Dan

The Giant and The Princess

I.

There once lived a scary giant, far away up in the sky-lands. On a bedrock of clouds he built his castle, and he lived there with his wife in solitude.

By day, when she went off to work, he would walk the halls of echoing stone, and mutter to himself about all the people, little and big, who’d done him wrong. He’d mutter about the black clouds around him, and found it quite impossible to enjoy much about his easy-going life in the sky.

At night, his wife would come home and cry, and he wouldn’t know what to say. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be able to stop talking. He was sure that if he said the right thing, the world would click together. Other times, the giant would slip into a silence that felt like a magic spell had settled over his castle, and nobody would speak a word aloud there ever again.

II.

No, wait.

There once lived an angry princess, exiled from her country by a conniving duke who stole her true essence from her. For seven upon seven years, she wandered the lands. To survive, the princess sold her jewelry and her books, until the only precious thing she had left was a tiny black vial which she tied with a loop of wire to her neck.

It was whispered that during her travels, she had asked the giant and his wife for lodging, having partly forgotten herself. For she had actually known them before the treasonous act that stole her self away, but could not remember.

No-one across the land knew who the princess was any more, and gradually, as they forgot, so did she. She traveled unknown and unnamed, slipping between the silences and seeking only that which she couldn’t name. All the princess had left was herself and her anger, in a tiny glass vessel that glowed fiercely black around her neck.

III.

Hang on, though. The giant wasn’t really that scary to people who knew him. He didn’t really spend his days in solitude, stalking the echoing halls of his sky-castle. He would go around helping the people in his sky-neighborhood, or at least the giants like him.

But the princess thought that was just a disguise of his true nature, which she saw as filled with an awful angry blackness.

Was that the same spell of black fury that she kept in her vial from childhood, lashed tightly around her neck with a magic wire? We all thought it might be, but we were afraid to say so, for fear she might uncork the darkness and be unable to put it back.

IV.

Hmm, hold up a second.

Didn’t the scary giant actually turn out to be the angry princess’s father? I think that’s what we eventually found out, when we told and re-told this story. And perhaps they knew it all along: that what made the giant so scary turned out to be the same thing that made the princess so angry.

In amongst the murk and mire of life, the princess was mad at the world and wanted to hate the giant. The giant wanted to talk to his daughter, but didn’t know how, and surely couldn’t see why the princess thought he was so scary.

But if you ever spoke to them of it, they would refuse to believe such a crazy thing about the other. And the rancor between them only grew, even though they might have known, deep down, in their heart of hearts, that they weren’t that different.

The giant still held grudges close, which was the main thing that made him so frightening. He could not imagine why the princess held a grudge against him in kind, and this soured his mind and filled him with a dull rage. He could do nothing, and so he paced his halls, letting his anger seep out of him slowly.

The princess had, unfortunately, inherited all of the giant’s smoldering anger, even though it ground her down to admit such a thing. She would clamp her hand around the vial at her neck, gritting her teeth without noticing. She couldn’t talk to him, because their angers were as magnets, like repelling like.

And so it was that the curse kept them both in chains for many years.

V.

So, slow down. I realize that fairy-book stories are supposed to end with something like “They all lived happily ever after,” but this one isn’t completed yet.

And this is more of a thinly-veiled metaphor than a fairy-book story, besides.

We all know what I mean when I talk about the curse of chains.

And I have to apologize to the angry princess and the scary giant, because I don’t know how to help you break out of your chains. I’ve tried. But they’re not my chains to break.

VI.

We get so wrapped up in ourselves, sometimes, that we assume our versions of people are the real thing. We forget that there’s an interpretive distance, a gap in understanding, between what we think about people and how they really are. It’s obvious when you say it, but it’s less obvious when you’re riding a river of emotions, imagining another person and how they will respond to something you say. Something you don’t say. Something you do. Something you failed to do.

So we see others as caricatures. I see a scary giant, a golden fool, a cursed spinster, a sparkling prince, a manipulative step-mother, a deservedly homeless beggar, a cardboard cutout wearing our surface-level sketches.

I get so wrapped up sometimes, it’s hard to move the person and my version of that person apart. There needs to be some space there, so I can squeeze in the admission that I might be wrong about them.

I guess it’s part of being a human. Or part of being a scary giant, or an angry princess, or anything else we manage to make out of each other.

Standard
Dan

Automation

Working in the fields in the Middle Ages, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of your ducal lord, you fight the very dirt to overcome your land-lease. Scrabbling for survival, you think “at least I’m not a slave, I have this land of my very own.” A bounty, indeed, that the duke lets you mine.

But it’s not really yours, after all, is it? You are angry, but the seasons grind your fingers to the bone. You don’t have time to think about a higher purpose. You don’t have the energy to rise up, so you dig and you plant and you hope.

Working in a factory in the industrial age, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of the factory owner, who doesn’t crack a whip but might as well, let’s say you have a union and work only 40 hours a week. You sit on the assembly line, mindlessly welding piece A to part B, and you do the math… minus the 80 hours of vacation time a year… by the time you attempt to retire (if they haven’t sapped your pension to pay their bonuses) you will have worked over 90,000 hours.

You have leisure time, and a home that you partially own, but that’s not really yours after all, is it? You are angry, but those 90,000 hours pile up on you. What do they even mean? You don’t have the energy to change things, so you weld piece A to part B, forever.

Working at a desk job in the internet age, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of a manager, who’s under the thumb of their manager, and so on up the chain. You sit at your desk and surf the internet, wondering what it all means, and how many people at this multinational corporation are also simply filtering through the vast confines of the internet right now.

