Zombie Survivor: A rant on The Walking Dead’s terrible season 6 finale

Zombie Survivor: A rant on The Walking Dead’s terrible season 6 finale

SPOILERS through season 6 of The Walking Dead. 

The purpose of this blog is not to shout in exasperation when a television show goes thoroughly off the rails, but I’m so frustrated with “The Walking Dead” right now that it’s either this, or beat a motherfucker with another motherfucker.

As I’ve said before, the show owes its enduring appeal in part to the fact that people love to complain about it. When it comes to horror that aims for mass appeal, you need to be able to distance yourself from it. There are exceptions, but a long-running television series based on a long-running comic book series would be exhausting if it weren’t occasionally also just annoying.

Still, there is, “Haha, let’s make a meme out of this dumb exchange between two characters,” and then there is, “This show is reaching greatness – and them abruptly plunging into absurdity.”

I already wrote down some thoughts on how the show’s sixth season rose to new heights before devolving into ridiculousness after the 15th episode aired. That episode was a neat summation of most bad things about TWD: dialogue that acts as filler, characters going batshit insane for the sake of advancing the plot, “emotional” moments that seem like cringe-worthy tryouts for “My So-Called Life,” etc.

I wasn’t ready to freak out until the season six finale aired. And then it aired.  Continue reading “Zombie Survivor: A rant on The Walking Dead’s terrible season 6 finale”

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

For some reason (possibly because I’m very lucky or because I have the habit of ignoring the world around me), I get surprised when men say sexist stuff to me about my work. I was in a Moscow bar recently on a dark and stormy night, and a typical twatty overpaid British expat man of the sort that should be displayed at the zoo with a plaque reading Typical Twatty Overpaid British Expat Man told me it must be “quite nice” to have “such a fashionable hobby” as writing plays – with zero irony, of course, because I must be a bored rich girl (ahahahaha) who must go through a phase of thinking she’s the next Beckett before moving on to pottery or adult coloring books or whatever it is that bored rich girls do. Oh, and he “used to have a girlfriend who wrote plays” but “she’s in marketing now.” I do hope that “in marketing now” is a euphemism for “slept with his best friend.”

Anyway, although sexism with regard to women writers surprises me every time, and although I rarely pay attention to whether or not the author I’m reading is a woman, it must be said that not everyone thinks like me. So here’s a list of some of my favorite female writers, and their books and plays, because it’s IWD, and because whatever. They are great not because they are written by women. They are great because they are great.  Continue reading “International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire”

“The Goldfinch”: stars are beautiful because of the space between them

“…You are not mad, or wild, or grieving! You are not roaring out to choke her with your bare hands! Which means your soul is not too mixed up with hers. And that is good. Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to live and be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.” – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

Boris, the Tweedledee to the protagonist’s Tweedledum, kind of has a point. Loving someone or someone too much usually comes with a host of unpleasant consequences. So it’s probably a bad thing, this love I have for The Goldfinch. A bad thing – and an irresistible thing.

Like most people, I first fell in love with Donna Tartt’s writing when I read “The Secret History,” a voluptuous, gorgeous, improbable novel. Unlike most people, I didn’t howl with rage at her unexpected follow-up, “The Little Friend.” It was an unsatisfying, brutal sort of book, but I respected what the author was trying to do with it. Living in Russia these last few years, I have gained new appreciation for “The Little Friend,” because of the idea that life is weird and abrupt, and not all sad stories have a resolution, and not all ends can be seen.

The one genuine complaint I had about “The Little Friend” was the recurring feeling that the author was firmly keeping her characters at an arm’s length, never inhabiting them fully. That kind of clinical approach worked well for Nabokov in his later years, but when it comes to a literary mystery, it makes the reader feel a little cheated. “The Little Friend” is a fine example of masterful prose that’s also a little too cold and shiny and, therefore, ultimately a bit lifeless.

So when the months of anticipation were finally over and “The Goldfinch” had arrived, I kept wondering, as I read, when Tartt might smack me over the head again. I steeled myself. I made copious notes as I read – waiting for the inevitable emotional letdown.

And then, of course, the sublime happened and kept happening.

Donna Tartt is one of the most important writers of our time, and important writers are always more than just skilled and precise. Their great works are always just a little crazy – all of that over-quoted stuff about Nietzsche’s internal chaos giving birth to a “dancing star” is no less true for being featured in too many Facebook profiles. And “The Goldfinch” is a deliciously mad, courageous sort of work.

Tartt’s prose still has that glinting edge to it. She hasn’t lost the hoodoo or the sarcasm. But “The Goldfinch” also covers great expanses – of joy, sorrow, the geography of the world and human love and longing – and does so fearlessly and with the kind of abandon that is reminiscent of the brush-strokes of its celebrated namesake, painted by Carel Fabritius shortly before his death at 32.

