Good Shows (that) are Difficult to Watch

It isn’t always true that good shows are difficult to watch, of course. Shows like the Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are excellent and I have no trouble tuning in and watching all the way through. A show doesn’t have to be super deep to say something meaningful about the human condition or to entertain, and I firmly believe that these are worthy goals. I am not one of those people who dismiss romance as meaningless fluff, and I believe that genre fiction as a whole generally does a better job of making a point or making someone think than literary fiction does, though that isn’t what this post is about.

I was watching Falling Skies and it struck me how often I felt the need to leave the room during it lest I be overcome with righteous anger; not at the writers or actors or producers, but rather at the sheer truthiness of the show. It’s the same sort of anger I see when there’s a political ad on that I violently disagree with (a thing that happens so often that my guy, who is usually the one with the remote, is in the habit of muting or otherwise flipping past them) but not the same exact anger, because it’s a different sort of despair. Instead of my intelligence being insulted or my morality being trampled, I have a burning feeling in my gut that says, I know how this is going to go and I won’t like it.

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Problematic Protagonists

“You need to get back,” he said, hardly needing to raise his voice to be heard over the wind.
“I have to find him!”
“Find him from up top,” he said, taking her other arm and physically pushing her from the water’s edge.
She hated the way he put his hands on her, but he had her by eight inches and probably fifty pounds of muscle. Besides, kicking up a fuss would only cause more delay. “I need the line of sight.”
“We don’t know what happened to him. Get away from the water! Don’t you know what flash flood means?”
“Of course I do,” she snapped back, offended.
He picked her up and moved her back a foot. This time she slapped his hands away.
Thankfully, he didn’t seem to mind. “Go!”
Shaking with anger and fear — for herself and for Connor — she trekked back up to the top of the cliff. Her feet slid out from beneath her several times as the mud gave way, but somehow she managed to stay upright.

This is a brief portion of chapter 23 of my work in progress, a science fiction novel that hit the 40,000 word mark (halfway!) last night, if you close your eyes and squint to avoid the fact that the .doc also has little blurb summaries for each chapter so that I know what the hell was supposed to happen, for outlining purposes.

I think that looking at this exchange really emphasizes how much things like rape culture and harassment have become pervasive issues in my little corner of the blogosphere — which is to say, the part I patronize, not the part I take part in, as I am a very small zoo-plankton in a very large sea. I don’t think I would have written in this little bit of characterization if it wasn’t on my mind, and I’m very glad I did, because while I like Trevon as a character, he knows very well he has anger issues and as much as he tries to compensate, he is a dangerous man.

It’s a difficult line to make a protagonist (this story has a five man band cast with point of view alternating on a chapter basis) both problematic and likable, and Trevon’s struggles with his aggression and upbringing make him, I hope, a powerful character. Breaking a cycle of abuse — of any kind — is a difficult thing and I really want to do it justice.

Fermi’s paradox

My guy, for whatever reason, gets a real kick out of those History channel shows where they talk about how all of humanity’s greatest achievements are all really because of the aliens, and aliens clearly exist because ancient mythology matches up to modern-day beliefs of what aliens would have to be.

Hogwash, I say, not because I particularly doubt the existence of aliens — I don’t — but because the so-called scientists on this show make a fundamental mistake that frustrates me immensely. Namely, they take bits of mythology and use them as scientific proof of not only the existence of aliens but that aliens have been intimately involved with humanity for millenia. One argument (and I use the term very loosely) included the notion that the Spear of Lugh is obviously an alien artifact because it shoots fire and light from its tip and can cut through ranks and ranks of warriors. Another argument put forth the idea that Chinese dragons were alien spacecraft coming down due to the fact that they breathed fire and were indestructible and bore a resemblance to rockets. A third involved Alexander the Great turning back from his invasion of India due to alien spacecraft spooking his war elephants.

