Monday, June 20, 2016

In Defense of Whimsy

I was late to the Doctor Who train. It wasn't until the summer of 2013 when my friend Samantha, who also happens to be my television soul mate, loaned me the first season of the 2005 reboot that I finally gave it a try. I wasn't smitten instantly - it's hard to be taken with giant green alien blobs whose greatest threat is they fart too much. But by the end of the season, I had been charmed and intrigued just enough to keep watching. By the end of the summer, I had cried myself to sleep over the end of season 4, ordered Doctor Who-themed earrings off Etsy, and heard my roommate humming along to the theme song in the shower. I was a Whovian.

* * *

Last week I saw play at the Ottawa Fringe Festival all about the struggles of turning thirty. It was one of the worst productions I've ever seen for a lot of reasons - no overarching narrative, unnecessary audio and visual interruptions, a shocking and gratuitous nude scene which served no narrative purpose whatsoever. It was a disaster from start to finish.

But to me, the play's worst offence was it's mundanity. It addressed the well-worn topics of Facebook making us feel inadequate about our lives, the difficulties of wading through the bog that is online dating, and drowning our sorrows in vices, whether they be wine or cat pictures. I left the theatre just feeling bored.

Maybe it's a bit hypocritical of me to complain about someone reflecting on real life, since that's sort of my M.O. I write almost exclusively about my own life and how I understand the world I'm navigating. I read a lot of nonfiction books, and I especially love auto/biographies. 

But lately I've felt inundated with "reality." I can't read any more think pieces about how hard it is to be millennial in our current economic climate. I don't want to see another book cover with a YouTuber's face staring back at me, the details of their life's (all 21 years of it) struggle to internet stardom. I am bored of talking about how terrible Tinder is. It's all a bit serious and, well, bland.

* * *

I've never loved a show like I love Doctor Who

I love Doctor Who because it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous at every level. It gives the audience a few wisps of reality to cling to, and then demands the wholehearted suspension of disbelief: A alien who regenerates into a new body every few years and flies around in a time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space - a name that could only have been conceived of in the 1960s) that's bigger on the inside, and, for someone who has access to all of time and space, inexplicably seems to spend a great deal of time in London. He always lands somewhere just as the drama is starting, and he doesn't carry a weapon, preferring instead to use cleverness and conversation to solve problems. I mean, its absurd.

Except, it's not.

One of my favourite running themes throughout the show is that the Doctor's companions think of themselves as lucky women (and sometimes men) to run with the Doctor. After all, they are just 19 year old girls who live in council estates with their mother, or they are "just a temp" who thinks that just finding a husband will help her find value. There is the doctor who feels unloveable and the little redhead who just waits for someone to come back.

But through the Doctor, these women realize that they are incredible, important, invaluable. My favourite companion, Donna Noble, frequently exclaims that she's "just a temp" and what on earth can she do to help anyone, but by simply being with the Doctor, she realizes her resourcefulness and her compassion. We learn that the Doctor didn't choose her randomly; instead, she found the Doctor, because she's "the most important person in the universe," and she alone saves humanity from compete destruction.

There are other elements, of course. There is an episode where the Doctor comes face to face with the devil and that is scary. He faces real racism and discrimination on the Planet of the Ood. He loses control of his mind to an alien and that's terrifying. He faces his own loneliness, the knowledge that he is the last of his own species, time and again. For more than 900 years he's had to watch the people he love die, or lose their minds, or worse - forget him. These are heavy themes that act as a reminder: living forever and traversing all of time and space doesn't save you from very human pain.

But ultimately what makes the show so wonderful is that it is truth wrapped up in whimsy. While these immense themes provide the foundation of the show, the Doctor himself is the most whimsical character since Willy Wonka. He's lighthearted, forgetful, messy. He makes mistakes. He jokes. He has a strange eye for fashion and obsesses over Fez hats and Converse sneakers and leather jackets. He believes in the impossible because, more often than not, the impossible happens.  He faces fear with curiosity and an adventurous heart(s), and he always hopes for the best and expects the best, too. He believes goodness is inside everyone, and that we all ultimately want to choose good over evil.

* * *

On the way home from the disastrous play, all I could think was that I wanted more whimsy. I think our brutally self-aware society has forgotten about the everyday magic that makes the heaviness of life just a little bit lighter. 

I think there can be balance. We can stay focused on and aware of our reality while believing in the impossible. Because of course the winged statues on Rideau aren't Weeping Angels, but there's a brief spark of joy, just a microsecond, in pretending they are. Of course a TARDIS won't drop down on my street and whisk me away to Planet Klom tomorrow, but what's the harm in sort of hoping it might? 

There is value in the weight of reality, but there is so much joy in whimsy.

