Adventures In Innsmouth

So I recently moved to San Rafael (~30 minutes north of San Francisco) and even more recently discovered there’s a bus line (well, stagecoach, technically) all the way up to a little town called Inverness. It’s a little more than halfway up a peninsula sort of deal that has a ton of trails, parks, beaches, etc. I’ll hit those eventually, but frankly this was a lot less walking, and my shoes are not in love with hiking trails.

My day started out when I left the house 5 minutes later than I’d planned and I missed my bus by 2. I watched it sail on by as I cursed out loud in the parking lot of the professional park I was cutting through. The whole trip had been very specifically planned and was based on catching that bus on time, because Sunday schedules are touchy and this would end up putting me back at the transit station only after the last bus to my house had run.

I spent about 10 minutes on my phone doing a lot of schedule-checking and math, only to figure, fuck it, I’m doing it anyway. I was damn excited about this trip and I wasn’t going to let something like getting trapped in a city at night stop me (it’s a nice city, anyway).

I took a later bus down to the transit station (I mentioned the whole disaster to the bus driver, who was perfectly wonderful and spent the whole trip to the station trying to brainstorm a way for me to make it back after the last bus at 8:00; I’m still kicking myself for not finding out his name and writing a letter to Marin Transit about how great he was). It was 2 hours until my stagecoach left (like I said, Sundays are touchy), but I appreciated the delay since it gave me time to realize how damn chilly it was. There was a Goodwill a block away, so I popped over and got a second jacket to go under my hoodie and over my shirt. This may have been the best decision I made that day.

The stagecoach ride was about 90 minutes, and I was frequently either the only one on the bus or one of two or three. We went through some small towns and some tiny towns, but a lot of it was just winding our way through the woods. I could see clearings filled with tents through the trees.

There were cows in fields sometimes, but not like the fields in Pennsylvania that look like mud and trampled hay and some poor guy’s entire life spent milking cows and fixing machines that milk cows. These fields were huge, a square half-mile at least and rolling up over hills, and if I were ever to describe a herd of walking burgers as “ethereal”, it would be the livestock wandering those hills.

Sorry, that was making me really hungry. Okay, I’m back.

After a long ride I quite enjoyed, I got out of the bus to gray skies, four buildings along main street, and the sudden realization that everything was probably closed on Sunday. “Everything” being a general store, a post office, a Czech restaurant, and a seafood place. I took a couple minutes to seriously consider turning right back around and enjoying the long ride back.

My second realization was that Google Maps made this place look more charming and quaint than it was (partially due to the fact that all the pictures had been taken on a sunny day).

My third realization was that I’d been on the bus for quite a while and I really had to pee.

Two places were open: the general store and the Czech place. The store was more of an adapted warehouse with metal racks holding food. And no bathrooms. I had no other priorities at the time, so I left.

So, the Czech place it was (I’d like to note it specifically had a sign that said “restrooms for customers only” or something to that effect). I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures, but this may have been the only available toilet in the town on that day, so I really didn’t want to give them any reason to get pissy with me.

It was dark – the thick red drapes over the two windows were open, but it was so overcast it didn’t matter that much. There was a collection of small dark-wood tables and similar panelling. The brightest lightbulbs were over the bar, and even there they seemed on their way out. I sat close to the window so I could see and also so I could make a break for it if I had to. This place had a weird vibe.

I picked up the menu handed to me by the only waitress/hostess/owner there. They had a selection of lunches for $17 a plate (I’d missed lunch time anyway, and also seriously fuck that) and dinners for $27. I was already considering how fast I could dash into the bathroom and pee before I got kicked out when I noticed their only dessert option, apple strudel for $7. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it left me with bus fare to get back, and an honorable way to use the facilities.

The people in the restaurant were talking about generally normal things, there was an older lady talking about her cell phone bill and the woman running the bar (and everything else) was telling a group of workmen about how she was born here, but her parents were Czech immigrants who had founded the place.

I say this to be clear that there was nothing overtly wrong with the area, it just FELT off. Like when you can feel someone looking at you when you can’t see them. The bartender’s features were just a little strange, her voice just a bit too low or too high for whatever she was saying.

So I ordered and used the bathroom before the food got there. I took all my stuff with me because, again, weird vibe. The walls were covered with notes from people who’d been there in the past (“First date”, initials, generic quotes, etc). I’d seen similar before in little coffeehouses, the sorts of places that wanted to have character and never painted over them.

Maybe it was the general feel of the place, but this seemed less like a guestbook and more like… a trophy room in a serial killer’s basement. I found myself comparing handwriting from one note to the next to make sure they hadn’t just written these themselves after the last time they had to powerwash blood off the walls. I was about 70% sure there was someone watching me the whole time, but listen, at this point I was just grateful it wasn’t the woods.

I’m sorry so much of this story has turned into the epic tale of my bodily functions, but it was the driving motivation of the first hour I spent in this town so I felt like I should cover it.

I came out to the apple strudel on my table, and I knew I wasn’t going to eat again until I got home at 9ish (assuming I didn’t get stuck in the city), so I ate it while I Google Mapped the area.

