Delays and WiP

Apologies for the delay in posting.  We had a rough weekend and I’ve been focusing more on my non-blog writing, so I kinda fell behind.

Anyway.

I’m working on two major projects now.

The first is several short stories, most of which are linked in some way, in The Between urban fantasy setting.  Most are Earth-set, but a few will occur in parts of the Between and Beyond.  The first, that I’m working on now, takes place seven or eight years before the rest.  The others will all take place at the same time, most involving the first’s main character, or places and minor characters from the first.

The second project was kind of an “oops”.  It’s The Codex Arcanum.  This is intended to be a short book, or field guide, or quick reference work for an Earth-based urban fantasy setting.  In world, it will be a work of non-fiction.  The closest similar examples I can immediately think of are Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Basically, it’s a fictional work of non-fiction, if that makes sense.  So, I’m approaching it from a similar perspective to writing a piece of academic non-fiction, taking on the role of a writer-editor working for an in-world organization to revise their field guide/quick reference for people new to their culture and history.  Even to the point of including in-text citations and editor footnotes.  I’m debating whether to create a References section (probably making up my own citation system).

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Charlottesville, American Fascism, & White Supremacy

While I generally try to avoid political or real world cultural issues posts here, the events of last weekend in Charlottesville, VA deserve, I think, some commentary. I waited on writing this, and posting it, to fully gather my thoughts and response to the situation. Even so, this may ramble a bit, my apologies in advance. First, despite a certain “world leader’s” claim, there were no “many sides” and the situation was clear cut. The situation is always clear cut when neo-Nazis and white supremacists are involved and there are always only two sides: neo-Nazis/Supremacists & everyone else. There really is no middle ground here. I’m the first to argue against oversimplifying and dichotomies, but, in this case, there are only the two and it really is that simple. Claims of equivalency between the neo-Nazis/Supremacists and the antifa/BLM movement are false; the former use violence against people simply because of their skin color or for being Jewish in order to kill or intimidate, the latter use violence less often, but do so to protect people of all races & creeds from being beaten or killed. Regardless, the default state should always be Nazis = bad, no “buts”, no “what abouts”, no excuses. Nazis always = bad.

A little semi-digression.

My paternal grandfather was the child of Polish immigrants. He was an irreverent Catholic. He was not, to my knowledge, especially political. He was known to occasionally indulge in what can euphemistically be called “ethnic humor”. I never heard him raise his voice in anger (it probably happened, but I don’t ever recall it). He was also an NCO in the U.S. Army MPs during the occupation of Germany after WWII. In this role, he sometimes escorted Nazi officers, particularly SS officers, to their trials. Occasionally, in the process, he shot at, or ordered others to shoot at, Nazis. Keep in mind, the second largest ethnic population sent to the concentration camps was the Poles, possibly some of his relatives. I can only imagine what he’d think of the events in Charlottesville and those on the American Right who stood up for Neo-Nazis.

(To Head off Objections: No, people who fought in the Korean War did not fight communists or Marxists. They fought fascist oligarchs. The same holds for the entire Cold War. Cuba? Military dictatorship. Yes, they called themselves communists, but they weren’t any more than I’m a Catholic, no matter what I may choose to call myself.)

Back to the main point.

The central element of white supremacy, and really the neo-Nazis, is this idea that they are somehow “defending White Culture”. However, “White Culture” (or “White European Culture”) is a myth. There is no such thing. There are many white, European cultures, not a single unified one. A culture involves traditions and tangibles, ex. food & attire. “White Culture” lacks both. Rather, there is Irish culture, German culture, Romanian culture, Canadian culture, etc. The argument that says, “If White Culture is racist, then so is Black Culture” is another false equivalency. In the U.S., if you ask a white person (or Asian or Latinx) what country (or countries) their family originated in, they can probably tell you. Ask the same question of a black individual and the majority are unable to say, because it’s impossible to tell unless their families immigrated in the 20th century or later. Thus, “Black Culture” or “African-American Culture” is not equivalent to “White Culture”, it is equivalent to saying Irish culture or Vietnamese culture or Puerto Rican culture.

That brings to mind another thing I keep hearing: “Let’s get rid of the prefixes, we’re all Americans.” I have two problems with this. First, no one ever says this when a white guy identifies as Irish-American or German-American. The prefixes only seem to be a problem for certain people when they’re used by someone who is black (African-American) or brown (Mexican-American, etc.). Second, those prefixes are an important part of our American culture, a reminder that we are a hybrid culture, a multicultural society, Frankensteinian if you will. In the States, it’s difficult to find anyone, except a recent immigrant, whose lineage is entirely from one country. Virtually all of us are mixed something, e.g. multicultural. For example, I’m a mix of Polish (paternal) and Anglo-Scots-Irish (maternal). This also goes to cultural festivals. There are those who complain about “black pride” festivals or black history month, of course they say nothing about the country’s numerous Irish cultural festivals, celebration of Oktoberfest, etc.

