Distractions and Mans

So, I’ve tried to write three different blog posts. I’m supposed to do this twice a week, and this time, it just isn’t happening. Why? Well, this little gif pretty much lays out why.

Writing is different for everyone—which is why there are so many different writing advice books—but one thing seems to be true among the writers I read and admire. That’s momentum. It’s hard to get started, but once you’ve got momentum, once you’ve been writing for ten-to-twenty minutes straight, you just keep going. You’ve found a rhythm and that rhythm keeps you going. Unless, of course, the world throws a fire in your face. Then, you have to start all over again.

And that’s pretty much what happened to me this week. I’ve been trying to avoid the news and politics and culture, trying to catch the momentum, and I’ve failed. All week long, I failed. I’ve gotten very little writing done, but I’ve been posting a lot on social media. More than I should have, to be honest. Because arguing on the internet is… well, we all know what arguing on the internet is all about, don’t we?

XKCD says it all

Way back when I was writing 1st Edition 7th Sea, my then-wife Jennifer (isn’t she knockin’ it out of the park with her 7th Sea fiction bits, folks?) put a rule on my head. No Internet Before Writing. I wasn’t allowed to check e-mail or go to any websites until I had written my daily word count.

I guess I’m gonna have to go back to that rule.

No internet before word count.

So, I’ve got very little for you this week. But I do have one thing. One very small thing. It’s small but very important.

The Mighty Matthew Colville—whose Youtube channel is required viewing for Game Masters, and that’s coming from the guy who wrote Play Dirty 1 & 2—introduced me to a couple memes that have become important in my life. The first is “Friendly Game,” which has become an important part of my game design philosophy. But the second is the concept of “mans.”

“Mans” is the name for the figures/chits/bits/pieces you move around in a board game. We were playing the old Dune board game (a brilliant, but flawed gem) and Matt referred to all his pieces as “mans.” I found the term absolutely delightful and adopted it into my own vocabulary. I even unofficially brought it into Houses of the Blooded. I’ve always loved RPGs that allow me to have “mans.” Folks who are linked to my character. I once designed a Noble character class for D&D that gave me more mans as I leveled up. And when I wrote Houses, I made sure one of the elements of that game allowed me to have mans. I could have a Spy Master and a Valet and a Poison Master. You know, like I was a Landsraad noble from Dune.

That was many years ago, but the word has stuck with me. And I should mention, in my head, it’s gender neutral. “Mans” means both men and women. But I’ve also become considerate to the fact that I cannot ignore it has a masculine connotation, and there are women friends of mine who would not appreciate being called a “mans.” (Yes, “mans” is not only gender neutral, but also both plural and singular.) And so, I’ve been looking for a new term.

What’s more, just recently, I realized that I actually do have mans. My company, John Wick Presents, has a whole bunch of people working on projects. We just released Heroes & Villains and Pirate Nations is off to the printer. Nations of Théah, Vol. 1 & 2 are both on the fast track to coming out in a couple of months, and just today, I saw Secret Societies has an outline deadline of this week.

Secret Societies! The very last book on our schedule for 7th Sea has an outline deadline for this week!

I have mans. A whole lot of them. And they’re doing some really damn amazing work. But, I can’t call them mans. I really can’t. I need a new term. Not because I’m afraid of offending people—if you know anything about me, I don’t give a single flying @#$%ing @#%% about @#$%ing offending people. But because people get to choose their labels. And if someone doesn’t feel comfortable with being one of my mans, then they deserve a new nickname.

Especially if they’re doing outstanding work for a company with my name on it.

Still, I’m a little sad to lose it. Nevertheless, a new word for the folks who work for me.

“Employees” is stale and boring. These people aren’t my employees. Some of them are the best friends I have in the whole world. And “friends” isn’t right, either. It just lacks the charm of the original term.

And entourage? Yeah, no. That’s just demeaning. That’s too close to “hangers on,” which does not denote the fact that I need these people.

And then, in the shower, the place where all great ideas hit you in the head, I knew what to do.

I knew the term I needed to use. Something for the JWP folks working so hard to make the company with my name on it look so good.

I have a crew.

