Category Archives: Personal

A Monster Calls: When Stories Speak to Us

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for almost a month, I wrote it immediately after watching A Monster Calls, and the words poured out of me in a way they rarely have. Yet as usual I was afraid to post what I wrote. Normally that just means it gets buried in my ever increasing pile of drafts that I’ve never finished, but this one wouldn’t stay buried. I kept coming back to it, and unless I post it, I don’t think I’ll ever move on.

This isn’t a storytelling review of A Monster Calls, which I would like to do at some point. Instead this just me talking about how this movie spoke to me and helped me confront the grief and guilt I still hold onto a year after my father’s death.

[Spoilers, I completely ruin the ending, so if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do before reading this.]

A Monster Calls

When Stories Speak to Us

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A Monster Calls is a beautifully written movie, and the book it’s based is now on my Must Read list. This film is a shining example of the power of storytelling because it can help people deal with their darkest and most difficult emotions.

I know that because A Monster Calls helped me. My father died over a year ago and I’m still struggling with all the things I miss about him. The biggest struggle has been wrestling with my guilt. Not just for missed opportunities or the petty arguments we had. No my guilt ran deeper than I ever realized, and it was A Monster Calls that helped me see it.

In the film, the main character Conor, struggles to come to terms with his mother’s impending death. He keeps having a recurring nightmare of trying to save his mom from falling into a bottomless abyss. When finally Conor finishes the dream, he reveals the reason for the guilt that had been gnawing at him for the entire movie… he let his mom go on purpose, allowing her to fall into the abyss. He was tired of struggling to save her, tired of the fear and the desperation… tired of the pain. He wished to be free of it.

“The most human wish of all.” As the Monster might say.

I wished to be free of my pain too, but my crime was even greater than Conor’s, because I made that wish years before my dad was struck with cancer.

My dad, like me, suffered from depression. Unlike me, however, he never found an effective treatment to manage it. For seventy years he carried his depression with him like a festering, never-healing wound that sapped the life out of him. My mom and I tried to get him to go to a doctor, a therapist, anyone who might be able to help. At least for a while.

Then I stopped trying.

I wanted it to be over. I wanted him to be gone.

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And like Conor, I wanted to follow right after him.

I told myself I wanted him gone because he could never see the good in anything. I wanted him gone because of the way he treated the waitress at a restaurant. I wanted him gone because of dozens of petty slights and arguments, real and imagined. I wanted him gone because at least then he’d be at peace.

I wanted his pain to end. That was the lie I told myself.

The truth that I was afraid to speak was this:

I wanted him gone because I wanted my own pain to end.

It hurt to see my father because I can remember so clearly how bad my depression once was. Being depressed was like being a raw nerve with no protection, the mechanisms that most people have to deal with their emotions didn’t exist. Every schoolmate’s insults made my heart hurt as if someone had reached into my chest and was squeezing it in a clenched fist. Every news article I read about endangered animals, the deteriorating environment, or even a passing asteroid sent me into a tailspin of despair about the world around me.

I remember that pain with perfect, piercing clarity. Every time I saw my father I felt that pain squeezing and clawing deep in my chest. He was a constant reminder of my own painful memories. Worse than that, I was terrified that he was a glimpse into my future. As amazing as my medication is at managing my symptoms, there are days that still get to me, where my defenses come down and every emotion stabs into me like a knife. What if one day it stops working? Will I become my father, unable to see the life, love, and happiness that surrounds him?

I wished it was over.

So when his terminal cancer diagnosis came, it was my wish come true. He had a year to live the doctors told us in October, by the following November he could no longer walk. My wish was coming true faster than I could have hoped. Throughout the course of my father’s illness, I never felt afraid or sad, I didn’t even cry once.

This was what I wanted.

It wasn’t until the morning of January 14th, 2016, as his labored breathing slowed to pausing, rattling gasps, that I realized a truth that I had been hiding from myself.

I didn’t want him to go.

It wasn’t until I whispered in his ear that I loved him that I realized the man my father really was.

My father spent his entire life fighting against a chemically imbalanced brain that made him see the world as darker than it truly was. I have no doubt he spent a majority of his days wondering why he should go on, fantasizing about killing himself. For 72 years he fought his depression to a standstill. I remember the pain of depression, and sometimes I still hear the seductive siren call of suicide.

I know it must have taken immense courage to survive that. If ever my medication fails, I’m not sure I’d have the strength to do the same.

My father deteriorated faster than the doctor’s were saying he should. At the time, I thought it was yet another example of his selfishness and weakness.

But I realize now that my father was simply ready to go, he’d fought his war to the bitter end, and now he wanted it to be over.

But I didn’t want him to go. 

Here, at the end, as his breath grew shallower and the pauses between breaths became longer, It was too late to tell him that I didn’t want him to leave. It was too late to tell him that I loved him and that I was sorry for all the stupid things that kept us estranged for so much of our lives. So I did the only thing I could.

I told him it was okay to go and held his hand until he took his final breath.

That was the truth I was so afraid to speak, the crime for which I feel so ashamed: In my selfish desire to see an end to my own pain, I wasted the moments I should have been cherishing.

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“Stories are how I topple my enemies.” – The Monster

When your enemy are emotions like grief and guilt, stories are the only thing that can topple your enemies.

Thank you, Monster, for helping me topple mine.

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Westworld: Evil Pricks

I was in the process of writing an article about the awesome way Westworld uses its own story to teach people about good storytelling, when this line from last night’s episode reminded me of something I wanted to talk about for a long time.

“Why is it every time you come to this place you turn into such an evil prick?” William to his friend, HBO’s Westworld.

That’s the same question I’ve had about video game culture for quite some time, and I think it’s time I talk about it.

I used to play multiplayer games, specifically a game called Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. I was a young teenager suffering from crippling depression, I had no friends at school or at home, I was tormented by both depression and the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty, and I felt like I had no future. To make a long story short, Mechwarrior and the friends I made playing it, made my life somewhat bearable. I’m still friends with many of the people I met playing Mechwarrior, even as we come to a mind-boggling 20 years since I’ve played it.

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This was cutting edge when I played it.

It’s those friends I want to talk about, because over the years I’ve watched them become evil pricks in video games. It didn’t start that way. Back when I first began playing, it was just good fun. Oh we made fun of each other, called each other gay, and joked about sex, typical young teenager stuff. But over the years my friends began to change.

