Criticism is weird here. I’ve long maintained that in any forum I might run, I would not censor, but as I see the way free speech is manipulated by those who would use it to sow dissent and spread misinformation, I start to see some value in minimizing voices that would lie or demean.

Free speech, after all, isn’t total and doesn’t free anyone of consequences. That’s the part these right wingers forget: you can say what you want, sure, but that’s as far as the right goes. It doesn’t mean anyone has to listen, and it doesn’t mean they need to provide you with a platform, or that there won’t be consequences for the things you say.

On the other hand, I find the left-leaning outrage machine can often create its own chilling effect. Those in defense of a cause can often fail to see nuance or see offense where none is intended and dog pile on. That can make many people unwilling to engage or say anything, which is the same as speech suppression. In all things, we should endeavour to listen first and react only after we’ve taken the full picture into account.

A good example to me is Tomb Raider. The Angelina Jolie movies weren’t great movies, definitely a product of the late 90s, early 2000s “extreme”, but to me, the character was played far more true than the 2018 version. However, any criticism of the 2018 movie, no matter how poor, went out of its way to praise Alicia Vikander, who played the character well, I suppose. The problem was that the character wasn’t Lara Croft. Lara is independent, confident, a daredevil. She doesn’t whimper or cower in the face of adversity. She is intelligent and skilled.

Vikander’s version spends most of the movie behaving like a scared rabbit. She’s lacking in skill and other than a penchant for solving puzzles, she doesn’t demonstrate anything more than mildly above average intelligence. She plays the role like she’s in a horror movie, as though we’d transported some 1970s final girl into an Indiana Jones movie. The movie itself isn’t that bad, and Vikander’s performance is solid for what it is.

The problem is that it has no connection to the character she’s intendend to portray, beyond some hamfisted plot insertions and name drops. The movie itself actually suffers from being given the Tomb Raider name; had it kept the plot and been stripped of Croft family, it might actually have played quite well. But because the inevitable comparison to the source material and the already well defined version by Jolie, all we get is a Lara Croft stripped of strength, wit and courage. She’s not a badass; she’s a wimp who gets very, very lucky.

Of course, any and all criticism of Vikander’s portrayal movie was chalked up to misogyny, as though all we wanted was some Pamela Anderson-busted chick in hotpants. And truly, there were undoubtedly people whose only real complaint was that Lara Croft had been stripped of her most noticeable asset(s). Fuck those people. To me, that’s a problem easily overcome by a strong performance and a good script.

The much bigger and far less misogynist problem is that they didn’t just drop Lara’s most prominent (again, easily ignored by a strong performance) physical attribute. They also stripped her of intelligence, courage, confidence, wit and the self-assured and almost playful sense of rebellious independence fans of the character have come to know. It felt like a watered down rehash of Evie in V For Vendetta, but with none of the redemptive emergence of strength. And again, if the character being played had not been Lara Croft, it’s a performance to be praised, for a character developed entirely on her own without the stigma of prior history. You wouldn’t play Romeo as a dude too aloof to get caught up by some girl; you don’t play a rebellious, tomb raiding daredevil as a simpering little girl being pushed around by men. It would be acceptable if it were being played as an early, unmolded version of the character; in that case though, we should see flashes of the woman she would become. This feels like a totally different person, matched in name alone.

The reviews for the movie naturally fell into two camps: those of the beta cuck boys stuck in their basement lamenting over the fact that Lara doesn’t look like a porn star (which is what they really want – someone to ogle through some action shots) and those who wanted to pan the whole damn thing but were so worried about being labelled misogynist for disliking Vikander’s portrayal that they went overboard the other way to cover their tracks, panning everything but her. (See also Ghostbusters: Answer The Call, which is a completely run-of-the-mill comedy, not special, not terrible, had its moments, but if you read the favourable reviews, it was the single greatest female-led comedy of all time and anyone who said otherwise was a woman hating monster).

Shrug. To me, the endgame should be getting away from the outrage machine and the talking out my ass/lying and twisting things to suit my narrative regime. Both are chilling and discourage quality conversation.

