Dead horses – Second open letter to the Dutch SF and fantasy world

My first open letter stirred some reactions and started some really beautiful things. Including a reconnection with old friends.

Today, inspired by all that has been going on this weekend, I want to talk about the dead horses, the windmills and the grain.

Short – The dead horses, the windmills and the grain

A fairy tale/parable

There once was a beautiful land with wonderful grains, five windmills and a road. On that land were dead horses. A lot. Everywhere. They were rotting. And nobody took care of them. Nobody took action “for all good reasons”, or so they thought for a long time.

But these dead horses started to infect the mind. Speaking about: “repairing the wind-mills” or: “working on the grain fields” always ended up in talking about the dead horses. Speaking about the land itself, about the beauty of nature you could find there, always ended up in talking about dead horses and the stink of dead horses rotting.

Each traveler that passed through that country showed the same response at first: bafflement. “How can you let these horses lie here and rot? Why is nobody taking care of the grains? The land is so beautiful! These mills you have!” And people would bow their head in shame. Or respond in anger. Would even feel inferior due to all these dead horses, thinking that the land itself was like those dead, rotting horses and that the criticism was on them.

The dead horses. It was there already. The horses simply died, had been killed by people who were now dead, or killed by people still living but too selfish to reach and talk to: “Those are my dead horses. My land. I do not care they are dead and rotting and a problem for you. Now piss off or I will run you over with my car.” They tried, sometimes caused a little change, but never really succeeded. And some of these travelers, who loved the land, who saw the potential — once those dreadful dead horses were gone —  sooner or later they all moved on to other lands because the issue of dead horses had infected the minds of the local people too much.

Negativity: “It has always been this way. It will never change. Not by you. Not by anything.” Quarrels. Finger pointing. “Not my responsibility”. “Their fault”. There were arguments among the natives. Fights among friends: “Fuck you. We do it this way. You smell like a dead horse and you are not longer my friend”. But also comparisons: “This new initiative is cute, but also amateurish and pointless. It will go the same way as the land and these dead horses”. There were even some people ready and waiting to protest when dead horses were removed or even moved, claiming it was part of their culture and the landscape. And most people were working harder on not solving the problem than finding a solution. It was toxic. Destructive. Damaged like the land with the dead horses.

And even the owners of the wind mills were infected and afflicted by the dead horses. “We try. We tried. Nobody wants to make an effort. Everyone is complaining about the dead horses. And then the work. The change. It is so hard. There are so many dead horses. It is almost impossible. And working together? We tried as well,” and then even more dead horses were placed on the table.

In the mean time, nothing really happened for the grain, apart from what was minimally possible in this troubled land. Part of it was harvested, other parts were not. Part of the lands were taken care of, others were not. There were not enough workers willing, not enough money to pay. Why? Dead horses. The issue of the dead horses even had infected the fields: who now looked poor and shabby.

While it seemed so simple from the outside. 1: Organize a clean up of dead horses. 2: Start working together to fix the fields and the wind mills. 3: Start producing flower and other things. 4: Improve. 5: Sell the bread and the flower, maybe even abroad — it always ended up in quarrel. Dispute. Camps taking stand against each other and no work done. Local people fighting local people about dead horses and issues related to the dead horses that were not even theirs. Or all people against one windmill owner. One windmill owner against all of the others.

And as a result of all this effort, maybe one dead horse moved a bit to the right and another was ditched in a nearby hole. But still no real work got done to fix it all. And all this failure was yet another proof to the natives of how hopeless things were.

Yes there was change. For instance the seasons. There was even — against all odds sometimes — some improvement visible each next when someone took up the task to do something. But nothing really changed to the base problem.

Dead horses were still there. New dead horses were added by murder or neglect. And the mills and the grain just sighed.

The end.

I removed one sentence from this tale. As it did not fit the narrative:

 And people started to complain about the bread from the supermarket, that was often of poor quality and all tasted the same.

“Nice that you are back”

In these past days, in some more private mail conversations, the response was something like this: “Nice that you are back. Super that you wrote that open letter. But we already tried to kick those dead horses and they do not come back to life again.”

To be clear:

I do not give a shit about those dead horses. They are dead

Dead horses you remove. You put them in carts. You cut the bodies up if they are too big. You carry them away. You dump them in some place where nobody comes, after you dig a deep hole and cover them with sand. You plant some seeds and acorns and one day plants and flowers and trees will grow over those dead horses.

And one day we will look at that garden, that tiny forest, smelling the lovely fresh flowers and the bark and the leaves and the grass and the new beauty and say: “That is what we do with dead horses.”

My role

I am like one of those travelers. My home is somewhere else. I come back to the country and still see the dead horses. And I wonder. “How can you let a landscape as beautiful and with so much potential as that be ruined by so many dead horses?” I speak with the owners of the wind-mills and hear their stories of hardship and more dead horses and wonder: “why make that effort at all if everything is that miserable?”

I remember and know a bit of the grain and the bread and think: “most of it sucks, but some bread is really lovely and could some day do really good abroad.”

