[I feel, based on my own reactions each time I think about the loss described here, like I should provide some kind of content-warning to avoid ruining someone's day if this is their nightmare fuel. But I'm really not sure what form this warning should take.]( Linda Ronstadt describes what she can't do. May be upsetting to artists. Many people may just calmly think 'oh, that's sad'. )
I knew musicals could cheer me up, but I’d never heard of one that gave me new tools to deal with chronic illness and depression. Yet when I saw Groundhog Day last Wednesday, I was so stunned by what a perfect, joyous metaphor it was for battling mental illness that I immediately bought tickets to see it again that Saturday.
I would have told you about this before, but it was too late. The show closed on Sunday. A musical that should have run, well, for as long as Phil Connors was trapped in his endless time loop only got a five-month run.
But I can tell you about it.
I can tell you why this musical made me a stronger, better person.
So let’s discuss the original Groundhog Day movie, which is pretty well-known at this point: Bill Murray is an asshole weatherman named Phil who shows up under protest to do a report from Punxatawney, Philadelphia on Groundhog Day. He’s trapped in town overnight thanks to a blizzard. When Phil wakes up the next morning, it’s Groundhog Day again. And again. And again.
Phil goes through several phases:
- Incredulous as he can’t believe what’s happening to him;
- Gleefully naughty as he uses his knowledge of people’s future actions to indulge all his greatest fantasies;
- Frustrated as he tries to romance Rita, his producer, but he’s too cynical for her and nothing convinces her to hop in bed with him unless everyone else in town;
- Depressed as he realizes that his life is shallow and there’s no way he can escape;
- Perplexed as he tries to rescue a dying homeless man but realizes that nothing he can do on this day will save this poor guy;
- And, finally, beatific as he uses his intense knowledge of everything that will happen in town today to run around doing good for people.
Naturally, that’s a great emotional journey. It’s no wonder that’s a story that’s resonated with people.
Yet Groundhog Day changes just one slight emotional tenor about this – and that change is massive.
Because when Bill Murray’s character gets to the end of his journey, he’s actually content. He’s achieved enlightenment where he enjoys everything he does, toodling around on the piano because he’s formed Punxatawney into his paradise. He laughs at people who ignore him. He’s satisfied.
And when Rita, who senses this change even though she doesn’t understand why, bids everything in her wallet to dance with him at the Groundhog Dance, the Bill Murray Phil is touched but also, on some level, serene.
Andy Karl’s Phil is not happy.
We spend a lot more time in Andy’s Phil’s headspace, and at one point he breaks down because of all the things he’ll never get to do – he’ll never grow a beard, he’ll never see the dawn again, he’ll never have another birthday. Anything he does is wiped away the next morning.
Bill Murray’s Phil gets so much satisfaction out of his constantly improving the town that his daily circuit has become a reward for him.
Andy Karl’s Phil is, on some level, fundamentally isolated. People will never know him – at least not without hours of proving to them that yes, he is trapped in this time loop, he does know everything about them. No matter what relationships he forms, he’ll have to start all over again in a matter of hours. There’s no bond he can create that this loop won’t erase.
And so when Rita finally dances with Bill Murray, it’s shown as a big romantic moment. And in the musical –
In the musical, Rita moves towards Phil and everything freezes in a harsh blue light except for Phil.
This is everything Phil has ever wanted in years, maybe decades, of being in this loop – and instead of being presented as triumphant, everything goes quiet and Phil sings a tiny, mournful song:
But I’m here
And I’m fine
And I’m seeing you for the first time
And the reason that brings tears to my eyes every fucking time is because this Phil is not fine – he repeats the lie in the next verse when he says he’s all right. Yet this is the happiest moment he’s had in years, finally understanding what Rita has wanted all along, and this moment too will be swept away in an endless series of morning wakeups and lumpy beds and people forgetting what he is.
Yet that mournful tune is also defiant, and more defiant when the townspeople pick it up and start singing it in a rising chorus:
And I’m fine
Phil knows his future is nothing.
