Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pride, Shame, and Patriotism

We all love our country, but we go about it very differently. I've heard conservatives argue that liberals have a "blame America first" mentality, but I've always believed the more accurate analogy was parent-child love vs. child-parent love. Conservatives love America the way a child loves a parent, naively believing their parent country can do no wrong and ought not ever be questioned. Liberals love America the way a parent loves a child, honestly critiquing, owning up to its mistakes, and pushing it to be its best by abandoning the illusion that it's already perfect as is. (Of course, this analogy doesn't take shitty, coddling, helicopter parenting into account...)

I've felt deep pride in my country. I never took it for granted that there would be an African-American President in my lifetime. I never took it for granted that my husband and I could be legally married, or would become homeowners in part because of a smart government tax credit. When I was almost legally blind as a teenager and too self-conscious for glasses, I saved up for Lasik surgery and basically bought eyes. I'm not always capitalism's biggest cheerleader, but I was amazed that this was an option for me. On 9/11 in my native North Jersey, the blood bank in Parsippany was packed, and we even had a surplus of donations for a while there. Thanks to hard work, help, and good luck, my family is finally getting ahead a little.

I've felt shame too. We just elected an emotional toddler who appeals to the worst of our characteristics (greed, hate, and fear). As evidence, I cite the entirety of his words and deeds. The fact that so many of my countrymen failed to recoil in horror at him was another point of shame. There are other things we ought not be proud of. On 9/11, I learned they don't take gay blood and that's really fucking stupid. I have been ashamed and am still ashamed that so many knuckle-dragging Congressmen and Senators don't have any shame talking publicly about how fossils are the devil's tools in 20-fucking-17. I've seen us go to war for to profit the people least in need of profit. I'm terrified we'll do it again, sacrificing freedom for safety while receiving (and deserving) neither.

I have hope in the future in part because I work with young people. There are selfish millennials who walk around talking about "branding" and "optics" and "triggers" and "micro-aggressions" and yes, I too would gladly insert these kids slowly into a wheat thresher. But I see far more of the other kind, idealistic in a surprisingly grounded way, altruistic, and optimistic despite the mess we're handing them.

Overall, I think we are still good people. We're fat and we pollute, but we're still fighting and protesting and advocating for what we believe. We tend to correct our government when it swings too far in any direction. I have to believe it's too soon for a failing president to use a fake war to inspire loyalty again (see the erased war of 2003-?). We're loud and sometimes dumb and we really need to stop this sexual fixation on firearms we seem to have, but we're also readers and dreamers and advocates for justice. The horrors on our news feeds receive attention because of their rarity. We have to remember that acts of kindness don't get their fair share of attention not because they don't happen anymore, but because they are still somehow commonplace. We can be better, and should always strive to be, but we are still, by and large, a good country.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

We Got One

There's a throwaway scene in Ghostbusters where they've been struggling as a business, and Jeanine finally gets a customer call, screams "We got one!" and hits the alarm, finally putting the team to purposeful work. Lots of excited movement happens afterward, and of course, the plot moves forward so that's a big plus as well.

This is how I felt when a publisher offered to buy one of my novels for the first time, and now, with the paperwork in, I feel comfortable enough to officially announce that my first novel, an epic fantasy, will be released by Parvus Press in 2018.

It got me thinking of 2011, when I first started drafting. I was playing a lot of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Skyrim, because I like the word 'sky' and I'm an unapologetic nerd. I decided I wanted to write something that had everything I loved about English (drama, plot structure, emotional investment) with everything I loved about video games (action, challenge, emotional investment). I had just finished my first novel, so I was riding a wave of confidence just knowing that crossing the finish line was a thing that sometimes happened.

It got me thinking of the games I'd first really loved when I was a kid. Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy were my introduction to JRPGs (or Japanese Role Playing Games, for those of you who don't know because you did weird things like play sports and get laid when you were young). I was hooked on how hard they made you work in order to succeed. It wasn't until years later I realized I loved books that did the same to their protagonists. The elemental fiends in the early Final Fantasy games got me thinking about elemental sorcery, and what it might look like if the elements were extended into kingdoms and cultures. A preview of my world and its various twisted denizens will come when we're closer to publication.

