On Fantasy – 2

read part 1

In my first “On Fantasy” piece, I began exploring what fantasy meant to me in early childhood. How the entertainment I consumed shaped my capacity for imagination as well as the imagery I utilized.

However, the single most important thing for my fantasies and imagined worlds, the foundation upon which all of it rests, is reading. This should be no surprise to anyone who is now reading this. I don’t have to sell you on the concept, now do I?

Before I could read, I always had to rely on adults to provide me stories. They certainly did so, but never enough on my own terms. It was always, “well, your sister doesn’t like that one,” or, “we read that just yesterday.”

Once I could read, whole new worlds opened up to me. My imagination was harnessed to the written word. That, years later, I have been able to reverse this arrangement and harness the written word to my imagination is the coolest gift life has ever given me. What fun!

By early elementary school I had developed what can only be described as an obsession with mediaeval knights. The armor. The helmets! The swords and lances! It was pushing all my buttons. I don’t know who it was that did such a profoundly wonderful thing for me, but I believe it was one of my aunts. She noticed this obsession and bought me a beautifully illustrated abridged copy of, King Arthur and His Knights.

Oh my.

The book was a collection of the classic stories, retold in modern language for kids, of course. It had the most beautiful illustrations. Detailed, full color, ink and watercolor scenes. Knights battling with sword and lance. Giants and dragons. The occasional woman in distress. Blood.

This, I believe, was the first book that swallowed me up. I lost myself completely in it, and emerged deeply invested in that vision of storytelling.

To be clear: it was the weapons, armor, and gear of the warriors that attracted me so. It was the violence: the visceral thought of ending a life with a sharp piece of steel in your hand. I cannot describe how exciting this was to me.

From that time on, if a story had swords and armor in it, I was sold. It was this that drew me to the genre of fantasy like a moth to flame. The magic and the monsters and the fairies I could take or leave. I was there for the sword fighting.

Now, do keep in mind that this was all in the early 1980s. There really was not much going on for me right then in terms of mass-media entertainment. As unfathomable as this might be for youngsters these days, it was a time when you could not just consume exactly what you wanted precisely when you wanted. You were stuck with what they gave you. And they did not give us all that much.

There might have been a lot of sword and sandal epics in the 1960s. And some sword and sorcery movies in the 1970s. But we had no access to that. It would be another ten years before my family had a VCR, and at least four or five before any of my friends did. Conan the Barbarian might have been released right around then, but whose parents were going to let us watch it? Not going to happen.

So what recourse did I have to get my swordfighting fix? A library card, is what.

Something very cool did happen for us in the early 1980s, which would completely change how I related to fantasy and storytelling. The choose-your-own-adventure books started coming out right around then. And some of them were fantasy. Boy oh boy. Here we go!

Within a couple of years, my best friend and I were voraciously consuming the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston’s, Fighting Fantasy series of choose-your-own-adventure books. These were the shit! You had a couple of dice and a character sheet and you actually got to fight and keep track of swag and abilities and whatnot.

City of Thieves became like a bible to me. The illustrations were marvelous, but it was the sandbox style of storytelling that was so compelling to me. That you could chose to walk into a shop and attack the shopkeeper with your sword was one of the best things that ever happened to me. How wonderful.

I do not remember how old I was, precisely, when I was introduced to the next level of all of this, but I must have been about ten. It was cataclysmic. My friend had discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and had convinced his father to buy him the holy trinity of books: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. He showed me how to play and I was completely hooked from the first moment.

My parents were not the sort to buy me much of anything just because I wanted it, but I had an allowance and was able to make some extra money by mowing the lawns and cleaning up the dogshit in the back yard. For the next couple of weeks I put my shoulder into that and was able to buy my first set of dice and a Player’s Handbook. It was all downhill from there.

There can be no overstating how important D&D was for me and my development. It became my religion. It was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. That intoxicating freedom I had drunk of in, City of Thieves, was now a deep well. While we could not be and do anything we wanted (there are rules to the game, after all), the storytelling we were able to collectively develop together was unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

It is here that the flow of this telling would seem to have drifted away from where it started. Reading and its part in my development of imagination is where we began. When I hitched myself so profoundly to fantasy roleplaying games, did I not move away from this?

On the surface, perhaps. Because I certainly was reading a lot less once I began playing D&D. But I think that without a solid foundation in reading, I would never have been able to engage with roleplaying games to the extent that I did.

In my early twenties I took it upon myself to get one of my new friends into RPGs. He was a fellow I worked with at the gas station. I have written of him and his brother before.

This guy loved Star Wars and Star Trek to a degree that was dysfunctional. His dream was to become a Star Trek series developer. He lived and breathed this stuff. And as my good friend, I wanted to share with him the gift of roleplaying. It seemed the ideal fit. The only hitch was that he did not like fantasy.

By this time, my friends and I had long since developed our own gaming system for modern combat, based on the D&D ruleset. Mostly we used this to play one-off sessions very much akin to Grand Theft Auto (at its worst) as a kind of palate cleanser between serious D&D campaigns. I thought it would not be hard at all to adapt this set of rules to a Star Trek setting. I was right: it was easy.

With the rules in hand, I had my friend roll up a character and we began to play. I let him roll up a higher level dood and everything. A captain of his very own starship. Then I gave him his orders.

As we began playing, I waited for that moment of joyful exhilaration to overtake him. That moment I was able to witness in so many other people I had introduced to the game. That moment when the freedom of the medium overtakes a new player and they have the time of their fucking life.

Instead I got awkwardness. I got a dud.

“I can’t just talk about what my guy is doing! I can’t see the ship! I need to see it! This is lame!”

What a dud.

The thing about this guy was: he was almost functionally illiterate. When we watched movies together that involved some degree of reading, such as a backstory in the opening credits like Star Wars, he would have to pause the movie for ages to get through it. I doubt that he had ever in his entire life cracked and finished a book of his own accord.

I relate this not to be mean (I am, after all, an extremely slow reader myself), but to make a wider point about reading and its role in developing imagination. My friend lacked a capacity that my other friends and I took for granted: the ability to transform language into visualized imagery. To take some stats on a piece of paper and turn them into our heroic avatar. To hear a story told to us and imagine it as though we were in it.

Anyone who grew up reading has this capacity. But do not think this is inherent to us. It is not. It is something we learned how to do. Reading and being read to gave us this.

For those others who did not, or could not, read, there is no such inner world, I suspect. They need the movie or the video game to render the fantasy for them. The action figures to be their avatars. Their imagination is limited by that of others. They can only attack the shopkeeper with their sword when a game designer has allowed for it.

How truly sad for them.

So read to your kids. Talk to your kids. Tell them stories. This is vital for their development as creative, imaginative creatures.

And if no one did that for you, then I am sorry. You were done a profound disservice. I do earnestly hope that is something you can remedy for yourself. I think it can be done.

Read more. That’s it.

It is worth it.

