Halfway across the sand, I kicked off my shoes, rolled up the bottoms of my jeans, and walked barefoot, hoping that LA county keeps up with making sure the beaches don’t get full of broken bottles and used needles. There were people around, but not a crazy amount, and it was easy to walk in a relatively straight line to the water without coming near anybody.
I stopped at the water and watched the waves curl around my ankles. It was the first refreshing, relaxing thing that had happened to me in at least twenty hours. My brain felt full of static from sleep deprivation and not enough food, I was still wearing wool-lined jeans, because I’d left Denver at 5:00am when it was about 13 degrees outside. I was wearing a backpack and carrying my jacket and felt like I’d just been dropped on a warm, balmy moon. Maybe it’s easier to fall into a meditative-like headspace when you’re nearing total exhaustion, or maybe it’s just easier when you can work your feet into the earth below you, when the water greets you with a cool, refreshing spray.
I walked along the beach away from the people, no plan in mind, just taking in each moment. Being too tired to be able to do much else besides enjoy where I was, too tired to even sit down. Not even trying to think, not needing to accomplish anything. Just feeling the cool water and being.
Filed under: Rambling, Travel, Uncategorized, Whatever | 2 Comments
I’m near the younger end of my cousins. I have four cousins younger than me, and twelve that are older, so when I was a kid and we went back to Louisiana to visit them, I was almost always one of the youngest ones there. So sometimes, while my parents talked with their siblings, I ended up doing not-entirely-age-appropriate stuff to entertain myself. Like when I was seven or eight and ended up in my cousin Daniel’s bedroom digging through his X-Men and Spider-Man comics and reading them. I didn’t know anything about the X-Men canon. It was in the middle of Chris Claremont’s epic run on the series, and a lot of it went over my head, but a lot of it settled in my subconscious, and planted seeds in my memory. I certainly learned the names of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Jean Grey. When Fox started airing the X-Men animated show in 1992, I was all over that shit like white on rice. The universe became clearer, and I started reading X-Men comics more regularly (but still pretty piecemeal, since I didn’t have access to a comic book shop) and assembling the universe in my head. The X-Men and the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants. Sentinels. Senator Kelly. William Stryker.
(Note: It was a mystery to me what X-Men story I had read first, because all I had was a memory of a single panel: of Nightcrawler lying unconscious and bleeding from his ears while the other X-Men stand over him in concern and a vague understanding of mutants as an oppressed minority rather than a crew of superheroes. It wasn’t until recently that I read God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and realized that that was the comic I had read decades earlier at my cousin’s).
Early on in the Fox series, there’s a plotline in which two scientists discover a “cure” for mutantism. I forget how the X-Men find out about it, but they do, and their reactions all fit their personalities and personal histories. Wolverine immediately sees it as a tool to eliminate mutants’ powers and neutralize the perceived threat of mutantkind; Rogue, not so much. As one of the mutants whose powers are both an ability and a curse, Rogue (as well as Beast) tend to be the most ambivalent about their mutations, and tempted by the idea of a cure. Peaceful, optimistic Charles Xavier disagrees with the very premise. “Don’t say ‘cure,’ Moira. Being a mutant isn’t a disease. It’s something you’re born with,” he tells Moira McTaggert, one of the scientists. (This is the same plot line that Joss Whedon would handle for his run writing the Astonishing X-Men comics in 2005). It is, basically, the neurodiversity argument, only written in 1992 for a grade school-level audience.
I think it’s this storyline (and others like it), rather the ones that deal with a planet in danger or intergalactic space war, that drew me to the X-Men. Pretty early on, I picked up on threads that I translated into the X-Men being code for people with disabilities. One of the earliest questions that I remember being asked about my sister (besides “What’s wrong with her?” and “What’s it like having a sister with Down’s?”) had to do with whether I would change her if I could. Magically suck the extra chromosome out of every single one of her body’s cells. I don’t remember how young I was when I first heard about the high abortion rates for fetuses with Down’s, but it’s been in my head since at least middle school. And even though I never witnessed people being cruel to my sister, I did witness neurotypical classmates of mine being cruel to disabled kids at my school, and being mocking in general of anyone in special ed or remedial classes. It became really easy, in my head, to equate “Do mutants have the right to exist?” and “Do people with disabilities have the right to exist?” To see “retard” and “mutie” as linguistic cousins. The fear and hostility that mutants experience when they interact with regular Homo sapiens sometimes feels familiar when I hear people talk about people with disabilities. The parallel ran so deep in my head that I was honestly surprised when I got to high school and college and started talking about the X-Men with other people and realized that for them, the parallel was between straight people and queer people, or white people and people of color. That there might be many parallels had honestly never occurred to me, so deep and solid was my understanding that “mutant” was code for “disabled.” (This was before I read Chris Claremont’s statement that for him, mutants could stand in for any outsider population. In the introduction to the trade paperback version of God Loves, Man Kills, Claremont says, “Mutants in the Marvel Universe have always stood as a metaphor for the underclass, the outsiders; they represent the ultimate minority.”)
