Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fight For Your Rights

"The Bomb"

(WARNING: Minor political commentary ahead.)

"You've got your rights. Don't mean its right, ethical or sane." 
- MxPx (Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo)

The issue of individual rights has been looming large in our collective human consciousness lately, and has to varying degrees throughout recorded history. As an offshoot of last weeks post, I'd like to take a closer look at this topic.

Alright. So without consulting a dictionary, I'll just say my definition of a "right" is protection for someone with less power against someone with more. Look back in time: When people had less rights, their king/dictator/government was able to take their land, possessions, and even lives with little to no repercussion.

Now, at least in most of the first world, we don't have to worry about that sort of tyranny. Sometimes, however, as is the case with police shooting unarmed people here in the US, there are still obvious rights abuses. We need more reform, we need to keep fighting.

Gender Equality is one that leaves me scratching my head. How did things get so lopsided in the first place? We are still paying women less than men for doing the same jobs. There is rape culture, sexual harassment, and numerous other abuses men perpetrate against women. Even chivalry (opening doors, paying for the first date, etc.) is condescending. Why not open doors for everyone, not just women? Do you believe their arms are incapable of doing it themselves? Wouldn't it be nice if we just treated everyone with courtesy? I've been trying to listen to my wife and female friends about how our culture makes them feel, and it's opened my eyes. The world looks so much different, and sometimes scary, from a woman's eyes.

Race. It's another biggie, one we've been struggling with for thousands of years. Now, with knowledge of DNA and genetics, how can people still think less of others because of skin color? Still, most of us have subconscious racial bias. Evolution has left us with baggage. That doesn't mean we just get to say "Oh well." We have to push ourselves to be as unbiased and rational as possible, despite our initial inclinations.

Sexual Orientation Equality is slowly happening, but there are still people and places within the first world that are stuck in the backwards thinking that says you have less rights just because of who you love.

Wealth vs. Poverty is unfortunate and suppresses the welfare of those in need. The middle class is shrinking. We have wealthy people, like Donald Trump, operating both inside and outside the law to avoid paying their fair share. I believe all people have a right to clean water, food, clothing, shelter, and health care. We, as a species, have reached a point where we can supply these things to those less fortunate. Why aren't we doing it? Does the 1% really need billions and billions of dollars while almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day?

Gun Control. Another contentious issue, at least here in the US. Guns are a problem. I'm not going to go into it deeply, but is the right of an individual to own a gun worth tolerating mass shootings and the over 13,000 firearm deaths that occurred last year in the US? Sure, guns don't kill people in the same way that hammers don't drive nails. It's a tool, and people use it. I get the need for personal protection, but if there wasn't such easy and prevalent access to firearms, perhaps we wouldn't need quite so much (or so lethal) ways to protect ourselves.

This leads me to my final statements: We, as humans, have to fight for our rights, both for ourselves and for those less able. Rights, and the protections they convey, aren't given, they are fought for. Those in control very rarely, if ever, give up their power. We've gotten the rights we have now with revolutions, protests, votes, and heart to heart conversations. Humans have come a long way, but I think it's safe to say the 80/20 rule applies (The last 20% of the work will require 80% of the total effort).

I'm grateful that in the time and location I live, we don't have to spill blood to change things. Gay people aren't stoned or burned to death. I don't have to be religious. I'm a white male, so I don't experience the same things as a woman or ethnic minority, but I can empathize and fight to change the culture that has suppressed them for hundreds (or thousands) of years. Just because your rights aren't being violated, doesn't mean you should relax. We all have a collective responsibility to work for positive change, even if that just means being educated about the issues facing other humans.

Friday, October 14, 2016

United We Stand, Divided We Are


(Note: This mainly applies to my readers in the US, but I feel there is a message here for for everyone. Please read on, no matter what country [or planet] you call home. :-)

I told myself I wasn't going to get involved. I told myself I would stay out of the swirling political mess that's consuming the United States. I told myself I would stay aloof, keep my emotions calm, follow the path of positive pragmatism. Yet, I'm getting sucked in.

It's so easy to become negative, so easy to pick a side and deride those opposed. Yes, there is reality and facts. We need to stay informed and try to see through all the spin. But honestly, it's exhausting.

I'm not going talk about candidates, parties, scandals, or what is being tossed around on social media. I feel like we've probably all had enough of that. If you don't know who or what you are going to vote for, by all means, continue to swim in the toxicity. Just remember to come up for air once in awhile.