Yet that will not stop him from appreciating this small beauty even if he knows it will not stay with him. Trapped in the groundhog loop, appreciating the tiny moments becomes an act of rebellion, a way of affirming life even when you know this moment too will vanish.
Can you understand that this is depression incarnate?
Which is the other thing that marks this musical. Because I said there was joy, and there is. Because when Andy Karl’s Phil enters the “Philanthropy” section of the musical (get it?), he may not be entirely happy but he is content.
Because he knows that he may not necessarily feel joy at all times, but he has mastered the art of maintenance.
Because tending to the town of Punxatawney is a lot of work. He has to run around changing flat tires, rescuing cats, getting Rita the chili she wanted to try, helping people’s marriages. (And as he notes, “My cardio never seems to stick.”)
When Bill Murray’s Phil helps people, it seems to well up from personal satisfaction. Whereas Andy’s Phil is thrilled helping people, yes, but his kindness means more because it costs him. On some level he is, and will forever be, fundamentally numb.
This isn’t where he wanted to be.
Yet he has vowed to do the best with what he can. He helps the townspeople of Punxatawney because even though it is a constant drain, it makes him feel better than drinking himself senseless in his room. He doesn’t get to have everything he wanted – also see: depression and chronic illness – and it sure would be nice if he could take a few days off, but those days off will make him feel worse.
He’s resigned himself to a lifetime of working harder than he should for results that aren’t as joyous as he wanted.
And that’s okay. Not ideal, but…. okay.
And I think the closest I can replicate that in a non-musical context is another unlikely source – Rick and Morty, where Rick is a suicidal hypergenius scientist who’s basically the Doctor if the Doctor’s psychological ramifications were taken seriously. And he goes to therapy, where a therapist so smart that she’s the only person Rick’s never been able to refute says this to him:
“Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness.
“You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse. And I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control.
You chose to come here, you chose to talk to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces, your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.
“I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die.
“It’s just work.
“And the bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people well, some people would rather die.
“Each of us gets to choose.
“That’s our time.”
And yes, Groundhog Day the musical is – was – about that lesson of maintenance, as Andy comes to realize that “feeling good” isn’t a necessary component for self-improvement, and works hard to make the best of a situation where, like my depression, even the best and most perfect day will be reset come the next morning.
And yes. There is a dawn for Andy’s Phil, of course, and he does wake up with Rita, and you get to exit the theater knowing that no matter how bad it gets there will come a joyous dawn and you get to walk out onto Broadway and so does Phil.
But you don’t get to that joy without maintenance.
And you might get trapped again some day. That, too, is depression. That, too, is chronic illness. We don’t know that Phil doesn’t get trapped on February 3rd, or March 10th, or maybe his whole December starts repeating.
But he has the tools now. He knows how to survive until the next dawn.
Maybe you can too.
Anyway. There’s talk that Groundhog Day will go on tour, maybe even with Andy Karl doing the performances. He’s brilliant. Go see him.
The rest of you, man, I hope you find your own Groundhog Day. I saw mine. Twice.
Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s vanished.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
From the Quotation of the day mailing list, 2017-03-08:
"I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English." -- Philip Roth, novelist
(submitted to the mailing list by Mike Krawchuk)
It used to be that I never wrote fic for a canon that I hadn't finished, but anyone who knows me and my relationship kinks (specifically, separation and reunion) will probably not be surprised that I was taken by the urge to write about one particular scene. ( Cut for spoilers. )
I'm sure this moment has been ficced a thousand times, but I learned my lesson about looking for fic when I'm behind on a canon from Dragon Age. ;) So for now I'll just present my own quick take on the scene; maybe once I've finished the Balance storyline I'll revisit it with the full knowledge of anything relevant that happens later. Note, I'm still early in the arc that follows Eleventh Hour (The Suffering Game; I've only listened to the first episode) so please no spoilers for anything later in comments.
