These last eight months have put nearly everyone in some kind of pinch point. The psychological pressures, strains, shifts in rhythms and patterns and the interruptions in resources—along with polarizing politics and the heightened push for awareness of human rights has left even the most logical and reasonable people at a loss for what to do.
Six months ago, I started a social experiment mostly out of curiosity, but also out of the desire to know the origins of what was coming across my feeds and why people were behaving so ridiculously on both sides. I wanted to know about the tricky algorithms on Facebook that were hijacking my news intake. Interestingly, the documentary “The Social Dilemma” released on Netflix a few months into my own experiment, which informed a shift in my engagements and helped me map the methods a little better.
I already knew I’d be dumping my Facebook account probably by the end of the year, but I wanted to know how the algorithms worked so I could use them later if I chose to market for one of my labels. Engagement was really the key.
Let me back up a bit to my first paid writing job. I was twenty years old when I was hired to write “rant/rave” columns. It was 1998, and I was so stoked to have a $30 check once a month for content that I didn’t ask any questions. (It turns out it was for an online porn magazine—which I discovered when I asked for a copy to put in my brag book) Anyway, I was hired to write (poorly) a column each month that would make people angry, argumentative, irritable, or reactive. “I piss people off every day! You mean I can get paid for it?”
I was paid to be a troll. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. Mind you, we were still in the days of dialup and if I could make people angry enough to write in and stay online (seeing advertisements from the e-zine) long enough to spout replies—I was winning. True fact=I never once, not once, read the comments. Why? Why in god’s name would I stick around for that?
My job was to find trigger points, form an opinion, then drop the bomb and leave the room. That was it. Then I took my 30$ check and blew it on candy and movie rentals, since I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet.
I did it for about a year before the negativity really wore me down. It was exhausting trying to come up with a topic every month to piss people off—angry people, and being in a headspace to taunt them is tiring. I wanted to use my craft for more than trigger trolling. I wrote that we needed to legalize weed, tax the hell out of it and pay for education upgrades. I wrote that churches collecting tithing should also have to pay taxes. (And so on and so forth) All of it was aimed to polarize.
A year later I moved on to my first set of novels and the rest is history.
The point is this: word craft and storytelling are, by function, a form of connecting with the primal reactive points of the human experience. Whether that’s to educate, or control, manipulate or enlighten is really up to two factors; Intent and engagement.
Think of it this way. The dominant reactions will always boil down to FEAR and LOVE. It seems overly simplistic but there’s a plethora of fiber and energy in each one, right?
Love= trust, compassion, willingness, generosity, kindness, joy, fulfillment, openness, forgiveness and so on. Love embodies BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Love also embodies the ability to empathize, see alternate viewpoints, and find compromise. Love attempts to understand, not control outcome.
Fear= distrust, withholding, stagnation, cruelty, unkindness, us vs. them, pulling back, anger, retaliation, being closed off, bitterness, stubbornness, anxiety, depression, rage. Fear embodies ASSUMED IGNORANCE and a baseline for battle readiness. Fear attempts to control outcome, not understand.
It’s simple, and yet not. Because we all have both within us at any given time on a number of topics; relationships, business, government, home, health, finances, and so on and so forth. PLUS, we bring to each argument the unhealed/unrecognized baggage of the topic from our previous experiences.
Remember the two factors that imbue communication—Intent and engagement?
Intent can be either love or fear and the resulting engagement will respond with either love or fear? Some of that is in response to the intent, and the rest is nearly 100% based a preconditioned emotional set-point.
As a paid trigger troll, my job was to find the language and set off that preconditioned set-point in order to keep people online longer, to keep them engaged. It didn’t matter if I made up facts. It didn’t matter if I pulled data out of my butt. The guy was paying me to write content that would keep people emotional. Dial-up = $$. Well, it did anyway. Now that $$ is in time spent scrolling, data mining and so on.
In 1998 it didn’t matter to me at all, at the tender age of twenty, that people were getting worked up, emotional or starting fights online over my content. It mattered that I had a paid writing credit, and that I could wander down to the market for candy and the lasted VHS new release. My thoughts were, “If they’re dumb enough to sit there and fight about it, that’s on them. I’ve got things to do.”
That experience was pivotal in later years as I learned yet more about emotional anchorage, and writing novels that pulled readers in. Toggling the love/fear switch in the human experience is what makes storytelling so gripping. If we don’t connect with the story, believe in the protagonists, get hooked into their adventure—it’s not a book worth reading, right? It’s not an idea worth championing. You put it down and walk away.
So what was the point of all this?
