DVDs as temporal distortion

Yesterday the DVDs arrived; this was the second of three shipments in a massive (and horrifically expensive) order that’s been mostly Doctor Who-related stuff (i.e., Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, the most recent Doctor Who season) for a book chapter I’m writing (although the box I’m still waiting on is the Sherlock DVDs which I need for an essay I’m writing on spec and will eventually find a home for somewhere if not where I’m currently intending it to land).

But don’t you own all that stuff already, Rach?

Actually, not so much. I watched the first two seasons of Torchwood on Netflix and own a couple of episodes for my iPod. I watched Children of Earth through the wonder of somewhat sketchy technological choices. And I fully admit to doing that a lot to get around region-based delays; sometimes because I’m impatient and sometimes because I actually need to see the thing because of a looming deadline and can’t leave it out of work I’m doing just because I’m in the US. I do, however, always buy the material once it becomes available to me, because that’s the ethical thing to do — I earn money from residual payments related to DVD purchases and cable airings of films I’ve been in, and it’s important to me to respect that paycheck for other people; that feeling is, of course, magnified when it’s about properties people I know and like work on (as is the case with things Whoniverse).

But sometimes, I’m just not super-efficient about ordering stuff. I’m waiting for a sale, or I don’t need it for a project right that second, or I want to combine it with a larger order, or whatever. Yesterday, however, the big box came (and there is a surfeit of DVDs in my life right now — Kali bought me The Duchess; SAG just sent me The Social Network and The King’s Speech for awards voting) full of stuff I need to get to much sooner rather than later.

What surprised me was my emotional reaction (beyond I have too much work to do!) to the stuff. Look, to cut to the chase, pulling out those Torchwood DVDs made me really sad for a few moments. Ayup, I’m one of those people. Or maybe not. It depends on which people you are (if you care at all), I think.

Look, I liked Children of Earth (CoE) (and the comment thread here is not for discussing why you did or didn’t like it; if I know you, I already know; if I don’t know you, I know the 20 arguments I’m most likely to hear — do feel free to mention how you felt if you’re posting about how you feel about how you feel about CoE, but let’s not rehash its merits or lack there of today, okay?). A lot. There were places I felt it was flawed; there were narratives I had hoped for or anticipated differently; there were choices I wouldn’t have made, but at the end of the day I liked it. It was satisfying for me (and Day 2 had truly exquisite pacing).

It also knocked me over. It was exhausting — the show itself, but also the hype, the fandom, the five-day grind of it all while being a fan and a fantasist and a critic. It was an experience in real-time that was made for the way in which I try to encounter the world, and which, having had the opportunity to so encounter the world, served as this amazing cautionary tale: liminality can be a real pain in the ass.

Seriously, how do you do criticism when you’re crying? How do you interact with your partner when you are grieving for the loss of phantoms? How do you participate in fandom when you know too much about the nature of production processes to feel comfortable with some of its arguments?

I’ll tell you, over a year later, I still have absolutely no damn idea. What I do know is that the whole CoE experience (It was like a fun park ride! Just… not always very fun.) led me down some really interesting research avenues (that’ll actually be available soon, I just need to make some tweaks and then it’ll be up on Friends of the Text), took me to the UK, was partially responsible for my most recent tattoo (which says Be grand and was acquired 4 hours before I boarded a flight at Heathrow back to New York), and has continued to open up some really exciting professional possibilities for me.

On the other hand, it also led to strained friendships, awkward con moments (John Fay, you’re a class act), a weird ambivalence about cosplay (um, for those who love the coat if not me, I’m not actually sure it’ll be coming to Gally this year), and a probably over-developed concern regarding fandom’s supposed displeasure with my existence. Yay. Or, you know, not. But the CoE experience sticks in my mind perhaps most for its weird You Are Not Alone (Doctor Who joke there, for the uninitiated) quality.

