You know how you can love something so thoroughly it becomes the most important thing in the world? That’s how I felt about Benny. He was everything to me.
It was mostly physical, at first. The wrinkles around his eyes. The infectious smile you couldn’t help matching even if you tried. The way his hair curled against his neck. I couldn’t look at him without wanting to be a part of him.
But I came to love him as I grew to know him. No, that’s not right. I realized I loved him, and perhaps always had. The love, it was like it was already there, waiting to bloom. It just needed the right nourishment.
Benny was a kind person, if not always honest. He would do anything to spare someone’s feelings, which meant when he and I argued it was vicious. I wanted truth, no matter who it hurt. He wanted peace.
So it was almost ironic when he went off to war. He, who would keep secrets to preserve even the most tenuous semblance of harmony, went off to face the brutal honesty of the greatest lie of all: that we actually wanted peace. That we loved our fellow men and allowed each other the grace to fail. Failure was impossible. Failure was inevitable.
When the letter arrived, it was so expected it only took a moment for me to realize I was already heartbroken. I had already given up. The smudged ink only affirmed what I already knew. Benny’s love had nourished me for so long his absence was like the slow release of air from a balloon. By the time the letter arrived, I was already deflated.
I looked up from the novel I was only half reading. It was Gothic. Wordy. I didn’t like it.
My sister was standing in the doorway, her face arranged in the mask of pity I had come to hate. I hated it, and I had told her so, but it was inescapable. She could only tiptoe around the void, attempting to spare me pain. She was so like Benny in that way. And I couldn’t really blame her, because she was the only one who knew what Benny truly meant to me.
I sat silently as she entered the room, her skirt fluttering gently around her. It was one of our mother’s dresses. I had been surprised she kept it, let alone wore it, but I couldn’t deny it suited her perfectly. Mirasol seemed to share my surprise, yet wore it almost in defiance of its previous owner. She wore it like armor. But we both harbored an unspoken fear the dress was imbued with some of the malice and bitterness of its predecessor that would somehow affect its heir.
I avoided her eyes as Mirasol sat beside me, the cushion buckling uncomfortably. I shifted my thigh.
“You got another call from Henry.”
I declined to answer. Henry was a friend, once. Mirasol sighed.
“This isn’t productive, Patrick.” She gestured vaguely at the book in my lap, at the half-eaten apple on the plate beside me, its brown core glaring at me as though in accusation.
“I don’t need to be productive,” I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on the carpet. “Mother at least gave us that.”
Mirasol snorted, then looked into her own lap, as though the fabric of the dress reminded her of the significance of our circumstances.
“Benny wouldn’t have wanted this,” she said quietly, and anger made my head pound.
I stood quickly, the book thumping to the floor.
“You have no idea what Benny would have wanted.”
Mirasol stood in anger too, the malice in her skirt murmuring encouragingly.
“You’re wrong, but you’re too frightened to admit it. The truth is, you want to be just like him. Desperate to keep the peace. But the fact is you’re a coward. Why else do you think Benny left and you didn’t? Why else was he willing to go to war if not to get away from you and your disturbed obsession with truth-”
We both stood shocked as silence engulfed the room. I sat down, hard, the cushion relenting reluctantly, painfully. Mirasol turned away, her hand to her mouth.
The truth? Is that what I wanted?
I looked down at the book on the floor, its pages bent awkwardly, its spine towards me. The binding was broken, the title worn. I recognized it with horrifying clarity. It was Mother’s favorite.
I looked at Mirasol, whose eyes glistened above her shaking hand. Her skirt rustled.
I wasn’t sure what to write about today. I feel I am more adept at fiction, and that my editorials are sometimes labored. But my friend Rachel suggested writing about the nature of change, and I think that is a good idea. I am in a very transitional period of my life right now, so there is definitely a lot to think about.
Change can come in many different forms. There is the swift, inevitable, uncontrollable change. There is the slow, anticipated change. There is the sudden choice to encourage change, or the slow decision to change which takes years to implement. There are all sorts of circumstances in which change can occur and not all of it is unplanned or unwelcome.
I, for example, thrive when there is a certain level of change operating in my life. I like there to be some consistency, but mostly in the sorts of things that are necessary to support myself. I like to know how I’m doing financially. I like to have control over my schedule. I like my house to be the way I’ve prepared it. But too much consistency is stifling. It doesn’t always have to be major things. I like to change my hair. I like to explore new places and immerse myself in ever-changing scenery. I like to read new books in genres I may not be familiar with. I think everyone enjoys a degree of change when they can control when and where that change is taking place.
