Newsflash: I just got an invite to my 10-year high school reunion. AND I STILL DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO BRAG ABOUT!

We have officially reached DefCon 1, people.

Okay, so I have a college degree and a stable job that pays well and a loving marriage and a home of my own. In the larger social context, these are huge accomplishments. In fact, most people, even the ones who share my demographic, don’t have these things all at once. I am well aware that I am one lucky son-of-a-bitch. But, as always, context rules. I mean, for goodness’s sake, I had people expecting me to be president by now (an expectation I always thought was odd and not a little demonstrative of the failure of public education). And my hair still bends in weird ways, even with product in it. And I lack a sexy six-pack. And I still get acne for chrissake!

(I wonder: Do guys have to worry so much about physical adequacy when it comes to school reunions? I certainly hope so because this shitty feeling needs to be shared, dammit.)

More importantly, I feel as though I’ve fallen pitiably short of all expectations that I would be a wunderkind of some kind at this point. And despite my professional accomplishments that I take great pride in, I still feel like they’re only take-pride-inable in the context of the office drone life.

Where are the daring adventures?

Where are the tattoos and illicit substances?

Where are the life cakes made of success and ultimate happiness?! I WAS PROMISED CAKE!*

Have I really been lulled into the life of a drone? Do I wake up every morning just to put my nose to the grindstone for projects that are ultimately small and unimpressive? Am I growing steadily softer as my life becomes more and more sedentary?

My first feeling (which can tend to be the most malicious) to all of these questions is, “Yes, you piece of rotting monkeymeat on maggot-filled driftwood.” But if I look honestly at the things I do and how I live my life, I have to answer in the negative. Okay, so the close-up might seem that way, especially to someone who might be looking to denigrate my life and accomplishments (i.e., me). But in reality, I’m still actively pursuing the adventure in my life that I’ve always wanted:

  • I have half a novel done and am chipping more and more at it every day. One day soon  it will be a whole novel!
  • I’m scheduled to begin archery lessons next month.
  • I’ll start running races this year (already signed up).
  • This summer, I’ll start earning a pilot’s license.
  • I’m even looking seriously into starting a PhD program in the next couple of years.

Of course, it’s not as easy as all of that sounds. Why do I have half a novel done? Because I write late and wake up early. How will I have enough time to take up archery? Because I wake up early on the weekends and clean my house while the sun is coming up. How am I preparing to race this year? By being conscious about what I eat and making time every day to go to the gym and train my body. Why am I earning my pilot’s license? Because it’s a thing to do, and I have a few free hours in the week. And why the hell am I considering a PhD program? Because I’m smart and I have something to offer and I’m curious and I want to explore that.

So, yes. I have an office job, and I’ve made office-job accomplishments. But, if there’s one thing I’ll be able to brag about most, it’s that I’ve persevered. I’ve persevered in my writing, no matter how slow my progress. I’ve persevered in my health, no matter how much cheesecake has tempted me. And I’ve persevered in my curiosity, no matter how much my schedule has tempted me with more sleep and easy mornings filled with reading books for fun.

My life lets me read great stories, write my heart out, and explore new skills.

My life sounds pretty fucking great to me.

I think I’m ready to start bragging now.

*Insert obligatory Portal reference here.

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Dr. Saito was a small cube now. Her former body lay inert on the table, and the cube now glowed a soft, mint green light. The light was not really necessary, she’d explained to Dr. Tanaka. Its only purpose was to indicate to the panel of witnesses to this historic even that the cube was on. Whatever other inferences they drew were their own.

Based on the gasps coming from the men and women gathered in the room, this little flourish showed some foresight.

Tanaka ran the preliminary diagnostic tests to ensure the transfer had been successful. As far as he could tell, the board was green. He looked up from his screen, smiled, and announced, “Transfer complete.”

The faces of the witnesses brightened, they cheered, and one popped the cork on a magnum of champagne. They hugged. They cried. They sang.

Tanaka smiled again as he watched the crowd of scientists and investors who had poured money, support, and even expertise into Saito’s tireless mission to imprint a human consciousness onto a mobile, electronic platform. She’d done it. The first person to take the first steps into immortality. The next step would be to transfer her again into another organic platform. His work was only half-complete.

Still, this first stage was miraculous in itself. He would let the others have their celebration. For now, he would sit down and relax for the first time in five years.

The others had found a new song, now. Several even had their arms around each other’s shoulders and swayed back and forth. Another two clasped hands and began to dance as a pair.

Tanaka closed his eyes and rested his head against palm, still smiling, basking in their success.