I look at the general complaints about supermarkets taking over and the bread becoming bland and think: “but if you do not like that factory-produced bread, why do you not support your local owners of your local bakeries and wind mills?”

And almost all I hear about now, almost overshadowing all the good things that are happening, are (rotting) dead horses.

I do not intend to clean up these dead horses. I do not intend to fix the attitude that comes from years of passing by fields and fields filled with dead horses. I simply: “kick against the dusty tables of the Dutch SF/F scene and shout: This is enough! Cleaning time! Time to pick up the brooms and fix your collective problems, ladies and gentlemen” as I formulated it in one mail yesterday.

I have one thing in my benefit. I can walk away.

Who leads: “Operation – Remove dead horses, save the grains, improve the windmills”?

Is it my intention to lead this adventure?

No. There is not even an operation: “Remove dead horses”.

I am mostly your cheerleader. Standing on the side of the ones who clean their houses and clean the fields. Dance happily and wave my pompoms in joy. Sing songs for you and tell you: yes it is hard. But it is worth it. I have seen clean lands and smelled clean air and seen people who sometimes completely disagreed on vital points still work together and it is wonderful! It is a fresh and wonderful new life.

It will be you. If you want to. If you think some change is needed.

Why not me? I chose a different path a while ago. I have my own shop somewhere else. I have my own responsibilities. I will be completely useless in any other role. And sure: you can call me anything for that, but it will not remove your dead horses.

And how clean does it need to be?

Clean enough. Get those mills working. Slowly start fixing the grain fields.  The dead horses are important, but the mills are the ones that will produce the flour and that will pump the water. Make it livable. Make it so that whatever dead horses you do not remove, are at least not in the way.

Make it clean enough so you can set your mind on the mills.

Set your mind on the mills.

The mills.

The MILLS.

And the grains.

The dead horses

There are a lot of dead horses in the Dutch SF and Fantasy world/scene. There is a lot of stuff that — over the years — has translated to negativity. And even started from negativity. It was — for a while — fashion to fight between authors and groups. Like our beloved Paul Harland pissing on Wim Gijsen in the 1980’s. Wim Gijsen who — at that point of time (1980 to 1990-something) — was one of our best, almost most productive and probably best-selling published SF and Fantasy writers.

Sure Wim Gijsen was not like [name your favorite American writer] but he was there. Sure Gijsen was “kneuterig” in some senses, but he was there. Wim Gijsen was not alone. Felix Thijssen was another. More under the radar, a few years earlier, Thijssen had published over 10 SF-books. You can probably still find him in the second hand book stores.

Then Peter Schaap. Wim Stolk.

I lost contact with Dutch SF/Fantasy in 1994. I do not read Fantasy out of lack of interest, so beat me for all the new Dutch writers I missed.

Dead horses.

First of all: how did they end up there? Scattered over the field? Lying in the ditches? Someone must have killed them. Abandoned them. Others must have thought: “that is too heavy to clean up”. And yet others must think: all these rotting corpses — who, other than myself, because it is not my job, can I blame for not doing anything? And yet others must look at all these dead horses and think: “how everything suck. How this landscape and the fresh air is polluted by the sight and the smell dead horses.”

Focus

Here is what I think happened: every other day, on your way to do something for the Dutch SF and Fantasy scene, you passed those dead horses that nobody took care of. Even though your focus, your goal and your purpose was something awesome, those dead horses slowly invaded your mind. And instead of looking at the beautiful landscape AROUND these dead horses: the trees, the flowers, the grass, the waters, the dead horses started to dominate your view on that landscape.

You even might feel ashamed about that landscape. Because you know nobody gave a shit about it and leaves those horses — and the occasional dead sheep and cow — there to rot.

When you accompany people along that road, you might even apologize up front. “Yeah, we will pass this part of the land that is really beautiful, but I must want you that there will be a bit of a shock for you. It looks a bit amateurish… And kneuterig… …There are a lot of dead horses there.”

You might even feel when someone proposes the idea of cleaning up those dead horses as a reproach/verwijt to you. Like it is your fault these dead horses are there.

Because when this stuff happens, those dead horses become a little bit part of you. You feel partly guilty for the fact they are still there. You know you could have done something about them. Maybe. If only. Even if you are not. Even if it is– and never was — your responsibility. Not your land. Not your horses. Not your fault they died.

Still. Those horses are there. The land is there. The grain is there. And most of the ones who murdered those horses, who abandoned them, are gone. Left. Took off. Died. And this is their heritage to you. If you like it or not, it is your mess now.

More concrete

What are we talking about, for instance?