If I played the engagement part of the algorithms on Facebook correctly, my posts should now be showing up on 75% of my Facebook friends’ feeds. That was a lot of clicking, sharing, pushing, and triggering.
IF you are one of the friends who normally never comments on politics, or otherwise but somehow felt compelled to weigh in on my feed at some point in the last 6 months—chances are you’ve been stuck with my feed since. Gotchya! Not gloating…but maybe a little gloating.
If you’re one of the people who don’t believe intent/engagement are the primary factors of communication or that the love/fear part of the underlying motivations, or that it’s too oversimplified—keep in mind I’m now showing up on your feed because you responded to something I posted…good/bad/otherwise. You are part of that 75% matrix by design.
I will fully admit this was a shitty play. Not the way to use the Kung Fu magic of storyteller energy. However, in my paltry defense I’ll say this:
The surface appearance of cultural division in America is not quite as drastic as it may seem. In fact, this experiment has renewed much of my faith in my community and in humanity. I’ll get into all that in other posts, but for now I just wanted to let folks know, there was a reason to the madness.
Thank you all who trusted me to explain the strangeness. Thank you to all the private messages, notes, and emails expressing frustration and concern over things people were saying on my feed. I really appreciated the feeling of knowing I wasn’t an island. Thank you to all who took bait, weighed in, commented, chewed their own fingernails, bit back retorts, and generally held on for the ride. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your patience.
I sincerely hope the following posts expressing what I learned about our wider community and political divisions will be worth the strain and high blood pressure for you all.
As an aside: if you want OUT of the feeds and to block any further posts from my now that you know what I was up to there are two ways to shift your algorithm.
However, if you’re curious what I discovered or want to go a little deeper, just like, share, subscribe. It’s silly. I know—I’m using the same engagement principles to keep you reading as I did to get bumped into your news feed.
I never worried about the people who really know me wondering about what I feel, think, or believe. They already know me. They already know my general and consistent intentions. They already know my life’s work to this point.
But a few months of digging, triggering, pushing, and sitting in some pretty uncomfortable positions has led me to believe—as a whole, humanity is still pretty fucking awesome. I know it doesn’t seem like that when you’re burning through the scroll—but bear with me. Hang in a little longer, and if you’re able, grant me the benefit of the doubt.
My intent from this point forward is to show the love—if you can trust in my intent, let me show you what I’ve discovered.
To be continued….
This is also an excellent time to plug Gideon For-mukwai's book 'The SCIENCE of STORY SELLING".
Creativity Challenge Week of September 23, 2020
Your creativity mission, should you choose to accept it is: Alter just one pattern in your life for two days.
What does this mean? If means if you brush your teeth with your right hand, use your left hand for two days. If you wear the same jacket every day, wear a different article of clothing for two days. If you usually drink your coffee out of a special mug—use a different mug for two days.
Pattern interruption creates innovation gaps where new processes and energies can breathe into a new space.
What does altering one habit for two days do to you? Is it a major inconvenience? A breath of fresh air? A complicated challenge? Discovering how baked in your patterns are will reveal whether or not you feel locked out of new creative energy and mobility.
Respond by Monday the 29th at Noon PST with a written explanation of your attempt at shift and the result, if any, and receive 5 tickets to the giveaway cauldron!
It’s been a hairy month already, so I don’t have much to coherently update. Right about the time I put words together and makes sense of one thing, something else knocks me off balance. That said, I am okay. My home in the Elder Glade in Oregon is okay. The fires are a safe distance away, although the air is thick with smoke and it is sometimes a challenge to breathe or blink. (My eyes are raw from the air quality.) The power is back on, and air filters are running full time in the house.
I have been very lucky. So very lucky.
Dakota, Buttercup, and Furiosa are all okay. Unfortunately, my other cat, Pandora has gone missing, and I suspect the coyotes that have been coming into the yard. The wildlife has been confused, embolden and shifted in range by the fires.
This update is short and I’ll add more when I can. Please be safe out there, folks.
The morning chill means the autumn equinox is not far away. The change in light and the shift in bird song also means my creative season is here. It’s been a difficult year, and I’m not alone in the struggle. So, I’m hungry for the creative window, the time in studio and the healing that comes from building with my hands.
I suspect the challenges of this year will greatly influence my art and outputs, and I’m more than a little curious about what that will look like.
I’m also eager to get back to Aria and re-open Plague of Gargoyles and Tangle of Mermaids. I left my characters in such predicaments as to keep my brain hooked on processing their arcs even when I’m not writing. After months of hiatus and COVID19 worries, my brain is back onto the cliff hangers where I left some of my dearest in a state of impending doom—now I can’t wait to get back in there and in true storyteller fashion…make their situations even worse.
