Breath of Life

I’ve been trying to write this post for some time now. I started this blog just over seven months ago, and in that time have written over 90 entries, the shortest of which is a little over 800 words. Add all of that up, and it’s a book. It would take most people at least a day of focused reading to work their way through the archives.

What inspired me to start blogging? I used to write Facebook notes. I’d publish one every few weeks or so, sometimes more, sometimes less. Late in my junior year of college, the well dried up. I’d had the feeling that I’d been moving towards something for a long time, but had never anticipated that that would mean abandoning the thing that so many people knew me for. The feedback on those notes was almost always positive, and people whom I didn’t frequently see in person told me that it was their way of keeping up with my life when we were apart. For months, I insisted that I would start writing regularly again as soon as I had something worth talking about. That was over two and a half years ago.

Many of the people who knew me from that period have drifted out of my life. That’s fine. This blog has racked up a readership consisting of at least a dozen or so people who aren’t just following the links from my Facebook page. That’s really something. I don’t have any way of knowing for sure how many people read this thing (even hit counts are not an absolute measure), but it seems to be a fairly substantial number, at least by the standards of an anonymous kid with a WordPress account who just likes shooting his mouth off.

The last Facebook note I wrote that in any way resembled the kinds of things I talk about here was called “The Gay One”, and I published it all the way back in the summer of 2010. I’m really not sure if it was one of my best, but it got a very positive response, with at least one old friend contacting me directly to let me know how deeply he connected with it. Labels are tricky, but necessary, to a certain degree. After all, we wouldn’t get very far without names, would we? Sexuality, more so than any other trait including race, gender, religion, or whatever distinction the bigots use to divide us up and make us forget our common humanity, has a tendency to swallow up everything else in the conversation. It can take years, decades even, to learn to say the words “I’m gay” casually. I know Jews who almost never bring up their religious and/or cultural background. I know one or two people of color who, when something bad happens to them, will jokingly say, “It’s because I’m black/Hispanic/Asian/whatever.” But I don’t know any gay people who do this. It’s still too serious of a topic to be treated that lightly. And it’s not like racism or anti-Semitism aren’t potent forces in our society, because the more I read the news, the more convinced I become that we’re as obsessed with skin color and religion as we ever were. There is a middle ground between allowing one’s sexuality to define oneself and trying too hard to sweep it under the rug, but it’s hard to find it because there is no road map leading there. Even in the ultra-progressive town where I went to college, there didn’t seem to be much space for those of us who had already come out, but didn’t feel at home in the campus queer community. There’s nothing particularly wrong with waving a rainbow flag around; it just gets boring pretty quickly. So let’s move on, shall we?

I’m getting better and better at weaning myself off of Facebook. By my standards, that just means checking it less than twenty times a day, but mark my words, someday I will get rid of it entirely. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of checking it every time something bad happens that I can only see it as an addiction, albeit a relatively benign one. Maybe this is how fat people feel about doughnuts. I’m blessed with a decent physique, and since I don’t have the biggest appetite, there’s a good chance I might hold onto it as I get older.

Not too long after I stopped regularly writing Facebook notes, my school paper offered me a chance to write an article for them as part of a readers’ choice contest. I had been trying to get a spot on the paper for years despite hating the publication. It was the only daily paper on campus (in the whole city, actually) and I wanted the exposure. When I wrote my article, I made the mistake of dumbing myself down to appeal to a wider readership. The other two candidates in the contest, in my humble opinion, sucked, but the readers preferred one of them, meaning that I did not get the grand prize of being offered a regular column with the paper. That was a rough semester. I spent much of it Facebook stalking people I didn’t know just because I wanted to live their lives instead of mine. I don’t do that as much as I used to. But I still have crazy dreams.

The Villain

Less villain than antihero, but a great character either way.