I also just recently quit my job, which was a huge change with a lot of uncertainty attached to it. I didn’t have a new job lined up. I didn’t know how much money I would get on my final paycheck (turns out, less than I was hoping). I no longer have health insurance. These changes, while a result of my own decision, come with a lot of variables that I don’t have control over. Searching for a new job is difficult, and I don’t have any control over whether or not a potential employer is interested in meeting with me. I may have an unexpected and expensive medical issue come up. It may take longer to get a job than I anticipate, forcing me to make more difficult decisions and changes to stay afloat. But although these things are scary, and leave a lot up to factors outside of my control, it comes down to the fact that I made this decision. And honestly? The change has been great. I love having time off of work to relax, catch up on some reading, play video games. I am sleeping better than I have in a long time. And I am much more motivated to work on other projects when I’m not mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from work. So overall it has been a good change.
There is, of course, change that is not so good. Climate change skeptics insist that the earth is warming anyway, and that the impact of humans is minimal. While science supports the theory that the earth would be continuing to warm on its own without our help, humans have contributed to the acceleration of that change. And it is not good. We can see the evidence of these changes in more severe weather, melting glaciers, and species going extinct at an alarming rate. These changes are unfortunate, and while to some extent inevitable, we have the power and technology to mitigate some of that change. Just not the political interest (at least in the United States).
Perhaps what is most interesting to me is the idea of perceived change. Without getting too deep into the history of white supremacy, many white people in the United States (and likely around the world) are currently expressing surprise and despair at the so-called change of the nation’s attitudes and values. However, this country has always had a deep-seeded philosophy of fear, xenophobia, racism, and cruelty. It’s just that they didn’t see it. Or, if they saw it, they chose to ignore it. It didn’t affect them, so they turned a blind eye and are only now beginning to understand: these things have always been there. This country didn’t change; we just see it more clearly now.
Change can be good, bad, or even things out. It’s all a matter of understanding how and why the change is taking place. Sometimes it’s within our control, and sometimes it’s not. You can embrace it, or ignore it. Sometimes it’s better to let things go, and sometimes you have to fight to make things better.
You know that line about death and taxes? To quote “Avenue Q,” “everything in life is only for now.” Change is a natural part of life. Consider the way you react and relate to change. What works for you, and what doesn’t? What do you wish you could change, and where do you feel powerless? Understanding these things will help manage expectations, cultivate motivation, and ease uncertainty.
To catch up on the exciting adventures of Minty the Bard, start here!
“Uh, greetings, fair...um, creature,” he began, then paused. He supposed he ought to say something about meeting here in this strange place, but he didn’t even know whether or not it could understand him. The customary exchanges between travelers didn’t really seem applicable here.
But before he could come up with anything, the badger sat up on its hind legs. Minty took a step back, although there were still several yards between them. And then the air around the badger started to ripple. Minty blinked a few times, sure it was the flickering torchlight that was causing the illusion. But no, something magical was happening. Minty could feel it. As he watched, feeling queasy, the badger seemed to melt. Minty closed his eyes against the nausea rising in his stomach.
After several moments, there was a small cough. Minty peered out of one eye, the other tightly closed in case whatever he saw really would make him vomit. Then he opened both eyes in surprise, because he saw, not a melted badger, but a gnome.
The gnome stood at a little more than half Minty’s height, and was clothed in black and gray. Minty wasn’t altogether sure its suit wasn’t made of badger, but the gnome also wore a brilliant belt of white gems around its slight waist. They were grinning, and seemed pleased as punch that they had fooled Minty.
The natural bardic inclination for improvisation notwithstanding, Minty was at a loss for words.
“Oh man, you should have seen the look on your face,” the gnome giggled. Their voice was high but surprisingly robust, although Minty wasn’t sure he could be surprised by much else at this point. Slowly regaining his sense of self, Minty shrugged and allowed himself a quick smile.
“I live to entertain,” he said shakily, and the gnome laughed again.
“But can you…..see?”
As Minty said it he realized it was probably a terribly insensitive question, but he had noticed that the gnome’s eyes, like the badger’s, were milky white.
“Sorry,” he stammered, but the gnome waved their hand dismissively.
“It takes more than eyes to see, especially down here, Stoneskull.”
