The oath

The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.” These are not the most important words any man can say. I am a man, and they are what I needed to say.

The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.

But if we stop, if we accept the person we see when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination.

To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.

Earlier this evening, I read a post where someone was talking about Dalinar, a character in Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy series The Stormlight Archive. Specifically, they referenced his climactic scene in Oathbringer, the third book of the series. In that scene, Dalinar confronts Odium—for better or worse, the books’ equivalent of evil incarnate, but also passion. Emotion. Fury both angry and righteous.

Odium, much like the common conception of Satan, is a tempter. Though armies loyal to him are slaughtering the human forces, he offers Dalinar an out. Freedom for humanity (of a sort, as they would be in service to him) for a simple price: the pain one man keeps inside.

When I first read Oathbringer, I didn’t think much of that scene. Now, however, I think back on it and see it as a mirror reflection. All I have to do is give up my pain, and the world is saved? Honestly, I’ve been willing to offer exactly that in my darker moments.

But Odium is offering a drink from a poisoned chalice here. It’s not merely pain he’s demanding, but a part of the self. We are the sum total of all our experiences, good and bad alike. Change any one part, any one action or inaction or feeling or memory, and we wouldn’t be us anymore. We would become someone different.

Pain hurts. If it didn’t, painkillers, antidepressants, and alcohol wouldn’t be so commonly abused. What we have to do, then, is give meaning to the pain. Learn from it. Instead of burning us away, let its fire temper us and therefore make us stronger. Otherwise, we’re hurting in vain.

Dalinar was tempted. Who wouldn’t be? In the end, he understood that all of it, all the pain he had caused and had endured, had a purpose. And so he stared in the face of a literal god and said, “You cannot have my pain.”

I only wonder if I could do the same.

I have stumbled. I have been tried and found wanting. I have failed and hurt those around me. Family, friends, those I love in any way, they have seen me fall. Worse, they have seen me not want to get back up. They have seen me ready to lie down and let the journey end.

We aren’t dealing with genocidal deities, supernatural storms, and semi-sentient hordes in our world, but the battle is no less real. It’s no less painful. While I certainly hope the destination is a good one, I can’t say for certain, so the journey really is all I have. If it ends, so do I, and…I’m not sure I’m ready to see my journey’s end just yet.

To everyone I’ve hurt, everyone who has seen me hurt, I can’t put into words how sorry I am. I don’t know if I’m ready to speak “the hardest words a man can say” yet, but I believe I could get there.

Not alone, though. Not without a lot of help.

As it’s getting too late tonight, I’ll start reaching out on a more personal level tomorrow. Until then, know that I’m thinking of all of you, and it hurts to see what I’ve done, how I’ve failed to live up to the ideals I’ve adopted.

Life before death.

Strength before weakness.

Journey before destination.

Help me find the conviction to speak those words, to believe in them and take the next step, the most important step. And then I know I can swear that oath: I will do better.

My demons

(Title is a common enough phrase, but definitely check out the Starset song of the same name.)

As anyone who has read my ramblings of the past few years can tell, I don’t believe in the supernatural. I’m agnostic—in the literal sense of “not knowing”—on its existence, but nothing I have seen in my nearly 38 years of life has shown me any evidence that it in any way impacts the natural world. If it did, things would be a lot different, I imagine.

That said, I do, in a sense, believe in demons. They’re the personal sort, though, not the horned beast-men or diabolically sexy monster girls but…emotions. Thoughts. Aspects of one’s personality. These demons are the ones living inside our heads.True, some aren’t exactly evil, and people often use the word daemon to refer to those which are good or, at worst, neutral. I like that, since the base word has become inexorably linked with evil.

Whatever term you use, the ones we’re most familiar with are the bad sort, and they come in a number of different flavors. Too many people have a lust for power or pleasures of the flesh; both of these often lead to trouble, whether for themselves or those around them. Tempers flaring might be a sign of a different kind of inner demon, that of rage or fury. Greed, another popular one, fills our world today.

