Monday, August 28, 2017

the game was an outlet

This weekend, my daughter performed in Twelfth Night three times and had a voice recital. There were rehearsals three times a week for several weeks now and I generally sat around and worked on this blog during those (the rehearsals and the play were 30 something miles away, so it wasn't worth it to, you know, drop her off). And she's got auditions for new things coming up quite soon. For me, fall classes get started this week and I'm teaching a new class I haven't taught yet (though I have covered some of its material as a debate coach). My son's college classes for fall get going tomorrow. My older daughter's last year of her bachelor's gets going in September. My ex (with whom I share an apartment) has already returned to teaching this past week. Like most anyone, we are all so very busy.

But, with the right distractions, the right amusements, I at least have figured out how to deal with the stresses of modern life... Until Trump tweets something inane or puts some bullshit policy into place to fuck with LGBTQ folks or Muslims or immigrants or refugees or women or democrats or anyone and everyone when he threatens "fire and fury" and, implicitly, nuclear war. But, I watch the season finale of Game of Thrones tonight, or Mazes and Monsters again right now, or I play a few hours of Dungeons & Dragons today--started a new character today after my last one was killed by a storm giant/werewolf/god last session--and it is painfully obvious that fantasy is a necessary part of civilized society. We need villains and we need heroes and we need the occasional bit of violence. If we can manage that in our heads, or with some actors and a bit of CGI, all the better. And if we can make friends because of shared interests, then life is better...

But, also dangerous, because not everyone has harmless interests. Because not everyone, when positioned in an enclave with others with whom they share whatever interests, wants to let the other enclaves remain... other. Because not everyone can respect other interests... Some interests are so strange as to be frightening. And, most importantly, some interests, however they may have started, whatever pains and hardships might be deep within their roots, become things that should not be respected.

I come back to Fiske (2002); the simple version is that "People typically seek other people who are similar to themselves, being comfortable with others they perceive as members of their own in-group" (p. 123) But, then it can so easily turn wrong; "From comfort follows, at best, neglect of people from out-groups and, at worst, murderous hostility toward out-groups perceived as threatening the in-group" (ibid). I love that sentence; Fiske puts the murderous tendencies of disparate groups right next to a casual neglect. My mind turns to a weird comparison: the almost innocent rivalry between jocks and nerds in a movie like Revenge of the Nerds and the hatred that led to that death in Charleston a couple weekends ago, when white supremacists met up with protestors and injurious acts were inevitable.

Me--all I want to do is teach high school and college students to express themselves clearly (in case you're new to this blog, I mostly teach basic college freshman level public speaking courses), and I want to watch some movies, spend time with my kids when I can (as they get older, that time diminishes), and play games (like Dungeons & Dragons every Sunday) and do other nerdy things (we went to Ren Faire and the Pirate Invasion of Long Beach and recently did an escape room) with my friends. I don't need to indoctrinate other people into my hobbies... Though admittedly, it saddens me sometimes that all the movies I showed my kids when they were younger did not incline them toward movies so much that they (well, the younger daughter, anyway) might go to more than a couple with me in a year. I have my political views, and I express them in this blog surprisingly often, and I express them on Twitter and Facebook, but I don't really need everyone to think like I do. The world would be a boring place if we all thought the same on every issue, if we didn't have differing hobbies and different casual interests, or different ideas about how to improve the world... And really, if you're ideas don't improve the world, that's where I start to draw the line. Take for example transgendered individuals. If someone feels (and already, I feel my words don't express fully the truth of the matter) that their body and soul doesn't match society's dictates as to gendered behavior, what does calling them crazy help? If dressing differently, if acting differently, if hormone treatments or surgery makes them happier, and your life goes on as it already was, who the fuck are you to denounce them? I figure, if your interests, or your way of life (to write it larger), don't hurt other people (or lead inevitably to other people being hurt) then do your thing. Be who you need to be. Fuck other people's beliefs or forbiddances if your actions don't actually get in the way of their lives... Racism. Sexism. Ridiculous prejudices that have no legitimate basis aside from old fears and superstitions. These are the things that need not be respected. Listen to them, sure. But respect? No. Challenge them. Deny them.

