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A Real Head-Scratcher: Manufactured Drama

A Real Head-Scratcher: Manufactured Drama

This blog may be called Adventures in Fiction, but how ’bout some real-life manufactured drama?

For a little over a year now, I’ve decreased my freelance work and returned to a ‘real’ job: stocking freight for the local unit of a nationwide store chain. Stocking freight may seem menial after the other jobs on my resume, but it was my first choice when I applied. First, it would keep me active and not standing in place, as a cashier must do. Second, it would force me to exercise, which editing and writing do not necessarily encourage, as one spends hours before a computer or a narrow-lined notebook. Third, it would be good physical therapy as I continued to recover from injuries (and avoided doing the actual therapeutic exercises, because they hurt). Fourth, it would limit my interaction with the public—although, to my horror, there is still altogether too much of that. And, fifth, it would provide the extra income whenever income lagged from royalties or freelance jobs.

Now you know why I was there. So, where’s the drama?

My team and the overnight team are both short of members; thus, some of us stayed a few hours late to finish freight so the other team wouldn’t have to scramble to take up our slack. Some time around 1 a.m., a woman and her young daughter were looking at handsoaps, but my cart was partially blocking one shelf. I moved the cart back toward me, and opened a box.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the woman.

“No, it’s fine,” I replied. (The words on the page are far more stark than they were spoken.)

I kept working.

The woman said something to her daughter, and then continued with “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You don’t have to be upset about it,” and more comments in that vein, as if she were arguing with someone.

Then I realized those apologies and offended remarks were directed at me, and she was working herself into tempest.

Not knowing if anything I said to mitigate the situation would actually escalate it, I kept silent. Do not engage. Do NOT engage.

She and her daughter moved on, and I thought they were gone, but they soon showed up on the next aisle I prepared to stock. Then her husband arrived, and they had a low-voiced conversation while I and my teammate exchanged status reports and moved on to our last cart of freight. We returned to separate aisles.

I opened a few boxes.

The husband walked past, muttering.

I caught “…rude, m_____-f_____ing…” and again didn’t realize immediately the words were directed at me until he was already several aisles away.

My teammate stepped out into the main aisle and looked at me.

I said quietly, “Some people are offended all by themselves,” and returned to my cart.

“What was that?” the man roared.

I stepped back into view as he strode toward us, one fist raised, and I stared at him.

Standing off to the side, my teammate replied, “We were talking about work.”

And then we went about our tasks.

He had nothing to do but drop his hand and go about his business.

It was a Doc Holliday moment: “Oh. Johnny, I apologize; I forgot you were there. You may go now.”

My thoughts: Wow. What a way to defend your wife’s honor. Mutter a few obscenities in a passive-aggressive walk-by cursing. Yeah. You da man.

Later, when the teammate and I told our supervisor about the incident, he shrugged it off—the customers’ offense, not the aggression—and told us to alert management whenever we feel threatened. In the moment, however, all I considered was the ridiculousness of the situation and that I was too far away to step between the angry man and my teammate, should he choose to swing at her.

Thank God he backed down in the face of our calm, ‘clueless’ response.

When I recounted the incident later to Bubba’s Wife and expressed my lack of understanding over what I could have done to offend the female customer, she said, “The woman wanted attention, and you weren’t giving it.”

Shrug.

That’s the second time in about a month that people have worked themselves up into an offended frenzy over what they imagine to be my offense. What must they have imagined about me? About themselves? And why was anger and offense their go-to reaction?

 
 

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When Gaerbith Met Kieran

Struggling to complete this scene. I’ve already composed the first paragraphs of a scene that comes later, involving these characters, but am not sure how to proceed with this fight scene. It should be intense, I think, but witty.

Perhaps I am asking too much of it.

From the Plains rose a smudge of green that grew or shrank depending on the swell of the land as they travelled. Days later, it revealed itself as trees, and in two more days, the trees revealed their size, giants standing arm-in-arm.

