first time out there

Yesterday I went shopping in a store for the first time since about March 15.

I needed more banana pepper and cucumber seeds after sowing our first batch in soil that had only been tilled once and desperately needed compost. Red Tennessee clay may be beautiful, but it’s rotten for planting. This year, pandemic made early soil prep impossible, so I’m giving it a second shake.

I put off leaving my house to enter the great OUT THERE for hours and hours. A single errand seemed like such a big leap after months of sanitizing delivered groceries. The old days of stay home orders left me no choices. I’m a bit disappointed in how much comfort I felt in resigning to this.

Timothy Snyder’s introduction to Czechoslovakian dissident Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless says, “Normalization meant accepting the way things were without any argument about how they should be…” Havel saw the dangers of a controlling government pacifying the masses, and I don’t want to be the sort who accepts bread and circuses without making waves.

“Give me liberty or give me death” runs deep in my bones. Yet in this past crisis, when the fool choice of one could harm thousands, I admit I was encouraged by external boundaries. Despite all the fears and frustrations of early Covid 19, at least I had the comfort of not having to decide all things.

Some of my fellow citizens yanked against those constraints from the beginning. I saw the masses revolt recklessly, selfishly, foolishly. So much bravado and so little love. I hated how they behaved. I also understood their concerns, even as I mocked them. Thank God for the rebels. Shut up, rebels. You’re saving us. You’re wrecking us.

All this.

It’s complicated, isn’t it? America is complicated.

I will also admit that for me, deciding whether banana pepper and cucumber seeds are “worth it” is exhausting. See, my adopted child’s lungs were damaged for three years in pollution and poverty. Basic flu could kill him, let alone Covid 19. Because of this new freedom, I’m alone in the struggles of choosing what steps to take. The risk of government dominance is lower. The risk of contagion is higher. He needs liberty and he needs oxygen.

Intellectually, I believe in a parent’s role and responsibility. Emotionally, I feel the weight of choosing redistributed on my shoulders. It was easier to blame others for missteps than face up to making a mistake myself.

Riding in a car was a bigger thrill than I had expected. Motion at the high speed of 35 MPH felt like flying. The sounds of ignition and motors, the engine smell, the sensations of turning, stopping. Windows down. Other people’s stereos coming in and fading out. The sight of their bare feet on the dashboards. Fat arms hanging over car sides. You’d call them rednecks, and they were. But Lord, people are beautiful in 3D. I guess I‘d never noticed before.

Thousands of Covid 19 tests have been completed in my county, and we have six or seven active cases right now. The viral fear of early March is subsiding around here. Those eager to accuse the reentering would call their movement recklessness, and some movement is reckless. But that’s not how I would describe most of what I witnessed.

A lot of the folks I passed looked flat tired—like they’ve come to terms with having to fight through one more danger in a life that was never safe for them—like they’re now feeling the burden of paying off another load of debt from accounts that were already strained. It’s easy to define the evil in fool protestors brandishing big guns and hanging effigies —easy to see the wickedness of an infantile President babbling egotistical nonsense. How I resent those voices.

Yet there are also so many hearty salt-of-the-earth folks who have scratched out a living for decades, accepting danger because life didn’t afford them the privileges of safety. They’ve worked jobs in coal mines, and in road construction, and around sick people. They’ve eaten cheap food that’s always been killing them. They’ve missed medical appointments because staying alive is too expensive.

You tell these folks there’s a .04% mortality rate for their demographic, in the midst of a life that was already far more certain to do them in. You tell them that, and you’ll see what I saw yesterday—people making a life in the middle of a dying world.

I wore a mask. A couple of others did, too. I wish everybody had. It would have been the most loving thing to do, I think. But I didn’t hate those who did not. I didn’t glare at them. I didn’t point or yell.

Pulling through a parking lot, the guy in front of me had one of those metal Darwin “Truth” fish on his trunk—a fish with legs eating a Christian Icthus. ‪His other bumper sticker said, “I hate socialism.”‬ He was shirtless and didn’t wear a seat belt—and I watched him nearly have a wreck, reaching over the passenger seat while driving, trying to grab something out of the floorboard.

Watching him, I remembered that people did dumb, selfish, or necessary things that killed other people before Covid. I remembered how someone I know always gets out on icy roads the minute the public service announcement hits asking people to stay inside. “I gotta 4-wheel drive,” he says. I remembered statistics about drunk driving, and STD’s, and landlords who don’t fix toxic mold, and moms who bring snacks with pecans and peanuts to classroom parties. I remembered the waitress with regular flu working three jobs to feed her kids, serving the old couple at Chili’s.

Reckless accidents. Oblivious oversights. Moments of entitlement. Harm committed out of desperately limited options.

The human race.

There have always been sensitive among us; and there have always been the narcissistic; and there have always been the common folk staying busy, trying to make ends meet.

Aside from ghost peppers and spaghetti squash, the garden store was out of vegetable plants. They were mostly out of vegetable seeds. I bought purple sage, rosemary, marjoram. I held my breath through my mask as I passed those huge fans they always have blowing in greenhouses.

I also bought huge packets of flower mixes—the sort of packets I never buy because I’m OCD and like to plan exactly where things go. When I left the house, I thought I was risking my life for vegetables. I guess I risked it for herbs and flower seeds. Not sure where that falls on the scale of “should have.” It’s what fell out.

Through my mask, I shyly told the girl at the counter this was the first time I’d been anywhere since March. She and the other teenager working laughed and said, “Must be nice. I been here almost every day.” Both were bare faced. “Has it been nice for anybody?” I asked, gently. They smiled, and we got quiet and saw each other.

Maybe I was imagining things because I’ve been out of the loop too long, but in that moment, it felt like we looked beyond everything our too-complicated-to-unpack life situations had driven us to do to survive the past few months. Despite our choices, and despite all we didn’t get to choose, over three packs of flowers and three pots of herbs, we saw human beings.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.