And, in the face of certain prejudices, certain belief systems, how can you also not turn to force to stop them? The roots of some things are far too deep to use other methods, I suppose. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. That doesn't mean you turn to fire and fury.


And, in the lesser moments, the life stuff between the political, find your fantasy. Find your escape... Again, I don't like that word. I return to Neil Gaiman's line:

People talk about escapism as if it's a bad thing... Once you've escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn't have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.

He's not really talking about escape. I see escape as something else. What you have is a prison. You leave it, never intending to return. It's more like a vacation, a holiday, and exercise that makes you better when you return to your usual. I take that word escape to be something more implicitly permanent. If you need something like that to get through life, then there's something wrong with life. Unfortunately, today there is something wrong with most every life, if for no other reason than we all share this damaged world full of prejudices and wars and rumors of wars.

I would prefer that all my wars be fictional (or historical), that violence be imaginary, that no one hate someone else for petty, stupid reasons. But, that's not the real world. I wish I had more time to write fiction regularly again. I wish had more time to play games. I wish I had more time for movies and television and comic books. Hell, I wish I had more time to formulate more substantial political arguments. Instead, it's busy, busy, busy.

And, it occurs to me that Bokononism isn't too bad a religious framework for life, believing deliberately in untruths (called "foma") to "Live by the foma that makes you brave and kind and healthy and happy." But, it also occurs to me, that every religion is exactly that, a bunch of untruths that masses decide to mutually believe in (or pretend to believe in) to make their lives more palatable...

So, find your karass, your ka-tet, your in-group, your tribe, but--and I'm going to be cheesy and silly and trite now--when it seems like some other tribe's beliefs or practices are in conflict with yours, get the fuck over yourself and try to actually walk a mile in their shoes, see things from their perspective, and get along... I was going to quote Anne Frank about people being good at heart, so I looked up the exact wording and I found other lines from her that are beautiful profound and simple, and it disturbs me that we have her diary because of the holocaust, and it amazes me that someone so young can figure out things we all should fucking know already.

Like this: "How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

Or this: "In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit."

Or this: "Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness."

And the one I was looking for:

It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again...

I rant and I try to make sense. I occasionally lash out with anger. I would prefer to leave the world better than it was when I got here. To be a good person... Hell, to each day be a better person than I was the day before. Or something approximating as much. It saddens me that making the world better feels so impossible sometimes. Like a rant is all I have, my voice alone into a darkness where no one can hear it, or will hear it, a darkness where it will not echo and resound but just go on out into infinity and be forever lost.

I want poetry. I want storytelling. I want friendship. I want love. But, sometimes--and especially when my depression and anxiety gets to me--all of that seems pointless, exercises in futility, tilting at windmills and shadows when the world goes on toward destruction and entropy.

Other times, though, in the midst of a good movie, or having a good time playing a board game with my kids, or playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends, or teaching and seeing my students engaged, it feels like it's worth it. Like every insistence on joy and fun is a refusal and protest, and the world's worst aspects are held at bay, and life is actually good, or can be.

I mean, Robbie cannot tell reality from fantasy in the end of Mazes and Monsters but his friends still come to him, still play the game with him because that's what you do. Still, Kate's voiceover in the end, part of the book she's written about all this, is not particularly hopeful:

And so, we played the game again for one last time. It didn't matter that there were no maps, or dice, or no monsters. Pardieu [Robbie's character] saw the monsters, we did not. We saw nothing but the death of hope and the loss of our friend. And so we played the game until the sun began to set and all the monsters were dead.

i will end with two important points. First, the story here was inspired by paranoid religious bullshit and, in reality, a game like Mazes and Monsters, or Dungeons & Dragons, will not detach you from reality or drive you to kill someone in an alley in New York and not remember the details. That's just a stupid panic with no basis in reality. Second, even with the downer ending, the monsters are all dead. And a subpoint here: while the voiceover seems like a melancholy, the final visual is these four friends walking off to mutual fantasy and adventure. That is hopeful. That is positive. And, that is, oddly enough, real.

WORKS CITED

Fiske, S.T. (2002). What we know now about bias and inter group conflict, the problem of the century. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, 11(4), pp. 123-128.

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