Thursday, January 17, 2019

Many Odd Little Steps

And then it came time to judge and separate, the Myriad Aspects of the Lesser God of Luck and Little Green Pastures couldn't quite bring herself to participate. She held interests, ideas, plans of her own. There were a million small things she wanted to do in this life.

Bowing to the whims of the rest of the pantheon was, quite noticeably to her at least, not on the list.

She was approached, of course. The war gods, the merchant goddesses, the various and sundry weather and agriculture representatives. All felt that they, and their followers, were owed that little bit of blessing the Lady could bestow. Luck was theirs by right. She told them to blow it out their collective asses and go talk to her older brother, Chaos.

None of them took her up on the offer. They'd rather send roses, wine, boys and girls and men and women, anything and everything that anyone had ever heard might turn her head. When the line from her house stretched down the mountain and away into the valley, the Lady had had enough. She walked out of the place and went on vacation. To parts unknown.

She wanted to leave a "Gone Fishing" sign, but figured the last thing the fishes and the waters needed was a horde of the most desperate descending on them in the mistaken belief that she was listening in a new way for supplication and prayer. Nope, let them stay in the casinos, the exchanges, the places where the dice rattled and the prayers flowed like the money they hoped to call home. Let them call on her in their battles pitched and staged for viewing and appreciation of the masses.

The Lady hunted for that rarest of creatures. The one who didn't want her blessings, her curses, or anything much else to do with her most well known aspect.

Fortunately for the child she eventually settled in to watch, the Lady was, at this particular time and place, not much interested in visiting her bad side on the ones who didn't call her name. She'd return to that, of course, because the Lady and the Luck always turn. For now though, she had other inclinations.

Specifically, she was interested in an experiment. All around her, her great and noble cousins called their followers to prestige, to high honors, to prophecy and its hazards. She chalked this up to the latest fad; the pantheon was on the verge of another apocalypse, the turn of the wheel. It was time to choose another aspect, to line up and play the great game one more time. To prepare for the next beginning. This time around, her cousins were fascinated with their creations, specifically, whether those who were blessed by the biggest and best things in the universe, that is, themselves, could, properly armed and motivated, bias the wheel.

Tilt the odds in their favor. Put the god of war, say, in line for the big chair, next time around. Leave Wisdom where she was, rather than being put in charge of reefs and clownfish next time around. Let the Armorer begin now, not with a fresh start and no memory of whomever she had been before, but rather with all the memories of the age available; all the powers of now, the end of the cycle, remembered and forming the base of what may come, rather than the capstone.

She didn't tell them. There were three whose memories spanned the eras, Chaos, Order, and Luck. Her older siblings, and herself. All the others rotated through, but these three remembered the birth and death of the pantheon. The beginning and the end.

They'd seen it before. She even remembered the previous attempts to warn them. That it didn't work that way. Oh, they would prepare, they would jam the wheel and get another turn of it, jump the line and iterate the worlds around themselves. And when it burned at the end, when the cycles piled up and they came to the End, the fracturing of the wheel under the immense stress.

They would gladly let it turn freely again, just to forget what they had forged in the breaking.

Luck remembered other attempts. Many and many and more than that, as many as could be counted. Not failures, precisely. The game was meant to played, as best she could tell. Her sister and brother held their views to themselves, but then, they were more in the nature of cosmic forces at this point in the rotation of the universes.

The Lady had not yet resigned herself to that. There was, she thought, one more thing, that she didn't quite remember having tried before. She would try patience. Observation.

She would try not to interfere. Let them make their own luck. Let him, this child, attempt to make it in a world burning down around his ears, without prophecy to guide him, with no marvelous tutors showing up out of the blue to aid his steps. No especial powers, friends in high or low places.

