Green Privilege

Oh wow, it’s been awhile since I posted. My other writing projects are going so well, I just haven’t felt like blogging much. But I want to take a moment to say a few words about cannabis. And Netflix.

I rely on cannabis. It is by far the best medicine I’ve found for managing my anxiety disorder. I’ve used it nearly every day since 2008. I’ve smoked it in joints, in bongs, in pipes, in bubblers. I’ve vaped it, eaten it — I’ve even dabbed a few times. Compared to insulin or my allergy medications — the other medicines I rely on — it is fun. So much colorful paraphernalia, so many silly names for strains. My goodness, it comes as candy!

But there’s a dark side too. A history of oppression, motivated by racism and greed. Lack of protection for patients in their apartment rentals or their jobs when using legally within their state. A phenomenon I call canna-bigotry, when ordinary people or, worse, doctors, can’t see past the plant. When researchers or science journalists do a shoddy job in their work to confirm their own bias. Is cannabis damaging me in some way, even as it helps me hold down a job and pay bills and taxes? I don’t think so, but I don’t actually know. No one does.

But as my home state of California hurtles onward toward full recreational legalization, I find a disquiet brewing in me. Radio DJs talking openly about using — alright, that I dig. Billboards for dispensaries popping up everywhere — eh, good for them. Finally coming out of the shadows. Safe. Legal. I’m not wholly comfortable with them just out in public like that, any more than I am with billboards selling alcohol. Kids can read billboards too, after all, and unless they have epilepsy or cancer they have no business using the stuff until they are eighteen.

Stories of people who have been involved in the black market for cannabis — mostly people of color — being kept out of the new white market. That’s more troubling. Come on, cannabis has a culture and it is diverse.

But the most disquieting thing so far is Netflix. Today is the last day you can buy Netflix-branded strains at Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood. And I don’t mean someone else decided to start naming their strains Poussey Riot (inspired by Orange is the New Black) or Prickly Muffin (inspired by Bojack Horseman). NETFLIX THEMSELVES are in on this one. For three days only, they are advertising their new show Disjointed by selling nine strains of cannabis at this “pop-up event”.

I feel like I should be excited. What other new, cool things are unbridled, white market capitalism going to bring to cannabis? But…this is my medicine — I use it because my brain chemistry is not normal. And this is a thing that has gotten countless people, disproportionately of color, thrown in prison. It still gets people denied housing, jobs, and respect. Just five years ago, Daniel Chong, a college student, was kept in a holding cell for five days with no food or water because he had been at a pot-infused party in my own home city of San Diego. He broke his glasses, carved, “I’m sorry mom,” onto his own arm, and then ate the glass in an attempt to end his suffering. And now Netflix wants to cash in with their trendy strains for three days?

This is what privilege looks like. Ableist privilege. White privilege. Poussey would riot, alright.

Just…let’s get the nuts and bolts ironed out before we run too far with this new fun thing called Legal Cannabis. Let’s make sure patients don’t get turned down for a job or kicked out of their apartment because of a drug test. Let’s make sure patients can use in multiple states, not just their own, so they can travel this great nation like everyone else with their medicine in their luggage. Let’s make sure formerly convicted non-violent users and sellers are able to get in on this business. Let’s make sure formerly convicted non-violent users and sellers are all released from prison, and their right to vote is returned. Let’s make sure prices don’t go up and up and up, driving the poor and sick back to the black market because state and municipal governments want those sweet, sweet cannabis business taxes. Let’s make sure good research is being done into how cannabis helps people, and how it hurts people. My God, let’s make sure hemp is being grown for use as paper, fiber, and food again!

Then maybe we can all Netflix and chill.


Don’t Publish Your First Draft! Go Set a Watchman Reviewed

I wasn’t going to read Go Set a Watchman. My interest was piqued enough by the sketchy circumstances surrounding its publication that I read “Atticus Was Always a Racist: Why Go Set a Watchman Is No Surprise” by Catherine Nichols over at Jezebel, which I thought told me everything I needed to know.

