The Enemy of Good

About perfectionism: I may be discovering that with fiction, you really start to cook when you love what you’re writing more than you love yourself. Or at least you love it more than your ego. The story you’re telling becomes about something other than you. Its urge to be is greater than your desire to be admired. And I’m guessing that when you and it get to that point, the right thing to do is just comb its hair the best you can, while it’s barreling into the front yard.

(First posted January 14, 2014)

First Inkling

You know, I think there exists a group of people who secretly want the nation to go to war with itself. I’m not just talking about the tin-foil crackpots who hide fertilizer in their basements. I mean otherwise regular people, on both sides of politics, who are waiting for us to ignite some kind of flashpoint with our gridlock, or our stock market, or our healthcare. We live in a dangerous time that requires some serious steps; that goes without saying. But I’m increasingly convinced that folks can reach a point when fear becomes a wish.

(Originally posted January 12, 2014)

My Review of The Last of Us

I just finished playing The Last of Us, and I feel compelled to write about it. I know this post won’t resonate with most of you, but The Last of Us has given me so much to think about, that I don’t really mind. The Last of Us is a zombie-survival video game. That’s what it is. You play as a hardened smuggler who has to protect an orphaned child. It’s also the first game that has made me cry. 

I have a stress-knotted neck from this game. We say I have zombie cruft. The undead are horrid. The humans are worse. I had the subtitles on, because it’s hard to hear over gunfire–and at one point a human committed something so tragic that I said, “Oh my god!” And right then, the sentence appeared on the screen. This was clearly because a character had said the same thing. But the confluence felt right–because it also felt like the game had heard me, that it had registered my line, because I too was a living part of the story. It’s the dialogue and the resulting relationships that give a player such a profound connection to the game. You care about that little girl. And among all the alternating shooting and gnawing, you realize that you’ve walked out of a video game and into a cross between Blood Meridian and True Grit. 

Now, the ending fails. In my head, I’ve already rewritten it. The ending abuses the players, the characters, and maybe also the story’s own rules. It made me mad. In fact, it made me indignant. Poor James heard about it for half an hour–and you’re hearing about it now. I can’t say any more without crashing into whole stacks of spoilers, but I will mention that even in my disgust, I admire the story’s attempt. This is the first game that has ever gotten me talking–even critically–about character and narrative. (To say nothing of player rights–which is an area that is completely new.) What I mean to say is that The Last of Us asks a person to treat it as serious fiction. Regardless of its flaws, it exists as art. And that, dearies, is cool. That is Mario-smashing-into-bricks-and-having-Athena-come-out-of-his-head cool. The Last of Us is alive. For some of that very reason, I don’t recommend it for children. Nor do I recommend it for people who most deeply care for the welfare of children. The game is disturbing for what it shows–but it is astonishing for what it promises.

(Originally posted January 10, 2014)

MAMASE MAMASA MAMAKUSA

Cedar Rapids: They said our flight would be on time. The road to the airport had wind that blew the lane’s remaining snow in snakes. The airport scanner said I had a metal thing in the back of my head. I insisted I didn’t. TSA let me on the plane. We waited on the tarmac for two hours.

Atlanta Part I: The gate people pointed us to a table of cookies. They told us we missed our flight. They put us in a switch-backed line that where some crowd-control genius had set up more cookie tables at every switch. We got hotel vouchers. We left our luggage. We stood outside with a multitude. There were pregnant ladies, French people and marines. Michael Jackson stood in a jacket, fedora and crazy-assed hair. He held hands with a lady in a Thriller jacket. He smoked clove cigarettes.

A Korean man said he liked my hat. He said the hotels usually ran out of rooms. We stood together for warmth. We watched Michael Jackson. James said, “I see dead people.” We waited for an hour and a half.

Rain fell. The shuttle approached. The shuttle got mobbed. The Korean made it to the last seat. The doors closed. The Korean knocked on the window. He pointed to me. He pointed to his seat. I shook my head. I touched James. The shuttle moved. The Korean waved. The marines milled. The French frogged. It was like an old war movie. I could almost hear the violins and then a whisper of “mamase mamasa mamakusa.” 

The shuttle that fetched us drove down the center of the street. A college student sat next to me and chewed her gum faster as the crazy driver drove. We said that this must be an awful time of year for the airport, and the driver said, “No, baby. This happens every week.” We listened to the car horns and the bubble-mint.

Atlanta Part II: They put us on the hotel’s top floor. The elevator sighed as it climbed. It had a sticky floor. We had a penthouse suite that held leftover lobby furniture and five plastic plants. The curtain-close wand came off in my hand. The interior walls made small, random rooms. The carpet could have said, “Come play with us, Danny.” There were only accent pillows on the bed. Someone had stripped them naked and left them in a line. We didn’t care. We washed down gray hamburgers with a ton of water. We went to bed.

I awoke in the night. I had to pee. But I was blind, and half-asleep, and the walls made no sense. I stumbled through the dark. I really had to go–and I had only one pair of pants. (And I was sleeping in my pants.) And I almost hoped the little Shining girls would show up, so they could show me to the potty. But they didn’t. And I had to call James. And all I could think was that this is what marriage is: showing your spouse where to go.

Atlanta Part III: We have friends in Atlanta. This is God’s grace. They’d offered us lodging, but we had a voucher and we didn’t want to impose. They took off the morning to meet us for breakfast. They hugged us when they saw us. They didn’t tell us we both resembled Bill the Cat. They took our picture, but the promised not to post it to Facebook. They waved at us while we went through security, and they didn’t bat an eye when, for some reason, this scanner also reported that I had something metal in the back of my head. 

Detroit: At the start, we had an hour layover in Detroit. We sat in Atlanta for thirty-two extra minutes. In Detroit, we landed at A2. We had to get to B25. We ran for twenty minutes. We ran through the neon tunnel that’s got the moving walkways. It turned purple and played us “Sleigh Ride.” I listened for the whip. I ran up an escalator. I’d gotten ahead of James. I got to the end of the B terminal. There was no Gate 25. I hollered the f-word. People looked up from their texts. The monitor said we were at Gate 5. 

The lady at Gate 5 looked at us as if she could take a picture, she really would post it on the internet. She said we’d just made it. I said, “Pfgak.”

Albany: We hugged the family. I hugged the luggage. My five-year-old niece told me that when she had to land in Detroit, she threw up. I took her hand. She said, “Aunt Megan, are you an introvert or an extrovert?”

I said, “Oh, honey. I’m an introvert.”

She put my arm around her. She sighed into my shoulder. She said, “Will you be an extrovert with me?”

And I said, “Yes, little Bea.” And even if it has to happen every time, I’ll huddle with Michael Jackson and sleep in pillow crime scenes in order to do it.

(Originally posted December 24, 2013)