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The anti Christ-figure

Lately I’ve been obsessing over two TV dramas: House of Cards (which has two seasons out on Netflix and if you’re not watching it right now you should be) and Game of Thrones (which is in its fourth season on HBO and if you’re not watching it right now you should be).

They’re both political dramas, although Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world while House of Cards is set in good old Washington, DC. Let me get one thing straight: I do not care about politics. I don’t understand most of politics. The very word “politics” is boring to me. But these two shows are not just about politics. They are about manipulation, psychology, and (best of all) psychosis. They are about bad people doing terrible things for their own gain, and yet we tune in over and over again because we JUST HAVE TO KNOW what’s going to happen next.

One of my favorite characters on Game of Thrones is Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger. I recently referred to him as “the Frank Underwood of Westeros.” Frank Underwood is the main character on House of Cards. It had just occurred to me at that moment how similar they are.

anti-christ figures

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen)

Both of these guys are ruthless. They both want all of the power, right now, and will do whatever it takes to get it. But they’re not rash – they both have well-thought out plans, complete with backup plans, and backup-backup plans. Often, you think they’ve been foiled, only to find out later that they were just playing the other characters like well-tuned instruments.

Both of them have done (and will, I’m sure, continue to do) horrible things. Often, they’re doing these things to other characters who are genuinely likable. And yet…I still love both of these characters. I bafflingly, disproportionately, love them.

Is it just that I have a fondness for the character who somehow knows all, sees all, and masterminds all? For the guy who is always three steps ahead of the other guy, somehow even leading that other guy by the nose, making him think he’s making his own decisions, and then BOOM. Sorry, other guy.

I used to think I loved the Christ-figure – those Gandalfs, Dumbledores, and Aslans. They are also seemingly omniscient, and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of everyone. They are good guys, and they often come back to explain their sacrifice, to commend others for their sacrifices, and to bring the whole thing together in a happy (ish) ending.

Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Dumbledore, and Aslan

Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Aslan, and Dumbledore

Was it just that I hadn’t yet been introduced to the anti Christ-figure (not the “anti Christ”-figure, I want to be clear about that – just the anti- “Christ figure”) that I didn’t realize how much more interesting these characters could be? I mean, I cheered when the deceased Gandalf the Grey came back as Gandalf the White, sure I did, but was it really so surprising?

The good guy is more predictable than the bad guy. And the Christ-figure is the most predictable at all. We pretty much know the life lesson we’re going to learn from those guys. Stand up for your friends. Do unto others. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Love conquers all. Do the right thing. Stand your ground in the face of evil. Don’t give up on good. It’s kindergarten stuff at its core, whether you’re facing down the White Witch or the cyber bully or He Who Must Not Be Named.

The bad guys – the anti Christ-figures – are infinitely more interesting. What BS crazy thing are they going to do today in the name of getting one rung higher on the power ladder. They wouldn’t possibly – no one could – OMG DID YOU SEE THAT??

I never had that reaction to Aslan allowing Jadis to shave and humiliate him, I’ll tell you that.

So today I’m singing the praises of the guy who’s in control, the guy pulling the strings behind the curtain, the guy looking out for numero uno, even when it means stepping all over numeros dos through ciento. Because he’s keeping things interesting. Let’s give that guy a round of applause. (Just as long as he stays on our TV screens, fictional, and far away.)

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The Road Not Taken: A Lesson in English and Life

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

==

This is one of my favorite poems, for three reasons.

1. I love the rhyme and the meter of the poem. I love reciting it. There’s something so musical about the ABAAB and the iambic tetrameter. I loved studying poetry in school, and sometimes I really miss it.

2. I love the message of the poem. But stay tuned. Because:

3. This poem doesn’t actually mean what everyone thinks it means. And here’s your English lesson for today:

In the early 1910s, Robert Frost became friends with another writer, Edward Thomas. They would go for walks through the woods, and Thomas was constantly moaning about the fact that they had taken the “wrong” path – and missed something amazing on another path. Frost wrote this poem in 1915, a sarcastic answer to Thomas’ worry that he was always making the wrong decision.

If you dissect the poem, there are three instances where Frost admits that there is no “better” path:

“as just as fair”
“the passing there / had worn them really about the same”
“both that morning equally lay”

The closing stanza is a sigh from someone looking back on opportunities lost. Frost is gently mocking the narrator (and Thomas) for fretting over missed opportunities, and for not seizing the opportunities that one is presented with.

