CategoryAngst

Valence

This is probably my last Constellation Games post. Spoilers up through chapter 32, and hints about the ending.

Back in the mid-20 chapters, Ariel misdiagnoses Curic with ambivalence, a feared mental condition among the Farang… of ninety million years ago, and not exactly a concern to the unimaginably advanced Farang of the present day. Curic does not suffer from ambivalence, even if her crossselves operated at cross purposes. The sneaky thing about this is that of course Ariel was mistaken, he was taking medical advice from the late Cretaceous. The sneakier thing is that Curic doesn’t suffer from it, but everybody else does.

Somn is ambivalent about her whole place on the contact mission; she wasn’t expecting to find lifeforms, much less anyone she’d have to learn to talk to. She certainly wasn’t expecting her husband to hare off to another planet while she’s trying to hatch their kids. Jenny can’t decide whether she wants to make art or money, nuke Ariel or sleep in his bed. That’s the same Ariel who told one woman he loved her while he left the planet to chase another, and who’s trying to live in outer space and his old house from Texas at the same time. Bai’s ambivalence is stark: he goes to enormous effort to make his imaginary girlfriend a real person, and absolutely cannot handle it when his imaginary girlfriend starts acting like a real person. And said girlfriend herself…

Man, Dana. Because Constellation Games is written by Ariel, most of the narrative is about him feeling hard done by, but he’s got nothing on her. Smoke spins her off by jamming an Alien behavior model onto a mashup of ancient Farang cultural knowledge, a pubescent video game and Bai’s phone app save file. That save file is something to be reckoned with, actually—remember how she was driving the plot before she was even sapient?—but that’s still a pretty messy starting point from which to approximate human behavior. Add the fact that she’s an indentured servant: she gets paid for her translation work (and starts her job while two days old), but she has to live in a piece of paper in Bai’s pocket. No wonder she tried to dissolve Crispy Duck the second she was asked for business advice. Being able to multitask on phone calls isn’t the same as the freedom to leave.

That is, she can’t leave until Ariel fires her and Bai dumps her. Dana is left without a purpose or a friend, as the only being of her kind in existence, and she can’t even masturbate (the other half of her raison d’être) to feel better. That’s the kind of situation that induces suicidal depression in humans.

So how does this tie into ambivalence? Dana is a child of Smoke, and therefore fractal. She’s made of minds all the way down. Ariel’s interview with Her is the closest he sees to what’s going on inside Dana all the time: a mass of individuals adding up to something greater, with a collective voice but a lot of conflict underneath. Which Dana was the one placing that first phone call to Ariel, and which was the one simultaneously having sex with Bai? Which one tried to get them both to enter into a polyamorous relationship, and which one clearly sabotaged the whole thing? When she finally gets Ariel to agree to have sex with her on Ring City, she claims she has to hang up for a second. Which Dana calls back? Which Dana, in a subjective eternity of despair and loneliness, found the will to move forward?

Dana may not even know the answer. Constellation Games is a book about trying to deal with the strange loops in your head, all the minds that are bound to you: your crossselves. Both halves of Curic were trained from birth to deal with the person who lives in their body while they sleep, the Other that neither will ever truly meet. The other characters don’t get that training, and the best they can do is emulate the little plastic board that came with the Brain Embryo. You write down a message in a marker you can’t erase, and you hope the rest of you will see.

Neuromancer, Page 169

“This ain’t bore and inject, it’s more like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn’t feel it. The face kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on and the main programs cut in, start talking circles ’round the logics in the ice. We go Siamese twin on ’em before they even get restless.” The Flatline laughed.

—Wiliam Gibson describes my dating style

Wrong on the Internet

A year ago I wrote about zero tolerance, intolerance and Antjuanece Brown, the Portland teenager who was thrown in jail and labeled a felon for texting with her girlfriend. Antjuanece is out now and things seem to be better for her and Jolene; I hope they are.

Not much has changed, though: the last week saw California and Washington come dramatically closer to marriage equality even as Oregon still lags behind. In the same week, Canadian Safety Minister Vic Toews announced that anyone opposing an Internet surveillance bill there was “siding with child pornographers.” Easy targets remain easy targets.

That’s why there’s so much value in the work my friend Ben is doing at his blog Wrong on the Internet, and particularly in his latest entry:

“This is hard to deal with. I want to have the luxury of dehumanizing pedophiles and other rapists. I would like to pretend that I would never be like that, never do something like that. But I can’t. That informs a lot of my writing here.”

It’s difficult to read, a fact that has nothing to do with Ben’s considerable writing skill. At a certain point the mind flops down and demands that some things must be absolute, that you must be able to point at some set of Others and declare those are the bad guys. We’re wired for that behavior, deep in our instincts. The cognitive battle to remember the contrary is exhausting, and it never ends.