Then Harper Lee died, another round of articles came out, and for some reason I thought, “Okay, fine, I’ll read Watchman now.” I do like to be Well Read after all, and I was in need of another book at the time. I guess news as advertising works.

So I read it. And my first impulse was right. It was not worth my time. It is not worth anyone’s time.

It’s a goddamn first draft.

This isn’t news. It’s there in the Wikipedia. Harper Lee wrote Watchman in the 1950s. She used this manuscript to attract a publisher, Tay Hohoff. Hohoff really liked Lee’s work — she described Watchman by saying, “[T]he spark of the true writer flashed in every line.” But she also noted that it was, “more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel.”

So Hohoff helped Lee through several drafts, until Watchman became To Kill a Mockingbird. Along the way, the focus of the story changed. Watchman is about Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, a young woman, coming to grips with the fact that her paragon father Atticus is merely human after all in rather dramatic fashion, against the backdrop of late 1940s southern race relations (which were shockingly bad). Mockingbird, by contrast, features Scout as a child who observes Atticus’s struggles as a white lawyer defending a black man in court in the early twentieth century south (when race relations were even worse).

It is true that at one point there were two sequels planned for Mockingbird, and if Watchman had been edited it might have served as book three of that planned series. But it has not been edited. As a result, there are some big issues. Tom Robinson, the black defendant, is found guilty in Mockingbird, but acquitted in Watchman. There are passages copied from one book to the other. Some characters are more thinly conceived of in Watchman than in Mockingbird, which is weird for something marketed as a sequel.

But the worst offense in my mind is the ending of Watchman. It is completely outdated in a way that no part of Mockingbird is. Jean Louise is dismayed by the overt racism of Atticus, her pseudo-boyfriend Henry “Hank” Clinton, and diverse other characters. She does not remember these characters being so racist during her childhood, and doesn’t understand what has changed. She fights with Atticus, Hank, and her uncle Jack about it, and eventually comes to an understanding with them. And part of that understanding is a good laugh at the notion that most people would ever marry outside of their race.

Maybe that was one of the more centrist positions on the issue in the 1940s and ‘50s, but as the key plank in Atticus’s bridge across the philosophical gap between himself and his daughter it is groan-worthy. This is a book about race published in 2015. It was predestined that people in mixed-race marriages would read it, and they did, including myself.

I don’t know why Lee didn’t edit Watchman, whip it into shape at least a little for its twenty-first century audience. I imagine she must not have been capable — the soundness of her mind was extensively questioned when news of Watchman’s impending publication first surfaced. I can’t imagine she simply didn’t want to expend the effort.

Whatever the reason, Watchman remains a first draft, an early version of a thing that got better. Yes, the focus and plot are substantially different from what it became. That doesn’t make it a stand-alone object, worthy of being contemplated on its own.

And while it could be argued that seeing a Great Novelist’s creative process laid bare is instructive, I argue otherwise. You learn writing by reading a lot of finished texts (both ones that you love and ones that you hate), and then by writing your own. Lee’s process is only meaningful to me because I already know it, and can relate to it. I have learned nothing by seeing Lee in her proverbial underwear, and I don’t even have the benefit of voyeuristic thrill. I just feel mildly embarrassed for her.

Alright. I guess I could have learned that Atticus Finch was a racist all along. But like Nichols said, if you paid attention, Atticus always was.

Is It Sexist to Hit Her? Deadpool Reviewed

Deadpool is fantastic! Five stars, two thumbs up, new Facebook Wow FaceTM. Go see it before reading this, because you’ll laugh your ass off, and avast, thar be spoilers ahead.

Alright, so first I want to give a big shout out to my favorite joke: “Written by The Real Heroes”. Because it’s true. While the effects team worked pure magic and Ryan Reynolds knocked it out of the park (and dat ass…), without top-notch writing this movie would have been a big, obnoxious mess. My hats off to you, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

And the runner-up jokes:

–The little figurine of “Deadpool” from X Men Origins: Wolverine.

–Going to meet Professor X. “Which one, Stewart or McAvoy?”

