The Right Religion

Fortunately, I was born into the right religion. I was very lucky. My religion is different from other religions because we have the right book. It was written by the right prophet, an exceptional individual. No one before or since has been right about how the world works. Our beliefs make sense. All you have to do is think about them and they fit together perfectly.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who belong to the wrong religions. Their books were written by ordinary people with no idea how the world works. I can’t believe what they believe; it’s just so silly. All you have to do is think about their beliefs and they never make sense.

But I know how to help them. I have to teach them. Otherwise, they might not go to the right place when they die. The wrong place is terrible. It’s full of people who believed the wrong things. If they had just learned the right things, they would be okay. So I will find people who believe the wrong things and teach them. Once they believe the right things, they’ll be okay. They will read the right book and go to the right place when they die.

Everything will be all right if they can just see how wrong they really are.

Collection Confessions

I bought a Beanie Baby the other day. Really.

For those of you who are too young, Beanie Babies were a fad that emerged in the 1990s. Each Beanie Baby is designed to look like an real animal, but filled with polyethylene pellets. Most are extremely cutified versions of those animals, which include everything from hedgehogs to ladybugs. Several of the significant, “limited-edition” Beanie Babies are shaped to look like teddy bears.

I started buying Beanie Babies around 1997. You could only buy them at independent gift-type stores, and they cost like 8 bucks. When I was in my mom’s hometown, I could usually buy one, because there weren’t enough people around to buy the few Beanie Babies that arrived there. I probably own about 50 of them. Really. I think Mark has several too, but not as many as I do. I was more dedicated.

So, like most useless toys, my Beanie Babies sit in my room without moving. All 50 of them are hanging in a canvas Beanie Baby bag on the back of my bedroom door. Their lifeless eyes stare at me while I sleep.

On a delivery the other day, we were taking a recliner into someone’s family room, and I noticed a glass case of stale Beanie Babies. I had several of the same ones, but there was another one that caught my eye. It was a white bear with several large confetti-like blocks all over it. I was intrigued and decided that I was not yet done wasting money on Beanie Babies.

I went online and looked up the Beanie Baby. After a bit of searching, I found the bear, which is called “Ty2K.” It came out in 1999, and I was able to buy it on amazon.com for only $4.97, with free shipping. I guess that’s a bargain when you’re buying Beanie Babies. Soon it will lurk in my room with the other inert bears full of beans. Well, pellets.

I started thinking about the philosophy of collecting. Of course, the main thing I collect is dust (BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA). I used to collect Beanie Babies, but really I just keep them now because I can’t admit I wasted that much money on useless stuffed animals. But that’s what collecting is, the accrual of useless stuff. Once you use something, it no longer counts as “collected.” You can read comics or collect them. You can mail stamps or collect them. You can play with action figures or collect them. And so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I own plenty of useless stuff. I can’t say I’m better than a guy who owns thousands of stamps, or PEZ dispensers, or Pokemon cards, or used panties. Those people just have one category of things they love, but there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind it. I think collection is a primal process that human beings have reinterpreted. In other words, there is some kind of innate need fulfilled by ownership. How else can you explain it?

I’m trying to imagine having a shed full of 5000 Cabbage Patch Kids or a climate-controlled basement stocked with hermetically sealed GI Joes. Do the owners just wander through every week and fondle them one by one? Probably not, because those fingerprints impart the damaging natural oils found in human skin. Better to just look around and feel safe and secure, surrounded by those blank, soulless toys.

I think that hoarding (er, collecting) is more than a simple hobby. It is an unbelievable attachment to things. Where does it come from? I don’t know.

Of course, hoarding runs in my family. Everyone on my father’s side has that powerful attachment. My dad owns 35 coats. He has 14 camping chairs and 7 tents, although he only camps about 5 times per year. He hates throwing things out, so our entire house is full of items that are not exactly useless, but are definitely never used. There are many things I have tried to throw out or donate that have mysteriously reappeared. In order to properly throw away something he might want to keep, I have been forced to throw it away somewhere else, because he goes through every trash bag that even tries to leave our house. My parents also collect Christmas ornaments. Sigh.

