Guppies and flying fish

When I watch my kids swim, I am amazed. They are unafraid. They swim better than I do, both of them. K is practically a fish, and M is diligently learning — he can swim lengths of the pool. Lengths. I am completely impressed.

Learning how to learn, this is a thing I want both of my children to understand in their bones. Academic learning, and physical learning. Those are two different things, and I learned neither of them particularly well. I never really needed to learn academic learning because it always came so effortlessly. (Until Calculus II, which I nearly failed.) And I never understood that physical learning meant practicing a skill over and over again. I thought that once I understood how a thing was supposed to work, that ought to be the same as being able to do it. When I could not do the thing, I read more about it in an effort to perfect my understanding. Oddly enough, this never led to me being able to throw a knife with any accuracy.

I think my kids understand this better than I do. They resent it, certainly. They want instant gratification like everyone else does. But steady progress is something that they can see. They can measure their skills. They can advance through the YMCA swim program classes with pride.

Here on Avenue Q

J and N and I went to go see Avenue Q at the Mixed Blood Theater last night. It was a fun production. The woman playing Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut was excellent. I have no earthly idea how she managed some of her quick-changes! The puppeteering was good, the singing and choreography fun.

My only complaint is that the band was sometimes too loud, overwhelming the lyrics.

One thing I noticed is that I did not find the show laugh-out-loud funny. That’s clearly because I already know the songs, and the jokes are in the songs. Seeing the jokes didn’t add much. The places I did laugh out loud were the bits that aren’t on the soundtrack — the Bad Idea Bears, or the filmed bits that give short vocabulary lessons.

J and I had talked about whether we were going to take the kids. We decided not to. After seeing the show, we agreed that there wasn’t anything in the show we would have censored, or been unwilling to explain. But we also agreed that most of the jokes would have gone right over the kids’ heads. Or, if they understood the jokes intellectually they wouldn’t have found them funny. (Gary Coleman? Not a joke my kids will find funny.) In a couple of years, when the kids are starting to find sexual taboo jokes to be risque and therefore funny, they will like Avenue Q.

And let me just say how much I agree with the finale. Yes, stop being paralyzed by indecision, just do SOMETHING, anything. Whatever you decide is only for now — pick something and move the hell on.

I think my job has fostered and exacerbated my tendency to think this way. One of the things air traffic controllers are trained in is what to do when you make a bad decision. (Not if. When.) The training involves your instructor looking at you disgustedly, laughing, saying, “well, you really screwed that up! Now, fix it before it gets any worse.” You have to get these six planes lined up thirty miles each behind the one in front in the next 140 miles? Okay, do it. Do something. Do anything. Turn one. Speed one up Slow one down. Is it working? Okay, turn a different one. Turn that first one further. Slow the last guy down even more. Make a plan, ANY plan, just make it work. Failing isn’t … it’s not one of the options available to you. You WILL do what you must, you WILL competently execute your responsibilities, and you WILL do it in a timely manner.

Do, there is no try.

Indecision paralysis is something I remember having, in my early twenties. I remember being afraid of what would happen if I made a bad choice. I would, I was certain, screw up the rest of my life irrevocably. That is … that’s just wrong. That’s not how life works. That’s not even how atc works. You make a bad call, you live with the consequences a while, and then you step up and frakking fix it.

I would like Avenue Q a lot less if it didn’t end the way it does. But it does, and I like the arc. I like and appreciate the journey the characters take as they each reach out to the next thing in their lives. Age twenty-two, even age twenty-three, are only for now.

Season one of Lost Girl

J and I finished watching season one of the television show Lost Girl last night. The gist of the show is that, in an unnamed Canadian city, the Light and Dark Fey maintain the centuries-old truce while hiding themselves from the human world. Into the city comes Bo, a young woman unaware of her fey nature. It turns out she’s a succubus, which in this universe is a sort of fey and not a demon. Bo then refuses to ally with either the Light or the Dark and remains an independent agent.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The show revolves around Bo and her human friend Kenzie as they operate a private investigatory service for the fey. Being unaligned, they can go places and do things others cannot. Dyson, a light fey werewolf who is a police detective, is an ally and one of Bo’s lovers. Dr. Lauren, a human physician working in the Light court, is a sometimes ally and sometimes lover of Bo’s. Trick is a Light fey barkeep who is far more than he appears. The long-term plot is the mystery of Bo — who IS she, really, where did she come from, who are her parents, why was she abandoned?

