It started with the massacre in Orlando. I made the mistake of looking at the faces of those killed. Boy, was that a bad idea. I probably could have loved each of them. They were killed by hate.
Baghdad. About 300 dead. Normal people. Shoppers. In the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wrong country. In the wrong story. Victims of hate.
It continued with the young man bleeding to death after being shot in his car. One too many. One that for some reason really hit me hard. This was a good guy. A really good guy. A guy many, many kids adored. And dead just like that. And yes, because someone was afraid of people with his color of skin. Someone had listened to the hate.
Then someone killing policemen. Targetting them at a protest, where people showed up to celebrate and honor life. More hate, and violence begetting violence.
I crawled away from the news. And I played a game, quite obsessively, to stop my mind from working, my heart from feeling.
But the world kept getting more bloody.
Nice. (Nizza, as we call it.) 80+ dead. Killed while celebrating a national day. Because someone hated too much, and chose a primitive, gruesome way to express the hate.
Coup in Turkey. Almost 300 dead. And the president”cleansing” not just the military, but the universites, courts and press, even parliament. Looks like a dictatorship in making, with the attempted coup as a convenient reason. Driven by greed, fear and hate of all who are on the “wrong side”.
Hate rising all over the world. Party heads spewing ever more vicious ideas of violence to counter violence. As if that ever worked.
And I wonder what will happen next. Hate has been unleashed, on purpose and quite deliberately. And at the moment, all attempts to ease it, to lance it, and let it bleed away, are in vain.
I’m being compelled not to feel – and compelled to feel.
Because someone has to witness all that pain, all those tears, all the heartache. Someone need to call out the hate, and spread love.
I did that for three weeks. And I’m exhausted.
I may have to become a cynical recluse. And write Romance to get my mind to see something entirely different. I’m sure there will be plenty of readers who also just want to numb their pain, and feel safe with a story, at least. Here is love that doesn’t fail. Love that overcomes even hate…
It’s a sad world right now. Too sad for sad stories.
Yesterday, I had a plotting party with an author friend. And it was great fun.
And to be honest, it was also very, very useful.
It is funny how our brain can go into overdrive when we talk about something. New ideas suddenly sprout where there was an empty desert before. And that’s simply because someone else is willing to listen, and add some thoughts on their own, creating mental fireworks.
I discovered a lot more about my dragon world that way. For example, only men are allowed on fishing boats. But the women are very capable divers and develop that useful skill as girls. In fact… Dorelle has that skill.
And my plotting buddy went home with many ideas about her mystery short story. I was surprised how many ideas surfaced about a genre I don’t usually write in.
Maybe that’s because stories are stories, and they all need twists, believability and action.
There is a reason why story-telling has been the preferred teaching method for millenia in our species.
You see, our brain has what is called “mirror neurons”. They have only one function: They recreate what we see someone else do and feel, so we can feel it ourselves. To a degree, of course.
And even though I’m not sure it has ever been tested, I believe those mirror neurons do that very same thing when we read a story. They don’t do that when we learn a plain old fact since there is nothing to recreate.
And if those stories are fantastic and out of this world – even better! They are much more stimulating than a story that’s about boring, every day experiences.
So I count myself lucky (or maybe perceptive?) that I prefer fantasy and SF as genres for reading and writing. After all, this is where you can get stuff that’s out of this world!
And since I’m still a little bored, I’m looking for recommendations: What’s your favorite fantasy or SF story?
Violence is a part of nature. Animals kill animals to eat them. They fight, too, for dominance or the right to mate.
Chimpanzees even go to war. It’s been documented that the young males sometimes hunt all members of another group and kill them without mercy. Males, females, youngsters, babies.
They are our close relatives. We are part of nature, and so violence is part of our nature.
Just look at the many, many wars in history. They started early, probably in the Late Stone Age. That’s when we get the first houses – and the first fortifications. Swords are prominent Bronze Age finds. And swords are not hunting weapons.
It was a celebrated aspect of civilization that violence was starting to be regulated.
Rules for wars were established (although they aren’t always followed even now in the 21st century).
Duells became illegal. Public fights were turned into sports events. Boxing, Wrestling, Multiple Martial Arts, even Football are all ways of channeling violence away from the streets and into arenas. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I read a headline about German men no longer knowing how to brawl. (Not true, btw.)
And yet, in popular culture, violence is still the solution to most problems.
When I watched “Avatar”, I was fascinated by the world and by the amazing ideas that went into creating it. The whole concept of “we are one”, of a meeting of consciousnesses was exciting. But in the end, the movie turned to a well-established trope to solve the conflict between the two major parties: a big, violent showdown involving multiple casualties, including the big bad guy. It felt inexplicably American: Violence as the solution to conflict.
I was deeply disappointed because that was in major dissonance with the peaceful and inclusive nature of Pandora. In fact, an intelligent guerilla tactic involving all of nature would have been much more exciting – to me. I suppose the majority of moviegoers never wasted a thought on that.
Now, in American cultural history, we can see a lot of stories involving the man who takes what he wants – land, gold, fur, often by overcoming obstacles and by using violence. Good and bad men. Men who defends their own with violence. And usually that violence means guns. The trope of the gun-slinging conqueror of the wild has shaped American culture like little else. We can still see it in the fact that most trophy-hunters in this world are American.
And this trope takes a huge toll on the American society in this modern century.
I just need to take a detour for a moment.
You see, Europe regulated violence early on and quite clearly, including guns.
In fact, there is a passage in the German constitution about the state being the only institution allowed any violence (a “monopoly of force”, it is called), in the shape of the police, jurisdiction and military. This might be shocking to read, and of course, it doesn’t prevent brawling, knife fights and the occasional victim of gun shots. However, it sets very clear boundaries.
Guns are regulated here. People who want to own one need a reason (hunter, sportsman), have to apply for a license and are registered, same as the guns. There are clear requirements for gun storage and transport which are enforced. This is part of ensuring that violent force against humans is only used by the state, and that only in emergencies and prescribed circumstances. (There is no death penalty in Europe, either.)
The US have no similar concept of regulating violence, in fact, I would assume many of my American friends would be horrified by that German passage, as well as our gun laws. But I want to remind you that a fairly peaceful movement toppled one German state a few decades ago, after all. Germans didn’t need guns to do so. We can do it again, if needed.
But in the US we can see what happens when guns as a way of expressing violence are not regulated. When they serve as the main means for “protection” and “self-defense”. When they are everywhere, so that even kids can get to them. When they can be carried openly or concealed. When people can take the right to violence into their own hands. Vigilante justice is still very much an accepted concept, and even more so in popular culture.
There is a simple problem with that: People feel entitled to kill other people.
People feel entitled to kill an intruder. A burglar. Or someone just walking on their grounds. Or someone they think is a robber. Or – and this is where it gets really dangerous – someone who hurt them.
Interviews with criminals often reveal that they felt they were forced to their actions, and that they were justified in what they did. Because someone hurt them first.
An eye for an eye. You hurt me, I hurt you.
Or kill you.
And it’s so easy, because with a gun, all you have to do is pull the trigger. A tiny weight, shifted with a twitch of a finger. I know how it feels. I used to shoot for sports.
But if you’re consumed with rightious anger, the need for revenge, hate or even some kinds of mental illness, and are convinced it is okay to violently invoke justice on your own – it’s easy to shoot people. Because they have become the enemy and thus no longer human.
It’s so easy to go for the epic showdown celebrated in so many movies and stories.
I don’t know about you, but my skin is quite sensitive. It matters what I wear. In fact, my clothes have to be soft. I can’t stand anything itchy or scratchy.
Nope, I cannot wear wool.
I would have been so lost in the Middle Ages.
It’s funny how clothes either get no description in Fantasy, or they get overdescribed. I’m sure you’ve read those pages and pages about the amazing dresses the queens wear. (I tend to skip those, though.)
I sometimes wonder if authors actually know how those fabrics were made and where they come from.
Wool, no problem. Everyone knows that. It comes from sheep, maybe goats, maybe rabbits. Easy peasy. But to turn wool into a shirt? Not so easy. And that stuff is practically always scratchy. Ugh.
Silk? Well, you need to know about silkworms and the mulberry tree, their only food source. And how to unravel those silk cocoons. That’s why it was so expensive.
Cotton? Not available in the European Middle Ages. (Cotton only grew in the Americas.)
Linnen? That’s flax, and it’s quite a chore to prepare it. It also often contains little wooden pieces of the flax stem – quite itchy, actually.
Jute – ever heard of that? It grows in warm and wet climates, and was used to make burlap sacks. Very rough… although treated well, it can be nice.
And then you need to spin and weave those materials to turn them into fabric. Then you have to cut the fabric and sew it into clothes. Or knit or crotchet what you want to wear.
And we’re not even talking about color yet.
There is a reason clothes were really expensive in the Middle Ages. And why people generally only had two or three shirts max. New clothes were an absolute luxury.
How’s that for adding some real-life touches to your stories?
And I really don’t want to give up the grumpiness.
It’s nice to be a grumpy old woman.
I’m allowed to hate things as grumpy old woman.
I can hate the noisy kids. I can hate the party next door. I can hate the guy with the motorcycle and the other guy who guns his car in the garage. I can hate the girls who laugh too loud late at night.
I can even hate the wind, the flies on my balcony and the screaming seagulls.
Because I’m a grumpy old woman today.
Tomorrow, I can go back to loving people. But today, I’m grumpy.
I believe we have an innate sense for weather. That’s because we humans used to spend most of our lives outside, even though the first houses were constructed in the neolithic, thousands of years ago.
However, we tend not to use that sense much any more, and what we don’t use, atrophies.
I like to keep an eye on the weather, especially if it gets dramatic. Or if I have the sense it could be dramatic – it’s something like an inner disquiet, a little warning that tells me to keep checking the sky.
That’s how I saw at least two funnel clouds in my life, one almost directly above me. Here is a pic:
And I only noticed because I glanced at the sky on my way home and saw a line that didn’t seem right. It wasn’t tornado weather, after all. But there it was: a funnel reaching down towards me.
And I wasn’t scared at all, just amazed and impressed. The silence was eery, too.
Nobody else even checked to look at what I was staring at.
How does that sound for a character trait? Someone who is fascinated by the weather and gets it right almost every time? I think I need to create someone like that.
I’m thinking about feeling disappointed. And feeling grateful at the same time.
You see, in the last three days, Germany has been hit by many, many thunderstorms. Continuously.
Except where I live.
And I would have liked some celestial fireworks. Because thunderstorms are exciting.
So I have been watching the radar online, I had a page with weatherwarnings open, and they all told me on thing: You are not getting anything. Not you. Nope.
And yet, I’m grateful.
Because excitement is one thing, damage is something entirely different.
Because four people died on Sunday alone, during those storms. Towns were devastated.
And it feels very weird to want excitement, and yet see how it can go badly wrong.
This time, it was “just” the weather. And my pleasure in thunderstorms is harmless and doesn’t cause any trouble, since I cannot conjure any. I can just sit and wait until one happens. (I suppose I could move to a place where they happen more often.)
Some people, however, seek excitement in dangerous ways. And risk not just their own death but that of others. Racing in streets. Balancing on railway waggons. Drifting into crime…
And that’s when excitement becomes truly dangerous.