–Angel Dust’s boob popping out of her bustier mid-fight, and Colossus freaking out.

There are, of course, many, many more fine jokes from Deadpool to reminisce about. But at this point I’d rather take a long look at that last one. The boob, the gentlemanly freak-out, the coy acceptance of Colossus’s chivalry. And then Angel Dust hits Colossus hard with a sucker punch, because you don’t look away from your opponent in a life-or-death battle. Not even if she’s a pretty, and partially exposed, woman.

Thanks to Reese and Wernick, this movie gets exactly where we are in this conversation. Is it sexist to hit a woman? Is it more sexist not to hit a woman? Deadpool himself asks this question mid-movie. He answers by shooting the woman in question with comedic timing; perfect Deadpool. But yes, there is an automatic cringe upon seeing such a cute, petite woman gunned down by a masked maniac.

But we just saw Deadpool treat a dozen guys the same way. They’re all “bad guys”, they all work for Ajax/Francis, and Deadpool isn’t portrayed as heroic for killing them so it’s okay. His brutality is funny. Dark satire pratfalls.

So, in context, is it sexist to hit the woman? She’s just another hench(wo)man. No super powers to even out nature’s muscular imbalance — but those other henchmen weren’t powered up either. In context, it really seems more sexist not to hit her.

And that, oddly, is what makes Deadpool the “hero” in this film. He’s the only man on screen who isn’t sexist. Okay, yeah, so he encourages the cabbie Dopinder to treat the object of his desires as an object. But Deadpool is comfortable talking about masturbation with his roommate, Blind Al. Which is normal for male roommates, but Blind Al is a woman.

Similarly, Deadpool doesn’t get jealous about the chosen profession of his lady love. They never talk about it once — we have no idea if Vanessa is still turning tricks or not. Because it doesn’t matter. Deadpool and Vanessa love the heck out of each other. Whatever their relationship looks like, it’s working for them, and that’s what matters.

And there’s a streak of Bugs Bunny’s transvestitism in Reynold’s Deadpool. He never wears a dress, but he’s impressively comfortable with his own sexual objectification. His cross-acting (what else can I call it?) is used for comedic effect on screen, but it’s clear the character himself really doesn’t give a damn about gender norms. Unless he can use them to crack an excellent joke.

Meanwhile, Francis totally forgets about the Vanessa in the Fridge behind him. So when she escapes, grabs Deadpool’s sword, and stabs Francis…I can’t even call that a joke. That was cosmic justice for every damsel in distress who hasn’t waded into the fight the moment she could.

To acknowledge the naked elephant (stripper) in the room, yeah. We have a little full frontal female nudity in this film. But we also have a long shot of Ryan Reynold’s muscular butt, and another long shot of Everything when Francis leaves him to die in the burning laboratory. That, my friends, is gender equality.

It must also be mentioned that this movie is dark, intensely violent, and vulgar. It’s not the kind of movie I expect to find myself thinking good for people. Not good for kids, no. To the mom and dad who brought their two little boys to see Deadpool with them and sat in front of me — your boys are super well behaved, but what the heck is wrong with you?

For adults, though? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with depictions of violence in media, so long as the writers, directors, actors, etc. are honest with the audience. Violence is shocking, disgusting, and holds the possibility of dire, even mortal consequence.

Once that is stated (and it is, in spades), why not make fun of what squishy meatbags we are?

In short, if it’s fiction, just hit the girl already.

When Our Icons Betray Us

What a week. There were terrorist attacks in Jakarta and Istanbul, there have been more disappointing results in the cases of law enforcement officers who injured or killed people, those discontents are STILL holed up in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the environment…well, let’s just not go there.

And we lost David Bowie AND Alan Rickman. (Rest in peace, Metatron — I guess God wanted his Voice back.)

And then, because we all needed the emotional whiplash, a story emerged (re-emerged, really) that Bowie (hardly even cold yet) committed statutory rape with underage groupies back in the 70‘s. And he was accused of rape once in the ‘80s as well.

So what is anyone supposed to feel, morally, about that?

