Oh, Mercy, Mercy Me

Here we are, six months into the pandemic, and a whole lot of people are acting like idiots. This spring, armed men invaded state capitals because they literally wanted to get a haircut. I was talking to someone about how this was the way life was now, and something occurred to me.

The last time that a major upheaval happened in our lives was nineteen years ago today. The whole country shut down under the weight of this horrible act of aggression. The peace and prosperity of the nineties was over (the prosperity had already ended pretty much as soon as Bush was sworn in, but that’s not how we remember it), and we were all going to make sacrifices of our old lives in the face of this new reality.

But in actuality, we didn’t. Life returned to normal pretty much instantly, and I’m not talking about extra airport security or Islamophobia or the incredibly unpopular president becoming a superhero to most of the country. I’m talking about day-to-day life. We could go to restaurants, go to movies, get the oh-so-important haircut. The words of comfort and aid from our president were not “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but rather, “Go shopping.” The MTA had an updated subway map out in about a week. We lost some of our freedoms, but we didn’t really miss them. The only people who gave anything up were those that rushed headlong into the recruiter’s office and found themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq, but, in general, those were the kinds of people who were going to join the military anyway, so no real difference.

Eighteen and a half years later, an invader came to our shores again to rob us of our way of life, and Americans, remembering how this kind of thing goes, were expecting a quick return to normalcy. We don’t like change.

But the fact of the matter is, everything changed, and it will be forever different. One day, in a year, maybe more, the stores may open up all the way again, and schools may be taking students in without having to go online again after a rash of infections pop up, but things won’t be the same. Many Mom and Pop stores will be forever shut down, to be replaced by a centralized, corporate structure. The kinds of people who are freaking out about masks will wield even more political power. We’re already seeing America’s billionaires getting exponentially richer over the past six months, and they’ll do anything not to lose their money. This is how life is now. We won’t be wearing masks forever, but the changes to the way we live our lives are fundamental. It is never going to be the way it was before.

And we, as Americans, can’t deal with that.

Like Cheese and Fine Wine

A pet peeve of mine: Those memes where they say, “If you remember/get this pop cultural reference/lifestyle/article of technology, you’re old.” A variation is the insinuation that most people won’t get said pop cultural reference/article of technology.


We get it. You’re older. Things are different now. Younger people might not recognize the things we liked when we were their age.

But, unexpectedly, some might. I was listening to the Byrds, Donovan, and Steppenwolf when I was a kid, and those were way before my time. Don’t assume that you’re different than them because you rode your bike without a helmet and didn’t die. You’re not better because you can use a rotary phone. Helmetless riding is dangerous, and rotary phones were obnoxious.


I get nostalgia. I think there’s way too much of it, but I get it. Sometimes I feel like grabbing people my age by the shoulders and saying, “Remember dot matrix printers?” I don’t think I’m superior because I had to tear off the sheets, one-by-one, and those strips with the holes in them. Remember them? They were so wasteful. Did you ever make springy things out of them? I did, all the time. Printers are so much better now, but without the springy things.

Knowing this hiccup in the march of technological progress is kind of like being in a secret club with millions upon millions of members. I understand how that feels. But the smug winking of these memes really annoys me.

Mandela Effect

I had a long conversation about the Mandela Effect with Nicole and her friend because he had stated he wanted to see a band in concert, she told him he had already, he told her he hadn’t, and she found pictures on Instagram of him seeing that band in a concert he had no recollection of.

The Mandela Effect, if you don’t know, is the collective false memories that our society has about famous events. For example, most people remember four people in the presidential limo on November 22, 1963, despite the fact that there were actually six. Mostly, it’s pop culture, like the lines “Hello, Clarice” from The Silence of the Lambs, “Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, or “Beam me up, Scotty,” from Star Trek, lines that were never uttered in any of those movies or TV shows. Some say that they saw video of the man in Tiananmen Square get run over by a tank, despite that no such video exists. There are those who swear that it’s spelled Volkswagon, not Volkswagen (despite that the former is not remotely German). The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, despite the fact that a large number of people remember seeing his funeral on TV years before that, and if you go to any page on the subject, particularly pages with comments, people are really freaked out about it.

