Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Some They Crawl Their Way Into Your Heart, To Rend Your Ventricles Apart

Let's just get this over with; now's as good a time as any. I'm really wary of taking the wrong tone with this post -- it's not my objective to antagonize, though I probably will whether I intend to or not. At the same time, neither do I want to dull what is still, for me, something of a ragged edge. So all I'm going to do at the outset is emphasize that this is only my perspective on things, and I have no doubt whatsoever that some -- or to be precise, one -- will strongly object.

But fuck it, it's my blog. And I record everything else here, with the careful exception so far of anything about this. But there's no reason to avoid it anymore.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had, at least nominally, a friend I genuinely loved. That hasn't changed, except that he is no longer even nominally my friend. Which is really only an adjustment towards the truth, since I don't think he's really been my friend for a long time now -- he hasn't acted much like one, in any case, and frankly for the last six months he's been a complete dick, barely disguising his impatience with me and my presence. But finally he said as much, and so it's done.

When I first met him, almost exactly two years ago now, he was so totally different a person, or at least different to me -- he was warm, gentle-natured, engaged in amazing work and unusually aware of the world around him, and seemed to interact with it out of curiosity and love. The first phase of our friendship was marked by surprising ardor and enthusiasm on his part, to the point that I was a little overwhelmed in the beginning. But it was fun, and enthralling, and easy to fall into. It felt like a big piece of my life snapping into place. And I was so happy to have found him, whatever he turned out to be.

Since then, the friendship has gotten gradually more and more difficult to navigate. There was never one single moment when everything changed, it was more of a slow decline. It's not as if he didn't warn me that it was coming -- on my last birthday, he practically said as much. When I alluded to "next year", he responded, "if we're still talking to each other next year." At the time I was taken aback -- why would we not be talking next year? What did he expect would, or even might happen that would end with either of us refusing to talk to the other? And yet, not even a year later, I find that he's gone. And while I could probably rattle off a list of likely excuses, I don't think there's any real reason at all except that he was done with me. I've certainly made mistakes, and I have real flaws, and more than once I know I annoyed him (though no more than he annoyed me, which was beginning to be a lot and often.) But I know I didn't do anything to deserve such complete alienation. And I strongly suspect that whatever excuse finally served to sever the friendship in his mind, if it hadn't been that, it would have been the next thing. Because where you're looking for a reason, you can generally find one.

The person I know now is moody, withdrawn, condescending, often cold, over-sensitive to any perceived slight, seemingly not doing much with his immense talents on his own behalf, resentful, angry, and enthusiastic only about the parts of his life that grant him escape. That's how it looks to me, anyway. I acknowledge that I don't have the ideal vantage point, but I don't think I'm wholly imagining it, either. He insists that nothing, nothing whatever, has changed. I think the changes are so blatantly obvious that either he's lying -- either he was lying then or he's lying now -- or he has managed to convince himself. Maybe it's both. Or maybe he is the same person, and I never understood the real nature of the mind in front of me. That's the possibility that distresses me the most.

The difficulty for me is that there have always been glimpses of my original friend in there, and that's the person I grieve over having lost. That person is the reason I put up with, frankly, epic heaps of bullshit, hoping to make contact again. Maybe it was always a hopeless pursuit; maybe that person was never real, or at least never any more real than the person I finally did lose. But the memory of that person breaks my heart and brings me to tears whenever I think about him. The loss of the person I know now brings, if anything, relief. And it's hard to sort out those two conflicting realities when it's all the same person in my mind. And yet I catch myself thinking of him as two occupants of the same mind. So there's also a lot of confusion.

I don't mean to cast blame. I made the choice, very consciously, to hang around even when things started to suck. As soon as I met him, I knew I was giving him license to be a source of either happiness or sadness, and while I wish it hadn't ended this way, he never made me any promises and I'm not arguing with his departure. There's life before you meet people, and then they're there, and later they leave, and then there's life without them again. The net loss is zero.

But seeing him go felt like being torn open.

