Friday, 22 July 2011

The Face of Evil

I'm reading a book about a guy who becomes a devil.  It's Horns, by Joe Hill (who's really  Stephen King's son).
   In reading it, I starting mentally cataloguing all the things that people think of when they think of the devil, which things do not in any way come from the bible (which means they're coming from somewhere else and then getting blamed on the bible).  Assuming that the bible would be one's "go-to book" to even know about the devil (being a character first referred to in there), if we are going to think about him (as a real or fictional character) in terms of his depiction in the bible, we would need to think about him without thinking of any of the following:

-a goatee, and goat feet
-a tail
-red skin
-a pitchfork
-being in Hell right now, let alone ruling it in any way
-wanting people's souls
-punishing sinners

Because not one of those things is in there in any shape or form.  And what does that leave, exactly? As with most things biblical, I realized that everything the bible ever said on the subject has been completely replaced by other stuff from stupid little cartoons and silly crap from John Milton and Dante Alighieri and then that being bastardized on Star Trek, and then people looking at that pile of patently silly stuff and saying "That's silly!  How could anyone see any validity in thinking along those lines?  Further evidence that there is nothing of validity in the whole book!"  Clearly the writers of the bible would agree, as they didn't talk about evil in those terms either.

In fact, what that impish creature seems to resemble most is a satyr or faun from Greek mythology (and the gods Pan and Baccus, as well.)  So, just the typical thing of making the personification of evil nothing more than a thinly-veiled, revisionist smearing of the Puritan-annoying embodiments of celebration of wine, women and song, of celebration itself.  Again.  The bible has a bunch of stuff about the virtues and value of wine, celebration, sex and song.  The whole "androgynousedly sexless, effete angels squaring off effeminately against the sneering, funny, witty, horny devils" thing is such a Puritans vs. Partyers thing, and nothing to do with the bible at all.  It's about people who wanted to stamp out all partying, with a special focus upon alcohol. In the bible, the devil doesn't have any tunes at all, let alone the best ones.  The bible has song lyrics in it. And poetry.  An entire book of erotic poetry, in fact.

  So, celebration is bad, right?  And alcohol in particular?  Yet in the bible, alcohol doesn't represent evil.  It represents celebration, which is an (in fact "the only") appropriate response to joyful occasions such as weddings and things.  It isn't evil to celebrate something.  Evil in the bible isn't about partying or celebration.  It is about the opposite of celebration, in fact.  It's about addiction, betrayal, exploitation, faithlessness and despair.  Evil doesn't collect souls to punish for their sinning.  It eats entire lives.  Makes sure every good thing is wasted, squandered, traded or mixed in with shit.  I can think along those lines. In my experience, that's what evil's like, alright.  In my experience, evil doesn't have horns.  In my life, it wears a tie and is always having meetings, selling something you can't touch with your finger, spin-doctoring truth and spouting unintelligible business jargon.  In fact, in my life, evil has always looked a bit more like this:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My Trip

