2018: The Year in Review

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Well, it seems like some of my 2017 goals kinda sorta came true. I have learned to like writing again, at least in some aspects, although I’m still not as regular and disciplined as I would like to be. I’ve also made more of an effort to write letters, but not as much as I would like, and the exercise/being healthy part has really slipped in the last few months. I do need to take some time in the last week of 2018 and first week of 2019 to really assess what I have, where I want to go, and how to get there. Part of the reason a lot of my yearly goals aren’t really coming to pass except by accident is because I don’t have solid plans in place to facilitate getting them accomplished! Still, I think I did okay overall in 2018.

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Comparing Beliefs

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Belief is a funny thing. It’s a word that gets tossed around in a lot of discussions, debates, and outright arguments without ever being properly defined. Granted, the idea of belief is a slippery concept to begin with, especially since it is so easily personalized and adapted to fit almost any mindset. In onset of the holiday season, combined with my recent read of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and rewatching Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, got me thinking about the nature of belief and its place in stories.

As someone who is trying to be a good skeptic and humanist, I’ve developed a weird, slightly uncomfortable relationship with stories about the importance of belief. I read and watch a lot of stories that emphasize how important it is to believe in something fantastic, even if there doesn’t seem to be a good reason or at least nothing solid. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for not playing with my Barbies, dinosaurs, Hot Wheels cars, and My Little Ponies anymore, but I still won’t donate them. I feel like I’d be giving up on them, or that they would feel sad (never mind the fact that they’d probably prefer to be played with!) Dream a Little Dream by Piers Anthony and the film version of The Neverending Story feature worlds and characters whose very existence depends on being believed in by real people, especially children. If that belief fails, they don’t just die… they cease to exist. Being forgotten is worse than death. For someone with a highly active imagination, I think stories like this compounded a bunch of my weird neuroses (which thankfully got used to fuel writing rather than sending me to the loony bin. Although that could still happen…)

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Derailed

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Photo of the 1895 Montparnasse derailment (via Pexels)

It seems that when I am working on a novel, especially during an intense stretch like NaNoWriMo, I should not be allowed to read, watch, play, or listen to anything that does not contribute in some specific way to that project. I get derailed way too easily.

For example, I was plodding along pretty well through most of NaNoWriMo this year, and stayed more or less on topic. I wasn’t actually expecting to reach 50,000 words this month, but I had hoped to reach at least 40,000. (Instead I got almost 37,000, which is still quite respectable, but a bit less than I would have liked.) If you follow my LeNoWriCha Logs, you’ll notice that I made two mistakes that severely cut into my word count. The first was at the beginning of the month when I watched Star Wars Rebels. That put me in the mood for Star Wars fan fiction, and my FC Tenko is very persistent in taking over my headspace. I managed to shake that off, and then made the mistake of going on Steam during their Cyber Monday sale. I got completely and utterly mentally derailed by an otome game called Amnesia: Memories for the last week of November. Like, the staying-up-until-3:00am-staring-at-the-computer-screen-until-my-eyes-felt-like-they-were-going-to-burn-out-of-my-skull kind of derailment.

It’s a little frustrating that I have to think twice before exploring any media because it can quickly blossom into an obsession (albeit a short-lived one) that drags my attention away from what I’m working on. But is that because I have an addictive personality, a short attention span, or am just bored by my current project? All of those reasons are a little depressing.

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The Deep Impact of Fictional Deaths

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My family is kind of weird when it comes to death.

So far most of the deaths in my family have not come as a surprise. It grieves us, but we keep moving forward. We cry, but not much and not in public if we can help it. We don’t go in for dramatic displays of grief. We tend to not even discuss it. (In fact, aside from a few short conversations with my brothers, all of these statements come from my own observations and perspective, so I could be completely wrong about all of this.) But, on the surface at least, my family and I tend to be very pragmatic about the whole thing.

And yet I will break down into gut-wrenching sobs and go through all five stages of grief when a fictional character I love dies.

On the surface, this seems strange, even sociopathic. I don’t cry for my dead relatives but will bawl my eyes out for someone who never even existed? It seems backwards, almost wrong somehow, and has bothered me for quite a while. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. But I think I may have solved the mystery.
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Dangerous Stereotypes: Rebels

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” You can read previous entries in this series, which discuss the ScientistBad Boy, and Alpha Male stereotypes.

