across the wine-dark sea

I was not interested in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey when it came out. Yeah, sure, you could play a lady, people said. But I figured (I wasn’t exactly paying attention; the last AC I enjoyed was three) she was just a side or temporary character, only momentarily playable during a lull in Mr. Big Muscles Guy’s narrative. (I love nerding out over the history in the AC series, but I’m a bit tired of playing the same brooding guy in a hood no matter the century.)

But nope! Kassandra can be your main from day one. And she’s mine. And forget the main quest, I’m sailing all over the Aegean, slaying pirates and winning hearts in equal measure.dark01

I can spend 15 real-world minutes slamming pause during post-storm skies, trying to get good pictures. And I will. Because in addition to being able to float your camera off your character, you can float it off the bird. dark02dark03dark04

This reminds me of the scene in What Dreams May Come when they look down onto the port/boardwalk the girl invented based on her paper circus. That liiiiiigghtt…dark05

Looking down onto Corinth.dark06

It’s a shame this is a static image but that wave on the right tints green as the sun hits it. All of them at that angle do. It’s thoughtful and gorgeous to have included it.dark07dark08

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commence wild and delighted speculation

*airhorns*

da4art

IIIIIIIITTT’S HEEEEEERE.

Here is the video. It was brought to my attention as I wobbled dead-tired brushing my teeth, seeking desperately to get to the part where I could go to sleep. “You  want to see this.” “No I don’t. I want to go to bed.” “Nope, you definitely want to see this.” “If it’s not the next Dragon Age I am going the fuck to bed.”

I did not, in fact, go the fuck to bed.

Now, keeping in mind that common sense plus my actual experience working with artists in AAA game development makes it abundantly clear that no one with a stylus and a budget and far too many meetings on their calendar is overanalyzing the key art they produce to the level that some fans are, LET US SPECULATE!

1.) THE IMAGE.

First of all let’s look at how Solas in his elf form is separated visibly from the lurking hulk of the Dread Wolf, as drawn elsewhere in in-game art. This could be done a.) just to provide a symmetrical frame for the focus of the image (more on this later), b.) to suggest some other elfly presence (note the existence of a skullcap, which we  have not seen before) standing against Solas, or c.) to suggest a fundamental schism within Solas between the roaring power of the god and the more earthly desires of the elf, set in delicious opposition to each other.

I, clearly, have preferences as to which of this scenarios will produce the most feels.

Consider that in his in-game murals, his depictions of himself tended to merge the two, wolf and elf (from BioWare artist Nick Thornbarrow):

removingtats

Here the wolf is treated as an adopted mask, a title reclaimed from the epithet people gave him and then donned for good.

Not always, though:

nottogether

Clear delineation between Solas the man and Solas the Dread Wolf.

solastarot

 

This last piece, as a companion card, is not necessarily produced by Solas and so is a less reliable indicator of his presumed artistic tendencies, but it’s worth noting the man’s attempt to emerge from the fibrous, looming hulk of the god. But they are still crafted of the same dark colors. Of course, given the straight line in artistic style between all the companion art and Solas’ own in-game murals, an argument could be made for the idea that all the companion, tarot and side-art from the game is intended to be Solas’ doing. The World According to Solas, as it were. If that were true…well, that would indeed be interesting. It is, admittedly, a bit far afield, but if we were to assume that all art produced in that style were produced by Solas, that would mean this very piece of art we’re looking at in the DA4 trailer is produced by him. Which would on the one hand be kind of like a villain waxing poetic on every detail of his plan before attempting to put said plan into motion…and would on the other hand be at least somewhat opaque, since we’re still trying to guess at what the hell it means. Plus, let’s be real, Solas has been waxing poetic on himself in paint for time immemorial. Humility is not exactly his strong point. Depicting his own plans as well as his internal struggles is hardly beyond the pale for him.

