You guys. Let me tell you what my brain is like.

I dreamed I was an intern in a museum. In my dream it was called “the Metropolitan” but I am very sure, having visited the Met once, that it was nothing like this shambling pile of secret passages and crammed-together dusty antiques. (Well, at least, not the parts I visited.) Anyway, that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was the chili.

You see, there was a mummy-zombie thing roaming the back halls. The top front third of his head was gone and his teeth were stumps; there was just a hole and the hindbrain left, plus the ruined caverns of his sinuses. Which probably explained why he was shambling around with his hand-things in front of him, spindly fingers waving. He could smell the chili, but he couldn’t find it.

You see, it was the interns’ (I was one of a crew of six) job to find the mummy and feed him the chili so he would stop roaming, so he would settle down and wouldn’t upset the patrons with his fleshless self. The trouble was, we were new interns, and nobody had bothered to tell us. So we had to figure it out, which we did, but somehow the security guys were new too and hadn’t gotten the memo. So we had to save the poor mummy from the rent-a-cops in order to feed him his chili so he would quiet down. The problem was, we had to catch him first.

So I woke up, with a cat snoring in my ear and a dog snoring near my feet, and I thought it was the mummy. There was this moist breathing on my ear, and all I could think was, where’s the damn chili? Followed by, dammit, I can’t make this a book, there’s not enough tension structurally to build it. Maybe a short?

So, yeah. Here. Go read Chuck Wendig on why writers are bugfuck nuts. I’ll, um, just be locked up in my house. Alone.

Looking for the chili to feed to the museum mummy.


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“SHIT!” I screamed, as I skidded around the corner into my kitchen from the garage. “NO NO NO! NOOOOO!”

The squirrel wasn’t listening. The dog, attached to the couch, was barking hysterically.

When we last saw Neo, he had voiced his battlecry and flung himself into my unprotected house. This was a fine way for the goddamn rodent to repay me for not leaving him in the road to die. Gratitude may be a virtue, but I really am beginning to think it’s one this little asshole doesn’t possess.

Several thoughts flash through one’s head when one has inadvertently let a demonic tree-rat into one’s house. Let me see if I can list them in some kind of coherent order.

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It was one of the few times in my life when I wished I played some form of incredibly violent team sport. Not only could I have used, say, hockey armor or an American-football helmet, but I also could have used some backup.

After all, I was going into the garage.

When last we left him, Squirrel!Neo, stunned and possibly concussed (that’s a word, right?), was curled in a cat carrier in my garage. He had a bowl of shelled peanuts, a bowl of fresh water, and I’d made sure the cage door was locked. I spent a restless night, hoping I wouldn’t have to dispose of yet another rodent corpse come dawn. I was running out of room in the Squirl!Semetery. Though I wouldn’t put it past another one of the little bastards to rise from the grave again.

So, the following fresh warm morning, I got up, nervously checked out the websites of a few sporting goods stores, and thought of dealing with the questions I would encounter if I went in and bought a whole set of hockey pads, helmet, greaves, the works. Kevlar seemed like a good option. Plus, a few hockey sticks would be a good addition to my Sekrit Weapon cache. Bonus if I could roll them in tar and ground glass.

Look, I was just being careful, okay?

But in the end, I decided that one wounded squirrel in a cat carrier was probably not going to require me dressing up like a modern-day secutor. I mean, Neo was probably feeling a bit under the weather, although I doubted even at that moment that he would be harboring so much as a tiny shred of gratitude toward the big pink monkey who had gotten him out of the road and shelled his fucking peanuts. Probably, I thought, he’s sleeping.

That was my first mistake.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Sep. 27th, 2011 09:59 am)

The combatants lay on the road under a curtain of rain. Lightning flashed again. The water coming from the sky was blood-warm, each quarter-sized drop sending up a puff of dust where it hit the tired, dry ground, a sheen of dust and oil soon floating on a thin scrim of rain.

When we left off, Jerkass Redtruck had decided cowardice was the better part of valor and peeled away from the scene of the crime. Miss B was still crashing around and barking hysterically, apparently having worked off her concussion. My M*A*S*H T-shirt was soon sticking to me, and my bare feet were soaked by the time I reached the road at the bottom of my driveway. I was still clutching the Sekrit Weapon, and my hair was starting to drip in my face. Holding my breath, I approached the two sodden lumps of fur.

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So I had an odd weekend. Well, I take that back. I had an odd Saturday night; the rest of the weekend was pretty ho-hum.

I helped box the leftovers from a library sale for Cover to Cover Saturday afternoon, then headed home. As I drove past the liquor store near my house I saw the first intimation that tonight was going to be One Of Those Nights. There was a line.

Out the door.

Of the liquor store.

Now, this sometimes happens at New Year’s, or the Fourth of July. Or pretty much any time there’s a holiday and the locals need sedation or lowered inhibitions. See, down in Portland they’re pretty classy when they drink. (Well, mostly.) Out here in semi-rural Vantucky, we’re more like, hmm, how do I put it? Well, we’re kind of like Portland’s trashy older sister. The one with the jeggings, blue eyeshadow, and the perpetual can of Coors. Normally I like that about this part of town–there’s not a lot of pretension.

Sometimes, though, it gets weird.

So I got home, intending to lock my doors, pull the shades, and just let the neighborhood stew in its own inebriation. As a matter of fact, I was sitting at my desk, looking out my writing window onto the street, fooling around a little bit on Twitter, when…look, I’ll just post the tweets, okay?

When the liquor store has a line out the door, you know it’s time to go home and lock your doors. #holdme

Plus: naked man in wheelchair rolling down my street. When did this become a college town? #littleconfused

I just…I did NOT need to see that. *sigh*

So there I was, about to pull the shades in the living room even though it was still sunny. And then.

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A reminder: the winners for the Defiance contest are posted here. I have not heard from all of the winners yet! Please pipe up by Friday at midnight PST.

Facing a bright, beautiful, sunny day with a low-grade fever makes the absurdity of everyday life painfully, hilariously obvious. I’m not sure when I’ve been this amused and amazed. I mean, normally I’m in a state of amused amazement anyway–you could say, along with sarcasm, that it’s my natural default. But today just seems designed to remind me that the world is far weirder than anything I could ever dream up, and I’m just along for the ride.

