Taking another stab at this organization and productivity thing

8 Jun

I’ve recently been investigating the possibility that I have ADD. What I actually mean here is that I’ve diagnosed myself, but you get all kinds of finger-wagging and tsk-tsking for doing that, so I’ll stick with the more conservative phrasing most of the time. My thoughts on self-diagnosis are basically that the goods and bads are really down to how you use it, and that it can be helpful in many ways, especially if you’re not able to seek professional diagnosis and help, as I’m not currently. (The awesome Miri has great thoughts on the whole subject here.) How I’m using it is seeking out resources, help, and strategies from sources that I do have access to, in hopes of being able to mitigate at least some of the symptoms and increase my overall productivity and ability to accomplish shit.

One thing I keep reading over and over is how much ADD folk need structure and routine in their lives. And you know what I hate? Structure and routine. (Nowhere in the literature does it say that ADD folk like it.) The more pinned down I am to doing specific things at specific times, the more grumpy I feel. But I am also realizing that certain mental habits I have are really making it difficult for me to accomplish any of the grand and wonderful things I want to do, and that a little structure and routine might actually help. So I’m trying out this tactic.

Like many people, with and without ADD, I both focus better when my workdesk is clean, and I have a terrible time keeping it clean. Stuff seems to pile up on it magically, within 18 hours of a cleaning effort. And devoting all that time to a painfully dull task that has to be done over and over is pretty much anathema to me. So I just let it build up and deal with the mental clutter that accompanies it.

Did you notice how I said “all that time” up there? One of the ADD symptoms I have is being seriously out of wack in how I think about time. I am terrible at estimating the time it will take to do anything. Most of the time I underestimate, like when I think that the process of getting up from my desk, finding my shoes and my bag, filling my water bottle, making sure I have my keys and wallet, and walking out to the car will take zero minutes. Every time… if I have to leave for somewhere at 11, I think that means I need to get up from my desk at 11. Years of observation and counter-examples have not dispelled this notion from my stubborn, time-blind brain.

When it comes to various chores and dull, unpleasant tasks, though, it goes the other way. I assume that cleaning up my desk will take basically my entire day, and who the hell wants to spend their day on that? Same for washing dishes, any other chore. Only since I started reading about ADD has it occurred to me to question my intuitions about these things, like, “You think if you start washing dishes you’ll basically be doing it FOR THE REST OF TIME, but if you actually look at the clock it might only be ten minutes or so?” So my first experiment is this: set a timer for 15 minutes. Clean up my desk and the surrounding area until the buzzer rings. Then I can stop, whether it’s done or not. I can face up to the idea of doing 15 minutes of desk cleaning, especially if it means having no stress or guilt about it during all the time that ISN’T those 15 minutes. My current goal is to do this every other day, which should be enough to keep the chaos under control.

I did it this morning and it worked great. (And my desk is shiny!) Of course, a new system nearly always works great for me for a week or two… I dig novelty. My hope is that the cleaning requirement is so minimal that I’ll be able to follow through after the novelty has worn off. One thing I noticed is that a time-based requirement instead of a task-based requirement cuts through a few more of my self-sabotaging mental habits. If my goal is “clean up my desk” I get hopelessly bogged down in issues like “where can I put this thing that makes the most sense?” and “this clearly goes with craft supplies, but there’s no room in my craft supply bin, and OH MY GOD I HAVE TO REORGANIZE MY ENTIRE CRAFT SYSTEM IT’S TOO MUCH” and then I break down and play logic puzzles while watching Angel for the next three hours. But when my goal is “get as much cleany-stuff done around your desk as you can in 15 minutes” it cuts through all that, and I’m able to just put a thing somewhere, somewhere that makes somewhat more sense and is less in the way than its current location. It might be that I’m just pushing my chaotic disorganization into the margins of my experience, but I can handle that. I doubt it’ll ever go away completely.

My next project for regular organization is to get writing done. I have sooo much writing I want to do at any given time, from blogs to website content to fiction. Very little of it actually gets done, and over the last 15 years I’ve resigned myself to being a person who doesn’t actually produce that much writing. In many areas, my way of coping with ADD as I’ve moved into adulthood is to continually lower my expectations for myself. But that’s not how I want things to be, especially as I once again nurture grand dreams of having my own sexuality education website and going into business for myself. I’m serious about this: I’ve sunk a non-trivial amount of money into it, partly as a way to lock me in and make it so that I can’t possibly back out and give up on myself without serious shame. But that’s going to mean getting my ass in gear and outputting a lot more than I’ve been doing previously.

