Today I've lived in Utah for ten years. On the one hand I can't believe it's been that long, and on the other hand I can't believe it's only been that long. Time is weird. I feel twenty-eight going on eighty. Now is the time to wax all poetic about this milestone, but I realized I said everything I need to say on this day last year, so I will redirect any inquiries to that post. I commemorated the date, though, by attempting to recreate in Spotify playlist form a CD-R labeled "Alternative" that I found on the kitchen table after my roommate moved out. This would have been in late August 2011, but as I don't remember the date I still associate it nostalgically with my Utah debut. I still have the CD somewhere, all scratched up, and someday I'll check what order the tracks are actually in and adjust the playlist to match, but what really matters is creating the playlist today so that the date next to all the tracks when viewed in the desktop app will be July 11 even though, as previously noted, July 11 is not the date I found the CD. It was on shuffle the first time I listened to it anyway, so the incorrect order here doesn't drive me crazy in the meantime. "Sad Sad City" was first.
Now I will continue to record some of the thrilling events of my life. The night of Independence Day, I set out to walk to the Temple Boulevard to watch the fireworks and subsequent fires, and it almost immediately started to rain. I was so happy. I didn't care how wet I got. Utah desperately needs rain. I watched fireworks in the rain for a bit and then suddenly I was starving, and then I saw, as tends to only happen when I stop checking my phone every ten minutes, that I had missed a message from some girl in the ward inviting everyone to get s'mores, and I was so hungry that I decided to try my luck even though I was an hour late by the time I found her house. No answer at the front door, but I saw the kitchen light was on so I went around and tried the back. She was in her backyard alone watching the fire die. We put on some more wood, I had five s'mores, and we talked from 11 to 12:45, and I suffered for that for a couple days. It continued to drizzle and it was wonderful.
The next day I went up to Idaho with some people to float down the Oneida River. As we got close, the sky became so grey that I planned to say "Do you think it will rain?" but never got a convenient pause in the conversation to do so, and then the question became moot because it rained. It rained hard. It rained buckets. It continued to rain as we arrived, got out of the trucks and got our tubes ready. It felt miserable, but again, I was so happy. Idaho desperately needs rain. I'm happy for others to be blessed as I am blessed.
As it happens, the weather was perfect during most of the actual floating, with a lot of sunshine and just a bit of drizzle as the clouds remained menacingly in the background. The river flowed faster than usual. This only became an issue when I got separated from the others as the current took me off the main route to a dead end, and I got out and walked my tube along the shore back to where the current went the right way, but when I got there it was too fast and pulled me right into itself, clinging vertically to the tube and unable to pull myself up, feet hitting against the rocks. An overhanging tree branch promised salvation, then stubbornly squeezed through my fingers. I swore a bit. My experience walking barefoot on asphalt and gravel just because I can paid off, though - I had cuts on the sides and tops of my feet, but none on the bottoms. So with the exception of those five minutes, it was a good time.
Technically I have a lot more time to write on this blog than I did while in graduate school, but I find week after week that I just don't feel like it. I'm relaxing, dang it. I've been reading books in preparation for my thesis, watching The Bad Batch and The Simpsons and The Chosen and Nostalgia Critic and The Legend of Zelda fan films, and studying German a little bit. While I'm hardly being the most productive person ever, I find day after day that I run out of time to do everything I wanted to do, which is a good problem to have compared to being painfully bored and lonely and having to think of busywork just to make the time go by. Anyway, that's why this post is crap. (Insert your own quip about all my posts being crap here.) What I need to do now is really set out in earnest on writing my thesis, but I've procrastinated on that just a bit. It's intimidating to start with nothing toward the end goal of a novella. I've always worked better under pressure. Summer still feels like it will never end, though with this drought and heat wave, I sure hope it will.
In "A Link to the Present: Class Consciousness and the Need for Change in the Legend of Zelda", David Lasby argues, "Today the world is suffering more than any time in recent memory. COVID-19 has exacerbated the tensions already pulling societies apart. Economic inequality already reached record gaps even before the pandemic. Millennials and Generation Z held a deep skepticism of institutions long before the current crises, which has produced astonishing failings at the highest levels of power. The time has come to produce a Zelda game that reckons with these very issues facing humanity.... It is time for a Zelda game that evolves past bloodlines and sacred institutions and embraces the skepticism and class-consciousness of this moment.... The growing crisis of our time requires a new kind of hero, a transcendent storytelling. This threat also provides opportunity. Now is the moment to give us a Zelda game worthy to be called high art."
Responses to this pretentious crap have been overwhelmingly negative. "Good grief," said Stormcrow. "I get so sick of 'Its about time...' proposals that simply suggest the thing they're talking about look and sound like everything else in the culture right now. Class struggle? How original. How challenging. Yawn. I'd rather see people inspired to be a hero, than inspired to make sure everyone around them knows how oppressed they are."