Every time I stop at a little out-of-the-way place for food, I always have this fantasy that it’ll turn out to be the best food in the world and I’ll have a smug restaurant secret like EVERYONE ELSE seems to have. But usually it sucks. This sucked.

I knew I wanted to see the shipwreck (because it was a SHIPWRECK for god’s sake) and after looking at the map I decided I would head up into the woods and see if I couldn’t get some good 360 locations. Because if I was going to be a white person in a horror movie, I was damn well going to get some good shots before I died. Hopefully someone would be able to use them when they found my blood-smeared camera in a ditch.

I headed out to the shipwreck, which was indeed a wrecked ship, but a very small one – it looked like a Coast Guard patrol boat that had run aground years ago and just been left to chill there for some reason. Possibly because the Coast Guard knew better than to cross town lines into Inverness, and gave the ship up for lost the second it wandered too far up into the bay.

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This photo looks way cooler with an Oculus, by the way.

 

It was falling apart a little. A lot. There was graffiti in the cockpit (do boats have cockpits?) and the half closest to the beach was turning into a pile of scorched planks.

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It may have been the most badass patrol boat beaching in Bay Area history.

My photographing was cut a little short by a couple there for the same reason, and by “the same reason”, I mean not at all because I’m actually pretty sure he was about to propose to her. They both gave me awkward sideways glances until I packed up my shit, because I either wanted to take obnoxious pictures the whole way through or get the hell out and I was leaning strongly toward the latter. As I walked off, I heard the cadence of his voice move into “rehearsed speech” territory and after quickening my pace I turned around and saw her with her arms around his neck like they were in a goddamn Nicolas Sparks movie. He wasn’t kneeling, but the whole area was damp sand, so I’ll never be sure.

I swear to god, when they tell the story they better include the weird kid in a hoodie with the camera and Dexter hat.

At this point I want to say this whole day was so bizarre, I did not make up a single detail of this story, because I just didn’t HAVE to. The things I was thinking were weird (this place lent itself to mental hyperbole) but I promise they were my actual thoughts at the time.

Beach down, I started walking up to the woods. I had directions to where a road called “Vision” branched off from the main road, and later turned into “Mt. Vision”, so I figured there might be some sweet forest areas for picture-taking and general atmosphere.

I walked about a half mile up the road. There were cars every once in a while, people out for a Sunday drive, cyclists too (because it’s SF and there are ALWAYS goddamn cyclists). I felt like it was a nice enough area and maybe I was just paranoid because it was so gray out and my boredom was writing stories for me.

I turned down Vision Rd, the opening to which had a little tennis court occupied by two middle-aged guys who seemed to be more practicing than competing. They didn’t notice me, which was nice because I was breathing way too hard for a half-mile at a normal walking pace on a flat road. I don’t want to talk about it. The years have been cruel.

Vision Road clearly turned up a hill (oh joy) and I had my headphones off, since there was nowhere next to the road to walk and I didn’t want to get bipped by a rich asshole going exploring at 60 mph.

The houses seemed nice:

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The welcome mat says “You couldn’t afford one plank in my floor, bitch.”

If you didn’t look too closely at the spots with homemade stick-fences:

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For impaling the heads of rabbits who shit in your kale garden.

Or the weird grids cut into stumps:

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Yeah, it’s probably some weird trick to grow moss socks or something, but it’s still creepy as hell.

Or fences that looked like barricades in Skyrim:

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But I had another two hours to kill in this place and I’d be damned if I was going to sit in a burnt-out boat and browse Tumblr, so I kept going. About halfway up the hill I got to a meandering sort of crossroads, and despite my fervent prayers, confirmed that the continuation of the road I was on looked like this…

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That’s four separate warnings to get the fuck out. One standard hardware-store “POSTED No Trespassing” I’m usually happy to ignore (I’ve never met a trespass I couldn’t talk my way out of with an octave-higher, slightly ditzy voice and apologies for “not noticing the signs! oh my god! I am SO sorry! it just looked so pretty! etc”), a more official-looking road sign saying “private road”, the bottom half of which bears a hand-written sign that just says “NO EXIT” (it covers up whatever other words were on the sign, which I couldn’t make out even after getting way closer than I wanted to), and a… what the hell does that say?

I took a closer look, despite feeling like breaking the threshold to this road would leave me irrevocably cursed.

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It’s a handpainted sign, nailed to the tree and almost completely washed clean, with the words (I don’t know how clear it is from the photo) “NO MT VISION”.

Now I swear to god, if that sign had said “*NOT* Mt Vision”, like to say “this road is mislabelled on your fancy computation dee-vice and don’t lead to that there mountain y’all are lookin’ for” (sorry, I lived in Western PA my whole life and every sign in a country area automatically has that voice), I may have continued. Because hey, even if it’s not Mt. Vision, it still looks interesting.

But damn, there was something about the phrasing “No Mt Vision”. Like it was saying Mt Vision didn’t exist, and whoever told me otherwise was wrong, and I needed to turn back now.

