So I rousted Michael last night to walk up to my favorite restaurant for dinner. It was a little late at night, but fortunately they’re open until 11 on Saturdays. During the walk back, we noticed that a lot of buildings were completely dark. Then we turned a corner and saw that all the houses and streetlights on our street were dark.
The power outage, according to the power company website, hit about 11,000 customers. Once we got home and grabbed a couple of flashlights, we were mostly concerned with getting our computers (that were all plugged into uninterruptible power supplies) properly shut down. Then making sure that not everything in the house would turn back on at once when the power came on.
I went to grab a couple of candles in jars from the top of the entertainment center. Sitting on top of the first one I could see was a cute little plushy husky that had been given to me by a friend when he came from Alaska to attend a sci fi convention with us. I took hold of the plushy and tried to lift it out of the way so I could get the candle. But it was hung up on something. I tried to get it loose, and after a few seconds, something came loose and flew over my head, clattered against the wall behind me, then hit the floor. I had the plushy free in my hand, so I set it aside and got the candle down. I started toward the kitchen, where I knew the matches were. Fortunately, I swept the light down on the floor just before I stepped on the big brass spike.
What brass spike, you ask? Why, the one-and-a-half inch long brass spike sticking up out of the little brass pillar candle holder that was apparently wedged between a couple of the candles in jars up on the entertainment center. As best I can figure, since there is no sign on the cute little plushy of any holes or even snags, is that one of its legs was somehow wedged between the candle jar the plushy was atop, and the brass pillar holder. The pillar holder is what flew over my head and made all that clattering noise, and of course landed right where I would have stepped on it, with the spike that is probably more than capable of going right through the soles of my tennis shoes and well into my foot.
I picked up the small brass foot trap and put it on a counter. I retrieved the matches and my little kitchen step ladder(I’m only 5-foot-5-inches tall, I need the ladder to get into cupboards which in most kitchens appear to have been designed for use by NBA players). Once I got the first candle lit, I climbed up on the ladder to get the rest of the candles.
There was a lot more junk up on top of the entertainment center than I remembered. More candles, yes, but also a bunch of other things that I had completely forgotten about.
We got enough candles lit and spread around the apartment that we could move around without carrying flashlights with us. And even though the power company web site (smart phones are a wonderful thing in these situations) had predicted power wouldn’t be restored until 4:30 am, just shortly after I got all the candles set up, the lights came back on.
Today I pulled the rest of the stuff down off the entertainment center, dusted, and tried to figure out which things up there we actually need, which should be thrown away, and which just need to be put away somewhere else. One of the things up there was a Magic 8-ball. Yes, the silly toy.
It wasn’t just a little dusty, the dust was adhering to the plastic, so I had to get soap and water to clean it. But it looked all pretty and glossy afterward. I asked it, “Am I going to get the rest of the house cleaning done today?” shook it, and turned it over. The little plastic-dodecahedron inside with the silly answers on it floated up… with the point up. The level of liquid inside has gone down enough that it won’t push the dodecahedron against the little window so you can read one of the answers.
Now, a rational person would toss it into the trash at this point, right? It isn’t worth taking to Goodwill because it doesn’t work. But here’s the problem. This Magic 8-ball is the very first Christmas present I ever opened from Michael. It’s a present he grabbed precisely because it was silly, and he thought that I should have at least one silly toy to open for Christmas. Unlike a couple of other things he gave me that Christmas, it wasn’t something picked up because he thought I wanted it or needed it. It was entirely an impulsive buy.
But it’s the first present I opened from him. So, the moment I even thought about throwing it away, a voice in my head lamented, “What kind of heartless person would throw away the first present your husband ever bought you?” And I could feel the guilt and future regret cranking up in my subconscious.
Michael was out running errands when this happened, so I set it on the table and moved on to other things. When he got home, I showed it to him and his first words were, “You’re pitching it, right? I mean, someone gave it to us as a gag gift, right?”
I told him he had given it to me. “I did? Okay. Well, I can buy you a new one.”
“No! That’s even worse than me holding onto it!”
And I threw it in the trash.
I was 99.9% certain he would tell me to throw it away, but here’s the thing about having been raised by a whole family of packrats: no amount of rational thought on my own can completely silence the guilt-inducing voices in my head. Any time I want to get rid of anything I have to fight a chorus of, “You might need that some day!” and “But so-and-so gave that to you! If you don’t hang onto it, that’s the same as not respecting so-and so!” and so on.
People who aren’t packrats don’t understand this.
And it isn’t enough to have just anyone tell me I can throw it away. I have to either argue with myself for days to muster the determination to toss it, or someone who falls in the “extra-special-trusted-person” category of my irrational side has to tell me it’s all right to get rid of.
It’s a constant battle. I only win on my own as often as I do by thinking about Hoarders. Because I could so easily turn into one of those people.
Just a bit over three years ago I was thinking about when I should update my laptop. I was using a three-year-old white MacBook. It was the low end product back then, but it had been a big improvement over my previous machine. At the time I acquired it, my laptop was a secondary machine, used when we traveled and such, but my desktop computer was still my workhorse.