Things I have seen this morning:

* Several couples out walking. The absurdity: invariably, one-half of these couples has a cellphone firmly clasped to his or her ear. A bright sunny day, you’re out walking with someone, and yet the only thing you can do is yap on your phone? Added bonus: 90% of those on the cells are conversing loud enough to be heard across the street.

* A truck loaded with scrap metal slowly cruising the neighborhood, windows down, a cigar-chomping man with a red bandanna around his head singing along at top volume to ranchero music. This would have been okay if he hadn’t been singing rousing round after round of “Row Row Row Your Boat” in merry defiance of his blasting radio.

* A trail of Almond Joy wrappers along my usual route, as if a suburban Hansel and Gretel had pillaged the witch’s house and decided to go a-wandering.

* A fierce battle among six crows for an empty McFlurry cup. Screeching, cawing, wing buffets, it was incredible. We didn’t get to see who won.

* A ragged man weaving down the middle of the (deserted, residential) street, carrying on a (VERY LOUD) conversation with the surrounding air about red cockroaches. Miss B. eyed him with much suspicion. I reached for my cell phone–he looked like he was having a rough time of it. I figured the least I could do was call someone to help restrain him from wandering out into traffic. I didn’t have time. The man suddenly stopped, tore his shirt off, and bolted. Miss B. looked like she wanted to HEEEEERD him, and by the time I had her convinced it wasn’t a good idea because I wasn’t going to run and after all, there was the little matter of a leash attached to my wrist that I was not going to let go of, he had disappeared. The shirt was still lying sodden in the middle of the road when we returned from our walk.

* A squirrel interrupted in the act of apparently trying to make sweet sweet love to a sad, abandoned, punctured football. Despite Miss B.’s usual quivering glee at the idea of even getting close enough to one of Neo’s furry brethren to heeeeeerd it, she just looked at this particular amorous rodent and cocked her head, then looked at me. What, um, should we do about this?, she seemed to say.

“Just…oh, God. Just leave him to it, I guess.” I twitched the leash and we kept going. However, we must have broken the mood, for the lonely squirrel beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of a dead tree.

I don’t even know.

Anyway, that was the morning’s walk. (I could go on and on, but you wouldn’t believe some of the other stuff.) I would blame most of the absurdity on the low-grade fever and exhaustion, but every day is a new cavalcade of weird here in our humble neighborhood. I can’t tell if it’s because I live here, or just because people are really that strange, and now that it’s spring they can just let their freak flags fly.

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Things I’ve said to myself this morning:

“Self, going out into the freezing wind with wet hair was a Bad Idea.”

“The last two miles are easiest. Keep running. *wheeze*” (They’re not easiest, they’re just there and I might as well do them once I’ve done the other five.)

“Oh, look. Another broken tea mug.” (No, I did not break it because it sassed me. I just put it down wrong. And it fell, and I thought of catching it on my foot, but that sent it careening…oh, hell, you don’t want to know the rest.)

“I probably shouldn’t have told that kid to watch her tone, but dammit, she deserved it.” (The bus stop is sometimes a madhouse in the mornings.)

“OW! Well, now we know THAT hurts.” (Said a couple times, actually–a few shocks of static electricity since the wind’s up and it’s dry, a stubbed toe, a banged-up knee, and fingers pinched in a drawer.)

“Driving in downtown Portland on a Tuesday won’t be that bad, right?” (The store out in the burbs doesn’t have what I want. *girds loins* Nos morituri, and all that…)

“Self, you just had to pick the one historical period you don’t know enough about. Welcome to research hell.” (I seriously need to get my Victoriana on.)

“Why does Indian food make me smell like buttered toast the next day?” (WEIRD, right?)

“You know, if I wasn’t walking in the middle of the road, they probably wouldn’t have tried to run me over.” (…Yeah. I was thinking about gaslamps.)

“Eh, why not. It can’t hurt.” (Famous last words.)

“Don’t you look at me like that. I have the opposable thumbs!” (Okay, so this was said to a squirrel who gave me a filthy look as I surprised her in my front yard. What she was doing with that stick I have no idea. Anyway. Also said to squirrels this morning: “Goddamn peeping Toms!” Look, they were trying to peer into my window! I CANNOT MAKE THIS SH!T UP.)

“Five more minutes…” (When my alarm went off this morning. You all know how THAT goes.)

“You know today is going to be one of those days where it’s fun to be you but nobody else will get it, right?” (Staring in mirror as I put my Kuan Yin earrings on, to remind myself to be gentle.)


Have fun out there, dear Reader. And stay warm. The wind is cold, and it tends to drive people a little crazy–what, me? What are you talking about? I’m sane.

Well, reasonably sane. Maybe. I guess. For a certain value of “sane.”

Over and out.

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What is that huge yellow fiery thing in the sky? It’s November, for heaven’s sake, we’re not supposed to see it! It burns! Augh!

…yeah, the sunlight’s making me a little silly today. It’s warm and the wind is up, whistling and calling my name as well as pawing through the windchimes. I did managed to get the lawn mowed, and was bombarded by pinecones. I think it was just the wind pulling them off the trees. I’m fairly sure it’s not Squirrel!Neo.

He’s got other problems.

So I promised I’d write what happened after the Battle of the Pine Boughs. To do that I’m going to have to take you back a week or so, to a gray rainy morning, dawn just coming up–I was on the treadmill early, and not happy about that. By the time I’d gone a couple miles it was light gray instead of pitch black outside, and the little woodland creatures were beginning to show up. Chief among them was Squirrel!Neo, and he had his eye on a lovely little lady bluejay–

Wait. I should tell you about Juliet!Jay. She’s a sweet little thing, and both Romeo!Jay and Mercutio!Jay appear to dance attendance on her. She’s not a hussy, she rarely shows up with both guys. When she does, they seem to want to outdo each other. Mercutio, of course, makes a godawful racket, screeching and “showing” her the bird feeder at least twenty times per visit. Romeo just sidles up and gives her longing looks while they’re both pecking at the bread I’ve scattered. I can’t tell who she likes better, although when she does show up with just one of them, it’s Romeo. At least, I think it’s not Mercutio, because he’s not screaming his tiny little head off.