I opened Google Maps too see why it had so callously betrayed me in directing me to Deliverance Avenue, only to get this:

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Which, I swear to GOD, was a perfectly normal connected line when I’d looked at it before.

I may be a white person in a horror movie, but I’m not THAT bad. I turned right back around and headed to the main road.

The main road was… closer to normal. I headed north for another half mile or so to try to find a more beachy location, but anything accessible was either kinda crappy or already had people there.

I was really, really eager not to miss the bus, so I turned back to the Inverness stop with plenty of time. The general store was right next to it, so I wandered into there with more of an eye for looking around and less desperation than earlier.

Now, at first glance, it might look like this is a picture of bottles in a refrigerated case with the reflection of stuffed toy animals on shelves on the other side of the aisle, because that’s a relatively sane assumption to make.

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We left “relatively sane” a few miles back.

It is, in fact, a reflection of bottles on shelves, and the toys are the ones in the case, like some sort of Toy Story asylum, if Toy Story had been way more like Silence of the Lambs.

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Come closer, Clarice.

I left the store.

This was what was waiting for me outside.

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Dear god, they’ve eaten the driver.

Luckily for me and my impassioned desire not to wait for the next bus an hour later, this was apparently just a stagecoach that had… stopped? Broken down? Honestly, I’m not sure, since I’m fairly certain it hadn’t been there three hours ago and there wasn’t another bus due within that time. But another one showed up, on time, I got in as soon as humanly possible, got back to the station, Ubered up to my house, and went to bed.

What, did you expect me to get murdered? I’m writing this. Murdered would make a better story, but… that was really just that. I don’t plan on going up there again without a car and possibly a large dog, but it’s been four days and no sign of any persistent curse. You’ll be the first to know if that changes, I promise.

Oh, and I went back on Google Maps when I got into town:

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I guess it was just a connectivity issue. Or something. You know how it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Disorganized Guide to Airports

For an unemployed 18-year-old, I fly a lot. And there’s not much to do in airports but think about all the ways you screwed up, so here’s a list of things I’ve learned about airports.

 

I. Shoes

This is something I frequently forget until I’m halfway through security: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wear shoes you can slip on and off. You don’t want to be the guy who has to pull all his opened bags off to the Bench of Shame so he can tie his shoes again. Sandals, zippers, loose sneakers, hell, this is the one time I would green-light the Crocs.

 

II. Weapons

And while we’re talking about security, I’ll sheepishly say you should always check your bags BEFORE the TSA agent does. If you’re bringing a purse or messenger bag you didn’t pack specifically with this trip in mind (I always bring the same bag I bring everywhere), you might have things that shouldn’t be on a plane. I’ve brought pepper spray by accident, and a forgotten pocketknife that made it through three security checks and Japanese customs before getting confiscated by a New York agent (New York’s a bit more concerned about these things). Even if you think you don’t have anything to worry about, look through anyway. I found three knives and a lighter in my purse five minutes ago. (I’m also a little crazy.)

 

III. Time

A rule of my father’s (a weekly-average flier) – always leave more time than you think you need. There should be at least two hours between arriving and the scheduled takeoff; ideally, more like three. Yeah, you’re gonna be sitting at the gate for a while, but it’s a good idea to leave enough time to panic over whatever you need to (I once had an airport print the wrong gate number on my boarding pass – my actual gate was on the other side of the building). Which brings me to my next advice…

 

IV. Pay Attention

Waiting for a plane is boring as hell, yes. But if you want to actually get on the plane, be aware of what’s going on with your flight. Check the boards. Find a place you can sit and watch the boards. Be really, really anal about checking the boards. Remember things often get pushed around, and your boarding pass will not magically grow that new information.

 

V. Baggage

This is something I’ve thankfully never had to experience, but I’m always a little afraid of – checked bags sometimes get lost, mislabeled, misplaced, or bumped to different flights, so always pack essentials in your carry-on. I always have toiletries and a change of clothes with me on the plane, because it’s a real possibility I’ll need to live without my checked bag for a day or two. (Checking baggage can also be expensive and irritating, so if you’re only going to be gone for a few days, just take a carry-on. Let’s face it, I wear the same five pieces of clothing most of the time anyway.)

 

VI. Don’t Panic

Yes, it’s a not-so-sneaky Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, but it’s also important: no matter how badly you just screwed up, someone is screwing up worse at any given moment. Sometimes, the most comforting thing to remember is people are idiots. Sometimes they make understandable mistakes, sometimes they make incredibly stupid mistakes no one else could possibly understand. Remember the staff have dealt with so much worse than whatever your problem is. Sure, you’ll feel silly, but the person helping you has seen it all. This goes along with the next point:

 

VII. Don’t Be a Jackass

Yes, flying is stressful, and confusing, and often happens at the worst possible hour of the day, but (and this is advice that applies anywhere) being an asshole won’t get you anywhere. The only difference between a frustrated passenger throwing a tantrum and a frustrated passenger being polite and patient is the staff WANTS to help the latter. Everyone in the airport is awake when they probably would rather not be, and most problems are simply beyond the control of the person you’re arguing with. They understand and might even sympathize with the fact that you need to get to Phoenix by 2:00, but if the plane is late, the plane is late, and complaining isn’t going to change that.

