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 Then it became moot because the Legislature was so scared by this upswelling of resistance that they repealed the tax reform altogether.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.
Summerfest in Logan, Utah is a beautiful time of year when dozens of talented artists converge on the grounds of the old Latter-day Saint Tabernacle to display their beautiful and expensive artworks. Any one of their booths would be jaw-dropping on its own, but clustered together like this in a sea of beauty, only a few have any hope of standing out as special. I just like to go wander around and soak up the vibe as I look at things and pretend there's the slightest chance I might consider buying something. Kind of like my recent brief stint on the Mutual app in that regard. Also there's overpriced food and live, mostly local musicians.
On Thursday I go around to get an overview of the situation, not looking too closely because there will be time for that later, and I run into Jake from the stake and end up having a bonfire at his apartment. It's about 1/20th the size of a bonfire back home because I assume city ordinances and whatnot, but there's a great camaraderie from those assembled and I witness the birth of several inside jokes. From here on out I will be a part of these inside jokes and able to feel like I have friends. Blake from the stake lives there too, and he asks if I've been on any hot dates lately because he thinks that's an appropriate question for some reason. In fact, I haven't been on any since the last time he asked, which I think was in February. But I humor him by telling everyone present who my crush is. I trust them. They'd better not make me regret that.
The next day, I allow myself to partake a little more in the experience by getting some of the overpriced food, because after all this only happens once a year. I stuff myself on chicken legs, watermelon, chips, and a drink called the "Texas Twister" in a plastic boot. Every time someone orders or refills a plastic boot, the lady in charge yells "We've got a boot!" and all the workers have to yell "Yee-haw!" I imagine how much they must hate their job, but then I remember with a chill my time in the call center, and I realize that even if, instead of yelling "Yee-haw!" they had to wear chicken costumes and sing "What is Love" while twerking, their job would still be preferable to working a call center. They should just be grateful they can find work in this economy at all.
As seven p.m. (19:00) approaches, I walk thirty seconds over to the Utah Theatre to continue the original Star Wars trilogy. This week is "The Empire Strikes Back", the one I tried to get my coworker to come see with me, but her absence will do little to deter me from enjoying this near-flawless blend of action, drama, suspense, humor, introspection, and romance, with an incredible score that goes silent in all the right places and the greatest plot twist in cinematic history. Before the movie I watch a bit of a John Denver concert and a Warner Brothers cartoon, "Bad Ol' Puddy Tat", that ruins my hypothesis about Disney cartoons being matched with Disney movies. But hey, I'd much rather watch Tweety beat the crap out of Sylvester in self-defense than a couple of wicked rodents beat the crap out of Donald Duck to steal the food he made for himself. On top of that, it doesn't have a single racist moment. So the experience was a solid improvement over last week.
My coworker, for the second time, asked if I was going to the hike that her ward is doing at seven a.m. (7:00), so I once again set my alarm for 6:20. I hate hate hate getting up early, but my call center job started at seven too, so this is just like that except it's something fun instead of pure hell. And my alarm is "Hyrule Field" from the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. There are worse noises to wake up to. But oh, wouldn't you know it, my brain has decided that when I said "6:20" I actually meant "5:30", and it's not taking no for an answer. At least I'm not up before the sun this time. Still, I'm not yet convinced that the tradeoff of these hikes is worth it. They're happening every two weeks. I think two Fridays from now I'll make sure to hide from my coworker and pretend I forgot.
My old friend Christian says he'll be in town today to run some errands, so I tell him I'll be at Summerfest and he can meet me there and I can give him the bit of money I've been unable to pay him back because he's been in Europe for half a year and I can't use Venmo or PayPal because reasons. While I'm wandering around waiting for him, I run into my old classmate Stormy, whose face lights up. Stormy was in two of my classes, and she was the second best writer in my Advanced Non-Fiction Writing class (I suggested she might be the first, but she said "No, you definitely are" and I'm not going to argue the point), and after every class I asked to walk with her and she usually said yes, and I watched a play she was in and I interviewed her about her faith for an assignment. When I went incognito to my own graduation, she hugged me and told me it meant a lot that I had come out to see her, but of course I was probably there to see other people too but it still meant a lot.