Of course, even the Lady of Luck sleeps, on occasion. She forgot the second of her titles in that epoch. The child may not have had Luck, good bad or indifferent, in the way that stories and the downhearted sing of it. But he was born on a quiet little farm. Over the hill and far away from the pathways of the great and the good and the nasty and, most of all, the powerful. A little bit of water, a creek ran across the property, left a pond or two here and there for the geese to settle on in their travels, the fish in minor abundance beneath their feet. A few good pastures, the kind the cows could fill their bellies on winter and summer, and plenty of room to rotate among hay and peas and wheat and cows and turnips as the seasons and years progressed.

Shade trees in abundance; thickets of brambles and berries, nut trees and fruit trees, no orchards, wild trees, never quite groaning overburdened but always at least one good bearing of some sort. Peaches and pecans some years, apples and walnuts others. The child grew up with chickens and turkeys, ducks, pigs, cows, peas and potatoes, oats and barley, and the interplay between them as the rhythm of his life.

The quiet life didn't stay that way. It was, after all, That Time Again. The Last War doesn't leave room for bystanders, it comes to all. That's sort of the point.

The War came to the little farm in the way of that era. Recruiters, meaning, guardsmen with swords and torches and rope for anyone who didn't heed the call, showed up at the door in the middle of the night. The child's father joined, because the other option wasn't. His wife went along because, she said, "Best we die together."

"Hide, son. Find the deepest darkest hole you can, crawl into it, and come out when there's a chance you might get out of this." So the boy did that thing. He went into the brambles along the creek bank, bit back the tears when the thorns tore at his flesh. And watched the battle.

The farm being a perfect place to have such a thing, of course. Wide open fields for the cavalry to charge through, confront and wheel and come back around again for another pass. Walls and trees for the infantry of both sides to conceal themselves among, and then charge out spears leveled as the opportunity presented. Hills and swells for the archers, and, at the end, the creek.

That was the advantage the victor, the rebellion in this case, took advantage of. The battle began at dawn, and at the end, the dusk of that same day, the rebellion's forces pinned the king's against the creek. Nowhere to go. Leaving the front to be slaughtered, hours of torch work and screams after dark, while the rear picked up their shit and hauled it for somewhere else.

And the cavalry fell on the wagons; his mother died, perhaps at the same time, he hoped, that his father fell in the battlefield proper.

His bramble thicket was close enough; too far away to do anything, even if he had been able to overcome the fear. He watched and listened and smelled the smoke of the torches and the hot bitter sweat of the quick and the dead. And then, when dawn came...

The Lady watching, waited for the inevitable. He would pick up the sword and shield, swear himself to vengeance. Of course, because that's what...

The boy apparently didn't know how these stories were supposed to go. Or didn't care? Sure, he went among the bodies in the field, stopped, closed the eyes of his father. Then he went to the charred remains of the wagon train and did the same for his mother, what poor remains he could identify.

Only, instead of taking up what arms he could find, the boy went back to the equally burnt remnants of their farm, turned over hot stones and black ash-covered beams, dug around in the coals and the mess until he found a hammer, twisted tongs, bits of this and that. Then he put them all in a pack he salvaged from the wagons.

And then he put one foot after another until he found a town big enough, with blacksmiths enough, to need a twelve-year old apprentice. One with at least a few of his own tools, even if they needed some work. "Rebuilding those will be good practice," the boy's new master told him. The smith never asked where the kid came from.

The kid never told him, either. There was no need. He wasn't the only displaced child. And at least he wasn't running around the countryside, terrorizing rich and poor in equal measure for the least dishonest gain available.

The town, really a small city, wasn't ideal. But it wasn't bad, either. There was a wall, gates that closed at dark to keep the brigands where they belonged, enough trade to make his apprenticeship something practical, work every day on more than horseshoes and bridle bits and broken plows. The things he'd started to learn from his dad, how to weld two sheets of iron or steel back together, how to twist iron to give a little bit of structure and looks, these and other things, especially the "Work all day" thing, went a long way with the master and his wife. Far enough that they let him stay in the stables, paid him a little, even helped him by putting him in touch with the preacher, the parson who thought it best that a boy who might someday have his own smithy should know how to read and figure his accounts.

