majesty

civvi_fb_share

How much does you being moved by a work of art — be it a book, a game, a song, you name it — depend on your willingness to be moved by it? Above and beyond the craftsmanship brought to the table in the work’s creation?

This can be asked so pettily, and I don’t mean it to come across that way. At all. Lately I’ve been so frustrated, across mediums, when I bring something bright and shining to someone and say look, just look at this amazing thing! And the immediately response is, essentially, a lackluster sniff. “Eh, it’s ohkay.”

It could have been better.

The prose could’ve been tighter.

Those scenes were unnecessary.

That color palette is so derivative.

Etc. etc. Okay but. But. Guys. Do you feel nothing?

Because I want to feel everything. All the things! And I know that, going in. I block off whole days in which to experience DLC. I time my reading of the final chapters of a book so no one can see my sniffly reaction to it. I carefully arrange the angle of my face and hair in movie theaters, so no one can see me having feelings. When I love something, I fucking love it. I want everyone else to love it too. Or, to hate it! So we can argue. Because I love arguing (especially when I win). But to have just a “meh” response? To next to every piece of art you encounter? Who does that? And how is the answer to that question increasingly “Pretty much everyone. I guess. I dunno, who keeps track anyway. Keeping track is dumb.”

Is it defensiveness? Do people not want to be moved by things, lest it render them vulnerable? Is it hauteur? Since if everything’s beneath you, you have no reason to aspire to rise above and do better? Is it that? Because it has to be something.

And whatever it is, I hate it.

Admittedly, I am not without partisanship here. I want to be moved by things. I actively seek out work that will do so. As I grow older I’ve become less interested in the technical details of a work — its proper use of the subjunctive case; whether or not there were too many ships — and more interested in the end result. Am I weeping, when the tale comes to a close? Yes? Is it because the characters were so fantastic and now they’re gone? Yes? I had a good time, then. Majesty was achieved, in my heart, if not on the page, according to prize committees or your English teacher or something.

It could just be that I’m a sap. That’s completely possible! Let us never rule that out! But it could also be that people suck. And that the level of suckage is increasing, for whatever reason. If it were just millennials doing this then the cop-out answer would be “it’s their irony, duh!” But it’s not just millennials. It stretches across age groups. And I don’t understand why.

You want to see something majestic? Watch the intro to Civilization VI. I may have grown up playing these games, but I stopped for a long while, first due to a dissatisfaction with the lack of closeness to the world, and then — with college, I guess — a creeping unease with the plasticity imposed upon cultures I was taught formed the way they did for specific reasons. I wasn’t, admittedly, willing to suspend my disbelief, I guess. How could you play one historical character fixated in a specific point in time, who comes to stand over millennia as a figurehead not just for her one moment of grandeur, but for the entire history of her people? No one stands the test of time like that. We just don’t. I found bizarre the first-person address in the loading screen in Civ 5, telling us personally that we were to set about founding a civilization…which would, if things went well, last well into the space age. Yes but I won’t! I thought, not quietly. No way! And of course you wouldn’t. The plucking of people from the past is a way to give form to the otherwise too-vast, too mercurial nature of a people. If I am Cleopatra at the dawn of time, and I am Cleopatra as I stare down at my factories belching smoke into the desert air, I am not Cleopatra the person but Cleopatra the life force, the vitality behind a people. I’m the face on the coins, not the butt on the throne. That butt, historically speaking, would’ve died out eons ago.

But watch:

Does it matter that you don’t know if that’s his wife or his daughter? (I read it as daughter, which is why I choked up in the original trailer, where I conflated the picture pan into the same picture, where she was a kid.) Does it matter that the people you see at first are long dead by the time the people you see last head to space? That visual continuity does, here, the same thing it did in Cloud Atlas: bridges, emotionally, the gap across time and generations at which I’d usually despair. Don’t pull me so far back from the people, I’d think. I want to see their individual struggles and I can’t, from this level. I have to imagine them. But with that visual continuity, it’s given to me. Forced on me, some would say. But I appreciate it. I want there to be people with faded polaroids of family members pinned inside their tiny capsules, beyond which lurks a cold, vacuum-sealed death. I want their tiny points of light to be, indeed, tiny, and fierce.