Out of all the motifs running through the book, one of my favorites (and one that I haven’t really seen many critics mention), is the repeated comparisons made between protagonist Theo Decker and Harry Potter, otherwise known as The Boy Who Lived. “The Goldfinch” is far from a fantasy – but in its references to Harry Potter, it recognizes the human need for the magical and fantastic, for what Kate Atkinson calls “the golden mountain, the fire-breathing dragon, the happy ending,” at the end of her own modern masterpiece, “Human Croquet.”

The magical in this instance is art, both high art in the traditional sense and the art of what Theo refers to as “beautiful things” (and is there really that much of a difference? The book seems to suggest that no, there isn’t). While nobody comes along to usher Theo into a parallel, Hogwarts-like universe – there is this perfectly articulated sense of the inevitability of being forced to step sideways out of one’s own existence, into a dimension that’s darker and stranger. Tartt’s instruments here are painful and powerful, and her ultimate scope is astonishing. I have the sense I’ll be thinking about this book for a decade (and won’t stop thinking about it when, hopefully, the next Tartt book arrives).

A lot of good novels are like monuments. The best ones are like old houses – humming with internal energy, lit up from the inside. “The Goldfinch” is one of those – the place you want to stay for a long time, and not because you’re escaping from anything. Within “The Goldfinch” you’re always moving toward some understanding, trying to bridge some distance. Like a great painting would, the book bends time – reaching out and addressing the reader. And it makes you feel as though these words are meant for you alone.

Peloponnese

My first introduction to Greece happened when I was very young, and reading a rather liberal translation (more like an interpretation) of some Ancient Greek myths. It featured stuff like, “Hera was not classically beautiful, but anyone who had ever tasted the pleasures that fill the curves of a woman’s body appreciated her.” I believed that Greeks know everything there is to know about sex – and may have possibly invented it, in the same fashion that they invented democracy.

In later years, my aunt went to Greece. She came back with tales of aching beauty and introduced me to the saying, “They have everything in Greece.” I would argue that “they don’t have lions.” “You don’t need lions in Greece,” she would retort.

When I grew older, I made friends with Greeks, chief among them the artist Stavros Pavlides, who was in my year at Duke. I have loved few of my male friends with a so-called “pure” love – other things were always getting in the way – but with Stavros, it was always different. Over the years of us being separated by a huge ocean, I should have gotten more casual about it, but I don’t think I have. Some feelings you carry around with you forever, some people you always miss.

I learned that Greece was troubled, political, isolated, welcoming. I heard about the rappers and the cops and the graffiti and the farmers and the Italian mob’s war against the local olive oil. I learned about the forces of light and dark – the ones that almost always came out looking gray in the day.

I went on to marry a man obsessed with Greece for both objective and subjective reasons.

Last year, friends arranged for us to go to Crete. It was there that I really understood that there is no such thing as an “escape,” no matter what the advertisements say.

Now, on this trip to the Peloponnese, that point has been driven home once again. I suppose everyone had that one place that speaks the truth to them – for me, it’s the mountains here, and the sea, and the wind and the silence that exists in its absence. This is not the orderly vacation I was hoping her – and it serves me right, I guess.

It’s also more beautiful than I could have imagined – and I have a pretty wild imagination.

On this trip, I keep talking to the late Reynolds Price in my head. He was my professor at Duke, my introduction to the dining room drama of writers’ lives. I got closer to him when the wonderful Thomas Pfau suggested I work for the English Department at a time when my life had veered dramatically off course and I found myself feeling alone and financially insecure in a way that terrified me. I thought then that it would just be a phase (lol).

Reynolds could be prickly and ridiculous – because he was human – but he also reminded me of who I am, who I really am, I mean. The foundation beneath the rubble, etc. “I take you seriously, you know,” he randomly told me once. “I hope that one of these days, you’ll take yourself seriously too.”

Now I spend my days in conversation. “Isn’t it nice to wake up in an olive grove, Reynolds?” “Don’t you think these fried little fishes are the seafood equivalent of popcorn?” “Hey Reynolds, check out the way the sun is hitting that mountain.” “What do you think about that shadow that belongs to that tree?”

The dead are awfully convenient to talk to, especially since they can’t tell you to shut the fuck up.

It was, meanwhile, Thomas who reminded me of the fact that you have to let yourself be messy while young – travel around, get yourself into stupid situations, let the winds mess you up, that sort of thing. Maybe I’m too old for that, or maybe I’m just getting started. I can’t tell. I guess I can never say that I didn’t listen.

