Tag Archives: conflict

Hope is a Lioness

15 Aug

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”―Confucius

No.

Or at least, not always.

Education breeds knowledge. Knowledge can make you stand up and shout and stomp your foot, because here is your evidence, here is your fact, here is your goddamn certainty that this thing here is so.

Knowledge can also make you sit down and shut up because you know, you know that you are a human and have the capacity to be astoundingly wrong.

Knowledge breeds awareness. And sometimes, awareness can breed doubt.

Confidence can breed hope, but confidence can also breed hate. Confidence carries with it the offspring of swagger, a dangerous little bugger if not raised right. Confidence can slay its ancestor, replacing a birthright of knowledge with a reign of blind and willful ignorance instead. Confidence will sometimes shut its ears like that.

Hope is taken for such a quiet little thing. Hope will placate. Hope will soothe. Hope will take your rumbling shores and show you where to dock your anchor.

But hope is about weathering all that.

Hope is the thing that will stand up and fight in the night. Hope is the thing that will make you push on, even when the winds blow so hard as to strip you of all your armor. Hope is being able to stand naked before the world and say that still, you have these hands to fight with. Still, you have this mind within you. Still, you are on your feet before it all and you, against the odds, are not yet dead. Hope does not need reason. Hope does not need bravery. Knowledge and confidence be damned, hope will lean on crutches of desperate abandon and wavering limbs.

Hope is sometimes about reconciliation, but it is always about risk.

Hope may bring peace,

but it may also bring a body count with it.

Hope is no quiet, quivering mouse.

Hope is a lioness with her claws not yet out.

Hope breeds strength,

bodies strung with humming prowess.

A brood of capacity that pads noiselessly in the dark –

silent only until the kill.

Hope births the drive to sate the grumbling emptiness of a stomach,

and peace is not always what fills a belly.

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Memorial

25 May

I’m never really sure how to respond to things like Memorial Day.

To start with, I am not a veteran. I have never been to war. I have never trained for war. I have not been close to war in any sort of meaningful way. Any opinion I have is from observations, not experience. Therefore, I am willing to forfeit any and all opinions I have on anything and everything having to do with war and veteran status as second to what an actual veteran has to say. It feels incredibly presumptuous, to even think that I could posit anything remotely relevant on the matter.

But, well, I’m a human who thinks about things. So I do. But always, always with the caveat of “I respect your experience before my opinion.”

Okay. Let’s begin. Me being conflicted about Memorial Day. Alrighty.

To start with, when I was little, I barely understood what Memorial Day was for, confusing it with “Labor Day” in my mind quite easily as “one of those vague grown-up holidays that I get a day off for YEAH WOO FREE MONDAY!” I mean, as far I could tell, celebrating both days pretty much meant playing in my backyard for a long time while the adults ate hot dogs. Sure, I’d have the small little spiel from my elementary school on the Friday before. “You all have Monday off because we’re honoring our veterans.” And I would nod politely and go back to thinking about how much math homework I had to do while honoring whatever “veteran” meant.

Eventually, I learned that particular vocabulary term but had no clearer feelings about the holiday. I was told I should appreciate that other men and women had gone off and shot others and been shot in the name of protecting my rights and freedoms that to me never felt particularly threatened. I lived in America, after all. For a really long time, war was something I only saw on a TV screen. It was quite easy for me to sit back and say that no, that out there surely was not necessary. I mean, I knew that my grandfather was a veteran, but he never talked about his time in a war that concluded before my parents even married. As a kid, I didn’t understand that the silence was probably testament enough. No, I didn’t yet understand the absence of recognition as a problem itself. So for me, to all intents and purposes, war was just a word. An easily judged word. Not anything like a reality.

I have grown up more, now. Those shades of black and white that made me so easy a pacifist before have been pushed and shoved and regretted and cried into something more smeary a grey.

But while my thoughts are more complex now, they are by no means more decisive.

There are many reasons war happens, but honestly, most of them boil down to humans having decided that the world and life in it are zero sum games so it’s us against whoever we’ve designated as “them,” boys. There aren’t enough rights or resources to go around, so let’s fight to get the most of them. Because we, whoever “we” are, deserve them most.