So, on the same task calendar I’ve put my 15-minute cleanup, I’ve put a 30-minute writing session, every day. At this point in my life there’s no day where I’m so busy I can’t write for 30 minutes, especially since I’ve set no boundaries around what I can write. Fiction, nonfiction, blog posts, even schoolwork are fair game. This is absolutely possible to fit into my life. It also feels like a ridiculous bare minimum, but I’m trying to avoid overreaching myself. If I actually can make myself write for 30 minutes a day, over a period of a couple of months, maybe I’ll increase the requirement on my days off.

As with the cleaning, having a time requirement helps me get into it. I learned this with NaNoWriMo: the most productive times were the word wars, where a bunch of us would agree to start at a certain time, stop at a certain time, and post our word count at the end. I’ve written before (probably on another blog, as I can’t find it here) about how NaNo helps me overcome a lot of my writing issues, and this creates a similar dynamic: as long as I’m writing, I’m doing the right thing, so I don’t have to spend nearly as much time fussing about exactly what I write and how.

I did have some mental struggles with myself about setting the time at only 30 minutes (even though I know that’s the most I’ll realistically sit down for, especially on a workday.) I can be a slow starter, and spend 10 or 15 minutes clearing distractions, figuring out what I want to write, false-starting and realizing that what I actually want to write is something different. This is a trap that’s plagued me most of my life: I work best in shortish bursts, but I take so long to get started that I don’t feel like it’s worthwhile to work unless I have a stretch of several hours. So I avoid working when I only have a short window of time (I also hate being interrupted when I’m into my task, but that’s another issue), and then when I have a long window of time I only wind up using the first hour or so of it. Reading about ADD has helped me make sense of these contradicting challenges, and for the time being I’m just going to reconcile myself to the fact that I will “waste” a good chunk of my productive time in getting settled into it. At the end, I’ll still have more done than if I skip that 30 minutes of work because it’s not long enough to be worthwhile.

So this is my current game plan. We’ll see how it goes! (At least, I will see, and you readers may or may not see, depending on whether I follow through and give updates.)

New post at Sex in Specs!

4 Jun

Another beta-post at my new website, on biological sex differences! This is the piece I have worked the longest on and struggled the most with. I’m still not sure it does what I want it to do. I’d love feedback on it from anyone who’s got the time.

In defense of character resurrections

27 May

(Note: all the character deaths/resurrections I’m going to discuss here are well past what I consider the Spoiler Statute of Limitations, but just in case, I’ll be using examples from Buffy and Season 2 of Doctor Who.)

A common view among genre fic fans is that resurrection of a character ruins the impact of the character’s prior death, cheapening the emotional moment. I used to hold this view pretty rigorously myself. As my philosophy of life develops, though, I’m starting to see it differently. There are a number of reasons why character resurrection shouldn’t be overused, but I’m no longer going to stand behind the “it cheapens the impact of the original death.” To explain why, I’m going to go into my personal philosophical journey a bit.

For most of my life, I had a very ending-centric view of life and its meaning. I’d have agreed with Aristotle that you can’t know if a life is good or bad until you’ve seen its end. I believed that the future outweighed the past, that a happy ending would make up for any amount of suffering, that a tragic ending meant all the joys and pleasures experienced on the way were worthless. It helped that I believed in heaven, and sometimes hell (although never the flamey-torture variety). From that point of view, someone’s ending state is vastly more important, because it’s eternal, while anything that happens to them in life is merely the blink of an eye. I extrapolated this same attitude to stories. Although, say, a marriage at the end of a romantic comedy isn’t eternal in the same way that an afterlife would be eternal, it serves the same purpose: if a story ends happily, I can go on imagining the characters being happy indefinitely. Happy is where they landed: it’s their ending state, their resting state, and there’s a kind of permanence or finality to it, as long as no further stories are told about them. To my teleological mind, how characters end up is the most important thing about them. I have a long history of being unable to understand how people could find a book or movie dark and depressing if it ended happily. As long as everything turned out okay in the end, it didn’t really matter how much the characters suffered in the meantime.

