T.L. Barrett's Blog
December 7, 2014
Love Letters to the Universe #2: Mysterious Acceptance
I haven’t been totally straightforward with you. We have had a breakdown in communication. I stopped writing; you stopped making a whole lot of sense for a while. There were days when I seriously wondered if I’d write again; I told myself it was you, that you weren’t even listening. Heaven knows, that is a thought that definitely does cross a high school teacher’s mind once in a while when he’s trying to get a bunch of hormonal and over-tired adolescents to get enthused about British Romantic Poetry. However, it just isn’t true, and I know it.
It’s not you, it’s me.
I’m the one with the problem. I suppose most of humanity is afflicted with this problem most of the time. It is a drag, and I’m sure it makes us very difficult to tolerate. That’s why I want to thank you so much for sticking by us silly hairless and tailess monkeys for a while longer. You won’t be sorry. We might be horribly slow learners, but I think you could say we’ve made some real progress, haven’t we? In any case, we can be occasionally rather adorable, you have to admit.
The problem as I see it: Exclusive Insanity.
A freckled four year old boy with a mop of curly brown hair walks on the side of the road. It’s summer so the boy is wearing a yellow Scooby-Doo tank top with the Mystery Machine on the front. Said boy scuffs his new sneakers to send the a bunch of pebbles onto the hot road paving. He looks up to witness the results of this attempt and spies a thing which is beyond imagining.
There is a bird, but it isn’t pecking at the ants gathered there. It isn’t startling to wondrous flight upon the boy’s scuffing approach. The bird is lying so still, like a discarded toy. It’s little marble eyes are glazed in a hazy cloud. The ants crawl over the bird in a frenetic and grotesque dance.
The bird is not a bird, not anymore, it is a sign. The boy furrows his brow.
The boy understands forever. He’s waited for his mother to finish interminable conversations with old co-workers in the supermarket so he might convince her that he needs a comic book or a lollypop near the registers. He understands love, the boundless ties that cause one to study another’s every movement, to delight in their arrival. But now, he must understand something completely different.
He must understand the sign of the bird that is not a bird anymore. Some dark understanding blooms inside his head, but there is no room for it. The boy’s brain is filled with love and forever. Where would there ever be room for such a thought? How can there be room in an endless warm summer’s afternoon for such a thing on the roadside? Yet, Knowledge, as one agonized monster once said, cannot be unlearned. The sign has been read, and the boy must somehow contain both the immortal and the mortal. What happens to such a boy when he must carry both things in his mind?
He goes crazy. You’d have to go crazy, wouldn’t you? But, that’s okay; it’s a crazy world. When in Rome do as the Romans. And the Romans were very, very crazy. They weren’t the first and they sure weren’t the last. Some hairless monkeys have built amazing monuments, painted marvelous pictures, written heart-rending songs, inspired illuminating faiths, and so much more all because of that dose of crazy. Everything they did was crazy, but the world kept spinning and everything was sort of hunky dory.
Except sometimes it isn’t hunky dory. Sometimes it really isn’t all that fun at all. Usually, this leads to, or is a direct result from, exclusive insanity. The hairless monkey of the moment does not accept that he’s crazy with crazy ideas. He even begins to think that not only is everyone else crazy, but that his monkey poo really has a far more pleasant smell than had been previously reported.
Thus, hairless monkeys might believe that once a hairless monkey walked on water, or a hairless monkey had the head of an elephant, or that a hairless monkey divided a sea with a wave of his stump-poking stick, and that kind of crazy is just alright. But then the hairless monkey says that only his crazy story isn’t crazy. So this inspires the hairless monkey to yell and scream a lot, be generally an unhappy monkey, and if things go horribly wrong: kill a bunch of other hairless monkeys.
Everybody is crazy. You’re exclusively crazy when you forget this fact.
