Title art by L.H. Grey
 Nine Inch Nails “Deep (Instrumental)”
 Nine Inch Nails Even “Deeper (Instrumental)”
“This is my shield. I bear it before me into battle but it is not mine alone. It protects my brother on my left. It protects my city. I will never let my brother out of its shadow nor my city out of its shelter. I will die with my shield before me facing the enemy.”
We. Don’t. Quit. It’s funny don’t cha think? That three words can mean a thousand, where a thousand can often feel like just three. This snappy little slogan is a triple word Scrabble score if ever I saw one and there’s even a Q in it for the ultimate in multiplier. It may be only three strong on the word count, but the crucial thing here is that this trio of words actually stack up rather splendidly. Should I wake up feeling like death warmed up, snarfed down, regurgitated nasally, then reheated and seasoned with solidified phlegm crystals; then I’d do well to take heed of this life motto as it can single-handedly keep me in the game once those edges begin creeping in as is customary. Admittedly my blight isn’t so much chronic as ironic; as much of the damage dealt to my weary shell has come compliments of yours truly. But I do know what it’s like to feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
It’s times like these, when left too long to our own devices, that our minds begin to wander. Suddenly we can’t see the woods for the trees and any light sources around us are promptly and unceremoniously snuffed out. It just so happens that I could convince myself white was black should I be feeling persuasive enough. So when quitting appears the only remaining available option, I just know I’m overdoing it with the me time. That said, while the white flag of surrender is never far away, I’ve learned not to reach for it quite so readily. This isn’t to suggest the challenges slow up for a second, when stacking up appears far more in keeping with their performance indicators. But thanks to the three words above, I’m now far better equipped at rising to each one.
The frustrating thing about one thing is its inclination to lead directly to another. Before we know it, there’s a whole laundry list of woes stanking up our in-tray and insufficient man hours to wade though them all. Nobody likes to feel under the kosh, particularly when it is our own think tanks responsible for placing us in these compromising positions in the first place. Thus I try not to pay too much attention to my racing mind’s rancid reasoning and apply my warrior’s face paint just to show each day I mean business. You may say I’m a dreamer but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, then it’s that I’m not the only one. Actually, I much prefer the term warrior and I’m only too happy to make that one plural.
You see, a warrior without an army is much like a changing room minus the curtain – frightfully exposed. This is where it’s critical not to subscribe to the whole “looking out for number one” school of baloney. Once we remind ourselves that Rambo III was only a movie, the prospect of a lone crusade becomes some way less appetizing. Sure we may know how to swing a broadsword, deflect the odd attack, and rock the chain-mail; but that doesn’t mean we can endure the onslaught without at least one spotter on hand. Many hands make light work – isn’t that how the old adage goes? It’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about it.
Selection is critical here as one false move can spell catastrophe and the battlefield tends not to take prisoners once skirmish ensues. Talking a good A-game isn’t too much like hard work but not everyone we happen across will have their walk down to pat. This isn’t suggest that they cannot still bolster the numbers; but the front line may be a stretch too far once the casualties start piling up. And that’s precisely why I seek out the battle-hardened and pledge my allegiance to their cause. Mind if I let you in on a little secret while we’re in huddle mode? Turns out you don’t need to travel to ancient Greece to find yourself a Spartan.
What’s more, when battle hots up and blood commences its spillage, you can bet your cuirass and sandals they’ll be right up to their helmet plumes for the cause. Indeed, a true Spartan wouldn’t think twice before falling on a sword meant for their comrade. That level of commitment to the cause may be decidedly rare, but it’s also the furthest cry imaginable from mythical. Of course, to spot a Spartan, it helps if you possess the same warrior blood. Should it be in your nature to shirk a challenge, then you won’t have the first idea where to look. The battleground is no place for the lily-livered; yellow bellies are the very first to be cleaved. But it is here, among lion-hearted braves, that we really get to see those true colors.
And what wondrous colors they are. The first that comes to mind is naturally red as Spartans are prepared to bleed freely for a cause they believe in and, what’s more, downright insist upon it. Should one of their number be suffering, then it isn’t unheard of for them to weep profusely from their own wounds in unspoken support. Recently one of the dearest people in the world to me has been placed severely under the kosh and, along with fellow Spartans watching over this beautiful soul, my body has effectively shut down. This isn’t simply some kind of sympathy vote; we’re talking a level of unshakable commitment that can be measured by the units we shed. We don’t do this because we believe it the right thing to do; we do so because it is the only thing to do. No quibble or question; just a solitary suggestion. That we don’t allow them to go through this on their own.
