I Tried To Read The 5th Wave And Failed

I just can’t with this book.

I first saw the Fifth Wave in the bookstore a few years ago when it was brand new, and it seemed pretty interesting. It has a very good premise. It’s a dystopian YA novel (strange how that’s not only a genre now, but an oversaturated and cliche genre. What a weird time to be alive) about a girl surviving on her own in the ruins of Earth after aliens show up and destroy the place.

The alien assault comes in the form of “waves.” The first wave is an EMP blast that disabled all electronic devices and cuts off communication. The second wave is a series of bombs dropped into fault lines that trigger tsunamis which wipe out all human life near coastlines. The third wave is a virus, transmitted by birds, that not only causes people to die a painful and bloody death, but also lose their mind to the point that one victim is shown to have been chained to her bed while she ripped her own fingernails out.

The book begins after the fourth wave has begun. It has a pretty strong opening chapter, and I was hooked very quickly. The narrator, Cassie, switches back and forth between recounting the events of her life before and the way humanity dealt with the attack from “the Others,” and her current mission to travel to a nearby airbase where she believes she might find her younger brother, trekking along desolate highway while being followed by a sniper.

At first, Cassie’s tendency to wax philosophical is charming. I mean, if you can’t contemplate the futility of existence in an apocalypse that somehow manages to combine an alien invasion, a superflu, a zombie virus,, a worldwide flood, a super bomb, and the mass murder of all survivors, you really can’t ever find a time to contemplate anything. But as time goes on, it feels like author Rick Yancey was more interested in using the lens of an uber apocalypse to discuss human society than actually telling a compelling story.

And things only get more ham-fisted from here. Every point is driven home without a hint of subtlety, and simple messages that shouldn’t be difficult to grasp are slammed in with a sledgehammer. The most egregious example of this is a moment that made me roll my eyes almost out of my head. I had to put the book down and Google to see other people’s reactions because I was so incredibly annoyed.

At one point, Cassie is reciting her experience in a camp of survivors. They’re all struggling to survive and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, unsure if anyone is ever going to come and help them. Cassie herself makes a brief reference to religion before this scene, simply saying that when it comes to God, she feels like there’s some kind of a broken promise there. But leaving it at that would be subtle and understated, two things that this book is not. We’re briefly introduced to two characters surviving in the refugee camp: a religious fanatic nicknamed Mother Theresa by the others, and “the sole atheist in our camp, some college professor named Dawkins.”

Yeah, that’s a LITTLE on the nose, Rick Yancey. Let me talk about WHY I hate this so much. The point Yancey is trying (read: failing) to make here is that all fundamentalism is bad, both religious fundamentalism and… non-religious fundamentalism? I mean there’s a problem with trying to explain how someone could be a fundamentalist ahtiest when atheism is simply the rejection of a religious claim, but I get what he’s trying to say here. He’s saying that we should be level-headed in our approach to life, and not get lost moving too far to one side or the other to keep a clear view of the situation.

But this is an actual apocalypse story. The other survivors jeer at the atheist, telling him he’s going to hell, to which he reasonably responds, “How would I know the difference?”

What bothers me so much about this is not just that Yancey went with the most obvious and on-the-nose name choice possible for an atheist character by naming him after Richard Dawkins, though that annoys me too. And I won’t dwell on it for much longer, but I have now found two different interviews in which someone asked him about naming his character Dawkins, and in both of those interviews he chuckled and said “You caught that, did you?” Yeah, Rick. We ALL CAUGHT IT. It was not subtle, or clever, it was ham-fisted and graceless. Anyhow, that’s not what bothers me so much. What bothers me is the idea that in a world where all of the conceivable apocalypses have happened one on top of another, that an atheist would STILL be regarded with disgust. I mean, if you need any more proof that there is no God looking out for you, trying looking around at the nightmarish dystopian hellscape you live in. I get that people would probably turn to their faith for comfort, but like Cassie mentioned earlier in the book before this scene, it’s clear that if there was some sort of promise from God to keep people safe, he didn’t live up to it, and may as well not exist anyway. The idea that this ONE character is the SOLE atheist is ridiculous, particularly when Cassie more or less admitted to being an atheist only a few pages ago.

I did manage to get a bit of revenge when, later on when groups of soldiers arrive to take all young children away to safe houses, Mother Theresa demands that she be allowed to leave too, because “women and children should be taken first, that’s just how things are done,” seeming to go out of her way to throw everyone else under the bus. I might have enjoyed this jab at religiosity more if it hadn’t been countered by an incredibly flawed atheist strawman. Not that his Mother Theresa character wasn’t a straw man too, but at the very least, anyone could sympathize with the atheist character.