Our home is a museum of things that are never used, yet it is impossible to do anything about it. My father is attached to those things. I wish I could break down that attachment and just fucking destroy it. But I want to bring this back to me. I am not exempt from my family’s congenital materialism. In fact, I am actually worse than my father in some ways. I am … a kleptomaniac. Now, before you start calling me a shoplifter, let me explain myself.

Kleptomania is mostly an obsession with items of “trivial” value. In some cases, kleptomaniacs will steal those things, but they are usually small and useless. Sound familiar? For me, it rarely takes the form of shoplifting, but is more of a random attachment to those things. I feel like I have to own them, although I can suppress it. In other words, I’m not going to rob your house. Really.

For some reason, I randomly develop an attachment to small items made of glass, metal, or stone. I have a couple dozen little things like tiny metal puzzles, marbles, metal hearts, a couple of crosses and rosaries, a napkin ring, a brass piece from a desk, and a tuning fork. I don’t know why, but I do like to have them. I often play around with them, because I like the way they look and feel, etc. I sometimes buy these things when I come across them, but I always have enough conscious control to not steal them. Almost always.

One thing that intrigues me is that although I started out materialistic (I blame Dad), I do think it has gotten a bit worse in the past few years. I was reading Wikipedia, and it cited an article which said that kleptomania can be caused or exacerbated by carbon monoxide poisoning and cyanide poisoning. Now I have an excuse! The Wikipedia article linked to a paper which basically says that carbon monoxide and cyanide seem to do damage to the part of your brain that makes you not a kleptomaniac.

Anyway, I decided to clean my room today. It was looking kind of gross, mostly due to dust and general disorganization. I want to take a stand, so I’m trying to throw out several crappy things I don’t need (or want). I also piled up a bunch of shirts I want to give away, because I don’t need them and they don’t even fit my fat ass anymore.

So beside the possessions normal people hang onto, like diplomas and lava lamps, I kept my trinkets. I now have a shelf covered with glass and metal junk, with the occasional rock to mix things up. I also have a shelf of sentimental stuff that I should hang onto, just in case my ancestral spirits check up on their mortal possessions from time to time.

The line between collecting, hoarding, and kleptomania is pretty thin, but I try to be careful. Of course, the rest of the shelves in my room are covered with books, but I read those. Really.

In Defense of History

Let’s face it: everybody hates math. Most people would rather have an in-depth discussion about genital warts than even hear the word “mathematics.” Because we are outnumbered, math people have to stick together. Most of us have tried to explain math at some point, but our words fall on deaf ears, largely because mathematicians aren’t good with words. It usually sounds forced and trite, without any real bearing on reality.

Although I understand why most people never liked math, I do. In order to really explore the concept, I’d rather look at something I hate: history. What follows is my thoughts about history and how I have tried to resolve them. Keep in mind that I am not really an expert in this field, but I did what I could.

History is just names and dates.

If I just recited a list of names and dates to you, I doubt you would think I had learned any history. At its heart, history is about people and events. Anyone who fails to make the distinction has also missed the point. Some teachers treat history like a timeline, where events are just dates and people are just the names of those present. Those teachers don’t manage to teach much of anything.

If you treat history like something that is dead and gone, then you will inevitably confine it to a mental graveyard. On the other hand, if you see it as something active and ongoing, you might find a place in your life for it.

There’s no need to know history.

Really, can you describe anything that you “need to know”? Walking? Speaking? Flushing the toilet? What part of education is truly necessary? You could sit somewhere and breathe, with a feeding tube in your gut, shitting your pants, never thinking or moving, and you wouldn’t “need to know” anything.

All education is essentially optional; you do it for your own reasons. If you can’t find a reason to learn history, feel free to stay ignorant. However, if you want to be an educated person, remember that history is the context through which all other knowledge has emerged. No knowledge is independent from its historical context, no matter how objective it seems. Furthermore, history shows us the reasons why we should learn in the first place.

But history is completely useless.

“Useless” is a word with no meaning. There are many things worth knowing that you may never “need to use.” For instance, CPR, self-defense, swimming, fire safety, defensive driving, and the Heimlich maneuver are all things many people never use. Besides, if you only learn those things that are “useful,” you’ll turn out to be a real bore.

It’s cliche but true to say those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santanaya), although the cynic might argue that history repeats itself no matter what you know. In any case, there is nothing new under the sun (Solomon). Throughout the past are perfect examples of human behavior with endless applications. If you want to know how people will act, look at how they have always acted.