Who are your favorite cinematic villains? The first couple that people usually bring up in answer to that question are Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Some would probably add Heath Ledger’s Joker to that list, and while I liked him a lot, he’s not quite one of my favorites. I like Nosferatu and (I’m kind of stretching the definition of “cinematic” here) Livia from the miniseries I, Claudius. She has reasons for what she does, but her behavior is so ruthless and so unutterably reprehensible that even when she’s desperate, she’s still terrifying. Realistically, no story is complete without a villain, even if it comes in the form of something intangible rather than a mustache-twirling fiend in black. Serial killers are eternally fascinating because they tap into our fear that beneath every placid surface is something sick and twisted. Hannibal Lecter is scary because he is just acting according to his nature. The most perturbing passage in A Clockwork Orange is the one in which Alex explains that he only rapes and murders because it’s what he likes doing. If he enjoyed helping people, he’d do that instead. Villains come in all shapes and sizes: redeemable, irredeemable, sadistic, tortured, creepy, charming, and so on. I still don’t know which kind I like the most.

In order to frighten us, horror has to access some primal fear that we didn’t even know we had. Vampires have a distinctly erotic edge to them. Zombies, as one friend pointed out, threaten us not with seduction, but consumption. Many American horror films feature city slickers getting lost in some country backwater in which every local is a member of some sick cult. If America were less urban, our horror films would feature kids from rural areas traveling to the cities. Since everyone’s idea of what is “unknown” is different, our concept of horror changes with the culture and tenor of the times. Somehow, the good stuff still endures.

I played the villain once or twice in my days as an actor. The key, as anyone who has ever done it will tell you, is to find the humanity in the character. Every evildoer either honestly believes that they are doing the right thing or knows it’s evil and doesn’t care. In the case of the latter, you should throw restraint to the winds and just have as much fun with the character as possible. (Think Emperor Palpatine.) In the case of the former, you’re still allowed to have fun, but the audience will want to see you look tormented at least once or twice. Nothing is more entertaining than a villain who is in agony over his failure to fulfill his master plan. But most importantly, the villain cannot be invincible. I’ve said before that Heath Ledger’s death, in a perverse sense, did Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy a favor. Instead of bringing the Joker back for the sequel, the filmmakers were forced to move on and find another threat to Gotham’s survival. And boy, did they ever. I loved Tom Hardy’s Bane, although I did wonder how he had managed to install a Surround Sound system in every room before entering it. I guess a big part of his plan involved rigging everything up for maximum dramatic effect. How else to explain his men descending on the plane perfectly on cue?

The ending, for the villain, is always a bit of a comedown. After practically ruling the world for the first 110 minutes, now the tables have to turn and he (or occasionally she) must be brought to justice. This can still be enjoyable. Ledger’s Joker was unrepentant to the last, so that even though he was about to be taken away to Arkham Asylum and kept under maximum security for the rest of his days, his only real regret was failing to turn the Batman into a killer. Honestly, it’s more of a draw than a victory for Bats. But as I said, I’m glad the Joker won’t be coming back. After all of that, you might as well give him the ability to shoot lasers out of his eyes.

One of the recurrent problems with any long-running series is the temptation to bring dead characters back. Lost did this in at least a dozen different ways, sometimes with semi-rational explanations, sometimes by blatantly contradicting the rules that the show had just set up. Davros dies in his first Doctor Who¬†serial, but was brought back because, well, you can’t let a character that electrifying be a one-off, can you? The Master has died at least once or twice, but even if you put six bullets in his head, burn the body, then travel into parallel universes so you can kill all of his incarnations in them as well, there’s always magic ring something time warp something something stupid oh look he’s right over there. When will writers stop using this as a crutch and realize that some characters are made more powerful by their lack of screen time? Eko died on Lost and didn’t return, not even in flashbacks. He’s also one of my favorite characters on the show. Granted, his abrupt and final appearance may have been due to the rumored friction between actor¬†Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and the others on set, but whatever the reason, I’m glad the show didn’t draw out his arc any more than it needed to.