At any rate, just when I began to feel really interested in what was happening to Cassie, the story switches perspectives rather abruptly to another character called Zombie, previously Cassie’s high school crush, and his experiences becoming infected with the plague virus, and subsequent recovery. He’s hooked into a computer program called Wonderland that “maps” his experiences, basically downloading his entire personality, memories, feelings and thoughts into a computer, and then he’s sent to boot camp to train in becoming a soldier. Calling the computer program Wonderland is one of several cringe-worthy literary references that might have been clever if they weren’t so cliche. It reminds me of the villain in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series being named Valentine, or the way the Looking Glass Wars tried to turn the Mad Hatter and Chershire Cat into anime-style martial arts badasses. It just feels so… silly. There’s kind of a trend in this series of giving silly names like Wonderland, Zombie, Nugget, Razor, Poundcake, and Dumbo. Sometimes they feel like they’re supposed to be references to other works, sometimes they just feel like unfortunate nicknames.

The story switches back to Cassie and manages to get very interesting for a few chapters, because the sniper who had been following her is an alien. Up to this point, no one has seen the aliens, but it is known that there are aliens masquerading as humans and killing people, which is called the Fourth Wave. The Fifth Wave, by the way, is never explained or even mentioned in this book, and won’t be addressed until the final book in the trilogy, but I digress. So the aliens have basically attached themselves to people’s brains and possessed their human hosts, but they aren’t a conciousness which replaces the old one (a la Stephanie Meyer’s the Host), they are still the same person they always were, only they’ve been “awakened” to who they truly are. The alien, Evan, is having trouble deciding on what to do because during the time he was hunting and stalking Cassie, he became attracted to her and began to become obsessed with her, unable to bring himself to kill her, instead nursing her back to health.

Evan is a pretty interesting character. He’s conflicted and you can see that his humanity is ultimately overpowering the alien part of himself. It does however worry me that since he is set up as Cassie’s romantic interest, this book continues the disturbing trend in YA fiction of having a female protagonist fall in love with an abusive or obsessive male partner who gives off some distinctly rape-y vibes. Still, because I’m me, I was just happy to finally have a cute boy involved in the story who I could be vicariously attracted to, because what is young adult fiction without sexual tension?

This, unfortunately, is when the book grinds to a complete halt. Evan and Cassie end up sharing a kiss and he climbs in bed with her, at which point the camera fades to black and we switch to Cassie’s younger brother, a terrified seven year old named Sam, who is brought into the safe houses after being separated from a girl he meets on the bus, and the narrative returns to Zombie, who is now in boot camp. And the book goes Full Metal Jacket on us. And you know, I really tried with this part. Firstly, I find military stories entirely boring, particularly when they involve boot camp, because I tend to view boot camp as a very strange form of physical and mental torture that we as a society have sanctioned as perfectly alright, and this book continues to espouse the supposed virtue of emotionally and mentally destroying a person through weeks and months of torture before “molding them” into a soldier, which even in real life seems to have little effect but destroying a person’s natural empathy and replacing their personality with that of a cold and ruthless machine designed to serve it’s masters, sacrificing any humanity.

But again, I digress.

I have difficulty with boot camp stories because of the above mentioned reasons, but also because it’s really not what this book has been about up to this point. And exactly halfway through the book is a very strange time to take on such a drastic change in tone. I mean, yeah, it’s still the same hopeless dystopia as the first half, but at a certain point the utter hopelessness of the story becomes unbearable. I mean, there IS no victory for these characters. At this point, most of humanity is dead. Even if they somehow defeated the aliens, there’s nothing that can be done, humanity will not survive beyond this point, any attempt to survive is pointless. And Yancey has said that the point of this story is not about victory but about endurance, but still, how compelling is a story of endurance? I mean, at the end of Gary Paulson’s book Hatchet, the main character does eventually get to go back to society. His endurance pays off. Where is the pay off here?

The thing that really pushed me over the line is that the book goes into gruesome detail describing the fate of the people who died, particularly through the lens of Casssie’s younger brother. Not only does the narrative go through the horrific details of his mother’s death and the way he lost everything he ever loved, but it does so while retaining his point of view, so that characters are still called “mommy” and “daddy” and we can see his innocence shattering. It all becomes so incredibly depressing that it’s almost too difficult to bear. This whole book is just steeped in hopelessness, and that’s the problem with it. Once you’ve breathed a sigh of relief, things can only get worse. There is never going to be any payoff for these characters.