You'll recognize my love for Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and J.K. Rowling when you read. I'm fine with building on amazing things that happened before I had any discipline or ability. I didn't realize what I was writing until a college kid who worked for me showed me "Avatar: The Last Airbender". There are differences that will become clear, but I'm fine calling "Rise of the Paramancers" (working title) an adult version of that most recent elemental universe.

And for those my age, when you read my work, I hope you'll feel that same general sense of awesomeness you felt when you realized how super Super Nintendo was. Feel that amazement at a boss battle filling the whole screen with a demented form and a massive energy bar. Or that joy when all you had to do was bang plastic action figures together with a friend who geeked out the same way you did. I felt these things when I was writing, and I hope the hours the Parvus team and I put in will take you to the same fantastic places.

Since I'm celebrating a milestone here, there are people I have to thank as well. John, Eric, and Colin at Parvus for giving me a chance. Shane for tolerating all the times I'm three feet away but typing and hence not there at all. Everyone from my past four writing groups. Mom, Dad, and Kathie, for giving me time to play and imagine when I was a kid. (Seriously folks, stop overbooking your little dreamers...) And Flower, for making me want to join her lunatic literary world.

The pieces you write don't all just sit on your computer (though many of them do). Some of them cross the finish line with time and patience. We got one, Jeanine, we got one.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Next Attack Will Happen. (What If We Decide Now Not to Overreact?)

The Trump thing keeps giving me Bush flashbacks. Dubya didn't get to enjoy much of a honeymoon period after his inauguration either, because he also didn't win the popular vote. He looked like a one-term wonder in early 2000. Between his stupidity, conflicts of interest, and tendency to lash out at everyone and everything regardless of reality, Trump might not be in the White House long enough to host a Labor Day cookout.

Unless...

Bush didn't do 9/11, but does anyone doubt it served him politically? Suddenly you had to support him or the turrurrists win. If you didn't, you weren't a real 'murkin. He was given so much leeway that he questioned the heroism of an actual war hero and we rewarded his chicken hawk ass with re-election.

It took Katrina to remind us that sometimes the government we pay for can come in handy, but only when qualified professionals are in charge. This is part of why I don't believe Bush planned 9/11. He wasn't competent enough to plan anything that actually achieved its objectives.

Which brings us to Trump, whose single achievement to date is making Bush look like a dignified, nuanced thinker by comparison. He has proven himself to be a never-ending brain fart, a walking constitutional crisis. How can a man with so many thoughts be so thoughtless? Given his tendency to provoke, his inability to differentiate between violent strains of Islam and the rest, and the fact that he is a living recruitment poster for groups like Al Qaeda and I.S.I.S, another attack on U.S. soil during a Trump or Pence presidency is likely.

Though 9/11 was undoubtedly one of the worst moments in U.S. history, I've always felt our reaction to it was worth consideration as a separate historic disaster. It's like we were sucker punched in the eye and responded by throwing blind punches at everyone and anyone in arm's length. We also responded with acts of self-mutilation: torture, indefinite detention of terror suspects, and lunatic military spending. Our response was predicted by bin Laden. It's time to face the painful truth that before we gave him the bullets he deserved, we gave bin Laden everything he ever wanted.

If Bush's judgment was questionable in a crisis, imagine Trump's. Everything 62 million Americans liked about him, his "simplicity", his "telling it like it is", will be the opposite of what we need. It may be time to face the facts that the "virtues" of an American political candidate might not match the virtues needed by a person in a governing position. Some people mistake patience, nuance, and intellect for weakness, and this belief has become a national weakness in and of itself.

What if we decide in advance not to overreact next time an attack happens? We ought to commit to a sober reaction now, while we have the benefit of calm. Justice doesn't need to be swift, it needs to be slow and accurate. The danger of overreaction is greater now than it was in 2001. Whatever Bush's faults, he wasn't a human mood swing. He reacted months later by invading the wrong nation, because he didn't know or care enough to know. In response to even a minor terrorist attack, Trump would likely nuke South America, Africa, and Antarctica: anywhere full of brown people and endangered species he could easily scapegoat with his minority of supporters (and where he doesn't privately own a golf course or hotel, this is where those conflicts of interest come into play, bigly).

