There are No Happily Ever Afters

First, let me lead off by saying that I don’t think this post is a negative one. At least, that’s not where I think it’ll end up. But it’s going to start off pretty gloomy. I mean, just look at the title up there. No happily ever afters? You mean fairy tales have been lying to me all this time?

If it were just fairy tales, then I don’t think it would be as big of a deal, but our culture is in many ways saturated with a happily ever after mentality, primarily because of the pop culture we consume. I love movies and books (obviously), but almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when you watch or read story after story after story with endings, it’s easy to get to the point where you start waiting for the end of the story you’re living.

Take, for example, the story of COVID. It fits easily into any number of disaster movies, and so it’s not a big leap to try and assume it will follow the same arc of those movies. Disease is discovered. Disease wrecks havoc. Cure is found. Disease is vanquished. Fade to black. But in reality, it doesn’t work out that way. When exactly would the “fade to black” have kicked in? When the vaccine was found? It wasn’t done yet. The vaccines still had to be tested. How about when the vaccines were tested and confirmed 90%+ effective? Nope, still not done. The vaccines had to be administered. How about when they’re administered? Well, just look at what a mess that’s been in America to date to see how well that’s worked out. You could have made an entire second narrative, starting with the “happily ever after” of the vaccine being effective and then focused around the huge problems of actually getting the cure administered.

And even once we iron those wrinkles out, at what point is it “over”? I don’t know that there will be one.

This isn’t isolated to world-changing events, either. It’s very easy to assume you’ll get your “happily ever after” when long-sought for moments arrive. When you graduate, perhaps. When you marry. When you get a job. When you get a book deal. When you win the lottery. When you reach that goal you’ve been waiting a long time to reach. But if you take a look back at all those potential “happily ever afters,” I think you’ll note that it wasn’t, in fact, happy from then on. You don’t get a job, or you miss a promotion, or you lose the job, or your boss is a bone-head, or you squander your lottery money, or your book tanks, or your spouse is annoying, and on and on and on.

Happily ever after just doesn’t come.

So how in the world is this not depressing?

Over a hundred years ago, newspaper columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones wrote, “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

This speaks in many ways to what I’ve concluded as well. It’s important to celebrate the victories you get when you get them, but at the same time keep in mind that those victories are not endings. That the page will turn, and new challenges will continue.

I read recently that “the lie outlives the liar.” You can remove a liar from office, but you can’t remove the lies they persuaded people to believe as easily. The people who attacked the Capitol last week aren’t going to suddenly decide that what they did was wrong. (Though it’s been amusing to me to see how many of them have now spoken up after their arrests to explain that they were really just there to watch what was going on, and that they personally weren’t protesting anything. They walked through open doors. They picked up zip ties they ran across, and were looking for a policeman to return them to. Many many excuses . . . )

Trump will be out of office next week. It becomes that much more important for us to continue to press for truth and transparency from our leaders. To not let the Democrats now do all the things they reviled Republicans for doing for the past four years. To not assume we’ve reached our happily ever after.

Likewise, we need to keep pressing for people to social distance and to wear masks, even though a vaccine is currently being administered. Thousands of people continue to die every day, and hundreds of thousands continue to contract the disease.

In our personal lives, it’s important to not wait for some big life changing event to begin making changes or taking action. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’ll do that when COVID is over,” or decide to delay things until something else is in place. Sure, sometimes you have to do that. I’ve got a kitchen renovation I really want to do, and money to do it with, but I’ve been hesitating (and will continue to hesitate) until I have more certainty about what the future holds. Committing tens of thousands of dollars to cabinets and countertops when there’s a decent chance you’ll need that money for food and clothing doesn’t seem like a good call.

But I also believe there will always be reasons to not do things you want to do, just as there will always be the temptation to plan up to a point and then assume all your troubles will be over. That just doesn’t happen. But it does mean we can choose to act today to make changes we want to see happen. Just because there isn’t a happily ever after doesn’t mean those mile markers aren’t important. It means we can be happy now, and the happiness we have now can be extended to the happiness we’ll have in the future.

I don’t know. Maybe the post ended up being bleak anyway. I suppose it all depends on how you read it. Just know that for me, as I look at it, knowing there’s no happily ever after motivates me to be find happiness in the present. To not wait for some outside thing to change, but to be the change I want to see. Take that thought for what it’s worth.

Look at it this way: it’s Friday! Weekend! We can be happy about the weekend while still acknowledging that a new week will begin in just a few short days. That’s no reason not to enjoy the weekend, however . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Problem with Fictional Dystopias

I read Animal Farm just barely, the first time I’ve ever read it. (Somehow I missed it when I was going through high school, though I know that’s when many people first encounter it.) It’s a very good book, and it makes some excellent observations on how politics often works out. It also presents a very bleak view of the whole process.