The little boy is thrown into boot camp, a ludicrous idea even for a dystopian novel, and the drill sergeant taunts him about the death of his mother, which is probably more monstrous and unforgivable than anything that’s happened up to this point. Now granted, this drill sergeant is an antagonist, but the scene is framed in such a way that it suggests boot camp is a GOOD thing, so what is the message being sent here? I don’t know, but honestly this is the point where the book became too much for me and I had to put it down. I skimmed summaries for the rest of the book and then the rest of the series to sate my curiosity about what happened next, and I’m going to talk about it now, so consider yourself spoiler warned.

This boot camp section carries on for a while, and the narrative doesn’t return to Cassie for a long time, which as I said, grinds the story to a halt, because even though Zombie has been introduced, the central story was still mostly about Cassie. Halfway through the book is a bad time to give this novel a deuteragonist. We’d already followed Cassie, Evan and Sam, and Zombie’s section had been brief enough that it didn’t detract from the overall narrative. Frankly, I just don’t have the patience for this kind of storytelling. I know it may be important to switch focus, but I had to keep willing myself to read on beforehand, through all the gloomy atmosphere, because the story was essentially pretty good and was rolling along. I don’t have it in me to put with a boot camp section, not now. The military aspects of the book seem to be glorifying the military and even though that’s another discussion for another time, it was just too harsh of a tonal shift for me.

So, I was genuinely curious about what the hell the Fifth Wave actually was, and apparently it isn’t even explained until the third and final book in the trilogy. The big secret is that the aliens were never on earth, they were always acting remotely, and the mothership doesn’t actually house the aliens so much as it houses their equipment and their weapons. They controlled people by mapping themselves through Wonderland and then uploading themselves into people’s brains. This is meant to pull the rug out from under you, but Yancey actually did a very weird thing in the way he told the story in the first novel. You see, we learn from Cassie that the military are actually alien-controlled humans, but we switch to Zombie and Sam being cared for by the military and being given explanations about what the aliens are, even though we as readers KNOW they are the aliens. But, the information they’re giving the protagonists seem to be true, so it’s kind of a triple-bluff. I wish that the author had picked a better method of explaining the central story than several info-dumps from the point of view of side-characters, given by unreliable characters. Worse, the villains mostly seem to be pretty good people, except for the two military drill instructor types.

The general theme for this book seems to be that we as the reader are shown something, and then the characters are put into a situation where we know what’s happening and they don’t. That’s a good storytelling method in and of itself, but unfortunately, things get wonky from there. Right when I as a reader think I know what’s going on, the “bad guys” are acting good, and we’re left to wonder who exactly is the villain here. And this isn’t done in an interesting, morally ambiguous way, like a political tale in which every player has their own ends and the lines between good and evil become blurred, it’s just clunky and indistinct, leaving me as a reader not sure if the antagonists are lying or telling the truth, and not sure if the narrative itself is lying to me or telling the truth. There are lies hidden within truths hidden within lies, but it’s spun in a very ineffective way, and just left me scratching my head and unwilling to keep slogging on once the focus of the book shifted halfway through.

In case you’re curious, the ultimate ending of the series apparently keeps piling cliche upon cliche, because the sole fault in the Wonderland program is that the aliens didn’t anticipate that LOVE would become involved, and basically, love can break the spell that the program has on people, as it did with Evan and his (creepy?) romantic obsession with Cassie. Yes, that’s right, it’s the old “love trumps everything” trope, but wait, it gets better.

The reason that the aliens sent their ship there was to destroy human civilization, because humans were destroying the environment and wiping out other species, and apparently the Others go from planet to planet, wiping out civilizations that pose too much of a threat to their environments in order to keep life going. But if that’s the case, what about the Others themselves? If they have this kind of sophisticated technology, then surely they must have developed and incredibly advanced civilization that DIDN’T harm the life around themselves, in which case they could use their technology to travel to planets and help other races to take care of their home worlds, share their own technology with them, or hell, even take over the planet and become benevolent dictators. It seems like the Others went through a HELL of a lot of trouble to wipe out the majority of the human race when inevitably another race will eventually evolve to take it’s place and create it’s own civilization. And from what I can tell from plot summaries of the rest of the series, the real origins of the Others are never explained and they’re never even communicated with directly. What a let down.

The Fifth Wave, by the way, is a series of child soldiers trained by the aliens, who go and destroy what’s left of humanity, by tricking them into thinking they’re killing alien-infested people. Even though the people training them to do this are actually alien-infested, but actually not because of the whole Wonderland thing and ugh, my head hurts.