The jokes became crueler, more personal. Those who lost competitive games against our team were mercilessly ridiculed, and then called cowards when they didn’t want to play us again, when it was more likely they simply didn’t want to play a bunch of rude petty people. The changes were subtle and at first I didn’t notice them.

Eventually Mechwarrior’s multiplayer died out, it wasn’t exactly the most popular game even in its heyday, and while we tried to play other games together, I lost interest. About ten years later though, a new Mechwarrior title arrived: Mechwarrior Online. Suddenly we were all back together again, and for the first few months it was like old times. And then I began to notice things.

My friends began openly trash talking, calling people faggots, ridiculing new people who asked questions, and following people they didn’t like from game to game specifically to “grief” them. Still, this had become such a normal part of online games that I was able to shrug it off. What I couldn’t shrug off, is what they would say to each other in private.

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I began to love this symbol.

Several of my old friends were now referring to each other as n***ers, and I grimaced every time they said it. Mechwarrior Online was also a free-to-play game featuring microtransactions, where you paid to unlock certain mechs and equipment.

When my cash-strapped friends couldn’t afford these microtransactions or bought only the cheapest available, they called it “Jew.”

“I’m too Jewish to spend that much money.”

“I got the Jew option.”

I was shocked, and I told them: “Oh I’m sorry, apparently I stumbled into Nazi Germany by accident.” The joke was an icebreaker for me to voice my discomfort with using old antisemitic insults.

“You’re being too sensitive, they’re just words.”

They’re just words.

That’s the excuse I heard over and over again for all manner of utterly inexcusable behavior.

Words are powerful. The right words can help someone find hope in a hopeless situation, humor in a tragedy, and joy in a moment of despair. The wrong words can make someone cry, make them feel alone, and even drive them to suicide. My friends didn’t seem to understand that.

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And I was putting up with all this for a game that thought $500.00 qualified as a microtransaction. 

They began insulting me, and not the friendly jibes and insults that people exchange. They told me how bad I was in the past, to stop being bad during games, and stop being so emotional about the toxic conversations they’d have. This poisoned not only my relationship with them, but also in how I perceived our previous relationship. Did they ever actually like me? Was I really that bad in the past?

My friends used to have a nickname for me when I was young “tightpants”, and I never understood the reference. I thought perhaps it was a reference to my weight, which would have been fine because I was constantly joking about that myself. After we began playing Mechwarrior Online they began to refer to me as “tightpants” again, and this time I asked what that meant.

Turns out whenever I spoke on comms, I had a high pitched voice, and apparently I still did. Except now they weren’t so kind about it.

“Jesus, didn’t your balls ever drop?” They once asked me.

That, unfortunately, got to me. I asked my best friend if I had an unnaturally high voice, and she hedged saying she didn’t really notice. Which only convinced me it was true. For a few weeks there I actually tried lowering my tone of voice while talking to people, until I noticed it was just getting me strange looks from people. I’m also not as insecure as I was when I was young, and after a couple weeks I figured that even if I did have a high voice, it wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it. So why worry?

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Besides, Varys has a high voice and he’s bitchin’. 

I continued playing with my friends, because between their occasional bouts of cruelty, we still had a good time together. Then one day we were playing, and having a grand old time. I remember I was laughing so hard my ribs were actually aching. I was trying to talk over my laughing to convey some information about the enemy team when:

“Shut the fuck up!” Someone yelled over the comms.

This person wasn’t one of my friends, but he was a talented gamer, he outranked us all when it came to talent. That alone was enough to let him play with us. It wasn’t a friend yelling at me, but they also did nothing to discourage it.

I disconnected and didn’t talk to them for about six months, until one of them decided to contact me on Skype and ask how I was doing. They asked me what had happened, and I simply joked around with them saying that I’d been asked to shut up and was just following the order to the letter. The reality was even simpler: I play games to have fun and relax. The moment that stops happening, the game is over. Yet I kept coming back to these people, because I’d known them for nearly fifteen years! These were the friends that kept me alive in the darkest period in my life, and I couldn’t simply write them off.

One of my friends, whom I’ll refer to as DV, I counted as among my closest friends.

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If I was Varys, he was definitely Tyrion.

When I was thirteen/fourteen, I was absolutely infatuated with a girl I knew. Being a moronic teenager I lost all perspective and restraint, pronouncing my undying love for a girl I barely knew, which of course scared her into never talking to me again.  That sent me into probably the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. At the same time DV, who was slightly older in his late teens, was having problems with his girlfriend constantly dumping him and taking him back. We were both hurting and we helped each other through it by talking about our mutual girl problems.

“Oh back from your emo trip? Show me on the doll where [the guy who yelled at me] touched you.” That was how DV greeted me, the man who I once would have done anything for. If I was rich and he needed money, I would have written him a blank check, that’s how deeply I trusted and respected this man. He was one of my closest friends.

And I no longer recognized him.

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I felt like Bruce Willis in Surrogates when he first steps out into a world populated by mechanical dopplegangers. It’s seriously a good movie, and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t.

The boy who had once been my friend would never have been so casually cruel to me, so indifferent to my feelings. A few weeks later GamerGate happened, and I’ll spare those of you who don’t know about it the indignity of hearing about this stupid event. The cliff notes is that a girl made a video game and one of the reviews may not have been entirely without bias. The dumbest and cruelest elements of the gaming world took this as an invitation to threaten her life, threaten her with rape, post her address, phone number, and work location to everyone on the internet. They made her life a living hell for years. I haven’t looked into it, but I’m sure she probably still gets harassed.

And my friends supported it.

Each

And

Every

One

I have no explanation as to how this happened. Some of my friends were now married, DV even had children, and they were either cheering on the harassers (perhaps even taking part) or tacitly approving of it by offering excuses for turning a woman’s life into a living hell over a video game. When, and how, did my friends turn into these people?

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How do otherwise decent people turn into this guy?

It can’t just be an effect of video games. I ran over crowds of people in Grand Theft Auto; mowed down innocent civilians in Postal; tortured and murdered people in the cruelest ways imaginable in Manhunt. I’ve committed every war crime and atrocity imaginable across twenty years of gaming, but I never turned into the evil pricks my friends became.

It can’t be their social and economic situation. One of my friends was working at a fortune 500 company and would show us pictures of his fancy new cars. Others were working a variety of jobs with varying levels of success. Some were married or had girlfriends. Hell, DV was working as a cop in London with three kids and a wife. If anything, I was the one who fit the stereotype: a fat, single guy who hadn’t had a girlfriend in years, no job and no prospects.

