Tuesday, April 05, 2005

episode two: dead girls

(spoiler alert: don't read this unless you've read chs. 1 &2)

People die in this town.

That's no suprise. People die everywhere. What I mean is, people die badly here in Orono, Maine. Only they aren't supposed to. We get maybe a dozen murders, tops, per year in the State of Maine. In a town like Orono murder can't possibly happen. So when it does it is met with denial.

Her name was Hannah. I didn't know her personally, but I was friends with people who did. Hannah "committed suicide" a few years back. Because the police decided immediately that she'd committed suicide, they never bothered to look for clues that might have proved otherwise:

Hannah was a happy person with lots of friends, and had never shown any signs of being suicidal.
She'd just bought Christmas presents for her family and friends, and was talking about how much she was looking forward to Christmas.
There was no suicide note.
There were no powder burns.
She'd just started dating a guy who, it turns out, was just out of jail.

When these facts were brought to the police they said, well, she was probably cleaning her gun and it went off. Problem is, Hannah's dad was a cop. Hannah grew up around guns and gun safety was something she was fanatic about. Even though she didn't have kids, she always kept a lock on her gun when she wasn't using it at the shooting range.

It hurts just to think about what it must have been like for her friends and family. To have lost someone they loved, and to know that most likely she was murdered, but that the police destroyed any evidence that might prove this. To have, instead, your loved one held up to public ridicule and scorn for being a suicide. To spend the rest of your life not knowing the truth. What do you do? How do you heal from that?

If you're in Orono, stop by the Bear Brew Pub. There's a plaque to Hannah at the left end of the bar. Pay your respects to Hannah. I wish I could give more testament to her life, but sadly, all I really know about is her death and how much it hurt her friends.

There was another incident just a couple years ago. A student killed herself by hanging herself from a tree near her dorm. All I have to go by on this one are rumors. Suicides rarely make the news because they are seen as so shameful, and they want to protect the family, supposedly. So this student killed herself, but something about it just didn't sit right to me. She'd just gotten off the phone with her boyfriend and was going down to meet him. Again, there was no suicide note. Again, from what I hear, she was a happy person who showed no signs of being suicidal. And we're supposed to believe that in the short walk to meet her boyfriend her life suddenly turned so tragic that she spontaneously hung herself?

Just another teenage suicide. The police didn't bother to look for any other clues. I'm not sure it even made the papers, so the dead girl never even had a name. It happened in the fall. The University instituted an October Break policy years ago. AKA the Suicide Break because so many students killed themselves during that time period.

But this is a quiet town, and bad things like murder are things that only happen in other towns.

Episode Two Now Broadcasting

I just uploaded Episode Two.

Additonally, I have added the "LIT MA LSV" designation to the home page, for Literature (as opposed to TV) Mature Audiences, Language, Sex, Violence. This is adapted from the tvguidelines.org web page. Their definition of TV MA LSV is as follows:

Mature Audience Only
This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This program contains one or more of the following: graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), or crude indecent language (L).

I do a lot of work with elementary school kids, so some might get the impression I write for them too. While I make no promises that this work will offend you, it isn't intended for immature audiences, or for those with weak stomaches, or for people who are easily offended by things they disagree with and want to be protected from them.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

just for one day

Castles is a work of heroic fiction in the old-school sense. I saw an interview with George Lucas years ago on his reasons for doing the original Star Wars. He was hanging out with Joseph Campbell and they were talking about heroes (big suprise there) and the hero's role in culture. They are more than just for telling entertaining stories about. Heroes are role models, showing what is good and noble in a culture, inspiring us to be the best we can be. At least, traditionally this is what they've been, though I think in our own culture we've largely lost our heroes. Lucas thought so too, and he set out to create new heroes.

Lucas seems to have abandoned this with the last two movies (one reason among many why these movies are so awful). I can see why, though. It is simultaneously anachronistic, idealistic and fascistic. Fascistic, because to create a hero in the traditional sense, you have to believe that you know what is best for society and be willing to impose that view on others. Idealistic because to even bother trying you have to believe that you can make a difference, and that it is worth it to try. Anachronistic because America doesn't have heroes anymore. Not really. Heroes have been replaced by celebrity cults. Really, how many people can you point to and say, "I wish my kids would grow up to be like that person," or, "I wish I were more like that." There might be someone, but for most people in America it is because they make a lot of money, or a good at sports or a really famous, not because they're good people or have done anything to make the world a better place.

If the hero's is a reflection of what is good and virtuous in society, how can such a being exist in ours? We live in a cultural bipolar disorder. On the one pole concepts of right and wrong and morality are just marketing gimics. They're ways of furthering one's own agenda by opressing others. Think of the "religious right" (In quotes because they're neither) with their "We don't like it, therefore it is evil and immoral and should be prohibited" attitude or the Republican party's "Support the President or you're unAmerican," propaganda, where even questioning or voicing dissent is seen as immoral. On the other pole we have cultural relativism where every view is accepted and tolerated, and others can only be judged according to their own culture or upbringing, which makes the only real "immoral" act that of hypocrisy. Unless you yourself say that something is wrong, and then you don't live by that standard, nothing you do can be considered immoral.

I can see why Lucas would whimp out. Seems to me, though, that we need heroes now more than ever.

Do kids today have heroes? Do they have any examples they can look at and want to be when they grew up? I was lucky. I was an anachronism. I loved the old heroes: Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and John Carter and Doc Savage. Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm not sure Captain Underpants really counts as a hero.

I'm not claiming to have created a "hero for our times." Castles is an exploration, an attempt to come up with a modern definition of a hero, one that can survive in a culture of diversity and contradiction, one that can be virtuous and noble but still "real".

After writing a novel about it and thinking about it for years, I'm not sure I'm any closer to figuring out what a hero is. I can point out a few examples. My own father, for instance. Before his aneurism, he was town manager of several different towns. One time a contractor tried to bribe my father with the gift of a house if my father approved his permit for a housing development. My father knew the contractor to be a good man, but at the time (and moreso today, I'm sure) the system was just so corrupt that you had to bribe your government officials in order to get anything done. I think about my dad back then, a young man supporting a wife and four kids, and how much he could have used the money, and how everyone around him was doing it, so he could have gotten away with it, easy. But he refused the bribe. And he still gave the guy the permit! That to me is one quality of a hero. Doing the right thing even when it isn't necessarily in your benefit. My dad also got curbside recycling started in Durham, NH in the 70s, twenty years before people in general realized how important it was. And he got a sewage treatment plant going that turned waste into usable compost instead of dumping it into the ocean. He saw problems and he solved them in ways that were best for the environment and the future, not because they were the cheapest, easiest or most politically beneficial ways.

I hope I live up to his example. Sometimes I might, but mostly, I'm no hero.