To me, praise and criticism are earned, not automatic. Praise should be garnered for what you did well; criticism is an opportunity to re-evaluate. If you did something truly horrible, well, you’re going to suffer through some shit. Your best bet is to try and understand why, learn what you can from it and move the fuck on.

the mungk – reading list

I read. A lot. Not everything I read is mindblowing or revolutionary. I appreciate a good solid straightforward story as much as the next guy and I’m far less interested in reading the “right” books than in reading things that are enjoyable or bring me a perspective other than my own. Understanding another perspective doesn’t necessarily imply agreement, of course, and sometimes, a book just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t really enjoy rating things, because I think it’s a little gauche. Lists of greatest songs or movies or whatever bore me. What might feel like a number one to me today may feel like a number eighty-six tomorrow, depending on what’s going on. Sometimes, something cheesy will strike me in the right way and bring me to tears. See or hear it again ten years down the road and I’ll think, wow, that’s bad.

Mostly, I’m reading through my extended library (which as a guy who lives off e-books and has a full attic library, is a lot).

Anyway, here’s the stuff that blew my mind while I was working on The Mungk.

One Small Step Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way – Robert Maurer
Is Your Genius At Work? – Dick Richards (yep, Dick Dicks, for reals)
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Michelle McNamara
Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach
The Practicing Mind – Thomas Sterner
People Of The Deer – Farley Mowat

As you can tell, I was working through a little bit, trying to find some good old fashioned personal development. Sterner’s terrific; everything I found Tolle was not. I wanted to delve into some classics, and Farley Mowat fits the bill as a fellow Canadian. I was suitably blown away.

This is the stuff that I really liked, but for some reason or another, found something just a little off about that didn’t connect. Stylistic questions, a viewpoint that I didn’t quite agree with or minor plot hole – that kind of thing.

Getting Things Done – David Allen
Face It – Debbie Harry
The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
SexRx – Lauren Streicher
Good Sex – Jessica Graham
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions Of A B-Movie Actor – Bruce Campbell
Welcome To Night Vale – Joseph Fink/Jeffrey Cranor
Dancing Barefoot – Wil Wheaton
The Art Of Non-Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
Hammered – Elizabeth Bear

I don’t typically care about celebrity or their bios, but I deeply admire Carrie Fisher and Debbie Harry (the latter being one of the first women I obsessed over as a kid, along with Kelly LeBrock from Weird Science). And who doesn’t love Bruce Campbell or Wil Wheaton? Night Vale is a guilty pleasure. Elizabeth Bear filled my sci-fi quota. The sex books? Well, what can I say? Sex is great. Finding ways to improve it is never a bad thing.

These represent things I found entertaining, but not really mindblowing. Standard fare, basically. Not bad, not amazing, just decent or enjoyable.

Get It Done When You’re Depressed – Julie Fast
The Power Of Less – Leo Babauta
Start With Why – Simon Sinek
The Sorrows Of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Fire Starter Sessions – Danielle Laporte
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith
Gregor The Overlander – Suzanne Collins
Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris
High Hunt – David Eddings
The Sword Of Shannara – Terry Brooks

I’m sorry, I wanted to like it more, but nothing can make Jane Austen not at least a little boring to read for me, not even zombies.

The next bit is stuff that didn’t resonate. It had some redeeming quality, like I didn’t think it was total trash, but yeah. Wasn’t great.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
Hot Sex – Emily Morse
The Power Of Less – Eckhart Tolle
Aesop’s Fables – Aesop

