Of Names and Identities – Changing and Otherwise

26: Does Your MC Have a Nickname?

“Edgedancer” is named for the MC’s deed-name – a name she’s earned by literally and figuratively “dancing on edges”: social edges, class edges, edges of legality, safety and propriety, edges of tables and walls and roofs and cliffs. She dances with blades, too – both by using swords and knives as props while dancing, and by being a skilled and deadly fighter with blades.

Although she goes by the name Darianna, Edgedancer no longer uses or answers to her birth-name. For many good reasons (some of which get explored in the story), she left that name and identity behind long ago. Whomever she once was, Darianna Edgedancer is who she is now.

In Holy Creatures To and Fro, Silk employs a self-taken name, too. She took her name from a character in her favorite book series, and – like Darianna – no longer sees herself as the person she was as a child. Every member of her pack of homeless teens, the Wolfkin, employs a self-created identity in place of the people their parents had defined for them in their past lives.

Identity is a pervasive element in my work. Most of my stories involve people who reject their birth-names in favor of names they give themselves: Genet, Silk, Echo, Dervish, Chalice, Darianna, Nikita, Porthos, Riplash, Dr. Volcano, Thunderdome, Tucker and Rol, Hyper and Scruffy, Ravenwolf Grigori, Elynne Dragonchild, Ginelli Castrava, Bobbo the Funmaster… Even the ones like Chipper, Keef, Wolfman, Heaven, Riff, Zil, and Dead Man Walker, who receive their nicknames from other people, wear those names as their identities now.

On reflection, I find it funny that the most significant creation of mine who employs her birth-name – Meghan Susan Green – made it distinctive by emphasizing her middle name and her full first name; as Genet says in Red Shoes, only Genet is allowed to call Meghan “Meg” without a fight.

Even then, Meghan has a contentious relationship with four aspects of her fragmented self: Keef, Riff, Lover-of-Shadows, and the Owl – all of whom have agendas and personalities of their own.

(It’s even funnier that two of my creations who kept their birth-names have THE SAME NAME: Kelsey. That’s one reason I cut my story “Special Guest” out of my collection Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe: Because the protagonist has the same distinct name as the antagonist in “Ravenous,” despite them being entirely different characters written almost 20 years apart.)

Some of my stories (notably “Swallowed,” “Johnny Serious,” and “Ravenous”) focus intimately on identity and the shift between the person people once defined you as, and the person you defined yourself to become. Even in ones where the protagonist doesn’t change their name, like “Keystrokes,” the characters struggle over who they want to be. Looking over my work from over 40 years of hindsight, it’s clear that changing identity has always been a primary theme of mine.

As I wrote in my essay “Me and the Gender Blues,” autism, sensory-processing conditions, physical dysphoria, and social and internal perceptions of gender have deeply influenced my view of myself and the experiences of my fictional creations. Long before I knew about any of that stuff, I related more closely with the Werewolf By Night than with the kid I saw in my mirror. Acting, writing and RPGs provided me with tools and stages to explore those feelings; it’s no mystery, then, why so many of the fictional counterparts I create are working through identity crisis themselves, and why so many stories I write about them – even the ones who, like Rachel in Dream Along the Edge, don’t change their names – deal with transformations from an externally imposed identity to a more authentic self-created one.

I’m glad that so many people in my audience can relate to those challenges, too – and can find, in my work, a safer, more empowered place to manifest themselves.

Posted in Art, Aspecting, Aspecting, fantasy, Fiction, My Work, Sensory Processing Conditions, Sex & Gender, Spirituality & Reflection, writing | Leave a comment

Harlan’s Legacy in Me

“You CAN change the world! You CAN be Zorro!”

Stephen King may have been the author who inspired me to want to write; and James Joyce may have been the one to show me how much you could get away with as long as your audience remains willing to follow you there; and Sherman Alexie and Francesca Lia Block may have revealed potent poetry in simple words; but Harlan Ellison showed me how to shatter this world into a million bloody fragments with love, and that make him perhaps my biggest influence in art.

“A writer must go to bed angry and wake up in the morning angry.”

I may have taken that wisdom to extremes at times; there’s no question, though, that his sentiments galvanize me when all other methods fail.

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West and Waters can Fuck Off into the Sun

Antisemitism is a poison of the left as well as of the right. On neither side is it anything other than bigotry, genocide erasure, and potential perpetration of future genocides.

As Sarah Silverman eloquently clarified the other day, it’s entirely possible to oppose the actions of the government of Israel (which I do) without condemning the Jewish people and perpetrating blood-libel bullshit.

(Further discussion of the multisided nature of the Palestinian bloodbath is, right here and now, too complex, divisive, and ultimately distracting from my point.)

It’s also obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that certain real-life Bond villains have literal investments in sowing as much division and chaos as possible right before next month’s elections. If you think there’s no connection between this newest surge of anti-Jewish sewage, Putin’s Ukraine campaign, and the Putin/ Trump/ Dominionist/ Republican Party’s ongoing attempt to destabilize and overthrow the current administration so as to seize full power for the MAGA faction, then I have oceanside property in North Dakota you might be interested in buying for a very reasonable price.

Don’t buy into it.

Though we’re no longer connected by marriage, I married into a Jewish family and have many Jewish friends. I still love my former in-laws, and their safety is vital to me. I have first-hand experience with the love and deep generosity of Jewish people WHEN YOU’RE NOT AN ASSHOLE TRYING TO FUCKING KILL THEM. Though not Jewish in faith or culture, I respect Judaism and despise bigotry of all kinds. I’ve also seen first-hand the insidious and pervasive effects and manifestations of antisemitism. That’s zero-tolerance territory for me, and both West and Waters can fuck right off into the sun, along with their apologists.

As for Ye himself, it’s a goddamned shame that he continues to shit so vigorously on the legacy of his work, and that his crew continues to let him do it. Unlike Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, West was a true visionary whose work holds significant artistic value. His art should speak louder than his mouth, but – as with Whedon, Rowling, Gibson, Weinstein, and so many others – his abhorrent behavior has poisoned my ability to enjoy and respect it as I once did. And I don’t fucking care if he’s mentally ill. That’s no excuse. I know plenty of folks with mental illnesses. It doesn’t make them publicly, repeatedly declare war on Jews, buy right-wing hatesites, or make death-threats against their exes’ new SOs.

For whatever reasons, blaming “TEH JEWZ” for pretty much everything wrong with the world has been a popular tactic of distraction, division, and tyrannical power-grabs since at least the Roman Empire’s heyday and probably before then. When monsters need scapegoats (and yes, I know where that term comes from, which is why I use it here), they howl about an ethnic/ cultural minority that’s prosperous enough to resent yet small enough to stomp into the ground yet again with minimal risk to the monsters in question. Romans, Spanish, Brits, Russians, Nazis, and many others have pulled that chain throughout history. They’re pulling it now, and if that seems like hyperbole than just look at how fashionable it’s become to don Nazi drag and how readily that vile fashion is excused by people who should know better but clearly could not care less.

