The Hero We Need

Something I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve been watching more TV and movies due to being trapped in the apartment. Star Trek, as a concept, will always be superior to Star Wars*, and that’s because of what it teaches you about heroism.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk wasn’t there to save the day because of some prophesy, he was there to save the day because he chose to go through Starfleet Academy, and he performed well at his job, and he was promoted to captain. Picard wasn’t born to be captain, he earned it.

In Star Wars, you’re either born a Jedi, or you’re not. You can’t choose to become a Jedi. Also, being part of the Skywalker family absolves you of murder and genocide, so there’s that. I know, I know, Star Wars fans, there’s Han Solo and Poe Dameron and Finn and all these guys who are heroes despite not being born with the gift, but their stories take second billing to the battle between The Light and Dark side.

This isn’t just Star Wars. Hardly a property exists anymore where the hero isn’t made, they’re born. Harry Potter (all the characters), Neo, the aforementioned Luke Skywalker, Thor, both Buffy and Angel, the new Sabrina, Doctor Who now, and so on. It’s this damned hero’s journey that Hollywood is so obsessed by, where heroism is this external force that is bestowed on someone, as opposed to them actually deciding to be a hero on their own. And, yes, I know that many of these characters resist being a hero, but destiny is destiny, and they are heroes anyway.

Who out there do I consider to be a self-made hero? Captain Malcolm Reynolds is my first choice—even when he resists doing the right thing, he does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Spider-Man—a spider didn’t choose to bite him as his birthright, it bit him at random, and he eventually took responsibility and did the right thing. Steve Rogers—he signed up to be experimented on because it was the one way he could help sock Hitler in the jaw (if he didn’t die from said experiment). What makes these my top three choices is that they’re not exceptional: anybody could be bitten by a bug or volunteer to help your country. And, of course, there’s the blue-collar smuggler. It’s what they chose to do with what they got that made them special.

I think we need more media telling us that we don’t need to inherit fantastical powers or have had long dead men written about our lives to be the hero. That we need to stop letting those who are born with gifts (i.e. exceptional wealth) tell us that only they know how to save the day, because that is decidedly not true.

(On a similar note, is there an IP out there where magic isn’t genetic? This is everywhere, from Harry Potter and The Magicians to the Discworld to Sabrina and Star Wars. It’s in innumerable fantasy and urban fantasies I’ve read over the years. In my experience with magic, it’s a skill anybody can learn if they put the time and effort into it. Is there a movie/TV/book series where this is the case?)

* Put away the lightsabers and blasters, I’m exaggerating. They both have their positives and negatives, and they’re hardly the same thing, so how can you compare them?

Soothing the Savage Beast

Music was once one of the things that mattered to me most in the world. I listened to it full blast, I interpreted it with the pretention of an English professor, I waited breathlessly for album releases that were going to change my life, man, I judged people based on what they listened to, I shared it with anybody who would listen, and, as I got older, I went to innumerable shows in crowded, stinky bars. I, without exaggeration, credit music with saving my life on more than one occasion when I was a teenager.

But now, I really couldn’t care all that much about it. The last new music I bought was two years ago, and it was an album that was fifteen years old at the time. What I predominantly listen to now is the same stuff I listened to when I was in my teens and twenties. I appreciate it, I adore it, but I don’t build as much around it as much as I used to. 

I was thinking of this as I was watching that Hulu show, High Fidelity. Some of the conversations they had made as much sense as me listening to someone talk about computer components or Magic the Gathering cards. It’s the way I’d talk about Doctor Who if people would let me. And I think it’s great. Not the judgment that characters were passing on other characters for what they listened to, but the intensity, the fire. 

I think I lost mine after countless hours in the car with Kate, who was always driving and got to pick the music, most of which I didn’t like. (She did have one song that started an avalanche that greatly expanded my collection, though, and a couple of one-hit wonders I stole from her.) I had to put my hostility away to survive the trips. She was never particularly interested in what I listened to, so I had no one to share my own discoveries with. 

And then there was the spirit-breaking I have gotten working retail. Holy crap, is that some bad music. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have been nodding along, saying, “Yup, that’s what getting older does.” I never lost my passion for comic books or action movies (I have lost it for cartoons, though), so I wonder, why music? Why did that have to shrivel up? It’s not because I’m an adult because I am a terrible adult. 

I’ll never understand it, so I guess I’ll just listen to some more nineties-era grunge, go to work, and tend to my teenager (who has four legs and is covered in fur). 

Cooped up and Crazy

Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.

Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.

Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.

This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.

A Little Positivity, for Once

Lately, I’ve been watching movies starring my early 2000s celebrity crush. Most of her movies are not very good, and I’ve always known they were not very good, so I’d never waste precious minutes on them when I only had a few hours of free time a week. But now that I’ve got all the free time in the world, and my inspiration for my novel is coming at me like it’s trapped in molasses, so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m remembering why I crushed on her in the first place, so if I’m going to look at the bright side of coronavirus, here it is.

Last Train to Worksville

Here’s an update, in case you were curious. Starting this weekend, Metro put in place further service cuts, making it thirty minutes between each train, all trains. It takes me two trains to get to my night job, so I could be looking at, conceivably, hour of waiting in train stations plus the forty minutes it takes me to get there when the trains are running normally, one way. On a bad day, I could spend up to three hours and twenty minutes commuting to and from a five-hour shift. 

