Monday, August 10, 2009

August 9th, 2009

I took the day off my WIPs yesterday to hang out with an old friend. (My true dork colors are about to let loose, so shield your eyes.)

August 9th is sort of a personal holiday for me. It's the birthday for Tiern, the protagonist of the fantasy series I've been working on since I was fourteen. Some years I celebrate it with ice cream cake and friends and readings of horrible high school fiction, some years I just hang out by myself and reflect. It's not really a birthday celebration for the character himself - although last year there was a splendid duck-themed cake that would've just killed him. For me, it's a day I set aside to celebrate writing.

Writing makes me happy. It often makes me flail my arms and squeal like a teenage girl. It's a thing I want to spend the rest of my life doing, whether I eventually get paid to do it or not. I figure something that brings that much joy and meaning (not to mention opportunities to act like a doofus) into my life is a thing worth celebrating. So every year I celebrate it on the birthday of the character that got me into the craft in the first place.

I had put Tiern's story down in May to focus on the current novel WIP, and it was refreshing to get back to him for a bit. I spent the day eating foods with too much ketchup, knitting, and giving myself free reign to work on whatever story I liked - which, at the end of the day, got me one weird little vignette from Tiern's POV and three pages of notes for a massive revision for his entire trilogy. Apparently having these few months away from his story gave me some perspective. Even though I won't be getting back into that project for a while yet, I'm more excited about it than I've been in years.

In short: I'm a dork, big revisiony things are in the works, yesterday reminded me why writing makes me flail about, and here, have that vignette thing.

An Inventory for World-Saving, by Tiern Sqiiks, age 19

If you’re planning on saving a world, you’re gonna need a few things. First off, music - music is vital. Have you ever seen an epic battle scene in a movie go down without music? Shit, no. Music sets the mood. It swells in your chest, reminds you you’re alive, and gives you a beat to move to.

What I’d recommend is investing in an mp3 player with a long battery life. Preferably something with snug-fitting earphones - the last thing you want is to have to adjust those while you’re in the middle of things.

You could team up with an Audio Illusionist, of course, but they’ve always got their own agenda for their psychic soundtracks. Do you really want to save the world to Queen’s Greatest Hits? (If you do, I know a guy who’d be happy to help, but you should know that “Don’t Stop Me Now” loses its energizing effect after four or five times around.)

Next, you need comfortable footwear. Don’t wanna be crunching over the bodies of the fallen in boots you haven’t broken in, right?

I’m kidding. Not about needing good shoes - because you really do need those - but about walking on the dead. If someone falls in the fight, I don’t step on them. I’d recommend you not do that, either - it’s disrespectful. If you gave your life for a cause, right or wrong, you wouldn’t want someone tromping all over you in their nasty hand-me-down hiking boots, would you? Thought not.

And I do recommend hiking boots. They’ve got about the right balance of ankle support, treads, and material weight for any activity. ‘S why I hardly ever wear anything else.

You need a good bag, of course. This should be a given. What you put in it is more a personal preference.

I pack my laptop. I don’t need to, really, and I’ll probably never have the time to go online, but it’s a matter of comfort. I know it’s there if I want it. You might be the same way. Maybe you’ve got a book you like to read once in a while, or a sketchbook or something. If it won’t weigh you down too much, if you can fit it, bring it with you. It’s okay.

You’ll want to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste. Trust me, it’ll help.

You should also pack some kind of multi-tool. If you don’t already own one (and why wouldn’t you? Look, if you don’t, just go out and get one right now, because they’re damn useful), you can pick one up at any hardware store. Pliers, knife, and bottle opener functions, at least.

Which reminds me - beer. You should really have some, for the night before. You can substitute a cola if it’s really not your thing, but I highly recommend a beer. Don’t think the choice over too much - even if it’s that cheap piss they sell at the gas station, it’ll still be the best thing you’ve ever tasted.

Anything pertinent to your world-saving plan can be kept in your bag. Maps, notes, walky-talkies, whatever. I’ve only got a sacred book, held together by duct tape and kept in a gallon freezer bag next to my laptop in case of rain. Freezer bags are a good idea, but get the kind with the color-changing zipper. No store brand crap. It’s not like you’re gonna need your money, anyway.

A weapon is a necessity, obviously. Something to defend yourself with until you’re really in the thick of things. If your multi-tool has a good, lockable knife on it, that might do. I keep a handgun in the pencil pocket of my backpack, just to be safe. It’s weird, carrying something like that on you when you’re not used to it, but honestly, it gets to be a comfort.

Now, here’s where somebody else would tell you to bring a change of clothes. Personally, I think that’s bullshit. Bringing a change of clothes is like tempting fate. It tells the universe that you think you’re such hot shit you’re gonna pull through this needing nothing but a fresh pair of jeans. If you’re packing a bag for this sort of thing, you should know the universe’s sense of humor well enough by now to know that’s not a good idea. Bring a full change of clothes, and you will die, bloody and screaming. Bring just the underclothes and shirt, and you’re still leaving yourself open to an ironic death. You can maybe get away with socks, but I wouldn’t risk it.

I’m sure you’ll want to bring pictures of loved ones or mementos or something. You might feel ridiculous packing those, but don’t. Almost everybody I know does this - even the ones who make a family field trip of saving the world. You need something to ground you to that life behind you. Plus, you don’t want to be left out when everybody’s sitting around the night before the big bang, reminiscing over who they’re here protecting.

You don’t want to be that guy who’s brought nothing with him. I know that guy. He’s filled with strategies and plans - and you need those, too - but his heart’s hollow. That’s one thing you can’t have with you, if you’re planning on saving a world: a hollow heart. You won’t make it. You’ll fall and get a face full of some asshole kid’s hiking boots.

And you need to want it. The whole package deal: dying for the sake of others, losing everyone you love in the process, seeing the ugly underbelly of the world you’re trying to save, all of it. You need to want it more than anything.

This is where most of us fail. There’s the occasional crazy bastard or hardcore masochist who’s all-in, but aside from them, we’re doing this wrong. No one wants to lose that much. Most of us would rather hang out with our families at the end of the world and die loved. Stories talk about champions who step forward in times like these to willingly give everything for the greater good. I’ve never met one. You’ll never meet one. They don’t exist. There’s just you and me and our worn out boots and our bags full of personal artifacts. So if you’re not a masochist or a crazy bastard (or, I guess, one of those fictional champions), you’ll want something to pull you through this. Nurture a vendetta. Sell your soul. Get a death wish. Lose everyone early on so the choice is easy - or hell, I don’t know, grow up watching too many cowboy movies and build yourself a nice cozy delusion of heroism.

Anyway, the point is, you need things. You can’t just go rushing into a world-saving scenario without taking a proper inventory. Grab some scrap paper and write all this down. Put ticky boxes next to the items. Assemble a proper to-do list.

And if you really don’t have the time to prepare for this? Then at least grab your boots, a photo, your music, and your tooth brush. The first two will keep you moving, the third will keep you sane, and the fourth - well, dental hygiene.

So do what you can. Fight as best you can. If your best isn’t good enough, at least you’ll have clean teeth and a proper soundtrack when the world ends.

(Happy birthday, Tiern.)

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