In calling it pretentious crap, I don't mean that I'm against everything he says. I fully support the Legend of Zelda series trying out interesting new directions and breaking the old formula, as it did with "Breath of the Wild". As a writer myself I am inclined to prioritize the story over the gameplay, which is the opposite of Nintendo's approach since they are, after all, a game company. I would applaud more complexity and nuance. And like many, I really want to see the series namesake take on a more active role in her own games. I get that most countries don't want the heir to their throne running around having dangerous adventures, but there are ways around that. The much-maligned cartoon series got around it by making her father senile. "The Wind Waker" got around it by making her a pirate queen who didn't remember her real identity. And I had an idea years ago for a fan fiction called "The Z-Team" where she leads a band of guerilla fighters to retake her throne. It was going to have an epic tagline like "She wants her kingdom back, and she isn't asking nicely" or perhaps "When diplomacy fails, Triforce." The only reason I didn't write it is that I'm lazy.
But the series is, at its heart, a way to escape from the real world and have some fun for a little while. I enjoy it precisely because the boundless and unapologetically weird world it creates is not this one. And while I'm there, I'm perfectly willing to slip into a different mindset and accept ideas that would be repugnant in real life - that one race rules by divine birthright because the blood of a literal goddess flows in their veins, that certain people are predestined to sacrifice their own comfort and normal lives to be heroes for everyone else, and that it's okay for thirty-five year old men to dress up in green jumpsuits and think they're fairies. When I want more serious or unorthodox themes than what the games offer I can read fan fiction. In one fan fiction I particularly like (spoiler alert), Hyrule's three patron goddesses are revealed to be ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, used their free time to learn all about science and create the world, and set up the eternal cycle of good versus evil so they could bet on the outcome because they were bored. How's that for distrust of institutions? I love such a cynical deconstruction of Hyrule's theology, but I'm glad it's not canon.
The comment that got my attention the most was from one David Garcia Abril, who wrote, "Over the years, I've come to DESPISE the concept of high-art, since it's basically two things:
"- Just another form of tribalism.
"- A death cult.
"As for tribalism, because it basically divides people into groups in which one is considered inherently superior to another. People who enjoy "high-art" is considered intellectually, or even morally superior to the low scum who enjoy 'popular art', thus giving an excuse to believe they are entitled to see those people with condescension at best and disgust at worst.
"And a death cult, because it worships negative emotions (sadness, hate, depression, despair, etc) above everything else, while positive emotions are dismissed as 'just escapism', and are only allowed in 'high-art' when they are put to serve a contrast to negative emotions. Just to give an example: most actors and writers would tell you that making the audience to genuine laugh is far more difficult than to make them cry. And yet, tragedy is easily considered high-art, while comedy has to really struggle to get that status (and even when it does, more often than not, it's because it has dark elements to it). In other words, 'high-art' celebrates the emotions that remind our lizard brains of the constant presence of death, and then have the audacity of consider them inherently superior to the emotions that make life worth living. Just to clarify here, there should be place in art for both of those things. We still have to cope with negative emotions, and the catharsis we get from art can be a powerful thing. It's the inherent hierarchy in which those emotions are put what is completely messed up when you stop and think about it.
"So, yeah, f*** high-art."
I for one have never been particularly concerned about what anyone else thinks about art. Some of my favorite people are artists, and I mean no offense if any of them actually ever talk like that in real life, but I just like what I like and everyone else is welcome to like what they like, and we don't need to apologize or explain ourselves to anybody, and I think most of the fancy words some people use to explain why everyone else should like what they like are pretentious crap. If nothing else, they can take their sense of elitism and shove it. If I like what someone else considers "low art" I don't need to justify myself to them by calling it "a guilty pleasure". Granted, I may not be in a position to fairly evaluate the situation since I've mostly learned about it from "Calvin and Hobbes".
I found David Garcia Abril's comment interesting, though, not just for how it puts certain people in their place but also because I find myself one of the exceptions to his "most actors and writers". Mostly the writer part. I'm not an actor and there are no videos on YouTube of me trying to act, so don't waste your time looking for them. But in my case, I find comedy easier to work with than tragedy.
I know I can be funny because I often make people laugh, usually on purpose. In high school it was easy because everyone knew me as someone who rarely spoke, and when I did it took everyone by surprise and magnified even the slightest humor potential. Like one time my math teacher said she liked math more than history because it's not so violent. I said, "Except for when seven eight nine." There was an awkward silence as everyone processed the fact that I had spoken, and then they all laughed themselves to tears at the thing I said that I'll be the first to admit wasn't really that funny. And then I never consciously set out to try to become a funny person but over the years I've just sort of internalized certain skills and principles from witnessing other people be funny, and sometimes when I'm with people and they're talking my brain happens to work fast enough to craft something relevant that will make them laugh. Basically I'm saying that I'm smart. I don't know how to say that without sounding conceited so I'll just say it and move on.