TL/DR: No. Hell no. Hell fucking no.

Anti-Jewishness is morally wrong, intellectually stupid, and socially counterproductive.


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Witty and Sarcastic Interview

I’m a hypercreative malcontent who loves using art to inspire people to envision a better world and help to bring one into being. 

Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with stories, magic, faith, and monsters. Though the terminology didn’t exist until well into my adult life, I’m a queer neurodivergent person with significant sensory-processing conditions. I’ve put those conditions to work in various arts: drawing, writing, photography, music, dance, gaming, filmmaking, acting, modeling, and other types of performance. I’ve worked professionally in the arts since I was 15, have made a living at them for just shy of 30 years, and occasionally teach in the field as well. Polyamorous but happily married to my longtime business partner and creative collaborator Sandra Damiana Swan, I love music, hate shoes, adore cats, and rant often. 

There’s a new interview with me posted on the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub. Thank you, Jodie!

Come on by and check it out: https://wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog/2022/06/02/fantasy-focus-urban-fantasy-featuring-satyros-phil-brucato/

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Spookies Shouldn’t Play with Sharp Things: Part III – Gonna Get You!

The next weekend, I was back at House 2: The Nightmare Continues. I kept my right hand wrapped in plastic to avoid soiling the bandages or reopening the wound, and I cycled between the groom’s spot on the bed and the victim’s spot on the cross. Somehow, I’d convinced Cathi to join the cast as a new Cynthia, a role she and Julia alternated in until the day after Halloween. Having been fired from Pizza Hut – from which I subsequently quit in protest – Cathi had a blast, and we went home with forty bucks a night instead of twenty.

Cathi as Cynthia.

That year, Halloween fell on a Saturday. We’d planned to spend Sunday cleaning the place out and saying our last goodbyes to each other; when people began lining up outside before sundown, however, we decided to give it one more night. Dressing in our tattered, smelly, sweat-and-Karo-rigid gear, we put everything we had into that performance. The final group of guests to come through the door got the entrance locked behind them. At each room, the performers rose up from, or out of, our positions – our coffins, beds, dentist’s chairs, and darkened alcoves – and began following them chanting, “Gonna get you! Gonna get you! Gonna get you!” This spontaneous chase began as stalking and whispering. By the time they reached the exit, with Freddie Kruger and the chainsaw maniac and the whole demented cast and crew behind them, the guests were laughing and screaming and running for that door. Running after them, we circled them, joined hands, and began dancing around them in the parking lot, chanting the Nightmare on Elm Street rhyme, our voices rising on each verse. As we reached the final shrieking NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, we burst out in laughter, cried “Happy Halloween!” released each other’s hands, and bowed. We thanked our final guests, they thanked us, everyone was laughing and crying and hugging (we didn’t hug the guests, though), and as the guests walked back to their cars, all of us waving to each other, the cast and crew filed back inside to begin our final transition back to normalcy. The phone rang one last time, and instead of the customary, “House 2: The Nightmare Continues,” Vampire-Girl answered with, “House 2: The nightmare is over.

Most of it was, anyway.

As one might expect, I couldn’t work with a stitched-up right hand. By mid-November, though, I was able to score a Christmas gig at Kay-Be Toys in the local mall, where Cathi found work at… cue the Irony Bell… a cutlery store.

A week or so after House 2 closed, we got a furious call from Harlan. Mike, the producer, had ditched out with the money and disappeared. Harlan wasn’t paid, and his name was on all the paperwork, so he got hung out to dry financially. A bunch of people, it turns out, had been paid little or nothing out of the considerable sum House 2 had amassed. Cathi and I wound up being two of the only cast members who’d been paid consistently, probably because Mike hadn’t wanted me thinking about a lawsuit and so told Harlan to cash us out each night. It was a good thing we had been, too, because although Mike told Harlan that he’d paid off my ER visit, the first bills from that night arrived a few weeks later.

At least the motherfucker paid the ambulance fee.

When I got those bills, I panicked and lost my shit. Trying to reach Harlan, I got his answering machine. Enraged when he did not return my calls, I called Julia and got her machine as well. In a moment I regret over thirty years later, I puked lava into the phone – not blaming her or demanding money but unleashing weeks of pain and betrayal and money stress on the party who deserved it least. Her husband called me later and chewed me out for upsetting her. I apologized to them both and never heard from them again. Harlan never called me back either. Jerry and I were no longer on speaking terms, so I couldn’t ask about the friend who’d gotten me involved with the production. I hadn’t learned the last names of anybody involved except for Julia, so I couldn’t sue anyone even if I’d wanted to… and by that time, trust me, I wanted to. Eventually, Cathi and I were able to talk the hospital’s bills down to a manageable level. I paid them off shortly before we split in 1993.

Spookies shouldn’t play with sharp things. Especially if they don’t know who to sue afterward.

My hand healed fine. I still have an interesting scar on the back of it. You can’t see that scar easily, however, because I’m such a furry cuss. No haunt worth that name behaves nearly as recklessly as we did back then, though I’m told there are still plenty of spooky kids with more spirit than sense as far as that’s concerned. When I posted, on impulse, an abbreviated version of this story on Twitter the other day, the damn thing went viral. As of this writing, it’s up past 1400 likes. One popular comment read, “America in three tweets.” That person isn’t wrong.

I still love Halloween but never worked another haunted house.

Life is weird. Especially mine.

At least I can honestly say I haven’t been bored since high school.

Happy Halloween, y’all, and don’t let anyone swing a rusty sickle at your face.

At least THOSE blades were made of plastic.
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Spookies Shouldn’t Play with Sharp Things: Part II – The Dying Groom

[See Part I]

We were maybe halfway through October when Harlan asked me if I would be willing to be Cynthia’s dying groom. Of course, I would. Hell, one of my roles in a roommate’s college film involved me wearing prosthetics covered in fake blood and rotting animal guts for over 12 hours straight, so sticking my leg through a mattress under a coating of fake intestines seemed easy by comparison. Besides, I’d spent the previous weekend standing in place for hours while tied to the cross, wearing nothing but Karo blood and shredded jeans, so a night or two of laying on a bed sounded like a huge improvement to me. I got on well with the woman playing Cynthia, too (let’s call her Julia, which was not her name), and we had fun with our respective roles. We’d improvise vitriolic banter as she’d shake her blooded, rusted sickle and scream, “THAT’S WHY I KILLED YOU, YOU OBNOXIOUS FUCK!” In hindsight, we were probably acting out the kinds of domestic conflict we didn’t dare have with our real-life partners. We’d vicariously abuse each other, laugh, and enact neo-spousal murder over and over and over again.

That was the first night.

The cross I wound up tied to both before and after The Incident. The guy here, however, is not me.