Maybe it was because I had depression, and I knew the kind of damage words could inflict. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is against you, to feel like your fate is suffer constant pain. Did that give me an empathy my friends lacked?

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Were they missing an ingredient in their soul?

I don’t play multiplayer games anymore, because the unfortunate truth is that my friends are the rule. I’m the exception. Go into a multiplayer game and you’ll find a cesspool of insults, negativity, and downright cruelty.

As seen here in a great comic by The Oatmeal

That’s not to say I think all gamers are horrible. In fact I think the vast majority are just like me. The problem is that, like me, they can’t be bothered to deal with assholes when they’re trying to relax. So people leave, like I did. They stick to single-player games, or maybe they find a new hobby all together. Hell maybe that’s why games like Candy Crush are so popular, you don’t have to put up with racist misogynists to play Candy Crush.

So the decent people leave, and that just leaves the assholes in an echochamber of assholes. All they hear is the same toxic drivel they spout, and it becomes normal to them. It becomes a cycle of constant abuse, and it becomes so normal that they don’t even realize their language is abusive. Last time I was in a multiplayer game, someone threatened to rape my sister (I’m an only child).

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My sister.

 

And the eerie thing about it was that he didn’t say it with hate or anger in his voice, it was a reflex. I killed him in a video game, and his immediate instinct was to launch into threats of sexual violence. He said it in such a way that I’m pretty sure if I could have been bothered to confront him about it, he wouldn’t have even comprehended the problem. Just like William’s friend in Westworld, who couldn’t understand why William calls him evil.

I still talk with my friends occasionally on Skype, because when they’re not talking about video games we still have great conversations about politics and life. One of them discovered they had kidney cancer, the same disease that killed my father, and we commiserated over how shitty cancer is. If I ever met them in real life, I’m sure I’d see the great friends that I once knew. But I don’t play with them anymore, because like the man said in Westworld: 

“Why does coming here turn you into such an evil prick?”

I wish I knew the answer to that, and I’m hoping that maybe through Westworld‘s exploration of this frightening transformation people undergo, that maybe I will find the answer.

You’re all Enabling a Fraud!

It’s been a strange year. I still can’t believe my dad is gone, and it’s been almost a year since his diagnosis and ten months since he died. This whole year has passed in a surreal blur, I can barely remember what I was doing this year. Probably because, aside from an amazing three week vacation with my girlfriend back in August, I didn’t do much of anything these past nine months.

I’ve allowed everything that’s important to me to just stagnate, my blog, my relationships, my career. I haven’t worked on an original story in over a year, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, my blog updates have been few and far between. You’d think that the death of my father would remind me how precious time is and to use it wisely, but instead I’ve been wasting time binging on Netflix or playing old games I’ve played a dozen times over.

I’ve been wasting my time. In fact I’ve been wasting my time for yearsThe honest to goodness truth of the matter is that I could have written several books by now, or made this blog have daily updates. I could have done any number of things in the years I’ve wasted.

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Netflix isn’t going to watch itself, after all.

Why does this happen? Why do I simultaneously love writing and yet fear actually sharing anything I write? Fear of rejection is the most obvious answer, but as a friend of mine recently pointed out, last year when I tried my left-handed writing experiment, I didn’t stop writing when I got bad criticism. I stopped when I received positive feedback. People wanted more, and for some reason that scared me off. It was the same thing that happened after my Mass Effect 3 Ending article, rather than capitalize on the fact that tens of thousands of new readers were suddenly flooding my tiny little blog, I fell back and allowed it to stagnate until the reader numbers came down to a normal level.

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Whew, good thing they put that sign up. I almost drove right into it.

This has been a pattern that has been repeating itself for far too long.

When people ask me for writing, at first I’m happy to give it to them. A good friend of mine asked me to write a small play last year. Back in August someone asked me to write a character for a Fallout 4 mod. Three years ago my friends at Ara’Kus asked me to write a series of short stories to flesh out their fictional world.

I wrote the play and when I gave it to my friend, he loved it, it needed some tweaking, but he loved it. I should have felt elation, I should have felt accomplished. Instead, I felt like garbage.

I wrote the first part of the character for that Fallout 4 mod and sent it to the guy who asked for it. Again, he said he liked what I had so far. It took me weeks to pick it back up again and start finishing it (in fact I finished it just prior to writing this article).

And three years ago I wrote a short story about an assassin. Everyone said they loved it, including a man who’s been an artist and has taught artists for decades… I never wrote another short story for them.

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Because, again, Netflix ain’t gonna watch itself!

The worst incident though? The absolute worst? When I was 19 I wrote a story as part of my High School Project, which was a requirement for graduation. It was basically an assignment to write a story and go through the publishing process. I wrote that story, it was almost 25,000 words long and I submitted it to the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Several weeks later they mailed it back to me with a rejection letter that read:

“The story didn’t quite work for us, but keep writing!” Or something to that effect, I unfortunately didn’t keep it.

I also let several friends and family read it, they all loved it as well, but they agreed that in my attempt to keep it under 25,000 words for publication purposes I had shortchanged the story and characters. I needed to lengthen it into a novel.

I never touched that story again. And somewhere along the line, I lost both the print copies and digital copy I kept.

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That was a close one. Thank God they have these signs up everywhere.

I hope none of this comes across as humble-bragging, because that’s not my intention. I’m just trying to sort out this mess, and putting it here on my blog seems like the most appropriate place. I want to understand why I react like this, and this is cheaper than a therapist.

And it’s not like I’m somehow craving negative feedback, I’m sure if everyone told me how crap everything was I’d feel awful.

I think it’s because, deep down, I feel like a fraud. When I first start writing something for someone, I’m okay, I get it done. It’s when I finally let them read it, and they end up liking it, because that’s not how it’s supposed to go.

“NO!” I want to scream. “You’re not supposed to like it! You’re supposed to hate it! Reveal me for the fraud I am! I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! I can’t write! Don’t you see, I’m a charlatan! A conman! You’re in the Matrix man, and I’m the shitty, overly verbose Architect!”

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Listen to Charlton Heston! My writing is people! IT’S PEOPLE!

You weren’t supposed to like it, that’s the problem. I wrote it wanting you to hate it, to tell me to give up, to confirm what I’ve been telling myself for years: I have nothing to contribute, no talent, and no purpose.