Yanámari halted her mount on a grassy rise and looked East. “The Guardians.”

Gaerbith nudged his horse up the slope and joined her. Thick limbs intertwined, and massive trunks were separated only by the shadows between them. Somewhere beyond them light flashed, perhaps sun reflecting from the glass observatory built by King Meresh in long ages past. How had it survived the war and all the centuries after?

“The House of the Sky,” Gaerbith said, clasping Yanámari’s hand. “Home to your mother’s ancestors.”

“That blood is too remote to claim any kinship here.”

“Still. Almost home.”

By nightfall, they rested in a hollow among the tangled roots of the guardians. Fallen branches provided enough fuel for a fire in a small pit dug where the Plains sidled up to the trees, and a tiny brook trickled out from the shadows as if it had been awaiting their arrival before springing up from the ground. Gaerbith and Yanámari sipped handfuls from the rill spilling over tumbled stones, and the horses drank from the little pool it formed before disappearing into the tall, waving grass. Animals shuffled and snuffled somewhere beyond the Guardians—familiar night noises—but when a sudden silence fell, both horses lifted their heads, chins dripping, and pointed noses and ears toward the darkness.

A faint shrr of cloth against cloth sounded a moment before the quiet firmness of a careful footfall.

Reaching over his shoulder, Gaerbith gripped the hilt of his sword. “Come, you. No skulking. Show your face.”

He did not expect the answering chuckle, or the pleasant low voice that accompanied it. “That sword is nigh man-tall. Exchange it for a stave, and we will have fine sport.”

A thick staff flew from the shadows. Gaerbith caught it more by instinct than sight.

 

c2017, KB, for Dragon’s Bane, a novel

 

The connection between these two guys is a minor plot twist — revealed to the reader earlier in the story, but not yet known to Kieran. And, at this moment, not known to either guy, because Gaerbith does not yet know it’s Kieran who is challenging him.

 

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Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Dreams and family history are two rich story mines. Below are a couple examples from my life:

This morning, shortly before waking, I had a long and detailed dream about my old job. There were new faces and new ideas, and none of the rookies seemed unsettled to see me, but started telling me what was going on, whose idea was whose, what worked, what didn’t, and why.

However, before I could meet the new employees or reach the new workspace (a shiny new and bright concession stand, one of many places I oversaw in the old job), I had to pass people with whom I used to work. They didn’t greet me or smile, but immediately began complaining about my absence. They were sarcastic, passive-aggressive, unhappy.

When I tried to leave that little conclave of depression and blame, they followed me, still complaining, still muttering. None of them, however, set foot into the bright, new workspace.

I turned around from admiring the new setup and speaking with the smart, young assistant manager, and looked out the open door to where the conclave gathered in the dark. They shot ugly looks, quieted but never stopped muttering.

That’s when I woke.

That’s also when I was reminded that 1) those burdens are no longer mine to bear, and 2) vision and gratitude turn on the lights.

(originally written March 1, 2014)

———-

Most of my social media connections know what I think about racism, the pernicious, persistent misnomer that’s not about race — we’re all the human race, there is no other — and all about skin color and ethnicity: Racism ends when we let it end. When skin color and ethnic origins are simply allowed to be, without the assumption or the weight of something ugly attached.

I don’t tend to make ethnicity a big deal in my stories. People are who they are, who they decide to be, who their actions lead them to become, and sometimes their origins have an impact on that.

The Deer Place“, however, directly addresses racism, and mixes elements from family lore and my father’s childhood. He recalls being called a “dirty Indian” and other names when he was young. He also had a special place on the mountain where he met the deer, and one day he discovered where they went.

(originally written February 28, 2015)

 

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Communication and Respect

c2016, KB

c2016, KB

There’s a meme I occasionally encounter on social media, and it’s a quote from Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

Usually, I let the meme pass without comment.

Not so after the most recent encounter:

Unfortunately, democracy is made up of flawed human beings of varying perspectives, values, and educations. One trauma, one triumph, one challenge, one loss, one gain, one ________ can change our view of the world and of ourselves.