I have a Mandela Effect of my own, in a guy I went to college with who married someone close to me and is friends with most of my friends from back then and has pictures on their Facebook page of concerts that I’ve been to and is someone I should at least know peripherally, but I have no memory of whatsoever. I’ve spoken to my psychiatrist about this, and he agrees that selective editing of my life like this is highly unusual, even for someone with a legendarily lousy memory such as myself. But there it is, a “this-guy” hole in my life.

There are lots of explanations for the Mandela Effect, including alternate realities and the fact that the world actually ended on December 21, 2012, as was predicted by the Mayans, making this is some kind of weird echo/restart. Perhaps we’re all in virtual reality, and they keep rewriting the Matrix. Maybe something went funky with the Hadron collider.

In the end, though, it is simply misremembering things. Memory is one of the most fallible parts of our experiences as humans, and in a world that makes very little sense, our minds will fill in blanks to make things coherent. For example, one of the biggest bits of evidence that people will use for the Mandela Effect is the Berenstain Bears, the children’s book and cartoon series. People will swear up and down in a court of law that it’s Berenstein Bears, and the fact that it’s not is evidence that something’s not right in the world, not that they just remembered it wrong. When you think about it, -stain isn’t very often the end of someone’s surname. It’s usually -stein. People made assumptions, they were wrong, and they dug in their heels and declared that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so the universe must be broken. I myself thought it was Berenstein until I learned about its place in the Mandela Effect conspiracy, and I just accepted the truth (i.e. it has always, from day one, been Berenstain) like an adult.

The Mandela Effect is kind of fun and a little bit creepy at times, but there is no such thing as alternate dimensions where they’re known as Looney Toons, not Looney Tunes, as they have been since the forties. This conspiracy is just another way that (mostly) Americans can defy the truth that’s in front of our eyes in favor of our “intuition.” This is yet one more reason we’re still in quarantine six months later when listening to the medical experts could have slowed down if not stopped the spread of a deadly virus. It’s the reason our president can gleefully violate the Constitution and other American laws and get away with it.

You’re going to be wrong about things, even things you’re positive you’re right about. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It makes you more of one.

Hope & Change

What if everything that’s going wrong with this country politically—the hatred, the distrust, the bad faith, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, could be traced back to a single event twenty-six years ago? Without that event, our country could become a more reasonable, equitable place? What if you could make that event go away? Would you do it?

But making that event goes away would change everything. It would smooth away some of the adversity that makes you who you are. You might not be friends with the same people, you probably wouldn’t live in the same place. Your economic situation could be different. You could even have a different partner. And almost certainly, every single person born in the last twenty-five years would cease to exist, replaced by other people, who I’m sure are lovely, but they wouldn’t be your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and friends. Would you still do it?

That’s the question I’m asking in my current novel. I’ve identified an event in 1994 that has led directly to where we are now, with federal agents kidnapping innocent Americans off of the streets (but, ironically enough, not the Americans that stormed state capitals with AR-15s on their backs), and I’m asking if everything good that would be altered in history was worth it to change our decades-long slide into fascism. Do you have a duty to the hundreds of thousands of those who have lost their lives so far and the millions more living a nightmare life of poverty, or do you have a duty to the members of the Zoom Generation who have touched your life?

Would I do it? Would I change literally everything?

And the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

A Series of Bad Mistakes

I just sat through a season of one of the worst TV adaptations of a beloved novel (a series of novels, actually) that I’ve ever seen. The directors’ only direction to every hero was, “Look out of breath,” and every antagonistic character was, “Act smug.” The adapting writing was pretty bad, as opposed to the book, which was really well put together. The main villain was supposed to be on a quest for a series of sacred objects, but all he had to do was sit back, kill a few of his minions to prove how evil he was, and let the good guys retrieve all the sacred objects for him and hand them over to him under minimal duress. I wanted to scream, “Stop helping him! He’s smarmy! He didn’t know where this shit was before you dug it up, you idiot!”

