Apologies for delay–lost track of what day of the week it was.
Hey, listen. I know the world’s on fire. But listen.
I’ll tell you a thing.
On the day after the election, when everything was worst and all I could do was go numb or cry hysterically, do you know what gave me the most comfort?
It wasn’t the words of Lincoln or Gandhi or Maya Angelou, it wasn’t Psalms or poetry, it wasn’t my grandmother, it wasn’t contemplating the long arc of history. It wasn’t even hugging the dog.
It was the Twitter account @ConanSalaryman.
This is a joke account. It’s somebody who narrates as if Conan was working in an office. Tweets usually sound like “By Crom!” roared Conan. “You jackals cannot schedule a mere interview without gathering in a pack and cackling?!” or “Conan slammed his sword through his desk. Papers and blood rained through the office. Monday was slain.”
I followed it awhile back and have found it funny. (I’m not a huge Robert Howard fan inherently, but whoever is writing these does the schtick well.) But if it had not posted once that day, no one would have noticed at all.
Instead, Conan the Salaryman posted something inspirational. And then replied to dozens of people replying to him, for hours, in character, telling them that by Crom! it was only defeat if we did not stand up again, that the greatest act of strength was to keep walking in the face of hopelessness, that the gods have given the smallest of us strength to enact change, that we must all keep going as long as Crom gave us breath, and tyrants frightened Conan not, but we must look to those unable to fend for themselves. (“Though by Crom! We must hammer ourselves into a support network, not an army!”)
I have no idea who is behind that account. But it was the most bizarrely comforting thing I saw all day, in a day that had very little comfort in it. There was this weight of story behind it. It helped me. I think it helped a lot of people. If only a tiny bit–well, tiny bits help.
I have been thinking a lot lately about Bluebell from Watership Down.
There’s absolutely no reason you should remember Bluebell, unless, to take an example completely and totally at random, you read it eleven thousand times until your copy fell apart because you were sort of a weird little proto-furry kid who loved talking animals more than breath and wrote fan fic and there weren’t any other talking animal books and you now have large swaths memorized as a result. Ahem.
Bluebell is a minor character. He’s Captain Holly’s friend and jester. When the old warren is destroyed, Captain Holly and Bluebell are the last two standing and they stagger across the fields after the main characters. By the end, Holly is raving, hallucinating, and screaming “O zorn!” meaning “all is destroyed” and about to bring predators down on them. And Bluebell is telling stupid jokes.
And they make it the whole way because of Bluebell’s jokes. “Jokes one end, hraka the other,” he says. “I’d roll a joke along the ground and we’d both follow it.” When Holly can’t move, Bluebell tells him jokes that would make Dad jokes look brilliant and Holly is able to move again. When Hazel, the protagonist, tries to shush him, Holly says no, that “we wouldn’t be here without his blue-tit’s chatter.”
I tell you, the last few days, thinking of this, I really start to identify with Bluebell.
I am not a fighter, not an organizer, certainly not a prophet. Throw something at me and I squawk and cover my head. I write very small stories with wombats and hamsters and a cast of single digits. I am not the sort of comforting soul who sits and listens and offers you tea. (What seems like a thousand years ago, when I had the Great Nervous Breakdown of ‘07, I remember saying something to the effect that I had realized that if I had myself as a friend, I would have been screwed, because I was useless at that kind of thing. And a buddy of mine from my college days, who was often depressed, wrote me to say that no, I wasn’t that kind of person, but when we were together I always made her laugh hysterically and that was worth a lot too. I treasured that comment more than I am entirely comfortable admitting.)
But I can roll a joke along the ground until the end of the world if I have to. And increasingly, I think that’s what I’m for in this life. Things are bad and people have died already and I am heartsick and tired and the news is a gibbering horror–but I actually do know why a raven is like a writing desk.
So. First Church of Bluebell. Patron Saint.
Keep holding the line.
So we recorded KUEC last night, and made, on air, salmari, from a recipe and candy sent to us by our Finnish Correspondent. This is salted black licorice hard candy. You simmer it in vodka in a jar for two hours.
I do not know what is in that candy, but if you have a shot (only a shot! the bit that wouldn’t fit back in the bottle!) of the resulting infusion, while you have been drinking “sipping tequila” (courtesy of Friend Of The Show Petrov) you will have the sort of dreams that religions are based on. (I am told, by our Finnish Correspondent, that this is a known side-effect. Also, the hangover that would kill a demigod.)
