“my head’s ringing from the love of the stars”

Well, this song slays me.

Here are the lyrics:

It’s coming to pass
My country’s coming apart
The whole thing’s becoming
Such a bumbling farce

Was that a pivotal historical moment
We just went stumbling past?
Here we are
Dancing in the rumbling dark
So come a little closer
Give me something to grasp
Give me your beautiful, crumbling heart

Another disaster
Catharsis
Another half-discarded mirage
Another mask slips

I face off with the physical
My head’s ringing from the love of the stars

There is too much pretence here
And too much depends on the fragile wages
And extortionate rents here

We’re working every dread day that is given us
Feeling like the person people meet
Really isn’t us
Like we’re going to buckle underneath the trouble
Like any minute now
The struggle’s going to finish us

And then we smile at all our friends

It’s hard
We got our heads down and our hackles up
Our back’s against the wall
I can feel you aching

None of this was written in stone
There is nothing we’re forbidden to know
And I can feel things changing

Even when I’m weak and I’m breaking
I’ll stand weeping at the train station
’Cause I can see your faces

There is so much peace to be found in people’s faces

I saw it roaring
I felt it clawing at my clothes like a grieving friend
It said

“There are no new beginnings
Until everybody sees that the old ways need to end”

But it’s hard to accept that we’re all one and the same flesh
Given the rampant divisions between oppressor and oppressed
But we are though

More empathy
Less greed
More respect

All I’ve got to say has already been said

I mean, you heard it from yourself
When you were lying in your bed and couldn’t sleep
Thinking couldn’t we be doing this
Differently?

I’m listening to every little whisper in the distance singing hymns
And I can
I can feel things
Changing

But it’s so hard
We got our heads down and our hackles up
Our back’s against the wall
I can feel your heart racing

None of this was written in stone
The current’s fast but the river moves slow
And I can feel things changing

Even when I’m weak and I’m breaking 
I stand weeping at the train station
’Cause I can see your faces
There is so much peace to be found in people’s faces

It’s not enough
To imagine we’ll be happy, when we’ve got enough stuff

All this stuff is blocking us

I’m neat with no chaser
I’m all spirit but I’m sinking

Beause the days are not days but strange symptoms

This age is our age
But our age is rage sinking to beige
And yes our children are brave
But their mission is vague

Now I don’t have the answers
But there are still things to say

I stare out at my city on another difficult day
And I scream inwardly
When will this change

I’m beginning to fade
But my sanity’s saved, ’cause I can see your faces
My sanity’s saved
’Cause I can see your faces

It’s hard
We got our heads down and our hackles up
Our back’s against the wall
I can feel your heart racing

None of this was written in stone
The current’s fast but the river moves slow
And I can feel things changing

Even when I’m weak and I’m breaking
I stand weeping at the train station
’Cause I can see your faces

I love people’s faces

valheim ho!

come at me, bro.

Like everyone else, I’m playing Valheim. Unlike many (but by no means all), I’m playing it alone. My go-to sandbox game buddy isn’t interested, and her husband’s friends, while willing, have an established all-male cohort I’m too tired to disrupt.

But, Valheim. It has the best kind of open world plot: the kind you can ignore. It has building. It has farming. It has taming animals, though there aren’t yet many different kinds of animals to tame. It has sunstars, weather, heaving seas and thick clouds of mist. It’s in alpha build still, and it has so far made the five Swedes who built it an estimated $28 million.

home sweet home
even the corpse runs are pretty

I don’t know why everyone is playing it (quarantine? snowed in?) and I don’t care. Alone, I have to solve problems differently than I would with a group or even my usual coterie of two, and the game’s sandboxy enough to allow it. No friends to help you shoot fire arrows at that summoned elder god? Dig a pit and line it with fire. Tired of getting charged by endless hordes of grey dwarves when you’re just trying to plant some carrots? Terraform a sweet earthwork and stick some sharpened stakes in there.

Valheim isn’t the most advanced sandbox out there. It certainly isn’t the most polished. But it’s huge and open and, though the weirdly WoW-ish, cartoony nature of your own character may be a turn off in the loading screen if, like me, you generally prefer a more agonized realism to your open-world visuals, it’s a good time.

Also there is fishing. Did I mention there is fishing? And BOATS. You can build DOCKS for your BOATS and go FISH from them. Truly we live in amazing times.

ki and tharin

Man, Lynn Flewelling’s Hidden Warrior keeps hitting me in the feels, now that people are getting older. That supposed-to-be-affirming talk from every queer person’s straight friend. “It doesn’t matter.” Heartfelt stare. “Not to me.” As long as it’s not me you fancy, is the implicit, inescapable, damning corollary. And of course you fancy the person telling you this. Of course you do. Always. And you’ll go to college 500 miles away to escape the shame of having been shot down like that the moment you came out.