On the whole, the States are an experiment on a number of levels. We’re not the first multicultural society in existence—Rome, China, India, Russia, and others beat us there—nor are we the oldest multicultural society is existence—again, see China, India, Russia. To think otherwise is sheer ignorance. But, we’re, most of us, trying very hard to make it successful despite elements of our society that wish to sabotage society.

Cosmology of The Between

Leaving aside religious views, humans of Earth think the entirety of the cosmos is just their world (and associated universe).

Earth’s mages, and general magical community, know this to be false.  Or, rather, that this is a limited perspective based on lack of data.

Most of the magical community believes there are two layers to cosmology.  On the most basic level, there is Earth.  Beyond that, there are the Shadow Realm and the Spirit Realm.  These are the homes of the shadow beings and spirits as well as the sources of the energy that fuel shadow magic and spirit magic respectively.  This does not account for the Shadow Paths or Mirror Roads, however.  A minority of mages on Earth claim that there are, in fact, three layers to the cosmos.  The first is, of course, Earth.  The third is made up of the Shadow and Spirit Realms.  The second, they say, is a region called The Between which serves as a buffer between Earth and the non-human realms.  This interstitial region is, they claim, host to the Shadow Paths and Mirror Roads, among a variety of other regions.

Inhabitants of The Between say this view of cosmology is simplistic.  They say there are five, arguably six, layers to reality.  The first is Earth, although it is widely considered the least important.  The second is The Pale, which consists of the Shadow Paths and Mirror Roads and exists sandwiched by Earth and The Between.  Then comes The Between itself, including the Goblin Market, Irem, Sunken Atlantis, and Werwood.  Fourth is the Near Beyond, a region of lands more divorced from Earth than The Between, but still habitable by mortals.  Some argue there is a fifth interstitial realm that is home to the Dreamscape, Godhome, and the Spirit Realm.  Finally, there is the sixth (or fifth) realm known as the Far Beyond, which is home to inhuman entities from elemental beings to shadow creatures to entities born of chaos.  This last region is inimical to human, and related, life and mortal minds tend to crack or shatter when directly exposed to its realms.

Between 2 (2017)

What is the Between?

It is migraine inducing, if you think about it too much.

But, I’m sure you’d like a more serious, less flippant, answer.

It appears to be a realm, a place of pure magic that exists as a buffer between Earth and the Shadow and Spirit Realms.  It consists of scores, hundreds of regions that both occupy the same space simultaneously and are next to each other.  The metaphysics and geography are maddening.  It’s best not to think about that part.

The Between is home to many societies and creatures.  It is host to the places of Earth’s legends: Irem of the Pillars, Shangri-La, the Goblin Market, the Mirror Roads, Sunken Atlantis.  It is home to humanity’s greatest fears and archetypes, like the Shadow Paths and Werwood.  It is, in some ways, both platonic and Jungian, the place of forms and archetypes made manifest.

—Hunter Bradley, explorer, Shan Tzu Institute, Hong Kong, The Institute


 

I’ve updated the previous story PDF and added this piece to it as well

Stereotypes & Assumptions

I’m not a deep thinker or writer, despite my background, education, and training.  This may seem odd from someone with a PhD in an arts/humanities field given the reputations of said fields.  We’re expected to be thinking and writing deep, meaningful, philosophical things.

That’s not me.

Maybe that comes from being the grandkid of working class families.  Maybe it comes from my Polish lineage (though we have Copernicus and John Paul II, so maybe not entirely).

I think this is the big reason I rejected doing literary theory in grad school.  Most of the things we read and discussed were doing pure theory, theory for the sake of theory.  People like Roland Barthes, Toril Moi, and Stanley Fish who were totally divorced from texts, just developing theory to further theory drove me crazy.  Meanwhile, I embraced, halfheartedly because theory was required, New Historicism, in short studying a text’s historical context or the historical context in which it was and is received.  It seemed, and still does, the most practical of the theories out there.

I remember being in a graduate level Shakespeare course, during my MA.  We were reading Othello and a fellow student asked, “Why is Othello so obsessed with his reputation?”  As I recall, a few theories were posited, some “I don’t knows” floated around.  Then I spoke up (and I usually didn’t talk much in class), saying, “Othello’s a mercenary, the commander of a company of mercenaries.  His reputation is literally his life.  It’s how he gets jobs for himself and his men.  That would be important enough, but he’s also a Moor, a Black Muslim, working in Catholic Italy.  That makes his reputation at least twice as important as it is for other mercenary captains.”  To me, this seemed obvious.  From the looks I got, it seemed to be a revelation to many others in the class.  It’s not a deep, philosophical interpretation, but a practical, historically important one, I think.

