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Redheads With A Rep Part 1: Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”

“Redheads With A Rep” will be a two-post series about redheaded female movie protagonists that I believe have been misunderstood and unfairly maligned by the general public. I didn’t set out specifically to talk about redheads, but both of the characters I want to discuss just happen to be ginger, so there you have it.

Today, we’re talking about Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I’ll go ahead and admit up front that I have a vested interest in this argument, owing to the fact that Ariel is actually my favorite Disney protagonist. She’s the one I connected to most strongly when I was a kid. I liked collecting things and learning about my favorite hobbies, just like Ariel. I looked petite and disarming but had a will of steel, just like Ariel. I was passionate, a romantic, and best of all, a redhead.

ariel

So what’s so controversial about The Little Mermaid, you may ask? Isn’t it just a cute story about a mermaid who loves a human and finds a way to cross the divide? In case you haven’t heard the gripes about this movie, let me catch you up.

First, people say it gives a dis-empowering message to little girls. The protagonist, critics say, is a woman who gives up her voice (her metaphorical agency) for the purpose of getting a guy. She leaves the only world she’s known and changes herself completely just to be with him. What’s worse, she goes directly from being under her father’s rule to being under her husband’s.

The second thing I’ve heard this movie criticized for is encouraging teen rebellion. Ariel disobeys her father’s instructions about staying away from humans, disobeys the ban on visiting the Sea Witch, and is ultimately rewarded for her rebellion by getting what she wants: marriage at 16 and her own set of wheels—er, I mean legs.

I maintain, however, that innocent Ariel has been falsely accused! The evidence shall show “Not Guilty” on all counts. Let’s begin.

Accusation #1: Ariel Gives Ladies A Bad Message

I must admit, the first time I heard the explanation of how Ariel takes women back half a decade, I was devastated. I mean, the evidence was right there. She does give up her voice. She does go straight from her father’s home to marrying the prince. My favorite Disney protagonist was the antithesis of everything I now believe about women. Woe is me! My childhood was built on a vicious line of propaganda designed to keep me dependent on my father and future husband!

And then I stopped and actually thought back on what happens in the movie. Let’s examine the attacks piece by piece.

1. Does Ariel change herself (become human) for her man?

Nope. Ariel changes herself for herself.

Look, I know finding Eric and making him fall in love with her is a huge part of the plot. But let’s not forget who Ariel was before she met him. She was already obsessed with humans. She swam through dangerous, shark-infested wreckage just to bring a few human objects home. She went repeatedly to the surface though it was forbidden. She had an entire cavern of human paraphernalia, illegal in her world.

People, she even has a song about how much she wants to be human (“Part of That World”).

Yes, Eric may have been the catalyst that finally drove her to do something about her desire (except actually he wasn’t, because if you recall, it was her father’s temper tantrum that drove her to the Sea Witch), but she already had the heart to be human. She didn’t change her desire or goals to conform to Eric; that accusation is contradicted by every single bit of background and character development that occurs for the first half hour of the movie. To the point where I wonder if some of its critics have actually watched it.

Oh, but there’s so much more, you say! What about the fact that…

2. Ariel gives up her voice to get her man, which equals giving up your agency for a boyfriend.

Let’s take a multiple choice test. I want you to think back on the plot of the movie and choose the correct answer to a question. Ready?

Of the following characters, whose idea was it for Ariel to give up her voice?

#1

ariel 2

#2

eric

#3

triton

#4

ursula

The answer, of course, is #4. Ursula.

The vicious antagonist of the film.

At this point in the movie, the audience knows that Ursula plans to trick Ariel and use her as leverage to overthrow King Triton. So when Ursula suggests Ariel give up her voice and become human, we know it’s a TRICK. It’s a BAD idea. It’s probably going to backfire in a way that benefits Ursula and harms Ariel. So why would that make a child think that giving up your voice is a good thing? Let me tell you something. I was way less likely to visit sea witches in caves and let their little yellow smoke hands pull out my glowing voice box after seeing this movie—not more likely!

Ursula, incidentally, is the character who espouses the view that women’s voices aren’t important. Remember her song “Poor Unfortunate Souls?”

“Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man”

This comes right after she’s reminded Ariel that “You’ll have your looks—your pretty face!”

So again, the BAD GUY is espousing a horrible view of women. But the movie continues to give blatant evidence that having a voice is important for Ariel. It’s the thing Eric first fell in love with, after all. When he meets human Ariel on the beach, she is beautiful and mute—qualities Ursula said men value—but Eric feels there’s something missing. He’s disappointed. The thing that makes Ariel Ariel is gone.

He wants the real her, not a pretty China doll.

3. Ariel goes from being under her father’s rule to being under her husband’s.

I think people say this based on one important misunderstanding: they believe the conflict between Ariel and Triton is about who has control. Through that lens, this story is about a girl who isn’t allowed to choose what she wants until her father gives her permission.

But I don’t believe that is the lens through which to view this movie. I don’t believe it’s about who has control or who has the right to give permission. But we have to delve into the next section to fully answer that, so please hang on to your hats, hold those thoughts, and stay with me!

Accusation #2: Does Ariel Endorse Teenage Rebellion?

….Sigh.

Y’know, I’m just not even sure where to start.

If you believe that movie portrayals of kids going outside their parents’ jurisdiction is bad for your kids, then probably most of my opinions about life in general are things you’ll disagree with. But I’m going to try and explain this one anyway.

Remember way back, a few seconds ago, when I said people mistakenly believe the Ariel/Triton conflict is about control? Well, that misunderstanding is also what fuels the belief that The Little Mermaid endorses teen rebellion. In actuality, I believe the Ariel/Triton conflict is a classic case of “children, obey your parents, and parents, don’t frustrate your children.” Rather than asking the question, “Will Ariel learn to submit to her father’s will?” the movie asks “Will the father and the daughter learn to understand each other?”

The point is that Triton and Ariel are learning mutual respect. They both have to swallow their pride and recognize their mistakes. Ariel acts rashly and does dangerous things in an attempt to get back at her father; by the end of the movie, she sees what a mess her anger made of everything. Meanwhile, her father refuses to respect his daughter’s differences and acknowledge that she’s old enough to make her own choices; he must face the reality that his little girl is grown up, and will start choosing things with or without his help.

They both make mistakes. They both grow.

So if you’re one of those parents who wants all movies to teach that parents are always right, then I can see why you dislike this one. But I hope, as a parent, you’re open to the idea that you have things to learn from your kids, too.

This is why I don’t believe the story is about Ariel going from the rule of her father to the rule of her husband. It’s not about a father owning his girl-child and selling her off to a prince. It’s about a father who holds on too tightly until he’s forced into the reality that his girl has become a woman.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, Sebastian says it right out loud at the end of the movie: “It’s like I always say, Your Majesty. Children got to be free, to lead their own life.”

That is the line that ultimately makes Triton realize Ariel should be a human. It’s her decision, not his.

But back to the whole “it will teach my daughter to rebel” thing. I have to argue against this just on movie-making principle. Stories about kids or teenagers are only interesting if the kid or teenager is somehow moving through the world outside the parents’ protection. This is Children Storytelling 101. That’s why most young protagonists are physically separated from their parents for the duration of the film. Land Before Time, anyone? Finding Nemo? Beauty and the Beast? American Tale? The Great Mouse Detective? It’s not a coincidence that all these kids’ movies feature kids making their own decisions. It’s more interesting that way.

Yeah, but this character is beyond her parents’ protection specifically because she disobeyed, not because of circumstance or natural disaster or death.

And your point is? Look, here’s the bottom line, and this is actually really good news: Your relationship with your child is not determined by what they see in the movies. If your kid learns to trust your judgment, it’s because of choices you made in real life that affected them—not because they watched a movie where a mythical creature wanted to try inter-species dating. Conversely, if your kid mistrusts your judgment, it could be because of choices you made in real life that affected them. Or maybe they made a conscious choice to go their own way, or any number of other factors. But I highly doubt you can really blame it on one movie.

If you want some proof, you’re looking at it. I, the girl who practically was Ariel, the girl who watched that movie literally hundreds of times throughout childhood, had an incredibly trusting relationship with my parents. We did not experience the apocalyptic teenage friction that pop culture promised we would. We didn’t fight over who I dated. I never went to a sea witch, or anyone else for that matter, for help going behind their back.

As a side note, I also watched Back To The Future without thinking time travel was real, watched JAWS without going around the house biting people, watched The Great Mouse Detective without becoming a sewer-dwelling supervillain OR a stripper at an underground mouse pub, and I watched the show Beetlejuice without believing that the phrase “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” would make a disturbingly bizarre little man pop out of my closet (okay, okay…I did try the Beetlejuice thing once. Not gonna lie. But nothing happened).

Oh yeah? Well, what about the fact that she doesn’t see any consequences for disobeying her dad, but instead gets what she wants?

She doesn’t see any consequences? So almost being killed isn’t a consequence? The Sea Witch getting Triton’s triton and almost becoming the ruler of the sea isn’t a consequence?

Ariel doesn’t “get what she wants” (a human life and marriage) because she disobeyed and went to the Sea Witch. After the witch is defeated, Ariel is left a mermaid, right where she started. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

She “gets what she wants” because she and her father finally work out their differences. She gets closure on her childhood issues. The healed rift with her family is what gives the power for her to move on and start her adult life .

So there you have it. All the reasons why I still love The Little Mermaid and don’t worry about it corrupting my children in either direction (too rebellious or too retiring). Any other questions? No? Good. I’m going to go watch that movie again.

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Halloween: Why Others Don’t Celebrate It, and Why I Do

Hey all! Well, it’s been quite awhile, but I’m back to blogging, at least for awhile. We’ll see how it goes. I’d like to get away from blogging just about writing and stretch my wings into topics more relevant to readers on a daily basis…faith, culture, rants, funny stories. Again, we’ll just see what happens!

And seeing as how this blog will likely focus on a lot of things at the intersection of faith and culture, I decided Halloween was as good a time to come out of hibernation as any.

Oh yes. I’m going there.

I originally had a lot of trepidation about writing on this topic. Whether Christians should celebrate Halloween is a much-debated subject that can actually get pretty hot, and I have dear friends on both sides of the line. But the Halloween wars have always held such fascination for me that it feels odd to say nothing.

Now first of all, I do understand that there are many well-argued reasons why Christians feel uncomfortable celebrating this holiday. Heck, my BFF4Evah grew up not celebrating Halloween, and she’s said some pretty level-headed things in defense of her position.

At the same time, many Christians feel completely comfortable with it. I never missed a Trick-or-Treating season growing up. My parents put up decorations, I dressed as a ghost sometimes, and my favorite short story for many years was “The Cegua” from a kids’ horror anthology. (It’s a demon-horse-skeleton with sulfur breath that disguises itself as a sexy senorita and asks unsuspecting sombrero‘ed gentlemen for help on deserted roads. I mean, can you get more awesome than that?) As an adult, Halloween is my second-favorite holiday, the first being Easter (you either laughed or clucked your tongue at the irony, and your response probably indicates which camp you’re in).

So we have here two camps that both seem quite comfortable in their position, yet are arguing opposite things. Which side should prevail? Well, like so many side issues in Christendom, I believe that it really just comes down to an individual believer’s conviction—what they feel in their heart about celebrating the holiday.

Sorry if that sounds like a non-answer.

Here’s the good news, though: even in matters of personal conviction, there’s always room for discussion, gentle persuasion, and best of all, the calling out of stupid ideas masquerading as good ones.

What follows is therefore my full-throated defense of Halloween and probing of the more questionable arguments on the other side. Readysetgo!

Part 1: Getting it out of the way: Alarmist Arguments

First, can we please all agree that stupid arguments have no place in this discussion? I’m talking of arguments like: All Halloween candy is prayed over by witches! Really? Of all the things you could say about this holiday, you picked that one? So tell me, do witches pray over all candy all year long, or does that just start in, say, late August? To be safe, shouldn’t we abstain from candy from 4th of July to Christmas? And how do these witches gain access to the candy warehouses, anyway? Are all candy companies in on it? If the witches get access to candy at Halloween, can’t they do it all year?

(What really peaks my Rage-O-Meter about this argument is it ignores the actual flesh-and-blood evil in the form of modern slavery that most chocolate companies are complicit in. But sure, let’s use our righteous anger as Christians to ignore child slavery and instead make up completely illogical urban legends to argue about privileged children in expensive costumes).

Also, please don’t throw zombies into the list of spiritual creatures that children are being desensitized to by Halloween (boy I wish I could find the link for that, it was a scream). Zombies are not real. We totes don’t have to worry about that one, guys.

Now these are really just humorous straw men that have little to do with the real discussion. Most people don’t actually go to those things as their first line of defense…although someone did take the time to type that and spread it on the internet :/  But setting extreme arguments aside, what widely-accepted arguments about Halloween do I find frustrating?

Part 2: Inconsistency

Hooo boy, this is a big one. I’m really tired of the inconsistent reasoning people use to defend boycotting Halloween. Recently this article made the rounds on Facebook: “10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye” by Michele Blake, published in Prophezine.com. While it at least stuck to a logical progression of arguments and stayed calm, I kept cringing at her insistence that Christians avoid any custom that was ever pagan:

Putting a Christian label over the top of a pagan practice does not make it pleasing to God. In fact, we are to get rid of all pagan practices and have no part of them.”

I am really uncomfortable with the claim that attempting to “put a Christian label” over something ultimately carries no meaning and is just a way of fooling yourself. (I’m reminded of notorious pastor Mark Driscoll’s comments that yoga can send you to hell). Doesn’t this author know that Christmas trees, December 25, the word Easter, along with bunnies and eggs, were all originally pagan traditions that were co-opted by the church? Church communities of the past actively tried to do the very thing she’s saying isn’t possible—take something bad and put a Christian spin on it. Does this author now have to stop celebrating all those traditions too? If not, why not? Why does the Jesus label work for the word Easter, and Christmas trees, but not work for Trick-or-Treating?

Well, maybe she sees Halloween as different because, as she says, “Halloween has never been a Christian holiday,” whereas Christmas and Easter traditions were at least sanctioned by the church at one point. Oops, that isn’t right either. Turns out the church was so very involved with co-opting Halloween that it’s even responsible for the origins of Trick-or-Treating!

In fact, there are some historians who even claim that, SURPRISE!, Halloween shouldn’t actually be considered “of pagan roots” at all. See this also.

This goes along with another pet peeve of mine; people who say they encourage their kids to celebrate Harvest Season instead of Halloween. But Harvest celebration is still, and always has been, a pagan thing as well. I understand if someone wants to give their child an alternative celebration so the kid won’t think they missed out, but why not just celebrate fall? Leaf changing season? Or start Thanksgiving traditions a month early? Why pick another pagan concept that is simply less notorious than the first, but then teach your child that pagan celebrations are nothing to mess around with?

Look, it’s fine if you want to avoid anything with pagan roots, but please be consistent. And if you refuse to be consistent, then don’t point your finger at me for participating in the one pagan practice that you personally decided was more insidious than the ones you like.

Part 3: Opening the Door?

I’ve also heard it said that Christians who participate, even with innocent motives, can “open up” to dark things entering their lives. I have heard the phrase “open yourself up to” or “leave the door open for” more times in Halloween arguments than I can even keep track of. I’ve heard people say that about horror movies, the Harry Potter books, and Dungeons and Dragons.

But for all the times I’ve heard it, I’m still not sure what it means.

Trick-or-Treating, putting a Headless Horsemen figure on your porch, watching a scary movie about ghosts—this isn’t the same as setting up an Ouija board and actively asking/inviting spirits to visit your house. Is it? Many people seem to believe it is, but is that really accurate?

I will go ahead and admit here that I am no expert on the spirit world and how it functions. But I can’t help thinking that this belief about leaving a door open sounds more like superstition than theology. I hope that doesn’t come off as dismissive and offensive to those who believe this, but I’m serious. The Bible instructs us not to seek spirits out. To me, that seems like a pretty clear delineation. If you are seeking to intentionally communicate with real spirits—through an Ouija board, a séance, small animal sacrifice or whatever—you have some Biblical evidence that your activities might be a no-no. If you are dressing in a sheet pretending to be a ghost, or watching a movie that you know is fake, you are not seeking to communicate with real live spirits, and I’m not sure there’s Biblical evidence that demons can use those fakey-fake things to enter your life against your will.

Bottom line, if I believe some dark thing has an element of spiritual reality to it, I will not participate in that thing, and I will encourage others to stay away from it. So if I’m participating in it, you can make a pretty good guess that I don’t believe there’s any reality to it, and that’s how I feel about 99% of your garden-variety Halloween activities.

Part 4: Celebration of Evil/Fear?

Let’s turn to what I feel is the strongest argument against Halloween. This was actually summed up pretty neatly by my BFF4Evah, who I mentioned in the intro. About a month back, she and I were talking about Halloween. She said she planned to dress her babies up this year and hand out candy with scripture verses, but she still felt a sense of discomfort. “I just don’t see why people enjoy a holiday that celebrates death, darkness, and all the things that are labeled bad for the whole rest of the year.”

You have to admit, her statement makes a lot of sense. And it’s echoed in many people’s concerns about Halloween, including the article I linked to in Prophezine.com. In fact, author Michele Blake’s Point Numero Uno is “Halloween glorifies evil, not God.” She goes on to say:

“It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that the Halloween is all about fear. Scary costumes, haunted houses, and horror movies are designed for no other purpose than to frighten us. Seeking out opportunities to be scared is, on this day at least, the highest form of entertainment. If we do not have a spirit of fear, should we even acknowledge a day whose purpose is to invoke a spirit of fear in us?

I will go ahead and admit up front that this, to me, is the most compelling argument, and it’s something I believe every Christian should decide about in the privacy of her/his own heart. It’s between them and God, which is why I don’t judge people who land at a different conclusion, and why the BFF4Evah and I have a long-standing truce on the issue. However, I would like to go ahead and present my reasoning for why I’ve reached my Halloween-friendly conclusions on this score.

I am not actually certain that the purpose of Halloween is to either celebrate or be afraid of evil. In fact, I would argue that maybe it’s the opposite. Check this out:

This is a cute, silly video, but I think it makes a good point. Dressing up as something, making it part of games and fun, is a way to defang that thing. It actually takes the fear out of ghosts and devils when you see people you know, and little kids, prancing around pretending to be one. As the video narrator says, “The future is futile for forces of evil/And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.” Halloween, at least at my house, is not a time to affirm and celebrate the power of evil; it’s a time to have some fun with the concept while ultimately remembering that it can’t hurt me and will not ultimately win the day.

Let’s circle back to Ms. Blake’s (very accurate) statement that Christians aren’t to have a spirit of fear. I would like to humbly suggest that lending Halloween the kind of significance and power she does is actually closer to having a spirit of fear than, say, my view on Halloween as something fun that can’t hurt me.

And it’s worth pointing out that humans sometimes seek scary experiences or adrenaline rushes in order to overcome them. I don’t think she’s right in assuming that fright-seeking on Halloween is just about wallowing in fear; it’s about testing your mettle and proving you can overcome the thing you thought was so scary.

And really…Ms. Blake herself even admitted in the article that many people’s motives are just having fun.

Conclusions

So that’s it. Most everything that I think about why Halloween is okay. At the end of the day, most arguments about Halloween eventually boil down to what I addressed in Part 4 (even Ms. Blake’s many bullet points only hold true if her original assumption about the purpose of Halloween is true, making most of them pretty redundant…I could really do a whole blog post just deconstructing that one article! Hmmm….) So please, don’t be inconsistent in your theological application of this holiday. Don’t fall for alarmist arguments. Be cautious, but not superstitious. And really consider whether Satan is getting his kicks out of October 31st, or suffering a serious blow to his ego via that cherub-cheeked 3-year-old neighbor wearing red horns and smiling up at the candy bowl.

And now, my final parting thought: No one is ever again allowed to marry the title of Joshua Harris’ courtship book with an article about why to avoid Halloween. That, to me, is the scariest thing that happened this season.

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November 1, 2013 · 12:13 am

Writing Truth

It’s Thursday! Check out my guest post at  www.smblooding.blogspot.com to see today’s topic; writing truth in fantastic genres.

RHDavis

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YA and Fantasy Writing Resources

Just a quick little postie to let you know that I’ve some more resources for you.

First, I stumbled upon Writing World.com, a great site with resources for writers of all genres. They have a specifically sci fi/fantasy page for interested parties. You can also sign up for a newsletter which gives info on writing contests, calls for submissions, writing help-wanted, and other such juicy tidbits.

Then I discovered a great YA lit site called Teens Read and Write, a pretty cool blog in which teens talk about YA literature and movies, etc. For those writing YA, it’s a good opportunity to discover what your target audience thinks about books–their likes, their dislikes, what they find unbelievable or compelling.

But as always, please check out all of my links at the side of the page.

RHDavis

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Team Edward Team Jacob

So unless you live under a rock, you know the terms “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob.” They’re shorthand to differentiate between the two Twilight camps. Those in the “Team Edward” camp rooted for Bella and Edward. Those in “Team Jacob” decided that Bella’s breakup with Edward was actually a positive thing, as it brought her to Jacob.

Why am I, a non-Twilight fan, talking about this? It’s because the Team Edward, Team Jacob phenomenon doesn’t just apply to Twilight. Since the dawn of time, storytellers have tugged listener’s heartstrings between two potential love interests in romantic tales. Think of Luke, Leia and Han in “Star Wars,” or Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton fighting over Cate Blanchett in “Bandits.”

We almost always “take sides” in these stories, rooting for the hero (or heroine) who, in our opinion, deserves the protagonist more. Some of us remain staunchly loyal to the first love interest, experiencing vicarious jealousy when the second shows up. The less sentimental among us don’t play by such first come, first served rules, and we’re willing to accept whichever person seems more awesome.

I’m sentimental. Unless the story makes it clear from the outset that the first lover is a complete loser, I’m going to root for him to the bitter end. In other words, I am always a Team Edward.

Until now.

The magical web comic that changed my mind is Red String. *spoilers imminent* Red String, an online American manga at strawberrycomics.com, tells the story of Miharu, a tenth-grade Japanese girl who is unwillingly thrown into an arranged marriage. As luck (or fate?) would have it, she falls in love with her intended. But things get tricky when a second guy shows up, also claiming to be her arranged fiance. It turns out to be a misunderstanding, as he’s actually betrothed to her cousin–but unfortunately, he’s already fallen for Miharu!

Following my usual pattern, I rooted for First Guy. He and Miharu fell in love in chapter one, after all, and Miharu believed it was fate. Second Guy was first presented as an antagonistic threat to true love.

So what on earth made me switch teams?

When First Guy’s parents change their minds about Miharu, they browbeat him to break it off with her. Feeling that the situation is beyond his control, he gives up. Miharu is crushed, and Second Guy is there to help her get through it. At first I thought this was just a red herring, the author instigating a love triangle even though she knows perfectly well that First Guy will be back. But as I read on, I noticed something interesting; Miharu and Second Guy have a happier, more “real” friendship than her relationship with First Guy.

Miharu and Second Guy go to the amusement park together. They do painting projects. They laugh and banter. I was really getting into the chemistry of this second couple. Mortified at myself, I went back and read the beginning chapters of Red String to re-immerse myself in the guy I was “really” rooting for. And I found that, in comparison, he was–emo. Sure, he liked Miharu, but that infatuation with her seemed to define their whole relationship, apart from having anything in common. He was moody, had emotional problems relating to his family, and they experienced drama together more often than they experienced a carefree relationship.  Against my will, I began to hope that Second Guy was here to stay.

What about you? In love triangles, do you typically root for the first lover, or the interloper? Or does it depend on the story? What would make you “switch teams” in a story?

I encourage all of you to stay tuned to Red String. Go back and read it from the beginning. Join “Team First Guy” or “Team Second Guy” and let the battle begin!

RHDavis

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Delayed Tuesday Post

Tuesday informed me today that her blog post will be a day late. Apparently something upsetting happened and she didn’t get it finished yesterday. I hope she’s all right. I guess we’ll see tomorrow!