Title: Magnus Knows
Fandom: The Aventure Zone
Rating: All audiences
Characters: Magnus, the Chalice, Magnus/Julia
Spoilers: Yes, through Ep. 48 (The Eleventh Hour, Chapter 8)
Notes: See above :)
( Magnus knows. )
"Just because your electronics are better than ours, you aren't necessarily superior in any way. Look, imagine that you humans are a man in LA with a brand-new Trujillo and we are a nuhp in New York with a beat-up old Ford. The two fellows start driving toward St. Louis. Now, the guy in the Trujillo is doing 120 on the interstates, and the guy in the Ford is putting along at 55; but the human in the Trujillo stops in Vegas and puts all of his gas money down the hole of a blackjack table, and the determined little nuhp cruises along for days until at last he reaches his goal. It's all a matter of superior intellect and the will to succeed.
Your people talk a lot about going to the stars, but you just keep putting your money into other projects, like war and popular music and international athletic events and resurrecting the fashions of previous decades. If you wanted to go into space, you would have."
-- George Alec Effinger (not sure which story -- I can find lots of sites repeating that it is from Live! from Planet Earth, but I haven't seen any saying which story in that anthology the quotation is from)
"As long as we're valuing capital over labor, we have a future in store that's owned by the 0.0001% where the rest of us get to pay for the privilege of being allowed to breathe their air and live on property they own. Where I get stuck at is how we get out of this bind--with people like the Mercers and the Kochs and the various Putin-orbit oligarchs holding the rights to so much of the world's wealth, how do we devalue, divest, and otherwise claw back those resources to a place where we can use them for the good of society, rather than the plutocrats?" -- Boussinesque, commenter at Balloon Juice [thanks to realinterrobang for quoting this earlier]
"The ideal government will have the values of the Federation, the business acumen of the Ferengi, the sense of honor of the Klingons, and the subtlety of the Romulans. Our current government has the values of the Romulans, the business acumen of the Federation, the sense of honor of the Ferengi, and the subtlety of the Klingons." -- Harold Feld, 2017-09-12 [Yes, it's intended to be recognizeable as a new take on the old joke about heaven and hell.]
As a reminder, I’ll be at Pandemonium Books and Games (which is an awesome store even in the absence of me) at 7:00 tomorrow to read to you, sign whatever you put in front of me, and probably go out for drinks and/or ice cream afterwards.
I hope to see you there! These donuts aren’t gonna eat themselves.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
"What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt
I’ve seen a post going around about how bland British food is. And having spent eight months there long ago, and never finding a burger that wasn’t cooked halfway to crisp but in the American restaurant, I can agree on some things (granted, this was the height of the mad cow scare). You think pineapple on a pizza is weird? Try canned corn.
But every time someone claims British food is bland, I remember stepping into a bakery in Bath and buying an eclair made that morning, a crisp shell filled with fresh whipped cream (none of that yellow pastry-cream goo, feh) and glazed with a sweet dark layer of rich chocolate.
I could get piping hot pasties stuffed with fluffy potato and just enough sharp cheese to be a delicious meal in itself; the pastry would crumble into thin buttery flakes. Or sausage rolls with sausage that was sausage, all the way through, and not laden with old pepper the way the American stuff is. In fact, the sausages by themselves were mellow, subtly flavored links that were just greasy enough and not too greasy.
I could sit down in a teashop and get raisin teacakes slathered in melted butter, sweet and salty and oh so good. Or a plate of scones; delicate, dense rounds just barely sweet, to be split and spread with the heavy richness of clotted cream and topped with the garnet sharp-sweetness of strawberry jam. Nothing will ever match scones and cream; I dream about it.
More varieties of cheese than I knew existed, and all locally made. Good chocolate, not some poor excuse that has only enough cacao to meet the legal minimum--chocolate that came in textures. Golden, crunchy filled cookies that bore as much resemblance to an Oreo as fresh-made mousse does to canned pudding. Candy bars with layers of chocolate, caramel, and delicate wafers that had actual flavor, not just a blast of sweetness. The indescribable weirdness of the Crunchie bar.
If you think British food is bland, you just haven’t tried the right thing yet.
"When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of Hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay." -- Brian Aldiss (b. 1925-08-18, d. 2017-08-19)
[I think Aldiss is seriously overstating the case here, but found the metaphor interesting.]
