From Sugar Belle to Toki

Jozzie & Sugar Belle

I’m barely settled with coffee; I finally dropped off the edge of the earth into a deep sleep last night. I’ve been toss-turning restlessly for days, and was beginning to think I’d have to go back on anxiety meds.

It’s amazing what sleep will do for you. I feel damn near rested.

Anyway, I have good news! Every Wednesday during this quarantine I’m going to pick an item in my Gumroad store for pay-what-you-want. This week it’s Jozzie & Sugar Belle–just click here and pay what you want–including nada, zip, zilch, zero if you’re short on cash. Then you can download .epub or .mobi, and read about a hungover kangaroo shifter missing a Very Personal Bit, a snarky witch of the Virginia Belles, and the end of the world in Hollywood.

Well, sort of the end. As Sugar (and Jill Kismet, sometimes) points out, we’re dancing on a knife blade all the damn time.

Now, please note that I might not have a different work for pay-as-you-want each week. I’m frazzled and overwhelmed too, just like everyone else. But I’m doing my best, and if I can bring a smile or a catharsis to a reader or two in these troubled times, I’d like to.

I’ve swung wildly between “there might be hope” and “smoke ’em if you got ’em, we’re goin’ down” all week, sometimes with only a microsecond between the extremes. Which is bloody exhausting, and wears one’s nerves down to ribbons.

There is, however, an odd comfort in my anxiety actually being commensurate to the emergency. Nobody–not even my internal critic–is telling me calm down, it’ll be fine, you’re overreacting. Even the people whose judgment I rely on to keep me between the rails agree that running around screaming and waving one’s arms is a perfectly reasonable response to a bloody pandemic, thank you.

The thing I’ve drawn most strength from this week is a character from Princess Mononoke. There’s this scene where Irontown has been demolished, the great forge has gone out, a group of forge-girls and other workers have barely escaped. Kuroku, one of the forge-girl’s husbands and a particular variety of comic relief, is freaking the fuck out.

And his wife, the forge-girl Toki, snaps, “We’re still alive, Kuroku. We’ll manage somehow.”

The kids and I have watched Mononoke so much it’s quoted almost as much as Monty Python, The Princess Bride, or the Mummy movies at the dinner table. We all agree Toki (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith in the English language version) is a Whole Entire Mood, and every once in a while when someone in the house is dealing with what seems like a world-ending difficulty, one of us will say we’re still alive, Kuroku.

The line is all the more stunning because Toki is a former brothel worker, a woman who works the great forge of Irontown, a sharp-tongued unofficial leader. Lady Iboshi is Irontown’s brain and determination, but Toki is its guts. You get the idea Toki’s world has ended before, and she knows that even when you’re standing in the ashes, even when your body and mind have been violated, even when there is nothing left…

…you’re still alive, and you’ll manage somehow. Sometimes it’s from sheer stubborn spite (my favorite fuel) or anger, sometimes it’s from deep painful love, sometimes it’s just because there’s no other option or one is simply in the habit of enduring.

It’s the most poignant, true, and take-no-prisoners comment on the nature of hope I’ve ever run across, and it’s a single line that is almost, almost a throwaway except for the weight Miyazaki and Pinkett-Smith give it.

I get chills every time I hear it. (Along with Lady Iboshi’s calm “I’m going to show you how to kill a god,” and Kuroku’s wondering, “I didn’t know the Forest Spirit made the flowers grow.” Or a woman muttering to Iboshi’s guard, “Even if you were a woman you’d still be useless.”)

I suspect in the coming weeks I’m going to be muttering “we’re still alive, Kuroku, we’ll manage somehow” a lot.

Funny, isn’t it, how a fictional character can give a real person strength, how a story can provide comfort. We are creatures in search of meaning, which means we are creatures in search of stories. I didn’t know, when I began writing (at the tender age of Second Grade, my gods) that I was signing up to become an architect of the soul.

Maybe not a very good one, maybe not a very effective one, but after glimpsing the great cathedrals of creation at the core of every volcanic star and every human being (because what else do you think making a story is, if not building in the heart of a star?) I know I wouldn’t want to ever do anything else.

We’re still alive–you reading this, and me. We are still breathing. We are still here.

We’ll manage somehow.