First, if you have strong feelings about this kind of thing already, you are totally entitled to them. Sex crimes are, by their very nature, a highly emotional topic. If you are most comfortable spending the rest of your life avoiding the creative works of Bowie or any of the many, many singers, musicians, actors, writers, directors, artists, etc. who have committed a sex crime, I understand.

But for me, it’s getting more complicated than that.

Like many people, I do have what I’ll term an “Ick List”, a set of celebrities whose works I try to avoid. Some are known sexual predators or abusers (Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Terry Richardson). Some have done legal but icky things (JD Salinger used and abandoned a series of college-age English majors; Katy Perry wore some very derogatory Jew-Face for her “Birthday” video).

But I haven’t put Bowie on my Ick List. Or Michael Jackson. Or Woody Allen.

So why? What’s my excuse? It isn’t just because I happen to LIKE Bowie, Jackson, and Allen. The Catcher in the Rye meant a lot to me as a teenager because I could identify with Holden Caulfield’s struggle with depression. I suspect I’d like Polanski’s films if I saw them. Full disclosure — I even like a few of Perry’s songs.

It isn’t because Bowie, Jackson, and Allen were cleared by the courts. Rape is notoriously hard to prove, and while I would like to believe that those three men were innocent of rape (or that Bowie’s underage partners were, as Lori Mattix insists, so willing they can’t possibly be victims) I don’t know that. No one knows but those men and the people who might or might not have been their victims.

It isn’t contrition. Allen has continued to say creepy things about his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn. I don’t know if Bowie ever publicly regretted his statutory rape, and his flat denial about raping Wanda Nichols may have only earned him more distrust from the Femterweb if it was a current event.

Seriality has something to do with it — Salinger’s many misused girlfriends, the many accusations leveled against Cosby. Character definitely has something to do with it. Richardson always comes off looking like a sleaze, Polanski fled the country, and Perry does have a penchant for very problematic lyrics. Kelly and Brown just strike me as bad men, certainly not the kind I want serenading me.

Meanwhile, I saw/rode Captain Eo again last time I went to Disneyland, and Jackson seemed so sweet and pure-hearted while fighting that crazy spider woman with the power of love, dance, and muppets.

So I have my own moral algebra — I make no excuses for it, it is what it is — but it gets more complicated than that. Because one of my favorite current pop stars, Lady Gaga, decided to work with Kelly and Richardson. And I really liked the song she did with Kelly, and the clips of the abandoned video with Richardson intrigued me. My understanding is that Gaga decided to work with these two known abusers BECAUSE they were abusers and she was working through her own rape. But she still funneled more money and fame their way, empowering both Kelly and Richardson in a way that they did not deserve.

That’s really the problem with watching, listening to, looking at, or otherwise supporting known abusers. Whether the creator is a separate entity from their creations or not*, sexually abusive creators don’t deserve all the money, power, and fame. They don’t deserve the satisfaction of knowing that millions are enjoying their work. They don’t deserve to be lofted up above their victims by society. They don’t deserve to be legitimized while their victims are de-legitimized.

So the question becomes, “Does your personal boycott matter?”

Maybe? We’ve come to the point where at least 95% of our society has condemned Cosby. His reruns have been pulled off the air, he lost gigs, and media-wise he’s very rarely anything but the butt of others’ jokes now. This only happened because a lot of individuals personally refused to watch him perform.

But unless the members of your particular Ick List reach Cosby-esque proportions of wrong-doing — unless guilt is certain, chronic, and unrepentant — society probably isn’t going to care about your personal boycott. It will not, in the long run, make one jot of difference.

Yet I maintain my Ick List. I’m not about to go buy myself a copy of Black Panties, even though Kelly’s voice was so beautiful on Gaga’s “Do What You Want”. Why? Because I want to feel like I have some control in this sometimes awful, always chaotic world. I can’t stop terrorism, or decrease the endemic racism in our justice system, or teach rural ranchers about the big picture, or end climate change.

But I can change the channel, flip the station, put down the book, click elsewhere, and get away from the art that represents a person who has transgressed.