You have leisure time at work, time to think about what it all means. You have almost everything you could want, but it doesn’t seem to matter. What does it mean, after all? You still haven’t figured it out. Why do they pay you? You don’t have the energy to try to understand, you just keep sitting there, in your idle moments, clicking away.

How many times does your job have to be written out of existence, before we realize our meaning machines are broken? Maybe work was never the driver. It was the distraction, in the way, a quagmire, and when it is cleared away, you might just have the energy to change things.

But will the people who stake a claim on owning everything around you allow you to change things? Certainly not by yourself, just a struggling cog. But maybe if you start asking others: “What does it all mean? Why did they pay us? And why did they stop? What does money mean, what does it all mean? Why does life revolve around all this struggling for survival, when the resources are out there to make it better, and we’d rather all team up?”

You might actually have the energy to try to understand, buried within, so don’t just keep sitting there. Dig for it. Weld things. Click away.

Standard
Dan

Balance

History is full of smart people who believed that the universe, or at least its creator, started out as something fundamentally good. And plenty of smart people still think that, deep down.

Philosophers who discussed the so-called death of god were concerned with what to replace that goodness with, once our assumptions started to shift. That nice, warm certainty of fundamental goodness (even though based purely on instinct, it sure is pleasant to sit in) got replaced by an unknown void. Some thought that atheism meant nihilism; others argued that it meant we could define our own meaning. Like we had been doing all along, anyway.

But when that assumption of goodness falls away, when our gods die and leave us to watch over this world, there is a guilt that fills our hearts. Or at least it sneaks up in mine. A guilt that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough, that I can’t possibly solve all the problems.

We have been led astray by concepts of karma. Ideas of built-in balance. Thinking that we must rise to a certain standard to balance out the evils in the world, yet the only guaranteed balance in the universe is embedded in its laws. Conservation of mass and energy. The arrow of entropy. All else is flux.

We don’t have to let the guilt tell us how we fail to meet some impossible standard.

We don’t have to let assumptions about karma, fate, or faith dictate how we struggle.

I don’t care what you think about what lies outside our universe, an imagined next life. What we do within these ropes of reality, is on us. On me, and on you. But it’s not a pressure that should feed guilt. It should feed our cooperation.

Continue reading

Standard
Jenifer

The End Of BSG very rough first draft

—This essay is about the season finale of Battlestar Galactic; if you haven’t seen it you probably shouldn’t read this.—

The End of BSG

Jenifer R Thompson

The distance between now and then: a millisecond, a heartbeat, a joining of lips, the ten year drive from your childhood home to your child’s home, the cummulation of a weekend TV festival.

On Friday it was decided, on Saturday we drove to the store and purchased it, by Saturday night the deed the done, the momentum moved us forward to the inevitable outcome…the viewing of the long awaited series finale of Battlestar Galatica.

The fact that I had not already seen it was a fluke, a mistake.  We had watched 4.5 each week, voyeuristically living the lives of the cylon war survivors.  I admired Admiral William Adama, how much could that man take; I wondered who was Kara “Starbuck” Thrace; I wavered between outrage and understanding with Gaius.  I was ready in May to find out how it ended but that did not happen.

Months passed and I thought about my fictional friends, people I cried for, laughed with.  I waited for the moment I would know their fates; I felt frustration having to continue on blindly not knowing while others around me did. And finally, this weekend it happened.

We decided, Robert–initiator and partner in the BSG drama–and I that this was it.  We started with the final episode from season 4.0; we ate cheese and drank wine late into Sunday morning revisiting the past of the 12 colonies, until we could watch no more, until our eyes hurt from the strain of hours in front of the TV.  And then with dedication we did it again Sunday night, braving isolation, junk food comas, and nerd-hood just to know; to seek the answers; to see the fates, and they came.

The anticipation high, adrenaline through the roof, tears had all ready flowed and were posed again.  Then an hour into last show, jaw agape during the great battle scene, lines crossed, the beginning of the end and…what?  All the pain and death for a two-minute conversation with Cavil?!? Herra means nothing?  They all walk away from technology?  They choose to mate with the ape people? What?

In that final half hour of the show where we learn about the choices everyone made to end up here on Earth, I was too horrified to reflect but after the popcorn grew stale; once the ice cubes had melted into mineral sludge, I too reflected.

I thought about each moment of the last hour of the final episode, of every pause where once a commercial aired and I said, “Is that it?” only to be more confused when it wasn’t and the episode continued to creep backward toward the primordial sludge, where the one true god planted the cylon/human mystery that really was a big expensive joke on us the viewers.

I thought about all the lives wasted for this end, all the hours in front of the TV and I realized that I too had closed my eyes and ears to the gods. That fateful evening when we were to watch the end of BSG and the cable went down I felt crushing disappointment, but instead of using intellect and my ability to wonder why I was denied, I followed blind emotion: anger, rage; I would see the end.  And when I had to work and forgot to program TIVO I once again did not think why, but let anger, biased bigotry lead me; they, they were determine to stop me.  Who they were was unknown and not important.  I soldiered on occasionally consumed with desire to know, yet content and happy in my own interpretation.  That is right content until this… now…hind site is 20/20 and I realized the gods were speaking to me too.

If I had just walked away; turned my back on technology, on everything that had brought me to that point, I would be moving forward blissfully ignorant and happy in a world of my own making where Kierra is more than a ghost, where Admiral Adama dies proud with his ship, his crew; his son lives on to create a world of learning, of progress; where the Cylons and humans struggle peacefully to create a galaxy together; where Saul Tigh and Ellen drink themselves into oblivion; where the meaning of all the eight-sided papers, books and photos is explained; where Herra is more than a cute, little imp designed only stare, cry or run away; and finally the elusive Daniel, shouldn’t he have been more than just a dialogue segue?  What the frak?

Standard