Just Like Jimmy Says

It was hang-time in Olde Key West, but then it's always hang-time there.  I hadn't been back in years, though my memories of it were strong and resilient enough to fuel my second setting for No Alligators in Sight.  I wanted to see what had changed, and so I set off down the highway from Miami and got ready for some sights.

The strangest thing about Key West, and there are many, is that the beaches aren't very good.  You might expect swathes of fabulous sand, but you'd be wrong.  Remember, it's a coral island.  That said, the water is a lovely, every-shade-of-turquoise palette, so long as I don't have to touch the peaty bottom.

There are enough characters here to fuel a million novels--and have!  I even met another iguana guy and a heck of street magician named Dale.

I can still hear the cheers that go up at sunset.  You have to love a place that celebrates a natural act that occurs each and every day, and celebrates it heartily, variably, and each and every day.  Whatever else may have changed, and the island is more commercial, more filled with chain stores, more built up, no mistake, but that spirit remains.  Isn't that something to treasure?

Here are a few of my photos.  Yes, I have a thing for palm trees.

Palm 1 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014

Palm 2 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014

Palm 3 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014


The true meaning of chaos

I know, I promised I'd think about something bright and cheery and not dystopian, but I'm still thinking about chaos.

The word chaos always flashes me back to Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, when his face lights up as he is talking about systems and how eventually they all devolve into chaos.  If you asked me to name the one way that humans are different from other species on this planet, other than our seemingly boundless capacity for destruction, I would say our fear of change, specifically negative change, which we often see as lack of control and which I call chaos.  We like control.  We like systems.  We like to think that we control the systems.  But the recent spate of tremendously popular dystopian and downright apocalyptic books and movies and video games might suggest otherwise, both that we also like chaos and that we know we don't actually control anything.

One definition of chaos is: complete disorder and confusion.  Its many awesome (if you like words, and I like words) synonyms include disarray, mayhem, bedlam, pandemonium, havoc, and and maelstrom, to name a few.  Now granted, most books and movies bring a degree of order by the end, but have you noticed that the ends have gotten darker, less shipshape, less over the rainbow?  Take the end of The Hunger Games trilogy, or the Divergent trilogy, or Elysium?  Dark.  Very dark.  Do we deserve it?  In my mind absolutely, we absolutely do.

What I like about it?  Mother Nature is fighting back.  We've treated her so badly, and it looks as if she has had enough, hence the seas rising, the tornadoes blooming, the typhoons blowing, and the weather shifting here, there, and everywhere.  That one little tendril of kudzu vine?  It can pull down a skyscraper given some time.  And unless we actually blow up the planet, not out of the question of course, then Mother Nature has time on her side, just like Mick whines.

As the incomparable Mary Oliver said, "life's winners are not the rapacious but the patient;" see the shark, the alligator, and the snapping turtle, for starters.  Yup, we're the rapacious, if history is any judge.  I'm not proud.




Dystopian Pause

Over the course of a year, I read six dystopian trilogies, and while I had favorites (will share later), the reading experience overall made me think more generally, more globally, about our current society, our current existence on this fragile planet which we have treated so abysmally.  It's not a pretty vision.  We have made a far-reaching, endlessly deep mess of the gift we as a species were given.  Whoever gave it, whatever you personally call it, has got to be pretty ticked off at this point, whether that's Evolution, God, Mother Nature, or simply Chaos.  And who could blame Him, Her, It, Whatever?  Okay, chaos is probably fine with how everything is going.

**Warning--major plot spoilers of many books if you haven't also finished myriad dystopian trilogies of late.**

I went on a tear in the last year or so and read in their entirety or finished six dystopian trilogies, and that doesn't even count Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games set.  Let me say before anything else that I preferred the span of her Underland Chronicles, with the moody setting below New York City rife with more drama than Shakespeare could have dreamed.  While I liked Katniss and company, I thought that they were good in descending order, meaning I liked the first one best, and the third one least best, way least best.  Why?  Not because of the classic Peeta versus Gale debate, though for the record I much preferred Gale for Katniss but could see that she might not be able to get past his blowing up her little sister in the name of the cause.  And not because I got tired of Katniss this and Katniss that, though I did; I badly wanted her to make a true mistake or just generally not be so saintly.  I didn't like the third one because by the end it was all just so dirty and pointless.  That may make it more realistic, but I like my apocalypses with a little more utopia and a little less dysfunction, thank you.