Then, there was another gasp, though decidedly of a different timbre from the first gasp of the evening.

He opened his eyes just in time to see the soft, mint green glow flicker and die as rivulets of champagne slithered down its sides.

“This game is bullshit!”

I said that about twenty minutes into the game, when I met my first real moral quandary. Because it absolutely was. That’s also when I realized that I’m a bad person.

Okay, so here was the scenario: I had to choose to save one of two people. One was a healthy adult man who had already saved me and who was also the son of the farmer who had taken us in (Hershel, who was much closer to the character in the books than the character in the show). The other was a dumb kid (his father’s words, not mine) who didn’t know enough not to run the other guy down with a tractor and pin him in place as the walkers reached for him through a fence.

I realized I’m a bad person because I did not immediately choose the poor, defenseless kid.

But hear me out.

First of all, the man would be a valuable asset against the walkers—he’d already proved as much. And, I owed my life to him getting me out of that first neighborhood. AND, if I let him die, I would also lose Hershel as an ally, no doubt. On top of all that, the kid is stupid (again, his dad’s words) and will very like cause more trouble in addition to being a drag.

On the other hand, if I let the kid die and saved the man, I would lose the kid’s dad as an ally and would likely have no means of transportation off the farm.

It was not until pretty far into this line of reasoning that I thought, “Oh, and the kid is defenseless, so maybe I should help him.” I’m pretty sure a good person wouldn’t have hesitated to help the kid first, right?

So, I helped the kid, the other guy died (even though I had the opportunity to save him too, but the controls are absolutely atrocious), Hershel kicked us off his farm, and the kid’s dad offered me a ride. What’d I tell ya?

This whole interaction—and all the rest that come after it—made me start to think a great deal about how it is the game directs your performance. And by “performance,” I mean the acting on a stage kind, not the quality of my ability or skill level kind. In games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect, you can make choices that affect the later parts of the game, including how people talk to or about you. You can choose to be a good person, or you can choose to be a bad person (relatively speaking). Most importantly, you can choose these performances at your leisure. You could leave those games on their decision scenes for days if you really wanted to just really think through all your options and strategize.

Not in The Walking Dead.

Nope. You have to make all your decisions right now.

I noticed that having a time limit placed on making my decisions made me jumpy at first. Eventually, as I got a hang of the controls and the flow of the game, I learned to let my decisions come easier. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I made all the decisions I would’ve made for myself. I made decisions based on how I wanted the game to go—in other words, I was aware of the game environment as opposed to a real life-and-death situation.

However, I do think that the Venn diagram of decisions I would’ve made for myself and decision I made based on how I wanted the game to go has significant overlap. Because I couldn’t figure out at my leisure what my version of Lee would do, I think I necessarily had to pull from a personal decision-making paradigm. Which is, of course, how I learned I’m a bad person.

In summary: It’s a fun survivor-horror game with a neat twist on the free-will game. The artwork has a unique graphic-novel style, and the dialogue is solid. If the controls weren’t so terrible, I’d be happy as a clam with this game.

A happy bad clam.

A happy clam with red tide.

I had initially intended this post to be a compare/contrast piece for the graphic novels and TV adaptation of The Walking Dead. Anyone who’s read the graphic novels and watched the show knows why this has become a bit of a problem—they are so completely different. Well, not completely. But close.

Instead, I’ll take a common thread from each and take a closer look: Lori and Andrea.

Oh, also: SPOILERS!

The portrayals of these two women are so shockingly different between the books and the show. In terms of horror genre conventions, the show forces these two characters into more conservative tropes. Lori, especially, is cast unambiguously into the role of the Whore. The drama between Lori, Rick, and Shane is present in both the books and the show, but the show really draws it out, for understandable reasons (i.e., ratings). However, the Lori of the graphic novels only strays the once and is reluctant thereafter, even before Rick returns; the Lori of the TV show enjoys her adultery a bit longer and then wavers even after Rick comes back. The Lori who is more loyal to her husband gets to die the death of an unarmed woman trying to save the infant in her arms (I WAS NOT OKAY WITH THIS SCENE); the story can’t even wait for the innocent Judith* to be fully born before killing the Lori who wavers.

Oh, and let’s not forget that her marriage to Rick is in shambles just before she dies because her having an affair is just absolutely unforgiveable, and of course it’s all on her. Meanwhile, their marriage in the graphic novels is relatively fine and they even communicate—in a roundabout way—that an infidelity was committed and is still more or less water under the bridge. In one, Lori is singlehandedly responsible for the ruin of their marriage (despite the scene in the first episode where Rick describes the trouble they’re having) and of the friendship that once existed between Shane and Rick; in the other, she’s a devoted wife who made a mistake and atones for it through both her actions and her communication(ish) with her husband.