My first reaction once it all finally collapsed was despair -- why bother with people? Why bother with friendship, with loving anyone, with trusting them, why bother with letting them into your life? If this is what you get, can it possibly be worth it? His big thing right now is rationality -- which in his mind is closely tied with masculinity (meaning that I, being female, am inherently irrational and thus inherently suspect.) And there's a strong impulse to agree with him -- if emotions result in this kind of pain, surely it's better to simply get rid of your emotions? Put them in a box, put the box on a shelf somewhere in the back of your soul, and forget that you feel. It would be liberating. You'd never have to fear being abandoned, being hurt, being rejected, being left behind. You'd be safe.

But for me, that's impossible. I can only be the person I am, and that person loves. That person loves wholly, deeply, and irrevocably. Even if I could give that up, even if I could turn it off, I wouldn't choose to do so. And if he's decided to cut off the influence of emotion in his life, including those of us who attempt in whatever small ways to inflict our emotions on his sanity, then that's his choice and I won't attempt to dissuade him. But it seems to me that he's cutting out a big part of his humanity. Rationality and emotion aren't an either/or, mutually exclusive proposition. If I live a life of shifting tension between the two, then that's something I have in common with every other human being who's ever lived. Including him.

We each only get a short time to stand on the surface of this planet and look around and know that we are. The universe doesn't care about us, doesn't even register our presence. Whatever came before no longer exists; and whatever we build for the future, however robust our legacies and monuments, they will eventually collapse into irrelevance. All we really have is right now, this single moment, when we can choose to act with fear or with love. The only sources of comfort and meaning we have are the others who share the brief time we have, the people we find ourselves next to while we're here. The people we know are the only place where our existence registers. And the one thing I've learned from the people I've loved over my life so far is that there's no such thing as love lost -- giving love to others doesn't diminish one's own supply, it increases it.

I really did love you. And even if you didn't care about me at all, even if it was only ever an illusion that I was gullible enough to believe in, I'm coming away from our friendship with more love than I had coming into it. And for all the fucking heartache, it was still worth it.

At this point, I expect the response I'd get (if he were responding) is that none of what I've written is true, that I'm an irrational woman inventing a distorted version of reality out of my own faulty thinking. He would probably say that all of this exists only within my own mind. He would point to this post and my having written it as further evidence, proof that his reasons for sending me away are correct. And maybe that's all true.

But I don't think so.

For me, at the end, the only question left to answer is: even if I'd known then how it would feel now, would I still have let you in?

My answer was always yes. It's just a fucking shame, is all.

PS: I still think the photographs are amazing. I thought so before I knew you, and I still think so now. And when you take more, I'll know that the guy who was my friend is still in there somewhere. And I'll hope that he's happy.

Update: I've pulled the link to his website, not because I don't think y'all should see his photographs -- I think everyone should see them because they rock -- but because I'm trying to conceal his actual identity, and that's the one link that someone who knows neither him nor me could follow to find out who he is. So I'm severing that link. I'm considering pulling the whole post, because things in the comments have gone off in a direction that I neither anticipated nor wanted. But I haven't decided yet. And it's not like anyone actually reads this blog anyway.
4:30 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Muh-Muh-Muh-My Monona

So, yeah, I got a bike. And she's the best bike that ever biked a bike.

As you know, I've been working towards this for a long time -- it took longer to get to it than I'd hoped in the beginning. Months longer. And in fact, I was hoping to have done this last week, but a beastly heat wave made the thought of test-riding bikes on my days off seem unbearable. But finally the magical alignment between money, weather, free time, and motivation occurred, and now she sits in my room (for the time being), shiny and winking at me.