I don't typically have the luxury of hearing whether anyone laughs when they read my writing, but I assume that's funny sometimes too because I draw on the same principles and in this case have the advantage of time to think about it, fine-tune it just right, and come back and edit it later if I think of something better. Of course I often write things that I think are brilliant and then become self-conscious and think they're terrible as soon as I hit "Post". I wasn't sure if my recent satire of creationism that I'd been all excited about was any good after all until a Christian biochemist that I admire went to the trouble of thinking up a comment that, while ostensibly criticizing my piece, totally played along with and expanded on the central joke. It was the most flattering thing I could have imagined, even more flattering than all the "Haha" reactions from Facebook combined.
I put a lot of thought into most of the jokes in that post, but at one point I also threw in a random line about God wanting to get the deposit back on the Garden of Eden, just kind of being like, Whatever, I'm not sure what the actual joke is here but maybe it's goofy enough to get a smile. And one of my friends said, "Oh my heck!! Not getting the deposit back on the garden of eden had me rolling." Conclude from that what you will.
In my experience getting an English degree, I indeed found myself somewhat unique in my propensity to gravitate toward humorous writing. Everyone else in my classes did more "serious" stuff and even if one or two of them was technically a better writer than me, I took comfort in knowing that I filled a different niche and we could coexist without fighting to the death. I gravitate toward humorous writing because it's the kind of thing I typically want to read, because these are, as David said, the emotions that make life worth living. That's just a personal preference and not a dig at my classmates. At least most of them didn't try to be too "deep" and come across as pretentious or condescending. "Deep" messages are all well and good but I think they should usually be imparted with a healthy dose of humor, without taking oneself too seriously (think Douglas Adams), because I'm not interested in being preached at by someone who thinks mankind's angst is such a big screaming deal. We're born on a microscopic dot in a microscopic dot, we make a lot of mistakes, and we die a very short time later having left no measurable impact on the universe, so let's have a bit of humility.
I think comedy is easy because there's so much leeway. You can come up with something legitimately brilliant and clever on multiple levels, or sometimes you can say something so stupid it's funny, and get people to play along and then the seriousness with which you all take this stupid joke becomes the joke, and then if it becomes a running gag or inside joke it gets funnier every time as long as you don't overdo it, but sometimes you can overdo it on purpose and make it funny again, like that one famous scene from "The Simpsons" where Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in a row. And not that you necessarily should, but as long as you wait long enough you can make almost any inappropriate and/or tragic topic into a joke. Humor is a mechanism of catharsis that helps us to cope with this hell we call reality. Making sad things funny is much, much easier than making funny things sad. I can't think of a single example of the latter off the top of my head. Of course I try to be a good Christian and draw the line a lot sooner than many would, but I enjoy dark humor very much.
Heck, even the wokest, most progressive people can do pretentious mental gymnastics to make themselves feel okay about laughing at things they know are wrong. Russell Marks: "Perhaps the cleverest thing about The Book of Mormon [musical] is the way it manages to keep actually-racist white people out of the theatres while using black actors who have no creative control to tell jokes written by non-racist white people about Africans that would be blatantly racist if there were actually-racist white people in the audience and if Parker and Stone had intended to be racist instead of satirical. This is quite a complicated manoeuvre, and it obviously takes quite a high level of sophistication to grasp it fully. Sophisticated critics clearly ‘get it’. The ‘parody’ of Africa is ‘far too close for comfort’, wrote Peter Craven in The Saturday Paper, but ‘the chief comfort of The Book of Mormon is that its fundamental structures, the foundation upon which it rests, is unspeakable bad taste’. Less sophisticated people might interpret that as another way of saying that racism is actually OK if you intend it in bad taste, but such an interpretation would presumably only betray their lack of sophistication."
Pulling off negative emotions well is much harder from my perspective, and I don't think a lot of people manage it, but this probably is more my personal problem than any shortcoming on their part. The experiences of my life have led me to construct a lot of barriers around my heart and try to avoid emotional vulnerability as much as possible. I also have to suppress a lot of my natural empathy so I'm not constantly miserable about all the suffering in the world that I can't do anything about. So when it's obvious to me that a writer or filmmaker or whomever is trying to elicit a certain emotional reaction from me with the phraseology or the music or whatever, when they're basically screaming "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU SAD AND/OR INTROSPECTIVE", I put up the barriers and refuse to let them get away with it, unless I'm so invested in the characters and the setting that I still notice but don't care. The only movies I can think of right now that make me cry are "Revenge of the Sith", "Rogue One", "Return of the Jedi", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Remember the Titans", "Temple Grandin", "The Cokeville Miracle", and some of the Pixar movies. I can't think of any books that make me cry.
