The Pipes are Clear (I Think)


In February, I decided I was going to start posting again. I did a couple, but it became abruptly clear to me that I needed to answer for my absence in some way. (Why? And to whom? I don’t have great answers for these questions.)

I so badly needed to answer for my absence, for whatever reason, that I felt I couldn’t just get back into making any sort of regular posting without it. So I worked on a post where I aired out some of the struggles that kept me from writing or posting, explored some of my hangups, and otherwise flogged myself for the better part of 1200 words. I told myself that posting it would be like clearing the blockage in a pipe — all the backed-up gunk would come flooding out and things would be good as new again.

Problem is, even in writing the post, it felt incredibly self-indulgent, and whiny, and poor-me-ish, in ways that even now I find embarrassing. Which in some ways is fair: after all I’m a middle-aged white guy whose life is relatively together and secure — what right have I to complain about anything that’s not going particularly my way? There are people out there with Real Problems.

In other words, I was Being a Little Bitch, to give you a snippet of my self-talk.

Still, I wrote it out and planned to post it, but even posting it felt indulgent somehow. So it’s saved. It’s in the drafts. I could share it out at any time if I think it’ll help. But for now, I’m just hoping that the pipes have been cleared just by the exercise of having written it.

LOTR controversy is nothing new. It’s just the same old “old vs new” argument.


So — ooh, boy. We’re going to make a mistake here. We abandon the website for a year, then with the second post upon our return we wade into the waters of fandom, racism, and social media. Top shelf idea, there. It’s gonna be great.

Look, LOTR and criticism thereof sort of has this problem.

And the problem is that you have to measure anything LOTR against the films of the original trilogy.

Why is this a problem? Because the films were just so damned good.

Say what you will about the novels. (They were formative for me — I discovered them in high school, read them, loved them, and have re-read them a few times since.) And say what you will about the adaptations. (There were some things I disagreed with, given my knowledge of the books. Some things that just didn’t make sense to me then, though now that I know a bit more about storytelling and movies, we get it. (See: moving the encounter with Shelob from the end of book 2 to the middle of book 3.)) But good ol’ PJ did that rare thing with the trilogy: he caught lightning in a bottle. He brought to life on the big screen a story that for so many of us had lived only in our imaginations, and it was as good, if not better, than we expected. He brought new fans to the story who never would have read the books otherwise. Oh, and he changed the way Hollywood thinks about stories and trilogies and series and all that stuff (for better or for worse.)

(Sidenote: We don’t talk about The Hobbit films.)

And, well, now we have to (or rather, now we get to) live in the universe where all those things happened.
And like any good series or book or otherwise IP, What Comes Next will inevitably be measured against the standard of the original. (Which is never going to be favorable for the new stuff. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. You can’t even catch it once. This is metaphor.)

We talked about this a bit back when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and all the hubbub about that film (spoiler alert: the hubbub did not quiet down, it only got worse, and that’s all very dumb, but that’s not our focus today, please stay on topic). About how the longtime fans feel some ownership over the thing, so when the New Stuff comes and it’s not exactly what they remember and expect, they get upset. But it’s rearing its head again and we’re thinking about it again, and well, I’m back, baby, so we’re gonna dive in and make some sweeping generalizations.

So, the new series is coming out. We haven’t even had the first episode yet, but people are angry. They will cite any number of reasons for their anger, but what they generally boil down to is: Thing Does Not Conform To My Expectations For Thing. Dwarves and elves with dark skin, Galadriel in battle armor — these things did not exist in the original works of Tolkien and they therefore have No Place in the new Tolkien thing.

Rings of Power in Vanity Fair – characters behind those posters UPDATED |  Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The  Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

And then, like clockwork, come the rebuttals and indignation from the other side. We’re not living in Tolkien’s time; we’re living in the 21st century, and representation matters. These stories belong to everybody, not just a bunch of white dudes. Say what you will about the response to the response, but it follows its own (entirely predictable) patterns.

We should point out, here, that there’s no simple answer to this problem, for reasons that will quickly become apparent, but it’s important as story-consuming people to think about these things, and what they say about us, and what we can learn from this, so that maybe (okay, probably not, but we can dream) we don’t have to keep having the same arguments over and over again.

The problem here is the same problem you have when debating a societal issue of any other stripe. Abortion. Religion. Gay marriage. Trans issues.

That problem is: both sides are right.