Sooner or later, everybody has to die. Villains don’t always do it gracefully, but they often do it having fulfilled more of their potential than the rest of us. In a sense, they inspire us to try harder.

Gear Shift

When I get a boyfriend, we will not follow traditional gender roles. Neither of us will be the bitch or the butch, and if he even asks to go into a photo booth with me, I will never suck his dick again. I enjoy cooking, and wouldn’t mind making dinner so long as he learns a recipe or two and alternates with me. Some couples follow the traditional roles, with the man being the breadwinner and the woman staying home with the kids. If that’s what works, more power to them. If they do the opposite and are satisfied with that, then I support them in doing so. But I never really cared much for anything so rigid. I like the idea of taking a wrecking ball to the outlines that society tries to make couples fit into, even though I can’t say I have any desire to turn my life into a political statement. Let others determine what I “represent” and what I “stand for”. I’m too busy trying to get laid. With that out of the way, let’s talk about Mitt Romney. Man, this has not been his week, has it?

I’m still trying to figure out if he is just a terrible person or not a person at all. He seems to have accomplished most of what he wants to in life, and looks at the presidency as a chance to share his borderline-nonexistent values with everyone, including the people who find such beliefs abhorrent. Why does he want to be President of the United States? So he can be President of the United States, obviously. I’m getting tired of hearing nonsensical justifications about why he’s not that bad of a guy, why he doesn’t actually believe that 47% of the country are moochers, why 47% of the country actually are moochers so he’s just speaking the truth…look, just vote for the guy so we can get the black dude out of office, okay? We’ll worry about what all of this means later. And despite the troubles and bitter partisanship of the past four years, I still believe that not all Red Staters are bad people, that there was at one point a Republican Party that stood for something other than oppression of people who are different, and that the GOP can, with a massive realignment, once again stand for true American values. In the meantime, pretty much every Republican politician I can name is a jackass who will say or do anything to keep his own people in power and prevent the president from accomplishing anything at all. In spite of their best efforts, he’s done quite a lot, hasn’t he?

I think I’m starting to understand why I butt heads with feminists so much. Whenever I argue about anything related to sexism and gender politics, someone has to point out that I’m a man. Yes, I know. When I talk about racism, nobody says that since I’m white, I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about. When I talk about anti-Semitism, no one tells me to shut up just because I’m a Gentile. Yet whenever I argue with a woman over, let’s say, that wonderful Christopher Hitchens article in which he explained that women have the potential to be as funny as men, but society trains them not to be, she always has to remind me that I’m a member of an extremely privileged group of people. Well, in a way, so are you, bitch. You get to use your genitalia as a Get Out of Jail free card every time somebody calls you on your bullshit. Never mind if what you’re saying makes no sense, never mind if you’re basically bashing somebody else for not reading your mind and realizing how difficult it is for you even though you constantly talk about how no one can possibly understand you, you’re the noble, embattled Woman and I’m the wicked, chauvinist Man. Any questions? What’s distressing is that men often take the Woman’s side simply because they don’t want to be accused of misogyny. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Labels are just labels. Logic is universal.

I don’t think I’m the only one who was baffled by Ann Romney’s comments that what she and Mitt have is a “real marriage”. What, exactly, is a fake marriage? As long as the contract is binding and the participants are sentient adults, wouldn’t any marriage have to be real? Dan Savage pointed out, correctly, that in the eyes of Republicans, a fake marriage would be a gay one. Hell, the producers of Modern Family, which Ann cites as her favorite show, have asked if she’d like to officiate Mitch and Cam’s wedding. Somehow, I don’t think she’ll be interested. Pity. I keep trying to believe we’re not so different.