Here's the thing, though: I haven't ridden a bike in nearly twenty years. Back then, mind you, I rode a lot -- I was a road racer, routinely riding 200 miles a week, working towards junior amateur competition. It wasn't entirely by choice, though. I rode the way any normal kid does for a long time, putzing around the neighborhood, and loved it. But then I was sort of pushed to do it in a more formal, more organized way, and that's when it became something I did because I was expected to and not because I wanted to. Still, I was pretty good, as anyone would be if they rode that much. I was reasonably fast, I could ride for a long time, and riding felt as natural to me as walking. I was never really going to be competitive in any serious way -- I was fast, but not unusually fast; I wasn't strong enough to be a good climber; and while I had very good endurance, that doesn't mean much if your heart's not in it.

Eventually the source of the pressure to ride left, and not longer after I quit riding entirely. I was probably fourteen or so at the time. And I didn't get up on a bike again until my first test ride yesterday afternoon.

Obviously I was nervous. I was intimidated. There's a lot of deep bike culture in this city, much of it decidedly up itself, and I am well aware that I don't fit the image of a Portland biker. I'd originally gone to the Community Cycling Center to look for a rebuilt bike, but they didn't have anything suitable -- it was the end of the summer during a year with the highest gas prices in history, and their stock of hybrid/commuter-style bikes had been totally depleted. A friend of mine was going through the same transition from car to bike, and had recently bought one and had a good experience at a particular bike shop, so she accompanied me there. The girl who met us at the door asked me a lot of questions about what I wanted to do with it, and then took me over to the bikes. She showed me a couple -- a sweet little Cannondale that made me feel nostalgic (my old bike was a Cannondale), and two Gary Fishers. My friend had bought the other Fisher and liked it a lot, but was experiencing a little remorse over not having coughed up the extra $100 to move up to the next model and get better components. The seller recommended it highly. And it was a seriously fucking pretty bike. I was smitten.

So we went upstairs to the test track for a little ride. I sort of hate to bring out the old, "you never forget how to ride a bike" cliche, but it turns out to be true -- twenty years on, I still knew how. I was, however, really fucking bad at it. The first time I pushed off I swerved straight toward the stairs. I backed up and tried again. I got to the end of the track, but I was as wobbly as the day I first learned how to ride. I had to keep a foot down around the turn. Jesus fucking Christ, how can something that used to be so effortless now be so awkward? I rode around the track a couple more times, making an ass of myself, finally starting to figure it out again. Neither my friend nor the bike seller laughed at me at all, bless them. She tried me out on another bike for comparison's sake -- a ghastly, heavy cruiser that had so much suspension it felt like riding a marshmallow. I rejected it after one trip around (ugh) and then tried the Cannondale. It was a really nice bike, too, not quite as pretty but still lovely and $50 less. Lots to think about.

My friend and I had lunch, then went to a few more shops to look at everything that was available. I decided to go home and ponder the matter before making any decisions. But I kept thinking about that first bike I'd seen, the first one I'd ridden -- it was a little more expensive than I'd planned, but not much, and it was perfect, everything I'd wanted. So today I went back and bought her. And now she's here in my room, and I'm falling very much in love

I did take her out for our first real ride this afternoon, mostly to further test whether I really could still ride. And yes, I'm relieved to say, I can. I rode her around the block and up through the neighborhood without much trouble, not far, but farther than I'd expected. I'm ungainly and graceless, weak, and much too tentative. I have no confidence. I used to be perfectly solid and steady, I could follow a straight line halfway across the state and back. Now my front wheel weaves and I'm constantly shifting on the saddle. There's a big disconnect between what my mind thinks should be happening -- what it still remembers of riding twenty years ago, when it was easy and natural -- and what's actually happening. But it'll come back. A year from now, it'll be easy and natural again. But I've got a lot of work to do.

The good thing, though, is that even though that first real ride was hard and surprisingly exhausting (it turns out that standing for eight hours a day and riding a bike use mutually exclusive muscle groups) it was also fucking fun. Once I was up and riding, it was nothing but elation, and it lasted for the rest of the evening, long after my first short ride was over. I've got my bike! And I'm going to ride every fucking street in this city before I'm done.

