vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)
Vass ([personal profile] vass) wrote2014-07-16 08:48 pm
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Culture Consumed Wednesday

Trying to get back in the rhythm of doing this on Wednesday, not some other day.


Finished listening to Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers (Blackstone Audio, read by Simon Prebble.) Thing I had not realised until right now, reading the Wikipedia page: this was his first novel, and he was only 25 when he finished it. I'm a little more inclined to forgive some of the sentiment and some of the bad taste jokes now that I know that.

Dickens is one of those authors I have difficulty thinking of as ever having been young. When he sermonises about how old and tired Pickwick is but how much he loves to see the young people being happy and this has always been his greatest pleasure in life (Pickwick never having been young himself, presumably) I had thought this was Dickens writing sentimental glurge contrary to his own experience either because it sells well or because he's buying his own line of tripe. But nope, it sounds like he hadn't had the experience yet himself, and was romanticising about an old age far ahead of him. I feel better knowing that.

(Which is not that he probably didn't feel at least a hundred years old by then - I am not discounting his early life. David Copperfield has more about the workhouse and child labour stuff, but Pickwick has plenty of debtor's prison stuff informed directly by Dickens' father's experiences.)

Read Jo Walton's My Real Children all in one long gulp from start to finish this afternoon. 89-year-old woman with severe dementia keeps switching between two timelines: they diverged when she was 23 and her fiance told her they had to get married now or never. I loved the two narratives of Patricia's life, they were wonderful, I loved the alternate history. I felt the writing was very spare and tell-not-show, but it seemed deliberately so, and it worked as a narrative choice, the more so because there was so much ground to cover (66 years, twice.) But I hated the ending.

Some content notes for My Real Children, because some people might want them: thyroid cancer, dementia (probably Alzheimer's, but that's not stated), partner abuse, child abuse, suicide, a mental illness thing I'll mention under spoiler cut, and some very, very upsetting stuff about end of life and disability and elder rights. (Not necessarily in an "the author fucked it up" way, but definitely in a "potentially really triggering" way.) Spoilers for the ending after the cut:

I hated the central magical device. I thought this was a science fiction book, but it's not. It's alternate history, but those can be either, and this one's a fantasy. You know how in Walton's Among Others the magical system is functionally identical to schizotypal thinking? (I don't mean that in a bad way - it's actually a really creative magical system, and raises interesting ethical problems, because it is functionally indistinguishable from schizotypy.) Well, the fantasy part of My Real Children is functionally identical to OCD. And I hate it. Not least because triggered, but mainly because IT'S NOT FAIR. It makes me feel sick.

I don't really want to discuss my OC symptoms in detail. I basically never do. But I will say generally that the ruminations take the form of "$badthing will happen" and the compulsions take the form of "do $thing, or $unrelatedthing will happen." Sometimes it's "don't do $thing..." - like, don't eat gelati or your family's cat will die. What does eating gelati have to do with your family's cat dying? NOTHING, because it's NOT REAL. And yet I didn't eat gelati for years. Because even though I really, truly knew that it was all in my head and I couldn't magically hurt him by eating gelati, I didn't want to take the chance, and it couldn't hurt anyone for me to just not eat gelati (it helped that I was vegan for most of that time. I fudged a lot about what qualified as 'gelati'. Being a barracks lawyer with a bad memory can be an excellent coping skill for someone with OCD symptoms. So can knowing when to fight your brain and when to save your strength for another time. So, of course, can medication and therapy.)

"She hadn't been important, in either world, she hadn't been somebody whose choices could have changed worlds. But what if she had been? What if everybody was?" [...] "Perhaps the price of the happiness of the world was her own happiness?"

That's the trigger.

She even mentions the chaos butterfly, which yes, lots of people with OCD or OC traits do use that as a rationalisation for their fears and ruminations.

Patricia, the protagonist, lived two lives: a happy life in a world that gradually slid into a dystopia, and an unhappy life in a world that got gradually freer and happier. Both lives had happiness and sadness, but generally in one timeline she got to be a person she liked much better, in a world she liked much less; and in the other timeline she was a person she didn't like as much, in a world she liked a lot better.

And now she's being asked (hypothetically-ish) to choose, for herself and the whole world. And we, the readers, are to imagine that each choice we make in life (who to marry, in Patricia's case, but really any choice) can magically determine the fate of the world. Oh, and more likely the choice that gives you a better life will doom the rest of the world to misery. No pressure.

"She had made a choice already, one choice that counted among the myriad choices of her life. She had made it not knowing where it led. Could she made[sic] it again, knowing?"

I can't answer that, but I can predict very clearly what would have happened if she'd had to go through her life making every one of myriad choices imagining that the fate of the planet depended on it, and what's more, that the choice that leads to happiness for her will lead to misery for the world. That is, I can't predict what it would do to the world, but I can predict with a very high degree of confidence that that living your life according to that belief will lead to constant personal misery and guilt and fear.


Read Anamnesis, by [ profile] linman. Vorkosiverse, the events of Memory from Simon's POV. AMAZING. In particular, Lady Alys was really well written - there was everything I dislike about her and everything that makes her a great character and endearing to the characters who do like her.
shehasathree: (scared Piglet)

[personal profile] shehasathree 2014-07-16 11:25 am (UTC)(link)
:( to OC stuff. :s
shehasathree: (Default)

[personal profile] shehasathree 2014-07-17 01:30 am (UTC)(link)
Yes! sounded unpleasant, and like it reacted unpleasantly with Stuff for you, and.... :s

shehasathree: (Default)

[personal profile] shehasathree 2014-07-17 05:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Gotcha. Still sounded...uncomfortable.
shehasathree: (Default)

[personal profile] shehasathree 2014-07-17 01:38 am (UTC)(link)
I think i am not *particularly* obsessive-compulsive myself (I worry about things a lot e.g. loved ones dying, and do check things but i don't do the magical thinking part). But the thing about "choosing to make yourself happy will make everyone else miserable" *koff* MAY have resonated a little strongly with me. *wry grin* And i relate to the part where you have to scrutinise every potential minor decision in case you are hurting other people.
shehasathree: (Default)

[personal profile] shehasathree 2014-07-17 05:33 pm (UTC)(link)
anxiety plus executive dysfunction could cover a whole lot of checking.

My understanding of OCD is that by definition it necessarily involves both magical thinking and rituals, and i don't really do either of those. I do have some compulsions, but they're not linked to particular thoughts/worries. I think one of the main models of OCD (if it hasn't been updated in the past...*koff* decade....) is that everyone has these worries frequently and everyone probably engages in some magical thinking sometimess as well, but mostly people have some sort of "that doesn't sound right" checking mechanism but sometimes that goes haywire and then compulsions/rituals, because it makes people feel better.