There is defiantly a case to be made that writers are really the villains of any story, since we must think of all the awful ways in which to torture our best characters for the entertainment of the masses (and ourselves).
Still, as Plague of Gargoyles and Tangle of Mermaids finally opens the throttle on The Pillars of Dawn series the volume and speed, the sheer force of the story is making it difficult to shape into narratives one book at a time. This has required me to open several works in progress simultaneously. It’s been a great, thrilling pleasure to open a new document titled: Chord of Leviathans. This will be the WIP (work in progress) I tackle this year for Nanowrimo 2020.
I once went horseback riding when the prancy energetic steed I was gingerly perched on (I am not a seasoned rider and the horse definitely knew it) decided to break away from the group and go for a blazing gallop toward the woods. I should have jumped—it would have been the wise thing to do. I panicked, dropped the reins and clung desperately to the pommel. Luckily, the lead rider of the group came to my rescue and raced to catch my horse.
After being whipped by branches, and saddle bruised and my heart thundering to the point of nausea—I was saved. By the time I slipped out of the saddle and sat heavily on the ground, legs shaking, I decided…that was a shit ton of fun! I didn’t walk right for days, and haven’t ridden since, but the rush of adrenaline and the feeling of flying makes me think fondly on that moment when I dropped the reins and just held on for dear life. That glorious moment when the future was out of my hands, but I was still along for the adventure.
That is how I feel when I’m writing The Pillars of Dawn. As these next two books pick up the arc and make a bolt for freedom, I sit at my desk, drop the reins and the story just---flies.
I’ll be saddle sore and breathless, maybe even shaky when it’s all over, but goddamn…what a fucking ride! I dearly hope readers will feel the same when they finish my books.
Anywhoo, I hope this update finds you all safe, well, and healthy.
Let the 2020 creative season begin.
Be assured that the continued violence and inequality against people of color in the United States is a persistent and corrosive, baked-in evil that has and will continue to stain this country’s worthiness in historical reference beyond a footnote of disgust for a nation that could not treat its people with humanity and justice.
There is no honor in this tyranny.
There is no nobility in this oppression.
Such a nation has not EARNED the right to a seat at any table on the global spectrum.
Such a government has not EARNED the right to collect taxes, support, or duty from the people they have oppressed and continue to murder without cause, and with obscene impunity.
Such a policing body as we have today, a militarized police force, has not maintained the trust and responsibility to its citizens of color, and therefore should be demoted in rank and status until such time as they can effectively serve and protect with honor and nobility, as a united service, to all peoples under the banner of civilian protections—most urgently, the people of color who have been repeatedly and disproportionately targeted.
Be assured that a country that continues to rely upon such immoral and discriminatory actions toward an entire population, and those in active support of that population, will discover the limitations of inclusion in a global sphere, and the long-lasting unrest of a country divided.
If you think we have moved beyond the civil war and the civil rights movement, you are mistaken.
White Americans who believe there is no divide, no imbalance, no injustice wear the stain of this failure to evolve on their persons; making such a generational disgrace so much more debasing for all the years in which these racial injustices could have been generously, peacefully, and nobly corrected to the betterment and healing of all. The failure to do so is squarely at the feet of the people unable to acknowledge the imperfection of those who came before—and our COLLECTIVE NATIONAL responsibility to do better than our predecessors.
The United States of America is currently living a modern version of the Mason-Dixon nightmare, which guarantees our place in history as the country that has failed freedom.
Finally! The Patron-style memberships are open and live again HERE.
I tried to schedule a tier for every budget and need. Please feel free to leave feedback or suggestions. I'm excited to get back to collaborating with you all!
P.S. The Cauldron Giveaway for September is this adorable little driftwood and clay sculpture from my studio. If you sign up for a membership before September, I'll double your tickets in the cauldron for the giveaway.
42nd Note to Self
It would take a dozen pages to catch up the events of the year. Instead, I’ll just get to the good stuff. The priceless gem of learning for last year was this: you can’t plan for shit.
Don’t feel too bad, though. You were caught in the COVID19 roller-coaster loopy-loop along with seven billion other folks who all got motion sickness from the about-face, “pivot”, plot-twisting pretzel that has been the last six months. Good times. Pass the yammy bucket, will ya?
Add to that a much-needed, long overdue governmental uprising against injustices for POC and voila…powder keg meets long banked embers brought to life by months (generations, actually) of failed leadership and strained collapsing global paradigms.
The word for this year is “Woosh”. That is the sound of the old world dying in a blaze of innovative transformation and the necessary release of everything that’s no longer working.