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We all love stories about underdogs. We like hearing tales of right and justice and the forces of good beating evil and injustice, no matter what the odds are against them. We like stories about lone wolves who find out the truth about “the system” and fight against it. We love our Rebel Alliances, our Neos, our Team Avatars. We enjoy following the stories of characters who are outgunned but still pull through with cunning, bravery, and a hefty dose of luck. We admire the vigilante characters like Batman, Zorro, and V who uncover the truth or see injustice run rampant and refuse to follow protocol in order to do what is right. We’ve all read those stories, seen those movies and TV shows, played as those video game characters. The fact that we can be outmatched and still come out on top is a heady, even addictive, feeling.

But real life usually doesn’t work out that way.

And sometimes… it shouldn’t.
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Ode to October

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October.

Time to read

the stories of Ray Bradbury,

the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe,

and the novels of Daphne du Maurier.

October.

Time to watch anime like

Soul Eater,

Hellsing,

and Black Butler.

October.

Time to see TV shows like

Dark Shadows,

The Addams Family,

and The Twilight Zone.

October.

Time to revisit films like

Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder,

The Raven with Vincent Price,

and the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

October.

Time to listen to music by

The Rasmus, HiM,

and Nightwish.

October.

Time for sweaters, scarves, and hot soup,

for shadows, smoke,

and morning mist.

October.

Time to curl up under blankets

with cats and cups of hot chocolate

mixed with Baileys Irish Cream.

October.

Time that is in two places at once,

the month that is both eight and ten,

Julian and Gregorian.

October:

Time to celebrate the things that go bump in the night

and try, oh so convincingly, to pretend

we are not afraid of the dark.

Lessons Learned from a (Short) Digital Detox

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It’s never been more important to live with purpose, on purpose. To live intentionally.

— Colin Wright, The Becoming Tour

I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.

This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.

I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.

“The Jetty” (Personal photograph; taken Sept. 19, 2018)

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I Am Not My Job

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Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

 

It must be the weather.

I started this entry in October 2017. With a few tweaks, it is just as relevant to my state of mind today in September 2018 as it was then.

The problem with being responsible at a day job is that so few people are, so you get more responsibility and expectation heaped upon you until you start to smother. I don’t know if it’s because of how stressful the year has been or what, but my focus has dropped and I’m retreating back into long-running TV shows and oldie-but-goodie favorite movies to cope. While I love me some good stories, I can’t stay there forever.

Even with burnout knocking at my door.

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The Neglected Language

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“I do not play this instrument so well as I should wish to, but I have always supposed that to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

— Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

Math is a language. It’s often referred to as the “universal language,” and many science fiction stories use math as the primary means of communication between humans and an alien intelligence. Stephen Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind uses music as the mathematical medium of communication. The number “3” plays an important role in the novel Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and the film Mission to Mars. The right angles of geometry cause grand-mal seizures in the brilliant novel Blindsight, a story of first contact by Peter Watts. While sapient beings may have developed different linguistic concepts, counting and other mathematical concepts remain more or less the same. (At least with humans on Earth. Turns out the entire idea of using math to communicate with aliens is actually far more complicated.)

Characters who are good at math are usually stereotyped as cold, analytical thinking machines with poor social skills, hyperfocus towards their given subject of interest, and a lack of empathy or connection with fellow human beings. Sometimes this is played for laughs like in the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Sometimes it is played for sympathy, with the implication that they live lonely, unfulfilled lives because of their obsession with numbers and logic. Or it is portrayed as sinister. Math is used by evil geniuses to create weapons of destruction like Lex Luthor, or creates sentient killer robots who consider emotion an abomination like Skynet and its Terminators. Usually these math-centric characters are male; if a woman gets into the role, she is portrayed as unfeeling and unfeminine who needs to be softened by the sweet madness of romantic love. It’s rare to see a character who likes or who is good at math presented as a real, normal, functional human being.
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Enamored with Etiquette

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Why are we drawn to the past? Why do we love period pieces and costume dramas, especially relating to England? Why do we use the Georgian/Regency Era (1714-1830s) and Victorian Era (1840s-1900) as the setting for so many historical romances or as the building blocks of Steampunk? Why do I spend a great deal of my time with Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, William Garrow, and Sherlock Holmes?
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