(I just realized I assumed everyone is familiar with Animal Farm, but that’s likely not the case. For those of you who aren’t, it’s another book by George Orwell (of 1984 fame), about a farm where the animals revolt against humans and end up running the farm on their own. They come up with their own system of government and set out to make a utopia for all animals. Things don’t really go according to plan . . . )

I’ve taken some time to read or re-read a number of dystopian novels over the past while. Animal Farm. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1984. And a ton of dystopias in YA, such as Hunger Games. It’s been scary how prescient so many of these books have been. Written well before the events of the present day, they’ve still managed to guess a lot of the techniques and arguments that would be made by people in an effort to essentially create these sorts of dystopian states. Some of that is undoubtedly because there’s a long history of people trying to grab more power for themselves, and those approaches don’t really tend to change that much over time.

Which made me wonder why more people don’t see it for what they are. 1984 stands out in particular for today’s troubles. It seems like such a clear takedown of Trump and what he’s tried to do. Why can’t other people see that?

As I’ve thought about it, I think the trouble stems from the fact that it’s much simpler to see good and bad when you’re looking at it through a story. The pigs in Animal Farm are clearly bad. So are the deluded people in District 1. You’re presented with an obvious problem, and you have a protagonist who’s working against that problem.

In the real world, you don’t get those clear delineations. I know plenty of people who really disliked Obama, for example, and saw many things to object to. So when people are reading a book, they tend to naturally associate with the main character. It becomes very difficult to recognize the traits of the villain in yourself. My friend Dan Wells observed that America is essentially District 1, for example, and I think he was really onto something there. So you’ve got a case where a bunch of District 1 citizens are reading about the evils of District 1, unable to recognize the fact that they themselves are District 1.

This is in no way a Republican or Democrat problem. I think this is a general tendency of people, to think the best of themselves and be much more ready to see the worst in other people. I’m sure I do it, and I’m sure the Biden administration will fall victim to it, though I’d like to think they won’t quite revel in it to the extent that the Trump administration has . . .

What can we do about it? I’d say the biggest thing we can do is to regularly check ourselves. Think about what we’re doing and why, and ask ourselves how we’re doing on a broad scale. Regular, honest self-reflection is something that would help many, many people improve, and if you improve as a people, you improve as a country.

The easiest way to know that you’re not being honest enough with yourself is when you think you’re 100% right. When you see the other side as totally villainous, and your side as completely virtuous. I think it would be fascinating to write a book from the point of view of a District 1 person. Someone who’s totally drank the kool-aid and is convinced they’re right. Of course, I’m not sure how readable and interesting that book would be. Imagine Harry Potter from Umbridge’s point of view. I tend to think they’d view it as a tragedy, or be very frustrated that the villain ends up winning.

Perhaps a more interesting approach would be a book that alternates between viewpoint characters, with a District 1 person contrasted with a District 12 person. The easy way out would be to have the District 1 person realize at the end of the book that they were wrong and District 12 was right. The more accurate, true to life approach would be to have both of them realize they were right and wrong.

(I might have to think about that idea some more. It really appeals to me . . .)

Anyway. Just some dystopian related thoughts I’m having as we’re all living through the current dystopia of our lives. Happy Wednesday, everybody!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best (and Worst) Media I Consumed in 2020

A little bit later than I’d like this year, but the wonderful thing about logging everything I read and watch is that it’s a pretty simple thing to look back and sum things up whenever I choose to do it.

2020 was (obviously) a strange year. I had to really force myself to get to my 52 books for the year, probably because unless a book was really gripping, I had a hard time focusing on reading. Distractions like a global pandemic seem to do that to me. Go figure. But I got there, and I actually broke my page number record (since I’ve been keeping track.) I took some time to see how everything has shaken out for me from a media perspective over the past several years (since I started logging.) Here’s an overview:

YearBooksPagesMoviesTV Seasons
20153816,40114836
20163814,1379138
20175218,6288833
20185218,6996826
20195221,0095739
20205221,27712629

I was really surprised to see how many movies and TV seasons I used to watch. If I’m wondering where I’ve been carving out all the time I’ve needed to do the other things on my plate, it’s clear at least one area that’s been winnowed down.

I’m not honestly sure what I think about that, really. On the one hand, it’s easy to say movies and television are extraneous, and so what if I stop watching as many. On the other, I’ve always thought of myself as both a well-watched AND a well-read person, and I’m particularly troubled to see the number of movies dipping so precipitously. Then again, I do believe some of what used to be movies is being turned into full blown television shows, so I suppose there’s some mushiness to those boundaries. It’s interesting to me that, in times of stress, I turned to more movies as escape. Movies are wonderful, because you consume them all at one sitting. No long term commitment. I might begin to think about adding a movie goal, but I’m not sure about it, so I’m not going to just yet.