Just like that—whoosh—the new stage is being set. Change is coming in whether you or the generations before you are ready for it or not. All you could say was, “It’s about goddamn time.”
Change--the only constant. The only truly reliable element of story, of life, and of this world.
Change is the only measure of how far we’ve come, and what we’ve made of ourselves.
You can plan for change, or change can be thrust upon you, but change will happen. A stagnant character is a dead character. A stagnant infrastructure is an outdated infrastructure. A stagnant government is a relic that only realizes its antiquated worn-out relevance at the pace of revolution. History is a jagged path of this very truth—evolve or perish. Change with the need and times or become a passing footnote.
Athena, you don’t really fear change. Change usually brings with it a flush of excitement, a burst of new inspiration, a glimpse of glimmering possibilities that will push a vision one step closer to reality. Sure, it took a while to get to this level of comfort with change, but now you can see it for what it is.
Change is the life breath of story, and love is the impetus of that change.
(Fear is the antithesis of change; fear of discomfort, fear of evolution, fear of losing privilege/power/wealth/or standing. Fear breeds stagnation. Fear emboldens the grip, energizes the hold and forces ego to dig deep and put up the dukes to fight for the status quo.)
Aside from status quo being woefully overrated, you already know that love is the key to long, healthy, vibrant social collaboration and meaningful evolution.
So while all this is going on in the outer world beyond your bubble—you’ve had to rethink, re-wonder, re-balance, re-work, and re-imagine what you can bring to this newly shifting world on the other side of your forested tree line.
What can you contribute? What can you bring to the new table? What can you offer to the cause of change? What do you have in you to give?
But it doesn’t stop there—what have you been reluctant to change in your internal world as well? What have you hung your heart/ego/identity on? What have you clung to out of fear?
You sat with these questions for a month before writing the 42nd Note to Self, and the answers surprised you; because all change begins from within.
To bring in the love, the change, the evolution—you must first allow it in. You must first cultivate it within you.
But the global COVID health crisis, a massive movement to support a change in leadership, support people of color and end police brutality, the supply chain food imbalances, education malfunctions, wealth imbalances in times of extreme hardship, attacks on the most vulnerable citizens of your extended community, and even the fucking toilet paper shortage were like…OVERLOAD.
You’re not alone. Overload has hit millions of people, and the election is just a few months away. People, including yourself, are buried by all the feels and distress of 2020 blowing up like a campground outhouse.
And what did you do during this time of empathic, emotional, mental overload—you decided to start dating. Woman, what the hell is wrong with you? People are dying. People are being hit with gas canisters for chanting peacefully against the Gestapo—and you decide it’s time for some romance?
Maybe you decided romance is the best way to balance out all the ick, the hate, the raw disgust bubbling up for the human race? Maybe it’s that you need a bright point in your life to outshine and guide through this sense of impending darkness and an overload that is threatening to pull you under. I don’t know, Athena, your love life timing has always been a tragic comedy, even in the best of times. So, I’ve stopped asking about your reasons when matters of the heart and romance pop up for evaluation. It’s always as if the Universe lobs a Valentine’s box of chocolates in your general, but not specific direction at the most inappropriate moments. The joke always seems to be on you, Lady.
Anywhoo, whether your romance clock is related to this farcical shit-show or you’re desperately trying to find some part of the human story to relate to, connect with, and hold on to—something worth saving—you’re suddenly finding yourself in a discombobulated dreamy adoration of the concept of love while the city you adore is under government siege just over the mountain.
I’ll say it again, your timing is a goddamn mystery.
You’ve started doing weird shit, like, buying yourself bouquets, clearing out a space in your closet for “his” clothes (whoever the hell he is AND whenever the hell he is), practicing your favorite recipes to share, and planning a set of exploratory adventures…sure, you’ll do all those adventures alone if you must, you’ve done it happily solo for more than a decade. But this feels different. You’re consciously making space. Actively preparing room. You can feel him coming toward you, like the advanced wake from a boat in the lake. It feels like you don’t have much time left, right?
From the outside it seems like you’re bound and determined to find something, someone worth adoring when you’re losing faith in humanity by the second. What is that about? Is this some Jungian transference? Also—it’s not fair to put that kind of pressure on another human being—the—show me people are worth saving pressure. Remind me that we can be amazing together when we choose to do things consciously, fairly, and in partnership.
Who’s fucking got time to be your reminder, your spark, Athena? Every person on this rock is carrying their own overload. If you haven’t noticed, the world is breaking.
This is your 42nd Note to Self, your annual birthday letter.
Athena, do it yourself. BE THE SPARK YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.