When the war came again, the boy who was not too far from becoming a young man, a journeyman, didn't fight.

He didn't run, though. He carried water to the men and women manning the barricades, standing on the walls. He melted lead, carried that too, with the voice of small pride whispering in his ears. He learned to turn out arrowheads as fast as thought, repair swords and axes, not to perfection but to just good enough to matter, just as quickly. He scraped wood for bows and shields, shod horses in the moment of a breath, he did everything he could to help the people who'd taken him in keep the rebellion's forces on the other side of the walls. For as long as possible.

The siege lasted six weeks. Just long enough for the wells to get low, the food to run scarce, and the first hints of dysentery and the other diseases to rear their heads. And then, when misery and her big sister, fear, looked set to take control of things, treachery snuck in. Someone, the boy didn't know and by the time the question occurred to him there was no way on earth to find out, someone had the bright idea to open the gates. In the middle of the night.

The rape of the town, on all levels, began immediately. The rebellion's leaders offered all of the usual excuses; the loss of one of the royal towns, in the sense that there would be no survivors joining the rebellion out of this particular engagement, they wrote off. Win some, lose some.

The boy watched; this time, instead of the bramble thicket, he took to a basement. There weren't any sewers, so that was the only choice available. The building above was the chandler's shop. It wasn't luck that led him there. Or Luck. He'd prepared himself, as soon as the horses and the torches appeared on the horizon. What if? If the townspeople had snuck out in the middle of the night, if they'd won.

When they lost. He chose the chandler's shop for the odds. The chances that any of the runaway troops would be interested in boxes of candles and wax, for any reason other than to burn the place to the ground, well. He figured those odds were as good as any. And when the place did burn down over his head, he crawled into the cellar, into a barrel of water fed from the cistern overflow above, and he listened and waited for the crackling of the fires to cease.

And the howls of the forces unleashed. It was only when he heard no more boot treads, no more screams; only when daylight seeped through the cracks in the cellar door that he crawled out of the barrel and went out of that place.

It died that day, the little city he'd come to. It might be reborn. Like the farm, maybe someday the weeds and the wind and rain would do their best to scar over the wounds. Leave something for someone to claim and remake and build from. For now, he and the precious few other survivors ignored each other. The others picked through the wreckage for coin, gold, silver, anything that they could pocket and move down the road with.

He did that as well. There wasn't much choice. And he had to cover up the wait, make sure that night fell and none of the others were looking at him, scavenging after him. When he was sure the most desperate had moved on, that's when he visited two last places.

The barn, what was left of it, and the cellar beneath. That's where he'd hid the precious few pennies he'd managed to save. Not many, but given the situation the folk above were in, that he was in now...

The second place he visited that night was the parsonage. Burnt, like the rest, he looked for a book. Any book at this point, something to remember the place by, sure. But here, just as he'd taken the tools of a smith before to learn the tools of a trade by, here he took the book he found, binding torn away but the manuscript itself just usable enough to recognize. A treatise on medicine. And, more, the book held a name. Its author's name.

And the name of the place he called home. A university town. A place that, rumor had it, was supposed to be independent of all this, standing apart from king or rebel. He wondered if, just maybe, there were any places left that might, at least for a little while, stand apart from the war.

The book was, when he arrived at the university, ticket enough. The professor there recognized the book. More, he recognized the parson's name. "A good scholar. Any student he worked with is more than welcome at my door."

The young man settled into the scholarly life; the Lady settled in to watching his progress. The bells tolled in her mind, she knew the time for hiding away and not listening to the War progress, and the supplications, was almost at an end. There were a precious few years to go, however.

Time to watch and listen. He was, at first, an indifferent student. He partied, drank and made a nuisance of himself to the young women, and a few older women, of the surrounding town. He made all the mistakes a young student, from no particular background, no means, given a scholarship and a hope, makes.