On the second night, we were getting close to Halloween. Only a handful of performances remained. The lines outside got longer, and the people in them got more restless from standing outside in the cold. We kicked out every stop and pushed ourselves to new extremities in order to give those people a good time. And so, when a group of guests stopped at the foot of my bed to marvel at the gory mess of my belly and leg, Julia and I took our marital discord to new intensity. “Get out,” I bellowed, “before this crazy bitch kills you too!”

“Come along,” said the Grim Reaper, trying to escort the group out of our room without actually touching anyone. (That’s one line, reckless as we were, that we did not cross.) “This room is dangerous.”

“Wow, cool,” said one guy in the group, leaning in toward my “severed” leg and mangled guts. “How’d they do that?” Another guy in the group was like, “Are those real animal guts?”

“We must leave,” intoned the Reaper.

Get out!” I screamed at them. “GO!

Normally, Julia stayed at one end of the room and I stayed at the other. Our contact was all verbal. As the dudes refused to move, however, she ran across the room, leapt up on the bed, screamed “I’LL KILL HIM AGAIN!

And swung the sickle down toward my face.

The real sickle.

With blunted edges and a rusty point.


I threw my hands up to block her, and the sickle slammed into the back of my right hand.



“We must leave this place of death,” the Reaper insisted, breaking that inviolate rule and practically shoving the guests through the black curtain. His voice held a note of panic, and the chastened dudes seemed to realize that we had just entered the realm of That Wasn’t Part of the Act.

Ohmygod,” Julia whispered, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!

“Get Harlan.” I’d smashed my left hand over the wound, pressing it closed. Both hands were, of course, covered in fake blood and real grime.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I’m so sorry.”

Get. Harlan.” I snarled it out, not wanting to think too much about what the pain pulsing through my hands meant in terms of damage.

The sickle hit me right where a major vein runs up the back of your hand, branching out slightly above the wound. The first blast of pain had been dull; it sharpened, though, by the time the vampire girl had hauled herself out of the too-small coffin, stuck her head in, and whispered, “Oh, shit – are you okay?” Julia had busted through the curtain between our room and the entryway, frantically asking where Harlan was. Although news had apparently been kept from the guests outside, word quickly spread that the guy in Cynthia’s room had just been stabbed for real.

By the time Julia pulled Harlan into the room, Vampire Girl and several of our castmates had gathered around and were trying to help extract me from the bed. With my left hand pressed against my right, afraid to let go and see just how much that vein would bleed, I needed two guys to climb onto the rickety bed, grab my arms, and pull me up. Vampire Girl peeled away the gut-laden belly sheet while Julia kept apologizing. “It’s okay,” I told her. “It was an accident. You didn’t do anything wrong.” With help from my castmates, I drew my half-asleep left leg out of the hole we’d cut in the mattress. One guy whose name and role I never learned hustled me to the one functioning bathroom, Harlan close behind us. “Oh, God,” Harlan whispered. “Please don’t sue us.”

“It was an accident,” I kept repeating. “As long as I don’t get stuck with the doctor bill, that’s all it was as far as I’m concerned.”

Man, was I stupid. Young and stupid and heading into shock.

The bathroom was a unisex ruin. Makeup of all kinds smeared across every available surface. Ratty clothes and towels, stiff with Karo blood, draped over the toilet and the edges of the sink. That sink looked like Jackson Pollock had thrown up in it after a particularly hard night. Smudges blurred the mirror as my castmate turned the light on. After hours in near-darkness, our pupils squinched in that blast of light.

I’m gonna have to look at it, aren’t I?

That was not a pleasant thought.

For some reason, that one functioning bathroom was tiny and cramped. I guess the public restrooms had been gutted or something before we got hold of the place. Nameless Castmate had gotten a bottle of alcohol, and both of us were like, “Yeah, we need to clean this out before we get you to the hospital.” Harlan told us that an ambulance was on its way. “Is that your blood?” the guys asked me, noting my gory presence. “I don’t think so,” I told them. “I’ve been keeping pressure on it since she stabbed me.”

Since she stabbed me.

How surreal.

In the glaring light, I saw the spectre I’d become: Torn-up white T-shirt. Bare feet. Old jeans cut off at the left knee. Flannel shirt open to expose my chest and belly. Every bit of me caked in sticky cold red stuff. Makeup smeared around my eyes to give me a dying sort of look. Messy short hair and the beardless face I’d had back in those days. Barely out of my teens, recently married, with a hole in my hand I didn’t want to look at but knew I needed to see.

Oh, well – let’s do this.

It wasn’t as bad as we’d expected, probably because I’d been pressing my left hand across my right so hard that the throbbing from the wound now pulsed between them both. What we saw, in that bright harsh light, was essentially a dent in the back of my hand, its edges pale blue and starting to bruise. The vein had been squeezed closed on both sides, and a slash of red welled at the center of the dent.

My castmate turned on the water. I stuck my hand under it.

Well, at least I didn’t scream.

In hindsight, I suppose I’d turned off most of my usual functions in order to deal with the realities of my situation. Shock’s useful for that sort of thing, I hear. And so, as I held my hand under cold water, sluicing off as much of the grime and gore as possible without touching that fucking blue dent in my hand, Nameless Castmate opened the bottle of alcohol and said, “This is probably gonna hurt a lot.”

I agreed. “Just do it.”

He was right. It hurt a lot.

Like, a lot a lot.

In my various misadventures, I’ve dislocated my knee twice, broken several bones, had the bottom of a shattered bottle punch through an inch of rubber on my sneaker sole and then slash my hand open when I reflex-grabbed at it. I’ve been burnt by fires and explosions, splashed with hot oil, beaten bloody, knocked across a room by a blow in the face from a Scuba mask, hit on several occasions with baseball bats, and wound up hunched and wailing on a bathroom floor while my guts contracted from a nasty stomach flu. I’ve had hangovers and suicidal depressions. I’ve been in car accidents and motorbike spills. I tore a chunk out of my arm when skidding across gravel-strewn concrete. I’ve had a knife at my throat, fists in my face, splinters in my skin, and two divorces carving bits out of my heart.

The stomach flu is the only thing I recall hurting worse than the moment he poured alcohol on that pale dent in the back of my hand.

Folks talk about things being “breathtaking”? That pain was breathtaking. The only sound I remember making was a low hiss through clenched teeth. I looked away because I didn’t want to see that damn dent in my hand again. It’s funny how you can be surrounded by carnage and torture so long as it’s not real, then feel your chest hollow out the moment you realize that you’ve actually been stabbed and the blood welling up in the wound isn’t made of colorful liquid corn.