I freaking love this poem and the story behind it.

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Today was my last full time day at my theatre job. On Monday I start a new job as an Executive Assistant, in an office full of brand new people. This was my choice, my decision, and it was a hard decision, but I still think it was the right decision.

Every new path brings change, something new to learn, and new opportunities for joy.

Two roads diverged in a wood. And I.

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Lost and Found

Inspired by a conversation at work today, I thought I would tell you 3 stories of things lost and found.

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1. A Great Time at Great America

I was at Great America with some friends – I think this was in high school or maybe right afterwards. We were walking through the park when we saw a cell phone behind a chain link fence, under a roller coaster. We somehow fished it out, and I really wanted to be a hero, so I called “Mom” in the phone and explained the situation. The mom asked me to take the phone to the information booth at the front of the park, and she would call her son’s friend and tell him where to pick it up.

That wasn’t really enough to call myself a hero, so I didn’t take it to the info booth right away. And before we’d gotten around to it, the phone was ringing and I answered it. It was the kid calling from his friend’s phone, and he was happy that I’d found it, and we all agreed to meet up at the Drop Zone. We gave him the phone back and everyone was happy. What a great day! (In retrospect, yeah, the safe and appropriate thing to do would have been to take the phone to the information booth. But whatever, it all worked out.)

2. Milka: Does a Body Good

While in college at Davis, I was walking across campus when I spotted a wallet on the ground. It had very little info inside, but there was a student ID. When I got back to my room, I used the ID to look up the student’s Davis email address, and I sent her a message. She called me, very happy, and asked if I could possibly drop off her wallet the next day. It was a Friday, and I had no classes, but I said yes. Then she asked if I could drop it off before 10am, because she was leaving for a weekend in Tahoe with her friends. Ten sounded very early (I’m rolling my eyes at myself right now) but I said yes again, and she told me where her office was located.

She was a grad student in the German and Russian department, and I found her pretty easily. She was ecstatic, and offered me twenty bucks. I turned it down. Then she said, “Well, how about some chocolate? I bring this back from Germany, you can’t get it here,” and she gave me a Milka bar. It was plum and cinnamon, except it wasn’t even in English. It was delicious, and Drew and I have looked all over, and never found that flavor again. We still talk about “the best Milka bar.”

3. The Ungrateful Salad Eater

In New York, I worked as a cashier at a little lunch place that served primarily salads and sandwiches. One day, one of the guys who worked there found a purse that someone had left upstairs. I looked through the bag and found a paystub, and called the company and asked for the woman whose name was on it. When I told her that I had her purse, she responded very calmly. “Oh, okay.” Then I told her just to come pick it up whenever.

I noticed, when looking for her ID, that there were bunches of bills stuffed all over the place – it was super messy but there seemed to be a lot of money just haphazardly shoved in there. But I didn’t take any of it. Because morals. And then finally – FINALLY – this woman showed up, looking really bored, and just took the purse and kind of wandered away. No thank you. No gratitude. No relief. No offer of “reward.” And I sort of regretted not taking at least ten bucks for my trouble.

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So there you have it.  Two stories have happy endings; the third is a lesson in doing the right thing even when no one cares what you do.

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(A room that is important to you)

In the notes section of my phone, there is a list of writing prompts. The third prompt is “A room that is important to you.”

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My parents have a hot tub. The hot tub is just the latest item in a long list of reminders that I don’t live at home anymore.

How could they go from normal parents one day, to hot-tub-owning parents the next?

“But where is it?” I ask my mom over the phone.

“On the deck,” she says.

“What deck?”

“Oh yeah. We added a deck, too,” she says. Her tone is so casual, like she doesn’t realize she’s telling me about major home renovations. “You guys should come visit. You can sit in the hot tub.”

While it sounds amazing, especially now that California is having some actual winter weather, I can’t quite get used to that whole hot tub thing. I mean, I still feel homesick for the way our house was when I was a child – eight and ten and fourteen years old. It hasn’t been like that for almost half my lifetime.

I knew everything was different when I went to college. Not my freshman year, so much, when I still came home all the time and most of my stuff was still up on my bedroom walls. But once I started living in apartments, and my room at home started becoming storage, it was a slippery slope to “I don’t live here at all anymore.”

Probably moving to New York right after college had something to do with that. I didn’t go home that summer, except for a week or so before we got on a plane from SFO to JFK, in mid-August. And then I was gone for three years and the transition became even more complete.