 

I’ll add to this on Thursday, when I land in SFO and have spent the day seeing all the crap I missed here…

 

 

 

Half-assed Iron Man 3 Review (OBVIOUSLY Spoilers)

(Because maybe I should start having titles that vaguely relate to the thing I’m writing about.)

First of all, I’m going to apologize in advance for any typos, non-sequiturs, wrongly used words, sentences, paragraphs, etc – I am currently throwing an increasingly gooey tennis ball for a dog who is retrieving it and demanding my attention every ten seconds, so I am ever-so-slightly distracted (more than the usual).

So as you’ve probably guessed, I saw Iron Man 3 today (also last week for an early showing, but I didn’t write it out in time to remember anything).

Okay, so the one thing that really stood out for me was OH MY GOD a major action movie just acknowledged the SHIT out of trauma and mental problems, in a way OTHER than the half-paragraph backstory for the villain of the week.

They realized, hey, this character just went through a really intense event, namely flying into a wormhole into space carrying a nuke and then freefalling back down to earth, and decided maybe there would actually be psychological repercussions to this. And dealt with it in a REALLY good way (in my opinion, please Tumblr do not kill me).

I’ll back up and explain for the five people who haven’t seen this movie yet (they’re planning on going next weekend with friends): In the latest Iron Man, Tony Stark is still dealing with everything that happened in Avengers, mostly the aforementioned wormhole incident.

Throughout the movie he gets triggered by relatively innocuous comments and has to stop everything to deal with the resulting panic attack. He treats it exactly as you could expect from the character, with witty comments and ruthless repression, but at the same time it’s not at all downplayed. The first time it happens he runs to the suit and asks JARVIS (the resident AI) if he’s having a heart attack, the next time he knows what it is but still hyperventilates, trying to explain he has anxiety issues. He has nightmares which end up activating the suit (nearly giving Pepper Potts an actual heart attack). The character is no less badass, he’s still brilliant, witty, and kills shit a lot, but now he’s got this whole layer of “holy shit maybe real people have problems after they almost die horribly.”

Marvel’s actually been getting more into this lately, choosing to humanize characters with problems the people watching might actually have. For instance, the Avengers movie (for all its faults which I’m sure I’ll write at some point) references Bruce Banner attempting suicide and failing. Not in a “maybe I should just KILL myself!” way, and not in a “haha, yeah, I tried to kill myself last year” way, but with a real sincerity that made me believe it was something the character was really going through. I don’t remember ever seeing that in a movie not specifically geared toward mental problems.

Okay, that aside, Iron Man 3 was… decent. The first watchthrough was friggin amazing but looking back that might have had more to do with the energy of 200-some fans filling the theater than the actual movie. It lacked the same “wow” factor when I saw it in a mostly-empty theater populated by the sort of people who go to see Iron Man at 3:30 on a Tuesday.

I admit I have a HUGE guilty pleasure for ridiculous, gigantic, unrealistic action sequences. I loved the A-Team movie for that very reason, I don’t care how silly it was, shit blew up and people jumped WAY too far over huge fireballs, and I enjoyed it greatly. Iron Man definitely lived up to this criteria, I’m not even ashamed to say the scene with the 40+ suits whizzing around an abandoned oil rig punching supermutants was one of the high points of the movie for me. 

Lately I’ve been hearing there are some fans who actually didn’t like Pepper Potts, which I don’t even comprehend. She is hands-down my favorite female Marvel-movie character yet. I mean, I tend to dislike Gwyneth Paltrow as a rule for whatever reason, but she is badass on pretty much every level as Pepper Potts. She dons the suit during a missile attack and controls it fairly well (I would just stand there in a panic, afraid I’m going to blow myself up at any second), gets turned into a firey mutant and beats the shit out of the bad guy, using the suit again to blow him up. Whoever is referring to her as a “whiny damsel in distress” has never seen any of the movies, ever.

Oh, and stay til the end of the credits, ’cause you’ll get an awesome scene with RDJ and Mark Ruffalo.

I need a good sign-off.

Oh well. Fuck it.

Mental Illness: It’s Not Hard to Understand

I’ve had this on my Facebook notes for probably a few years now, but it’s the sort of thing that works on here too.

I’ve noticed some people having trouble with a couple simple statements and terminology regarding mental disorders etc.

I have attempted to clear up a couple problems here.

OCD == “I have a genuine medical condition that causes me significant stress and problems in my daily life.”
OCD =/= “I have to keep things sorta neat! LOL! And I kind of like *this number.* It’s not really a problem – sometimes it’s a little fun!”
OCD DEFINITELY does not mean “Obsessive Cullen Disorder.” Whoever came up with that needs me to hit them.
PROTIP A: If you refer to your “OCD” as “fun”, you DO NOT HAVE IT.
PROTIP B: Sorta wanting something, and actually feeling like you NEED it, are two COMPLETELY different things.