This is more bloggy than usual.  Thought I should report on my use of my summer vacation thus far:
  I live alone, so I struggle with how to fill my time when, as a teacher, I get whole weeks and months off at a time as I do each year, so that I might regain my ability to not eat children alive.  I have often visited my friends Michael and Bethany as a way to get away.  They tend to live far away, so this always involves driving for 7 or 8 hours, and frequently I have had to deal with hassles at the Canada/America border due to sharing the identical first and last name and birth date (including year) as a local felon.  U.S. customs officials use handcuffs made by the fine Smith and Wesson company of America.
  I wrapped up the school year, and got the kids failed who most needed to (in order for the hard work of the other kids to not be totally without cause, and for passing my course to mean anything at all.)  It is very hard work to get kids failed.  It is viewed as a failure of the system, and of me in particular.  But it was always and only down to kids missing more than half of the classes and doing less than a third of the work.
  So I got that done, was convinced that what I really needed to buy was a camera, and scored online deals by getting a new camera and lens from Hong Kong.  I saved perhaps a hundred dollars on each of those, including shipping (which was free).  I have the camera body, and will enjoy it a lot more once the lens arrives and I can actually take pictures with it.  It arrived just when I got back from My Trip.  I always used to take pictures everywhere I went, Back in the Day.  I used film cameras, mostly, and mainly an SLR (with removable, interchangeable lenses, if you don't understand what Single Lens Reflex cameras are).  I always wanted to "replace" the film one with a digital SLR, but they're pricey.  Took the plunge this summer.  Now I actually need to go places and do things that are worth photographing.  But anyway...My Trip:
  I took my (purchased this year) 2010 Dodge Charger (black, with leather seats and spoiler) on what I thought of as its maiden voyage with me, and drove, air conditioned and iPod soundtracked, by the guidance of a GPS, my car represented onscreen as the General Lee, to my aunt and uncle's house in New Jersey.
  I have gone there a couple of times, leaving my mostly worn-out, about-to-break-down vehicles at their house in an affluent neighbourhood, and taking the short train ride to Penn Station in New York City.  This is to save me the impossible job of trying to park my car in Brooklyn.  Every single time I've attempted that before, I've somehow gotten both a dent and a parking ticket.  Hard to find cars in NYC without any dents.  This time, though, I took my time getting to Jersey, hung out there, slept overnight in the bedroom I used to sleep in when we'd visit when I was a kid, and then took the train the next day.
  It was sweltering hot the whole trip, with air conditioned car, train and subway, and "deal with it" everywhere else.  There is a certain greasy/gritty atmosphere in New York.  It's like nothing is ever clean.
  Hung with Michael and Bethany, installed an NES and a SNES (Nintendo and SuperNintendo) emulator on their son's computer, leaving a USB hand controller as well, so he can grow up knowing the wonders of the Nintendo stuff from the 80s and 90s.  Link, Mario, Megaman, Metroid and all the rest.  I probably waxed overzealous in sharing child-management tips and the like.  I had to decompress from the year I just worked.  Some of that involves resolving to remember what worked and resolving to make sure stuff that didn't doesn't happen the same way next year.
  When it's that hot, I find I don't want to eat much.  Ice cream is good, though.  And beer.  As is usually the way, we didn't exactly sight-see, so much as go walking all over the city.  Walking across the Manhattan Bridge with Michael around midnight provided a nice city-scape view.  We talked about the structure of TV shows.  I explained about Fringe, which he is unlikely to ever watch, and he talked to me about Game of Thrones which people have been trying to get me to watch for a while.  At one point, he broke off the discussion to chase a rat across a few yards of the bridge.  It had been trying to keep just ahead of us, hugging the shadows, and in a fit of typical playfulness, Michael decided to run after it.
  As usual, we tended to stay up most of the night doing stuff like that, then sleeping until noon.  Bethany had got her younger son cello lessons, and had rented him a little cello and a normal sized one for herself.  Despite not having taken more than one lesson herself, her coaching him in playing some basic songs and her learning what note each string was, and getting her bowing technique together meant she could jam with Michael and I playing Michael's guitar.  At first we had Michael play songs we knew, and he was singing the melody, and she was playing the melody by ear on the cello.  When I had her just play the root note of the guitar chords played for the singing, it provided some awfully nice accompaniment without being so difficult.  They'd asked me to bring recording stuff, so I brought my laptop, breakout box, headphones and a microphone.  I plonked the microphone onto the coffee table between Bethany and I, and we did a passable version of Neil Young's Music Arcade.  I think cello adds so much to acoustic music.
  I also got to Forbidden Planet NYC, the huge comic store, which enabled me to pick up the latest hardcover binding of Alan Moore's career-making run on Swamp Thing.  Normally I get them from amazon.  Also got to the New York Costume Shop for a V for Vendetta mask to replace the ones the kids stole this year (along with my grade 9 yearbook, my Walking Dead season one DVD set and various other things).  Apparently the stolen mask has been sighted on Facebook, used in a drunken pub crawl.  I also picked up a V wig to go along with it, to put on a styrofoam head in my classroom.  And, on impulse, a black top hat from Gothic Renaissance, which is beside the costume shop.  I've always wanted one of those.
  I went to The Strand (a giant used book store up the street from Gothic Renaissance and New York Costume Shop "Sixteen Miles of Books!") and bought a fistful of used graphic novels, including one with comic parodies of classical stories.  Like Mac Worth (Mary Worth and Macbeth) and Blonde Eve (Blondie, with Dagwood as Adam, Blondie as Eve, and Dagwood's boss as God).
  On the evening that Bethany arranged babysitting so she could come out with us, it rained a lot.  We got quite wet, and picked up sushi and things from a place called Gourmet Garage, and went to a club called The Fat Cat, where we sat in the corner and ate it all.  It looks like they took all the basements of the stores on that block and made it into one huge space, with pool tables, foosball and ping pong everywhere, and a small bar.  At one end, there was a band.  This evening, it was a gospel group.  Four old black guys with grey moustaches and blue golf shirts, singing their guts out, like Sam Cooke and James Brown rolled into one, four part harmony accompanied by drums, bass, guitar and piano, but with the voices doing all the musical work.  The place was infested with hipsters, each timidly bearing some feeble badge of desperate, carefully uncool individualism, yet looking completely uniform and homogeneous as a group.
  What I really struggle with, in terms of my own mental and emotional well-being, is being able to talk about ideas with people for whom talking about ideas (instead of gossiping about people real, or the ones on Jersey Shore) is neither novel, confusing or upsetting.  I got to talk for days with Michael and Bethany, who are very smart, and equally got both ends of the spectrum, talking at length to my "going to my Plymouth Brethren church really works for me and I'd recommend it to everyone because everyone needs to go to church" uncle, and his divorced, lost-his-job-this-week, fairly recently atheist son.  They're very smart too.  And they don't just observe the ideas and label what ism they sound like.  They get into it for real.  It was all good.
  Made it back without incident, got all of my stuff bestowed upon my sweaty, humid little apartment, did final tweaks to a mix of a song on J's band's album which they want ready for Saturday's show, graphic designed better inserts for the DVD case inserts the store downstairs uses for their rentals (they'd used scissors and a photocopier for their current ones), did some work on a silly song of mine which needs more collaboration with other musicians, got my camera body at the post office, and picked up a memory card for it, and tried unsuccessfully to schedule a visit with my niece and nephew who moved out of my parents' place last week, and into an apartment in the city.
   I've been filling the time between computer fiddling and waiting for my camera's lens to come in with watching the entire Lord of the Rings Extended Version DVDs back to back with the director/writers commentary on, and watching episodes of Justified.  Justified is such a good redeeming of that tired old "macho, always gets his man through thinking and shooting, modern cowboy cop" idea.  It could so be Walker: Texas Ranger and it so isn't.
  It's raining now.  That's doing beautiful things to the temperature.  Here is the new "rented DVD and games" insert I designed for ARG Mayhem, the video rental/toys and collectables store downstairs.  Google image stealing to make a little collage, rather like the collage of snippets of photocopies from comic book covers and toy packaging that makes up their current packaging.  (They are self-admitted technotards.)

