I Have Some Weird Dreams

There is a house I’ll occasionally visit in my dreams. I’m not entirely sure how it was built, though it seems a partial amalgamation of my step-father’s old house on the hill, the house on the lake and possibly a ski resort. It’s a nice place, don’t get me wrong, but the emotion I get when I visit it is never overwhelmingly one emotion or another. I enjoy the place, but there’s always this sense of looming melancholy. It’s like when the day is warm, but you look up and see overcast in the distance for a light storm that never quite comes.

There’s an immaculate deck on the second floor with a hot tub that cost probably half a year’s pay. The deck comes out on the side to a hill that descends to a shared beachfront. The bank is rocky, but a dock extends out away from it, a dinghy tied to the end. Teenagers, children, young adults swim in water that is never as cold as it should be and never as warm as a dream ought to make it. I don’t recall seeing adults in it; when I swim, I think I’m a teenager again myself.

Far out past the the swimming area, there are a handful of rocks with boast drifting to and from behind them. I don’t know what they do, what they’re waiting for, if they’re just fishing or if they’re waiting for someone to swim out so they can whisk them away elsewhere.

Swimming to the right, around a jutting bank, takes you to an isolated rock upon which an abandoned lighthouse sits. I don’t know if you would be able to reach it by ground or not. When I visited, I swam to it and climbed up onto the rocks.

I was with someone – a girl, I believe – but I remember her only in bits and parts. A flash of appearance here, a “Check this out!” there. We were friends, whoever she was.

I recall coming across an empty room set up like a private study, everything covered in dust. A small bookcase to the left of the room was packed with tomes of varying height and girth. To the center was a small, dirty window overlooking the bay. The sky was gray that day. A desk sat in front of the little portal to the outside world with a single rose in a narrow glass vase in the top right corner. It was dead, but not wilted. It looked more like potpourri on the stem.

A notebook rested beside the flower, an old thing bound in cracked maroon leather and a quill lay across it. I recall being tempted to open it. What scribings would I find inside? The musings of a man looking out at a sea he missed or perhaps never got the chance to sail on? A letter to a lost love or a woman waiting, warm in the amenities of their home while he made do with a small fireplace and whatever watery soup he managed to cook over it? More likely it was full of sparse notes detailing the observations of the day. Could you see the kids swimming from the lighthouse? I don’t recall that being the case.

I don’t remember much after that. I was called away, my friend and I climbed back down into the water and swam back to the sprawling house.

I’ve only been to the lighthouse once. I’ve visited the house at least three times, the most recent being last night. I don’t know where it comes from or why I go, but it’s…kind of nice. It’s different.

Did I mention that hot tub?

How to Make a Convincing Fantasy Film

I came out of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies a little bit ago and wrote a post nerd-gushing over that and Lord of the Rings because I love them, I love the lore, I love the books, and I’ll watch the extended editions of the DVDs repeatedly, and if you don’t like them, I’m sad for you. You poor thing.

The process of watching that film and then writing about all six films made me consider once again something that has bothered me for quite some time: the lack of quality fantasy films on the big screen. I’m not talking fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth or Pirates of the Caribbean, which are well done and quite enjoyable. I’m not talking about adaptations of existing books/comics, although there are several and most aren’t very good. I’m talking about epic fantasy, magic spells, dragons, liches, and a party of diverse professions and races to stop them.

Lord of the Rings was a resounding success, but the Dragonlance series made TSR publishing a powerhouse in the 80s and 90s and the Chronicles trilogy (Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, Dragons of Spring Dawning) would make for excellent screen material. The closest we got was a direct-to-DVD cartoon with less than savory art.

There are elements of predictability and the characters are a little stiff, but the action is taut with suspense and spectacle, and dialogue can be re-written. There are a greater variety of monsters, races we’ve never seen before (like the kender), stunning characters like Lord Soth the death knight, not just one dragon, but dragon riders and dragon battles, incredible displays of sorcery, betrayals, deaths. This is exciting stuff.

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Art by Matt Stawicki

Or you could do an original story, but you have to be careful not to fall into the same trap as the Dungeons and Dragons film, a film that failed because no one understood the property to the degree necessary to make a story that made sense and because no one had faith in it enough to cast stronger writers, stronger leads and a stronger direction.