We are.

Preserving that knowledge, nurturing it, despite a top-down view of a map full of hexagons, where individuals are too small to even be seen, is an achievement. And while there is obviously a place for critique, and there always should be, one shouldn’t confuse critique with cynicism. The former is constructive and insightful. The latter is just being a dick and calling it wise. And while culture may reward you for it, you’re gonna be worse off. You’re gonna feel less. Maybe try feeling something once and a while. Try.

unintended consequences of watching every wes anderson movie with very young strangers

Realizing that:

1.) These kids can’t find happiness in anything unless everything broken is fixed, but

2.) neither could I when I first watched, say, Life Aquatic, wherein I now find myself

3.) defending characters I used to hate, specifically,

4.) when pressed, by rewarding them for their self-awareness of their flaws, which doesn’t deserve a medal really, and I would know because

5.) I’ve essentially become those characters.

Fuck.

Also realizing that I had a dream last night where I had a kid but the oceans turned to ice mid-crashing-wave and we stood on a frozen breaker in the snow as Staralfur played and I tried to explain that the ocean wasn’t always frozen, that the waves used to move; but I couldn’t make the kid see it. I was trying to be sad about it and s/he was practical and said if it weren’t frozen we couldn’t be standing there admiring the snow, could we? We’d sink.

mongrel monitors of malady

dog-734689_1920

True story: My page-a-day dog calendars were full of “dog smells hidden tumor in woman’s breast; claws at her until she goes to doc and they saved her just in time!”-type stories when I was a kid. With my combined family history of a shit ton of cancer and a lot of dogs, every few months I’m grabbing a sleepy four-legger and shoving their noses against my neck, my shoulder, whatever’s lumpy; desperately hoping they’ll warn me if I’m going to die.

Sometimes they sneeze.

On the one hand, I’m still alive, and the doctors are lowkey impressed by the wanderlust of my lymph nodes. On the other hand, I feel like we need to develop a definitive “nope you’re good, hooman!” dog response. Sniffly annoyance at being dragged out of peaceful slumber could mean anything.

drink of the (other) day : varric vodka

varric

We took the Varric tea from Cara McGee and put it in a water infuser we received a few years ago. Unfortunately it may have sat there too long…a week makes for some awfully strong-flavored vodka. Since the whole reason I’m pretty meh on vodka is its lack of flavor, I thought this would be okay. It may have been overkill.

Still, put some simple syrup and ice in there and it’s palatable. Spicy but ultimately sweet. I’d like to try the Sera tea next (it’s one of my favorites of her teas, and I’ve tried all of the ones that have box art), but I might cut its infusion off after a day or two. Also I’m not sure if sprinkles sitting in vodka is okay. Will they still dissolve like in the hot water? We will have to see. For science!

random music fridays : now we are free

As a kindergartner, I knew about gaming the system. The Reflections contest theme that year for elementary school kids was “If I could give the world a gift, I would give it…” and I drew a picture of a bunch of people encircling the globe and wrote “love!” in big bubbly red letters with hearts. When I won first place I announced it proudly, followed immediately by “I knew that would get ’em!” I was a wily, if not exactly endearing, five-year-old.

By the time I was applying for college, though, most of the craftiness had bled out of me, sapped away by adolescence and a waning desire to broadcast myself as anyone other than who I was. Being a teenager sucked, and I wanted out: to be as far from the place and people I knew as possible. So Princeton was one of my reach schools, and their essay topic was to list your favorite song and why it held that spot in your heart. This was the song I picked.

The school I got into instead had a much more conventional prompt, and I was able to write both seriously and humorously in response — so maybe earnestness was the wrong tack here. Or maybe, to write in for a song whose words were rendered essentially just sounds to you, they expected that you’d better then be able to talk shop about the song’s technical prowess. More likely still, a Hollywood blockbuster like Gladiator earned disdainful sniffs all around the admissions table. Who knows? The people of my age group I met later who went to Princeton came away with some pretty terrible prejudices, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t get in.