Between this and my utter lack of confidence in the CEO’s plan to keep us uninfected, I sent a detailed email to all of my managers plus the regional manager explaining why I wouldn’t be coming in until the crisis passes (including said lack of confidence in the CEO’s plan). I got a very kind and understanding email in return from one of the managers, who promised to keep my updated on what was going on. 

I don’t like doing that. Calling in sick to an understaffed retail job seriously screws over anybody who didn’t or couldn’t call in sick, which is why I’d been forcing myself to go when even when I was at serious risk. But this thing with the Metro is the last straw. The government doesn’t want us to go out for inessential reasons, and it’s making it harder and harder to do that. The Container Store isn’t particularly essential in the first place, and I felt in my gut that, the longer I worked there, it was only a matter of when I became infected, not if.

So now I have a weekend again, after months upon months of not having one, and I can’t do anything with it except wonder what my cats just broke and try to convince Nicole that what she has is allergies, not the coronavirus.

In the Trenches

I don’t like to speak ill of my employers in such a public forum, but I’m at my wit’s end here. As you know, I work part-time at night and on Saturdays. My store, as we learned in a recent note to all employees from the CEO, is going to remain open. That means the time during the week that my day job has quarantined me in my own home is kind of pointless since I have to go out every weekend into the plague pit. 

Why? Why is it so important to keep the store open? The Metro is instructing people to only get on the train in the case of vital business. Is this really vital? How is it possible to maintain social distancing when you’re checking someone out at a cash register? What kind of person would risk getting infected and spreading it to get a countertop makeup organizer? I’ll tell you what kind of person—someone who doesn’t take proper precautions and is more likely to have the disease than someone who can wait to get their box of expensive hangers. 

The motto for my store is “Employees First,” but at the moment, that’s not feeling particularly sincere.

Coronavirus Homesick Blues

I wasn’t taking this COVID-19 thing seriously for a long time. Conflicting reports kind of gathered together to make for an unconvincing disaster. Americans have a tendency to buy out all the toilet paper at the drop of a hat, and I had no reason to think that this was any different. I’m a (kind of) healthy person, and I have a really solid immune system. I don’t often get sick, and if I do, it’s for maybe a day.

And then something changed, and I’m not sure what. Maybe it was my day job going all telework. Maybe it was hearing about how much damage this disease was causing to the survivors. This isn’t just the flu (for which I vaccinate every fall).

But even then, what got me to start diligently washing my hands and stop going to coffee shops and stores (when I don’t have to go) was Nicole’s fear of it. We’re both gallows humor people, and we make constant jokes about dying from coronavirus, but in the jokes there is serious concern. So basically, I’m not worried about getting COVID-19, but I’m terrified of giving it to Nicole.

When this is all over, we’re going to take stock of what we did right and wrong, and I want to go to sleep knowing I did everything right. And when this is all over, it’s going to be tough to get used to wearing pants again.

The Best Days of our Lives

My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.

Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.

But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.

And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.

So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.

IT Goes to Show

The following is a dramatic interpretation of an actual email conversation.

ME: And that’s my problem.

IT: Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on?

ME: Yes, I have.

IT: Okay, but have you tried turning it off and then turning it back on again?

ME: That is literally the first thing I tried.

IT: Most software glitches can be solved by turning it off and then turning it back on again.

ME: That’s why I tried it first.

IT: Have you tried this thing I may have mentioned in passing once maybe a month ago?

ME: Okay, I’m trying it now, but I can’t seem to get it to do that thing.

IT: It will work if you do that thing.

ME: Look, I will send you screenshots. It is impossible for me to do that thing. See?

IT: Yep, this is complete unrelated to that thing. I don’t know why you’re doing that thing at all. Try this other thing I’ve never told you about before.

ME: It worked. Thank you.

IT: You should have started with that.

Who You Love

Everyday YouTube sends me a video it thinks I will enjoy, and 19 times out of 20, it’s wrong. But lately, it’s been drowning me in “Chibnall is KILLING the Doctor Who franchise” types of videos, and the very titles foul my mood.

Here’s the thing about them, though, that I think unsettles me the most. You can’t tell them that if they hate it so much, stop watching, because in their minds, they’re the true fans. They have in their heads this ideal of Doctor Who that’s so shining and specific and beloved and perfect that anything that strays from that must be protested. They think they’re helping by demanding that Doctor Who be only its best. And of course there’s all the raging misogyny behind it, cleverly disguised by focusing their attacks on “bad writing” and Chris Chibnall.

In general, I’m the type of person who stops watching a show when I stop enjoying it, so this attitude is a little too masochistic and narcissistic for me, though I did continue to watch Doctor Who through the Moffat years, despite the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the show as a whole anymore. I hung on because I was open to the good moments and the performances, of which there were many, and I wouldn’t dream of demanding my favorite show’s cancellation. Stephen Moffat wouldn’t be showrunner forever.

I started watching Doctor Who during the Tom Baker years. If I decided that this was the only way the show could possibly be, I’d be one miserable tool right now. And that’s what they are, miserable and impossible to please, and meanwhile, we’re here as the Doctor Who Fans Who Actually Like the Show, and we’re having a great time watching a show we love. If this was a contest, we’d be winning.