Let’s pick a spicy one, to make sure to offend as many people as possible. Abortion. One side says it’s the woman’s body, so it’s the woman’s choice, and they’re right. The other says all life is sacred, that every new life should have a chance, and they’re right, too. Gay marriage? On one hand, two people who love each other should be able to enjoy the benefits that society offers to the married just like anybody else. On the other, if marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, then calling a same-sex union a marriage is, by definition, wrong. (Personally, I think we need to abolish the concept of recognizing marriage through government institutions anyway — theoretically we have a separation of church and state in this country. That would unmake this whole issue, but it’s largely moot these days anyway. History moves on and the arc bends towards justice, or so they say.) The problem is that we get all territorial and tribal and we take bad-faith shots at the other side’s arguments and call them idiots and knuckle-draggers and anything else under the sun, and we try to make that comment that’s going to go viral, and we can’t compromise. We’ve forgotten how, in The Discourse.

Well, LOTR is the same. Dedicated, lifelong fans are right. Tolkien’s works were written by a white dude without much consideration for diversity, and possibly (probably?) with some assumptions that might not sit well with our collective consciences here, half a century and more on from when he set his tales down. To change the texts, to introduce characters outside of that mold, is, in fact, to change the texts themselves. But fans who want more inclusivity are also right: that the texts don’t represent the world we live in now, that the stories have appeal for a broader audience and, as a result, it would be nice to have a bit more inclusivity than the books did in their original form.

And you can already hear the arguments from both sides. “Why not make new stories with more diverse characters and casting needs — why do they have to change this one that’s already out there?” Well, that might be a good point … but no new series is going to have the brand appeal that LOTR has. It just can’t. New stories are great — and coming out all the time, by the way — but they’re not LOTR, and they can’t be. And from the other side — “why do these fans have to be so closed-minded and racist? Why do they have to pretend like they own everything?” But they’re not wrong — the original series actually is written that way.

Is there middle ground to be found between these two viewpoints? Almost certainly not, because we’re too conditioned by our echo chambers to seek out the support of those on our own side while scoring points at any cost against those guys over there.

It’s a depressingly obvious and probably unavoidable cycle. It played out with Star Wars, it’s playing out now with the LOTR series, and it will keep playing out as long as there are fandoms and social media and the internet and, probably, people.

I don’t actually have a solution for this problem at the macro level, because the problem doesn’t get solved at the macro level. It comes from one-on-one conversations and the commitment of the individual to stop shouting “OTHER SIDE BAD” for a minute and actually listen to what’s being said.

Our society just isn’t built for those conversations any more. It’s built for quippy one-liners, mic-drops, and dunking on the other side. And it’s a shame.

Sidenote and disclaimer: the world we’re in is changing, and media and filmmakers are changing with it. If you are bound and determined that your old stories remain what they are and never get changed to adapt to the times we’re living in … I have some unfortunate news to give you. That may or may not be right, but it is a fact. And life is just easier when you accept facts as facts. But that’s a whole other topic.

The Sprout is a Better Writer than Me, These Days


We gave my son a journal about a year ago on his birthday.

He was all excited about it at first, used it a couple of times, and then didn’t do a thing with it for months. No big deal, add it to the piles of toys we get for the kids that suffer the same fate — new, shiny, all-consuming, then forgotten and cluttering up the house and in the way.

Then, earlier this week, the sprout comes to me and asks if I want to read something he wrote in his journal.

Uh, yes, obviously.

“You can’t read the whole thing, dad. Some of it is private. But I want you to read this one.”

The whole thing, eh?

So, I read it. And it was fine. The kid, at nine, has an eye for detail and a straightforward style that, while it’s not exactly compulsory reading, it’s at least as engaging as you could hope for from somebody his age.

But of course, I did what I wasn’t supposed to do. I flipped through some of the other pages. Not to read, you understand, but just to see what the kid has been up to. And he’s filled pages and pages with this stuff, some of it absolute fluff, some of it screeds about how angry his little sister makes him (how much can really be said on the subject? You might ask. Quite a bit, as it turns out), some of it pure creative whimsy. His little journal is over half full, and he’s using it more and more by the day.

And it’s endearing, for pretty obvious reasons, but it’s humbling, too. Here goes a kid of nine years just writing for the pure unmitigated hell of it, and meanwhile I, who fancy myself a writer, have been scared of my own shadow in that department for the better part of a year.

Which is not to say I haven’t been writing in that time. I processed some more edits on the novel I may never finish. I still write (almost) every day in a dusty WriteMonkey file that will never see the light of day. But it has been ….quite some time since I wrote anything outward-facing. (Check the date-stamp of my last blog entry here for proof. (This is a thing I personally will not be doing!))