Sure, I may be the captain of this mad voyage, but I’ve also got officers who manage things and keep us going in the right direction. A captain without a navigator and a pilot… yeah, no good. And the crew working the sails, we need them, or the ship goes nowhere.

A crew. All working together so we all get to where we’re going. We all heave together or the ship don’t go.

Yeah. That sounds about right. A crew.

I’ve got a damn fine crew at JWP. Looking at the books we’ve produced so far, at the Wiki page, at the Free Rules we just released, at the maps, at the art, at the innovative mechanics, at the editing, at the fiction… at just about everything. All working together to keep the ship going.

I’ve got a crew. And that’s about as much anyone can ask for.

Sing ho! for a brave and gallant ship

With a fair and favorin’ breeze

With a bully crew and a captain too

To carry me over the seas

To carry me over the seas, me boys,

To me true love far away

I’m taking a trip on a Bucca ship

Ten thousand miles away

Listen to “Ten Thousand Miles Away” for 7th Sea by Sheldon Morley

Let It Go

I do a lot of game design seminars and I always meet “The Guy.” He always says the same thing, too. He raises his hand and says, “I’ve been designing a roleplaying game for twenty years now…”

I stop him. Right there. I know exactly where this is going and I need to stop it before it gets any further. I say, “In twenty years, I’ve designed almost thirty roleplaying games. You need to crap or get off the pot, pal.”

That’s usually when The Guy gets up and walks out. And in twenty years, he’ll still be designing the same game. He’ll never be finished.

That’s because he’s unwilling to do the hardest part of design or writing or painting or anything else: letting it go.

I told Mike Curry and Rob Justice this. “Every day, you wake up and know how to make your game better. Every day. Even the day after you sent it to the printer. Even the day after it shows up in bookstores. Even a year after that. Every day.”

The hardest part is letting it go.

I’m elbow deep in the second draft of Born Under the Black Flag, the second 7th Sea novel. The first one was damn hard. This one was easier. Not a lot easier, but I did a few things I did not do with the first novel. First, I made an outline. Black Flag jumps back and forth through the life of Thomas St. Claire, a pirate in the world of Théah, and I wanted to know where the past and present were going to be. I outlined the chapters on index cards and put them down on the floor with numbers. Then, I picked them up in the order I wanted the novel, giving them letters. I shuffled them around a bit, scratched out some numbers and letters, and when I was finished, I started writing.

I finished just as my deadline hit. I mean, on the same day. Daughter of Fate—the first novel—got pushed back 30 days because I wasn’t finished with it. But St. Claire had a goal, a simple goal, and he was able to reach it because he was willing to spill blood to do it.

First draft done, I sent it off to Amanda Valentine and take a year end vacation, not thinking about the novel for a while so I could approach it with new eyes. Also, I spent some time doing research and reading Patrick O’Brien.

I knew a novel about pirates would need some O’Brien in it. There was already a little—maybe 1 O’Brien’s worth—but I wanted more. Not a lot more, but enough to satisfy myself and the other fans of his work.

O’Brien was the author of the Master and Commander novels—among others—and his storytelling made my heart ache. I couldn’t capture the same authenticity he did—I simply did not have the level of knowledge he had—but I wanted to make sure the nautical elements felt authentic enough.

I told Amanda that when I sent it off to her and she said she would help me out. She had a couple of friends who were O’Brien fans, so when I finished the second draft, she would hand it over to them for feedback.

Last night, I was going through her edits, making changes both big and small, when it came time to introduce the first ship in the book. And this is where I needed to raise the O’Brien Factor. I spent an hour and a half writing a single paragraph. One hundred and thirty words. I wanted them to be the right words. To make St. Claire’s inspection of the ship feel authentic.

Ninety minutes on those words. It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. But I went to bed happy. This morning, I sent them to Ben Woerner who gave me feedback and added a little bit about hammocks. And then, I read it back to myself—out loud. And I was happy. Damn happy.