The Zelda game "Ocarina of Time" doesn't pretend to be anything super deep but it does manage to make me cry. It deals with some simple but heart-wrenching themes and ends on a rather bittersweet note. As far as negative emotions go, though, I think "Majora's Mask" is the champion. It carries a very dark, unsettling and somber tone throughout, just unpleasant enough to be intriguing instead of actually, well, unpleasant. The world of Termina is full of Nightmare Fuel and at the start of the game is three days away from being crushed by the moon. "Final Hours", the melancholy tune that plays on the last day against the rumble of earthquakes and the clanging of the clock tower as the moon fills the sky, is one of the most underrated video game compositions in the history of ever. (But the silly and lighthearted moments balance things out!) Actually, "Majora's Mask" also anticipated twenty years ago some of the real-life subtext that David Lasby craves. I used to think, "It's ridiculous how the people of Clock Town start out so nonchalant and in denial that the freaking moon is going to kill them all when it's right there for everyone to see." But now with the current situation in the United States I think, "Oh."
In a review of the fan-made game "The Legend of Zelda: The Fallen Sage", someone with the screen name Asinine wrote, "Let's get to the very first problem and the reason for why I have a grudge against the man who wrote this lore: The 'making it more mature part'. This is a very noble thing to attempt, a more mature Zelda title is certain to appeal to quite a lot of people, but not enough for Nintendo to genuinely cater to. However, there is a difference between 'mature' and 'childish'. Mature is when you tackle interesting and controversial problems with a sense of dignity and purpose, I feel like I am experiencing something mature when I am playing around in The Path and I am slowly realizing the subtle commentary on modern-day parenting the game contains. What certainly doesn't qualify as mature is a never-ending flow of depressing events befalling on a cast of suicidal characters.
"Having depressive themes in your game is not bad by default, but when you are endlessly throwing in more excuses to make your characters sad, it loses it's mature intentions and it instead becomes sadistic. We are no longer exploring a world with genuine troubles, but rather the author's sadistic fantasies."
So I find tragedy a lot easier to get wrong than comedy. Of course I still dabble in them on this blog and in my works of fiction because they are a necessary ingredient most of the time, especially in a story that needs to have actual conflict and stakes and drama, but I feel very inadequate. I feel like any attempt to make my readers feel things is hamfisted and clumsy and even more obvious than most. That's one reason why I'm more likely to just be sarcastic even when dealing with dark topics like police brutality or mass shootings or being suicidal. I'm not trying to be funny as such, because like I said I place boundaries on my use of dark humor, but as a more jaded and detached way of getting the information across, and to direct righteous anger at the people who should be doing things but aren't as opposed to just trying to be sad about the things that aren't being done. I think this is one of my bigger weaknesses as a writer and maybe I'll be able to tackle it in graduate school.
Anyway, this is obviously just how things are for me and not meant to refute most actors and writers who find tragedy easier than comedy, but I found David Garcia Abril's comment thought-provoking and figured it was as good a jumping-off point for a blog post as any.
Are you sick (no pun intended) of the c-word yet? I know I for sure am, but what else am I supposed to write about? Somehow this latest in an eternal series of unfortunate events in the news that heretofore have kept a respectful distance from me is turning out to actually be a big screaming deal right here in the U.S. of A. It's like nothing I've ever seen in my lifetime and frankly scares the crap out of me, but I suppose it's overdue. Why should I go along feeling like calamities on this scale are only supposed to happen to Liberians or Venezuelans or Australians or Italians or whomever? We're not exempt, I'm not exempt and I suppose there's nothing for it but to take a deep breath (not literally) and ride out the storm we have coming. It can't be stopped, it can only be delayed long enough to protect our already broken healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed, which is the point of all these closures and cancellations that conspiracy theorists and self-proclaimed experts on the internet are calling an overreaction.
As it happens, I know someone in Italy. She was an exchange student at my high school. Today she told me that everyone is locked at home and it looks like "zombie land".
I don't think for a moment that most of the people who are suffering and will soon suffer have done anything to deserve it, but collectively as a people this seems like a needed dose of humility. We think we're such a big screaming deal with our civilization and our technology and our infrastructure, and it's all brought to its knees by the tiniest organisms in existence (if a virus can technically be called an organism, which is debatable, but you know what I mean). It reminds me of The War of the Worlds, in which Earth's militaries are totally impotent against the Martian menace, and all hope seems lost until the latter is (spoiler alert) "slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth."