Minty frowned, not in the mood to be teased by a shape-shifting gnome badger. But he wasn’t about to turn his back on a stranger, so he dipped into a bow and introduced himself.
“Aminton Erenstein, Bard.”
The gnome cocked their head and smiled.
“Tremeldonna Garrick,” they replied, “but you can call me Brock.”
Minty had known few gnomes in his life, but he knew about their affinity for names. Most gnomes went by their chosen nicknames, which had nothing to do with their given or clan names. It was quite confusing.
"Thank you, Brock. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you. Not everything in this tunnel has been as...polite.”
“Of course not, Stoneskull,” Brock laughed, and Minty realized with a sinking stomach he had just been granted his own nickname. “Why bother hiding something if it was easy to get to?”
“Then you know about the…” Minty gestured knowingly, expecting Brock to nod wisely. Brock just looked at him.
“You know, the…..” MInty nodded and winked several times, his gestures becoming more obvious. Brock was silent.
“The treasure!” Minty blurted, then regretted it instantly. His voice echoed throughout the tunnel, and several small lines of dust fell from the ceiling. There was a pause.
“Well, yeah,” Brock replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Minty gaped.
“Well, then, why aren’t there more people here, trying to get it?”
“You think there haven’t been? It’s not like people don’t try to get the treasure. They just can’t.”
“You know how many people have died here? Bergin of the North, Master Thomel son of Tamer, the Warrior of Garlong, Lady Illora Yngeral, Paterson Hamstring, Frank…” the gnome was counting on their fingers. Minty felt the nausea return.
“Ok, ok, I get it!”
Brock stopped, looking sly. Minty sighed and ran his fingers through his tousled hair.
“Minty, you Stoneskull, why did you agree to this? You know you’re not cut out for this kind of thing. You should never have fallen for it. There are other Elven wizards out there…”
“But you don’t have to die here.”
Minty froze, turning back to Brock.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, those Stoneskulls didn’t listen to me.”
“Yes, me,” Brock replied, looking put out.
“And why would you help me if you didn’t help them?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t help them,” Brock said. Minty frowned. “But I will help you, for a share of the treasure.”
“The treasure isn’t for me,” he said finally. Brock looked incredulous.
“Then what in the four corners of the sky are you doing here?”
Liz is forcing me to write today. Geez. So supportive.
No, actually, it’s a good thing she is holding us accountable. I’m the one that let us off the hook last time, because she was in tech week and I forgot it was blog day until about 8pm that night. So we’re long overdue.
I haven’t had a lot of inspiration to continue any of my fiction pieces (I’m sorry, Minty! I’ll get back to you one day!) so this will be a bit random. I apologize. But it’s my last week of work before the choir trip, we have three extra rehearsals before Friday, and my freelance articles are due. So I have a lot on my mind.
Liz suggested I repost something from the old days, which I considered. It certainly would have taken some of the pressure off. But I couldn’t think of what archives I should mine for something worth sharing until I started reading through my old blog. Like, my old old blog. Like, from high school.
I’m not going to share any specific posts, although I will say it’s DEFINITELY worth exploring (if you can remember what the url is. I’m certainly not going to remind you). I started the blog when I was living in La Grande. I have some older journals that I’ve written in by hand, and I’m sure those are also worth re-reading, but these entries are interesting for some specific reasons.
I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and I was very open about that in high school. I used “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath as a way to talk about how I would be feeling (although my actual review of the book is not great). When I felt particularly depressed and isolated from my friends and family, I would call it a “bell jar” day. I still have them, but I had forgotten that I used to describe them in that way. The way Plath describes this feeling is so specific and so true that I immediately recognized it, even as a dumb teenager. There are various ways in which I describe my depression to myself and to other people, but I may have to bring back the “bell jar” descriptor.
I also talk a lot about the days when I felt genuinely happy and how unique and unusual that is, which is kind of depressing by itself. But the way I described simple things like taking a nap, taking the dog on a walk, enjoying a rainstorm...those things are still true about me. I only now wish I could have the leisure to take the kind of naps I blog about. Blog worthy naps.