I had this whole brilliant plan for finally giving myself permission to give up. And you all had to go fuck it up by liking my writing. Jesus. Some people have no consideration.

So thank you. Thank you to my family, my friends, and everyone who continues to read this blog despite my repeated attempts to subtly kill it with inactivity. Despite my subconscious attempts to sabotage myself, you’ve kept me trucking along in my futile quest to write something so bad you’ll all tell me to quit.

For the past week I’ve been going to the local library to write, and getting out of my little room has done wonders for my writing. I was lucky if I averaged a thousand words a week before. In the past week I’ve written 12,000, and that’s just since Monday.

I hope I can keep it up.

And  I hope you all keep reading.

The Ghost of my Father

When my father died back in January, I was surprised at how well I took it. The tears were there of course, especially the morning he died and at his memorial. But otherwise I had all this grief stuff figured out, man, emotionally in-tune with myself and all that good stuff. I was a goddamn guru, I was thinking of starting up my own line of self-help books. But the reality is…

I miss my dad. A couple years ago I would have sworn I’d never say those words.

And then, two months ago, the dreams started. I rarely remember my dreams, at least usually, but these were so vivid. And they weren’t pleasant. I didn’t dream of my father resting happily in the afterlife, or even something so innocuous as simply seeing him in an unrelated stream of dream imagery. I was reliving my mistakes, my regrets.

I wasn’t a good son to my father. He was too depressed, too pessimistic, too stubborn. In short, he was everything I was, everything I hated about myself. So when a few years back he wanted to go on vacation with me, just him and me, I hedged. I made excuses, told my mom I didn’t want to be alone with him, until he finally gave up. I wish so much that I had gone, that I had made the effort to be with him when I had the chance.

I was so angry at him for so long, and now that he’s gone I don’t even remember why. All the anger and frustration, it died with him.

Death is the focus of so many of humanity’s religions, why people die and what happens to them afterward, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe death is for the living, a way to remind us of what’s important. To wipe away everything that clouded our love for each other, all the petty frustrations of our daily lives. I only wish it didn’t take someone dying to remember the love.

Now that he’s gone, I realize how much he loved me and everything he did for me.

He was one of my biggest fans, right next to my mom, and he always wanted to read my stories. Even when I was twelve years old and writing terrible fantasy stories, just god awful stuff and he loved it. He praised my imagination and encouraged me to keep writing. In his final years he’d always ask what I was working on, and I told him about all the half-finished stories I was always saying I was working on. Even stories that were nothing more than an outline in my head, I’d tell him that I was working on it.

“I’d like to read it when you’re finished.” He’d say.

But I had plenty of time. There was no need to rush.

Now he’ll never read the stories I’ll write. Never see my name in print. He’ll never read my blog again.

I’ll never see him again.

 

My Father

It’s been a rough couple of months here. My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer back in October and by November he was no longer able to move on his own. He went into hospice care and died on January 14th, hanging on until after both Christmas and my mom’s birthday. He hung on for much longer than the doctor’s thought he would. At some point I’d like to write something about him here, but for now I thought I would at least post the obituary I wrote for him here, so you all know I’m still around.

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Nigel Stevenson, my father, 1944-2016

Nigel Stevenson departed on his next great adventure when he died at 4:40am on January 14th, 2016. I hope that when my dad passed from this world he found himself at the helm of a ship sailing on a boundless silver sea with a golden horizon stretching into infinity, ready to explore an undiscovered dimension of existence.

Insatiable curiosity was an aspect of Nigel’s character that dominated his life. In his youth Nigel walked through the Valley of the Kings and climbed the Great Pyramids of Giza. He went behind the Iron Curtain to explore the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and when the Berlin Wall came down, Nigel was there to take a piece with him as a trophy. Later in Nigel’s life he began sailing the Puget Sound, a shimmering blue paradise that he grew to love with all his heart. Some of Nigel’s happiest moments occurred when he was on the water, whether it was watching the sun set over the horizon while moored on Blakely Island or being surprised by a pod of Orcas while out for a leisurely cruise.

And my father won’t be alone on that ship. Alongside him will be the many beloved pets who travelled alongside him in life, for my dad had an amazing affinity for animals. Beloved cats like his Archimedes and Cicero will guide him, and his faithful dogs Elmo and Quincy will be there to man the rudder, working alongside a crew of dozens of different animals that my father loved over the course of his life. My father was a great lover of antiquity, all things Greek and Roman, and as part of his wishes I placed two coins over his eyes for the ferryman to carry him across the River Styx. Another ancient Greek tradition was to celebrate a man’s life by partaking in all the activities he loved in life.

So in keeping with that great tradition his wife of thirty years, Julie, as well as I, would like to invite you to Normana Hall to feast at their monthly pancake breakfast. For twenty-five years my father took us to the pancake breakfast, and it was a beloved tradition, because the other thing my father loved to do was eat good food. And the pancake breakfast serves the best Swedish pancakes outside of Sweden itself. Even at the very end when his cancer was at its very worst, he still wanted a few bites of those delicious pancakes.

So come, join Nigel’s family and feast while we remember the life of an extraordinary man and to toast his voyage into the unknown that awaits us all.

I’ll be back soon with articles about XCom 2, as well as follow ups to my articles on Star Wars and Life is Strange that I never got around to completing.

They Can’t Win

So everyone must know by now about the terrible attack that took place in Paris last night. First of all I’d like to express my sympathies for the people of France, and hope that all my readers there are safe. I know I’ve had a few French people comment here on my blog, so if you’re reading this, drop me another comment and let me know you’re okay.

As always happens during a tragedy, people start to lose hope in humanity. But I’m here to tell you that yesterday’s attack only gave me more hope for humanity. Not because of the attack itself obviously, but because of what the attack represents and how humanity has chosen to respond to it.

The perfect response to terrorism.
The perfect response to terrorism.

The attacks in Paris is the last desperate flailing of a dying monster. What ISIS wants is to make us as violent, savage, and xenophobic as they are. They see a city like Paris, filled with people from all over the world come to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world and welcomed with open arms, and it frightens them. They’re terrified of a world where we no longer divide each other by race, nationality, or gender. But that day is coming, sooner than they’d like, and it scares them.

We’re living in the most peaceful era in human history.  There has literally never been a time where there has been less wars, less violence, or more equality, and more peace. There has never been a happier, more peaceful time to be a human being living on Earth. A scant seventy and some odd years ago, Germany was invading France. Today they’re pledging their support. That’s how much as changed in such a short time.