Now, to change the subject a little bit, the original Star Wars trilogy is often considered a space fantasy. It’s obviously science fiction, what with the space ships, aliens, blasters… and space. You have bacta tanks that heal and a mechanical suit that helps sustain life. Giant mechanical walkers carrying troops, and droids who aren’t allowed into bars. However, the elements of fantasy are still there. You’ve got your basic hero’s journey, with the prodigal son realising he comes from powerful stock and is destined for great things. You have a mysterious force that allows air choking, laser deflecting and lightning bolts to shoot from your hand. There are even sword fights all the way through it. And your traveling party? A wizened old mystic, a princess turned rebel, a farm boy with his father’s sword, two droids, a scoundrel and a Wookie. That’s classic Dungeons and Dragons-style diversity, my friends. Space. Fantasy.

I mean, look at this:

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The tropes work in a science fiction setting, and science fiction is EVERYWHERE. Man, there are so many good science fiction films with broad scopes, huge ideas, incredible concepts and memorable characters. We don’t laugh at aliens (unless they’re meant to be laughed at), we embrace them. We’re scared of them. We want to meet them. We want to kill them. There are so many kinds.

So it bothered me that there weren’t more fantasy films on screen. Why wasn’t it working? Jupiter Ascending is coming out, and it looks gorgeous, but it looks like more than a science fiction film, despite corporations seeding worlds and massive spaceships and rocket boots. But then you have returning/reincarnated royalty, beautiful coronation ceremonies, an elf guy and a dragon man. I mean, come on.

But I think I figured it out. People can rationalize technology and alien life but not monsters and magic, and so they don’t consider that the same basic steps go into building a solid, visual world for the latter that goes into the former. So here they are, some tips to make a decent fantasy film. If any of you are bigwigs in the film industry or know someone who is, feel free to thank me in your academy award speech, or whatever.

Note: I’m probably going to compare to Star Wars a lot. Sue me.

1. Make compelling characters. I’ve said this time and time again, and I stand by it. My boss, at my day job, looks over our metrics several times a month. Of the ten, he insists that the customer service related metric is the most important. Make sure the customers are satisfied and feel taken care of. They’ll feel safe, they will trust you, and the rest of the metrics will come from that.

In much the same way, I believe that at the core of every great story are great characters. These are people you aspire to be, aspire to meet, that you root for, cry for, yell at, rail against. For whatever reason, you are invested in that character. Maybe they have the best lines. Maybe their relationship is tragic. Maybe it’s their personality flaws that you want them to overcome or that make you sad because they’re breaking him/her down.

Characters are important, and their relationships with each other are important. Do they trust each other? Has that trust been injured? Do they love each other? Did they once and no longer? Is there a secret language between two of them?

Think about your relationships with the people in your life, and not just the positive ones, and not just your friends or family. Was there a teacher you hated? Someone who didn’t believe in you? A person who broke your heart, or someone whose heart you’ve broken? A friend you’ve grown distant from, or a family member you consider a best friend?

Just because this is a fantasy film doesn’t mean the characters and their relationships should be anything less than authentic. Read their dialogue out loud. Does it sound like something a real person would say? Does one character have a certain cadence of speaking or prefer to be proper instead of using more casual lingo? Do they have an accent?

The audience is going to spend the story with these characters. If they feel fake, if they’re not interesting, if they’re not likeable or hateable, then you’ve created a disconnect right out of the gate. This will always be my first step.

2. Magic is your technology substitute.

Think about holograms and displays. Think about all the gadgets, from the Predator’s shoulder-mounted cannon to floating mapping devices in Prometheus, from the regular ol’ cool-looking flamethrower in Alien to hover boots and laser weapons and robots. These technological advancements are eye-catching. Things like mech suits and glowing nets arrest the attention and draw you in to all the neat little advancements of the future.

In a fantasy setting, for those who don’t use magic themselves (sorcerers, wizards), there are magic items. A ring that might slow your fall, a wand that fires missiles, a bracelet that increases your musculature when activated, or gives you rock skin. For those who actually cast spells, there are fireballs and lightning bolts, people can be transformed into animals or objects. Beasts can be summoned, demons trapped, enemies bound, weapons melted.