Essentially, the television show has disallowed Lori her complexity (including a complex sexuality) and decides to have her death be a punishment. She’s denied her martyrdom as a loving mother and emotionally faithful wife.

And then there’s Andrea.

I love the Andrea of the books. I hate the Andrea of the show.

Mostly, I hate her because she’s just so unbelievably—and inconsistently—stupid. On top of that, she’s one of the few characters to be vocally feminist and to insist on being able to protect herself and to be more than a cook or laundress. I don’t like that pairing of characteristics. Frankly, it’s garden-variety, bullshit misogyny**.

The Andrea of the books is valued for what she is: the best shot in the group. The difference—and this is an important difference—is that this egalitarian state is more or less unremarked upon. She’s the best. She gets to be the sniper. Why are we still talking about this?

I had hope for the Andrea of the show when she picked up a gun and demanded Shane teach her how to use it. I assume her time with Michonne (on the show) was an interesting story of two women fending for themselves, protecting and caring for one another in world gone to shit. Who wants to see that? Let’s start the season with Andrea sick and dying and then falling rapidly into the delusion that Woodbury and the Governor (seriously, who the fuck takes that moniker without just a touch of megalomania—wake up, Andrea!) are just peachy keen. Given the show’s penchant for killing off characters who betray trust (in this case, Andrea has betrayed the entire group, but most notably Michonne), I would be downright shocked if Andrea lived past this season. She’s still going strong where I am in the books (right now, I’m to where Douglas just buried his wife and conceded authority to Rick).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the graphic novels are a paragon of how to write non-het-cis-able-white males into a zombie apocalypse, but I am saying it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the show (especially in the “able” category, which I might explore more in a future post). I believe this to be true; I also know that the audience for the graphic novels is miniscule next to the audience for the show. The message I get from the disparity between the two, then, is this: “More people will be okay with seeing women in weak, stupid, punished roles than will be okay with seeing them in unremarked-upon, valuable roles.” I do not like this message at all***.

*Did anyone else pick up on Judith sharing a name with one of the more badass women from the Bible who also just happens to be in the beheading-the-enemy business?

**In my opinion, Michonne and Carol are the only two characters saving that show from having a very prominent message of, “Women screw things up and are only good for making sammiches.”

***BUT I’M STILL OBSESSED WITH THE SHOW.

As always, the infected had managed to breach the ground level of the latest safehouse Zahara had managed to find. Luckily, it wasn’t a horde. So far, she’d only seen the one in front of her—the one that had not yet seen or heard her but could obviously smell her. But even a breach of one could not be taken lightly.

Zahara remained still and out of the poor soul’s sight. It was agitated, sure, but it hadn’t aggro’d on her just yet. If she was very lucky, she’d be able to retreat to an upper floor or at least a panic room. These old Medieval castles had those, right? She wished she’d had more time to map out the entire interior. She thought she’d have more time.

She took a single step backward, then stopped. She was nearly out of sight now, but she didn’t want to get cocky and accidentally draw attention to herself. The image of her backing into one of those things flitted through her mind, and she turned her head slowly to take in more of her surroundings. The one in the kitchen around the corner was still the only one. It was starting to turn in her direction.

Another step back, and she was out of sight. The staircase was only a few more steps back—a distance she closed more quickly now that she was out of sight.

Then it roared.

She ran.

Maybe it’s just in frustration, she thought. Or maybe it has a lock on me now. Or maybe it’s calling to others.

She cursed quietly under her breath and took the steps three at a time. She didn’t slow when she reached the top of the stairs. Instead she took off down the hallway, darkening in the gloaming. After a moment, the creature roared again, closer. Zahara prayed it was the same one. The second-floor panic room was still a good fifty yards away.

Along the wall, she saw a flowered vase as tall as she was. She veered from her course and pushed it behind her as she passed. She sacrificed some speed and part of her lead doing that, but her hope had been to shatter the old porcelain and slow the creature. A quick glance behind her proved that no, the creature hadn’t slowed. Also, it was not the same creature she’d seen in the kitchen.

“Fuck.”

The panic room was close now, and she slowed to be able to shut the heavy door behind her. Her hand was on the door handle, anchoring her as she pivoted around it. A hand closed around hers before she could bring it inside the room. Stupid! She chastised herself. Don’t ever get distracted with fancy tactics!

