, I’m at a loss at the moment, but hopefully that condition won’t last long.  Anyways, I keep myself busy.  The glory of rest is actually boredom, so bored you want to get back to work.  People spend their free time shamefully, obliterating the hours of the weekend and the vacation.  It’s madness.  Let the muscles relax; get bored; get back to work.

Query: Favorite Authors

God help us.

I hate this topic; I hate this question even when applied more broadly; and it’s not that I don’t have favorite authors; and it’s not that I can’t think of them at the sodding moment [although that’s a frequent embarrassment]; but I know that I’m a terrible liar, and any companions would be bored with the truth.

Whenever I’m bidden to discuss my favorite authors, I’m assuredly indicted in my writing.  “Why do you write this, Robert?  Why do you write this when you can hardly be considered to read this?”

It could be my own indictment of the modern publishing industry; it could be my own indictment of contemporary writers; the answer could well answer why it’s so damn hard to make a buck in this industry.  Science fiction and fantasy only become really popular when they dance before screens both big and small, never just characters on a page.

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid.  Mostly I was inspired by my father, who in his late teens and vigor at college had consumed the pages of Herbert and Tolkien, Lovecraft and Howard–alongside a probably unhealthy obsession with Zapp Comics.  I just read what he read, aside from Zapp comics, but when I began developing my own reading tastes, it rather began with the likes of Gogol and Bulgakov and carried through strangely to Homer and Virgil.  I liked the dark, the strange, the bizarre, but I also adored sweeping scenes of battle.  If anything of my original canon, I retained Lovecraft and Howard the best, who really formed the motivation in me to write, even if I would say that Homer was always my greatest influence.

I might be asked why I don’t write in hexameters and why I decided to write science fiction and fantasy after all of that.  Truth is, I consider them functionally the same genre, but more importantly–I can’t help wanting to.

The Alignment System

Picture unrelated.

It’s an illuminating and frequently deeply flawed mode of perceiving character value, an apperception inherited from the Dungeons and Dragons rule set from as far back as I can remember [my second edition rule books].  If you’ve ever heard of “chaotic neutral” or “neutral evil,” you know what I’m talking about.  For those that don’t, the alignment system is a means of attributing certain motivations and behaviors to both player and non player characters in a role playing game.  At the very top of the list, you have “Lawful Good” which should be understood as the congress of two devotions, the interest in upholding an internally or externally consistent moral value set–the “Lawful”–and the desire to do “Good,” which might as well be described as to act in the interest in others rather than in the interest of self.  I didn’t make up these conventions.  At the other end of the spectrum you have “Chaotic Evil,” wherein these motivations are effectively reversed, as the character is inspired by no consistent set of ethical guidelines whether internal or external and furthermore the character acts quite generally in self interest.  Furthermore, a “Chaotic Neutral” character would be motivated by no particular ethic but would be inspired neither by the desire to aid others or to aid self, a difficult character type that I might discuss at a different time, whereas a “Lawful Neutral” character would be purely inspired by an ethic and no other consideration whatsoever.

A paladin, cavalier, crusader, or conventional do-gooder might be described as “Lawful good.”  The antagonist of a Saturday-morning cartoon villain might be described as “Chaotic evil,” and you get the idea.

But what’s interesting is what you can do with these conventions.  Consider the sort of tree-hugging hippy that takes part in protest as if it were part of the nine to five.  She’s protesting, along with a gaggle of her own ilk, the redevelopment of a nuclear reactor into a more current generation, on the grounds that “nuclear power is unsafe.”  What she doesn’t consider, of course, is the relative paucity of options available.  Hydroelectric isn’t feasible in the climate; fossil fuels have their own, more destructive consequences, and green power simply lacks sufficient output.  In a way, she’s protesting the best option available, unless she wants to suggest that people should go without, causing rolling blackouts and other disasters that will negatively affect both agricultural production and the labor of trauma surgeons in the ER.  Either way, people die.  Consider further that the underlying motivation is not to save the world, even if she should not actually understand it, but rather the indemnification of her own rotten soul, which only participates in these protests as a form of virtue signalling.  Either way, she’s participating in protest as part of a sort of ethic, even if derived from flawed premises, but the underlying motivation is selfish; as such, she would be classed as “Lawful Evil.”  They’re rather like people that use ethical considerations for the sake of their own self interest.

Consider another suffering a moral quandary.  Orders have come down from high.  They’re to commence liquidation of the prisoners at the concentration camp under the correct or flawed premise that the cruelty is nevertheless necessary, as one might remove a necrotic limb to save the whole of the body.  The warden of the concentration camp is a moral man, the well-educated child of a well-educated priest and a poetess mother.  He knows that wholesale murder serves no moral ethic of which he can consider, but he also must consider the well-being of both those under his care and those of his entire nation, all the while considering the need to fulfill his woeful missives.  As such, in riot between the ethical and the good, he fatefully resigns himself to the latter and orders the barrel-shot obliteration of the camp’s charges.