Lost Girl does okayish on matters of ethnicity and race. The four leads are all white, but the supporting cast and guest characters are not. (I don’t know where the film is supposedly set in Canada. I’m guessing in the east? There’s a bit where they cross into the U.S., and it seemed like the eastern part. I don’t really know. So I’m not at all sure if the ethnic composition of the show is accurately reflecting some part of Canada, or is just going for Hollywood Bland.)

Matters of sex and sexuality are more … mixed, on the show. Bo is a succubus. She is biologically driven to have sex in order to survive. This takes a certain amount of her agency away. Yet she is by her nature always the aggressor. Bo is, when we meet her, a rapist murderer. This seems like a fairly large hurdle for a show to get over with its protagonist. Yet because we see Bo preying on sexual predators, our audience conscience is assuaged. She is portrayed rather like one of the young, untrained, X-Men — someone with uncontrollable and dangerous powers, who tries to do good with same.

Bo can also heal herself via sex. Her relationship with Dyson takes a quick turn towards the practical. She shows up battered and bleeding on his doorstep, they have sex, she heals and leaves. Yet Dyson is a werewolf. He’s got a possessive pack mentality about mating. His jealous streak becomes a plot point, and that makes sense.

What makes far LESS sense is Bo’s jealous streak. She’s a SUCCUBUS. Sex is like SNACKING. Why on earth should she care if he’s seeing anyone else?

And then we have Dr. Lauren. Dr. Lauren is human, a little bit unethical, lesbian, and totally smitten with Bo. In a Straight-Outta-Fanfic plotline, Dr. Lauren must teach Bo how to not kill her sexual partners, and of course they must practice together. A lot. Because practice makes perfect. And it’s medicinal, you understand. Therapy. Lots and lots of panting therapy.

What Bo doesn’t understand completely is that Dr. Lauren is a slave; she’s the property of the Light fey lord. And he has ordered Lauren to get close to Bo.

The nature of the show dictates that in every episode, there has to be some sex. This isn’t Showtime or HBO sex, though, it’s more like broadcast network sex. Lots of seeing people’s backs, and everyone gets out of bed wrapped in sheets. Yet the sex is …

I don’t know. How would YOU write the sex in a show about a succubus? Would it be dark and gritty? Super-hot and steamy? Would you highlight the non-consensual elements? Would it be angst-ridden and full of regret? Light and inconsequential?

I am somewhat dissatisfied with the sex in Lost Girl, but I don’t know what I want it to be. I think the writers are not interrogating any of their assumptions. But, would I be happy if they did? Okay, I WOULD be happy if they took out some of the monogamy and jealousy plotlines. But as for the rest? How should it be handled?

Overall, I like Lost Girl. I think it’s kinda fluffy, and many of the plots depend on people saying “I don’t have time to explain!” when a two-minute explanation would clear up the plot. (Sort of an update on the classic Three’s Company-style misunderstandings.) But I like seeing a bisexual lead character. I like seeing her juggle male and female love interests. I deeply enjoy how Bo and Kenzie dress, I am shallow that way. Yet the show is … While watching it I feel like the show is missing something, some element that could make it fantastic.

Thoughts on the movie Hanna

The movie Hanna is an odd thing. It’s a film in which every role cast could have been written for a different sex. Any of the male roles could have been cast as women, and vice-versa. Sure, you would have had to change the words “father” or “daughter” to something else. But there is nothing in the film that weds the characters to their genitals.

How refreshing.

There’s no rape-plot in this film. There’s no revelation about Hanna’s biological parentage — and I was REALLY expecting one. There’s extremely slight kissing by Hanna, one boy, one girl. There are no gender-based story elements.