Now, to the stars encircling the figure at the center of the image. We’ve seen those before (taken again from Nick Thornbarrow):

titan

This image depicting, it would seem, the sundering of a titan, tells us two things about the stars: what they do and that they have at least two statuses: the yellow destructive force and the passive, seemingly tangible green, or muted force. At first glance those muted green circles might suggest the orb of destruction, of which there were several and which are each linked to an individual elven god, per Flemeth. (I am going to quote from the Dragon Age wiki here because it has been a long time and I don’t want to screw it up):

After being thwarted at the Temple of Mythal and losing his army, Corypheus returns to the Temple of Sacred Ashes and in desperation uses the Orb to reopen the Breach. The Herald confronts the magister, and at the climax of their battle pulls the Orb from the magister’s grasp using the Anchor and seals the Breach once more, destroying Corypheus in the process. The Orb then drops to the ground and breaks apart. Solas retrieves the fragments and quietly weeps for the loss of yet another ancient artifact.

When they confront each other, Flemeth tells Solas, whom she identifies as the “Dread Wolf,” that he should not have given his Orb to Corypheus. To which Solas responds that he was too weak to unlock it after awakening from his slumber.

Solas later reveals that the orb’s true name is the Orb of Fen’Harel and that only Fen’Harel could wield the Anchor without it eventually killing its wielder. Since Solas is Fen’Harel, he explains that was how he was able to stabilize the Inquisitor’s Anchor when they first met. Solas says his agents allowed the Venatori to locate his orb and they presented the orb to Corypheus to unlock the Orb’s true power. Solas was too weak after awakening from his long slumber to do it himself, and knowing the Elder One planned on making use of the ancient artifact to realize his dream of godhood, manipulated him into unlocking the orb for him with the belief that Corypheus would die in the resulting explosion. Solas however, did not foresee Corypheus had uncovered the secret to effective immortality. Had all gone according to his plan, he would have reclaimed the orb and used its power to tear down the Veil as the world burned in the raw chaos.

How many elven gods are there? More specifically, how many of the Evanuris were there? Nine, if you include Fen’Harel himself. (That’s Elgar’nan, Mythal, Falon’Din, Dirthamen, Andruil, Sylaise, June, Ghilan’nain, and Fen’Harel.) That isn’t totally helpful, as we have seven orbs depicted here.  Yes, there could be an orb or two hidden behind the Dread Wolf’s head (accounting, perhaps, for the Forgotten Ones to be added to the list), but that would be a visual cheapening, and moreover there is plenty of non-obscured space left on the wheel to have painted more orbs, if more there were. What, then, about the Old Gods that the Tevinter are into, the dragons? Of those we have Dumat, Zazikel, Toth, Andoral, Urthemiel, Razikale, and Lusacan.

Ah. Seven. (This also lines up with our known focus, location-wise, for DA4: the Tevinter Imperium. But I digress.)

Now, back to the orbs: two of them are yellowed and starred with the same iconography Solas used to portray the sundering of a titan. (This is of course another argument for the everything-in-this-style-is-painted-by-Solas school of thought: he decided to depict those powers as stars, after all, and we are looking at the same imagery here. Again though, that might just be artistic license taken to conform to an overarching visual theme given as the proposed flavor of the franchise from DA:I forward, so. Take it with a grain of salt.)

Are we to interpret the non-greyed out orbs as “empowered” or instead “destroyed?” Yellow containing the star is after all the form the orbs took when destroying the titan. So perhaps two of our seven Old Gods have been, in essence, crossed off the list.

It’s not a new theory, of course, that the Old Gods of Tevinter are in fact the Evanuris, boiling in imprisoned hate and rage between the surface of the earth. But how do we make those numbers add up? Mythal is gone, we know, and Solas, though lacking the power of his destroyed orb, certainly leaves us at the end of Trespasser with more power than he began with. But if you call each of those orbs an elven god, and call the two yellow ones Mythal and Fen’Harel, there are only five left. While Solas did indeed lock his power away in the orb, as detailed above, and mourned its loss…how would his presence be accounted for in the numbering of the old Tevinter gods? If he numbered among them (as would make sense, of those two activated orbs were Mythal and Fen’Harel), which one was he? And how would that even make sense, if all but two of the old gods have been awakened and defeated in previous blights?

