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.

A Little Perspective

I said to my psychiatrist during our appointment, “Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of our country, so I’m not worried that I’m feeling depressed and anxious and a little hopeless right now because any rational, sane person would be feeling that way.”

He agreed with me 100 percent. And since he is, hands down, the best mental health professional I have ever met, maybe we should think about that and cut ourselves a little slack for being freaked out for being locked up during a deadly freaking pandemic.

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).