Monday, May 31, 2010

On the "Show, Don't Tell" Rule: You Just Showed Me You're An Idiot

   There's a rule in writing called "show, don't tell."  Typically this is construed to mean that an author shouldn't pull a Jane Austen and tell his readers that his character is demure and polite and good-looking; he should put them in an action sequence that demonstrates this.  Hemingway was a badass at this: in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," he never comes out and says that Francis Macomber was a coward.  He doesn't even show him doing something cowardly; instead, what you hear is Francis' wife haranguing him about backing down from shooting a lion the day before.  This way, not only do you know that Francis did something cowardly, you also get to find out what his wife thinks of that.
   Lately, I've come to believe this rule can be applied to almost all areas of a story, and not just to characterization.  Basically the rule is one of physicality: the emotional terrain should be reflected in the physical setting (see "Hills Like White Elephants" and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance); the emotional states of the characters should be reflected in said characters' physical bodies (see Twilight); the overall message of the story should be reflected in the physical events (read: plot) of the story (see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest); the personalities of the characters should be reflected in the physical actions and speech of those characters (see any Hemingway story ever); and, even, the overall emotional resonance of the story should be reflected in the physical language with which it's told (see The Satanic Verses). And today, on the plane back from New York, I read a book that totally hammered this home in an appalling way:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
   I liked this book a lot--until the last five pages, where it devolved into a big fat mess of contradicting its own message.  That's painful to me.  That's like meeting the man of your dreams, raising a family with him, and then finding out twelve years later he was a bigamist and was leading a double life the whole time.
   That said, you shouldn't worry about the fact that I'm going to spoil the ending, because the ending SUCKS and betrays everything you thought you knew about the intention of the novel.  And the worst part is, I don't think the author did it on purpose.
   Bone to pick #1:  I hate it when people who aren't geniuses try to write from the point of view of characters who are.  Your characters can only be as smart as you are.  If you are wondering whether or not you can pull this off, I'll tell you right now the answer is a big fat NO.  Don't mention the level of intelligence of your characters.  Just make them what they are; if they're geniuses, people will notice without you having to tell them.  And let me just tell you, Ms. Barbery, nobody--f*cking NOBODY--sits down to read Kant for fun. I don't care how many clever schemes you have about eating plums, or whatever the hell that was about, Kant is a bitch to read no matter how smart you are.  He doesn't have beautiful prose.  He needed a g*ddamn editor, and he also needed to stop inventing terms like "the categorical imperative" when what he actually meant was "logically derived version of the golden rule."  So however genius-y your character is, she still doesn't sit down to read Kant like it's this week's New York Times.  Especially translated into French.
   A large section of this book's space was dedicated to the contemplation of class values.  I loved this about the book.  This is something Americans don't think about enough, as a whole, and which deserves to be talked about, and all in all it was a great thematic message to write a book around.  But basically, what happens is that this incredibly intelligent woman has been hiding her intelligence, and the education she provided to herself, for her whole life, because she equates education with the upper class, and because she learned a nasty lesson when she was younger that trying to be part of the upper class when you are not will get you killed, or at least circumstantially punished.
   But over the course of the book, this highly self-educated lower-class woman forms a friendship with a highly-educated upper-class man, who takes her out to dinner one night to inform her that her fate is of her own choosing, and that what happened a long time ago will not necessarily happen again.
   Then, the next day, she dies.
   Yes.  We have just spent two hundred pages learning that the American Dream is a reality, that you can transcend what appears to be the fate of your upbringing through education and sheer willpower, and then our dear Muriel Barbery circumstantially punishes the woman with a brutal death-by-semi
              without realizing she just violated the entire premise of the novel.
   Honestly, I would have been fine with the idea, had I believed that the message of inevitability of class circumstance was really her message.  
   I could have handled that.
   But then, the little rich thirteen-year-old genius who had also befriended our dear self-educated lower-class woman decides not to kill herself because, as she learns from the death of said self-educated lower-class woman, there are moments of permanent beauty within transience.
   The woman just got beamed by a delivery truck after attempting to discard her lower-class value beliefs, and I'm expected to think that what the genius girl gains from this event is the knowledge that human beings actually can transcend both their limiting beliefs and their circumstances?
    I think the genius thirteen-year-old might have noticed that, in fact, exactly what our lower-class woman believed (that you will be punished for class transgressions) came true.  In which case, she probably would have offed herself.
   Reason number thirteen gazillion why your characters can't be smarter than you: you will end up writing what you want to happen, instead of what actually happened based on the physicality of your inventions.  Once you set that ball rolling you will be racing to keep up.
  So, in summation, folks:  Show, don't tell, and I won't have to toss your book in the bin on the way out of the terminal.