Self-harm == “I feel like I cannot stop harming myself, and have no other option.”
Self-harm =/= “I, like, scraped myself with a pencil once, like, on *purpose.* Then I wrote a poem about blood, cause I’m so *emo.*”
PROTIP A: Cutting is not funny, or cool. When in doubt (or even when not, if you’re a douche), shutting up is ALWAYS a good option.
PROTIP B: You may be able to relate to my feelings of depression, but don’t try to relate to my cutting/other self-harm problems if you haven’t, you know, DONE it. Trust me, I feel bad enough that I did it. I don’t need to hear your saga about how you *almost* did it, but were stronger and beat it with positive thinking or the power of God or whatever. This DOES NOT HELP.

Depression == “I spend most of the day feeling like there’s no point and I can’t go on.”
Depression =/= “I got a B on my test today. I was mad for a little bit. Then I went to go play sports and forgot about it.”

Suicidal thoughts == “I want to kill myself.” (This SHOULD be simple to understand…)
Suicidal thoughts =/= “Oh my god! I embarrassed myself in front of the class today! I just want to SHOOT myself!!! …hey, do you want to play volleyball?!”
PROTIP: If you’re going to make a dumbass suicide comment, at least be reasonably sure the person/persons to whom you are speaking are not actually considering it.

Rape == Anything sexual done to a person, without that person’s consent.
Rape =/= “A bad movie.” It does not equal “this song I don’t like.” It does not equal “that thing I laugh about because I don’t really like to think about it.” IT DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ELSE. EVER.
(I realize this doesn’t quite belong in a “mental health” file, exactly, but I’m gonna say it anyway, cause it needed to be said.)

Medication == “I kind of need this doctor-prescribed, dose-regulated, scientifically approved substance in order to function properly. I may not need it someday, but right now, I do.”
Medication =/= “I’m taking drugs whenever I want.”
Medication =/= “I’m weak and can’t deal with things on my own.”
Medication is not from the devil or whatever your preacher/pastor/priest/bishop/cardinal/pope/Flying Spaghetti Monster/Inquisitioner/L. Ron Hubbard told you. And just because I’m taking it doesn’t mean I’m making you do the same.

The Psych Ward == The place you send people when they are in imminent danger of causing SERIOUS physical damage to themselves or others.
The Psych Ward (sometimes) == The place you threaten people with (I’m sorry; it’s true).
The Psych Ward =/= That place with the magical wands that makes people happy again! You should send every depressed friend here! It will help them!
PROTIP A: Psych wards are not day-long therapy centers. They are emergency prisons that make it harder for immediately-suicidal people to commit suicide. (I said they make it harder. They definitely do not make it impossible.) Cutting does not mean immediately suicidal. Psych wards are last-ditch, desperate actions, not casual plans.
PROTIP B: Psych wards, in a word, suck. If you haven’t been there, you probably have an image of a sort of boring hotel room and relaxation techniques. No. Just… no. The people at Psych Wards do not know how to deal with mental illness any more than most people. Their job is to prevent people from dying, and not get sued. I have a feeling lawsuits are a very big deal with those places, because they would rather do nothing than risk doing the *wrong* thing. Problem there is, “nothing” IS often the wrong thing to do.

WHAT IS SAID:
“I feel like I’m drowning and I don’t know how to stop it.”
WHAT YOU SHOULD HEAR:
“I feel like I’m drowning and I don’t know how to stop it.”
WHAT MANY PEOPLE HEAR:
“I just want attention. I’m whiny. Don’t bother with me.”
PROTIP: It is rare, in my experience, but sometimes people fake or exaggerate depression for attention. And sometimes people kill/hurt themselves because everyone thought they just wanted attention. Keep this in mind.

WHAT IS SAID:
“I feel depressed.”
WHAT YOU SHOULD HEAR:
“I feel depressed.”
WHAT MANY PEOPLE DO HEAR:
“I’m too weak to regulate my emotions. I need a cheery pep talk about how to lighten up and see the bright side! That will solve all my problems!”

WHAT IS SAID:
*explains something bad that happened*
WHAT MANY PEOPLE HEAR:
“I REALLY want to hear YOUR sad story! Don’t listen to mine, tell me YOURS!”

WHAT IS SAID:
“I hate it when people invade my space. I have a pretty big personal bubble. *hinthintstophuggingmewithoutasking*”
WHAT MANY PEOPLE HEAR:
“Except you, obviously. Go right ahead!”

This is really just a personal-experience thing. I don’t profess to have a deep knowledge of psychology. If you have anything to fix or add, comment and all that good stuff.

Caffeine makes me write things

This post is for the THOUSANDS of writers who are watching this blog. 🙂 Well, okay, there are actually about three, but I like to pretend I’m important.

Don’t ask me why, but somehow I got on the mental subject of dwarves vs. elves in Tolkien. I realized not only did I hate pretty much all of the elves (high elves, at least), I also disliked Thorin quite a bit, and it was for the same reason: they all seemed biologically incapable of having fun.