Anyway, okay. So there’s Squirrel!Neo, and he’s acting kind of strange. Well, stranger than usual. He’s hopping once or twice, digging a bit, then looking coyly over his shoulder. After a while, I see a flash in the blueberry bushes–they’re turning lovely colors this year, really–and I realize Juliet is perched there, watching him intently. He keeps giving these sneaky little looks, and after a little while, she flies down to investigate.

Now came one of the strangest interspecies dances I’ve ever seen. Neo would dig a little, glance back at her, and hop away. Juliet would hop shyly up to the location, peck a little bit, and cock her head as if to say, nothing here, what’s wrong with you?

Each time, Neo stood a little bit closer to her. Then he led her to one of his favourite nut-burying hummocks, and dug. Hopped away, but not nearly as far as before. Juliet sidled, pecked a bit, and came up with something she apparently found very tasty and agreeable. She pecked for a little while, tilting her head back between bites to make everything slide down easy. Neo sidled closer and closer, and I was about to yell or something to warn her, because, well. Who knew what the fuzzy little bastard had planned? I popped my earbuds out and got ready to make a sudden noise, the pounding of my feet on the treadmill all but forgotten as I watched him get closer and closer. I didn’t even realize I was sweating, I was so absorbed.

I swear I saw one of Squirrel!Neo’s tiny little paws reaching out, as if he wanted to touch. Just the edge of her wing, maybe, some of her pretty plumage.

I think Juliet would’ve let him, too. But just then, Mercutio showed up, a ball of blue feathered outrage. Since I had my earbuds pulled out, I heard him clear as day in the dawn hush.


Juliet took wing, Squirrel!Neo scampered up into the plum tree, and Mercutio chased him from there into the juniper hedge, screaming Elizabethan bird-insults. (I swear I heard “mealymouth peasant” and “crude cockerel” in there somewhere.) Then Mercutio spent about ten minutes roaming my backyard, yelling at everything, even perching on the birdfeeder and chewing me out. Maybe I was supposed to be Juliet’s duenna or something, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bluejay that angry.

He was pretty incoherent, and Julie had vanished. I didn’t see her for a couple days after that, despite keeping my eyes peeled on the treadmill every single morning.

A couple days later, I found a body in the yard.

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Can’t talk. Busy with apocalypse. Tune in tomorrow (at least, I hope) for the next installment of the Saga of Squirrel!Neo, in which we learn that squirrels are crack shots with teensy pinecones. And where Mercutio!Jay saves me from myself like a true feathered gentleman. Also, the appearance of Romeo!Jay.

Back later…

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I really should mow the grass.

I say this because the herbiage is now long enough to give Squirrel!Neo plenty of cover as he goes about his business in my back yard. This grants him, as a Ninja Squirrel, a certain latitude of action. Like the peanut he tried to break my sunroom window with this morning…

…this may require a little explanation, actually.

I was on the treadmill, powering my way through the third of five miles. I call it the break mile, because once I’ve finished it I might as well finish out the whole bloody hour, right? Since I’m over halfway. It’s just one of those little tricks I use to keep myself running. Anyway, I was on the treadmill, with a box of tissues. Because the cold still has me in a grip–well, not quite of iron, perhaps just of lead. Something a bit softer, but still metallic.

It had just begun to rain, and I could see the bread scattered earlier this morning for the bluejays and crows slowly getting sodden. If the birds don’t get it the possums will, and don’t talk to me about the possums. I am bribing them in the hopes that they will be allies when the squirrels try to hack my house. (I’m not saying this keeps me up at night, okay? I’m just saying prudence is a virtue.) Remember the bread, all right? Trust me, it’s important.

So along comes Squirrel!Neo. He’s head-down in the grass, tail twitching as he buries something a few feet from the window directly in front of me. I swear I can see every hair on the fuzzy little bastard’s rear. What happened next surprised us both.

I sneezed. I grabbed for a tissue, since it was a wet one. (Between the sweating and the sneezing, it was a very damp morning in there.) And something hit the window.

A peanut.

An actual peanut. I think someone in the neighborhood actually feeds these beasts.

That son of a bitch squirrel threw a peanut at me. He sat straight up, from the tuft of grass he’d fled to, apparently in terror, after chucking the peanut to save his miserable life.

It startled me, so I swore. Loudly. And Squirrel!Neo chittered. At least, I think he did, I had my earbuds in but I saw his little chest and mouth moving. I don’t know squirreltongue, but I believe I can translate what he was saying.


And you know, that actually upset me a little. Because I have done nothing to this squirrel other than laugh at the cats when he shows up. Maybe he thinks I’m laughing at him? I don’t know. But the injustice of the situation struck me quite strongly at the moment. So I did what anyone would have done.

I yelled back. (Those among you who are easily offended or have tender ears may wish to quit reading now, while you’re ahead.)


Now, I of course knew that a peanut, even flung by The One, would not break the window. And I didn’t give a good-glory-goddamn where he got that peanut from. But when I get to cursing, the most amazing things come out of my mouth, things that have only a tenuous connection to logic. I mean, I wish I could taunt like John Cleese, but this is the best I can do, so I commit, you know?

Squirrel!Neo fled to the tenuous purchase of a red wagon the kids left in the middle of the yard. As he did, I caught sight of something amazing falling from the arc of his beautiful jump.

Yes, friends and neighbors. I literally scared the shit out of Squirrel!Neo. He scampered off into the plum tree, probably feeling a few ounces lighter.

By this time I was torn between embarrassment, gratification, the urge to laugh like a hyena, the aching in my legs, the fact that I did not have enough breath for all the multitasking I was doing, and a coughing fit. I think I coughed and swore through the next three minutes, an amazing clot of phlegm working free inside my chest. (I will NOT tell you what happened to the clot. I have some couth.)

Another mile and a half passed by, and I had almost recovered when I saw the little fuzzy bastard again. He sauntered out, bold as you please, and started working on the soggy bread. (I told you to remember the bread.)

Well, of course, I watched him. It was a tense detente.

