Monday Updates, Strangers, and a blogger in trouble
Tuesday, January 25 2011 @ 07:35 AM UTC
I've wanted to do Strangers for a couple of years, now. I knew that I wanted to make a race that takes the darkest points of Jokers and intensifies them - I also knew that I wanted to make a race of Dancers too, for the other side of the coin, but that's a story for another day. The problem was, up until Halloween just gone, I didn't know what the hell Strangers looked like. I thought of black-hooded figures that glided silently and motionlessly around as if on well-oiled rollerskates. I thought of blood-weeping monsters, swathed head to toe in stale yellow-brown bandages. I thought of stick-figure frames arranged of sharpened metal, a living human head impaled upon the top, razor-point hands. None of them was creepy enough.
And then I had to figure out a costume for Halloween, at the last minute. A cheap cardboard bowler hat, a slightly-extravagant papier mache mask, and the crappiest dollar-fifty plain white cotton gloves - these things seemed to assemble themselves out of the costume shop. I didn't know what I was going to do with them, just that they might be useful for the party after the one I was going to that night, and I bought some liquid latex goo and fake blood to go with my old Cyborg Standby.
That night, in front of the bathroom mirror just minutes before the first guests arrived, I duct-taped a bunch of wires to my face and painted over them with latex and crunched-up cornflakes, before realising that neither I nor my housemates had any make-up to colour this white stuff to match my skin. I wasn't a damaged cyborg - I was just some bloke with a load of crazy shit sticking out of his beard.
Tearing the stuff off and ruminating on why all my Halloween costumes involve half-assedly gluing random crap to my face at the last minute, I went back into the bedroom, grabbed my one and only suit jacket and pair of black pants, a black shirt, a black tie, the mask, the bowler hat, the gloves, looked at myself in the mirror, and there was a Stranger looking back at me.
The character took on its own theme throughout the first half of the evening, its birdlike motions taking form, the cat's ear dropper appropriated to play the role of the Stranger's syringe. My friends were unsettled. Some of my friends are horror writers.
For the party the following week, I wore the same Stranger outfit. I didn't know as many people for this one, and the conversation, usually pretty free-flowing, was a little harder to get started than usual. Taking the mask off to smoke, folks smiled and chatted and joked and carried on human-style - mask back on, and things get weird again. Same with the gloves: mask on and gloves off, friendly - gloves back on, weird.
At one point while outside smoking with the mask on, early on in the evening while the kids were still around, a girl of nine or ten came out with her friend, took one look at me, gave out a tiny little yelp and ran back inside.
It probably didn't help that the smoke was getting inside the mask and rising through the eye holes.
The story came together - what if people reacted like that all the time? What sort of a person would that make you? In other words, who would you be if you couldn't just take off the mask, grab a beer and have a natter with whoever seems interesting?
And there's the character.
Wanna know something creepy? My right eye's been hurting for a couple of days. Dunno what's up with it - just woke up and it was all red and tender. Shortly after writing the bit about the eye. Brr.
So, there's this blog, called The Tiny Ouroboros. Its writer, Fox, says on the blog's "about" page that it's about minimalism, green living, and keeping things simple. It isn't, really; she knows that, but explaining just what it's about is tricky. I'd say that it was more about exposing corporate bullshit and reminding you about what you need - but that's not really what it's about, either. I think it's about a very talented woman writing about getting by with very little, and trying to do so in a way that does the least harm to anyone. Not in some new-age tree-hugging owning-no-more-than-a-hundred-things hippy bullshit way, either - in a way that's simple, straightforward, and laced with a healthy dose of uncommon common sense.
I don't agree with everything that Fox says, but her writing style is both interesting and entertaining - enough so to make me enjoy even the posts where I couldn't disagree more. Snarky but not acidic, passionate but not preachy, a good mix, a mix that could only come from someone with real, honest talent.
It's sometimes our tendencies, when we read very good blogs, to assume that the author is making some money from it. It's our tendency to assume that lots of people are reading. Sometimes that isn't true, and we don't even notice the lie we've told ourselves until something comes along to shift it.