I distinctly remember getting up at least five times in the night to drink water and visit the bathroom and I would then fall asleep back into the same dream.
Parts of it were complex and nonsensical and there was a long stretch where I was trying to identify birds in a strange dystopian South Africa with ruined monorail lines hanging over these odd little neighborhoods, while visiting my friend Foxfeather (who actually lives in Minnesota, which may not be the farthest point on the globe from South Africa but is arguably in the running) and fighting off a groups of possessed MRAs who were dressing up as my books to attack the house, and also a woman’s bathroom that included an X-ray machine. This sort of thing is normal in my dreams and not particularly significant. It was when I was driving to the airport (which was in Mumbai, also not terribly close to South Africa) that I stopped at a temple, and things got…odd.
Stylistically, this temple was all over the place–Chinese historical drama architecture with Sri Lankan gold details; statue of Buddha-only-more-like-Shiva-only-hey-have-some-Assyrian-winged-bull-in-there-too-too; held up by Greek columns; with a tiny museum in the front that very strongly resembled the Butter Museum in Cork; and an entryway that was the classic circular driveway, glass & brass luxury hotel affair. Plus when I was upstairs taking photos, I think I was in the Guggenheim. My brain was clearly just throwing every damn thing it had at me to Be Impressed By This.
The temple was 30,000 years old, I was told, and when I said that was a lot older than Jericho, the person at the little museum out front said “It’s been here for awhile.” (I have absolutely no idea where my brain was placing this temple–along the road from Johannesburg to Mumbai, which apparently ran through Ireland, so take your pick.) I wandered around taking pictures. (There followed a sequence where I couldn’t get my phone to take high-resolution photos and much flailing until Kevin fixed it. Sometimes my dreams are tediously realistic.) Then I went into the sanctuary and accidentally stepped into an offering bowl lurking in the shadow of a pillar.
At that point, I realized that the temple was full of people praying and I had just committed a dreadful faux pas. I picked up the bowl, which was full of some kind of shredded fruit and rice, and went to apologize to a priest for having been clumsy. The priest, somewhat annoyed, told me that if I’d touched the offering, I had to eat it–but apparently the head priest wanted to eat with me. So I sat down for a meal with the head priest, during which I apologized a great deal and ate slightly squashed fruit salad, and the head priest told me to come with him. We passed under transparent red silk hangings and into a huge warehouse-like room with branching paths laid out of the floor. He told me to pick one and I wound up at a door with a pale green circle on it.
He opened the door and I was in a long hallway full of wood-carving equipment–work tables covered in wooden blanks and chisels and sawdust. There was a shelf running along both sides of the top of the hallway and it was covered in carved kingfishers, all sorts–I remember half-finished ones with red heads, like a red-crested cardinal. I was completely flabbergasted, and went down the hallway, looking at all these carvings, and then got to a door at the end. It had circles on it like an elevator, only with no floor numbers, and when I touched it, one of the circles turned pale green again, with the number 1 on it.
“The Garden of the Harsh Voice,” said the head priest, and opened the door. It led to this garden full of low bushes, with a huge fish pond, very naturalistic, like a marsh, and the head priest roared and this gigantic pike came out of the pond and roared back. And kingfishers descended into the bushes, all chattering–mostly European kingfishers, I think, maybe a few malachites in there–and I burst into tears and tried to explain to the priest what kingfishers meant to me and showed him my tattoo. And then he ushered me out the temple, and said “Of course I knew that would happen, why else would I leave an offering bowl on the ground like that where someone would step in it?”
And then, because it was a dream and dreams are like that, I discovered that during this incredible experience, I had missed my flight and ended up calling my publicist because my subconscious apparently believes that my publicist is capable of ending all my travel related woes, (which she does when I’m on tour and sends me hour-by-hour itineraries of where I am supposed to be and what happens next and who is taking me there, and I am pathetically grateful for this because by the third day of school visits my brain is a gentle mush congealing at the bottom of my skull) and the rest was spent wandering through a strange city trying to find the airport by following the logo, which was a dancing blue goat with a little arrow on it, and my publicist saying that there was no problem, she had booked me on a direct from Mumbai to Spokane.
I am quite certain there is not actually a direct flight from Mumbai to Spokane.