Theory: The Tevinter Old Gods are not the Elven Gods. The greyed-out orbs reference not as-yet-unawakened Evanuris, but rather the remaining unawakened Old Gods. Flemeth, and therefore Solas, we know, has a vested interest in preserving such creatures: Flemeth sought to preserve the soul remnant of Urthemiel, the dragon of beauty, in Morrigan’s child Kieran, but has to take it back. It is Flemeth from whom Solas takes and absorbs the soul shard in the final moments after the credits of DA:I, and both of them are known to have mourned the loss of creatures from the past, like dragons, wantonly destroyed by Grey Wardens.

Theory: The Tevinter Old Gods are the power of the Evanuris, ripped away and buried by Solas when he built the Veil. In this reading, Solas does not number among the orbs. (He is, after all, standing outside them, making his own admittedly different orb with his hand.) Urthemiel, preserved by Flemeth and now by Solas, is one of those lit, starred orbs. Urthemiel came back corrupted (allegedly by darkspawn), was defeated like the others, but unlike the others was able to be preserved. The other lit orb…well, who of the Evanuris would have had their power restored, uncorrupted? Dumat, or at least his blood, survived for some time — hence Corypheus’ worship. Could it be him?

Theory: Whatever’s going on with the Evanuris, the orbs do represent the Old Gods and there are only two left who haven’t woken up and turned into archdemons. Those would be Razikale, the Dragon of mystery, and Lusacan, the Dragon of Night. The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t entirely account for the Urthemiel situation. Her soul remnant was preserved. Solas has it now. Why would she be depicted in a greyed-out orb, the same as the others? She has been saved in a way that the other awakened Old Gods have not. What would Solas be hoping for, in that case? The resurrection of an uncorrupted, blight-free Old God? Does he want to bring back Razikale and Lusacan (either of whom would have made sensible corollaries to Fen’Harel, if there were seven Evanuris instead of nine, alas) to help him bring about the sundering of the Veil and the return to the old elven world he misses? Does he think that the combined powers of Urthemiel (whose shard is inside him; presumably it is her power that buffs him up so much in Trespasser, since his own orb of power was destroyed), Razikale and Lusacan — either in agreement with or controlled by him — would be enough to bring about this change? How exactly does he plan on getting them to do what he wants? He wields only the power of one old god. They outnumber him two to one. Such a big part of his past was freeing slaves — how could he morally excuse himself for enslaving two old gods, even if it was to bring about a return to the world he destroyed?

Now, finally, we look to the axis on which the image turns: the figure at the center of the painting. But this necessarily demands we look not just at the 2D image but the 3D image the video gives us prior to flattening to 2D:

2.) THE VIDEO.

Screenshot 2018-12-07 at 11.23.22 AM

Honestly, with the shape of that head and hair, my first thought was of Andraste. But that doesn’t make sense for so many reasons: she wasn’t magical (no matter that the Disciples of Andraste thought her reborn as a high dragon), nor an elf; yes she would seemingly have been someone guided by Solas given her exploits freeing the slaves but he wasn’t even awake yet. We’ve been given neither neither motive nor opportunity for her to have absorbed an old god soul shard at any point in time. Plus, the First Blight had ended by Andraste’s time — there weren’t any Old Gods running around anymore to reincarnate in her, even in some miraculously non-bloodthirsty form.

I don’t know, though, that spike on the brow…

andraste

I’m just saying.

The fact that red lyrium is corrupting this figure — this figure entwined with a dragon — places the creation of red lyrium more at Solas’ feet than ever before, which, bro. Bro. Why do you have to make it so hard to love you? The intense close-ups early in the video combined with the heavy shading later make it pretty hard (deliberately hard, I know) to determine whether the figure is being tortured by the dragon, i.e. they are separate, or if the figure is some twisted form of humanoid+dragon, furthering the separation of powers theory — the gods and their power having been separated, they then grow corrupt in their lust to be reunited with their other halves.

It’s also not clear, looking at the image, if there are just two creatures comprising this figure. Why is the humanoid-like ribcage so far beneath the head? Is this intended to be some sort of demonic amalgam of several forms? General physiological anarchy, abomination-style? We don’t know. We can’t see. We might not even be looking at the representation of creatures at all: we could be looking at metaphors. The destruction of the Chantry by the [planned] resurrection of the remaining two Old Gods, by Solas.