The warden of a prison camp could well be a lawful and a good man.  A green party protester would well be lawful but in no-wise good.  This is either an indictment of the alignment system or an indication of the deeper fields of human experience, something of which writers should be acutely aware.  An interesting thought experiment and sometimes useful to elucidate the soul of a created character, particular if it’s a sort you’re not familiar with.

Update: Week of May 15, 2017

Working on another short story.  Shouldn’t be more than ten thousand words, but I can’t seem to finish the expanse of the diagramming.  I’m seeing a near constant explosion of vehicular violence from beginning to end intended to leave the reader numb and shattered by the conclusion of the final paragraph, unable to so much as utter a single gesticulation but “Good lord!”  Will have several recurring characters from other stories I’ve written acting in concert across a horizon I never considered possible before reading about the inner moons of Jupiter.  Did you know that there are moisture storms on Jupiter?

Wish I had more to relate.

 

I Can’t Speak Human

I used to frustrate my mother, and she used to frustrate me–according to her–when I was still a child, just having grasped the barest tolerance of spoken language.  I would ask for things, make wild gesticulations in a near panic, but while my mind was consumed in heat my tongue would never heed me, and I would prove completely incapable of explaining myself.  If I wanted something from the high shelf, I would apparently point, jump around, and utter a strange assembly of terms as if with great strain, and as my mother strained to interpret my bizarre language, I would throw my hands up in the air in indignant resignation and away altogether and at once from the kitchen.

She thought it was amusing.

It was amusing.

It’s strange how I feel like nothing ever changes.   Thirty-two years old now.  I’m widely read; I’m fluent in three languages; and I’ve a degree in English.  You’d think my communication skills would be peerless, but somehow that never bears out.

I’m going to mention now that I tend to be better in text than in person–not all the time but very frequently–but even in text I find that while I can communicate in perfectly functional and even sometimes–eloquent–English, nevertheless there’s no-one that can understand me.  It’s almost as if you managed to teach English to a cat, with all the lexicon, grammar, syntax, and phonology that entails.  But you wouldn’t get English as you understood it.  It would be all “Monkey banana raffle.”  The creature’s frame of reference is different, very different; so it wouldn’t matter.

I used to have a very hard and stringent understanding of English.  At the end of high school, thanks to a set of severe English teachers, I was perfectly equipped for the job.  But when I started delving into Greek and Latin, a whole different world opened up before me.  It isn’t merely that they’re different languages, but they come from a very, very distant time, and all their idioms and references are altogether different.  But I saw the potential in what they had to offer, realized that the narrow set of severe guidelines for English were largely style–nothing more–and that I could use the language in a more fluid style if I supposed.  Consider that word order, thanks to Greek’s case system, isn’t terribly important, whereas we use it in English to actually denote case.  By being a little clever with punctuation and the nature of the verb used, I got away with a much more free-form sentence structure.

But I feel like I’m missing the point.  This really only exacerbated my difficulties.

I must have read Nietzsche for the first time when I was sixteen.  It was liberating.  I’d lived in Massachusetts, one of those liberal hell-holes that demand the sort of group think that makes suicide someone preferable.  Nietzsche is many things, but the first of them is rejection.  It was encouraging to have another voice, the voice of a dead white man, expressing that things didn’t need to be this way.  I attempted to deprive myself of my ingrained morals and expectations and live the life of something else.  I thought I was travelling vertically, but in reality I was moving laterally.  I wasn’t escaping by escaping the atmosphere, instead I had found myself lost in the wilderness with all my references much more than inverted.

I prefer to have my feet on the ground anyways.

People are weak; people do ugly things.  There is more kindness and sincerity in the hungry eyes of a lion than the blank stares and empty souls of progressives come claiming to help you.

How am I ever going to turn this into something tight and on topic?

Should I even bother?

–Madsen

Writers Can’t Stand Their Parents

This is going to be a difficult subject, knocking the very idea of parenthood particularly into the offspring’s adulthood, but it’s something that nevertheless infects my awareness.  In truth, I could extend the phrase to “Writers Can’t Stand Their Parents and Family as a Whole.”  Now, you’re probably thinking I’m being something of a black-adorned edgelord from a wealthy suburban family who has never known true misery.  I’d rather not answer that supposition, actually.

Anyways, getting to the point, my parents were supportive when I transitioned into writing, more or less, but they became more supportive when I finally came about with finished products.  It is difficult to argue with results after all, especially when they’re so tangible.  But more and more and more and more, as I find myself more comfortable with being a writer, the more I find I can’t talk about my work with my parents–or any other relation–either as a response to a question or volunteered information.  I’ve become more bold, after all, in what I’m comfortable publishing, and when it was just poetic elucidation and the occasional incidence of ultraviolence, it wasn’t a big deal, but when I wrote my first kiss, which naturally led in other directions, I found I couldn’t discuss the subject in any capacity without making my parents audibly disconcerted.  It’s rather like discussing your own first kiss, or your first time alone with a woman–in that respect.  You just can’t discuss it with kin.