Sharing is not a thing humans do well. Humans are too good at fear to be able to really share all that rationally.

War is the product of imperfect action on a global scale.

It’s massively bad for everyone involved. But no one can stop while everyone else is still going. If you play the game that way, you wind up with the punnett square that gives you absolutely nothing.

So we all keep playing.

That is the reality. As terrible as war may be, it is undeniably still happening. Standing and screaming for it to stop without being able to offer any sort of real solution on how to do that is as useful as telling a choking person to just start breathing again. No, the upheavals are still racking the global body. War, for my foreseeable future, is something that’s going to stick around.

So the empathy behind my pacifism has decided to start dealing with the micro-scale.

Okay, let’s go back to talking about our veterans.

They are not the reason that war is happening. It is necessary to divorce how you – I – feel about “war the thing” from what I know about “war the people.”

Because now, it’s not just “oh yeah my grandfather fought in a war.” It’s “yeah, that kind, quiet man on skid row I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to every week for three years is a veteran.”  It’s “wow, those boys in reserve uniform in line at the airport look even younger than my young-enough-to-still-be-making-bad-decisions cousin.” It’s “that woman I met on the beach with premature osteoporosis from chemical exposure in the Gulf War who after a badass life is going back to school to learn another trade she can do with her failing body and that’s fucking incredible.”

And it’s my friends, too.

A countable many, all in different branches of the military. They are some of the smartest, kindest, most capable people I know.

And now they’re in uniform, too.

The choice to go into the military and the actions performed therein can be stupid, ignorant, brave, heroic, smart, life-saving, death-causing. But as long as we keep choosing to play the zero-sum game of perpetual war, we need people who are willing to make them. Good or bad as it all may be.

“Proud” is a word that gets thrown around a lot on Memorial Day. I cannot be blanketly proud of a label. I can be proud of action. I can be proud, to an extent, of intention.

“Honor” is also a word that comes up a lot today. Again, I cannot blanketly honor so varied a group as humans, but I can respect. I can respect the hell out of the choices someone else has made that I have not, would not, because it’s what they needed to do, or what a country needed them to do. I can respect that they are also another human, trying their best. Or at least, that’s what I can hope they’re doing.

Hope is not a word that gets said a lot on Memorial Day. And that, I think, is what I wish were different.

War is not a hopeful thing. And it is my impression that with mementos like PTSD, lost friends, shit economic resources, massive and constant assumption about what your experience was, and all the other hangers-on of a life now ingrained in you that most of your country only understands as scenes on their TV, “veteran” is not a very hopeful status, either.

I’m not sure I can thank someone for accepting that.

More and more on Memorial Day, as a civilian, I instead feel the need to say sorry.

I’m sorry your lives and your deaths are our memorial to this zero-sum game.

And I am sorry for all the hardships you have accepted that you will get no memorial for.

The Dashing Duel

15 Feb
Illustration (and inspiration for the story) by Elliot Christian

Illustration (and inspiration for the story) by Elliot Christian

Somebody was following him. He could smell it.

Mr. Dashing looked up from his pocket watch and readjusted his monocle. The street behind him came back into view, but it was of no consequence. His whiskers were already quivering, a sure confirmation of its presence.

But what was it? That was the question, that was. Mr. Dashing sniffed deeply. Now let’s see, he thought to himself. There was the somber old odor of a dusty study, a faint tang belying last evening’s cigar, and – Mr. Dashing wriggled his nose around to better adjust the smell into the crevices of his nostrils – yes, yes he did distinctly detect the musky, minty signature of a well-bred line of catnip.

Blast it all! He was being followed by a cat.

Involuntarily, Mr. Dashing’s leathery black lips pulled back into a snarl and a low growl rolled out through his bared teeth. Suddenly, Mr. Dashing felt the uncomfortable restraint of his purple pinstripe suit – really quite dapper, if he did say so himself – as his hackles raised. His shoulders hunched, making his suit groan a little at the seams.

A raspy laugh hissed over the cobblestones. “Honestly, Dashing,” the laugh’s owner, still snickering, stepped out from behind a boxwood. “I would have thought that you’d have gotten those instincts of yours under control by now. You’ve been in Parliament for how long? And yet still so primal.”

