Rudolph and I

Long ago, when I was a small child in Mesa, Arizona, we would sing “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in school.

(I can only imagine what a horror this was for our teachers, now that I think of it–while we had the usual sort of school set-up, we were handed off to other teachers for Music and P. E., so you gotta imagine they heard different groups of small children singing Rudolph six to eight times a day.

…I have no idea why we were singing Rudolph in P.E., now that I think of it, but we were.)

Anyway, because of the way the verses are enunciated, the last line was always pronounced as “You’ll go down in his story!”

Since nobody of my acquaintance prounounced “history” as “his story,” it did not occur to me that this might refer to history rather than “his story.” His, obviously, being Rudolph.

So being quite young–third and fourth grade, and I had skipped second, so around seven or eight–I figured that the song was, at this point, addressing the listener.  Earlier in the song, “you” would even say it glowed, addressing the listener, and it would be nonsensical to say that Rudolph would go down in his own story, because of course he would. Everybody is in their own story. They’re the main character.

Obviously, therefore, this song was promising that the listener would go down in Rudolph’s story, just for having listened to (or perhaps sung) the song.

In my defense, it’s not like the idea was totally without precedent. I mean, the shepherds didn’t do jack in the Christmas story except have an angel show up and tell them a thing. Much of the Bible accessible to seven-year-olds with disturbingly high reading skills seemed to consist of people minding their own business and winding up immortalized in text because an angel showed up trumpeting “FEAR NOT!” or wheels of fire appeared or whatever.

I believe I pictured a list of names or something, or perhaps an enormous crowd of people. (Again, there was precedent! Santa had lists of names! The weird evangelical church my stepfather was dragging us to was big about names being writ and so forth and everybody else being banished to the pit, circa Revelations or so, and Christmas as a holiday was very muddled up between the sacred and secular for a seven-year-old.)

However, I was also as cynical as only a small child can be (anyone who thinks children are fountains of joyous innocence does not spend much time around them or has forgotten a LOT) and I figured that TONS of people had sung the Rudolph song over the years. And if every single one of us was going down in the story of Rudolph, that would be a long list of names. Too many to have any relevance. We would be a vast, faceless host. Lots of us would be dead, except historical people didn’t exactly die, they just became fixtures of books, so I think I figured that we’d all be standing around in some weird historical not-dead fashion.

(I had no idea how old the song was, but since carols were all like super-old, presumably Benjamin Franklin and other personages would also be there. I remember Franklin specifically, because I was fond of the book about Amos the rat at the time. It would be okay to be in the crowd next to Franklin, but really, what were the odds?)

So Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was promising that we would go down in Rudolph’s story, but so would millions of other people, and at that point, why would you even bother? It was a stupid thing to promise, and nobody would ever read all those names or care about all the people who were supposedly going down in this story.

This bred an intense resentment of Rudolph and the song, which I have still not entirely shaken.

Everybody have a fabulous holiday, and please, if you go caroling, enunciate carefully. Think of the small cynical children!

Wonder Noir

She leaned against the doorframe in the burned-out building, listening to the distant sirens. It was amazing they even bothered with sirens anymore, down here, but there they were.

The red glow of her cigarette was the only light in the building. The street lights had been blown out long ago. That was fine. She didn’t need much light, and anyway, there was nothing down here worth looking at.

Everyone of any importance was dead, but there was no point in whining about it. Start whining and you turned out like one of the old guys. It was pathetic at first, and then it was just exhausting.

Anyway, she wasn’t going back there. Nobody there could mind their own business. Last time, they’d tried to stage a goddamn intervention for her–tried to get her to give up the relic, muttering something about appropriate grieving, which was pretty fucking rich coming from somebody who ran around the city dressed like a bat because his parents died thirty years ago. Appropriate grieving, my ass.

He wasn’t even a good bat. Bats had scrunchy noses and enormous ears. His proportions were all wrong. She’d showed him an endless parade, from flying foxes to bumblebee bats, and not one of them matched, and apparently “Stylized Bat-Like Figure Drawn By Someone Who’s Never Actually Seen A Bat-Man” wouldn’t fit on his business cards or something.