Squirrel!Neo was so busy stuffing his face, in fact, that he didn’t notice the bluejay. (I had originally cast this jay as Mercutio, I suppose that’s as good a name as any.) One of a pair who frequents my backyard and scares everyone else at the birdfeeder, this particular jay likes to hang out in the pussywillow tree and roundly curse everyone in sight, or the weather, or what have you. He’s also incredibly jealous of bread. He won’t eat it if he’s already full, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone take a bit of it. The only exception are the crows, who just sort of laugh at him as he jumps up and down screeching.

Anyway. Mercutio!Jay was unamused by this turn of events. He did not do what he usually does, which is stand up there and yell.

No. Mercutio hopped off the branch, glided down, and proceeded to beat the living hell out of Squirrel!Neo all the way across the yard. Once he was sure he had the fuzzy bastard on the run, he started yelling. Again, I’m no good at bluejaytongue, but I shall endeavor to translate.


It’s a damn good thing I’d just finished my five miles. Because I barely had the wherewithal to hit the stop button. I stood there laughing so hard I cried, blowing my nose twice, coughing and sweating and sneezing. I actually got a vicious side-stitch from the whole deal, but here’s the best part.

Remember that peanut? The one Neo chucked at me? Well, after he chased the One across the yard, Mercutio!Jay flew back, still swearing at top volume, and picked up the peanut. That forced him to shut up. Still, he eyed me for a few seconds while in front of the window.

Then I swear to God, he winked and flew off.

And you know…he left the bread.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Sep. 16th, 2010 11:18 am)

Okay, so I now know why that one day was so quiet.

The squirrels were training their Neo.

Yesterday I was on the treadmill. It was the last five minutes of a five-mile run and, true to form, I had a side stitch and a serious case of wanting to be just about anywhere than where I was. I kept running, because, well, what the hell, it was the last five minutes and I knew I’d feel Victorious and Vindicated and all sorts of other words when I was done.

Then it happened. Well, not it, but the precondition for the utterly ridiculous I am about to relate occurred.

I saw a squirrel.

He was a big one, too, and he sauntered out into the middle of the yard in a few graceful, authoritative leaps. My earbuds were in, so I couldn’t tell if he was chittering. I do know he was scanning my yard like he expected an army to appear at any moment.

No army appeared. However…one of my cats did. The sweet, stupid tuxedo kitty, who I adore. Of all three, he’s most my cat. He thinks he’s a hunter, too, and sometimes leaves birds (and when we had the field out back, often mice) on my front step. Of course, he totally ruins the effect by being scared of them once he’s killed them–when I pick them up he runs and hides.

So anyway, he was going to get himself a squirrel snack. What I was thinking was, You idiot, that could have rabies! What came out, since I was running and couldn’t get any breath, was a version of “MMMmmmmrph AAAARGHNOOOOOOOO!”

That was when it happened, and I realized this was the Morpheus!Squirrel’s saviour. This was The One. (This probably makes my cats Agents.)

Anyway, the squirrel watched the cat bounding for him, and I could swear there was a moment of kung-fu pose before the cat leapt, all graceful authority, tail held out and claws most probably unsheathed. It was beautiful. It was flat-out gorgeous.

It was, however, doomed.

Neo!Squirrel jumped at the last second, did an amazing flip, and I swear to God he kicked my cat in the head.

No. Seriously. He kicked my cat in the head.

In the head.

My kitty landed in a heap, Squirrel!Neo chittered and zoomed away. He leapt five feet up, caught the trunk of the plum tree, and fricking vanished. Vanished. I hit the stop button–by this point, all five miles had been achieved and I was having visions of a dead cat to deal with–ripped my earbuds out, almost ran into the sunroom’s glass door, and got outside just in time to see my tuxedo kitty zoom under the fence, tail held low and ears back.

I don’t blame him. He was kicked in the head.

I stood there, sweating and cursing, and the phone rang inside the house. For a moment I seriously thought it was Squirrel!Neo calling with a declaration of war.

It was a telemarketer. Thank God. (And this is the only time you’ll probably hear me say THAT.)

My tuxedo kitty seems none the worse for wear, just a bit shaken and embarrassed. He came back in after lunch and spent a long time grooming himself and beating up on the other two cats. (To assure himself of his masculinity, I guess.) It was with no little trepidation that I climbed on the treadmill this morning.

Halfway through my run, Squirrel!Neo sauntered out into the yard. He spent a long time pretending to dig, but then he hopped up on one of the patio chairs and eyed me directly for a disconcertingly long time as I ran and tried to ignore him. Beady little eyes, big fluffy tail, and kung fu. Jesus.

I can’t wait to see what’s next. I just hope that fuzzy little bastard doesn’t think I’m after his girlfriend. And I also hope he can’t get his paws on any weapons

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Sep. 14th, 2010 02:45 pm)

Those of you on my Twitter feed may (or may not) have been amused by my Ninja!Squirrel reportage. Basically, this all started one morning while on the treadmill, sweating out a five-mile run, I saw a death-defying Terminator ninja squirrel.

I’m not kidding. The little rodent leapt (or was otherwise propelled) off a two-story roof, tumbled through tree branches, hit my back fence, somersaulted in midair, hit the ground, bounced (TWICE! Bounced TWICE, I tell you!) and lay there for a moment.

I was thinking it was a dead squirrel when the little fur-bearing Terminator hopped up on its back legs and glared at me. Of course, I was also (breathlessly) laughing at the time. While running, I might add. Developed a hell of a side stitch, too.

Ninja!Squirrel glared at me, I repeat, as if I had been the author of his downfall. His beady little eyes, I tell you, were alight with what I can only call hellfire.

Since that moment I have paid closer attention to the squirrels in my back yard. Of course, I can’t bloody tell if Ninja!Squirrel is among the ones who gleefully frolic while I run on the treadmill, providing me with distraction and Twitter-food. Those fuzzy little things all look the same to me. Seriously, I can’t distinguish one squirrel from another.

But things…have grown odd.

Yesterday, as I ran, I began to notice something strange. There appeared to be two groups of bushy-tailed Rodentia in my back yard, and they were at what appeared to be war or an extended squirrel dance number. There were leaps, chases, aerial maneuvers, and out-and-out clawings and bitings. The longer I ran, the more interested I became in trying to figure out just what the holy hell was happening–and this was while three bluejays and a crow were playing “chicken” over some scattered bread, while two of my cats watched from the sunroom window and made throaty little ohpleaseohPLEASE warbles at me.