Someone produced a clean towel. Harlan checked in to make sure I wasn’t gushing blood and threatening to sue him. Nameless Castmate, Harlan, and Vampire-Girl ushered me through the darkened House 2. Guests had begun to file in again, now with more stringent control from our stalwart Grim Reaper. The show must go on, as the saying goes, and we’d had a line of people freezing their asses off to get the thrills they paid for. By then, I’d asked someone to call Cathi, and Julia – who, for obvious reasons, took the rest of the night off – went to go fetch my wife from our apartment. (We didn’t have a car in those days.) As I neared the entrance and saw the flashing ambulance lights beneath the curtain, I realized something funny:

The crowd outside had been standing next to a real ambulance that had pulled up outside a haunted house attraction. As my escorts led me to the paramedics, I saw people in the crowd draw back from my blood-soaked, ragged form.

I probably would have laughed if I wasn’t so worried about my hand.

The paramedics had obviously been briefed. Given the absurd recklessness of that coke-drenched era, I’m sure this wasn’t the first time a Halloween house resulted in real injuries. They asked me how much of the blood on me was mine. “None of it,” I assured them. “I’ve kept pressure on the wound.”

You’d think I would recall my one and only ambulance ride, but I was fuzzy headed by then. The ensuing few hours blurred into a montage of Look how brave I’m being banter, appalled faces in the ER waiting room when I walked in under my own power while covered in apparent gore, Cathi carefully hugging me at the hospital (with an affectionate, “You idiot”), and the ER personnel plopping me in a cold treatment room for what seemed like hours – still barefoot in torn and Karo-bloodied clothes – when they realized I hadn’t actually fallen into a threshing machine. I got a few shots of morphine or something in my hand, so when the doctor came and stitched it closed, I was disconnected enough to watch him do it.

It didn’t look so bad, really. Just some pale bruised skin, the big vein pinched shut and probably coagulated by that point, and a bloodless gap about an inch long being stitched shut with black thread by a guy who’d done that job a million times before.

X-rays showed the bones to be undamaged. My ligaments remained miraculously unharmed. The sickle had punched straight to the bone, but the dull impact and my left hand had kept me from bleeding out. Eventually, after some sharp words from Cathi, the ER staff got me a blanket to wrap around my shoulders. She’d brought me a change of clothes and helped me into them. By the time Julia, Harlan, and Julia’s husband arrived to invite Cathi and me to dinner, I was so high on painkillers and receding adrenaline that I said Sure. The hospital gave me a soft demi-cast cloth split to keep my wrist straight and my hand immobile, provided more painkillers and instructions on how not to fuck my hand up, and sent us on our way. Once I’d cleaned up, we shared a late, delicious dinner while I assured Julia and Harlan I wasn’t suing anyone as long as I didn’t get stuck paying for the ambulance and hospital visit. Hell, I said, it didn’t even hurt that much!

Not until the painkillers wore off, anyway. Around 4:00 a.m., I was whimpering with pain as my hand pulsed lightning through my arm. I struggled in the dark with the child-proof cap on the meds until Cathi, whom I’d been trying to avoid waking, got up and opened them for me…


“Vampire-Girl,” aka Amy.
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Spookies Shouldn’t Play with Sharp Things: Part I – The Nightmare Begins…

I love Halloween. As a kid, I would sooner stay home and dress the house up with gory dummies and spooky sound effects than go out trick-or-treating with my friends. It’s not surprising, then, that when my friend Jerry – a former college classmate who’d dropped out of our theatre program not long after playing the role in an ambitious yet doomed production of Jesus Christ Superstar – invited me to talk to a friend of his who was setting up a haunted house, I said Oh hell yes.

This would be late September 1987. My now-ex-wife Cathi had moved in with me a few months earlier, following an ugly break with her family, and we both worked at the Pizza Hut Jerry managed at the time. Cathi had taken some pretty serious trauma during the break in question, and she and I were sorting out what happens when two late-teenage types suddenly find themselves stuck together and trying to be adults. The opportunity to go be a kid again – and for money, no less! – appealed to me. And so, by the end of September, I’d joined the team for House 2: The Nightmare Continues, a Halloween attraction set in an abandoned restaurant scheduled for demolition.

That last part should have been a clue about what life had in store for us that month..

Your ‘Umble Author, on the bed in Cynthia’s room

Our director for the project was a short, intense guy who came across like Harlan Ellison’s younger brother. I don’t recall his name, so let’s just call him “Harlan” here. The producer, if I recall correctly, was named Mike, and our cast and crew numbered about 15 people when I joined the troupe. By that time, they’d already begun gutting the building and painting its interior black, blue, and red. Because it was condemned, we had permission to do whatever the hell we wanted to that building; we took full advantage of that license, and we’d trashed the place thoroughly before the attraction even opened. Walls were kicked in. Holes were cut and hacked away. Red “blood” spattered every surface, and black sheets divided the dining areas into “rooms” where different scenes were staged. In later days, this sort of thing would be called a haunt. Back in the 80s, we just called ‘em haunted houses, and the precautions used by any respectable haunt were notoriously absent. We used real knives and real sledgehammers and a real chainsaw with the chain removed. It was crazy, and dangerous, and I loved the hell out of it.

Guests to our haunt were met by a tall Grim Reaper who escorted them through the haunt in groups of two to six people. After encountering a vampire girl in her coffin, they’d be led into Cynthia’s Room: a blood-caked “honeymoon suite” where a mad bride was murdering her husband. Ushered quickly through that room, they’d encounter a long hallway with a mad steelworker swinging a sledgehammer through the walls; a “dentist’s office” where a shrieking mad dentist tortured a shrieking patient; a large room featuring a Goth chick tormenting a mutilated guy strapped to a cross; a hallways where a masked killer ambushed people with a chainsaw; and a Freddy Kruger who’d jump out at the last second and chase the guests out the exit. Along the way, various screamers and spooks would keep the party hopping. Gender-wise, we were split roughly 50/50 between women and men. (This was before nonbinary was a word people used as a gender identity.) We didn’t have any guys who could fit into the coffin, and we preferred to make most of the tormentors women, and most of their victims men, in order to avoid the usual misogynist abuse dynamic. Most of us traded roles throughout the month, if only because the screaming and shrieking did a number on our vocal cords. I found that out in my first two nights as a performer, when a stint as the dentist and a stint as the patient rendered me unable to speak for a day or two and so I wound up on the cross for a few days until my throat recovered. I played Freddie and the chainsaw maniac, too, before alternating to Cynthia’s Room.

And that’s when the real horrors began.

When people entered Cynthia’s room, they’d see a blood-drenched bed occupied by a guy in torn and gory clothes. His belly was ripped open, and one leg had been hacked off at the knee. As this dying groom urged people to “Run before she gets you too,” the wild-haired bride in a crimson-soaked dress leapt out from behind a screen, waving a sickle and threatening to chop them all to bits. The Grim Reaper would hustle the guests out into the long hallway, and the two “married” castmates would catch a breather until the next group came in.

That, anyway, is the way things were supposed to work.