Stop waiting to be stirred into the memory of humanity’s greatest capacity to love—and BE the one who gives it. Share it. Put it out there. Be the light.
Don’t wait around for someone else to re-kindle your faith in people—go be the fucking ignition point for others.
You don’t actually need to be reminded. If you think about it, you already know that humanity is amazing, and has the capacity for the most incredible feats of valor. One of those super-human abilities is to LOVE IN A TIME OF CRISIS, to bond in a time of emergency, to build in a time of collapse, to unite in a time of disparity.
This mystery timing of your heart awakening, trying to build a space for romance is really just your humanity TRYING TO COME FORWARD. You’re acting out a space, making room and reaching because you deeply desire to be your best self, to be the best capacity of human you can be—and it’s manifesting in this romantic hunger to connect in order to bring you proof not of your faith in humanity being justified but FAITH IN YOURSELF, in your own magical frail vulnerability.
Facepalm. Woman, you always seem to go about it all backward….
You want someone to give all this to, someone you can pour the last best pieces of yourself into before you disappear, washed away by the change in tides.
Well, now I see the timing thing. It’s primal. The timing is terribly inconvenient. The urge to make tribe, summon your pack, build unity, encapsulate the elevated and beautiful parts of relationship before you feel like it can all be buried by the darker aspects of the human race’s egregious, active examples of their worst traits---those are not good enough reasons to suggest a romantic entanglement, are they?
To build a pocket of something charmed and wondrous? To tuck into another human with the same sense of justice, the same sense of responsibility to do better, be more, create with more compassion, awareness, and courage. Is it wrong to want to weave your strengths to someone else’s strengths to make something even more powerful?
No, it’s not wrong. It’s human. You’re realizing that you’ve been an island for years; many many years. This turmoil in the world is reminding you of your breakability—and you want to use your humanness to its designated best capacity…loving another human being.
You want to release your fear, and embrace change. This willingness to find true partnership is where you’ve held back, resisted, found excuses, skirted the possibilities or flat out run away from connections. Nearly every Note to Self for the last fifteen years has begged you to take this risk…and you’ve kept dodging it. You’ve kept finding reasons to delay.
Now, when the chips are down, you are realizing that your strongest human trait is the very thing you’ve avoided for years. Ah, shitballs, of course it had to be the one thing you’ve been stepping over to get to your goals for the last fifteen years.
So, forty-two, huh? I guess now is as good a time as any…world on fire and all that….
Athena, you fundamentally understand that love needs to be cultivated within in order for it to be expressed. So, do some of that. You understand that choosing a single human to shower your love upon is wonderful, yes, but love can also be showered upon a cause, a people, a community, a craft, and a tree.
Bring the romance, sure. But give it away…all of it. If he’s not stepping forward to match you in the dance, your true match—put all that energy into the space you have been preparing for him. Put all that energy into your community, your family, friends, readers, and so on and so forth. If he’s not showing up—radiate what you’re building within, because there are people out there who need it as badly as you do. Go ahead and summon your pack, build your tribe, unite your like minds and create together.
Who knows, he might just be caught in traffic. He could be held up in a line at the flower shop. Maybe he doesn’t know you’re talking TO him, FOR him, ABOUT him. Don’t sweat it. He’ll figure it out or he won’t. Your mission goes on whether he’s in step with you or not.
Keep to the mission.
And the mission is to be the light, give the light, share everything with the world as if your world is your lover, partner, best friend and dearest collaborator.
Only when we treat each other with the passionate acceptance and loving care we’d give our other half, ourselves, and our family are we going to see the shift in global community that is so long overdue. Only then will faith in humanity be restored.
People can be magical. Be magical. Humans can be courageous. Be courageous. Humanity can be noble, kind, loving. Be everything you want to see, feel, know about the species that you are.
You are a born lover, Athena. Stop running from it, and put your heart into it. I suspect even you, a highly imaginative writer, will be surprised by the outcome—even you won’t be able to make that kind of enchanting story up.
P.S. That feeling of the wake coming toward you, ripples in the ether of a boat on the lake…maybe that’s just your ship finally coming in. Maybe it’s not about another human being at all, but about you reaching another elevation in your self-expression, your work, and your connection to the world. Maybe that ship has been headed your way for decades and you’re just now sensing that you need to be able to take your learnings and prepare to board for a new journey. It’s easy to mistake that for feelings of love and romance—but who’s not to say they aren’t one and the same? You’re coming to harbor within yourself—which transforms you into an anchorage for others. It’s been a long time coming so, enjoy it.
P.P.S Hey, just an idea, but maybe next year we can work on having a shorter learning curve, and a more concise letter? Food for thought.