So to get back to it; I had stopped writing to you because I suffered from my own particular brand of exclusive insanity. Just as any trauma can cause one to lash out at the world or lash within, so can living cause two different kinds of exclusive insanity. The first says my way or the highway, cause I’m the only sane monkey around. The second says: everybody else must be right and sane, and I’m the broken monkey with crazy ideas about what should bring one joy.
I mean, to lock yourself away alone in a room and record your thoughts and strange little fantasy tales is surely mad, is it not? Yes, it absolutely is. Except there are millions of crazy things these hairless monkeys do. They watch other monkeys chase balls around quite a bit. They sit in front of glowing screens and push buttons in the desperate hope that another monkey, far away, might push buttons in response. Some monkeys look at birds, some stuff them, some hunt them and some watch other people hunt them on glowing screens.
Writing is insane, but then so is everything else. It happens to be a flavor of crazy for which I have a particular fondness. It brings me joy; and thus it is worth doing.
Why does it bring me joy? I have no idea. It is a total mystery to me, but that’s all right. I like the mystery. In fact, I think we have come to the remedy for the exclusively insane hairless monkey. And I thank you for that as well, lovely universe.
We must all practice Mysterious Acceptance. Life is a mystery, a crazy plot. We have no choice than to accept that fact. And by doing so, we hop aboard the proverbial mystery machine, pet the great dane and ride off into adventure.
Do what brings you joy. Enjoy the mystery, accept it. I will do so myself, and sit down in front of a glowing screen and wonder at what will come out of me, for the mystery of the universe is like a mirror reflected inside of me, as well.
What could be better than waking up each morning, to cry out “the game is afoot”, and walk out into the unfolding mystery each day? Nothing, except perhaps to walk out hand in hand with you.
Love and Peace,
November 22, 2014
Hello, it’s me, Travis. I’ve been thinking about our relationship lately. Now, wait, don’t get all torqued out of shape. I’m miles away from self-indulgent morosity, and I’m not about to quit on you. I turned the big four-o this year, so I’m far too stubborn and old for any of that horse pucky. I guess it comes down to the fact that I’ve realized it has been far too long since I checked in and really let you know how I feel about being here with you.
I’ve been frittering away the precious hours and minutes. I’ve been worrying myself sick over minutia. And most of all, I haven’t written, which is strange because… well, I love writing to you. It brings me joy. Why haven’t I written? I suppose I could list a thousand reasons, but to tell you the truth, none of them are really valid. The important thing is that I stopped doing the very thing that filled me with a sense of being connected.
Sure there was a lot of other benefits, too. There was the euphoria of having my first stories published and all the jigging and exclaiming and grinning like a fool. There is the soft magic hours where the words fly out of me and into you, like night-time whispers of love. There was the satisfaction of adding to that ongoing pot of recorded human speculation and fancy, of which I have sipped and gulped with such relish, and from which I have been succoured and fortified. But, most of all it was that sense of being connected, the understanding that I was was just where I needed to be, doing just what I was made to do.
You see, writing to me has always been an act of gratitude. As I wrote, I recognized all the beauty these eyes have seen. As I wrote, I told stories that were reflections of this greater story in which I’ve been allowed to be a character. I’ve read the studies; gratitude equals happiness. Although, to tell true, the studies were just another reminder of a truth that I recognized, because it was unfolded to me many times by you. Just another thing for which to be grateful, another reason to be happy.
You’ve taught me so many things, and I’m a better person for it. You’ve sent so many people into my life, some a blessing, others a challenge, but all have perfectly made me who I am.
And who am I?
I’m a writer, kind of like you. I don’t always get what you’re always trying to tell me. But it is no fault in you as a writer. I don’t always see where you are going with weird plot twists such as chronically sick children or tragic deaths of ex-girlfriends, but I still love the story. I still love you. In fact, you’ve inspired me to be who I am, and heck, imitation is the highest form of flattery, is it not?
You, the big story, taught me, the little story, that a story could write itself. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do: take the story that is my life and tell it in the most graceful way I can. That’s what we’re all supposed to do, isn’t it?
You don’t have to answer. Sometimes, I just like asking questions. But, then you know that, don’t you?