In order to stage the illusion of a disemboweled dude with a dismembered leg, the groom would stick his leg through a hole in the mattress. After he arranged his torn clothes accordingly, someone would place a plastic sheet over his bare chest and belly, then cover that sheet with fake innards and dump a ton of Karo syrup blood all over him. For the next few hours, that performer endured cramps, lost circulation in his leg, and froze half-naked under foam and plastic intestines, covered partially in plastic, and drenched in cold, sticky fake blood.

October’s a cold month in Richmond, VA, with strong winds blowing the summer heat away. House 2 occupied the middle of a parking lot, and so those winds blew across the empty space and cut right through the building’s unheated and destroyed interior. Few of us wore more than a shredded gown, shirt, or pants; most of us were barefoot, and all of our clothing got liberally drenched with red sticky goo. Young idiots like us seem to generate our own heat, thankfully, but we kept from freezing to death mostly through adrenalized activity. The guys on the bed and the cross, however, and the person in the dentist’s chair, were confined to one place, and we inevitably wound up being the coldest ghouls in the place. Thus, those roles got changed out every night or two, so that no one person spent each Friday and Saturday night of the month strapped into place and shivering until after midnight.

If this sounds like disaster waiting to happen, that’s because it was.

Why, then, did we do it?

Partly because it was fun. It really was. And we got paid each night, too, which was more than most starving-artist kids got in Reagan’s America. Harlan would divide up the proceeds from the door, take the biggest cut for expenses and profits, then deal out $20.00 or so to each cast member. It’s not much, granted, but again this was Reagan’s America in “the Capital of the South.” My job at Pizza Hut paid $3.25 an hour, plus tips (if we got any), minus taxes, and so having fun for an evening, covered in gore and scaring the shit out of people, and then pocketing $20.00 tax-free at the end of it seemed like a pretty decent deal.

Beyond that, almost all of us were actors or artists of one kind or another. I doubt any of us, other than Mike and Harlan, were over 25, and at least half of us were teenagers. I’m not entirely certain the building had been rented legally, and I know damned well there was no insurance involved. The number of legal and ethical issues surrounding such an enterprise should be obvious, but for hungry young creative misfits such things rarely matter… until, of course, they do.

Me, I was a seasoned veteran of guerilla film making, art modeling, and improv theatre. I’d spent college falling down hills, being thrown into swimming pools, gagging on rotting animal guts, getting cast nude in plaster, shivering naked on a model stand, pounding myself senseless in dive-bar mosh pits, and having my chest hair burnt off with an improvised explosive device. Gory makeup and cold Karo syrup blood were my natural plumage in those days, so this was just one more adventure to add to my long list of crazy shit. Cathi, bless her heart, wasn’t nearly as much of a ham as I was. She’d stay home and read, safe in a warm bed full of cats, and then help me out of my Karo-stiffened clothing and into a hot shower whenever I’d get home.

Until I roped her into that madness too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself now.

Where was I? Oh, yeah…


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Bloody Sunset of Cowboy ‘Murrikuh

As Republicans and their associated media pundits dance around the fire of Kabul’s collapse – blaming it (like Trump’s pandemic and economic ruination) on the Biden administration, let’s recall that the hallmark of Bush’s “Neoconservative” movement involved sneering in the faces of experts who warned them against pretty much everything that administration chose to do, and accusing of treason and “liberalism” all opponents of those choices, regardless of the political tendencies of the critics in question.

Despite campaigning on a promise of “compassionate conservatism,” the Bush II years touted a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy mystique. The reckless behavior behavior of that era’s Republicanism was so divorced from traditional conservatism that a new name – “neocon” – was coined to define it. Old-guard conservatives proved almost as vocal in their opposition as the shouted-down Democratic “traitors” were, leading to such surreal spectacles as American Conservative magazine and Mother Jones sharing near-identical condemnations of Bush and the neocons. The “South Park conservatism” that defines our current era, though rooted in Newt Gingrich’s tactics in the 1990s, reached full and foul blossom under Bush. Ann Coulter, praised as a “conservative intellectual,” infamously proclaimed that opponents of Bush’s administration should be publicly executed “so that they know that they can be killed.” Republicans gleefully adopted absurdities like “freedom fries,” “the Coalition of the Willing,” and – worst of all – “enhanced interrogation” as signs of their Yosemite Sam approach to American power.

That attitude backfired in every imaginable way.

Yee. Haw. Murrikuh.

From 9/11 to Abu Garib to “No Child Left Behind” to Hurricane Katrina to ICE to the economic crash of 2007 (hung, in now-predictable fashion, around the incoming Democrat’s neck) to the Faith-Based Initiative to Enron to an ever-growing national debt caused by endless tax-cutting and militarization at home and abroad, each swing of the neocon dick demolished everything it touched. While Trump reached new lows for American politics, no other American presidential administration shares Bush II’s catastrophic record of absolute failure. The two longest and most expensive wars in America’s history occupy space on the desks of Trump, Obama, and now Biden, but it was Bush II – WITH THE FULL-THROATED APPROVAL OF THE REPUBLICAN ELECTORATE AND RIGHT-WING MEDIA – that kicked those disasters into gear.

My disgust with Bushie’s Big Adventures isn’t merely political. Many of my friends became “human collateral damage” of those campaigns. One of my former roommates is a veteran of Bush’s war machine, as are several of my most cherished friends. I’ve seen the damage those wars and their domestic betrayals have left upon my loved ones. As the Vietnam War scarred my father and his brothers, Sheriff Georgie traumatized my family-of-choice. Military contractors got rich, chickenhawks got their rocks off, and people I know personally got stuck with the human cost of those adventures. Yellow ribbons fade more quickly than the scars of war.

For all its horrors, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War at least had some semblance of logic at its foundations. But while 9/11 provided an understandable justification for Bush’s initial assault on the Taliban – an assault supported even by the governments of Iran and Pakistan, who were understandably fed up with having those psychopaths on their borders – the Bush administration proudly refused to listen to pointy-headed experts on regional affairs. As “conservative” media cheered them on, the neocons did literally everything they were warned NOT to do. The invasion of Iraq, which provoked the largest wave of global protests in human history at that time, capped off a promising military effort that blew its chance at success after the first month or two of operations. The disastrous Bush Doctrine epitomized the hubris of Bush’s Cowboy ‘Murrikuh, waving a big, hairy set of balls that proceeded to get kicked for the next 18 years. Those yellow ribbons and “Mission Accomplished” banners became punchlines paid for with a flood of human lives.

And we fucking told you so.