Of course, my fancy got the better of me. I began to think up a squirrel Romeo and Juliet.

Two clan Rodentias, both alike in infamy,
in my fair backyard, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
where rodent blood makes rodent claws unclean…

I cast one of the jays as Mercutio, and the crow, of course, as the Prince. I was trying to figure out if one of the cats could conceivably be Tybalt or if that was Just Too Much and I would have to have Tybalt be, say, a weasel? Or something? When my run ended and I hopped off the treadmill for my chin-ups and the rest of my day.

Now comes the creepy part.

Same time this morning, I climbed on the treadmill. About ten minutes in I noticed a growing sense of unease that had nothing to do with how fast I was running or how unhappy my breakfast was with being shaken so. After fifteen I was perplexed, and after twenty I began to be actively unsettled.

There were robins in the back yard, and little birds I call chickadees since they’re striped. The jays were back, shrieking at everything that offended them. A trio from the local crow murder investigated hopefully for some bread, and several of the neighbors’ cats wound through on their appointed rounds, all studiously ignoring each other. So far, so good.

But no squirrels. Not a single blasted furry little tree-rat to be found. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

I wonder if SquirRomeo killed his lady love’s cousin last night. Or if Ninja!Squirrel has succeeded in enforcing his grip over the clans and is planning an assault on my garage. Or if they are hidden, as only ninjas can hide–I mean, duh, that’s why they’re ninjas–and the pirate squirrels haven’t hit the port yet.

I wonder, it would seem, entirely too much. And yet, I am anticipating tomorrow’s morning run with breathless excitement.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jun. 11th, 2010 04:07 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are giveaways, fun, and other writing advice. It’s a party over there!

“I don’t know where Danny Valentine came from,” I told my writing partner morosely, staring at my water. “She’s just so…damaged.”

The Selkie raised one eyebrow. “You don’t? A person that driven, locked in that tiny little box and going nuts? You’ve got no idea? Really?”

Well, when she put it like that, I had to concede she had a point. But still. I am not my characters.

I realize protestations of sanity coming from someone who spins lies for a living and talks to imaginary people while crouching over a computer keyboard may be a tad unbelievable. Nonetheless, I insist. I’m wound a little tight and I’m weird, but I don’t confuse myself with my characters.

I don’t know where characters come from, really. Sometimes they just start talking and I shrug and take dictation. Sometimes I see them on the movie screen in my head, and the fun of the game is figuring out who they are, what they want, and what happens to them. Sometimes I get an idea–wouldn’t it be really cool IF… Basically I take character much the way I take the stories they’re a part of–as a gift, spun into whole cloth by the Fates in my subconscious and handed up through a chute that only opens when I’m sitting down and ready to receive.

I had lunch with a young writer today, K.B. She’s one of the bravest young women I know, and is practicing her writing. We got to talking about characters, so I’m going to tell you what I told her, with (possibly) a few additions.

* Don’t confuse yourself with your characters. Sometimes, if you’re a genius, you can pull off an authorial insertion and make it work. You can even make it a classic. But don’t bet on being a genius and producing a classic. You have more chance of winning the lottery or having an airplane part fall out of the sky and onto your head.

Treat characters like you would an extreme sport–with appropriate caution and care for your own safety. Don’t get roped into believing they’re you. This is a tough one, because so much of good writing (at least, the way I practice, whether it turns out good or not is another question) is kind of like method acting. It requires getting inside your character’s skin. This is part of the Mystery of the Mask, but try very hard to remember that the mask is not YOU.

* You’re in charge. Ilona Andrews mentioned this at the Night of Pwnage At Powell’s, and it’s a good point. You’re writing the story, you’re in charge. Moaning that a character isn’t obeying, or is being recalcitrant, is often a way of Avoiding The Damn Work. Or it’s a sign that one isn’t heading in the right direction and needs to let go of some cherished notions about the work. If a character isn’t cooperating, see if you’re resisting the way the story wants to go.

* Hurt them. A lot. A lot of writers are downright afraid to hurt their characters. This is, I think, partly a function of identifying with them and partly a function of just being a Reasonably Well-Adjusted Person, or at least one with protective social coloration. Try to overcome this fear, because:

* No risk, no reward. Without the heart-in-mouth risk, there is no reward when a character surmounts an obstacle. If it comes too easily, a reader could care less. The characters we cheer for are the ones who run the most risk. Conversely, the villains who risk everything get our grudging admiration. Stack the deck. Throw a curveball. Make it an uncertain thing.

One of the nicest compliments my friend Monk ever paid me about my writing was that he didn’t know who was going to survive. “Like the end of the Valentine series,” he said. “Here’s this character who’s now half-demon, she’s now got the power and the Big Powerful Weapon, and if this was a regular fantasy she’d vanquish the evil. But with you writing it, there’s this sense that it might not be enough.” (Here he paused, the spoke wryly and with great affection.) “I hate you for that. I didn’t know if she’d pull through.” Which leads me to the next point.

* There’s always a cost. If your character has a magical power, a magical weapon, or even just an ordinary human talent, there MUST be a cost involved in its use. A magical system is more easily believable if the energy comes from somewhere. If it’s going to save the hero’s ass, there needs to be a cost paid for that saving. Otherwise it’s just a useless gimmick, and one that will weigh down your writing besides. Always, always consider what the cost of every character’s ability/gift is.

* Make the bruises count. If your character gets into a fight and the next morning they don’t feel like groaning when they haul themselves out of bed, I’m not going to believe you. Part of hurting your characters is taking into account the lingering of pain while things heal. If your character has superhuman healing, that’s a gift and (say it with me) there must be a cost. Make me believe it, or I’m not going to care. Bruises, pulled muscles, emotional and mental trauma, take time to heal. This will add a layer of risk and complexity to your story. Cheap? Sure. Effective? Of course, or I wouldn’t advocate it.

* Think about your villains. Don’t make them cardboard. A good hero deserves a good villain–and a good villain needs to have depth, motivation, and reasons for why s/he does what s/he does. The best villains are the ones we can understand and live vicariously a little bit through, the ones who have reasons we can understand. Ask yourself what every character’s cup of water is. Then use that information to make things difficult for them.