I happen to like, very much, that the character of Hanna is a girl. And I like very much that, while she has been raised to be a super-assassin, she is not amoral. Hanna’s acts of violence are planned and purposeful, and she doesn’t automatically kill even when attacked. This is a display of agency in an otherwise oddly agency-free character. For an action heroine on a secret mission, Hanna is more of a guided missile than a full partner. Her decisions about violence are some of the only decisions she makes.

This rings true to me, though. Hanna has been raised in isolation by an autocratic and paranoid secret agent killer man. Her life has been a training session. It’s not entirely clear how old Hanna is — somewhere between thirteen and fifteen, is my guess? But while she has been trained to use her initiative tactically, her long-term goals and life plan have been chosen for her. I don’t think Hanna has any idea what will actually happen, what her life will be like, once the mission is completed. I’m not certain it’s occurred to her to wonder.

I cannot tell whether I think Hanna is a fairy tale or a more general Hero’s Journey. It has a fairy-tale feel. It has a bad witch, a stolen princess, a dethroned-king-father, a dead mother, a bad wolf, and a gnome living in a cave. The final confrontation takes place in a out-of-season or abandoned Grimm’s Fairy Tale theme park. Yet fairy tales have some sort of lesson or moral element to them, and there is none of that here. Unless, perhaps, the lesson is everyone will lie to you. Yet that seems too bleak. Despite the ending, I didn’t think the film was bleak. There’s too much wonder, too much staring around at the beauty of the world and of other people.

If this is a fairy tale, perhaps the lesson is this — growing up is painful but worth it. You will find out your parents are not perfect. You will meet evil. But you will also find joy and strength. And, eventually, when there is no-one left to tell you what to do, you will make decisions on your own.

The movie Hanna ends on just such a decision. And we are left not knowing what comes next. I like that. It puts us, the audience, on the same footing as Hanna herself. Standing in the ruined roller coaster with no idea what will happen next.

Monday’s child is kind of sleepy, actually

1. Yep. Giving up on A Game of Thrones, either the show or the book. I recognize that the books aren’t bad, and the show looks fairly decent, but it’s not quite my thing and Time is Finite.

2. Congratulations to Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea for the Hugo nomination of Chicks Dig Time Lords!

3. This week’s briefing at work is on professionalism. We at Minneapolis Center do pretty well on that front, so the briefing was more of a “please keep doing what you are doing.” Also, don’t go sleep in your car after clocking out of a mid shift, before you drive home, because it would look awful on the evening news no matter what the truth of the situation might be. If you sign out and really need a quick nap before driving, sleep on a couch.

4. The kids apparently had a lovely Easter. I missed it, being at work, but there are new Pokemon sort of EVERYWHERE in my house.

5. I heard an interview with DJ Rekha on NPR’s Culturetopia podcast. I promptly went and downloaded the Basement Bhangra album.

A random collection for your Sunday morning

1. I am legally watching the new season of Doctor Who, buying the episodes one day late on Zune. Thank you, BBC, BBC America, and Zune, for allowing me to do this cheaply and legally in the manner I prefer. I appreciate it.

2. The sermons from Unity Unitarian, the church where my kids go for choir, are available as a podcast. It updates irregularly, a batch coming through every month or so. If you like your religion/spirituality/philosophy to be thought-provoking, multicultural, and without too much of that “God” stuff, you might enjoy it.

3. I saw the movie Hanna on Friday. I’m not sure I have more thoughts, except, I quite liked it.

4. I am listening to A Game of Thrones on audiobook. One of my friends told me this is essentially a fantasy recreation of the Wars of the Roses, and now I am confusing events that happened in reality with events in the books, and trying to map out how the Starks and the Percys, and I don’t even KNOW that much about the Wars of the Roses.

I bought some books, arriving soon, to educate myself on same. In order that I might better make historical analogies in a work of fiction. Idek.

5. Everyone at my workplace is very het up and tense about the current FAA bad press. I am staying out of all possible conversations regarding same.

6. My very smart son realized that, since his mother is the Easter Bunny, the gifts and candy he receives on Easter morning must be hidden in the house. We hope that this will not engender unauthorized searches for candy and presents running up to future holidays.