Liberals and old-school conservatives alike decried the Bush administration’s gunslinger posturing. People who’d spent lifetimes studying and/or living in the region warned that swaggering into the Middle East and trying to play sheriff was doomed to failure. But right-wing media, granted a then-fresh monopoly thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, took up Rush Limbaugh’s freakshow standard and turned it into the scream of post-9/11 ‘Murrikuh, a surly frat boy so blackout drunk on his entitlement that he’d fight the entire world on general principle. The Eric Cartman antics of Trump’s era gained their foothold in political discourse thanks in large part to Bush’s neocons. The fact that Trump makes Bush look like an elder statesman in comparison does not change the related fact that a President Trump would have been unthinkable before the necons ushered Sarah Palin into the limelight, borne on the shoulders of Bush’s cheerleaders Michael Savage, Laura Ingram, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and other Fox News luminaries.

Let’s not forget those exact same people still keep trying to get us to invade Iran.

The fires of Kabul provide a grotesque mirror to the smoke over New York City 20 years ago next month. If I were to write such absurdities into fiction, I’d be justly criticized for hammering the point. Truth really is stranger and stupider than fiction.

And the truth is, America’s abject, costly failure in Afghanistan began with a lockstep belligerence the Republican Party has only intensified since then.

I’d like to think we can learn from this.

Current events suggest otherwise.

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Time to Leave the Funhouse: Part III – Being Careful Going Forward

The new faces of America… for now, anyway. “A republic… if you can keep it.”

The system, though sorely tested, has held.

Two weeks ago today, a mob incited to violence by the delusions of reality trolls focused on a jacked-up TV star committed symbolic and literal desecration of the United States. That spectacle combined tragedy and farce, with a body count that has grown since I began writing about it that day. This essay began as a stream-of-consciousness rant in real time. Now, with two weeks of perspective, new events, the Biden-Harris inauguration, and a fitting coda delivered by an embodiment of the kind of America Trump and his followers sought to destroy, “Time to Leave the Funhouse” seems like an apt slogan for the coming years.

For all our futuristic boasts and hardnosed pretense, the USA exists in a state of arrested adolescence. Not because so many of us love fantasy, but because so many of us hate facing reality. Instead, we puff up our egos to mythic proportions while glutting ourselves with junk food and diversions. For all our cowboy bullshit, this nation is spoiled rotten. Even as our teeth, infrastructure and fellow citizens fall to pieces, Americans wrap ourselves in mythology and drugs to keep from recognizing the truth: Our nation is unsustainable. Without immediate action and major changes to our way of life, we are doomed not merely as a nation but quite possibly as a species too.

America, we have a problem here.

Hell, even our iconic cowboy mascot is a fake. Real cowboys in history were low-paid laborers – often queer, usually non-white, occasionally trans, and inevitably poor – who literally waded through shit in service to other men’s wealth. Not one American in a thousand was a cowboy; not one American in a million could actually live that life. Yet the cowboy, imported from South America and embellished by Hollywood, embodies These United States even as we divide ourselves by such iconography. It’s no accident that our swaggering cowboy president G.W. Bush left a legacy of catastrophes, that his fans burnt the former “Dixie” Chicks in effigy, and that would-be cowboys posed with both Union and Confederate flags while lynching effigies of our first Black American president. The Cowboy archetype, though based in history, is a whitewashed product of capitalistic racist fantasy. He might not be racist by default (and has, in fact, been reclaimed in Black American communities lately), but his popular image perpetrates a lot of racist trash. The quickest way a rich white dude can grab cred from working-class white folks is to strap on a cowboy hat, adopt a Southern drawl, and pretend to be “just plain folks” while hating on “subhuman mongrels” and “race-traitor” white liberals. Kid Rock’s been playing that game for decades, and Fox News rests on its foundations.

Yee-haw, Detroit! Mah Daddy’s car dealership shure did feel like the South back when I was appropriating hip-hop instead of playing Shitkicker Millionaire!

Donald Trump plays a variation on that archetype: The Self-Made Man – a brave, tough-talking All-American guy whose ostentatious wealth attests to his superiority over effete ideas like “taste.” The Self-Made American is the Cowboy in a business suit, his vulgar roots undermining elitist peers. He gobbles Big Macs and talks as though the world is his locker room; after all, it is. As Trump himself said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Edison could get away with ripping off rival inventors. Harvey Weinstein could get away with raping movie stars. Trump got away with a laundry list of crimes against humanity, yet still had literal armies of Americans willing to kill and die on his behalf. While the future actions of those devotees have yet to be determined, the proof of that willingness turned 1/6/2021 into a funhouse mirror of 9/11/2001. Both became icons of symbolic wars against America. Two weeks ago, we waged that war against ourselves.

Seven years ago, in an essay called “Coloring the Symbol of a Man,” I said that “a leader – especially an elected leader – is a symbol of whatever that person leads.” Barack Obama, that “subhuman mongrel” whose existence so offended classic rock icon Ted Nugent, embodied the end of an unbroken chain of white men representing our United States. That symbolic overthrow (accentuated by the failure of cowboy president George W. Bush, plus the defeat of Vietnam survivor John McCain and Sarah Palin, Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the American Right) made all manner of absurdities seem possible. Obama was a Muslim. He was coming for your guns and children. He was somehow a Marxist Nazi Zionist Mao-worshipper who was probably the Antichrist and definitely part of a long-range plan by time-traveling malcontents. The fact that Obama never lived up to any of the dire prophecies about him just made everything worse. It’s no accident that Trump gained political momentum by mainstreaming Birtherist conspiracy crap. Even after Obama had graciously stepped aside (despite warnings that he would do exactly what Trump tried to do four years later), the mere fact that a (half-)Black American had personified “OUR country” for eight years drove many Americans unsane. A mythic Deep State reigned even as The Donald declared his absolute disdain for propriety and precedent. Instead of governing in any rational form, The Donald’s administration became a daily exercise of performative cruelty. Hidden symbols were unfurled openly by people convinced that secret cabals hid themselves in pizza dungeons and furniture stores. [*1] 

The past few years have been literally and symbolically deranged. That madness climaxed in a orgasmic surge of perverse superheroes in a bloody-handed LARP.

Christ, folks – pick a mythos, already! Oh, wait – they did: It’s racism.

All nations have symbols. All symbols can be poisoned. Human belief may be the most potent force on earth, and humans believe all kinds of awful things.

My fellow Americans, I say this as a creator and consumer of fantasy media: We need to be more careful about what, and whom, we choose to believe.

My fellow creators, meanwhile: We need to be more careful about what we put out there, and more conscious of how it is received.

Obviously, I love fantasy. My career and (to a degree that disquiets even me) identity encompass 30 years of creating exaggerated worlds of adventure. Before I began writing, I was an actor. Since childhood, I’ve loved comics, myths, and action movies. In those creations and entertainments, I’ve sought significance in the mundane world. Whenever possible, I’ve held the mirror up to my audience and myself, asking “What do you see reflected back at you here?” As a creator and a fan of fantasies – whose inspirations include real-world culture, language, and psychology – I understand what Joseph Campbell called “the Power of Myth.” And so, when I look at the narrative cast over the events of 1/6, I see the ultimate tragedy of a collective Narcissus slashing himself to death in a shattered mirror. And if that analogy seems overripe, remember that a young Air Force veteran got herself killed storming the Capital building, acting out an action movie trope, in service to a TV star’s gospel, while absurdly garbed cosplaytriots staged selfies nearby.

