Lucifer and The Good Place

You know how I feel about a good story, regardless of format.

Lucifer and The Good Place are both good stories while being very different.  The Good Place is light-hearted and humorous, with relatable characters who seem simple on the surface.  Contrarily, Lucifer is a murder mystery show, darker by definition, with characters who transcend the natural plane.  But, at their core, both shows contemplate questions humanity has been wrestling with since our inception, questions about the nature of good and evil, what it means to be human, and what happens when we die.  And, one of the most important: whether or not a person can be redeemed.  Or change.

In both shows, the answer is yes, with one huge “but.”  The road to redemption isn’t easy.

Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of The Good Place, grew up with parents so wrapped up in drugs, alcohol, and themselves that they neglected her entirely.  Selfishness and self-reliance were not just coping mechanisms but survival tactics.

Tahani’s parents were emotionally abusive.  No matter what she did, it wasn’t enough to please them.  No wonder she became obsessed with how she appeared to others, constantly seeking the approval and validation they never gave her.

The show doesn’t say anything about Chidi’s early home life, but it makes it pretty clear that he suffers from anxiety.  He combats it by following a moral code so strict and nitpicking that it often prevents him from living at all.

And Michael?  He is literally a demon.  It is his very nature to be evil.

In order to become good people, they have to do two things.  They have to let go of what is outside their control and decide for themselves to be good.  Eleanor seeks Chidi out and asks for help, something she couldn’t do with her parents.  Tahani literally passes her test (and I don’t care what the judge says, she did pass her test) once she confronts her family and is able to recognize that she doesn’t need their approval.  Chidi fails his, but a few minutes later, he is able to do what he couldn’t at first and make his own choice by recognizing that his anxiety can factor into his decisions without overtaking them entirely.  And Michael becomes part of Team Cockroach and literally goes against his fellow demons while figuratively fighting his personal one.  He chooses to become “human” instead of staying a demon, but he does it with and for the four humans he cares about.

And that’s the other trick: they have to do it together.

Chidi teaches the others how to think in terms of ethics and morality, but Eleanor teaches him to live in the moment and consider how those morals look in day-to-day life.  She teaches Tahani to examine her motivations while Tahani teaches them both how to care for others and think of their true impact.  Michael takes this all in and teaches them, through example, that they can still change.  Anyone can.

Lucifer explores the same concept with higher stakes: the Devil himself.  Who is more trapped by external factors than him, the Lord of Hell himself, constantly blamed for all of humanity’s short-comings?  He leaves Hell to shed the image and to quit playing a role.  Once on Earth, he begins to examine his feelings and motivations with his therapist, Linda.  Plus, he finds himself physically and figuratively mortal with Chloe, proving its the humanity in others that helps us find our own.

Lucifer’s problem is that there is always that last obstacle he can’t overcome: his determination not to play into his father’s plan.  Every time he thinks his father is manipulating him, even a little, he immediately does the exact opposite of the “right” thing.  He ignores what other people want or need and focuses on rebelling to prove he’s his own man.

As both a writer and someone who has studied the art of storytelling, I have a theory the show won’t end until Lucifer has truly redeemed himself, until he’s proven he can be both good and his own being.  Since that’s the core of the story, they’ll drag it out until the end.  So what are we learning in the meantime?

Besides the fact that redemption is possible no matter who you are, it suggests redemption is possible no matter how many times you fuck it up at first.

The Good Place says the same thing.  These people get better once the scales have stopped weighing and “that’s not supposed to be possible” according to Michael.  And in Lucifer, he takes one step forward and ten thousand back…but he always gets that chance to take one more step forward.

Fiction is so important because it allows us to consider other perspectives but also because it can encourage and inspire us in ways we would never imagine.  These stories give me hope: no matter what you’ve done, it is never too late to do the right thing, to learn from others, to define yourself.  It is a new moment.  Live like it.

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Please Correct Me if I Misgender You, But…

A few weeks ago, a friend from the internet decided ae wanted to use more gender-neutral pronouns than “she” and “her.”  They said they were still fine with “she” as well, but wanted to try others.

Last month I finally got to go to volunteer orientation at the Time Out Youth Center.  We went around the room and shared our pronouns and I felt awkward about it when it was my turn to share mine.

When I worked at the local library two years ago, there was a person whose gender I couldn’t easily identify.  I wasn’t sure what to do but one of my coworkers made it sound so simple.  Just ask if they’re a man or a woman.  Easy.