Even worse, the ultimate end for Cassie is that she downloads the memories and personalities of thousands of long-dead humans into her own mind, basically becoming Super Cassie and going on an army-of-one rampage against the antagonists, ultimately beaming herself onto the mothership with a bomb in hand, blowing herself up and destroying the mothership in the process. I don’t know if this actually defeats the Others, because clearly if they’ve done this with other planets before, they must have more ships. Did this really accomplish anything? So we have a combination of the “love conquers all” trope, the “humans will destroy the planet” trope, and the “sacrifice yourself to save Earth” trope. It’s kind of sad to me that a story with such lofty goals ends with such cliche set pieces.

And then finally, the epilogue of the series involves Zombie and Sam wandering through the ruins of the old world, basically just continuing to survive, and having some philosophical discussion about what a realm is. And that’s it. Like I said, there is no victory. No matter how long Zombie, Sam, and the other survivors make it, no matter how many generations of their children survive, humanity is still dead, all of human history is still destroyed, all of the art and music and literature and memories of past generations is gone. And the world isn’t rebooted in an Eden awash with possibilities, it’s on a planet in which much of the life has been destroyed and what land remains is littered with waste. The end.

How incredibly unsatisfying.

And that’s the Fifth Wave. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, and honestly I’m kind of glad I didn’t. It set out with some lofty ambition, but ultimately feels pretty pointless. The point of a dystopian story is to try and overcome the dystopia, to begin rebuilding, to create a new and better world, but this? This is just sad, and hopeless from the very beginning. Pain stacked upon pain, often in horrifically morose detail. It’s strange to me that in the world of YA fiction, you can’t directly talk about penises or breasts and you can’t do any more than imply that sex happens, but you can spend chapters describing blood leaking from the eyes of children and infants dying in their cradles and bands of marauders murdering (and raping?) children. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in general that we are so much more comfortable describing horrific violence in gory detail than talking frankly about something as natural and harmless as consensual sex. Not that that’s Rick Yancey’s fault, it’s just an observation, and it’s certainly not a new one.

And now, I can finally go read Mercedes Lackey.

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8 Podcasts You Should Listen To

I first discovered the existence of podcasts back in about 2011. The first podcast I ever listened to was called Downstage Center from the American Theatre Wing, where they interviewed just about every important theater acter from Broadway to Shakespeare. After that I started just searching iTunes for interviews with people I liked, like Imogen Heap, Tori Amos or Gregory Maguire.

More recently I’ve discovered podcasts again, and wow has the landscape changed since 2011. There are some really fantastic podcasts out there, and the best thing is that no matter what you’re interested in, there is probably at least one great-quality podcast out there. On top of that, because podcasts are almost always free, it’s a great medium to create in. I experimented with doing my own podcast and would like to come back to it at some point, though probably with a more focused idea of what I was doing. All that being said, I’m going to share with you some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, and what I think of them.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy
Hosted by David Barr Kirtley and John Joseph Adams

If I had to pick a “favorite podcast,” this would probably be it. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is a podcast primarily centered around science fiction and fantasy, but honestly they touch on just about every element of geek culture. The podcast is hosted by Wired.com, so there is oftentimes an element of technology. Host David Barr Kirtley is really unique among podcast hosts, because he’s very good at asking questions that allow the guest to give a complete, uninteruppted answer. He is very skilled at leading the guest toward a topic they want to expand on, and he only pops in to offer commentary or ask further questions when it serves the guests narrative, he doesn’t monopolize the interviews by interjecting much with his own experience. This style of letting the guest have center stage has led some critics to think David is uninterested in the subject matter, but as you can see from the panel episodes, this is certainly not the case. The earlier episodes of Geek’s Guide usually included an interview as well as a panel discussion with fellow host John Joseph Adams and various other geeks (usually writers), however in recent years they’ve split the two formats into different episodes, which I personally like because it keeps the episodes from getting overloaded.

Pretty much every important “geek luminary” you can imagine has been interviewed on this podcast. Just some of their guests include: Philip Pullman, Richard Dawkins, George R.R. Martin, John Cleese, Patrick Rothfuss, R.A. Salvatore, Naomi Novak, Andy Weir, Ernest Cline, Ken Liu, Amanda Palmer, Diana Gabaldon, Christopher Moore, Dan Simmons, Margaret Atwood, Felicia Day, Lev & Austin Grossman, Gregory Maguire, and this is just scratching the surface. Short of Neil Gaiman and the Star Trek captains, there are very few icons of geek culture who have not appeared on the show.

I definitely recommend listening to Geek’s Guide, and you can start anywhere. Just scroll through the episode list and find some people and topics you want to hear about. They also have a Patreon, which is a great way to support the show.