The US, and the world in general (environmental, political, and social), is extremely fractured at the moment, and this is what I would like to focus on. Much as mindfulness teaches us to see past our stream of consciousness, I think we all need to take a step back and look past our global, collective consciousness.

Obviously, there are huge issues facing humanity: climate change, terrorism, equal rights, etc. The list could go on and on, but let's not spiral out. I've been feeling overwhelmed lately, as I bet a lot of you are. It's not just the political rhetoric, but all the issues we are facing as humans. It adds up. Pick whatever scale you want (personal, family, community, city, state, nation, world), and I bet you can find conflict in all aspects of your life. If any of it was easy, you'd have solved it by now.

So here we are, nearing the end of 2016, and we are fractured. Things seem pretty bad, and honestly, they probably are. But here is where we have to separate from the stream of incessant input and take an outside look at humanity. I honestly think things are better now than they ever have been before. There, I said it.

Yes, we are fighting over who will lead the US next, and we may end up with a terrible president, but we've had bad presidents before and we've survived. Whoever gets elected, I think we can make it. And if we don't, the world will go on. Germany survived Hitler (and learned a lot in the process). We have checks and balances in the US, and hopefully those will prevent us from going in that direction, if needed.

I know, terrorists are killing people, but humans have been fighting and killing each other for good and bad causes for millennia. It's not just going to stop immediately, even if some of us have entered an "information age". I'm not saying what they are doing is OK, but what I am saying is that if you look past the obvious drama and pain of it, I think there is far less violence now than there was in the world 1000 years ago. We have bigger weapons, but we also have more restraint in using them. This may not always prove to be the case, but so far, we are improving.

Yes, not everyone in the world is treated equally. I can't speak for other first world nations, but in the US, we are moving in the right direction. It is a fight. There are lots of backward attitudes and "old human" ways of thought. You know what? There are tons of people who aren't going to change their minds. Nothing we can say or do will help them move forward. They will never believe homosexuality is OK or feel a human is equal to them if they have a vagina or non-white skin color. But here is the thing: Humans don't live forever. Those ideas will die out, replaced with more progressive ones and people who have compassion and empathy. Change takes time, and if you look back, we are much closer to equality than we ever have been. For some sad perspective, 100 years ago, women in the US weren't allowed to vote. It hasn't been an easy journey and we have much more to do.

Global climate change is a huge hurdle to jump, but we can only do the best we can. Humans can't turn back time (at least not yet! :-), but we can all try to be part of the change. Even if the worst climate estimates come true, humanity will (probably) survive. There will likely be far fewer of us, and we may be stuck underground or in space, but I think we will find a way. We made it through the last ice age after all. With all our technology and information, we can handle what happens next. The world is definitely changing—and we are a huge cause of that—but it was going to change anyway. It was evolving long before we came along to observe it. That's not to say we should be cavalier about our future actions—far from it. We have to accept what we've done, change what we can, and make the best of the results.

I know we still have a lot growing, changing, and progressing to do, but we've made such huge strides. Progress isn't guaranteed, so we have to keep fighting, but don't lose sight of how far we've come. 

What I'm advocating here is thinking outside yourself. Try to see the bigger picture, both in your own life and that of your species. Try to look at life from someone else's point of view. You don't have to agree with them, but maybe it will help you have love, compassion, and empathy. And maybe that person is horrible, and you'll realize your anger is justified. Either way, you'll learn something.

Despite all of the problems you face, realize your life is probably better than any of your ancestors' were. Love what you've been given and earned. You're made out of material that was produced in stars. Let that sink in. You're part of the Universe and always will be. No matter what happens, you've had your time on this planet. Cherish it and use what time you have left to bring good into the world and those around you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trapped (100WordStory)

Trapped. Abducted. Encased in some disgusting, putrid substance. This isn't even a room, more like a coffin. How can it be so dark? Feel the walls... No gaps, no doors, no escape. Don't think about how it feels—organic. Somehow breathing, alive. So cold here... Who did this to me? Why am I here? Last thing I remember? Hiking. Then the light. “Who are you people? Let me out! I have rights!” Listen. Something coming. Oh no, oh shit!  I shouldn't have— What the hell is that?! “No! No! Stay away! Noooooo!”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Writing Dark Things As A Positive Person


I think of myself as a positive, optimistic person. It is something forged in me by dark times I've been through. I've learned to focus on the good aspects of a situation, although I still take the negatives into account. Lately, I've made "positive pragmatism" my mantra. So, how (and why) do I go about writing stories full of darkness and horror? In short: it's complicated. :-)

In my latest short fiction, the protagonist kills innocents (although he believes them evil). When I created the outline for the story in my mind, I felt sadness for those destroyed. I know they are fictional beings, but writing something of this nature doesn't necessarily bring about "good" emotions for my readers or myself. My goal in writing is to entertain and uplift people. I want them to love life and have my words play a part in that, no matter how small. So I ask myself: Does this type of dark help or harm peoples' lives?