Why I Used to Be Afraid of Flying, and I'm (Almost) Not Anymore

  Sometime during my freshman year of college I developed a nearly debilitating fear of flying. I would sit for entire flights in a cold sweat—any time there was the slightest bit of turbulence I would grip the seat handles and panic, and bad weather had me practically writhing on the floor in agony. I would sit, staring out the window, completely pale, for the entire length of a flight, wishing for it to be over. I couldn't read, or listen to music, because I was so panicked I couldn't focus enough to distract myself.
   My mother is also terrified of flying, and she claims it's a control issue—that she can't handle a complete stranger being in charge of where she is going and how safely she gets there, and also that the claustrophobia of being confined in a small space with three hundred strangers was just too much to bear.
   These reasons, while enlightening, didn't ever strike me as familiar. I played with all kinds of ideas trying to figure out where it had come from—general fear of death projected onto plane flights, other stressful emotions saved up until I could release them all at once, hypersensitivity to loud noises and motion. I even blamed it on ex-boyfriend #2, and general male rejection, since it had started during our relationship, and prior to that I had very much enjoyed flying.
  Then I read Byron Katie's “Loving What Is,” in which she claims that all unhappiness is simply interpretation—that you can tell yourself whatever story you want, so why not tell yourself a happy one?—and directs people to isolate these negative thoughts, ask themselves four questions about them in order to determine the truthfulness of the thoughts, and finally to invert them.
So during a four-hour plane ride to Boston, with nothing else to do, or to distract me, I decided to try to figure out which thought it was that was making me so unhappy—and I found it.
   The thought was, “I don't want to be here.” Clearly I did want to be there, because I was on the plane. I wanted to go wherever I was going, and I wanted to go there the fastest way possible, so clearly I wanted to be on the plane. So why did I think I didn't want to be there? 
  Now, I can list probably a hundred things that totally suck about flying. Security sucks, the food sucks, the interior decorating sucks, sitting for the whole length of the flight sucks, turbulence sucks, the fact that if something goes wrong you're totally f*cked sucks, the sitting next to complete strangers sucks, the recirculated air sucks, etc., etc., etc. Everyone complains about these things. No one likes flying.
   But you know what doesn't suck? You are flying. The human mind, in all of its glory, has managed to invent and build a structure that can carry three hundred people or more through the air indefinitely—we, the infinitely awkward, fragile, unbalanced bipedal creatures that we are, can f*cking fly.
   Then it occurred to me that the reason I'm afraid of flying is actually because I think flying is one of the most amazing things in the world.
  Which sounds insane, until you put it in context.
   I started to feel afraid of flying when I got to college, and started dating the atrocious men that I date. Which means that I started to feel afraid of flying when I began to feel afraid of what other people would think of me, when I began to worry about whether or not the things I wanted to do with my life were acceptable, or viable, or a variety of other things that don't matter. I started to feel afraid of flying when I started to feel afraid of expressing myself, for fear of rejection; when I realized that other people laugh at enthusiasm. I started to feel afraid of flying around the time I quit dancing. I started to feel afraid of flying when I realized that other people think flying is boring. My psyche was so insistent on the idea that it wasn't boring that it would rather put me in a panicked cold sweat for four hours than buckle under to the dullness of a universe where I could sleep through that kind of miracle.
   So f*ck you, universe, and your newspapers, and your angry foot-tapping, and your glaring at your watches, and your bitching about the fact that it's going to take five hours to travel three thousand miles instead of the promised four, and your sleeping through something as incredible as flying—f*ck you and your sneering at the moments that are the most beautiful, your sarcastic comments about the treasures of others, and the way you don't make eye contact on the escalator. I like flying, and you can kiss my ass.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Step-by-Step Guide to De-Stressing, Part III

