Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Wandering is the Point

I'm Ornery

I do not like most video games. They feel too sculpted, too clean, too sterile. Having grown up in controlled and sterilized environments I find myself practically allergic to anyone controlling my environment, nevermind me. This makes communicating any part of my worldview particularly difficult, nevermind sitting down to play some other numbskull's idea of fun. So I am phenomenally picky about video games. They either need to be areas where I can just run around or they need to be sculpted so freaking well that I can just enjoy it, as opposed to realize I've been taken for yet another ride.

And I hate that feeling, on a genetic level.

It's practically enough for me to break out in hives.

No, I don't think it's inherently a problem. Well, the hives part, probably yes. But my dislike of being in a sterile and controlled environment is not a problem, thank you very much.

Which brings us to Dark Souls and the secret area Ash Lake.

Dark Souls is Ornery Too

I have noticed something about "classics", actual classics: I usually have to take a long time to absorb them. It took me five attempts to read Brothers Karamazov, over the course of almost ten years. Les Miserables still sits on my shelf, incomplete. The Solar Cycle was shotgunned through rapidly, which I've been told is not the best way to go about it, but I knew that if I didn't just sit down and do it I'd never get it done. And yeah, that was phenomenally difficult to do, but I did it. It always feels like this wrestling of wills, as I try and get this new viewpoint into my skull and try and figure out what I think of it.

Dark Souls and I seem to have a similar relationship. I'm on year two and my second attempt. It's going better, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that cussing the game out and walking away for weeks was a common occurrence. But I've continued on my way, killing everything in my way indiscriminately, hoping that my zweihander could keep the stunlock going, upping my endurance so that I can continue an onslaught of damage. It's probably not the best build but I love seeing creatures stunned or proned. 

I heard about Ash Lake thanks to my brother-in-law, Kyle. He told me how to get there: strike down not just one but two secret walls, and make your way down The Tree. When you get to the bottom you will be there, at Ash Lake. I had seen pictures of the trees. The dragon. And that path of white sand, cutting through the navy water. I dunno, I just wanted to go. Why not? It was really that simple of a desire. But the barriers to getting to the secret route was.... not what I wanted to do. Blight Town is an awful awful place. I want to get out of here before I even go; poison swamps with fire-bugs? Nope. Nope. Nope. So walking further into that mess? Definitely not, thanks.

Well the other day, while trying to pick a peck of snide, somehow I stumbled acrost that tree, with two false walls inside!

And I thought: why not?

Oh NO.

(For those you who are blessed in your ignorance, that's a basilisk. It has a poisonous breath that kills you and then cuts your health in half until you can get the curse removed)

Yup, got cursed, half health! Now I could either go back or keep trying to go down. I've already got to get all the way back up to the surface to undo the curse. And that means getting back through Blight Town. I mean, that's going to be one heck of a trek and I just... I mean I may as well get to the bottom, right? Basilisks are bad, but they aren't impossible to deal with.


So I am totally not at the right level to take those guys. It takes way too many hits to kill these fungusmen things, and so one on one became... impractical. I wound up running through, after several dozens of attempts. I practically wept at getting to that bonfire. I'd finally made it down here! After so many attempts I-


A freaking hydra! Really?? Well, maybe I can just go around and-


Just WHY


Unable to avoid the hydra and unwilling to run back up and brave that tree so soon, I decided to go after the hydra. I figured I either had to git gud or just start over by this point, I was so unwilling to beat a retreat. So I went back at it. I kept dying, but each time I learned a bit more. And a bit more.

And then a head flew off.

And then I had a blind spot in the attack pattern. 

I only died one more time before finally putting the hydra down. I'm still trying to figure out how the heck that happened.

There are a few other creatures hanging around, but it's just white sands, worn away by the black-blue water. All these trees.... and then I found a grove of these trees, rising up out of the water. With a dragon. He shouldn't be here! Dragons are dead in the setting! Like, wiped out. With the exception of the Gaping Dragon (which is certainly not in its original condition) dragons were wiped out by Gwyn and the gods. The dragon was also sitting in front of a bonfire that had been boosted, which means that the dragon is female, given she is the flame-keeper. The idea of picking a fight with this young dragon seemed idiotic. I was cursed and was certain that I did not want to pick a fight at that point, not one I didn't have to. 

