Lumeria

So, this is super nerdy…

But idgaf because I’m pumped about it!

I’m helping my dad self-publish a tabletop RPG book by writing all of the color pieces. I’ll post a link to it when we finally finish it. It’s been really fun writing some fantasy, which I don’t often get the chance to do, and I hope you enjoy it. Here’s one of the bits I’ve written so far.

Falling Night

These days, Lumeria’s light is lazy, may the Lord Apparent excuse such blasphemy. It drifts down in languorous umber motes, and I find myself writing by the light of twilight even now, though the dægmæle tells me Lumia should not wane for seven more minutes. One hears tell that our Lord’s light reaches some places not at all. On my return from convocation only a week ago, as I performed my daily walk of contemplation, a street wretch drew me from my abstraction and begged for blessing. This individual, though pathetic to the utmost extremity, seemed a penitent enough soul, and the Lord’s Law demands charity where due. I bestowed the customary blessing and offered him a meal from the rectory besides. As my guard and I escorted him there, he told me his tale, and it weighs heavy upon my soul.

The beggar began his story by telling of his bondage as agflota on the Reaving craft Perfidy, captained by that great rogue, Argyll. When he spoke these words, the captain of my guard, ever zealous Angstrom, drew steel and opined that the head of a man who had served under Argyll would make a fine adornment for Chapel Gate, slave or no. I reminded dear Angstrom that not all men can be as pure as he, and bade the wretch to continue his tale, surfeited with fear though he now was. Voice trembling, the pathetic creature continued. Argyll had tired of the slim pickings that were to be had in his usual hunt-
ing grounds, and so it was decided that he and his crew would venture down among the lower ostrovs in search of untouched spoils. He spoke of twisted vistas and dark among the orange and red ostrovs, and how, at journey’s end, they stumbled upon the rooms of ruin that lay like forests trailing their roots through the Nether.

This man spoke, in a hushed voice, of the great fyndels that whirr and creak under that dark sky, though they lay dust- covered amid carpets of their own rust. He spoke of how the ship’s steorere could not tell sky from Nether, and how the men huddled around the deck lamps in hope that they would once again see the light of Lux. This man told of how the crew feared to sleep, for each hand claimed be plagued by whispers in their dreams. He spoke of first hunger, then of thirst, but mostly of the terror that their dwindling store of lamp oil struck into the hearts of all the crew. In desperation, Argyll led an armed party ashore in search of stores, leaving his mate behind to command the remnants of his Reavers. The group left the ship and entered the ruins of a vast temple they had sighted from the deck earlier that day.

There, said the beggar, his wrinkled old face twisted in re-
membered terror, they were set upon. The first sign of trouble, he said, was when the party’s torches snuffed out, all in the same instant, so that the only light was the distant glow cast by the fire the crew had built on the Perfidy’s deck. In that lurid half light, Argyll’s career came to a grisly end. Out of the darkness, some invisible power began to seize each agflota in turn and tear them limb from limb. The beggar himself only survived the butchery by covering himself in the remains of his comrades and affecting the attitude of one of the slain. Only Argyll was spared this fate, though one much worse was reserved for him. Out of the darkness of the temple strolled a horrible, withered, twisted form, its jaw ripped open to swing against its own papery neck. The thing seized Argyll, who was struck motionless by the monster’s power, and carried him up the steps and away into the bowels of the temple. The beggar trembled as he remembered his master’s hoarse screams of helpless terror.

Coward that he was, the beggar remained motionless for nigh on an hour, then had fled back to the ship with all haste. The Perfidy disembarked immediately and fled for her home port, ignoring the many members of her crew who succumbed to starvation and for want of water. The crew voted to maroon the beggar for his cowardice in the face of danger, but they were not without mercy, and only did so when the ship had reached green ostrovs.