It’s also interesting to me the way I spoke about sleep. My therapist and I recently tried to pinpoint when I started having issues with insomnia, and I knew that it started sometime in middle/high school, but I couldn’t think of when. I now have written evidence that it was happening in high school, but we couldn’t come up with anything that had happened that would trigger such a huge shift in my sleep patterns. Perhaps the moves, changing schools, living in a new town. Maybe I’ve just always had trouble sleeping? I’m sure at one point I went from having energy to feeling tired all the time, but I don’t know when that was. Now it just feels like I’ve always been tired and always will be tired.
It’s strange to read through things you wrote when you were younger. I was different, for sure. I was much more religious than I am now, I was occupied with family and friends and church and homework and arbitrary gender roles, and my writing was much sloppier and less censored. But there are so many things that are the same. I love having the house to myself. I love Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (like, I weirdly reference it way more than I probably should, but I do have a tattoo of the number 42, so….....). I love chocolate. I have trouble sleeping. I love my friends. I miss California. I love baseball. There are days in which I feel sad and alone, and days in which I feel the kind of elusive elation that remains fleeting and precious.
So I guess, although my life is so much different than it was back then, essentially I am the same person. I may have different thoughts and different goals and different needs, but there are things that have remained the same. It’s comforting I suppose. The constancy. The permanence of my essence.
In another 15 years, will I be the same?
“I thought you weren’t coming.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You specifically said you had other plans.”
“No, I said I might have something else going on. I wasn’t sure.”
“Do you not want me to be here?*
“No, it’s just…”
“I get it. You didn’t want me to come.”
“No, no, you just said…”
“It’s fine. But I’m here now, so I’m going to stay for a while.”
“Unless that’s not ok.”
“It’s fine. You do what you want.”
“Can you believe her? I don’t get what the big deal is. I wasn’t sure I could come. Then I could come. So here I am. Why does she care?”
“Maybe there’s someone here she wants to meet.”
“And she thinks I would get in the way of that?”
“Fine, ok, I get it, I am a little…”
“Overbearing? Overprotective? Jealous?”
“I’m a good friend.”
“And a crappy girlfriend.”
“We aren’t together anymore.”
“I know. That’s the point.”
“I can’t believe she came.”
“You can’t control what she does.”
“But I didn’t want her to come.”
“Did you tell her that?”
“Well, then you can’t be mad at her for being here.”
“I know, it’s just...it sucks.”
“So you avoid each other all night. It won’t be that hard. She’s not hard to miss.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“You didn’t come together?”
“We aren’t together.”
“Shit. Since when?”
“A week ago? I don’t even really know.”
“Yeah. I mean, sure. Yes.”
“Hey, fuck off, man, I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
“It always is.”
“So, you looking to find someone new or what?”
“Isn’t that what parties are for?”
“I don’t think we’ve met before.”
“No, I don’t think we have.”
“So, uh, how do you know B---?”
“Oh, uh, this is B---’s house?”
“Oh, right. B---. Yeah, I don’t know him.”
“Do you have other friends here, or…”
“Oh, yeah, I know J---. We go way back.”
“You know J---? She’s over there.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know her.”
“Oh yeah? It’s weird we haven’t met before.”
“Oh my god, did you see her talking to T---? I cannot believe her.”
“Chill. It’s a party. People talk.”
“Yeah, but to T---?”
“She is not going to take her away from me.”
“Dude, no one is taking anything. They’re not even talking anymore.”
“Besides, weren’t you here to meet new people?”
“Um, K--- told me about you and J---. That sucks. I’m sorry.”
“So, uh, can I do anything?”
“You can tell the universe to stop messing with me.”
“Hey man. That's just what the universe does.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t want me to come.”
“I never said that. You said you weren’t coming.”
“It doesn’t matter what I said. It matters that you don’t want me here.”
“Would it have made a difference? Would you have not come if I asked to?”
“I met T---. She said you two ‘go way back.’ What does that even mean?”
“Uh huh. Why didn’t she know who I was?”
“She didn’t know who I was.”
“So if you two were such good friends, why didn’t you ever introduce her to your girlfriend?”
“I can’t believe you.”
“What? Noooo. We were just about to play a game!”
“Sorry. I just can’t with J--- anymore.”
“She’s not even here. I saw her leave with S--- ten minutes ago.”
“I thought you left.”
“Are you following me now?”
“B--- said you left.”
“Her? No way.”
“Not your type?”
“You know she’s not.”
“We can’t keep doing this.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Does it make you happy?’
“It makes me crazy.”
“No, just crazy.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“So this is it, huh?”
“It would seem so.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“But probably for the best.”
“Do you want to dance?”