The Children of Stron – part 3

read part 1

read part 2

It was almost a two-day ride back to the Pekot school. The weather was pleasant when they set out, but turned cold and misty by the evening. Sir Gareth’s quartermaster had rewarded them with a some copper coins when they turned in the bandits’ weapons they had gathered, so they decided to spend the night in a roadhouse. The next day was cold and rainy, and the lads pushed on hard to reach the school by late afternoon.

Despite the weather, the lads’ spirits remained high. Their excursion had been a grand success. All four of them had performed admirably, without hesitation. And to be offered a situation by Sir Gareth following their imminent graduation was the absolute best result they could have hoped for.

As to the killing they had done, each young man locked away tight whatever burden he had accrued from it. The first taking of human life was no small thing, even in the violent frontiers of the United Kingdoms. But whatever introspection they may have been inclined to was driven from them by the company of their fellows as they all put on a jovial front. Even Choke, usually pensive at the best of times, smiled and joked with the others a little.

The Pekot orphanage and boarding school was located in the village of Pekot in the northeastern frontier region of the kingdom of Bitana. To travel much further would be to find oneself in the murderous Great Plains, among its terrible monsters, beasts, and the savage Scythan tribesmen (or so the good Stronian Gerant folk of the United Kingdoms believed).

The school was run by the Brothers of the Holy Stone, an order of warrior monks whose original monastery had been founded at the very stone upon which Stron himself addressed the faithful who awaited his prophesized crossing of the Great Mother River. Other monastic orders might focus their energy on prayer, agriculture, beer and wine making, or book publishing. Not so the Brothers of the Holy Stone. Their esteemed order had a two-pronged approach to one purpose: protecting the Stronian flock from all threats, both external and internal, including its own deviant tendencies.

The first prong to this end was excellent education. All members and disciples learned to read, a special skill indeed within the United Kingdoms. And read they did: not just the Holy Book, but theology, civil law, Stronian law, and philosophy both sound and heretical. For to fight sin, one must first know and understand it.

Having assured their members’ minds and souls were correctly aligned, the Brothers of the Holy Stone would further prepare them with their second focus: martial prowess. The black robed fighters and priests of the order were among the finest trained and well-practiced death dealers of all the realms. With little presence in the settled and safe interior of the United Kingdoms, the Brothers fought tirelessly in the hinterland: killing that which needed killing and rooting out heresy where it was to be found.

With all this being so, the Pekot school looked more a small military compound than a monastery. As well as the main school and church building, it had a parade ground, a large stables, and barracks. A low, stone perimeter wall surrounded it all. The school was not, however, very large, and typically graduated between zero and five pupils a year from its student body of around fifty. This year’s class of graduating juniors was large at four.

The four juniors quickly tended to their horses in the stables so that they could attend evening mass before dinner. To do so fully armed and armored was no problem: this was a warrior order, after all.

When the juniors entered the chapel, the youngsters gathered around them excitedly, eager to hear all about their adventures. These were no waifish and sickly orphans that accosted them. With no interest in charity, the Brothers did not take on any but the most robust of boys. All of the lads were strong and vigorous, having been fed well and trained hard since coming to the school.

“Boys!” shouted Brother Ned, the senior teacher and youngster wrangler at the school. “Be seated! Now!” With his long cane pointer, Brother Ned slashed the backsides and legs of all who could not do as instructed before he got to him.

The four juniors hurried to their pew near the front of the chapel, just behind those reserved for the Brothers. The warior monks soon began filing into the chapel from their duties. It being a small school, there were only six of them besides Brother Ned. All of them were older, in their forties or fifties at a minimum, having been retired from active martial duty. They all wore the black robes of the order with an iron Stronian holy symbol around their necks: a four spoked wheel.

The abbot, or senior brother, of the school was Brother Willem, a big and powerful man in his late-fifties. Brother Willem was a single-class, spellcasting cleric of Stron and a combat veteran of many campaigns. It was rumored he had once killed a fire giant singlehanded.

When all had dropped to their knees in front of their pews, Brother Willem began the liturgy of evening mass. After twenty minutes, when he had finished, his congregation took their seats and Brother Willem continued:

“This evening, we have the pleasure of welcoming four of our brethren back into our fold. They have returned to us after their first outing as a unit to help our local knight with an exercise in public order. Juniors: I trust you conducted yourselves appropriately on your mission.”

“We did, Brother,” the four juniors intoned in unison.

“That is good. I shall hear of it from each of you privately. Suffice to say we are all pleased to see you have returned to us in good health. But, as we know, the outside world is a place rife with pitfalls for young men. With this in mind, our most venerable Brother Simon,” Brother Willem closed his eyes and paused to sigh deeply before continuing, “has requested the opportunity to address you on this solemn occasion. I trust that all you lads shall listen to his sage words carefully, and respectfully.”

Brother Willem sighed again before turning to the wizened old monk in the front pew.

“Brother Simon!” he shouted. “Your flock awaits your word!”

The swordfighing instructor, Brother Brian, helped Brother Simon to his feet and to the front of the chapel behind the pulpit. Brother Simon was indeed venerable, and his eyes were clouded over and all but sightless. But the hands that gripped his stout walking stick were strong, as all who had taken the implement upside the head could attest. Brother Simon stood at the head of the chapel and smacked his gums for a moment before addressing the congregation with a surprisingly strong voice:

“Ye boys! Ye juniors! Today ye shall set out on yar first mission! Ye shall go and represent us as ye experience yar first true taste of freedom. And I’d speak to ye on it now!”

As Brother Simon began speaking, a murmur rose in his audience as they realized he had misunderstood the precise nature of the occasion he was addressing. Brother Willem stood up to glare at the pupils to silence them. He then looked like he was about to interrupt Brother Simon to correct him, before he decided against it and sat back down. Oblivious to any of this, Brother Simon carried on:

“Ye’ve been cloistered here these many long years. Trained and educated as only we Brothers of the Holy Stone can do. And now, at the cusp of manhood, yar eager to set out into the world. To see for yarselves what there is to be found. And let me tell ye what ye shall find. Sodomy! Sodomy is what ye shall find! Sodomy of every sort around every corner! Sodomitic sodomites with all their buggery and diddlings. Not an orifice left unmolested.”

Brother Simon took a break here, licking his lips as he caught his breath. The chapel was dead silent as everyone waited patiently for him to continue.

“And ye may laugh, and ye may tell yarselves that I’m nothing more than a fossil that knows nothing of this new world. But I know! Oh, yes, I know! I know what thoughts young men’s minds turn to when they are free to roam. Fornication! They look about and seek to fornicate. Oh, yes. Don’t think I don’t know what vileness is lurking in yar minds.

“Ye get out into the world and ye say to yarself: ‘but what is the harm? What is the harm in a pinch and tickle; a grope and a poke in a two-penny grunt-hut.’

“But I say to ye: look outside these walls! What do you see? Women! Women everywhere! Every one of them a snare. A devil’s harness to drag ye to the yoke of sin! Every one of them with a mess of wet sex innards hidden up in their fundament just waiting to trammel a hapless fool.”