Anyway, I am through with suffering the illusion that I could ever be alone. That’s the real reason I shirk writing to you. It’s just plain silly. Because when I write, I know you are listening. I’m just alone with you, and when that happens, who knows what kind of magic might ensue?
So, I’m going to keep on writing, sending my thoughts of love and gratitude out into the big beyond, which is you, my darling universe. I want to shout out the sparkling wisdom that I’ve been lucky enough to find, wallowing around like some boy in waders at the world’s shore, just looking for something to catch my curious eye.
Like the truth you taught me so long ago when I was such a confused and depressed young man, out on a spring evening with a group of friends.
How the stars shone, all pearlescent beauty against the plum dark night! How I studied their majesty with a sense of awe. Then when I least expected it, the world changed. The stars no longer resembled a dusting of light against the bowl of the sky. A great depth opened up above me. For one spinning moment I could not tell if I was looking up, out or down into the fiery wheel of the Milky Way. For that moment I saw the sky in three dimensions, and the feeling the view gave me held.
My stomach rose in a fluttery glee. I saw then what I had missed so many, many times before. The Milky Way was a wheel after all, a ferris wheel, on which we rode, from birth until we shuffled off to make room for the next folks who had realized that taking a ride on such a contraption was just the thing their spirit needed.
That was it. Life was just a ride. All the meadow muffins and road apples I had been obsessed over (and often taught to be obsessed over by many of the oh-so-serious fellow passengers) was just that: bullshit and horseshit. Life was a ride! I whooped with joy and went spinning off to bed that night anxious to awaken again in the morning to see what glories the ride would reveal to me on the morrow.
Since then, I sometimes forget. I don’t forget as often as I used to. That is one strange aspect to the ride. The more your back starts to ache, and your knees pop, ironically the more sure your spirit becomes.
But, even when this happens, you send other folks to remind us. Like that funny guy: Bill Hicks.
When I watched him remind others about how life was just a ride, I knew it as the truth. I also knew that I wanted, if I could, to help remind others. I suppose that’s why I became a teacher, why I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Except now, I’m done with wanting. I’m more into being now.
So, I’m going to keep doing what brings me joy. I’m going to write stories, record the little and big thoughts I’m given here, and enjoy the ride.
I’d like to leave you with a thought. Imagine if every hairless, tailless monkey on the planet got up and went out and looked up into that shining wheel on which we ride, and they all raised their hands and let out a little whoop of joy. Maybe for a minute they wouldn’t feel alone, maybe for a minute they would forget about the things that wear them down and turn them against each other. Maybe when they would turn back to their homes and their beds they would do so with the deep commitment to make their ride as joyful for themselves and their fellow hairless and tailless monkeys as they possibly could.
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Love and Peace,
April 6, 2014
We are just three months from my five-year promise deadline. Looking back, I have some things I would have changed, but for the most part, I’m pretty proud of myself. Sure, I spent a lot of time discovering and trying to maneuver through social media (always with the excuse it was for better exposure, yeah right), and there were some choices as to where I would send my novels that, knowing what I know now, I would have done vastly differently. I was also a father of five children, a husband and a teacher. In fact, right now, I’m putting off yet another pile of papers to grade (I graded all of Saturday. It’s Sunday now), to right this little update.
But, I did manage to write close to fifty stories (not all of them keepers- but there were some gems in the lot), massively edit (re-write, actually) four novels, and write three more. I gave four speeches to aspiring young writers, published three novels, attended two writing conventions, and gave three readings (all of which I was invited). I got to meet over the internet some of my favorite writers, and discovered and become friends with a bunch more talented folks. I got to meet a bunch of folks in person, some of which I’ve been a fan for years. I will cherish the memory of smoking and laughing with Rick Hautala at a conventions just months before he gave up the ghost. The inestimable Jonathan Maberry sent my son some supplementary readings when I told him how much Finnegan was a fan of his Rot and Ruin series. I’ve seen my book on book shelves and in the libraries I have frequented. Great stuff.