Yes, you can look around the world on any given day and see horrors beyond imagining. Extreme poverty, starvation, civil wars. But we’re getting better at solving each of those problems with every passing day.

A graph of the incredible progress humanity has made.
This is humanity getting better-
At
at
EVERYTHING!
EVERYTHING!

And yes, people like the members of ISIS will continue planting bombs in shadows and shooting at unarmed civilians. But again, those are the last desperate actions from people who can see a world of unified global peace approaching, and are utterly terrified by it. Their time is quickly running out and they know it.

And you know what frightens them the most? What they’re afraid everyone is going to do?

They’re afraid everyone is going to go out there and do exactly what they did yesterday.

And that’s exactly what most of you did today without even thinking about it. I myself went to go eat some delicious pancakes this morning and didn’t think twice about it.

And this frightens ISIS because it means their most desperate acts, their most powerful blows… ultimately amount to nothing. It reminds them of a single, inescapable truth that frightens them to their very core:

They can’t win.

Barring a third world war that blasts us back to the stone age, ISIS simply can’t win. Humanity has evolved beyond them. Whereas they desperately try to hold onto a past world that ran on violence and cruelty, the rest of us are marching toward a world of unprecedented peace and prosperity, where everyone is equal. We’re getting so close to Star Trek levels of utopia that you can practically hear the Warp Engines powering up.

This is how I know in my heart that ISIS, and others like them, can’t possibly win:

New York
New York, The United States
Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
Shanghai
Shanghai, China
Australia
Sydney, Australia
New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand
My home city of Seattle
My home city of Seattle

That’s just a fraction of the world’s monuments that have been lit up to show support for France. Across the world, millions of people have taken to social media to voice their support. An entire planet’s worth of people have stood up and said that the death of 129 civilians is unacceptable.

That’s how I know that national, racial, religious and every other flavor of extremism, whether it be from terrorists like ISIS or blustering fear mongering politicians, can’t win.

Because against an entire planet determined to make a better future for itself…

They simply can’t.

Tortured By a Dentist: My Last Two Weeks

So I’ve been AWOL for the past two weeks, and it wasn’t by choice. First my landlady’s internet went down, a niggling little annoyance that should have been resolved quickly. Unfortunately her internet service provider is… well an ISP in the United States, which operate under the assumption that their customers should pay them while providing as little service as legally possible. Still, not a big deal, I could go the library.

About a week after the internet went down another of my teeth decided to execute order 66, attempting to assassinate me from the inside. As my long time readers might remember, my mouth is basically Europe circa 1945, a series of craters and smoking ruins at this point. I buried myself in a few thousand dollars of debt in order to repair my front teeth, but the back teeth, arguably the more important ones that allow me to actually eat are basically gone at this point. Still a starving writer, I wait until these teeth are ready to implode before actually paying to get them ripped out. So finally another of my molars collapsed in on its self like a dying star and a sucking blackhole of agony took its place.

And then screaming in terror when we find massive stars being devoured by huge black holes.

I make so little money that the poverty line looks like the summit of Mount Everest, which means I get free healthcare thanks to Obamacare. Fortunately that includes some basic dental care, unfortunately that basic care includes getting your teeth pulled and cleanings, none of the major repair work required. Still, I was able to get in to see a dentist who would extract the tooth without charging me (or rather charge the state rather than me).

The dentist brought me in to the room and began to explain that the state only gives him $50 bucks to extract a tooth, a procedure that usually costs between $300 and $400. He quickly gave me a few shots of that numbing agent dentists use, and left to talk to another patient while the dental assistant continued to talk to me about that $50 dollars that the state pays them.

“If you could afford to donate anything it would be a great help, because if we only saw patients like you, we’d go bankrupt.” She said.

Alarm bells should have started going off at this point, but at this point it had been four days since the pain began. It started late on a Saturday night, when I took a drink of water. I drank and the motion of swallowing set off the strangest sensation I’d ever felt, a kind of suction in my tooth as if the air had been sucked out of it. A crushing, sucking, sinking pain went shooting down the length of the tooth and burrowed deep into my jaw, tunneling outward until it felt like a carnivorous worm was eating my face from the inside out. But it was Saturday night, and no one would be open until Monday. The only reason I didn’t go screaming into the emergency room was because I was terrified of being stuck with a $10,000 medical bill over a single fucking tooth. Plus I had a bunch of hydrocodone left over from my having my wisdom teeth out, so I was able to put myself in a tiny medically-induced coma.

I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.
I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.

I came to on Monday and scheduled the appointment, but there wasn’t an opening until Tuesday. So finally, mercifully, after four of the worse days in my entire life, I finally had a dentist willing to remove my tooth. The dentist’s office could have been named Joseph Mengele Memorial and had walls splattered with blood, and I probably still wouldn’t have clued in that maybe I was in trouble. The dentist talking about “patients like me” and complaining how the state underpays them just didn’t register as possible concern, especially since I agreed with them. The state should definitely pay these people more, maybe then it wouldn’t have taken me hours of phone calls to find a dentist that would take me.

No, I was grateful to this dentist. I was sitting in a room across from the children’s waiting room, listening to Elsa from Frozen sing Let It Go and looking up at a beautiful mural of some butterflies. I was fully prepared to give this man the donation he was asking for, I would get paid in a few weeks after all and the only reason I was rushing was because I was in soul-crushing amounts of pain. Or so I thought. In actuality, I had no real understanding of what pain was. But I was about to learn.

Shut up, I'm in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.
Shut up, I’m in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.

As the dentist came in, I told him I could still feel my tooth throbbing.

“It’s okay, let me just check your tooth out.” He said, reaching into my mouth with those big ass pliers they use. The cold metal latched onto the remains of my tooth, and the sucking, gnawing pain in my tooth was suddenly accompanied by a shivering cold pressure. I grunted in that international language of pain, a grunt that meant “holy shit it hurts, stop, stop, STOP!”

I don’t know what sound I made next because I couldn’t hear anything past the crunching, snapping, and grinding of my tooth as he clamped down on it and began yanking on it. Yet the sound was nothing. It was the pain. It was beyond description, but I’ll give it my best shot.

It was electric, a shooting, twisting, burning agony that shot through my entire mouth. Every muscle in my body seized up at once, and my eyes became strangely fixated on the black butterfly in the mural above me. I could see it, but I wasn’t really seeing, it was just something my eyes became focused on while I was struggling to comprehend what was happening. My left hand shot up in the air, the universal sign to stop and I was doing my best to gurgle-drool that same sentiment with his hand in my mouth.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.