Brother Simon raised himself up to stab his walking stick at his audience. This caused some concern, as he teetered backwards perilously for a second before regaining his balance for the next onslaught.

“And yes, ye may fornicate with one, or two, and think yarself clever to have got away with it. But ye did not get away with it, did ye? No, ye didn’t! Whether any but ye and yar slut know of yar fornications, it matters not! For ye’ve become the fornicator. Ye’ve become the sodomite! Sodomite! Sodomites!”

Brother Simon bellowed his last condemnation to the rafters as he stabbed his finger accusingly at his audience. Then, quite overcome by the strain of his performance, he collapsed. Thankfully, Brother Brian, who had been on the edge of his front pew since the walking stick incident, lunged forward and grabbed Brother Simon to save him falling over.

With Brother Brian helping Brother Simon back to the front pew, Brother Willem rose and stepped to the front of the chapel once more.

“We thank Brother Simon for his words,” Brother Willem said solemnly. “I am quite sure they become more compelling to you with every rendition.”

Brother Willem paused then to take breath, and Brother Simon seized upon the moment. All but seated, he surged to his feet with his walking stick waving in the air above him.

“And ye think!” he shouted. “Oh, ye sodomites, ye think, ‘Ah, but what harm can come of it? What harm can come of giving a poke to a hole, willing or otherwise?’ What is the harm?”

Brother Willem sighed deeply once again and gestured for Brother Brian to sit. He took hold of Brother Simon’s arm himself and led him back to the pulpit. The ancient monk’s voice rose again to a thunderous shout:

“What is the harm? Ye may well ask that question of your immortal soul when it burns in the eternal lake of fire! For all ye sodomites shall burn! Burn! Burn!”

Following this, Brother Simon needed another rest, which he took with Brother Willem still supporting him at his side. When Brother Simon continued, his voice was quiet, and he seemed almost spent:

“Ye boys shall leave this place. And I tell ye, even those few of ye that do not now harbor sodomitical thoughts and urges, ye shall be tempted. Ye may be walking down the street of a town or city, thinking nothing more than to get a sweetmeat or a pastry.”

Brother Simon was rallying now, finding some inner fire of passion that again quickened and energized his speech:

“And what should beset you, from every alley and nook and cranny, but the very whores of Alexandria themselves, in their legions. The sodomitess assails you! Her wiles are that of the devil! And ye fall into a pit of sin and depravity without thought, realizing too late that you are now her sweetmeat! You are the pastry! In hell’s own oven!”

When Brother Simon again collapsed, Brother Willem was ready. This time he waited a good measure before speaking himself:

“Thank you Brother Simon, again, for your wise words of caution. I am sure our vigilance has been quite primed now.”

“Not likely! Not with these fornicators!”

“These are good lads. You have instructed them well, Brother Simon. You can rest easy that you have done Stron’s good work in that regard.”

“So you say. But do ye know that even in the very act of procreation, as sadly necessary as it is, do not allow yourself to be drawn into anything but the hole that Altas bestowed upon wives for that purpose. Do not seek out yar sick jollies, or hers, in that terrible pudendal region. Stick to the target, man, and do the minimum that must be done and no more. For with anything more, a sodomite ye become.”

“I am sure we understand that well, Brother Simon. But now, I think it is time you rested. Rest, Brother. You have earned it,” Brother Willem finished as he handed Brother Simon off to Brother Brian, who gently led him out of the chapel.

The Children of Stron – part 2

read part 1

With the bandits all taken care of, the juniors of Pekot school gathered in the meadow to stand around and stare at the gutshot fellow. Knuckle had made short and horrifying work of the last two bandits in the river with his greatsword, and all the others had the good manners to die of their wounds before the lads got around to checking on them. But this one with Pinch’s arrow in his stomach was not letting them off so easy.

“Fer fuck sakes! Shut up!” Knuckle barked at him.

The young man at their feet, however, continued to writhe around and scream and squeal.

“Honestly, I think it is time for us to kill you, man,” Baron suggested helpfully.

“No! Please! No! Don’t kill me!”

“Why not? Ye can’t walk, and yar not going to recover. And even if ye did, ye’d just be going to the gallows anyway. What’s the use of prolonging it?” Baron continued.

“Please! Mommy! It hurts, mommy! Please help me! I want my mommy!”

“Well, there’s just no reasoning with him, is there?” Baron said.

“Buck up, man! Is this how you want to meet Stron?” Pinch asked earnestly, looking deeply disturbed.

“Okay, fuck this guy. He’s yar kill, so are ye gonna finish him, or what?” Knuckle asked Pinch.

Pinch looked completely at a loss. “I don’t want to do that,” he finally managed.

“Well, okay then. Fuckin pussy,” Knuckle said. He drew his dagger and stabbed the wounded man through the windpipe, severing an artery or two for good measure in doing so.

Choke took a knee by the man and, with his fingers held in a gestured of a blessing, traced a circle with an X in the air over him as he died. Then it was quiet.

“Good idea. Let us pray,” Baron said. He waited until Pinch and Knuckle had joined Choke and him on their knees before he continued:

“Lord Stron, we thank you for delivering these men to us this day. We thank you that we prevailed over them. Please take their wicked souls to your father, Altas, for his judgment. And may Altas have mercy on us all, for we know that Stron, ye shall not. Amen.”

“Amen,” the other three chorused. Then all four traced the circle and X over their own breasts.

“That was fuckin perfect!” Knuckle laughed, clapping Choke on the shoulder as they got to their feet. “How many did we get?”

“I got two. This one here and one over there,” Pinch said, gesturing to another corpse face down in the meadow with an arrow sticking up from between his shoulder blades.

“Likewise. I got two. One with my lance and one by sword as he fled,” Baron said.

“Yeah, and I got them two in the river,” Knuckle said cheerfully. “So, fuck, that means… how many did ye get, Choke?”

“I counted ten total, I’m pretty sure,” Pinch said. “Did ye kill four, Choke?”

Choke shook his head. “No. I took one with my lance, and rode down another. Then, in the river, I killed one more by sword. There was one more there, a scrawny little fellow who ran away upstream.”

“Oh, yeah, that one. So ten it was! Well, I don’t think that one pipsqueak is going to give us any trouble,” Pinch said.

“Not likely,” Baron said. Then he turned and presented his hand to Choke. “So, you are the best of us this day, Choke! Well done!”

Pinch and Knuckle then took a turn shaking Choke’s hand and congratulating him on his win of the kill count.

“Yeah, ye done good, Choke,” Knuckle said to him as they separated. “Yar one of the good ones! Don’t let no one tell ye different, especially not me! Don’t mind all that shit I was talking earlier, man. I was just ornery, that’s all.”

Choke took everything from the lads’ praise to Knuckle’s fucked up attempt at an apology with the same stone-faced stoicism.

“So. Now what?” Pinch asked.

“Perhaps we should bury the bodies,” Choke said.