Obviously this view is very connected to Christian theology, although I knew plenty of Christians who didn’t see things this way, and there are probably secular ways to frame the same attitude. For me, though, my need to believe that the universe could have a happily-ever-after ending was inextricably linked with my belief in a deity; or at least, my fervent desire that a deity exist. It was a shift in that philosophy that allowed me to fully break away from a god and religion I no longer intellectually believed in.

The shift was profound and sudden; I can name you the hour, the place, the book I was reading, and the music I was listening to at the time. (10 am on a spring morning. The coffee shop attached to a grocery store in Decatur, GA. Remembering Hypatia by Brian Trent, which I never finished reading. “Bad Spell” by Judi Chicago.) I suddenly felt something I had never felt before: that it would be okay if I died in pain, in fire, if the last moments or hours or weeks of my life were unrelenting agony, and I never got an afterlife, a resurrection. It would be okay if I didn’t get a happy ending, because the ending would not negate all the good and beautiful things that had also been in my life. The ending is not somehow more real, more special than any of the other moments. This was not in any way an intellectual realization: it was an emotional revolution, starting in my gut and shaking my entire being. I spent most of the day near tears and acutely aware of the poignancy of each moment. I remember picking up one of the children I cared for at work and holding her tight, feeling the preciousness and fragility of her, of myself, of the simple trust and love a three-year-old can feel for a caring adult. She would suffer later in life. So would I. The closeness that was between us now wouldn’t last… I would take another job, she would grow up, and 20 years from now she likely wouldn’t even remember me. None of that made that moment of holding her on the playground any less real.

Over the course of the next few days the feeling faded slowly, and I went back to interacting with the world in my normal way. But my underlying philosophy had changed. A Doctor Who quote from several years later sums up my new philosophy: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Back to stories, and character deaths. I was focused for a long time on the final piece of the Doctor Who quote: the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant. Even if a story, a relationship, a life ended unhappily, the moments of joy and beauty that occurred along the way were just as real, just as important, just as weighty. It’s only recently that I’ve begun seeing how the reverse is also true. Even if a sorrow ends, even if a pain goes away, even if everything ends up okay, that doesn’t make the pain and suffering that were experienced in the past less real, less important, less weighty.

So you see where I’m going with this. I’d argue that most of the impact of a character’s death (for me, at least) comes from identifying with the feelings of other characters in the story. The grief of the character’s loved ones is what really brings it home for me. I’m making that point because I think it’s also possible to grieve on one’s own behalf, as the viewer: being sad that you won’t get to enjoy that character any more. That kind of grief is much less potent to me, for two reasons. First, I can in fact continue to enjoy that character, by re-watching or re-reading. Sure, I won’t get any new material, but that is a sad fact of all fiction at some point, whether the characters live or die. Second, as deeply as I love so many fictional characters, they are not in fact my friends and family and lovers. Grieving for a character on my own behalf doesn’t approach the level of pain that grieving for them on the behalf of someone in-story who loves them. It’s through another character’s eyes that I enter that cathartic sorrow (which, in turn, allows me to process my own feelings about my own loved ones in complicated ways.)

Spike crying desperately over Buffy's death.

Gets me every time.

And the grief that a character feels when their loved one dies is still every bit real, even if they come back back. After a character resurrection, it becomes possible for me to watch through their death scene and think, “But it’s okay, she’ll come back and then they won’t be sad anymore.” And thinking that lets me escape a little bit from the oppressive grief I otherwise feel on their behalf. But it’s a false escape, it’s based in the idea that suffering isn’t suffering as long as it ends someday. The grief of the Scoobies when Buffy dies is no less potent and painful just because she comes back later. Their future suffering is alleviated — they don’t have to deal with the pain of missing her after she comes back — but the pain they felt in the past isn’t changed.

The Doctor and Rose, separated by a universe.

Doesn’t have to be a death either. Me. Sobbing. Every time.