Magic can be as explosive and brilliant as any piece of cutting-edge technology, and it can be as versatile and creative as you want it to be.

In the same way that the sleek look or the gritty integration of your technology can define your science fiction world, the magic you use sets your fantasy world apart just as much, giving it its own life and catching the imagination of the viewers. Sure, you could make a call to someone and talk to their three dimensional hologram, but you could also mix some ingredients in a goblet and have a glowing spectral image appear.

3. There is virtually no difference between science fiction and fantasy when creating creatures or races.

In galaxy-spanning science fiction, humans find themselves mingling with a multitude of alien races, often in any street or business you find. Star Wars has their humans, Mon Calamari, Hutts, Trandoshans, Wookiees, Rodians and many more. In a fantasy film, you have your humans, elves and dwarves, sure, but then there are halflings, or kender, or gnomes, orcs, gnolls, tieflings, dragonborn, or any number of other races.

They might still share the same world (not that they necessarily have to), but they each have different cultures, home regions, customs, beliefs and appearances. You can have multiple races of elves or dwarves or orcs, with different appearances, temperaments and stigmas. You can subvert the classic tropes of well-known races. You can create races no one has ever heard of before. This adds the same kind of exotic flavor that your Star Wars and Star Treks and your Guardians of the Galaxies do.

As far as creatures? You can look at the flying serpent creatures and cat-like predators on a planet like Avatar’s Pandora and marvel at the fauna on a planet so far away. You can long to ride a tauntaun or a bantha, or quail in fear at the monstrous wampas.

But a fantasy world is the same as an alien world. There are going to be monsters you might have seen before and others you might not have heard of. You can have your dragons, but are they scaled or smooth? Four legs, or two? Winged, or not?

Then toss in some bugbears!

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Or a displacer beast!

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Or if you really want to ruin someone’s day, a mind flayer.

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Now, granted these are all Wizards of the Coast creatures, but you can see the sheer amount of imagination and originality that went into it. Sci-fi does it and fantasy has the same capabilities because it also takes place somewhere besides the Earth that we know.

4. Make your locations stand out.
I honestly can’t tell you this better than I can show it, so I’m going to show how scenery and locations can make your fictional world come alive by comparing science fiction locales to Peter Jackson’s successful and thriving Lord of the Rings locations.

Here is a picture of Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium, a paradise on a space station:

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And here are pictures of the elven outpost Rivendell:

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Here is a picture of Mos Eisley:

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And Lake-Town.

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Finally, here are Bright Tree Village on the moon of Endor…

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And Minas Tirith, in the kingdom of Gondor.

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The very sight of these places is evocative and stunning. Just because a fantasy setting is low-tech does not mean that the world is any less beautiful, jaw-dropping or transportive. And more than anything, it shows that fantasy and science fiction are two sides of the same coin, especially when the same level of care is given to the former as is much more often given to the latter.

I would love to see epic fantasy films as often as I see incredibly realised science fiction films. The stories are there, you just need to understand what the fundamental differences and similarities are and how to adapt them into the world you’re building. It’s all right there. Peter Jackson did it six goddamn times. Now let’s see more of that kind of love and attention to the story, to the genre.

I mean, Jesus, story-telling by its very nature is magical, isn’t it?

The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Short Films Of 2014

I had a dream a couple nights ago that I owned a baby hippopotamus and we affectionately played with each other the way a man would a puppy. That alone was really weird, but toss in the fact that it murders more people in Africa than I think any other animal on a yearly basis, and I think my subconscious fancies me some kind of stressful Dr. Doolittle.

Still, how could anyone resist this face:

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D’awww.

Anyway, I haven’t updated my blog lately because I’m in the final stages of wrapping up my novel, As the Earth Trembled Part Two, and it has been taking up a lot of my focus because I’m trying to get it out by March. You can buy the first five parts of the Convergence story here or by looking up the titles for the Nook (the series, in order, goes Waypoint, Death Worth Living For Part One, Death Worth Living For Part Two, and As the Earth Trembles Part One. ArTE, which finishes it all up is due March 1st).