There are two things that frighten me more than Trump: One is a future politician with his amorality, but also with actual intelligence and discipline, who uses Trump's fear-baiting and chaos-as-camouflage templates to hypnotize us toward fascism. The other is Trump and his white Nazi brigade using the next terrorist attack to crush all resistance and change America in their deadly, kleptocratic, Putin-esque corporate-military image. Stupid becomes cool and questioning his government becomes treason. "The Media" can't be trusted except for the outlets President Deathwig approves of (and of course, they are the ones who approve of him). Dissenters disappear in the night. We go to war when and where he says, because he says. The damage we do to ourselves is, again, worse than what any home-grown or authentic Islamic terrorist could achieve.

We can and should decide ahead of time, now, while we have the luxury of security keeping us rational, that we will never again allow any tragedy to make us choose cowardice over true bravery, fear over compassion, and authority over resistance.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Atrocity Fatigue

We've been here before, but not this low. I remember this level of fear, hate, and contempt for nonconformity just after 9/11, when there was an intense level of social pressure to back another bad president.

But making Bush look graceful may wind up being Trump's most dazzling achievement. Read or watch Bush's inauguration speech in 2001. Boob that he was, he at least acknowledged he hadn't won the popular vote and pledged to try his best to win over those whose vote he hadn't earned. Is anyone expecting anything that magnanimous to escape the combed-over gasbag on stage tomorrow?

That's the trouble with Trump. We keep lowering our expectations and he keeps finding ways to still disappoint. He must be unstoppable in a Limbo contest.

His primary weapon to date is atrocity fatigue. He called a judge unfit because of the judge's race? Must be Tuesday. He made fun of a disabled reporter? Yawn. He appointed Emperor Palpatine to run NASA? Well, at least that guy's more experienced than Betsy DeVos.

Disengagement seems like a form of self-preservation in this environment. Resist that. Participation is the only way out.

Look at history. By 2006 we'd learned our lesson and Bush lost his rubber stamp congress because an informed electorate demanded a change. That congress helped us recover from the Bush collapse of 2008. I am a homeowner because of good legislation passed by that congress under Obama. The Great Recession didn't become a depression because of that congress.

It took a very specific event for us to remember that contempt for government is not a valid replacement for functional government. Our impotent reaction to Katrina in 2005 sent two messages to most of the population. The first was that climate change was real and dangerous. The second was that we need a competent government and we need one another. Conservative contempt for government had led Bush to appoint friends based on their loyalty rather than professionals based on their qualifications. That choice cost lives, and we saw it on our televisions. Unfortunately, it seems to take a disaster in America for us to remember that we are a country at all. In times of relative comfort, we act like we're a series of competing small businesses.

There are reasons for optimism already. Maybe this man is all the disaster we need to make us something like a country again. Based on Trump's declining polls, people paid attention to the subtext of his cabinet appointments. It didn't go unnoticed how many wolves were put in charge of hen houses. It didn't go unnoticed how many alligators the supposed swamp-drainer nuzzled up to and how quickly he sold his working class voters right the fuck out.

There are protests. We need those. Please stop all this casual contempt for the people in the streets just because they care. Democracies need protests. If you don't agree, don't participate. Or run a counter-protest. Just don't be that asshole rooting for our too-militarized police to beat the shit out of everyone and ship them off to Guantanamo. That's too real a danger to be funny right now.

Watch what you allow this man to inspire in you. He's got a gift for hate, fear, and chaos. But that means we need to keep a closer watch on him. Do not allow him to wear you down with his Twitter-bombs and casual racism and depressing ignorance and exhausting entitlement and unforgivable lack of reflection and humility. There are still more of us (65 > 62!) and if we show the shortcomings of his corporatism dressed as populism, true populism can win out in 2018 and 2020.

But only if we resist his remarkable ability to fatigue.