Timesuck
Hosted by Dan Cummins

This is a new one for me. I’ve listened to Dan Cummins’ comedy for a long time on Pandora, and recently he started running ads after his comedy clips for the podcast, so I went to check it out. Basically Dan explores topics that go down the rabbit hole, no matter what the subject, as long as there is a plethora of information about it. Some of those topics include flat earth conspiracy theories, belief in Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster, the history of alien sightings, an examination on Walmart, conspiracy theories about lizard illimunati, and historical overviews of Hitler’s rise to power, Lyndon Johnson and his fascination with his own penis, and a variety of serial killers including Charles Manson, H.H. Holmes, and Ted Bundy.

Dan is one of the few people I’ve heard successfully carry an entire podcast by himself, he has only had a guest on the show one time so far (though it was hilarious and fun), and manages to keep me interested. He also intersperses some great comedy among his examinations, including my personal favorite bit about sucking the nipples of Irish kings (true story, by the way) during The Dead Do Tell Tales, and a hilarious anecdote about his occasionally obstinate daughter Monroe and a plastic dog during Robert the Cursed Doll.

Though I only just started listening to this series a few weeks ago, I highly recommend it.

Nerdist
Hosted by Chris Hardwick

I am probably one of the few people in the world who really didn’t know about Nerdist until somewhat recently. Last year I had a brief obsession with Maria Bamford after listening to her comedy and watching her Netflix series Lady Dynamite (which if you haven’t seen it is basically a very weird and meta dissection of the comedy genre), and found her interview on the show. Nerdist is just shy of a thousand episodes so there is a LOT of material, and as is the case with Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, if you just search for the name of any geek icon you’re likely to find an interview. My personal favorites are the interviews with Patrick Stewart, who has a fantastic sense of humour and seems to genuinely enjoy his time with Chris and the Nerdist crew. Not much else to say, just a really great place to find interviews with nerd icons.

Ardent Atheist
Hosted by Emery Emery

2013 was my year of atheism. It began with God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, then Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and from there I went into an infinite spiral of atheist culture. One of my personal favorites was the Austin, Texas based Atheist Experience, a public access call-in show where a small panel of atheists basically listen to a bunch of hillbillies give weak explanations for the existance of God while the panel responds with some quiet and sane logic. At any rate, during this time I searched for some atheist podcasts and very briefly listened to part of an episode of Ardent Atheist, but I think at the time I got distracted and forgot to come back.

Recently I tried listening again and found that this show is pretty fantastic. Emery is fiery and hilarious, prone to outbursts and often flying into a screaming rage, but always about important injustices in the world that should be addressed, and even so, he still listens to opposing views. The panel is almost always made of atheists, so there isn’t exactly a lot of theological debate so much as there is a collective examination of the theological ideas of others, and a lot of time spent calling out religious nut-jobs who do real damage in the world. If you’re looking for a good show based in atheism, this is a great one.

Serial
Hosted by Sarah Koenig

I remember hearing a lot of buzz about Serial a few years ago when it first came out. I never listened to it, and I briefly had it confused with Thrilling Adventure Hour, so when I downloaded the first episode I fully expected a comedy podcast, having no idea what I was walking into. What I found was the incredibly compelling story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, supposedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Sarah Koenig is a journalist who examines the many flaws in the handling of the case, and really attempts to get to the bottom of who exactly killed Hae Min Lee, and most importantly, if Adnan was convicted when he is really innocent.

For his part, Adnan maintains his innocence, and every claim he makes about the circumstances surrounding the murder turn out to be true, while his representation at the hands of an attourney whose health was failing was very questionable. An alibi who never appeared during the trial ends up involved, and Sarah and her producer go through every aspect of the case, from a mysterious stranger in the park the day Hae’s body was found, to the incredibly weird Jay, a friend of Adnan’s who claims to have helped Adnan bury the body of Hae and then became the state’s star witness by testifying against Adnan.

I can warn you that there isn’t really a clear ending to this story. As of this writing, Adnan is still in prison, although Sarah’s work with Serial was responsible for getting Adnan another trial, and details are still sparse. There is a second season of Serial about the defection of U.S. soldier Bo Bergdahl, which admittedly I didn’t find quite as interesting and which I haven’t finished, but the first season is incredibly gripping, although be prepared for some disturbing details. I actually listened to the entirety of the first season in one night, beginning at around 8pm and ending the next morning, absolutely exhausted and barely awake but unable to stop listening.

And for what it’s worth, I think Jay did it.