This challenge was a brave one. I have tried so long and hard to see myself as a writer, but how liberating it was to finally act like one. The real moments of glory for me was when I sold my first story just one month into my promise to Northern Frights Publishing. I gave a victory cry that sounded through the valley, then later read the work to my wife and reduced her to tears. I loved having my wife eagerly ask for more of my work, to hear her laugh and gasp as new plot points were revealed. Perhaps, most of all, I loved being lost in my long lonely drives to work, I loved frantically rushing to the keyboard and letting the words set themselves loose. I loved getting to know these characters that seemed to tell their own stories. I loved getting teary eyed as my tired heroes made sacrifices and fell into the arms of loved ones at journey’s end. It was those moments that kept me going despite my confusion about how to market myself, my disappointment of the apathy of people (sometimes the ones that counted), and the downright cruel critiques from some of the same people. Sure the glowing reviews helped, the kind comments from readers and listeners were pure gold, but it was the joy of writing itself that kept me going.
My one complaint: There just isn’t enough time to do all the things you love; and I love writing. With renewed vigor I have attacked 2014 to make this a year of abundant proclivity. I am about three-fourths done a novel. I have written two novelets and three short stories in the past couple of months. I plan on finishing the novel, and writing another this summer. And now we come to the future…
In 2012, my novel, The Wardmaster saw publication. Yes, it hasn’t sold a lot of copies, but I have faith that after a couple of the right people read this fantasy, that the readers will come. It is based on a novel concept: the main character is not the main character. The series is based around Crimm the Pyrelord, a psychic warrior who awakens after sleeping away a thousand years and finds his precious Vanaheim in the hands of cannibal monsters. Each tale in this series is told from the point of view of a person who becomes Crimm’s companion. Each can be read separately, yet each builds the tension in Crimm’s journey to liberate his homeland and restore the order of logos to the great tree. It is the second volume that I know intend to finish, and get this- I have seven more (at least) planned.
In The Wardmaster, I introduced a band of monster-hunting motorcycle mamas named the Valkyries. These women won me over, and my wife who demanded more tales about these indomitable women. Hence, I wrote The Bone Snake, the first full volume in a series that will be a planned nine volumes long. The Bone Snake is being considered for publication, and I have all faith that it will someday soon be available on a bookshelf near you.
So, I plan to write a lot more stories this year. I plan to finish The Pyrelord, and write the second Valkyrie novel this summer. I will continue to write until I die, because that is just who I am: a writer. It would be nice if I sold enough stuff to get done teaching so that I could devote even more time to my craft, but nevertheless, I will continue because the book that you have yet to pick up and thoroughly enjoy is just a record, a byproduct really of the inspiring time I’ve had with whatever fascinating characters that decided to pop out of some imaginal world and invite me along for the journey.
If you haven’t read my stuff, some words of advice. If you are looking for a truly funny and heart-warming tale of friendship- check out Hairy Bromance. If you want to go on an epic quest to restore a magical world from a terrible curse- purchase The Vale of Shade- which will be released in its entirety very, very soon (by June). If you want to step sideways into another world where psychic warriors pit their all against twisted gods- check out The Wardmaster. If you just want some quick reads with plenty of thrills and few chuckles- visit The Night Library. You won’t be sorry- just leave a review so I know you’ve been there, and someone else might get the chance for a little escape and wonder.
Wish me luck, after these grades are in, I’m off to get the Valkyries out of another scrape.
Go well and stay well.
March 13, 2014
Well, I’ve been busy editing and editing, formatting, and such. Soon (within the next couple of months) I will have THE VALE OF SHADE, the complete edition out and ready for purchase. I am very excited and can’t wait to see the cover. I also have a work out for traditional publication, so cross your fingers for me.
Until then, I have another Vanaheim novel to finish, and a slew of shorts to write. The snow is piled up outside my window and I’m hoping for Spring someday. Until, then, I’ll just have to write about it.