“Put your hand down. Put your hand down.” He said, his once kind voice now had a harsh edge to it as he actually got angry at my resistance. “It’s a hot tooth, very difficult to numb.”

Bullshit. I’ve had infected teeth, my wisdom teeth had become so infected that the infection actually ate away part of my jaw bone. But when I had them removed, that dentist had taken the time and effort to make sure I was totally numb before proceeding. This bastard just didn’t want to take the time to humanely remove my tooth, because in his eyes this simply wasn’t worth his time. I wasn’t a patient of his, I was “one of those patients”, the kind that couldn’t pay and he was going to remove this tooth as quickly as possible regardless of my pain. Short of becoming violent, and wrapping my hands around the dentist’s throat until he let me go, I had no options. I simply had to let it happen.

With a final, sickening snap the top half of the tooth came out. A strange cold began seeping into my hands and feet, and it felt like the cold was filling me up like water in glass, slowly rising up into my arms and legs stopping just short of my chest. I felt utterly drained.

I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.
I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.

I remember reaching into my mouth to remove a huge chunk of tooth that was just sitting on my tongue, because there wasn’t anyone suctioning away the debris like I’d had in every other tooth extraction. Then he was back in my mouth with a sharp…something, and he jammed it deep into my gum, and began twisting and rotating it back and forth. I understand now that he was loosening the roots of my tooth, but at that time I really didn’t understand what was happening.

He finally ripped out the tooth after a few minutes of this. All in all, the entire procedure might have taken five minutes at the most, the shortest I’ve ever spent in a dentist’s chair. They handed me a wad of tissues to wipe away the stream of tears that had been streaming down my face, jammed a piece of gauze in my agony-hole and sent me on my way. I barely remember the drive home, I just remember rushing up the stairs into my room and downing half a bottle of Hydrocodone, and then curling up in a ball desperately waiting for sweet relief. Unfortunately since it was pill form, it took another twenty or thirty minutes for that relief to arrive.

And thus ended the single most painful experience of my life. When my tooth began hurting at the start of the week, I’d have classified the pain as a 7 on the pain scale. When I broke my ankle as a kid, that was probably a 9. This though, this wasn’t a 10. It was a 40 or a 50. My entire perception of pain has now shifted. That broken ankle would barely register as 4 at this point. I had nightmares for days afterward.

But I survived, and soon I’ll be back to posting our regularly scheduled content. I just had to let someone, anyone, know about the strange account of being introduced to 19th century dental practices.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
On the bright side, if I ever write a story featuring dental torture, I’ll know exactly how to describe it…

Later this week I’ll finally start posting some of those poor articles condemned to Draft Purgatory, I nearly talked myself out of it. But after having a tooth ripped out without anesthetic, posting a bad article is no longer a fear worth having.

Confidence (Or the lack thereof) and Writing

So while I was struggling with my latest article on The Witcher 3, I got a helpful tip from a roaming robot about my blog.

Robot Taunt

First of all, it’s “too” lazy you god damn machine, if you’re going to insult me at least be grammatically correct. Second of all, how dare you impugn my honor!? Being lazy is only like 5% to %10 of my problem.

Okay, 50% at the most...
50% at the most…

To this spam bot’s favor, its comment did get me wondering… why don’t I update more? What the hell is wrong with me? That’s an excellent question. The answer is, as usual, I’m a terrible human being. 

No, not really. But that’s what my mind is always telling me, and that’s the problem.  I have no sense of self-worth I guess, all of my self-esteem is tied up in the opinions of everyone else. Last year I was staying with some friends in Portland when I got to interview for a job with Microsoft to do writing for the Halo series. When I got the initial call from the recruiter, my friend Emma described me as “glowing,” which I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ve ever been described as that. Then I didn’t get it, and I fell into a pretty black depression and didn’t write another blog post for three months.

That post about Microsoft was mostly trying to bluff myself out of falling into a depression, but obviously that didn’t work.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
I don’t need to say hello, we’re on a first-name basis.

So I lost a similar job opportunity with AT&T a few weeks ago. Of course my brain doesn’t focus on:

The fact that my resume managed to impress a recruiter enough to contact me.

That I got through four rounds of phone interviews with first the recruiter and then various members of AT&T team.

And then actually got an in-person interview.

No what my brain focuses on is the fact that, at the end I didn’t get the job. Sure, being sad you didn’t get a job is a probably a normal reaction, but it probably shouldn’t take my entire sense of self-worth with it. For weeks at a time. 

But then there’s not really much self-worth for these failures to take with them. Let me show you something else:

70 Drafts
Zoom and Enhance!
Yes, that says 70 drafts.
Yes, that says 70 drafts.

That’s a screenshot of my WordPress control panel, telling me I have 70 drafts. Now I’ve always assumed this was just a bunch of half-baked ideas I’d written down and just never followed up on. Spring cleaning that I’d never bothered to do, like the drafts folder of my email. I started hunting through my drafts after I thought I’d lost part of a Witcher 3 article I was working on (turns out the paragraphs that were missing were on my phone, I just hadn’t uploaded them), and about half of it was half-written ideas.

The other half though? Fully written articles that I never published. Just sitting there.

Draft Examples 2

The 5 tropes that need to die article, was just 5 sentences, a bare bones idea for an article (which I’d actually forgotten about but now I’m gonna finish it because these tropes are terrible). The other two pictured though? Total articles, both around two to three thousand words long. Pictures included.

Why did I decide to not post those?

I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. 

I didn’t take an exact count but, out of the 70 drafts I have, there are probably 20-30 fully and partially written articles. I could release one a day and have enough content for nearly a month. I could release one a week and have enough content for half a year.

Well maybe I’m just a really good editor right? I’m like J. K. Simmons in Spider-Man, I know when something is crap and I simply don’t bother my readers with it. Yeah, that’s it, I’m just a really great editor. The best.

Yeah, okay, maybe not.

Because this is another one of my drafts:

Draft Examples

These are two articles (the bottom one is only partially written) about Planescape Torment, and somehow my brain convinced me that no one wanted to read those. Even though one of my amazingly generous patrons (from my Patreon page. which you should still contribute to despite my just admitting how terrible I am) actually requested articles on this very subject, my brain still figured that no one wanted to read any of that.

My brain cannot be trusted. 