It crystallized slowly for me, over the course of years. Not all–or even most–storylines have to do with mutaphobia, after all. The X-Men fight against Magneto and fight against the Shi’ar (and fight with the Shi’ar), and there’s the Phoenix Saga and numerous interpersonal dramas and secondary mutations and all that. To read the X-Men is to get to know them from the inside first, their individual histories, their powers, how they feel about those powers, their flaws and foibles, their courage and tenacity, their creativity at solving (or blasting through) problems. You know the X-Men as individuals, make friends with them, and as the stories pile up it slips your mind that the rest of the comic universe world doesn’t see them as individuals, but as a blanket population. You don’t always have to be aware of the fact that a small but significant percentage of the non-mutant population hates mutants, fears them, and wants them dead.
I came to knowledge of my sister’s disability in much the same way. I was three–almost four–when she was born, so I didn’t have any concept of what Down syndrome was. She was just an eating, pooping, crying (and eventually giggling) machine. Your basic human baby. By the end of elementary school (when she would’ve been around seven and me around eleven), I had a pretty good handle on the definition of Down syndrome, but I had an even better knowledge of my sister. I knew how much she loved Barbie and Full House and that cheese was a fundamental dietary building block. I knew her love and her smiles and her stubbornness. I knew how much she was distressed by bees (and flies that might be bees) and automatic garage doors and anybody crying. I knew her. It’s hard to put all that aside and look at my sister from an outsider’s point of view and remember that there’s people who think that my sister is a waste of space. That she’s stupid. That she’s a burden on society and/or my family and that she shouldn’t exist. And there’s people out there who don’t think those things, but who are happy to tell me such things over the Internet because they know it’ll get to me.
I truly believe my sister is a gifted person, though not in the academic way that most people think of when they label kids “gifted.” Her gifts are of a more abstract sort: a deep and instinctive knowledge of chesed, of loving-kindness, of human joy. But the same genetic error that gave her those gifts also gets in the way, too. Gets in the way of her desire to live independently and have more friends. Gets in the way of my family’s desire that she live with economic stability and a reasonable amount of personal safety. Would she welcome the chance for a cure? I honestly don’t know. Like Rogue, her extra chromosome is both a gift and a curse. She can do many amazing things, but also misses out on a lot of opportunities that are easily available to “normals.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized the other parallel. The angry one.
Because people with disabilities get abused at disturbingly, shockingly, unacceptably high rates in modern America. And every time I see it, in the news or wherever, it makes the muscles in my arms harden, and I stop breathing, and start looking for something to hit. Of course there’s never anything to hit. In those moments, though, I wish I was the mutant Pyro, so I could literally set the world on fire. In Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, when Dr. Rao announces a cure for the “mutant disease” on television, Wolverine’s claws come out and he can’t retract them. “She called us a disease. Do you know how that feels?” he says.
Yeah, Logan. I think I do, at least a little bit.
I would set the whole world on fire. I understand Magneto’s fury in the face of human intolerance and bigotry, and why he’s given up on humans and on Charles Xavier’s idealism. Xavier wants to teach people tolerance and compassion, but that is the long fucking way around the problem, and in the meantime people are straight up fucking dying and why do I have to talk to you about not calling people retards when those same people are getting murdered? I don’t have time for that bullshit. It would be so much easier, so much more satisfying, to just throw cars at people and silence them.
When it was my own sister that got hurt, it didn’t feel like enough. Her getting hurt by somebody else felt like the end point of a long chain of dealing with the stupidity and apathy of “normals” and the inevitable vulnerability and invisibility that disabled people experience because of it. There had been decades of people asking, in so many words, “Why does your sister exist?” And then someone came along and decided that she existed to be his victim. He picked a vulnerable, invisible person, and he did it on purpose, because he knew he could get away with it. He thought she wouldn’t fight back. And he was largely right, because how do you teach somebody to defend herself when her default setting is that everyone is her friend?
And that is when I understand the anger that allows Magneto to channel enough power to lift an entire football stadium into the air.
That is when I understand the Scarlet Witch’s anger and desperation when she says, “No more mutants.”