And then, sometime into the second year of this, after one too many mornings waking up wondering who'd been shoveling shit into his mouth, and which sonofabitch had hit him over the head with a shovel, the young man wandered into a lecture, and a demonstration, of surgery.

The tools sucked, and the techniques were worse. Far too many years before knowledge of bacteria, sources of infection, clean running water on demand. Still, the idea of it. No. Not the idea of the meatball surgery.

What grabbed him, that day, was the idea that he could help someone. Directly. No fooling around with remedies that he couldn't guarantee, no random ideas scribbled down by a monk three centuries before. Bone setting, stitches, yes even removal of a limb crushed between the spokes of a wagon wheel, these things may well have been barely more than murder.

But there was no question that they could work, could help, could, in a hopeful student's dreams, save lives.

Dream enough so that he made the jump. From indifferent student to scholar, not in an instant. Rather, over about six months' time. He read more, turned up in class. Left the wine women and song for the rich kids.

He almost made it. Almost became a true student, and scholar beyond. But the war, and the War, waited for no man. There was no time. Only the trumpets, miles and miles away. And then the midnight destruction. The university and its town were independent. So they weren't targeted.

They were somebody's spoils of war. The raiders came, overwhelmed the too short too skinny walls in moments, and fell to the things that unleashed soldiers always, eventually, become.

The young man barricaded himself into a bell tower, along with his professors. The place wasn't safe, arrows flew through the windows at random intervals. All took their turns dodging the missiles to throw the cistern contents, bucket by bucket, on every exposed wooden surface. The sparks were flying, and safe as they were for the moment, fire would overcome all barriers if they let it.

When dawn came and the raiders exhausted themselves, the young man and his teachers moved through the town. They helped, in ways small and large. Cleaned wounds, set bones, bound skin together with silken thread. Removed limbs crushed by clubs. Or the weight of multiple soldiers, or panicked horses.

Let the wounded beyond help free of the life they could no longer live, the last benefit the doctors, and their young student, could provide.

He hoped, for a brief few hours, that he'd found something, here and now, that would last him. This was a calling that he could no more forsake than he could lose the bones in his neck. There was a problem, though. In the tower, he hadn't escaped unscathed. An arrow had found him, just in the side. He'd pulled it free almost absentmindedly in the rush to throw the water and quench the flying coals.

When he'd had the chance, he'd sewn the wound shut himself, padded it round with rough cloth. Cleaned it now in the daylight.

In the dark of the oncoming night, the pain came. The real pain. Just briefly. He knew what it meant, what it foretold. The infection would come, and there was no way to stop it now. He cleaned the wound. Repacked it. Woke in the morning with a fever. Mild yet, matched by the mild red strings groping their way around his belly.

He left then, in the dark of night. The place he sought wasn't, in the grand scheme of things, far. All told he'd made it perhaps twenty miles from the place of his birth. Two days travel. Nights, under the circumstances, and if he could avoid the fever, his own and the madness of the countryside, the one that convulsed the world and had driven him to the university in the first place. The walk was hard, waking up late the next afternoon and getting up and moving harder still.

The farm was still there, though. Charred, the trees had budded out leaves but they, and the grasses, much as they might have already done to recover, couldn't hide away the damage. The place looked like lightning and thunder had taken their best shot, with fire and wind coming in for the second shift. His home would recover, someday far long and distant, when he was only a memory.

Right now the place looked like hell. He didn't care, didn't have time to do anything but find a willow tree, there by the bank, sink down beneath it. And die.

The Lady didn't stir herself to anything but listening the whole time of it. She respected her own vow, to simply watch. And his implicit request.

He never once asked for more. More luck, more help, nothing. He just made his way through life. And death, here beneath the willow leaves. She sat next to the body and remembered what she had seen.