I just don’t get it.

History is not really a “thing,” but a complex process. No event is independent; events do not emerge out of nowhere. The names represent real people with flaws and strengths. But history is often oversimplified. Causes are reduced to broad strokes. People become stock characters with fixed behavior. The process is treated as a natural progression with a specific direction. Most significantly, it becomes something that is in the past. Again, history is not over, nor will it end any time soon.

Well, I’m just not enthusiastic about it.

Of course not. Nothing can force you to be enthusiastic about anything, because passion comes from within. Just give it a bit of a chance, but not by reading a textbook. Talk to someone who does have passion about history, or approach it from the angle of something you are passionate about. I doubt you’ll decide to become an historical expert, but if you discover an interest in history, pursue it. If not, you can always learn what you feel you need to know or want to use. If you don’t want to do that, give up on it. Just don’t pester the people who know what history really is.

A Brief Story About No One

A Brief Story About No One or: A Practical Guide to Moving On

Once, several years ago, I had a friend. She had a friend, too. In fact, she had several. She dated one, for a while. I think they got along. I don’t really know, because I didn’t know him. I met him, but I didn’t know him. No one did.

In my entire tenure of being around this person, he has probably spoken fewer than four dozen words in my presence. I always assumed he was just reserved, but there was more to it than that. He was removed. He didn’t interact. He wasn’t there. In short, he did not exist.

He stayed at my home once, with his girlfriend. I knew her at the time. I even liked her. As for her boyfriend, he was there. After the weekend they visited, my mother reflected on the experience. “It was like meeting nobody,” she said.

He had one positive attribute, though: he had read and enjoyed House of Leaves, my favorite book. I am always eager to discuss that book and similar works when I get the chance. He said he liked it, so I made a decision. I lent him another book by the same author, The Fifty Year Sword.

The Fifty Year Sword is a limited-edition book by Mark Z. Danielewski. It was released in the Netherlands in 2006. 1000 English and 1000 Dutch copies were printed, first editions. The English copies sold quickly because of the popularity of Danielewski’s first book. 1000 additional copies were printed. Those second editions were much easier to find and purchase (on the Internet). I found a Netherlands-based site that sold books in English. They had The Fifty Year Sword, so I bought it. It cost €39.90, which came to about $60 after shipping.

When it arrived after several weeks later, it was a bit warped. Other than that, the book was fine. I read through it and found that it was a fantastic short story presented in a bizarre and interesting fashion. Despite the expense, I was convinced then (and now) that it was a worthwhile purchase.

After my suicide attempt in 2009, I had to leave Lincoln in a hurry, but he still had the book. I had several higher priorities at the time, so I kept forgetting to get in touch and ask for it back. Every attempt at contacting him since then has failed, and there have been several. Each time I get in touch with him, he responds once, halfheartedly, and never again. I have been unable to arrange even the simplest conversation, even to get the book returned in the mail at my expense.

After a couple of years, I finally decided to replace the book, from yet another Dutch website, for the same price as before. The exchange rate had improved, so it only came to $50 that time. I still have that copy of the book, but I will never lend it out.

So if the book was so expensive and important, why did I lend it out? Because I wanted him to read it. Because no one I know has ever read it. Unfortunately, that’s still true. He never read the book. No one has.

Recently, another friend who has read House of Leaves expressed interested in reading this rare book. I wanted to lend out my copy, but I won’t do it again at that price, even though I trust this person. I have been forced to learn my lesson.

Of course, I could buy another one. I could get it on a Dutch website for €42. I could get it on an American website for $275. I could get a signed copy on ebay for $500.

The problem is, I don’t really want the fucking book back. I want it to be read. I want to know that somewhere, it’s being read by real people. Not under a stack of nerdy books and shitty manga in no one’s apartment.

Looking back on this experience, I’m forced to acknowledge my own stupidity. Why lend out a significant book to someone you don’t know? He might not even read it.

But I can always be consoled by the fact that I didn’t really lend it out to anyone. Just no one.

Some Thoughts on Sin

I am taking 2 Catholic theology classes this semester, so I’m forced to approach this question again.

Is the desire to sin innate?
If it hinges on “fallen humanity,” then where did it come from?