That is when I understand Pyro throwing fireballs, because that’s what I would do, that’s what I wanted to do, to set the whole fucking world on fire for leaving my sister helpless and invisible and vulnerable to somebody who decided to hurt her.
I want to incinerate the world. I want claws like Wolverine’s. Because that’s the biggest thing that X-Men in the Marvel Universe have going for them, that’s their trump card. They can do astonishing things. Uncanny things. Amazing things. They can save the world when no one else can. And that’s a really good argument in favor of their right to exist. When all else fails, when morals and ethics and human compassion fails, mutant usefulness is still there. My sister, and people like her, aren’t stupendous. They aren’t awe-inspiring. They do not astonish, unless you’re willing to examine something quieter and more subtle than telekinesis. Given the chance, much as I like to imagine myself as one of Xavier’s noble X-Men, I’m probably closer to one of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. More interested in defending, in fighting, than explaining. At least where my sister is concerned. Because it makes me so, so angry, the way this world treats the most vulnerable people in it.
But there’s this: I think Magneto feels very alone. At least, on days when I want to blow up the world, that’s how I feel: like nobody cares about this–either not enough or not at all–except me. And if their apathy was neutral, it wouldn’t matter. But apathy isn’t neutral. In the vacuum of apathy, people like my sister get hurt. They die. They’re left all alone. And that is when I have to go for a walk and calm down until I can hear the Charles Xavier voice in my head again. The one that insists that normal humans are worth teaching. The one that believes that humans and mutants can co-exist. The one who would never commit genocide, even though he has the mental power to make everyone’s brains ooze out of their earholes. I remind myself that I’m not alone. That there’s a lot of people–and not just in my family, either–who love my sister, who want to help her, and who are helping her.
My sister loves me. And I love her. She never gives up trying to do anything you ask her to do. There is nothing on this earth that could shake her faith in me. And maybe that makes me selfish, to want to keep that. Almost certainly it is. No more selfish than keeping her around because she’s the only one powerful enough to fight the Brood, but hey. We haven’t had much luck with convincing the world that the ability to love is enough of a utility to exist in a capitalistic society.
Sometimes I think about Ian McKellan (who is, as far as I’m concerned, Magneto’s alter ego) and the fact that, despite dealing with homophobia on a personal and professional level his whole life, he has not himself turned into a supervillian. The fact that, in spite of all they’ve been put through, oppressed minorities in this country (whether it’s disabled folks, LGBTQ folks, mentally ill folks, people of color, etc etc) have, without exception, never turned into evil supervillians. (I know I’m generalizing here, but keep in mind that this is what I tell myself in order to not let my heart get eaten by a murderous rage that burns with the heat of a thousand suns and cut me some slack.) Sure, there’s warlords in Africa and drug cartels in Mexico and Kim Jung-un in North Korea, and they cause enormous amounts of heartache and human damage, but they’re not exactly on the world-endangering level of Dr. Doom or the Red Skull. From a power and world domination standpoint, Barack Obama is the closest thing we have to a supervillain. Maybe Donald Trump. From the oppressed minority contingent, we don’t get Magneto. We get Martin Luther King, Jr.; a human of intelligence and courage that we certainly did not ask for, let alone deserve, but are so fortunate to have had in our midst. We get Helen Keller and Harvey Milk and Nelson Mandela. Bayard Rustin and Vincent Harding and Temple Grandin. Artists like Toni Morrison, Leslie Feinberg, Maya Angelou, Jeremy Brett. We get the beautiful people that I know from the progressive/leftist/anarchist organizing community in Denver, who have taught me about putting love into action and validating and standing up for yourself and others. We get community groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement and the AIDS Quilt and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. And that’s just in this past century. The world is full of thousands and thousands of heroes that we don’t deserve, and often don’t recognize while we have them among us. And that is the truly amazing, awe-inspiring, human superpower: The fact that, in the face of oppression and systematic violence and apathy, more often than not, humans choose to love and hope. They default to trying to teach other humans to be better. The fact that we have as many heroes as we do should send us all to our knees.
Thousands of Charles Xaviers walking among us, disguised as regular people. I like that.
Filed under: Allyship, Disabilities, Idealism, Optimism, Personal History, Rant, Television, Uncategorized, Whatever, White Privilege, X-Men | Leave a Comment
Episode Four: Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s cover is blown! Oh noes! His life mission to anonymously bring Justice(!) to Starling City lasted like a month. Peter Parker is making Judgment Face at you, not-Chris-O’Donnell. Be ashamed.