But Now We Are Free, composed by Hans Zimmer and sung in pseudo-Armenian by Lisa Gerard, was and remains dear to me. I bought it immediately after my parents and I — not my sister, who’d abandoned the family movie outing in what I correctly assessed to the the first of many such abandonments — saw Gladiator in theaters. We always used to go to Tower Records after a movie, to grab the soundtrack. I skipped immediately to its track on my CD player (still technically branded a Walkman, I believe) and listened to it as thunder raged outside our van on the way home. I went all the way to the back, on the bench seat, and lay down listening, to see the rain streak the window from the lower-down angle that I remembered from roadtrips in our old station wagon. But from my position tipped over sideways on the bench, my parents’ headrests rose further than their heads, and it looked to me like they weren’t even there anymore. (When I was four, I kept dreaming they disappeared from the front of the car as we drove to the Smithsonian, and I never saw them again. I’d wake up yelling.) And I found myself crying. I thought of Lucilla’s love and how it didn’t really matter anymore; Maxmius had made a home and it had been taken from him. And I thought — his parents weren’t there — how miserable, to have carved your mom and dad out of what your image of home and love should be, in an afterlife. How lonely I’d be if it was just me wandering through the fields of Elysium, parents gone and relegated to their own versions of paradise, which wouldn’t include me. How, surely — keep in mind I was thirteen, and a late-bloomer to boot; I wanted nothing to do with relationships — no one would ever populate my empty Elysium, if you didn’t even get to keep your parents.

Unless, I thought, as my dad slammed on the breaks and my mom  yelled at him — the storm knocked out the stoplights and someone almost hit us as we tried to go through an intersection — you died young. Maximus’s son got to be with him, after all. He got to “count” as worth seeing, after death.

What a raw deal.

Culture gives us these ways to talk about people who are dead — the afterlife, heaven, hell, fields of Elysium, take your pick — but no one prepares you, as a thirteen year old, to be in a constant state of losing someone. For years. They are still alive in that you can look into their eyes, but those eyes don’t know you anymore. Or themselves.

This, too, is rather a raw deal.

Mom, you are welcome to my little plot of the Elysian Fields anytime, when you get there. It won’t be empty, but you’re still invited.

ward cleaver probably cried when alone (and you should, too)

I haven’t written much of the election because why would I? It’s awful. But I’ve followed it as closely as anyone, in particular articles trying to understand how the people who cling to this narrow idea of what it is to be an American came to cling to it. And this article does it best so far.

The despair of the white middle-class baby boomer interests me because I have a dad that fits that profile. While he knows enough to detest Trump (probably mostly just because he’s non-military), he is very fond of reminding everyone that they’re all doomed — that America was at its best when he and his peers were in charge, and now that they aren’t, we’re all fucked. I love my dad, so I try to dismiss his fearmongering as the kind of anger that you’d expect from a guy whose wife no longer knows him (but whose care, he will rant loudly to you, he still has to pay for). Alzheimer’s sucks. I know this. But when he calls you and tells you how screwed you are, because the same disease runs in your blood, ready to pounce…when he tries to scare your husband into flash-forward previews of his future with you, the disease-carrying spouse…when every single political and non-political moment gets viewed and reflected through a lens of Back In The Good Old Days (“when men were men and women were women,” he used to add, though he has since stopped, having decided that this, at least, is culturally too off-base even for him)…it becomes harder to dismiss.

skull-18235_640

unless we’re talking candycorn and reese’s cups, this is not the only future, okay?

My mother was my father’s filter. She reined him in when he became too bitter or morbid or intractable. (Is this an ideal relationship?  No, but what relationship is?) She called him on it, and he would in most cases realize how nuts he sounded, and say something humorous instead and defuse the situation. With my mother ill and no longer able to do this, I thought I would try, but it seems I do not have the privilege of rebuking him. He just shoots back with more dire predictions about the fuckedness of our future, as well as the futures of any children we might have. Before you ask, yes, obviously I brought up therapy — but as that NYT article describes well, that generation of men, mired in that culture, do not take well to such suggestions. My father certainly didn’t.

