Toxic Masculinity vs Depression

I knew something was wrong the moment my mom walked into my room. It wasn’t just that she was crying, though she was. In a moment I was crying, too, because it was my mom waking me up to go to school that morning. Which was not her job. My dad was the one who woke me up for school in the morning. The moment I laid eyes on my mom I knew: my dad finally left her.

I was in fifth grade. Not quite ten years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was very shortly to have the disctinction of being the first kid I knew whose parents got a divorce.

It wasn’t a surprise. Like I said, I knew right away what had happened. And to be honest, I can’t — and could not at the time — remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. I didn’t know what they were fighting about, didn’t really even want to. It was just a thing that happened, and when it did I would go to my room and play with my toys or read a book or I’d go outside and ride my bike around the neighborhood or go knock on a friend’s door or one of the thousand other things kids did back in the days when parents weren’t expected to schedule and supervise their childrens’ entire existence.

That morning was the last time I cried about it.

Because like I knew what had happened the night before, I knew what was expected of me. What was expected of any boy who wasn’t girly or gay or soft or weak. No one had to tell me that boys don’t cry.

So I didn’t. I tamped that shit down, put on my game face, and went on a field trip to Sea World with the rest of my class. As I recall, my dad was one of our chaperones. I didn’t ask him what happened. I mean, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. The real surprise was it hadn’t happened sooner.

I remember being very proud of myself for being so mature.

It wasn’t long after that I started acting out. Continue reading “Toxic Masculinity vs Depression”

I Know Why Nero Fiddled

I also know that that probably didn’t happen. But whatever its authenticity, the image of the emperor playing the fiddle while Rome burned endures. In common usage, it means ‘to occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis.’ Like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But it’s not rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s more like the band playing on as the ship upended and sank. It’s making art in the face of ongoing or oncoming catastrophe.

Half the people I know have some kind of creative pursuit as a way of making meaning in their lives. From what social media tells me, most of them are having problems working. It makes sense. Why bother making things when the whole world is going to shit? Is that really the best use of your time? What even is the best use of your time? Which fire should you be helping to put out? Or should you lay stores in and plan for the aftermath, look out for you and yours?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. Telling truth I have the opposite problem. I get up everyday and work on my novel, however I’m feeling, whether I want to or not. I can’t even imagine stopping, even though I think there’s a solid and growing chance that it’s pointless, at least in terms of getting it published and out into the reading world. Who even reads anymore, right? Who has time, what with Rome burning all around us?

There’s people who say making art’s more important than ever, times like these. Whether you’re offering distraction or insight or just putting our anxious and angst-ridden zeitgeist to words or images or music, what matters is the human spirit striving to make beauty and sense from a world sorely lacking in both.

That may be. But it’s not why I show up to work in the morning. I do it because it feeds me. Because it gives my life meaning and shape. Because I’ve known my whole life this is what I was meant for, whether I chose it or it chose me.

Because without it, I don’t know how I’d go on.

What I Will Do Today

Today I will work on my novel. I will string words together in service to a story and character that grabbed hold of me four years ago and still won’t let go. A story of, in its essence, a clear-eyed woman’s ascent into power from nothing, fueled by her wit, grit, and resolve.

Today I will go to my wood shop. I will take salvage and scrap, the used-up, cast-off pieces, and make them into something useful and beautiful, through the work of my hands and the labor of my heart and mind.

Today I will go to the gym. I will challenge and refine my imperfect body, work it to exhaustion, that it might become stronger and healthier for the work that lies ahead.

Today I will read a book. I will fall into another world, another mind, another way of seeing and experiencing, that my own world, my own mind, my own way of seeing and experiencing will become larger, more encompassing, more compassionate and clear.

Today I will be kind to every person I meet. I will willfully and purposefully manifest what is best in me, and offer it freely to all I encounter. I will do my best to be the change I want to see in the world, to let the better angels of my nature take flight.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow, I will march. But today I will do those things that give my life meaning. I will ground myself in them, to give me strength and fuel my resolve for the long, dark road ahead.

Wanna Read My Novel?

Is it finished? No. Well, the first draft is. Which is great as far as that goes, but let’s face it: it’s not worth a serious reader’s time and attention in its present form. And that’s okay, because now I’ve got to the end, I have a much better idea how make it so it is. I’m currently outlining the second draft, and I anticipate having it done around the end of summer.

So what’s the story about, you ask? Here’s a stab I made at some back-cover teaser copy:

Once upon a time, magic powered a civilization so advanced they made their gods themselves manifest. Then came the Wars of Avaree, which destroyed all they’d built. Centuries later, magic is the province of the powerful, looked on with suspicion and distrust by common folk.