There is even rumored, one might point out, to be an eighth Old God struck from the record. The record is hazy on the details, but the astrological sign associated with this stricken god pertains specifically, one might even say redundantly, to dragons. You know who else is big into dragons?

twoqunari

Yeah. Those guys. You know, the people who obsess over being related to dragons. Maybe this isn’t a depiction of a darkspawn or an archdemon or an Old God at all. Maybe this is a depiction of the Qun conquering the Chantry. Conquering, led by red lyrium. Maybe the mage-handlers, the Avarrads, figure out that if they load up the enslaved Qunari mages, the Saarabases, with red lyrium, they become even more destructive…thus paving the way for the qunari return referenced in Trespasser.

Whatever happens, I am delighted by this teaser. By anything pointing to the fact that work on this series is ongoing. I gain so much joy out of sifting through so much lore. And the gorgeous environments. And, of course, the romances. You could make combat a series of endless minigames and I’d still plod through it, to get to the dialogue and the texts and the story scenes. This is (as I’m sure is abundantly obvious) by far my favorite story-led series, tying only with Elder Scrolls for my favorite games of all (and for completely different reasons: this fills a desire to be a part of the fabric of something, resplendently entangled in it; and ES fulfills a desire to be very much not, adrift and without the pressing responsibilities of narrative).

I hope they released this trailer at this time because the team wanted to, and not because EA pressured them on any front. I hope the Anthem folks aren’t annoyed by its appearance at this specific point in time. I hope…god, I hope I never again have to work for someone in charge of creating something I love. I don’t want to see how the sausage gets made; how the corporate pressure grates; how efforts to protect and nurture staff fail and fail again as stakeholders demand bottom lines and slash plans based on focus group results and market trends. I don’t want to feel helpless in the face of forces greater than me, from whom I cannot protect my peers or reports no matter how fiercely I defend and deflect for them. Fuck that. Fuck it because I fought it and it mattered not at all.

I just want to sink into the world of Thedas as into a hot bath. Let the world carry on its tumult above; I’m down below trying to follow the currents beneath the surface. I’m happier down here.

Now, seriously…what are we gonna do about Solas?

for godsake just quit facebook already

Yo.

You don’t need it. You know it’s bad for you. And you categorically cannot claim you are immune to its harm. You won’t lose all your friends. You won’t timewarp back into the 90s. You will lose an echo chamber. You’ll lose a huge source of fomo. You’ll gain so much time back in your day. I’m speaking from experience here. I’m a millennial who quit years ago. You won’t die.

And, look. I was one of the first couple thousand FB users, because of when I came of age. I’ve watched social interactions sway whole-hog from interpersonal exchanges into FB-mediated ones. And I have relatives young enough that they have never experienced any relationship without that social media intermediary. I’ve seen the platform and its users evolve, like something in a petri dish on the bottom, most-dangerous level of CDC headquarters.

It’s not good. It makes young people nervous and fragile. The world’s already going to do that to you, so why give it a headstart? And for the older people — they just don’t have the information literacy training — they believe too much. They believe garbage. Every Thanksgiving I get to listen to some in-law tell me my mother wouldn’t have died of dementia if only she ate more sauerkraut, because of idiots taking as gospel some Facebook food nut’s rantings.

Maybe you think you’re the good, pure, nuance-savvy individual who can withstand the algorithms and ferret out important truths from the slew of likes, shares and comments. Well, you can’t. It’s a bit narcissistic of you to believe you can. There are tens of thousands of people working for FB. Your faith in your own ability to withstand it…it’s like trying to meditate a broken leg back into a whole one. It won’t work. You need medicine. And the applicable medicine here is space and absence. On an individual level.

Leave Facebook. Don’t look back. You want to do something good for the world today? Start here.

what we mistake as sentimental

I don’t like deserts. I miss the color green. Joshua Tree felt like a morgue. The person who pushed for its creation said she went there, to the desert, after her husband and son died in the same accident. I can understand that burned emptiness being something you seek in such circumstances, but coming to deserts whole is excruciating for me. I can’t wait to leave.