“Fuck that!” Knuckle exclaimed. “Cleaning shit outta fields is peasants’ work. Let’s just collect their weapons. Then I’m gonna have a nap in that cow shed.”

“That, Knuckle, is the most sensible thing you have said in quite some time,” Baron said.

***

Sir Gareth was camped with his force in some farm pastures at the mouth of the hollow they had followed the bandits into. Out near the dirt road that accessed the pastures, about a dozen executed bandits were hanged by their necks from nearby trees. The soldiers were bivouacked around the tree line, with Sir Gareth’s large colorful tent out in the field.

The sergeant rode with the Pekot juniors to the tent where Sir Gareth was sitting under its wide awning, drinking beer with his other sergeants. The knight was a large, robust, handsome man in the prime of his life with a tendency to joviality that could cloud over to anger suddenly.

When the sergeant dismounted to salute Sir Gareth, the Pekot boys followed suit with formal bows.

“Ah! Monk boys! Welcome back!” Sir Gareth boomed cheerfully. “Anything to report?” he asked his sergeant.

“Actually, yes. A small squad of bandit stragglers made it through the ravine on foot. These lads killed nine of them. One escaped, apparently.”

“Is that so? Well, well done, lads! Well done! A fine show!” Sir Gareth said, rising to his feet to shake their hands and jostle them cheerfully. Then he turned back to his seated men:

“Who’d have thought the monk boys would have come through so well in a pinch, eh?”

“Well, they are junior Brothers of the Holy Stone, so not such a surprise, really,” said Sir Gareth’s master sergeant.

“True. True. Steady and deadly as they come, the Holy Stoners. This is true,” Sir Gareth conceded seriously. He then turned back to the lads: “Well! Good show all around, boys! Ye did well. From start to finish. Obedient. Disciplined. Hard-working. And, it turns out, deadly! It almost makes me regret having gone to such lengths to keep you all out of harm’s way. I needn’t have bothered, eh?”

At this revelation, Knuckle shifted his weight and grunted as he stifled a curse. Sir Gareth took note. He gave Knuckle a smirk and skipped in to give him a playful jab to the shoulder.

“Ah, you didn’t appreciate that, did you? Good man. I understand exactly your feeling. I was the same way when I was your age. But, as capable as you all clearly are, you are also Church lads. And if there is one principle in life and leadership that I never deviate from, it is to stay clear of the Church and their business. The last thing I need is a dead or injured Church lad on my watch.”

Sir Gareth returned to his camp chair and picked up his beer stein as he sat down.

“So, that is that, then! Your duty done, you can return to your monastery,” Sir Gareth continued. “But, tonight, feel free to stay here and celebrate with my lads. The brigands had rather a nice hideout up there, it turns out. With beer and rustled livestock. So, we are partaking tonight. You are most welcome to join us. The beef should be ready shortly.”

The four Pekot juniors issued their thanks as they gave Sir Gareth another bow.

“Sergeant,” Sir Gareth addressed the man who had fetched the lads from the stream. “See to it these men get everything they need tonight. Of beef and brew they should want for nothing. But. You keep them out of those goat sheds up in the hollow there. These are Church lads, so I’ll not have their corruption weighing down our accounts. Tonight, sergeant, you are their shepherd.”

“Yes sir.”

“All right then, lads. Good show! Off with you! You have my leave to depart whenever you will tomorrow. Tell your abbot, or senior brother, or whatever, that I am most grateful for all your help. Further, once you are released from that cloister of yours, if the Brothers care not to take you on, or you them, do seek me out. I always have use of capable men-at-arms such as yourselves. That is all. Dismissed.”

The Pekot juniors tended their horses and set up a basic camp for themselves in the trees before going to fill themselves with spit-roasted beef and pork and good, strong ale. Their chaperone, Sergeant Murray, shadowed them in a relaxed fashion and did not interfere with them enjoying themselves with the soldiers.

However, even if Sir Gareth had not alerted them to it with his assignment of Murray, it soon would have been obvious to the lads that there was something more going on in camp that night. Small groups of soldiers would come and go up into the hollow, and were not entirely subtle about what they were doing there.

“Yeah, there’s fucking going on up in that holler!” Knuckle reported to the other three at their camp. He had just returned after attempting to follow some soldiers up.

“Oh, no shit?” Pinch said. “Man, that was quick! Ye finished even faster that I figured ye would!”

“Fuck you! Couldn’t get anywhere near it. That asshole Murray has an eagle eye, the prick!”

“As well he should,” Baron said. “And shame on you for trying!”

“Oh, fuck off. Did ye hear what I said? There’s fucking going on up there! And we’re missing it!”

“No. We are not missing it, Knuckle. We are enjoying some well-earned good food, good drink, and good company after a day of righteous action. As is good and proper for junior Brothers of the Holy Stone and virtuous Stronians. What you are missing, young man, is a mortal sin!” Baron said, waving his beer stein above his head like a senior Brother with a Holy Book at pulpit, his tone an utter mockery.

Pinch doubled up and rolled over in gales of laughter, spilling the rest of his beer. “Oh! Ye have Brother Willem exact!” he finally gasped.

When things had settled, Choke, who had drunk only a little, cut in:

“I don’t suppose it has occurred to anyone that whatever is going on up there is most likely rape.”

“Oh, great, here he goes,” Pinch muttered.

“Rape!” Knuckle exclaimed. “Rape? Bullshit it is. Bandit camp followers is what they got up there in them goat sheds. Hoors. So what’s the difference to them if it’s a bandit or a soldier on top of them?”

“Whatever arrangement they might have had with the bandits is immaterial. If ye come into possession of a flogged horse, is then flogging it yourself more or less a cruelty?” Choke said.

Knuckle scoffed. “Whatever. It’s yar horse to do with as ye will. Bandit hoors get what’s coming to them. And it’ll be a far easier than what their men got.”

“Well, hanging is a punishment in law. Rape is not. So there is a world of difference there. By your way of thinking, it is only assault if the victim’s social status is high enough to qualify them as human. But we know we are all children of Altas under the eyes of Stron.”

“Fuck, Choke, yar like a stuttering monk with this shit!” Knuckle laughed. “What I’m fucking saying is, alls I’m saying, is that I wish I was up in that holler fuckin. That’s it! Why ye gotta go and turn everything into a Holy Book sermon? Who are ye, Brother Simon over here? Next ye’ll be calling me a sodomite.”

“Well if the shoe fits,” Baron said.

“I don’t think it was a shoe he was thinking about fitting into,” Pinch quipped.

Everyone but Choke had a good laugh at this. When that had settled, Baron continued:

“It’s an interesting thought, though. Sodomy with shoes, I mean. Brother Simon has warned us against all manner of sodomy. Oral sodomy, buggerative sodomy, pederastic sodomy, bestial sodomy, autoerotic sodomy. Am I forgetting any?”

“Vaginal sodomy,” Pinch answered.