During a decade as a student in higher ed, I concluded that  students sometimes forget about the practical side of critical thinking and get too caught up in some skewed sense of how they think they should be responding and thinking, trying to “sound college”.  The problem is that “sounding college” is built on a stereotype, maybe an idealization, possibly fueled by pop culture (especially movies), in which the faculty are almost invariably the enemy who need to be appeased and outwitted (often by presenting convoluted responses, answers, and thoughts that really make no sense in the light of day).  Often, we just want a straight response that seems likely (at least I do).

Was Shakespeare using Othello as a commentary on hyper-masculinity?  I don’t know.  Possibly.  It’s perfectly valid for modern audiences to read the character that way.  But, I think, for an audience that was being reminded of the War of the Roses, had survived the Spanish Armada, was dealing with the Succession Question, and had the Vatican & Papists fomenting insurrection . . . I suspect they’d understand Othello’s obsession with reputation as part and parcel of being a mercenary captain and an outsider by faith and appearance.

Maybe that all means I’m not a deep enough or philosophical enough thinker for this field or academia.  I don’t know.  Maybe the stereotype & expectation are just false.

The Between (pt. 3; 2017)

(Just a little 1900 word short story I finally typed up.  This is essentially a first draft, so feedback is very welcome.  I’ll post in three segments, but will also include a PDF version for those who’d like the whole thing in one sitting.)


 

They got into the woods while I was still looking for tracks near Emiko, I guess; they were gone when I looked up.  Emiko didn’t look worried, so I figured she’d seen them.

While I visually scanned for tracks, I trailed my staff in the river.  I sent a few of the usual seeker spells, looking for life, water composition, that sort of thing.  Every region of the Between is slightly different, so we could compare the results to the regions we knew, see if it was new.

When I had my results, I went to follow McLean and Trinh.

They’d gone a few miles along the riverbank, well into the woods.  I figured they were constructing a basic map, something for a future deep explore team to use.  We’d talked that over during breakfast.

When I caught up with them, they were on a sand island at a fork in the river.  It was narrow, maybe a couple yards wide and twice that long, but it looked like they were setting up for a trail lunch.  Not a bad site, really.  The river was barely knee deep and lazy at that point.

I was almost in reach of the sand bar when it happened.

Down the south fork, a tree moved.

It had a silvery bark streaked with brown and gold-green leaves, almost like alder.  Hadn’t seen anything like it before.

But, it began to walk down the south fork.

Then another joined it.

And another, and another, until there were twelve, sixteen of them.

Now, I’ve been doing this a long time, see a lot of the known Between.  I know nymphs.  I’ve met dryads and leimenides, meliae and oreads.  I’ve seen tree nymphs galore.

These weren’t nymphs at all.

The gathering took maybe a minute or two, really.

Then one turned suddenly.  Its maw opened impossibly wide, showing massive square teeth, as it let out a roar the likes of which I’ve never heard.  Think of a lion combined with an elephant with a troupe of howler monkeys, funneled through a hollow log.  If you can do that, you might get a faint idea of the sound.

Wasn’t really frightening, as such.  More a deep bass felt in the chest, and awe inspiring in its raw power as it thrummed through the trees.

As the reverberations died down, half the tree creatures turned and loaded the others on their backs.  I didn’t see any rhyme or reason, but they looked like they’d practiced it for years.  In seconds, half the group, herd, was mounted and I realized they were running right toward us.

I called out to McLean and Trinh, probably meant to yell, “Duck!” or something.  I think it came out more like, “Ahhh!”, as I threw myself to the side.

The tree creatures thundered past us, like a stampede of elephants, but twice as loud and completely synchronized.  They turned up the north fork, the ground shaking with their passage.  I swear the river rose out of its banks as they went by.

It was all over in seconds.

Trinh, McLean, and me got up, quick as we could.

Soaked and mud covered as we were, we recovered our staves in a heartbeat.  One look passed between us before we were off, following the north fork.

I don’t know about the others, but I wanted to see where they were going.  They could’ve been intelligent, hard to tell.  Possibly they were civilized.

Anyway, we never found out.

After about a mile, they were out of sight.

In three, we lost any spoor they might’ve left.

They just vanished, probably blended into the scenery

. . . . . . . . . .

“And that, kids, is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in the Between.  No, I never saw them again.  Yes, we confirmed it was a new region.  No, the Hong Kong explorers never told me about seeing any tree creatures afterwards.  So far as I know, that’s the only sighting of them ever.”