“Big Bend is no place for cynics. There is too much at stake. A bedrock pragmatism refutes sentimentality through the beauty of the unexpected. What we mistake as sentimental is in fact a generosity, a willingness to stay open and acknowledge the miraculous.” — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land

But maybe I will go to Big Bend someday. Before it’s gone.

till all success be nobleness

While I remove my jaw from the floor here, let me take this opportunity to remind you that there will be ******SPOILERS BELOW****** for Outlander Season 4, Episode 1.

…which episode is called…America the Beautiful.

That ending. Wow.

Wowwww.

I would love, love love to know when the cinematic decisions that led to that ending were made. Was this the plan from the beginning? Was it suggested by Bear McCreary? (Surely not, as one assumes the non-inconsequential licensing fees to the Ray Charles estate cut into a score’s contract.) Was this decision made when the air date of the show was determined (two days before Election Day)? Was it made at any of the multitudinous points after the season being confirmed for renewal where the America of today was showcasing how very easily it is to exhume the atrocities of the past and keep enacting them? To never, in fact, have stopped?

Those scenes were filmed with sound. They were acted with sound. When was it decided to kill the sound entirely and replace it with Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful? Because that was goddamn powerful. That was brutal violence after a palpably too-comfortable view of race and expansionism in America, set as the backdrop to love all but announced to be settled-into and true and full of promise in a future both our characters know is filled, historically, with blood. And that brutal violence plays out on mute, underneath, well…that.

I recall from, I think, the first season, a moment where the music from the 40s leaked into the storyline back in Jamie’s Scotland, and reviewers raised eyebrows. Whatever the cinematic intent behind that decision — whether to remind us of the connection or of the disconnect between the two worlds — the effect here, in season four, with that song, is monumental. And this is coming from someone who is traditionally turned off by full-mute music gimmicks, particularly of the variety where brutality occurs: where there is tinny happy music playing from a car radio or a diner speaker as someone shoots the place up or beats someone to death inside. I am so, so tired of that brand of jauntily cruel dissonance.

However, here, it is a dissonance just as much political as it is jarring, which makes its contrivance serve a purpose other than just to shock. And that is why it remains so powerful to me, and gets none of the sneers that I reserve for Tarantino-type musical violence.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, right? Everything was set up too perfectly. We saw eagles, a white person’s self-righteous effort to stick up for a black man turn out to be unfounded (he was free, and didn’t appear to particularly appreciate her assumption that he was a slave), a tremendous amount of convivial group-feeling that gave birth to full-tavern heartfelt singalongs. Even the intro song — which changes season to season based on the content of the show — swelled with more voices than usual this time, carried there by the warm chords of various folksy stringed instruments. And we had already had the obligatory sex scene, peppered with many assertions of undying love. (Or, more specifically, that “nothing is lost” re: love and also the first law of thermodynamics, which exchange I did recall bittersweetly from the books, as I know it was something my mom would have found endearing, and Drums of Autumn was the last Outlander book I remember seeing her reading.) You don’t get a feel-good setup like that without sure assurance that things are about to go horribly, catastrophically wrong.

And of course, they did. The story called for it, so they did. But they went wrong to the musical accompaniment of a black man singing the praises of America, in a show that aired two days before the election in 2018, a year where black men among so many, many others are damnably aware that the violence playing out under this ballad never stopped.

When the piano started up, over that sleeping sprawl (I read Drums of Autumn three years ago so no, I did not recall the particulars of this scene), I experienced a moment of confusion. Had there been a piano at River Run? How had they drifted there all asleep? Was Jocasta welcoming them in advance? And then in a second or two as the notes continued and it became clear that no, the music was not from this time and not meant to be situated within the scene, I wracked my brain trying to remember what song it was. Keep in mind that I grew up near a military base; each grade got assigned a different patriotic song and each class had to be recorded singing it, so every morning began with a group of us singing one of five of the anthems over the PA system. America the Beautiful was one of the easier ones, given to second or third graders. Which I mention because I know that song mostly as a dolorous chant droned by eight-year-olds. I don’t know the Ray Charles version well enough to recognize its introductory notes (or any introductory notes, really — it was just us on the speakers; the music teacher was too busy instructing us to play accompaniment) and I didn’t see this coming.