I’m from the South and it just doesn’t feel that easy.  Talk about people who get offended easily: how would an older person who believes gender is clear-cut react if I said I couldn’t tell.

I am a cisgender woman and my gender has never felt wrong to me.  Learning that there are other experiences has been a long process and, though I want to be a good ally, this proves I still have a long way to go.  I shouldn’t be waiting for you to correct me.  I should be asking for pronouns when I meet people.  I should be doing my part to normalize that experience instead of forcing you to out yourself as different.

So correct me if I misgender you, but I’m sorry you have to.  I’m sorry I haven’t given you an easy opportunity to tell me what you want to be called.

Thank you for being patient with me, but I’m sorry if I ever make you feel anything less than 100% accepted as yourself.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Nashville, Take 2.

I wanted to film a vlog in Nashville, but I need a better camera for that.  Next time.

I stayed at the Music City Hostel in the Vanderbilt area.  If you’re looking for a cheap place to stay, I would recommend it.  This place is clean, cozy, impeccably decorated and Tina, who manages it, is lovely to talk to.

I only went to one bar this time, Winners, and I went for Whiskey Jam.  If you want to see some up-and-coming music acts, this is the place to be on Monday nights.  But Tuesday is when I got into the real reasons I went.

That morning, despite the rain, I toured the Opry, an expensive activity but absolutely worth it.  If you enjoy the history and tradition of country music, this place feels like home.  Restored after the flood of 2010, it is also a testament to the passion and perseverance of the art form and the creators who still pursue it.

I also saw a show there Tuesday night.  I had been waiting for someone I loved (coughBradPaisleycough) to perform, but went instead for Valentine’s Day, knowing only two of the performers beforehand.  It felt like I had stepped out of time, with a live announcer and red On-Air sign.  You’re paying for that experience – the music is icing.  I suggest a seat upstairs so you can take in the whole sight.

And speaking of sights…the thing that actually took my breath away was the statue of Athena at Nashville’s Centennial Park.  The full-sized Parthenon replica is impressive, but at 42-feet and dressed in glowing gold, the Athena inside is its true appeal.

Reba put on a spectacular show, but I wasn’t as in awe of her venue, the Ryman Auditorium, as I was the Opry House.  Next time, I’ll take the tour and see if that helps.  I liked the Country Music Hall of Fame, but wasn’t as enthralled as the first time I visited.  I do suggest going once – and before May to catch the Brad Paisley: Diary of a Player exhibit.  This is another place the history and tradition of country music is kept alive in Nashville.

Meanwhile, I had a delicious breakfast at Another Broken Egg Cafe.  This isn’t some greasy spoon: I had an omelette with crab and cream cheese and a very fancy (and alcoholic) coffee.  It’s about a block from the Ryman and two from the Hall of Fame, so not a bad place to get your day in Nashville started.

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Scrappy Little Nobody

I’ve heard you should never meet your heroes. Those same people would probably tell you not to read their memoirs either.

Fuck that.

It depends on WHO your hero is. Pick the right one, and that shouldn’t be a problem. That being said, I met Anna Kendrick on Monday and have been reading her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody, ever since, and I love her more than ever.

The event itself was at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  They are apparently famous for their author events and were very efficient at getting everyone in and out in a timely manner.  That being said, I wanted to talk to her more.  Don’t get me wrong: she was absolutely funny and charming and she TOLD ME I LOOKED AMAZING AND HUGGED ME AND OH MY GOD GUYS I COULDN’T TAKE IT, but I didn’t get to ask her about Trolls like I wanted to or tell her I’d driven from L.A. or let her know that my lipstick color was called Lady Balls, which I figured she’d appreciate.  I left still feeling like I had a 2D idea of her.

Reading her book filled that gap.  She writes like she talks, and each story is told in a conversational style that makes you feel connected to her as the story-teller.  At one point, she even says that “we’re friends.”  Even though that’s not quite accurate, she manages to speak openly and honestly in a way that shows off her humanity.

There are a lot of “actress finds her way through Hollywood” stories, but it also contains several “young woman finds her way” stories and advice for girls about dating and sex.  She shows some true feminism and calls out some sexist issues with society from a personal level, like the guys who want to have sex with her until she shows she’s “too enthusiastic” about it.

All in all, the book just makes her seem more like a person I want to hang out with and feels like you’re catching up with a friend who happens to be living the “Hollywood life.”  The stories are funny and interesting and she bares her soul enough to ensure her reader is emotionally invested.