But over the three years I’d had the MacBook, my writing habits had changed a lot. Most of my writing, and a lot of other computer work, was happening on the laptop. Part of it was simply the convenience of being able to write kicked back in the recliner.
It got so bad that former members staged protests after Driscoll said all the charges were coming from anonymous people. And an evangelical interfaith cooperative that Driscoll co-founded kicked out Driscoll and the entire Mars Hill organization. Numerous evangelical conventions and similar events where Driscoll had been a lead speaker have suddenly removed him from the schedules and/or removed all mention of him from their web sites. 21 former Mars Hill pastors lodge formal charges against Mark Driscoll, and now the New York Times is reporting that Mark Driscoll Is Being Urged to Leave Mars Hill Church.
As I said before, all of these transgressions are serious problems. But all of these these things are merely symptoms of a deeper issue. Mars Hill claims to follow the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus had something to say on this issue: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” (Matt 7:16-17)
When an organization is producing this much unethical and immoral behavior, it isn’t a matter of just one bad person. Even though I firmly believe that Driscoll is a narcissitic bigot and con man, he isn’t the only problem. He’s the leader of this church, but that doesn’t explain the financial shenanigans, lies, and violations of law at the National Organization for Marriage. Or the lies told by Save America. Nor the crimes against humanity and related actions by evangelical leaders such as Scott Lively. Or scamming tax-payers for millions in tax breaks for a creationist museum.
The evangelical fundamentalist theology is inherently hateful, fearful, and toxic. One of the evangelical movement’s central tenets is that in god’s eyes everyone isn’t merely imperfect, but infinitely wicked. And rather than seeing god’s love as infinitely merciful and compassionate, they see god as being so consumed by wrath at sin that only by killing his own son could he even consider being merciful.
They have scripture they quote to rationalize this belief, but other Christians read those same scriptures and come to a different conclusion. Evangelicals hold their fellow humans (and often themselves) in utter contempt, ignoring Jesus’ teachings about compassion. When you combine that with the anti-intellectual, anti-modernist mindset of most fundamentalists, it is no surprise that so many of their leaders and institutions are corrupt, because the followers are infinitely susceptible to being hoodwinked.
So I was scanning through my usual news sites a couple of weeks ago and saw a headline about the Guardians of the Galaxy that caught my eye. I’d already seen the movie the previous week, and had enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated. So I definitely went into the article with a bouncy fanboy attitude. The author talked about how the movie was better than he had expected, mentioned a few of the pros and cons of the overall story and construction, but then settled in to his main thesis: the characters audiences seemed most drawn to in the film were Rocket, the genetically-altered and cybernetically-enhanced raccoon, and Groot, a walking, (barely) talking tree—and the writer thought this was a bad thing.
He thought it was bad because those two characters are computer animated images, rather than being portrayed by human actors. He admitted that they were voiced by human actors, but “when pixels move us to tears more readily than actual people, that’s a problem.”
My pedantic side immediately wanted to post a comment that, since most theatres have made the switch to digital projection, every character in every movie people see in theatres are pixels rather than real—not to mention all the movies and series that people watch on TVs, computer monitors, phones, and tablets now. Even before digital movies, old-fashioned film wasn’t real people either, it was images projected on a screen by shining light through celluloid tinted with various chemicals.
All of that is missing a more fundamental point. None of the characters in films, plays, television series, et cetera, are real. They are all fictional characters being evoked by a combination of tricks and techniques of storytelling and acting.
I realize that I’m a bit biased, here. I have been a fan of comics from an early age. I grew up laughing at and following the adventures of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yogi Bear, and dozens of other cartoon characters. I have edited and published a science fiction fanzine that features talking animals, the occasional human, and all sorts of aliens for nearly twenty years. I’m currently engaged in writing a series of fantasy novels set in a world populated by talking animals, dragons, ghouls, kitsune, and any number of other non-human creatures. For the last few years, I have awaited the unveiling of a new season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with as much anticipation as a new season of Doctor Who or White Collar.
So maybe I’m just a bit too far out from normal to be commenting on this. However, the author of that particular article is someone I’ve read before. He’s the regular movie reviewer for a news site I read just about every day. I’ve seen many of his previous movie reviews, some of which I agreed with, some that I haven’t. Like many movie reviewers, he approaches his critiques from a literary rather than visual arts point of view. He always talks about plot, themes, narrative flow, viewpoint, characterization, and dialog.
So it’s a little strange that someone who approaches movies from such a strong literary perspective can’t understand the true appeal of any character. Readers have been meeting, getting to know, and coming to love imaginary characters for as long as fiction has existed. Characters like Anne of Green Gables, Oliver Twist, Huck Finn, Sara Crewe, d’Artagnan (and his comrades Athos, Porthos, Aramis), Robin Hood, et cetera have been engaging readers for generations. For much of their history, those characters have been less than even pixels: people have read words on paper, and conjured the face, voice, and being of the character entirely in their imagination.
Yes, illustrated books, live theatre, and various recorded forms of movies and series have also breathed life into those imaginary characters, but those are all simply different forms of conveying and evoking the idea of the character in the minds of each of the viewers. It is still, ultimately, about the imagination of the audience embracing the story and the characters within it.