I don’t know if this is the same for a lot of readers/viewers, but I cannot connect to a character who doesn’t have a sense of humor. It holds true in all forms of media, and I’ve got almost no exceptions jumping to mind – if the character doesn’t crack a smile, I do. Not. Care.

A lot of writers try to get you to sympathize with a character by throwing you handfuls of his pain right off the bat. The writer knows him and has reason to give a shit about his pain; I do not. I will never, ever cry over a character who didn’t first make me laugh.

He doesn’t have to be witty, or a joker, or a party animal, but I need to see that he has life and feeling outside The Plot. When I start a story, I’m looking down into it from the sky, and if I don’t have reason to come down, I won’t. I can stay a spectator for the whole ride, and I won’t remember a thing about it once it’s over. Humor connects me to him. It makes me feel like I’m engaged in the story, I’m involved, I’m interacting. I don’t want to watch, I want to see.

It doesn’t have to be constant, it certainly doesn’t mean he can’t be serious: in fact, it will help me take him seriously. It’s like having two teachers: one who always tells you how great your work is, and one who shoots you down most of the time. When the second teacher says I did well, I know it means something because it’s so unusual. When a character with a sense of humor takes something seriously, so will I, because it means something now.

Fiction that did this right:
Everything Joss Whedon does
BBC’s Being Human
Harry Potter

Fiction that didn’t:
The Walking Dead
Lost

Fiction that did this really well and really badly:
Criminal Minds
Doctor Who

Joss Whedon is a master of this, especially with his female characters, because that’s where most writers screw up. They’re so preoccupied with trying to make their females really super cereal you guys that I never care. Joss gets that girls can relax and joke around and still be serious characters.

I’ve never connected with characters like I connected with everyone in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the reason never occurred to me til now: so much of the show revolved around their lives, just being together and having fun and making sarcastic comments, and when things got bad I cared. I’ve never cried over fictional characters like I cried over that fucking show, and I loved it, because I was right there the whole time.

___

Being Human UK was the same thing – so much of it was dark and angsty, but enough of it was happy and real that I felt for them. I even fell in love with the onscreen romances (which I usually despise) because I already loved the characters, I’d seen them screwing around like the best friends they all were, and of course they would be together and that’s wonderful because they’re happy together.

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Rowling was the first author I ever saw do this well. She even made us care about the Omniscient Wizard, because he ate Lemon Drops and wanted socks for Christmas, and blushed about ear muffs, and I knew him within three paragraphs. I cared the shit out of his death.
(Yes, I know Gandalf came first, I didn’t read Tolkien when I was 7, stfu.)

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I wouldn’t be bothered if most of the Walking Dead characters died in the next episode. I really wouldn’t. They don’t matter to me. I’ve never seen them anything but miserable, so their misery doesn’t make an impact on me.

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I also never cared about most of the Lost characters – Locke, Sawyer, Charlie, Hurley, and Desmond were among the few exceptions, for the reasons I’ve been explaining in the rest of this post.

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Oh, Criminal Minds. The best and worst of female characterization can be found in your formulaic plots, and unfortunately this can’t just be blamed on the humor thing.

I ask this of anyone who knows this show fairly well: right now, think of one defining character trait for each of the male characters. Mine were: Reid is insecure about his place, Morgan puts on a macho attitude he built over years of living in a poor area, Hotch is demanding and a bit cold but still cares, Rossi likes women a lot, Gideon is arrogant but with reason.

Now think of one defining character trait in any of the female team members (Emily, JJ, or Elle). I can’t think of one. They are completely interchangeable, they are The Female Characters. I don’t dislike them, but I’d prefer it if I did, because at least I’d have reason to notice they exist.

Penelope Garcia is the one woman they wrote so right it astounds me, and even then it seemed to be a bit of a copy off NCIS.

Anyway, the point is, they went halvsies on whether or not we like the fucking characters.

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Doctor Who gave me so many companions I loved (Donna, Amy, Rory) that when I got the “eh” ones (basically Martha) it sucked even more. Martha was in love with The Doctor, I guess. I don’t know. Didn’t make a difference to me either way, I didn’t know her enough to care.

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What I’m saying with all this is, vaguely, don’t expect me to feel something just because you told me I should. You can show your character crying in the rain for pages and pages, if I wasn’t connected, I’ll never blink. Take the time to show me why I need to care. Make me fall in love with this character, and then I’ll feel whatever emotion you want me to have.

There’s a new post here

The question of nature vs. nurture has been a longstanding battle in my family – I hold more to the belief that people are heavily affected by their surroundings, while my brother insists behavior is largely determined by genetics.

Conversations I’ve had with my parents over the last few years have made me wonder how much of me is comprised of them, and why. I can attribute our similar musical tastes to the fact that they shared an enjoyment of the same music my mother later played from CDs during my first 10 years, leaving me with fond memories and associations with their favorites.