I listened to this tale in skeptical silence, my hands folded into the belt of my habit, as is my wont. When we reached the rectory, I bade the beggar purity in the eyes of the Lord Apparent, and dismissed his story as the ravings of a madman. However, the more I think of it, the more the tale troubles me. I have seen strange things that are nowhere in the church records I studied as a boy, which cover nearly ten generations of history. Strangely, I have found the wisdom of nomads to be revelatory on this subject. Many dismiss the gitanos as thieves and vagabonds, but I have found them to be devout fol-
lowers of the Lord Apparent, and the gitanos have a saying: “Night follows light”. I fear that the light of mother church and ostrovicum is fading, and I worry at the things that lurk in the scædu of night.

–The diary of Legate Aeldmar

Blood and Guts

Wow, writing this one hurt. I’m debating on whether or not to turn this in as my first workshop for that creative nonfiction class.

 

The worst moment in my life was a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the wind dandling the chimes hanging on my aunt’s porch. I’m hungover, and everyone knows, it’s obvious. I puked at some point last night, and my cheeks are spackled with popped blood vessels, but it’s a wink and a nod to my family. Drinking long, hard, and often is a tradition in my family, which is for the most part, surprise, surprise: Irish-Catholic. A great-grandfather, grandfather, and an uncle were all alcoholics, but whenever the Steeles get together, they drink shamelessly. This is one of those times. We were having brunch, but it ran long. My aunt Johanna kept making me mimosas.

“Hair of the dog?” She kept saying, and I would shrug, and think, why not.

So, imagine the scene. There’s my dad, stepmother, and two of my half-brothers (there are four! now). There’s my aunt, her husband, and their two kids. There’s some of my aunt’s neighbors, trying to break into the clannish in-jokes and stories. There’s one uncle, on fall break from William and Mary. Another one, and his wife, visiting from Richmond. The kitchen table’s full of congealing quiche and warm shrimp cocktails. Then there’s me, sitting on a stool in the living room, longing for a warm bed, feeling like I might puke, and sucking down prosecco and orange juice anyway.

I had been out the night before, I don’t exactly remember where, but I know who with; the usual crowd, Jeremy, Robert, Elizabeth, all of them. It might have even been the night after Homecoming or something – not prom though, even then I wasn’t stupid enough to show my face around my folks after a night like that. This was junior year of high school, and I had long graduated from smoking blunts in basements to… well, other things. I could tell some really stupid stories about vicodin and xanex. But recently, my ADHD friend Isaac had been selling me and my buddies adderall. We used to crush it up and do lines before we went out for the night: it made you really hyped, really in the mood for some hard drinking, for grinding on girls at the Jefferson, “and, dude, did you notice that you barely get hung over?”.

So I had been out the night before, drove home, and changed my clothes in preparation for the brunch I was at right now. I knew that I had bought two or three addy from Isaac the night before, but I couldn’t find them that morning. I figured we had done them all during the festivities.  

Can I say, that even four years later, this shit is still making my heart race? I feel dread for past-me. I should have done so many goddamn things differently.

There are four kids crawling around on the floor, screaming, getting into things, running around, and generally being adorable little hellions. And my cousin, Cormac, who is only 14 months old, is rooting around on the floor by the living room couch. Johanna’s husband, sitting next to him, bends down and plucks something out of his mouth. I’m not paying attention, trying to keep my eyelids from sliding shut.

“What’s this?” he asks, his voice tinged with something off.

There are two P.H.ds and a grad student in the room. They figure it out quick.

“It’s some kind of pill. Look it up on drugs.com.”

I’m listening now, but I’m not sure what I’m hearing. They’re talking so fast. My eyes are wide open.

“That’s amphetamine salt, Adderall. Cormac had that? How?”

Sitting on that stupid fucking stool with umber evening light streaming through the bay window behind me, the wind chimes binging away, sun hot on the back of my button-down, the scent of frozen shrimp sticking in the back of my throat. That’s it. The worst moment of my life.