My whole childhood I was told I was wrong, and weird, and probably mentally ill for allowing books to mean so much to me. My father, jokingly, but with what felt like real disapproval to me, said something about my needing an exorcism because of my fondness for The Vampire Lestat. So when people kept saying in the first couple of days after CoE, “I had to keep going into the bathroom at work to cry,” I felt so glad for the tangibility of narrative that was being demonstrated through that grief. Stories suddenly weren’t just one of my vices or a secret society of inappropriate desire amongst my other lonely friends; they were real and shaping us as much as we were shaping them.

Mostly, CoE is a thing that happened long ago and far away now. We were all different people then. I’m busy being, well, busy, and I’m also really excited for the next Torchwood series coming from the Starz/BBC collaboration. But I do miss our silly, cracky show that was sometimes brilliant; I do miss us all tuning it at the same time; and I do miss the possibility I felt in Torchwood back when I wrote a silly letter to The New York Times.

It’s just television. Except when it’s not. Putting those boxes on the shelf made the whole messy, sordid, strange, not always okay for anyone, journey seem small and nearly imagined. It wasn’t, of course, and it’ll all unfurl for me again when I have to watch all three seasons over two days really soon (albeit with a totally different focus that’s on how Whoniverse stories portray and use media and marketing in their narrative constructions).

That’s the wacky thing about the DVDs. By existing in DVD format, a story is strongly designated as a part of the past. So is the story about the story (i.e., release and immediate reception). Yet, DVDs are also a preservation not just of an eternal present, but of the moment before. By being a story you already know, DVDs are also an odd innocence and a temporal distortion. They tell me what I keep telling everyone else: all times are now.

“let me but strike the world in a vulnerable spot, and I can take it by storm.”

When Mary MacLane was 19-years-old she wrote a book about her life and got it published. She then became something of a celebrity (the book sold 100,000 copies in its first month of existence) and a scandal and went on to a life as a writer, actor and journalist before she died in 1929.

The book wasn’t about very much, just about being her, and the pain she felt at being alone and stifled and puzzled and bored by other people as she waited for the Devil; he would have grey eyes, she always wrote and make her “his dear little wife.” MacLane’s desire to be small and cherished by a force larger than her own in a world where one didn’t seem likely to exist for her was something that charmed me deeply when I first read it, having never so much felt the feeling of being girls together with someone as I did in response to this desirous author.

The book is, by turns, redundant, self-absorbed, and deeply fascinating. It is, in some ways, blogging before there was blogging. It is deeply aphoristic, and often plagued by that “but what do we care what you ate for lunch” factor that we all often experience on the Internet if we are, in fact, fascinated by the lives of others.

MacLane first crossed my radar when I was just a few years older than the author had been at the time of the book’s writing in 1902. Someone, and I can’t recall who (an ex-boyfriend, I think, but I am not sure — if it’s anyone with whom I am still in touch and you are reading this, please let me know; it’s something I’ve treasured for years), gave it to me as a gift.

It was, in a way, a Illegitimi non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down) gift. Whoever gave it to me was someone I knew through Mindvox (I did not know until just now that it had merited a Wikipedia entry; gosh, that’s awkward), an early high-profile online community that dominated the social life of at least my early to mid-20s. I was well-known on the small site (Who wasn’t? But the fact is I also wound up in at least one major article because of it (in Sassy of all things) and worked for the service for a time). For every person who was engaged with what I wrote there were people who not only found me irritating, but someone who needed to be silenced — through bullying, pranks, and even threats. I was, without a doubt, irritating, confronting and self-absorbed, but on Mindvox, which was littered with a zillion petty and public dramas (many of which, yes, I was involved in), the sin was really that I wasn’t particularly ashamed of this.

Which isn’t to say I was running around with great self-esteem or anything. I wasn’t. But then again, neither was Mary MacLane, who wrote of her genius, her remarkableness, her loneliness and her unlovableness. MacLane, who as the 38-year-old I am now I feel as if I should disavow for her overwrought self-aggrandizement was a lifeline for me. Ironic, perhaps, when in her lifetime MacLane had to respond to accusations that her book had led at least one girl to suicide (a matter on which MacLane declared, “I read of the Kalamazoo girl who killed herself after reading the book. I am not at all surprised. She lived in Kalamazoo, for one thing, and then she read the book.” Although later she also noted that, “It is with pain that I read of the dire effects of my book upon the minds of young girls.”)