I’m not arguing for total moral relativity here: I’m arguing for vigilance, because the kind of dehumanization in which we regularly engage is a dangerous exploit for our brains. It’s one thing to say that some people do evil. But to strip the humanity from evildoers is to remove the horrible weight and substance of their acts. What if you were a survivor? What choices would you make if your survival had damaged you? “The answers are out there,” the man said, “but they will not improve your self-esteem.”

Arizonans

Governor Jan Brewer scolding President Obama with an upraised finger. She later complained of feeling threatened by him. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was ACTUALLY SHOT IN THE FACE, hugs him at the State of the Union.

I stole this juxtaposition from Racialicious.

I knew I forgot something

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life

This is the other book I read in 2011 that pierced me like a lancet: Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life. It took me a couple months to get to the point where I could write about it, and I am still well aware that I am not doing so from an objective platform.

I noticed it on a shelf at my friend Harry’s house when I went over, a couple days after the breakup, still a bit reely. “Oh,” he said, “yeah. Yeah. You should borrow that.” I later learned he’d only received it from our mutual friend Jackson a few days before; this makes sense, as Jackson is part magical creature. I did borrow it, took it “home” to the couch at Matt and Erika’s, and read it again and again.

It’s structured and formatted like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, down to the ink-sketch art style and fonts. The conceit is this: the page numbers are ordered chronologically, so if you read it according to the instructions, you’ll skip back and forth in time. Sometimes you’ll get into loops. Sometimes, unexpectedly, you’ll reach the end. This gives you the sensation of making choices, but of course the story never changes. You are as wrapped up in the illusion of choice as the protagonist. None of your decisions make any difference in the final outcome, and neither do his.

It’s the best marriage of form and fiction in any book I think I’ve read, and I am a known weakling for narrative tricks with time, but of course that’s not what really got to me. The book is about the beginning and slow end of a relationship between a nerdy guy who doesn’t drink and his beautiful girlfriend who does. The second half even takes place in Portland. Reading it was personal and cathartic, though I don’t mean to say that our stories are parallel: his lasts eight years, for one thing; for another, Anne in the book is an alcoholic and Kara is not. But that’s how catharsis works, right? You read the bigger story to move through the pain of your own small one.

I haven’t talked much about breaking up with Kara here, a trend that will continue, but I suppose this is an opportunity to mark it in the record. It was a sad and probably good thing, and it took too long, the problem being that we were happy together until the end. You can see it in the pictures I posted from our trip to Ireland, just a month before I moved out. It was a good trip. I have few regrets.

For a somewhat more distanced (but still very positive) review of LINCWIYAMTBMOYL, see Alison Hallett at the Mercury.

The warning “does not relate to an imminent or specific threat.”

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that hospitals contain some pretty potent olfactory triggers for me. So when a daily donation thing for a pediatric palliative care home bubbled up through my twitters, this caught me:

“We’re very cautious about the ‘hospital’ smell, so we have smell patrols,” laughs Simons. “Usually we have brownies baking.”

Okay, Debbie Simmons of Ryan House. You get it. Here’s my wallet.

I lied about Eminem being my spirit animal. Cleo is my spirit animal.

My favorite comic strips always go away! I am very sad about Bobwhite ending; it will leave a sore and empty socket in the jawbox of my daily comics list. For years it has been the funniest, smartest, most personal two minutes of my morning, and it was a privilege to read.

Unlike the bad old days, though, now when comic creators stop doing one strip they start another! I don’t know if Magnolia’s new Monster Pulse will ever replace Bobwhite in my heart, but I will pretty much follow her work anywhere at this point. The same goes for Kris Straub, of course, and F Chords has suddenly sprinted up to become my favorite outlet of his, with a distinctly more personal tone that echoes a little of what he used to do in Checkerboard Nightmare. So fucking go there already, I’m tired of telling you dicks.

And re-read Bobwhite!

I am thirty now

Hand modeling by Kara.

There are two things in that picture. One of them is a FREAKING IPAD. Kara and her family got it for me for my birthday because they are ridiculous. I am still figuring out what it is for (besides giving me yet another platform on which to play Worms), but I already know that a) Flipboard is amazing and b) an iPad makes a much, much better laptop-analog than my poor phone. I’m typing this on it right now!

The other thing in the picture is a card from my Uncle John and Aunt Dana. I’ve told you about UJ’s birthday cards before, but this one is something else. You should click on this high-res version to get a better look.

Cross-section.

It’s covered in names from that thing I did for a while, which my aunt and uncle have always supported to an unwarranted degree. I can’t remember whether I told them I was bringing the project to a close, but I think I must have to get such a perfect gift! I’m framing it.

I started writing this on Friday evening, thinking that my awesome birthday was pretty much over, but I was mistaken. The entry immediately following this will elaborate.

Pat is too verbose to be tweeted

“My all-time favorite though, was the apartment where they clearly ran out of ideas for what to do with all the space that they had, so they made a ‘sitting room.’ This was a 10’ by 10’ room with nothing in it but a chair in the center of the room. I hate everyone.

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