“Ah, yes. Of course. Vaginal sodomy. How could I have forgotten that gem. I could never get my head around that one,” Baron said.

“It is quite simple,” Choke answered. “Vaginal sodomy is vaginal intercourse for any purpose other than procreation.”

“There ye go! Recite the lesson, chapter and verse! Good boy!” Knuckle shouted at Choke.

“I understand the reasoning, just not the classification. Wouldn’t fornication be a more appropriate label?” Baron asked.

Pinch answered this:

“Not for Brother Simon! For you see, when you are properly moved by the spirit of Altas, every hole is an anus!”

This one generated even more laughter than his last, from some of the nearby soldiers as well as Baron and Knuckle.

“Don’t be blasphemous,” Choke snapped.

“How could a simple rephrasing of Brother Simon’s position be blasphemous?” asked Pinch.

“The words are of no matter. Your intention in speaking them foundations the sin.”

“What a good boy ye are, Choke! Chapter and verse. Chapter and verse,” Knuckle laughed.

“And you, Knucklehead, are bound for hell with the road yar on.”

“I think we have lost sight of the bigger picture here,” Baron interjected. “The shoes! To get back to the shoes. With all the forms of sodomy that Brother Simon has warned us against, I think he’s missed a trick by not railing against the perils of sex with footwear. After all, shoes and boots are everywhere, and they are, after all, dank, smelly things with holes.”

“So ye’d fuck a boot, would ye?” Knuckle asked Baron.

Pinch fielded this one: “Knuckle, ye ask that question as though ye haven’t done it yarself. Probably multiple times this week. And why would Baron do that when yar horse has been here with us all this time?”

“Why? Because Brother Simon told us all about that bestial sodomy, but never said nothing about us not fuckin a boot!” Knuckle roared with laughter as he finished.

“Good point,” Baron conceded when Knuckle had settled down. “But, what to call it, though? Pedestrial sodomy?”

“No, that would be sodomy pertaining to the feet themselves,” Pinch countered.

“Cobbler’s sodomy!” Baron exclaimed.

Pinch nodded sagely at this to give it his measured approval. Then he added:

“Cobbler’s sodomy. Exactly. Also commonly known in the trade as leather tenderizing.”

Having run everything to ground, the lads left Pinch with the final word on it as they laughed and laughed.

“Yar all on the road to hell,” Choke said quietly. Then he rolled himself up in his cloak and lay down to go to sleep.

read part 3

On Fantasy – 1

Seeing as my blog to this point has mainly been navel gazing over my random thoughts and gripes, and since I am meant to be in a transition to a fantasy format now, I thought I may as well do some navel gazing about my random thoughts about fantasy.

With this in mind, I would now like to start exploring what the genre of fantasy means to me. This rumination shall, I expect, eventually expand to include my thoughts about the creation of fantasy as a writer. This shall, I hope, dovetail into explorations of my own efforts in fantasy: such as my realm itself, the mechanics of the world, magic, and the kind of societies I have chosen to develop.

Okay, enough preamble. So, what is fantasy to me?

It’s not a mere genre, that’s for sure. Fantasy is an alternative reality I’ve lived much of my life in. It is the internal world I retreated into at the earliest available opportunity.

But what was the opportunity? What external stimulus provided the mechanism to create that inner world? How does one construct the fantasy world they are seeking to escape into?

There is no question that much, if not all, of the inspiration for my fantasy worlds came from external sources. For as far back as I can remember, my worlds were constructed from the imagery of things I had consumed as entertainment.

This is early childhood stuff. Fairytales. Sesame street. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Cartoons. My mother’s stories.

All providing scraps of imagery that resonated with me. Scraps that were collected like pebbles to be polished through frequent handling. A knight in shining armor. A dragon. A giant robot with laser cannons. Whatever turned my crank, really. This is what kids do. They mix and match. Throw cowboys, indians, and World War Two army men together. Dinosaurs and princesses. Toyboxes dumped out to create original little worlds.

Now, I never had many toys. My dad was cheap; he wasn’t about spending his money on overpriced, plastic shit for our amusement. But we had books, and we were read to. This, over the longer course, I have learned, was the greater gift.

Without an abundance of physical objects to focus on, my sister and I put our creative energies into expanding the roles and the worlds of the objects we did have. Our stuffed toys developed hierarchies; powers; rules and codes. It all got very nuanced and complicated.

I think if we had been given every figure and figurine, playset and accessory we could have desired, then we would not have developed that capacity. There is no need for the imagination to fill in the gaps if some consumer product is always there to do it. I believe this is doubly so with television and video games.

So by the time I started consuming proper fantasy in cartoons and movies, I was well equipped to pick up the imagery it provided for my own use. Star Wars and Transformers were mixed and matched with this, that, and the other. Just as a toybox is dumped out to play, there was no proprietary separation of intellectual property and genre. Whatever turned my crank.

A huge source of this inspiration was Star Wars, episode four, A New Hope. I saw it in a theater when I was about four or five and it scared the shit out of me. But it also inspired me on a level that nothing else had to that point. Before the toys were even around me, I was occupying that world in my own head. As a stormtrooper or Darth Vader, generally (why this is shall be good fodder for a later navel gazing piece, me thinks).

By grade one or two this obsession also helped me bond with fellow children in a way I hadn’t before. We could share this fantasy. Play within it together. What fun!

Fantasy no longer had to be a solitary venture. It was now collaborative. Game changer (or creator, if you will).

I recall how in early elementary school, when the whole, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” bullshit started, I thought about Marc Hammel as Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be an actor, because I thought it was the actors who created these stories that were so enriching my life. What a cool thing to be! It was some smart aleck girl that informed me that it is not the actors that really create the story; they just read what the writer tells them to. Well, thank you miss bossy thing!

If this is the case, then a writer is the thing to be, isn’t it?

read part 2

The Children of Stron – part 1

The four lads from the Pekot orphanage and boarding school were not happy. They had been dispatched by the Brothers of the Holy Stone, who ran the school, to help the local authorities root out bandits from the hills of the frontier. It was not this mission that had upset them.

No, the lads of the Pekot school were ready for action. After years of monastic instruction and military training by the Brothers at the school, they yearned for combat. As the juniors of the school, those eldest pupils in their last year, the four young men were honored to aid the local knight in what they had been told was an important mission. They were ready. Now was their chance to show their brothers, and themselves, that they were worthy.

But what had come of this chance? To be used as little better than squires by Sir Gareth and his men. Fetch and carry. Water the horses. Pack up the gear. Was this soldiering?

The four young men of the Pekot school knew they were fit for more. All seventeen or eighteen years of age, they were strong and tough. The Brothers had seen to that with a martial training regimen unparalleled in the Holy Stronian United Kingdoms. They had been properly outfitted as well; ready to be assigned to combat units.

Two of the lads, Baron and Choke, had been trained and outfitted as horsemen. Mounted on light warhorses they had reared and trained themselves, they were armored in full suits of chainmail, with shields that bore no standard. Armed with lances, they also wore longswords at their hips.