The moral of this blog post? Avoid or enjoy any media that you want, because your relationship with the media you consume is all about you.


*I wanted to say more about this philosophical question here, but I had to kill that darling for sake of flow. I’ll just have to write another blog post about it.

Star Wars Awakens: A Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It’s really good. It has so many clever flourishes and amazing moments that it isn’t just a movie, but a film. It’s art. A+ for JJ Abrams and his cast and crew. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Go now. Definitely don’t read this first, because it’s full of SPOILERS!!!

Okay, so you’ve seen the film. Good. Here we go.

From the opening shot of a shadowed star destroyer flying over and blotting out a bright planet, we know The Force Awakens is both the Star Wars we know and love (not that Prequel nonsense), and that it’s about to get turned on its head.

Sure, we’ve got the mechanically inclined future Jedi scrambling around on a desert world full of aliens and ‘droids. We’ve got an even bigger Death Star. We’ve got Storm Troopers and blue-tinged holograms and light sabers. We’ve got the Sith Lord and his far more interesting Apprentice. We’ve got the clash between light side and dark that is central to the Star Wars mythos.

It’s Star Wars reborn; all the old, beloved stuff we grew up with fresh and new on the big screen again. The Prequels may not be expunged from the canon, but they are utterly irrelevant.

So what’s new?


Not that the original Star Wars movies didn’t push the envelope with Lando Calrisian and Darth Vader both played by black men. But Vader the character is white when his helmet finally comes off, and Leia seems to be the only woman in the Galaxy after Beru is murdered.

By comparison, the Resistance is richly diverse. Male and female, human and alien, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, African. I haven’t seen  a more diverse cast of one-line characters and extras since The Matrix.

In sharp contrast, the First Order is pointedly homogenous. They got the women-in-the-workplace memo, but anyone with a little extra melanin had best keep his white helmet on, thank you very much. And aliens aren’t wanted. I don’t even remember any ‘droids among the First Order.

Since every other setting is rich with aliens, ‘droids, and humans of every color, it becomes clear that the purely human, overtly white First Order is a creative choice. Abrams has given his evil army a Nazi-ish vibe, emphasized by their military trimmings, their whiteness, and their chilling, bent-armed variant of the Heil Hitler salute. And before you roll your eyes at the Jewish director casting Nazi-analogues as his villains, remember that we have a certain political party campaigning on a platform of fascism and xenophobia*.

Think about it. Nazis are way more relevant now than when Captain America was punching them back in 2011.

Star Wars wasn’t so political before, but it was never meaningless space opera. It was psychological. The story of Episodes IV, V, and VI is a basic hero’s journey, and everyone undertakes their own inner hero’s journey when they decide to start fighting their inner demons. And Abram’s Star Wars remains psychological, the politics an extension of the discussion about light and dark.

The locus of that discussion isn’t Rey, or Finn. It’s Kylo Ren.

Having watched the film twice now, I’ve got to give a shout out to Adam Driver for his amazing performance. He’s suave, menacing, pathetic, and completely unhinged by turns. In Driver’s capable hands, Kylo Ren’s emotionality and fragility emerges slowly, until he’s outdone by a kidnapped, restrained, and untrained Rey.

Kylo Ren is the realization of what George Lucas attempted — and utterly failed — with Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy. We only see Ren near the bottom of his fall from the light, but we can picture his childhood with two famous, demanding parents and the threat of assassination over all their heads. We can imagine young Ben (his true name) training with Luke, asking questions about the nature of light and dark and receiving unsatisfying answers from his half-trained master. We can see Snoke entering the picture, the first to tell Ben that all his fear and anger is okay, even desirable.

Unlike Anakin’s fall, Ben’s transformation into Ren makes sense even if it doesn’t happen before our eyes.

As the good guys, Rey and Finn still stumble and struggle and don’t always have the courage to face what they fear. Yet they are strong in the light — they will follow their Hero’s Journeys to their end. But Ren? Who knows. I can’t predict if Kylo Ren will follow the full circle of Anakin/Vader’s path from light to dark and back to light, or if he will emerge as a more confidant Dark Lord in Episode VIII, or if madness will take him down some murky third path.