Okay, so actually, not-Chris-O’Donnell’s bodyguard got shot, and so not-Chris-O’Donnell brought him to his Secret Justice Lair to fix him (because Starling City doesn’t have hospitals?), and the bodyguard’s immediate reaction (even though he’s been shot and poisoned and is still metabolizing an antidote) is to try and hit Ollie. Because everyone in this universe is pissed off at Ollie.
I must also point out this excellent dialogue without comment:
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: I found a couple things along the way.
Mr. Diggle: Like what, archery classes?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: Clarity. Starling City is dying.
Mr. Diggle (I’m just going to call him by his actual name because it’s amazing) calls not-Chris-O’Donnell a criminal and a murderer and leaves him. All alone. So. Very. Alone. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes back to his big empty house and puts on a suit, and after some unknown period of time Laurel comes to “check on him,” because she has excellent boundaries and is totally on top of all of her shit.
Apparently Laurel has decided to be not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mommy since his actual mom is kind of an emotionally absent sociopath. She guilts him into not telling his family that he was okay after getting shot at, which is totally legit, but she also calls him selfish (and other synonyms) to make him feel guilty. Because guilt is the best way to encourage people to change their behavior. At this point, Laurel is just lashing out, and should probably move on, but she won’t, because…something.
Oh, and the sister saw it all! Lucky not-Chris-O’Donnell isn’t wearing his Arrow hoodie or he would’ve been outed twice tonight. She seems understanding and calm…she’s probably stoned. She dispenses with advice like a reasonable person.
Okay, next morning, Mr. Diggle has phoned in his resignation, apparently effective immediately. I hope he sells his story to the tabloids, because it’s a good one. Also I hope he got medical attention because he got shot. So not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mom called Bodyguards R Us and had them send over another one. Not-Chris-O’Donnell immediately ditches him.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell is investigating his own Making A Murderer-esque miscarriage of justice into a convicted murderer. The convicted murderer is not on Oliver’s list of people who are murdering Starling City, but the name of his employer is, so not-Chris-O’Donnell concludes is that the convicted murderer was framed. Obviously. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes and talks to Laurel (who is a lawyer, remember) about proving his innocence. Can I just point out again here that a hoodie is actually a terrible disguise? And he walks right up to Laurel like she can’t see his face and recognize him. (Also, you can tell that his Batman voice was done in the studio post-production and it’s very annoying.)
Laurel is now investigating the murder, because apparently there is still a hope to get a new trial declared? Stay of execution? Commuted sentence? I’m totally unclear on the legal process here. Is she even his lawyer?
Okay. I got distracted. Not-Chris-O’Donnell went to talk to Mr. Diggle to try and enlist him, again, into joining Team Vigilante For Justice. Roommate wants me to point out how creepy not-Chris-O’Donnell is when talking to the waitress who is also Mr. Diggle’s family member (which not-Chris-O’Donnell knows, I’m assuming, because he went snooping through Mr. Diggle’s personal life. You know, like friends do). Mr Diggle is not amused, and does not want to join Team Vigilante for Justice, and so Oliver uses emotional blackmail by telling him that the assassin that he “stopped” the other night had murdered Mr. Diggle’s brother. This is a compelling argument because…reasons? I feel like people who are against vigilante justice feel that way because they believe in the legal process, and justice, and staying within the law. Not because they have a stake (personal or otherwise) in deciding whether the vigilante’s victims deserve to be targeted or not. But that’s just me. Maybe there’s people out there who think that vigilantes only kill innocent people and are fine when they find out that vigilantes only kill people who deserve it?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell seems to rely on force of will and non-sequiters to persuade people to his arguments. Mr. Diggle says he doesn’t respect him, and not-Chris-O’Donnell responds by pulling his dad’s journal out of his pocket and shows it to him because…I don’t even know. Not-Chris-O’Donnell makes a lot of anti-capitalist arguments, and portrays the plight of the underprivileged in shockingly bad Batman voice, and argues that the plight of the underprivileged can only be avenged by murder. (Also if, as Roommate argues, Starling City’s manifestation of a capitalist system is not unusual–that is, that exploitative capitalism is a feature and not a bug–not-Chris-O’Donnell is really just getting started at just getting started. I look forward to the Starling City/Gotham crossover, and after that…the world!) “People like my father, they see nothing wrong with raising themselves up while stepping on other people’s throats.” Was this kid reading Trotsky on his desert island?
OKAY NEW THEORY: The show so far hasn’t actually done a fantastic job of showing us the human cost of living under the heel of the evil Starling City capitalists/evil doers. Like, watching any number of Batman movies or reading Batman comics, I totally understand, really quickly, why Gotham is not a great city to live in. I totally understand the human cost that the corrupt police department and rampant crime has cost that city. I don’t have that sense with Arrow, so far, which leads me to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Ollie actually went mad on the island and is enacting some kind of insane murderous delusion that he thinks is saving the city. We only have his word and his dad’s that the city is being poisoned from the inside out, after all. (Also, poison? Has it gotten into the water supply?).