Different threads run through every life, and what gets strung upon them will always surprise you. Time is linear to humans, because that’s all our bodies can bear. I suspected that years ago, I think I know it now.

The Greek landscape speaks to me in Reynolds’ voice, in Auden’s words:

“The nightingales are sobbing in
The orchards of our mothers,
And hearts that we broke long ago
Have long been breaking others;
Tears are round, the sea is deep:
Roll them overboard and sleep.”

Midsummer, 2013. I’m playing “The Last of Us”

I wrote this article about what it’s like to play “The Last of Us” the other day. It got me reminiscing.

In the article, I make a passing reference to Russia in the 1990s, and how my friend said the same thing that I had been thinking for a while: some aspects of this most cerebral and literary post-Apocalyptic fungal zombie extravaganza are exactly like living through that period (the 1990s happened to me in Kiev, Ukraine – but it wasn’t all that different).

And by “aspects” I mean “emotional aspects.” It was like going through a horrible, irreversible betrayal by a loved one, and beginning to grow suspicious of the world and what it contained – the streets, the sky, the sounds.

You stared down an alley and wondered what was going to come out of that alley. You listened for shrieks in the night. You made sure the flashlight always had batteries.

For survivors of the post-Soviet Apocalypse, “The Last of Us” is a chance to safely go back – to die and re-spawn as needed.

Of course, I don’t want to be too dramatic about it. Fungal zombies weren’t exactly chasing us through the street. No one was making shivs in the dark, to stab monsters in the neck with (no one I knew personally, anyway – your mileage may vary).

But there was that sense of the landscape gone hostile. That notion of the darkened windows across the street watching you. Sizing you up. Etc.

When people ask me to explain what’s happening in Russia right now, I usually tell them that, “Most people don’t think a society is possible unless there is a strong leader to follow. And this has lead to the development of a quasi-society. An undead society, if you will. Neither here nor there.”

And people will say, “And by strong leader, you mean Putin.”

But I mean just about anyone, really. I mean people on both sides of the ideological divide. Some city mayor who may be corrupt (“they’re all corrupt,” Russians sigh with resignation. “So it’s impossible to care.”) – but will give land and funding for a children’s hospice, when the same impulse to help out should be coming from everyone. The Duma deputy who voted in favor of a horrific law (“Because that’s party discipline!”) but is actually a very intelligent and sensitive guy we all like to joke with on Twitter. The demagogue from daytime TV who has fought tooth and nail to get victims of dodgy investment projects back in his hometown to finally receive compensation. The actress with the eyes of a poet who agitates for the regime and saves the lives of severely ill children – every day. An anti-corruption blogger whose own corruption trial proved him right. A former it-girl who blogs about hating children and fat people – and who, like Cassandra, predicts every twist and turn of Russia’s modern political narrative.

All of such people are like islands, or the staring eyes of hurricanes. They’re both the illness and the cure. They’re the reason why Russia has only a quasi-society – and said quasi-society’s best hope, just because they can make things happen. Because they believe that they can make things happen – things both good and bad.

They’re heroes – and a heroic age is always a bitch to live in.

Still, Moscow in particular has already changed quite a bit. We have “wine and zombies” parties with my friends, because we know that it has changed. We feel it in the air. Great pillars of light burst from the skies in July and stand firm on the ground. Lovers sit in the shade of towering chestnut trees. A drunken hipster is much more likely to stumble out of that dark alley. A burly security guard will help you race across the supermarket to ring up your alcohol before the magic our of 11 p.m., wherein Bentleys turn into pumpkins and getting drunk is suddenly only legal in bars. A city-wide decree resulted in new playgrounds and exercise equipment for the elderly, who are confounded by the fact that they are expected to stay in shape. The Moscow metro has not degenerated into the London Underground. The nights are full of music – some of it actually good.

I wonder if the lavish spending on Sochi 2014 will ruin all of that – this impression of the possibility of society. I wonder if the 2018 World Cup will do it instead. I wonder if nothing much will happen, and we will simply grandly waste our youth on making up extravagant stories and telling them in print and digital.

Well, we will do that either way.

look at the fun we're having

Also, something tells me I may have written my last play in a while. I don’t know if I want to write for theater crowds anymore. I want to write for mouthy boys and mouthy girls like me. I want to write for the people in their parents’ basements. The dispossessed, the perfectly cool. The gamers, in other words. And possibly the TV audiences.

There is no map I’m following as a writer. I’m following a bunch of vague notions. It’s frickin terrifying – but when it comes down to it, my theory is that people do most things for the thrill. We rarely smile when we play video games, for example. Doesn’t mean we do not love them.