So on this occasion, she's there with some friends and I run into her and she asks if I'm there alone, I say yes, and she's like, "That's great that you can just go to things by yourself and be cool with it. I love that about you. I couldn't do that. I'd be awkward." I'm startled to see her back in town for the weekend after I thought she'd left forever, he's got a temporary (I hope) tattoo on her neck and it's very distracting, but I catch enough to marvel at her implication that I'm not awkward. Still, she has a point. I learned some time ago when I went to see "The Lego Movie" by myself after several failures to find a viewing buddy that the need to not be alone when doing things is more an assumption we tell ourselves than a reality. When "The Lego Movie 2" was out, I didn't even try. I just went. And I go to Summerfest alone every year, but Logan is a small town and this is a relatively large event and I'm guaranteed to see people I know anyway. Stormy has to go follow her friends but then I meet up with Christian and pay him back and make myself right before the Lord.
Then I'm minding my own business when Blake is suddenly there asking if the big sack of Kettle Corn I bought is for him. It isn't, but I give him a little bit because I can be surprisingly generous to people who are just honest about what they want. He tries to trade his empty Texas Twister boot for the rest of my Kettle Corn, but I explain that I already have one and his friends laugh at him. I recognize some of them from the fire or the stake, and others are entirely new to me. Terrah is one of the new ones, but before I so much as know her name I'm already making jokes about her diminutive stature. Regan is the only one to hear me the first time, and she tells me how funny I am, but Stephen hears me the next time and makes sure to repeat it louder for everyone's benefit. Terrah pretends to be hurt, and truly I shouldn't have started doing this without verifying whether she'd be okay with it, and I'm kind of a dirtbag, but I just feel like we're already a big family and this is how I bond with people I care about. I'm glad she takes it in the spirit it's intended and doesn't get mad at me. I'm glad she doesn't have a short temper.
We go to Angie's, a local restaurant where I went on the first date that I ever went on, where I learned that there was nothing to be nervous about, before I learned that there was in fact very very much to be nervous about. The next year I went there on another date that amounted to much the same. But none of the bad memories are directly connected to the restaurant itself, which is good because I see its name on bumper stickers literally all the time. We go over to a section I've never been in with room for all of us. But some of the people from earlier are nowhere to be found, and as I note our seating arrangement - boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-me - it dawns on me that I seem to have crashed some kind of group date. Oh well, there are worse things than being a seventh wheel. I'll just roll with it. And look, I won't even have to be the only one because here come the others finally, let's see, two more boys and two more girls. Well. There are worse things than being an eleventh year. I wonder what the record is. Let's go for the record. The newcomers sit boy-girl-girl-boy-me and Stephen says the gender ratio here is a coincidence, but a good ratio nonetheless.
I distinctly remember that my first time here I had ravioli, but now I'm looking through the menu and there's no ravioli nor pasta of any kind. Lots of chicken, though. I don't want anything with chicken. I had enough chicken yesterday to last a week. I don't want breakfast food either because I already got pancakes today after the hike. Reluctantly I settle for a cheeseburger. While we wait, my tablemates act like children and Sierra persuades me to take part in a game of Russian Roulette, but with packets of sugar and salt. I know how stupid it is for me to participate in this game but I want these people to like me. The mouthful of salt is worth that. Terrah asks me what I do for fun, and says that after twenty years she's just discovered books, and asks me for recommendations which I happily supply because this is my chance to inculcate her with my views of the world. I try to gauge her potential interest in "The Adventures of Tintin" by asking if she's into comics as well. She says she's occasionally read one "about a cat thing and a human thing." I'm the only one at the table who correctly guesses that she's talking about Calvin and Hobbes.
Most of us go back to Blake's place to chill, and it's already about eleven p.m. (23:00) and I've already been up too long and I know that tomorrow I'm really really going to regret staying up as late as it looks like we're going to be up, but screw it, I'm making friends. We talk and listen to music and play a card game. Somehow the topic of conversation periodically returns to my crush even though most of these people weren't at the fire. For example, Colby asks why I chose her to be my crush. I say her intellect, her maturity, her spirituality, her kindness, and she has a nice face, and she has the cutest smile, especially when she shows her teeth; she has nice teeth. They can't argue with that logic. Terrah wants to know where I would take her on a date if money and other logistical concerns were no object. I say the moon because I'm thinking in terms of what today's technology allows. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I'd like to change my answer to Saturn's moon Titan, where the thick atmosphere and low gravity would literally enable us to strap on plastic wings and fly through the air. I'm not kidding. Wikipedia says so and everything.