It’s all too easy to become wrapped up in our own affairs as life has a habit of knocking us down when in a weakened state and society has some rather messed up viewpoints about thinking of numero uno in such instances. Can you say balderdash? As that is precisely what this is. Utter fucking drivel dreamed up by those who wouldn’t know a united front if it pranced around in a shocking pink pokadot bikini before them. It doesn’t take long to ascertain whether or not folk are prepared to go that extra mile and it’s when we need them most that we get to see what they’re really made of. This isn’t to suggest they’ll know the right thing to say in any given situation but, when it’s the soul on master of ceremonies duties, it will never ever be the wrong thing.
Since I picked up the Crimson Quill for the first time in 2013, I’ve never once bled a solitary word that I wouldn’t stand behind fiercely. Granted, I’ve undergone something of a metamorphosis over that period, but it is my soul I’ve consulted unerringly and it has zero interest in coughing up those bum steers. All opinions are ultimately my own and therefore not only subject to close scrutiny but wide open to it. You see, if I had it all figured out, then I’d be sitting outside a quaint Venetian restaurant with Quentin Tarantino, mulling over our upcoming joint project. I’m just as much in the dark as the next chump in line, perhaps more so, given that such shadows are my perpetual spotters. But I know where to search for the glaring spotlights and, better yet, how to grasp them with might.
The same applies for crossing pathways with fellow Spartans. We commence our unions from the soul outwards and this effectively banishes small talk to the sidelines while bonds are forming. Do we take that faithful leap? Correcta-bleeding-mundo we do. As a wise and beautiful soul I know and love once said – “they never fail ever” – as the moment they do, it’s teeth-in-a-basket time. It’s an even more invigorating act when the precipice is so nose-bleedingly lofty but this is when those catcher mitts of ours come in handy. The Hans Grubers of this world will simply plummet in slo-mo, perhaps fire off a couple of parting shots just to air their gun-toting denial. But any Spartans taking the tumble will break bread with an ocean of outstretched hands during the briefest of descensions and be delivered safely to the foot of their chasm without the need for dental donation.
“Be brave my heart. Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spear. Hold your ground. In victory do not brag. In defeat do not weep.”
Boy do we bleed though. I shit you never, the amount of red wine I’ve spilled in December alone has been downright staggering. In addition to one of my very favorite souls on this entire planet or any orbiting stars being locked in the bloodiest of mortal battles, I’ve been forced to entertain the prospect of bidding adieu to my seven-year-old boy. Walking away from your number one of one son is no picnic and neither is it afternoon tea and crumpets at the racetrack. It fucking hurts and I’ve been hemorrhaging increasingly as crunch time has drawn ever nearer. Then, on Christmas Day in the evening, I said my final goodbye. The choice came from me as I have witnessed first-hand the damage this sorry state of affairs has been having on both the mother of my child and, most critically, daddy’s little man himself.
Seven-years-old, still wiring – what would any good father do? Fight for his God-given right to play a key role in his son’s development? And to what ends? Fuck thinking of myself and the sorrow steadily bleeding me out from the pulpy core; I’ll do whatever is right for him and him alone. Now that is true Spartan blood right there and it entails only the sweetest of sacrifice. My conscience is clear, any freshly fashioned scars have been kissed just by revealing my pains to those I cherish dearly, and I know full well my darling boy will be just fine. Everybody wins. It just takes a dash of heavy blood loss and the blindest of faith to clear that all-important last hurdle. Once we do, it’s time to rise. Time to stand up, to be counted and checked by an independent adjudicator. Time to bare those bloody teeth and sink them straight into the bitter rumps of our archdemons. Drink them down, dump them right back out and lap that vile grunge up like a mutt would feces.
So you see, quitting really ought not be an option. There will be times when we reach for the white flags all around us, but it’s tough playing accidental ensign with your broadsword already aloft and weeping intent. Resignation is not in our vocabulary, any more than cowardice is in our bloodline. For we are Spartan. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder and blade-to-blade, primed to charge the very second skirmish becomes unavoidable. Thus, while the unholiest of wars rages on around us, we have both the hardware and numbers to endure each battle this way cometh. We don’t quit. We never quit. As, if there’s one tutorial I’ve licked out here on the battlefield, it’s that this is just not what Spartans do. The Keeper’s chalice runneth over right now and this is my reddest of offerings. Quench freely on my grateful flesh, take whatever you need, and I’ll be seeing you on the front line.