Mr. Dashing swallowed down a bark and resituated his suit with a quick shake. Mr. Dashing cleared his throat and did an admirable job of making it look like an unexpected cough. “Trapper,” he acknowledged the illustrious feline with a jerk of his head. “The blame is not entirely mine, you know. What’s to be expected of a fellow when he’s been as good as stalked, I ask you?” Mr. Dashing glared down the bridge of his long nose at his opposition. He noted with some satisfaction that Trapper’s coat was beginning to fray around the cuffs, and the tails were not entirely properly starched. Must have downgraded his help; and that bespoke a blow to bloke’s pocket change. Mr. Dashing could not say he wasn’t pleased.

Lord Trapper’s green eyes narrowed on Dashing’s gaze. Lightning indignation flashed behind the cat’s eyes. Quickly, Trapper clasped his hands behind his back, well out of sight of Mr. Dashing’s appraisal.

“Stalked, you say?” Trapper’s voice arched slightly. “Really, Dashing, getting a bit paranoid in your old age, aren’t you?”

“Oh no,” Mr. Dashing rapped his cane lightly on the cobblestones and watched with satisfaction as Trapper flinched. “I have so few worries these days, Lord Trapper. My rear has settled into its Commons seat quite comfortably, thank you. But I do say, old chap, isn’t yours in danger of being thrust with a kick out of doors? I hear that gentleman club of yours up in the House of Lords is getting a bit crowded these days. Weeding out the old fogies, aren’t they? Or how did they put it… ‘Kindly requesting that those who can no longer hold their own please resign or else will be asked to leave,’ wasn’t it?”

Trapper shuffled uncomfortably. “Something like that,” he muttered.

“I dare say,” Mr. Dashing toed his line carefully, “you’ll be next for the vote.” Dashing batted his eyes innocently.

The tips of Lord Trapper’s whiskers twinged. His furry brow plunged deep into a frown. “Soon, yes,” he grudged bluntly.

Mr. Dashing tutted. Boldly, he reached out a paw and patted Lord Trapper on the shoulder. “Poor bloke.”

Thwap! Dashing heard it before he felt it. Trapper’s swipe across Dashing’s face left a trail of stinging gashes where the lord’s claws had dug in. And – Dashing looked around with some surprise – the blow had apparently knocked him off his feet, given the sudden proximity of the cobblestones to his now-bleeding nose. Well, he should have expected it, really. Trapper had always been known as a short fuse.

But then again, so had he.

Mr. Dashing stood up, brushed himself off, and gingerly patted himself about the cheek. Warm, sticky blood rushed over his fingers. Inside himself, he felt the heat rise.

“Come now, Lord Trapper,” Dashing growled, each word a cut of cold, sharp precision, “blows are the common folk’s prerogative. And surely,” he took a step closer towards the feline, “you would not tempt one whose duty it is to be their representative?”

“The common folk be damned,” Trapper hissed, “when it comes to respecting their superiors.”

“Superiors?” Dashing barked. “Getting a little big for your britches there, Trapper.  As I see it, I’m made of stronger stuff than you. The House of Commons is for real men, not for ninnies who must hide behind their daddy’s money because they haven’t done anything to merit an ounce of respect.” Dashing’s gaze narrowed. He began pacing circles around Trapper. “But,” he whispered in Trapper’s ear, “you don’t even have that now, do you? What did you do, Trapper? Lose it all to panties at the whoring house?”

He was ready for it this time. Trapper’s paw lashed out – this time for a very low blow indeed – but Mr. Dashing caught it before it hit its mark and twisted the lord’s arm into a very inconvenient angle. With a single fluid motion, Dashing used his free hand to scruff the cat just at the base of his neck. Trapper went stiff.

“Now, now,” Dashing chuckled darkly, “I’ll have none of that.” He yanked Trapper’s arm a little bit tighter. The lord squirmed deliciously. “You know,” Dashing yanked again and felt Trapper’s shoulder slip a little out of its socket. The cat yowled sharply. “I could turn you into mincemeat in three seconds. I’ve got teeth for a reason, Trapper. And as you said, I am rather primal.” Under Dashing’s grasp, the feline began to shake. The cat’s tongue might have been venomous, but his audacity rested entirely within the bounds of class advantage.