In a way, a character’s resurrection can serve as a test of sorts. A test of the viewer’s ability to let go of the the ending-oriented philosophy that we so often use to soften blows in real life. If you are shaken with sorrow on the behalf of a character who’s just lost someone they love, do you let that sorrow be just as real, just as potent, when you’ve seen the future and know they’ll come back? Or do you escape the sorrow with the comfort of a happier future? (Not that that’s always the wrong choice. Sometimes I emotionally detach from stories because I just can’t handle it right now. But I really value the way that wholehearted emotional engagement with a story helps me process ideas and feelings I have in real life, even when doing so is genuinely painful, and if I’m going to do that I want to do it in accordance with my actual values and philosophies.)

Worldbuilding notes: species biology

20 Jan

I’m worldbuilding a new fantasy story, something I haven’t done in years and which is doing wonders for my overall mood and sense of satisfaction with life. At the moment, I’m primarily working out the details of four different non-human sentient species that will populate my world (I think there will be humans too.) The always-brilliant limyaael has a number of thoughts about writing non-human characters, and I’ve read them all (I think.) (And seriously, if you’re a fantasy writer and you haven’t browsed through her rants, you really should.) Her beefs with non-human characterizations in fantasy (and sci-fi) pretty much line up with mine: other races are too simplistic, too monolithic, too universally inferior or superior to humans, too superficial in their differences from humans. I’ve been trying to avoid those problems, and I thought I’d share my process. For those of you who write speculative fiction, this might be useful: for those who read it, it might be interesting to see one writer’s process?

I start out with a lot of brainstorming and a few linchpin characteristics I want the species to have. For two of them, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from animal species they’re closely related to, and done tons of Wikipedia reading about the various characteristics of those species. I pick and choose, buffet-style, characteristics I find interesting or useful (and broadly consistent with the level of realism I’m going for) in that species. It’s given me several ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. The other two species are common types in fantasy stories, so I’ve taken the feature or two I consider most essential, introduced an unusual constraint or characteristic, and then followed the path of logical necessity to come up with other qualities of the species. All this gives me the broad idea of what the species is like.

Then comes the nitty-gritty, detail-fleshing-out part, which is probably incredibly tedious or crazy fun and satisfying depending on your temperament. (Guess which it is for me.) For this, I’ve come up with basic encyclopedic headings, and the need to fill in details under each one has greatly deepened and complicated my ideas about each species. This is the part I think might be useful for other writers: if you’re creating a new species of any kind, the biological section should be helpful in making your species distinct and fully-realized, and if you’re creating a sentient species the cultural section should be helpful as well.

Ginny’s Encyclopedia Headings for New Species

Biology
Appearance: Pretty obvious: this is what your species looks like. Include appearance of different genders and different stages of life, if relevant.

Other sensory inputs and outputs: This one’s more complicated. I went down each of the five senses and described how sensitive the species is to each one, and in what areas (for example, one of my species is reptilian, and under “touch” I wrote that they’re less sensitive to contact sensations than humans, but much more sensitive to heat and cold). For those that have an additional sense, I described that too. I also describe what noises they make, how they smell, generally how they’re perceived in purely sensory terms by other creatures.

Movement: Do they run, fly, climb? How many limbs do they use? Do they typically move fast or slow? What is their overall energy level like?

Eating and drinking: What do they eat and drink, and how do they get it? How much do they eat relative to their body weight? (If you care at all about realism, consider this in light of their movement/energy level. Higher-energy creatures require more food.) Do they consume any psychoactive substances like drugs and alcohol?

Habitat and shelter: Where do they live? Where do they sleep? What climate do they require? Are there different races or subspecies adapted to different environments? Do they build shelters or nests for themselves, or live in naturally-occurring spaces?

Reproduction: Do they reproduce sexually or asexually? How does mating occur? Where and how do they birth/spawn/whatever their young? What impact does reproduction have on their bodies? What is the birthrate among a given population? No one should be surprised that this is my favorite part: there are just so many possibilities for reproduction, and so many interesting ways this can affect the culture. Humans are weird, reproductively speaking: most animals don’t have a menstrual cycle, most animals don’t have the drive or desire to mate if they’re not fertile, most animals don’t face suffering and death in the process of birthing young. In a species where reproduction has a much smaller impact on female bodies, how will that change gender dynamics? (I don’t answer this question under this heading, nor do I answer whether mating behavior is engaged in for other purposes than reproduction: those both go under cultural headings for me, but do what you want! It’s your encyclopedia.) If you want to make your species detailed and distinct, I strongly recommend looking up various reproductive patterns in the animal kingdom, consider some alternatives to human norms, and ponder the widespread impact that will have on your species.