(this is why blogs don't make money - the better the blog, the more people think "Hey, I don't have to pay them any money - with a blog this good, they must be earning thousands!")
I think that we make up stories about the world, to act as buffers between us and hard, cold reality. We see movies like Rocky and The Karate Kid, and we believe that if you try hard enough, you can achieve anything (training montage!). Being alive tells us over and over again that that just isn't true, but the lesson never really sinks in. We still keep going back to the belief that you can go from being homeless to being the president, if you just give it everything you've got and keep hope in your heart.
It isn't true. It's how it's supposed to be, it's how we would like it to be, and it's the world that we try to make every day, but reality is a hard thing to change.
In the story unfolding inside my head, Fox was a woman getting by with what she had, keeping her chin up, writing about it, telling you how you can get by with less. One day, her blog was going to gather a small but passionate core group of readers who would support her, get her out of debt, and let her live a happier life. In my story, she was going to have her writing talents recognised, and rewarded. I didn't have to do anything, or be a part of it, because that's what was going to happen anyway - that's how the story goes.
That's because, like a lot of writers, I'm a little bit mad - sometimes I catch myself believing that life is like a good story, where the good guys win, the bad guys lose, words are more powerful than bullets, everything happens for a reason, and that if you just try your hardest, life will work out for you.
(as a Brit living in the USA, yeah, I can say that it is worse in America, where even more people believe that if you're poor, it must be because you're just not trying quite hard enough. In Australia, there's a slang term for people who work every hour God sends but still only just manage to scrape by - if that's you, they'd call you a "Battler." You've probably not heard that term before, because people don't make up slang terms for things they don't believe in)
So - as a man so insane that he sometimes catches himself believing that people get what they deserve - when I read this, something in my heart threw a bearing, and I found myself going "That's not what's supposed to happen!"
Even though I know it does happen, because that was me, very recently.
When you're in the same struggle every day - in this case, debt, and boy do I know what that's like - even when you're paying off a few more quid each month, even when your finances say that you're winning, a couple of quid at a time, it's hard to feel that way. Fox may be losing the battle in her heart, and I can't blame her; I've been there before, in the place where the walls of the story fall apart and it's cold outside, in the place where you're starting to wonder whether or not this is your life, now, that this is forever.
Like much - not all, but much - of human suffering, this happens because we let it happen. I've got a game with five thousand players, and I've got... not much money, but some, because I've just done a bit of a donations drive, and I'm used to having far less. I've got enough that giving twenty bucks to Fox won't make me any hungrier right now.
I'm not so mad that I believe I can rewrite the world so that it fits in with the story that plays out in my head. But I'm not so sane (or so mad - take your pick; how cynical/rational are you feeling today?) that I won't try to at least nudge this little bit of it into the way it should be. Because I've been there, because it's not fair, because the default situation makes for a really shit story, and because if I just sat here and did nothing, I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
Visit The Tiny Ouroboros. Read the "Best Of" section. This blog isn't for everyone, so if you don't like what you read, then by all means tell me to go screw myself. If you do like what you read, tell your friends and give Fox a couple of bucks - she doesn't run ads, so that's the only way she gets paid for her time, just like your donations are the only thing keeping Improbable Island alive.
I know that a lot of you are the sort of people who wish that the world was as easy to rewrite as a plot point in a story. I'm sorry to tell you that this outlook means you're utterly, utterly bonkers. It also means that you're the sort of people who end up changing the world, and Fox's current situation is a part of the world that needs changed, urgently. We need some madmen in here.
Six weeks ago a friend of mine back in England was crushed beneath a falling concrete block. He was a nice guy, who never hurt anyone. His son was one year old. It took him all night to die from his injuries. He went out horribly, for no reason at all. And yet, not even two months later, I catch myself believing, again, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that everything happens for a reason and that the world should operate like a story. It doesn't, but I'm bonkers enough to believe that it should, and that with a lot of hard work, one tiny piece at a time over many years, it can.
Thanks, and I hope I didn't bore you.
(PS: I don't actually know Fox, beyond a couple of E-mails and what she writes on her blog. If we want the world to work the way we think it should work, then a part of that involves being decent to strangers.)