I've given some thought to my odds of not surviving this. On the one hand, I'm obviously very young and seem to have a better than average immune system. On the other hand, I do have a pre-existing respiratory condition of sorts. Six years ago almost exactly, I had the most brutal cold of my life and the coughing aspect never entirely went away. Coughing for no reason is literally just a part of my life that I take for granted now. I did go to the student health center after a month or so, and they said my throat was harmlessly inflamed and gave me some medicine that tasted like motor oil and didn't do anything, so I just got used to it even though it's stupid and annoying. Now it might make me too weak to recover.
You never know and it never hurts to be prepared. So consider this an official request: in the event of my death, my surviving sisters, if any, may do what they see fit with my worldly possessions. The meager contents of my bank account are to be divided evenly between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Doctors Without Borders. Please donate my body to science, burn whatever they don't want and sprinkle the ashes over Glens Falls, New York. The Spotify playlist I prepared some time ago for my funeral can be found here. If you never reached out to me while I was alive then please shut the hell up about how much you miss me. Oh, and I have a letter on my laptop that I wrote to my neighbor C for no reason other than to sort through my own tormented thoughts and emotions. I can't give it to her and had no intention of trying but if I die and she doesn't, I would like for her to read it. Someone please ensure that she gets it. She may file a restraining order against my corpse, but I can live with that, or not as the case may be.
Truthfully, though, I think God is having too much fun abusing me to let me die just yet. The real question is how much it will suck to be infected and for how long. And whether I'll be able to find sufficient food. And how many others I'll infect because I can't afford to skip more than a couple days of work. #capitalism
Today, in fact, is the two-month anniversary of that day which I now realize was the worst day of my life. I -
Yes, of course, thank you. I wasn't sure at first, because I've had plenty of contenders for that position, but two months later I can say that not one of them individually has had such a persistent negative impact. It turns out I'm not as strong as I thought I was and I haven't really moved on. The raw, soul-shredding trauma of the event is easy enough to forget if I don't think about it in any detail, but it nonetheless remains a constant weight on my psyche every day. I've been trying to pray every night for those who wronged me. I was just saying empty words until I learned more second-hand information about what makes them tick and why they might have done something so immature and uncalled for, at which point my words took on heartfelt meaning. I want them to wise up and be happy. Yet sometimes my pride reasserts itself and fills me with animosity toward them, and I struggle back and forth on that sometimes multiple times a day and it's a real joyride.
On the plus side, I spoke to the good roommate about getting my book back from the pathological liar, and she spoke to the pathological liar about giving my book back, and the pathological liar left my book on the doorstep along with a few homemade cookies that turned out to have nothing poisonous in them.
This guy I've seen at church a few times killed himself recently, and though I barely knew him at all, I knew him a tiny bit which is more than I've known any of the other locals who have killed themselves over the years, so it's kind of a weird feeling. He was good friends with one of my good friends who's already been dealing with a lot of crap she doesn't deserve. He did it on her birthday, no less. I feel really bad for her and even though I know better it's tempting to think he was selfish and insensitive. Actually, he had a rare form of incurable and untreatable depression. If I had known him better, been privy to these things and wanted to stop him from killing himself, what could I have said? That it would get better, knowing full well that it wouldn't? That I wanted him to stay alive for me, knowing full well that every day of the rest of his life would continue to be hell? So I feel bad for those he left behind, but I honestly don't see that he had another viable option. I have every confidence that he's happy wherever he is.
I'm not at that point and I have a lot to live for and a lot to do. Unless the beer bug takes me after all. That possibility hasn't become really real to me yet even though I've been thinking about it for a week straight. I admit that in addition to my very real fear, I also feel a childish and sick kind of thrill that the suffering is still too far removed to dissipate. As I said, it's like nothing I've ever seen in my lifetime, and it's the closest thing I can imagine so far to a zombie apocalypse. Walking through campus and seeing the event signs with dates scribbled out or the word "CANCELED" plastered over them, or through the grocery store and seeing the empty shelves, gives me an unreal and indescribable feeling that brings to mind this most underrated of Koji Kondo compositions.
The referendum against Utah's recent tax reform ended on Tuesday, having collected an estimated 150-170,000 signatures out of the 116,000 that were required. It would have taken some time to verify the final count, and some would have been rejected, but we were pretty dang confident we had this in the bag. Then it became moot because the Legislature was so scared by this upswelling of resistance that they repealed the tax reform altogether. Now, instead of being put on the ballot in November, it's simply ceased to exist. Of course I hope Utah will still remember in November exactly which people voted for that train wreck in the first place, and I hope this will leave a lasting impression on anyone currently in or planning to enter politics. I have to admit the referendum would have most likely been a flop without the endorsement and enthusiastic participation of the Harmon's grocery store chain, where I would happily shop if they had a location in Logan, and the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute who encouraged people to sign by running radio ads telling them not to sign.