Self-defense: How does your species defend itself, or attack others? Does it have any particular predators?

Lifespan: What is the average natural lifespan? What proportion of your species live to old age? How vulnerable are they to disease, accidents, predation, or murder? This is another one you want to consider carefully if you’re aiming for some level of realism: make sure your birth rate and life expectancy are balanced, or consider the impact of population growth.

Those are the basic biological factors I could think of: if anyone can think of others, I’d be happy to hear them! This is still a work in progress. I like to work out the biological factors first, because they can have really interesting effects on the cultural factors, and create cultural norms I wouldn’t have thought of independently.

Cultural section coming soon! Probably, if my “promise it and don’t deliver” post pattern breaks.

Book review: Anna Karenina

3 Jan

If I were given the task of teaching an alien race about what it’s like to be human, I might start by giving them Anna Karenina to read. Tolstoy follows his characters deep into their heads and lays out, in detail, how each one thinks and feels, what motivates them to act, and even how they think about their own thoughts. He does this with an uncompromising realism and absence of judgement: there are no heroes and villains, only people acting in ways that make sense to them at the time. I’m guessing that which characters are more likeable and sympathetic will depend very much on the reader’s own perspective. I certainly have my favorites, but for nearly every character there came a moment where I thought, “Yes, I have felt like that, exactly.”

Coupled with the depth of individual characters, the breadth of scope is impressive. While the slice of life Tolstoy presents is mostly confined to one class — we would probably call it upper middle class — the experiences cover a wide range of the human spectrum. There is marriage, both loving and loveless. There is birth and death. There is politics and social change, religion and skepticism, work and play. There is charity that looks like selfishness and selfishness that looks like charity. Most of the things that I worry and wonder about in the course of my life are explored somewhere in the book, and often in different lights and from different perspectives.

Although it’s best known as the story of Anna Karenina’s tragic love affair, less than half of the book is dedicated to Anna, her husband Karenin, and her lover Vronsky. Friends and relatives of these people have their own lives, and their own stories play out in counterpoint to Anna’s. The story begins with Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his family, and through the course of the book a third family is formed, and the three families by themselves could make up an entire course exploring the nature of marriage, family, parenthood, and love. Most impressive to me was the way social and external forces shape, and are shaped by, the feelings and relationships of the characters. Often we have a habit of viewing a love story as something set apart from the rest of life, with its own beginning, middle, and happy or unhappy ending determined only by the qualities of the people involved and the strength of their love. Reality is more complicated: human beings need social support and material provision as well as love, and just as love changes our view of friends, family, and material needs, these things change the way our love affair plays out.

Anna Karenina is not a book you read to find out what happens: even if you’ve missed hearing the major plot events, nothing that happens in it is much of a surprise. It’s not a book you read to ease the complexities of life with a simpler, clearer narrative. It’s a book you read to meditate on your own life, to come out with a deeper, broader understanding of how different life feels to different people, even people who are going through outwardly very similar events. For me, reading it left me with a swell of compassion, both for myself and for others, walking this road of life that is difficult and confusing and sometimes very rewarding.

This is my first review for Cannonball Read 5, a group blog where people pledge to read and review 52 books a year (or 26, or 13.) Mindful of my grad school requirements, I’m only doing 26 this year, but I hope to do the full 52 in the future!

Epic Wedding Post! (not quite six months late)

11 Nov

Well, let’s see. I’m a week or so away from my six-month anniversary, so I think it’s high time to write about my wedding! I am, as usual, a blog-tease because I proudly began a post series about wedding traditions, and stopped after one post. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually followed through on a proposed blog post series, so I don’t know why I kidded myself that I would that time. Anyway! The wedding happened, it was excellent, and I’m here to tell you about it.

I was very afraid that I would have to settle with spending more than I was happy about on a location I wasn’t particularly pleased by. Then I found that our city’s LGBT center has a large ballroom that they rent out for functions, for an insanely reasonable price. This was SO exciting to me, because I’m pretty sensitive to the fact that I’m exercising a privilege many of my friends don’t have, and so to be able to show my support for their rights, both symbolically and financially, was awesome. Also, that center and even that room have been used for several other activities and functions I’ve gone to. Growing up, I assumed I’d get married in my home church, which would hold community significance to me and be a place I’d return again and again to keep living my life. I didn’t imagine I could find a secular equivalent, but in many ways, the LGBT center is just that.