Brenaea is a young woman with a quick mind and a talent for magic. When her father catches her practicing it, he casts her out, leaving her to wander the forest of the Greenswath with only her dog, Lively, for company. When she learns of the Celestere Academy, a school of magic rumored to accept women as students, Brenaea resolves to journey there, leaving behind everything she’s ever known.

The road is long, but the dangers Brenaea faces along the way pale in comparison to those she’ll face once she arrives. The Celestere Academy lies at the heart of a fragile political balance, one Brenaea threatens to upset. It will take all of Brenaea’s skill and determination to navigate its intrigues, along with help from a brilliant highborn student named Kian and a foul-mouthed tavern-keep named Marinie. The only question is whether she’ll be in more danger if she fails, or if she succeeds.

 

The novel’s working title is Neither Threat Nor Prey. It’s book one of a three-to-four book fantasy series chronicling Brenaea’s unlikely rise to power and prominence during a time of personal and political upheaval, which will change the course of history. It’s got magic, adventure, romance, intrigue. The whole project started life as a short story about two and a half years ago, but the characters weren’t satisfied with that, and the world just kept getting bigger and the story longer and I’ve just been running with it, trying to keep up. Continue reading “Wanna Read My Novel?”

The Limits of Argument

Man, do I love a good argument. Seriously, ask anyone who’s known me at any point in the last forty years and they’ll tell you. It’s like my brain’s factory wiring was optimized for it. It’s such a rush, when I’ve got a really good one going with a smart, well-informed person whose positions and beliefs are different from my own. It does for my brain what playing soccer does for my body.

I’ve spent decades doing it, in all kinds of situations, with all manner of people. It’s honed my critical faculties and made me question the assumptions at the foundation of my worldview. I’ve learned many valuable lessons as a result.

The most valuable lesson I learned? If you actually want to change or even open someone’s mind, arguing almost never works.

Here’s something that’s happened to me more times than I can count. Maybe it’s happened to you, too. You get into it with somebody. Things get heated. You’re going back and forth, back and forth, and you realize you’re both making the same argument in different words. And if you’re like me, it’s kind of frustrating, because you’re all het up and there’s nothing to argue about anymore.

After the nth time that happened, I started to realize that, at least for me, the contentiousness was the pay-off. The heated back and forth. A chance to let my rage nugget vent a little steam so it doesn’t boil over some inappropriate time. Like when I play soccer.

And I’ve come to think of argument in the same way as soccer. For me, at least, it’s best approached as a sport, a competition I engage in with fellow enthusiasts whom I cultivate online and IRL, who approach it with the same understanding. It won’t surprise you that most of them are lawyers and academics.

But if I want to get through to someone, and actually change the way they see the world (or at least get them to take a look at how I see it), getting all het up and marshalling facts and arguments and statistics and memes isn’t how I go about it anymore.

Nobody, but nobody, likes being told they’re wrong, and they like it even less if you can prove it.

In my experience, if you want to change someone’s mind, the best you can do is plant a seed and hope it takes root. And to do that, you have to find common ground to plant it in. It’s surprisingly easy to do if you start from a position of respect. If you frame what you have to say in such a way that it’s taken for granted that the person or people you’re dealing with have reasons for their views that they find genuinely convincing and good. If you ask them to explain, make the positive case, nine times out of ten you’ll find something in there you can both agree on.

Once you’ve established a rapport by genuinely engaging, and built goodwill by finding some point of agreement, you can show them the way to where you’re at from where you’re both standing. Connect the dots, make the positive case. Let them decide for themselves.

Will it work? Sometimes. And almost never right away. That’s why I use planting a seed as a metaphor. If you want a plant to grow or an idea to take hold, you have to find that common ground, and prepare it. Then you can plant the seed and, if conditions are favorable, the seed will sprout. It will grow roots, and when enough time has passed it will break ground into the light, and grow organically on its own.

Changing people’s minds is a really hard thing to do. But even if you just open them up a little bit more, that’s a good thing. A net gain for the ideas and ideals that you’re passionate about. And in my experience it’s a hell of a lot more effective at spreading them than browbeating people til they submit or defriend you out of exasperation.

Arguing and debating is a really fun sport, with the right people. But when the chips are down and the stakes are real, I think I owe what I believe in its best possible chance of spreading and taking root. Because the more of us there are, the better the chances of making it happen. Which I think will be good for everybody.

Even the people who disagree with me.