She tore her hand away from the handle and pulled the creature into the room with her and let it push her against the door to close it. For good measure, she struggled in the direction of the latch until she heard it click. It’d be easier to deal with one in a locked room than a horde falling on an open door.

The thing pressed in on her, its eyes graying, its teeth black and broken, its mouth open and salivating and growling hungrily at her. A fetid air hung around the gaping, rotting hole in the devil’s neck, and it caught in Zahara’s throat, choking her. It opened and closed its mouth in a chewing motion, clearly anticipating the meal it had in mind.

It wasn’t easy—it never was—but Zahara was able to leverage herself against the door and get the creature off its balance. While it was still disoriented, she directed it against the window and pushed it out. She didn’t have time to look after it as it fell to the ground—it would only be momentarily incapacitated, anyway—before a bang at the door drew her attention.

The monster from the kitchen. And only that one, if she was lucky.

The door itself was six inches thick and sold oak, but the latch was just a tongue of wrought iron in the stone. It would bend and give eventually. Calmly, Zahara slid three wooden beams across the door: one at the top, one in the middle, and one near the bottom. She would be secure enough for the time being.

The panic room was well stocked, but dark. She shuttered the windows, pulled the drapes, and stumbled in the darkness until she found a candle. Maybe she didn’t need to be so careful—she was after all in the middle of nowhere in the marshes. Then again, no need to be a beacon. It was bad enough she had two confirmed villains breaching her safety. Who knew how many more were out there.

A breeze whistled through the shutters and rippled through the drapes. Zahara shivered. It had been many months since the dead stopped staying dead and instead started devouring the living. Still, she figured winter could not be far off. Too late to look for a new safehouse. Maybe she could ride out the worst of the season in this room. Raiding the castle when she needed to. Maybe these two monsters were the only ones around for miles.

Two voices now growled at her door. Either the one she’d pushed out the window had found its way back inside, or there was a third she hadn’t seen out there. How the hell did they get inside the stone walls of the castle?

Zahara suddenly felt tired. How long had it been? She could hardly think of a time when she’d gone to school, prayed at the mosque, gone on dates, worked a stable job, had a bank account. That world seemed so alien now. She sat heavily on the ground and leaned against the cold stone of the wall. She ran her fingers through her hair and thought absently that it was time to cut it again if she didn’t want one of those things to grab her by it.

She’d stacked the room with paintings and some unvarnished furniture. Good for burning. One of the paintings that faced her showed a young family in Victorian clothing as they picnicked on a green lawn with tea and biscuits aplenty. The young mother smiled and rested her perfectly coiffed head on her husband’s should while two laughing young ones, whose sexes seemed indeterminate to Zahara, played some kind of game with a ball. Even the dog, frozen in midjump, seemed to smile in happiness.

That painting was the first to burn that night.

I like playing them. A lot.

They’re fun. They’re frustrating in a satisfying way. They can be consuming if they strike the right chord.

I started playing in the ‘90s, with Mario and Duck Hunt and this really fun Olympics game that I don’t remember the name of but which had a running pad with it that we eventually hacked to make our runner run faster and our jumpers jump higher. Then there was Star Wars and Donkey Kong and Golden Eye and Mortal Combat and Zelda.

Oh, Zelda.

I haven’t played Ocarina of Time since high school, but I have kept my* N64 just in case I get the itch in the future. The husband figure tried to donate it to Goodwill because he had never seen me play it. This was a problem for me, obviously. I know, I know. I can download all those games to our Wii. It’s just not the same. Maybe one day.

For as much fun as I’ve had with games, though, there has always been a weird feeling around them for me. Like I shouldn’t be playing them. None of my friends played video games, and pretty much the only people I played with or around were my brother, his friends (all boys), and our boy cousins. I was very obviously not welcome to play with them. Usually, I just watched. If I did play with them, they made no secret about their annoyance and the fact they were only letting me play as a courtesy. Sometimes—golden times—it seemed like they would forget I was an annoying gnat mucking up their boy time. Other times, I would get kicked in the face**.

But, hey, they were preteen and teenaged boys, and I know now that they were pretty much just responding to all the messages they got, not least of all from the very video games we played together. They’ve all grown up nicely and, as far as I know, don’t seem to hate playing with girls quite as much.

Still, I think growing up in an environment of people who didn’t want to play with me because I just wasn’t good enough for them (for whatever reason—whether I just wasn’t the same skill level as them or because I just annoyed the hell out of them) is the primary reason that I shy away from multiplayer games in general, both then and now.