Saturday, 2 July 2011


  A woman asked me once exactly why it seems I have always attracted/been attracted to damsels in distress.  My answer was glib: "We don't grow up on Batman comics without it having an effect."  I thought maybe this needed going into in more detail.
  I have always loved stories of heroes.  When I was a little kid, there was Bugs Bunny, who may seem an unlikely hero, but think about it: faced with bigger, meaner or better armed antagonists, he kept his cool, fought back with his wits, and made fools of anyone who messed with him.  He didn't mind being a stinker at times, and was quite unrepentant.  He was a smart-alec.  I did not grow up in a home nor in circles in which wit was encouraged or even viewed as a virtue.
  I don't even remember when I started being into Batman.  I'm sure it was probably seeing a snippet of the Adam West Batman from the 60s on a TV in Zellers, Radio Shack or some other store that sold TVs.  When I was five, my dad, mortified at how risqué the jokes on M*A*S*H* were getting, and how it depicted promiscuity, adultery and alcoholism, got rid of our TV, and there was no more Bugs Bunny in our house.  But somehow, I still began to idolize Batman.
  Batman is not usually a smart-alec, but he isn't above the occasional wry comment.  He was grim, unstoppable and determined, in most depictions of him.  The world was messed up and corrupt, and he made a difference.  He couldn't fix it, but he could chip away at it, and that made him feel his life was worthwhile.  He had all manner of gimmicks designed for no purpose other than making that difference.  He had an awesome big black car.  He wasn't a goody two-shoes.  He was actually scary for criminals.  Pretty badass, not pretty boyscout or pretty Peter Pan, which I always found Superman to be a little bit too.  (And Robin.  They wrote Robin into Batman comics in an attempt to lighten them up, and to give kids someone to identify with.  Waste of time.  I liked dark stuff, and was already identifying with Batman just fine).
  When I discovered Zorro (in friends' comic books, and in a cartoon version glimpsed briefly on TV), I immediately liked him for all of the reasons I liked Batman.  I wasn't surprised years later to find that Batman was heavily based upon Zorro. Like Batman, only with a black horse instead of a black car, and with constant jokes and smart-aleckry.  Same with Robin Hood, who I also loved.  Why smart-alecs?  Because I grew up in a world of male people saying "I can impose my will upon you and embarrass you publicly because my fist is stronger and faster than yours is" and me responding "No, I can hold my own against you because my wit is stronger and faster than yours is."
  When I was six or seven, the Ottawa Journal newspaper that we got each day started carrying daily comic strips of Spider-man.  He was strong, he rescued people, and he climbed buildings and swung around the city even better than Batman.  Unlike Batman, who was a rich adult businessman by day (how unheroic!), Spider-man was a nerdy teenager during the day (equally unheroic, but something I could relate to), having to worry about school and peers and his boss at work.  The idea that someone could have a life quite a bit like the one I knew I would have in my teens, but secretly "get his own back" from the bullies, the bosses and the criminals during the night was enticing.  There was also the 60s cartoon of Spider-man still being repeated on Saturdays, and I stole a couple glimpses of that too, growing up.
  Somewhere around that time, at Kevin Durkee's house, I saw a couple of episodes of  Filmation's Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle.  (it was one in which Tarzan gets abducted by some jungle-visiting aliens, and the one where he has to fight a robot Tarzan)  This was around the same time as the Ottawa Citizen started carrying daily comics of Conan the Barbarian.  Conan was pretty much Tarzan with a sword and some other accessories.  These men were strong, dangerous, adept at killing people, but there was a nobility to them.  They often rescued people.  They were berserkers when they were angry, and they were quite different (especially Tarzan) in daily conversation.  They had adventures, because they were explorers.  Where Batman and Spider-man had fairly generic cities with alleys and waterfronts to police, Conan and Tarzan would find hidden cities of gold with leopard people and giant spiders or the like.  Exploring ancient, murky underground places filled with danger and mystery was pretty intoxicating.  When the Indiana Jones movies came out, I read the novelizations of them eagerly.
  A kid left the book Star Trek: Log Seven (novelising Star Trek: The Animated Series) in the change room at the school at which my dad was basketball coach and gym teacher. I was hooked immediately.  Exploring.  Strange new worlds. Gimmicks.  Smart people solving problems and beating stronger, meaner, better armed folk.  Smart-aleckry.  Very American.  Typically, they hired Canadians to play the American captain and the Scottish engineer.