She wanted to be a hero. In the minds of many, she became one. And yes, on many levels, that is an American tragedy.

Much as I hate what she did, I feel sad about her death.

I feel sadder, though, about the deaths of people whose names we’ll never know unless we knew those people personally.

When this ridiculous saga appears in history books, that woman’s name will be mentioned while the 400,000-and-then-some Americans who died of Covid-19 remain nameless. The fact that one of those dead Americans, my friend and collaborator Jackie Cassada, was herself a fantasy author writing about incarnated dreams and reality wars, compounds the irony in ways that have me feeling sick myself. The fact that Covid-19 bookends the Trump presidency with one of the largest body-counts in US history is poetic enough to choke Shakespeare on Aristotle’s dick.

I feel sad about that, too.

Sad, and angry, and very, very old.

America, we need to get the fuck over ourselves.

We’re not a nation of cowboys or Self-Made Men. Our nation holds many wonders and promises, but we’re best served by seeing what we are in real life, not which fantasy suits us best.

Now, I love mythology. It’s my living. It’s my art.

I respect its power, though, because I know first-hand where that power – pro and con – can lead.

Mythology is vital to the human experience and society. Used carelessly, however, it creates monsters. Not the consciously created monsters like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (an analogy for the destruction caused by men who wish to play God), but rampaging creations like that American Frankenstein’s Monster, Donald Trump.

Again, I use that word deliberately. The root of monster means “a portent, an omen, a warning.” Mary Shelly’s warning is a sympathetic creature. I feel no such sympathy for Donald Trump. Unlike Victor Frankenstein’s unwilling creation, and despite his family’s wealth, Trump projects himself as that Self-Made Man. Fine, then. Let him fucking own what he has become: a warning of where our pride and carelessness can lead. 

To the Greeks whose myths provide our science terminology, myths have multiple dimensions. Literal names have symbolic connotations, numerical significance, sometimes musical tonalities meant to invoke metaphysical forces. The same is true of other languages, too: Sanskrit, Hebrew, Mandarin, and more. Yet English, despite its twisty corridors of meaning, is a language of commercial trade and diplomatic expediency. So, too, are its home cultures, England and North America. Our myths, then, become fractured things, thrown together – like our languages – from bits of other cultures that we seldom understand in context. They’re pretty, sure, and often more potent than we expect. America is a myth writing itself on a daily basis… sometimes even, these days, on an hourly one. At its best and worst, that myth is powerful as hell.

And yes, again, I used that word deliberately: Hell – the myth-forged punishment ground remixed from older legends until it consumed its original sources in a pervasive garish nightmare. 

Well-played, Stefani As usual.

Today, we seem further from that hell than we did when I began this essay two weeks ago. Another set of symbols triumphed, and those symbols – though in some senses as fantastical as the ones employed by Trump – are more subtle though no less passionate. In a characteristic burst of self-conscious mirror-play, Lady Gaga’s garb recalled the mockingjay pin and costume employed by Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: a teen-lit fantasy/SF series about multicultural rebels toppling a decadent Capital. The oroboroean tangles involved in a media-crafted queer-icon persona, whose name was inspired by a pop song from a British band whose queer-icon frontman was commenting on American media banality, wearing a red, white and gold echo of a film adaptation of a fantasy book series, to sing a parody of a British drinking song that became this nation’s anthem, at the Capital, while figuratively overthrowing its previous queer-phobic media-persona figurehead, are – I’m certain – obvious to Stefani Germanotta, the real-life artist behind Lady Gaga’s façade. There’s symbolic value, too, in having the young Black female poet Amanda Gorman read a poem she composed while watching Trump fans storm that same Capital. Trump’s revolution – despite its non-white enablers – was an assertion of white supremacy. Having a young Black poet laurate proclaim “The Hill We Climb” was a symbolic purge of those Rebel flags and Holocaust hoodies that claimed that ground only two weeks before.

Two. Weeks.

These are, as the saying goes, interesting times.

Amanda Gorman wants to run for president. If today is any indication, she already has my vote.

America is confronting its mythologies and the monsters birthed from them. The racism and genocide that laid the foundation for all American nations (not merely the United States) began on distant continents. It holds pervasive sway, though, in American realities. These past few years, more than ever before, have forced Americans to face the mythologies we’re raised with and the monsters they so often breed. As I’ve often said before, the United States is an experiment founded upon genocide in which slave-owning men made eloquent promises that a diverse populace has yet to fulfill. The tension between those promises and the realities behind them have made American nations (again, not only the US) the vibrant and volatile center of the modern age. Even outside this region, that tension has shaken the world for nearly half a thousand years. This month’s chaos shook our myths to their foundations. Monsters came out, and living people died.

Trump’s cult, and the associated QAnon creed, are Apocalyptic cults in every sense of that word. They claim revelations from higher powers in an endgame struggle with forces of destruction. As ridiculous as their claims are by all rational standards of inquiry, the adherents of those cults are right about one thing: This is the end of their world, and things are being revealed that have been hidden from sight for too long. This culture is facing transformation, with old comforts dying in service of new realities. That is a frightening process, and things are being lost that can never be reclaimed. That’s scary. I get it. This new world doesn’t look like Leave It to Beaver, and though few of the guys hefting battle banners in Trump’s name are old enough to have watched that program on TV, the mythic America it portrays is part of their view of “the way things ought to be.” [*2] MAGAmerica is, at its heart, dedicated to preserving a mythic United States in which any cowboy can become a Self-Made Man if those pesky libtards and scary brown people would just get back in their places where they belong. Trump’s final act, the declaration of a slavery-denying “1776 Commission” on Martin Luther King Day, was as blatant as a Stars-and-Bars. [*3] When Q’s promised Apocalypse failed to occur, the cult turned upon itself. The results, again, remain to be seen. I doubt, though, that’s we’ve seen the last of them. From Haven’s Gate to Islamic State, atrocities have been committed over less.

Fellow Americans, we need to sort this funhouse out. We must be more careful and conscious of our mythologies, of the ways they guide us, of the purposes to which they can be put, and of the people – even me – who craft those purposes, and to what ends.

Otherwise, we’re just spinning frantically until our funhouse finally burns down.

Five lives ended in our Capital that day. Several more have followed since.

Now, at the threshold of symbolic new beginnings, let their tragedy be the warning we all hear.


*1 The fact that QAnon’s nonsense echoes the Satanic Panic which encompassed weird fantasies about heavy metal and D&D adds to the funhouse-on-acid feel of Trumpian mythology.