Also, we laugh. A lot. And not to brag or anything, but at a conservative estimate I'd say ~70% of the laughter is attributable to my dance moves and witty comments. Admittedly the bar for what consitutes a witty comment falls lower as the night wore on. Soon all I have to do is reference something we nearly peed ourselves laughing about ten minutes ago, and we'll nearly pee ourselves laughing all over again. I'm not the type to laugh out loud on my own but when other people do, even if the joke was mine to begin with, it's contagious. It's cleansing. This is great. I'm becoming so popular. I knew I was capable of being funny, but this must be the crowning moment of glory of my entire life. "The party never dies, with Chris," Terrah says. And yet, I wonder as I go to bed at almost two a.m. (2:00), at what cost? Will they invite me back every weekend, only to consistently deprive me of the ability to form a coherent thought or write an engaging blog post the following day? As with the hikes, I wonder if the tradeoff is worth it.
I wonder something else too. How is it that tonight/this morning I had seven to nine people (it fluctuated) rolling on the floor laughing for two and a half hours, yet all I can elicit from my crush is an occasional smile or giggle? Perhaps the one truly laughing at me is God.
Possibly necessary clarification to last week's post: I don't find Betty and Tamsen annoying. I think they're cute and funny. But I don't find Willie Scott, Navi, Jar Jar Binks, L3-37, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez annoying either, so take my opinion with a proverbial grain of salt.
Moving on, I got this piece of paper this week. To be precise, I walked into my previous apartment and it was sitting on the counter so I stole it.
Finally I have confirmation that I didn't flunk anything last semester. I wasn't man enough to check, but I had my concerns about Magical Realism and Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing. I just wasn't smart enough for Magical Realism, and also I stopped participating after the first day when half my classmates laughed at my awkward phrasing of a comment. Of course the professor did nothing about it and instead penalized me for not wanting to talk anymore, because that's how life works. But Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing was another kind of hell altogether. I didn't think it would be. I did pretty well in normal Creative Nonfiction Writing. Russ told me that my voice was unique enough to make him willing to read just about anything I write, that my essay "Ass Burgers" was one of his favorites of the term, and that I should strongly consider expanding it into a full-length memoir. Of course I also got plenty of constructive criticism because that was the point of the class, and I took it gracefully. I'm not afraid of criticism. I want to improve the shortcomings that I know exist in my writing, so I like it when people point them out.
The Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing class was a different beast altogether. Jennifer decided we were all going to write "flash nonfiction", which is two or three page essays where every word counts and there's a second, deeper meaning behind the story. Frankly, I think that sort of thing is pretentious more often than not. I put "deeper meanings" in my novel to make it more interesting, but they're subtle and nothing is really lost if somebody misses them. My novel's purpose first and foremost is to be an exciting adventure in space, period. And in nonfiction, I don't even have the freedom to make up events that serve a certain narrative. More to the point, this metaphorical stuff is not my native language. I don't even like metaphors. Similes are all right, but this concept of saying that one thing is another thing when it's not has always rubbed me the wrong way. I only get used to it with cliches that are so overused that nobody ever thinks about what the actual words of the metaphor literally mean (e.g. rubbing me the wrong way). Even those pissed me off when I was little. Why do you ask "Can I see that?" when you're already looking right at it, jerk?
The possibility of talking to the university's Disability Resource Center about my autism had been presented to me, but I didn't go through with it because I didn't think of it as a disability in the context of academic stuff. It's mostly just a disability in making friends, being attractive, and getting an adequate amount of sleep at any point in my life. If I had thought about all the class participation I would be expected to do, I probably would have talked to the people. But I'm smart, and I'm usually a great writer in large part because of my autism, and I didn't see myself as having a disability that the university needed to address. I'm not used to writing garbage. I'm used to writing really good stuff that I'm really proud of until the next day when I'm sick of it and think it's garbage. In my attempts to fit the mold set out by this class that was completely disloyal to the way my brain works and anything I would ever write voluntarily, I wrote garbage. It wasn't great for my delicate millennial self-esteem.
Like Indiana Jones in "The Last Crusade", I faced three devices of lethal cunning. The first challenge was finding anecdotes from my life that could be condensed so briefly. Technically our essays didn't have to be about bad things, but that's what makes for compelling literature. I wrote about stuff like the time my parents' friends' daughter convinced me to help her pull all the limbs off a daddy-long-legs, the time I was alone with an older male relative and he whipped out his disco stick and exhorted me several times to suck it, and the time a girl I met online pretended to be in love with me because she thought we were both joking. The second challenge was thinking of deeper meanings that could be applied, and Jennifer assured us that an overarching theme would evolve for our chapbooks at the end. My overarching theme was that I'm insecure. The third challenge was deftly weaving these meanings in such a way as to enrich the essays without either being too subtle or insulting the reader's intelligence. I failed miserably at that. Nobody understood what I was going for in any of them.