  Star Wars (read in novelization form) provided the idea of another berserker hero with a fast ride (Han Solo), and to a lesser degree, Luke Skywalker was also cool, in terms of learning that he could grow up to possess secret wisdom and skills, mostly to deal with his scary, overbearing, emotionally-detached father.  Very American again.  Overtly following Joseph Cambell's hero cycle theory, which was either an observation that most hero tales follow the same structure, or an attempt to formalize millennia of stories of heroism.
  Doctor Who was something I read in novelization form also.  The BBC may have had pretty much zero budgets for their plywood and styrofoam sets and props, but in the books of course, everything was real.  Tom Baker's idiosyncratic performances were so off-the-wall that they came through 100% in the books, even without seeing or hearing him.  Doctor Who was very British.  What a counterpoint to the American stuff!  Where in Star Trek two spaceships would (both carefully right-side-up) encounter each other and reenact a submarine movie, or people would go down to a planet and bring guns and (like a more laid-back Star Wars) posture and make threats and shoot at each other and blow things up and punch and wrestle, the Doctor pretty much won by condescending to everyone.  He didn't have weapons.  He was an incurable smart-alec and he won because he was smart and knew everything.  Very like Bugs Bunny, if you think about it.  And The Doctor was Jesus.  He often found ways to heal planets and people, he came "from beyond with infinite insider's knowledge" about the Universe and how it was put together, and he wasn't merely human, though you couldn't tell by looking.  What he'd do, when pushed to it, was sacrifice his life and his body to save everyone, and then, getting all glowy and radiant, he'd actually resurrect and live on to save a whole lot more people.
  When I was first reading books, I read the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift.  These were kids who had adventures and explored mysterious places and had gimmicks and cool boats, cars, planes, motorcycles and stuff.  They had fun adventures, but they were far too boyscout.  This meant they didn't last. Also, the books were written according to a formula calculated to sell, and farmed out to ghost writers.  In the case of the first several Hardy Boys books, they hired a Canadian (from Carleton Place, Ontario, actually, where Roy Brown, who likely shot down the Red Baron also hailed from) named Leslie McFarlane to write them.  The formula worked at first, but after reading about twenty of the books, it got repetitive.  This would later happen with Star Trek and Star Wars.  Far too many hours of adventures that were far too clearly formulaic.  Not Doctor Who, though.
  When I was a kid, I did have a fondness for the Incredible Hulk also.  He wasn't smart (though David Banner was, and he was a very interesting character) but he was a berserker and he was misunderstood and ostracised, which we can all relate to.  Also, like Spider-man, he was a nerd part of the time, and an stoppable, take-no-crap hero the rest of the time.
  In my teens, I latched onto any TV heroes who were smart-alecs, who had cool cars and who rescued women and solved mysteries.  So, Shaggy from Scooby Doo (Freddie was too boyscout and gay), Rick Simon from Simon and Simon, McCall from The Equalizer, Michael Knight from Knight Rider, Murdoch from The A-Team, Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard, Magnum from Magnum P.I. and many others, including Canadian, budget-cut, injured, desk-bound superspy V.H. Adderly from the show Adderly.  I'd been reading Robert B. Parker's Spenser books, about the beer-loving, smart-alec Bostonian private investigator, and so the few episodes of Spenser: For Hire that I saw on TV at a friend's house delighted me.
  Still reading many, many books of heroism, I loved the Sherlock Holmes books, and Lord of the Rings. I think something I have always valued in heroes is intelligence and composure.  Keeping their cool, as it were.  Characters like The Doctor from Doctor Who, Bugs Bunny, Spock from Star Trek and many others were brave in the sense of not showing fear.  Magnum and Han Solo/Indiana Jones were humourous exceptions to that rule, being known for kind of funny running away, or wincing after they'd hit someone, or the like, but in the end, it kind of came off as Bugs Bunny, and it worked.  Tarzan, the Hulk, Conan and others only lost their temper for the best possible reasons and with the best possible results.
  In my late teens (not having previously been allowed to own comic books) I got into the X-Men, mostly because of Canadian macho berserker Wolverine.  I got especially into the character when he got his own book, and it became about keeping his temper.  He would lose his temper when he should (to fight or whatever) but there was the new idea that losing his temper socially would keep him from getting the girl, from getting the support of his team or whatever.