Okay. We need to pause and talk about torture…
……So. Who wants to start?
Skipping over a couple of scenes of the B plot that don’t matter, Arrow has gotten information from Laurel about the murder victim’s boss, who testified at the husband’s trial that the victim had never reported fraud to him (or whatever she reported) (the husband was convicted of his wife’s murder; Arrow is attempting to prove that the murderer was actually the wife’s employer. Arrow says that they have to get him to testify (again, AT WHAT? The trial is done, the execution is scheduled, there are no more hearings to testify at.) Not-Chris-O’Donnell basically says that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the boss to confess to perjury, and then channels his inner Spider-Man and sort of…grapple-arrows his way across the downtown Starling City skyline.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell then kidnaps the boss and chains him to a train track and threatens to put Boss on the 10:15 to “Bloodhaven” (is that an actual city that exists in comics or was not-Chris-O’Donnell making a funny?). Boss confesses to keeping evidence of corporate wrongdoing and murder in his desk. At work. His corporate bosses, who had his subordinate murdered, are working in the same building where he keeps evidence of her murder and their corporate wrongdoing. Also this evidence is three years old, and just hanging out in his desk.
Oh, and torture. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the last 15 years of the existence of Guantanamo Bay, it’s that torture works. As not-Chris-O’Donnell is demonstrating here with his murder train.
We detour to a bad wig flashback. A random man is rescuing not-Chris-O’Donnell, sort of, except his method of rescue is to give not-Chris-O’Donnell a caged live bird for him to kill and eat himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell does not want to kill the bird, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. Poor sad, uncorrupted, innocent not-Chris-O’Donnell. Also the kid who is shipwrecked on a desert island has his shirt buttoned all the way up to his neck and it’s making me really uncomfortable.
Roommate wants to talk about the awesomely-written dialogue for a moment. Specifically the line, when Arrow hands her evidence that he stole after committing a violent felony that nearly ended in train murder, that, “as a lawyer, [she] never would have gotten a file like this.” Minds are changing as we watch, guys. You can see her opinions changing right in front of her eyes and it’s clearly a confusing experience for her. Like, of course you never would have gotten a file like this as a lawyer. Know why? Because it’s ILLEGAL AS FUCK AND NOT ADMISSABLE IN COURT. Laurel. Come on. You’re supposed to be the smart, down-to-earth one here.
I’m derailing talk of the amazing dialogue to talk about the legal system: We have illegally obtained files that are about corporate wrongdoing (not murder!) that Laurel can apparently use in the execution hearing that doesn’t exist to get a convicted murderer freed. Also she’s not even his lawyer. Also the files were stolen! From a guy who almost got murdered by a train! What is this justice system that exists!
You guys there’s still 17 minutes left in the episode and I’m getting really exhausted by this whole thing. Things are happening and half an hour ago I would’ve told you about them but I just can’t. Not-Chris-O’Donnell has frolicked off to torture a confession out of a corporate magnate and I just don’t care. Torture. Meh.
Final fight scene is the worst ever. I can’t even. There’s still ten minutes left in the episode but I’m done. Guy in prison gets magically released. Laurel is falling in love with the masked vigilante. The end.
Roommate says: “If I could fart right now, I would.”
Filed under: Arrow, Bah, Rant, Reviews, Starling City, Television, Uncategorized, Whatever | Leave a Comment
I wrote this in high school, fifteen or sixteen years ago, but found it recently. The comic book referenced throughout is this one, one of the first independently published comics that I ever got into. It’s wildly violent but also wildly funny and sad. I think I mostly wrote this essay to prove to some English teacher that I learned something from her class; I suspect she was not amused.
Required reading: JTHM: Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez, or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics #1-7.
Recommended reading: Squee, “Happy Noodle Boy,” the “Meanwhiles” and “Wobbly-Headed Bob” comics by Jhonen Vasquez.
Tragedy: “A story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man of high estate, and a story of the human actions producing exceptional calamity in the death of such a man.”
Point the First: There is only one tragic hero. Johnny is the only character in his world that is subjected to intense mental suffering. He inflicts suffering on others, but none of them truly understand the magnitude or implications of it; they just want to stay alive in as non-painful a way as possible. Thus, since they want to avoid pain, they also avoid joy. Most of the characters besides Johnny are self-absorbed and immature, and exist to drive Nny to the brink of psychological extinction. Nny is utterly alone in the world, with no one to alleviate his suffering or understand what he’s going through.