If you liked Twilight or Into the Woods, I recommend reading it.  If you want to be an actor and are curious how one moves to L.A. and gets into show business, I recommend reading it.  If you are a girl/young woman who doesn’t know how to be yourself in a world constantly telling you 5000 different people you should be, I recommend reading it.  She has good advice in spots.  In the places she doesn’t, well…she can commiserate enough that you don’t feel quite so alone in your circumstance.  And she’ll make you laugh enough to make you feel better about all of it.

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The Virgin Suicides

Confession time: I still haven’t quite finished The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

What?  I’ve had a lot going on.

I have, however, made enough progress that I have something to say about it, and those things involve spoilers, just so you know.

First: I find it interesting that the book is from the collective first person POV: “we.”  The only other story I can recall using that perspective was Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  It works on the same level in this story, managing to show the “otherness” of the Lisbon girls just like Faulkner’s story did for Emily.  The difference is that the narrators of The Virgin Suicides see the Lisbon girls as a collective group like they themselves are, so while it “others” them, it also unifies them.  That unification makes it possible to imagine the events the narrators keep referring to: that each girl commits suicide after the first.

The narrators also keep referring to evidence: “exhibit #9” and so forth.  They talk about interviewing people after the fact, years after the fact.  It leads the reader to believe there is an intense investigation going on, but no indication (at least, not yet) of why that might have happened so long after the suicides.

While the narrative style works to show the girls as a mystery the boys can’t understand, it doesn’t help readers to become emotional invested in the characters as individuals.  Mainly we become attached to Lux because the narrators (men) were so in love with her while she was alive and that shines through in the facts they focus on.  The rest of the girls become an extension of her.  Beyond the thought of “poor girls” when you hear of their sister’s death and realize how badly their mother failed them, there isn’t much room for an emotional connection.  It all stems from Lux.  The story wouldn’t have been very different if there had only been three Lisbon girls: Cecelia, to set things in motion, Lux, to be the center-point as she already is, and then one of the other girls to follow in Lux’s stride.  The girls aren’t developed enough to matter as individual characters.

The story reminds me a lot of the manic pixie dream-girl trope as the narrators admire her from afar and comment on the tragedy of it all.

That being said, I don’t hate it.  In fact, I’m enjoying it a lot.  It has a lot to do with the prose.  Eugenides has a way of describing it all that is both poetic and matter-of-fact.  It even feels like he, as the author, is highlighting the mistakes his narrators are making in interpreting the Lisbon girls.  I can see why it’s considered a classic.

There are rare glimpses of the girls that aren’t distorted by the narrators’ lens that lead me to believe the author knows better than his narrators.  One of my favorite moments in the book happens that way.  After Cecelia’s first attempt, when the doctor is patronizing her and saying she’s “not even old enough to know how bad life gets,” Cecelia answers him, “Obviously…you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

It’s a heavy read, but not an overly difficult one.  The collective POV also helps to distance the reader in a way that makes it easier to get from page to page.  I do still have a ways to go, but I’d recommend it so far.  At the very least, it’s definitely one of those books that makes you think.

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“I’ve been sent to spread the message…”

Since I left home on October 1st I have driven through eleven states.  North Carolina mountains bled into Tennessee mountains, Missouri farmlands into Oklahoma plains.  Each city stands out, but the states themselves run together.

But something changed the moment I crossed from Oklahoma into Texas.  More accurately, everything did.  The land became flat and long, and the sky seemed to open up.  It was bluer somehow.  Driving itself was different, with the speed limit increasing and the radio stations getting better and clearer.

Most importantly, felt different.

While in Texas, I went horseback riding (Los Cedros Ranch), treated myself to a steak dinner with a beer flight (The Big Texan), and hiked halfway down the second largest canyon in the United States (Palo Duro Canyon State Park).  I sat on my car and stared up at the stars that night.  I ate some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had at Tyler’s Barbecue…and I’m from North Carolina, where all the barbecue is good.

All in all, Texas treated me very well, and I wasn’t happy to leave it.

One of the last things I saw on my way out of the state was the Cadillac Ranch.  Ten car bodies sticking up out of the dirt, each covered in layers and layers of paint.  A couple of women were spray painting one of the cars as I stood and watched.  Meanwhile, I tried to chip off some of the paint to take home as a souvenir, just like the ladies at the U-Drop-Inn cafe had suggested back in Shamrock.