Looking back, I find a couple of things interesting: 
  I liked nobility and heroism, but only down-to-earth nobility by characters who had normal lives also, if that makes any sense.  I liked the everyday heroic quality to Spider-man and the rest.  Characters like Thor or the Silver Surfer didn't do it for me, because they didn't really have normal life components to their day.  They talked a bit like the bible I was expected to read daily, but the writers weren't actually all that good at that.  Even in the "Amok Time" episode of Star Trek, they'd gone all "thee" without knowing how to go "thou" or "thy" properly in an attempt to make Spock's planet Vulcan seem more spiritual and ancient.  I liked the idea that these characters were heroes, and that they were real people with normal lives who could also be heroes.  Spock's job was to be a scientist and researcher, not to sacrifice his life for people.  Spider-man was just supposed to be taking pictures, not actually rescuing people from burning buildings or cackling madmen.  Tarzan was trying to live in peace in the jungle away from people, but then he'd help out people anyway, though they gave him little reason to.  Han Solo's better judgement told him to take the money and run, and Shaggy just wanted to get high and eat giant sandwiches.  Characters like Frodo and Aragorn didn't want to be heroes and were actually sacrificing their comfortable, everyday lives to be heroic for the greater good.  Characters like Wolverine really made you believe that, unless they chose to do heroic acts of sacrifice on an hour-by-hour basis, they'd have lives to live that would keep them busy enough.  Not so much Thor or the Silver Surfer.  I like those characters (as in the recent Thor movie) when their "normal lives" are explored, so that there is a backstory and a context for their heroism on Earth.

  I liked smart-alecs, but not if they were mean.  I always reacted badly to David Spade characters, and even to characters from Seinfeld eventually (after too many shows and too much obvious formula repetition) if they were just nasty, and displayed no capacity for empathy or generosity.