Anyway, point was that she wasn’t going to cede the moral high ground to a whiner who didn’t understand bats. She’d suggested once that he spend some of that money finding a cure for white-nose syndrome and instead he’d gone and blown a quarter million on a Bat-themed jet-ski. Jerk.

Fine, maybe she was spending a bit too much time shifted. It wasn’t a crime, was it? The green dude had showed her brainscans and tried to explain something about the problems with brains being shoved into tiny little spaces for long stretches of time. He was the most decent of the lot. His whole civilization was dead, but he didn’t bring it up in casual conversation. She’d tried to keep herself to bigger shifts after that, but it wasn’t easy. People noticed a rhinoceros on the street the way they didn’t notice a rat.

It was very pleasant being a rat. The world went to whiskers and tails and a symphony of smells. A mouse, now–being a mouse was bad. Her brain started to feel squeezed. There wasn’t enough there. She was always slow and stupid when she came out of mouse-shape.

Lately, though, her thoughts seemed to echo inside her skull whenever she was unshifted. She’d shrunk somehow, and there was too much space left.

Maybe it was the space he’d left behind.

Perhaps today she’d turn into a rat and stay that way. Would it be such a bad life?

She ground out the cigarette under her heel and opened the box. The relic inside was a shrunken as a monkey’s paw. It only granted one particular wish, and only to her, but that was all she needed.

She took out her dead brother’s severed hand and folded her fingers against it. “Wonder Twin powers, activate,” she whispered, and felt the power take her away.

…this is all John Scalzi’s fault. I accept no responsibility whatsoever. Address all complaints to him. Forever. Oh god, I was supposed to finish a book today, and instead I started writing Wonder Twins fan-fic.

Unfixable

Everything in the world appears to be wrong, and I cannot seem to fix any of it.

The bees are collapsing, the amphibians are dying, the seas are warming, women are killed outright for sins men are carrying around in their heads, cops can shoot black people and walk away without even a slap on the wrist, and atrocities that I wouldn’t write into a book because I’d make myself sick have been done, ostensibly to keep me safe, and no one will ever be brought to justice for it.

And I feel like I could pour out the balance of my life on any of these things and I would die exhausted and the problem still wouldn’t be fixed. Might not even so much as budge.

And in some cases, it might be worth it, except that I don’t even know how to start. You may eat a whale one bite at a time, but I don’t know even where they’re keeping the forks.

Douglas Adams apparently thought, later in life, that he should have been a scientist, that being a scientist would have given him some chance to make the world better, and maybe he was right. (I think writing “Last Chance to See” really kicked him hard. I understand why.) Certainly politics isn’t doing it. The good politicians are, at best, trying unsuccessfully to put the brakes on the worst of what the bad politicians are doing. Scientists probably have the best shot at fixing anything. It’s a shame I’m so crap at math.

The problem…a problem…one of more problems than I can begin to fathom…is maybe that our narratives are so often about the hero fixing things. Winning. Making a difference. The heroine slays the dragon, averts disaster, keeps the world from going completely to hell in a handbasket. The hero shoots the bad guys or fights their way to justice or takes bloody revenge for the ills of the world, or whatever.

Anyway, you win. You don’t…I don’t know…make one tiny difference and hope the people who come after you don’t mess it up too badly. Even games that have no victory conditions also have no consequences. You lose at Tetris and you don’t have to cope with loss, you just restart.

Maybe we need the books and the games and the narratives that give us the coping mechanisms for not being able to fix things. For being one tiny person in a world that is so desperately screwed.

Because honestly, I am having a hard time coping with that right now. My usual small victories are looking smaller and smaller. I truly believe I’ve made a difference in the world, but the difference is so little and the world is so large and no matter how big those victories get, the world will always be so much larger. I could measure my life out in children who have read books and turtles helped across the road and food kitchen meals provided and all of that is good and it might prove that I’m not an awful human being, but the seas will not get any cooler because of it.

It seems cruel that despair is a mortal sin. They really get you coming and going on that one.

So, here we are again. We may fix nothing, so we might as well cope. Anybody read any good books?