That being said, I have a list of posts I want to write, and I’ll be making some time soon to knock out a handful so I can release them periodically.

I didn’t want to leave you with nothing! So I’m sharing another link from io9 below, which is a compilation of some of the best science-fiction and fantasy films from the last year. They range from funny to sad to scary to inspiring, but they are all well worth your time. Some are only a couple minutes long while others are 15-20 minutes, so set some time aside tonight or over the next few days, but treat yourself to some cool stuff.

Thanks for sticking around! I promise I’ll get back on schedule soon.

http://io9.com/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-short-films-of-201-1674600632

The Pro In Productivity

Recently, I had two separate friends ask me to lend an editing eye and input towards some letters they had written. I was flattered, because the contents of the letters were immensely personal, and they trusted me enough to reveal that side of them, and also because they trusted me enough to catch any kinds of errors or to suggest an alteration to better the flow when reading it.

One of my friends said jokingly, “Because you’re a professional writer”. When I say jokingly, I don’t mean flippant; she wasn’t being sarcastic. I meant it in the sense that it wasn’t as serious as, say, someone commissioning me to write a speech or a business proposal. She meant it in a light-hearted manner, but she meant it.

I immediately shot back with a “Hardly.” Anyone can self-publish a novel with enough time and patience. Anyone can market themselves or talk non-stop about the project they’re working on and how far along they are. Anybody can fire up a blog and talk about their sex lives and their drinking problems.

I wasn’t published through a traditional publisher. You couldn’t get my books at a bookstore. I have to work 40+ hours in a retail job to survive. I can’t say the word autograph without hating myself. These are not things a professional has to worry about.

She said to me, “If you have used the money you made from the sale of your work to pay a bill, then you’re a professional.”

That… that kind of made sense. I wasn’t ready to fully commit to that mindset, but it got me thinking.

I have a friend (who is also my current roommate) that I’ve known for a long, long time and who I often disagree with but whom I always listen to because he’s an intelligent man who has lived through a lot… he told me once that he wouldn’t consider me a writer – and I shouldn’t call myself a writer – until I actually had something published.

I can get that, to a degree. There are a lot of people who claim to be writers who never get around to the writing part. Others start but never finish. My friend’s point was that the desire to write and even the act of writing do not in themselves inherently make one a writer. I think that mentality also detracts from people who write every day in any number of ways. If someone writes poetry and posts it to their blog or their Tumblr instead of an anthology or a bound collection, that doesn’t make them not a poet. They might be a shitty poet, but they’ve got the idea down and the content is posted.

All the same, I finished my first novel and self-published it through Amazon, and when I asked, frustrated, if that was good enough for me to call myself a writer, he shrugged and said, “Yep. Well done.”

So why, I wonder, do I feel vindicated by that, and yet when someone introduces me as their friend, a published writer, I hasten to correct with “self-published”. My books aren’t as professionally edited or as put together as books out of a big publishing house. They’re not available at the airport or even the Wal-Mart book bargain bin (did you know that’s a thing? It’s totally a thing).

But they are available for the Kindle and the Nook, and print-on-demand via Amazon. I have sold over 2,000 copies of my novels to people all across the United States, Canada, England and Ireland, to men and women from 18 years of age to 60, and received four and five stars across the board for my trouble. I’m no Best Seller. There are no blogs written about my books (beside my own, natch), but that’s something, isn’t it?

I reached out to another friend whose opinion I respect a lot and asked her opinion. She said, “It feels too important to call it a hobby. People pay money to read what you’ve slaved over. You’ve become a commodity, an item to satisfy a want or need. That’s professional.”

There’s a truth to that. If someone took oils to a canvas or pen to a paper, or piled up a bunch of trash that looks like two people kissing from the right angle, under the right light, or they fling paint at something (looking at you, Pollock), and someone purchases it to put in their home, you would call that creator an artist. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money (the term “starving artist” exists for a reason), but enough to help get by. Enough to pay a bill.