The Galente was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar. A merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. The ship was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. Despite its size, she could handle shallower waters than most and the aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. A sure sign of vanity. The masthead caps were wide and she had little room for cannons. All of it was for crew and cargo. Her rigging was designed to minimize the first of them. She was tall and proud, few guns. And she was fast. Damn fast. Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

After I was done, I sent the words to Jessica. She’s my Jane Austen fan. I sent them along with the request, “Please tell me if you get lost in the jargon.” I wanted to make sure there was just enough she could understand what was going on. She sent me this reply:

This is the sort of paragraph I skip when reading. If a fluyt is a real ship, then I don’t want someone spelling it out for me in text. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Talk about the significance that whoever’s POV would be considering.

Things like “A sure sign of vanity” are hints of a good direction.  I want to hear the captain (or whoever) size her up, like a sailor would. I know no one knows what a fluyt is anymore, but ignore that. hide the information in the captain’s evaluation of his dreams and plans for her.

A merchant ship means he can hide his nature. That should be emphasized rather than comparing it to other nations.

A sure sign of vanity, but he could afford that. or maybe it would extend to his men, proud to have such a vessel. They will work harder.

I don’t know. But make it personal. Make it real. This is a text book description. Jargon smargon. It’s missing the people and the reasons.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I loved those words. I worked hard on those words. Dammit. DAMMIT.

Okay, okay. Take a breath. You know why you’re upset. You know why.

She’s right.

So, after stomping around the room for a little while, I set myself back behind the keyboard and began editing. Looking at Jessica’s feedback and using it. And what I got, after another hour of work, was something better. Not just better, something that Ben Woerner said “gave me chills” after reading it.

Yeah. It was better.

I wasn’t The Guy. I wasn’t going to walk out of the room when someone challenged me. I was going to listen and think.

And let it go.

St. Claire walked along the Galente, his eyes and mind taking in all the details. She was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar: a merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. She was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. That meant he could sail her in shallower waters, hiding behind islands from larger ships. He could sail her up rivers, giving him access to ports and escape routes larger fighting ships could not manage.

The aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. St. Claire snickered. A sure sign of vanity on the part of the captain. Made the officers’ cabins easy targets for other ships. That would have to go.

She had little room for cannons. Only six per side. Instead of cannon decks, the Galente had room for cargo. She was a merchant ship, after all. Claire didn’t need many more guns, what he needed was speed, and the Galente had plenty of that. Her rigging was designed for minimal crew and outracing pirates. She was fast. Damn fast.

He knew what he had to do. Lose some cargo space with double hammocks and she could carry plenty of fighting men along with a small working crew. Add chase guns to the fore and aft, keeping sharp shooters in the rigging. Hiding in shallow waters at night, waiting for larger ships to go by, sailing right up to their hulls, moving so fast, the enemy’s cannons would fire too long, splashing cannons behind them. Then, unleash the marines. If he got that close, most ATC ships would surrender without ever firing a shot.

Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

We Are the Heroes of the Stories We Tell

I’m starting my own church. A church of one. This is what I believe.

I.

I believe in a reality that is very close to our own, a reality that sometimes touches our own, and sometimes even crosses over. This reality has been called many things by many people. It has been called the Astral Plane, the Dreaming, the Tellurian, and Ideaspace.

We feed this place with our dreams, our ideas, our inspirations and aspirations. We visit this place when we dream. When our minds are set at the right speed. Shamans used peyote to reach this place. Tibetan monks used meditation. If we refuse to sleep, sometimes the dreams fight their way through. This is the place where dreams and dreamers meet. We call to them and they answer back.

Heroes are born here, live here, and die here. All our legends, all our faiths are born in this place. It is the home of Robin Hood and Beowulf. Buddha and the Christ are here, breaking bread and drinking wine. Just over there, Jacque de Molay and the Old Man on the Mountain play an endless game of chess. Odin and Loki argue with Zeus and Prometheus. All our dreams, all our legends, all our myths. They come from this place. This holy, sacred place.

I believe this place can be reached through various means. We use ritual and ordeal. We use the ritual of enacting the stories of heroes. We do not simply tell the stories of heroes, we don’t walk in their footsteps. We make the footsteps. To summon the energy of heroes, we tell their tales. We wrap ourselves in their symbols and invoke the hero. We do not simply tell the myth, we become the myth. We are the heroes of the stories we tell.

We are shamans, summoning the spirits of heroes.

We are magicians, making magic with rituals and ordeals.

We are gamers.

II.

