I want to articulate a finer, more poetic sentence than the one I’m about to write, but I find that difficult, so instead I’m going to go with the sentence inside my heart:
Shit is pretty fucking fucked up right now.
I mean, it just is. Look around. This country, and by proxy the world, is a hot, hot mess. It’s like a preschool where all the toddlers are drunk and have been given power tools, oh, and also, they’re not toddlers but actually tiny grifters pretending to be toddlers, and they don’t just have power tools, but also, THE POWER TO REWRITE AMERICAN POLICY AND LAW AND THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM FOR SEVERAL GENERATIONS AND
*has to stop*
*has to breathe into a paper bag*
*has to endure a 72-hour anxiety-and-rage spiral*
*has to punch a Nazi*
*has to binge ice cream and Xanax*
OKAY HI I HAVE RETURNED.
What I’m saying is, things are — whoo, wow, they’re just stupid right now. This continues to definitely, definitely be the Stupidest Timeline — as I have suggested before, a squirrel got into the Hadron Collider or something and tried hiding his nuts (ahem) in the components, he shorted something out, and now here we are. Wilbur Ross stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. Asbestos is legal again for building products. Our president went onto Twitter to explain somehow that Democrats are… diverting rivers? And that’s why shit’s on fire? Not to mention, yanno, all the Russian election hacking and the kids in the cages and now they’re going after legal immigrants and not just illegal immigrants and then there’s QAnon and
*paper bag again*
*rage, anxiety, and punching*
*ice cream and pills*
It’s hard to keep it all together.
It’s hard not to succumb to utter hopelessness —
Or rage —
Or sheer crushing anxiety —
So, I try to have a rigorous menu of thoughts and ideas I revisit from time to time during this ENDLESS TURD CAROUSEL, this TRAM RIDE UP THE DEVIL’S ASS, this FOUL-SMELLING CLOWN ORGY. And I thought I would offer up those thoughts here, for you, today.
1. I can always make stuff.
This is a small point, and I admit, a point of some privilege, but for me, it’s useful to remember I can always make stuff. I can make dinner. I can tell a story. I can take a photo. I can make my son laugh. I can write a blog post like this one. I have options to look away from the — *gestures toward the Hieronymous Bosch painting happening* — and enact my creative will upon the world. Even in little ways. It’s small, but it matters. To me, anyway.
2. I can hug a tree.
Seriously, I’ll hug a goddamn tree if you give me a half a chance. The world has trees, and I will hug them. I will hug the squirrels right out of them. Point being, I can go out in nature. I can take a hike. I can watch some fireflies. I can eat some fireflies. *checks notes* I will not eat fireflies. Nature is good. I know it’s partly on fire. I know we’re not always nice to nature. And around here right now the air is so humid it has practically become a non-Newtonian fluid, but it eventually cools down and I can take the dogs for a walk and I can find nifty spiders and I can just… escape the noise and go into the wild for five minutes or five hours and I can see stuff like this.
3. I can plant a tree, too.
Not everyone can plant a tree, but you can buy a plant. If you want to do a good thing in the world — one small, good thing — then buy a plant. Keep it in a pot or put it in the ground. Plants are good. They turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. And if they’re cursed by a proper witch they can be turned into a giant tanglemonster that will totally turn your adversaries into fucking mulch. At least, I hope so. I’m honestly counting on it. Tanglemonster, 2020.
4. Books exist.
So many books. So many books. I have enough books I could die underneath them. If I can’t escape into the forest of actual trees, I can escape into a forest of stories made from trees. And books live in other places, too, like libraries and bookstores, and libraries and bookstores are where BOOK WIZARDS live, and those BOOK WIZARDS can cast their BIBLIOMANCY SPELLS to help you find more and more books in which to bury yourself. Books are amazing, yay books, more books, always books, endless labyrinths of books. Here’s a book you could read that’s very good [print | ebook]. Here’s another [print | ebook]. Because fuck yeah, books. And fuck yeah, coffee. Fuck yeah drinking coffee while reading books.
5. Things have been a lot worse.
I don’t know that they’ve been any stupider, but they’ve definitely been worse. On the whole, the world is okay right now. It doesn’t feel like it, and it sure isn’t good, but I do think it’s valuable to look back over the course of history — honestly, even recent history, the 80s, the 60s, WWII, WWI — and see that, oh, okay, every generation has a huge challenge to address, and somehow the Human Virus keeps on keeping on. This isn’t meant to minimize what’s happening, or minimize how bad it could still get — but it is worth having a longer view of what’s come before, both in context and comparison. It’s hard to have a long view of history; easy to be myopic in the present. Again, this isn’t an excuse not to act — it’s a reason to act before it gets worse. Dig me?
6. We have small power that can be exercised en masse.
One vote isn’t much, but a lot of votes can change history. That is one example of the small amount of power we wield that, collectively, can move metaphorical (occasionally literal) mountains. A vote. A small donation. A kind word to a friend. Some encouragement, some call-in, some expression of your will unto the world. One tree you plant. One owl you save. That owl may go on to be a magic owl, who fucking knows. You don’t know. Magic owls probably exist, shut up.
7. People are messy, and the Perfect is the enemy of the good.
This sounds like a bad thing, like an admonishment, but it’s really a good thing. I think we do this thing were we draw so many uncrossable lines that we end up boxing ourselves in — I think by embracing nuance and accepting imperfections and messiness in people, we deepen our bench of allies and co-fighters in this cuckoo timeline. No, not everyone is going to be 100% aligned with us, but that’s okay. They don’t have to be. We can suss out those details later — for now, we have fascism to fight, frandos. So let’s work together to get it done.
8. And there exist a lotta good people out there.
John Rogers once noted that there’s a Crazification Factor in people — roughly 27% of people will vote for the stupidest, nuttiest fucking thing. I hold onto this like a drowning dude holding onto his floating volleyball pal — it is buoyant and hopeful in this turbulent time. Sure, that means 27% of people will at any time vote for the most delusional, reprehensible shit (“Sure, you should be able to fuck whales,” or “I do believe that individuals are responsible enough to own personal nuclear weapons, yes, liberty is wonderful, fuck regulations, second amendment, wooo”), and those people are rigorously immune to any kind of intellectual vaccination. They will not be inoculated against their ignorance. Sounds bad. But flip it — it means at any given time there are 73% of people who are not this. The glass isn’t half-full — it’s 73% full, which is pretty fucking full. I know when I interact with people on the whole, they’re… pretty great. Online, offline, wherever. It’s easy to get lost in the noise of squawking shitbirds, but that’s mostly just because they’re noisy.
9. Yellowjackets get mad as summer ends
I’m reminded of this now: as summer winds down, wasps get shitty. Extra-shitty. They know what’s coming. It’s Game of Thrones time — winter is on its way, and so they grow desperate and aggressive, and they freak the fuck out trying to get as much sugar and meat as possible. But they cannot dissuade this existential threat. Winter is still coming no matter how pissed-off they get. You can draw from this whatever metaphor you like given our current — *gestures broadly* — situation, but I like to remember it from time to time, as it explains some shit, if you let it.
10. When in doubt, dogs
Worse comes to worse, maybe the dogs will survive us and evolve and take over and make this a better place than we did. Until then, we have them in this world, and they are good boys and girls, all of them. And sure, yay cats, too, but cats will gladly eat us given half a chance, and cats are mostly using us for various sinister reasons (which is okay, we deserve it). But dogs are pure, and they exist, and the world is made infinitely better for their inclusion in this and any timeline.
* * *
DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative
What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.
Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.
Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.