47.  Wake up and realize you have to go home.
48.  Feel your lungs tighten into a giant knot.
49.  Enjoy the musical sounds of a puking cat.
50.  Make crepes for Terribly Clever Friend and Neuroscientist Husband.
51.  Pack.
52.  Stop by Neuroscientist Husband's work to drop off keys to their apartment and become overwhelmed by the magnitude of how awesome his research is, because his lab is a) overlooking the bluffs right next to Torrey Pines, b) researching really cool stuff you can barely understand even though you have a college degree, c) one of the most beautifully symmetrical buildings you've ever seen, d) hosting a Chihuly exhibit.
53.  Take Neuroscientist Husband's suggestion and walk down to the bluffs area, where you stand and stare at the ocean for nearly half an hour before conceding to the fact that you may have to go home and feed your cat.
54.  Drive six hours back home and feel tension slowly creep back into your neck muscles with every mile.
55.  Spend two days at home/work and then take a redeye flight to your hometown near Buffalo via Atlanta.
56.  Feel the knot in your chest loosen immediately after takeoff.
57.  Realize that it's about to be your birthday, that you have way too many grey hairs considering you've got six years left until thirty, you sure as sh*t needed a vacation, and maybe it's time to do a little reprioritizing--like, maybe, putting yourself first.
58.  Watch sun create a color spectrum against the night sky as it comes up and wonder why you ever worry about anything.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Step-by-Step Guide to De-stressing, cont'd

26. Wake up at nine. Realize simultaneously that a) you are super well-rested and b) you don't pay nearly enough attention to your body, or the fact that your heart beats seventy times every minute to keep it alive, or in general the fact that it exists.
27. Stretch and get out of bed.
28. Realize you don't know how to use a french press and look up the nearest Starbucks.
29. Discover that the nearest Starbucks is, in fact, within walking distance.
30. Walk there.
31. Spend an entire forty-five minutes thinking about nothing except the fact that your body exists and is currently moving and drinking a delicious chai latte on a cloudy beachy kind of day.
32. Get back to apartment; greet Terribly Clever Friend as she rolls out of bed around ten-thirty.
33. Spend two or three hours talking to Terribly Clever Friend and finishing off the expensive cheeses and corn salsa from the day before.
34. Decide to go to beach.
35. Find decent parking by the Pacific Beach Library.
36. Stop in at an organic pet food shop that Terribly Clever Friend notices; listen to Super Cute Employee enumerate the virtues of ground turkey and non-Proctor-and-Gamble-produced pet foods for Terribly Clever Friend's hyper-allergic cat (note: hyper-allergic cat is, strangely enough, not the puking one).
37. Drag Terribly Clever Friend into a Buffalo Exchange and help her pick out new jeans; find an oversized sweatshirt with a Shakespeare quote on it that is a near-exact replica of the sweatshirt your dad let you wear during the family reunion at Lake Tahoe when you were three and is now sitting in your closet full of holes and paint stains, twenty years later; immediately buy said sweatshirt and do a mental heel-click even though Terribly Clever Friend is kind of grossed out by the fact that the Shakespearian image on the sweatshirt has had his eyes gouged out. Also purchase brown suede shoes with orange and red flowers stitched on them.
38. Go to the beach and sit there in your new sweatshirt and jeans because you are from Arizona and it is seventy degrees out, which we all know is, like, Antarctic; for once do not have a book on your hand and just sit there and look at what is going on around you; namely, clouds, and waves, and good-looking people throwing footballs and frisbees, and little kids falling into the freezing cold ocean and shrieking.
39. Take walk by yourself up and down the beach; convince Antarctically-acclimatized Terribly Clever Friend to go get burritos at La Playa Taco Shop.
40. Go back to Terribly Clever Friend's place, where her Neuroscientist Husband opens the door, because he is back from his neuroscientist gathering where they did skits making neuroscience-y jokes about their neuroscience professors and laughed. Neuroscientistically.
41. Take a shower and clog the drain. Do not realize until the next morning that you just didn't pull the shower switch hard enough and so there is water coming out of the bathtub faucet as well as the showerhead. Worry that you are a terrible houseguest who breaks everything.
42. Pick out outfit and put on awesome new shoes; say out loud that you are not sure if the shoes work with your shirt. Have Terribly Clever Friend tell you to go with your impulses. Realize that you have developed your self-control to a level that is entirely unnecessary just to expedite interactions with other humans who don't give a shit anyway, and change your shirt.
43. Go with Terribly Clever Friend and Neuroscientist Husband to their favorite bar, where everyone is dressed in kicky hats and fleece pullovers and there are tap handles hanging from the ceiling. Drink delicious beer and eat delicious cheese fries with jalapenos and fake bacon; talk them into buying ice cream and smoking hookah afterwards.
44. Have Terribly Sciency and Serious and Interesting Intellectual conversations over hookah and ice cream with Terribly Clever Friend and Neuroscientist Husband; contemplate moving to San Diego and smelling the ocean for rest of life. Wonder if a kicky hat is mandatory for California citizenship.
45. Realize that you managed to spend a whole day without actually knowing what time it was.
46. Rejoice, and go to bed.