I realize there’s probably some stuff people will give me shit on there, but JLS is intensely patronizing and Aesop’s casual reinforcement of racism and hierarchy didn’t sit well. I actually wanted to give Hot Sex a 1, for being little more than an oversized Cosmo article from someone who came across as having done their research on listicles and PornHub, not reality, but I did appreciate the willingness to go beyond standard positions, I guess. Tolle’s little more than a grifter ripping off Taoism and Buddhism, and using demagogue tactics to set himself up as a new Messiah. Pro tip: if the author of a self-help book spends all his time trying to establish how much better they are than everyone else, they’re an egomaniac trying to grift you out of your hard-earned dollars, not someone who genuinely cares about enlightenment or personal development. I gave it a two only because presence is an important concept in happiness and that’s it. Thomas Sterner’s The Practicing Mind is essentially the same book, but with all Eckhart Tolle’s insane ego stripped out, and the concept made much more practical. I mean, Tolle mansplains periods, creates his own Revelations and afterlife, constantly compares himself to Jesus, the Buddha and Lao Tzu, and basically endorses faith healing. Repugnant. How anyone takes him seriously, I don’t know. The whole book reads like a testament to his ego, even as he rails against your ego. He sounds like the Donald Trump of new age mysticism.

Anyway, enough ranting. The last part are books that I found little to no redeeming value in. Either they were just bad, or morally repulsive.

Choose Yourself – James Altucher
Ultimate Power – Tony Robbins
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell – Tucker Max

settling down

I guess it was a bit of a spiral yesterday. The problem is that it becomes very easy to forget that there are always options. They may not always be great and they aren’t always easy, but they exist.

It is a telling feature of how our current society is structured that we are so often placed in chains and forced to suffer because of the system’s design. Any system that deliberately induces debt to create servitude, where one can lose everything because of choices that might be beyond their control, or made at a time when things were very different and knowledge or circumstances did not allow us to see the full picture, is a corrupt one.

Any system so designed is not one that appreciates or promotes freedom. Freedom means choices, and if a system such as our current corporatism removes choices in favour of indentured servitude through the debt-as-chains phenomena, then it is no friend of freedom.

lock in

I’m so angry right now, I don’t know what to do. Every goddamned weekend is the same. Relentless, non-stop demands on my time from my fucking godawful workplace that refuses to get me any goddamn help.

I’m suffering from crippling depression, such extreme levels of stress that right now, at this very second, it’s all I can do not to scream. I’m so pissed off that opening my mouth for any reason feels like it will result in an manic, anguished howl. So I’m not saying anything, but that feels like a storm tearing apart my insides.

My own personal tornado, rippling my guts to shreds.

And there’s no help coming. Despite the apparently “tight” and “worker friendly” job market, I can’t even get a call. I see people switching jobs to better ones all around me, but me? Nothing. Not even a phone call. How is that possible, with my resume?

Can they sense my hatred of IT coming off the page? I FUCKING DESPISE IT.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t quit. I have bills to pay. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing, because I’ll jump into traffic. I’m not getting any help at all from the higher ups. Their eyes just glaze over and they immediately change the subject any time I mention how much I don’t want to do this job. They’re ignoring my anguish, because it’s mildly inconvenient.

Christ. Sunday goddamned morning and I’m so stressed out and frustrated, I think I’m going to have a coronary. Sunday fucking morning. I shouldn’t be thinking about work at all, but IT NEVER GOES AWAY.

I hate it so much, but the world doesn’t offer options to guys like me. People who feel into a field when they were fucking children, before they knew shit about shit, and now, twenty years on, burdened with debt and mortgage – there are no options. No way out. No way to go back to school. No way to change fields. What you chose when you were a goddamn child is what you are forever?

I refuse. I refuse, I refuse, I refuse.

Where are the options in this supposed land of opportunity? This system of capitalism, where only one’s gumption is required? I work my fucking ass off, and it’s quite literally going to kill me. Do I quit and lose my house? Does my family get no place to live, because god knows at these prices, we could never afford another one, or even a fucking rental? Do I die by accident, and hope the insurance money lets my wife and daughter get by? What the fuck are my options? Scream, have a heart attack, lose everything? Nothing in between?

The system failed me. It has failed us all, that anyone could get fucked like this.

how do we stand it?

This constant pressure. When thirty seconds of uninterrupted silence seems like an impossibility.

How do we live? How do we get through? How can we focus?

I want to quit so badly, but with no other income on the horizon, how is it possible?