The spray painting, the chipped paint…even the way the cars had been buried in the dirt: it was all destruction.  And yet, cars lined up on the highway to see this spectacle.

Leslie Jones once talked about how Oprah Winfrey got fired from a job when she was 23.  When someone mentioned how stupid that employer must feel for firing Oprah Winfrey, Jones said they hadn’t fired Oprah Winfrey.  They had fired some 23-year-old who needed to be fired in order to become Oprah Winfrey.  Just like that event turned her into the person she was meant to become, all the destruction makes the Cadillac Ranch what it is.

If you’re ever in Amarillo, don’t miss it.  Actually, if you’re ever in Amarillo, take me with you.  I loved Texas.  I can’t wait to go back.

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The Wind in the Willows

My last few weeks in the UK – at Oxford – weren’t entirely ideal.  I spent two weeks sick: feeling tired and uncomfortable if I was out of bed for too long and being unable to eat much of anything.  This came after the pick-pocketing incident and I was still dealing with that aftermath.  My mother had sent me a new credit card, and my passport worked as ID, but I couldn’t get cash for anything and I couldn’t prove I deserved a student discount.  Plus, since I’d waited until the last minute, I had to worry about writing a review after EVERY play we went to, including Titus Andronicus, which I would pay anything to never have to think about ever again.  Don’t misunderstand me: I was still enjoying myself, but stress was starting to creep in too.

This was the mood I was in when I discovered Oxford has something called The Story Museum, and I was immediately determined to go to it.  Each room was a lifesize display of a children’s book – most of which, I had read.  I walked through a wardrobe and into a snow-covered room to cower before the White Witch.  I saw Tink at the Darling House and Max where the wild things were.  But one room stood out above the rest.

It was tucked away in a corner and, though the fireplace wasn’t real, I could still feel the warmth.  It was a lived-in little kitchen, with pots and pans and the feeling that the homeowner was about to jump up and start cooking for his guests.  There was a large green armchair against the wall, facing the fireplace, and it looked as cozy a spot as any.

This exhibition involved children’s stories, but ones that had been picked by other children’s authors, who then dressed as a character from the book.  The Wind in the Willows had been chosen by Neil Gaiman, who was featured in the room dressed as Badger.  It was his home I was visiting.  Sitting in that armchair, already feeling like all I needed was a blanket and a mug of tea to feel perfectly at home, I hit play on the tablet that was sitting beside me…and heard Christopher Eccleston, my Doctor, reading the passage about this home I had stepped into.

I hadn’t read the book before and, after having an introduction that emotionally charged, I had to wait until I found a pretty copy of it.  When I did, I had to wait still until I was in the right mindset to read it.  I’m glad I waited until now; it’s brought me a lot of comfort this week.

At this point in my life, home is hard to define.  I spent a long time planning an imaginary one.  I’ve spent even longer living in someone else’s, unsure when I’d be able to make my own.  I’ve joked that it’s where your cats are or your books are, but those are things you put in a home.  A home is, I think, somewhere you can go to and know you can’t be touched, or hurt, or lost.  It’s a place you feel safe and accepted and warm and cozy, like that room in The Story Museum: you feel like you can take a nap and everything will be all right when you wake up again.  You feel like there is something, some invisible barrier, keeping out all the things that could ever hurt you.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame gave me a glimpse of that feeling this week, even in a place that scared me a little.  It’s nice to know I can still feel at home between the covers of a book.

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I’m Going to Chicago and I’m Going to Take…

I leave in five days and there’s an astonishing amount of things that need to get done first.  One of those things is my least favorite in the world: packing.  I’ve tried making lists before, like Jennifer does, but it somehow makes me MORE anxious.

Still, it has to get done, as does this post.  So I hope you don’t mind if I multi-task.

Kentucky bag: denim shorts, Firefly shirt, pajama pants, small toiletries bag, phone charger, book, and travel journal.

Small toiletries bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush.

Chicago bag: 3 towels, large toiletries bag, 2 pairs of jeans, 3 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, Cinderella dress, sparkly heels, 2 pairs socks, Converse, jacket, laptop, laptop charger. Hamilton ticket.

Large toiletries bag: shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, body wash, baby powder, hair straightener, hair dryer.

Secondary duffel: other shorts, other towels, 5 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, other Converse, flip flops, sandals, 4 pairs of socks, pads.