And Dashing never really had cared much for social convention.

Trapper was murmuring something. “What’s that?” Dashing leaned in closer, but the cat’s words only resolved into broken yelps and whines. Dashing sniggered. “Pleas for mercy?” he scoffed. “Really, Trapper I thought you had more of a spine than that.” Trapper’s splutters only became more desperate. Dashing rolled his eyes. Wrinkling his nose in distaste, he tossed Trapper onto the street. The cat landed limply in the road with a dull thud. Dashing prodded him with his foot.

“Go on now,” he sighed. “Get up before some carriage comes and runs you over.”

Lord Trapper scrambled to his feet. His eyes narrowed. “You’re a fool to let me go,” he hissed. “I can ruin you.”

Dashing threw his head back and laughed. “What, with falsehoods and bribery as your only barbs? You may have the purse on your side, Trapper, but I have the people.”

“The people? The people are fickle. They will not stand behind you long when your name bears a scandal.”

“Ay? And what scandal would that be? There is no smear so great that my honor cannot withstand it.”

A sly smile curled Lord Trapper’s mouth upwards. “Oh, that may be so, my dear Dashing, that may be so. But what about that young slip of a thing you’ve sired – Georgina, I believe? Her white purity is not so uneasily stained. It would be no trouble at all to pay one of my stable boys to drop quite a startling slip of the tongue about Georgina’s, shall we say, proclivities on his way through the public square. I of course would punish him accordingly for his own intemperate advances once the rumor came round to my ears, but honestly, for Georgina’s part, so shocking!”

“Don’t,” Dashing growled murderously, “you dare touch my Georgina.”

Trapper raised an eyebrow. “But really, my good sir, I am sure that I shall have no idea what you are talking about… Young people do make such incautious errors these days, there’s no need to go pointing fingers -”

Trapper’s last word choked back down into his throat – which very suddenly found itself held delicately between Dashing’s highly toothed jaws. Trapper held himself very, very still.

“Dashing…”

“I said,” Mr. Dashing mumbled through Trapper’s fur, “to leave Georgina out of this.” He let his bite sink closer towards Trapper’s trachea. In an instant he was salivating. Hungrily, he licked the nape of Trapper’s neck. Trapper gulped.

“I may have been a gutter pup,” Dashing said lowly, “but do not for one second forget that I am also a hound of hell. I am not above revenge, Trapper. If I smell so much as a hair of a threat coming from your direction, I will hunt you down. I will find you. And, my dear Lord Trapper, you most certainly do not want to be found.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Dashing caught sight of a blue-clad figure turning the corner onto their avenue. Quickly, he released Lord Trapper. The cat stumbled back a few steps, rubbing his neck.

“Oy! You there!” The policeman walked up to the pair. “Wot ‘ave we got ‘ere?”

Mr. Dashing leveled gazes with Lord Trapper. “Nothing,” the cat said slowly. “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing at all,” Dashing echoed lightly.

The policeman looked from one to the other suspiciously. “Well… alright then! Don’t be standin’ there so long. Git movin’, the both of ya!”

“With pleasure,” Mr. Dashing said, linking arms with the incredibly ruffled Lord Trapper. “Come along, my good sir.” Trapper was too dazed to resist. Dashing pulled him around the next corner. Once out of sight, Dashing quickly disentangled his limb. He shuddered with repulsion.

“Strolling with a Lord,” he muttered. “How perfectly unnatural.” Beside him, Lord Trapper hadn’t moved. Mr. Dashing looked at him with surprise. “What are you doing still standing there? Go on now! Don’t you have a wig to powder or something?”

“I…”

Mr. Dashing replaced his monocle and stared down the bridge of his nose at the lord. “Yes?”

Lord Trapper gulped. Opened his mouth Shut it. Shook his head.

“What’s the matter?” Mr. Dashing raised an eyebrow at him. “Cat got your tongue?”

Lord Trapper made a face. “Clever,” he muttered. “You’re very clever, Mr. Dashing. It will serve you well in the Commons.” Trapper nodded to Dashing. “Good day.” He walked away.

“Trapper!” Dashing called him back. The lord turned around and looked at his opponent wearily. Dashing locked eyes with Trapper.

“Good luck.”