The acting was terrible across the board, but the worst was one of the romantic leads, whose character was a flat-out asshole, but his only expression was the same one you make when you’re holding back a giggle because you unleashed a silent-but-violent and everybody is going to smell it any second now. That was seriously it. Fights hoard of demons, guilty snort. eaffirms his bond with his best friend, guilty giggle. Gets married, guilty giggle. Betrays his best friend, guilty giggle. His best friend gives him an impassioned (well, impassioned for these actors) speech reaffirming their friendship, guilty giggle.

Thirteen episodes, at forty-five minutes each. That’s nine hours and forty-five minutes of precious, precious time I spent on this show. There are two more seasons. Hard. Pass.

Finding Your Audience

In this FB group I’m a part of, there was a discussion started for authors. One of the authors responded with his calculation of exactly which books were going to be bought (Hindu myths, if you were curious), and how he was going to basically write books for the sole purpose of selling many of them.

Later that day, I saw a YouTube ad that told me that the only way to sell a lot of copies of your book is to research which audience you want to sell it to you, and if you’re sitting around, writing your book, you’re making a huge error because writing is step 6 in getting your book out there (steps 1-5 come at a fee, of course).

I found myself deeply offended with this one-two punch. The current hurdle I’m facing is getting people to buy the books I wrote for myself, for the sake of writing them and writing them well, not to make a quick buck. Writing is not some moneymaking scheme to me, it’s who I am, to the very core of me. The first thing I do when I sit down to put together a book is write, not do market research. I crossed my fingers that this guy’s writing algorithm fails, and nobody buys his books, and I cast judgement on the shallow people who would buy something that panders to them like this.

But then I started thinking. Exactly what part of the Marvel movies that I’ve seen all of in the theater do I think was a deep, personal reflection on what the directors had to say, from their heart? When was the last passion project I watched? I am one of those shallow people I’m complaining about. People are going to watch and read what they want, even if it is cynically concocted to push their buttons. That’s going to be an obstruction for me as I continue this path I’ve decided to take, and as long as I put my soul into my laptop, it’s going to be one I am going to have to live with.

I still want that guy to fail, though, because he was being a real smug asshole about it.

Cancel, Check

I’m out of the loop, so I just found out about all of the accusations from women aimed at Warren Ellis.

To say that this is disappointing is an understatement. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers of all time–I think the man is a certified genius at creating comics, as well as his second life as a cartoon scriptwriter. I hardly read comics anymore, but I make sure to pick up whatever Mr. Ellis has dropped on the shelf that week, even when it’s a (ugh) Batman book. I recently dropped over $100 to read the entirety of Transmetropolitan, his opus.

To be fair, he hasn’t been accused of doing anything illegal, such as sexual assault. What he’s accused of is, in general, being a creep, and leveraging his status as king-and-queenmaker to royally mess with some very vulnerable young women with aspirations in the comics industry. This is not okay.

Am I surprised by this? Not really. He’s always had the kind of attitude you can imagine a creep displaying. But should he be cancelled? I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is all fresh to me.

Ugh! Why are men with power the worst?

The More They Stay the Same

We are at an unprecedented point in our history, and it’s got me seriously concerned about something. We are seeing clearly that capitalism as it we know it is toxic, that the CEOs are avaricious and cruel and are profiting off of this national disaster. We’re seeing clearly that the party that has been elected to run our federal and most of our state government is incompetent and vain and in the pockets of the aforementioned CEOs. We’re seeing a disaster made exponentially worse because the people who are supposed to look out for us are failing, and it’s the nurses and teachers and hourly workers—essentially second-class citizens—are holding it all together.

What I’m afraid of is that, when this is all over, nothing will change. That we will continue to reelect those people we have been complaining about for months. That the billionaires will give themselves bonuses, and the politicians who support them will give them more tax cuts. I’m afraid that the nurses and teachers will go back to being ignored and mistreated, and that there will be no minimum wage increase or sick time for the hourly employees who risked their lives to make society function. If nothing comes out of this nightmare we’ve been living with, then what was the point?

How bad will it have to get for things to change? I have a sick feeling in my stomach that it’s going to take a lot more than this.

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.