Every man, woman and child is part of the Imagination, but all of us see it differently. All of us know it by different names. The Astral Plane, the Dreaming, the HeroPlane.

For me, I call it, “Valhalla.”

This sacred place where heroes went after they died. In that holy hall, the victorious fallen drink, feast, sing, and make love until the fighting begins. They fight to the death, each and every one of them. Then, the Allfather calls their names and rises them up, mending their broken bones and torn skin, so they can do it all again the next night.

The victorious fallen. The Einherjar.

(As a sidenote, what most people don’t realize is that only half the Einherjar actually go to Odin’s hall. The rest go to Freya’s hall, Folkvang. As for me, I’d rather hang out with the Sex Goddess than the Allfather, but to each his own.)

My last name is Wick. My grandfather changed it from Vik when he arrived in America. (He thought it sounded too Scandinavian.) I grew up in Minnesota, learning the tales of my ancestors. I learned about Valhalla and the Grey Wanderer, about Loki and the Lay of Thrym. I learned about Mjolnir and Bifrost. And I learned about the Einherjar. And I used to brag that my funeral would be me with everything I own, floating down the Mighty Miss on a burning barge.

Most importantly, I learned the only true immortality was having your name spoken after you were in the ground.

I believe in Imagination. This place where heroes go. The Victorious Fallen. The Einherjar.

Heroes are there. Sherlock Holmes and Lamont Cranston. John Constantine and V. Tim Drake and Jack Burton. Irene Adler and Kachiko.

(“Who?”)
(“Jack Burton! ME!”)

Heroes go here. My heroes. Your heroes. Like Hemmingway and Roger Zelazny. Dorothy Chandler and Harriet Quimby. Buddy Holly and Harry Chapin. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. The Buddha, the Christ, and Owen Hart.

This is what I believe. I believe we can make stories of our lives that we too may eat and drink and make love with the heroes in that sacred place. As long as our names are spoken after our death, I believe we may stay in that sacred hall. With Johnny Cash and Ossie Davis. With Elvis and Byron. With William Blake and Jim Morrison.

And my grandfather.

I perform the ultimate alchemy: transforming my life into a story. And when I am gone and I go before Freya, she will ask me, “What have you done to earn the right to sit beside my Einherjar?”

I will say, “I have a story worth telling.”

THE TOWN: A Twin Peaks-Inspired RPG

twin peaks game lake

THE TOWN

Diane,

It is 3:50 AM. I just woke from a dream with a sharp pain on my back. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, I saw it was a mole on my back that has grown dangerous large and swollen. But the dream showed me a secret. A secret I must share with the others…

It’s true. It is 3:50 (now, 3:53) and I did wake from a dream with a sharp pain on my back. And I do have a mole on my back that is dangerously large and has become painful. And the dream is something I feel the need to share. With you.

(I should note this is, in no way, an officially licensed vision. Just something I felt the need to write down. Also, I haven’t playtested this. It’s literally coming from my head to the page.)

Making the Town

There’s a small Town somewhere in America. Maybe it’s in the Mid-West, maybe it’s in the South, maybe it’s in the Southwest, maybe it’s in the Great Northeast. Players decide where the Town is.

Next, go around in a circle and every player add one, two or three Details to the Town. These could be Locations, Businesses or Secrets. Every player adds one at a time until the group feels they’ve added enough Details. Don’t add too many! You want enough Details that you have a feel for the Town, but you also want enough freedom to add more Details later.

Making a Character

You are portraying someone in the Town. The first thing to do is write down your role in the town. That may be Sheriff or Deputy, it may be High School Student, it may be Mechanic, it may be Tavern Owner. This is your Role. Write it down.

Next is your Secret. Everyone in the Town has a secret. It could be that you’re involved in the Town’s drug community. Your Secret should be dangerous. If anyone else discovers your Secret, they could blackmail you for it. It could be that were responsible for someone else’s death (accidentally or intentionally) and you helped cover it up. It could be that you’re married and having an affair. Or, it could be that you become possessed by a hungry spirit and you’ve murdered your daughter.

Finally write down the word Danger and write a “1” next to it. Everyone in the Town is in some kind of danger.

Explore the idea of having multiple characters.