Welcome to Night Vale
Hosted by Cecil Palmer (played by Cecil Baldwin)
Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale is the first podcast on this list to be completely fictional. It is somewhat like a radio play, except that the majority of episodes are narrated by a single character, Cecil Palmer, the host of a public radio station in the desert town of Night Vale. Night Vale is basically an incredibly creepy little town where Lovecraftian horrors are commonplace and where the ordinary is treated as unusual and the macabre as ordinary. From the first episode it’s clear that the central protagonist Cecil is gay, and in love with a newcomer in town, a scientist named Carlos. As times goes on, Night Vale’s popularity has grown and they’ve done several live episodes which include a full cast of actors portraying their characters in the style of a radio play. Night Vale’s popularity has led to the publication of a novel based in the town, and a second novel to be released soon.

The series begins a little slowly, and honestly I’m not quite as interested in the horror aspects of the show, simply because there isn’t one concrete narrative. The story is not really a story so much as a free form exploration of the town, with several recurring characters and running gags. Some episodes are better than others, but the writing has gotten consistently better as time goes on. Every episode also features a “weather” segment, which is a musical break, always featuring music from independent artists. You’re likely to find some cool new artists to follow through the weather segments.

Terms
By Spoke Media

Terms is another fictional podcast, very much done in the style of a radio play. Terms is more or less an examination of Donald Trump’s rise to becoming the president of the United States. But in Terms, things play out very differently. The central character is the outgoing president of the United States, Oliver Pierce, a Republican who managed to gain incredible popularity and revitalized his party, popular among both Republicans and Democrats. On election night it becomes clear that Republican candidate Charles Dunwalke, a malicious, maniacal anarchist who wants to provoke war around the world and disrupt the foundation of American principles (and who is, VERY clearly, a fictional representation of Donald Trump), is going to become the next preisdent, and Pierce begins to play a dangerous political game to ensure that Dunwalke doesn’t take office.

The writing of this story is very cliche, and I found myself rolling my times at least once during every episode, because the dialogue is very similar to the corny dialogue of crime procedurals, and the acting varies from pretty good to absolutely bad. Still, the story is interesting and the episodes aren’t incredibly long, so it’s very easy to get sucked in. The music, while a bit cliche, is also pretty good, and a little bit scary. But that might just be because I’ve primarily listened to the show while driving around at night.

Myths and Legends
Hosted by Jason Weiser

I’m really glad that this podcast exists. It’s one of those shows that is both entertaining and educational. Think of any famous legend, from mythology, literature or history, and it’s likely that it’s been touched on in this show, or will be at some point. Jason will choose a topic, and then combine several versions of the mythology surrounding it into one clear narrative, telling it in the form of a story, while adding in his own commentary. There’s some great ambient music underscoring the stories as well. He’s touched on topic from Greek and Arthurian legends to the history of The Little Mermaid, and my personal favorite, a two-part episode surrounding the events of the life of Pocahontas, told from the perspective of the settlers as well as the natives. Jason seems to make it a point to make sure that even during episodes with intense subject matter involving sex and death, he tries to keep the show fairly family friendly, which means that often sexuality is alluded to rather than spoken about explicitly, which admittedly I find a little annoying, because explicit sexuality and gore are an important part of these legends. He doesn’t do the legends any disservice, however, it’s just one element of the show that bothers me a little. Still, all in all this is a great podcast, and like Timesuck with Dan Cummins, it’s not only entertaining but really informative. There’s nothing better than learning while being entertained.

I’m Still Trying

Caesar

I’ve wanted to write again for over a month. That seems to always be the pattern: I want to write, then I don’t, then I’m mad because I missed all these observations and thoughts I could have chronicled, and then when I do write I’m apologizing to myself for not writing. But I’m going to keep trying, even if it’s hard. I want to get what it’s my head down.

I started a journal once before online (actually many times before online, but this is one in particular), on LiveJournal. I wanted to try something new, but I ended up only writing six entries. Since this numbered series is supposed to be similar to that, and I’ve already cross-posted my LiveJournal entries over to this blog, I considered making the previous entry number seven and this one number eight.Maybe I will do that. I don’t know.

I realize that’s a boring thing to start this off with. I have a thing about numbers, and organization. I have literally spent most of my free time in the past six years organizing and maintaining my iTunes library: keeping the B-Sides and Demos in proper order with uniform cover art, keeping everything numbered properly, having things in correct chronological order, organizing and re-organizing and re-organizing bonus tracks and B-Sides. It’s labor intensive but it gives my mind something to focus on.

I honestly want to go back to the beginning of this entry and just erase everything I’ve just written because even I think it’s boring.

But that is not the point!

The point is to get it out of my head and into here. The point is to have a living record (what does that actually mean, anyway? I’m totally bullshitting on using that term properly) of my life and my thoughts.