-Jillz

Post Script: This is my favourite quote about the essence of the Doctor from writer Steven Moffat:

It's hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes ARE important: Heroes tell us something about ourselves. 

History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we WANT to be.

And a lot of our heroes depress me. 

But when they made this particular hero, they didn't give him a gun--they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter--they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray--they gave him an extra HEART. They gave him two hearts! And that's an extraordinary thing.

There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The State of the Thing*

Well hello there.

I haven't blogged in a long time. I mean, we all know this. Some (very kind) people have asked me to write something, and I promise you: I've thought about it. I've even tried! But I've been a bit preoccupied and also, if I'm being honest, a bit uninspired. But a very wise friend said to me once that creativity comes in seasons. There are times when we are in full bloom and can create and produce beautiful things at a remarkable pace. Then there are other seasons where our creativity lies dormant, and we can use this time to rest and nourish ourself, until we are able to start making things again.

So that's where I've been. Dormant.

There are a few reasons I've not been writing. The first is quite practical: my new apartment. The place I moved into last November ended up being an absolute nightmare. I don't have the time or the energy - or the bandwidth - to detail all the problems I had. A fresh hell arose every week with something in my apartment, or with the property management company, or with the building as a whole. A small sampling of what I had to deal with:
  • my apartment was over 35 degrees in early January; 
  • the fire alarm went off for two days straight; 
  • I nearly ended up in a legal battle over road salt; and 
  • several building-mates had face-to-face encounters with bats.
The good news is that I've since moved to an apartment I love in a fantastic neighbourhood. But in order to get out of my first lease, I spent the past six months becoming an expert on Ottawa bylaws and landlord-tenant laws. I spent hours and days reading through legal text, talking to other tenants in the building, and looking up bat sounds on YouTube to verify if the noise I had been hearing in the walls all winter was, indeed, bats (still unsure about this one).

The second reason I haven't felt particularly inspired is that I think I've been in recuperation mode. If you read my last few blog posts, you know that 2015 was a really difficult year. I felt emotionally raw, and I spent most of last year in survival mode. And while the past six months have certainly done their best to challenge me, I also feel like I've had the time for self care. I've read a bit, and watched lots of documentaries. I purged a lot of my makeup and clothing. I went to the doctor and got a prescription for orthotics. I made a commitment to use up all the food in my fridge before it goes bad, so I've been spending a lot of time with recipe books. I adopted a cat named Benedict Cumbercat, and he brings me more joy than I could've predicted. I'm seeing a counsellor who makes me feel very calm. I've been listening to lots of podcasts - some on faith, some about storytelling, others about justice and truth.

I didn't really realise it until now, but I guess the past few months have been my pruning period. I needed some time to rub some balm on my soul, let it lie fallow.

But I've been feeling reinvigorated lately, and I'm inspired to start writing again. I've been working on a novel sporadically for a little while, but it's laid pretty much untouched for months; I'm getting excited about it again, and have begun working on it. I have a few blog posts that I've been tinkering with, and I'm writing another article or two for publication in online magazines. I've also decided to start bullet journalling, which I hope will help me organise my thoughts so I can actually build on little threads of ideas before they disappear from my mind.

I've also been thinking a lot about the future in a way I haven't really had the luxury of doing before. I am finally in a state of mind to be able to think about what my life might look like in the long term - the sort of work I want to be doing, and how I can achieve it. I've spent some time thinking and planning for the next three- to five years, and it's been exciting for me to actually be able to envision the things I want beyond the immediate future.

(I realise this all sounds very vague, but I'm hesitant to share details on my public blog. Not right now. These plans feel very intimate, in a way; I feel like I'm following direction from my very soul. Right now, I'm enjoying just ruminating on it and being hopeful.)

To conclude this very circa 2010 blog post, I'm just going to throw in a list of things I've been enjoying over the past few months, because why not?
  • I loved the book (and the documentary of the same name) Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. Scientology is scary and fascinating and insanely complex, and Wright does a spectacular job exposing and explaining. It's one of the best books I've read in a very long time.
  • I've been watching YouTuber Casey Neistat a lot over the past two months. He's made a video every single day since March 25, 2015. At first I hated him because I thought he worked too much and never saw his family, but I've grown to really enjoy his daily vlogs.
  • Aloe juice. Delicious.
  • I've been trying to eat better the past month, so I've replaced chips with Goldfish crackers, and I almost can't tell the difference. (Almost.)
  • I've cut back on the amount of makeup I wear daily, and I often go out without any on at all. I'm loving the freedom of being able to rub my face without fear of Panda eyes.
See you all back here soon,
Jill

* The title is a reference to the emails I get monthly from the website Library Thing, which are called "The State of the Thing." I never read those emails.