Making the Mystery

Finally, make a Mystery that has fallen over the Town. This is a large, dramatic even that has changed the town in some way. It could be a fire that burned down the local high school, the disappearance of a prominent member of the Town, or the murder of the prom queen. The Mystery should be dangerous and affect everyone in the Town.

Telling the Story

First, let’s talk about the Director.

Each player takes a turn being the Director. Have a special token that indicates when a player is the Director. If you are the Director, you’re responsible for playing any characters who are not played by players and for running Scenes. If you are the Director, none of your characters appear in the Scene. If one of your characters appears in the Scene, you must surrender the Director Token to another player who does not have a character in the Scene. You choose who gets the Token. If you receive the Token and you have a character in the Scene, your character must find a reason to suddenly leave the Scene.

Second, let’s talk about Scenes.

The story is told in a series of Scenes. Typically, a Scene is limited to a physical location. Characters can walk in and out of Scenes, but when focus leaves the physical location, the Scene has changed. When you change a Scene, change Directors.

Gaining Danger

Characters can do anything in a Scene, but whenever they take an action the Director feels could a) put them in mental or physical danger, b) expose their Secret, or c) gets them closer to solving the Mystery, the character gains a point of Danger.

Whenever a character gains a point of Danger, roll a d6. If the d6 rolls lower than the character’s current Danger, the player must decide how the character is injured or changed in the current Scene. Their Secret may be revealed for the first time, they may find themselves tied up and left for dead in THE WOODS. This may include the character’s death. Remember, the player decides how their character changes. Use each point of Danger to say one thing that is now different about your character. This could be a physical difference, such as a scar. It could be a knowledge difference, such as something your character knew that she didn’t know before. Or, it could be a mental difference, such as a change in attitude toward another character or situation. For each change, reduce the amount of Danger by one.

Confronting the Mystery

Finally, characters may choose to confront the heart of the Mystery. If they do, they take all their Danger with them. They must choose a number of ways their character is changed by the Mystery. No rolling dice. Their character is permanently changed in a number of ways by confronting the Mystery equal to their current Danger.

* * *

Diane, it’s 4:55.

I’ve decided to see old Doc Whipple about this mole on my back. But the dream still lingers behind my eyes, affecting everything I see. I don’t think I’ll be the same after all of this, but often times, a place changes you more than you could have anticipated.

owl-pixabay

Get out and Vote!

statue-of-liberty-1210001_1280

Hey everybody!

Today in America is election day! And in case you felt like staying at home, I suggest you take a look through history—even fake history like 7th Sea—and remember what Americans fought and died for. Your right to choose our government.

I know the choices aren’t the best, but as someone who’s been voting since 1984, I can tell you, they never are. You might even say the choices are worse than they’ve ever been. Yeah, that might be true, but here’s something you should remember:

You’re not just voting for President.

Here in Arizona, we have a ton of important things and people to vote on. And if you think your vote doesn’t count, I have to say, you’re just not paying attention.

Go vote. And then come home, run an adventure in Vodacce or Montaigne and remember why.

Go vote!

Not sure where to vote? Find your polling place here.

A Candid Post About Depression

I’m supposed to write a blog post every week. Hannah, my Marketing Director, tells me so. And as I type those words, I have to ask myself, “When the hell did I get a Marketing Director?”

And then, I remember… oh, yeah. 7th Sea.

However, for the last five days, I’ve been in a deep depression. Like, struggle to get out of bed kinda depression. As in, my brain chemistry is so bad, when I stumbled across the Try Anything video from Zootopia, I started to cry. I didn’t even hit “play.” I just started to cry.

Okay. Time to visit the doctor for my meds.

I’ve suffered from clinical depression all my life. When I was a teenager, my life was awful. I had moved to Georgia with my family and was terrorized by bullies who knew how to make every day a living hell. I was small, geeky and from a state above the Mason Dixon line. That made me the perfect candidate for bullying. At school, none of the teachers were on my side. The kids all lied and covered for the bullies. The teachers, too. I tried suicide twice. Not cries for help, but legit suicide attempts. I had to be taken to the hospital. It wasn’t a good place to be.