She walked among the partisan and listened, to their pleas for her favor, but not yet not yet, no, she watched their nightmares and their dreams. The War continued.

She sat by the fires of the survivors, the ones who'd pulled themselves from the wreckage and the rapes and the pillaging, and she tasted of their tears.

Then she made her way to the university town. Damaged, certainly, but not quite so bad that life wasn't going on. In the same bell tower the young man had barricaded himself and his teachers in, a young woman was giving birth. The young lady had been, the Lady of Luck and Little Green Pastures recalled, the young man's only true lover, however brief their time together. The timing was right, the Lady counted.

She waited until the baby was born, a face just one twist away from his father's, and then she went back to the house with its line of supplicants, and took up again her most well known aspect.

Throughout, she never once, so far as any could determine, blessed the young man in any way. The only thing, rumor has it, that she gave the young man...

Before she left that tower room, it is said that she knelt next to the baby, and whispered a name into his ear. The name of his father, that the child might know to spread the name, and the stories that went with it, to others.

That's the rumor, anyway.
Here's a thing I discovered in the past week. If you ever get into a car with lane assist, take a minute, when you can, to play with it.

Discovering how it feels for the lane assist to kick in when you're winding your way through curvy mountain overpasses in icy fog, with trucks and traffic and all the rest of the noise, is not the best way to learn the limits of the thing.

Short description is that it feels like under- or over-steer, depending on the circumstances. If you've every hydroplaned in the middle of a hard turn, you'll know what I mean.

Or, if you've ever driven short-track, dirt-track in a sprint or mini-sprint, you know that feeling? The one where you dive into the turn, with just the wrong amount of speed, and you have to trust to feel and instinct and God knows what else to balance the throttle and the wheel pressure?

Like that, only with none of the honed instinct that comes with trusting your car.

I'm fine, but for those first few seconds I wondered. Once I knew what was happening I could plan for it. But I suspect that, however many of one type of wreck are prevented, there are going to be new ones to go along with it. Probably fewer, but it's another thing to learn in the whole driving thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Of course, now that I consult the All-Knowing Wikipedia for Harry Potter, I see for the movie: a 2 year time, 1999-2001, from purchase of rights to release of the movie.

No development hell, they know how to make a movie when they want to.

A few preliminary thoughts on reading Hollywood versus The Author. I took it up after seeing it in Kris Rusch's December Reading Rec's.

This isn't a review; just ideas as I read through a group of writers kibbitzing, trying to figure out the ways and mores of Tinseltown, and how to navigate them with a bit of grace and skill. Overall, the picture isn't a clean one.

I've a few, well, theories I guess, but I'm far too new a writer, and the time if/when Hollywood would come knocking for anything I put up is far in the future. I'd say there're the obvious things that "everyone knows", that the town's a pit, a trap for the unwary, consuming all that come looking for glory.

Or, and here's the key: a quick buck. All the scams boil down to greed. And, at least from this outsider's point of view, the competent pros in the movie and tv business being surrounded by an awful lot of people who aren't in it for anything but the scam. Or the "fame" or the loose change or all of the other things that come along.

Stealing ideas, development hell. Endless re-writes. These are signs that, to me, sound like wanna-be's, not pros.

Look, well-run tv shows put out 20 to 40 hours or more of video every year, like clockwork. Spending year after year in "development hell" doesn't sound much like competence, not when there are people who do it every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Looks to me like the only defence a writer with a novel to sell options/rights on has is time. Use the option, put a deal, and then a movie, together in a limited time, or lose it. Period.

I suspect that's at least part of what was behind how competently the Harry Potter movie series was handled by Warner Bros. (if you're of a certain age in the HP fandom, you'll know jodel-from-aol, a.k.a. RedHen. Her description is that the first two movies were little more than boilerplate; I'm not saying they're the world's greatest ART, just that the movies were, for Hollywood, handled with a level of fidelity and competence that are far more the exception than the rule) I think Jo Rowling had not just the "leverage" of a hot property. I suspect she had a time limit on when the first movies, and the ones after, would be done, or they'd lose rights.