In keeping with our plans to have a small wedding, we just had one attendant each, best man and maid of honor. One of Shaun’s good friends led the ceremony, and Gina and Lane signed the marriage license as witnesses. We wrote our own vows: Staks, the officiant, said a few words about marriage, and asked us a couple of “I do” questions. Shaun and I had also each written a couple of vows specific to ourselves, things we want to promise each other unique to our personalities. Joy, my maid of honor, asked Shaun his vows, and Jordan, Shaun’s best man, asked me mine. I liked the symbolism of our old and close friends sort of querying us on how we were going to take care of each other, and giving us their support in a more concrete way than just standing there.

Gina’s wonderful band provided the music throughout, and I think they enjoyed it almost as much as we enjoyed having them. We had SO much fun sitting with Peter a few months before the wedding and coming up with an unmanageably long list of songs for them to cover (which they then managed!) The best part was when I remembered, about five days before the wedding, that I’d really really wanted to sing “Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls. Shaun had said, very early when we were talking about our wedding, that he’d like it if I sang something, and that song was so perfect and I knew Gina and I would sing it together really nicely. So it was one of the things I’d been most excited about, and then all of us forgot about it until, as I say, less than a week before the wedding. I wrestled for a while with whether to let it go or see if we could still make it work, since I knew that a) Gina was already stressed, and b) Gina would move heaven and earth to get something done if I wanted it done. I decided it was important enough to me to ask, and amazingly, we pulled it together! Seriously, Arcati Crisis is amazing to work with, and I’m not just saying that because they’re friends/family (I think we all know how strained it can get working with friends no matter how much you love them, and the point is it didn’t, at all.)

I wasn’t sure what I wanted for my dress, except that I didn’t want to spend more than $300 on it, and I didn’t want it to look so wedding-y that I couldn’t ever wear it again. Gina and I spent an epic day looking at thrift and vintage stores, and what that excursion taught me was that I did want it to look kind of wedding-y: light-colored and wide-skirted, at least. I then turned to Etsy, and since I tend to look good in 50s-style dresses that’s what I searched for first. I found a terrific-looking dress, but I’m not linking to the shop because when I got it it was actually sloppily made on a few counts: nothing that showed on the outside, but I had to do a little fixing before the wedding and I’ll have to do more before I wear it again. But I love how it looked and I will indeed be happy to wear it again sometime.

I had begun working on my veil before I met Shaun — actually, about a month before, which turns this into one of those inspirational stories for people who are frustrated that their future spouse hasn’t come along yet (aka: me for most of my 20s). And I came to hate those stories, but I do like what I did with my veil, which was this: I’d been feeling frustrated that my future spouse hadn’t come along, and had just come out of trying to kid myself that maybe I didn’t even ever want to get married, and after seeing many beautiful lace shawls, I decided to cope with my frustration and general emotional upheaval around the issue of Lifelong Love by knitting my wedding veil. Every time I got upset or discouraged or whatever, I’d work on the veil, and I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t think about any specific person while I was working on it, because I’d already planned to marry SO many people and I didn’t want any specific disappointment attached to it. Anyway, it was a good solution for me, and I worked on it quite a lot before Shaun met, and in the several months after we met. Then I stopped working on it almost entirely, because we were getting serious and I didn’t know if it would be possible to not think about him while working on it. Then we got engaged and I had a lot of lace knitting to do. It turned out beautifully (except for one glaring mistake that I didn’t see until it was bound off and blocked, and still at nights I think sometimes about how I could fake a fix, since I’d love to pass it on to a child someday.)

Our decorations leaned toward “bright and slightly whimsical.” We made button trees based on this concept, but with bright multi-colored buttons on thin stems, in wine bottles we’d painted with silver and gold paint. We’ve still got one at the house, and my mom took one too. We also had wedding pigs, which is nearly impossible to explain in a way that makes sense to people. What happened was, Gina went to Wegmans’ around Valentine’s Day and found these sweet but rather sober pigs earnestly bearing the words “I love you” on a heart, and we all went spontaneously insane and began dressing them up in little costumes and decided they HAD to be wedding decorations. So they were. Also, they light up with excellent color-changing lights. Plastic costumed light-up wedding pigs: you either get it or you don’t. We loved them (and the bride and the groom are still sitting on a shelf in our room.)