Front seat: GPS, maps, guide books, AUX cord, first aid kit, hotel printouts, cell phone, wallet, adventuring purse.

Cooler/Food bag: sandwich stuff, Freeman’s sauce, water bottles, apples, spaghettios, granola bars.

Other: box of books/journals, emergency bookbag/kit lovingly packed by Jennifer (with medicines, sunscreen, and a first aid kit, among other things), emergency ID/cash, bag for dirty clothes, Tide, dryer sheets, oil.  The Spirit of Adventure.

I hate packing because I know I can’t plan for everything.  I’m sure I’ll get somewhere and realize I missed something.  But then…that’s what credit cards are for, right?

Anything else you think I’ll need?

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Categories: Tuesday Update, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Excuse Experiment

11:53 a.m. I receive a text message from Kelly Sue DeConnick and the “Bitches Get Shit Done” distribution list.  “What if today you wrote down every time you made an excuse to avoid doing something?”  I immediately think of the dozen and a half I’ve already made this morning and decide I want to do better.  Challenge accepted.

12:01 p.m. “That’s not my job” and “someone else will take care of it.”

12:15 p.m. “It’s too expensive.”

12:17 p.m. “I really don’t know what to say.”

12:59 p.m. “Well they SHOULD have sent an e-mail.”

1:07 p.m. “That didn’t work last time, why bother again?

1:48 p.m. “I don’t have enough time to finish so there’s no point getting started.”

2:47 p.m. “I don’t REALLY need to do that.”

6:24 p.m. “I don’t feel like it.”

7:15 p.m. “I’ve already done enough today.”

7:31 p.m. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for me.”

8:04 p.m. “I’m too tired for this.”

9:15 p.m. “Nobody cares.”

9:16 p.m. “I don’t want to start anything.”

9:17 p.m. “It’s too late.”

Conclusion one: Excuses often look exactly like legitimate reasons not to do something, but it’s pretty easy to distinguish one from the other once you’re paying attention to it.

Conclusion two: Saying/thinking the excuse isn’t a terrible thing.  It’s believing (or pretending to believe) the excuse that keeps you from growth.  I made 90% of these excuses right before womanning up and doing the thing I had been avoiding.  Once you can admit that you have made an excuse, you can recognize how flimsy it is and how much better it would be to just Do The Thing.

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Layla and Me

I had a dream once where I was in a sketchy neighborhood well past midnight.  I had parked my car and was going to walk the few blocks to my destination, terrified, until it occurred to me that I could just drive those last few blocks.  In the dream, I turned back.  I was still scared but I knew if I could make it to my car, everything would be okay.

I believe in dreams as a way your mind processes things you can’t yet piece together in consciousness.  It’s why some dreams are difficult to interpret, but this one was easy: I find a lot of security in my car.

So a few weeks ago, when she began to have a hard time starting, my anxiety became crushing.  And the day my mom suggested I get a new one instead of putting the money into fixing her, a coworker found me practically sobbing at my desk.

This car has been a living room, dining room, bedroom, and even changing room for me.  It’s been a reading room, a prayer room, and a shoulder to cry on.  I don’t think of all cars as being imbued with a “spirit.”  Just this one, Layla, and she takes care of me.

(Side note: don’t let your kids watch Toy Story.  They will grow up to have seven boxes of stuffed animals and a car they refuse to get rid of.)

This is the car I took my driver’s test in, the car I broke up with my boyfriend in (twice now), the car I drove to Chapel Hill and Orlando and that was there for me when I inevitably had people-trouble.  There have been a lot of people come and go in my life, even ones I was sure I’d never lose, but Layla hasn’t failed me yet.  She likes to go as fast as I do and yet, somehow, she refuses to go over the speed limit right before we pass a cop I can’t see yet.  We’ve been stuck in traffic when her gas light comes on and then turns off again, as if she’s just giving me a heads up that she need gas as soon as possible, but that we’ll be all right until traffic lets up.  Before we got her water pump fixed, her heat gauge would read as dangerously high…until I coaxed her down or described all the adventures we were going to go on.

She’s been very good to me.

There are a lot of people worried about me as I plan future trips because I have no problem traveling alone.  But the truth, at least for the ones I’m looking at now, is that I never really thought about it as being alone.  It’s always been “Me and Layla, On the Road.”

One day, I will probably have to get a new car…but this one still has some adventures to go on.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.


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