So when it became clear that all this was happening under that song, I actually swore out loud. Because that was an extremely powerful and poignant choice. And as the scene continued I felt a twisting, writhing sense of guilty relief, because I didn’t want to hear the sounds of Claire pleading for her life, of bodies hitting wood, of snot gurgling in her nose as she tries to sob-scream a last line of defense against a man who can and will take what he wants from any part of her he sees fit to. I didn’t want to hear any of that, because it makes me sad and scared.

And yet so does America the Beautiful. Which is, bitingly, as it should be.

lost in the sage

wwwd

**SPOILERS for Whiskey When We’re Dry**

It was such a beautiful book for a while there, but…

Ehhhh.

While it didn’t get quite as bad as Icy Sparks — my benchmark for when an author’s storied defense of born-again Christianity goes so off the rails that the characters, the narrative, the entire chunk of time you devoted to the reading of the book becomes a waste — we teetered pretty close for a while in the last third of Whiskey When We’re Dry. There were still some beautiful parts but nothing like the first 2/3. Why?

1.) Some admittedly understandable hesitancy to portray things it would have been exploitative to portray. Yes, I agree, a man going deep into the particulars of a lesbian sex scene is probably going to look bad. Leave your fantasies on PornHub, please. But a bit more editing could have avoided the patently fretful fade-to-black that we got instead. Said fade was so frantic and vague that it wasn’t entirely clear that sex, or anything like it, had taken place at all, until pages and pages later. Even then it was left up to debate. Such decisions look like prudishness at best and a double-dealing attempt to have it both ways at worst: to please those who want there to have been sex by letting it fit within the narrative, and to avoid scandalizing bigots whose feathers would be ruffled by making the act deliberately nebulous. If you are going to write same-sex relationships in 2018 you better have the guts to stand behind the people you’re portraying, full stop. Otherwise you’re just using them to titillate people for your own personal gain, and that’s pretty low.

2.) Threads cut and dunked in wax to avoid fraying, rather than woven together properly at the end. Again this comes down to editing. There is a lot of problematic content at the end of the book that gets a vague pass. “Yeah charismatic manipulation under the banner of religion but whatever, yay, the magic of pregnancy!” Um, nope. Noah has done nothing to deserve the pass the book gives him — the pass Jess gives him — at the end. Bothering to learn to read words you lied to people about being able to read in the past does not character development make. Being a lame duck brother does not forgiveness earn. Jess, and we, have little faith left in the charismatic Noah by the end…so why throw the best character under the bus simply in order to enable her loser brother to persist in his charlatan shows? There’s no logical reason for this, except…

3.) …the Bury Your Gays trope. Yeah. I tried really hard not to be bothered by this. I made excuses for it, because I was so pleasantly surprised by the reciprocated same-sex feeling (especially after Greenie, whose presence and sorrow I appreciated, treated as it was and not ignored) and I loved reading about Annette and Jess together. But….but. They made out once, maybe twice (thanks to that bizarrely trenchant fade to black, who knows?), and then bam, Annette’s dead. Beautiful the writing around them may have been, but tropey it remains. Don’t just kill off your gays, people. Or your bis. Or your trans people or your nonbinary folks or your — come on. Everyone should know better by now. Did we really need to see the straight people ride off into the sunset with a baby? Did we? Because that’s what we got, and it sucked. “An aria for the modern age,” crows the flyleaf. Yeah, until the last third. The last third isn’t modern at all. It’s contrived, and was edited, it feels like, with a cleaver. Wielded by bears.

4.) The gross imbalance between the beauty of the insights given to Jess when she is alone, or young, or with her father, and the decisions she makes with no thought process, no reasoning shown to us, at the end of the book, is deeply frustrating. I don’t know if it comes down to there being too many characters on the page at once to devote time to all of them (what about Jane? what was up with her? we’ll never know. should we respect Constance, or was she always intended to be a mean girl who got co-opted into a moral play in the 11th hour to come across as more palatable? what about Pa? why did that reveal matter so much earlier and not at all later? the explanation thrown around is “welp she’s in love, everything changes,” but when that love gets snuffed out like a candle twenty pages into the relationship, it starts to feel pretty cheap…) or if perhaps there was once a much longer and more drawn-out ending that got slashed by the aforementioned knife-wielding bears, but it comes out totally off-kilter. It’s the opposite problem of David Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, whose first two thirds were awful and whose last third was brilliant. Here, I felt like I wanted to demand everyone I knew read this book, for the first two thirds, and now…now I hope no one takes me up on my offer.