We’d planned to have a potluck, but Shaun’s mom was anxious that there wouldn’t be enough food, so she hired us a caterer to supply a couple of main meat dishes. It was quite delicious, and many people still brought food which was also delicious. I had some last-minute anxiety about the change of plans, which happened less than two weeks before the wedding, but it all worked out well. In fact the only thing that didn’t work well was the tablecloths, which I’d ordered from a linen rental company before the caterer plan was hatched, and which for complicated and mundane reasons didn’t arrive (the evening before the wedding! I might have started to panic a bit!) Gina and Wes saved me by buying replacements, and now we have a number of quite nice tablecloths in the basement, in case we ever throw another party for 60 people.

The morning of the wedding I went to Joy’s hotel room to get ready, and two other dear friends came down to have mimosas with us while I tried not to fret about whether Shaun had woken up in time, and whether he and Lane would have trouble getting everything over to the community center, and whether it was possible for anything to go right without me there (which is silly, because Shaun is much better at logistics than I am.) And then we had trouble with the cab that was supposed to take us to the community center: the first one couldn’t take us because he wouldn’t take the case of champagne Joy’s fiance got for us, and the second one apparently didn’t know his way around downtown. But we made it there, and when I got up to the ballroom and saw it all set up and everybody looking happy and Shaun all dressed up, I was so tremendously relieved and happy. And then for the next half-hour, every time I turned around there was a friend or relative that I hadn’t seen in ages, and I gave SO many hugs and smiled SO many smiles.

We wanted the whole atmosphere to be a party with a marriage in it, so there was lots of milling around and chatting and the band playing until all the essential people were there. Then we walked up to the front and had our little ceremony, then was dancing and eating and toasting. It was really nice, and just how we’d both wanted it to be. And afterward we strolled hand-in-hand through the streets, and evidently it was obvious we’d just gotten married because people kept shouting “Congratulations!” and it was awesome.

Warrior

24 Aug

*Spoilers ahead*

I can’t quite decide if Warrior is an example of a well done movie that didn’t work for me personally, or an almost well done movie with a serious flaw. Suffice to say that if somebody told me it was their favorite movie of all time, I would consider that a point in favor of their taste, but I doubt I’ll be able to watch it all the way through again.

Its a story of two brothers who became estranged over their alcoholic, abusive father. Of the brothers, Brendan, the older, is by far the better adjusted. He has a wife and family, he has successfully cut his father out of his life, and also forgiven him. One of the things I love about the movie is that the writers seem to understand that its possible to forgive an abuser, yet still choose to keep them out of your life. Although their father seems to be partially reformed, the movie does not present this as an argument for either brother letting him back into their lives. It understands that when that trust is broken, the mere fact that somebody got therapy and discovered religion does not repair it. The younger brother, Tommy, is far more maladjusted. He goes through the movie a wound up ball of anger and hurt. He smiles once in the entire movie, when he’s on the phone with his dead best friend’s wife, and its a tortured smile, a smile with tears in it. The difference between the two is a choice each made when they were teenagers. Their mother chose, finally, to leave. Tommy went with her, Brendan was supposed to but at the last minute decided to stay with his father, in part to be near his girlfriend. Arguably, Tommy made the smarter choice, but real life doesn’t always reward the smart choices. Brendan stuck the abuse out for a few years, moved out, grew up, married the girlfriend, became a physics teacher and had two daughters. His problems are the problems of the standard middle class; money, struggling to make ends meet, keeping his head high when the accountants tell him he’s ninety days away from being foreclosed on. That’s not to say he’s unscathed. Tommy was apparently the fighter, and the favorite, and Brendan has been left feeling like a perpetual underdog. This contributes to his unwillingness to make certain financial choices, like moving out of his house into a smaller, more affordable apartment. Tommy, on the other hand, got to helplessly watch his mother die. Then he joined the marines and watched his best friend die, by friendly fire no less. Then he ran away to the States, only to be hit by the reality that he has nothing. He’s broke, he’s lost contact with all his family, and the only friend he has is his best friend’s widow. He can’t depend on her, because he feels that she depends on him. He’s not just in financial trouble. Through no fault of his own, he’s been completely abandoned.