 

 

 

 

Race

 

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

  • Hemmingway

 

Race.

 

This blog isn’t a place for me to stand up on a soapbox, and this essay isn’t supposed to be that. A few different things got me to sit down and write this thing. First, there’s been a lot of stuff in the news in the past few months that is beyond troubling to me. When I first got this idea, it was during this summer, and I had just watched the video that Philando Castile’s girlfriend posted on facebook. I could go on and on about the different events of the past year, about but I’m not gonna. I’m going to talk about how that video made me feel.

I feel sick about it. The way that Diamond Reynolds kept calling the officer sir, even after he just shot her fiancee in front of her daughter. Her disbelief. The way that Jeronimo Yanez was so obviously horrified by what he had just done. How Castile couldn’t do anything, just was slumping slowly over, sheeted in his own blood. Sick, and sad, and worried about the future. The Dallas shooting a few days later was just as frightening. The part that hit home worst about that tragedy was how it mutated news sites’ comment sections into ugly, hateful echo chambers.

People don’t like to talk about this kind of thing, and I think that’s a problem. It’s such an open, glaring, oozing sore in modern society, that’s so ugly that people only refer to it obliquely, or shy away from the topic altogether. I think that’s wrong. I think you should always try to talk about the hard stuff, the issues that fester if you leave them alone, even if by talking about them you fuck up or sound like an idiot. That’s been my personal experience, and even now I find it hard to lay my heart on the table like this, but I believe that’s how we find our own true worth.

So those images have been lurking in the back of my mind over the past few months, which brings us to this morning, when I watched the first episode of Donald Glover’s new series, Atlanta. First, I’ve gotta say that if you haven’t watched it yet, you should, it’s funny and real and kind of a downer all rolled into one, with a side-dose of the absurd. But the most striking part about it was the overwhelming sense of fatalism, that Earn, Glover’s character, was slated to lose and give until he’s consumed. And then, after I watched the show, I read some article (I’ll find it later and link it) in which Glover was saying that white people don’t know everything about black culture.

I don’t know that much about black culture to begin with, and I don’t know how much of Atlanta is hyperbole, or stereotypes, or what. So I tried to read between the lines, and look deeper, and there were so many subtexts about homophobia, police tension, violence, just lurking under the surface. And it got me thinking about the experience of the black people in my life, and how different their experiences might be from mine.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to speak for anyone else, brown, black, white, or blue, because I can’t. All I can do is talk about me. Media talks about white privilege and white guilt a lot. I don’t feel privileged, even though, intellectually, I know I am. I don’t feel guilty for the advantages I have, I’m grateful for them. I grew up in neighborhoods where nobody locked their doors. I went to private schools until my parents split up, when I was 10. I’m a middle class white male.

To illustrate the environment I grew up in, here’s a little anecdote. This August, I went up to Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents, who are devoted Catholics in their 70’s. While me and my mom were having dinner with them one night, the conversation turned to the school integration programs in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandma, who was just getting over a lumpectomy surgery, and was on some painkillers that may have erased her filters a bit, said something like: “Those people were coming from Philadelphia, from an hour away on the bus, and were changing things here so fast. It didn’t make sense, and it was destroying the town.” There was more, all in this awkward, embarrassed, apologetic tone that made me cringe.

On the drive back home from PA with my mom, I brought up the conversation that had made me feel so uncomfortable. She was surprised.

“Really?” she said. “That was them being open minded.”

When I was in high school, in the most diverse school in the county, I didn’t think about race much, if at all. But now I’m going to a predominantly white college, and the issue keeps bubbling up in my mind. I can’t claim to have many black friends, but I was close with one guy in high school who I still regularly hang out with today, and he’s black (he’s “Will” in Chewing the Fat). Being in a city school, such as it was, I also was close with a bunch of black guys during my time playing football, including some of the coaches, who are among my personal role models. The man that looms largest among these, literally, is C.J., or Chris Johnson, my lineman coach through most of high school.