I think the answer lies in the nature of human existence. We experience an entire spectrum of emotions, both those considered positive (love, happiness, satisfaction) and negative (hate, anger, envy). If a story is all positive, it isn't interesting. We have to have conflict, deception, destruction, lies, etc., to make it interesting, because that is how we experience everyday life (albeit usually on a smaller scale). We want our heroes to overcome their problems. It gives us hope we too can reach a goal or win against our enemies (even if they are just the drivers around us in the morning commute). Dark stories, and the conflicts contained in them, give us insight, both into ourselves, and the worlds around us. Even when the bad guy wins in fiction, there is correlation in our everyday lives.

Maybe this is just a way that I justify exploring the darker side of my human consciousness, but I think these kinds of stories have a place in our society. They definitely aren't for everyone, as it might push some deeper into depression or towards destructive behaviors. But for most, I think there is much to be learned and gained from exploring darkness. There is no light without darkness, after all.

To jump back a bit, one thing I've been very interested in exploring with the Entho-la-ah-mines in the Dawn Saga (and the character Cazz-ak-tak specifically) is the "positive" to "negative" emotional spectrum. I think there are times when just about any emotion portrayed as negative can be used in a positive way. Even hate can fuel positive change when used appropriately (and not for long, or in large doses).

At any rate, hiding from your darker side or ignoring the fact it exists is a dangerous path. I don't necessary embrace mine, but I think exploring it—taking it out into the light—is a healthy habit.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

September Wrap Up - Music, Short Story, and Introspection

Into the Wild.

 As September transitions into October, I'm growing increasingly excited for the release of Harbingers of the Dawn. I received feedback from my beta readers early in the month, and made some minor adjustments. Now, it's back in a readable form, ready for another editing pass. I'm still on schedule for release in December, which will be here so soon!

In the event you missed my blog this month, I wrote a post about how music led me to writing. I also did an essay on a recent alpine climbing mission and how it has impacted my writing. Both were well received and worth the read if you haven't had a chance yet.

Starting a new short story series, I released DARKSPAWN: Kowan the Technumage (Segment 1) for free here on the blog as well as on Amazon and Smashwords. It's a dark, gritty, techno-magic tale full of intrigue and revenge.

Overall, it was a great, productive month for me. Hope you had a good one as well!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Failure and Success - What Climbing Taught Me About Writing

Base camp at Cottonwood Lake in the Crazy Mountains. The Dogtooth and Incisor make up the central skyline.

Being an independent author forces you to find your own metrics for the success of your writing. I don't have an agent or publisher telling me how great (or not) my work is, but thankfully, I do have many readers who enjoy my novels and stories. On days where I'm feeling less confident, however, it would be nice to have the backing of a "professional". The lack of this type of validation has made me think a lot about how I define success and failure, and what they both mean to me.

As I often do, I look to climbing for clarity in a situation. You wouldn't think something as basic as ascending a rock or mountain would be very enlightening, but I find it has a way of distilling a topic down to its essence.

This past weekend is a good example. All summer I have been eying a climb up the Incisor in the Crazy Mountains here in Montana. For one reason or another, it hasn't worked out to go. It's a big endeavor, requiring a good weather window and either a super long single push or a heavier backpack/camp/climb over a couple of days.

The Incisor is the middle formation, with our climb going up the outside corner of the main feature for ~1100 feet.

Our current alpine goal is in the Tetons, so earlier this summer we went there to work on that project rather than climb in the Crazys. When September rolled around, temps dropped, snow flew in the mountains, and it seemed alpine rock season was over. But after a week of warm weather, Sarah and I thought perhaps we might eek out one more climb. There was a decent weather window, and we had time off work, so we packed up and headed out.

Obviously, it was a very real possibility the climb wasn't going to happen (due to conditions), but we hiked in anyway, hoping that the daytime forecast for clear skies and 57°F would materialize. It wouldn't be "warm", but it would be doable.