Wait, I can enter a covenant with the last true dragon?

Absolutely yes.

Now it was time to go back up; there literally wasn't anything around else here, beyond some weird clam monsters and a few items. Going back up wasn't quite the struggle I thought it would be. I've always found myself overestimating the difficulty of trekking back through an area; I got up pretty easily.

Now to take care of that freaking curse. I found the lady who sells them, and realized I had some farming to do. Not a problem!  I went killed a bunch of undead, over and over and over, until I thought I had enough. So I went back.

I had read it wrong. I needed another thousand. Groaning, I killed the thousand souls I needed and came back.

Now, I'm not entirely sure why, but that actually meant a decent amount to me. That messy little episode in my extended Dark Souls run is something I'm still pondering, days later, trying to understand what had happened. I'm not sure why that is. But it is. If I could find more video games that did that I'd play a heck of a lot more often. 

Whatever that is.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

John Walker

I was asked to share my thoughts on John Walker, aka Falcon/Soldier’s Captain America. I’m about halfway through episode four, but I’ve gotten a pretty good read on Walker’s character. Overall I don’t think he’s a good representation of what an Army Ranger would look like if he volunteered for Captain America’s shield. So to do that we’re going to break down what an Army soldier is normally taught to handle, what an Army Captain is actually like and the duties they have on them, how Army infantrymen are different from the rest of the Army, and what experience I had with Army Rangers.

I preface this whole post with the warning: this is an opinion. It may be a somewhat reasonably informed opinion, given that I am an Army vet, but it is only an opinion. Wyatt Russel is a great actor and I've been enjoying Falcon and The Winter Soldier quite a bit, so far. I'm finding the discussion of power from Zemo quite enjoyable, as well as seeing The Falcon show why Steve picked him to be the next Cap.

Y’know what the first thing that was done to me at boot camp? I was forced to stay up for 48 hours, straight. During that time the other unfortunates and I were forced to stand in long lines, for hours, without falling asleep, a task I somehow managed to complete, although I’ll be damned if I know how. We were all asked to take in enormous amounts of information while sleep-deprived. And then we were given four hours of sleep. It was disorienting. Confusing. We just sorta bumbled from one station to the next, trying to absorb as much as we could.

The way we were greeted at Basic itself is what’s known as a shark attack. The drill sergeants get on the bus and scream at you at the top of their lungs, forcing you off the bus, picking at every last thing you did wrong, forcing you along into a path. People are routinely dropped into pushups or whatever else the drill sergeants felt like making us do. It was an entire day of being yelled at over the slightest thing, with you being punished for what others did; if one person screwed up EVERYONE was forced to do as many push-ups as the drill sergeants liked. And they liked seeing a lot of push-ups. You’d go to bed with the drill sergeants yelling at you over the PA system, listening to others around you crying themselves to sleep.

The next day was no better. Nor was the day after that. And the one after that. A seemingly endless number of days followed of being punished for things you did not do but were your fault, because you did not stop your neighbor from doing them. Image became everything. Individual disagreements took a back seat: band together or be worked into a state of complete and utter despair. You learned to pick your battles with those around you, to smile and laugh with those you desperately wanted to injure and maim for being pieces of shit, because you all suffered together. Folks you hated became brothers and stayed brothers, even if you still hated them.

During this point in time you’re taught cadences, marching songs. These songs center around a few themes: nobody is loyal to you (particularly your significant other), the only things that matter are how well you kill people, and living happily ever after is a lie. And, despite how awful Army life is, how spiritually destructive it is, you will probably renew your contract and stay in. And these ideas are ground into you, day after day after day. And you know the really awful thing?

By and large they’re right.

No one is actually loyal to you. Marital infidelity is astonishingly high in the military, as is spousal abuse. Supposed friends stab you in the back to get their promotion. You can claim to have whatever gifts and skills you’d like, but nothing really matters if you can’t live through the next task, whatever it may be. And accomplishing your goal normally doesn’t really feel all that good. One mountain down, infinity to go! The amount of things that can go wrong in a military day is close to 100% of the whole day, all day, every week, for years.