I finished submitting the supplementary materials for my graduate school application. The requirements use all this pompous academic language, of course, and it's intimidating and it makes me feel like I'm way out of my depth when I just want to write fun science fiction stories. Realistically, though, and I'm not trying to be cocky, but realistically, I'll be very surprised if I don't get in. I think the skill exhibited in my writing sample will speak for itself, and I also know the professors giving me recommendations will speak very highly of said skill, especially the one who urged me to consider graduate school and teaching in the first place. By my estimate I was the third best writer in his class the first time around and the second best the second, but of course that's kind of subjective and when I told Stormy she was probably the best she said "No, you definitely are." I think my biggest strength is that I fill a different niche than most. Nobody else in any of my writing classes over the years has focused on fun science fiction stories.
I recently lost a substantial chunk of one of my teeth, substantial enough for me to see the sensitive core with my naked eye and touch it with my naked finger, which I only did once. I assumed the remaining chunk would have to be pulled out and I was surprisingly quick to accept that. It's way in the back where nobody would notice, and I've already learned to chew without it, and I figured this life is mercifully short and I'll get it back when I'm resurrected so whatever happens to me in the meantime doesn't matter. I was far more concerned about the cost. I just got Medicaid but it doesn't cover anything dental because the US government has decided those things aren't super important. Imagine, then, my relief when the dentist said he can repair my tooth in half an hour and it will only cost $254.84 if I pay the same day. He might have to follow up with a root canal, but there's no sense worrying about that yet.
The situation with my neighbors... hasn't changed at all, but after the initial shock, I surprisingly don't much care. Their wrongness is their own loss. It will also make my memoir that much better.
This review of my site on Webwiki, the first one from somebody who isn't me, isn't new, but I just noticed it the other day and it made me happy.
Thank you, Jason. Now I'm all like
and I hope to continue putting out the same level of quality, but no promises.
I've had a few bits and pieces of writing on this site in the form of embedded word documents and downloads that don't really work on mobile devices and would be too tiny to read comfortably if they did. I don't think search engines can go through them either. Since these are mostly unfinished pieces of crap from my middle and high school years, moving them into the twenty-first century (which my middle and high school years were already part of, but I'm speaking metaphorically, in a self-deprecating remark about my own lack of technological prowess) hasn't been a priority, but in the last few days I've been finally doing it, transplanting the text from these documents into actual web pages.
The most horrifically painful thing about some of my early writing is the godawful attempts to straight-up copy Douglas Adams' one-of-a-kind writing style. In fairness, he left us much too soon and I would be doing a legitimate service to the world by providing more works in his vein if they were of equal quality and not just pathetic knockoffs. And I guess I don't regret the experiment because I believe that it had a lasting impact on the evolution of my actual genuine writing voice. I think I can see a bit of Douglas Adams in my writing voice, but just a bit, thank goodness.
Anyway, I was skimming through this unfinished sci-fi epic "The War" as I moved the text over - I had intended to read it all straight through, but that was too painful - and this little bit stopped me in my tracks. When I wrote it as a teenager in 2008 or 9, it was just a silly attempt at humor with virtually no real-life subtext intended, but anyone reading it today would be unable to avoid what TV Tropes calls Unfortunate Implications. It's - well, I'll just let it speak for itself.
[Beginning of excerpt. The setting is a party/dance with members of many alien races present.]
“All right,” Hok announced, leaping to the nearest hovering microphone on ridiculously long gangly legs. He was a short, skinny green man with a gargantuan head and pointy ears. “All right,” he repeated, “hang on to your kramblotches, because it’s pippiks’ choice!”
There was a slight groan from some of those assembled, elicited by the fact that there was only one pippik present, a suddenly rather confused-looking Troikot.
There is a simple pattern followed by many species throughout the universe, and that is this: male, female. The reason this is followed by many species is that it’s simple, it works, and if you believe in an all-powerful Hand guiding it somewhere along the line you can imagine Him wanting to keep it consistent. For those who like to keep it even simpler, the options of hermaphrodite and null were made available. However, the Universe being the humongous place it is, some species are bound to be dissatisfied with these perfectly reasonable choices, and choose to come up with their own fancy alternatives. Pippiks, then, are only one of thousands of relatively obscure genders to be found throughout said Universe. Kramblotches, on the other hand, are completely unrelated organs found in some species for the purpose of throwing at predators.
When it comes to interstellar travel, this also brings up the problem of gender pronouns. The language of a species with its own special genders will have developed its own special pronouns, of course, but usually any being from a normal male/female/hermaphrodite/null species will not want to bother memorizing all of the pronouns for the thousands of relatively obscure genders that exist. As a result, most choose to lump them all under the “it” category. Some find this offensive, but, others argue, they should have thought of that before their species decided to create its own genders anyway.