A lot of educators have a second job to help them get by, especially during the summer. I had an Advanced Placement European History teacher work at a supermarket while school was out, but I didn’t consider him a clerk. His focus, his passion, the thing he considered himself to be and spent most of his energy being was a teacher. He taught. He gave teachings to others and he got paid for it. I’m a writer. I write. I give the product of that writing to others, and I get paid for it, sometimes quite a bit.

There are a lot of published authors who take offense to the categorization of a self-published author as being in the same league as they are, or to be lumped in the same category, even. To be fair, like I said above, it is painfully easy to slap something together, draw up a cover (or don’t), write up a description of what it’s about (or don’t), set a price point and unleash it on the market via self-publication. This fucking sucks for me, because there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of books out there now to wade through. It’s easy to sink in and get lost amongst all of that, and the bulk of those works aren’t…very good…

Yet I don’t feel that the way the book is released should be an automatic detractor from its quality (even as, again, I am quick to correct people about my publication status). Hugh C. George’s Silo series, starting with Wool, is very good and got a lot of acclaim.

There are a lot of reasons to go the self-publication route, and just as many to go the (much harder) traditional route. I would honestly prefer the latter, but I haven’t been able to set aside the time and money to start really delving into agents and what publishing houses haven’t already turned me down. Self-publishing is quick, convenient and simple. It suits my needs, but only for now.

Still, the books sell. Not a lot, but they do. Does that make me professional? What doesn’t make me professional? Is it because I don’t have a degree in English? Is it because a recognizable name doesn’t circulate my books through stores?

More and more I’m starting to view self-publication as less like a loophole and more like a self-owned business. I own a copyright for the art I create. I profit off it and pay taxes on it. The quality of the work is dependent on how much time and effort I put into it, as is the case with a business.

I don’t know why I wrote this blog post. I’m certainly not trying to convince you that I’m the next great American novelist, deserving of acclaim and millions of dollars and a never-ending supply of high fives (though all of that would be nice). I would be content if you read my books and, if you liked them, told a friend. I think, though, that the words my friend said to me about what qualifies me as a “professional artist” gave me a lot to think about concerning the way I take the wind out of my own sails and downplay what I’ve accomplished.

I’m proud of my books. Why aren’t I proud of myself?

I am starting to take my writing schedule more seriously. I’m putting in 2,000 words or more a day, even after stressful shifts at my day job, even if it means staying up until six in the morning and getting four hours of sleep. I’m starting to feel less ashamed at being called a “self-published” anything as if that means I should be less respected as an artist when the basis of that respect depends on the work I crank out. It takes time, money and effort to find an agent and a traditional publisher. In the meantime, I’ve taken advantage of a process that allows my novels to get out there and be available to readers, and I’ve gained followers and, God bless, actual fans that will engage me on characters and motivations and scenes and the world I’ve created.

Am I fulfilled? Not really. Not entirely, I mean. I want writing to be my full time job. I want to write all day and have what I earn from that pay all of my bills, not just a phone bill or a storage unit bill. But am I a professional writer? Maybe, kinda. And that’s 200% more than I was before Waypoint went on sale. I could dig it.

New Year

Three years ago, I had been back in Alaska for about four months. I was dating a woman I respected a lot and liked a lot, but I was coming off of a bad break-up and couldn’t bring myself to commit, so our plans were more along the lines of “we’ll just see what happens”. That’s how I wound up downtown without her during the full week leading up to the New Year.

My friend RJ was in town for the holidays and he was leaving, I think, on the second or third. I had moved across the country twice with this guy by then, so we celebrated his visitation by going to our favorite karaoke bar and spending most nights in a blackout being smarmy assholes. It was a blast. It was a lot though. Our bodies couldn’t handle the liquor the same way it used to, and so it happened that on New Year’s Eve, THE DAY for drinking (besides Cinco de Drinko and St. Alcoholic Fake Irish Day), RJ and I met downtown, stood on the sidewalk, looked at the outside deck of our bar, shook hands and walked away.

The woman I was seeing was working the bar in a nice restaurant that night. I can’t recall if she got off early or had the night off, but she told me that she would be there. It was a few blocks away from where I was, so I rushed my ass down there as quick as I could. Time was, as they say, of the essence.