The 46th anniversary of Star Trek passed not too long ago, and while it’s tempting to see the Federation as a ruthlessly conformist organization that wants to impose order no matter what, that really isn’t the case. It’s a society that we all might like to live in, provided that we can achieve it without stagnating. As George Takei pointed out on his Facebook page, it isn’t about forcing people not to recognize their differences, but learning to see the uniformity in diversity. Or something like that. I still believe what Barack Obama said at the 2004 DNC about seeing no liberal America or conservative America, but the United States of America. Whoever gets elected in November, let’s hope he believes that, body and soul.

For Now

There was a massive fire in my old college town one night. I was sitting in a cafe, eating chocolate cake and watching Sherlock on my laptop, when I noticed that there had been a fire truck parked just outside for quite some time. Mildly annoyed and distracted by the flashing lights, I walked outside and saw that the entire street had been blocked off. I was not far from home, and a mere block or two from my apartment, there was a blazing inferno. A friend of mine lived in the building across the street. I later found out that he had been getting drunk with friends, and upon learning about the fire, he and they had spent the evening frantically moving his furniture out of the apartment in case the burning building collapsed and the fire spread to his place. It didn’t, meaning that all his hassle was for naught. I walked up the street away from the fire, stepping around and jumping over the massive puddles (it had rained a lot that day) that had accumulated below every curb. Another friend had called me up and invited me to join him at a party. I circled around to my place, dropped off my things, changed into dry clothes, and headed off to join him. That same night, I started writing a story that I’d been developing for some time. It was quite a memorable night.

I miss the fall. Is it just me, or are the spring and autumn seasons growing shorter? Last year, I stepped outside in November and found it to be quite warm. That shouldn’t happen. I understand that global warming is going to kill us all, but even so, we should still have seasons where it is cool without being cold and warm without being hot. Some of my fondest memories involve catching a shuttle to my job at a library storage facility, where I’d spend all day shelving and cataloging books while listening to my iPod. When I think back on that period, the song I remember most clearly is The Decemberists’ “Sons & Daughters”, a song I liked so much that I used to listen to it, then go back to the beginning of the album so that I’d hear it again, this time with the full force of the preceding songs behind it.

I need to live in a place that has four distinct seasons. I need to feel the Earth turning under my feet and know that time was passing, not too quickly or too slowly, but at just the right pace. I hate it when people say that the next few months or years of my life are going to fly right by, because I don’t like it when time flies, not even a little. Whenever I find myself in a situation that I enjoy, I’m practically digging my heels into the ground to make the planet rotate just a little bit slower. Once it’s over, I spend all my time trying to make things return to the way they were before so I can feel in control again. I wish my life would hold still so that I can get a handle on it.

I feel like I can measure the changes in my life by the ways that I spend my vacation time. My freshman year as an undergrad, winter break was a marvel. After the crushing ennui that was the summer after high school graduation, suddenly I couldn’t find enough hours in the day to see all the old friends, visit the old haunts, read the books, watch the movies, and listen to the albums that I’d been putting off the whole time. I had momentum, so it’s not surprising that none of my winter vacations after that carried quite the same giddy rush. Sometimes, my vacations were more filled with anxiety than anything. Since the past few months had been so stressful, Thanksgiving would have to be extra relaxing in order to make up for that. No matter how long the break was, it could always be longer, and even if I did feel the old sense of lethargy and isolation drifting in as my old friends all moved on and there was more to do at college than “at home”, I kept trying to make the breaks last longer. It felt like I was finally finding the time to take stock of my priorities and devote my time to reading and writing–you know, the stuff that really matters. The funny thing is that the older I get, the less I feel that way. I guess that means I’m maturing. God help me.

I used to make the mistake of dividing everything up into absolutes. Everyone was either my friend or my enemy, with no spaces in between. It takes time to smooth out the complexities of every relationship. I still haven’t figured out just how far I can trust some of the people I know. Usually, when I err, it’s because I trust them too much rather than too little, thinking that they didn’t really mean to offend me when they honestly don’t give a shit how I feel. There are a few that I truly believe to be the real thing. Others fall in and out of my favor. At one point, I responded to every perceived slight by trying to push someone out of my life altogether. Then they’d call me up and invite me to something and all would be forgiven, until the next time they pissed me off. Sitting alone in my room, I never could figure out what box to put them in. The truth always turned out to be more complicated.