  In the modern world, I have loved stories which deal in light/dark and good/evil concerns, especially ones which present a world-view I recognize: not one in which unless we're careful and do not say Beetlejuice three times, play with Ouiji boards or feed the mogwai after midnight, evil will suddenly take over with teeth and stuff.  No, ones in which evil, as a more corrupting, all-pervasive, bureaucratic rot has already taken over and is running everything.  Even in Star Trek, with the all-powerful Federation ruling everything, the impracticality and inflexibility of bureaucracy and disputes over rules are important.  In Star Wars, the government has been taken over by bureaucracy-exploiting thugs.  On Twin Peaks, goodhearted people prove ill-equipped to deal with the slow, insidious rot that evil has already brought about.  In The X-Files, your government routinely keeps secrets from and lies to you, and will sell you out for money or more power, and two people with a lot of questions will go around shining flashlights into ancient, murky underground places filled with danger and mystery despite being told not to question the status quo. In Babylon 5, there are mysterious, dark (and light) forces at work behind the scenes, to which we are pawns, and our government is siding with the dark. In Battlestar Galactica, things are complicated, and there are wheels within wheels again, and we're always two steps behind knowing what's really going on, yet we have to make important life-changing choices now.
    In Vertigo comics, the dreams of everyone in existence are shaped by the Sandman's inability to forgive, to find love, to hope, to change, to find freedom, to find the joy in life.  Hellblazer's John Constantine finds that, once people have stuck their hand in evil's maw, and tasted evil and used it, they're kinda doomed and all he can do is damage control. Preacher's Jesse Custer feels like the God he was raised to believe in has abandoned the world and buggered off.  So he's going to find Him and demand answers, navigating a dangerous world of powerful men with deep perversions.  Transmetropolitan's Spider Jerusalem isn't a virtuous man, but one thing he can't let go of is a mania for telling the truth, for letting people know, for not believing the lies.
    House is Sherlock Holmes.  The Matrix presented evil as wearing suits and ties and demanding conformity. (No one wearing a tie has ever said anything to me that I ever wanted to hear.)  Dexter reminds me of Wolverine and the Hulk, and presents the idea that the bosses know more than they're telling, but also don't have a clue what's really going on, so are bureaucratically in the way all the time.  Sometimes he needs to go into the night and take care of business his own way. Because once people have drank the koolaid and become part of the system, they've often lost important bits of both their empathy and their realism along the way (like Odin giving up an eye for wisdom), become somehow neither naive enough nor cynical enough to be fully human in any way that's going to help, yet kind of too naive and too cynical in ways that won't.  The Walking Dead presents a world already lost, yet in which all of the little human concerns remain as important as ever.  Fringe is new X-Files episodes, with the Star Wars element that, even if the fate of galaxies lie in the balance, it all really revolves around whether a father and son can get along.

  And back to "why are you attracted to normally strong women who suddenly seem to need to be rescued?"  I could add to that "Why do you routinely not believe that anyone in any position of authority over you is ever very good and competent and informed?" and "Why are you such a smart-alec when just shutting your mouth would probably cause less friction?" and "Why do you lose your temper how and when you do?"  And "Why did you buy a big, cool, black Dodge Charger, which is the same make and model of car as the General Lee on the Dukes of Hazzard, but now looks more like the Batmobile?"  And "Why did you just buy a big, black, Peter Parker SLR camera?"  Also "Why do you buy so many gadgets?"

  Some sad lessons:
-you can't actually rescue anyone.  The best you can do is be a comfort or a help in a time of need, and then not be needed after that, unless you're dealing with a parasite. So:
-you don't really get to be a hero.  Even if you're a smart-alec with cool gadgets and a fast car. And your life will just have to be good enough to suit you anyway.  Cartoons make girls want to be princesses.  They make us need to rescue people.
-it is almost never safe to lose your temper.  Anger can work as fuel only if kept to a low simmer, and it's only good for being destructive.  If you have a tree to chop down, a bulletin board to tear all the stuff from, or a person who is crossing all kinds of boundaries and really needs to be sat down hard, then it's useful.  Usually?  Not.
-smart, witty people can be bullies every bit as much as strong, nasty thugs can.  So can pretty, popular or rich people.
-we do not fight to keep evil from happening.  It's here, it has occurred, and worst of all, it's us.
-as the damage done by western culture and the religion it created having their huge prolonged falling-out continues, widespread failure to appreciate and understand  the colour, flavour and nature of "religious" virtues such as empathy, self-sacrifice, heroism, nobility, grace, forgiveness, redemption, patience, charity and the like will continue to result in simple-minded story telling with heroism that rings false in our hearts.  The more "virtuous" means prissy, tight-assed, selfish, judgemental, closed-hearted, martyr, self-pitying, superstitious, ritualistic, self-mythologizing crap, the more we decide that, in order for an angel to make a kickass hero, he really needs to half demon to get rid of the stench of church.  The more batarangs Van Helsing needs.  The more giant robots and explosions, the more noise and fury to try to cover up the signifying of nothing.
-We need to explore.  Places, people, things. Or we'll simply die of stagnation.
-If you make only sensible choices, you aren't likely to have any adventures.
-without the possibility of failure, success doesn't mean anything and is, therefore, meaningless and impossible.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Meaning of the Word "Romantic"