To be continued.

A Step-by-Step Guide to De-stressing

1. Leave immediately after work on Friday, whether or not you actually got everything done that you needed to. One day the sun is going to implode and no one will give a f*ck where you put that receipt. Unfortunately for you, it won't implode before Monday, so it might matter, but oh well.
2. Gold Bar is on the way to the freeway. Go get a dirty iced chai, size uber.
3. Buy an ipod hookup for your car so that you can finally listen to that Jakob Dylan album that he did with Neko Case.
4. Spend the next six hours working on increasing your vocal range.
5. Have your terribly clever friend send you a text saying, "Fair warning: I was trying to decide how presentable I should be and erred on the side of muumuu." Laugh hysterically and praise God that you have intelligent company to spend the weekend with.
6. Arrive at house and hug said Terribly Clever Friend.
7. Discover a wickedly spicy and delicious vegetarian black bean soup on the stove. Have Terribly Clever Friend put cheese on it, and then eat two bowls so that your eyes water.
8. Light your hookah.
9. Have Terribly Clever Friend continue to say terribly clever things until two in the morning. Begin feeling nominally like a human being.
10. Go to bed.
11. Wake up at eight-thirty to sound of cat puking on the desk.
12. Clean up cat puke, laugh delightedly because cleaning up cat puke can't possibly bother you when you can smell the ocean breeze coming through your window, and go back to bed until eleven-thirty.
13. Upon waking, discover that you slept through an earthquake, realize that you were super stressed out by the idea, and now it's funny.
13. Get dressed in most comfortable outfit ever and drive out to a vineyard.
14. Stop at Trader Joe's on the way and buy delicious corn salsa and expensive cheeses.
15. Sit outside at a picnic table and drink wine and eat delicious corn salsa and expensive cheeses. And strawberries.
16. Have Terribly Clever Friend continue to say terribly clever things; then go for a walk and let Terribly Clever Friend take interesting pictures of you and of the Belgian Draft Horses that the vineyard people are rehabilitating. Consider becoming a Belgian Draft Horse.
17. Take the scenic route back to Terribly Clever Friend's house and get dressed to go out to mustache/wig party.
18. Draw a moustache on your index finger in sharpie because you don't have an actual moustache.
19. Smoke hookah.
20. Drive with Terribly Clever Friend, who is wearing a long blonde Marilyn-Monroe-esque wig, to a hole-in-the-wall club to meet her coworkers for said mustache party, and laugh when they don't recognize her as a blonde.
21. Feel slightly uncomfortable because you realize you don't know anyone and also you haven't danced in about eight years.
22. Drink two cosmopolitans. Stop feeling uncomfortable.
23. Dance.
24. Leave club grinning stupidly, drenched in sweat, and walking slightly crooked.
25. Go back to bed.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sorry, I Have to Vent

So, I know that if I'm repeatedly getting personalized rejection letters from editors, with specific comments on what I'm doing right/wrong, then I'm very, very close to publication.
I know that the format these letters are taking ("Your dialogue is good, we love the characters, your style is good, you have a way with words, but...") is a good sign.
I know that it's really just a matter of making a few small corrections, or writing just one more story, or even just finding the right magazine.
I will even readily admit that some of the advice I've been given via rejection letter has been immensely helpful, and that I am grateful for it.
I know that every writer has to go through this; that On the Road was shopped around for seven years before someone agreed to publish it, and that one publisher actually had the balls to say, “Kerouac does have enormous talent of a very special kind. But this is not a well made novel, nor a saleable one nor even, I think, a good one. His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly expresses the feverish travels, geographically and mentally, of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.” (Article here).
I know that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
I also know that the reason I write is because it is a never-ending trip, that there is always somewhere else to go, and that even if I win like fourteen Nobel Prizes and the undying adoration of Oprah, I can always, always, always get better. I know that's what I love about it.
Really, I do know these things.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SB 1070 Doesn't Suck As Much As You Think It Does; or, My Only Defense of Utilitarianism