Now, what I’m ever so not interested in is a discussion of the plausibility of whether aliens would get involved in human affairs in such a way, or why aliens would care, not because those conversations bother me but because I think they’ve been done before and I want to poke at something a little more meta. Namely, this notion that mythology in any way, shape or form provides scientific evidence. We live in a world in which psychologists have just about proven conclusively that eyewitness reports are usually contradictory and crappy, where the awareness test is a thing a bunch have people have been exposed to, where even before we get into the fact that we’re discussing mythology we’re looking at the evidence these scientists — namely, witness accounts — being skewed. Perception is one of those trisky things that you have to allow for, and these guys don’t.

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Porn vs. Erotica

I want to start this post by saying that I expose myself to porn and erotica about equally, which is to say not that often but I have no objection to either.

What I have an objection to is women who read erotica and rave about erotica and think that 50 Shades is the best thing ever and then turn around and get into screaming fights with their male significant other because they dare watch porn.

Now sure, there are a thousand and one reasons to object to porn. It demeans women, it sets an impossible standard, it’s skeevy, it’s an objectionable industry, it plays into cultural misogyny, the plots are laughably bad, the acting is hilariously bizarre. I don’t object to those reasons even though I don’t actually care about my guy watching it except in those handful of instances where it’s a matter of… let’s call it bad timing.

That doesn’t make erotica any better on the face of it. Even if we say, for the sake of argument, that good erotica is better than good porn and that reading is by default better than watching television — things I’m not willing to commit to outside of this hypothetical situation — that doesn’t mean that 50 Shades of Gray gets to be your holier than thou high holy book. It is the very embodiment of, let’s count it off: 1) demeaning women 2) setting an impossible standard 3) skeeviness 4) playing into cultural misogyny 5) laughably bad plots.

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My Favorite Superhero(ine)

I want to preface this article by saying that I really enjoyed The Avengers, and I in fact enjoyed the whole series leading up to it. I am a huge comic book movie fan, having seen every one of note made in my lifetime except for Spiderman 3 and Ghost Rider 2… for what I consider obvious reasons. I even sat through Elektra and Catwoman. I always keep an eye out for the women in superhero movies — Pepper Potts, Sif — because I am ever so tired of women in refrigerators and because damn it, I’m a woman, and when is it going to be my turn to have someone to look up to?

Maria Hill, perhaps because she’s badass without being a secretary (even though she’s sort of a second in command type, I’m okay with that because there’s a distinction between being a vital part of an organization and Batman’s Robin) or vamp (I love Black Widow, but she very much plays into female stereotypes and as neat-o as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is, so does she). She’s simply what she is, and without ignoring her gender isn’t ruled by it. I love that, and Cobie Smulders (by the way, when I first saw her surname I thought someone was joking with the image title) does a fantastic job there.

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The World We Live In

We live in a globalized world, most of us — particularly those with the wherewithal and interest to be reading this blog. It’s easy to forget that not everyone is like us.

In the wake of John Scalzi’s Lowest Difficulty Setting blog post, I was thinking about my guy and how he’s a straight white male (SWM) who has, like many, faced adversity. He’s had an African American female boss, he’s a generation older than me, and his father was a teacher. But he also has beaten cancer, lost his career in the Navy due to leg injury, and is, quite frankly, an alcoholic. He works in a pink collar industry and due to his dylexia barely managed to graduate with a high school diploma.

But what I’m getting at here isn’t the notion that Mr. Scalzi is somehow wrong. I’m quite confident that he’s completely correct. What I want to get at here is the notion that not everyone gets it. I have a law degree and studied feminist philosophy pretty extensively in college. I blog, I tweet, I facebook, hell I’m developing a computer game. I’m not the single most internet-savvy person in the world, but I certainly get by. My guy doesn’t. He can barely type, doesn’t have a facebook, doesn’t have an e-mail, doesn’t know how to fill out online applications and to be perfectly honest, he doesn’t have a phone. He doesn’t drive, even.

Now, we don’t live in the boondocks. I am a ten minute drive from one of the most populated cities my country has to offer, and we have internet. But until he met me, he didn’t know what hulu was, didn’t know what netflix was, and didn’t own an ipod much less a ps3. I introduced him to audiobooks, I’ve educated him about politics, and I’ve broadened his horizons every bit as much as he’s broadened mine about things like sports and cooking and social interaction.