It’s disappointing. Especially when you remember exchanges like this from earlier in the book:

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things that put me in awe

Ahhh this book. This book. I kept waiting — keep waiting; I’m not done — for him to do some bullshit thing, but he hasn’t yet. For him to make her into someone he figured we wanted to see. Who would sell. Clouding her judgment, her conviction, her sorrow, with libido or something. Like everyone does in YA for example. (I tried, I did, to ride that train, because I thought I should know the stories that shape people today, but I couldn’t stand these powerful meaningful characters whose meanings get yanked away one by one until they’re just The Girl Who Kisses That Guy. I realize this may seem hypocritical coming from an ardent supporter of smutty fanfic and romance in games, but all of those characters exist beyond their smut, outside of it. When you reduce us to just a thing you want to fuck — even when you try to make us beautiful, a dedication written to your wife or whoever you love, with the subtext that she inspired you, filled in the spaces of the character, whatever — the list of all the reasons your character is awesome is never topped by her arms hauling something no one thought she could lift, or her brain calculatedly rescuing everyone from some imminent disaster. It starts innocent like “her laugh” and turns into her laughing mouth on your body, or in your bed calling you. And that burns. No one dies hoping only to have been a sweet voice or a shapely ass. And so often when it’s het men writing these women sure, sure, they mention other parts of her but it’s what her body does to them that tops the list, always, in the way that they write about it. Even to a very pro-sex person this is deeply disappointing. A failure to ever reach beyond your animalistic selves. You do not deserve the ones you claim to love, when you love most the skin they come in.*)

And this book could’ve fucked it up like that so many times but so far it hasn’t and it’s beautiful. All the raw hurting insights that are usually reserved for Men Of Few Words are given to her. But she isn’t turned into one of those men, despite these insights. She still wants to put a hand on the hand of the lost and the losing, and remembers just in time, every time, to restrain herself and hold her stony peace. The facade of manly stoicism. And she still hungers desperately for a mother lost to her. That’s where I am, that’s where I had to stop just taking pictures of words on the page and write. Her and Mildred. Mildred herself. This book, this book.

The farther I get from my mom, not just her actual death but the long, long fading-away beforehand, the harder I find it to respect those cavalier about the maternal comforts in their lives. Even when I have a perfectly rational mind pointing out that not everyone had a good or even a good-intentioned mother, or should be anywhere near the one they have. I am better about hiding my disdain on this topic, and I flash to visible anger far less easily. But still. I recognize Jesse’s immediate pull toward older and wiser people who would advise her, full-heartedly, like looking in a mirror. That hungry want for a lack of worry. For the absolute surety that someone else had your back, even if only for a little while, in all the ways you could think of: physically, affectionately, morally. That…well, that imbalance, I guess. That allowed imbalance. It’s not a partnership, you can’t fracture or break it; it was given to you without your asking and often against your will. You can find safety and love elsewhere in life, and there’s good reason to value that which you earned more than that which was given to you without question, I know. But there are stories…ways you were known before you even know yourself…that are lost to you, when your mother is gone.

And Larison hasn’t buried that persistent ache, and the self-knowledge (knowledge of lack, of emptiness) it sort of is, behind sex or booze or novelty anything; hasn’t erased it from someone who should never forget. Because you cannot forget. I respect him so much for that.

And I really hope he doesn’t fuck it up.

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*Though I suppose this conviction could be seen as silly, since my reason for thinking it is that it’s cruel to place your highest value of a person in a quality doomed to fall away. That’s all well and good, but in my family for example, the quality of our brains, as we age under dementia’s ticking clock, is as ephemeral as the elasticity of our flesh. So there is really little gained in valuing my mind over my body, as both are slated for decay…