  1. Amateurish/kneuterig — A lot of stuff done is labeled: “amateurish” or “kneuterig” when we discuss things and activities and peers. Drop it. Labeling others with this kind of shit mainly only shows a great lack of respect, your own immaturity and your tendency for bigotry and the louder you proclaim this, the more I suspect you are hiding something and that you are unsure about your own qualities. Either help them grow, do something better yourself (without pissing on others) or be silent.
  2. Writers who do not want to work on themselves — Drop the complaining about these people. Completely. You are not talking about writers but about people who write the occasional story and — in some cases — a bad personal attitude. Which is completely, completely fine.
  3. The other(s) suck — Drop it. They work just as hard as you do, or not. But “the other” is completely irrelevant unless you can join forces and make something awesome. By telling me how others suck, you are automatically putting yourself in the position of a victim. See: “Poor, poor me” and “Amateurish/kneuterig”.
  4. Writers and splinter groups — So what! Just do not waste your time fighting each other, trying to prove who is more better and special than the other. See: “The othser suck” and “(Old) Feuds/bad talk”.
  5. Poor, poor me — Calimero. Drop it. Take action. Self-pity is mainly a cover for laziness. It is an excuse to not take action and not change something that will change your situation.
  6. (Old) feuds / bad talk — Drop it. Feuds are laziness. One: you are too lazy to (try and) fix things. And two: you rather waste your time on bullshit than do something constructive.
  7. Pessimism — Bullshit. And laziness.  By complaining there is no real reason for you to get off your ass and do the work that is needed to fix this shit for yourself. By making things bigger than they are, you simply make it easier to give up on yourself and your dreams. See “Poor, poor me”.

I think that when people live this kind of things, they mostly become boring. Very boring. And sour. Very sour.

Then what?

  1. Optimism — Things can change
  2. Working together — Forget your ego. Find common grounds. Appreciate what the other is doing instead of always looking at what is wrong. Love your peers. Sure you do not agree on verything. See: “Diversity”.
  3. Realism — The world as you experience it in your brain is not reality. Reality is out there. And some things work and others do not. Sometimes reality- or elements out of that reality disagrees with you. Find out. Explore. Check. Double check. Learn.
  4. Diversity — To think that we all have to like or do the same as you do is fascism. Diversity is the normal. Even your neighbor is a completely different person than you. So expect the same from the people you meet and work with in the field. Embrace it. It is lovely.
  5. Wide look / open eyes — Remain curious. Things happen all around, all day. Some things are nice, others are not. Your closed room does not contain the answers, nor is it a reflection of the world.
  6. Vision — Describe what you want. Dream. Look forward. Put it into words.
  7. Focus — Focus on the things that matter now.
  8. Work — Work to make it happen

Even shorter:

  1. Keep it real
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Take action.

There. A nice set of lists. 🙂

In goed Nederlands: “Niet praten. Poetsen!”

The windmill and the grain

What I look at, what I point at constantly are those windmills further down the road.

The dead horses are not my problem. I simply ignore them. Because I have set my mind on something else.

I want to fix that windmill. I want to see it work again or work to its full capacity. I want other people to see how great that technology is. How beautiful the aesthetics. How functional. I want to see it run again and mill grain. Pump water. Because right now, that wind-mill is not even running on half speed. It is in a bad shape. And why?

I really believe the dead horses took over. When I want to talk about the windmills, people start talking about the dead horses.

I speak with the owners of these mills and they say at some point: “dead horses.”

I ask them: “why do you do it?” Why do they continue to mill grain and pump water in an area full of dead horses and they tell me about all the people who are so pre-occupied with dead horses that it is a problem to grow their business. To repair those mills. To find workers who help mill that grain and pump that water.

Show me the love!

What I do not hear yet is: “because I love this land. I love the grains. I love the mill. I love the bread.”

When I talk about the grain and how we can start thinking about a better future and sell that grain abroad, people tell me how impossible that is. How hopeless a feat. Hoew difficult. Why? Dead horses again. Dead. Fucking. Horses.

And all that time I wonder. Dead horses. What is really the problem?

Moving past the dead horses

I have removed dead horses in my life. Still have some in my garden. I stepped over them. I even put my hands inside some of them to understand what is going on. I once intended to remove all dead horses from the field and discovered that it is too much and that I am not the person for that.

I will not clean up the dead horses that bother you. I will just point out that the problem are not those dead horses, but your fixation on them. That these dead horses continue to linger in your mind because you focus on the wrong things.

These dead horses are not a problem. Stop adding new ones and the old will be  rotten so much at some point you do not even smell them anymore.

As we all have been so pre-occupied by those damned smelly, rotting dead horses, the windmill has become almost forgotten. That great example of human ingenuity with the owner still holding on even though times are less than optimal.

How do we fix this?

Think Agile: small steps, quick results, consistent improvements

Agile.

  • Think big and then chop that big thing in chunks. How big? Big! As big as you want.
  • Set out a course. What do you want with your thing? Where do you want to go?
  • Then talk with the others. What do they want? How?

Sure you will have differences of opinion. And sure you will have different goals and different ideas about quality. It. Does. Not. Matter. As I wrote earlier, you do not have to fare a boat from Den Helder to Den Briel: superglued skin to skin to each other.

The Agile process is about results. As soon as possible. And it is about constant improvement and constant growth. It is about starting there where the starting is easiest or most relevant for NOW.

And sure: it is not perfect at first. But it is there.

Build. Improve. Correct. Add. Improve. Build. Correct. Add.

Start small. Make it better. Let it grow.

I believe it is possible. I think it is already happening. And I am standing here with my pompoms. Waving and cheering already.

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