7. In the most recent episode of The Vampire Diaries, Nina Dobrev dances around with a bottle of vodka to the tune “Get Some” by the band Lykke Li. I highly recommend you go check them out!

Ghost life

Over at The Rumpus, Dear Sugar’s column this week is called The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us. It’s about how one goes about making the irrevocable life decisions. I recommend you read it, whoever you are.

Earlier this week, a person I may have met once disappeared. How exactly I know him is not important, but the facts are this. This adult man living with his mother packed his things in the night, left a note and sent a few emails, and drove to his neighbor’s house. He got a ride to the airport at midnight with said neighbor. The notes he left said, essentially, you will all likely never see me again. And he vanished.

Now, of course, if his mother cares and has money she could likely track him down. A private investigator could be hired, credit searches could be done. But that wasn’t what we were talking about, J and I. We were discussing how a person can make that decision — to walk away from all connections. And we began discussing our plans.

J says that if she ever did that, she would likely head to Europe. Her chances would be pretty good there. I would take one of the air traffic gigs in the Middle East that the US government is so desperate to fill. After fifteen months or so I would be done with the contract and very wealthy. I’d probably head to the Pacific Rim or Australia or New Zealand. What intrigued me about this conversation is that we’ve both thought about it. We have plans. Not very detailed plans, but plans.

J and I are both very happy with our lives right now. I am happy with most of the choices I have made that got me to this place. It’s a place of growth and promise and frustration and joy, and I treasure it. But I still have visions of other options. The ghost ship I didn’t board. But, in fact, it’s a path I could still take now — as long as I am willing to be the person who made those choices.

The ghost life hangs at the edges of my decision-making process. Yet not with the fear of loss, the worry and regret, that so many people (including the writer of the Dear Sugar letter) seem to feel. I could still go to graduate school, if I wanted the consequences of going to graduate school at this time of my life. I could move to Bali, if I wanted the consequences of moving to Bali. I could put my kids in school. I could go be a controller in Afghanistan. I could leave in the middle of the night under cover of darkness with only a few cryptic emails in my wake.

I would simply have to live with being a person who had done those things.

I think too many people have a false sense of how final or irrevocable some choices are. If you don’t take the job in Monteray now, you’ll take a job in Toronto later — if what you are worried about is taking a JOB, don’t be. Another will come along. I also believe/observe that many times people are not actually working on or worrying about the decision they really secretly want to make. If what you are worried about is lack of income in your life right now, that’s an entirely different question, one that is not solved by worrying about the Monteray job, you know? Worry and plan about your finances, not about whether Monteray is a long commute. In the example from Dear Sugar, if you are actually worried about a loss of free time, make sure you have a really great babysitter lined up before you have a kid. If you are actually worried about a lower standard of living, reduce your debt and spending before you have a kid. If you are worried that you are simply unwilling to care that much about another person, then … maybe you shouldn’t have a kid.

I agree with Sugar, when she points out that there are lost opportunities we simply CANNOT find again. I cannot write the story I would have written when I was twenty-one. But, when I was twenty-one, I didn’t have anything to say. I write now because I want to say things. I cannot have a third child adopted at birth only a couple years younger than my kids. That confluence of opportunity is gone. But … but there are so many other ways I could have another child in my life, I don’t see it as gone forever. I could have not gone to school at IMSA, not gone to Macalester. But I have no real vision of my life down those paths. The ghost life is too ghostly to see and regret.

I have a hard time looking back with regret. The ghost lives I could have lived are faint, indistinct things to me. Without the choices I have made, I would not be the person I am today, and for all I know the person I might have been might regret not being me.

At the moment my kids are playing with Legos on the living room floor. The dishes are mostly done, the main drain for the house is snaked out, my library books have been returned, and the dog’s nails are trimmed. I have a movie to watch this evening, and will likely finish the rest of the wine Nancy Clue left from last night.

I don’t think my ghost lives will bother me.

Red wine and British monarchs

Having my friend Nancy Clue over for English monarch drinking games is expensive. Not because she drinks that much, or because I do — in fact, she brought the wine! — but because I end up going to Amazon and ordering more freaking books.