We — an all-encompassing “we” — need not assume that someone’s disagreement with our point of view means they are the ignorant one in the conversation.

Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, we too often think we stand above those with whom we do not agree. That, I think, is one main reason there are such gaping chasms between groups in this country.

Are only those with whom we agree worthy of courtesy?

Are only those we deem our intellectual equals worthy of our respect?

Are only those we consider morally correct worthy of being treated with decency?

We tend to assume we’re the ones with the whole truth, and often do not consider we might be mistaken.

On the other hand, there is absolute truth, and if we have no strength of conviction, we’ll never stand for anything.

There’s a time to hear and understand other points of view, even if we never change our own stance.

There’s a time to examine ourselves and explore other ideas, and then decide whether or not we need to adjust or to remain firm.

Simply because others disagree does not mean we double-down, speak louder, or become aggressive in trying to change their minds.

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

Maybe, in our ignorance, we overlook their intelligence.

 

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Shackles or Wings?

“I can’t forgive” or “I won’t forgive”: I understand that great hurts can blind us to the humanity and frailty of others, especially when we’re encased in our own grief, pain, shame, ________. But, once the initial shock eases and we can breathe again, why would we choose to lug that nastiness around?

Ugly things happened when I was a child and a youth. They most certainly affected the course of my life. Traces of those events can be seen even now. But I don’t live there anymore.

A few years ago, I visited Oregon, where I once lived, after having spent most of my life in the South. Although fellow Southerners think I speak with a Yankee accent, Westerners hear the Southern accent.

There are traces of that life remaining in my speech.

And that’s okay. After all, it means I’ve been outside my bubble, seen other geography and culture, expanded my horizons.

Even when I no longer live in those places.

Those long-ago wounds still stab on occasion, but they no longer encage my mind or choke my heart or blind me to truth. Forgiveness, after all, is a matter of opening one’s hand and letting go of dust and rubble so one may reach for what is of more value — wisdom, love, hope, maturity, and more.

How can the pain in your life be transformed from a prison to a new pair of wings?

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

 

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Skin

While perusing various social media accounts, I generally (but not always) skip over posts and material that either doesn’t interest me or that seem like traps if one becomes involved in the discussion, but today I stopped following someone whose posts over the last year or so have had the definite tang of “See? See? I’m a good guy!”

I won’t describe the full nature of the posts, but he seems compelled to preach at others to “understand” or “identify” with people of other skin colors, all while demoting one skin color and promoting another.

We don’t win — and we certainly don’t unify or understand or identify — when our methods for doing so involve demonization of one while glorifying another. After all, regardless of ethnicity, we are all weak, fallible, and occasionally heroic humans. None of us is perfect — either perfectly evil or perfectly good. And none of us are good or evil based on skin color or ethnic background.

The same goes for this person: an excellent writer, someone with whom I have agreed on many things, but this one abrasive aspect has become a disappointing negative.

Today, the second day of a new year, I removed it.

As someone of mixed ancestry, I have been baffled by the continued need to judge color rather than character. Any discussion or debate, any legislation or group, etcetera, that builds upon skin color is starting in the wrong place. After all, the real problem isn’t a skin condition, but a heart condition.

 


 

There is a trap in equating sexuality, religion, politics, or worldview with skin color. “Embrace my choices or you’re a ______ist or a _______phobe!” — but those are not externals. Those are behaviors or outlooks or beliefs that we live, adopt, alter. While they may be influenced by our ethnic backgrounds or by our parents, they are not necessarily determined by them. Skin color, on the other hand, is not something we choose. It is a beautiful thing, and should never be used as a means of dividing or degrading.

Here in America, we tend to make skin color a matter of black or white, and we often think narrowly in only black-and-white terms. However, humanity is a palette of colors, and I respectfully recommend we broaden our perspectives.

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Posted by on January 2, 2017 in Uncategorized