Winter Always Wins

Leaves at the mercy of the wind clattered down the road.  They were headed north, as the summer winds tried to have one last say before being driven out of this part of the world for the year.  The warmth wouldn’t last long, even the wind knew it; despite its direction, the unmistakable scent of winter was obvious. It was clean and crisp, the smell of quiet and stillness. All the noise of the leaves could not drown it out.

The struggle between summer and winter would last a bit longer, giving rise to a beautiful autumn, but the outcome itself was never in doubt. Winter would arrive once more and bring the world some much needed rest. Until then, the leaves, once vibrant and alive, would play out the struggle, caught by forces they knew but could no longer influence. They would be blown back and forth awhile longer. Eventually, buried by snow, they would return to the earth and help feed the next generation. In the end, winter always wins.

Indeed, already the wind has shifted, and the leaves headed back the way they came. A chill had snuck into the air, and the sun is already long into its descent toward the horizon. It won’t be long now.

Teiwaz – Warrior Self

The rune is a simple arrow pointing up.  It signals the spiritual warrior, the energy of such a warrior.  Thus did it become, in my mind, the warrior self.  In this sense, we are all spiritual warriors.  We all do battle with the self.

The hardest fight is with the self.  Overcoming your impulses and your own doubt is the only challenge that really matters.  Wrestling with God is easy by comparison.  There is nothing anyone can do to you, not even God, that can be more hurtful than what you can do to yourself.  You know your biggest fears, your deepest doubts, more thoroughly than anyone else does.  You know them from the inside and can use them against yourself in ways others cannot even fathom.

It is a solitary struggle.  Try as hard as you might, you cannot escape yourself.  And all the help others offer can do nothing about the nagging worry your inner self can bring to bear in opposition to you.  At 3 AM you have no one else to help you fight for yourself.

Even if you win, the challenge is always waiting in the wings to be rejoined.  Every setback risks an “I told you so.”  And yet, without the fight, without the willingness to wrestle with the self, what is left?  What else would we have?

Life is about pushing forward, about bringing something from nothing.  We begin as nothing and struggle to make something.  It is against the self that we must work.  Though we fail, it may be enough to know that at least we did not give up.

83.7 Percent

“Well, that’s most of them.”

“How is that most of them?  There are still a bunch of boxes on the truck.”

“Yeah, but this is more than half of them.”

“Most isn’t just more than half.”

“Yes it is.  What do you think it is?”

“It’s…  I don’t know…  Most.  Like, nearly all?  Certainly more than just more than half.”

“So is 60 percent most?”

“No.”

“70 percent?”

“Look, I don’t know.  75 percent maybe?  Or 90 percent?  It’s not a hard and fast number.  I just know that it’s more than 51 percent.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No I’m not.  Ask anybody.  They’ll tell you that most is more than just 51 percent.”

“Talked to everyone, have you?”

“Of course not; it’s just common knowledge.”

“How is it common knowledge if I don’t know it?”

“Well, maybe you just missed that day in school.”

“I repeat, you’re crazy.”

“Well, then, if most of the boxes have already been moved, you shouldn’t mind getting the rest yourself.”

“Ha, ha.  Nice try.  Let’s get back to it.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Summertime

The sun hung high overhead in an otherwise empty sky.  The air was still and heavy with heat.  He made his way down the street looking for some sort of reprieve, but there were no trees and no obviously open businesses in which he might seek shelter.  The sun seemed determined to melt him.  As the sweat dripped down his back and off his forehead, he became convinced it would succeed.

A single car drove past him, kicking up dust and making it even harder to breathe.  He hated the world at that moment.  There was nothing about it that was good.  Nothing he could think of, anyway.  Something cool, something wet.  He didn’t want much.  Just something that could break up the oppressiveness of the day.

Despite his willing it, no cloud appeared that might produce rain, or even hide the sun for a few moments.  All he could do was keep walking and hope he might come across something to provide some relief.  Above him, the sun continued to beat down, refusing to show even the slightest mercy.

