The Heart is Also a … thing that does things

I haven’t been writing much and maybe that’s because I busted my butt in April to “win” Camp Nano or maybe it’s because I’m So. Super. Busy. and when I do get a spare moment of not working/parenting/sleeping, I just want to sit down for three seconds!

Either way, not writing time is prime definitely reading time, even if it means reading two paragraphs at a time on my phone while my infant is occupied with something that probably won’t result in catastrophe and my son has fallen down a YouTube hole full of toy unboxing videos.

That’s why it took me almost two months to read The Sun is Also a Star.

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What I liked about it was the short chapters and switching perspectives. I also love when I learn stuff not related to character development in a fiction novel. I loved the unique (to me) perspectives of the characters and the exploration of the effect of parenting styles on the emotional needs of their children.

What I like most is that about 1/3 of the way through the book, I learned they were making a MOOOOVIE of it starring Riverdale’s Charles Melton and Grownish’s Yara Shahidi. I spent the last third of the book imaging them as the characters and it made my heart grow three sizes. Which is too big. Very uncomfortable inside my chest.

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My next book to read two or less paragraphs at a time is Freakonomics because I like to balance heart biggening with brain biggening because that’s… how balance works?

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I mean, I started out with a big heart so…

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TV Will Now Actively Rot Your Brain

My household recently switched from regular old cable I only wished I had when I was a kid to some kind of streaming service I do not totally understand as an adult and we saved ourselves a good $70 a month. Ok, so we can’t watch Riverdale live and we can’t “DVR” our shows anymore but it’s a good cheap service with “apps” and like, an on-demand type thing so we still get all our shows.

And then May happened and a good number of our shows got cancelled.

So… we clearly made the right choice because, I mean, if our Live TV options are a bunch of low brow sitcoms and derivative police procedurals, then why pay $70 more per month when we can just wait one day to watch Riverdale?

Honestly, my kids’ bedtime routines take so freaking long we don’t end up watching ANY of our shows until a week later anyway.

With that, I bid adieu to the latest casualty on my list of things to watch when we get around to it:

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In a world where Last Man Standing survives and Brooklyn 99 has to go shopping for a new network, there is no place for smart people saving the world. Let’s bitch about women and their nail polish and periods instead. 

 

 

 

Russian Bots Aren’t My Problem

There are days I spend away from the internet and while I can’t say I feel refreshed and renewed (because I’m not out camping and enjoying nature so much as running the kids all over town and catching up on To Do tasks), I do feel moderately less annoyed with humanity.

I blame Facebook. For many things, actually, but hating other people has a lot to do with inane and/or offensive garbage I see on Facebook mostly from people I know in real life and the people they know in real life who maybe I need to know a little less about.

Twitter is a different story for me because I’m on there almost exclusively to engage the writing community and stalk Riverdale creators and actors. All of those people are lovely and I can easily ignore anyone who isn’t.

Instagram is fairly new to me, my personal account is private, and I really only engage with a select few people… and Riverdale creators and actors.

Tumblr, I abandoned long ago, back when raging Teen Wolf fans couldn’t handle life and stopped creating adorable memes to lash out in grammatically infeasible ways that hurt my brain.

And I don’t do anything else because I’m a Gen Xer and I’m too busy being broody and polishing my CD collection to learn anything new.

So I will continue to look at the pretty pictures on Instagram and play writer hashtag games on Twitter and feel all peach fuzz and puppies about it.

But how… do I get away… from Facebook? Honestly? I have business-related pages and an author page and a private friend group comprised entirely of pictures of my children so I can continue minimal interaction with family while still providing life updates. But I want to stop all the rest. How do you just… stop the rest? How do you kill the Facebook feed?

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This is definitely me in a Calvin Klein crop top with my manicured nails and dangling bracelets being all addicted to social media and whatnot. Certainly not a generic pic that google has allowed me to use.

Time to Put on Your Big Boy Pants

This article. And this line in particular,

But in Kylo Ren, the franchise has certainly introduced some complexity to its fandom, by reminding us how susceptible we are to giving unlimited chances to sad, angry young men.

has a lot to do with what I was trying to say in my post, Smother Love for Smad Boys.

Feeling justified in my assumption that there’s a cultural significance to the urge to comfort and fix smad boys that has nothing to do with postpartum hormones or the mama bear instinct.

Why do we feel so much compassion for angry white boys? Is it a byproduct of oppression by white men or conditioning from having to identify with them through the prevalence of their narratives? Either way, they are getting away with too much, ya’ll.

