My eleven-year old son (known to listeners of The Horror Show with Brian Keene and Defenders Dialogue as ‘Dungeonmaster 77.1’) graduated from 5th grade today. Next Fall, he’ll make the transition to middle school. It seems like just yesterday I was writing about his birth on my old Hail Saten blog.

During today’s graduation ceremony, my son was awarded seven certificates of achievement, including one for the United Way’s 10,000 Acts of Kindness program. When he was called up to the stage to receive this honor, the teacher who recommended him (who kindly gave me a copy of her speech) said, in part, that he “exudes kindness. There is not a single moment that passes where he does not use kind words, proper greetings, and nice manners. He is always the first to go out of his way to help out his classmates and teachers. There are so many acts of kindness that he has performed it is hard to think of a mere one, there are just too many to count. From a task as simple as helping to pick something up off the floor to stepping up to lead a group project to success. He is the friend that every child should have. He is a kindhearted, respectful, caring student who deserves recognition for his quality character and genuine kind heart.”

He gets those qualities from his mother, who is wonderful, and who we’d both be lost without.

But I guess I know a few things about helping people, as well. There’s a reason the other professionals in this industry call me Batman. It’s not a moniker I ever picked for myself, and in truth, it annoys me sometimes. But I also get it. They call me that because of what I do. I’m not a progressive, but I do acknowledge that privilege is a real thing and not just something cooked up in a Berkeley college classroom. I owe my success to hard work and busting my ass, but that success has given me an enormous amount of privilege. I get opportunities and invitations and treatment that many other authors don’t get — particularly women and authors of color and LGBTQ authors. And for twenty years I’ve made it a daily mission to open those opportunities and invitations and treatment up to everyone. (And you can go ahead and say, “Oh, there’s Keene being a white savior” and I’m gonna go ahead and tell you to fuck off. I don’t do those things to toot my own horn. I do them because these people are my friends and peers. I do them because helping your friends and peers is the right thing to do). Have I succeeded? Not entirely. But I do think things in 2019 have improved for horror authors from where they were in 1999, and I have some plans to improve them further.

Here’s what they don’t tell you in the comic books or movies, though. It is fucking exhausting being Batman. There is always someone who needs help. Always another battle to fight. A injustice to be put right. And for every one person you help, there are ten more waiting. Try to keep up that pace and you will either end up resenting everyone and trusting no one but yourself, or you will burn out.

Speaking of burning out, a year ago this week I almost died. I didn’t, and this morning when I looked in the mirror, it ain’t so bad. My head and my face? You can’t even tell I was burned. My arm? Well, if you look close, you can see that my skin is a crazy-quilt patchwork of four different colors underneath my arm hair. But it’s all my skin and my hair, and they were able to do it with Suprathel rather than skin grafts. And I have you folks to thank for that. So thank you once again for your kindness and your help.

Kindness. Help. I remember two decades ago, or even a decade ago, when everyone in this industry came together to help one another all the time. Now, it seems like the only ways I can get everyone to unite that way is to have a telethon for kids with cancer, or to set myself on fire.

We spend all day disparaging and dehumanizing one another over politics and social identities. We toss around terms like “SJW” and “Nazi” to the point where they’ve lost all meaning. And we keep adding labels and identifiers to ourselves and all it does is separate us further. Yes, we should always punch Nazis and yes, the fight against racism and sexism and homophobia is not something that is even close to being over, but how can you unite against any of those things when you are splintered into more and more militant micro-groups? There is no unity in being an island. When everyone is special, no one is the same. And yet we are the same, on some counts. Everyone knows what it’s like to have your heart broken, or to feel joy. Everyone knows what it is like to dream, or to hope. To pet a dog or cat. To be a child. To laugh. To kiss. We all share these commonalities, and we need to reconnect with that.

Maybe the next time you are about to proclaim someone “human garbage” on Twitter simply because they like a different comic book or movie than you do, or vote differently than you do, pause for a moment, and consider that rather than human garbage, they are a human being. And so are you.

In the weeks after I was finally released from the burn ward, I shed huge strips of dead skin. (This was in addition to the dead skin that they debred from me three times and the tissue they cut away during surgery). When it was done, I could see my arm again. For a few months, I had this weird sensation that it wasn’t my arm. That it was something new and not a part of me. But it was in fact my arm. It had been my arm all along. It had just been hiding under a rotting sheath.

When you finish reading this, inject one act of kindness into your social media. Shed this toxicity like it is dead skin.

And you’ll find the real you shining through.

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