Verisimilitude

A review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

 

There are books and then there are Books. You know what I mean. There’s the book that draws you in, captivates your attention, it can even be the most riveting page turner- but it’s still just a book. Then there’s the Book that has a beating heart and soul all of its own.

 

American Gods is one of those Books. It leaves you satisfied and full. It’s the kind of book that you end up devoting yourself too. You can’t read it alongside another novel, this book won’t allow it. It requires undivided attention and when you’ve finished there’s a satisfaction to it. It’s like the fullness after a good meal, but not one where you’ve over-indulged. It’s more active too, like the afterglow of sex, but still more. Like the ending of a good relationship but without the heartbreak. It’s good friends parting ways with the knowledge that you’ll visit one another again. After all, this Book is definitely going to require a re-read.

 

These Books change you. The ones that are so rich and complex and real that you could live in their imaginary world forever. The ones that convey truth despite (or perhaps because of) their fantastic fiction. These are the truths that people feel humming all around them but never quite reach out to touch. We’re all too busy to give them much thought, we just feel their vibrations. Then we read a book that puts it into words and those words become part of us. They sound off and we become the humming. They leave us shaken because you never really expect a book to have that effect. It’s worth it though. You can see everything a little clearer now and there’s more peace in your soul than there was before.

 

Verisimilitude is the word for that. Let that one roll off your tongue. Verisimilitude. That was the word of the day on the Elvis Duran morning show yesterday. According to Google, it means, “the appearance of being true or real.” That’s the short definition. Definitions always have to be short. On the radio, they used it in three different sentences. Somehow their examples were all humorous and little bit sexy, though I can’t remember what they were now. All I know is that it fits American Gods perfectly. Because, despite all the wild ideas about the different gods and mythologies, there is still so much reality.

 

Allow me to elaborate…

 

“…as sure as water’s wet and days are long and a friend will always disappoint you in the end.”

 

It’s a bit contrary to ‘nothing is certain except death and taxes.’ But have you ever had a friend that didn’t disappoint in the end? Friends never quite live up to what we hope they’ll be. Somehow it’s comforting to see it written down. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief and quit wondering what you’re doing wrong and why people keep letting you down. It’s just the way of the world. It’s above you and beyond you and you can rest easy knowing you’ve disappointed every friend you’ve ever had too.

 

 

“…in dreams, sometimes, you have no choices: either there are no decisions to be made, or they were made for you long before ever the dream began…”

 

This is describing a dream, obviously. But, much of this book’s “waking” moments are so dreamlike it makes you wonder how much of this is true for our waking, conscious world as well. Suddenly, you recall that article you read that says all of your decisions are made within microseconds of the choice being laid before you and all the humming and hawing that we do is just rationalization of a decision already made. How peaceful our lives would be if we didn’t question it, didn’t torment ourselves over it, just rolled with it as if we were in a dream.

 

 

“If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each others’ tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others…”

 

Perhaps it is the age of the internet that we are living in, the free movement of information and everyone on their soapboxes, megaphones in hand. Maybe it’s my hyper-emotional generation, raised to accept, empathize with and value each human snowflake. Whatever the cause, we seem to strive to feel everyone’s pain, we want to understand, we want to stay woke to every detail of our vast world and every social struggle. All the while forgetting that we can’t. We have a finite amount of emotional bandwidth to process all these emotions. And what use is there really to feeling all these feels? Unless you’re a therapist it doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t have any practical use except that we feel like good human beings. Another sigh of relief, we can’t feel it all, we would drown in it. It’s okay.

 

Doesn’t that feel better? People suck but you suck too, so make your choices, put up with one another, and don’t worry about the rest. Heaven. Hell. Good. Bad. They all serve their purposes. There is no end, nothing is what you think it is and you’re not going to remember it anyway. So carry on my wayward son.

 

See? Verisimilitude. Now those gods, the Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons; realms that we have always thought of in binary. True or false. And really, modern, enlightened people that we are, armed with science–it’s mostly just false. Now we’re not so sure. American Gods has fucked with our limited scope and we’re left with a whole new can of worms tickling our brain.