In fact, for a while there, I stopped playing games altogether. Sure, I was in college and needed to focus on my studies, but that was an easy reason not to engage in something I enjoyed. On top of my most available playmates never really wanting to play with me, I had parents, trusted adults, and news media saying it was a waste of time, it would rot my brain, and make me a violent killing machine. And, of course, there were myriad other social messages that threatened to cast doubt on my sexuality and/or gender identity if I kept playing. So, I stopped.

I didn’t play again until after I graduated from college—jobless, hopeless, and in dire need of feeling in control of something. Slowly, I started to play again. My husband sat me down in front of the computer one day, brought up Half-Life 2, and said, “Trust me, you’re gonna love it.” I’d never played a PC game before, so controlling my character was awkward at first. And, of course, it was scary. But I was also starting to enjoy myself again.

I failed a lot, and that bothered me at first. I ragequit more than a few times. Then, I started ragefailing—just trying insane tactics because I’d already spent an HOUR trying to SHOOT DOWN that GODDAMN HELICOPTER AND PLEASE GOD JUST GET ME TO THE NEXT PART OF THIS GAME. Now and then, insane tactics turned into unexpected successes. Then, failing became less important to me. Eventually, dying wasn’t a failure anymore. It was a successful demonstration of the wrong way out of whatever predicament I was currently in.

You bet your ass I’ve applied this skill in my everyday life. It’s not so much a matter of puzzle-solving as it is a reorganization of priorities. Finishing the task, level, etc. is still pretty important, but it’s really secondary to figuring out what you’re doing either right or wrong right now.

Then, I was introduced to Mass Effect. Hoo-boy. We’re talking Zelda-level of addiction here.

But more than the fun gaming, interesting characters, fraught real-world politics, and engaging story, all three games connected with me on a different level—the English major level.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m well aware of where Mass Effect is with respect to Shakespeare***. Believe me, most of the things wrong with those games, storywise, are exactly the sort of thing that made me want to look at literature critically in a big way in the first place.

Suddenly, I’m seeing video games in a whole new way. In an English major way. And with smart, accessible academic work being done in the area (Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, for one), I feel like I’ve met my good friend Video Games for the first time again. Suddenly, the judgment I’ve always felt—from my childhood playmates, to my parents and other trusted adults, to every person who has looked at me askance, as if to say, “But you don’t really play, do you?”—just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve had a reorganization of priorities, I guess you can say.

I’M GOING TO PLAY AND CRITICALLY ENGAGE WITH MY VIDEO GAMES UNTIL I’M SATISFIED, DAMMIT!

So, what does all of this mean for you, dear Pipsqueakonians?

I’m going to start reviewing video games! Right here! Every Friday! Woohoo!

First up: The Walking Dead.

BE READY.

*To my brother who reads this blog: Yes, MY N64.

**Okay, that only happened once and it was an accident. Social cues were usually limited to eyerolls, loud sighs, “ughs,” “leave us alones,” and “I don’t want to play with yous.”

***I’ll go ahead and say that I think they’re closer in spirit than most people would be willing to concede.

Confession: I am a complete and utter fangirl for Catherynne M. Valente. You are welcome to consider any of my opinions of her work irretrievably biased.

Perhaps knowing this about me will help you to understand why I went all Kristen Bell on Monday when I heard the mail slot clank, a knock at the door, and the husband figure talk briefly with the postman. I knew. I just knew. Six-Gun Snow White had finally arrived. I must’ve just sat there petting my new pretty for a solid five minutes. Squee, indeed.

Unfortunately, I am not yet able to offer you a review of the book because I’m still munching through it. In the meantime, I thought I’d do my due diligence that everyone who reads this blog is at least somewhat familiar with her blog.

First: Silently and Very Fast

Go. Read. Now. Seriously, I’ll wait for you to get back.

Okay, I’m going to assume your mind is now sufficiently blown by the awesomeness of that story. And I don’t mean “awesome, dude” kind of awesome. I mean “full of and inspiring awe.” It’s grand in scope. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. It’s satisfyingly subversive. SaVF takes language and common tropes and even anthropocentric assumptions about artificial intelligence and bakes them into a souffle of perfectness.

Next: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time”*

There’s a good reason Valente’s work is called “mythpunk,” and this story is the poster child for it. I’m in love with the way she reinvents creation stories with a sprinkling of scientific theories and principles. Even as a scientifically literate agnostic, I find these renditions of the infant world mystical. Then she dovetails the scientific creation of the world with the more organic and gradual creation of the “science fiction author.” Brilliance itself.