Point the Second: They are exceptional beings. Though not a nationally known politician or royal figure, Nny is noticed wherever he goes. He is hideously skinny, wears knee-high steel-toed boots, spiky hair, and has a way of looking at people that tends to creep them out and cause them to either ponder death or make fun of him. Not only are tragic heroes conspicuous, but they possess qualities which inspire awe or fear in others. They are made of the same stuff as us, only magnified and more intense. Johnny is the human embodiment of all our frustrations and anger. The waitress in the restaurant who spit in your food. The high school kids who taunted you. The driver who cut you off. What do you want to do to them? No, what do you really want to do? Johnny actually does it. Johnny indulges his demonic inner child.
Point the Third: The tragic story leads up to, and includes, the death of the hero. In Part 4, Johnny, after many failed attempts, finally manages to shoot himself in the head. This is ironic because he does it accidentally, immediately after he’s decided he doesn’t want to die (ohhh, irony, another lesson from high school English). In Part 5, he actually dies, and in Part 6, he goes to the afterlife and discovers he belongs in neither Heaven nor Hell, and gets sent back to Earth.
Point the Fourth: The suffering and calamity are exceptional. Throughout the comics, Nny does hardly anything but suffer. People make fun of him for how he looks. He has no friends. The Psycho Doughboy and Mr. Fuck torment his mind. He has to keep the wall coated with blood so nothing comes out. The ice-sucky machine gets turned off at 2:00am. He disembowels people, pulls their arms off, crushes their skulls, and stabs them with sporks (while listening to Beethoven). His head is blasted into pieces. He tries to kill the only woman who seems to have a chance at making him happy, because he can’t get happy lest it all come crashing down. About the only benign presence in the comics is Squee, the small neighbor boy that Nny tries to help but ends up terrorizing.
Johnny’s suffering is so much more calamitous not because events are out of his control, but because of the exact opposite. He actively destroys anything that might bring him happiness, rather than have it ripped from him just when he starts to enjoy himself. “You don’t understand; I’m happy!!” he screams to Devi, the only girl who treats him like a human. “I can’t let you go, we’ve begun something lovely, and, as with all things that start, it, inevitably, ends! The beginning is always so fine!! But decay soon follows, a degeneration into the tired old situation. The rot sets in.” (JTHM, Part 2).
Point the Fifth: The catastrophe will be of monumental proportions. The basic formula for tragic heroes, particularly the Shakespearean variety, is “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Humpty starts on high—a man of rank, often of royalty, and then he falls as low as you can go—specifically, dead. Johnny’s tragedy is not so much where he starts out as it is in the total and utter depths of his fall. You would think that you can’t get more monumental than dead, but Johnny isn’t allowed to stay in Heaven or Hell—even in death, he belongs nowhere.
Point the Sixth: Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are responsible for their own falls—they have a tragic flaw. We’ve already discussed how Nny destroys anything and everything that might make him happy or, at the very least, lessen his misery. Much of his pain is the result of his refusal to take a chance at being happy. Johnny also pulls the trigger of the gun that kills him. Johnny’s tragic flaw is that he grows so obsessed with being unhappy. He kills hundreds of people in gruesome ways, and all he feels is the desire to kill more, as well as despair and guilt that that the killing will never stop. He writes in his diary, “You seem to be enjoying yourself. Quit it.” (Part 3) What makes Johnny great, his intelligence and clarity, is also his undoing, driving him to insanity, murder, and eventually suicide.
Filed under: JTHM, Personal History, Rambling, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
I met some people along the way,
Some of them split, some of them stay,
Some of them walk, some walk on by,
I’ve got a few friends I’ll love till I die.
From all of these people I’ve tried to learn,
Some of them shine, some of them burn,
Some of them rise, some of them fall,
But good or bad, I’ve known them all.
–Bouncing Souls, “True Believers”
A bit over a year ago, a friend of mine fell down a flight of concrete steps and cracked his skull, and ended up in a coma in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I live 1500 miles away and am not close with his family, so I had to wait on infrequent facebook updates to get shared around mutual friends and eventually show up in my timeline to follow how he was doing. The exact ins and outs of what happened, I still don’t know.