* Last but not least, feel compassion for these people. Yes, I know I told you to hurt them. That still applies. But if you don’t suffer for your heroes and your villains, you have no chance to make me believe I should. It’s a fine line to walk, between the need to make it risky and the need to have empathy so you can make a reader care about these people enough to keep reading.

You do not have to like your characters. I think I can count the characters I’ve created that I actually like on one hand and have fingers left over. But I definitely empathize with them. I aim to understand why they do the things they do, and my job–the hat trick, so to speak–is to clearly convey that understanding to the reader. (This is, incidentally, where an editor is sometimes most helpful. That’s another blog post.) The understanding does not have to call forth a specific emotional reaction, like love or hate. It just has to call forth any emotional reaction. If you get any emotion at all from a reader, you can consider your job at least decently done.

For example, I still get hate mail from people who get to the ending of Working For The Devil and feel a shock of loss and grief. “How could you?” one woman wrote me. “How could you do that to Dante?” Which meant I’d done my job. Incidentally, if I hadn’t ended WFTD that way, it would have been only a one-book deal. The rest of the series was predicated on what happened at the end of that book, something I was very clear about all the way through.

* Oh, wait. One more thing. Have fun. I rather like Stephen Brust’s famous line, the one he recommends tacking up over your computer, or wherever you can see it while you work:

And now, I’m going to tell you something REALLY cool.

Enjoy this. If you’re having a ball, the rest of it will be easier, and chances are good the Reader will have a ball too. Not only that, but when you’re snickering with evil glee, it’s a lot easier to hurt your characters in interesting, diabolical, and downright nasty ways.

In fact, you could say that’s the most fun of all. Which, I suppose, makes me a not very nice person, even if I can protest at being sane and reasonably well-adjusted.

Oh well. Nobody’s perfect.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Why is it that when people ask you questions, they often don’t want an answer, they just want support? It’s getting to where I have to stop and look at people and ask, “Why did you ask if you did not want to know what I thought? If you want support, tell me you want support, but don’t waylay me with a question and then downplay what I say because you’ve made up your mind you want something specific–something else.”

I can read minds–I’m a mum, for Chrissake. But I don’t like to. It’s impolite.

This concludes my circuitous bitching about some of the stuff happening lately. *makes face*

The last couple days have been crazy. Not in a bad way, more in a “is it a full moon because I’m seeing utter weirdness” sort of way. The weirdness factor has just been through the roof. Tomorrow I’ll focus on correspondence, I swear I will. Today I’m just going to recover. (Assuming we’ve seen the high tide of weirdness, which is not always a fair assumption.)

I’ve also been watching movies at night. Wolverine was…meh. All the complexity and rage of a wonderful character, reduced to flavorless stock footage. Granted, the actors really, really tried–Liev Schreiber is a good Sabertooth, but then I’ve had a thing for him ever since A Walk On The Moon. I could also look at Sweaty!Jackman all day, but that’s just me. I just felt like the actors were struggling with a script that would not do anything but play dead. The Deadpool moments were awesome, though. I love me some Deadpool. I would have loved to see more Gambit, an extended Gambit fight scene, etc.

The other recent movie was Eastern Promises, which is another Cronenberg-Mortensen thang. Cronenberg definitely has a thing for blonde, super-thin, kitten-faced leading ladies (Maria Bello in A History of Violence, which I liked, and Naomi Watts in this movie.) I liked it a great deal, even though Kirill the Psycho Gangster (played by a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and nutzoid Vincent Cassel) has his Moment of Epiphany a little too late in the movie to really have the ending make sense. Still, Cronenberg didn’t take the easy way out, and Mortensen turns in a scorching, beautiful performance as a sort of decent antihero in an indecent world. This is pretty much his stock in trade, King of Men notwithstanding. Plus, the DVD extras about the tattoos in Russian prisons were pretty awesome, and musecrack to the max. All in all, extraordinarily enjoyable.

Half of today is already gone and I still have mountains to climb. So, a I bid you a civil adieu. Revisions wait for no woman.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Feb. 5th, 2009 01:57 pm)

Welcome to the second half of the trainwreck. Part One was yesterday. First I have some news, then we’ll get down to brass tacks.

On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED note to everything said yesterday or about to be said today, is having a day of Samhain authors guest-blogging. My blog should be up at 3:30 EST; it’s three things you didn’t know about me. Really. Go on over and check it out–Dierdre Knight is guestblogging too, and Angela James has given some awesome interview.

Yesterday JT noted that I was bitter and working with a broad brush. In a world that treats me, at bottom, as property, of course I’m bloody bitter. Just look at Peter’sPaul’s screeds against women in the Bible. From what we can tell, Christ (if he existed at all) had no problem with women, and considered them equal members in divinity. PeterPaul didn’t feel this way, and his misogyny married to regular old misogyny in classical antiquity has poisoned our view of half of humanity ever since. And lest you try to drag out a red herring and say that other religions and cultures are misogynistic too, I agree wholeheartedly. My agreement, however, does not constitute an acceptance of this as something that should or always will be.

As for painting with a broad brush, well, I have only so much time and room here for a blog post. Last but not least, the idea that “Christ was sinless but we’re not, so you should forgive us carte blanche,” only goes so far. (Steven Barnes said over dinner, “The point of Christianity or Buddhism is not to create Buddhas or Christs. Society doesn’t want those people. They can’t be controlled.” Truer words, my friend…) Forgiveness does not equal bending over, and it does not equal stupidity in not checking identification.

Anyway, the second half of my train of thought centers on the persistent thread of body-hating in a lot of religions. The body, of course, being conflated with “matter”, “darkness”, “pollution”, and–you guessed it–”female”. The way to get out of the prison the body represents is by going upward into the sterile white (male) light of detachment/holiness.

This is such a basic assumption in Western culture that it creeps even into Western appropriations of other cultures. Even in Feuerstein’s book (which has started me thinking about these issues) he discusses[1] verticalist (we have to get up and out of our bodies), horizontalist (concerned with material things), and integral approaches. Tantra, he says, incorporates the integral approach; but pages later he is still talking about the prison of the body. The concept soaks our worldview so thoroughly it’s difficult to break away from.