Finally: Deathless

Although I certainly loved the book when I first read it, my appreciation for it grew exponentially after I’d turned the last page. As usual, Valente’s writing is breathtaking and beautiful. However, it was the metamythology** that really stuck its barb in my brain and worked its way inward. Last October (when I MET Valente!), she told me she thinks Deathless is her most adult work. I hadn’t read it yet, so I had no context for her comment. Now that I have read it, I have some idea of what she meant. Still, if I ever meet her again, I’ll have to resist the very strong urge to monopolize her time with questions.

You know, I really haven’t done justice to Valente’s works here. I haven’t really reviewed them so much as gushed over them. There’s just so much meat to them that the best I can offer at the moment is a snippet of how they made me feel, which is obviously insufficient. I’ll have to go more into detail on them individually at a different time. For now, however, I’ll sit on my couch next to my fireplace with a mug of hot tea in hand and lose myself in pages and pages of the sensitivity, intelligence, fragility, and beauty that Valente brings to her stories and her characters.

Be jealous. Or join me in reading her work. It’s your choice.

*You may have noticed that both of those stories come from Clarkesworld magazine. These are by no means diamonds in the rough over there. The quality of the work in that magazine is always excellent. If you like what they do over there, you should seriously consider supporting them so they can continue to do what they do best: bring brilliant short science fiction and fantasy to the masses.

**In a funny turn of events, I followed Deathless with Redshirts by John Scalzi. I found this accidental pairing satisfying and appropriate.

I wrote a story for you! It’s a short one—the kids call it “flash fiction”—and it’s all yours. And guess what? I’ll have another one for you next Monday! But that’s way in the future. Let’s enjoy this one now. I hope you like it!

“The Captain Eats a Steak”

Captain Chuck Williams had been a Big Goddamn Hero. All the headlines had said so, and he had them in hand to prove it.

“I think you’re remembering that wrong,” Alyson said suddenly from behind him. “First of all, you were not the only one embarking on this little mission to the Red Planet. Second of all, Big Goddamn Heroes tend not to be the type of people who get their pilots killed right away.” She pointed to the jagged, screwdriver-shaped hole about an inch above the arch of her right eyebrow.

Chuck looked away before she could turn her head to indicate another not-so-clean hole. “That happened after. And I’m on my own now, so what difference does it make how I remember it?”

Alyson shrugged and plopped down beside Chuck on the couch. She sighed and tapped the tops of her legs in boredom. “How long do you think now? You’re finally delirious—that has to be somewhere near the end, right? Why did you have to bring me back, anyway? I hated you. You hated me. You could’ve at least thought of your wife or something.”

“Why would he think of me? He left me to rot on Earth so that the rest of the world would write about what a courageous pioneer he was to set off for Mars. If you ask me, I think he knew at least a little bit that he was leaving me for good.” Chuck looked up to see his wife leaning against the post of the doorway. She looked as if she’d just stepped off the set of a 1950s sitcom: pale green A-line dress, double string of pearls, large blonde curls, and soft pink lips. She was the picture of loving, warm hospitality—except her eyes. The look behind her eyes spoke the volumes of emotion those pink lips had never uttered in their life together. “For God’s sake, he’s even put me in this ridiculous June Cleaver getup. I hate A-line dresses and he knows it. What the hell is going through your head, Chuck?”

Chuck sighed and immediately regretted it. His body ached with cold and lack of oxygen. The tips of his fingers seemed like they’d always been blue, and his lips cracked and bled in dryness. “It’s a pretty dress, though,” he said.

His wife shook her head and turned away, mumbling, “That’s not the point.”

Alyson took the tablet from his hand and began scrolling through the results of his last search. “Hey, captain, I wonder what the headlines say about you now.” Her fingers slid and tapped across the screen quickly, and a smirk flitted across her face. “Maybe it’s something like this?” She turned the tablet to face him again. She’d opened a word processor and typed in all caps a series of headlines he’d rather not see:

FORMER SPACE HERO KILLS CRAZY CREWMAN TOO LATE

WHAT WENT WRONG: WILLIAMS LOSES CONTROL OF CREW AND SHIP

CAPTAIN CHUCK WILLIAMS ONLY SURVIVOR ON BOTCHED MISSION TO MARS, NOT FOR LONG

CHUCK WILLIAMS GASPS FOR BREATH, TALKS TO GHOSTS, IS CRAZY

She turned the screen away again, her smirk having grown wider. “What do you think? Too biased maybe? Well, I just fly things—flew things—I’m no journalist.” Her fingers slid and tapped again until she turned the tablet to face Chuck again. “Maybe this is better?” The headlines were the same, but she’d changed the font to what looked like Old English type.