So this fall I’ll be premiering my “You’re Far Away But Your Hearts Are Close” class on running successful long-distance relationships. And to make that work, I gotta ask y’all:
What would you like to see taught in a class about long-distance relationships?
Some of the questions I’m planning on answering to the best of my ability are:
- How can you tell if someone’s genuine online?
- What are the best practices for transitioning from an LDR into a “real life” relationship?
- How do you handle arguments when you’re not able to cuddle and heal properly afterwards?
- How does New Relationship Energy affect LDRs?
- What sorts of relationships can LDRs offer?
But the classes I teach are for you (especially if you’re attending The Geeky Kink Event, Beyond The Love, or Indegeo Conception this fall – so I ask you, “What issues with long-distance relationships would you like to see covered in an LDR class?” I can’t promise I’ll bring it up, but in the best case you might inspire an essay or two later on.
So. What sorts of long-distance relationship issues are you curious about?
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
"As long as we are not actually destroyed, we can work to gain greater understanding of other peoples and to try to present to the peoples of the world the values of our own beliefs. We can do this by demonstrating our conviction that human life is worth preserving and that we are willing to help others to enjoy benefits of our civilization just as we have enjoyed it." -- Eleanor Roosevelt (b. 1884-10-11, d. 1962-11-07), My Day (newspaper column) 1961-12-20
Salvatore doesn’t remember me. I’d lay money on that. I was merely one of his victims, and probably not the most interesting.
He terrorized an entire middle school, after all.
Salvatore won the adolescence lottery – while the rest of us were still waiting on deliveries of impending hormones, he got his testosterone nice and early, shooting up to six feet tall before he finished sixth grade. He dwarfed teachers. And he wore wifebeater shirts to show off his muscular arms and had one deep, bellowing call:
If Salvatore saw you, and you weren’t clutching books protectively to your chest, he would punch you in the chest as hard as he could.
I got hit twice. All it took.
So I clasped my books against my chest like it was a baby, hunching my entire body around it, as did everyone else around me. People in the halls scurried, because when Salvatore hollered his call even the teachers mysteriously disappeared.
I’m forty-eight years old. It has literally been thirty-five years since I had to worry about Salvatore.
But my body has still not unclenched.
I know this because I’m in personal training right now, and they are panicked about my posture. They point out all the muscles that have atrophied because I am a habitual slumper, the damage I’m doing to my spine. They give me exercises specifically to strengthen my neck because my head hangs forward.
It’s been a month, and when I walk the dog, it’s now uncomfortable to slump. I have too many aches in those clusters, so it’s easier to stand straight up with my spine properly aligned.
And I feel like an idiot.
I don’t have some crazy worry that Salvatore will appear out of nowhere and punch me – that’s the sort of simplistic one-to-one bullshit that bad writers think up. No, Salvatore’s crumbled into a finer sediment.
What I feel when I walk properly straightened is foolish. Because I grew up in a middle school where, because of Salvatore, “standing straight” was a form of pride. Few kids stood up straight, and those that did usually got cut down something fierce by Salvatore, or had their own unique middle school qualities that made them unappealing to Salvatore’s form of bullying.
I’m not afraid of standing straight. It feels preposterous. I feel like people are staring at this idiot walking by with the puffed-out chest and the straight-ahead vision, this Frankenstein bodybuilder’s swagger, and who the hell does that guy think he is?
Yet when a photo of my recent book signing – which, I should add, I’m doing another one in Boston next week, and in San Francisco the week after – surfaced on Facebook, people didn’t recognize me at first. “You’re looking a lot younger and you seem to be more comfortable standing,” said a friend who’s known me for a decade. If people notice the way I’m standing, it’s probably a positive impression.
Yet there’s Salvatore.
And there’s all sorts of other memories churned up by walking properly. I’m not craning my head down to see my feet, so I can’t see where I’m stepping directly, which makes me anxious because I had issues in gym class that caused me to self-identify as a clumsy kid and oh God I’m going to trip why am I walking like this. I read while I walked on the way to school, and subconsciously I’m angling myself to read the book – or, now, the phone – that I should be looking at while I bumble along.