When I arrived, the room was packed from wall to wall with people hoisting champagne toasts. The ball was dropping. Everyone was chanting the countdown. Like the movies, I pushed my way through the crowd to my lady, pulled her into me and kissed her deeply.

That was the last good New Year celebration I’ve had. It was also, until last night, the last one I spent predominantly sober. I was single and lonely and hammered the last two times a year died, and last night I figured I should only be the first two things.

Let’s back up a little bit. My store was open yesterday until six. It was slow, as is common on days where nobody knows if you’re open or not. I did get once customer who needed very, very basic troubleshooting for his phone. He and I sat down at a table while his phone charged and I did the small talk thing as all retail employees, upon hatching from their eggs, are genetically coded to do.

“So,” I said suavely (the only way I do anything), “have you got any resolutions in mind for the new year?”

The guy was in his seventies. I don’t know what I expected. “No”, perhaps. Maybe a Roger Murtaugh-esque “I’m too old for this shit.”

He said instead that he grew up being the kid who traveled around and got mixed up in all matters of hijinks, but with the understanding that he could always return home. It didn’t matter if he messed up, and though he never was in dire financial need, he knew he didn’t have to worry about that, either. He was the favorite child, while his older, more conservative, better behaved sister wasn’t ever regarded the same way.

Maybe that’s what did it. Maybe my customer was a piece of shit. Maybe something else happened in the 70+ years since he’d been born. Whatever the case, his sister had forbade him from coming home. She had a lawyer work their father’s will so that everything would be left to her and nothing to her brother. She reached out to a mutual friend and told them to lie to him about having a restraining order put out. “It turned out to be a bunk claim,” he told me. “But I had to check. You’d feel pretty stupid getting arrested when you were warned about it ahead of time.”

He told me he didn’t know what he had done to upset her so. She was in her eighties and he wasn’t even entirely sure if she had all of her mental faculties anymore. What he did know is that he didn’t want to leave this life without resolving whatever conflict had separated them so vitriolically.

In my experience, people in that kind of situation tend to have done something profoundly fucked up at some point. In some instances, that person has been me. However, I’ve also seen the reverse, where the other person just has a vendetta for exaggerated or imaginary reasons. Either way, it broke my heart a little to see someone with so much life under his belt still dealing with unresolved issues with his sibling.

At the same time, it was sort of humbling that this man’s resolution was such a powerful one. This wasn’t some “New year, New me” bullshit. This guy wasn’t going to join a gym (for ten days) or lose weight (until November). This was a guy in his twilight years reflecting on his relationships and outstanding enmities and resolving to find a way to fix them.

That interaction put me in a weird mood. I was already exhausted – I worked on my book so much the previous night that I forgot to sleep more than three and a half hours – and I was convinced I would be depressed if I went out, but suddenly I wanted to see how other people rang in the new year. I had spent the previous two years drunk off my ass and the year before that lip-locked with a woman I would lose to my indecision and general shittiness, so I thought this would be a good chance to observe and write about what I saw.

Hoo, boy.

I showed up at the bar at 7 and tucked myself into a nook (possibly a cranny), using the time to work on my novel. I finished writing a scene by 9, at which point several people had already arrived. The bar had a Goldfinger/Goldmember theme. Yes, both. James Bond and Austin Powers played on televisions in the main bar, muted, while an excellent band rocked the fuck out on stage.

Most folks were dressed in gold, or suits and dresses, or gold suits and dresses. Champagne was being sold at the bottle, ranging from $22 to $500. There were no hors d’oeuvres that I saw
It’s a bar, for God’s sake.

I saw a lot of “Happy New Year” hats and tiaras, and I’ve got to say: I’m a fan. I hate the same shit when it’s a birthday or a bachelor/bachelorette party. They just scream for attention. They’re sort of a narcissistic window dressing. Fuck those. But Happy New Year hats? The exact same and completely different. It’s a communal message, a celebration of life and the evolution of time. Nobody is singled out. Nobody is brushed aside. “It’s not YOUR birthday, it’s MINE. Drink and presents, I’m a fucking bad-ass/princess/bad-ass princess”. But it’s EVERYBODY’S happy new year. You fucking go, Terra. Do you, baby.

Back to the party, sorry.