And Tharin! We went from Generic Good Guy to Ride or Die in the space of maybe three pages. Goddamn. Flewelling’s description is sparser than I generally prefer, the gaps in time longer, but goddamn. It hurts.

well this is timely

I’m reading four books at the moment but there may have to be a fifth:

I loved Native Speaker. So much. I haven’t read the book that was nominated for the Pulitzer—I wasn’t aware there was one—but I want to read this. Talk to me about “the kind of company you get when people believe that having nice things and being a good person are achieved through the same means.” I am sick to death of them and I need you to skewer them in prose.

But also:

I was tucked in a new groove, this easy-time mixtape of apprenticeship and comradeship and partnership, of being happily equal and unequal at once, which I guess is as good as any definition of being comfortable with someone, which in turn makes you feel like you belong in the world and kindles the idea that the a little part of the world might someday belong to you.

This is why I’m such a doormat for anyone advising me in anything who pays me even a scrap of attention.

monday song and poem

Trying to be quiet in the morning so as not to wake anyone brings me probably the most non-work screen time I encounter all day. Today that brought me One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop, hailed by Maria Popova as the poem of the pandemic:

ONE ART
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

****

Listening to it read aloud on SoundCloud (because I am so literal I needed Popova’s context to understand the dismissal of loss was a kind of steeling of oneself, not a flippant, honest dismissal; I have always been this literal; I appreciate simile and metaphor but at my heart is a clodheadedness, a numbskulled desire to believe people’s words at face value, that I worry I will never escape) by no less than Amanda Palmer, whose poetic defense of the Boston Bomber I will never forgive, brought me, through ways I do not understand, to this song by Niamh Regen.

I don’t know why SoundCloud sent me here after a poem read aloud. Initially I scowled, worrying that husky syrupy voice was supposed to be another Norah Jones, which I did not want. But! There is brass in here. Also, that weighty hissing thump of bass is more of a femininity I don’t angrily brush off, seeking distance. Like Eivor in Valhalla, it’s a weightiness I embrace.

Of course here too I read it incorrectly; I thought that swell of the brass was intended to back up an assertion the narrator needed everyone including herself to believe, but the Irish Times, at least, seemed to think it a “fully extinguished flame” that was under discussion. I am doomed never to read things the right way.

Anyway, Mondays suck, so here’s a poem and a song to get you through it.

your friday spit-take

So I’ve mentioned I consume a lot of wellness content. This is true. But there is a fine line between wellness and whackadoo. Here is an example of someone who has way, way, way crossed it:

So you don’t waste your life watching this, I’ll skip you to the spit take: our inner divinity can conquer the virus.

I’ll give you a second to wipe off your screen.

I never heard of this author or her book The Sophia Code before joining an online wellness community and I can’t say I’m pleased to make the acquaintance. This is exactly the sort of Bored White Women Dabble In The Occult bullshit that makes my blood boil. Because:

1.) I get that the history of a lot of woo woo stuff is one of disempowerment, and that rituals are in many cases attempts at restoring power, however ephemeral or illusory, to those who lack it

2.) White women with nice houses and expensive hair like this lady has do not lack power in the way those rituals were intended to address

3.) I get that everyone feels disempowered in the face of this pandemic, but

4.) NO ONE’S INNER DIVINITY IS GOING TO CONQUER THE VIRUS

A similar whackadoo book I’d never heard of, The Secret, got mentioned in an article on the actress Katherine Heigl (whose stunning Utah ranch header photos—sky! mountains! sun!—were the whole reason I clicked; I don’t actually know who she is), so I looked it up. It’s the same sort of magical thinking bullshit pedaled by people like Madame Blavatsky at the end of the 19th century—again, to well-off white women with time to spare.

Once more with feeling: the waste of time here isn’t the point. I play video games; I know the value of leisure. But this is insidiously problematic leisure. You’re participating in a (virtual, in this case) community that is making medical assertions that do not fucking hold up. You cannot meditate your way out of a pandemic, okay? I meditate! I feel its value! But I also wear a fucking mask when I go out in the world. Because I give a shit about the people around me.

One of the furious Amazon reviews for The Secret posited the magical thinking crap in a way I hadn’t considered before: it’s ableist. By asserting that illness, whether physical or mental, can be conquered if you just think hard enough, it’s placing the burden of getting better in the hands of the person in need, with the implication that if they fall ill or get depressed it’s their fault. They just weren’t trying hard enough. They just weren’t thinking positively enough, or praying hard enough or whatever.