My first workshopped essay was about the incident already related here. In addition to it being garbage, I made several stylistic choices that people didn't understand. I put in quirky details that I just thought were interesting, like the bridge over the St. Lawrence River that wobbled when we jumped on it, but people expected them to have relevance to the story and then they didn't. Okay, fine. I mentioned that my friend's house "once served as a bed and breakfast but now serves as a far more modern and permanent business: a video rental store." While this may not be a great joke even by my standards, I would certainly hope it's recognizeable as one, but a classmate felt the need to say that she didn't think a video rental store was a modern or permanent business. So there's an unwritten rule not to attempt humor in these serious artistic ventures. I put the whole work in present tense because that seemed to fit, because I wanted to write it from the perspective of idiot teenager me while only hinting that the increased wisdom and regret of adult me, and this led Jennifer to speculate out loud (in gentler terms, of course) that maybe I'm still a homophobe.
Going into detail about one of the friends who happened to be the weirdest friend I've ever had, without focusing the essay on him, was admittedly a huge mistake. Again, I thought his weirdness was just interesting, but it confused the crap out of people. Granted, this guy in person also confused the crap out of people. So I scrapped the original essay completely and wrote one about him instead, about how I hated him at first but then I realized he was a person with feelings too and it was really sweet. You can imagine, anyway, that in this workshop I felt eaten alive like in no workshop before and didn't feel like coming back to class ever. But I did because I didn't want to flunk, and eventually I noticed that the one person who knew me from a previous class, one where I was actually good, had messaged me afterward to say she didn't agree with all of the others' assessment and felt they had treated me unfairly, so that was nice of her. I'd screenshot the message if I could get back into Canvas, but I can't so you'll just have to decide whether I'm a trustworthy source.
I did write one essay, the night before the chapbook was due, that I don't think is garbage. Mind you, I'm not saying it's great, but I can read it without throwing up and I think it's the closest I ever came to the objective of the course. I may have slightly improved on this skill that I have little or no intention of ever consciously using again. At least enough to not flunk the class and be prevented from graduating, which is good enough for me.
My parents never let me have a Nintendo or a Playstation. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but I had enough trouble making friends already without being unable to participate in my church and school peers' conversations about the video games they played on the Nintendos and/or Playstations they all had. So it wasn't a small matter when we visited my grandparents one year and Aunt Laurel or Aunt Michelle – they're twins, so I don't remember which – asked if I wanted to use their Nintendo. I asked if they had any Legend of Zelda games. They said they did have one, and they put it in and the rest was history.
I'd only seen one Legend of Zelda game, “Majora's Mask”. The kid who owned it never offered to let me play, but I had so much fun just watching him that I fell in love with the series. Laurel's and Michelle's game was the prequel to it, “Ocarina of Time” – which, unknown to me then, is widely regarded as not only the best Zelda game, but one of the greatest video games of all time. Understandably so. It sucked me in just as much as the first. I played it every chance I got, trying to compensate for years' worth of missed opportunities in two weeks. Laurel and Michelle had to play for me half the time since I didn't know where to go and didn't dare take on the Bosses myself, but that was all right.
Link was the default name for the protagonist, but I named him Christor. I don't remember if there wasn't room for Christopher or if I just assumed there wasn't because there seldom was. Anyway, Christor started the game as a small, unassuming boy from the middle of nowhere. A silent protagonist, in fact, with no dialogue beyond grunts and shouts.
At one point in the game, Christor drew the Master Sword and opened up the doorway to the Sacred Realm where the sacred artifact, the Triforce, lay hidden. And suddenly he wasn't a kid anymore. He was too small to wield the Master Sword, so it put him to sleep for seven years. When he awoke, he was a ten-year-old in a seventeen-year-old body, forced to grow up too fast and emerge into a darkened world full of evil. Because it also turned out that his quest to stop Ganondorf from stealing the Triforce had enabled Ganondorf to steal the Triforce. Christor, the alleged hero, had royally screwed everything up. But it wasn't his fault. If only he hadn't listened to Zelda, Hyrule would have been in that mess.