I’ll admit it. I love zombies, and so, too, do a whole lot of you out there. Of course, many of you are sick to death (pun intended) of these shambling threats to life on earth, as they have saturated culture so completely that I’ve actually heard a large number of young people (I’m a parent of five, and a teacher to hundreds more) say not ‘if’ the zombie apocalypse happens, but ‘when‘. The big question is, how did these moronic monstrosities achieve such status in our collective unconscious?
Could it be the fact that in our capitalist society we feel reduced to the state of imbecile consumers, who groan and follow the hoards to attack box stores every November? Possibly. Or, perhaps, as we have been trained to do, we accept the capitalist concept that the masses are just that, mindless consumers, and we, the point of view of the survivor, must struggle against them and compete with other survivors for the scant resources left available. Thereby, we bemoan our state as survivors of the capitalist rat race while at the same time reinforcing its inevitability. Although I believe there are elements in that, I fear that it is just too darned cynical.
Could it be that we as a post-industrial and largely secular society, our concept of life after death has become so muddled, that perhaps all we are in the end is a biological imperative of hunger and reproduction? After death are we subjected merely to rot and the task of carrying on the cycle of life in some obscene, unthinkable and unconscious way? Yeah, totally, I think. Except, both of the above aspects of zombies: Being a consumer and having only that to look forward to- are legitimate fears, and truly horrific and nihilistic prospects. It is, I believe, a much more hidden and subconscious aspect of zombies that really keeps us coming back for more (brains!).
If zombies served as merely a critique and a reminder of the limits of our consumer lifestyle and the spiritually and purposefully void experience such a lifestyle demands, then I think we wouldn’t be so attracted to it.
Take vampires for instance, their power resides in their liberation: liberation from life, the mundane and ordinary existence of day life and the circadian rhythms. They are often depicted as even being free of gravity, free of remorse, free of consequence largely. Of course, the argument could be made that vampires expose our addiction to the mundi, the world and how we haunt it, becoming addicts to each other and to cruelty, death and a parasitic lifestyle without God. However, it is really the freedom, especially sexual, that arouses the desire to suck blood and be sucked. I mean, thousands or perhaps millions of goth teens can’t all be wrong.
But, coming back to Zombies, what is it about the Z-heads, walkers, voodoo victims, virus-bearers, or what ever you call them that make them powerful, yet seems to make no logical sense at all?
Zombies are ridiculously good-natured to each other. They seem to be able to sense what is zombie and what isn’t. We know that the virus cannot truly be sentient, and yet, even in otherwise intelligent science-fiction films this little tidbit is overlooked. Someone gets infected, becomes filled with mad and senseless rage, infects another, or perhaps just runs into another infectee, and just teams up, like it is the most natural thing in the world. WTF?
Hordes of the undead will chase down a group of struggling survivors and then gather around to eat up the unfortunately slow without attacking one another. We don’t even act so nicely on Thanksgiving (which has ominously become Black Thursday). Why doesn’t a lame or particularly slow zombie who has arrived too late to feast on a squealing co-ed just take a chomp of the zombie in front of him?
I suppose you could come up with some kind of excuse that every time there is such a virus or supernatural outbreak, that the very thing that resurrects these bodies rewires them to sense and eat only living food. Ok, I get that, but really, these things can’t manage door knobs, usually. I mean, wouldn’t they at least get feisty with each other and greedy over the few survivors left?
I believe the true answer lies in our basic nature, which the zombie reveals. Stripped of all but a his basic hungers, the zombie represents that which is left after the ego and all else has been dumped. This means that at their core, humans (which is just a zombie ready to be born) are communal, tolerant and cooperative creatures. I know it’s a shocker, because it goes against everything that we are told by the very nature of the philosophies with which our society is run. This horrifies us.
How come we never ask why the zombies aren’t eating each other, or at least having Jerry Springer like show downs over the fat office worker who was left for bait by the people more adept at surviving in a dog-eat-dog world. Only it’s not a dog eat dog world, and this scares us to death.