Here’s hoping 2018 continues the reckoning that 2017 began.

 

 

Chewbacca’s Moral Quandry

How likely is it that people who trash a story just didn’t get what they needed from it?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Between Riverdale and The Last Jedi, I’ve been reading a lot of vitriol in the realm of fandom that doesn’t seeeeem like criticism as much as bitching. It’s not in the way of intellectual discourse so much as whiny baby bullshit. And while it can be argued that many internet commentators are just dummies with a digital soapbox to abuse, it seems like many of the haters are just hurters lashing out against the story’s failure to address their inner turmoil.

I’ve written about this both here on the blog and in the novel-length, only sort of fictionalized, unreliable narrator-led personal essay NaNoWriMo project I’m still working on editing:

You know what it is? I think the reason I’m feeling the pain of these two characters so strongly, the reason I feel this kind of intimate connection to them is because they’re so broken and fragile and seeing what comfort they take in each other is vicarious comfort for me. Not that I’m broken and fragile. Not in the same way. But yeah, actually, maybe I am and maybe I’m lacking in comfort in the same way. Maybe I’m not OK at all and there’s more to my current mental state than postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation.

But it’s been on my mind a whole lot more since… well, yesterday when I got home from seeing The Last Jedi and immediately read as many articles about it as possible.

 

Lots of bitching. Only a few critiques.

And I get it! Some of us want a story we can recognize and predict because it makes us feel safe about an unknown future. Some of us want a simple story where good is good and evil is evil and we don’t have to stretch our morality or consider the perspective of The Other to understand motivation. Some of us just want the pretty people to make out so we can live vicariously through them. When we go in expecting that, wanting that, neeeeeding that and we don’t get it?

LASHING OUT! BIZARRE THREATS MADE TO ACTORS! CURSE WORDS a’FLYIN’!

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Meanwhile, I like how emotionally and morally complicated The Last Jedi is. It’s not what I expected and I don’t understand why Poe and Finn can’t be the next great space romance, but it certainly wasn’t boring, was it?

People don’t get quite so worked up about boring stories.

 

A Tale of Two Spiders

There is no more vivid memory in my mind than that of a nasty brown spider descending from the ceiling of my childhood bedroom. In the same way the young couple in a coming-of-age movie accidentally turns their heads toward each other at the same time, conveniently placing them lip to almost lip, I greeted that spider with an intimacy only now reserved for the closest of family members. That one experience cemented a life-long fear that no amount of therapy, cognitive or Fear Factor-style, could ever assuage. I am irrationally, screamtastically afraid of spiders.

My son, on the other hand, watched a spider descend from the ceiling of our living room just the other day, awed and transfixed at what he called the “butterfly spider.” What he witnessed was a magical creature, beautifully lit from behind by the ceiling light it was affixed to, floating down towards him and filling his world with wonder. He already loves Halloween and kid-friendly versions of spooky things, spiders included. The real thing was all the more delightful.

Our childhoods are very different, he and I. I’m almost as jealous as I am proud.

That difference in presentation of reality is what’s on my mind today, post-Riverdale. I’m still working out my obsession issues, although writing 50,000+ words about it certainly did help. I’m not nearly so upset by the breakups as I am by the act, the song, the presentation of a reality I’m familiar with and the debate I read on Twitter about the responsibility in that representation.

If there is a more existential song than Mad World, then I don’t know it and I’d prefer to keep it that way. That shit does something to you, man. Between the haunting music and the depressing lyrics… and then to show Betty’s very public exploration of her sexuality, not for her own gratification but to, well, solve a problem. It’s all a little too… real.

I’ve written about my experience with how culture shapes sexuality, specifically that of a young girl or teenager. Because, even now, even with #MeToo and #rapeculture, things haven’t really changed THAT much from when I was young. Maybe we’re ready to speak out about it now, but the experiences, for the most part, haven’t changed.

Women’s sexuality was and is defined in relation to men and I don’t mean just heterosexual women and I don’t mean just biological women. I mean we’re still part of a culture where sex is a commodity used to control others.

The purpose of Betty’s dance was to control Jughead by gaining entrance to his environment. The purpose of the serpent dance as entrance is to control the women belonging to the gang.

Was the scene exploitative? Yes. Does the show need to take responsibility for that? Yeah, probably. But was it a pretty good representation of the half the world’s experience with sexual discovery? I think so, actually, yeah.