Anyway, I woke up quite early for me, feeling peaceful and euphoric and lovely except for the bit where I was godawful hangover. I do not know how the Finns drink this stuff regularly and survive.
I dreamed last night that I was back in high school and of course there was an enormous science project that I had to do in a class that I only vaguely remembered.
I was in the class and everyone was discussing what sort of project to do–chromatography of various liquids or determining whether some tiny particle had six gears or ten (apparently on some subconscious level I believe that subatomic particles are made of tiny interlocking gears) and I realized quickly that I was simply not equipped to do any of these things.
So I went to the teacher and said “None of this is really playing to my skillset. Can I maybe write a travel guide to the laboratory? A pop science piece explaining subatomic particles? Something?”
He said no. I gritted my teeth and explained again that I had no idea how one did the thing with the gases and the light spectrums and my grasp of the perfect gas laws was shaky at best.
“No,” he said, “and you’d better figure something out, because otherwise you will fail the class and then you won’t graduate.”
And then my sleeping brain said “Wait just a damn minute here.”
“Actually,” I said, “I’m an author. I’m already supporting myself and nobody cares if I graduated or not. I’m just here to get my diploma so all the paperwork’s in order.”
This irritated him. I left the room and wandered off, thinking I am late for another class and I don’t know where it is and then so what? why the hell am I here, anyway, I should probably be writing a book and then even if I fail every class this semester, I am an adult, I am nearly forty, I can go by the office and explain and re-enroll, there is paperwork to handle this circumstance, possibly I can just take a test and opt out anyway, they are not going to take away my books and my house because I did not pass high school physics.
This is the second or third time I’ve had a dream like this and suddenly thought “Wait, this no longer applies to me, does it?”
I suspect that in anxiety dreams we’re the people we believe we are, and perhaps slowly, as I get older, I start to believe that I really am an adult, or at least no longer a person who is a single sheet of paperwork away from failing utterly at life, and that my worth is not hinged on a single grade from decades past.
Sadly, if my anxiety dreams are to be believed, I am still a person who is constantly moving between houses and trying to pack everything on a shoestring, and I am still angry at a number of people from my past, and my teeth are prone to falling out occasionally, but at least I am slowly overcoming my fear of missing class.
Transcript of office communication, notes, & loud yelling provided by Intern Brittany!
Sid, what is this?
We went out after that owl. – Sid
I recall you going after the owl, yes.
It’s not a very nice owl. – Sid
According to the initial report, the farmer out that way said that it called every night, “The gods are gone, the gods have abandoned you, you cannot make new gods fast enough, all will fail and fall.”
Yeah, more or less. But it said it in a owl sort of way. Like it hooted “you” a bunch of times. And then it sort of sniggered. The farmer says it eats chickens. Marla wanted to run it over with the truck, but it was in a tree. – Sid
Marla has a somewhat single-minded approach to unexplained phenomenon. Now, did the farmer have any kids?
No? Well, uh, maybe? We didn’t ask. I mean, you don’t go around saying “Hey, we’re here about your evil talking owl, and by the way, have you fathered any children that might not be in the house?” Didn’t seem relevant. – Sid
Not quite what I was getting at…
Oh god, you don’t think the owl was his, do you? Like he had a horrible owl-baby and he kept it in the attic so people wouldn’t know and then it escaped and now it’s lurking around the farm mocking him? – Sid
Maybe the owl was his wife, like in Jane Eyre! – B
It could be both! His owl-wife is in the attic having owl-babies and then one got loose and–
EVERYONE SHUT UP ABOUT OWL BABIES. I was trying to figure out why there’s a child’s scribble of an owl in this file!
Oh, I drew that. – Sid
I suspected as much, but hope springs eternal.
It was dark! We couldn’t take photos! So I did an artist rendering. – Sid
In the future, please just include a note with a verbal description.
But what are we going to do about the owl-wife in the attic? – B
The love between a farmer and an entirely hypothetical owl is not our business. Just file the…the thing. Please.
Artist’s rendering and transcript filed under “Hostile, Probably Not Extremely Dangerous But Someone Who Is Not Sid Should Probably Deal With It” by Intern Brittany!
Filed under “Probably Benign But That Isn’t To Say It Couldn’t Kill Us All Horribly In Our Sleep Someday.”