*2 The title of a book by Rush Limbaugh, whose impending demise adds yet another layer to this age’s over-piled irony cake.

*3 It was also canceled by Executive Order on the first day of Biden’s presidency.

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Time to Leave the Funhouse: Part II – The End of the Apprentice

It’s all fun and games until someone storms a Capital.

On January 6, 2021, Donald Trump staged a brash act of his alternate reality – an alternate reality in which he is a persecuted prophet fighting for American greatness. He then walked away and let his people die.

Five people perished for his vanity. More could have. More probably will.

And Trump could not care less.

When All-But-President Biden implored him to stop the madness, Donald Trump reiterated his pity-party chant. He reinforced, once again, the reality in which he remains the star of earth’s largest TV show. For days before the event, Trump and his enablers spun a beautiful dream of “a historic moment” in which those who attended would be blessed by posterity for upholding his vision of America.

As I posted in reply on Trump’s Twitter account that day, it was historical. Just not in the way he’d wanted it to be.

I’ve made a lot of mordant jokes about “this season finale of The Apprentice.” Wednesday’s travesty, however, was funny only from the perspective of, say, the Joker. There was plenty to mock, all right, and an ironic commentary on America’s obsessive narcissism culture. We are living in a Shakespearian play told by an idiot, and that idiot, ultimately, is ourselves.

Five people died for it.

That photogenic would-be martyr who betrayed her oath to this country and its Constitution was killed by believing in a fantasy. For wanting to be a hero in an action movie staged by the greatest Dungeon Masters since Adolf Hitler or Chairman Mao, she died. Four men died, too, one of them a cop who was reportedly beaten to death with a fire extinguisher, another of whom died of a heart attack after supposedly Tasering himself in the nuts.

All for the glory of the Donald Trump myth.

Make no mistake: Donald Trump is not even the ringmaster of this circus. He is, as his rival Hillary Clinton said in 2016, a puppet; Trump’s sputtering school-bully response – “You’re the puppet. You’re the puppet” – revealed that he knew she was right. Regardless of her flaws (and they are legion), this nation owes Hillary Clinton a huge apology. While I’m sure she’s glad she wasn’t in the hot seat when Covid-19 hit, we as a nation would have been far better off if she had been. And if a President Clinton had lost a reelection bid, there would not have been virtual war in our Capital this week.

The real Masters of this Dungeon, meanwhile, sit far away from the chaos they have made. In Moscow. Behind keyboards in someone’s office, spare room, or basement. In whatever headquarters News Corporation favors this week. From dungeon trolls to heads of state, they’ve turned America’s obsession with self-mythology into the instrument of self-destruction.

This Wednesday, five people died in it. [*1]

The inevitable result of a TV-obsessed nation electing a TV star who turned the US government into an egocentric circus, with the full support of a TV network owned by a foreign tycoon whose citizenship-of-convenience should be revoked after today’s events.

And yet, just hours later, Sarah Palin – yet another American media confection – was spewing nonsense on Fox News, perpetrating new myths about Antifa infiltration of her precious right wing. More people will probably die believing that trash. No one will be coming for Rupert Murdoch’s adopted citizenship, though, for hosting such seditious sewage. On the contrary, I’m willing to bet his income soared this week, because that’s the kind of toxic myth creation our society is built upon.

Adding insult to a slew of injuries, the invaders dressed themselves as veritable cartoon characters, some with logos from Marvel Comics films and characters, others decked out in videogame drag. I’ve learned that at least one person photographed in the company of Q-Shaman-Boy and an asshole bearing a Confederate battle flag was a member of the White Wolf LARP community. Another supposedly belonged to the medieval recreation society where I met my first wife. My outrage isn’t just political, it’s personal and professional as well. For a creator of fantasy media, such grotesque misuse of our vocation feels like a punch in the gut.

America, we need to stop this shit.

Our addiction to nonsense is literally killing us.

Neil Postman, in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, spotlighted America’s obsession with prefab mythology. That phrase, amusing ourselves to death, has been stuck in a groove inside my head these past few years. On Wednesday, four people literally did amuse themselves to death, took another person with them, and might have killed even more people if they’d had the chance. Any sane society would take what happened as a warning of our impending collapse. To many Americans, however, it was just another episode in this crazy TV show, and we’re all eager to see what the next installment brings. Personally, I love horror films… and that’s what this feels like: a horror film in real time, where we can’t look away, but we can’t stop watching either because hey – at least we’re not bored, amirite?

Then again, we don’t have to clean the blood off our clothing and stare at the empty place at our table or bed where a human being used to be.

I admit then when I finally got numb to it all, I brought up Red Dead Online and started playing another round of American mythology. At least those bullets and deaths won’t hurt.

I try to be conscientious. Even I am not immune, though, to this society’s death-grip on the joystick.

The myth-rich escapism of a West That Never Was.

Fantasy is great. Fantasy’s essential. I wrote years ago, in the final pages of Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, that “such tales invent, but they do not lie. They tell the truth, even in the midst of fantasy.” As Atlantic writer Spencer Kornhaber states in his article “The Superhero Fantasies of Trump’s Mob”: “fiction, fantasy, and what-ifs are part of coping; escapism is seductive even in the best of times.” The power of coping, healing and inspiration within fantasy media is, to use that overused word, awesome. Trouble comes, however, when the audience cannot tell fact from fantasy and stops even trying to care.

There’s sick symmetry in the recursive way Trump’s signature claim to fame, The Apprentice, echoes “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: the Goethe poem (based on earlier tales) later popularized by Mickey Mouse… by way of Disney, who made much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe possible, and whose designs and tropes undergird so much American mythology (up to and including Walt Disney himself)… in which a sulking would-be wizard takes a shortcut to power that backfires in disastrous fashion. It’s a fractal monster which grows bigger and crazier the longer you stare into it, and the fact that I just referenced Nietzsche’s dictum and Jurassic Park in that sentence reveals how deep the rabbit hole goes. (Hello, Alice. We’re mad here…) This remix Wonderland of ours has its charms, but the dragons here are hungry enough to eat their own tales/tales…

You get the point.

Donald Trump is a problem.

He’s not, however, the problem.  

Much as The Donald™ would hate to admit it, America’s problem with mythology is a lot bigger than he is.

From the Times of Israel article “Trump’s presidency as another remake of Disney’s Fantasia,” Dec. 31, 2019 https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/trumps-presidency-as-another-remake-of-disneys-fantasia/

End of Part II


*1 *It’s also worth noting that security experts have pointed out the ominous possibility that the entire Capital building has been compromised by surveillance devices planted by so-called “protesters.” Considering that foreign actors have already been implicated, during Donald Trump’s reign, of hacking our government’s secure systems, bribing Republican officials via the NRA, and outright buying favors from the administration, the probability that foreign or domestic enemies have used Wednesday’s chaos as an opportunity to plant bugs in the Capital is quite high.

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