“Ask that cute farfel over there,” whispered a Queezik.
“I don’t swing that way,” the Troikot timidly whispered back.
Hok’s keen ears picked up their exchange and he grinned in spite of himself. He knew, of course, that there was only one pippik in the room, but he was trying as best he could to be fair and tolerant of everybody. Sexism, of course, was unseemly even by this society’s standards.
[End of excerpt]
So. Much. Cringe.
I've avoided talking about all the sex and gender controversy (except that one time, which I won't apologize for) because it's surprisingly complicated and I don't want to say ignorant things. I know that chromosomes are complicated and there are several - not percentage-wise, but numerically - demonstrable exceptions to the "XY = male, XX = female" dichotomy. Externally female bodies may have only one X chromosome, or even XY chromosomes and useless internal testes in place of ovaries, to cite a simple and surprisingly common example. I do think a lot of other people don't know as much about it as they think they do either, even when citing "science" as their authority. A couple months ago in the Mormons Building Bridges group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that, marriage expert Mark Gungor's hilarious routine notwithstanding, there is no difference between men's brains and women's brains. And more recently in the same group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that transgender children's brains matched the gender they identified as, not their biological sex.
I may be missing something obvious, but I can't help feeling like it's fundamentally impossible for both of those claims to be true. Of course it's not my place as a non-scientist to reject either or both of them without being able to explain why, but neither is it the place of other non-scientists to imbue either of them with more authority than it actually has. Scientific truth is not established overnight by one scientist or team of scientists. A study may be interesting but means very little unless and until its results are replicated in additional studies. This often never happens. There's also the issue of news outlets and other lay people misinterpreting studies to mean what they want them to mean - for example, this happened a few years ago:
Study from BYU: We found that religious people who use pornography are more likely than non-religious people who use pornography to describe themselves as "addicted" even if they show no signs of addiction.
Almost Everyone Else: This study from BYU found that pornography addiction is a myth created by religious guilt.
These people seemed to believe they were objectively reporting the study's results, when in reality they were doing something else: making crap up. In any case, I'm going to reserve judgment on most of these issues for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, it costs nothing to be kind.
I do still consider it plausible that the vast majority of alien races would fall into something recognizably analogous to the male/female dichotomy, just as the vast majority of advanced organisms on Earth do even with chromosomal arrangements that in many cases radically differ from ours. Sexual reproduction is weird and gross but it works because, by mixing and recombining parents' DNA, it drastically boosts the genetic diversity of the species, which in turn makes it far less vulnerable to being suddenly wiped out by disease, climate change or whatever. This obviously requires at least two parents. Three, four, or a dozen would create even more diversity, but the exponential difficulty of actually pulling it off in practice would more than nullify that benefit. Of course, there may be aliens out there who aren't even made from DNA as we understand it, but that's also too complicated for me to think about right now.
Ugh, I need to get the taste of that excerpt out of my mouth, so here's another from the same scene that I don't hate.
[Beginning of excerpt.]
“Let’s go find a seat,” said Bert. They turned around and nearly bumped into the nine-foot tall hairy mass behind them. It reacted slightly less than a tombstone, but the purple snake coiled around its neck reared up and hissed at them violently.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Alicia, who had spilled soda all over her clothes in response. “Er, nice pet,” she said to the hairy creature, hoping to make light of it.
“How dare you speak that way of my fiancé?” demanded the snake.
[End of excerpt.]
It's a dumb joke, but I find it amusing. At least I was supportive of interracial marriage long after it was cool.
Why do I put these garbage writing samples, these "sins of my youth" as Hergé would call them, on the internet instead of burying them forever? First of all, because when I'm famous everyone will be fascinated to see how my writing has evolved. Joking but serious at the same time. Second, because despite how bad they are, they're actually not that bad. Oh sure, they're too painful for me to read, but they have their moments of brilliance and I can see in them the potential that my teachers saw and urged me to cultivate. They're better than some Legend of Zelda fan fiction I've read. Heck, they're better than some things I read from some of my undergraduate English classmates. Not singling anyone out but just being honest. And maybe some people who hold me to a lower standard than I do, who aren't personally embarrassed by the existence of this old writing, can actually enjoy it. I enjoy the Star Wars Holiday Special, which shouldn't be possible for a carbon-based life form, so it's not that far-fetched.
While I was skimming through "The War", I laughed out loud at a part where (spoiler alert) one character who's just learned English as a second language refers to puppy love as "dog lust". Maybe I'm just an idiot, but I think that's one of the funniest things I've ever written.
My closest friend, by whom I mean someone who actually lives very far away that I don't talk to very often but who knows more about me than anyone else except God and doesn't think any less of me for it, is almost exactly the same age. She's a week younger than me. In her twenty-six years, she's been in more relationships than I can count and been engaged once or twice. In my twenty-six years, I've never been on a second date. She, by her own admission, is somewhat codependent and can't stand to be alone, so she ends up dating guys that she knows aren't a great fit. I, in contrast, am so settled into my solitary lifestyle and eternal cycle of rejection that the hypothetical prospect of being in a relationship, even with someone I really really like, is deeply unsettling and becomes less attractive the more I think about it.
But regardless of our differing paths we're both equally single. I muse on that sometimes and I invariably conclude that, as far as this one topic is concerned, I'm the luckier one. It must be so much better to never have something than to have it and then lose it. Over and over again, no less. When I'm thinking rationally I determine that my phenomenal failure rate has been a blessing in disguise.
Recently she lamented that she had been on a date with this guy and really hit it off and was hoping for things to become quite serious. Alas, some girl he'd been interested in for years chose that time to reciprocate those feelings, so now he's with her instead. My friend is very bummed out. I was able to empathize because this sort of bullcrap is my least favorite bullcrap of all the multitude of bullcrap that constitutes what we call dating. You don't operate in a vacuum. You can't just stand on your own merits; you also have to be better than everyone else who wants what you want. It doesn't matter how much you want it, how hard you try, how well you plan, how hard you pray; someone else that the object of your affections finds more attractive than you can come along and erase all your efforts in an instant, and there's nothing you can do about it. Often there's no way to even see it coming.
I shared with her the metaphor that I'd come up with for these situations. It's like playing a video game where, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Actually, let me back up. Figurative language isn't really my thing but I think this metaphor has potential. I will attempt to explain what dating was like for me as an Aspie YSA by comparing it to a video game. I didn't grow up to be much of a gamer because my parents thought every console prior to the Wii was evil or something, but I enjoy them when I get the opportunity. (Legend of Zelda FTW). They're a nice way to relax and escape from the existential horror of this sick joke we call mortality. Usually.
Okay, so first of all, you've heard about this metaphorical game growing up and people have tried to make you excited for it. You're intrigued, but it's not the sort of thing you'd take the initiative of choosing to do in your spare time. You're more of a book reader. As you get older, people try to encourage you more and more, offer to help you with it, and whatever, to the point where you cave and decide to see what all the hype is about.
So you check out the instruction manual, and discover upon doing so that it's written in an amalgamation of Chinese, Sanskrit, and drunk spider footprints. Most of your friends, despite their assurances to the contrary, seem to read it just fine, and you ask them for help and they try to give you a summary. Sometimes people charge money for books and seminars about what they think it means.
The only way to actually figure it out, you finally conclude, is by trying the game yourself and learning as you go. So you start the game, and discover upon doing so that it's a maze. You know those antique DOS games from the nineties that are challenging, but reasonable, and you're just going along collecting items and figuring out where to use them and then suddenly there's this maze segment that's almost impossible to finish in less than an hour without a walkthrough? And it's completely disproportionate to the difficulty and tedium of the rest of the game and you're just like, What genius thought this would be fun? So this game is like that, except instead of side-scrolling or top-down it's first-person, which makes it even worse.
Also, there are land mines in the floor. So it's also like Minesweeper. Do you know how to play Minesweeper? I don't and I don't know anyone else who does.
You can't figure out the controls from the instruction manual, but your friends tell you what each of the five dozen buttons and triggers is supposed to do. You start the minefield maze and discover upon doing so the difference between theory and practice. Sometimes the controls do what they're supposed to, sometimes they do the opposite, sometimes they do nothing, and sometimes they leak battery acid all over your hands.
When you step on a mine, the damage varies. Sometimes your character dies and sometimes he just loses a limb or two. The plus side, if it can be called that, is that you have unlimited lives in this game. The downside of the plus side is that every time you die you get sent back to the beginning and the maze randomly rearranges itself. You get bored quickly and would rather not play this game anymore. But your friends assure you that everyone steps on mines and yes, it sucks and it's always going to suck, but what can you do? Apparently that's supposed to be comforting.
Also, even if you manage to avoid the mines through luck or telepathy, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Why would anyone spend more than two minutes playing such a terrible, horrible, no good very bad game? Because apparently there's a really cool cutscene at the end, and when people reach it, they become so excited that they decide it was all worth it and decide how much they hated the game. Especially decades down the road when the rising generations are playing an even harder and stupider remake of the game, and these old people who beat it decades ago don't understand what the issue is. (You can just watch the cutscene on YouTube, but people will tell you that's a cheap counterfeit of the real experience because the audio quality is poor or something.)
Whatever. You're more of a book reader.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.