As a writer, I deal with imaginary characters constantly. My head is full of a mad assortment of characters, some of them characters I have created for my own stories, others are characters I have come to love (or love to hate) through stories created by other people. When I’m writing a story, my job is to try to evoke in the reader the story that I have imagined. An important part of that process is evoking characters that the reader will, at least temporarily, imagine as if they were real. And more importantly, will have feelings toward as if they were real.
That’s the entire point of art, to engage the audience, and make a connection between hearts and imaginations. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m telling a story verbally, in text, on stage, with painted images, or computer rendered animation. It doesn’t matter if the characters are named Jenny Nelson or Buffy Summers or Zoe Washburne or Applejack.
What matters is the story.
For at least a few minutes, can I make you care about what happens to these characters? Can I make you interested in how they got into the situation they find themselves in? Can I make you wonder what’s going to happen next? Can I so engage you that you can’t look away until you know how things turned out for the character?
Getting the audience engaged with the characters is never a bad thing. And if you think that some fictional characters are less “real” than others simply because of the medium through which the audience’s imagination is being engaged, then you don’t understand storytelling.
Years ago a Catholic co-worker told me this joke: “You want to know the real meaning of Catholicism? Bad things happen to you because you are BAD!” I told her that my Southern Baptist upbringing had instilled the same lesson. Though the more I thought about it, I realized that the archetypical evangelical statement is more along the lines of, ‘Bad things happen to you because you’re bad. Bad things happen to me because god is testing me.’
Neither mindset is content to accept that a lot of bad things just happen.
The truth is, humans aren’t comfortable with that idea, no matter how skeptical and rational we may be. For instance, this morning I got a voice message from my husband informing me that he had been in an accident while he was riding his bicycle to work: he’d been hit by a car.
Never mind that he was well enough to operate the phone to tell me what had happened. Or that he was well enough to push his bike the rest of the way to work and would drop it off at the repair shop. I, of course, freaked out.
And as I was calling him to get more details than were in the voice mail and assure myself he was okay, one part of my brain was busy concocting things we should have done to prevent this. I didn’t, at that point, have any details of the accident, but that didn’t stop that corner of my brain from thinking, ‘Why did I let him ride his bike into work?’
There were other crazy voices in my head, too. He had kissed me good-bye when he left, but as usual I wasn’t really awake yet. I couldn’t remember what I had said to him as he left. Had I said anything at all? Or had I just grunted incoherently, laying there half asleep in bed, hoping I could snooze for a few more minutes before I had to actually get up?
Not that any of those things would have prevented the accident, but you have the thoughts, nonetheless.
And that wasn’t all. Another corner of my brain was mad at me for not hearing the phone ring when he called. Even worse, another piece was upset that I didn’t know, somehow, the moment the actual accident happened that it had. I should have felt something, right? You shouldn’t be able to just lay there, snoozing and listening to news on the clock radio, when the person you love is being hurt.
After talking to him, and being reassured many times that he was okay, the various parts of my brain had to keep arguing. The more rational parts tried to talk me down. If he didn’t ride his bike, he could still get hurt. How many times have I almost been hit by a car just walking to the nearest bus stop, for goodness sake? Just two weeks ago I and a bunch of other pedestrians almost got mowed down in the crosswalk 12 feet from my regular bus stop.
And how many times, while riding the bus or walking home, have I seen the car wrecks where at least one of the drivers or passengers in one of the cars had to be taken away in an ambulance?
And what about that time, years ago, when a whacko on a bus shot the bus driver while the bus was crossing a bridge, and the bus plunged off the bridge just a couple miles from our place?
We can’t make anything 100% safe. The rational part of me knows that. But we don’t want our loved ones to be hurt, so we still wish, and plan, and second guess. And some people pray, and other people make bargains with the universe, and other people refuse to think about it as if not thinking about it will prevent it from happening.
All we can do is take reasonable precautions, be aware, and try not to do things that endanger others. I know this. I understand it. I have to live with it.
But I don’t have to like it.
There have been a number of studies done on ear worms, how they form, why they persist, and means of getting rid of them. For years, thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Juli-sans-e, the way I have gotten rid of annoying ear worms is to think of the Bumblebee Tuna jingle that was used in commercials in the late 60s through mid-70s. I think this only works for those of us of an age to have heard the commercials a zillion times during formative years. I also know that for at least one other friend, while the Bumble Bee song succeeds in driving out the ear worm, it’s just substituting one annoying ear worm for another. I’m lucky in that the Bumble Bee song will only keep going in my head for a short time after I use it to drive out another. For some ear worms, the only way I can get them out is to actually sing the Bumble Bee song aloud a few times, just thinking about it isn’t enough…
The motive for the crime was unknown at first, though robbery was immediately ruled out. Neither young man was linked to any gang and neither had a criminal record. They were both openly gay and well-known in the neighborhood. While there are gay gang-bangers, they tend to be deeply, deeply closeted.
Witnesses placed another young man, one with a rather long and violent criminal record, near the scene…