Put on top of that a condition in my head that makes even the sunniest day look bleak. I didn’t need a reason to try suicide, I needed to find reasons not to. Every day was a struggle to find reasons not to just jump off a bridge. When I got a driver’s license, I was terrified. Now, I could just be driving down the road and my dark mood could take over. “Fuck it,” I’d say and twist the wheel into oncoming traffic.

Medications in the mid-80’s were awful. I was heavily medicated and while I no longer had thoughts of killing myself—most of the time—I felt slow and stupid. Without medication, I could read a Stephen King novel in an afternoon. On medication, I couldn’t read two pages without falling asleep. My school work suffered. A life-long A student, I was getting C’s and D’s. I couldn’t study. But at least I wasn’t trying to find ways to stay alive.

After a while, I stopped taking the medication. I couldn’t deal with it. I’d spent my life figuring out ways to keep myself alive, but I couldn’t live with the person I’d become while medicated. A therapist introduced me to cognitive therapy, changing the way I was thinking. I studied Buddhist meditation and discovered zen. And I played drums. A whole helluva lot of playing drums. My depression manifests as self-destruction. Hitting my drums as hard and fast as I could was a great substitute. It drove my parents insane, but it kept me alive.

All this week, I was supposed to turn in a blog post to Hannah. I kept putting it off, putting it off, putting it off. I was working on the Jaragua chapter for Pirate Nations and it was all I could do to just focus on that. And I was getting out of bed later and later…

So, it’s time to go back on medication for a while. This happens a few times a year. The medications are so much better now than they used to be. I don’t feel fatigued or like my head is full of cotton. I can focus and maintain my concentration. And I don’t feel like getting in my car, driving out to the freeway, and twisting the wheel into traffic.

For those of you who also suffer from depression but are afraid of medication, I understand. My experiences with antidepressants when I was younger kept me from trying the new ones. Let me assure you, human beings have made great progress in pharmacology over the last twenty years. And if you need them, you should get them. They help me. No matter what Tom Cruise might say.

Depression is an illness. Just like having a cold, just like measles, just like getting the flu. It’s a chemical imbalance. That’s all it is. You aren’t a bad person. You aren’t weak. Just like sickle cell anemia. Just like cancer. Nobody’s ashamed when they catch the flu. Nobody’s ashamed when they get a cold. It’s the same goddamn thing.

Evil Thrives on Silence

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.

Just yesterday, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since hearing the news, his words have been dancing around in my head, demanding attention. I was never a big Dylan fan when I was younger. I didn’t like his voice, felt his guitar playing was… adequate… and put my attention to musicians who were more devoted to playing in strange time signatures.

(Yes, I’m a Rush fan.)

But as I got older, I started appreciating his work more. Especially his poetry. Describing what makes Dylan’s words so special is not an easy task. The subtlety and nuance, the pure poetry of his lyrics… See, Rush fans are typically musicians because musicians can hear the complexity and nuance and poetry of the music. As a drummer, I could listen to Neil Peart play the skins all day long. Sure, watching him bang away with speed and accuracy is one thing, but knowing exactly what he’s doing, and then watching him do it… as a drummer, it’s simply amazing.

Now, a it turns out, I had to become a better writer to hear what Dylan was doing with words.

I was a Lovecraft fan when I was younger. Well, I still am, but less so now. Lovecraft’s prose was… well, let’s just say you don’t become a Lovecraft fan because of his prose. You become a Lovecraft fan because of his ideas. I had to put some on some miles—and read different writers—before I started gaining an appreciation for what Dylan was doing. But once I got it… I got it.

My favorite Dylan song always chokes me up. A play on the Lord Randall ballad, a mother sees her son who left home long ago, returning to the place of his birth. She asks, “Where have you been, my son?” and the balladeer answers, describing the places he’s seen since he left.

In Dylan’s version, the places he describes are nothing short of nightmares. Dark, miserable descriptions of the 1960’s. Awful places I’d never want to be or see or even think about.