The next of the lads was known as Knucklehead, or Knuckle. A massive, powerful lout, Knuckle had been trained as a foot soldier. Also with a full suit of mail, he wielded a two-handed greatsword along with an arsenal of lighter weapons.

The fourth was a smaller fellow, known as Pinch. Of a slighter build and of nimbler type and mind than the others, Pinch had been trained as a scout and outfitted accordingly. He was armored in simple leather armor and armed with a short hunting bow and light melee weapons.

Of course, all four of the Pekot juniors had proper names that the Brothers of the school preferred they use. All of the pupils and residents of the Pekot orphanage and boarding school received good, Stronian, names when they first came there, baptized (or rebaptized if there was any doubt) by the Brothers. However, it was a point of pride among the residents to earn a nickname from their fellows as quickly as possible.

Choke and Knuckle were both orphans, and so had been named after Stronian saints. Pinch had a mother, somewhere, but had been instructed that with her being a woman of ill-repute, it would be better for him to consider himself an orphan. Baron, so nicknamed because he was the bastard son of the local lord, had been installed in the Pekot school by his father’s people.

As well as being an orphan, Choke was of Scythan stock. That there were plenty of such folk around the northeastern frontier of the United Kingdoms did not improve his situation. The polytheistic Scythans were horselords of the Great Plains, and to say that the monotheistic Stronian folk of the United Kingdoms did not get along with them would be putting it mildly.

In the last three weeks with Sir Gareth and his men, in the cat-and-mouse game of riding the bandits down, the junior brothers of Pekot had actually learned much. They had learned firsthand the work and coordination required to keep a hundred mounted soldiers moving effectively. That this meant that the work they had been doing was, in fact, precisely what soldiering was mostly all about was not actually lost on all of them. But, now, to have put all that work in only to be denied the chance of combat in the final act, when Sir Gareth and his company had finally trapped the bandits. This was too much!

Outmaneuvered and outmatched by Sir Gareth, the bandits, under their infamous leader, Tom Rakham, had retreated to a dead-end hollow in thickly forested hills. That morning, Sir Gareth had ordered the final assault, and had tasked the Pekot juniors, as a unit, to cover a possible escape route for the bandits.

The area the lads were meant to be guarding was the mouth of a stream in a tight, steep-banked ravine where it came out from between two of the hollow’s flanking hills. Sir Gareth’s scouts had reported that there was no way a horse could be ridden down it, but that determined, or desperate, people might be able to make it through on foot.

The Pekot juniors were stationed behind a cow shed beside the stream, next to a pleasant little meadow. This afforded them a good view of the ravine where it opened up, and kept their horses out of sight. Being footmen by training, Knuckle and Pinch both had simple riding horses for transportation. Their type would ride to battle and dismount to fight. Baron and Choke’s warhorses were closer at hand, tethered right up against the cowshed. All four young men were hunkered down in the long grass next to the stream.

“This is fuckin bullshit!” Knuckle hissed, for about the tenth time. “There’s a fuckin battle going on up there, and we’re sitting here eyeballing cowshit like a bunch of peasants.”

Baron, the de facto leader of their crew, sighed.

“A small point, Knuckle, but, in fact, as mere men-at-arms without a lord, we are lower in the social order than peasants. Growing food for us all is of more value to society than fighting.”

“Fuck that. Without us protecting the cowards, they aint growing shit,” Knuckle returned.

“Well, feel free to bring that up with Brother Willem, then. But I shouldn’t need to remind you that as junior brothers, our prime virtues are humility and obedience,” Baron said, with a smug smile signaling that he regurgitated the Brother’s lesson not out of any true belief, but simply to be a jerk.

“We have our orders. That should be enough for you,” Choke said quietly, his eyes never leaving the ravine.

“Oh should it? Fuck you, ye jink! Maybe it’s enough for ye, being a motherless horsefucker like ye are, but I got bigger plans,” Knuckle said.

A slow blink at the ravine was the only acknowledgement Choke gave the racial slurs Knuckle had laid on him. He waited a little more before saying:

“What plans might those be, Knucklehead? Getting flogged for disobeying orders, or hanged for desertion?”

Knuckle turned on Choke, his hand dropping to the handle of his bollock dagger as he began to stand. However, before he could continue whatever was on his mind, Pinch got between them.

“Hey! Knuckle, take it easy, man! Choke’s right. We got orders. Why ye gotta be like that to him? That shit aint right,” Pinch said.

“Choke is right. On all counts,” Baron interjected. “So sit down, Knuckle, and stick to our orders. Or I will kill you myself. Am I clear?”

Knuckle glared at Baron, but did as he was told.

“And I am quite sure we would all appreciate it if you could find it in your heart to shut the fuck up,” Baron finished.

“Yeah, fuck all ya’ll,” Knuckle muttered.

Following this, silence reigned for a while, but Knuckle could not stand that for too long.

“For fuck sakes! Come on! We’re just sitting here with our thumbs up our asses! Yar all gonna tell me this is what ye want? Fuck!”

“This is not what any of us want, Knuckle. But what do you propose we do about it?” Baron asked.

“How should I fuckin know? Yar the brains of this outfit!”

“We. Have. Our. Orders.”

“And those orders are fucked!”

“That may be. It doesn’t change a thing,” Baron said, beginning to look like he might attack Knuckle.

“Shhh!” Choke hissed as he stabbed his finger at the ravine’s mouth. “There.”

Falling completely silent, the lads all stared at where Choke had indicated. Sure enough, a number of figures could just be seen wading down the center of the stream in the middle of the ravine.

“Hold,” Baron whispered. “We need to be sure they aren’t peasants. Are they armed?”

Although he was loath to admit it, Baron’s eyesight at distance was not good.

“Oh, yeah. Thems are bandits,” Pinch whispered when the people started clambering up out of the stream and into the meadow.

There were ten bandits altogether. They were a sorry-looking bunch: completely soaked and obviously exhausted, they stumbled up into the meadow and collapsed in the warm spring sunshine. None of them were mailed, and they were generally armed with spears or battleaxes with roundshields. Not one of them had a bow or crossbow.

“Oh, fuck yes,” Knuckle murmured. “Okay, so now what?”

“What’s the range on them, do you figure?” Baron asked Pinch quietly.

“About a hundred meters.”

“And for a kill yar only reliable on yar bow within about thirty, right?”

“That’s right,” Pinch answered.

Baron thought for just a second before issuing his orders.

“Okay, quickly now, before they rouse themselves. Choke and I will mount up and prepare to charge them. Pinch, you keep at the edge of the stream bank and work yar way towards them in the taller grass. When yar close enough for a good shot, ye give us yar chickadee call and we’ll charge them. When they pop up, ye take who ye can. Right?”

Both Choke and Pinch nodded. Baron looked to Knuckle, who was gripping the hilt of his greatsword eagerly as he waited for his assignment.