We’ve all been trapped by the corporate hegemony, buried in our addictions to technology and debt and all the latest must-haves by entities that have trapped us in the same way heroin traps its devotees.

I can’t help but wonder: when is enough enough? I often wonder when our leaders will step up and make this insanity stop, but I forget. They aren’t on our side. They are as beholden to the notion of economy over all as those people in Waco were to David Koresh. Meanwhile, almost all the world’s ills, whether it’s the leftist plea for some compassion and sanity, for some metrics beyond dollars and cents to gauge our well being, or the right’s descent in bigoted and fascistic madness, it all stems from the same place.

The boot on our neck is that of the profiteers, and they’d rather have us fight each other than focus on the real problem – THEM.

I suspect that when the day is upon us, when the inevitable collapse comes (and it is coming – all bubbles burst, and this is one of the biggest in capitalist history), I would not be at all surprised to see executives being dragged from their homes, by police or angry mob – which remains to be seen, and depends on how corrupt the people in charge at that time.

I certainly don’t advocate violence. I do believe profiteering is crime, and I would love nothing more than to see every single oil executive, right wing grifter and Wall Street financier hauled up in front of a jury and given no quarter on their lies.

Unfortunately, I strongly suspect the government’s ties to these assholes and the system of corporatism under which we’ve been yoked, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, is too great to be overcome. Certainly not by means of the very systems they’ve corrupted.

There must be a better way.

broad shoulders

There’s a running joke in my house about my broad shoulders. It started because I have such difficulty finding good pillows to sleep on. Regular pillows tend to be too flat or flatten over time, and with my shoulders being wider than the average person, my head then kinks downward over time and I develop neck pain.

So, I need something that keeps its form and is a little thicker than most. The awkward part is that I also really like a soft pillow and mattress, because I am “soft boy” as Russian student assassin Victor would have said on Deadly Class.

There’s a conflict there.

I’m also a firm believer in taking responsibility for whatever we can in our lives. The problem is that we can’t control the behaviour of others, so it becomes this whole huge dance, wherein we want to take responsibility and make everything work and be all right, but we can’t.

This desire to be responsible often conflicts with the desire to be free; the irony is that there’s no such thing as freedom without responsibility. If you are truly free (and we all are, always, regardless of circumstance, because we can technically make any choice we want whenever – we simply have to accept the consequences of whatever that decision might be), then we are responsible for each and every thing we do. Of course, not everything we do will be with full consciousness of the repercussions, and certainly, much of it will be due to habits or coercion or learned reactive behaviour, which presents another conundrum.

If we are not fully aware of what we do, how can we be responsible?

Still, I feel that responsibility. I yearn for the freedom of not having responsibility, but feel the weight of being responsible for everything immensely. I feel responsible for my family, my job, my politics, climate change, poverty, bigotry, the state of our culture and society, for bringing kindness and understanding and joy to the world, you name it.

But I fail, inevitably. I’ve solved none of those problems, and I have no control over the behaviours of others. I see us past the point of no return for climate change, and the rising bigotry and desired fascism of right wing nutters and powermongers, and it just all feels so big. It’s so overwhelming, it’s crippling and I freeze up, and that means even the things I’m actually capable of doing, that I’m actually responsible for, don’t get done the way they should.

And things fail.

Then I feel guilty. And powerless. And still responsible.

I don’t know how to make it stop. Where’s the line? How do we remain free, responsible for our own behaviour, being a better person to make the world however slightly better than it is, and still just say, que sera sera, in the face of Republican fascism or climate apocalypse?

Do we simply dance on our own graves?

I have no desire to be someone who takes and takes, and doesn’t give back. I need to give more than I get, pathologically. I won’t use points at the store. If the grocery store gifts me a free “summer grill” box for spending over a certain amount, I feel like a thief taking it out of the store. I’m waiting for alarms to go off. I try to do the right thing, to pay my own way, over and over again, often to my own detriment. People decide they can abuse me because I’ll just take it. Because I proclaim to hold to that higher standard, people hold me to it, even if they hold themselves to no standard. The hypocrisy of that pisses me off, especially when I fail to meet that standard, and they give me hell for it, ignoring their own culpability and behaviour.