Are We Community?
It’s a legitimate question these days. Are we? Are you my community? Am I yours?
It doesn’t matter which side of the line you’re standing on--both sides are wondering what the hell is happening to our country…our world.
I spent my high school years in Valdez, Alaska. It’s not a stretch to say my heart still lives in the wilds around Prince William Sound. Between the years of 1992-1997 I was treated to a very strange, possibly one-of-a-kind type of community experience.
With a population of roughly thirty-five hundred in the winter, and fifty-five hundred to six thousand in the summer tourism and fishing season—Valdez was (still is) a small community at very end of the Alaska State Highway. I was fourteen when we moved to Valdez. We’d followed the road until the very end, which left us in a small fishing and oil town surrounded by lush, green, snow-capped mountains laced with waterfalls. Valdez is perched on the edge of the ocean, and backed against thousands of square miles of wilderness and glaciers. It is the very birthplace of imagination.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that small-town living meant, everyone knew your business whether you wanted them to or not. All of it. It’s hard to keep secrets in a thirty-five hundred person town when the sky is black for twenty hours of the day, and snow covers the windows all the way to the eaves—all you have is one another. Cold, dark, and community. The nearest metropolitan town was six hours away.
Alaska is one of those glorious regions still so wild it will pleasantly be the death of you in a million different ways. From bear attacks, wolves, hypothermia, avalanche, and countless other ways Mother Nature will clean your slate—to all the many ways isolation and darkness take a death toll in alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, and the town drunk killing someone on the highway. Yes, these things happen in cities, too—but in a tiny community, even one loss of life or tragedy impacts nearly everyone. Why?
Well, Alaskans fundamentally understand community is survival. Common decency is paramount in order to have shared social and community contracts. You don’t have to like everyone, and often don’t—BUT you DO have to stop and pick them up off the side of the road because they might actually die out there…and next week it could be your car that breaks down and you need a lift. There is an unspoken “social contract” to sharing living space and public spaces with other people in your community.
Community is the invisible thread that supports a construct of human survival in a location that could mean the neighbor next door may be the only one who will be able to get to you in time if the snow load collapses your roof, or the river overflows the bank, or a black bear wanders into your yard while you’re gardening. It happens.
Valdez isn’t a perfect community; far from it. But it did lay the groundwork for a concept that I’d never encountered before. Tribal awareness.
One thing that really sucked as a kid was doing something freshly rebellious or stupid and getting caught by someone, sometimes even a total stranger, then dragged home to my mother where the community member would nark on me, then hand me over to my mom.
This shared parental pact was something totally foreign to me. It felt like living in a police state. I couldn’t get away with anything! (And tried almost everything.) I was from the lower 48, after all. Other people had no right or business to parent other people’s children or even weigh in on non-communal behaviors. But in a small community, people looked out for each other—and for each other’s kids. Survival mandated it.
This always included the folks who would make sure you were introduced to something that you had an interest in or needed to know but wouldn’t get it at home; arts and theater, banned books, comic books, access to rock music, etc. The local theater group adopted me into their circle and family to teach me broader theater and social humanitarian awareness. My high school librarian discovered I wanted to read books that had been put on pseudo-banned reading lists—so she ordered copies to the city library where I could pick them up freely. My pep band teacher exposed me to jazz. My choir instructor taught me to choose lipstick to match my undertones. My biology teacher acknowledged I wasn’t really a “lab kind of kid” but if he needed his winter ptarmigan’s cleaned and packaged—I could earn extra science credit for dissecting and animal anatomy.
The point is: my community always found ways to keep me out of trouble, or help me reach potential that would eventually lead back to support the whole network one day; keep my mind engaged, teach me what I couldn’t learn at home…and make sure I didn’t wander out and get eaten by a bear.
They were all fast and hard about stepping in front of me before I could toe the line. They didn’t take my shit, but instead challenged me to engage in other outlets. To this day, I am incredibly grateful that I grew up in a place that allowed and encouraged a form of tribal community guardianship.
My family was also incredibly poor. The community often brought food and supplementals; salmon, caribou, halibut and freezer meals. My friends’ parents almost always tried to feed me before I went home. It was an unspoken shared knowledge that we struggled...a lot. My first restaurant boss even packed small lunch meals for me to take to school.
So why the long explanation? Because community that has such a level of social interdependence (despite its other issues) can ONLY function by these important social contracts: Trust/Respect/Personal Autonomy/Generosity/Compassion/ & A Social Construct (IE: Values and Manners)
This creates a culture, if you will, of social self-regulation with allowance for interdependent support. Those who adhered to the social contracts did their best to help hold the younger kids to it as well, regardless if they were regular fixtures in the kids’ lives or not. I assume, because I was too young to know for sure, that the adults tried to hold each other accountable to the social contracts as well…but over time, well, everything changes in time.