We still see God as bright, white, rational, logical, and male. (And before you start saying that God has no gender, just consider this: God may have no gender, but when you say “God” in our society, the assumptions and baseline concepts that flash through our heads is MALE. God is referred to as “he” and seen as “he” even when political correctness tries to remedy that in rewrites of the King James.) The body is a prison holding our soul back from that bright white light of rational maleness. (Which is neither truly male nor exclusively rational, like any concept.) This leaves the body–and the woman–out in the cold.

They told us Eve ate the apple[2], so we have to pay for it. Over and over and over again. Raped, or worn out in childbirth, or denied proper safe contraception, or beaten by those who claim to love us, or denied the right to own property (since we are largely seen as property ourselves), the unspoken assumption is that we’re paying for that bite of the apple. It’s in the media our society’s built on–let’s just examine the misogyny in the Bible, or in Shakespeare (both relics of their time, yes, but both informing ours) or even in our modern movies or television shows.

Like the sitcom where the guy can be fat, but his wife/girlfriend can’t be above a size 2. (Her place must be made small so he can shine.) Or the principle of the Bad Girl in movies, which I’ve noticed and noted before. Any woman who controls her own sexuality in a movie must either have that sexuality co-opted by the (male) hero, die, or be horribly disfigured in some way. I’ve seen ONE movie in my life that flaunted that unspoken assumption, and it never made a lot of money.

Feuerstein goes on to note that most of Tantra is an integral approach. The body is part of All That Is, so it’s sacred too. It is just as much a playground for Shakti and Shiva as the “subtler” realms. (And the division of the “subtle” realms high up and the “coarse” realms down below in the mire of physicality…telling, isn’t it. To be fair, it’s not Feuerstein’s distinction; he’s just reporting it.) This is a revolution sadly lacking (or pulled out of) a lot of radical reimaginings of religion, or even bureaucratized out of originally radical religions. (Like Christianity itself.)

This tallied so much with my half-articulated notions that I had to stop several times in the ensuing explanation to sit and really, really think about what had just been said.

When I was less than half as young as I am now, I decided I didn’t want to go to Heaven. Hell appeared just a fiction to scare people into doing what the church wanted. I had come across the concept of the Summerland, where souls went to rest before a rebirth. Before the rebirth they would look over the lessons they’d learned, and choose what they wanted next time–subject, of course, to luck. Bad luck could mean that they didn’t get around to lessons they planned on, and so they would revise their curriculum. Human rights is a way of cutting down on that bad “luck”–as well as cutting down on the distressing tendency human beings have to just be bloody nasty to each other.

I’d go on and on here about violence, but that’s another blog post.

It’s not a perfect theory. I am aware of gaping holes in it. But it works for me, and the essential part is this: I don’t want a heaven and I don’t want a hell. I like it here just fine, and I like having a body. I intend to stick around for a few billion years and see what shakes out. If everyone else enters some detached, sexless nirvana/heaven, that’s fine. I’ve got all the nirvana I need here. Yes, this place is maddening, full of accident and hurt and people being nasty to each other. Life is suffering, as the Buddha noted.

But it doesn’t have to be, and I want to do my part and be a decent person so maybe, somehow, a little of that suffering can be ameliorated. Don’t think the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell will make me jump the fences of organized religion.

If this is truly my intent, the body becomes an ally and a glory instead of a trap and something to be flogged and controlled. It is an altar to the sacred instead of something I have to starve and beat to make it match the airbrushed ideal. It becomes MINE, instead of belonging to some big male.

I don’t say it’s perfect and I don’t say I’ll never revise what I think. The problem with religion, especially when it comes to human beings, is that people decide they know everything and they stop thinking. They stop admitting when the evidence doesn’t fit their theory. Common sense dies on the vine.

To slightly change the subject, I think a lot of violence is tied up with our attitudes toward the body and toward the female. When half of humanity is the Other, and subject to intimate violence (and the threat of violence) on a daily basis just by virtue of having no dangly naughties, and we all deep-down hate our bodies anyway, it makes it a lot easier to apply that “you are the Other and therefore disposable” sticker to everyone, not just women. This is by no means the sole reason for violence. I think, however, that it is the necessary prerequisite for a huge amount and type of violence we see worldwide. I’m fully aware that there’s a broad brush at work in this particular point too. I’m just…thoughtful.

Last but not least, there’s the legislation of what I can do with my body by various “moral” and religious “authorities”. Pharmacists can use their belief in an invisible sky fairy to deny me properly-prescribed contraception. Viagra is a sacrament but RU-486 is immoral. Abortion is killing babies, when the same people who campaign against it don’t care what happens to those babies once they’re outside the womb–and PROVE they don’t care by campaigning against social programs, universal healthcare for children, or even contraception itself. Because I was born with a uterus, I am automatically property and cannot dispose of said uterus in the fashion I deem fit. And let’s not even talk about the clitoris–a word so unsafe Google has to filter it. (”Penis”, however, is just dandy).

To those “authorities”, all I can say is this. (Warning, that link is so not safe for work. And it may offend you. Click at your own risk.)

This kind of endemic cultural conditioning is hard to work against. I suspect I’ll be kicking around these issues the rest of my life. However, the working out and the thinking-out-loud are both helping. I also, I am fully aware, live in a privileged position as a citizen of the richest country on earth, in a social class where I have the leisure to think about these things when the basic needs of survival are taken care of. That privileged position does make it incumbent upon me to examine my attitudes and do what I can.

So now comes the part where I ask you a question, dear Reader, considering that you’ve hung with me for this long through the ramble. What unconscious attitudes toward the body do you see? What do you think is the way out of the mess?

Let’s talk. And as usual, be nice in the comments. Disagreement is fine. Rudeness and trolling are not. Check the comment policy if you have any questions.

[1] I am not doing justice to Feuerstein’s definition and explanation by half or even a quarter.
[2] It wasn’t even an effing apple. It was a FIG.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. Please comment there.