It’s weird, being deeply worried about a friend that nobody else in your local area knows. There was an extra layer of inexplicability with Bill, because one of the defining struggles of his life thus far has been drug addiction, and it’s almost impossible to talk about him without it coming up (for example, in this situation, I don’t know the answer to what made him fall, but alcohol would be a reasonable guess at an aggravating factor). It’s effected his employment, his criminal record, his education and who he hangs out with. But even though I’m friends with this addict, somehow, his using has never come between us. We don’t talk about it, and on the rare occasions when we do, he’s the one to bring it up. I’m sure the distance helps. And (either by his choice or by virtue of said distance), I’ve never caught the fallout of addict behavior that makes loving addicts so hard and complicated. He’s never borrowed money from me he didn’t return, never stolen from me, never shown up blasted on my porch at 2am needing a place to crash, never tried to store illegal materials in my home. The only thing that’s happened is that once his PO made him take a surprise drug test at the same time that he was supposed to be getting me into a show, and when that happened, he scrambled around until he found a band member to get me in instead. Our friendship has managed to be remarkably uncomplicated over the years, and it’s all the more valuable to me for that. Bill has always been stand up with me. Maybe he’s not with everyone, but he is with me. And it bothers me that, if he dies, I won’t know how to explain how important he is to me–even though he is an addict, even though we only talk once a year or so. His official obituary will probably be something like, “Bill died from complications/got jumped in a bad neighborhood/succumbed to alcohol poisoning. He worked as a cafeteria worker at a local school, and has no wife or kids.” And nobody will miss him, because nobody will know the first thing about him that makes him important to me. That make him worth knowing. Nobody else cares that when I was just a random kid standing next to him in line at a show, he made friends with me. Nobody will write about his generosity, or his general good heart, or how I always feel like he’d be willing to protect me from all comers. Nobody will write about how goddamn funny he is (sometimes unintentionally so) or how he’s one of those guys that always has a story to tell. He’ll just be another dead junkie in the gutter, and his obituary another article on which I should not read the comments, because they’ll be full of people who think they know what they’re talking about but really don’t know the first thing.
I had exactly that experience about a month later, actually, when a girl I know got murdered in Phoenix. She was 17 years old and (as news articles noted at the time) had a history of mental illness and runaway behavior. She was adopted out of an abusive situation as a toddler, along with her older brother and sister, but was never really able to leave it behind, and yeah, grew up to exhibit a lot of behaviors that are really common in at-risk teenagers. The troubles that threatened to swallow her were really obvious to anyone who knew her for more than ten minutes. I wasn’t involved in her day-to-day life, but I remember thinking, if we can just get her past puberty, and her body hormones and chemicals settle a little, she’ll be able to tackle the really hard stuff. She can do that. She was a stubborn fucking kid, and I thought that, in a few years and with her stubborn pointed in the right direction, it would’ve started to serve her, instead of getting in her way. There were so many people hoping for that kid, and pulling for that kid. I said that if you knew her for ten minutes, you could see some of her problematic behaviors. But if you knew her for five, you could also see the things that would get her through: how fiercely protective she was of herself and her siblings. The way her whole face softened when she smiled. The way she’d hang out on the edges of groups, assessing them before slowly wading in. The line she walked between being utterly guarded and surprisingly trusting. The steps she was taking towards self-care and self-awareness. This was a special fucking kid, you guys. And one person (or small group of people) decided he could ruin it, had it in his power to cancel all that out, wrecked our hopeful house of cards and left her beaten in an alley. He thought he knew better than us what mattered, and Brianna wasn’t anywhere on his list. Afterwards, trying to find information, I made the mistake of reading the comments (local news did several articles about her, because the police were in need of leads or information), which were full of people who always knew exactly how Brianna would end up, even though they never knew her, because the label “adopted out of foster care” or “runaway” told them everything that they thought they needed to know.
I wish I could say it didn’t bother me, these people not knowing but passing judgment anyway. But it does. I want them to know how she smiled and how she loved her brother and sister. I want them to know how much she cared for the family dogs. Or, at least, I want the peanut gallery to be aware that it knows nothing. But there’s no way to accomplish this, so, best just not read the comments.
Have you been listening to the second season of Serial? I’ve been listening to the second season of Serial, which this year is covering Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his imprisonment (and eventual release) by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I didn’t follow his story closely when he was released and all the media kerfuffle happened about whether or not he was a traitor and whether he should’ve been rescued at all, or left to rot in a cage in Pakistan. I didn’t follow it closely, but I remember every talking head on cable news and Twitter having an opinion (as they are paid to do, admittedly). And I wonder, did they follow it more closely than me? Did they know he was kept in a cage, beaten? Did they know he escaped? Did they know he had diarrhea for months, and no toilet, and no toilet paper? Did they know he was kept in solitary confinement for years, surrounded by people that he couldn’t talk to because they didn’t speak English? Maybe they did; maybe I’m the last one aboard this knowledge train. And maybe knowing the details of his capture shouldn’t be allowed to muddy the waters of judging whether or not he committed treason (or something) when he walked off his army base. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does for me. It complicates things. There’s a difference between some guy I don’t know walking off an army base and Bowe Bergdahl, Person. It at least makes me less likely to expend my energy on trying to figure out what the army should do with him (there are many good reasons why that is not my job, and why I should not pretend that it is by voicing an opinion on the internet or anywhere else). I would be a terrible criminal court judge, never feeling like I have enough information about a person to be able to, in good conscience, send them to prison and blow up their lives (I know, I know. They blew up their own lives. This, again, is why I’m not a criminal lawyer).