I’ve been back in California for four and a half years. I have never in that time moved back home, and where would I have lived if I had? On the futon couch in the living room, probably. Despite multiple passings-off of my childhood stuff from my parents to me, there is still, inexplicably, more of my stuff in my bedroom, although it becomes more and more hidden among things that aren’t mine. My stuffed animals stick it out, though, sitting on a shelf above the bay window, covered in dust and, I’m positive, spiders. Every time someone suggests I go through them, I shiver and say I will as soon as they’ve all been run through the dryer or something.

The same thing happened to Drew. His room became an office, although his parents had to wait until we came back from New York and essentially stole all his bedroom furniture. But he and I are both in the same position of peeking into our childhood bedrooms and remembering them in a totally different way than they are now.

A few years ago, (after the my-bedroom transition but before the deck and hot tub,) my parents added a bathroom and walk-in closet onto their bedroom. Growing up it was always a point of contention/argument/self-righteousness (depending on one’s mood at the time) that our house only had one bathroom. But after the kids were out and it didn’t matter anymore, they fixed that. It’s good for resale, I guess, but I don’t even want to start thinking about that house being sold to strangers. It’s cool to see the addition, and cool that it happened, and surreal that there’s a whole add-on to the back of the house that wasn’t there when I was growing up.

I guess in a twisted way, that’s the room that is important to me. Because the addition, followed soon after by the deck and the hot tub, is something that I had no part in, I didn’t help at all with the planning, in fact I didn’t even have an idea something was up until it was already going down. And that just means that I definitely, unquestionably, 100% don’t live there anymore. The addition changed my childhood home in a way that putting in hardwood floors, moving the furniture around, and storing all the craft stuff on shelves in my old room does not.

Most of the time this doesn’t bother me too much. If my childhood home isn’t the same, well…neither am I, certainly. And it’s not like I want to stay in one place and never grow or change or move away.

But I’ve gotten so good at writing things down and journaling and documenting and taking photos – I wish I had been better at that at ages eight, ten, fourteen, eighteen. I wish I could remember more about all those summers spent at camp, or my 8th grade graduation dance, or some random trip my friends and I took to Cupertino my freshman year of college. (What the heck were we doing in Cupertino??) My memories of childhood are fuzzy. When I try to remember, I just end up picturing myself now, but like, wearing t-shirts with cat pictures and drawing with chalk pastels and making mix tapes.

On second thought, maybe the 90s are just not an inspiring time to keep constantly at the forefront of your mind. Maybe it’s good enough to know we made it through them unscathed.

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Throwback Thursday: Poetry

I wrote this in May of 2003 for a friend who worked in a mall, and used to complain about it occasionally. (It was an Abercrombie, I think.) (The poem is written in blank verse.)

To Work In A Mall

How tepid a life, to work in a mall
To see the same overfed, overbred
crowd, lurching around vendors & candy
machines.  To stand in a doorway & spout
the same rubbish—  “Hey, how ya doin’?  If
I can help you with anything, just let
me know.  Stenciled Ts and flip-flops half off.”
How worthless to fold that same pair of shorts
eighteen times in one day (& you know they
are the same pair because of the crease in
the waistband) because people try them on,
Take them off, drop them on the thin carpet
for posterity—or you—to pick up.
How tiring to be manhandled and
questioned for eight hours a day about
the same things—FAQs—when all you want
is to go down the way to the Starbucks,
& ask them for the strongest drink they have.

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10 Books That Are Important To Me

This thing was going around on Facebook, and One Classy Dame tagged me to do it, but I felt like it deserved slightly more space and thought than just a Facebook status or note.

Then I forgot about it for a month.

But I remembered. And so I thought I would share with you 10 books that have been important in my life.

Dollanganger01_FlowersInTheAttic1. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. I found a copy of this book in my grandma’s house when I was about 9 years old, and it set me on a course of trashy romance novels, from which I’ve never fully recovered. I’m sure I would have turned out to be an entirely different person, had I not discovered these types of books. I certainly wouldn’t have been the sixth-grader who took them to school so my friends could also read the trashy parts. (Yikes.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery / Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Two wonderful books, particularly for young girls, written by excellent female writers. I was deep in my VC Andrews phase when my parents got me a copy of each of these books for Christmas, and I remember being vaguely disappointed. (I’m really sorry, Mom and Dad!) But then I read the books, and I liked them. I reread both of these books in 2013 and they’re even better than I remembered.

3. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. The first time I’ve ever liked a book and a movie adaptation, as separate things. It happens rarely…but it happens.

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Okay, this is kind of a long story but bear with me. When I was younger, we made a lot of movies. Not exactly home movies, because it wasn’t stuff like birthday parties and Christmas morning. We would make movies for class projects or just for fun. And I remember making some kind of movie, where I – as a middle schooler – was reading The Grapes of Wrath to my little brother, who was at that point maybe…10 years old? I have no idea what this was for. And we kept cutting away to show the clock ticking forward, and I’d be further in the book, and my brother would be more and more bored. And finally by the time I read the last lines, I think he was gone maybe? Or just asleep? I don’t remember. Anyway, at the time of making that movie, I tried to read The Grapes of Wrath, and I was SO BORED. Then, in my junior year of high school, we read it in my English class…and I loved it. I couldn’t understand why, just a few short years before, I hadn’t gotten into it. So, to me, this book is a solid representation of growing up and maturing.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s held a spot on my favorite books list for the last, like, 15 years. Barbara Kingsolver offered me an eloquent way to express the feelings I was having about faith in high school. I printed out a quote from the book and had it stapled to my wall along with everything else in the world that I thought defined me. (The “it” in the first line is the Bible, by the way.)

photo (7)Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to not print in an artsy font.

6. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. My first exposure to nonfiction humor. Before that, I assumed “nonfiction” meant “history book” or “book on how to refinish a dresser.” David Sedaris, a gem in and of himself, opened up an entirely new world of reading to me.

7. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The first time I ever cried while reading. You know what I’m talking about.

8. You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen. I don’t know anyone else who’s read this book, and I don’t remember how I found it, but I’m obsessed with it. The writing is incredible, it’s gorgeous to read, you just know she labored over crafting every sentence. Plus, the plot is enthralling. (I actually just discovered there’s a movie coming out this year, with Emmy Rossum and Hilary Swank, and yes I’ll totally watch it.)

9. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth MD. I read a bunch of parenting books when I was pregnant, to prepare myself, and then I read a bunch of books on dealing with an infant, when I had an infant. This was the first book that I got partway into…and just had to toss out the window. There was so much BS in it, and I figured I had two choices: I could either throw it all away, or I could go crazy trying to follow all these rules to have the perfect child. This book represents my revelation that you read some books, you talk to some people, you do what works for you. And everything will be all right.

10. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I know…it’s cheating. But these books (all seven of them) feel like family to me. Like, I know there are some minor plot holes. I know that some people have complaints about them. I know they’re totally overexposed. And I DON’T CARE. To me, they are perfect. I have all these memories: of reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and realizing this was something great; of sitting, waiting for the mail when the fifth book was coming out, and reading it all in a day; of Drew declaring his intention to read them all out loud to me once I was pregnant. (For the record, we are on the seventh book – it’s slower going now, but we’re still making progress.) These books are ingrained in my adolescent and adult life…and I’m proud of that.

HP collectionA set of hardcover for posterity; a set of paperback for actual reading; and some spares.

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Why I quit nanowrimo 2013

Okay. So, I realize that technically there are still 4 more days in November; and that if you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it; and it’s not over until the fat lady sings, etc etc. But here’s the thing. I have some really good reasons for why I’ve decided to quit Nanowrimo this year.

1. Ultimately this is about fun. So when I’m having an adult temper tantrum because I “have” to write, then the purpose has been defeated. At least for me.

2. I guard my sleep jealously these days (since it’s still interrupted multiple times a night, and it’s always over by 7am at the latest). I’m not about to stay up until 2am writing, like I used to.

3. I thought I liked my story, until I got to a point that I was like, what the heck is this about. (Yes, I know that’s kind of the point of this whole thing.) But then I abandoned it midstream and switched to this YA novel idea. And it was downhill from there.

4. I also joined a dietbet this month, and I won that, so you know, you win some, you lose some.

5. When I started this, I was shooting for 25,000 words (the “real” goal is 50,000). I figured that 25,000 would still be impressive, especially with the other things I’ve had going on this month. And I made it to about 32,000 words. So I think that’s something to be proud of.

So…that’s that. Sorry, I hate when people just whine about how busy they are. But I’m not going to spend the next four days (and over Thanksgiving, even!) feeling guilty and stressed about this. There’s too much other stuff to pay attention to. Sorry, unfinished weird novel. I’ll read you over in a few months and see what’s salvageable. RIP.

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