 

The appearance of truth. The feel of reality. The resonance in your soul. Verisimilitude.

 

Or… Perhaps… Just maybe…

 

Fact. The real deal. The American, God’s honest truth.

 

 

 

Until the next Book, anyway.

 

Shell Shocked

It’s not the way you think it’ll be. Nothing ever is. Looking back now…objectively, I wonder at what strange creatures we humans are. The things that make us tick. A goddamn Styrofoam plate. A biscuit and a Danish.

 

That early Sunday morning of his deployment, I was handling everything extremely well. I helped him load up his bag, playing his playlist that I had made- all the songs that reminded me of him. I held him tight and reassured him when he hastily wiped away a tear. I was surprised and touched at this open display of emotion, so rare among men. But as moving as it was, I remained steady, unmoved. I’ve already been to my crisis point, I thought. Two weeks earlier, I was a mess. We had fought and I had wailed for the impending loss. I had already exorcised my demons over this, or so I thought.

 

We drove an hour and a half to the armory where final goodbyes would be exchanged. We drove separately and I followed him the way I wish I could follow him onto the bus and to the airport and away across the hemisphere. Occasionally on the drive, we’d be stopped at a light and I’d see him gazing sadly at me through his rear view mirror. I smiled at him, happy that he was mine. Happy to have someone who’s love for me was one that I understood. We arrived at the armory early with a good half hour before his formation.

 

The rest of his family was on the way and I was glad for this extra snippet of time where I did not have to share him. But he was anxious and fidgety so we walked around and played thumb war. A game I remembered from before when my dad and I were similarly waiting on the army. You see, I thought I was prepared for this. I was an army brat and I was accustomed to missing family members, first my dad and then my brother. I thought my experiences would help me.

 

His family came and my dry eyes watched them struggle to hold back their tears. They in turn asked me- hushed, under their breath, cautious so as not to upset- they asked me how I was. “I’m fine,” I said, and I was.

 

I watched the soldiers milling around. The mother in uniform marching after her toddler, who clearly possessed an independent spirit. There were other children, dressed up by their parents for the occasion. Little girls wearing pink dresses and yellow ribbons in their hair. Young boys in their Sunday best, hair combed. They were, all of them, untouched and unconcerned with what was about to befall them.

 

After the company’s formation, the soldiers and their families spread out to savor their last moments together. We moved inside to the wide open space, the only part of the armory I had seen. It was the same as every other army building I had ever been in: a great big room, cement walls, large garage doors and a big ass fan. It was like the hangars from my father’s days as a pilot except the aircraft were missing.

 

Some support group or another had set out a breakfast for the unit. Tables lined the wall on one side. Throughout the morning I had seen a soldier here and there approach the table for coffee or breakfast. My soldier had not been hungry before, but he was now and he walked over to the table. It comforted me to know that, though he was clearly anxious, it must not be so bad since he had not lost his appetite. I watched him walking back over to us and that was when it hit me. This innocuous moment was what kicked my legs out from under me, knocked the breath from my lungs and made my ears ring.

 

It was the shocking familiarity of him. I had seen pictures of him from his grade school days and wished that I had known him then. I saw it plain as day now. I saw the teenage version of him. His gaze looking slightly downward in an unassuming expression, minding his own business, with his Styrofoam plate bearing a biscuit and a Danish. It was as if he were merely buying breakfast at school. Satiating his hunger before going to home room. Somehow this sparked everything I love about him. There it was: the innocence, the unassuming good-naturedness about him that makes him so damn beautiful to me. It reminded me of how he laughs at the cheesiest puns and builds Legos with my son and wrestles with us and goofs off and smiles obligingly every time I pull my camera out…The way he tells me I’m beautiful even when I look my worst. That damn Styrofoam plate was my first mortar and suddenly there was a lump in my throat and I couldn’t stay watching him or the shrapnel would rip me to shreds.