I’m guessing, obsessing over a character that could have been a complete joke.** There aren’t many stories that get me so involved.

Holy crap, I love The Force Awakens.

I love the new characters and the old ones. I love the nigh seamless mix of CGI and traditional effects. I love the costumes and the sets. I love the story, and Abram’s audacity to actually kill Han Solo. I love the performances. I love all the brilliant little moments; Poe Dameron looking back in interest at his jiggling blaster bolt as it hovers, caught in Ren’s power. Rey’s bread rising up out of a bowl of water and her “quarter portion.” BB-8 unveiling R2D2, and looking so small and sleek beside the older ‘droid. Ren’s red light saber jittering against the steady blue of Finn’s and Rey’s. Luke saying nothing at the end, but speaking volumes of hesitancy and pain with his gaze alone.

If I had to give The Force Awakens a critique, the only one I can offer is that the main characters never take a break. They run straight from scene to scene without the time to sleep, or eat, or even take a bathroom break in between them.

And that’s it.

Sure, there’s a good deal of Deus ex Machina, and the characters are awfully competent, and really, a whole planet has been terraformed into a giant sun-gun? But no one can honestly complain about such things. That’s Star Wars. That’s what we all wanted, and it’s exactly what we got, only made richer, contemporary, and unexpectedly relevant. Thank goodness, and thank Abrams.

I can’t wait for Episode VIII!


*Bernie Sanders, you’re our only hope.

**I love Kylo Ren, but I also love Emo Kylo Ren, who has one of the funniest Twitter feeds I’ve ever seen.

Dreaming and Awakening (Two Reviews, Plus Philosophical Meanderings!)

SPOILERS for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and also for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The Awakening is an interesting cultural artifact, a proto-feminist novel that was nearly lost.  Written in the early 1900s, forgotten, then picked up again and lauded in the 1960s.

Since then it has been critiqued to death.

Seriously, my edition contains 100 pages of novel, and 200 pages of historical information and literary dissection.

I did not read those 200 pages, so maybe I’m going to say things that have already been said.  But (blog post spoilers) since I do tie this back to speculative fiction, maybe I’ll say something new.

The author, Kate Chopin, was an up-and-coming American writer in the early 1900s.  She was rich — not from writing, but from smart real estate investments — had five kids, liked to go out walking by herself (scandalous!), and for most of her life had no man.  She grew up in a household full of widows, and then later lost her own husband.

At a time in history when women were more or less owned by their husbands, she was something special.

Then Chopin wrote The Awakening.

It’s the story Edna Pontellier, a New Orleans Creole woman who “awakens” to her own emotionality, and discovers that she hates her life.  She does not love her husband, and has no interest in raising her own children.

Edna changes her life as best as she can within the constraints of early 1900s, New Orleans, white, upper class society.  But she can find no solidarity.  Her good friend Adele reminds her, “Oh think of your children!”  And the man she loves, Robert, abandons Edna to spare them both the indignity of Edna’s otherwise inevitable divorce.

That’s not the end of the story, but I have a few thoughts to share before I get there.

The first is that this book is hilariously, offensively old fashioned.  If this was popular in the ‘60s, no wonder feminism got off on the wrong foot with women of color!  A tacit, Southern respect for the Confederacy pervades the novel.  There are an impressive number of brown and black characters, but almost all are minimally described servants.

For example, Edna’s nanny appears at least half-a-dozen times, but is only ever known as “the quadroon”.

Edna’s reliance on visible but largely overlooked black people, while desiring her own freedom, creates a bizarre cognitive dissonance.  I don’t know Chopin well enough to say if this is deliberate on her part or not.  If she meant to say something about race, as well as sex and class, or if the statement made itself without her conscious effort.

The second is that the ending is inevitable within the framework and philosophies of straight fiction.

The ending, if you haven’t guessed, is that Edna kills herself.

