A friend shared a post with me on Facebook the other day, an exaggeration of the creative writing process meant to elicit a laugh and nothing else. I immediately tore the thing to shreds. Not in a reply–it was quicker than that. In the moment I’d finished reading it, I was already thinking, This is wrong in a large number of ways and it teaches me nothing. I’m not laughing.
Then, Oh crap. I’ve lost my sense of humour.
I knew it was supposed to be funny and nothing else. I knew it wasn’t supposed to teach me anything and it wasn’t meant to be entirely correct. It had been designed to refer to generalizations and poke fun at something that’s usually serious. That’s what a joke does. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t even laugh?
I didn’t reply to my friend that day. I didn’t trust myself to reply. The next day I read the post again, and hey! It was funny. It hadn’t changed, but I had. I hadn’t lost my sense of humour. I was just having a bad day, a day when I couldn’t see my life for the days in it.
We’re rarely the same people from day to day. Every part of living involves processing and reacting to the world around us, and that reaction can change, sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot, depending on how much sleep we’ve had, what stress we’re under, even if the caffeine flowed a little too well that morning. Another popular Facebook post says “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” Seriously, I can only just handle me at my worst. What should I expect from my friends?
It’s normal to choose favourites for everything the way you’d choose your favourite ice cream, even if it’s effectively irrelevant. Favourite colour, favourite season, favourite planet. The latter, of course, is Pluto. A mysterious, frozen landscape spinning so far from here even the centre of the universe seems closer (but that is wrong, for the record.)
In 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a collection of stuffy jerks who probably don’t even like ice cream, suddenly announced that Pluto is not a planet. Why? Apart from the stuffy jerk thing, the truth is “a planet” had not been properly defined before this. I guess for the first few thousand years of stargazing it seemed obvious enough to say “big spherical thing spinning around a star” without writing that down.
So Pluto was no longer a planet, specifically because it hadn’t cleared its orbit of debris. It was a dwarf planet, which sounded a lot to me like the IAU’s way of saying “Okay guys, we know you’re going to hate this, so we’re going to keep planet in its designation anyway, because we’re tired of never being invited to parties, and we do like ice cream a little bit, well, we like frozen yogurt, that’s nearly the same thing.” And the kerfuffle settled for a decade.
This week two astronomers have announced a new ninth planet far, far beyond Pluto, at a distance of 200 to 1200 AUs (1 AU = the distance from Earth to the sun) compared to Pluto’s puny 40 AUs. Astronomers have been announcing a possible Planet X for most of my lifetime, but this time it’s more or less confirmed. And it’s exciting. Very exciting. I should be over the moon (ha!) but I find myself irrationally resistant to the hype. One of the astronomers who found this new planet is the very same who made the discovery that led to Pluto’s reclassification as a dwarf planet. He’s even quoted as saying, “Killing Pluto was fun.”
It’s normal to feel defensive on behalf of a frozen ball of dirt 6 billion kilometres away, right?
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
This is one of my favourite lines from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night, and it’s been on my mind lately. Searching my name online will produce this blog fairly readily. I used to have a cheerful sort of blog, chatty and personal, that I took down when I realized I didn’t want my entire personality accessible online. Now I have this.
If someone were to judge who I am by who I “pretend to be” on this blog they’d probably think I was a pithy and pretentious academic. Someone who’d write a good article about a single subject, but no one you’d want to hang out with. If I tried to balance that impression with kitten photos I’d probably come across like a psychopath. This is not the impression I want to make to anyone searching my name online.
So, who am I? The kind of person who’s wary about posting their entire personality online, but still wants an outlet for when things are too interesting to keep quiet. My favourite twitter account is the rover, because come on: tweeting from Mars! If you’d like to read my fiction try The Shock at The Canadian Science Fiction Review.
And another from Mother Night, why not?
“There is nothing left of him but curiosity and a pair of eyes.”
Santa Claus has got to be one of the biggest crocks in the western world. Otherwise level-headed parents encourage their children to believe a man comes down their chimney once a year and leaves gifts. And for what? So children can have a little magic in their world?