 

I walked out to my car under the pretense of dropping something off, or was it picking something up. It wasn’t enough time to collect myself. The scraps of metal were still flying. I kept moving; back inside. I walked right past him without looking at him lest I get hit again. Sheltered in the ladies room, I took some deep breaths. It’s ok. It’s fine. It was just a sudden panic. This too shall pass. It’ll be fine. I’ve got myself under control again. There are no mortars, no shrapnel, no scraps of flesh piercing metal to dodge. That’s not even what’s waiting for my soldier. He’s in IT. He’s going to be fixing computer equipment. No convoys for him, no battle fields or warzones. I hope. It’s fine, just far away. Far far away.

 

Rejoining the group, it isn’t long before the First Sergeant shouts the 5 minute warning. Our solider hugs everyone in turn: his mom, his dad, two sisters, and brother-in-law. Then he turns to me. I can’t describe the way he bids me farewell. It’s too intimate to share. His goodbyes ripped me apart and put me back together all at the same, broke me down and built me back up, crushed me at the thought of being apart and fortified me for the wait ahead. It was a terrible beautiful moment that I will cherish, over too soon.

 

We’re moving out front to the awaiting buses. One last round of hastily dispensed hugs. I let myself be distracted by all the other families and avoid watching him board the bus. Surely if his breakfast was the undoing of me before, watching him walk away will be much worse, and how much worse if he stops to look back. No, I don’t want to see that. All around are families embracing one another, waving goodbye, and behind me is the most heartbreaking sight I’ve ever seen. One that I’ve known myself.

 

A small child, a little boy, between one and two years old maybe, screaming. This is why I looked back, screaming like that will draw your attention whether you want it to or not. Screaming for his mother who has just boarded the bus. His father is holding him and his face is equally heart-broken because there is no comfort he can provide that will make up for the loss of his mother. There is no reassurance he can give. Have you seen this cry before? Children cry a lot but they have a lot of different cries: the tantrum trying to win his way, the frustration of not being as capable as he’d like, the high-pitched squeal of real pain. This isn’t like those. This is inconsolable grief. This is a world being ripped apart.

 

This was the scream held in every heart that said goodbye.

 

 

 

115th-signal-bn-crest

 

Will Write for Beer

I have officially been paid for my writing… in beer. I’m completely fine with this method of payment. 1 beer per thousand words. I got this.

A local author, Michael Guillebeau, has organized a Madison Writer’s Guild and motivated me to once again put my half formed thoughts into the world.

One of his books, Josh Whoever is in my possession and next up on my reading list. Check out some of Michael Guillebeau’s works here:

http://www.michaelguillebeau.com

Check out the results of the first Madison Writers Guild here:

http://www.michaelguillebeau.com/will-write-for-beer-july-11-2017/

WillWriteforBeer

Easy way out

A review of Harry Potter book 7

If you read my about page, which I’ll assume you did… Because, who wouldn’t, right? You already know that I rediscovered my love of reading through a Facebook article. At the time I was working my way through the last book in the Harry Potter series. So I’m going to take the easy way out and do a nice pithy review of… I don’t even remember what it was called… At some point you just move on to the next one….

OK, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’m a little late on finishing the books. Only 10 years. So what had happened was… Life. Life happened. Good stuff, some not so good stuff, but I came back and finished these marvelous books. We all know that this is an amazing series, right? All hail queen Rowling!

Even if life got in the way of completing the series, we’ve heard the hype, watched the movies and made some memes. However. Believe it or not, as astounding as it sounds, not everyone has come back to finish the books! What? There is so much goodness that you’re missing out on! Or am I the only one who feels this way?

While I was finishing up this book, I met a young man… I’m gonna say he’s about 12… And I asked him if he read the books. Almost, but not quite, assuming that he had. I mean I’m 10 years late on this, surely an adolescent with relatively few responsibilities must have devoured these novels ages ago.

Gasp! Shock! Oh the humanity! He had not! He had not read the books! Not even one! He had watched the movies… The movies. Yes, it’s true they are excellent works of entertainment in their own right, but they are not the books! How could you even follow those last few movies without reading the books? There’s so much more Muchness in the books. In pretty much ALL books.

So here is my review. Harry Potter: read them, read them all! And if you have kids read them again with your kids. You cannot call yourself a good parent without reading Harry Potter to your kids. I’m kidding, raise your kids how you want and do what works for you. But for real, finish the books. You won’t regret it.

Happy reading!