This was an email I sent to someone.  Thought I'd just stick it up here for comment.

The dictionary definitions of the word "romantic" are like this:
 romantic: having no basis in fact : imaginary 
 romantic : impractical in conception or plan : visionary
 romantic : marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized
 romantic : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of romanticism
 romantic : of or relating to music of the 19th century characterized by an emphasis on subjective emotional qualities and freedom of form; also : of or relating to a composer of this music
 romantic : having an inclination for romance : responsive to the appeal of what is idealized, heroic, or adventurous
 romantic : marked by expressions of love or affection
 romantic : conducive to or suitable for lovemaking
 romantic : of, relating to, or constituting the part of the hero especially in a light comedy

I think that when a young or new lover is just starting out with someone else, it is more of a "looking ahead" and an "imagining and hoping and buying into something envisioned" kind of thing.  They've both got the dreams and hopes and pleasant imaginings, and it's partly about saying "Let's try to make some of that at least, come/feel true."

But once people are committed to one another, when they mention "romance" they're mostly either looking back in terms of idealizing the past, or in terms of trying to recapture it or enjoy something that reminds them of it.  Which has to do with nostalgia.  Which raises the question of significance.

  In my vast, storied and much vaunted experiences with ladies, I have found that, while it's going on, you don't quite know what any of it feels like yet while you're in the moment.  Afterward, of course, you decide what it meant, what it didn't mean, what it felt like, how you remember it, and all of that.  You construct and ascribe significance.  You make the memory what it's going to be. The hurt feelings in promiscuous sex usually come, I believe, from either (or any) of the parties being too human to keep from ascribing significance to the thing.  I don't know if animals ascribe significance to things.  I know that anniversaries, birthdays and memorials, eulogies, tributes, blessings and all of that are about marking an occasion or the number of years passed since an occasion, and deciding the thing was significant and wanting to mark that somehow.

People contrast the glowy, "my spouse/kid/parent is all magic and the Best One On The Planet" feelings and experiences (which I think we all like to have, but sometimes fail to see the capacity for drunkenness in and clear risk of being a fool before others) with the "I deeply appreciate it when my spouse/kid/parent does really useful, needed, everyday, undramatic 'little' things that one would shrink from romanticizing (like cleaning a toilet after I threw up in it from my chemo or whatever).  The feelings are kind of the same, they're kind of deep, and yet they're different.

  Because we have this idea that God meant/expects all things to be perfect (atheists: pretend I said "That we have to make everything perfect.")  That He has been forced to deal with imperfection and that this is our job to fix.  That every time we have a gathering, a relationship, a child or whatever, that it "has to be perfect" and it never is, not even for a moment, to our shame, despite what we're working with, but we live for those moments we can pretend that, right now, it's perfect.  But it never ever is.  Yet we want to pretend.

So "romantic" can often mean "when we pretend it's perfect and nothing besides euphoric" and then there's this other stuff that deals with compassion, competence and faithfulness in dealing excellently with the imperfections seen in the whole thing.  So, a rose can be "so romantic" but cleaning up messes is something else that is quite, yet, not entirely different.  Part of a thing that deals in "making things ok that otherwise wouldn't be" instead of "helping pretending things are perfect, So We Can Rest."

No, even Solomon didn't feel foolish pretending, idealizing, imagining and all of that.  So maybe there's a place for it.  But when the virtuous woman is described, one tends to feel "Yeah, that's what a wife should do, but it's not very Romantic."  And it isn't.  And maybe we're not wrong that it isn't.  Maybe romance is one thing, and not everything, and maybe not everything is romance.

I know that it's not just me that wishes day-to-day life was more adventurous, mysterious, heroic and all of that romantic stuff.  But we plan our lives to make damn sure they aren't.