“Knuckle. When we charge them and the arrows start flying, whoever we don’t put down are going to get back in the creek. That opposite bank is the shits, so they’ll probably try to stay in the water and head down this way. When we charge, you get down into the stream and move upstream to meet them head-on. Right?”

Knuckle nodded with an evil gleam in his eye.

“Good. Let us pray,” Baron said.

All four men took a knee and closed their eyes as Baron led them in a brief prayer:

“Lord Stron, thank you for delivering these wicked men to us this day for your justice. Guide our hands and protect us as we do your good work. Amen.”

“Amen,” the other three murmured.

Pinch set off quickly, moving nimbly and quietly through the tall grass at the top of the stream bank. He held his bow at the ready with an arrow notched and held in place with his left hand gripping the bow. Knuckle crawled into the grass and disappeared down the bank into the stream. Baron and Choke untethered their horses from the side of the cowshed and mounted up, getting their shields and lances set as they did.

It took less than a minute for the cheerful and piercing song of a chickadee bird to ring out over the meadow. Baron and Choke did not hesitate. They spurred their mounts into a gallop as they came round the cow shed and into the meadow. Ever the officer in thinking, Baron moved out to the right, leaving Choke the lane at their quarry closest to the stream. This would naturally put Choke more in harm’s way of the arrows that Pinch would soon be shooting.

With the warhorses thundering at them, the bandits gave shouts of alarm as they roused themselves. Pinch’s first arrow dropped one of them as they scattered like startled rodents. Then Baron and Choke were on them in full charge.

As light horsemen, Baron and Choke’s lances were not heavy ones designed for full tilting, being basically long spears with short iron heads. Not wanting to run their targets through completely, they moved slightly obliquely to them as they stabbed. Both Baron and Choke felled their man, but Baron could not quite pull his lance tip from his target before his horse’s momentum pushed it straight through him, and he was forced to drop it as he rode on.

Baron’s charge had cut two bandits off from the river, so he whirled his mount on them as he drew his longsword. Both the bandits fled in terror, but one of them quickly fell with Pinch’s second arrow in his guts.

With his lance still in hand, Choke rode his horse into the five remaining bandits, running right into the back of one of them. Choke’s horse lashed out with a hoof and knocked the man down to be ridden over and trampled. Choke reined up and wheeled over the bandit, allowing his horse to continue to stomp down on him to finish him off. The remaining four bandits wanted no part of this and spilled over the bank into the stream below.

Choke glanced behind him to see Baron chop into the back of the fleeing bandit in the meadow with his longsword. With the meadow clear, Choke dropped his lance as he dismounted, drew his longsword, and followed the bandits into the stream.

As Choke slid down the grass into the shallow water, he was able to intercept two of the bandits who had gone in a little upstream of the other pair who continued to wade downstream as fast as they could. The closest to him was a big man in leather armor, armed with a roundshield and battleaxe. The warrior whirled on Choke with a hard chop of his axe. Choke blocked this with his shield and dropped low as he spun into a slash of his own. His sword just cleared the bottom lip of the warrior’s shield and cut deep into his lower leg. The man grunted as he fell, and Choke sliced off his axe arm above the elbow.

The two bandits fleeing downstream had disappeared around a bend, so Choke was now alone in the stream with the last bandit, who was just a bit upstream of him. This one was a skinny runt of a lad, unarmored in a ragged cloak and filthy peasant blouse. He had a short handaxe in one hand and a knife in the other and was backing away from Choke in a defensive crouch.

Choke locked eyes with the lad as he moved to close. As he did, he froze. This was no lad. The skinny girl stared back at Choke without any appeal for mercy in her big eyes. Even so, Choke gave it.

“Go,” he said quietly, pointing upstream with his sword point.

The girl hesitated just a second before she did exactly that.

With the sound of Knuckle gleefully clashing with the last two bandits downstream, Choke turned to the warrior he had felled. The man was sitting in the stream with his teeth clenched, grimly gripping the stump of his severed arm as his life’s blood squirted through his fingers. He looked up at Choke.

Choke presented his sword’s edge to the man with a tilt of his head in an offer to end it. The man nodded. Choke took a moment to adjust his stance and cut off the warrior’s head cleanly.

Then things were quiet again. Knowing that downstream Knuckle was either victorious or dead, and with nothing better to do, Choke picked up the dead bandit’s battleaxe and climbed back up the riverbank into the meadow.

read part 2

Format Change

Those few people who follow this blog may at some point have asked themselves what the hell it is I am up to. This is a valid question. Basically, the content is all over the place, and little or no effort has been made to organize it, or my wider approach, into something more cohesive.

I do understand that this has been counterproductive for the blog’s success. There are a two golden rules of content creation and I have been breaking them both.

One: Post your content regularly and reliably.

Two: Stay on brand. If you decide to do a blog about, say, cupcake baking, then you need to make sure your posts relate in some way to cupcakes. Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes!

So, given that I have completely failed to adhere to these two rules, it has been no surprise that this blog has not gone anywhere, in terms of readership or followers. That I routinely delight in posting obscene or otherwise problematic content probably doesn’t help either.

I my defense, I can only suggest that one look to the blog’s name to get a sense of my approach to it and my content.

Further, I must now admit that most of the content I’ve been posting here is not new. Don’t get me wrong: It is my intellectual property. I am its author. But it is mostly content that I wrote several years ago for a now defunct micro-blog on another platform that I decided to pull the plug on out of dissatisfaction with the hosting site. Those few followers and lurkers that followed me here from those days are appreciated.

Of course, I do, on occasion, write new content to post here. It is not all old stuff.

The idea of this blog, then, has been to curate my favorite content from the old blog. To layer it in here as an archive of my previous eclectic, often distasteful, work. A historical record, if you will, of my early writing.

However, in the years since I shut down my other blog and opened this one, I have not been idle. I have been working hard, writing almost constantly, on what I consider my real work. And what is that, you might ask?

My main goal in writing is to be a fantasy novelist. There. I said it.

Now, having said this, I understand there is no reason for it to have been apparent to anyone who follows this blog. And for my dozen or so loyal followers, I do hope that you continue to enjoy my coming offerings. If you do not, I can only offer you my sincere apologies for this format shift. (Although, I suppose that given my lack of coherent approach until now, it would be more correct to simply say, “format.”)

So, to be clear about this: This blog shall now be about fantasy. There will be a weekly fantasy fiction serial, as well as other pieces concerning the fantasy genre, fantasy writing, and fantasy role playing games.

I do now intend to follow the two golden rules of content creation. Fantasy, fantasy, fantasy!

Of course, when I have an itch to scratch, I may allow myself some off-brand posts in the vein of what this, my personal blog, has been. But it will be a supplement and not a feature.

In short: it is time for me to get serious about my unserious enterprise.

So, in closing, I thank my readers who have stayed with me this far. I do hope you enjoy what is to come. If you do not, however, I offer my sincere apologies for changing what I am all about here.

Finally, I would just like to say that I am very excited to begin sharing what I have been working so hard on for these past years.