(Note that #2 contradicts #1. The archaeology of my memories do not have to make sense when combined.)
And I’ve never thought about these. It’s just ancient history silently bending me into another shape. It’s only once I struggle to break free of this that I see how many influences I’ve quietly absorbed to make me believe that this is how I should be.
And I remember a friend of mine, when I told him, “We’re all controlled in part by subliminal impulses we don’t quite understand” and he said, confidently, “No. Oh, no. I know every reason I do everything.” And I thought, even then, that this was a comforting lie he told himself in order to maintain the illusion that he was a being of pure rationality, because the alternative – that much of what we unconsciously decide is shaped by forces we had no control over – was terrifying to him.
But the truth is, we do have our own archaeologies. Even something as simple as standing is the sum total of a thousand memories, and a few wrong inputs at the right time can change your position forever.
Imagine how complex it gets when it comes to relationships. Or sex. Or sex in relationships.
And that’s not to say that you’re powerless to fight these forces. You’re only powerless if you deny their existence. I’ve watched my rational, knows-everything friend make exactly the same mistakes across two divorces now, headed towards a third, in part because he can never see how his unconscious habits are undercutting his stated desires.
I’m not saying I’ll learn to stand properly. This may be a lifelong battle, as it is with my weight, as it is with my mental health, as it is with my writing. But it’s another tool I can use to battle back something harmful.
And I keep watch. I wonder what other aspects of myself got concretized without my ever knowing it.
I wonder what parts of me I get to dig up tomorrow and replant.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
From the Quotation of the day mailing list, 2017-02-22:
"Of these things perhaps we might learn, he said. Neoliberalism vulgarized time, he said, but, he said, vulgarity is a geared wheel itself so against it do we deploy a slow watermill or acid guano or a stone wedge?" -- China Mieville, from his short story The Dusty Hat, printed in his collection, Three Moments of an Explosion.
(submitted to the mailing list by Terry Labach)
( And Bingo was her name-oh )
There's one prompt on here that I should probably have asked to be excluded, but oh well -- I can work around it easily enough. Or who knows -- maybe I'll get a fun idea to subvert it. I have thoughts about which rows and columns I might tackle, but if there are any prompts in here that you're dying to see me write, let me know!
"We're basically after Joe's beer money, and Joe likes his beer, so you better make sure that what you give him is at least as pleasurable to him as having his six-pack of beer would be." -- Jerry Pournelle (b. 1933-08-07, d. 2017-09-08)
(While thinking about Pournellr, see also a quote butterfluff posted from Falling Angels (Niven/Pournelle/Flynn) in 2003 (that I should probably repost as a top-level QotD entry someday), though I don't know which author(s) of the three of them penned that passage)
80. Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson
81. Genius Loci, Jaym Gates (anthology)
82. The Hike, Drew Magary
83. The Wild Harmonic, Beth W. Patterson - Yes, that Beth Patterson. As in, our Beloved Blonde Bouzouki Babe, now turning her writing talents to short fiction and novels. The Wild Harmonic stars a bass guitar-playing werewolf in New Orleans. The discerning reader will spot a few Rush references. This is Beth we are talking about (*grin*).
84. Apex Magazine #99 (August 2017) - I usually don't comment on the magazines, but Issue #99 of Apex is notable as it is guest-edited by - and entirely comprised of stories and essays from - an Indigenous American editor and authors.
85. Clarkesworld #131 (August 2017)
86. Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire (novella)
87. Lightspeed #87 (August 2017)
88. Nausicaa: The Ultimate Collection: Vol 1, Hayau Miyazaki (graphic novel/manga) - I had picked up a set of the manga in a Con or Bust auction a few years ago. A few recent mentions of the anime (which I have seen, but not in this millennium) in various blogs finally moved them to the top of my reading pile.
89. Nausicaa: The Ultimate Collection: Vol 2, Hayau Miyazaki (graphic novel/manga)