“Children waiting for the day they feel good”

Part of that scene did feel good because DAMN BETTY. We finally got to see the buttoned up girl shed some of her layers and come into her own in a brand new way. But it also felt a little… ishy, a little uncomfortable, a little wrong because she did it for those reasons in that place in front of those people.

It is about choice–because feminism is about having and owning our choices–and that dance was Betty’s choice, but it’s also about determinism because how much of it really is our choice if we’re stuck in this culture that only reveals to us a limited set of possibilities?

“When people run in circles, it’s a very very mad world.”

I was as blown away by the power of the scene as I was horrified by what it meant for a whole new generation of women. I was as delighted at seeing Betty in a whole new way as I was sad and hopeless that things would ever change enough to get better. It was a terrifying butterfly of triggering magical spiders descending from both the darkest and lightest ceilings of our culture, both promising and threatening.

As I wrote in my journal this morning, ” I’m… shook, as the kids say. Because that song is so haunting, especially for people suffering from depression because, well, hell, it IS a mad world and nothing makes sense and maybe everything is horrible and pointless and then we all die and that’s the best part. … So that’s where I’m at, post-show. Haunted by the ghosts of Donnie Darko and Betty’s butt cheeks.”

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Smother Love for Smad Boys

What is it about surly teens in crisis that makes my heart go pitter-pat, that makes me want to smother them with mommy love and make the bad things go away? Is that a universal thing for nurturing types or is it somehow built into our culture as another privilege for emotionally stunted males? Hard to say.

My heart went out to Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix when he was “ANGRY… all the TIME,” and messed up Dumbledore’s office to let off some steam. Of the many times I cried during that series, that was one of the more intense bouts. And that was before I was an actual mom with way too much experience calming a tantruming child.

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Last night’s episode of Riverdale left me with that same feeling. That damn kid from the wrong side of the tracks all filled with rage and watching everyone screw him over is cry-bait for me fer sure. From Toni dismissing him as a love interest (*sad face* “why does no one love me?”) to Archie pulling the plug/e-brake to lose the race and his homies’ territory (*mad face* “why does my best friend keep effing everything up for me?”), I just couldn’t help but want to hug the hurt right out of that weird little nugget.

I settled instead for snuggling my own little weirdo who arrived home late after falling asleep in the car and couldn’t make sense of waking up after dark in his pjs and winter coat.

“Oh Jughead,” I said, patting his little noggin, “I love you even if no one else (but Betty) does.”

I… didn’t really do that. I convinced him to take off his coat and go to bed. It didn’t work and we were up until 11 playing Darth Vader and Batman can’t find their families. My kind has a penchant for pathos. I have a feeling that his teen years are going to be pretty rough on him. Might as well buy him a crown beanie and leather jacket now so we’re fully prepared.

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In Defense of Jughead

I, too, am overly invested in the lives of fictional television characters, like a teen with little to no control over their own life who takes ownership of other people’s creations and projects all of their issues onto them, and then loses their cool when what they think should happen–or what they need to happen–doesn’t.

That’s me, in all my middle-aged glory. Because I currently have little control and so I seek it elsewhere. In Riverdale. Because I simply cannot handle what’s going down in Hawkins.

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*shudder*

Anyway.

I’m starting to almost maybe recover from Bughead’s break-up, as traumatizing as that was, because I keep watching the clip of Jug and Toni’s kissy time and thinking, “Man, if anyone needs some TLC, it’s that boy.” It’s the wrong girl, I know, but a need is a need and boy howdy does Jug have a neeeeed. Look at his broken face. Look at his broken soul. By GOD, somebody kiss that poor boy!

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I’m sure the appeal of everyone’s favorite modern day Romeo and Juliet has something to do with just the right combination of writing and mood-setting and actor chemistry but there’s also the appeal of two broken souls finding their match. Betty and Jughead are both victims of their parents’ mistakes, neither nurtured appropriately, both lacking in that fundamental need for acceptance and affection and attention (see Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect). What they’ve found in each other was what was/is missing from their childhoods and I think that’s why their bond is so intense. Where Archie and Veronica are love and teen sexuality, Betty and Jughead are love and childhood emotional healing.

That’s why their breakup was so traumatizing for so many of its fans. And me. I’m also a traumatized fan. The tragedy wasn’t as much that a serial killer split them apart (figuratively… so far) as that the wounds within that had just started healing as a result of their union were violently ripped open again. They’re both suffering from being stabbed through an existing scab.