Transcript of post-it notes, memos, and one memorable in-office discussion provided by Intern Brittany, who does not get paid for this, by the way, and yes, I know the economy has more or less collapsed to a barter system but an IOU would be nice from time to time, maybe?
Sid, explain this!
Right, so it’s just this set of arches hanging out in the middle of the field. And according to this old-timer who lives nearby, this was built by a bricklayer who’s wife died, and he built a portal to the next world to try to see her again. Except his wife–the old-timer’s, not the bricklayer–said that the bricklayer never married and hated people and was trying to build a portal to get away from seeing anybody ever again. Anyway, the point is it didn’t really work very well. – Sid
About the ducks….
I mean, you can walk right through it. It doesn’t go anywhere. Nothing happens unless you’re a duck. – Sid
You walked through it?
I was bored and it was hot. Also, not a duck. – Sid
With the understanding that I already regret asking, what about the ducks?
Ducks vanish. But then they come back, sort of. – Sid
Sort of, you say.
Well, they don’t have organs. – Sid
So the ducks come back dead?
No, that’s the alarming thing. The ducks eventually show up again and they’re just sort of solid all the way through. They act normal. I mean, insomuch as ducks act like anything. Ducks are just kinda ducks. But they don’t speak in tongues or anything. Marla is totally weirded out. – Sid
I assume you dissected a duck to find this out.
Sort of. – Sid.
We were standing there looking at it and a bunch of ducks suddenly came out of the opening and Marla panicked and hit one with a tennis racket. – Sid
This is not proper scientific protocol.
It was what we had. – Sid
In the interests of not having my blood pressure rise any further, we will assume that you had a perfectly good reason for carrying a tennis racket, which you do not need to explain. Ever. So she hit the duck with a tennis racket.
Right, and then we had this dead duck and the guy we had been talking to was all “Are you gonna eat that?” and Marla was all “Don’t eat things that appear out of thin air.” – Sid
Sound advice. Yes. Good for Marla.
So anyway we looked at the duck, and it was not from around here if you know what I mean. – Sid
Well, it had extra wiggly bits under the wings. – Sid
Wiggly bits. Of course it did.
But it was mostly a duck. Anyway, you know how Marla is about things with wiggly bits, so she ran over it with the truck. – Sid
Marla never liked the wiggly ones.
And that’s when we found out that the whole duck was basically made of…I dunno, Spam or something. Undifferentiated pink stuff. I wanted to put some in a jar to bring home, but Marla was all “burn it with fire, we have to burn it all” and you know how she gets. Also, she had the keys to the truck. – Sid
Good woman. Yes.
report filed June, 15 PD also by Brittany.
Image located in the file “Horribly Dangerous.” Following discussion (see transcript) it was refiled under “Sid’s Crap.”
The large stack of post-it notes and written correspondence that accumulated on this image made filing unwieldy. Transcript provided. Where chronological order could not be determined, best guess made by Intern Brittany, which would be easier if more people wrote their name on their notes.
Sid, what is this?
Horrible creepy kid statue, obvs. -Sid
Why is it in this file?
Look at it! You know it eats people or moves at night or giggles or something. -Sid
Do you have proof?
I actually agree with Sid on this one
Your opinion is noted. I repeat, Sid, do you have any proof?
Did you look at it? -Sid
The world is full of creepy statues. They don’t all eat people.
Most of them do. -Sid
No, they don’t.
Do so. – Sid
Can we have Marla smash it anyway?
Marla says she didn’t spend twenty years get pepper sprayed on the picket lines to go around destroying lawn ornaments.
–Break in correspondance. Accompanying stains indicate someone spilled tea and mopped it up with notes–
Well, something ate the Brogans. – Sid
Unless you can prove it was this statue, you have to file the photo somewhere else.
Fine. When this thing is writing “Hide and Seek” on the wall in our guts, just remember I told you so. – Sid
That threat was really effective the first five hundred times.
I still think we should smash it.
Transcript of notes prepared by Intern Brittany, June, 15pd, filed accordingly.
Image found in a file folder in the historical society archives, under “Miscellaneous.” Other items filed under “Miscellaneous” include numerous manuals for appliances, somebody’s tax return (you know who you are), an extremely moldy grilled cheese sandwich and a birdhouse completely covered in duct tape.
The birdhouse was removed and filed more safely. The sandwich was thrown away.