Thank you.

Abroad

I sometimes reflect on my life and wonder: at what point did I stop living abroad?

It’s not as dumb a question as you might think. I am, and have consistently been, aware of what country I live in. The question concerns my perceptions of where I live in relation to where I am from.

When you go abroad, your home doesn’t change. During my first stint in Japan, I taught for two years, but in my conception of things I was always working abroad. Canada was always my home, and I viewed everything I was experiencing through that lens. Of course this was all a more intense and immersed experience than simple travel, to live and work in a foreign country for a foreign company.

And I probably have just caught you making the basic assumption that so many Westerners make when thinking of being abroad in foreign lands. Go back and reread the last clause of the last paragraph.

“… in a foreign country for a foreign company.”

What’s foreign about it? I’m the foreigner in this situation. The company is absolutely not foreign. Yet, most of us fail to recognize this simple truth at a fundamental level.

Blind spot.

We go abroad to enrich our lives and broaden our horizons, and that is well and good. But how many consider that in doing so, we become the foreign other for that place and its people?

What might we represent to the place we visit?

Here in Japan I’ve worked with so many dickheads (mostly the dickheads are American, but not all, just to keep it real) whose whole experience and narrative is built around, “well, in my country, we do things this way.”

And don’t get me wrong, the Japanese do love this trope. They like hearing about Western cultures this way. They like hearing impressions of their own culture; the more ignorant the better! They like that the barely civilized ape man is so pompous and arrogant. And loud. And uncouth. It’s a real gaijin behaving in precisely the stereotype they have of these gaijin.

How marvelous! He thinks he’s very special! Get him drunk! Applaud him for using chopsticks! Let’s see what wild and crazy thing he does next!

The monkey has been taught to smoke. How very amusing; do keep giving it cigarettes.

It is all pretty harmless. But when you go abroad, it couldn’t hurt to keep this kind of thing in mind. As special and unique as you might think you and your culture are, for the people you visit you are just a specific type of foreigner doing very predictable things.

Everything is a two way street. Never forget that.

However, what happens to you when you don’t go home?

There was a moment (and I don’t know when it was) when I was no longer abroad. It was also the precise moment that Canada, the country of my birth, ceased to be my home.

I am now an immigrant. It is something I am proud to be. It helps me fuck my mind in a way I couldn’t otherwise.

To be clear: I am an immigrant, not an expat. I think the term expat is just a term Westerners self-apply so that they can avoid facing the reality that they are an immigrant. Because, you know, that’s what people of color or eastern Europeans are when they move countries.

Well, fuck that. I don’t think there can be many badges of honor higher in this life than being an immigrant.

In Japan, the country I now live in, I am still perceived to be abroad by the people I live among. It doesn’t matter how long I live here, and how much of the language and culture I can adopt; I will never be of this place.

That’s how it is.

But I don’t need that. And I don’t want it. And I don’t expect it.

One of the things that first attracted me to this place is that there’s a certain amount of anonymity that comes with being such a visible minority in such a homogeneous place (since people just see the stereotype). But that’s not what keeps me here.

Ultimately, it’s just such a simple thing at its heart: I like that everything and everyone around me is not what I grew up with. Every visual I take in is different than what I was conditioned to expect. I take a drive with my family and the farms all look like something in a samurai movie. It’s invigorating.

As much as I’m a foreigner here, and always will be, this is my place too now. I can take possession of it just by virtue of my continued experience of it; through the changing of that experience as it matures. The sense of strangeness the place gives me is no longer that which comes of being abroad. I’ve been here long enough that vistas have become familiar. Places have old memories attached to them. It’s all getting worn in; smooth and comfortable.

Yet because I will always be regarded as an outsider, the place can’t ever get altogether normal for me. That’s what I like about it.

I suppose that after a few more years, with any luck I’ll be able to start heading back the other way. Rediscover Canada a bit. See how it and its people look through the new lenses I’m crafting for myself now.

It’s something to look forward to: being abroad in the country of my birth. A mind fuck only being an immigrant can give you.

On Japanese Wives

First of all: shame on all of you who read the title of this piece in a dirty-minded, lascivious way! Shame!

Now, if we can get our mind (at least slightly) out of the gutter. There are those who think Japanese women are demure, passive, and subservient. As a husband to a Japanese wife, I am here to tell you that those who think such have fallen for Japanese women’s soft sell, girlfriend persona.

If we must qualify human relationship in binary terms of opposition, we can then liken Japanese women’s strategy in the war of the sexes to judo. As a man you will be totally confident that you are in control; that your strength is dominating. You are moving the relationship precisely where you want it to be.

Then, without warning, the world will spin out from under you and you find yourself completely at her mercy. As with a judoka, your Japanese woman has thrown you to the ground and into an arm bar.

Just relax though, don’t fight it. It is time to tap out.

And here is where the judo metaphor ends. For this part can be really good too.

Move

This here’s a bit of a shout at any youngsters who have the privilege of living in a free country that isn’t an active war zone.

As you mature, you may start to suspect things that make it difficult to accept where you are. That your teachers and elders don’t know shit and yet are completely full of it. That the particular culture where you were born does not have all the answers; or, more commonly, that the answers it has are really terrible. That the people around you suck. That your friends, relatives, acquaintances, and authority figures are shitty people who treat others like garbage.

If you start to suspect these things, I am here to tell you that you really need to trust your instincts.

This is not to say that the world isn’t filled with many wonderful places and people. It is. Perhaps you are in such a place, surrounded by such people, and your feelings are simple adolescent restlessness and petulance. But the world is also filled with vast swathes of dreary shit-heaps filled with entire human landscapes of miserable cunts.

The thing is, there’s no way to know which environment you’ve been raised in unless you get out and about in the world a bit and experience some different cultures and people. So do yourself a favor and see as much of the world as you can as soon as you can.

At this point, so many people, born losers all, are going to be saying: “yeah, but I don’t have the money for that.”

I’m not here to tell you that your obstacles are not real, but I also am not talking about some kind of three-month, European sex adventure (although if you can swing that, it sounds awesome and you should totally do it).

Start small. Take a weekend and go and visit your cousin in the next town over. See if people are any less shitty there. Couch surf your way to some city you always thought sounded cool. Check it out! Stuck in a shitty dead-end job in an awful town? Well, don’t they have shitty dead-end jobs in nicer places too?

The whole fucking world is out there, is all I’m saying. Don’t you dare nail your feet down to the floor of the joint you were spawned in and then start whinging that you never had another choice.

If you can’t stand your situation and environment, be a nomad for a little bit. Unplug yourself from what you’ve become familiar with and try something else out. Find a situation and environment better suited to you. I guarantee they are out there somewhere.

And if you don’t really mind where you are and who you’re with, then consider yourself lucky and do what you will. But even so, no one has ever done themselves a disservice by expanding their horizons a bit.

For fuck sakes, know this: just because you were born someplace, doesn’t mean you have to end your days there. We aren’t trees.