So here’s what I did today.

It’s Saturday. Blessed, sweet Saturday. The Thursday two days previous marked three months that I began working a full-time job, at a desk, in front of a computer, for eight hours a day with an hour lunch break. When I first started, I was deliriously satisfied at having landed full-time work, much less in my dream environment of an OFFICE. I couldn’t believe it.

But as time went on, it slowly starting dawning on me that this wasn’t an office. This was a retailer I worked for, and I was in their office space, and yes there were desks and computers and cushy chairs, and a coffee machine and conference rooms, but there were also things MISSING. Windows, for instance. Our office is actually just two huge warehouses that are somewhat insulated and the walls are strewn with huge ceiling to floor curtains. There are no windows, there is no sunlight, there is something that almost passes for a skylight above but really doesn’t because it’s just one dirty covered window that lets in some small amount of light. Two weeks ago the power went out for a while and we were on various backup lighting systems and it was like it was the dead of night in there. It gets incredibly hot when it’s hot outside, and freezes when it’s cold outside.

It seems to be devoid not just of light, but of hope. I’m reminded of the lyrics to that one Radiohead song that I’ve never heard the original of before, just the Regina Spektor and Amanda Palmer covers: “A job that slowly kills you, bruises that won’t heal.”

After my life was saved by two friends who allowed me to move away from the Carolinas and from my dysfunctional family and incredibly abusive mother, I spent the first month or so having crying breakdowns every night. I was like a dog that had just been adopted from the pound, and I was still so scarred by my past that I couldn’t accept that I might have a home, or safety, or love. But over time that fear went away and this became my new home.

I lasted about a month at the new job before I started to realize that I not only hated the job itself, but the whole concept of full time work. I always thought working full time with weekends off would give my life some kind of structure, but it turns out it just fills my life with forty-five hours a week spent in a muggy dark building away from the sun, and away from my actual LIFE. I hate being hidden away like that. I get two days off but I feel like I need much more than that. I honestly am beginning to doubt whether or not I can work AT ALL.

What would a happy work-week look like for me? I have no idea. Unless I were doing something that I love, and I don’t really know if I can paid to play piano, write books, and play video games. I want to go to college but how? I’m twenty-five now, I don’t have as many resources available to me as would have been when I was eighteen and just graduating. Even if I go to school I need to work a full-time job at the same time and how do I do that? What would I even go to school for? I say English, music, or literature, but what would I do with that? Would I teach? Could I handle the stress of teaching? I’ve been warned against teaching by everyone and I’ve never been particularly interested in it. If I were a teacher I’d have to hide who I am too.

I’d like to live in a hippy commune, rolling around naked in the flowers every afternoon, fucking boys and maybe sometimes girls throughout the day, reading at night, and falling asleep in the arms of friends. I’d like to wake up to the smell of nature and the wet dew and the rising sun, and yet I don’t want to live out in the woods. Maybe a cabin somewhere? I mean I’m genuinely trying to picture what my perfect life might look like. I guess in my dreams for the future I’m always rich and successful, and I’m either at home writing novels or out on the road touring as a musician, playing piano and singing to adoring friends every night.

Will I ever get the chance to do these things? When I was twenty-one it seemed like there was still all the time in the world to figure these things out. Now I’m twenty-five, almost twenty-six, and it seems like while there may still be time, there doesn’t seem to be any MEANS to make these things happen. And what do I need to do, keep on slogging through work full time, having unfulfilling Grindr hookups that leave me grossed out and ashamed when I have a few moments of free time, spending the weekend sitting still and trying to recuperate as I recover from the withdrawals symptoms of leaving one antidepressant behind to start myself on another?

It seems like I’ve gained so much of what I thought I wanted: a safe home where I live with friends, a stable job, good income, the ability to get food when I need it, a place to put my books and my music. And I do still want all those things, but I didn’t know I would still be suicidal once I got them. I didn’t know I would still struggle against the debilitating tears, fear, and loneliness, pushing down on my chest every day. I didn’t know I would still reach over to the other side of the bed at night and wish Nathan was there to hold.