Look at the first sin.

The desire was natural. The fruit looked tasty and sweet.
Eve had been warned: if you eat the fruit, you will die.
She did not understand evil. She did not understand death.
Did God tell her the truth? Did she die because she at the fruit? Not immediately.
If death was impossible before the fall, how would she know what it was?

(A separate question: Is it possible to love if you don’t understand what you’re doing? In other words, is it possible to understand love without knowing the alternative? If not, were Adam and Eve truly devoted to God? Did the knowledge of good and evil make them capable of agapic love?)

Sin is a natural desire corrupted. According to tradition, the best way to satisfy all human desires is through God. So sin comes from a flawed attempt to meet natural desires. Knowledge would make it clear that sin is pointless, but we do not have that.

Michael J. Himes says repeatedly that it is good to be created. “I’m not God, and that’s a good thing.” Does God understand what it is to be created? Not from experience, according to tradition. God and created things are separate. So how are we supposed to know it’s good to be human (if it actually is)? We can’t really take God’s word for it.

I think Christian morality is a bit like a sober person giving advice to an alcoholic. “If drinking is such a problem, don’t do it.” “Why drink if it costs you so much money and time?” “Just have one drink and stop.” All of our moral guidance in the Bible comes from God (or Paul. Heh.), who is comfortable making several pronouncements. For instance, he mentions many ways that humans make themselves disgusting to him. Later, he was Jesus and didn’t sin, but we cannot give the messiah too much credit. First of all, he knew the best way to live was without sin. If he had the desire, he could reason through it. If he didn’t have it, there was no problem.

If Jesus truly understood the concept of infinity (and God), then he never experienced the most universal human crisis: doubt. He was a man (?) who never needed to ask if God existed. I’m told Christ’s sacrifice was the crucible of salvation. How can I respect the Lord for passing a test when he knew all the answers? (Then again, perhaps his power did forsake him in the end.)

As I see it, if being human is a good thing, humans certainly don’t know it. If being human is a bad thing, God doesn’t know it. We are told that Jesus is supposed to bridge the gap, but he was not human. He did not have the human desire to sin. If that is not innate, then he didn’t have the ignorance that causes it.

Either way, sinlessness is a bit tricky. I think people should accept that their desire to sin is natural, not from Satan, not to test them, but because they are trying to fulfill a natural need. We always excuse ourselves later, and that’s a shame, because there isn’t any reason to make excuses.

As far as I’m concerned, sin, as defined by God, is just an option, and “righteousness” is another. There is no difference, because morality is not God-given, it comes from human experience. Period.

A Candid Letter to a Nameless Individual

Mark and I were talking today about unshakable faith in the context of religious doubt and baseless arguments. Naturally, you were the first person who came to mind. I thought briefly about the past and came to a few conclusions.

I met you through your former boyfriend. I was never a huge fan of his, but we were casual acquaintances. Between your stories about the relationship and his frenzied, uncontrolled approach to sparring in Taekwondo, it was clear that he was a lot more fucked up than he appeared to be. Yet you decided that the relationship was more important than your religion. Thereafter, you had to decide between the two each month. I suggested you flip a coin and commit, but you didn’t.

I was there. I talked with you. I supported you as much as I could. I got sick of hearing about it. In fact, I intended to write a poem about your recurrent emotional breakdowns (break-ups?). Honestly, I couldn’t get past the first and last lines: “How many times has it ended this way? … and finding the world’s not the bright place you think it is.” My patience for poetry lasted about as long as my patience for your perennial discontent. Each time, it seemed your conclusion was the same: get closer to Jesus.

I have to be honest, though. You were a friend then and you would still be a friend now. The reason you aren’t has something to do with you. I’m sure of it. Apparently I wasn’t grateful enough for your efforts to help me after my suicide attempt. It seems that on those days, it was difficult to be my friend. I can’t imagine what that is like.

It turns out, friendship is not so simple. Some days, it’s downright difficult to be friends with someone. Never mind that it’s easy on other days, those aren’t the problem. Anyway, the word for people like you is “sunny day friends.” See, those beatiful, sunny days where I was around were easy, but it turns out that a suicide attempt is a fairly long storm. As I predicted, the world’s not the bright place you think it is. Or thought it was. I even understand you might have finally flipped a coin and come up tails. Or heads, whichever is the opposite of Christian.

So we don’t talk. We don’t chat online. You don’t interact with me. What’s the point of this letter? I just wanted to say it, because I’ve been thinking about it. After all, I really doubt you’ve read this. If you did, congratulations. Now go and cry about it.

Love from Leavenworth,
-Steven Motherfucking Davis.

I Am Sick of the Venture Bros.

My brother introduced me to the show. He had the first two seasons on DVD, because of some deal he got. We watched them together, although he’d already seen the whole series. Anyway, it was hilarious. I loved the weird humor, the cultural references, the bleak attitude, and later, the complexity. I mean, the first season was pretty straightforward, but it got more interesting as time went on. I kept watching, and most of the episodes were pretty good.

So I watched the third season. I saw it on the adult swim website; it was the first show I really watched online. Even early on, the show wasn’t without its flaws. I mean, the creators voiced nearly all of the characters, so most of them sounded like those two. They had to replace Stephen Colbert, because he got too famous. His replacement sounded nothing like him. As far as voices go, several characters are hard to understand, and more difficult voices showed up as time went on.

Some episodes sucked, even in the earlier seasons. I don’t judge a series by individual episodes, but the ratio of suck to decent increased dramatically later on.

Everything that happens in later episodes seems to have the sole purpose of undoing whatever happened earlier on. What’s the point of having continuity if they’re just going to reverse everything? You could watch the new season without knowledge of the earlier ones, because knowing those things doesn’t help. The super-secret ORB turned out to be broken. It didn’t do anything. Hunter’s sex change operation was reversed. Now, Molotov is dead. The Ventures’ bodyguard is Brock or Hatred depending on the week.

My brother says that I should just ignore the continuity and focus on the plot and humor of the individual episodes. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but the real problem is that none of the new episodes are funny. In the first two seasons, there were clever plots and interesting ideas, with humor similar to the other good comedy series on adult swim. The third season was okay. Some episodes were funny, some failed. But the fourth season is all crap. I don’t think I’ve been amused by any of them. Again, my brother says that I just don’t appreciate the show properly. Other people, he suggests, are out there laughing while I just shrug.

Speaking of things I hate, the character Shore Leave is high on the list. An unnecessary flaming gay character, he is a horrible stereotype, and still not funny. The other characters are not interesting anymore. The Monarch is so useless that even when they joked about it in the season finale, it wasn’t ironic. It was 100 percent accurate. It’s at the point where all of the “unsolved” problems are tired and irrelevant. There’s no reason to care why the Monarch hates Dr. Venture. If they’re going for a “there is no reason” angle, even that is exhausted.

The fourth season revealed nothing, did not advance the plot, was not funny, and took too long doing it. If you’re not going to have a continuous plot, then be funny. If you can’t even manage that, get the fuck off the air.

Contrary Evidence: A Brief on Belief

I want to describe faith as I see it. I’m sure many people will disagree with me, and that’s fine. Just try to understand my perspective before you dismiss it completely.

Let’s start at the beginning. What does it mean to believe something? I am going to reduce that complicated concept to a fairly simple system by taking out most of the subtlety. Bear with me.

First, let’s talk about claims. A claim is a statement that can be determined in some fashion to be true, false, or in some cases, unknown.

A true statement is one that is true in all cases. In other words, it doesn’t vary based on changing things. An asinine example would be “1 equals 1.” True statements are based on proofs (arguments) composed of other true statements. Basically, you start from axioms, simple statements that are just accepted as true, and work your way to more complex truths from there.

False statements are those that are not true in all cases. They may be true most of the time, but if there are exceptions, we say they are false. They may not ever be true. In the strictest sense, if we can’t prove a statement from arguments based on axioms, we say it is false. However, in the interest of open mindedness, statements that haven’t been proven to be true or false can be said to have unknown truth value.

If you didn’t get that or you don’t care, let me sum it up here: a claim is true or false. (It may also be unknown.) In essence, claims have truth value that is objective.

Beliefs, however, are subjective. Basically, for a given claim, your belief is the truth value you assign that claim, based on your perspective (knowledge, emotions, gut feelings, anything). I have to be very clear here: beliefs are based on your understanding.

Because people’s beliefs can and often do differ from the objective truth value of a claim, they don’t necessarily agree on what the objective truth value is. Getting past that is difficult and sometimes impossible.

Those are the basics. Now let’s explore.

What does it mean to believe something? This time, I don’t mean by definition, I mean in the real world. Beliefs should determine your decisions, your actions, and in many ways, your life. For practical purposes, I will call decisions and actions consistent with one’s beliefs “virtue” and decisions and actions against one’s beliefs “sin.”

Let’s look at some of the subtleties. First of all, some people say what you believe determines what happens to your immortal soul. That doesn’t make any sense. Here’s why: you don’t choose what you believe. If you don’t believe that, I’ll make an effort to change your mind.

Pick a simple belief you have, or even a complex one if you like. Say, “the sky is black at night.” Now, choose to believe otherwise. If you can, congratulations, you’ve proven me wrong. But be honest. Do you really, sincerely believe it isn’t true? Why not? If it’s because of another belief, no problem! Choose to not believe it! If that doesn’t solve the problem, I don’t know what to tell you.

If choice can’t change your beliefs, then what can? Evidence. Evidence is anything in the world that can change your beliefs. It takes a lot of forms: events, other people, thoughts, art. Sometimes it can come out of nowhere. There are two kinds of evidence: corroborating and contrary. Corroborating evidence is evidence that is consistent with your beliefs. Going outside at night and seeing a pitch black sky would be an example. Contrary evidence is evidence that is not consistent with your beliefs. For instance, going outside and seeing a white and purple striped pattern in the sky.

Anyway, where does all of that leave free will? I say that you always have a choice in a given situation: act virtuously or sin. In other words, follow your own rules or “act up.” I don’t know what to say about that, though. Does choosing to sin mean you are weak? Do virtuous choices improve you somehow? I don’t know.

I think it’s more important to look at evidence. Encountering contrary evidence is a very difficult situation. The basic decision is to change your belief or forget about the evidence. If you see an orange sky at midnight, you can always just go to bed. If you never see it again, the abundance of corroborating evidence might make up for it. Either way, what survives is doubt. If it sticks with you, you might have to change your belief. If the sky isn’t always black at night, why not? You can explore the reasons and all of the possibilities.

How about the opposite situation? Say you have a belief, yet you never see any corroborating evidence. What do you do? Should you continue to act as if that belief is true, or act otherwise, basically changing your mind? How do you keep a belief when you desperately want to hold on, yet can’t seem to find any support? How long can you continue to ignore contrary evidence, really?

Let me conclude by just saying that beliefs are not excuses. As simple as it would be, writing off a decision as okay because it was consistent with your beliefs is unacceptable. Doubt is a great burden, but it can also be the key to finding what is true. If you make a decision without any doubt, then it’s probably okay. But I believe that when you really make a choice or take an action with negative consequences, then your doubt will have been there. If not, I don’t know what to say.

The Case for Cowardice

As defined by dictionary.reference.com, cowardice is the “lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.”

Self-protection is fundamental. There is absolutely nothing shameful about taking cover when someone is shooting at you. Cowardice is the point at which self-protection is placed before other concerns that are more important. It’s hard to find that point, and there’s a lot of gray area there.

I think I live in the gray area, in more ways than one. I am simply unwilling to take risks, which is well-balanced by the fact that none of my other concerns are much more important (to me) than self-protection. But I’m starting to question that policy.

As I’ve said before, I’ve fucked up impressively in the past. I can point to a number of times when I was simply too afraid to take risks, particularly social risks, and ended up crashing into the dust thereafter. Maybe I just choose the wrong dust to fall into.

Again, though, I’m defending cowardice. I’ll come right out now and say that this is all about romance and love and all the other bullshit therein. Let me briefly sum up the exact problem I have always faced in a bulleted list:
-I am male.
-I am a nerd/intellectual/elitist.
-I have avoidant personality disorder.
As impressive as those bulleted points may be, you are probably still wondering just how they come together. Well, get ready. Are you ready? GOOD.

As a male, I am expected to take the active role in pursuing a romantic relationship. Dudes, and by that I mean dudes, are supposed to be brave, courageous, cool, suave, and sexy when they talk to girls. I have a number of problems with that. Let me first say that I have a reasonable response to your objection here. As I am a nerd, I tend to be both around and interested in intelligent/elitist girls. Those also happen to be the very girls that (usually) assume a shy, inert role when it comes to love, at least at the start. They are all just sitting around, waiting for Mr. Darcy, like Geraldine(?) in that one book. They are also usually quite intimidating. Those women who fight the norm are often less interesting, or at least less appealing. Also, I do know that the character’s name is Elizabeth, just so that all you wonderful nerdy girls won’t lose any esteem you have for me for making a dumb joke. For the rest of the girls and all the men, I still haven’t read the book, because I am full of testosterone and other such hormones.

ANYHOW, I am not properly equipped for those girls. I am a wimpy, reclusive coward, and for good reason. I suffer from avoidant personality disorder, which has caused a number of problems with my social interactions. I have spent a long time believing that there is something horribly wrong with me. For a long time, I used the word “unlovable” in my own head, often like a mantra. Not only was I sure there was something wrong, I was so sure that I never tried to act otherwise. Occasionally I was able to avoid risks entirely, usually in the simplest of situations, and then I’d make an effort.

Even so, I hated big groups, and still do. I hate birthday parties, concerts, drunken get-togethers, and similar situations. I try to be there when people ask, but even so, I usually find myself in the corner of the room, staring at the floor, wishing I had brought a book. Naturally, I turn all of this into more self-disparaging rationalizations, so I can sink my self-esteem even lower. I usually feel like I can only ever see people in small groups or one-on-one (which is somewhat true), and that in some ways it’s just a huge burden for people to be friends with me. I’m not saying it’s true, but it is how I feel.

I think if anyone ever said “I love you,” my first response would be “why?”

Anyway, I’m not trying to make excuses, although I definitely did. I just want to say that I am trying. I want you all to know that, and I will keep trying my best with all of this. I think I just want people to understand why I fuck up so much and so well. Expect more of the same in the future. Maybe I’ll do something right one of these days.

NaNoWriMo: Characters

Although I have never actually written a full-length novel, I am somewhat used to writing fiction and much more experienced with reading it. As a former editor and nitpicker extraordinaire, I have picked up a few things along the way about writing. As a way of sharing some of that and also writing something easier than my actual novel as I force myself to continue, I will be writing a few posts about what I have learned.

Characters are possibly the most important element of a fictional work. Many successful pieces of fiction have endured by having memorable characters that illicit a reaction from the reader, despite (in some cases) other flaws or problems with the work. People respond to characters, and if they make a true connection, they will remember more about the character than any other part of the work. For example, the word “quixotic” is still in the public lexicon, despite the fact that few people have read Don Quixote. The character has the power to endure because people can identify with him.

Defining a character is not easy. A work may call for several different kinds of characters, many of whom you will not like, agree with, or represent. It is important to remember that you are NOT your character, even if you are. One of the best tools I know of for defining characters is quite simple: ask yourself questions about them. Better yet, ask the character in your head and figure out how he or she would respond.

When you think about it, a situation is really a question of how a character responds. The different reactions are what make characters unique and interesting. Furthermore, the characters themselves may react in different ways depending on the circumstances.

In any case, start simple. Here are some questions that might help you define a character:

Questions to ask yourself:
What is the character’s name?
What does the character look like?
Why is this character necessary?
Would I like this character?
Does this character remind me of anyone I know?

Questions to ask your character:
What are you afraid of?
What is your favorite food?
What kind of books do you read?
Do you prefer the heat or the cold?
What do you dream about?
What is your favorite word or phrase?
What is your favorite curse word?
What makes you uncomfortable?
How do you feel about your hometown/family?
Where would you like to be right now?
What is the most important quality for an individual?

Keep in mind that not every question applies to every character. However, it may help to ask an irrelevant question, just to see how your character would respond. Furthermore, it is often more likely to know why a character has traits than that the character has them. Although it is not necessary for your characters to be highly original, they must not be simple stereotypes. Take the time to make them your own.

You will likely know more about the character than you will need to present, particularly for minor characters, so don’t feel the need to include all the information about someone.

Lastly, although there is no substitute for good characters, there is no need to make the characters the central aspect of a work, especially if it’s not your talent.

Tomorrow: Plot and Setting, bitches.