still waiting, colbert

From an interview with Stephen Colbert in GQ in 2015:

He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

I’m still waiting, Colbert. This thing I most wish had not happened. I’m 31, not 35, but my mother is dead, and it has been eight years since she was diagnosed with forgetting all of us. Five since cancer took so much more of her away so fast. And it still sucks, man. She’s dead, and it still fucking sucks.

random music fridays : lake shore drive

Yep, this is from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack. God I love this cheerful, bouncy piano. And, in a sudden turn of events I desperately wanted to be deliberate, the girls whom I want to befriend in the gym but who probably think I’m a bitch because I give them tons of space and don’t talk to them so they don’t freak out at some bi girl being in there with them, they stopped their 90’s boy band onslaught and played this instead today. Which cannot, cannot have been intentional because there’s no way for them to know either that I chafed at the boy bands (I’m very careful! I don’t sigh or huff or roll my eyes or anything!) or that I love GotG’s music lineup. But still. It seemed a good sign.

all the light we cannot see

I am reading this book — no, I haven’t given up on Proust, but my copy is digital and I don’t always want to look at a little screen when I’ve been looking at big ones all day — because I’ve wanted to since I heard the title. It’s beautiful. The moment I encountered it, I think on list of acquisitions, I wanted to read it. And now I can.

I love Jutta’s fury over the bombing of Paris. She has no claim to it. She is so far from tojisha status anyone would say she was putting on airs. But this thing, this most beautiful and loved thing to her is being broken, somewhat in her name, and it’s ripping her up. It’s a only a few lines that document this but it’s perfect. We can’t be doing this. Give it back to me. Not even the city, which she has never seen and has no sensible expectation of ever seeing. But the idea of it. They’re killing even that. And she’s furious.

super

Today was Free Comic Book Day.

I didn’t know that, because I’m not really much of a comics person. I found out via an almost slapstick line-of-sight reveal: from going up the wrong ramp, seeing a fence I couldn’t get past, looking back the way I came, encountering a man in a spacesuit and cape, dismissing him as irrelevant to my escape, then realizing that he was out there advertising the comics shop hidden behind the adobe wall forming one side of my enclosure.

Ta daa. Free Comic Book Day.

comics

I’m not traditionally a comics person, but I do try. I love Batgirl of Burnside, for example. I’ve seen…half…of the big movies? A lot of the reasons I’m turned off by superheroes are pretty cut-and-dried, I know. Nonsensical costumes, gravity-defying boobs, dumb love plotlines. A too-eager reflection of the real world, but tweaked, when what I typically want is a depiction of Anywhere But Here (see: Ferelden! the Shire! Morrowind!) with all the narrative and emotional pull of life as we know it.

But, costumes and gender problems aside, I also always took issue with the portrayal of hero flaws. They seemed far too pronounced. Even in third grade, tasked with writing a super hero story, I chafed at the weakness I was given to write about (we pulled weaknesses, like strengths, from notecards in a basket). “How can she be old enough to be super if she’s afraid of water?” I argued with my teacher [conveniently forgetting my own mandatory, remedial swim class for Kids Who Are Afraid Of the Deep End]. “Real people don’t do this!”

What I meant, or what I’m reinterpreting what was probably a much less nuanced argument to have meant, is that real people’s weaknesses aren’t so clear-cut and laid out there, plain to see. You don’t just fall apart at the exposure of your weakness, whether that’s water or cancer or the discussion of either. Right? I spent decades eschewing superheroes not so much for their superpowers as for their over-pronounced frailties. Everyone has weaknesses, sure, I thought. But you deal with them. They don’t weigh on you for episode after episode, lurking in your subconscious or your body like bombs, waiting for the proper moment to blow your plans to smithereens.

starlord

Except, that’s exactly what they do.

**SPOILERS FOR GOTG2**

When Peter Quill’s father tells him he put the tumor in his mother’s head, his reaction was instantaneous and 100% what I screamed for him to do in my head (albeit mostly in profanity): he attempts to blow this guy the fuck away. That the speaker is technically his father matters not one jot: here, personified, is the reason his mom died. Blam. You absofuckinglutely attack that. Thumbs-up, Starlord.