I suppose it's time to tackle the whole "Arizona-passing-the-sh*ttiest-laws-ever" problem, seeing as how I am from Arizona, and have a blog, and bloggers are clearly the underestimated source of solutions to all the world's problems. Me being a blogger without a perfectly viable solution to war, famine, and racist bullsh*t would be like me being a philosophy major without a job.
Firstly, I'd like to correct one misconception that the other 49 states seem to have:
The governor passed these stupid, stupid laws, and we did not even vote for our governor. Obama totally stole our kick-ass governor Janet Napolitano and made her director of Homeland Security, leaving us high and dry with only our non-college-graduate lieutenant governor Jan Brewer.
So technically, this is Obama's fault.
Not that I want him to get fired, or anything. I think he's okay. But he could, like, fix this. Or give us back our governor.

Secondly (Oh, God, I'm totally going to get skewered for this), this too shall pass. Yes, it sucks. Yes, our state tends towards the side of racist bigotry. Yes, if you inserted the word "black" everywhere that the term "illegal immigrant" appears, Jesse Jackson would be having Arizona's head for dinner. But I'm not totally convinced that these horrible, horrible laws are really a bad thing.
Because now our racism is out in the open.
Now people can talk about it. Now people have to defend it. Now these ridiculous laws that ban ethnic studies courses and give way too much power to law enforcement will have to go before the courts of law. I guess I just feel like it was way worse when we looked like an ideal state with a good handle on the melting pot and our Mexican border, but secretly we elected officials with a loose interpretation of the law and looked the other way as long as they were catching "illegals." Before last year, nobody knew that we practically have a caste system, and that anyone who even resembles a Mexican gets treated like a second-class citizen, because the disparity in income levels and education is enormous (side note: I really think this is actually a class issue, not a race issue; there's a reason that these laws went into effect while we're in a recession. But that's a post for a different day). But now that we've actually put this into law, all it's going to take is a couple of decent lawsuits and these suckers will get smacked down by any judge with a competent grasp of the United States' legal system.
Examples of lawsuits that should occur in order to incite said smackdown:
My friend, who is a native of the United States, but looks like he isn't, works for NASA and has some kind of ridiculous security clearance by the United States. Wouldn't it be awesome if he got pulled over in AZ and didn't have his papers on him (which, btw, is something I have beef about--it's not like I keep my freaking birth certificate on me, or my social security card. I don't have papers, because I'm a citizen. So how is this crap going to work? Anyway--) and then sued for racial discrimination and they decided that the law wasn't constitutional?
The ban on ethnic studies courses also applies to schools on Indian reservations. Wouldn't it be awesome if they sued because now they can't study their own history, and some judge decided that, after all we have taken from them, we probably shouldn't take their culture, too? Ethnic studies courses for schools on reservations are federally funded. I'm pretty sure the claim that it incites resentment against the government of the United States isn't going to hold up in court. Know what would really incite resentment? HIDING THE FACTS ABOUT HOW WE FOUNDED THIS COUNTRY AND THEN REFUSING TO ALLOW THE DESCENDANTS OF THE PEOPLE WE TOTALLY F*CKED TO LEARN THE TRUTH.
Openness and honesty are always superior to evasion and lies. This is why we have the First Amendment. This is why I think these laws might, in the long, run, not be the worst thing ever. Talking about things is important; owning up to prejudice and resentment are just as important as, if not more important than, giving lip service to rights and equality. This is the reason everyone wants to live here so badly, because we allow people to do that here! (Also, our flat screen TVs are pretty bangin'.) Seriously, people. Hasn't anybody read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty? (Oh, right, we have flat screens. I remember.) This reminds me of the time that my brother refused to say the pledge of allegiance, and his homeroom teacher took him out and tongue-lashed him for not paying respect to people who died for his freedoms. My brother, already a rhetorical genius at the age of fifteen, responded with, "I'm pretty sure they died so I don't have to say the pledge of allegiance if I don't want to." (Seriously, I've never understood that argument. "People died to protect your freedom, so please don't use it. It's rude.")
So, go ahead, boycott us. I think that's awesome! That's exactly what you should do, what you have the right to do. And we're going to go ahead and be racist pricks, because we can, until the justice system points out that we're not exactly in line with constitutional principles of equality and innocence until proven guilty and freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination based on things like race or religion or, you know, just the fact that you're poor. At which point we will fix our deviant ways and get with the equality.
Lastly, can I just say that anybody who wants to walk across the f*cking desert in the middle of July with no water and no shade just to get to the United States where they can work a sh*tty job for ten hours a day, seven days a week, should probably be allowed to stay here? I mean, I thought we valued hard work and rugged individualism, here. Let's cut these kids a break.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Problem of Assumption