For that reason, the longer I’ve been operating, the further away I’ve been drifting from them.  We still talk frequently, though we reside in different states, but as regards my work I mention little more than the status of a manuscript and the like.  I hardly ever enter into the particulars.

And the truth is that it’s always difficult trying to provide summa for something you’ve written or something you intend to write.  It’s best elucidated in the reading itself.  It’s just ten times more miserable doing so with an authority figure you’ve had to respect since the very first moment you were cognizant, someone who can tear you apart with a stare or gesture or omitted phrase.

Update, Week of May 8, 2017

Happy belated VE day.

I suppose I have less to talk about.  There’s three possibly quite nearly finished manuscripts sitting in my lap, and I’ve only got time to publish one of them for the immediate.  That’s exciting; isn’t it?  Unfortunately, I’ve been so productive as to price myself out of a job–spending my free time trying to find productive ways of burning my free time.

I might have mentioned before that I’m as close to self published you can be, the major distinction being that I’m represented by an actual publisher.  As a consequence, I have a lot of free rein–both to explore the medium and to hang myself with, but it does nevertheless present possibilities the likes of Mr. Martin and Mrs. Rowling can’t possibly equal.  I am my own master, and whatever I see fit to enter my text, whatever I deem effective, is utterly my own decision.  Writers, but creative types in general, engage in a lot of self-censorship long before the manuscript even sees the eyes of an editor.  I wonder if I’ve been wrong all along, playing to the strengths of what might as well be a different industry rather than playing to my own.  There’s an author, long dead; I can’t remember his name.  He filled several pages literally with punctuation and nothing else.  I can’t even remember why.  But it’s nevertheless meaningful.  I could include content as rude as I’d like, so long as it doesn’t run foul of criminal statute and common law.  Even the Biblion is filled with rape, incest, murder, and masturbation.  Most published book in history.

Keep in mind I’ve got a book coming out Black Friday, but I intend to have it up for preorder several months beforehand.

 

Twitter: Bold Claims sans Elucidation

An issue near and dear to my heart.  I used to have a Twitter account, something I was developing for the sake of my business long before I realized the partisan political ends of the corporation itself and thereafter the complete uselessness of its product as a whole.  Twitter is a terrible service developed by a terrible company that had once had the gall to claim that they wanted the service to function as a new and essential public utility.  How far have the mighty fallen!  Every quarter they’re turning out huge income deficits whilst simultaneously turning away at least half their audience, possibly more considering the terrible product they actually provide.

You see, Twitter first came into being in a time when typical cell phones couldn’t manage text messages of over 140 characters.  Hence the character limit it retains to this day.  It was aimed predominantly to facilitate simple, short communications between friends via the application installed on cell phones.  Problem is, even when new phones that had a much larger character limit for text communication became common, Twitter never sufficiently upgraded their product, and they never altered their service to suit their changing user base.  As it is now, Twitter isn’t used nearly as much for short-stint communications between friends as much as it is an advertising platforms for corporations both mighty and minuscule–and for individuals both famous and unknown to pontificate on current events, predominantly politics.

They never updated the medium to suit this.

Let me get to the meat of this argument.

Imagine that you’re trying to lay out a political position in 140 characters.  Consider also that you’ll need to add several hashtags so that the Tweet will be visible to a meaningfully large audience.  You’re going to be restricted to a very small handful of words, probably nothing more than a very simple claim or condemnation–something like “Donald Trump is a Nazi #firstworldproblems #trustfundkids,” or “Bernie Sanders was ROBBED #ofcourseyadumby #I’mstillwithhersomehow.”  What sort of response are you going to expect for a communication like that?  I expect it will fall along party lines.  Those that agree will disseminate the message further, voicing their own support, while detractors will rip you a new asshole.  But imagine for a second if you didn’t have that character limit.  Instead of merely indicating that the DNC illegally robbed the primary from Bernie Sanders, you might actually have the space to fully elucidate your position with your thinking on the subject alongside any evidence you might have accrued to support your position.  In this quality, you’d be doing more than making a claim, you’d be making an argument.  In this respect, you’d be engaging in real communication that would invite considerate and thoughtful response from both supporters and detractors.  It wouldn’t have to descend into a shitstorm, as is so often the case with this platform.  Now, I’m not a web developer, but I don’t see what’s stopping Twitter from relaxing the character limit in consideration of these factors.

I should also mention that Twitter, owing to the character limit, is near useless for authors trying to connect with their audience.

I have to believe that Twitter is either incompetent or that Twitter is little more than a mouthpiece for establishment doctrine.  The only way they’d accept this level of income deficit is if they had the promise of income from elsewhere–for example, a large private or corporate backer.