His own family could well have used it. His mother spent most of the first part of his life addicted to sleeping pills, only rousing long enough to give birth to a second son. His father spent many long hours on the road as a door-to-door salesman, making precious little to show for it. I mention this only to point out that that gooey-sweet Leave It To Beaver lifestyle that my dad vociferously pines for did not exist for him. Common sense dictates that it didn’t exist for a great many of these old white guys vocally pining for it these days, either. So what’s with all the rancor, the deafening cries for a return to the good old days? The good old days, before social services would even notice if your dad beat you? Before anyone would believe you when you said you were sexually assaulted? Before there was anywhere to go if you found yourself living a decidedly un-Cleaverly life — which, just to take a wild guess, not many people in fact were living?

cleaver_family_leave_it_to_beaver_1960

please stop

Rose-tinted glasses, I know, I know. But this goes beyond just only remembering the good about your past. This concerns actually rewriting your past to fit a culturally-established narrative dispensed through various media, both of the time and up to and including today. And because, as previously mentioned, Alzheimer’s runs in my family, I am very uneasy about the idea of rearranging one’s past to suit one’s memory. Natural Language Programming, for example, scares the living daylights out of me. Add sensory details to memories to build them up or take them down? No! No. I’m not adding to anything. Not consciously. Because I know all too well where you end up when your unconsciously (inevitably, in my case) because fucking with what you thought you knew. And it’s in a ward where they guard the elevators so you can’t escape, and talk to you like you’re five. Because you might think you’re five.

Depression is a common companion of those with dementia. It starts out as anxiety management and then, as it gets worse — often precipitated by a move to a care facility, as was the case with my grandmother who called me to bring her scissors with which to slit her wrists — full antidepressants are prescribed. Happiness isn’t really the goal anymore because people aren’t really comfortable measuring that. Manageability is the goal. Doctors get together and try to make the great big black hole of suck that you have become, more manageable for everyone else.

woman-441415_1280

this is how image searches choose to display alzheimer’s. how nice for them that they think your mom can’t be taken from you until her 80s.

So when you know this is coming, what do you do? When there are people you love who you know will be in the line of fire of your diseased instability, what do you do? There’s precious little worth doing, I suppose, but one has to do something. One has to feel one is doing something.

Mostly, I observe. What I see eating at people around me, I try to avoid. My mother-in-law, for example, obsesses over her appearance. She despairs at every wrinkle and blemish and panics over the graying of her hair. I see the seeds for the same behaviors sown in her daughters, whose selfies are lovely and endless, and who cannot be eaten with without hearing a long lecture about carbs, calories or cleanses. So. I don’t take selfies. I figure that if that’s a potential snag in your self-worth, later on — regardless of how easily I can sit here and point it out to myself, and say I don’t or won’t care — I want to avoid it, if possible. No pictures, beyond those required by others and quickly forgotten, even now.

I’m also leery of privileging my youth as some shining paragon of perfection that will never be witnessed again. I know the 90s are now just far enough away for people to reflect back on them with nostalgia, but while I too have fond memories of Rugrats, koosh balls and tamagotchis, I’m uneasy about resurrecting them. Because I see what the boomers have done to their childhoods — adopted the media narrative of that time as one of, instead, their own lived experience — and I…don’t want to do that. If I can avoid it. I don’t want to be threatening the children of the future with tales of how much better I had it. It won’t help. It doesn’t. It just makes everyone defensive and miserable. And since, thanks to the disease that is mine to inherit, I know I’m already going to do that anyway…I’m in no rush to beat it to its sad punchline.

And boomer dads everywhere, especially those who have lost someone or are constantly losing a little bit more of them every day, need to realize something. You aren’t beating anyone to the punchline, either, by wallowing in your despair and lashing out at anyone who tells you you need to drag yourself up out of the pit. You won’t bring back the 60s; you won’t bring back June. Ward Cleaver, if he existed, probably would have spent many a night crying alone under the weight of things. Because things are heavy. He lived in a time when getting any sort of help suffered a heavy stigma.

You, however, do not. So please. Get help.

random music fridays : qfg3 pool of peace

I can’t imagine that there wasn’t someone consciously thinking of the Erana’s Peace song for Quest for Glory I when they decide to have a lovely song insert for the oasis in the middle of the savanna in QFG3. I don’t recall a similar musical interlude during a narrative pause in QFG2, but that game was timed, so a.) there might not have been sense in doing it, and b.) I don’t like suffering a timer so I haven’t played it enough to know.

But this is lovely. If I could play piano I’d play this.