One thing I like to talk about with my kiddos when I'm out on an outreach is the problem of induction. To be fair, typically these kids are in like fourth or fifth grade, so I don't call it that, but when I talk about the scientific method I also talk about the fallibility of science as a method for knowledge. Usually, I say it like this:
"If you ask ten people what their favorite ice cream is, and all ten of them say 'vanilla,' is it safe to claim that one hundred percent of people like vanilla ice cream the best?"
"No," they usually chorus.
"What if you ask a hundred thousand people, and they all say they like vanilla? Is that better?"
"Yes," they usually chorus.
"Now here's the problem," I usually say. "Can you say that all people like vanilla ice cream the best?"
There is usually some disagreement about this.
"Is there a chance that there is one person in the world who doesn't like vanilla ice cream?"
"Oh," they usually say. "Yes."
"Now," I usually say, and rub my hands together gleefully, unless I have a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks, in which case I usually pause significantly and sip from it. "What if you test everyone in the world, and every single person says they like vanilla ice cream the best? Is it safe to say it then?"
Usually, some kids have caught on and say no, but usually they mostly say, "Yes."
"Is there a chance that you have made a mistake, and you wrote an answer down wrong?"
"Yes," they admit.
"Is there a chance that someday, someone will be born who likes chocolate ice cream better?"
"So can you ever know anything one hundred percent for sure?"
"No," they say.
"Does that freak you out at all?"
They usually think about this, and one of them usually says, "A little bit."

It is kind of unsettling, epistemologically speaking. But today I realized that the ability to admit that there is always a chance I could be wrong is possibly the most valuable skill I have gained.
Trusting myself, and my feelings, can sometimes be a good thing, but not always. Taking the time to think about myself and my feelings, and to evaluate them with the possibility in mind that I could be wrong is a good thing way more often, and rarely ever a bad thing.
For a long time, I think I went into most situations assuming I was wrong, which is way different. I think assuming yourself to be mistaken is a bad thing, because it discounts the possibility that other people can be wrong, or that your skills and knowledge are at least equal to, if not better than, other people's. If you are most often accurate in assuming you are wrong, you should probably take a year off and go work on your skill set with a talented shrink. Assuming you are wrong is jumping to conclusions (God, will we ever be able to reclaim that cliche from Office Space? I want it back). Admitting to the possibility that you could be wrong, and taking the time to explore that possibility, is leaving yourself open to all outcomes. It is the habit of never failing to question. It is good science.
But assuming you are wrong is deciding on an outcome beforehand, and it is just as bad as assuming you are right. It leaves no room for possibilities. In most human situations, where we are all as clueless and wind-tossed as the baby Perseus, it is not more likely that anybody is right, but it is very likely that somebody is wrong, and just as likely that it's you as someone else.
It's been good that I've learned to hold my own opinions and needs and skills in higher esteem; but I think lately I've been letting that go a little too far. I've been too judgmental, too sure of myself. And I think I need to go back to being a scientist, and remember to always reevaluate, however long it takes, and however painful it is to me to admit of the possibility of being mistaken. I need to remember to always ask the question.
Besides, I like cookies 'n' cream the best.