I think I mentioned I’m reading Georg Feuerstein’s Tantra: Path of Ecstasy. I also polished off an Andrew Vachss–Hard Candy–and took a whack at Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar. I can’t finish the Khoury–I got to the point where I was just skimming. I know it’s going to be a movie soon, and maybe that will help. Some books, especially books where the heroes are “physically striking” Mary Sues, Gary Stus, or authorial insertions, are actually HELPED by the compression into a visual form lasting an hour and a half.

Yes, I am fully aware I might be pilloried for that statement. Relax. What I have to say next will make that seem like popcorn.

Anyway, the weird intersection of these books has brought up a line of thought in the past few days.

Beware the man who says God talks to him and you have to do something for him before God will talk to you.

We have this thing in our culture where anyone who talks to God(s) without the proper clothing/hierarchical structure (i.e., a church) is headed for the psychiatric ward. A personal relationship with the Divine is frowned upon. I think this is largely because the mediation of spiritual/religious experience by church corporations is Big Business, and like all Big Business, they like to crush the competition.

And before you accuse me of hating churches, just don’t. I don’t mind churches. You want to go there, fine. I just don’t need some guy in a pulpit (and it’s always a guy, Unitarians notwithstanding) telling me what to do, and telling me to hand over my cash to thank him for his time and effort.

For me this is all rolled up with what Feuerstein calls the “verticalist” approach. In this approach, the body and the world are filthy, and the disciple must practice self-abnegation to a pathological degree to “free” himself (and yet again, it’s always a he) from this filthy, filthy world of desire and flesh. It’s gotten to the point where, when I see a man claiming to be a pure practitioner, I start checking my pockets and looking for the rot under the shiny surface. This has an unintended (or maybe perfectly intended) consequence. The verticalist approach is ripe ground for scam artists.

Another loosely-related aspect to this is political–PZ Myers often points out how a loud minority of “Christians” demand freedom for expression of their views in the public sphere and yet have flaming hissy fits over, say, atheists buying adspace on buses. Plus, there’s this whole thing about political figures having to attend church to prove they’re moral. WTF, people? Don’t you remember the big evangelical scams, some of them (*cough*RickWarren*cough*) still ongoing?

This was what made Christianity pretty much a no-go for me at a very early age. Jesus was poor, right? “Give up all you have and follow me.” He hung out with lepers and cripples and whores–people his good Jewish upbringing would tell him not to touch. So, a while later, the bureaucracy of his “followers”–who claim to espouse his virtues and beliefs–are more concerned with filling their pocketbooks than emptying them? (And peddling hatred of everyone who is “Not Us” as well.) The collection plate is passed every Sunday. Tithing is still rampant. Just to take two examples: the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church are both big, big corporations.

What happened to the virtue of poverty? Follow the money, honey.

Yes, churches do charitable work (most probably as tax breaks, and to keep those who actually believe the PR about Jesus out of trouble, diverting their energy away from reform). The former American administration thought churches would pick up the slack so the government could take money away from social programs and divert it toward making the rich, richer.

We can see how well that turned out. It made the rich richer, certainly. But the other stuff…not so much.

This idea that the physical world is a vale of sorrow and tears, that your real reward is in Heaven and while you’re on earth you should bow meekly to the funny-dressed people in pulpits telling you what their invisible sky fairy wants (and somehow, in some way, the collection plate always gets passed) is nothing more than a way to pull the wool over people’s eyes. And empty their pockets at the same time.

Now, there are religious movements that have done actual good. The Cathars were a revolt against the sybaritic leechdom of Rome, and they pretty much walked their walk to go with their talk. (The Church brought the temporal hammer down on them because the Cathars advocated NOT PAYING Rome, and that hit the Church where it lived.) The civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s depended heavily on a network of churches. (I don’t know if it still does, so I can’t speak to that.) Popular movements using the language and organization of churches to spread their messages are one thing. The scam part of religion is another.

How do I tell the difference? It’s easy. Follow the money. The people talking about Christ the most, do they live in high style? Do they tell their followers one thing and do another? I mean, just look at the whole Left Behind thing. As Slacktivist pointed out once, these people think Jesus is coming back in their lifetime. But are LaHaye and Jenkins investing for the future? You bet they are. They’re rich from the proceeds of their books and that money, believe me, is going into investments.

Why bother, if they truly believe Christ is coming back? The disassociation between what’s said and what’s actually being done is staggering.

I am not quite at the point of declaring all spirituality is hokum and bunk. My own spiritual life is a comfort to me, and it’s an ongoing set of miracles. However, I’m not looking to ram it down someone else’s throat (this is, after all, my blog that you don’t have to read) and it is so intensely personal I rarely talk about it with anyone. Nor do I expect anyone to pay me to explain it. (Before you ask, no, it doesn’t get into my books any more than any other author’s deeply-held beliefs get into theirs. Don’t drag that red herring out.)

No, not all spirituality is hokum and bunk. But a lot of people don’t pay the attention to choosing their church or their religion that they would pay even to choosing a brand of cereal or an automobile. Some will scream that their way is the Truth and the Right, and comparing it to buying something is HERESY ZOMG GET OUT THE STAKES AND THE GASOLINE! What I’m saying is slightly different. When you know someone is trying to sell you something, you should take a hard look at what you’re getting for your money/time/effort. Applying basic common sense to one’s religion is, I think, the best way to honor whatever God you’re praying to. Why would any god give us reason and free will only in order to hand us a series of legalistic, contradictory rules just ripe for scam artists to plunder the faithful with? Is that really what you think the Divine Matrix of All There Is would want?

You see, it just fails the most elementary WTF test. When I meet, say, a police officer asking me to open my door, I ask for proper identification. When someone writes a check down at the bookstore, I ask for proper identification. When I get an email telling me my account has been compromised and I should click here, I apply a basic WTF test (which is a form of asking for proper identification). When I make the decision to hire a babysitter, I apply several WTF tests and ask for proper identification.

When it comes to a god asking me to do shit for him, her, it, or them, you’d better believe I ask for proper goddamn identification and a WTF test to end all WTF tests. It’s an important decision, and I can’t see myself just doing it for something someone tells me is a god but I can’t see or apply any common sense to.

And if a god asks me to hand over cash, the same rules apply.

Part II of this long rambling train of thought will derail tomorrow–Religion And My Body. Stay tuned!

Note: Be nice in the comments, or you will be punted. Nuff said.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. Please comment there.



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