Of course, it's still not the most Portland-y bike. It's too new, too shiny, too complete. It's not sexy at all. And I'm going to look like a total goob riding it for months to come. But fuck it, we've all got to start somewhere.
11:57 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, August 14, 2008
Science, Fiction

Pre-post note: I'm having a spectacularly shitty week. I haven't decided yet whether I intend to write about it -- sometimes I think I probably will, and other times I think, what's the point? And when I try, it comes out mangled and confused because most of my part in events is made up of bewilderment and a complicated mixture of sorrow, fury, philosophical resignation, and relief. It's hard to get that right in prose. So even if I do write about it here, it's going to happen later, when I've managed a bit more perspective.

But it's still been more than a week since I last posted and I want to get something up, so here's one I made earlier and put up in the freezer for just such an occasion:

I've been doing some reading.

I decided to make a superficial sweep of the science fiction section -- not trying to be exhaustive, but rather just hitting the high points, the genre benchmarks, the "classics." SF isn't really my genre, which is maybe surprising since I read so much science non-fiction and hold in high regard SF's narrative potential. But in the past, with only a few exceptions, the actual body of work always lets me down. I'd done a lot of them previously -- I've read the standard-issue Philip K. Dick, my Octavia Butler, my Gaiman, even that fascist bigot Card. And they're all okay for what they are, but they aren't what I'm looking for. I don't need a lot of fantasy in my literature, I'm not into fanboy idolatry, I really just want a well-crafted story that uses science-y ideas to explore this whole "human experience" thing in ways that might push beyond our current limitations. It's not so much to ask, right?

There are a few that do it for me: Douglas Adams is always worth reading, though I have trouble counting his books as real science fiction. It's more SF-themed comedy writing than anything. Harlan Ellison is still on my list of favorite-ever writers. I know I need to get better-acquainted with Vonnegut, and Slaughterhouse Five is next on my list. But there's got to be more out there.

I read Asimov's Nightfall years ago and really liked it, so I started on the Foundation trilogy. And it was fine, meh, whatever. Considering the entire book was basically men talking politics, it wasn't as unreadable as it might've been, but considering the series is one of the backbones of SF literature, I was hoping for something a lot more significant. I suppose it earned its place on the shelf if only for establishing so many standard SF themes, but I'm not sure that simply being the first to do what every high-minded SF novel since has also done counts for much really.

I read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash on the recommendation of a co-worker, and I hated it. It's fucking terrible! The characters were universally devoid of depth or life, the plot was annoyingly convoluted, and the forecast of a near-future United States -- written in 1992 as about twenty-five-ish years in the future, so the book is supposedly occurring more-or-less right now -- is pathetically laughable. This has always been my problem with cyberpunk. I'm sure that all of these weird little predictions about a future digital-age dystopia seemed perfectly plausible at the time, but if you're going to invent a future, it's probably best to put it out there far enough away that when you get it wrong -- which you will -- it at least seems charming. But to write about a currently-developing phenomenon as it might exist in the near future is just asking to be rendered irrelevant.

For example: major character engages in a sword fight (god help us) in the "metaverse," (virtual reality.) He slices up some random NPC's avatar. So far, totally plausible -- it happens a million times a day. But then the avatar just sort of falls apart into wiggling chunks, because the programmers apparently never thought that there would never be any call for blood and gore in virtual reality.

This book was written in 1992 -- Mortal Kombat was just coming out and being heatedly criticized for it's then-unprecedented amounts of grue. And ever since, the two primary uses of "virtual reality" have been masturbation, and butchering your friends in new, creative, blood-sprinklering ways. It's what little kids do after they get home from school every day.

Seriously, like Neal Stephenson couldn't see that coming?

It's a relatively small error, but it's the sort of thing that makes it impossible to take the story seriously. And the story is pretty bad to begin with and needs whatever help it can get, which only compounds the failure. By the end, I was begging for the fucking book to just be over already. And it was a shame, because I could see the fragments of worthwhile ideas underneath the piles upon piles of bullshit. But they all got lost under the crushing weight of an ill-devised alternate reality transposed on top of another ill-devised world.