It’s not out of the blue.  Edna’s been emotionally unstable the whole time.  (She does mask it well, but that’s easy when you have black people around to cook your meals, clean your house, and raise your children for you.)  She keeps making impulsive decisions, feeling no responsibility toward anyone in her life until Adele and Robert remind her.

Think of your children.  Think of your husband.

Due to the intersection of gender, class, and race, Edna can never have the life she wants, she can never be free.  She’s screwed her life up too much already, having a husband and two children she doesn’t want.  So she kills herself.

The ending fits the book.  Chopin built up to it skillfully, with a familiarity that lets me know she had experienced great sadness herself.  But suicide has its pros and cons as a literary device.  It’s a hard ending.  It’s over for Edna Pontellier, there is no Part II.  There’s no imagining how she’ll get out of her situation.

Much has been felt, even learned, but no solution is presented.

I’m not being fair to Kate Chopin.  This book was radical at the time, so much so that despite positive reviews from women, Chopin’s career ended with Edna’s death.  And reading it helped a lot of people “awaken” to feminism.

But I’d like to compare it to my favorite suicide in fantasy; Dream, AKA Morpheus in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic books.

Dream is the personification of the concept of dreams, an amalgam of REM cycles, whimsy, and hope.  But at the beginning of the series he is imprisoned by a magic spell.  He escapes 70 years later, but he never gets over it.  Dream has been sullied.

He builds himself a trap, an inevitable end for himself where he must die.  Sometimes he seems like he knows what he’s doing, sometimes he doesn’t, but in the end he dies.

And because this is fantasy, Dream is then reborn.  He gets to try again.

Obviously, these are two very different stories, rendered in different media, with vastly different purposes and themes.  They are both worthy of reading, and of serious consideration.  And I like them both.

But I like Sandman better.  I like that uptick of continuance and hope that so much of fantasy has.  I like the struggle through symbolism towards life, and towards wellness.

I had a friend ask me one time why I was writing fantasy if I was so interested in the psychology of my characters, if I was so interested in gender and race.  Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s because fiction ends with death, and that’s just where fantasy gets started.

On Writing What You Know

I had an unusual experience for a Southern Californian over the weekend.  Like thousands of other sun-entitled San Diegans, I made a cursory search for that ordinarily useless umbrella, couldn’t find it, and left to go to the Pride Parade without it.  And then I got drenched by the aftermath of Hurricane Dolores.

Rainwater stung my eyes.  My body chilled to the point of shivering.  I got blisters from walking in wet shoes.  I ended up trespassing on private property with my husband, two good friends, and a dog so we could shelter under someone’s eaves while we waited for my brother-in-law and his car to rescue us from our own stupidity.

I have no regrets though, because now I have a whole new set of sensory experiences I can bring to my writing!

If you want to be a writer, this is how you have to see the world.  Any new experience is writing fuel, be it pleasant, awkward, uncomfortable, or even painful.  Remember the details — what it felt like, looked like, smelled like.  Journal about it if you like, or just let it sit in that big stewpot on the back burner in your head.

When you sit down to write, put your characters through your own experiences.  And when you have the time, make some experiences for yourself.

Are your characters in a lot of fights?  Consider some martial arts classes.  You don’t need to be a kung fu master or skilled swordsperson.  A few classes in martial arts — or any discipline, from painting to piano to plumbing — will give you some idea about what the skilled practitioners are doing.

Are your characters on a long trek across your fantasy world?  Go for a hike!  You don’t have to stay out for months and months — a few nights camping without a toilet or a shower will give you ideas about how glorious, yet uncomfortable and exhausting, living on the road and sleeping in the open can be.

Straining to create a new character?  Take traits from people you know.  Are your characters in love?  Draw from your own loves, and crushes, and one-night-stands, and that short, awkward relationship with that guy who was into you, but you weren’t into him.

Do your characters intoxicate themselves?  If you aren’t going to intoxicate yourself — or even if you are — spend some time watching other people intoxicate themselves while sober, and talk to them about the experience.  The last thing the world needs is one more stereotyped, inaccurate ‘drug scene.’

You often hear the writerly advice, “Read, read, read!”  Do that, read everything, but get out and live too.