We spent a somewhat uncomfortable night, with me testing a new, lightweight sleeping system that might have been a little light for the mid-30ish degree F temps. Sarah, who is constantly switching back and forth from working night shift, didn't sleep very well either. The lack of sleep was fine though, as we both expected it.

Morning dawned, finally, and the wind started gusting, throwing up a flag in my mind. The already cold day would be made worse with wind chill. I crawled out of the tent to make breakfast and was dismayed to see dark, flat clouds building above us. A second flag went up. Sarah and I talked over the situation as we ate some hot oatmeal with pine nuts and chia seeds. 

The sun tried to break through once. No luck.

The weather, along with time, was beginning to conspire against us. The climb itself faced west, so we hadn't gotten up early, hoping to let it warm up enough to climb without gloves. For the 6 pitches (about 1100 feet) of climbing with vague route info, we'd need at least 6 hours (conservatively). Much of the descent was covered in snow, with unknown difficulties just getting to the part we could see. We still had about 1000 feet to gain through talus and boulders to even get to the start of the route. As we discussed our options, the clouds continued to build overhead, blocking out what little bit of sun that had been coming through.

After adding up the time requirements for each part of climb, we decided it would be too close. Everything would have to go just right: we couldn't get off route, the weather would have to improve (or at the very least, stay the same), and we'd have to nail a potentially icy/snowy descent. It would be dangerous to get stuck out overnight in such low temps, especially since that night's forecast predicted rain.

Sarah leads the way through the talus/boulder field.
Instead of packing up and heading down the trail right away, we decided to make the trek up to the start of the climb, both for training and so we'd know where it was next time we attempted the route. Once we made it up over the terminal moraine and across several lateral moraines, we got a better glimpse of the route. I really wanted to go, and we'd brought all our gear as training weight, but everything still pointed towards a no go. The wind was blasting and after the few minutes we stopped to look, we were both freezing. The conditions were surpassing our skills.

From the second I woke up that morning and heard the wind whipping around us, I'd struggling with a feeling of failure. Each flag and warning that came increased the enormity of it. Were we just not pushing hard enough? Would we look back and be disappointed in ourselves? So many people push through epic conditions and make the summit. Was I just letting my fear and discomfort get in the way?

Turnaround point. Still about 1/4 mile from the base.
When we finally turned back, I felt both a sense of relief and of self-condemnation for feeling that way. I'd taken the easy way out, removed myself from an opportunity to overcome. Then the wind would gust and I would think about topping out the route with the sun going down, temps dropping, rain falling. Did we have the experience to get down safely?

When we go into situations like this, I try to rely solely on myself and Sarah. Rescue is far, far away, both in time and space. If something goes wrong, we have to get ourselves out. That really is the only option. In this case, I didn't feel our safety margin was big enough. I'm sure there are others who would have gone and crushed the climb, no problems. That wasn't me, not this time.

But I was still left with a feeling of failure, despite knowing it was late season, despite knowing the weather forecast was not good and the real conditions turned out worse, despite September's lack of daylight and snow on the descent.

As we packed up and hiked out, Sarah and I did our post climb debrief. While talking, I slowly metabolized my negative feelings and realized this trip was far from a failure. We'd gained more experience with backpacking into climbs, testing systems and learning more ways to be light. We'd also gotten some physical training out of the process. Most importantly, we'd went out into the mountains and tried, despite the late season and less than amazing forecast, something I wouldn't have done in the past.

Momma Black bear and her two cubs on the way out. Pretty cool!

This brings me back around to looking at failure and success, and I think what I've learned is that it is all in your perspective. Sure, I could look at that mission as a failure, and in some ways it was. But in larger, more important ways, it was a success. Better to attempt something big, with bad odds, and fail, then to succeed at the same old thing you know you can do. That's not to say we should always be going after the unattainable or unlikely, but we can't allow the fear of failure to turn us away from big goals.

I'm learning to adopt this new perspective when I feel I'm not having the success I need in writing. I look at myself from more angles and realize I'm growing and doing something I love. I have readers who enjoy my work, even if I'm not selling as many books as I'd like or getting more reviews.

I tend to look at a point in the future and say, "When I get there, I'll have arrived. I'm a real author. I'm successful." But from everything I see in the world around me (it's also another lesson I learned from climbing), I realize that such a point does not exist. It's always a line. We continually striving for the next "point", the next, and the next. It's not wrong or bad, necessarily, but if you don't understand that cycle, you're doomed to feel like a failure.

So, find a new perspective, enjoy your successes, and learn from your failures.