And yet, it's a standard in the genre. A touchstone. A benchmark.

The closest thing I'm reading to a decent-quality science fiction novel right now is actually written by an author of modern westerns. I finally buckled and picked up The Road, which isn't so much science fiction as future-stone-age literary apocalypse porn, but at least McCarthy knows that the simplest ideas make the best raw material. This is some bleak, humanity-is-doomed shit, and the writing is amazing, so it has everything it needs to make a compelling book. My only complaint -- and I'm not sure that it really is a complaint, because I almost suspect it was intentional, and if it was, it would be the best proof of the writer's genius I could ask for -- is that at a certain point, around page 200, the book sort of "broke" for me.

Up until that moment it had been full-on, slit-your-wrists heavy, despairing, unbearable. But then, in a brief scene involving the spit-roasting of a certain unconventional foodstuff, it pitched headlong into black slapstick, and now I can't read it without seeing it through the lens of dark comedy. Fuck me and my Gen-X irony; the end of humanity is the last thing I might take seriously, and Cormac McCarthy had to fuck that up for me, too.

So I'm looking for some suggestions here. I want to read just one science fiction novel that transcends the genre and alters my perception of what science fiction can be. There are an awful lot of books in our SF section, so I figure there has to be one in there that'll fit the bill. And maybe one of you knows which one it is. So tell me.
11:38 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Obligatory Blog Post For The First Week Of August 2008

I have an acquaintance in town, visiting from Memphis. As it happened, I had a few days off coinciding with his visit, so I took him out and showed him around a little. He's contemplating moving to town, so I told him what I could about what it's like to live here. It probably wasn't the optimum time for me to be doing that -- I'm going through a phase where I'm feeling ragged and frayed around the edges, and a little angst-ridden. But I did my best. It's not like Portland needs a hard sell anyway.

The first night I went to hang out with him, we ended up at a bar/restaurant on Alberta. He's apparently a vegan now, so he was concerned about finding a place where he could eat -- I tried to explain to him how extensive the veggie population is here, and how universally they are provided for at every joint in town that isn't solely dedicated to animal flesh. It's a natural instinct for a southern vegetarian to worry that he won't be able to eat except in a tiny number of dining establishments, but it's just not an issue here. Still, upon selecting a pizza from the menu, he wanted to confirm that it was indeed vegan, so he asked the waitress.

"Well, it's on pita bread, so it's got wheat it in."

We looked at each other... wheat?

"Yeah, so there's yeast. Some vegans won't eat yeast."

And this has been bugging me ever since. Why the hell would a vegan refuse to eat yeast? It's a fungus, not an animal. It already resides in your gut, on your skin, and in every nook and cranny of every orifice you possess. Every time you inhale, you ingest a squillion of the motherfuckers. I mean, would a vegan refuse to eat a mushroom? So then what's the problem with yeast?

I'm thinking she was really talking about the gluten-avoiders, which is a whole other thing, but makes more sense considering the wheat warning. Either that, or this "vegan" thing has gotten waaaaay out of hand.

There's maybe/possibly some borderline interesting stuff coming up: work stuff, side-project stuff, personal transportation stuff, and pretty soon, I guess, some home-life stuff. So I expect I'll have more to talk about in the near future. I'm getting better at the daily writing (though I've missed a few mornings), and it's yielding some small benefits, mostly in the form of an uptick in my creativity and general interest level. But it also means that I don't feel like writing as much on the blog. And when I lack obvious material, I have a harder time getting myself to sit down and squeeze out one of these bullshit posts.

Sometimes I wish blogging could work both ways. The problem with this medium is that y'all can read everything about me (though why you'd want to I wouldn't hazard to guess), but I don't really get to hear anything about you. Maybe I'll start making shit up about all of you and posting that instead of the daily minutia of my own life. At least it would give us something to talk about.
7:00 PM ::
Amy :: permalink