MacLane and my relationship with her work, echoes back to the post I made the other day about liminality — MacLane was a real person, but one who was also performing herself (as we all arguably are with different levels of awareness and intentionality). By the experiences I described the other day, her non-fictional status should have made her a harder to achieve imaginary companion and self to me; but, rather, I have to argue that MacLane’s life and mode of living that life only underscore the arguments I make for the use of the fictional/non-fictional dichotomy over the fictional/real dichotomy; that is, if we must have dichotomies at all.

Mary MacLane has long been a quite, distant interest of mine. It takes, generally, too much work to explain to you that her assertion, “I do not see any beauty in self-restraint,” was not something I read as license to my excesses so much as acknowledgment that the world is cruel and hard when it demands secrecy about things common and shameful only because we have made secrets out of them. It takes, generally, more work (and the enduring of more jibes than I prefer) to talk about the truth I find in her thoughts on fame and happiness and the maw within her: “I want fame more than I can tell. But more than I want fame I want happiness.” And it takes wasting a lot of time on assuring people that I don’t think all that of myself, when I am enraptured by the emotional pain she seemed to feel at her own intellect: “I am a genius. Then it amused me to keep saying so, but now it does not. I expected to be happy sometime. Now I know I shall never be.”

Oh, how I wish Mary MacLane had had the Internet! She might not have been so lonely. Strangers would have sent her gifts, and people would have bullied her. Her hypothetical contemporary fate is so remarkably clear in her actual historical experience and narration.

The first complete collection of MacLane’s works, A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life, collecting for the first time MacLane’s complete works, is to be released in September 2011. The book will, no doubt, be met with a certain degree of dismissive criticism — why not just read overwrought blogs on the Internet, after all? But the material is, I suspect, valuable, even if just for how the world doesn’t change very much.

When I first read MacLane, I wondered if I should lament that the Devil I was longing for didn’t have grey eyes. Now, nearly twenty years later, when I consider the hand MacLane held out to me, even if she would have never have meant to, I lament merely that I myself don’t have grey eyes and am, as such, inadequate, no matter how much I claim her as one of my own.

Yummy yummy trash day goodies

Later year over 3,900 projects were successfully funded by Kickstarter to the tune of more than $27,000,000. Dogboy & Justine was just one tiny piece of this. I personally also support a lot of crowd-funded projects both through Kickstarter and through other sources. As part of today’s trash day, I’ve got a few to share with you.

Hate doing dishes after parties? Hate what disposable cups do to the environment? Dreaming about beng able to serve cocktails in vegan, gluten-free, flavoured, edible cups? Jelloware wants to make all your dreams come true, even if they are going to have to change the name.

I love the past as it never quite was. I also love photography. Which is why I’m supporting The Fifties: A Tale in Black & White which seeks to create photos that borrow from iconic 1950s imagery while speaking to African and African-American history and culture.

Another photographic project I’ve pledged to is Dirt Floors & Stone Walls, a photojournalism project about India’s public schools. India has a large presence in the life of me and mine and this artist’s work really jumped out at me.

Finally for today’s crowd funding items, Kendarra Publications is raising funds to publish its first novel. I haven’t read the book, and I haven’t actually met Tessa, the press founder. But I do know her from LJ, and I find her to have an excellent critical eye for writing and the absolutely fortitude to run a small business in a challenging space.

Yesterday’s report on Frosty, the pit-bull found dead in the trash, was originally going to be part of today’s links, but I wound up writing about him when the story of the rescued pitbull came to light. I can now report that the rescued dog as found a forever home.