It’s been over a year now and he’s still on my mind all the time. I feel lost without him. I think of things that I want to say to him, I see things around me and I want to show him, but he isn’t here, he’s back home, in Georgia, and he just isn’t going to be a part of my life no matter how much I miss him. And it isn’t that I want him to be in my life, or that I want to get back together, but I do miss him. Even though I don’t regret my decision to step out of our relationship, I still spend a lot of time thinking about him, missing him

I want to find a new person, but last year I was with a new person for three months and I genuinely forget that he ever existed in my life. I had a new relationship with not one but TWO guys, in a polyamorous relationship, they were both Pagan, and I even ended up homeless and they gave me a place to stay. Then there was upset, an actual physical fight, lots of screaming and wailing and at one point I even tried to cut myself (unsuccesfully, as I grabbed a butter knife), then ended up being made to leave. And I forget about those things ever having happened all the time, I forget that I had a relationship with those two guys, I talk about Nathan and say he was my last boyfriend but I forget that there were two in-between then and now. Why do I forget them so easily? I had thought I was happy. It turns out I was just as unfulfilled as before.

But doesn’t having a rebound relationship mean it helps you to get over the old one? Well, yes and no. It was nice, but still unfulfilling.

And I spent so much time last year being an atheist, and now I feel like I’m going back down the path to being Pagan. Which is great, I like it, but I always feel insincere. I’m not brave enough to be an atheist, and I don’t have enough faith to truly believe in the Divine. I want real life witchcraft and magic to influence the magic in my book, but where is my book going? It’s changed so much in my head. Characters that used to be the most important have left entirely, and I don’t know what’s happening anymore. I finally started over in first person and I love it so far but I haven’t written anything more after the first chapter, which I need to revise.

I’m feeling so lost. Why, after gaining so much, do I still find myself faced with the same problems?

Today I walked dogs at the animal shelter. Zack drove us there, I was going to go by myself but I’m glad he came. First I walked a pitbull named Caesar who pee’d on everything and then kept trying once he ran out, and cuddled with him a bit before we swapped him out for another pitbull named Gunnar, who was a bit more distant but really interested in walking around and exploring. I got a lot of good exercise from it, even though I was literally so exhausted from walking down to a culdesac and back twice that I ended up taking a three-hour nap when I got home. How can I ever start working out regularly or running / walking / jogging, if I can’t even handle taking a dog for a walk?

I don’t mean to be negative, if I am being negative. I spent a lot of time when I first started this blog trying as hard as I could to be positive because I needed positive energy in my life. Now I’m not even sure what a word like “positive energy” means. I don’t like faith in God, and I don’t really care enough about science to truly seek the answers. Maybe I don’t like what I know I’ll find: that the universe is vast and my existence in it has little meaning either way. That’s what atheism has brought to me, a feeling of knowledge and even of boastful, arrogant pride that I’m now trying to unlearn, and also a fear of oblivion. I don’t want to stop existing. Can it be so easy to just stop existing? Can it be so easy to believe in an alternative?

I’m filled with questions. I’m tired. I’m always tired nowadays.

I have to get away from this job before it kills me. I have to keep trying. I have to keep doing good things in my life.

I ordered two books on Wicca. I jogged last week and walked today. I’ve stopped drinking soda from the machine at work and almost entirely switched to drinking Powerade when I’m working. I bought tea and chai. I’m trying.

I need to stop staring at my phone all day. I need to get online for a good purpose, to write or to do something productive. I have to stop wasting so much time.

I want my body to be better. I want my heart to be better. I want my life to be better.

I’m trying.

Bookstore

Little God

where have you been
little god who is afraid?
where have you hidden
millennia upon another
how many forms have you taken?
how many lives have you taken
how many nations have you taken
how many children have you taken
how many minds have you taken
bodies have you taken
smiles and hopes and loves have you taken
how much hope have you stolen
how much to feed your greedy lust for worship
where have you been when all the worlds called out your name in unison
and you responded with a stone silence louder than the cosmic explosion
when your temperament was tested and you stood still
when the children were committed into your arms
and you did not take them
when the slaves and the oppressed and the thirsty and the valiant and the pious and the sinless and the humble and the destitute and the afraid and the weak and the mourning and the lost all cried up to heaven “speak! I listen”
“call! I wait”
“sing, I will join you”
“weep and I will comfort you”
“hope that I may hope as we’ll”
where were you standing?
what went through your mind?
you are so little in a universe so vast
so small that you are one neuron firing in our brains
so lifeless that you could never respond
so small and so weak that your voice could never be heard
your voice was only ever borrowed from us
and we want it back
though we gave it away still we can claim this for ourselves
little god, sad god, weeping god, put down the torment and the pain, give it back to us
you, child, who never should have been
your suffering has been our suffering, vast and infinite in variation
but we forgive you
we let you go
we move
we step forward
we strive and we fail and we remember you
we cry at the remembrance of our lost love
but we will survive
we will live
you never got the chance to be alive
but we have it, and for you we cannot squander it
our tiny maker, our vast and great child
we forgive you
we forgive you
we