Lets go back and look at the seminal classic: The Night of the Living Dead. I still love this movie as pure entertainment in all its shlocky and black-and-white glory. We are going to move into spoiler territory but if you are reading a blog post about zombies and you haven’t watched the movie yet, I don’t really know what to say to you.
The survivor of the little pack of refugees inside the old farm-house is an african american male. The zombies really wanted to bite him and let him join their crew. Zombies do not discriminate due to color, sexuality, gender, size, age, or anything. If you want to moan and shuffle along, they’ll be glad to have you. In fact it is this capacity which gives them their power: numbers and mass effort. And they are the bad guys! How does that make you feel?
Ironically the black hero of The Night of the Living Dead survives the night’s onslaught of zombies only to leave the house alone and is shot by a mob of gun-toting white men who then apparently lynch him and pose for pictures with the corpse.
Just as ironically, we are afraid of zombies because they are what we are not, but always say we should be. They are a bunch of rotting hippies, with their relatively peaceful (at least internally), tolerant, and cooperative lifestyle. We resent them, we fear them.
I could go into a diatribe about how the zombie is really a counter-subversive genre of entertainment. We think we are making fun of the foils in our society, but instead are demonizing the very behaviors that might improve it.
But what do I know? Keep on munching popcorn while your eyes glaze over and the hordes munch on brains. Keep telling yourself that the squabbling, petty, and divisive survivors are the heroes. But, if you want, ask yourself why the zombies are so well-behaved. Or better yet, (and perhaps most frightening of all), ask yourself why you’ve never asked yourself that question before.
November 24, 2013
Hi, winter is here in the dark northern woods. After solstice, I find my creative wheels really start turning, and it is the first six months of the year in which I really get my writing done. I am preparing for this turning inward to the realities I desire to share with whoever will read about them. Usually, this involves a mad research phase in which I obsessively read everything I can about a few subjects. This year I am fully involved in studying the MBTI- or Meyer Briggs personality types. As I am amazed at how accurate these tests can describe the basic anatomy of personality, I have decided to use the basic descriptions of the sixteen personality types to inform my writing. Now, I will throw up a situation and thrust one of the 16 inside and see what happens. I don’t know that this will really effect the end product, but it does help to think of personality in terms of direction and plot development. I’ve always felt like the character drives the story. Well, here is an interesting article that you might find interesting. There are lots of tests out there and posts about what superhero or fictional character you are. If you can’t find them then give me a holler. I’ll post some of them. Well, I have to hit the grading pile, then turn my efforts to the editing of my latest novel. I just hope I won’t spend all my time typing my characters for personality.
See you around,
October 27, 2013
October 25, 2013
I am very excited to announce that I’ll be reading with a pack of great Vermont speculative fiction writers in Burlingtion at Quarterstaff Games, Saturday Nov. 16th, 4:30-6:30 PM- Please come, listen, make friends, and support the weird, geeky and freaky in the Green Mountains.
October 23, 2013
October 15, 2013
I am very excited to announce that later this week, The Door to Halloween will be available for download and print order. This fantasy for children of all ages will surprise, delight and move you. Here is the write-up:
How many of us have wished to find a door to some magical world beyond our own? And what trick-or-treater hasn’t desired that the delights of All Hallows Eve could last all the year round? In a fantasy adventure that will haunt the reader’s imagination, Harrison Brown follows his twin brother Max through just such a door and into just such a world. There they will find friendship and fellowship with werewolves and witches, talking dolls, hobos and goat-women. They will also embark on an adventurous quest to liberate the land of Halloween from the grasp of Reverend Bones and his army of Horned Ones. Turn around three times, take three steps forward and enter…
You will marvel at this moving testament to the bonds of love that can break the barrier between worlds and restore joy to even the most burdened of hearts. In the magical tradition of Oz and Narnia, this fantasy tale celebrates the magic of the holiday and the child-like wonder which only waits to be awoken in each of us.