Such deadlines likely force: one script with minimal re-writes, from a scriptwriter who's a pro and is just translating, not "writing to their vision", i.e. writing their own script and passing it off under the flag of convenience. No re-writing for girlfriends/boyfriends/whoever's the hot young thing under contract. No games with casting, no prima donna's behind the camera or in front of it.

Only pros, people who can put together a movie in a timely manner with no muss, no fuss, and none of the drama queen business. People who just do the work.

I'm sure this isn't the whole of it, but right now I suspect it's also the only realistic grip that an unknown writer has on their story.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Addendum to previous: caveat for mobility and space. However, the principle is still good. Having the printer and files (or microwave and coffee pot) across the room, down the hall, rather than right there where I can grab it, may be frustrating in one sense, but I've found two major long term benefits.

Time to think.

Extra movement.

Both have their utility far and away from the momentary convenience of grabbing paper or stuffing files from my chair, in my experience.
I'm not gonna say this is one of those "happy writer" tips. But then, that may depend on your point of view...

Put the printer upstairs, and the filing cabinets, and take advantage of the laptop to work downstairs...

Not foolproof, by any means. It's often way too easy to talk oneself out of doing the up and down dance. But, when you don't have a choice, it sort of pays off.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

I don't know if this is an original idea or not, but it finally clicked for me today: most internet arguments bear an extraordinary resemblance to faculty behavior at a seminar.

Or any presentation at a meeting. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. Some poor soul has been tagged to get up and give their talk. They've organized their slides, put their thoughts together. Maybe this is something they've been working on their whole lives, this is their baby.

Maybe they got handed the thing yesterday, their boss is out of town and guess what, tag you're it! Project stinks, they don't know anything about it, but this is the talk folks, here ya go.

Either way, here's the schmuck tasked with entertaining the crowd for an hour or so...

And the putz in the audience wants to argue. Endlessly. It's never about anything truly important. It might be "I discovered that years ago", the faculty favorite. Or it might be "I don't understand this, and I'm going to broadcast my lack thereof for all and sundry. At length."

Charitably, most of the time, there's a mismatch between the talk and the audience, assumptions maybe, domain of application almost always.

What bugs me, whether I've been the target or just in the audience watching someone get raked over the coals, is that these sorts of things should be taken to private conversations. Or, really, that old favorite, "I'll ignore this because it doesn't seem right."

I may be unusual though, I can get terribly embarrassed by public confrontations. I don't do social conflict, or at least I'm not comfortable with it in certain contexts. Especially when it's such a no-brainer to say "Look, we disagree, and I'm happy to figure out why. But a talk really isn't the best place to get there."

That's seminars and meetings, teleconferences, the kinds of things many of us have to deal with every day.

What I spotted this morning in a random comment thread, in between rolling my eyes at yet another endless argument, was how familiar it was, all of a sudden. And that's when I realized how close it all was to the seminars and meetings that I get so bored by.

Same kind of thing, argument that might be argument for the sake of argument, but is often just that simple path away from being more equitably relaxed: "Hey, it's cool, I get that we're not quite meeting on the same plane. No worries, agree to disagree and we'll get on to more productive uses of our space and time."

Work doesn't generally get done in a public forum. Even for public entertainers, comedians, actors, sports, the work is the stuff we don't see. The product is what we get in front of the cameras, on stage, under the lights on the field.

Not to say that I don't think confrontation has its place in the world of the mind, but the stage where it actually accomplishes something isn't likely to be the grandstanding speech. Rather this: Art speaks to Art. The best response to a paper is another paper. Or project, or patent, or program or novel or poem or song or or or...

If nothing else, a little more time to think and consider one's own assumptions, test them in private, work through them without the world looking over your shoulder, never hurts.