Soldiers are never off the clock. Never. Each and every action done can be brought up in a court marshal and in disciplinary action; there is no private life, not if someone with enough power pushes. You don’t decide when to go home, your command team lets you know when to go home. I’ve pulled 16 hours days unexpectedly, simply because some idiot lost a piece of equipment and no one was going home until it was found, by Captain’s orders! You could be awoken in the middle of the night and yanked out of your house to go see to an emergency of some sort, from something breaking down at command to watching your buddy who got into a drunken fight with the cops.

And you know what? I don’t know a single soldier who doesn’t laugh about every second of it. Actual, genuine, hysterical laughter. No irony, it’s genuinely funny to us! The constant wearing down and facing of utter bleakness produces a dark sense of humor that very few civilians can imagine. Jokes are routinely cracked about suicide, adultery, dying violently, running way, and roasting in the fires of Hell as a way of coping with the fact that we have no actual control over our lives. And we laugh to the point of tears about it all. I was more than halfway there with this sense of humor before the military. Now? I look at things that others would see with horror and chuckle darkly. It can always get so much worse. And it probably will. And since I can’t control it, I maintain the one true control anyone actually has in this world: the right to look oncoming doom in the face and laugh at it, to belittle the certain doom. To refuse to crack.

No, I’m not even halfway done. We haven’t talked about infantrymen yet.

Every single infantryman I’ve ever met has been extremely principled, honorable, and uncannily intelligent. There’s a self-possession in them that’s hard to describe, because every last thing I just described is far worse for an infantryman. And at the end of such an ordeal you possess yourself, because literally everything else has been taken from you. Pride, dignity, the illusion of control that civilians entertain themselves with, all of it gone. What you get is a sense of honor and control that one would not think possible to have.  Every single infantry leader I’ve met has a level of focus that should not be possible. Relentlessly goal-oriented, beyond ruthless, they know how to push you beyond what you would have considered in getting stuff done.

But that has a cost. One day I was talking with one of my sergeants, who was former infantry. Some of my compatriots asked him for some stories from “the front”.  Our sergeant proceeded to tell a story about shooting off an enemy’s nose and laughing hysterically with his battle buddies about the way the fallen enemy’s blood squirted out of the hole: an arc like a drinking fountain. Even years removed he had the look of look of nostalgia, over shooting someone’s nose off.  I’ve heard stories of infantrymen being forced to run over Middle Eastern children with tanks because terrorists frequently attach bombs to children, and so to stop was possible death… so you didn’t stop. And laughed. As they ran over children.  Infantrymen talk about these things with a casual, yet steely, acceptance. There is little regret left in them; they could not afford to question what they did then, as it would have killed them, and that would have been one more body bag, one more team of condolence whisperers sent to a grieving family. No thank you, they’re going to live, and sleep at night. And if you have issue with that that’s just too bad.

Being an officer in the military is both better and worse than being an enlisted. On the one hand you’ve not had your individuality ground out of you in the same way as enlisted.  But on the other hand you are taught to dehumanize those under you, while being threatened with jail should they get killed. An officer generally doesn’t have an issue with grinding enlisted into the dirt, depriving them of sleep and sanity, because they’re not people to the officer, but immediately flip the script if the officer’s actions lead to the enlisted’s harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. The enlisted become a means to an end, with the officer being forced to look the other way at all but the most egregious of harm.

Now it’s time to talk about the Rangers. Ranger school is one of the most grueling things one can ever go through: days without sleep, land navigational courses that would make others starve to death, and de-programming training. Most Army soldiers are taught to act as a cohesive whole by giving up their individual judgements. Don’t question, move on, the group needs you to. Rangers have that impulse to blind group think removed, the way a surgeon would take out a cancerous tumor. Formations, uniforms, and other means of enforcing blind group-think are destroyed, because if you can make it this far and become a ranger then you are truly trustworthy. At the same time the image of the Rangers becomes an unconscious reality. You have to look good, because you are no longer you. You are an Army Ranger and must present your group at its best.

You know the things that get trained out of you the most, with all that? Doubt. If you think something you have to own it. People can die if you’re unsure. You also develop a disturbing sense of the blackest humor, learning to lean into the sickest parts of your brain, because every part of that buffalo has been shown to be useful to you. And you will be found out if you’re not in 100%. No one is that good of a liar. No one.  So you have to become the real deal. If you’re not you’ll be drummed out.

People who doubt get other people killed.

People who aren’t willing to be okay with killing other people will get their friends killed.

People who have not learned to accept their darker impulses will crack under them at the first sign of stress.

My issue with John Walker is that he’s not sure enough. The man thinks his time in Afghanistan is awful and wants to cry over it? Boo hoo, you signed up for Ranger school, nobody drafted you! At no point in John Walker’s process would he have been actually forced into something. He signed up. He did it to himself. Entering the Rangers is completely and utterly voluntary. And there’s this curious entitled sense to the John Walker we see on screen. He thinks he’s entitled to doubt.

Doubt is a luxury, a sickly sweet poison that kills all souls that it comes in contact with if there’s too much of it. And for a soldier? A Ranger? Almost any instinctual doubt is too much.

And I find it more than a little odd that John Walker, a man who has had absolutely no room for doubt anywhere in his life for a long time, has any of it left. Put on your uniform, smile, kiss babies, and then go kill people. The Army puts you in whatever job they can safely put you, at any point in time. I promise you that in the real world John would not have been forced into Captain America’s role. He would have had to audition, to compete with others, and any personality flaws he had would have been spotted miles away. Miles.

Because doubt is a stench that would have been scrubbed off of him a very long time ago. And if it hadn’t John wouldn’t have gotten up there in the first place.

I never thought I’d miss the John Walker of the comics. Brutal and awful as he is, US Agent from the comics at least doesn’t doubt. And that is something, regardless of what he does with it.

So no, halfway through episode four I’m not buying it. This John Walker would have died a long time ago, nevermind gotten three Medals of Honor. And his friend would have died long before this point.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lost: S1E3

I find it funny that the very first thing that the Lost crew does is release an episode about the nature of knowledge. Given how many people were all about trying to dissect the show and figure it out I find it ironic that the first thing the show does is go out of its way to discuss the basic ideas of information. You've got Kate, for whom information is a threat to truth, Sawyer, who refuses to act on information and condemns a man to death, and Jack tries to let information go and focus on the task at hand. If there is any episode that states the inadequacy of approaching this show as merely as a puzzle to be solved it's this one.

So, the sum up is that the air marshal is dying, and Jack accidentally finds out that Kate is a murderer. The episode dips a bit into Kate's backstory, showing her rather dodgy history with the truth. We also dip a bit into Michael's issues with Locke. And see Sawyer fail to be a decent person for not the last time.


But seriously, the above scene is hilarious in hindsight when you realize Sun knows English... and therefore knows everything Michael is saying. I dunno, That's a fun layer of stuff to read back later. And this is one of the funnier moments, at least for me. Yeah, I think it's funny.

The truth around Kate is complicated, and is therefore hard to communicate adequately. She had killed the man who had abused her multiple ways, after finding out that he's actually her father. That's... complicated. That's not a simple thing to explain to anyone. So why would Kate even attempt to do so, to anyone? I think Kate is totally justified in not sharing the truth with anyone, ever. It's really not a grey thing, at least to me. 

So yeah, I'm gonna die on that hill.

Come at me, folks.

Moving onto someone else, Sawyer doesn't care about anyone else's truth. Like, at all. I'd forgotten just how insufferable Sawyer was at the beginning. There's a lot of really grinding stereotypical remarks going on, which just grind all the harder when you take characters like Sayid and call them "Al-Jazeera". Sawyer's mind is perpetually made up and that just makes him grate and grate and grate... right up until the end, when Sawyer decides enough's enough and he's going to act on his stupid ideas. It doesn't go well, what a surprise! He talks Kate into giving him the gun the others had entrusted her with. And condemns the marshal to a horrifying desk, because Sawyer is a jackass. This won't be the last time Sawyer condemns people to horrible fates because he thinks he knows best. And it's all out, right here, in the third episode of the show.

Jack wants to focus on the matter at hand, and tries to only use the information he thinks is relevant to that situation, despite everyone else wanting him to jump to conclusions about Kate and the marshal. I really Jack's ending statement: everyone should get the chance to start all over. Given what we'll find out about Jack we know he's saying that about himself is a lot more than he would say that about anyone. Jack has always wanted to be the hero. He's always wanted to be the hero. Now that he's got that chance Jack tries to live up to what he always wanted to be. And he impresses that upon Kate at the end. 

But it's Locke who has the best idea: realizing that the truth can only take you so far, given how fragile everyone can be. Seeing how Michael and Walt can barely carry on a conversation, Locke ignores Michael's hatred to help the father out. I really like how Locke just sits through most of the episode, crafting that whistle, focusing on the one thing he knows he can do right.

And, once everyone starts doing that, for however short a time they can manage, you get this incredible ending.

 I leave you with that ending, because there's something special about it. This remains one of my favorite episodes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Iliad


This is one of the oldest books in the Western Canon. Most of us think we know it: Helen of Greece ran off with Paris of Troy, a war runs for ten years, and eventually the Trojan Horse happens and Troy falls in a rage of fire, pillage, and rape. All of this was because Paris had made the mistake of slighting Hera and Athena, who wanted their revenge against Paris. And apparently nobody thought to ask "Why the hell are we doing this?" Heck, for a lot of people it's a bit of chronological snobbery. "Look at those stupid ancients! Fighting a ten year war over a woman who clearly didn't want to stay with her husband!"

That. Is. Not. The Iliad. At all

The Iliad is not the ten year war. It is toward the end of the war. The humans are tired. They want to go home. A lot of people have died. And folks are just wanting it to be over. But the gods are not through. Hera and Athena are bound and determined to destroy Troy, to wreck that whole city to get back at Paris. The gods keep pushing and prodding the humans into greater and greater acts of violence.

And before you start scoffing at the stupid humans reacting to virtual gods.... go check Twitter. I mean, throw up in your mouth if you must, but go check Twitter. And then ask yourself how on earth some of those ragefests could possibly go on as they have?

"But Nathan," you may say. "That's humanity at its worst." And you're right, but that's not what Homer is showing. Homer shows something much worse. These heroes are doing what they're doing because they're at their best. Their virtues of loyalty, pride in country, courage in the face of  danger, are just as prone to being manipulated as their vices. And in so doing Homer makes a more chilling point: our virtues are actually easier to manipulate, because they are stronger. If someone can short-circuit your brain your virtues can keep you going on for a much longer time than your vices.

But even the idea that the gods' influence is inherently evil is... complicated. Because the ultimate "win" of the narrative, Achilles weeping with Priam, only comes about because Zeus tells Achilles to do so. Many of the moments of actual heroism and goodness that occur in The Iliad are because the gods intervened. So the whole "the gods are bad" is.... reductive. The gods are the gods. Whether you think they exist or not the group-think that they are shown to be doing in The Iliad is very real, and Homer's insight into how far and how long  it can be leveraged is nothing short of chilling.

The number one thing I did not expect is just the sheer anguish in The Iliad. People are killed brutally, explicitly, intimately, and cruelly. The pearl-clutching and "only focus on nice things" part of my brain (gotten from people who claim to want to preserver Western Civilization) spent over five hundred pages dying in the face of Homer's brutal onslaught. And Homer enjoys writing these deaths down, do not doubt it; there's a detail to the killings that speaks of obsession, of being unable to get it out of your head, and whether one likes to admit it or not that level of obsession is frequently pleasant.

But then Homer did something I didn't anticipate. He doesn't just kill people brutally; Homer give s a lot of them stories. And not just "Captain of the Guard" sorta stuff, but goes into sometimes long detail about where this particular corpse comes from. And how their family will miss them. And how nobody on the field of battle gives one solitary crap, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now their tongue is on the other side of their head... along with all their brains. Most of The Iliad is about the ruination of family after family after family as fathers, sons, and husbands are brutally killed and looted. It actually gets numbing, how much death there is. 

And Homer doesn't skimp on the living, either. These are not simple characters, by any stretch. Even douche nozzles like Agamemnon have more than a few moments of sheer badassery and humanity.  I mean, you know someone has sympathy when they can find a good moment for Menelaus! The folks that are generally better human beings (like Odysseus) have more than a few moments of weakness, and everyone comes out... with a lot more nuance than I expected. This is easily one of the deepest and nuanced takes on characters I've ever read, especially considering just how large the core cast is, nevermind all the other stories Homer recounts!

That surprise is chronological snobbery on my part, by the way. I'll admit it, freely! It's so hard to look at the past with any amount of objectivity and appreciation in any day and age, but I can't help but feel the poison of our modern age in a particular way. Our demand for squeaky clean, moral characters, who gets over themselves and becomes more, all on their own, is not only not Western, but it's completely unChristian; all fall short of the glory of God. All. All. ALL. The ancients knew it. They embraced it.

Why don't we to this extent? Cause I guarantee you we don't. It's been mostly lost to us. George R.R. Martin plays at this level of sympathy, but even he comes up short. He's a lot closer to our canon than most people would like to imagine.

So why do conservatives try to sanitize our own heritage? Why do conservatives shy away from what made us great and insist on squeaky clean narratives where everything works out?? 

And call it conservatism? 

What, exactly, are conservatives trying to conserve?

And why do leftists not seem to understand they can't run away from it? No matter how hard they try?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Lie of Self-Identity

light spoilers for Book of the Short Sun to follow

ADDENDUM: As has been brought to my attention, my terms are not well defined. I'll attempt to define the most important one: Self-Identity. By Self-Identity I mean a constriction of yourself to what you think of yourself. I am not using Self-Identity as a noun, but as a verb that indicates a toxic toxic attempt of self-smothering so you may continue to retain your illusion about yourself, including suppression of experiences that would change how you see yourself and the world, trying to change your environment (or yourself) to match an image you have of yourself, lying to yourself that you didn't mean to do whatever mean thing you very clearly did on purpose, etc. Hopefully that clears things up.

I don't recognize the person that looks back at me in the mirror. I just don't. I haven't for decades. The person who gazes back at me isn't who I feel myself to be. The person people seem to know and talk about with my name attached to it I haven't recognized in even longer, and when I do recognize the person they're talking about it's the raging thing I work as hard as I can to restrain (which means I've failed yet again), or this deeply insightful person who is really just the byproduct of decades of heartbreak. There are memories people try to share with me that I find myself completely ignorant of. All I find when I look into my memories is a dark pit. How do you tell someone that you recognize them, but that may really be it? So I smile and play along. The memories I do retain most people don't seem to remember, to the point to where I wonder if I didn't just make them up. Maybe I did. Maybe my memories just aren't real. 

Maybe you're not real.

I've no way of knowing, the vast majority of the time.

Retreating doesn't seem to do me much good, so I just throw myself into whatever situation it is, hoping I'll figure out what's going on. I frequently don't. But I didn't back down. And that means something to me, whatever that's worth.

Gene Wolfe, an infantry vet of the Korean War, has always dealt with identity. What is it? How do you define it? Can you define your identity? Is it an individual's choice, who they are, or is it the community, your relationships, some weird combination thereof? Book of the Short Sun deals with these questions the most directly of the Solar Cycle, and I'd argue it is the point of Wolfe's science fantasy series. We follow along with Horn as he runs smack-dab into the fact that he's not who he thinks he is, over and over. Bad or good begin to blur as Horn's self-conceptions prove to not just be lies but damnable lies, causing more trouble than they're worth, but yet how are you supposed to move about in the world?

How are you supposed to act if you can't develop a proper conception of you? And never will? 

What if your ideas of you don't matter for being a person at all?

I'm not sure what exactly I'm driving at with this blog post. All I know is that the ending of On Blue's Waters, the first volume of The Book of the Short Sun, stopped me dead in my tracks. That first volume is watching someone's self-identity crumble. Horn does truly heinous things that are truly beyond his control but he did them and he experienced doing them and nobody can tell them they weren't his fault because fault doesn't matter and never did

He experienced it. 

And that was enough. 

Fuck the whole concept of fault, period.

The rest of the book shows Horn trying and trying to grow beyond his (supposed) misdeeds and failing, over and over. He wants to be the person that he thought he was and he knows he can't do it, but there's just no other thing for him to do, right? If you aren't who you think you are then why live? Why even bother? But he holds onto this mirage we call identity, fighting for it harder and harder. Horn doesn't ask what seems to be obvious to me now: why does what I think of myself matter, at all? But he doens't ask. He gets a lot of people killed over it.

And at the end of that volume Horn finds himself looking into a pool of water. And he doesn't recognize himself. What's staring at himself is a broken shell of a man who Horn does not want to accept.

He failed to retain the mirage.

I put the book down and sobbed for him. And me. There wasn't anything to be done. Self-identity is not real. And it never was. There is no way to sum up a person, especially if it's the individual in question. Because we all want to be something that we're not. And it does us no good, even if we think we achieved it. 

The rest of the Book of the Short Sun delves into this concept much harder and provides an answer, of sorts. I'm not really going to get into that now. But the beginning of self-knowledge is to be able to let go of the concept that you know who you are. And that you will ever fully learn who you are. You are larger than you know, infinitely so. So am I.

And no cheap thing like self-identity is going to even scratch the surface of the depths.

Every translator is a traitor, and that goes double for the lie of self-identity, which is when you try to translate yourself to yourself.

What a miserable concept.

Idolatry, in one of its purest forms.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Lost: Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2 (Pilot)


I have been sitting at my computer for the last fifteen minutes trying to sum up what this pilot has meant to me, over the years. This was my first time I understood craft; I watched this pilot and realized what they were doing, why they were doing it, and I wanted to do it myself. Heck, needed to do it myself. It's also a beautifully shot pilot. The pilot not only holds up to nostalgia but helped me realize that this was as close to an ideal of a serialized beginning as you can get.

Lost is, at its heart, a fantasy; you are changing elements of a setting to explore them in a different way. Fantasy is about making things just alien enough to where you can look at the unchanged elements with fresh eyes. The Lord of the Rings is about exploring love versus power; change power to an actual dark lord with a magic ring that has addictive properties, and you have a compelling take on why love will win out. Lost is a fantasy about dealing with what's precious within you. Do you give your light wisely, do you try to push people away to protect yourself (and thus put yourself in Hell), or do you try to destroy it so you can get away? There's as many answers to that question as people, but Lost is a treatise on how you relate to yourself, and thus to others. Lost adds the Light of the Island to further clarify the theme of relationship to self and others, as well as the Man in Black to show how to not relate to that Light.

Lost is not dualistic. The Man in Black is not an anti-Light; he is an anti-Jacob, but that's not the same thing.

Every episode of this show lets us see how the subjects of the episode are going to relate to themselves and each other, and why. And the pilot is in this structure, with fine style. We learn about Jack, principally. I say principally, because this pilot accomplishes the staggering goal of introducing us to each primary character while not telling us a whole lot about them: show don't tell. Even Jack isn't explained a whole lot and we see his flashbacks! We are deliberately shown only the surface. The pilot sticks to stereotypes. Jack is the rugged hero, Kate the helpful mate, Locke and Sawyer the mysterious outsiders, Hurley and Charlie are the man-children... we could just keep going. 

Everyone is archetypal. Elemental. Primal. The writers show us a preview of how the characters might interact together, without going into too much detail. They clearly know their characters well enough to be okay with putting them in situations that shows them at their most reactive, with each character running into situations that they just wouldn't do, not normally. A lot of these previews are meant to be partially deceptive; we know that Locke is sitting around because he's in shock and trying to process being able to walk again. But we're not told that. It's all surface, but the surface is so intriguing that I found myself being willing to just go along for the ride.

And then the pilot dies. 

And everyone has to ask "What's out there?". 

I love that it's Charlie that's asking. He's got a recovery arc ahead of him, even though we don't know it the first viewing. Out of all the characters Charlie fears the unknown most. Addiction is an answer to the unknown: going to something known, to the point of hurting yourself. But known things are just as dangerous as unknowns. The fact that Charlie asks this from left to right is going to give American viewers a tinge that this is the right question to ask. There's a deliberate discord in this shot, where Charlie is definitely not asking because he wants the answer. But he's shot in a way where we want to know.

It's a brilliant shot.

And it's a brilliant pilot. Because it tells just enough, while showing that we don't know anything. And then making us want to know more. Question after question is poured out, along with excitement and intrigue. And then it ends the episode with a literal question to a problem that there is absolutely no context for.

This pilot is as good as it gets. What a freaking amazing show.