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it

I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it

I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’

Listening to the lyrics now, reminded that he wrote them in 1961, describing the things he’d seen and putting them down on the page. Seven years before I was born. But I look around now, and I see the same things he saw. The world hasn’t really changed all that much. Yes, the internet is here, and cops are still shooting black men face-down on the street. Yes, we can travel all the way around the world, and in this year’s election, we have to choose between the lesser of who cares. (Thank you Aaron Sorkin.) We eradicated Polio, only to have it show up again because people would rather listen to ex-Playboy bunnies than doctors. No, the world hasn’t changed all that much.

And, at the end, the mother asks her prodigal child, “What will you do now?” And the answer he gives is the part I choke up. Always.

After all the horror he’s seen, he hasn’t given up hope. Instead, he will go back into those awful places, singing the songs of hope he brought with him.

And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it

And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it

And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’

But I’ll know my song well before I start singing

Many of my friends tell me today’s political climate has murdered their hope. Looking at the world today does not fill my heart with despair. It reminds me that I’m not singing that song of hope loud enough. Others need to hear it. In the shadowy places where “none is the number,” they need to hear it. The hard rain that’s coming will wash all of the filth and heartbreak and hatred and scum away. It’s coming. You’ve got to believe me, it’s coming.

Evil thrives on silence. That’s why we cannot be silent. Speak. Shout. And sing. For all you’re worth, stand on the rooftop, stand on the mountain, stand in the gutter… and sing.

UnReview: Luke Cage

marvel-netflix-luke-cage

I just finished watching the first four episodes of Luke Cage and after the first, I came to a realization.

I could not write this show.

The other two Marvel shows, I could have taken a swing at. I could write about Daredevil, I could have written about Jessica Jones. Whether or not the shows would have increased or decreased in quality isn’t the issue. I could have taken a swing at those shows and written with some skill.

I watched the first fifty minutes of Luke Cage and knew I wouldn’t have stood a chance at making something this awesome. Not only that, I would have been lost in the woods.

Back in the ‘90’s, Spike Lee took a lot of heat for saying a white man couldn’t direct a movie about Malcolm X. I understood what he meant at the time. My 10th grade Civics teacher was a black man. We were in Georgia. He had a picture of King and Malcolm on the wall. I knew who King was, but I had no idea who Malcolm was. So, he gave me a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography on a Friday. I read it all weekend. Stayed up at night. I burned through it like a Stephen King novel. I returned it on the following Monday. He was surprised I read it that fast and even suggested I hadn’t read it and gave me a small verbal quiz. Then, he asked me what I thought.

I told him, “I understand why you don’t trust white people.” Then, I said, “In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t trust white people anymore.”

So, when Spike Lee said a white man couldn’t make a Malcolm X movie, I understood what he meant. The same goes for Luke Cage.

Sure, I could write a Luke Cage script, but it would not have the nuance or substance this show has. It wouldn’t have the same dialogue, the same nuance. I would have never thought to put the Notorious B.I.G. on Cottonmouth’s wall. I couldn’t write the basketball dialogue. I wouldn’t know the black authors and poets to invoke. In short, I would have made the script white. And Luke Cage isn’t white.

I love this show. I can’t express how much I love it. I spent five years in Georgia, and for three of those years, I was steeped in black culture. That’s because I was a kid from the North. The white kids literally tortured me. For the latter part of my life in Georgia, most of my friends were black. The black kids didn’t trust me at first, but I earned that trust. Even still, that was a long time ago and I was still an outsider. But I learned blues and jazz from men and women who played and sang. I learned how to tell stories from an 80-year-old black man, sitting on a back porch, drinking sweet tea. But I was still an outsider.

Watching Luke Cage reminds me the world is a lot bigger than I see. Luke’s Harlem may as well be on the other side of the world. The language is different. The culture is different. If I stepped into Luke’s world, I’d be stumbling around helplessly trying to figure things out.

But the people are people. They care about family and friendship. They care about keeping your word. They love good food, good music and good sex. And…

… hey, let’s stop for a moment and talk about how amazing the music is on this show? Marvel, can I haz soundtrack, please? Please?!?!?

Luke Cage is a hero. A different kind of hero who lives in a different kind of world. It’s a world that I’ve seen as an outsider, but I could never write with the degree of authenticity and urgency this show has. If I wrote Luke Cage, it would be his story through the eyes of a white man. And that would be a goddamn shame.

Oops. Swear jar. Sorry Pops.