The deep satisfaction I got from Quill’s kneejerk reaction was not lost on me. Coming out of the theater to a confusing barrage of dammed-up texts about my mom’s hospice care, it was not lost on me. Maybe not as a third-grader (let’s be real: the cultural critique game is not that strong in those afraid of the deep end) but definitely as a teenager onward, I had disparaged superheroes for the giant bullseyes they walked around with, glued to their backs. “Hey father issues, over here!” “Oi, Krypton, pick me!” “Enclosed spaces! Come at me bro!” People, I thought, don’t work like that. Everyone’s issues are deeply buried and they only come up in the quiet of your own mind, are dealt with, and then are shelved away, hopefully a little better cataloged than before, but otherwise ignored.

Yeah, um. Nope.

If I someone were standing in front of me who could somehow credibly claim to be responsible for my mother’s illness, I’d beat the everloving fuck out of him. It’s a giant emotional bullseye that I was just too sheltered, or lucky, to realize I’d have to carry around one day. I wouldn’t even pause — as Peter Quill doesn’t even pause — to reflect upon the recriminations, legal or moral or otherwise, of my actions.

I have acquired my bullseye. I pick up an issue of Runner’s World magazine, see an article on one man’s doomed attempt to keep running in the face of Alzheimer’s and bam, slap that sucker right back down on the shelf, unwilling to bring that freshly energized sadness into my day. (Still haven’t read the article.) I walk into a movie theater with a bunch of friends to see X-Men, knowing zero things about X-Men, and suddenly I’m burrowing nine miles back into the depths of my hoodie, fleeing Patrick Stewart’s all too accurate portrayal of dementia’s viciousness.

It’s not that I didn’t think people had (and I’ve tried not to use this word, because it has been co-opted by too many people to mean too many different things, and not with the best of intentions) triggers. I grew up in the nineties and aughts. From What About Bob to What Dreams May Come, we knew shit went down. That people got fucked up. But I always thought it would be…well. Other people, I guess. Not me.

The level of fuckery required for superhero-level bullseyes, I thought, didn’t apply to me. Unlike families I’ve since come to know intimately, no one in my house screamed at each other or threw things at each other, or starved themselves or drove their cars into trees on purpose, and I thought well, good. Bases covered. I’m safe from bad things. I knew the disease was coming, had seen it take my grandmother, and figured I was as ready as one can be.

I was wrong.

In a movie rife with enjoyable comedic and emotional beats, Guardians‘ portrayal of Quill’s reaction there is still my favorite moment. Because it is so true. (And, I guess, a little forgiving, if I think of it as true.) No one presses pause there to make judgmental Instagram reposts of Pinterest quotes in Lucida Handwriting pontificating that they would have shown compassion to their mother’s killer. No one chastises Peter for having feelings. They just do their best to help him mow down the fucker who killed his mom. And who also, okay, will kill everyone else if left to his own devices, but that, for me (if not for Quill — this is why he’s the superhero and I’m not) is beside the point.

Maybe, then, the unrealistic thing about superheroes isn’t their giant bullseye weaknesses just waiting to be exploited.

It’s that they get to overcome them.

 

broken hook

maui

For the record, I massively love in Moana how the guy who presents as a cocky jerk is broken apart so visibly. Obviously there’s the fem main character too (plus her sexuality not being part of the plot), but I knew about that going in and I was already on board for it. But I didn’t expect to see some self-aggrandizing jock torn up, not just via implication but verbally and openly. He places all his self-worth in this tool outside himself, and without it he sees himself as nothing, and he says it. That’s the sort of thing you usually surmise about people after they die and you try to put together the pieces of their life in a way that makes sense to you. And we are just out and told it, in dialogue and in song. It twists up my stomach, the way I first remember the shrinking episode of Lois and Clark (yeah I know, of all things!) doing. That kind of vulnerability (its exposure?) makes me a little nauseous, but it’s so worth portraying. Self-awareness, people! Self-awareness. Even if it turns you a little green.