Fire burned in his muscles as he pushed himself up and toward the door. Fire burned in his lungs as he tried to breathe. Fire burned in his brain as he tried to shake Alyson from his head. She was dead. She’d been the first to die. He was talking to a dead person. His wife was alive. He needed to talk to her.

She was in the mess hall, and the pots and pans were suddenly very heavy when he walked through the door.

“What are you doing?” he rasped.

She kept him behind her and never turned to look at him, but he knew how she looked: slightly pursed pink lips, narrowed eyes, stiff cheeks. “The hero is hungry. The hero is dying. The hero needs a steak.”

Chuck reached for her hands before she could turn on the stove. “No, you can’t do that. It’ll eat up my oxygen. You’re just going to kill me faster.”

When she turned to him, he realized how wrong he’d been about how her face looked. Tears rolled down her cheeks in rivulets, and her pale skin turned red in rage. “You’re already dead, Chuck. And you’re such an asshole for it. What will a steak do? Shave a few minutes off your life? You’re looking at minutes anyway. What difference does it make how long it takes at this point? Just eat your fucking steak and die already.”

She was no longer in an A-line dress. She was in dark jeans and a white T-shirt. The moccasins she always wore around the house replaced the white high heels he’d originally seen. Her hair was dyed black and pulled into a loose ponytail. Her makeup was gone and no longer concealed the lines that age had worried into her skin. Only the tears continued to fall.

He watched as she grilled the steak, skipping the salt and butter. Now and then she would sniff or clear her throat, but she didn’t say another word while she cooked. When she was done, she slapped the slab of meat onto a plate and slid it across the counter to where she expected him to sit and eat it. “There,” she said. “That’s the best you’re getting as a last meal. See you around, Chuck.”

Then she turned back toward the door and disappeared.

Chuck looked at the plate she’d prepared for him. For a moment, it looked like one of the dried nutrient bricks—charred and blackened—they’d stocked the ship with before leaving on the mission. Only for a moment. Then, the smell of perfectly cooked meat wafted into his nose, mouth and lungs, and he felt rejuvenated. He cut a slice of the meat and bit into it. For just a moment, the taste of carbon stained his mouth and tongue. Then, the juice from the meat filled his consciousness and warmed him even to the tips of his fingers. The warmth overtook him, and he felt a smile stretch across his face.

When he was finished, his wife appeared again to take away his plate. The tears were gone, now, and the A-line dress swished around her knees again. She took his head in her free hand and kissed his forehead. “Go to sleep now, Chuck.”

The Big Goddamn Hero closed his eyes and rested his head against the cold metal counter, listening to the clink of dishes in the sink. As he fell asleep, he wondered what tomorrow’s headline would look like.

TA-DA!

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Hello Again
Tags: ,

That was some reappearing act, eh? Just when you thought I’d drowned in that box I locked myself in with the icy waters rising around me, I’ve jumped to shore with a whole new costume on to boot.

What do you think of the new digs? I’m excited about it. Changing my theme (this one is Greyzed, by the way) gives me a feeling not unlike getting a haircut. I was nervous at first, but now I love it! Yep. This place will be good to hang around for a while. Then, I’ll chop it off eventually and send it all to Locks of Love. I wonder what their minimum length is for blogs …

Also! I have surprises in store for you, buckaroos. The first will be here tomorrow! That’ll have to do in the way of clues for now. I suppose I could tell you it has to do with a red scarf and a cube of supple tofu, but that might be giving it away.

Until tomorrow!

Yesterday, I had a shower thought—you know, when you’re still sleepy and your thinking hasn’t settled into its normal structure, resulting in ideas that are often very weird but sometimes kind of amazing—and I discovered an answer to a question that has plagued me off and on for well over a decade: In the novel Jane Eyre, what is the relationship between Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (known as “Edward Fairfax Crazypants Rochester” to some) and his household manager, Mrs. Fairfax? Not so much, “How do they get on?” More like, “Why is Mr. Rochester’s middle name the same as Mrs. Fairfax’s married name?”

Short answer: She’s his aunt.

But let’s back this up. Because we know that Mrs. Fairfax is Rochester’s household manager, we can reasonably assume that her late husband, Mr. Fairfax, was Rochester’s steward (i.e., the person who keeps the books, collects rent, and otherwise manages his employer’s properties). Stewardships, like so many other ranks in England’s history, were (usually) inherited. The steward and his family (usually) enjoyed distinction and a comfortable living, but they were by no means considered gentlemen. They were strictly servants. So how did a servant’s family name come to be mingled with a gentleman’s name: “Fairfax Rochester”?