Other things are a little hard to explain. For instance, it wasn’t until I ended up in the psych ward with a bleeding wrist and a blank expression that both my parents started admitting that we had more in common than had previously been brought up.
I’ve scoured my childhood, and I can say with fair authority that there is no reason for me to be as screwed up as I am. Some of it I brought on myself (I was a very curious child with a fast-maturing brain and an Internet connection), but some things just have no reason to be here.

My father and I are both very angry people. We don’t live our lives in misery, we can be perfectly happy, polite, witty, well-adjusted people for the most part, but there are times when I am hit with the most intense, bone-deep RAGE like I’m transforming from a person into a volcano, and I know he feels the same way, and neither of us really know WHY.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d grown up differently, if I’d gone to a public school, if I’d put away the laptop more often, if I’d lived in a different house or a different town or a different religion, and it all keeps coming back to the fact that I was brought up in a way that, if genetics don’t affect things, should have left me calm, secure, and patient. I never in my life doubted I was loved and safe, I spent my time reading and writing, school involved more climbing waterfalls and going to museums than tests and multiplication, punishments were a stern lecture and once or twice a light swat to reinforce “don’t bite your sister’s nose off.” My concept of pain was jumping off a swing a little bit late and twisting an ankle, my concept of fear was Shyamalan’s The Village (SHUT UP that movie is terrifying when you’re seven).

I won’t say my childhood had no effect on me, on the contrary, it drastically changed the way I reacted to the explosive bursts of anger. If I had grown up with fighting parents, apathetic teachers, violent/abusive family members, severe punishments… If I had been surrounded with fear, anger, pain, or resentment, I have no doubt I would have committed at least one felony by now. I’d probably be smart enough not to be in prison for it, but if I hadn’t learned control from an early age, I would have exploded by now.

My control isn’t built on discipline, it’s not rigid and brittle. In a military family I probably would have become scrupulously good at covering my tracks, but that’s as far as a strict regimen of self-control could take me.

My control is based on what I saw from numerous places as a child: other people’s feelings are just as important as mine. If I said something rude or hurtful to another person, my mother wouldn’t just issue a reprimand and an order to be respectful, she would explain how that made the other person feel, and help me to see how I would have felt in the opposite situation. She would tell me if she was hurt or offended by someone I said. She impressed on me when I was young that adults can feel sad, lonely, or confused, which I don’t think is shown very often to children – so many adults just convert that feeling into “well that little brat” and be angry about it instead.

I was also shaped quite powerfully by books. At five or six, I would happily sit on the couch and haltingly read aloud from the Chronicles of Narnia books, stopping and asking my mother when I hit a word I didn’t understand (on a side note, there is a grand total of one swearword in that series, and I found it almost immediately).

Books were very important to my development because they gave me a perspective hard to come by when you’re young: the idea that everyone else is thinking and feeling, just like me, all the time. Books gave me a chance to live someone else’s life, to see into their heads and be happy or angry or sad right along with them. Empathy has always been a part of me because I was never isolated in my own mind, never locked in one body or a single pair of eyes.

And so, though I have been hit with many powerful waves of rage over the years, I have never once slapped, punched, kicked, or otherwise hurt anyone. I’ve shouted, I’ve had my share of violent thoughts and daydreams, I’ve locked myself in my room and listened to loud music, I’ve beaten the shit out of pillows and trees, I’ve cried and scribbled in journals and watched tv to forget about everything, but I’ve never hurt anyone. THAT, I can say for sure, is a product of my upbringing.

(Incidentally, a lot of the anger went toward protecting the people around me, also a side effect of the empathy. I still can’t watch or read news reports about injustices, corruption, or abuse of power, because I start getting into a Dextrous mindset and a more righteous fury starts up, which in the end doesn’t do anything but drag me into that pit again.)

Our pasts don’t determine everything about us, but they’re a strong influence on how we deal with the things we can’t control. My overly-curious nature took my genetic tendency toward OCD and blew it up into a huge problem, but my intense sense of empathy has made me an essentially good person after everything.

I’m going back to Walking Dead now.

FINALLY wrote down everything I hated about Inception

“Inception” is one of those rare movies that (for me anyway) seem to make perfect sense in the theatre, but once really considered…. don’t. (Usually when I watch a “mind-bender” movie, it seems confusing until I look back on it at which point it all becomes clear.)

I’ve never met a movie that seemed like the concepts (specifically Limbo and totems) had been created by one person or group, then passed off to someone else who didn’t REALLY understand what the original writers meant, but decided to take a stab at it anyway. For this reason, I feel fine to forgive anyone who misrepresents aspects of the plot, because they’re really only repeating the bits of the plot that were WRONG.

I’ll go through the many-faceted problems with both ideas that make this movie… suck.

Okay, the movie didn’t suck, exactly – a lot of independent bits of it were fantastic: soundtrack, camera work, effects, acting, the dialogue was passable if not amazing – in short, it was worth watching and worth enjoying (also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy heckle each other pretty much the whole movie). The plot was just such shit it was hard to fully appreciate everything else.