That’s really damaging. I don’t even have a debilitating illness, or depression or anxiety, and even I can see that. That kind of mindset lets people who have landed in the lap of luxury (hello, rich white ladies!) by default pat themselves on the back for being “good people.” When really they’re just benefiting from the same bullshit system they make “heartfelt” Instagram posts decrying. “I see you, I hear you” my ass. You see them, sure, and then you go to a voodoo ritual with all your woo woo friends, copping off Black creole women whose only path to wellness under slavery and then crippling poverty was ritual magic adapted from their homelands over time. But sure, Kayleigh-Lynn, mother to Riverr and Jaydyn, tell me about your pathworking with the loa.

Also, my mother-in-law is currently paying someone who believes this shit to “cleanse her auras,” and she narrowly avoided (because my face gave my rising anger away) saying that people she knew who “had bad reactions” to Covid just were eating too much gluten.

But who am I to judge, when I signed up for an online wellness community whose 30yo founder just posted a slew of videos of herself at some infinity pool birthday party with nary a mask in sight? I joined for the yoga and recipes and journaling prompts, for fucksake. Not to monetarily support carelessness and cruelty toward the rest of the damn planet.

Tl;dr: people are stupid. Don’t pay them for it.

hidden warrior

me every time I see a mother being kind to her millennial daughter

I went on ahead with the rest of this aughts-era series because why not? The magic isn’t very detailed and I could certainly use more gender reflections (I assume we’ll get to that), but almost halfway through book two, jump scares notwithstanding, the most lasting thing about this book is the kid’s utter, utter loneliness. Usually in fantasy this is rendered too obtusely, with stuffed rabbits and echoing tea parties and all, but moments like the one above are scattered throughout and scintillatingly believable in the sharp, bright pain they bring.

the duke’s stutter

Having been with a man with a stutter for 15 years, it kind of startled me to learn that the chief narrative pulse behind the Duke’s emotional turmoil in Bridgerton is a stutter. Or at least his father’s abysmal reaction to it.

It’s not like Hollywood shies away from such depictions, of course. Just in the time we’ve been together there was The King’s Speech, for example. I remember watching it with my husband and my parents and flinching—was it too on the nose? would he mind being accidentally made the subject of attention like that?—and the flood of relief when my mom asked him afterward, with a curiosity and a gentleness I can only aspire to, if he felt it had been a good depiction of a stutter; if it had looked real. And they had talked—obviously he with a more pronounced stutter, since as an interview with Biden noted, exposure to other stutterers often heightens one’s own experience of it, albeit temporarily—amiably about what it felt like, what Colin Firth had gotten right, how the battle for words changed over one’s lifetime. This, I thought, listening to them, is how my damned mother-in-law should have treated him. With a desire to understand, not to correct but simply to know.

Obviously then, I’m way more in the emotional orbit of that part of Bridgerton than I expected to be, for a raunchy Netflix show. And the same goes for its inspiration:

—but there, too, in this book that came out 20 years ago, I was startled. I wasn’t aware (beyond, I guess, occasional blips like the pop song Stuttering, which I first heard in a clothing store in Japan) how the sympathetic non-stuttering world viewed stuttering. More precisely, I wasn’t aware (again, barring one-offs like that song) that it was viewed as, or had been used as, a lever for romance.

I suppose it’s because it’s (as written) an external indicator of the stutterer’s comfort level with / fondness for the object of affection? But also an external indicator of mood and self-possession beyond the stutterer’s control? While I understand the appeal of such things from a romantic scene constructing standpoint, ah…if you will forgive the pun…don’t men kind of, er, come with such uncontrollable levers naturally? Do you really need the extra prop, o writers of stutter romance?

Don’t get me wrong! I totally get that the trope of someone fully in charge of their emotions and image being rendered undone is a thing. And its inverse: that someone who had to fight ferociously hard to to gain that control, through a stutter for example, might view the undoing of that control as an egregious vulnerability that must be avoided at all costs. Fear of being vulnerable (because when he was, it went disastrously for him) is at the root of the duke’s issues. But that it’s wrapped up in a stutter, and his refusal to even let it be known that he ever had a stutter, continues to blow me away every time it comes up in the book or the show.