One of the great lies about the information age is that we can know everything. And we can, most assuredly, know many many things. We have recorded an astronomical, mind-boggling amount of information and facts and reflections and thoughts into our many data-holding mechanisms. Our species’ ability to store information outside of the currently living, single generation is perhaps our single greatest evolutionary gift. But the thing that we forget, while we’re drowning under all this information, is how little we know. About ourselves, about each other. About people on the internet whose names we barely know, and whose existence we’re only aware of because we scanned their obituaries. I just think we need to be careful about thinking we know anything about anyone. For years, I’ve thought of people’s lives and their effect on the world as constellations. Sparkling ephemera of connections and people and jobs and hugs and attitudes and feelings, which aren’t patterns in and of themselves, but where patterns can be inferred without much trouble. We can never know the true shape of our constellation that other people see. But there’s another, even better way of looking at it. Earlier today, I was listening to the Moth podcast, and one of the storytellers was Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier and author of the memoir A Long Way Gone and the novel Radiance of Tomorrow, and he said this about his transition from child to child soldier:
“I did not realize that a year later, I would be one of those same people, one of these same young men that I was seeing; that I would be one of these people going around and starting a different kind of narrative in the library of my own mind. But not only that, I grew up in a place where we also believe that when an older person dies, a library is destroyed, or burned. And now we were going around, destroying the very same knowledge, the source of knowledge, that could add to our narratives. And we didn’t know what kind of library we were creating. And worst of all, we were destroying a source of knowledge that, perhaps, could help us understand how our narratives could actually pan out.”
Filed under: Bah, Idealism, Personal History, Rambling, Serial podcast, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
Another piece written 5+ years ago, for my zine, which is now an e-book, but I didn’t put this piece in the e-book. Disclaimer note that this is short fiction.
The only thing my mother left that day was the dirty dishes in the sink. I’ve wondered about that for years. If you plan to kill yourself while your kids are at school––if you plan to go down in the basement and hang yourself from a rafter––why do you clean the whole house from top to bottom, finish the laundry, put everything exactly in its place––but then leave the dirty dishes in the sink? It’s just bizarre. She didn’t leave a note, which was also a little bizarre, considering how meticulous she was generally. All that was left was an immaculate house with dirty dishes in the sink. And if you plan to kill yourself, why would you do it when you know it will be your children that find you? I mean, come on. We come home from school to an empty house and assume that Mom is running errands. Grab Nilla Wafers from the cupboard. Argue over whose turn it is to do the dishes. Go down to the basement to find the football––and there’s your mother, looking like a grotesque parody of a piñata. It was like some major kind of fault line in Time, with the dishes sitting there between Before and After. Sometimes I could hear her talking, behind a closed door, through the phone just hung up; leaving a message on the answering machine just erased. We all drifted around the house like ghosts, pale and sad, and I felt like there was more than one death lurking in the corners of the house. Nobody wanted to touch the dishes. They sat there for days. I came downstairs to find food at three in the morning, and the light when the refrigerator door opened threw the dishes into sharp relief, dark shadows high on the wall. And suddenly I hated her, hated the continual reminder, hated reaching back to the time of Before. Without realizing it, I hurled her dishes against the wall, shattering, exploding.
I want to destroy you, destroy myself, banish the ghosts that haunt my every step, every movement, every thought. Shatter your image out of every cup and saucer. I will take the jagged shards and carve your name on my wrist so that with every beat of my pulse I can kiss you, every single beat for the rest of this life you left me in. This dark and interminable place where at any moment I will trip and fall into an abyss, a pit from which nothing returns. And I recognize it now, the pit that you fell in, and I don’t know if I can avoid it. I don’t know if I want to. And the only reason I don’t is because I hate you. I loved you so much and it never made a difference; I want to stop loving you so much because then the hate will stop too. It’s a good thing you’re dead because if I saw you again, I might kill us both.
Filed under: fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment