Zombies and being human

Happy Halloween (almost)! This post is about zombies, and it’s uncomfortable, but I hope that you will read it and enjoy on this weekend where the veil between life and death is thin. It seems particularly apt to reflect on zombies on this weekend of all weekends. Enjoy!

I was sitting in the memorial garden outside of city hall, enjoying an unseasonably warm day, eating my lunch. I was thinking about how me, in my office clothes, sitting on the concrete stair of the memorial, was probably unusual. Most people get a little finicky about sitting on the ground. The higher up the ladder you go, the more that’s likely.

As I was having this thought I heard someone behind me, across the hedge. They were attempting to sing. It wasn’t going well, and something about it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It sounded like moaning. You know the kind I mean.

the written dead

I ordered this book recently, and I’m very excited to read it. I haven’t started digging into it yet, and I imagine I will do a review or recap once I do. That said, questioning the zombie myth and how it has been appropriated and interpreted by modern media in the US was something that I started doing when I encountered this article from The Atlantic. To recap, what zombies meant in the Caribbean islands where they were first conceptualized was an inability to be released from the horrors of slave labor, even in death. In contrast, the article argues, modern zombie stories are about consumerist culture. In fact, The Walking Dead is called out as being the pinnacle of that metaphor. “The zombie is no longer a commentary on consumerist culture, as it was in the comparatively halcyon days of Dawn of the Dead; it has consumed consumerist culture.” The zombie is a late stage capitalist fetishization.

But this article misses an important point where current zombie stories do parallel the original zombie concept because it does not analyze the zombie stories we tell today based off of class.

Back to me, eating lunch.

The person singing behind me was not a zombie. The person singing behind me was homeless, with likely either an addiction or mental illness or both. She shuffled, and wailed her song, and hung her head, and lurched. And I, already thinking of the differences between people, of how we present, I, uncomfortable with my back turned, thought of zombies.

And then I wondered why I had thought that.

And then I thought about how we as a culture think of homeless people. Of people with mental illnesses. Of people with physical disabilities. And I could very clearly see the parallel with how stories treat zombies – as hurtles, as threats, and as things to be overcome or safely contained and partitioned from our human lives.

Let’s take a step back.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think of people that don’t fit neatly into our society, in any way, as no longer human. The opposite, in fact. Human beings are human – just because you don’t fit, does not make you less valid. The state of marginalization for people with mental and physical disabilities is in fact a commentary on our own society.  There are a lot of reasons that people become homeless. Those with severe mental illness are often victim of our terrible systems for treatment in this country, a lot of which is tied up with our lack of universal healthcare. Those with physical disabilities often slip through what slim social nets we have in place. And some people are just not able to make ends meet, often through no fault of their own, and are ejected from the workforce and from their homes. We should be talking about that.

But have you ever noticed how many of the lead characters in zombie movies are white, and able-bodied, and mostly mentally stable excepting when their mental instability is shown as an acceptable kind? And the extras, the faceless hordes, well – they’re ill, yes, but we’ve got to put them down for our own survival.

Modern zombies may have begun as a critique of mindless consumption, but I think that it’s  worth arguing that the allure of zombie stories as told in this day and age is not always about the madness of consumerism. There is some of that. The root is there. But the reason that many people love zombie movies is because they have the ability to act on zombies with impunity. They are not human. They cannot contribute. Zombies are created by a virus. The illness removes identity and humanity. And then, the protagonist can get out the shotguns and enjoy the blood spatter. The zombie is not someone chained to labor, as in the Caribbean myth. The zombie is someone who has failed to be labor, and thus becomes expendable, a hurdle that must be crossed in the zero-sum game of survival.

I love zombie stories, and I don’t think I’ll stop reading them (though I can’t watch the serious movies, I get nightmares). But I think it’s important to recognize how this story can be used, and it seems to me that it is easily used to rationalize our homicidal urges, to prop up that action hero parallel of the exceptional human being who is faster and stronger and keeps their cool and therefore survives. The best zombie stories question this idea of the exceptional person. They make use look at ourselves. Take Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, for example. The zombie virus in her stories is a really good take on this, with her main characters both embodying and undermining the idea of the exceptional person.

We can ignore the things that make us human, in favor of survival – but one has to question, at the end of the day, who the monster really is.


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Life updates and gratitude

You may remember that we bought a house recently, which was pretty awesome and all, and now I have a house and I must mow the lawn. Mowing the lawn is actually pretty nice because it’s an achievable goal that you finish, for better or worse, within about an hour usually. It’s also a great workout for your back. Pushing a mower is hard, especially when it is grumpy about making turns.

I feel like half my blog posts this year have been about life updates, which is not really surprising because there have been so many of them. This past month was the Equinox, and as a good pagan girl I was supposed to light candles and say thanks and contemplate the things that I’ve been gifted with this year, the labor and the fruits of it, the balance of one to the other. I didn’t really do that – instead I went out for drinks with friends and took a long walk under the stars. I can’t say that I was particularly introspective, but I blew off some steam, which was a good start.

So now here we are, a few weeks late, almost to Samhain, and here I am, thinking about gratitude.

I’ve let a lot of things go fallow this year. Each accomplished thing is counterbalanced by things that are not accomplished, the tradeoff of forward motion. There is a lot I feel that I have not accomplished this year, and it’s easy to get caught up in that and feel it eat away at you. I could count the things that I have lost, but I don’t know that that would be productive for a post that is supposed to be about gratitude. Suffice to say that the desire to be more and do more is a steady pressure in my chest that I’m learning to accommodate and live with instead of try to push away. I’d like to accept it for what it is – a drive and a passion that keeps me alive and innovative and always reaching. I want to be grateful for that pressure, to build on it and turn it into bedrock that I can plant my feet on.

One of the ways to do that is to recognize my accomplishments. This year, I have organized a wedding, and I’ve got to recognize that was a monumental thing that people actually get paid to do as a full-time job. I have seen places and things I’ve never experienced before, been exposed to new ideas. I bought a house, which is not even something I ever really thought I’d be able to do this early in my life, and which took a lot of coordination and concerted pressure on my part. I’ve reached what feels like a new level of ability in my writing, and gained the courage to take rejection without pain (most of the time!) And I get to fulfill one of my dreams by moderating a panel at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio this year, The Role of the City in Fantasy Settings.

I couldn’t have done any of those things without supportive networks, and I’ve done my best to learn to maintain those networks more thoughtfully and with greater compassion. I’ve tried to learn to forgive people for their foibles, and to forgive myself for mine. That’s been really hard, honestly, and it’s something I’m still working on. And I’ve survived the nonstop bombardment of everything going on in our nation and our world, giving myself permission to take a step away from the things I cannot change and to throw my shoulder in to move the things I can.

It’s been a long and glorious year, and a challenging one, and it’s not done yet. We have two more months of 2017, two writing events coming up, holidays to get through – there’s a lot going on. But I’m ready for it, the good and the bad. I’m ready to keep chipping away at my career, and enjoying this thing we call life.

 

Blade Runner 2049

I went and saw Blade Runner last weekend and it was really, really good. Very loud, very bleak, but good. I definitely recommend watching the bridging shortfilms, though, for greater appreciation of some of the plot points.

This movie gave me a lot of thoughts. I debated on what to focus on in my analysis of it – the fancy way they sloughed off the old setting, for example, was impressive to me as a writer and moviegoer, and there’s a lot to unpack here about what is “real” and constructed memories. There’s also something to be said about the pacing, which was slow, ethereal, and felt like a horror movie at points (in a good way). There’s also some bad bits, like POC representation in the film, which I felt was not as solid as it could have been, and LGBTQ representation as well (alternate sexualities apparently don’t exist in Blade Runner). But, since mostly I write about women, I thought I’d go with that for this post, though I may come back to those things later.

Spoilers.

Continue reading “Blade Runner 2049”

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Verily, cats are weird

My life has been on hold this week following a drastic and explosive vomiting episode on the part of my cat, Fidel, which led to him not eating or drinking for almost two days. I am using this as an excuse to postpone blogging about writerly stuff, since I honestly haven’t had a moment to think straight.

Cats are weird. My poor baby boy, who is really more of a dog than a cat in a lot of ways, is a cuddlemuffin of epic proportions, infinitely curious, and sometimes a jerk. He really, really loves ribbons, and anything stringy looking, and I can see you cat lovers wincing because you know how this story goes right? Cat loves ribbon. Cat finds ribbon in the chaos of the house post-move. Cat eats ribbon.

So Saturday night, as I lay dead to the world, I was awoken by the most terrible hurking. There is no other word for that sound. Hurk. Hurk. I shot up, to realize that my husband was gone and I was the only person in bed. The lights were all on. The hurking continued.

“What is happening?” I said groggily.

“Cat boy threw up,” said the S.O. That was…an understatement.

I didn’t take pictures, and you don’t want them, but what my poor baby threw up was nothing that should have come out of anyone’s throat. It was a hairball the size of Texas, and it had accreted around a ribbon that I recognized instantly as a wide, green ribbon I had been wondering about the past few days. Mystery solved, because this semi-digested, colorless thing was, in fact, the missing ribbon. That hairball smelled terrible, let me tell you, and my stomach is always the least stable around 3 am. I nearly brought up my dinner myself.

Anyway, gory details aside, baby boy was so traumatized that he refused to eat or drink or let anyone touch him. I can only hypothesize that he was in pain from the violent exodus of the foreign object that had been taking up most of his stomach. We had been having problems with him vomiting a little earlier in the week, and so we knew he hadn’t been eating as much as he probably should – I’d chalked it up to stress, because of the move and all, but it was now apparent that it had been his body trying to deal with the ribbon situation. Anyway, he also wasn’t grooming, and so I did what any good cat mom does and insisted we take him to the vet. The only one open on a Sunday was the emergency vet, of course, so that was buckets of fun.

Four hours and a few hundred dollars later, I had a dopey, still-not-great cat who still wouldn’t eat or drink and had a giant lump of subcutaneous fluid on his shoulder. We took him back to the vet yesterday, where they gave him antibiotics, more fluids, took more Xrays, and set him up with an appetite stimulant. He ate this morning (yay!) and is back at the vet for one more go with the Xray machine, just to make sure he doesn’t have any issues internally that could cause complications in a few days. After that it’s just feeding him and making sure he drinks.

Poor guy smells like death, and his sister is NOT having it. She keeps hissing and growling at him. Hasn’t taken a swing at him yet, at least. Between the two of them I haven’t slept much.

Anyway, here is a picture of my sweet boy looking way more awake last night, if still a bit peckish and with a terrible shave job. He followed me around the house, meowed some (though still doesn’t sound like himself) and played with his toys even! But no more ribbons for him, let me tell you what.

fidel sick

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