Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Antitheses

Self-centered post ahead. You have been warned.

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Something strange and unprecedented happened over the weekend. It was so unexpected that I was honestly thrown for a couple of hours; and yet, it seems such a small thing.

I finally met a Theodora Goss story I didn't like.

All right, a couple of absolutely necessary clarifications. Goss is one of my favorite writers; I've read every single one of her blog posts; I go into the archives when I'm in need of inspiration; and all of you should go read Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon, The Witch, and The Rapid Advance of Sorrow as soon as possible.

The story of hers that I read and didn't like is not a comment on her abilities as a writer. The story ("Estella Saves the Village") was, on the contrary, well-written. I didn't like it anyway. But that's a comment not on Goss's (awesome) writing but on the place where my personality/identity/ego diverges from hers.

No matter how great my heroes, I'm going not to see eye to eye with them on some occasion. So, as I have said before, disagree boldly with people you respect.

It is personal, but the person to which the negative feeling pertains is me.

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What bothered me about the story? I'm not going to give away too much of the story, but before too long the reader will probably notice that some of the characters are allusions to literary figures from the Victorian period. The reason this offended me was not because it was used as a gimmick; au contraire, for it was important. Rather, the sheer literariness of the premise/story bothered me. I might have imbibed some of Feynman's anti-culture sentiment. In any case, recently I've been tired of the convention in books for book-loving characters to gain automatic goodness points.

Another thing that bothered me - a more important consideration for me personally - was not so much the story itself as the general aesthetic called to mind: Victoriana Pre-Raphaelite floral Fairy Folk Romantic aesthetic style. I had realized before that it was not me. I did not realize until the weekend just how not-me it is.

Does this discussion sound frivolous? Maybe it is, somewhat. But (I am doing this deliberately) a post by Goss called Becoming Yourself illustrates why such discoveries, individually small, are important:
The surest way to become yourself again, I think, is to discover what you actually like, item by item, and fearlessly acknowledge it, not matter how uncool it makes you. I have a passion for murder mysteries, for example. I like Land’s End cardigans, and buy them in various colors. I also like pearls, and brooches of various kinds (I know, what am I, sixty-two?). Also, The Secret of Roan Inish and banana splits (I know, what am I, twelve?). I will probably never wear a scarf, because I have a passion for murder mysteries and it would give someone a convenient way to murder me, thank you. Most modern dance bores me, but then so does most Russian ballet. I don’t really see the point of modernist art. I love the pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau, and if that means I have bad taste, so be it.

I remember the days when I used to write with a fountain pen, until I realized I didn’t really like it. I was just trying to fit an image I had of myself as a writer. Now I write with a cheap rolling ball ink pen.

Figure out what you like and move toward it, one item at a time. Each item individually may seem trivial. But in the end, you will start to figure out who you are, and to become it.

My version: I like trains, cypresses, the ocean, lower brass, Rationalists, Rome, and sharks. I love math, I have a weakness for multiples of twelve, and prime numbers are gross. I prefer dark hair to bright, cool colors to warm colors, but gold and blue to silver and green. My taste in food is boring: I like plain toast and clear soda, and I loathe spicy food deeply (and the taste of peppers).

As for art - I like some Surrealist and Romantic art (Albert Bierstadt wins), but the Pre-Raphaelites' medieval themes alienate me. "School of Athens" is my favorite painting (ever?) and Jacques-Louis David was a boss. I don't actually like pretty things - I don't wear jewelry on principle and I have no use for floaty ethereal dresses or sandals. I want to be an engineer. I like structural, I like plain, I like sonorous and imperial and almost too simple to be elegant. My hair is short and I'm keeping it that way.

Therefore, the standard long-(probably red- or golden-)haired heroine with flowers in her hair and in the print of her flowy dress who picks wildflowers and sings in a sweet voice and may be an enchantress is not only not me, but also possibly my antithesis. Which is both unfortunate and useful. Unfortunate because I sound as though I'm hating on her and I'm not, we just belong to different stories. Useful because when I take away what is not me I see more clearly what I am.

This is a self-centered post (you were warned), and it has gone on quite long enough. Therefore, I shall leave you with two images that summarize the main gist.

Completely Not Me:
A Sea Spell - Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(source)

More Like Me:
Equestrian Statue of Joan of Arc
(source)

(It was difficult choosing what to search for. If I choose Mulan then I'm leaning too much on race [I'm Chinese]; however, this picture that looks almost exactly like my Doppelganger Vin is a dude and I'm...not. So third option.)

However this is only an approximation. The formula as I see it (this also subject to further refinement):

def grok(new_thing):
    you = [unknowable conglomeration of stuff]
    identity = [sum of self-knowledge]
    antithesis = [stuff you know you have rejected from your identity]

    if new_thing in you:
        identity.append(new_thing)
    else:
        antithesis.append(new_thing)

everything_there_is = [everything there is, just like it says]
for x in range(0, len(everything_there_is)):
    grok(everything_there_is[x])

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