Then there was a whole new quest, a much longer and more difficult one. The rules were the same, building off what he had learned in his trials as a child, but the puzzles got harder and the enemies got stronger. At least he'd had a chance to learn, to prepare before growing up. But could anything really prepare him for what he had to do? In any case, he must have been terrified. He must have lain awake at night sometimes, sweating and palpitating over the things he'd seen and experienced.
When all was said and done, though, Christor was significant. Christor made a difference. Christor saved Hyrule. And then Zelda, realizing that everything was her fault, sent him back in time to before he fell asleep, so he could live through the years that he'd missed. Since he never said anything, I never knew his thoughts on the matter. I wonder if he considered it a blessing to live time over, or if he worried about all the mistakes he would now have a chance to make. After his one big mistake that wasn't really his fault, he'd been safely out of harm's way for seven years. Now that would be undone.
Another side effect of this was that Ganondorf's reign was prevented (why didn't they just do that in the first place?) and people no longer remembered what Link had done for them. After all the countless hours he spent serving people and being a hero, he didn't even get to attend the victory celebration, and then nobody cared at all. As far as they were concerned, he was insignificant, even nonexistent.
I didn't think about all these implications while I was playing “Ocarina of Time” as a child, but I think about them now.
Ta-da! Notice how I tried to subtly manipulate you into feeling sorry for poor little me? Did it work?
So was this piece of paper "worth it"? Was it worth the seven and a half year wait, the change of majors, the leave of absence, the mornings I walked to campus at quarter to seven with ice in my hair, the mornings I got up even though I didn't want to be alive anymore, the loss of my scholarship after I spiraled into depression and stopped giving a ----about school, the suicide attempts, the tens of thousands of dollars of debt that I'll be stuck with for God knows how long, the research papers I wrote when I could have been doing literally anything else, the countless rejections large and small when I tried to build a social circle or get a date? Not really, no. Not when it turned out to be virtually useless because in today's economy I need a Masters' degree to be worth anything. But it's what I came for and now, after a ridiculously convoluted and circuitous journey, I have it. I guess it was worth the handful of really good enduring friendships I did get, and, oh yeah, I actually learned a few things. From my current major I learned how to be a better writer and from my previous major I learned how to explain to creationists that they're wrong.
Even though, given the state of my health, I don't anticipate living past my early forties, I don't mind having my own pace of adulting that's slower than almost everyone else's. It's not the absolute slowest. There were three people in Advanced Nonfiction Writing in their early thirties. And as far as I know they're still in school this semester while I'm not. But it's not a contest because individuality and stuff. And I don't even hate the prospect of graduate school anymore. I hope I can do it here, because nowhere else will do. After all these years I find myself truly, madly, deeply, hopelessly, consummately in love with the Ray B. West Building, Utah State University, and Logan Utah. I'm not cheating on any of them. They're like a Siamese triplet kind of deal. I wonder if graduate school will take another seven years? I was just thinking in terms of that one biblical story today, that if I had started working for a wife when I came to Utah, by this time I would have one and I would only need to work seven more years for the one I actually wanted. That's kind of a messed-up story when you think about it.
"The Sage of Darkness" has finished re-uploading and can be viewed here. The other two major Legend of Zelda fan films that were supposed to release this past fall have been delayed further. While this is of course a really really really big disappointment, it's also encouraging evidence that the respective creators are taking their time. In both cases filming wrapped years ago, so there's little or no doubt that they will be completed eventually. It's just a lot of editing and post-production work that takes a while for amateur filmmakers who are also stuck with obnoxious competing obligations like "jobs" and "families", and I want them to do it well so I can be patient. In the meantime, this jaw-dropping gem from my other favorite franchise popped up out of nowhere:
The second, even more ambitious episode is already in the works:
As everyone knows, "Darth Maul: Apprentice" is the greatest Star Wars fan film of all time, and here it is for good measure. I thought it destined to hold that title forever. But if the second episode of "Vader" lives up to the precedent set by the first and the ambitions laid out for it, then the series will achieve the impossible and snatch that title away. It will have, in addition to the costuming and stunts and special effects, more of an actual storyline - not that "Darth Maul: Apprentice" suffers in the slightest for its thin story, but "Vader" looks to be more well-rounded. So here's another thing to look forward to and distract myself from the crappy real world that I live in.
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- Amelia Whitlock
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C. Randall Nicholson
This is where I occasionally rant about life, the universe, and/or everything. I'm a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate me without guilt, but I'm also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual.