Tag Archives: symbols

Throw the Bloody Ball


The Donald will not be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Nationals’ baseball season this year.

Big deal. There are more important things to worry about, like his systematic destruction of the EPA, the selling of your internet privacy, the fact that his campaign almost certainly colluded with Russia and Republicans in Washington seem perfectly happy to look the other way.

But for an image-conscious president (and the DT is nothing if not image-conscious), this bloody well is a big deal.

Throwing out the first pitch is just another in a long line of Things Presidents Do that Donny has given the middle finger to. His staff says he’s busy, which is weak tea. When you ask somebody out and they say,  “sorry, I’m washing my hair that night,” you know there will be no hair-washing that night. Of course he’s busy. The president — and put aside the tepid list of his accomplishments thus far — is always busy. But you make time for things that matter, things that remind the country you’re a person, things which are symbolic. Which is why presidents have been doing This Thing for a century.

Baseball? The national pastime? As American as baseball? Nah. He’s busy.

I’ll put aside petty personal jabs about whether or not he could even get the ball across the plate (though for the record, my assessment there is: doubtful — tiny hands and all). The real reason?

He’d get booed.

Mercilessly. For an extended period. By a stadium full of people. On national TV.

Not by everybody, to be sure. There would be Trump fans in attendance. But a baseball game isn’t a Trump rally; he wouldn’t be insulated from the people who can’t stand him if he stepped out into the unfiltered masses of a ball game. He’d be stepping out of the warm, pillowy bubble of support that he lives in and going out into the harsh reality of the world.

He knows what his approval ratings are, even if he calls them fake news.

For Trump, it’d be stepping out into the desert.

He knows that if he steps onto that field and takes that mound, he’d be met with a chorus of boos unlike anything he’s ever heard in his life. And he can’t have it. His massive ego would blow out like the Snoopy balloon at the Macy’s parade. The narrative that “real Americans” support DT would unravel like a Christmas sweater the moment he met some real real Americans at a baseball game. Because unlike a Trump rally, a baseball game actually represents a pretty decent cross-section of a community.

And getting booed on a massive scale like that would shatter him, and shatter the cocoon he’s spun around himself.

Supporters can make all the excuses they want — this doesn’t matter, he has bigger fish to fry, etc — and they’re right, in writing. In the scheme of things, what this thing literally is doesn’t matter. But we also have to face reality.

Things always mean things, and it’s a “ceremonial” first pitch for a reason. This could be a humanizing moment for him. Symbols have that kind of power. Just being there would do wonders for his image, and who cares how the actual pitch goes? Obama’s was terrible, and he got booed, but he took it like a man. It’s not about the pitch, it’s about the moment, the optics. DT could do the same thing. Show some humility, some appreciation, some willingness to actually connect with people. Do a Thing Presidents Do instead of just letting Bannon take a dump in a blender and then turning the blender on in the middle of our democracy.

But no thanks. He’s busy.

And, come on. Odds are he couldn’t do worse than some of the worst first pitches in history.

Image result for baseball pitch fail gif

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The Sun Still Rises; There Are Still Rainbows


*Takes a deep breath*

*Lets it out*

*Takes another one, just for good measure*

Okay. It’s going to be okay.

I was wound up like a demonic clockwork drummer boy when I posted a few days ago. I’m not going to apologize for it, but I am going to temper it a little bit. Because we’ve just had one of those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days that your mother warned you about. Much worse than that, in fact.

A nightclub was shot up, and people were killed. Too many people, to be sure (though to be fair, any more than zero is too many). That’s a lot of funerals. A lot of mourning family and friends. A lot of very upset sympathizers.

And the internet devolved, as the internet does, into the usual black-and-white, allows-for-no-nuance trench warfare of ad hominems and righteous principled generalizations and laments for humanity and all the rest of it. And I was guilty of my share of it.

But every day is a chance to start anew, and you can change your entire experience if you just change the way you think a little bit.

I woke up early. I went for a run. I watched the kids play on the beach.

I came back to the news to see that while, yeah, all that black-and-white yelling-and-not-listening crap was going on, there was some good springing up between the cracks in the pavement, too. Lines around the block to donate blood. Millions of dollars raised for the families of the victims. The sun, in fact, still rises.

There’s a pattern around crises like these: outrage, arguing, acceptance, then indifference. One wonders when the cycle will break, as surely it must. The outrage over this incident seems particularly high. Maybe this time will be the time that actually brings about some change.

Or maybe not.

My local newspaper posted a picture of a rainbow sighted over Pulse in Orlando yesterday. Of course, a lot of people were quick to assume meaning where there is none: It’s a sign that everything’s going to be all right! God is good! After rain come rainbows! And if that brings comfort to them, that’s great.

Of course, a rainbow is simply an artifact of light refraction and perspective. That it appeared over Pulse is a symbol of nothing other than the fact that nature continues to operate just fine, regardless of human actions. And that’s the meaning I’d rather take away.

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There will always be tragedies. We might learn from them; we might not. There will still be rainbows. The sun will still rise.

 

 


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Light and Life


If there’s one motif in literature the world over, it’s the struggle between light and darkness. Good and evil. Heaven and Hell. It’s often as simple and straightforward as good guy / bad guy: here the guy who fights for righteousness and justice and really good things, and there the one trying to subdue him, or even better, subdue the world the good guy fights for.

And that’s fine, and good, and even compelling, from time to time. But light and darkness are bigger than good and evil.

Humans crave the light.

It sustains us, nourishes us, protects us.

Our entire planet only supports life at all because the universe creates light by smashing the elementary blocks of matter together again and again.

The light of a fire at night means warmth, means food, means survival.

The light of the sun in the day means growth, means sustenance.

The light of a cityscape at twilight means vibrance and strife.

We sleep in the night because that’s when the monsters come out; only in the light can we see them for what they really are. We seek out the light because the light means other people.

Light, in short, is life.

Darkness, on the other hand, is the great unknown — it’s the monster lurking just out of sight, it’s the cold bleakness of night, it’s the blasted wasteland of a sunless world. Darkness is death.

I’m in the midst of teaching Beowulf to a bunch of, at best, mildly interested near-adults, who aren’t particularly interested in working to understand that basic symbolic dichotomy: that light means life, and darkness means death. The world of men, in the piece, is always surrounded by a warm golden glow: the glow of a fire, the glow of a nourishing sun, the glow of human heat. The lairs of the monsters, by contrast, are dark, bleached out, shrouded in shadow. Grendel attacks the halls of men and steals from their safe places the light of life; only when Beowulf arrives from across the sea, bringing the light of God with him, does light and life return to men. Heck, one of Grendel’s weapons in the fight with a demon in the film is a glowing artifact that he uses to light up the darkness.

And it got me thinking about my own works. This symbolism of light vs darkness, of life vs death, is so obvious, so simple, so hardcoded into our very brains, it seems almost silly not to tap into it. So am I using it? Well… yes, and no.

The hero of my first novel is struggling to overcome an insecurity, a lost ability. Along the way, the power is cut off in his apartment, and he is forced to write by candlelight; a shallow pool of light keeping the demons and his fears at bay. He invents new sources of light, but they are all artificial — only when he overcomes his tribulations and embraces his potential does he win the windfall that lets him put the lights on. (Okay, so that didn’t happen at all, but now that I’ve thought of it, IT’S GOING TO.)

In the second novel, things are a little more complicated. Machines have taken over the safekeeping of men, and their world is bathed with light, but a harsh, sterile, impersonal one. The blank, faded light of fluorescents, a cold light. Interlopers from another time and place arrive and slowly begin turning out the harsh light of machination, and the world lurches into darkness for a time, but little by little the darkness and the artificial light are replaced once again by enlightened human light; a blinding, all-illuminating force that drives the shadow out of all the dark corners and exposes the truths that have been forgotten. (Again, at the moment, this isn’t happening at all, but CRAP IT NEEDS TO.)

And I could write on and on about the play of light in my books, the way it ebbs and flows with the spirits of my characters, but my heart’s not really in it right now.

Because I fear my grandfather’s light is going out.

He’s been battling with infirmities and sicknesses for a while now, and in the last month or so, seems to have lost his spirit and his will to fight. He’s old — no getting around that — and seems to be making the choice simply to allow his candle to gutter out, rather than to rekindle it through artificial, uncomfortable, even painful means. This isn’t a shock to us, but that makes it no easier to bear. Life — and light — are precious and fleeting. We have them for a short, little while, and then the darkness takes us again.

Life is about the struggle with that darkness, and my grandfather’s struggle is almost over.

So, as a tiny disclaimer, my thoughts are likely to be a little jumbled up in the coming days or weeks. If the material here turns dark or nonexistent for a while, that’s why. Programming will return to normal as soon as we are sure what is normal in the first place, to bastardize a quote by the late great Douglas Adams.