Both brothers choose the same solution to their financial problems. They sign up for a bit MMA tournament, winner take all. Tommy goes to his father to be trained, Brendan to an old friend. We in the audience know where this is going. Despite both being relative underdogs, they will beat all their opponents, until they have to fight each other for the pot. Both men deserve to win, but only one can.

A sidenote; this neatly sidesteps one of the key problems of the sports movie genre. Most sports movies can end in only one of two ways. Either the underdog will somehow win, or they will lose, but learn some important winning-is-not-everything lesson. Most of the time its the former, and its usually easy to see the latter coming. In this movie, you want both of them to win, and even more you don’t want either one to lose.

The bulk of the movie is a tension game. We slowly learn about the brothers, what makes them tick, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Its a very well done character study, and when it gets to the final fight the suspense is agonizing. Here’s the problem, for me at least. While both are sympathetic characters, they are so different I have no doubt that most people will have a favorite. Brendan wins, and the way he wins is so well done that, for those who liked him best, I’m sure it was a fantastic movie. Unfortunately, I empathized more with the more broken one. The worst time in my life was when I felt likeĀ  my friends and family had abandoned me, and although I have nothing else in common with Tommy, my desire to see him heal was overwhelming. The movie tries to give him a good ending as well. The final shot of Brendan carrying a badly beaten Tommy out hints at a possible future where they reconnect. Its touching, but reality intrudes. Suspension of disbelief is a strange thing. Even in supposedly realistic films, we can ignore factual details, like how many shots a particular gun can fire or what topics are taught in sixth grade. Emotional realities are much harder to ignore. In the pulpier genres, we can suspend our belief a little bit, but any attempts at realism make that impossible. The paradox makes sense; stories are never about data, but human beings. The reaction to emotional breaks is instinctive. I did not choose to pick apart the ending. I felt a crushing disappointment, and analyzed it after the fact.

The movie tells us that after the fight Tommy will be court-martialed for desertion. They strongly imply a prison sentence. It doesn’t matter that Tommy and Brendan had, in the middle of a merciless beatdown, a short moment of reconciliation. He’s going in for a stretch of isolation of a brand-new type. Sure, maybe Brendan will visit him, maybe both of them will follow up on that moment, maybe when he comes out Tommy will have a family again. Or maybe not. Maybe Tommy’s emotional rawness will make him close up, and Brendan will become so exhausted trying to reach him that he gives up. Brendan is fully capable of backing out on his family when things get to be too much for him. I don’t fault him for that. I’ve been there, its a defense mechanism, and a damned essential one. Or maybe the two won’t have enough in common to fully connect. Happens all the time. My best friend happens to be my sister, but most people’s siblings are just siblings, familiar strangers who happen to share DNA. The closest family is always the family you choose, and Tommy has lost his family of choice.

The most frustrating thing about that is Tommy’s ending feels like the first act of a really good story. Brendan got a full arc, underdog to victor. Tommy got chased up a tree. That’s my new favorite metaphor for the three-act structure. Act one; chase ‘em up a tree. Act two; throw rocks at them. Act three; cut down the tree. You put them in a bad situation, you make it worse, then you give them an unexpected resolution. He’s gone from a state of being isolated in an oddly safe way (safe in the sense of being able to numb himself, story beginnings thrive on that kind of unsatisfactory stability) to having the old wounds torn open, and being confined and re-isolated. He’s up a tree, but things could get so much worse for him. Nevermind all the trouble prison can bring. His family is back. Family rocks are the pointiest. He now has to change. That change could be to heal, or to grow newer, thicker scars, or just to die, literally or metaphorically. We don’t really know enough about him to know which way he will go, to know which side of the tree he will be on when it is cut down.

Now, many satisfying stories end with a supporting character’s arc unfulfilled, or with hints of what new stories may come for the main character. But no satisfying story ends with the main character’s arc unfulfilled. So is this Brendan’s story, Tommy’s story, or the story of the two of them? I suspect the writers were aiming for it to be a story for the both of them, and in that they failed. That doesn’t ruin the story, because those who are watching mainly for Brendan are in great shape. They got a good arc with a fascinating antagonist/secondary character.

But I really liked Tommy best.

- Lane

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