So in the interests of posting more frequently, and to stop wasting my time writing articles and then not posting it, I’m going to just post everything. I’m almost going to post everything. I’ll also start going backwards through my collected drafts and actually start posting them.  So look forward to that I guess, unless all these articles really are terrible, then… apologies in advance I guess.

The Nutter Butter Follow Up

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)Just wanted to give everyone who contributed to the Nutter Butter fund a HUGE thank you. The limp she had turned out to be a symptom of bone cancer, but it hadn’t metastasized beyond the the leg, so an amputation seems to have gotten most of it. Even if it does return, with your help, my parents have another year with her at least. So thanks everyone!

Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn't seem to notice her missing leg.
Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn’t seem to notice her missing leg.

Cortana and the Great Left Handed Writing Experiment

So it’s not exactly been a great time for the Great Left Handed Story Experiment. Last week I began a new job, a boring and yet somehow fascinating job transcribing audio records. Currently the company I work for is being contracted to transcribe people’s interactions with the new Cortana assistant that will be featured with Windows 10. Basically I listen to what people say and compare that to what Cortana thought they said, and it’s usually hilariously wrong. For instance right now it thinks Wikipedia is spelled wicca pedia. But then I correct it, it gets sent over to China where the company is based, who send it back to Microsoft (who is like a block up the street) and their fancy engineers go over it to see how they can improve the voice recognition. It’s revealed a lot about how humans interact with machines and it’s proven one thing:

The moment we create an AI it will totally go Skynet on our asses.

All according to plan...
And we will have totally had it coming…

The amount of abuse hurled at Cortana is frankly staggering. Most of this is standard “God damnit why don’t you work properly” and “How do I remove you from my phone” but some of it is stuff that makes even me blush. I’m sure most of my readers know, but for those who don’t, Cortana is for all intents and purposes a totally nude woman from Halo who travels with the Master Chief during the Halo games. Okay, she “technically” doesn’t have genitals, rather she’s the holographic equivalent of a Barbie doll, but here’s what she looks like:

Download-Wallpaper-HD-Microsoft-Studios-Halo-Cortana-wallpaper
Even the Asari from Mass Effect were this shamelessly objectified. So they’re releasing that to the public, and most of the people testing her are in the 18-32 range. So about my age, only without all of my class, charm and fucking self restraint.

So a non-trivial portion of my day is now spent listening to what people would do to the voice on their phone if she were a real woman. And then I have to faithfully dictate those remarks. She’s just a voice on the phone at this point, I shudder to think what will happen when they actually create a hologram of her. Let’s hope the holodeck comes with a self-cleaning mechanism.   And you can believe that if I had my finger on the Doomsday button, I would have pushed it by now.

But anyway between that and helping my mom move into her new place over the weekend, last week was pretty much a wash in terms of writing. So let’s just assume that was a very prolonged April Fool’s joke and move on with our lives, shall we?

On Sunday evening I carved out some time to do some writing, and started writing on my breaks/lunch at work. Here’s Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Now if only I could find some time to actually play Pillars of Eternity…

Josh stood up as straight as he could, trying to look as intimidating as possible. The old man at the bar laughed even harder.

“You’re the one who blew up the DuPrix Blacksmith aren’t you?” The bartender asked.

“How did you know?”

“Oh just had a feeling…” The bartender chuckled again. “No wonder that stick o’ a girl Annabelle was able to lay you out. I’ve buried corpses with more fight than you.”

“She didn’t lay me out! I fell over!” Josh said.

“BAHAHAHA!” The bartender roared with laughter.

He took out a brown glass and poured a clear liquid into it, filling it to the brim.

“Here, on me.” The bartender grinned.

“Why?” Josh asked, eye balling the ugly glass as if afraid the contents might erupt from it.

“Cause that drunken bastard went and died before paying his tab and watching his shop burning down did my soul good.”

Josh smiled, picking up the sickly brown glass and holding it to his lips. He hoped it was simply poorly made glass rather than filthy as he let the liquid pour down his throat.

Josh dropped like a stone, he was huffing and puffing like a woman in labor with every breath, and each of those breaths were agony against his scorched throat.

“Acid…” Josh coughed. He’d been poisoned! He was sure of it.

“How ’bout that bite, eh boy?” The bartender laughed. “That’ll put some hairs on that yankee chest!”

“You…” Josh rasped accusingly. but the curse was driven out of him as the alcohol hit his stomach. “God save me…”

“Get up!” Tommy said, pulling Josh to his feet. The entire bar was now rattling with laughter. “You’re embarrassing yourself!”

“Fuck you… try some of that poison and tell me I’m embarrassing myself!”

Soon Tommy too was leaning against the bar, his coughing causing his entire body to heave and shudder

“Don’t you have anything a bit…weaker?” Tommy rasped.

“This ain’t one of those fancy drinking dens like you’re used to back in Naw Yorhk. I’m all out of your watered down yankee swill. You want some of those why don’t you go outside and piss in each other’s mouths!” The bartender scowled. “Now either buy another round or get the fuck out of my bar.”

One of the drunk soldiers came sidling up to them, wrapping his lanky arms around their shoulders. The long hairy knuckled hand crept down Josh’s shoulder like a tarantula, and he shuddered as he noticed the man’s pinky and half his ring finger were missing.

“Lookie here, boys. I came ‘ere to get drunk off me ass and you two are pissing off the man with the magic elixir. Now buy yourselves a couple of drinks or me and my boys will shatter every bone in your body.

Josh and Tommy slid a few coins across the makeshift bar and watched as the pungent liquid poured into their glasses…

Once Josh’s mouth and throat were completely numb, the moonshine really wasn’t all that bad.

“Aghnoffer” Josh said, his numb lips struggling and failing to form a T-sound.

“That’s the spirit.” The bartender said.

“Sooo you owe me…blowing up the Blassith’s hoose”

“I owe you nothin’ yank.” The bartender said with a scowl. “But at least you brought Annabelle DuPrix down a few notches.”

“Annahhbellll Duppeee? Whooose ‘sat?”

“The girl who laid you out today. Was her pappy’s shop you done blown up.”

“What!?” Josh said, half a mouthful of liquor burning its way down his chin. “I blew up her father’s shop?”

Josh momentarily emerged from the fog of bewilderment he’d been smothered in ever since that first drink.

“I shoullh go apolgiees righhh nowww.”

“I wouldn’t if I were you. She damn near killed you last time.”

“She did not, I fell over!”