RHDavis

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Tuesdays with Tuesday–Week 2

Welcome to the second installment of “Tuesdays with Tuesday,” where our literary friend Tuesday Jones expounds upon the virtues and disillusionment of post-grad life. For last week’s installment, go here.

Tuesday

So after last week’s laundry list of every grotesquely dull thing that happened to me, I had serious doubts about continuing this series of posts. But, in an odd twist of events, something happened this week that’s actually worth talking about.

Ike Cleavers disappeared from the face of this planet.

You remember Ike Cleavers, right? My neighbor and co-worker who I assumed skipped work due to swine flu? Turns out he doesn’t have swine flu–or, more to the point, if he does, no one knows about it. He hasn’t been to work, at his house, or seen any friends and family since last Friday.

My boss Misty shouted this at me and Penny today in the break room. I’m not sure why she shouted it. We were sitting right there in front of her. But Misty has only two tones of voice: so bored she can barely get the words to roll out of her mouth; so loud that the words reverberate around the office. I guess she thought dire news like Ike’s disappearance required more than a bored drone.

Everyone at work knew Ike had been absent for over a week, but we thought it a purposeful move on his part. We assumed he came to his senses and escaped this rainy little town for an exotic bachelor pad in Florida or Cancun. Maybe the Swiss Alps. I had my money on Japan, actually. We thought he got so fed up with our ridiculous workplace that he failed to give two weeks’ notice. I wish that were the case.

I barely had time to ingest this news before marching back to work. As a result, I floated around in a preoccupied haze for the rest of the day.  I always thought my job was mindless, until I actually tried to do it with my mind somewhere else. Instead of answering the phones with “Comp Systems Incorporated, this is Tuesday,” I accidentally blurted things like “Ike Systems Incorporated,” or “Comp Systems Incorporated, this is Ike Cleavers,” and even “Comp Tuesdays Incorporated, this is Cleaver, how can I assystems you today?” Yeah. I finally begged off sick and went home an hour early.

I’m not sure why the thing about Ike bugs me so much. It’s just weird, knowing someone who vanished. You see it on 48 Hours and Unsolved Mysteries, but don’t expect it to happen to your neighbor.

As if a vanished coworker, an angry boss and embarrassing phone slip-ups weren’t enough, fate saw to it that Mr. Chicory was outside when I came home, so I had to make polite small talk for a minute. And he was in one of his difficult moods.

“Boy, we’ve been having a lot of rain,” I said.

“Oh, not nearly as much as last year,” he said, and surveyed the looming clouds.

“Well, at least it’s not too cold,” I tried.

“Supposed to get below freezing tonight,” he offered helpfully.

“Oh?” I cocked an eyebrow at the fence around his back yard. “Kind of an odd time to start a new garden then, isn’t it?”

“Well who in their right mind would start a new garden in November?” He gave me an owlish glare through those square wire-rims of his–the lenses magnify his eyes to the radius of small pancakes–and wrinkled all the skin around his brow as though I were the most ignorant child he’d ever had the displeasure to live next door to. I sighed, and decided not to get into an argument about the garden plot I’d freaking seen him digging in not ten days ago. Contradicting Mr. Chicory is a bit like dealing with a case of badger-bite in which the badger won’t let go of its victim’s leg–unless of course you break its jaws, and I didn’t feel like doing that to Mr. Chicory. I doubt it would slow his talking much anyway.

I have to admit, I’m a little shaken by Ike’s disappearance.  Even tucked away in our cozy upstairs apartment, I feel something akin to the creeps. Thus I’m in my office, arguably the safest and most defensible bit of the house–a little leftover space in the corner of the upstairs, with only one entrance and a locking door, and a window overlooking the porch roof to serve as emergency escape. My desk and shelves take up most of the floor space, and I  sit practically on top of the hot water heater, so it’s probably a massive fire hazard. But it’s an office; I’m lucky to have that in this neighborhood of divvied-up houses, where most apartments sport only one bedroom, squealing floorboards and ragged paint from the 1980s.

I just have to keep the creeps at bay until Jonah comes home.

Tuesday M Jones

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