My to-be-read stack IS diminishing, I SWEAR it is. But it bloody well WON’T if I keep getting more BOOKS.

On the other hand, I now comprehend why NC can’t watch The Tudors. If you conflate Henry VIII’s two sisters, Mary and Margaret, into one sister, you remove either James VI’s claim to the throne or Jane Grey’s claim. This buggers up all subsequent English history.

There are a lot of various claims floating around history about who or what “created the modern world.” The thing is, I think most of them are correct. There are so many things, so many things that could have gone differently and we wouldn’t be where we are today. Elizabeth I is one of those things. The number of opportunities she had to NOT get to the throne are legion. And without her England would not have become a navel power. Without her, likely no Shakespeare. Without her, likely no British colonization of southern North America. (Maybe the dissidents and religion reformer would still have come, but would we have even HAD them, without her? Would Mary have wiped out the Anglican church? Would the Puritan church have begun?)

The early stories of history I learned made this all sound so clean, so inevitable. It made the events of history sound almost planned. But it’s not, and I love that so damn much. History is made by people, messy people with gout and dysentery, with grudges and feuds, people who remember insults at dances when they were children and later start wars. Mary had so many opportunities to kill her half-sister, Elizabeth. But she didn’t, partly because they had loved each other when they were younger.

I love this about history because it means that we, making history, don’t have to be exceptional. Our normal muddling along is the fundamental building block of all recorded history. So go ye forth and muddle; you have the company of queens.

Inauspicious morning

1. It is snowing.

2. It is April 20th, and it is snowing.

Veronique is Visiting from Paris

I got a message in the mail yesterday, a story from another world. In this story Paris is more exotic than Barsoom, than Oz, and the bewildered Eugene must somehow accept that his guest, Veronique, has been there.

Veronique is Visiting from Paris is a short story told in twelve short chapters. It is the collaborative product of photographer Kyle Cassidy and writer Elizabeth Bear. You can buy the story here. The chapters are short because each is written on a postcard, the front of the postcard showing a scene, a moment, from Eugene and Jess’s life with Veronique.

Here’s an example:

(Image found at Kyle Cassidy’s journal, here.)

I said on Twitter yesterday that this fills the Gaiman/McKean void in my life, and I should explain that here. I first found out I like Creepy Art, unsettling art that makes you wonder if you can trust your senses, through the collaborative works of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. I would study the covers to the comic book Sandman, stare at them for long moments wondering what the hell was going on in the frame. I loved Mr. Punch, loved Black Orchid. I loved, though that’s an odd word to use, McKean’s collaboration with Grant Morrison on Arkham Asylum.

In all of these cases I studied the art, trying to figure out the meaning of the story. The words were not enough. In classic Claremont X-Men stories you could read the words and largely ignore the pictures and still get the story. You would be missing details but it would be comprehensible. In the McKean stuff, or the Bill Sienkiewicz work in New Mutants or Elektra: Assassin, that was impossible. The pictures commented on the text as much as the text narrated the pictures. I would go back and forth between the two searching for meaning. And always with the sense that, if I held the image just right, I could see what was really going on just out of sight.

Veronique is like that.

Nothing overtly terrible occurs in this tale. Yet there is something lurking, looming, just out of sight in each chapter. Something Veronique assures Eugene he does not want to understand. I keep going back to each photo, each postcard, studying the image and flipping it over to read the text. Unlike Eugene, I do not want to know how Veronique is doing this, or how she got here. I’m looking for the information that will prevent her from ever visiting me. Yet some small part of me, the part which is not a rational adult sitting in a well-lit break room at work with other people, worries that my continued inspection will reveal some terrible answer I don’t want to know.

You see, Veronique is Visiting from Paris is a new version of the classic, classic warnings. Don’t make wishes. Don’t give the Other Folk your real name. Don’t bargain with angels. If you want a life of safety and security and mundanity, then when the crazy girl says you don’t want to see what she sees, stop trying.

I loved this story. Again, you can buy the story here. I highly recommend it.

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