Children have magic without Santa Claus. Usually their magic is better. There’s nothing they won’t believe and can’t imagine, until the monotony of day by day wears them down. Why does a sleigh and elves and magical presents have to be the most important thing? Why is it better if a stranger leaves them a magical elf-made gift rather than a parent giving something they worked for?
My favourite winter movie is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original, not the live action abomination) because it addresses my main issue with this holiday: it’s all about the presents. It should not be all about the presents. “More stuff” is not a thing to base a national holiday around. And there is nothing warm and happy about the stress and disappointment involved in buying presents because it’s a certain day, rather than because someone needs something. Even films about Santa Claus accept this, exploiting our year-round guilt about not spending time with family rather than admitting Santa Claus is a vehicle for bribing kids to behave. Yet the connection between the jolly ol’ crock and the guilt is never really explained. We simply accept it, like we accept that Wil Ferrell will win Zooey Deschanel’s heart by being unceasingly quirky.
When I was younger than I am now I had the idea I’d live in a motor home. Where everything is small and tidy and takes up exactly the amount of space it needs and no more. Beds turn into tables, cupboards fix shut, the television and toilet disappear when not in use. The only variable in the home would be me.
We have scientifically calculated exactly how many litres of water each fish needs in a bowl, but it’s not clear what space humans need. The US government doesn’t define how many square feet prisoners need. There’s a rumour that 35 square feet is needed per child in school, but that’s not official. In any case, I was always confident I needed as little room as possible to be happy. In fact, the smaller and more contained I was, the happier I was. And I, personally, wanted to be as neat and tidy as the places I lived. I wanted to be a container with no loose hinges or uncertain fixtures.
There’s a “Colour outside the lines” movement that suggests to be creative you must be a mess, you must not care if you don’t hang up your jacket or put your shoes in the closet. You must live with abandon, and accept the chaos others throw into your life. Fight that chaos and you reveal yourself to be part of a system of repression that kills artists. You will never be an artist yourself. You’re too structured. You’re too dull.
Bullshit. A seed is a very neat container. A flower bud, too. A neat container does not mean the contents are dull or stunted. They might be the beginnings of a universe. I begin with everything in its place and from there I can go anywhere. I am contained, my creativity is not. I have a little space, I have a lot of imagination. I am the variable and I always will be.
I’m attempting NaNoWriMo again this year and find myself shying from sending yet another excited announcement to the online world. My social media history is littered with word counts and check-ins, and they’ve always been intended as positive and encouraging. I wonder, though, how encouraging it is to say the same thing every year to an audience that’s either already in agreement or totally uninterested.
Remembering my first NaNoWriMo attempt, it was pure chance I saw it mentioned on LiveJournal and my personal circumstances were ripe for the endeavour. 14,000 participants signed up that year (2002), up from just 400 the year before, so it was relatively unknown.
In 2013 there were over 300,000 participants.
These days I don’t know any writer or writer-to-be who hasn’t already heard of the event. And it seems every article has been written, whether it tells you to try it or warns you away. A lot of those articles have already been written by me, too. What can I possibly add to this?
Hey, guys. I’m attempting NaNoWriMo again this year.
Ma’at was both a concept and a goddess in ancient Egypt. Truth, order, balance, and morality, she stood on Ra’s boat that carried the sun through the sky. In the underworld she weighed your heart against an ostrich feather in a test for eternal life. If you failed, your heart was thrown into a lake of fire or devoured by a crocodile-cat-hippopotamus monster. Good times.
As a goddess Ma’at’s counterpart was Thoth, the mediator, but as a concept she also had a counterpart: Isfet. Isfet as a concept means chaos and injustice, but she too was also a goddess who had to be replaced by Ma’at before the world was born.
Duality seems to have great importance in every human mythology, from yin and yang to angels and demons. We like to simplify our desires and hates into opposing creatures, as if we can balance them on either side of a teeter-totter and watch them play.