Rats are smart, clean creatures who make great pets. But they also live in New York City’s subways and they are afraid of nothing. Why not to doze off on the subway, part 542,356: Rats. The truth is, I find this rat oddly charming, and I keep watching the video in rotation with the Craig Ferguson Doctor Who show opener routine when I feel down. Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism! And, even if you hate Doctor Who or don’t know what it is, the Ferguson thing is a freakishly accurate and hiliarious summary of the program

On the acafen front, I’ll be working on a possible submission for Transmedia Sherlock over the weekend. It’s about queer theory and Sherlock Holmes’ reception both by other characters within the narrative and by the audience. If anyone happens to have any good bibliography items related to queer theory, textual analysis and asexuality they want to share, it would help me out for a small section of the paper.

the country of yes

Liminal is one of those words I never used very much until I started doing independent scholarship. It’s not just just that a lot of the work I do addresses, on some level, liminal space, it’s that it’s just one of those words academics really like. It’s a pretty way to talk about a whole bunch of different things that fall into a bunch of different categories, including the magical, the complex, and the vague.

But liminal was never a word that I felt like I owned particularly, until my friend AnnaLinden responded to a few of my posts back on LiveJournal with a certain intensity about the intensity with which I inhabit liminal spaces. It was pleasing to me, because it meant that I and the way I experience the world was being heard. But at the same time, why call it liminal? It was just my life, happening at the moment in an ugly New York winter, and not some existence in the mists of faerie.

But yesterday it occurred to me that this January 9 was the first time in years no one had wished me a happy birthday or given me an odd trinket for a lonely boy. See, my birthday’s in October. But Severus Snape’s is January 9, and among my friends that’s a thing that stuck with me for years. Because of course it was always sort of a joke. But it was also always a recognition: of childhood ostracism I still struggled with, of desires beyond my class and ken, of chin-length black hair and a body too thin. Of a particular relationship with filth. And of the way I’ve always looked to books to save me. So my unbirthday always felt a little bit like love.

When I talk about character and creation and writing and liminal spaces, I like to talk about Anne Rice. Lestat has been real for her in some way that I could try to explain or analyze for you, but that wouldn’t be very effectively. We’d digress into a critique of the work (“she may be channeling a real 300-year-old vampire, but he still needs a damn editor”) or, more unfortunately for the point I’m slowly getting to, an analysis of her mental health. The point is Anne Rice wrote some books about a vampire and she’s described the experience in interviews as him dictating his words to her; she has described the time she spends with him; she has described him as a real and true thing.

I read Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat as a tween and young teen, and they were books that meant a tremendous amount to me. They said that my intense emotionality, and my intense sentimentality, were not, as my parents reasonably frustrated by an odd and artistic teen girl said, lies. They were not manipulations. They were just how I experienced the world. So Lestat wasn’t just Anne Rice’s friend, he was mine too. Before I told other people to be grand, I would lay in bed at night and feel Lestat’s fingers brushing the hair from my face as he whispered to me to never, ever let anyone shut me up. He’s been gone from me for decades now, but I always remember my friends.

The thing about the liminal world, at least for me, is that it’s not a space defined by the things it represents a border between. It is not about whether Anne Rice channels a 300-year-old vampire or not. It is not about either/or. Rather, the liminal world is, as far as I can tell, the country of yes.

It is the place where when people ask if I am a boy or a girl, I can say yes. It is the place where when I fly alone I am still squeezing someone’s hand when the plane takes off. It is the place where I don’t dress up in certain costumes at cons anymore because the wounds I bear in those other lives have become too private. It is the place where I can feel the absence of people who never were. It is the place where I do not always remember, or have to remember, to speak in the third person about characters I’ve played on stage or written in stories. It is the place where my hand gestures shift when I’ve spent days deep in something I’m writing in a way that tells my friends I am not just me. It is a place of signs and signifiers that leads us, not back out of the mists, but further in, to whatever the mists are guarding.

Without the liminal world, time runs in order, stories only happen to other people, and I struggle, desperately, to be here now as fantasy and personal narrative threaten to call me away from stuff like work and laundry and remembering to eat dinner. But the liminal world, no matter how disconcerting or how much it seems like just play to folks that don’t also have this particular experience of desire, allows me to be present, both here and in the other spaces I have used to build myself.

The liminal world allows me to say yes and to slay dragons and not to fail at being a girl or a boy or a hero or a villain, because in the liminal space which is here and now and far away, I am only one thing, and it small and perfect, and it is yes.