Anyway, onward:

LIMBO: It made no sense. It wasn’t that it wasn’t explained well, it wasn’t that it was too complicated to understand, it just DID NOT WORK as a concept. (If anyone disagrees and wants to explain it in a way that covers all the shit I’m about to drop on it, go for it, I’d love to be able to respect this movie.)

If you’re thinking of the dream world as a building, the waking world is the fourth floor (for the purposes of the movie). A dream is the third floor, a dream within a dream is the second, a dream within a dream within a dream is the third (as deep as the technology will allow them to go), and Limbo is the basement. If you are killed in a dream you wake up on the next level up (as is shown in the opening). However, to go down to the first floor (the third dream deep), the dream has to be stabilized with powerful sedatives. With these sedatives in a dreamer’s system, he cannot be woken with a dream-death. When he dies in a dream, he is dropped into Limbo. Time increases exponentially as you go into more dream levels, so Limbo lasts for hundreds of years, trapping the dreamer – at least that’s how it was initially explained.

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There are several problems with this, the most obvious being that Limbo was not in fact the prison it was originally described to be. It is made clear that if one dies in Limbo, HE WAKES THE FUCK UP. Mal and Cobb are “trapped” in Limbo for 50 years, but ALL THEY HAVE TO DO is jump under a train, and they are transported back to reality. (Unfortunately this solution does not leave the subconscious once you’ve escaped, but that bit was relatively consistent so it won’t be much about that in here.)

So what’s the problem? Why the hell is everyone so afraid of falling into Limbo?

I’ve got no idea, and I don’t think the writers did either.

It didn’t occur to me until I was writing the first bit that the basic concept of Limbo, i.e. that if one dies in a dream while sedated he drops into the “basement” level, was grossly misused by their own logic.

In the opening sequence with Saito, Dominic Cobb, Arthur, and the original architect Nash, it’s established that if you die in a lower level of a dream, you do NOT wake up in reality, only in the next level up – you’re only taking the elevator up to the next floor. The only level on which you are actually sedated is reality.

Imagine a short circuit in the elevator that won’t let it pass the third floor (it’s an electronic elevator, stfu). It’s perfectly functional until then, because they cannot use the sedative on any level beyond reality. Sedative does not EXIST on any other level, because NOTHING exists on any other level; the worlds exist entirely in the mind of whomever is dreaming at the time. It’s pointed out that although you can feel pain in a dream, it’s only painful because your mind expects it to be; the physical effects of something like a drug can’t happen.

Because of this, Limbo is only valid if you’re killed on the first level of the dream – if we’re back in the elevator, a dream-death is just going up to a higher floor. The elevator works just fine until it gets past the third floor, at which point it glitches, the lights blink, and it plunges down to the basement (in this analogy the elevator was designed by Microsoft).

To try to be a little less convoluted, the sedative only prevents consciousness in reality, NOT consciousness in higher dream levels. Ariadne, Fischer, and Cobb, killed on the first floor or third level, should have just risen to the second. (Saito died on the first level and would in fact have dropped into Limbo.)

Remember, the items (including drugs) you’re seeing on any floor below the fourth (reality) DO NOT EXIST. They are all supplied by the dreamer.

This brings me to the next problem, totems, which are more misunderstood than actually wrong. In short, the writers done fucked up. They were very unclear on this point and a lot of viewers got the wrong idea (leading to the pointless debates about the final shot).

Totems do not do not DO NOT tell you if you’re in a dream. The ONLY function of totems is to tell you if you’re in SOMEONE ELSE’S dream. If you’re in a foreign dream, the person who created it doesn’t know exactly what the totem feels or acts like, so checking it tells you that whoever brought this item into the dream had never physically interacted with it. They can replicate everything else perfectly, but if there is one physical item only you know completely, you’ll never be fooled (that’s why it’s so important that no one ever touch anyone else’s totem).

Leonardo DiCaprio completely misrepresented his little spinning top by implying that it would indicate a state of reality or lack thereof, thereby creating a superficially clever ending that didn’t matter at all if you understood what was going on.

That’s right: if the top had fallen at the end, it would have told us NOTHING about whether or not the movie’s events were “real.”

DiCaprio implied the top was governed by some sort of “dream physics” which prevented it from falling. Dream physics do not exist; that’s the point of a fucking dream. The top is governed by the subconscious of whomever is actually dreaming at the time. (I’m assuming it had two functions: the weight and feel of it indicated whether or not he was in someone else’s dream (because it WOULD fall in their dream; there’s no reason for it not to, also I just put quotation marks within quotation marks because INCEPTION POST), and if he was in his, the top would keep spinning because he wanted it to. Those are genuinely the mechanics of it.)

If the top had spun for an hour, it obviously would have been a dream, but if it had fallen, it would mean A) it was reality, OR B) Cobb subconsciously wanted or expected it to be reality. This leaves us with the exact same question we’d had the whole time; its falling would have resolved nothing.

I’m going to troll and put a spoiler warning down here, because if you haven’t seen Inception yet, you’re not worth my fucking spoiler warning. Get a TV and leave the house once in a decade.