Saturday, November 26, 2016

Write Club - War

This is a piece I wrote for an event called Write Club, in which pairs of poets compete by writing pieces on opposing themes.  I was given War, and another writer given Peace.  Peace won, which I will take as a hopeful metaphor to console myself.

One—The Imagine Fallacy

John Lennon’s dream was a world without war and his roadmap to such an achievement was best summarized in the song Imagine. I can’t recite the lyrics without crossing the boundaries of fair use, and I don’t feel like being sued by Yoko Ono. But I’m sure you’ve all heard it enough times that it’s already an earworm in your head as I’m reading this. At any rate, permit me to summarize.

If we no longer had religion to fight over, there would be no war.

If we no longer had countries to fight over, there would be no war.

If we no longer had possessions to fight over, there would be no war.

John Lennon had two sons, but they were born to two different women and raised on two different continents. Had they been closer in age and raised together, he would perhaps have realized the futility of these notions.

Because sooner or later, the two brothers would fight over something. Perhaps a certain toy that they both wanted. Suppose it was a boat. By his logic, the way to end the conflict would be to take away the boat so there would be nothing left to fight over. But they would only move on to the Tinkertoy set and start fighting over that. Take away the Tinkertoy set and they’d squabble over the fire truck. Remove every single one of the toys, and the conflict would shift to a question of who was touching who.

The Imagine ideal, no matter how beautifully presented, no matter how much it makes you want to believe in something greater than ourselves, simply won’t work. Because taking away the object of contention from the smallest conflict to the most brutal wars is solving only part of the problem.

Two—The Us and the Them

We are wired for conflict. It served our ancestors well as they hunted for food for the tribe. It perhaps served our ancestors not so well when tribes competed for the same hunting ground and blood would be spilled to claim a territory. We’re still wired to define in-groups and out-groups in competition to one another. Liberal versus conservative, Crips versus Bloods, Georgia Tech versus UGA, intown versus suburban, the New York Yankees versus everyone else and so on. In simplest terms, Us versus Them.

In war, Us versus Them goes to its greatest extremes. Them can be Them for any number of reasons. To borrow the examples from Imagine, Them can be a different religion, Them can be a different country or Them can be those who have something that the Us wants.

In war, Them is not merely a rival—Them is not human. Them is the other, the alien, the monster, the demon. Them can be robbed, raped, enslaved and of course killed because Them doesn’t count as actual people. The world is done a favor by eliminating Them. The fight is driven by the fear that if Them were to prevail, the human race of Us would be annihilated. Thus blood is spilled by the millions of lives until exhaustion leads to surrender.

And yet Them is not an absolute. Like race and gender, Them is a construct that is subject to alteration. In the same way that the Irish went from nonwhite to white, Them can become Us and Us can become Them. In the period of the Civil War, the Us of the United States was shattered into the two Thems of the Union and Confederate forces. At the end of the war, the two Thems resumed being an Us, or a sort of an Us that still has rivalries, but with far less bloodshed involved.

What we need to bring an end to war is not to eliminate the differences between ourselves so that there will be nothing to fight over. The key is to eliminate the concept of Them as an inhuman other deserving of slaughter, so that there will be no one to fight against.

Three—The View From an Elevated Place

I once went to Pienza, Italy with my family and stayed in a bed and breakfast that had a rooftop platform where we would go to drink wine and watch the sunset. Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it was a Renaissance urban renewal project put together by Pope Pius the Second. The cathedral there was celebrating its 550th anniversary.

One night, we noticed a glow of a large television coming from one of the windows that we could see from our rooftop vantage point. There was a soccer game between Italy and England that night and it seemed everybody around us was glued to it. When a certain play went in Italy’s favor, a roar went up throughout the entire town, loud enough to be literally heard from the rooftops.

As the game went on, it occurred to me that not even a century ago, Italy and England were fighting one another in one of the most brutal wars in human history—a war where the logical and horrifying conclusion of Themness was reached in the concentration camps. The gate to Pienza had been damaged during that war. Before that, the cathedral had no doubt stood through many other conflicts between those nations in its five and a half centuries. And now they were duking it out on a soccer field instead of a battlefield.

I used to hate sports. But after that night, I discovered I didn’t mind them at all. We are wired for conflict, but those conflicts don’t have to end in blood. They can end in sweaty handshakes. They can end with the Them of opposing teams reverting to the Us of the league that they play in.

Despite what John Lennon sings, and how movingly he sings it, the end of war will not come with the end of religion, the end of countries or the end of private property. It will come when a critical mass of humanity accepts and practices this essential truth—


 There is no Them. There is only Us.

Friday, November 4, 2016

100 Odd Words - The Death of the Ugly Handsome Man

This is a sequel, of sorts, to The Ugly Handsome Man.  It is a true story.


I was in meditation class, listening to a recording of the Dalai Lama and his entourage chanting at the sickbed of Vaclav Havel.  Somewhere in the midst of breathing and listening, I saw the Ugly Handsome Man in the eye of my mind.  He was in a dark room, lying on a stone bier, slit open straight down the middle.  Around him were gathered gremlins in mourning.  His body was completely hollow.  Then he abruptly caught fire and burned until all of him was completely consumed.  The flames then flowed into me, giving me back everything that he had taken.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

100 Odd Words - Sleeping in an Institution


Every night, one of the nurses would push open the door to the bedspace and shine a flashlight in to make sure we were still in our beds and presumably not in the process of attempting suicide.  She would leave the door hanging wide open each time.  I would wake to the light of the flashlight and stay awake to the light from the hallway.  Each time I would get out of bed and push the door almost closed--enough to block the light but not enough to click the latch, lest they come barging in again for our protection.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

No excuses, this time . . .

I knew it had been a while since I'd updated this blog.  I hadn't realized it had been two years.

2013 was the year of The Unpleasantness and after I signed off here I devoted my time to recovering from The Unpleasantness.  My recovery was such that I wasn't able to write much during it but once it was over I was able to devote my time to finishing and revising The Two Kinds of Magic.  It's made the rounds of all the agents I was able to find on AgentQuery.com and gotten either silence or polite refusals.  I've gotten more direct feedback from the writers' groups I attend, as well as a few people who have read the thing all the way though, and it's been overwhelmingly positive.  Even my sister, who didn't like my first novel, had good things to say about it.  So my ego isn't quite as squashed as it might be.

I've sent it to a few publishers that take direct submissions and I think I'll be sending it to a few more before I resort to self-publishing.  I've done it at least once before so I know the basics of it.  But I'd really prefer to have the hassles of marketing and manufacture taken up by someone who is not me.

I hope to be able to resume my 100 Odd Words starting this Saturday.  I have no idea what I'm going to write for it but that's never stopped me before.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Excuse Note 8/2/2013

Please excuse Sheila for all past days missed in the course of the year so far. She underwent some considerable difficulties that are not a matter for public declaration. She will make an effort to be more consistent with her excuse notes from this point forward, barring similar catastrophe. Thank you.

Clarion West Write-A-Thon - The Aftermath

I signed up for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon because my hope was that it would motivate me to get my arse in gear and get a workable draft completed of The Two Kinds of Magic.

This did not happen.

There are reasons, some that cannot be discussed in public and others that are all too familiar.  (The Ugly Handsome Man was in fine form, I must say.)  In point of fact, I was in a bad enough place that I couldn't even make myself write excuse notes, so there are a lot of unexcused non-writing days to account for.

I believe today is the last day to donate.  If you'd like to make a donation on my behalf, despite my miserable failure, the link is thus: http://clarionwest.org/writeathon/sheilaoshea.  Anybody who does will be sent one of my Ten Thousand Flowers to the address you provide when you make the donation--you will not need to send a SASE to receive it.

I am slowly working my way back to regular writing sessions in an effort to complete this beast.  My new self-imposed deadline is DragonCon.  If you see me there, you are permitted to ask me if I succeeded.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Clarion West Write-a-Thon - June 23 to August 2

A couple of writers I follow on Twitter linked me to the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and I decided that this novel I've been poking at for the past couple of years might stand a better chance of being finished if I had a proper deadline instead of some vague sense that I should really work on that thing.

So I have signed up.  My profile is visible here: http://clarionwest.org/writeathon/sheilaoshea.  I am asking for any interested sponsors to front the nice folks at Clarion West a dollar for every day that I successfully sidestep all internal excuses and sit my ass down and write.  I will be posting my progress in a daily Tweet from my @wonderbink account with the hashtag #writeathon.

I haven't added it to my profile there yet, but I'll state it here--anybody who sponsors me and gives me a mailing address will get a free Wishing Star magnet, suitable for sticking on any ferrous metal surfaces you glance at for inspiration.

Sound good?  Wish me luck, then.  I have no idea if I'm going to succeed, but that's no reason not to try.

PS - Today (June 22, 2013) is the last day to sign up if you're reading this and thinking "Wow, that's cool!  I wanna play, too!"