It’s at that point that I shut down to protect myself, and that then makes things seem so much worse. I start to fail for real and here we are.

Back at ground zero.

Responsibility. Guilt. Weight. Indescribable weight, dropped down on my shoulders like a goddamn planet, Atlas style, with none of the nobility, and all of the ineffectualness.

It would be easy to turn bitter here; I still hold myself to a higher standard. I still pray for the breakthrough.

The Mungk haunts me, even in the light of day.

i know

I know this all sounds like the spoiled tantrums of a grown ass man. And it is, partially. It’s embarrassing, if I’m being truthful. I know it’s a terrible way to sell myself as a writer, and so I sit and tell myself lies about how others might feel the same and thus appreciate the knowledge that someone else understands what it is they’re experiencing.

Partially, it’s that. Spoiled, selfish, solipsistic, navel-gazing bullshit with all kinds of justifications to avoid taking responsibility that my behaviour can, has and does play into it.

Partially, it’s also a response to a world that is, by and large, unfair, and has demonstrated an increasing willingness to make everything as stressful and awful as possible.

COVID is one of those things that happens in world history. It’s stressful, but we have a tendency to band together in stressful times. There are many examples of that – see the people that ran to help during 9/11 or after one of the far too many school shootings in the United States of Guns.

People do care. People do help. In times of calamity when everything gets more immediate, people dive in.

Except apparently, these times, where the twin cultural viruses of conspiracy fucknuttery and right wing callousness have conspired to make a bad situation so much more unbearable, in that a good thirty to forty percent of the world’s population has decided that everyone else is subordinate to their own pathetic whims, and thus, undeserving of even the most moderate of societal kindnesses.

I’ve never seen such a large group of spoiled, over-entitled children, and it’s not just at the political level. It’s day-to-day shit. The stupidity is staggering. And the spinelessness of those in charge in holding these assholes responsible for their behaviour?

Worse yet again. Throw in murder hornets, cannibal pigs and a war in Ukraine and what have you got?

Perhaps the acolytes of the apocalypse have it right… this could be the end.

All I know is I need some time and space to breathe and not a single clue on how to fucking get it.

get back again

I think every creator has that work of art that they made that they just kind of hate. Like, they know it’s beneath them, that it doesn’t reflect who they are or what they believe, what they’re feeling.

And, I’m not talking about stuff that years down the road, they no longer recognize the work in themselves, because they’ve changed as people and they no longer relate to the idea or feelings behind a piece of art that once meant everything to them.

Like Pearl Jam stating they wanted to do something more positive rather than saying, “everything sucks” all the time (around the time of Yield). Ten is still a brilliant album, but I get why once you’re past the angst of youth, why Jeremy or Black might not reflect who you are anymore (although Black will remain one of the greatest songs ever written).

Or someone who was ultra liberal, filling their works with peace and love, sex positivity and anarchistic tendencies finding that in their later works, they condemn sex outside of marriage and promote hateful, fascistic views, having been beaten down by life and rendered bitter by cocaine addition or friendships with Donald Trump.

I’m not sure that Get Back Again is that work for me, but it’s there. I understand the intent behind it, the idea inspired by a song that I’m absolutely certain was not considered one of the Hip’s favourites (attested to by the fact that it never made it onto any albums). It’s a meditation on regret, on wanting to go back to a previous time when things seemed better, and understanding that maybe the person you want to go back to is actually better off without you.

Still, we lie to ourselves and make excuses, deriding the reality of the thing you wish you had, denigrating it so it no longer considered appears quite so sweet. Regret for the past turning to bitterness, anger and self-deceit.

Sounded like a perfect replication of the regressive conservative mindset, which was an oddity in the Hip catalogue. That made me think about the other person, the good one that moved on without them. The one who realized it was okay to be “lost in the light”.

That inspired my story, which then perverted to be told from the viewpoint I don’t take and don’t endorse. It made me ask, what if the lefties actually held the right wingers accountable? That’s clearly not happening these days and it’s emboldened these fucks. What would they do? Would we even miss them if they were suddenly gone?