“Scared of my own shadow” is pretty apt for just now having thought of it that way. And I don’t have a good reason; in fact anything I could say would sound like the antithesis of everything that the oeuvre of this blog seems to espouse. (Don’t feel like it? Do it anyway. Feel like it’s dumb? Do it anyway. Not confident? Cry more, and do it anyway.) I am my own best cheerleader, and my own most crushing disappointment. But at the same time, I can’t just turn off the notions that what I write is trite, or overwrought, or uninformed, or just plain bad.

But if a nine-year-old can do it…

I don’t know what it is, but lately I’ve had to deal with plumbing issues a lot. Leaks here, blockages there. And like … the thing with plumbing is, if it’s not catastrophic, it’s easy to ignore. But by their very nature, plumbing problems don’t get better with time; they get worse. The drip becomes a trickle becomes a gusher. The slow drain gets slower until it stops entirely. And how much time and resources do you waste while ignoring the problem? How much annoyance and frustration do you choose to deal with on a daily basis just to avoid the unpleasantry of doing the work to fix it?

And how much better would things be on the other side of doing that work?

Anyway, all this metaphor is just a pretty way of saying I have allowed my slow drain to become a clog and then a full-blown impacted blockage. Which is not a great place to be, but you can’t get anywhere, no matter how good your maps and your skills may be, if you don’t know where you are.

The other thing about plumbing is, the only way to fix it — really fix it — is to take drastic measures. Empty out the space under the sink, disconnect the pipes and snake ’em out. Tear out the toilet that won’t stop leaking and put in a new one.

Or to put it in more general terms, if you want the situation to change, you have to get off your arse and change it.

What does this mean for this site?

I dunno yet.

But I’m at least going to stop treating this blog like the mad woman in the attic (we feed her, but we don’t talk about her).

See you soon.

These Regulations Have Teeth


People are weird.

This is a mantra and a truism worth remembering as you navigate the world, because it explains a lot of human behavior. Well, it doesn’t *explain* it, necessarily, or in fact at all, but what it *does* do is it allows you to stop driving yourself crazy searching for a proper explanation for the crazy stuff people do.

I could do a weekly — or in fact, daily — or scratch that, *hourly* post with examples, but sometimes the proper subject just jumps right up and punches you in the teeth.

Which is apparently exactly what an unruly passenger did on a Southwest flight in recent days.

I’m sorry, this is the sort of thing for which there is no excuse that will convince any rational person to side with you. If you’ve been alive in the era after 9/11 (which, if you’re reading this, congratulations, you are), you know that violence on an airplane, of any sort and to any degree, for virtually any reason, is a one-way ticket to being grounded for life, AKA getting blackballed by an airline and possibly incurring federal charges for your trouble. Unless you’re literally fighting off a terrorist, if you go violent on an airplane, you will not be arriving at your destination today.

Yet according to this article, not only did this recent incident happen (a passenger assaulting a flight attendant to the point of knocking out teeth), but incidents like this are widespread. Per the article, in the last year over 2500 incidents of unruly passengers have been reported by airlines, including over 1900 of them over mask mandates.

Look, folks, this is entitlement, pure and simple.

Personal beliefs and conspiracy leanings aside, if the airline has a mask mandate, then the only way to get out of it is by having a doctor’s note or finding another airline. You don’t get a pass because you feel the mask is a limitation on your personal freedom, in the same way you don’t get a pass on a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign, or a pass on paying the toll for the express turnpike, or even a pass through your high school geometry class just for showing up. The mask is part of the price of admission in this exchange.

Being asked to wear a mask in this situation does not impinge on your freedom, is not a violation of your constitutional rights, is not the tyranny of the woke left. It’s a public health measure. And your willful refusal to comply bespeaks, among other things, an utter disregard for the wellbeing of all the humans in your vicinity, to say nothing of your willingness to embrace repeatedly-disproven conspiracy theories.

Listen, I hate wearing masks as much as anybody, for purely selfish reasons. They’re a bit uncomfortable, certainly in the summer months they make my face too hot, and they make communication a little more difficult — in that some people speak softly to begin with and they can muffle your voice, and they remove the vital element of facial expressions from our social interactions.

But none of that is worth throwing a fit over being asked to wear a mask. And none of that comes anywhere close to worth throwing fists and getting escorted (read: arrested) off a plane.

Then again, if you feel that strongly about the masks in the first place, maybe you’re just hoping somebody calls you on it so you can fire up some righteous indignation and maybe earn yourself 15 minutes of fame as the latest oppressed patriot on Fox News.

Which might be nice.

But you still won’t be flying again anytime soon.