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Bad At The Internet

Lithmeria, the multi-user dungeon I’m the Head of Building for, is running a meme contest. Now, while I’m familiar with the concept of memes, I only discovered a few weeks ago, via a forum topic at Scribophile.

This, apparently, makes me bad at the internet.

It’s not the first time I’ve come to the party late. I rarely trawl youtube and I don’t have a very large presence on tumblr. I go months at a time without touching my twitter and heaven knows I’ve had bad luck keeping a blog going — it wasn’t that long ago that I was, for all intents and purposes (why yes I do know it’s not intensive purposes), offline for four months. The first time I got a glimpse of the video showing a guy walk into a bear while texting was this tweet, the very premise of which is “but come on, everybody knows about that!”

But I don’t think a lack of familiarity with memes or an infrequent usage of facebook makes me bad at the internet. I think it means I hang out in a different corner of it. I’m frequently one of the first people to find out about the various epic!fails — amazon!fail, the readercon debacle, #romneyshambles — and I’m tied in pretty tight to the blogosphere’s discussions of e-books, self-publishing, feminism and glbt concerns.

If I had to pick one side of the fence to be on: lolcats or jezebel, well, I know where I’m staying!

On Deadlines and Accountability

More than anything I’ve ever done in my life, working on the Lithmeria project has taught me about how I handle the surprisingly difficult task of getting shit done. I’ve been the Head Builder for Lithmeria for longer than it took me to complete law school or college, for longer than any paid job I’ve ever held, and for longer than I’ve ever focused on writing one particular book. Heck, I’ve been working on Lithmeria for longer than I’ve ever had an active domain name (though not web presence: I’ve been around livejournal for a long time now, though I rarely post there, just comment).

There have been dark periods in my productivity, of course. That week I spent in the hospital, the summer I spent studying for the Bar Exam, those awful four months when my internet connection consisted of something boosted from across the driveway and was split between three routers. But other than the very beginning of the project, when everything was shiny and new and exciting, I’ve never been as productive as I am now… and the reason why has taught me something about myself.

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The Obligatory

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Enchantée, and welcome to Quaff Nepenthe.

First, a brief aside about the name. Quaff Nepenthe is taken from the Edgar Allen Poe poem, The Raven. I chose this poem both as a Baltimore native and a Ravens fan, and because many a productive afternoon in Poe’s Lounge at the University of Baltimore School of Law, but mostly because I’m a fan of 17th – 19th century poetry: particularly Poe, Lovelace, Tennyson and Kipling.

Quaffing is a wine term to describe a category of wine that is ‘simple and everyday’; that is cheap enough to be consumed in large quantities, usually available also in bigger containers (like the boxes we drank wine out of at philosophically-minded parties in college). Such wines are literally called “quaffing wine”. Because of this, the term quaff has come to mean “to drink (something, esp. an alcoholic drink) heartily.”

Nepenthe is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt. Figuratively, it means “that which chases away sorrow”; so, literally, it means ‘not-sorrow’ or ‘anti-sorrow’. In the Odyssey, Nepenthe is a magical potion given to Helen by the Egyptian queen Polidamma. It quells all sorrows with forgetfulness.

As a suicide survivor, the notion of drinking heartily of an antidepressant has special meaning for me… and what better way to stave off depression than to liken oneself to Helen of Troy?

Second, a little about myself: these days I’m a twenty-four year old living in the Baltimore suburbs. I value family more deeply than anything, a fact you can tell because I live in a treehouse apartment situated neatly between my father and uncle. I have a BA in Philosophy and a J.D. but a confluence of events have left me on the path of becoming a teacher. Currently I work two jobs: I sell jewelry for the Boscov’s Department store and I assist disabled children in Special Education while I pursue the certifications necessary to teach Social Studies. In addition, I’m working on a science fiction novel entitled THE GENOCIDE DRAFT and serving as the Head of Building for Lithmeria, a MUD that has been in development since before I went to law school. It is scheduled to release in October.

I have a fairly patchy web presence, under a variety of names, but projects I feel strongly about supporting include Archive of our Own, Twitter, Blood Rites, Scribophile and Pandora.