Unfortunately, this also often comes off as meddling, or “sticking your nose in” which creates a lot of bad blood, and irritation. There is obviously a fine line, a measure between maintaining a community social contract, and “None ya” (None of your business).
These are the social contractual concepts I learned between 1992-1997 while living in Valdez, Alaska:
Help each other when you can or are able. Never leave someone in the elements. Watch out for all the kiddos. All of them, all of the time. Leave no trace. (IE: environmental, carry in/carry out rule). Don’t be the asshole that takes the last of anything without checking if anyone needs it first. (This does not apply to Doritos, or beer…or fries) but it does apply to sustainable hunting and fishing, as well as fuel resources and access to water—even picking wildflowers and berries. Never take the last one. Leave some for the next generation. Never leave a human being on the side of the highway. Stop at the scene of every accident, even if it looks handled. Check first. Hold the door for anyone behind you always and without exception regardless of who they are. Offer to teach a skill you can share. If someone is fifteen minutes late to a date/location—check on them; Alaska is a dangerous place. Volunteer if you can for social community anything. Participate in gatherings if you are able (at least pop in, say hello and then leave). Look out for those who are struggling. Help where you can. Respect other people’s spoken boundaries and limitations. No means No. Don’t block the aisle, roads, bike trails, etc.—access is for everyone so be situationally aware of others and your impact. Support the arts. Support humanitarian causes. Support the Constitution. And MOST IMPORTANTLY---always take your shoes off at the door. Basically, don’t be an asshole.
Not everyone adhered to these social contracts. We’re humans. We have good days and bad days. Most humans are still ruled by ego, and a plethora of baggage-laden issues. Some days the social contract can slip, be challenged, or forgotten. Even by myself.
The point was always to DO YOUR BEST, not what you can get away with, but the best that you have that very moment.
And REMEMBER: You can’t force anyone to participate as a community member. You can’t force anyone to care about their neighborhood or homeland. You can’t force anyone to reach, stretch or inconvenience themselves for the sake of the whole or even just you. You can’t make them be grateful, helpful, interdependent or even just kind. You can only be what the standard is: and they will either buy in to the inter-connectedness of the whole population—or risk being left out of the joyful and wonderful parts of tribal awareness and social cooperation.
Sure, you’ll still pick them up on the side of the highway in winter, but you probably won’t be inviting them to the fish fry next weekend. If they won’t go out of their way for you—why go beyond the basic social expectations for them?
This is Alaskan hospitality. They will give until you don’t give back. Then they will put you somewhere outside the inclusion line. That's how community tends to work. Do your part to support the whole, or be left out.
Because the social contract requires reciprocation. It requires the respectfulness to be mutual in order for the exchange to be fair to the overall well being of the community. This is not a tit-for-tat tally. It is do your best as often as you can—and they do their best as often as they can. Period.
And if people think you’re slacking on your best, you can be damn sure they’re going to shit talk about you to the moon and back while sitting at the bar—and in a small community built on such self-governing social contracts…it’s an Olympic sport, shit talking. That and gossip, because, what else is there to do in winter?
Essentially, this model left a lot of squeegee room in “what is defined as a person’s best?” I don’t know if I truly understood it all when I was a kid. I don’t know how much of it I was actually even seeing. I have no idea if this was a manifestation of my imagination—but I carried it out of Alaska and tried to bring it to the Lower 48; which obviously did not work. Still, twenty years later, I fully expect to be called out when I'm in violation of or not paying attention to sacred community contracts. (Yes, even I miss the cues, or trip over something, or have a bad day where I let my ego rule.)
Maybe I romanticized it all. Maybe I imagined I was just super lucky to have landed around people who picked up so much of my family’s weight until I understood I needed to learn how to do it myself. Maybe I’m exaggerating the fierce protectiveness I felt from my community back home.
It must also be said, this community was always the very first, even decades later, to support, encourage, boost and even finance my wild dreams of being a storyteller. I asked, and they answered with profound generosity and incredible faith. To this day, half of my regular supporters and patrons are from my hometown of Valdez—and they’ve been pushing, urging, encouraging since I was fourteen years old.
Now, twenty-eight years after I first landed in Valdez and was exposed to a different kind of community experience—and twenty years after leaving Alaska I can’t help but feel like our world is melting down because so many of us have forgotten, or possibly never knew what it was like to be part of something that was greater than ourselves; a sense of true community—with epically bad flaws, and tremendous human unity despite those flaws.