In the meantime, I’ll leave the lights on around here.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Symbols and Smoke Signals


Things stand for things, right? That’s the whole precept of language, of art, of stories, of life. The banding on that snake means that if it gets its fangs in you, you’re dead. Stay away. The presence of all these closed doors in this character’s life show you how trapped she feels. Let it go. That painting of a monkey doing a handstand on top of the tin man is symbolic of, you know, the struggle of the primitive against the technological. Or something. Or maybe it’s just some jacked-up Wizard of Oz fan art.

It’d be hard to identify a symbol as intrinsically symbolic as a flag, though. A closed door can be a symbol of entrapment or inaccessibility, but sometimes it’s just, y’know, a door. A flag, on the other hand, by its very nature stands for something. When you fly a flag, it’s a big announcement to the world that this is who I am, this is who we are, this is what we stand for.

Which is why I think this psychopathic racist kid with his shooting spree, in trying to set off a race war, has actually done something productive. Not with his murders, but by associating his particular brand of poison with a symbol.

This symbol.

The confederate flag has long been a troublesome symbol. On the one hand, it is, legitimately, a symbol of the Confederate States back at the time of the Civil War. And lots of people, especially in the South, have family that lived in the same area at that time. That probably died for that cause. And the flag is, for them, a symbol of their heritage, their family, their land. Flying the flag demonstrates their pride in that heritage. And the fact that they see it that way is fine.

Problem is, the Confederates were fighting, among other things, to retain the ability to keep slaves. So of course, the critics are quick to point out that to them, the flag is therefore a symbol of slavery. Flying a flag, then, becomes a statement in favor of slavery, in favor of segregation, in favor of any sort of racist thing you can think of. And the fact that they see it that way is fine.

Symbols are tricky things. They mean only what our society agrees they mean. We can all agree that the green light in The Great Gatsby represents the love Gatsby feels for Daisy, a love he will never actually reach, a light whose heat he will never feel. Or maybe it represents Daisy herself, again, perpetually out of his grasp, separated from him by a bay of misunderstandings and screwed-up ideals. There’s no controversy because either a) we all agree on its meaning or b) we can understand why others view it in a different way. With the Confederate flag, there’s no such agreement, because the people who hate it are morally and righteously offended by the people who fly it and the ideals they embrace, while the people who honor it don’t understand why the critics get so uptight about it. (Except for the racists who fly it because they’re racists. Screw the racists.)

And that’s where the conversation about the Confederate flag has been locked for, oh, I dunno, decades? No headway is made because these people have their view and everybody else can go to hell, and those people have their view and everybody else can go to hell, and everybody who decides to get involved in the discussion just ends up sore and pissed off over it.

Until this guy went and shot up a church after taking a ton of pictures of himself with the Confederate flag. You or me flying a Confederate flag outside our houses is a tiny splash in an enormous pond. A cold-blooded mass execution carried out while waving a Confederate flag around and posing, grumpy-faced, in front of a flag is a hundred-gigawatt, laser-guided broadcast via every major news network into every living room in the country.

It’s going to be a very, very long time indeed before anybody is able to see the Confederate flag without thinking of Dylann Roof. For better or worse, that means that for the time being, the Confederate flag is unequivocally and inarguably a symbol of racism, murder, and evil. The governors of South Carolina and Alabama have already moved to stop flying the flag over their state capitols, tradition and heritage be damned. This is a pretty remarkable thing. It might even be a historic thing. The flag won’t go away, but maybe it will move from front lawns into museums and history books, where it belongs. We can only hope the movement spreads.

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you might have heard that several major retailers are no longer going to be selling merchandise that features the confederate flag. They’ll cite any number of reasons, like inclusiveness or discouraging hurtful public statements or not wanting to be associated with controversy, but at the end of the day they’re pulling the merchandise from their shelves. Which is fascinating. Merchants are taking a stand, making a statement about this symbol. Saying that they don’t want to profit from it, that they don’t want to be associated with it.

Some will argue that those retailers are doing themselves a major disservice by losing out on sales of these items themselves, but more so by people who refuse to shop there because of the statement these companies are making. I’m no economist, but I feel like they’ll pull in as much business with their statement against this symbol as they cost themselves. But I don’t care about their bottom lines, I care that they care enough to put their dollars where their mouths are.

I read a brilliant short story earlier this year: The Appropriation of Cultures, by Percival Everett. In his story, a black man begins flying a rebel flag and urges others in his community to do the same, and within a few months, the Confederate flag becomes a symbol not of the South, but rather of civil rights activists. If only the real-world treatment of the symbol had been as nonviolent. Still, it shows a model, fictional or not, of how the meaning of a symbol can change.

Maybe we’re on the brink of making this symbol as a divisive force in our country a thing of the past. Maybe it can just be evil and we can lock it in a coffin and bury it far from daylight.


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