Love Stories, and the Hedonists Who Write Them

I was rereading my previous post in order to check for grammar mistakes, and I got to the part where I was complaining about how Pride and Prejudice totally bores me and then offered possible replacements for The Moste Epic Love Story of All Time, when I realized that neither Persuasion or The Hero and the Crown really does it for me.
I really like Persuasion. It's very realistic. I think it's the best Jane Austen novel because the author manages to keep her nose out of her characters' business. But it's not something I ever want to have happen to me. I can't construct a daydream around the plotline of Persuasion.
Same with The Hero and the Crown. I do really like that one, also, and I adore the male lead, Tor, but the love story in The Hero and the Crown suffers from the same lack of attention as the love stories in most adventure novels; it is secondary to the hero or heroine's task, and so, again, it is not something I can construct a fantasy around.
"Okay," I thought, "So it's not Persuasion or The Hero and the Crown. What is it?" I stared at that stupid webpage for ten minutes and couldn't think of any.
I don't have a favorite love story.
I have hundreds of books in my apartment. I have re-read almost all of them multiple times. I read three or four books a week. I taught myself to read when I was three years old using books on tape. Stories are in my blood. I love stories possibly more than I love my family (no offense. It's really a coin-toss situation). The only thing I really want to do with the rest of my life is write stories so other people can love them, too. How is it that I cannot think of one single story that epitomizes how I feel about romantic relationships?
Twilight was good. It was a fairly impressive story. But I wouldn't want to spend the rest of eternity liplocked with either Jacob or Edward. (I'm totally on team Jacob, since he actually has a sense of humor, but still. Not really doin it for me.) Nor would being a vampire be all that awesome. Or living in Forks, Washington. I'm from Buffalo; I've had enough precipitation.
I can think of characters I'm kind of in love with. Marcus Didius Falco, from Lindsey Davis's series about an informer in ancient Rome. He's pretty devastatingly loveable. Gregory House. Also right up my alley, blue eyes and all. But they are heroes in mystery stories, and women are secondary plotlines. I would like to be the plotline, in my epic love story. I would like to be the mystery.
The only love scene that repeatedly makes me grin stupidly is the one from Sense and Sensibility--the movie--where Edward (man, there's lots of Edwards in this romantic business, huh?), who has, throughout all the heartrending events of 18th-century-rich-people-land("Ohmigod! We have to move to a cottage! And we can only take two servants!"), stuck by the woman he had been secretly engaged to for four years, shows up to visit Elinor and tells her that his fiancee has rather conveniently fallen in love with his brother. He says, "I met Lucy when I was very young," and proceeds to declare his undying love for Elinor, who promptly hyperventilates after her year-and-a-half of holding it all inside and telling no one.
I like that scene.
It's not really like that in the book. Sense and Sensibility bores me, especially because Jane Austen is a master of telling and not showing, and skips over all the good stuff, like dialogue, or action, when getting into people's personal lives. Also because in the book Elinor is pretty sure that Edward does love her, but in the movie she has no idea; and finally because in the movie Edward's fiancee is kind of sweet and clueless, and in the book she's a conniving b*tch, but I think it's way more interesting if the other woman is also worth marrying, and the man picks the heroine instead anyway.
I can't think of another story quite like that one.
Maybe The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It's still not the main plotline, but it's a major one: the perfectly responsible but also frustrating and energetic Nat keeps showing up at all the right times, and when Kit realizes she's in love with him it's the middle of winter and she has to wait all spring before he sails back up the East Coast from Barbados. She starts going to the docks every day to see if he's there and when he finally shows up she hikes up her skirts and sprints down the dock before he even sees her.
I guess what I like are love stories with delayed reaction times. I like stories where someone has to sit on their passion for a year or so before they can do anything about it; not just before they realize it but before they find themselves in the circumstantial/social/geographic position to say anything at all. That's why the heroic tales are running a close second; I don't like the secondary importance of the love story, but I do like that circumstances keep them from even addressing the issue for pretty much the whole book. Why is that? Why is that interesting to me? Is that interesting to anyone else?
And don't try to tell me When Harry Met Sally counts under this category, because it doesn't. First of all, Billy Crystal is so not attractive, and secondly, it's not like they were both in love with each other and just had to wait to say so. It took them like seven years to even figure it out. Boring. Stupid people aren't sexy.
I think the Delayed Reaction Time Love Story is a very rare plotline, as well, so maybe that has something to do with what I like about it. I mean, of all the books I've ever read, I can only come up with two examples of this plotline, and one of them is kind of weak. Are there any books with plotlines like that that I'm totally missing? Turn me on to them, fast!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Grass is Green on My Side, B*tches

