Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 30: Dragons

My son loves dragons.  We started reading the Hobbit yesterday and the big hook for him was that there was a dragon.  He loves watching Wahammer 40k battle reports with me and has creative ways of converting something in the battle into something he can call a dragon.  Some people may wonder at this as there is not, nor has there probably ever been, such a thing as a dragon.  The primary impetus and cause here, I think, goes back to the fact that my son has a father that loves dragons.  I love how they lithely float through the sky, I love the shimmer of their scales, I love the terrifying eyes, I love the rampant destruction they cause.  I even have a soft spot for their non-flying cousins the drakes.  Ice dragons, swamp drakes, Imperial dragons.  I love them all.  I love the crazy, fluffy, dog faced thing on Never Ending Story (which should be converted into the most comfortable bed in existence outside of a walrus).  Japanese Dragons, Aztec Dragons, ancient alien theorist contend dragons.  My poor innocent son has not even a glimmer of an idea of the wide world of dragons that is available out there.

Now I know there are lucky dragons, and good dragons, and guardian dragons.  I know that there are good dragons besides dead dragons.  Acknowledging that 1 thing I love even more than dragons is slaying dragons.  Insanely courageous men and women who through sheer bravado, desperation, and cunning are able to out fight the greatest threat known to man.  Armored, flying, intelligent beasts of single-minded destruction.  Whether it be Beowolf, a fellowship of mixed race fantasy creatures, or a horribly written tank driving dragon savior (“We can do this the easy way, or the real easy way”) I am continually mystified by dragon fighters.

My son was trying to cover my eyest while I write so I asked him to stop, I'm writing about dragons.  “Dragons!” he whispers.  “What kind of dragons?”  He knows the way to my heart.
“All Kinds”
“Black dragons?”
“Should I write about Black dragons?”

To be honest I usually imagine my dragons a deep red, shining emerald green, or a mix of colors that blends into a mystifying brown that slowly changes and shimmers as the beast moves about its golden hoard.  The is a very specific reason that I don't think about black dragons.  They scare me the most.  Totally blending into the night sky, slithering unseen through the thick woods.  A shiny black dragon, could walk write by your house, this very minute, and you would not know.  Think about that.

Luckily as a nerd I am allowed the cultural flexibility to still think about dragons and it not be a surprise to anyone.  Most of my dragon slaying these days is through the pages of a novel, little cards on a table, or plastic and metal warriors frozen forever in the pose of defiance.  But I still vividly remember the last time I fought a dragon.  My friend Pat had a large stick.  Kurt and I had smaller ones.  If your brain works like mine then you already understand that the large stick wielding Pat was in fact a dragon.  A dragon whom Kurt and I were dutifully bringing a gory end to.  Pat was up against the steep side of a service road that was located at the bottom of a small canyon behind Kurt's house.  We darted in and out of the chaparral parrying and thrusting.  Shouting curses and commands.  Bloodying knuckles to the rattling sound of wood swords striking wooden scales.  Rat-Tat-Tat... “Go back to the Hell from which you came, Beast!”...Rat...slide...tat.tat.tat.   If you are going to fight a dragon in the middle of quintessential suburbia we were doing it in the best place possible with the brash slogans and aplumb that only come from the childhood innocence of never having fought a real dragon.

My daughter just came out to the porch wearing a bright red bandanna tied about her like a super hero's cape.  She has the freedom to be the hero, be the princess, be the dragon slayer.  She can look into the eyes of the beast and not have eyes that fill with the tears of remembered scars.  Cuts and gashes deep inside from the dragons you have already fought.  Dragons you have defeated and outwitted.  Dragons you have slayed, but just barely, and not at all like in the fairy tales.  The fairy tales don't talk about the heroes collapsing from exhaustion and blood loss next to the corpse of their defeated foe.  Just wanting to rest, unable to continue on the adventure, seemingly as dead as the freshly dispatched nightmare.  Armor still smoking, sword still hot.  The fairy tales don't talk about the fear of applying for job after job knowing that your young hot wife is working her tail off and you can't help provide for your new, fresh family.  The stories don't cover living in an apartment with holes in the roof which birds and snow enter at will because you can't afford a real apartment.  The stories don't cover how that funny story felt like utter failure and defeat when you stared up through the utility closet and saw the little money you had going up through that frigid sun lit abyss in the form of electric heat.  The stories don't show the hero curled up under his desk because he doesn’t have the answers and can't fake it anymore.  In the stories the burly bare chested barbarian sits at a table laden with suckling pig and dark ale, surrounded by equally inappropriately attired Valkyries and pagan deities.  I've never fought that dragon.  I've never been that hero.

I can tell you for me, fighting dragons does not give me the courage and confidence to go dragon hunting.  Everyone tells you, “You've been here before.  They didn't eat you.”  You should now be able to do anything because you did this already.  That is not what I feel.  I feel scars and damage.  Deep brokenness.  You may have finally in an act of utter hopelessness plunged your dirk deep into the gullet of the beast and been washed by the fiery blood, the last life force of the monster.  But that was only because you were already in its mouth and it was savoring the last moments resistance before it crushed you.  And you know it.  You know you were only saved by a monologue, a twist of fate.  But looking back at the stories most of the great heroes are too.

I may have been saved by a monologue but I can take the crazy risks again.  I can be the burn scarred and broken hermit who dwells in the mountains because he has seen the monster like no one else has.  I've done it.  Maybe you have done it too.  But when I cloister myself within a cocoon of scar tissue and hurt I'm safe, but I'm not alive.  That tomb of memories and pain leads only to self-condemning depression.  The hole only gets deeper.  The beast only grows in your broken reminiscence.

I know that sometimes the monster has leapt on me in my wanderings, unannounced; the black dragon.  Those moments are filled with confusion and doubt, fear and contagious inadequacy.    If I'm truly honest with myself, though, most of those ambushes have followed a very intentional avoidance of confronting the beast.  I've skirted the mountain with my fingers crossed.  The huts are burning around me and I've thought it a pleasant time to go for a walk.  I knew the monster was there and just had the bad luck that it finally found me.

There have been rare moments when I decided to climb the mountain simply because I saw the smoke rising from the crevices.  To hurl myself into the cave though there was nothing but darkness and stank inside.  When you choose to make the leap, when you dive into the mouth of the crypt you are no longer the victim but the hero.  And that moment is when I feel most alive.  It is terrifying to write up that cover letter for a job you are totally unqualified for.  The doubts scream at you when you see the gap you know you are too scared to jump, but why don't you jump it anyway?  Why don't you throw aside that bent and chipped sword, you've only been using it to block him anyway.  Pull out that dagger and charge her gaping maw with a sound that is far clearer than your courage and strength.  So what if you fail?  So what if she finally eats you.  At least they will write a song about it.

I think in replacing our viking sagas with real stories of burden that we have forgotten how to be heroes.  We have collectively forgotten how to fight and maybe we never have.  We are sourounded by zombies and Marvel movies because we see how our souls are being consumed and we are desperate for someone to save us.  We are the young scared boy running with Brad Pitt's family.  We are looking for an anchor and a strength.  Well, why the hell don't you stop whimpering in the corner and be the hero yourself?  You can totally kick Bear Grylls ass and you have no clue because you've never done it.  You've always ran, always hid, always just been the fleeing 8-bit villager with your hands in the air.  I know I've done it enough.

Rat-Tat-Tat, rat-tat-tat.  Maybe that dragon really is just a big stick with a menacing bend.  Maybe you just have a stick but what if you used it?  Bring a knife to a gun fight and kick the crap out of all 10 of them.  Who knows what it would feel like if you were victorious for once.  Not just because of a coin toss and a monologue but because of a leap and a snarl.

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