I’ve seen a post several times on some FB threads that says, “If I don’t wear a mask, it’s not because I don’t respect you. I just believe your FEAR is not my problem.”
I paused and stared at it the first time it came across my feed. I was surprised, because masking up for COVID is not about fear—it’s about common wellness. Community wellness. Fear has nothing to do with offering respectful courtesy and encouraging a social pact for group health in an isolated town. A small town, where even one loss is felt throughout the whole population.
So, I feel like the meme should change just one word to make it more accurate. More honest. Just one word. Change FEAR to the word HEALTH and then it will read true to the poster’s intentions.
“If I don’t wear a mask, it’s not because I don’t respect you. I just believe your HEALTH is not my problem.”
Ouch. It’s hard to hear. It’s hard to think someone would say it and believe it—but at least it’s honestly worded. It could be even more accurately worded to add a couple of things; “life and/or uninsured financial stability” could also replace FEAR accurately.
I guess it just depends on how honest you want to be on your Facebook/Instagram/twitter. I mean, how blunt do you want to speak to the people who will be picking you up on the side of the highway in a snowstorm when your car breaks down on the pass? Your call.
All I know for sure is this…in Alaska, you take your shoes off at the door to respect the home you are entering. You don’t track fish guts, snow melt, slush, mud or muck into someone’s home. If you choose to ignore this unspoken (assumed) social contract, and step OVER the pile of shoes in the arctic entryway—you can be assured, someone will call you on it. And if you argue, “I have rights!” then you can also be assured, you will not likely be invited into that home again. This is also your call.
So the question arises: if our communities are our communal homes, extensions of our family—where does the mask argument end, and the pile of shoes at the door begin?
Home. Community. Same thing, right?
So I ask again—Are we community?
It’s a legitimate question these days? Are we? Are you my community? Am I yours?
I wear a mask, and I take my shoes off at the door.
Introducing the newest membership/club offering for young creatives. Please stop by the storefront and take a look at the Creative Kids Club Membership. It’s still in development and waiting for the first 20 interested parties before I invest in the platform setup, BUT it’s under development and so far, the feedback has been positive. Sign up for more information here.
The summer is half over already. My creative season usually begins on the 1st of October, but this year—I plan to get a head start. The COVID19 pandemic has impacted me financially in ways I did not anticipate which is requiring me to re-build and rethink the ways I’m bridging my living expenses and creative outputs. In the grand scheme of things, I’m very lucky. Financial impact is a lesser blow compared to those who’ve been catastrophically ill or lost loved ones.
In short, changes are afoot to push this site into a marketplace for my brand offerings, and to open my schedule to new gigs and commissions. The brand push has needed to happen anyway. The prep to get those offerings up and available to the public had been put off too long already.
The remodel will allow for the patron section to return through a membership program for those who have asked to continue to participate as patrons. AND when the time and funds allow, the site will also become a portal for the e-zine launch and social interactive community space and forums.
It’s time. I’d hoped to put off the large marketing campaign until Plague of Gargoyles was in print, but that may be six months or more and the marketing campaign is needing to happen. Nothing like a little pandemic to light a fire under my arse and get things going. I’ve been able to procrastinate and find excuses to avoid a public facing reach, but, well, I guess it’s time to brush my teeth, find some shoes and step out in front of the work.
The Elder Glade Update:
This summer The Elder Glade as been peaceful. The usual haranguing from raccoons and wolves has diminished significantly since Dakota joined the menagerie. In fact, I haven’t seen a wolf or coyote in months. I’ve spotted the cougar scat and what I assume was black bear scat on the trails, but nothing within range of Dakota’s patrolling. So, I’ve found a new vigor to be out and about with less concern over the big critters eating Princess Buttercup while we’re exploring.
One of the many benefits of living in the wilderness is the abundant, beautiful array of wildflowers all through the season. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pick bundles of daisies, foxglove, yarrow and much more while out on our excursions. The bouquets brighten up my writing desk and make the days seem a little less heartbreaking. Because yes, the world is breaking my heart right now. People…people are breaking my heart.
Raspberry season is peaking right now. Every spring I think I’ve cut my raspberries back too far and it will be the year I’ve finally killed the patch—yet every summer the stalks explode into a jungle of new canes. This year I’m averaging about a half gallon of berries every two days. Sure, I eat a ton of them as I’m picking (so does Dakota), the rest I freeze for winter cobblers, or preserve for liqueurs in a Vodka solution. This year I’m trying out a raspberry margarita mix (tequila and triple sec solution). I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime—the raspberries.