“Chasing the love of these humans
Who made you feel wanted

You tried to be tough
But your armour’s just not hard enough”

heart

mother tongue

aquarium

I wanted to write a post about reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a teenager. How it was my mother who encouraged me to read it, when it came up as an option in school.

But I don’t remember enough.

I can’t tell her about it, now. She doesn’t know it anymore. Might not know me. But I recall not wanting to read the book, namely because I didn’t want to listen to my classmates, like the guy who told me I should fuck dogs if I thought fucking women was okay, weigh in on it. I didn’t want to read it but I did anyway, because my mother so rarely weighed in on what we should or should not read, and she said I ought to read that.

I remember bringing up the butter as moisturizer — “how could you…?” — as an artless segue into a discussion about the ending. (Spoilers.) My mother walked a fine line between the Reviving Ophelia generation of mothers, rightfully concerned about their kids cutting or killing themselves; and the blatant pragmatism of someone who had already considered her future and decided that yes, there were worse things than death. This was accompanied by all these corollaries explaining that then and only then, only in such an environment as that, would it even be conceivable to–

–and I’d cut her off flatly, reminding her that…oh, I can’t remember the pet phrase I had for it. I had a pet phrase for everything. Something about not wallowing in a puddle of my own despair. I didn’t like — abhorred, even — the idea of her treating me even for a minute with kid gloves, as some fragile Ophelia in need of bookshelves’ worth of doctoral opinions about child rearing. (I don’t know where I got the idea that any parenting advice obtained from a book was bad, but there it was. Maybe I just hated the cover, how fragile it made us all look.) But I also wanted her to keep leveling with me the way she was doing, about Handmaid’s Tale. About rape, I guess, and suicide. As far as I knew, no one else’s mom was leveling with them on this — at least not honestly, without the cellophane wrappings of religion or dogma or someone else’s words getting in the way.

If I could watch it with her, I’d thank her for that. For not pretending these things don’t happen. Or that by not talking about them, you can keep them from happening to you. But I can’t talk to her about it, because she’s no longer herself. And I guess, to her, I’m no longer me, either.

IMG_1219

So, anyway. The choice of song during the credits made my skin crawl. Is there a term for one’s skin crawling in the face of too on-point juxtaposition? If someone comes up with one, do let me know. I will then apply it all the times I catch myself biking to or from work, in despair over not remembering a thing — the Italian Cypress species of tree, for example, or Jamie Fraser’s full name — even as I wait for updates from my father on my mother’s bedridden, unknowing, pain-wracked condition.

I was grateful to her for the words she shared with me, after all. It is only right to keep trying to shape myself with them until I go helplessly down the same road she did. Even as I remember her saying that there were, indeed, worse things than death.

I know, Mom.

wrong number try again

book

I’m really exceptionally skilled at accumulating those “do what you love / if you are passionate about X, do it!” speeches.* The problem is I am never passionate about X; just good about towing its line to the point where people for whom X is everything think it is for me, too.

And it’s never some soul-searching moment either, because I’m not on some grand quest to find something I care about: I already know what I love doing! I just don’t do it for money because it’s not lucrative, and it’s far easier to be Good Enough at other things that pay.  Until, of course, you get to the part  where people give you what are meant to be inspiring speeches about the field — speeches which are destined never to move me as much as the speaker intended because these fields I wander into are staging areas. And I meander from staging area to staging area, because I never care enough about the grand production to take up a central a role there. And also because writers as a group can sometimes be real dicks, and people in other fields are more pleasant to be around. Mostly.

All of which is to say I suppose I should do some typing this weekend.

swanson

 

*Chris, this wasn’t your speech. This was the speech that led to me hitting you up for your advice, which was sensible and helpful. Thanks!

**Also, this isn’t about the new job; it’s about how people assume I felt about the old job.