Clearly my reading goal is stretching me, since I keep getting to 52 and no higher. Though it’s interesting to see how I’ve begun to take on bigger books, with that total of pages read creeping up each year.

Anyway. That’s it from a bird’s eye point of view. What did I think about the actual things I read and watched? As usual, I’ll give you my 10s and 9s for each, and then for film and television I’ll give you my worst. (Out of professional courtesy, I don’t tell people about the books I really disliked, though I might make some broad comments about them.)

NOTE: These are organized first by number score, and then within that by when I watched them, from earliest in the year to latest. I’m not putting the individual scores in order.

Best Books of 2020:

  • The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (10/10)
  • Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson (10/10)
  • Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson (10/10)
  • Underlord, by Will Wight (9/10)
  • The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis (9/10)
  • Wintersteel, by Will Wight (9/10)

Honorable Mentions (8.5/10)

  • Lost and Found, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi
  • Uncrowned, by Will Wight

Best Movies and TV Seasons of 2020:

  • 1917 (10/10)
  • The Two Popes (10/10)
  • Up (10/10)
  • His Girl Friday (10/10)
  • 12 Angry Men (10/10)
  • Pirates of Penzance (10/10)
  • Inglorious Basterds (10/10)
  • The Queen’s Gambit (season 1) (10/10)
  • No Country for Old Men (10/10)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (10/10)
  • A Marriage Story (9.5/10)
  • Joker (9.5/10)
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 3) (9.5/10)
  • The Producers (original) (9.5/10)
  • Rear Window (9.5/10)
  • Hamilton (9.5/10)
  • Ghostbusters (original) (9.5/10)
  • Bugsy Malone (9/10)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (9/10)
  • The Good Place (season 5) (9/10)
  • Strange Brew (9/10)
  • Titanic (9/10)
  • The Walk (9/10)
  • The Martian (9/10)
  • Stranger Things (season 1) 9/10
  • The Muppet Movie (9/10)
  • Stranger Things (season 3) 9/10
  • Big (9/10)
  • WALL-E (9/10)
  • Field of Dreams (9/10)
  • Interstellar (9/10)
  • West Side Story (9/10)
  • Chariots of Fire (9/10)
  • Moonstruck (9/10)
  • The Great Escape (9/10)
  • The Philadelphia Story (9/10)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (9/10)
  • Bringing Up Baby (9/10)
  • Miller’s Crossing (9/10)
  • Soul (9/10)

Honorable Mentions (8.5/10)

  • Contagion
  • UHF
  • Argo
  • Knives Out
  • My Man Godfrey
  • Roman Holiday
  • Sabrina (original)
  • The Last Crusade
  • Dark (season 1)
  • Raising Arizona
  • Umbrella Academy (season 2)
  • A Knight’s Tale
  • The Twelfth Man

You’ll note that my viewing was pretty stacked, mainly because I was rewatching classic movies with Daniela, and it’s hard to go wrong with those. But I didn’t just watch good movies:

Worst Movies and TV Seasons of 2020:

  • Scoob (1/10)
  • The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (2/10)
  • Parasite (3/10)
  • Succession (season 1) (3/10)
  • The Hate U Give (4/10)

Dishonorable Mention (5/10)

  • The Hobbit (Rankin/Bass)
  • The Sorceror’s Stone
  • The Chamber of Secrets

Yes, a 5/10 is technically a wash in my rating scheme. It means I neither liked nor disliked the movie. However, since I generally only finish movies I like, and I don’t rate movies (or TV seasons) I don’t finish, my rating generally skews toward the higher end of the scale. So getting a 5/10 is a sign that I have no real desire to watch the movie again . . .

As for books, did I read anything a 5 or below? Just two, and nothing that was too-too terrible.

  • An adapted screenplay-turned-novel by a famous author in the 40s (4/10)
  • A classic novel by another famous counterculture author (5/10)

And there you have it. Quite the sampling over the course of the year. I really enjoyed revisiting the classic movies, and I hope to get back to that sometime in the next bit.

Watch or read anything great (or terrible) yourself?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

New Blinds!

Yes, we’ve come to the point in my life where getting new blinds for the house is a Big Accomplishment. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d reach this point until I was past retirement age, but time does funny things to you, and our old curtains were getting long in the tooth. Plus, I had no idea just how complex it would be getting new blinds.

For one thing, there are about a gazillion different types of blinds you can go with. Blinds, rollers, shades, curtains, and more. And what about color? What about design? What about fabric or material? For a man who likes committing to any one thing about as much as he likes going to the dentist, that’s way too many choices. And even once you’ve made your choice, there are a thousand different places to buy the dang things. Which is the best place to get them?