C.J. isn’t my role model because he’s perfect. He has a bit of a checkered history involving the school system and marijuana, but that doesn’t matter that much to me. I admire him because he helped me become who I am today, saw something in me that I couldn’t. Somewhere between all the cussing, joking, cutting up, conditioning, and camaraderie, C.J. taught me something about what it means to be a man. To respect myself, to recognize that life is a process, and to push the boundaries of what you think you can do. And it kills me that someone like C.J., that anyone at all, that it’s even possible for someone to be killed, let alone be treated unfairly, because of the color of their skin. It kills me that  it could have been C.J.’s wife taking that video, and his son sitting in the back seat of the car.

That’s what I know for sure, that what’s happening to black people in America is wrong. All the rest of it is bullshit, background noise. What really matters is that we confront the issues in front of us, evaluate them as we know how, and then have the integrity and courage to speak them, rather than remain mute bystanders.

So if that’s the conclusion, what’s the policy solution? What can the average person do? As an aspiring political science student, those questions come right on the heels of thinking a problem through. On the policy level, I think the first step is to bring these kind of issues into a more spirited national debate. On a Congressional level, change starts with passing some legislative measures to assess and control policing, and provide legal precedents for prosecuting officers who are involved in extrajudicial deaths. Some examples of bills like this are H.R. 1933, which deals with racial profiling, and H.R. 5283, which will tighter enforce due process. But since when has government made changes in the hearts and minds of the people on the street? I think everyone who lives in America owes it to their country to do some soul-searching, and to make an informed and moral judgement on race relations. This is our nation, and it’s only as good as we make it.

 

Chewing the Fat

What’s happening, hypothetical readers? Here’s a little something I cooked up in the past few hours while trying to respond to a prompt for my creative nonfiction class, which asked for a piece that focused on use of dialogue.

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

It’s one of those crisp nights in late October, where the air tastes like barbecue smoke and rotting leaves. The cicadas are dead, but there are still crickets shrilling, underneath the distant sound of cars on 250, which is about a mile away from Sean’s house. Most of us are there: Me, Will, Charles, Jeremiah, and Sean, on one of the first weekends of our senior year of high school. Jeremiah and me are smoking cigarettes, there are a few half-drunk bottles of cheap beer on the glass table, and a bong may or may not have made a couple of turns around our little half-circle. We’re sitting in wicker chairs on the concrete patio under Sean’s house, with Marley, Sean’s pup, lying underneath the table between us.

[David Attenborough Narrates]: What you are about to observe is the ritualistic bullshitting of the young human male. Here, in the suburban wilderness of Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of these fascinating creatures has gathered to engage in the telling of tall tales. Let’s listen.

“So, uh, Charles,” Will asks, already grinning, “what happened on Friday, bud? Nick says you literally almost died. Did you literally almost die?”

“Yeah he did, asshole,” I deadpan, and try to blow tobacco smoke at him without moving from my comfy slump.

“It was pretty stupid,” Charles says. “A bunch of us were balling on the courts behind school with Adam and them, and afterward, I was messing around in the car, and I tried to park Jay in.” Jeremiah shakes his head. “So, my car was in the middle of the lot, and Teddy was also trying to get out, and I was messing with him too, right? I was sitting up on his hood, and for some reason he floored it, and went right into my parked car.” He slams his hand on the arm of his chair. “Bam. My car is fucked.”

“The crazy part is,” Jeremiah cuts in, “The crazy part is, though, that his legs were hanging down in front of Teddy’s car. If he hadn’t moved them at the last second, he would have been hamburger.”

“Damn, dude. Is Teddy’s Stepdad heated?” asks Sean.

“I mean, he’s not here, right? He’s for sure grounded.” I reply.

“Dude, Nick, this reminds me of the time on the Downtown Mall with Jack and Bensah. You know what I’m talking about?”