You could say that the Rochesters and Fairfaxes were close and wanted their children’s names to reflect this friendship. You’d probably be wrong. That’s not how naming conventions worked in 19th-century England. Names were for showing pedigree, especially if you had one to show like the Rochesters did. They were not for showing the parents’ creativity or nostalgia or affections for other people*. One common convention for showing pedigree on the mother’s side was to bestow her maiden name onto sons as a middle name (sometimes the first name, like Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). If we allow this convention to inform our extrapolations about Rochester’s origins, we can draw few other conclusions than that his mother was a Fairfax, a daughter of the Rochester family’s steward and therefore the sister of the late steward, Mrs. Fairfax’s husband.

THIS MEANS THAT ROCHESTER, SR., MARRIED AN EMPLOYEE, TOO! (Or, at least, the daughter of an employee. Same thing.)

You might think that this is a trivial point to make, but let’s take a look at some possible consequences of such a match:

  • Rochester’s mother knew what it was like to come from the servant class and would not likely want that life for her children, especially if they had access to a much better life.
  • Rochester, Sr., would be extra conscientious about his children sliding back down the social ladder and not climbing it.
  • Edward Rochester was the youngest son and therefore had little or no inheritance coming to him.
  • The fears of both parents were likely to be realized to some degree in Edward.
  • It’s suddenly a lot easier to understand why Rochester, Sr., would be so reckless and single-minded in choosing a very rich woman for his son to marry.
  • This reckless decision making results in Edward marrying a (so-called) crazy woman.

The rest is history, but another layer emerges when you consider how his parents’ socially reprehensible match might’ve affected Rochester’s worldview and behavior. Edward’s parents’ story and whatever social jabs and setbacks they suffered was likely a cautionary tale to him, but it was also likely an important piece of personal history that informed his eventual decision to accept his love for Jane and marry her (i.e., “Well, Mom and Dad did it, so why can’t I?”).

All of these conclusions are very cold-casey and fun to think about, but we should remember that Mr. Rochester and whatever family history he has are part of a Gothic novel. And Gothic novels were nothing if not socially conservative and didactic. So the question remains: What moral can we conclude from Rochester’s checkered family history? The answer is fairly obvious: All who upset the social order by marrying outside their social sphere will bring punishment on themselves and on their children.

The Rochester men’s penchant for marrying women well below their station—employees, no less!—has only ever resulted in pain and suffering. Edward’s marriage to a (so-called) crazy woman was the old Mr. Rochester’s punishment. Not only did he have to live with the knowledge of having ruined his son’s life, but he also had to know that he had ruined the chances for the continuation of his family’s name and legacy through Edward. If I remember correctly (it’s been a few years since I reread the novel), the old Mr. Rochester died before his older son did, but I don’t doubt that he would’ve been any less pained by the fact that his youngest son would have no progeny and that his legacy would be that much weaker. Then, of course, Edward gets his comeuppance when he gets caught in Thornfield while it burns the ground, which blinds and partially cripples him. We can easily read his disfiguring as a punishment for a number of more obvious sins, including adultery and attempted bigamy, but in the context of his family’s history, I believe his disregard for social custom by marrying down was also more than enough reason for the story’s universe to seek revenge on him.

Now, let’s consider the ending through the lens of a family history that continues even still to ignore social mores. Jane is understandably elated and happy just to be married to the man she loves; however, Jane is also a teenager and naïve. Strong willed and principled, but still naïve. Of course she would be happy in her love. But I wonder what Mr. Rochester thinks. Is he still defiant against God and man’s judgment? What does he plan for his son’s future marriage prospects? Would he manipulate him the same way his father did? Or would he step outside that cycle? Even if he does step outside that cycle, will the punishment for Edward’s sin of marrying below his station still be visited upon his son eventually? Will his son also seek love in the arms of someone well below his station?

If the story’s universe takes a steep toll on all those who upset the social order by marrying down, then the ending of Jane Eyre can be read as a failure to learn the right lesson and as the beginning of a new family that is doomed to more tragedy. Jane just doesn’t know it yet.

So, yeah. Jane Eyre’s ending was really a tragic one because Mrs. Fairfax is Edward Rochester’s aunt.

(Also, this tidbit means that Mrs. Fairfax is to Rochester what Mrs. Reed is to Jane! I don’t know what this parallel relationship means, but I think it’s probably important!)

*Fun Fact: In Vietnam, it is traditionally considered extremely rude and disrespectful to name your child after anyone you know, especially a family member or someone older than you. The assumption is that you will eventually scold your child and that while doing so, you’re also “scolding” the person they’re named after.