Disclosure

Well, that was awkward. I really thought you all knew me by now, but I guess I was wrong. My last post, you see, caused something of a stir. In fact, I was pulled away from my studies in the middle of the day so that I could be escorted by several university employees to their mental health department for a psychiatric evaluation. They were worried that I was going to go on a shooting rampage, you see.

It’s understandable, in these post-Columbine days, that people react strongly to any mention of a “killing spree” on a school campus. It’s a bit like saying “bomb” at an airport. Even if everyone could plainly see that you were joking, security has to take the threat seriously. Nonetheless, I must confess to being a bit surprised. My blog got over 200 hits in the 24 hours after I published “Things I Hate Doing, Part 3”. That’s more than double the traffic I’ve ever gotten in a single day and more than I’d gotten in the entire month previous. Hell, I thought it was just good writing. That, or the picture of Taylor Lautner, which I’ll post again for those of you who, like me, just can’t stop staring at it.

In all seriousness, I’m not too angry about this. I have a few guesses as to who might have read that last post and reported my ass to the Columbia authorities, but I’m not going to go digging around. I don’t have the time. I have schoolwork to do, and if being unable to find temporary housing wasn’t stressful enough to break my will, I think being suspected of harboring murderous fantasies entitles me to take at least a day or two off from my various projects. It’s hard to care about this shit when you know that people are looking at you like the guy on the subway who won’t stop muttering to himself. What deeply concerns me is how exactly to approach issues like this in the future. As anyone who reads this blog or knows me knows, I have an edgy sense of humor. The Robot King persona is founded on misanthropy, so if you visit this website expecting to hear me opine about how wonderful life is and how happy I am, perhaps you aren’t exactly worthy of an Ivy League education.

I mean, yes, if you really must know, this incident has helped me out in more ways than one. Once the on-campus housing people heard about my problem, they set about finding me a place to stay until I could move into my long-term apartment. So that’s nice. It’s a hell of a way to go about getting it, however. I tried contacting them back when I was having trouble finding housing last semester, but through a weird misunderstanding/miscommunication/something-or-other, I kind of just fell through the cracks and ended up having to fend for myself. So I found housing at a nearby place. Then that ended, and it didn’t occur to me to contact the school itself and ask for help. The point is that, in case anyone was wondering, I take no responsibility whatsoever for any of this. Granted, it was stupid to joke about killing people. But anyone who read that and thought, “Oh my God, he’s about to go all Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on everyone!” rather than, “Can somebody get this poor bastard a fucking couch to sleep on?” needs professional help. Incidentally, I’m having my first session with a counselor this Tuesday.

I’m not complaining, exactly. I’ve toyed with the idea of talking to one before, and since I’m not paying anything to talk to this one, I can’t see much of a downside. Still, it would be nice to avoid situations like this one in the future. I’m not opposed to therapy, although the last time someone suggested I see a therapist, it was my mother, and I shot her down for no reason other than that I’m tired of doing what my mother thinks I should do. Now I’m doing what I might as well do because at this point, I don’t see any reason to push back. There’s that.

It would be nice to be able to write whatever I want without setting off other people’s alarm bells. What if I decide to write a story about a school shooting someday? Are people going to take it as a sign that I’m fucked in the head? Is someone going to shoot up his own school, then blame it all on me? I can’t bear that kind of responsibility. I don’t have the time to worry about anyone’s troubles except my own, mostly, and what people take away from my writing is, at a certain point, out of my hands.

If it pleases you to hear me say it: I’m not going to hurt myself. Or anyone else. Well, maybe Justin Bieber. (I kid, I kid.) Now please leave me in peace.

Image stolen, I mean borrowed, from here.