I read a thing. I didn’t like it. Now I need to tell you how much I didn’t like it, because these other people, they liked it. And I can’t stand that, because I REALLY DIDN’T LIKE IT. And because I didn’t like it that means it’s bad. It’s a bad thing. It’s awful. So there’s something wrong with those people that like that thing. How could they like that thing? Wasn’t it clear that it was bad? Wasn’t that obvious? If the thing was good, I’d know. I’d be able to tell. It would be clearly a good thing. No doubt at all. But that thing? That thing wasn’t a good thing, because I didn’t like it and I know good things. Never mind that it might not have been made for me, never mind that I might not have the life experience it speaks to, or the simple matter of it coming down to taste. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, I know. And that thing was bad, because I didn’t like it, and I only like good things. Those people who liked that thing, they’re wrong. They’re dumb. They have problems. Isn’t that obvious? It’s a bad thing because I didn’t like it.
I read a thing online.
I didn’t agree 100% with it.
I was okay with that and went on with my life.
Why is this hard for people?
I deleted my Facebook account last week.
Or I put in a request to have my Facebook account deleted.
Or some iteration of that…
And this isn’t out of some privacy, anti-Zuckerberg stance, but simply for my own mental health. I wish I could be one of those people that lurk and post once or twice a year. The people who know what’s going on with you, but never say anything. Yeah, they’re creepy, and yeah, I’m talking about, you know, my aunt, but I envy their self-control. If I could simply lurk and not opine, I’d still be there. As it is I can’t, and I know I can’t, and I also know 4PM with low-blood sugar and bored at his desk Justin is really and truly not the best Justin. So as not to give “him” a soap-box and to cut down on the petty annoyances of finding out your former good friend thinks alien wooly mammoths built the pyramids because we now have cell phones, on one hand, and the daily machine-gun barrage of outrage-inducing current events that I must form an opinion about and emote about RIGHT NOW, on the other, the whole thing was getting me down.
Of course, I’m having second thoughts. For one thing, I’ve somehow managed to become friends with people that don’t check their email regularly. Send them a FB message or a Twitter PM and they get right back to you. But an email? No. (Although the worst of those people are the ones who you email and then they text you back, because WTF.)
The other reason I’m waffling is that FB groups were easy to organize and most everyone checked them regularly, so if I cave it may just be to belong to one or two groups for gaming and swapping books. Otherwise I start feeling like that asshole vegetarian friend of yours from high school, you know the one that passive-aggressively manipulated everyone to eat where they wanted, because they were assholes more than they were vegetarians. What ends up happening is everyone makes plans on FB to meet, and then one of them has to email me to get my input, and then bring that to the group, then back and forth, so on and so on, so that in order to stay connected I have to find a friend who doesn’t mind being stuck in the middle, and I know if that was me there, I’d be as annoyed as shit.
All that’s making me rethink my decision a bit.
A thought experiment – every fantasy novel in the world has been destroyed. You have only been able to save three. From these a new fantasy genre will be born. What three novels are they?
I know two of mine, but I’m still trying to figure out the third.
In the meantime what are yours?
I’ve got these students, smart kids, but you ask them a question and they can’t answer it. Not because they don’t know the answer, but because they don’t think the question is the question. They think the question is a trick, a distraction, from another unasked question. And what they’re trying to figure out is the answer to that question.
Maybe you don’t do the same. I know I certainly do.
Someone asks you a question and you respond to some other, imagined question. Not what was asked, but what you imagined was asked. And sure, some people are Machiavellian assholes all too eager to trap people and get them all mixed up. And yeah, some of these people are teachers, and they’ll boast about how clever they are and stupid/gullible their students are. But those folks are something else entirely. Very rarely is life like some deathtrap dungeon of spiked pits and pendulum scythes (at least it hasn’t been so far). Instead life is rather straightforward. Better to answer the question asked than respond to the one from the imaginary conversation going on inside your head.
Are you really taking a break from the internet if you don’t go online and tell everyone you’re taking a break from the internet?
There’s this way people think about things that I always find surprising and more than a little pernicious.
In general it goes like this: Person A is doing something about X and actively engaged with it. Person B is not engaged with X, but thinks they know something about it because they once read an article/saw a movie/watched a youtube documentary on the subject. So while Person A has experiential, nuanced knowledge of X, Person B believes they have just as comparable and useful knowledge without really ever experiencing anything first-hand about X.
Another way of putting it is like this: when people say they know about X, what they actually know about it tends to be three pictures that they think about when they think about X.
So, for example, when I talk to most other Americans about South Korea, their knowledge of the country is pretty much the Korean War, Kim Jung Un, and kimchee; a weird incongruous mix of 1950s world events, current cable news, and a pop culture reference or two. As if at this moment I lived amid a ruined city under North Korean siege with tanks outside my window while Psy gungnam-styled all around.
But, like I said, I find this way of thinking to be pernicious, where we mistake our thin veneer of knowledge about something, for actually knowing about it. I’d rather people, myself included, admitted to ignorance and say, “I don’t know.”
More to the point, I think it gets interesting when we start to see where those pictures originated and how they got inside our heads. What purpose is served by their being there? Maybe they say more about us and our own assumptions than they do about the thing we believe we know something about. Maybe we’d be wise to learn how to discern actual knowledge from the billboards we put up to cover our ignorance.
“Fools! Fools! I thought. Love it! Love the loss as well as the gain. Go home and dig it. Nobody was killed. We saw victory and defeat, and they were both wonderful.”
– Barry Hannah, “Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet”
The Other Side of McMedieval Feudalism, or The Use of Mythic Distance in Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”
So that fascinating thing I hinted at about the setting in my last post about Le Morte D’Arthur – it’s totally generic McEurope, but instead of this being a design flaw, it’s a design feature.
Actually calling it McEurope is too specific. It’s more McMedieval Feudalism seen from the top without ever looking down. It’s an aristocracy divorced from all other social classes with an endless supply of weapons and armor to fight with. You have to at least enjoy that stuff as aesthetic trappings without any attendant realism. Only once does someone go to town and see a craftsperson to get a thing fixed. That’s your realism. Peasants hardly ever appear in it, and knights apparently have nothing better to do than stand all day beside bridges challenging whomever happens to walk by. “None shall pass”, etc.
What locales there are all blend together. Bridges, cloisters, and wells with maidens (or knights) weeping beside them lend some decoration to the otherwise indistinguishable setting. There are castles, and outside every castle is a forest. Inside the forest adventures happen.
But I said this is a feature rather than a flaw. What makes it fascinating is how quickly bright sanitized McMedieval Feudalism can become weird foreboding mythic id-laden fairyland. The one rule is when you go into the forest stuff happens to you. That stuff can be the frat-house jousting (with accompanying sides of homoeroticism and misogyny), or something a lot weirder and subconsciously ripe. It’s no surprise that “the forest” gets transformed into “the wasteland” during the Grail Quest.
What to make of this? On one hand the setting is so bland and divorced from reality as to be nonsensical. On the other hand that blandness has an advantage when telling a story and playing with archetypes, especially because the bland is divided in half, a mundane world and its fantastic reflection, and the archetypes are never quite certain when the one will shift into the other. Not just this, but any deviation from the uniform setting stands out.
So it’s okay to be bland as long as it’s a conscious choice. Use it to your advantage. Dive deep and swim in the dark waters waiting beneath the bland’s placid surface. Find those pearls waiting down there along with those toothsome beasts. What you find might be wonderful or it might be ugly, but it won’t be bland. That’s for certain.