Archive for September, 2012

Mass Imperfection

Friday, September 28th, 2012

God and I were having one of those rambling conversations that ultimately lead to me complaining about something. Then, just a moment too late to stop myself, I said something that I knew was going to lead to God telling me that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

But I was wrong.

Instead she told me that every blade of grass is the right shade for someone. And just as there are a few shades of green that account for most grasses, there are also often a few generalizations that can cover most people.

So while I was pointing out that man seems drawn to whatever is harder to get, I was missing an important part of the equation. I pointed out that when everything was made by hand, the epitome of desirability was the ability to produce goods so alike that they were indistinguishable, but that now that mass production is the norm, folks flock to sites like Etsy so that they can pay a premium for goods with the genuine imperfections that come from handcrafting. But God set me straight, she rightfully pointed out that the same people that clammer for homemade goods are not the ones that go nuts for injection molded trinkets, on the whole.

Then, even before I could say, “well some of them are,” she pointed out that some people want certain goods to have a homemade feel but other goods to have the smooth perfection of mass production, and that some people like having essentially the same goods both in handmade form and in laser-precise editions, and that these two variants are just two more shades of green.

She even told me that if I thought about it hard enough, I could probably even come up with fifty shades of green. I told her I wasn’t masochistic enough to try.

Critical Hype

Friday, September 21st, 2012

God and I have been vaguely following the U.S. presidential election campaigning, and we’re both confused and aghast at how close the polls show the two sides.

Mitt Romney, representative of the ultra-rich, made his money by dismantling businesses, shutting down divisions and firing or laying off everyone who worked in them. In some cases the fees his company charged for this left the remaining divisions able to do nothing but file for bankruptcy and cave in to their insolvency.

And Mitt is running under the mantle of “Job Creator.”

God says he’s done everything but force Mitt to wear a big sign that says “hypocrite” but somehow Mitt was still nominated and people other than die-hard lifelong Republicans still intend to vote for him. We just don’t get it.

Buffalo Boys

Friday, September 14th, 2012

In my week in Yellowstone National Park I spent a lot of time looking at animals. I spent even more time looking for animals, but that’s the nature of the beast, only some of the places you look will actually have them.

Some of what I saw: Elk, bison, mule deer, wolves, squirrels, chipmunks, osprey, pelicans, sea gulls, geese, ducks, and many insects, the most interesting of which were the butterflies and dragonflies. I kept asking God if I could see a grizzly, or at least a black bear, but she just smiled and turned away.

Watching the critters it’s human nature to start making broad generalizations about the way the different species behave, and to connect those behaviors to people we know. I mean this goes back as long as we’ve been human, and appears in stories as far back as The Tortoise and the Hare, probably further. There’s even an offshoot of organized science fiction fandom that is built around this, the so-called “furry fans.”

Furry fans have often been cited as the lowest of the low. Now I realize that since the coining of the phrase “dotcom millionaire,” the pecking order of trod upon self-identified minorities has been shifting around, so my information here may be a little out of date, but if you go back a decade or two it’s accurate. If you want to be ostracized and shunned for your interests and actions, without actually doing anything illegal, about as low as you can go is be to be a science fiction fan. But once you sink that low, you discover that fandom itself has many layers, many subdivisions that each have their own level within an unspoken hierarchy. Now these layers have shuffled around through the years as franchises have come and gone, and interests have waxed and waned, and as new generations have supplanted old, but somehow, through it all, the furries have managed to stay at the bottom.

And that alone makes me want to join them.

I haven’t spent much time in the heights of society. Growing up my family was poor, not dirt poor, not meat only once a week poor, but collect loose change for spending money poor. Then I developed an early interest in science fiction. Then I discovered I was gay. And a computer geek. Needless to say, I learned to identify with the underdogs. And I learned that the strata of society that one occupied really had nothing to do with whether or not you were a good person. There are good people at all levels, and there are bad people at all levels.

So, moving on… One of the things that furries do, is take on a totem animal. For purposes both of communication about their selves and for exploring a form of alien thinking, they choose an animal and will play the role, often ever so slightly, of being an anthropomorphized member of that species.

Now I’ve had two problems with joining them in that game, the first being that I hate to find my self limited to picking just one, the second being that I’ve had no idea what one I would pick. Now it’s easy to dismiss the first issue by saying, well, keep changing, don’t pick just one. The problem with that is that I don’t want to spend much time researching animals and learning enough about a bunch of different species to be able to fairly represent them, and I’m not willing to do a superficial job of it, I want to know the right answers to questions people may ask. I’m willing to spend the time to edge into it though, to learn a tiny bit at a time, but I’m not willing to over and over again spend a bunch of time learning about a new species.

And the second issue? Well, I was looking at a herd of bison and God sort of nudged me with her elbow and suggested, why not them?

One of my friends, one of my furry friends, is a squirrel. He told me that part of why he picked squirrel is that he looked around at the furry folk and saw an overwhelming predominance of carnivores, of hunters. This makes sense if you go back and remember that the furries are at the bottom of the stack. If you feel like you’re part of a powerless minority, and you have the chance to roleplay something, why not make that something something powerful. But my friend looked at this and thought, the poor underrepresented prey, and realized that he needed to be a prey species. I think his reasoning may have been akin to my own feeling that I should join the furries, if there are good people at the bottom, good people that others are missing out on, why not go to them, join them, and not be missing out.

So I’ve been on the lookout for a prey species that is a good match. I think bison may be it. They’re big, I’m big, so I wouldn’t be trying to misrepresent my size. They’re not oblivious to what’s going on around them, but they mostly don’t let it bother them, and I think that’s not too far off from me either. And while they’re loyal to each other and hang out in groups, they’re also perfectly happy to go off and be alone by themselves for an extended while. I’m not completely convinced yet, but I’m definitely leaning their way.

And in Yellowstone stores they even have hats to make you look like either a bison or a wolf. Of course the wolf hats fit but the bison were too small. Even the makers of silly hats recognize that “real” adults want to be predator not prey. Sigh.


Friday, September 7th, 2012

It was actually something of a shock coming back home this week, going to my daily job in the city, and getting back into my routine. Being home was comforting, having my own bed to sleep in, my own couch to throw my luggage and laundry upon, my own refrigerator to raid, but going back to work just felt wrong.

I can’t really explain it. I love my work and I even made good progress on my current project this week. It wasn’t work that was wrong it was being in downtown San Francisco, where everything was even taller than the lodgepole pines I’d gotten used to but where nothing really tall has leaves. I tried inoculating myself by spending the last day of vacation in Las Vegas, if anything can get you break you of the habit of wilderness and prep you for a return to “civilization,” Vegas should be it. And unlike many people I actually like the excess of it. I love the huge swaths of neon, the architectural flamboyance, the sheer gaudiness of it all.

But it wasn’t enough.

Yellowstone has its own sense of excess. The geysers may not be choreographed to music like the fountains at Bellagio, the green of the forest may not be as pure as the glass of the MGM Grand, and the animals may not be as playful as the white Tigers at the Mirage, but there’s something wholesome and real about the things that exist not because of man but despite him. When I’m out there I don’t need God by my side.

I think I may have found one of the fundamental differences between myself and the people who make religion a part of their lives, for me it’s enough that these wonders exist, for the religious, it’s not. For them there must be something behind the curtain, these things must exist for a reason, and if there’s a reason than there must have been something, someone, that did the reasoning. It strikes me as a shallow scared view of the world, and it makes me sad that they need it.