Look, folks. I’m a librarian. I like straightforward research questions with straightforward answers. “What are the best blinds for me to purchase” seems like the first, but it doesn’t have anything like the second. That said, I still gave it the old college try. It helped that Denisa made the choice with me.

In the end, we went with double-celled, light-blocking cellular shades, and we bought them from cellularwindowshades.com. Why did we make those choices? We liked the fact that these shades add some good insulation to your windows. We liked the company because they had straightforward videos describing how to measure and install the shades, and explanations about what to look for in a good shade. It also helped that they were doing 50% off for the holidays. (They’re still doing 40% off, and no, I’m not being paid at all for this endorsement. I just liked their shades.)

Unfortunately, I discovered that even once you’ve decided on which shades to get and where to get them, actually ordering them is a pain and a half. It took a whole day of my vacation, running around with a tape measure to double and then triple check sizing. If I screwed this up, it would be on me. There were false starts, where we thought we could get one kind of shade, but discovered we couldn’t (our windows aren’t level enough). There were misunderstandings about what dimensions they needed exactly. There were existential crises where I had to figure out what kind of draw string mechanism was best. (For the record, we went with the rather stupidly-named “smoothy cord loop” option, and I’m happy with the decision.)

After all of that, it still cost over $2,000 to get 16 shades for our house, and we didn’t even get all the windows covered. (We’re waiting on construction changes for some of the others. One day, kitchen. One day!)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the blinds came on Saturday, and I discovered it’s one thing to order the blinds. It’s another to install them. By the end, I was a blind installing machine, but it took a day to get there, and a fair bit of on-the-job learning. It also took a long time to take off the old curtains. (Anyone need some triple-layer, insulated, blackout curtains? One side of some of them are sun bleached, but the other side is pretty solid, and they still do a great job darkening and insulating a room. They’d come with all the hardware as well. Just saying . . .)

The good news is that all the blinds are up, and we’re all very happy with them. Plus, if I ever need a side job, I could probably become a “window blind consultant and installer.” So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A New Buy Nothing Group

Denisa has long been a firm believer in doing what she can to help the environment and improve the world around her. She’s taken the kids out each Earth Day to go pick up trash along our street, she’s taught classes at UMF around reducing waste, and she’s been an active participant in different online groups about the topic. She upped her game a few days ago, however, deciding to take the step from being a participant to being a leader, despite the fact that it was a step that put her out of her comfort zone.

On the surface, the Buy Nothing Project seems pretty straightforward: it’s got to be about a bunch of people either trying to get free stuff or avoiding buying new stuff to reduce waste. That’s what I assumed when Denisa first started talking about it, at least. But it turns out it’s much more than that. The idea is to use social media as a tool for connecting communities, eliminating needless purchases, helping other people, and making new friends. That sounds like a really ambitious goal for a group, but this video gives a good overview about it:

They’re very specific about the rules for the group. For one thing, people are limited to belonging to one group only, determined by their geography. (This helps avoid anyone just joining a bunch of groups and going around trying to score free stuff.) You’re allowed to post things you’re looking to give away or things you’re looking to get. No money or bartering for anything. They’re all supposed to be essentially gifts. And what was most surprising to me, the groups are intended to be fairly small: 1,000 people or less.

The reason is simple: the group hopes to connect people. To get people to know their neighbors and start doing nice things for them. (It’s not just about giving away free things. It also encourages people to post expressions of gratitude or offer services like teaching a skill or helping with a chore.) If the group gets too large, then it’s both unwieldy to manage, and the close knit community can’t really flourish as well. With that in mind, they suggest limiting the geographical footprint of any one group to 10-25,000 residents.

Denisa loved the idea, but there was one big problem: no group existed in our area. Maine has a few, but if you live outside those boundaries, you’re not allowed to join. So Denisa reached out to find out about how to go about creating a new official group for the Buy Nothing Project. The Buy Nothing Mt. Blue Area, ME Facebook group was born, and she’s working on drumming up interest now. She thought limiting to the school district was a natural boundary most people already recognize in the area. It’s people who are already connected through schools, after all. So that means that towns like Jay or Strong are out of range, unfortunately, but if you live in the Mt. Blue school district and any of this sounds interesting, I encourage you to give it a shot. If you live outside that area, then check to see if there’s a group already in your area. If there isn’t, you could always form one!

Social media doesn’t have to be a divisive thing, and I really like the idea of it being used for community building this way. Denisa’s been doing a ton of research on how to make a successful group and how to make the page as useful as possible, and it’s been nice to see her start diving into the ins and outs of a platform, since that’s usually something she’s shied away from. Go check it out, and join if you meet the criteria.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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