“Yea-”

“Oh, shit, yeah, the freemasons!” Will cuts in, “I was with you guys that night.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I remember. It’s right across from Bensah’s mom’s store.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Charles asks.

“Okay, so it was like, freshman year or something,” I say, “Before you and Sean came from Montessori.”

“We came freshman year. I had lunch with you and Jack.” says Sean.

“Wait -” I toss my butt into an empty bottle and fish around on the floor to find the case. “Shit, really? Riiight, I’m thinking of-”

“Anyway, tell me about the masonic lodge.” says Charles.

“So,” says Jeremiah, taking up the thread. “A bunch of us were on the mall, walking around, y’know.”

“We used to do that all the time,” I say.

“Yeah, and so we were really bored, and we decided to go into the Freemason building on the mall,” says Will, who is now peeling an orange he brought from inside the house, and flicking the pith onto the table. “There’s this stairway that goes up to this big meeting room, and there was just three old dudes chilling up there, totally silent. So creepy.”

“But here’s the good part,” I say, “We kept freaking each other out, so we ended up going in there again.”

“They flipped shit on us,” Will says. “Said they’d call the cops if they saw us again.”

“Pretty reasonable though,” says Jeremiah. “I mean think about it. You’re just chilling somewhere and some random kids come in, not once but twice?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It was still scary though.”

“What happened to Jack and Bensah?” asks Sean, “I haven’t seen either of them in a brick.”

“Jack is over at Miller.” Jeremiah says around the cigarette he’s lighting. “We still hang out occasionally.”

“And Bensah’s at Albemarle.” I say, “Me and Will saw him at the game on Friday.”

“Y’all got killed,” says Jeremiah.

“Shuup,” says Will around a mouthful of orange.

“Hah, Albemarle.” says Charles.

“Yo Will,” I say, sitting up and cracking my back, “Are there more oranges?” Will nods. I look a question at Sean.

“Yeah, it’s cool. Grab me one.”

I slide open the glass door to the house, walk up to the kitchen and grab a couple of oranges from a bowl on the table. Inside, all the lights are out, and the only sounds are from the fridge and the muffled conversation outside. I glance over at the clock on the microwave: 12:17. I think about checking my phone, which is in my bag over by the front door, but decide against it. I can worry about my folks later; I texted them that I was staying over, so hopefully I’m good. As I make my way back downstairs, I grab a wooly blanket that’s hanging over the back of the couch, it’s pretty chilly out there.

[David Attenborough] Soon, the bullshitting will reach a critical mass, and one of the group must issue a challenge.

 

I slide open the glass door to hear: “and Wade’s about to call a taxi, he’s freaking out so bad…”

“Wait, what?” I ask, sitting back down and tossing an orange to Sean.

“Oh, god, don’t tell it again,” says Charles, who’s leaning forward with his head in his hands.

“Okay, so it was last year after you guys played Albemarle in baseball,” says Sean, grinning when Charles groans. “And Jeremiah was driving me, Charles, and Wade Kamauff around in the car.”

“And we decided to go fuck with their field,” says Jeremiah, also grinning. “We went to Lowe’s and bought some spray paint.”

“How have I not heard this?” I ask, mouth hanging open. “Aren’t there cameras?”

“Yeah, but we were thuggin’!” says Sean, and he throws his sweatshirt’s hood up. I chuckle.

“Anyway, we drove to Albemarle and covered their outfield with paint, and then Charles -”

“God damn it.” Charles says, laughing now from between his palms.

“Charles shit on their pitcher’s mound.” Jeremiah barely gets this out, he’s cracking up so bad.

“But you don’t even play baseball!” says Will, “Charles, what the fuck?”

“I know. I know.” Charles says.

“Were you fucked up?” I ask.

“Not evennnn.” Charles moans.

There’s a pause. Crickets whine in the silence. Then –

“Bullshit!” Will says. “There’s no way.”