First, I finished Ally Condie's Matched set, whose titles I really liked: Matched, Crossed, Reached.  I kept thinking game, set, match.  And she scores!  If only I had liked the main character, Cassia, past about half the first one.  What kept me going here were the two guys, Xander, excellent, and Ky, not so bad, though a little too down on himself.  I kept reading to find out what would happen to Xander, and I was thrilled that he didn't end up with Cassia.  The premise here was a good one, let a computer pick our mates because the family unit has fallen apart, and it played out well in one little program essentially being the downfall of the new society.  Unfortunately I didn't care much that Cassia had made it, and I just felt sorry for Ky.

Second, I finished Lauren Oliver's Delirium set, also clever with the three titles Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem.  While I was waiting for the third one to come out, I guessed possible titles and had settled on Equilibrium, but Requiem is good, too.  Set in Portland, Maine and up into the wilds of New York and Canada, this series got points with me for how recognizable and eerily close to our present New England idyll its setting was, making the story feel right around the proverbial corner, plus I like the "love is a disease" premise.   This one, too, I liked the guys, Alex, and later, Julian, better than Lena, the girl-who-looked-nothing-like-the-covers-to-me, and I preferred many of the lesser characters in the outlaw band.  The ending also worked but not in a thrilling way.

Third, I finished Patrick Ness's the Chaos Walking trilogy, very cool titles, the only one with a central male protagonist and one who, for me, outshines his female counterpart in every way.  This set is for every reluctant, especially male, reader, because I dare him not to love Toby as much as I did, spewing his and his fabulous dog Manchee's thoughts for us like the best kind of backwash, not that you ever knew there was such a thing until he began.  I didn't care for Viola, and couldn't imagine why Todd or anyone would, but he sure liked her.  The Reverend Aaron bad guy was way over the top, comic-worthy, but Todd persevered. The ending of this one worked for me, too.

Fourth, I finished Veronica Roth's Divergent set, such a cool premise with the sects, but let me just say that I hated the third one, hated the ending, and hated the character of Tris so thoroughly by that end that I wanted to shake the lovely and lovable Four for mourning even a single day and tell him to get on with his excellent life.  I'll still watch the movie though, because I like Shailene Woodley, though I wish she wasn't also in The Fault in Our Stars, and I want to see the sets and the scenes on the Ferris wheel (I have a thing for them) and the zip line.

Fifth, I finished Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam set, with a nice upward-facing parabola here, adored the first one Oryx and Crake, eh on the second one The Year of the Flood, and applauded how she pulled it out on the third one MaddAddam, almost as good as the first.  Toby (female here) absolutely rocked.  Probably in my mind Atwood will never top The Handmaid's Tale, also dystopian, probably my favorite ever even including 1984, but all kudos that she keeps trying.  She is so clever, and she is the best writer of all of them.  I heard her speak once at MIT, and she explained that all the science that she uses to build her stories actually exists, so that is a new night terror for everyone who thinks that global warming and overpopulation and mass extinctions are just the liberal media pontificating again.

Finally, I finished Into the Still Blue, the cap to Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky set.  This one has the best matched girl-boy set, even if the final resolution isn't the one that I would have chosen, and held my interest the best across the storyline.  I prayed for Roar to have a happy ending the whole way, and I thought he and Aria were better suited than she and Perry.  But Rossi's ending still totally worked for me.  The premise of saving the few (in pods) and leaving the rest to rot (out in the open) was plausible, and the settings were cool and well-realized.  Now if only Roar and Aria had gotten together, and if only they'd used the cover image below instead of the ones of Aria in a weird unitard; okay, I'll let it go.

And the verdict, by a hair above Patrick Ness's because of Aaron and Viola's annoyingness, is...as a set...Veronica Rossi's, looking forward to seeing what she will do next.
However, for the moment, for a long moment, it is time to move on to sunnier, warmer, less depressing climes.  Classic screwball comedy, anyone?



The Power of Live and In-Person

Recently I saw Delta Rae live.  If you don't know who that is, first, you are missing out, and second, it's a what, not a who exactly, a band, a group of six young pretties from North Carolina who can sing and rock out like nobody's business.  I have seen many live shows, some awesome (from Taylor Swift to The Rolling Stones to Seal), some terrible (from The Cars to Tracy Chapman to Pavement), but I haven't seen a great "new" band in years.  Somehow life got in the way of the live show, life being the show going on in my living room, my dining room, and mostly my kitchen, the life of raising kids, and those hours don't work well with live music.  The show was great, and I could go on and on about it, but this isn't really a concert review; rather, it's what the concert got me thinking about.

We don't engage much with the "live" anymore, seemingly less and less everyday.  We are immersed in screens of one kind or another, we are scared of strangers, we are dispersed from our loved ones, and we have less time and willingness than ever to engage with the people right in front of us.  How often in the past week, say, have you engaged with an actual person on your commute (I nod at people occasionally), in the grocery store (I use the self-checkout), on the street (the great to smile or not to smile as you pass question), even in your house?  Sometimes in my house every person is in a different room on a different device.  Even when we are supposedly together, say watching a movie, we are often partially elsewhere in our thoughts (often with our devices).

So the concert was a great eye- and ear-opener.  Live music is a full-body experience: it touches all your senses when you are there in the crowd having a group interaction without even trying.  The music was sublime and clearly heartfelt; they were having an awesome time up there, which carried easily to the audience, until everyone was moving at once and yet in sync.  This up-and-coming band may disband tomorrow, it happens to young bands and young relationships everyday (and old ones, too, more easily than ever), but I am grateful that I got this opportunity to experience them.  I almost didn't go, almost made excuses to myself about the time and the expense and the hassle, and I'm so glad I didn't.  But I'm also going to make fewer excuses to myself about live engagement of all kinds.  After all, every friend you have was a stranger at some time.



Who does suicide really hurt?

Suicide is murder of the self.  Don't we all do that every day, by degrees, from the day we come out into the world and learn to adapt, to mold ourselves to familial and societal expectations, to grow up? Children are chastised for saying what they think, for doing what they want, for crying when they don't get it.  But aren't they more honest, more alive?

Four teenagers have killed themselves over the course of this school year in my town. Emotions are running high: fear, outrage, determination, shock, anger, and of course, grief.  But people rarely talk about what the person might have felt, other than assuming it was depression or loneliness.  Maybe it was something else entirely, like horror at the life ahead.  That Blue Oyster Cult song "Don't Fear the Reaper" plays in my head in an endless loop every time I hear of a teen killing him or herself.  Maybe it seems glamorous or exotic or as if the person has control over his or her life in a way that didn't feel possible in any other way or any other time.  Why is it so often young women?  Girls, really?  Because they feel they don't fit in?  Conform?  Belong?

I wonder about the current craze with vampires, who offer some strange alternative to death, endless life in some altered state, with power to grant others this half-life, or eternal life, depending on your point of view.  To me this craze seems closely allied with the dystopian, apocalyptic trend in books and movies, as if we are all a little depressed, all seeing some end-of-days scenario looming in the middle distance.  Truth be told, we are not leaving a very nice world to our teenagers to sort out, so who can honestly blame those who choose to check out early?

There are seven billion people in the world, clearly unsustainable in every way; yet we are desperate, many of us, to preserve our own lives and the lives of our loved ones and sometimes even the lives of people we don't know, most especially those we consider vulnerable and cute, preferably both, hence the wide-eyed needful of the Save the Children, Save Darfur, Save Save Save campaigns.  But at heart most of us really only care about our dear ones, and when others near them are taking their lives (in vain, some say) and that is considered contagious, we panic.

What to do?  What to do?  Celebrating the life that the person clearly didn't or couldn't value just seems weird and all about the survivors, as most things funereal are, I guess.  Listen to the words of the song again, really listen: "We'll be able to fly."  Maybe we have to acknowledge and honor their choice, that ultimate choice, that was theirs and theirs alone to make, consequences for those left behind be damned. Because if we don't have choice, what do we have?