It wasn’t as though my in-laws were anything on the level of the duke’s father in terms of their treatment of their son and his stutter. But they do sometimes have, and I gather did have, an air of tired, distracted, put-upon parenthood with their son that they never inflicted upon their daughters. Maybe they just never figured out how to be people through all the gendered bullshit they’d grown up with, and then tried to superimpose onto their one male child. Maybe they just weren’t ready for kids when they had him, and got their shit together by the time they had girls.

Or maybe they just deserve all the protective condemnation I can summon so easily in defense of him, when they shove words in his mouth, or won’t stop talking.

There was one doctor’s visit, when I was pregnant, where my husband asked the doctor if, genetic predisposition aside, he was likely to pass his stutter on to his child through exposure. Through just talking around him. And you could have poured me into a glass. He was worried? He was successful, the best at what he did barring only his boss, had the esteem of his peers, had wildly exceeded his parents’ sullen expectations, and he was worried about his son catching his stutter? As if he weren’t the absolute best source of love and guidance on the matter a stuttering kid could possibly hope to have?

I lived this scene, people! I lived it! Minus, uh, a bit of the drama. Goddamn, I pushed ahead thinking I ought to finish the book before finishing this post, and then this showed up. This scene! So…let it be known that even 15 years as a stutterer’s partner does not prepare you for the degree to which it becomes a part of how they look at the world. Even when not parented by a Disney villain.

ah, fluff it

Reading the first Bridgerton book, it dawns on me that I really haven’t read straight-up romance before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a neck described as swanlike without irony. (For, uh, good reason.) To be sure, this book is not something to write home about, but to quote Alexandra Petri, “not enjoying this bonus week of 2020 content for hardcore fans.” Yeah. Fuck all this. So I’m going to read the fluff, okay? The fluff that most definitely pales in comparison to many, many fanfics out there.

Speaking of fanfic, I’m going to strive ardently to skirt the swirling vortex of rage I reserve for the judgment cast upon those who read or write this sort of thing. Romance in general, I mean. Is this how I want to fill my shelves? No, but so what? The number of men I’ve listened to seethe about the downfall of mankind as brought about by the insipid fictions of women—men who arguably get the same pleasurable jolt out of porn sites who fail to pay their (women!) content producers even a modicum of what they make on ads, scams and subscriptions—dwarfs the number of women I’ve heard dare defend the genre. That’s mostly why I follow groups like Vaginal Fantasy—I’ll probably never read most of the books they mention but I’ll defend to the Internet death their right to luxuriate in them.

Incidentally, Felicia Day, who was one of VF’s founders, is starting a podcast on Bridgerton tomorrow which, yay! It’s likely to be much more enjoyable than the Hot Take Quagmire, which I hadn’t last waded into since Girls was on the watchlist of newsrooms across the country, and which I have not missed. Listening to sexually frustrated journalists rant about the lack of camera time given to their specific titillations is, frankly, tiring. No one turned on the Netflix show for a primer on how to actually have good sex, okay, Salon? Cripe. Go read a book for that. Or, you know, a fanfic. Since they have much better metadata to help you find precisely the kink you are looking for.

Anyway, there are occasional moments in the Bridgerton book (technically called The Duke and I, but they’ve added the Bridgerton title to the edition with the show’s actors on it to increase recognizability) that do make me smile, as they’re addressing something other than swanlike necks or one’s inability to stop looking at one’s dance partner despite one’s knowing said dance partner is one’s friend’s sister. (🙄) Case in point, this bit about rakes:

That is not modern fiction parroting the voice or times of Jane Austen (or even Georgette Heyer.) That is carving straight onto the soul of every one-time middle school girl who held very still and looked straight ahead as bullies said vile things about her. Including it is so endearing to me. It’s taking a brief moment to be tender to one’s readers, when all you’re really being asked to do is turn them on. It’s sweet.

In my ninth grade English class a girl moved in halfway through the school year whom everyone avoided like the plague. She read bodice-rippers, exclusively, and was very forthright in stating that writing such books was exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Students scorned her for it, saying the predictably nasty things about the books being the only love she’d ever experience, and the teacher tried to be polite but clearly had no idea what to do with such frank interest in smut from a 15 year old. I, thinking myself a lesbian at the time, kept well away from the girl, as I wanted nothing to do with the extremely heterosexual scenes depicted on the covers of her books. But knowing now the success that can rain down on such writers, I hope she did it. I hope she made a fucking mountain of money, and I hope she remained visible somehow to our shitty peers, either through social media or reunions (neither of which I participate in, so I can’t check), to ram her success down their throats. Someone has to.

And I hope she enjoys Bridgerton. I hope we all enjoy Bridgerton. Because we are all so fucking done with this Sisyphean election disease-ridden hellscape.