So, I'm going through one of those phases where I get to spend a lot of time by myself.
You know the kind--where most or all of your friends (Love you, Meg!) suddenly seem to think you have died, or perhaps just that you are a total bitch, or maybe even only that you are way super busy; when in fact you are at home sitting on your ass wishing your friends wanted to do stuff. The kind where you have absolutely no dates lined up, haven't had a decent one in months, and can see the rest of your sexual life as one long, dark, tunnel of gloom and crazy-cat-lady-ness. The kind where, when you call your grandmother to chat for the first time in a while, she doesn't answer or call you back, and your mother has to explain to you that she is down in Arkansas with your aunt doing lots of fun shopping and playing with her other grandkids. The kind where the aerospace engineer you are casually and carefully trying to date freaks out on you because you tried to explain the difference between inductive and deductive logic, tells you that science is infallible and you can go f*ck yourself, and you dump him on the spot and spend the next few weeks irrationally hating gross couple-y love songs. (Seriously, these things happen to me.)
At first this kind of bothered me. Okay, it bothered me a lot. Okay, it bothered me enough that I dropped the f-bomb on the phone with my mother when she tried to give me some advice and I thought she was talking about how all of my friends had disappeared.
Then--maybe it was yesterday, or the day before--I decided I was just going to like it. As an introvert, having a whole lot of time to myself isn't really that awful, and only two or three posts ago I was going on and on about not having enough time to do the things I want to do. I suppose that if I had chosen an area of my life from which to steal some time for myself, it wouldn't have been the "friendship" or the "dating" area, but hey, whatever. Beggars can't be choosers.
And this made me think about just how much we take for granted, all the time.
No one likes being miserable. I have been so grumpy for the past couple of weeks, when really I should be pretty happy that I finally got some time to myself, like I wanted. And there I was feeling crappy about getting exactly what I wished for! I always hated the book Bridget Jones' Diary for that exact reason: Bridget spends all of her terrifically witty English time bitching about not having a boyfriend, and then when she does all she does is complain about him, and then when he dumps her she goes back to bitching about not having one--and meanwhile, all of her friends who have relationships are crying about those. Don't they have anything else to worry about? Isn't there anything nice about having another person sleep in the same bed as you? Is it mandatory that they have to complete you fully as a person, in exactly the same way as Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (also, I totally do not understand the obsession with that book. It bores me. Persuasion is so much better, but if we want to go with totally epic love stories, read The Hero and the Crown) did for Elizabeth? Can't everyone just be happy with the fact that someone loves them?
And, similarly, can't I just be happy with the fact that, for now, I don't have that, or the millions of obligations that go with it? No one else leaves his dirty dishes in my sink, or leaves the toilet seat up, or makes vaguely disparaging jokes about my cat, or the fact that I'm reading the Twilight series. I don't have to show up at anyone's house when they're having a bad day when all I want to do is take a bath and do some yoga. No one sends me their stupid essays on pro wrestling, and if they do, I can just delete them, instead of pretending to be impressed by their questionable mental prowess. I can go away for the weekend whenever I actually have a free weekend, and I can hang out with whoever I want. I can do whatever I want. Isn't that great? Won't I kind of miss this when I do have someone who leaves his socks everywhere? Won't that be what I'm complaining about then? God, let me never end up like Bridget Jones. I want to thoroughly enjoy being single, so that, when I am not, I can thoroughly enjoy that too, and not be kicking myself over not appreciating my freedom. Spare me from a midlife crisis.
My twenty-fourth birthday is coming up, and I can do whatever I want to celebrate it. I can fly home for the weekend, or stay in and read novels, or go out and have a beer with one of the friends I still have. If I want to have a Wiccan ceremony in my condominium's pool wearing nothing but a tea cozy, I can (at least until the cops show up). And now I have time to devote to all of those Things I Want To Do.
So here is day one of Appreciating What I Have When I Have It, Rather Than Later.
And, by the way, science is totally fallible. That's the motherf*cking point. Science can't "prove" anything, it can only gather evidence that supports a conclusion, and if you manage to find evidence that negates that same conclusion, you should probably correct your conclusion. Science is a method for learning, not a religion. And if you made it through four years of engineering without learning that, I fear for the future of our country.
God, I'm so glad I'm single.