And then there are mine. They’re twins, in a sense, or perhaps merely sisters. Certainly related, and my mental image really is of a feminine form for both of them. No real reason, except that I know enough about classical mythology to associate emotions with female figures: think the Muses, for instance.

Melancholia is the older of this pair. I’ve known her for a long time, at least two decades, and I once believed I had come to understand her. She’s the voice in my ear telling me something is impossible, hopeless, unable to be done. She reminds me that the world is a cruel, callous place full of people who will never truly know me, or even care to. Her will has guided so many of my posts, while a number of my books were written in part as attempts at quieting her. She isn’t likable, but she’s a known quantity.

Younger Acedia, on the other hand, makes me want to use words I don’t normally speak to describe her. She has come into fullness over the past few years, and is now in her ascendancy. While Melancholia urges me to give up hope, Acedia revels in the knowledge that I already have. She is a mistress of decay, of apathy and stasis. She would call herself my lover, and she jealously pushes back any who dare to love me. Her strength waxes as the world falls further into chaos and tyranny, as I get older and see my chances at a life worth living slowly dry up. On my darkest days, she even stops my tears, though not out of any sense of empathy. No, she says not to bother, that there’s no sense in crying if nobody will see it. And, she’s always quick to add, no one wants to see it anyway.

Melancholia is strong, but I can fend her off on good days. When the sun is shining, when good things are happening for a change, I can push Melancholia aside, put my hand over her mouth so I don’t have to hear her poisonous words. All this time has allowed me to recognize those moments when I have the upper hand on her.

Acedia, however, clouds my judgment. And she is much stronger than her sister, at least these days. Alone, I might be able to stand my ground against her. Facing both of my demons at the same time, as I’ve had to do for 18 months without a break, that’s much more difficult. Impossible, I might even say, and I can’t blame that entirely on Melancholia. This is a constant struggle, one I’m not sure I can win. On those occasions, ever rarer as time passes, where I am able to push both of them away for a few brief moments, it seems that only leaves them more enraged, and their revenge leaves me shaken, beaten down, ready to surrender.

Two on one isn’t a fair fight, but then there is no such thing, I suppose. Especially when you’re fighting the demons that reside within.

Hill to die on

Although I’ve only recognized it for what it was in the past few years, I’ve lived with depression for over a quarter of a century. In that time, there were days where I didn’t know what was going to happen, where I wondered what was coming next.

I spent three years almost homeless, crammed with my mom and little brother into the back bedroom of a single-wide trailer. Two boys, 15 and 11 years old at the start, and their mother, who was younger than I am now, all sharing less than 100 square feet of living space. That was my Y2K. Those were my teenage years. That was what I was doing on 9/11. But I was never really scared for my own safety or well-being.

A decade ago, my grandfather was on his deathbed, my brother was working himself into the next grave over at an Amazon warehouse, and my mom seemed determined to stay awake until she beat them both there. It was a miserable experience, made so much worse as I watched not only a beloved relative waste away, but those closest to him ignore every suggestion that might have helped or, at the very least, eased his passing. But I didn’t fear for myself, because I wasn’t 90 and suffering both the aftermath of a stroke and the deadly ministrations of a nursing home.

Now, though, I’ve never felt more afraid.

It’s rational to fear death; indeed, I’m of the firm belief that it is the only rational fear. The end of life is so final that we must approach it with some measure of trepidation. To feel otherwise is, in my opinion, the same as saying that your life doesn’t matter. While I’m sure many religious types would agree with that assessment, I’m not one of them. I can’t see the sense in throwing away what we have now in the hope that what comes after will be so much better. No, this is the life we’ve got, and the primary reason why I haven’t ended mine is because it’s the only one I’m sure of having.

That said, I have been thinking more and more about that ultimate end. Our world is sliding so far, so fast, that I can’t help it. I truly don’t see an out, a path forward that leaves me in a better place. There is a very real chance that I could be arrested for the crime of wanting to, as the famous poem puts it, breath free. Or I may be forced under threat of life, liberty, or family to undergo an experimental medical procedure that has already killed hundreds of thousands, injured millions more, and has an unknown long-term effect on my health and virility.

Even discounting the fringe theories—those do not include arrest for not wearing a mask, as that is a fact of life in some countries already—I still must contend with the other repercussions of this false pandemic. I’m effectively barred from non-emergency medical care. Entire fields of endeavor and even states are closed off to me. The communities where I might, under normal circumstances, find common cause have closed themselves to freethinkers like myself. Because I choose freedom, I am increasingly isolated, marginalized.

For someone who already suffers from depression and a severe lack of self-esteem, this is catastrophic. It’s one thing for me to turn away from the world, quite another for the world to turn away from me. And it’s happening in many places, to many people. More each day, in fact. I’m one of a million or more, and we simply can’t get the help we need.

I wonder what I could possibly contribute to a world that has rejected me on every level. I fear that my time will soon come to an end because of that rejection. And what will I leave behind? More books than there are people who’ve read them. A mass of code few developers would want to touch. Most of all, the pain I’ve caused for those I love most through actions that I probably deserve to spend eternity regretting.

I’ve spent more than half my life living in the house from which I write this. With each day that passes, I become more certain that it is where that life will end. More and more, I’m starting to believe that, literally and metaphorically, I will die on this hill.

Defense mechanism

The pithy, meme-like definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. By that standard, I am completely, certifiably insane.

I do the same things, fall into the same patterns, again and again. My days all seem to blur into one, the only breaks in the monotony coming when disaster strikes, such as the death of my cousin in July. Everything in my life feels to me like a downward spiral, as if I’m swirling around a cosmic toilet bowl, and some part of me sees that analogy as all too accurate.

All that should be fairly obvious to anyone who has read some of my earlier posts on PPC. Nothing new, really, except that I think I’ve finally reached the point of acceptance. If the path to becoming a better man, to reaching the kind of life goals I want from myself, requires battling my own inner demons, an apathetic family, and a hostile world at every turn, then I have to stop and ask, “Is it even worth the cost?”

History lesson

World War I is now over a century in the past, but we still remember it today. Four years of bloodshed, devastation, and misery inflicted on the entirety of humanity for the trivialities of a fading noble class. Millions of lives lost, countless others left permanently damaged in body, mind, or spirit. The entire world left upside down.

Some people see their lives as metaphorical warfare, and I often wonder which wars they’re talking about. The movie kind, almost certainly, the stylized tales of individual heroism. They see themselves as protagonists, as the lone wolf fighting off waves of Nazis, Communists, Taliban, or whoever their preferred enemy might be. In their lives, the bullets fly, but they never find their mark. Wounds are patched up off-screen, and the mental trauma is swept under the rug.

Not so for me. I feel more like an infantryman of WWI: nameless, faceless, with little hope for survival. I’m stuck in a trench, never truly gaining ground except to give it right back. Monotony and drudgery are enemies as great as the ones sniping at me, and harder to defend against.

Even the best soldier gets worn down eventually. Even the strongest man cracks under the constant pressure. I was never the best, never the strongest, so I sometimes wonder how I’ve held on this long. And sometimes I wonder if I have, or if I’ve already been broken beyond repair.

I consider myself at war in more than the metaphorical sense, however. As I see it, this whole country—no, this whole world is at war. It’s mostly a cold war at this point, this battle of good versus evil, liberty versus tyranny. We see occasional flickering flames, such as the present rioting in Australia and ongoing protests in France, but most of the war is being waged in the hearts and minds of our fellow man. We’re just waiting for our Fort Sumter, our Lexington and Concord, our Pearl Harbor or Franz Ferdinand or Dien Bien Phu. The moment in which our enemy, in this case the enemy of all that is good and just in this world, finally makes that fatal mistake and turns a cold war into a shooting conflict.

Last stand

But being a soldier is hard work, remember. We in America have been in a constant state of war for twenty years running, but the last few have seen that war turned against the common people, and the past eighteen months have seen the good guys take loss after loss on the psychological battlefield.

Early research into what has, at various points in history, been called combat fatigue, shell shock, and post-traumatic stress disorder gave a good upper bound for the time a battle-ready soldier could expect to be deployed in active combat before suffering a mental breakdown. That time works out to around 280 days; curiously, about the same amount of time as a pregnancy.

We’ve been under siege for twice that, and the numbers show that we’re all starting to break at a frantic pace. Depression is skyrocketing. The same goes for anxiety. General feelings of malaise, despair, hopelessness, and similar negative emotions are so common that it’s getting almost impossible to find someone who isn’t seeing the worst in each passing day.

I have all of the above and more. I used to look at each day wondering what I could do, what I could make, and how I could make a difference. Now, though, I greet each morning with a sigh and a vain hope that it won’t get any worse. I can’t blame all of that on external factors, of course. Some of it comes from my own problems, problems that were exacerbated, not created, by current events.

Placing blame really misses the point. What’s more important is that I’m broken, I know I’m broken, and I accept that putting myself back together is beyond me. I’m a casualty of this war, make no mistake.

If I have to go down, let me go down swinging. That’s all I feel I can ask now. I doubt I’ll ever have children—another hope dashed in the past year and a half—so there aren’t a lot of reasons to keep fighting. What fight I have left, then, is in the defense of the ideals I hold most dear: liberty and justice for all, equal opportunity, the rights each of us has from birth. For the sake of those I love, I’ll fight in the name of those ideals as long as I can. Even if I can’t live in a world free from the evils of tyranny, maybe I can help make it so they can. It’s a small chance, but it’s all I’ve got, so I’ll keep on fighting for it until the bitter end.

I just can’t help but think that end is coming sooner than I ever expected.

Take it to the limit

(It should be obvious, but the title comes from one of the best Eagles songs.)

Yesterday, my partner mentioned a “disturbing” scene in a book she had read. It was indeed disturbing, from the description she gave, and it got me thinking about what I consider to be the limits of my writing. By this, I don’t mean the things I can’t write, but those I won’t write.

Every author has limits. Some see those limits as challenges, barriers. Others treat them more like a fence around the yard, defining the boundaries of personal space. I do lean more in that direction, I’ll admit. Over the past decade, my writing has visited some interesting genres, character interactions, and scene elements, but a few things just make me stop, shake myself, and ask, “Are you sure you want to write that?”

Sex is at the top of the list, as I think it is for many authors. Of course, some of us have to deal with publisher or platform requirements. (Amazon only allows certain kinds of erotica, for example, while Kobo seems to prohibit anything a church lady would find offensive.) Even without those restrictions, however, I would find myself hard-pressed—pardon the pun—to write explicit sex scenes for public consumption.

I’ve written implicit sex on many occasions, and many of my stories have more than their fair share of innuendo. Neither of those bother me. It’s only when I get into the details that I find myself wondering if I should bother. Very, very few written stories benefit from the addition of sexual content. Most of the time, it’s there for wish fulfillment or pure titillation, both of which are better served by other forms of media. The thing is, people do have sex. Therefore, my characters, being people, should do the same. But it’s also one of the most private acts humans can commit, so how much does it really belong in, say, a fantasy or sci-fi novel?

I suppose another reason I’m leery of sexual content in my stories is that so many of my characters are children and teenagers. That’s one of modern society’s biggest taboos, as we know, and most platforms take a heavy-handed approach to policing it. (Established authors can get away with a lot more. Ask George R. R. Martin or Terry Goodkind, to name two examples among many.) But such strictures also cause a chilling effect for those of us who don’t want to deal in explicit sexuality. How far am I allowed to go in exploring, say, the relationship between 13-year-old Justin and 14-year-old Derry? More importantly, what do I do if I reach the platform’s limits before my own?

In other types of media, specifically TV and movies, sex is a surefire way of getting an adult rating, but gratuitous violence and gore are very often allowed in material geared towards teens. In my opinion, that’s one of the greatest failings of Hollywood, because it gives favor to acts of destruction over those of creation.

Don’t get me wrong. Some things are inherently violent and gory. War, particularly. I’ve written numerous scenes of battle, mostly squad-level skirmishes or even duels. I’ve written about monsters and murders. Only in The Linear Cycle and the Endless Forms novels do I really delve into some of the more gruesome aspects, though. In both cases, I feel I’m justified: one is a zombie apocalypse, the other a paranormal detective series.

I don’t go out of my way to shock my readers. You won’t see Tom Clancy levels of detail about guns and the effects they have on the targets of their aggression. I’ll never write the novelization of Saw. I do have blood and guts, explosions and corpses, but I always treat these with a little bit of distance.

That’s just who I am. I don’t like death. Or war, for that matter. I’d much rather write about the aftereffects of a battle, or the tactics, or the causes that led to it, not excruciating details about how many body parts are being lost by the soldiers on the front lines.

This extends to more general sorts of violence, as well. Although some might describe me as sadistic—all authors possess some measure of sadism, to be honest—I don’t like seeing people hurt for no reason. I don’t even like seeing it happen to my characters, and they’re not real people!

The hardest scenes for me to write are those involving character injury and death. The climactic chapters of Nocturne, for instance, took a lot out of me. (One scene in particular still almost brings me to tears.) Likewise for the RPG-style battles of The Soulstone Sorcerer and even the death of a fairly minor character in Written in Black and White. I’m just a big softy, I guess.

I have a few other writing limits, too. Many of these are personal, like my aversion to profanity, which stems from a choice I made many years ago, long before I ever dreamed of becoming an author. I don’t write transgender characters, as I feel the very subject is so politicized that it would be a waste of my time. You’ll never see my name on a horror novel; I don’t like the genre, and I don’t feel I could do it justice. And I’ll likely never kill off a main character. A main character’s love interest, yes. A main character’s best friend, sure. Not the protagonists themselves, however. (I have flirted with the idea on two occasions, but it never felt right. Congratulations, Gabriel and Chei, you both survive this time.)

Pushing the boundaries is part of our growth as authors and people. It’s natural and healthy to want to try new things we didn’t think were possible. But the comfort zone is real. Once we’re past it, once we truly feel uncomfortable because of what we’re writing, it’s time to step back and think it over. Do we really need to put that in? Does it serve a purpose? Does it add to the story? Or are we just doing it because of, well, peer pressure?

Because that’s what it is, when you think about it. The uncomfortable excursions beyond our limits usually come about from an attempt at…showing off, to put it bluntly. Sex sells. Violence isn’t exactly sitting on the shelves, either. All those little things we think a “real” story needs—because the pros have them—aren’t always necessary. Sometimes it’s better to do more with less. Sometimes taking a step back from the action can work better than getting down and dirty.

It’s all about what you want, what suits you and your story, and that’s something you have to find for yourself. Explore, because there’s no other way to find your boundaries. And if you want to go beyond them, but you don’t think you can bring yourself to do it, look for encouragement. Find a private audience, someone who is willing to help you experiment and grow. Often, what we think is near actually lies farther away than we imagined. Your boundaries might not be as close as you believe.

No more heroes

(Not a song this time, but a game. A game I’ve never played, in fact.)

The world is a very dark place now. I don’t even mean that from the context of my severe depression. No, anyone can see that humanity as a whole is being forced into a period of fear, repression, and regression. A new Dark Age. Like the old one, this one has a religion at the helm, a cabal of priest-like figures issuing dogma and demanding that we bend our lives, our minds, and our wills to it.

This time, however, that religion isn’t Christianity, but something far worse: Scientism. The perversion of science in the past decade has, as we all know, reached its peak. The falsified data regarding the coronavirus that was released from the Wuhan lab led to the global spread of authoritarianism under the guise of a so-called pandemic that we now know is less deadly than the flu we deal with every year. The same forces are using the same sort of faulty data to push a “cure” that is quite literally deadlier than the disease. Those facts are indisputable by anyone who has taken a critical look at them.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, the apex of Scientism’s anti-science crusade. While they make a mockery of biology by discarding decades of groundbreaking discoveries, other fields are finding the same fate. Climatology is one of the biggest strongholds of the cult, as findings are routinely discarded or modified to fit the doctrine of global warming. Statistics has suffered, too, with techniques and equations being derided for no other reason than because they were used to illustrate the blatant fraud in the 2020 election. Genetics is in the process of being replaced by gender theory. Math is called racist because its results are objective facts.

This infiltration extends to the soft sciences, too, though it is harder to show what came from Scientism versus what was already present. Psychology isn’t much more than arguing about various shades of “dysphoria” now, but is that a passing fad or a sea change? The push for historical diversity even where there was none can be seen as wokeness or the usual tearing down of work done by the generation before.

Thanks to a complicit media, every part of our lives is currently under the sway of Scientism. In my view, this is exactly like the control of the Church during the Dark Ages, but with one glaring exception. At least Rome provided some benefits to devout Christians. The modern dogma offers only suffering, never redemption.

Heroes arise

It’s a trope older than movies, older even than books. When the darkness is at its fullest, that’s when the stars come out. That’s when the heroes show their faces. At that moment when all seems lost—modern screenwriters literally call it the “All Is Lost” moment—the good guys reveal themselves, or simply reveal their true power.

Since that trope, like so much else in the shared culture that is the West, has been co-opted by the same media whose purpose is to beat us down, the real heroes aren’t often seen. Indeed, we’re supposed to think they don’t exist, and instead give our praise to mediocre athletes, mediocre musicians ,and the occasional random drug addict turned counterfeiter. We aren’t even allowed to look to heroes of old, because all of them have been demonized, excommunicated by the cult of Scientism for the sin of living under a different moral code.

The media’s idea of heroes is like it’s idea of everything else: bland, uninspiring, and designed to appeal to no one while pretending to appeal to everyone. And that almost has to be deliberate. If we have no one to look up to except flawed characters who never truly prevail against the evils in their world, would we not begin to think that such evil in our world is inevitable?

Worse yet, the few actual heroes still around are vilified for taking a stand, because that stand is against the reigning cult. People like Mike Lindell and Jovan Pulitzer, Glenn Greenwald and Alex Berenson, Kyle Rittenhouse and Ashli Babbitt. Groups such as America’s Frontline Doctors. These are the closest thing we have to heroes, because they stand against tyranny. They stand for freedom and the future of humanity. They are willing to put their careers, their reputations, and their lives on the line for what they believe.

Not everyone can afford to take that kind of stand. We’ve become too integrated, too reliant on the very system we need to bring down. But tyrants always fall in the end, and the tide is slowly turning against those of the present day.

Protests in Denmark have succeeded in reversing the draconian restrictions of that country. Those in France are less effective, but attrition is starting to have an effect. The truckers’ strike in Australia, getting precisely zero mainstream media coverage here in the US, has enormous popular support.

Those are big news. They involve the fate of entire countries, entire cultures. One might think that, of the nearly eight billion people in the world, how can one man or woman do anything? But this neglects the local impact, which is no less important. Petty tyrants in your city, county, and state can also be defeated through the same means. Look at how many vaccine mandates had to be dropped at the last minute, as hospitals couldn’t deal with an immediate 20-30% reduction in staff. (I don’t see how, as they’re all pretty much empty, but there you go.) School boards everywhere are backing down as angry parents challenge mandatory mask-wearing for children who were never in any danger to begin with.

It’s a long struggle, but then the fight for freedom is eternal, and it must be waged anew by each generation. In the end, we as a nation and a species will emerge victorious. To do that, however, we need heroes. We need everyday heroes. The father taking his child to school without a mask. The woman willing to be fired rather than injected. The doctor who writes prescriptions for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine…and the pharmacist who fills them. The researcher risking his career to point out that temperatures were higher in the 1930s. The geneticist who states that X and Y chromosomes do, in fact, exist. The historian who dares to tell the truth about America: that we are a nation found upon the ideals of liberty and justice for all.

And the time may soon come when we are called to defend those ideals in a more physical, more lethal manner. In that case, we’ll need the other kind of heroes, the same kind that our children are being taught to hate today: Washington, Patton, Lee, and all the great leaders from the bloodier times of our past.

When a true believer in his cause assassinated a prominent leader who had forcibly taken his people’s property, denied them the basic rights of law, and waged a brutal war solely because those people wanted to be left alone, he uttered three simple words: Sic semper tyrannis.

Thus always to tyrants.

Summer Reading List 2021: Third and final

We come to the end of another summer, and with it another Summer Reading List challenge. With all the seriousness on here and in the world at large, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit to close out this year’s series. Well, I didn’t really plan that, but it turned out that way, and that’s sort of the same thing, right?

Fantasy (fiction)

Title: The Hobbit
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Genre: High fantasy
Year: 1937

I’m a serious Tolkien geek. I have been for 20 years. I’ve read Lord of the Rings at least a dozen times. I’ve read The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and most of the History of Middle-Earth series. Tolkien was one of the inspirations when I first started writing my own novels, and he’s the reason why my Otherworld saga focuses so much on the language of the natives. (Technically, making my own languages came before reading Tolkien, but let’s not quibble. Becoming an author was definitely after.)

Strangely enough, though, I’d never read The Hobbit, the story that started it all. Years ago, I found it too childish to bother with; I’d rather read “adult” fantasy, not some children’s bedtime story turned into a novel. But time and the wisdom of age, along with the nuisances of the world around me, have left me somewhat disillusioned.

So much modern fantasy exists solely to satisfy the author’s wishes or push a political agenda, and that’s just boring. I gave up on Anthony Ryan’s The Waking Fire, which felt too much like a rant against capitalism. I never even started Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, because I don’t think I can stand another assassin story. And Martin, of course, will gain enough weight to finish collapsing into a black hole before he ever writes another book, but I still wouldn’t bother reading The Winds of Winter if it ever did happen to exist.

I never thought I’d say this: fantasy has become boring.

So why not go back to the roots of fantasy? The Hobbit certainly isn’t a match for today’s epics, but then it was never intended to be. It’s a fairy tale. It’s a modern myth. It never tries to be anything more, apart from a few vague hints that the world of Middle-earth is larger than the confines of this little story and the perspective of its little protagonist. That’s very refreshing, in my opinion.

The writing is very…haphazard. Certainly, it’s not as polished as LOTR. You can attribute that to the intended audience or to it being Tolkien’s first foray into fiction intended for other people to read. Whatever the reasoning, it’s jarring. So is the narration, because The Hobbit, unlike modern fantasy, is indeed told by a narrator. He often speaks, sometimes offering foreshadowing, sometimes warning the reader away from digressions, occasionally making a little joke that readers not from prewar Britain just won’t get. (LOTR had those, too. Nobody alive today would understand the in-joke of Sam Gamgee hooking up with a woman whose last name was Cotton.)

Despite being written by the true master—indeed, the inventor—of worldbuilding, The Hobbit does seem to fall short in that department. Again, that’s because it wasn’t intended to be an introduction to Middle-earth. Myths, by their very nature, assume that you already know the context. Thus, you don’t get the backstory of the Necromancer, the king of Mirkwood, or Bard of Lake-town. Indeed, you don’t even get the names of the first two in that list! (You do in LOTR, of course.)

So we’re dealing with a book that’s light on characterization, light on worldbuilding, and heavy on songs. Does that make it bad? No. Does that make it bad fantasy? By modern standards, perhaps, but tastes change. Maybe today’s emphasis on epics will eventually end, the pendulum swinging back towards shorter fiction or serials. Something like Amazon’s Vella, for example, might do the trick. It’d certainly be better than their attempt at a Middle-earth TV series.

Speaking of which, I can’t end this post without mentioning the movies. I’ve only seen most of them; I still haven’t watched the first half of An Unexpected Journey. What I’ve seen is troubling, to say the least. There seems to be more content that was added by Peter Jackson than what was originally written by Tolkien. Granted, a lot of that is for monetary reasons, and I understand that. Hollywood is a corrupt empire. Still, this book in no way has 9 hours of film in it. It barely has enough for a single movie. And that, I think, is one of its charms.

A little cleaning

For the first time in a long time, I’ve done some redecorating around PPC. You probably won’t notice many of the changes, but they’re there. Trust me.

First off, I now have an HTTPS version of the site. The “experts” say that every site on the web absolutely, positively must have an SSL certificate. I firmly disagree. I’d say that about 80% of sites have no use for it whatsoever. Yes, the increased security is a great thing. Encryption, especially encryption that is free from government and corporate backdoors, is a good thing. That said, the majority of sites out there neither have nor collect sensitive information, so…what’s the point? If you’re not logging in, if there isn’t even a form anywhere on the page, then why bother with the network and CPU overhead of HTTPS? It serves no purpose.

But Brave gets mad if you don’t have it, and the last good version of Waterfox is increasingly marginalized by larger sites. For those two reasons, I’ve had to do it. Yay for the future. Ugh.

And while we’re on the subject of dystopian futures (I promise this isn’t another rant against vaccine mandates), I’ve updated the version of Wordpress that runs PPC. Okay, let me rephrase that. I updated PPC to use a better version of Wordpress. It’s called ClassicPress, and it’s what Wordpress should be.

See, I’ve used WP since this site’s inception in 2015, and I used it on the old site starting all the way back in 2005. It’s not a bad platform, really. Problem is, the team behind it has completely given in to feature creep, as is so often the case in development.

The rot started a few years ago. When Wordpress version 5.0 came out, it had a brand new editor: Gutenberg. This editor was to replace the “classic” one, a simple WYSIWYG or “rich” text box with a few formatting controls. Gutenberg is based around the concept of “blocks” as the basic page editing element, not something sane like, I don’t know, text.

Gutenberg was a buggy mess forced upon us, breaking not only workflows but any add-on designed to improve editing (like WP-Markdown, which I’m using here), and we users were told to suck it up and get used to it, because this is how things are going to be from now on. Oh, there’s a “Classic Editor” plugin, but it will be intentionally broken at the start of next year to prevent people from going back to the sensible method of editing text by editing text.

That annoyed me to no end, because it’s a theme I’ve seen repeated throughout the development world. Breaking things for no good reason and forcing your users to accept the brokenness as “the new way” is a time-honored tradition at this point. Look at Windows 10, Firefox 4, Firefox 24, Firefox 57, Firefox (Mobile) 71, Gnome 3, KDE 4, the entire concept of systemd…

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Some people (and it’s usually designers, not the devs themselves) just can’t get it in their heads that we don’t like change for the sake of change. When something works, leave it alone. Wordpress, like so many others, couldn’t do that. Never mind that they have a perfectly functioning editor, because all those “UX” people need something to do. So out came Gutenberg, in all its flawed glory.

I did my best to ignore it for 3 years. My hosting provider, Dreamhost, temporarily broke PPC in 2019, changing my “don’t touch this” setting to “automatically upgrade” without my approval. I had to contact support to rollback. Since then, I’ve stayed on version 4.9, the last without Gutenberg, and wondered what I’d do.

I’m also using Wordpress for work, as the basis for a multi-tenant network. That project, since it’s for-profit, actually does need the latest and greatest. As it’s intended to be administered by people who don’t have my technical knowledge, it also has to be as idiot-proof as I can make it. Thus, I needed to find a way to allow only the most essential parts of Gutenberg, while also coding themes and plugins to take it into account.

While doing that earlier today, I found a reference to ClassicPress. Since I can’t do much work at the moment (long story), I read up on it and found that it is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Dreamhost might not offer it as a fancy prepackaged install, but who cares? This is Wordpress as it used to be: a blog where you can get content onto the web as quickly as possible. No tracking down plugins to cut the bloat or digging through endless lists of blocks just to edit. Best of all, no breaking what’s already there.

Whether you can see it or not, then, PPC is no longer out of date. It’s running on the latest and greatest once again. That’s the beauty of open source software. If you screw it up badly enough, someone will care enough to fix your mistakes.