At first glance, by the time 10:30, 11 rolled around, you would think this was no different than the typical weekend crowd. I wasn’t much impressed, so I started looking more closely at the details. The first thing I noticed was that people were…happy?

Maybe not exactly happy, but they were smiling. Whereas the folks that frequent the weekends often seem to do it because it’s routine, because that’s just what’s done on the weekend, because they just want to escape their shitty week by drinking six beers in three hours and seeing which college chick is least repulsed by thirty-year old pick-up lines…where the weekend crowd is usually frenetic in its dour aimlessness, the bulk of last night’s crowd was having a goddamn great time. They were there to usher in a new year as a whole, as a representative of humanity lasting another year on this rotating, revolving space rock.

It made me think about all the reasons people were toasting drinks and cheering and hugging. While I’ve stopped thinking of years of my life as January 1 to January 1, it’s easy to compartmentalize everything that’s happened in a single label. “My 2014 was garbage.” “I was 18 in 2006. 2006 was…a good year.” So people are thinking about everything those twelve months gave or took from them. The births that happened. The marriages that ended. The milestone anniversary they celebrated. The vacations they took and the sight they saw. The diagnosis they received. The first day in January is the start of a fresh year, moving away from the deaths they felt so hard, or into the newly official nuptials they’ve committed to.

I looked around at the little tables scattered through the bar, leather topped kegs acting as seats around them, and I saw couples IN each other’s eyes. Do you know what I’m talking about? That fresh love, the love that has that unbroken-spine-new-book smell on it. They’re not at the bar because they “do things together”. They’re not holding hands and nuzzling close because they’re drunk. They are putting their hearts in their partner’s irises, there to celebrate the turning of the calendar with a positive crowd because they fucking love each other.

That love could last six months, six days or forever, but in that moment, that midnight strike, it is everything that matters.

It neared midnight and I began finding it harder and harder to treat the evening as an experiment. It was difficult to remain objective as people paired up and a girl I like a lot told me what I could do to make myself more attractive (it’s not as depressing as it sounds, probably, so let’s pretend it didn’t twist my guts up anyway). There is a romantic novelty to the idea of a kiss as the clock strikes midnight on the new year, and it’s hard to separate yourself from that, even if you’ve been single for years, even if you know all you had to do was talk to someone, even if you didn’t even necessarily want to talk to someone.

Either way, the lead singer shouted the count down into the microphone after buying shots for some of the crowd on the dance floor. People kissed, and for the most part it was beautiful. You had your drunken outliers, your people clinging to the nearest receptive single person, but baby, ain’t anything wrong with that, either.

I stuck around afterwards in a little bit of a funk. Curiosity, I told myself. Curiosity and whiskey. I genuinely wanted to see, though, how many people I’d leave immediately after midnight, year greeted, lips kissed.

Turns out a fucking lot of people. It wasn’t Wednesday night, it was NEW YEAR MORNING. Federal employees got the day off. People who worked, myself included, volunteered to cease all shit-giving, and Dionysus was moved to joyful tears.

I got my dick grabbed. Multiple times by multiple women, and not gently. It was disconcerting. I had shots bought for me by women who realized only after that, “wait a second. I’ve spent a lot of money on you. Usually guys buy the shots.” Heh. Sorry, thanks for the drinks.

And you know, six months ago, I probably would have been down for some drunk, no-strings attached sex followed by an awkward goodbye in the morning. I am great at awkward goodbyes. I’m not bad at awjward hellos, either. But I am really trying to get away from that kind of behavior and find something more, I don’t know, fulfilling? I’m not trying to be a “new” me. I am trying to be a better, more focused me.

Basically I felt really awkward and out of place after midnight, and I was starting to get a little depressed. Then a friend of mine, another woman I like quite a bit, came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek for New Year and told me to just keep doing me. That might sound really stupid, but sometimes when the night gets a littler darker than black and I start thinking the bad sides of thoughts, all it takes is a little kick in the ass to put my mood right.

That was it, really. The night ended, as nights do, and I found myself home and in the comfort of bed. I slept, and if I dreamt, I remember none of it. And this morning…this morning I woke up seven minutes before I was scheduled to work.

Hello, 2015.