 

Analysis: 

Well this was fun. You know going back over these last few weeks and the story I’ve written, I can see it becoming a good story. I’ve read a lot of theories about writing and one of the most common ones is that you should just write your first draft. Like Sean Connery said in Finding Forrester, the first key to writing is to write. I’ve never actually written a full first draft without any editing at all, I always edit as I go.

“Well is there a better way to say this?” I say to myself, and the answer is always yes. For instance when Josh notices the man’s fingers missing, I just state the fact his fingers are missing. I tell instead of show.

“The man’s pinky and ring fingers ended in shriveled, blackened nubs.” Might have been a more descriptive turn of phrase.

And yet if I were editing as I go, I might have spent ten fifteen minutes just trying to figure out what to do with that sentence. Agonizing over every little detail.

Same with the historical accuracy, I have a feeling I’ve got a lot of anachronistic elements in this story. Yet I’ve written far more on this story than I have with my story about World War I and the Warsaw Uprising of 1945, both of which I did exhaustive research on. I still have stacks of notes for a story I haven’t actually written yet. Now I’m thinking I’ll start writing those stories, and ignore the notes until the 2nd draft.

And hand writing it has really helped with the urge to edit while I write, because I hate writing by hand. 

“Oh, I used the wrong version of their in that sentence. Well too fucking bad, I ain’t going back to fix it! This is pen is a runaway bulldozer, we only go in one direction!” Is what I say to myself. You see I have terrible fine motor control, so the effort of making the text legible for even me is pretty considerable. So I write the important parts of the story and move on, I’ll describe the bar when I can retreat to a computer!

Yes I’m still a bit embarrassed about the quality of the story so far, but when I went back over what I’d written on Sunday, I saw the really cool story that’s hiding under the mess. I’m kind of excited to finish this project now, just so I can go back and post an edited version to compare and contrast the two versions.

The Great Left-Handed Writing Experiment: Days 5-8

So I’ve fallen a bit behind on my writing experiment. I’m starting a new job next week, I’m currently playing Pillars of Eternity so I can review it, and my parent’s are moving into a new house. So there’s a lot of stuff going on.

But mostly I’ve fallen behind because I’m just embarrassed by what I’m writing here. This was a terrible idea. I’m thinking of titling this “Life sucks and everything is terrible” in honor of how bad this story is getting.

Yet that was the point of this exercise, to put something so embarrassingly horrible out there that publishing other work I’ve done seems brilliant by comparison. So without further ado here it is:

Annabelle launched herself at the cackling former slave, slamming into Beth’s midsection. The pair of went tumbling into the road, beth began pulling at Annabelle’s hair. All along the row of the houses, people come out to watch the girl’s tumbling through the street.

“Hey, get off her!”

Suddenly a hand was clutching Beth’s hair like a leash, using it to viciously yank her off Annabelle. Beth found herself hanging in the air by her hair, tears stinging her eyes as searing pain radiated across her scalp.

“Lemme go you somabitch!” Beth hissed, grasping at the massive calloused hands holding her up. Max von Krieger spat in the girl’s face, making her squeal.

“Thank you Max!” Annabelle said. The hulking man grunted, smiling down at Annabelle. At leas Max’s version of a smile, the right side of his face was twisted with scars and the dead milky white of his right eye stood in stark contrast to the brown of his left.

“Whatcha think y’all doing?”

Annabelle whipped around to see a half dozen former slaves strolling down the street.

“Put her down, ain’t slaves no more. Ye can’t treat us like that anymore.”

The leader of the group said, a man  in his forties said, his skin so black Annabelle mistook him for a shadow.

“Your girl here attacked Ms. DuPrix.” Max said.

“I believe ya, she always done had more fire than sense.” The man said, “And I promise ya, sir, she will be disciplined. But by us, in our own way.”

Max stared at teh girl, to the man, and back again.

“I’d hate to be bothering them boys in blue over this. So why don’t you just let her go?”

Max grumbled and tossed the girl into the man’s arms.

“Ya somabitch!” Beth wailed, running her hands through her hair, making sure it was still attached. “I’ll kill ya! Ya hear me!? I’ll kill-”

Beth was suddenly silenced by the man as he cuffed her over the back of the head.

“Be quiet ya fool girl, you made enough trouble for one day.”

The group surrounded the crying girl and quickly left the area.

 

Josh began dry heaing again as the stink from the latrine pit struck him again. It was like being punched in the face by God Almighty himself!

“Sweet Mary,” Josh said, struggling to cross himself while still retching, “Whatever Sin I committed to deserve this, I ask you, just strike me down for it next time.”

Josh resumed shoveling dirt back into the hole, his stomach turning over as the putrid mix of piss and shit swallowed each shovel full of dirt with a disgusting wet gurgling. Fortunately this was the last one he had to fill.

“So I guess you learned mouthing off at your commanding officer isn’t such a good idea, eh?” Tommy Lancaster said, taking a long leisurely drag on the cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“You shut your damn mouth.” Josh said to his loader. “You wanted to christen Bellowing Bertha just as much as I did, but I’m the one who got latrine duty.”

“YOu didn’t get latrine duty for that, you got latrine because you never learned when to keep your mouth shut. ‘Sides, I didn’t say to blow up a house, you were supposed to aim for the tree line!”

“I did!” Josh said, pounding down the dirt with his shovel, as if afraid the latrine would come oozing out after him.

“Well thank God the war is over if that’s how you aim.” Tommy laughed.

“Did you want something or you just here to gloat?”

“Sorry there Josh!” Tommy chuckled, raising his hands in surrender. “Just having some fun. I just got tired of patrolling the streets. Not like anythings gonna happen here. Only thing left here are old men, women and their slaves. Don’t know why we’re even down here now, just ship us home.

“So much for killing a regiment each, eh?”

 

“Yeah come on, there is one good thing left in this town – a saloon.”

It was still early afternoon but it wasn’t much like there was much else to do and Josh wasn’t exactly eager to get new orders.

The pair went strolling into town following the winding dirt road until finally they finally came to an old run down building that had “salone” painted across the door that was barely hanging onto its hinges.

They stepped inside to see it was filled with three dozen other soldiers in various states of drunkenness.

“Heheh” The bartender, an old man with a beard’s worth of hair sprouting from his ears, chuckled as Josh stepped up to a slab of wood nailed into the wall.

“Something funny friend” Josh asked, sitting up straight and trying to look as intimidating as possible. The bartender only laughed harder.