I don’t blame Jug one bit for accepting a consolation from a girl he thinks is capable of taking care of him. She’s already started to, warning him about sitting alone in the cafeteria, helping him at the school paper and in attempting to decode the cipher, tutoring him for his gang exams. Regardless of her actual intent–which I’ve read may be a bit on the shady side–Toni is there for him and Betty is not right now. He’s hurt and he’s broken and he needs comfort and she’s… there, making dramatic gang-family promises to die for him. So… that, up there, with the smoochie boochies happened. And it makes a lot of sense.

As does real life, drama screws with what’s established, what’s expected, and what’s best for us, throwing us into a pit of chaos and waiting for us to learn the lessons that’ll get us up and out. Jug will learn a lesson. So will Betty. So will Toni. So will I and so will all the kids out there stressing out over this.

The struggle is real, I know, because I feel it too. We’re connected to these characters because there’s a need within us that sees the need within them and it’s easier to really understand what we’re going through when we watch it happen to others. But whatever harshness the writers throw at our favorite fictional characters doesn’t have to be a reflection on our character. We can make choices based on insight and logic and the advice of our support system whereas they are slaves to their creators and only exist for our viewing pleasure.

So rather than getting unreasonably angry at actors or showrunners, maybe we can take this as an opportunity to imagine or reassess what we would do or have done in similar* circumstances. That’s the point of fiction, after all: to help us understand ourselves, to make sense of life, to connect all of humanity through archetypes. And the best kinds of stories are the ones that affect us as deeply as this one has.

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*Similar, not the exact same, because I’m married and nobody in my marriage better be kissin’ nobody else.

Give Me Riverdale or Let Me Go

My husband is mocking my excitement for tonight’s new episode of Riverdale and I’m over here like, listen… the most excitement I get is diaper blowouts and televised drama so BACK OFF. Like he’s not going to watch too. Like he’s not gonna enjoy every damn second.

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I’m of the opinion that real life drama is best experienced in intervals, preferably few and far between. I had a baby 7 weeks ago. I’m good. That was sufficiently dramatic, what with the race to the hospital and ushering new life into the world and whatnot. I don’t really need anything else happening in my life to upend it or create more emotion than I’m already experiencing as the pregnancy hormones wreak havoc on their way out of my system.

But I’m also bored out of my mind being home all day.

The solution: entertainment.

Televised, published, streaming; you name it and I will consume it. I will chew up other people’s drama and swallow it with satisfaction because it is tasty delicious and I didn’t have to cook it myself.

So let me have my excitement over Riverdale. Let me watch those beautiful kids fight and solve mysteries and make out and wear nice clothes in messy situations. Because I probably won’t leave the house for two more days and my kids don’t solve mysteries. Not even of the “OK, who pooped now?” variety. No, that’s all on me to figure out and it is not as mysterious as it may seem. Because the answer is inevitably Both Of Them.

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Hot and Hopeless Strangers

Reading fan fiction is dangerous. It gets me in a certain mindset that’s not great for my own writing. As much as I love it, it tends to be lazy: it relies on its audience’s existing understanding of characters and settings and therefore puts little effort into descriptions; it tends to be repetitive, exploring the same themes as the source material and/or of other fics; it tends to be focused on minutiae (which is part of its appeal, really) instead of narrative purpose; and it’s rarely well edited or… really, proofread at all. There are exceptions, of course, but when you’ve been ravenously consuming, you encounter a lot of crap.

But in newborn hell, I NEED TO CONSUME TO STAY ALIVE because what the hell else is there for me to do? I can’t go to work, I can’t go to places with lots of people, I can’t spend ALL day doing household chores nor playing freaking Paw Patrol with my toddler. There are only so many shows on OnDemand and fewer on TV. And my desk chair isn’t comfortable enough for endless Netflix binges.

Reading fanfic on my phone while I nurse my newborn on the couch? OK! It’s free, it’s never ending, it’s portable, and it lets me stay in a world that interests me. I win.

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Except… when I try to write my own thoughts and start seeing some of the bad fanfic habits popping up on the page. With NaNoWriMo now just about a week away, I need to get out of the habit.

In a lame attempt to change this habit, I proposed (to myself) that I would only read fanfic at night and try to read real books by day.

So yesterday, I read The Stranger.

Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.”

Then last night, I started a new fanfic. Then this morning, I … kept reading the same fanfic. Because, let’s be honest, I’d rather spend my mind time in a land of poor grammar while beautiful people I sometimes see on my TV make out with each other than in a land of hot hopeless existentialism.

Clearly, I chose the wrong real book.

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Not the feel good book of the year I probably could have used yesterday.