What would they think?

Hence, the ghost and his point of view. The woman got rid of him, and moved on, happily. He has no way back to her. What does he do? What does he think? Is there accountability in the void? Introspection? Does it work? How far does the ability to self-deceive extend?

These are important questions for our time.

And still. It’s not my best work. I know it. I had difficulty feeling it. There’s a dissonance there that unsettles me, like the thing is unfinished and maybe the totally wrong idea. But still. There it is.

I pray every time I review it that it doesn’t read as a right wing manifesto. God knows these assholes need no more encouragement.

And I sure as hell don’t want to be the one giving it to them.

eye roll

You try to be honest and everyone treats you like a plague victim. Which is funny in its own way because it’s come out that most of them have had direct exposures in the past week and… shrug?

They don’t say anything. They make excuses. Rationalizations or outright deceptions to pretend like they were somehow justified. Mostly, they were simply taking a chance nothing bad would come of it (and in all fairness, it often doesn’t. COVID is a real concern, but in mathematical terms, still less omnipresent than it has been made out to be. I think we all take those little chances. The difference here is that when there’s actual contact, known contact, we decided not to behave like the one who gave it to us and actually tell everyone.)

We’re better than that. We take other people’s needs seriously. We live in an interconnected system, not a void.

And of course, our tests are negative. We don’t actually have it, or at least, it hasn’t manifested yet.

But, of course, we’re the carriers, the dirty ones. Never mind that it was brought us by someone who behaved incredibly irresponsibly, showing up already sick without warning, someone who pretended for the past two years to be a hermit, the safest person around, and looked down her nose at all of us like we were trucker convoy enthusiasts.

(A perception people keep applying to us and it’s gotten really old, really fast, especially when we’ve seen those same people, over and over again, take risks that we never would have, and try to hide it. It always comes out though – it’s the whole deceit thing. When someone lies to you, it’s a thing that really happened in your mind. An event took place that imprints itself in your memories, even if it’s just the conversation. The lie, on the other hand, isn’t a real thing to the one telling it, so it doesn’t imprint in the neural pathways in the same way, which is why so many people contradict themselves in their deceit. True fact about the whole neural pathway thing. Memory etches itself in. Self-created fictions do not. Science FTW.)

We keep getting told that we’re the bad ones, because we went to Florida twice, but we did so fully vaccinated, wore masks and kept our distance as best we could and with full understanding that if we caught it, we’d quarantine immediately. And guess what? Because we took the precautions we did, we were fine.

The thing about the travel argument these folks love to hold over us is that it’s bullshit. COVID is fucking everywhere now. You can just as easily get it going to the neighbour’s as you can travelling. I suspect you’re actually more likely to catch it doing the normal, everyday things you’re wont to do, moreso than travelling somewhere and being extra cautious because of the unknown individuals around you.

You’re far more likely to let your guard down around people you know than people you don’t, and therefore, more likely to catch it from them than some stranger. See: the person who gave it to us. We knew they’d bullshitted about how safe they were being, while lording over their family by wearing masks even at times it seemed absurd (and dropping the whole act when another particular member of the family was involved), but still. It’s the people you know.

The good news is that false act ultimately came in handy, because it likely kept my daughter from getting infected (or so it seems, thusfar. We still have a couple more days of testing to do.) So, there’s some benefit out of that individual’s hypocrisy, I guess.

Anyway, long story short: you can’t trust the people around you to do the right thing. And when you do the right thing and are open and honest about what’s going on, don’t expect anyone to be grateful you were. All they’ll do is tell you the various ways they didn’t do the same for you.

Can’t trust anyone anymore, I guess, but it doesn’t matter. I try to hold myself to a higher standard and I’ve never much cared for social norms. If the norm is to hide and conceal, then pretend and lie later, then I’m out. Rather open and looked down on, still doing things the right way, than being a complete asshole with no respect for others.

I did that for long enough, and I try every day not to anymore.