To Necessity, the Mother of Invention

For much of my life, I’ve had insomnia.  My mind races with ideas.  It isn’t anxiety, not always.  Just ideas going through it and distracting me from sleep.  Perhaps it’s that I’m really a night person.  When I’ve had the chance to work night shift, it seems to suit me.  Whatever the case, since I was a teenager, I’ve always had trouble falling asleep at night.  Often, to try to quiet my mind, I’d tell myself stories.  It’s something I’ve done for almost as long as I can remember.

These stories were often indistinct, the inventions of a mind too tired to be awake and too restless to sleep.  One character regularly figured into the stories early on.  His name was Jack.  A roguish sort, heart of gold, rescuer of children.  Mainly, he was the guy who kept me safe from all of the terrible things in my mind at night.  Jack would be distilled and morphed into different characters in later stories I would write, but he started as my shield against insomnia.

I mention any of this only because there is another common feature to many of those stories.  They often began with the phrase “I need you to do something.”  The words were often spoken by an older man, white hair, long grey beard.  The “something” was never described.  It appeared in my mind like a prelude before jumping right into the action.  The “something” would be revealed as the story unfolded.  It was my version of “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”  The phrase set the stage, and I could relax into the story, eventually falling asleep.

As anyone who has ever kept a pen and notebook by their bedside could tell you, if you don’t write down your ideas when they happen, they get lost easily.  Probably none of those stories were wroth writing down.  But as I sat here, trying to write a story beginning with “I need you to do something,” I found myself wishing I could recall them.

Pen and Paper

A couple of decades ago, I tried to write on my computer.  For some things, I still do.  Writing emails or academic papers seems to go just fine on a keyboard.  But for prose, fiction, and journaling, I never got fully comfortable with the computer.  Even after writing my first novel on a computer, I found myself going back to pen and paper.

Mind you, this is a completely personal preference.  I do not think one way is inherently better than another.  It’s just that I started writing long before I got a computer, and pen and paper are the means I used.

It probably helps that I love office supplies.  Even as a kid, I enjoyed those stores as much as toy stores.  My dad and grandpa worked out of my grandparents’ house, and the basement always had pens, pencils, note pads, file folders, and so on.  I never wanted for the tools of writing.

Over the years, I have had different favorite pens and different preferred notebooks (composition notebooks, anyone?).  Generally, these have been inexpensive, though I admit that my current favorite notebooks fall on the pricier side.  (I still use inexpensive legal pads for a lot of my writing, however.)

The other day, we were walking by an art supply shop.  On the door was an advertisement for a limited edition Cross pen, Star Wars themed.  I’ve only ever had one Cross pen in my life, an engraved one given to me by my sister.  Normally, I wouldn’t consider such an item, but I thought I might splurge.

While looking over pens, I asked about fountain pens.  I’ve never used one before, but I was curious.  Now I have three bottles of ink, which together cost more than the pen I bought, and I can safely say I have a new favorite pen; my most expensive favorite yet.  It is easily the most fun.  And luckily, the ink washes off of my skin very easily.

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My Rules for Writing*

  1. No 2-dimensional, cartoon villains.  (Think the Emperor from Star Wars.)  These aren’t real people.  People have motivations.  People are complicated.  Villains should be people.
  2. All narrators are unreliable.  Even without dishonesty, events will look different from different perspectives.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the supernatural.  Use it to tell stories.
  4. Don’t overuse it, either.  It will get stale and lose its capacity to inspire wonder and instill fear.
  5. The world doesn’t make sense.  Not everything gets explained or tied up in a neat little package.
  6. Alienation.  People don’t completely understand one another.
  7. Listen to your characters.  These are their stories.
  8. There is no such thing as fate.  The good guys can lose.
  9. Really examine your characters’ plans; look for loopholes and flaws.  Either plug them or explain why they don’t matter.
  10. In the service of the story, all of these rules can be broken.

 

* These rules are merely descriptive, not prescriptive.  Other people should follow their own style.