Otter-dogs 88: Do you write your name in books?

I was recently given a second-hand book, The Cowboy Dog by Nigel Cox, and it had a name in it that I couldn’t read. It was like someone had signed someone else’s work. I couldn’t imagine it was the kind of naming that was designed to get the book returned to the owner and, in fact, the book didn’t look particularly read. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t. My read of the book didn’t break the spine either. VUP has good production values. Perhaps I will sign my name in it too.

Retrospectively Baader-Meinhoffing Hamilton

Baader-Meinhof. Not that long ago, I wrote a facebook status that said simply that. A friend discretely messaged me, soon after, to ensure that I hadn’t been trying to enter the term into a search engine and that sense of humiliation still colours the way I think about the phenomenon. I remember that and I think, sometime that’s going to come back around on the facebook memories thing – sometime, I’m going to be tempted out of perversity, to hit that share button. No, not perversely. Heroically. The re-share will undo the ambiguity of the first post, turning it into a deliberate act and I will triumph over my shame.

Except I won’t. Because then there’s Hamilton. Hamilton the musical.

I didn’t ignore Hamilton. I didn’t notice it. Friends, colleagues, students had been talking to me about it with a kind of fervour for over a year and I had nodded, saying, “No, can’t say that I’ve heard of it.” Odd that I never felt compelled to look it up. Odd that it didn’t stick. The enthusiasm that people have for that musical is a force. It gushes, unashamedly. The people who had told me about it were electrified and I greeted this with a dull, slippery confusion. Their fanishness was not going to stick to me. Whatever this thing was, – a musical did they say? – it wasn’t for me. Such was my ambivalence that I wasn’t able to connect that these people, people I liked, respected, were all talking to me about the same thing. It washed over and past me, dissipating into nothing.

The moment that lit the trail towards Baader-Meinhof style realisation in hindsight was a friend’s instagram of her daughter, Ruby, in January. She, gleefully, holds her arms out to the Broadway sign as if introducing it. She is contorted sideways, looking backwards and upwards at once, legs planted apart in the manner of the logo. While obscured by backlighting, her look is a mix of reverence and concentration. I wanted to know why anyone would look at a sign that way. What was this thing? Why was Ruby excited?

Enter Pop Culture Happy Hour. The podcast that will tell you all you need to know about a thing. Except it didn’t enter. It had been there for a while.  Now, I remembered. I had seen Hamilton before. I’d scrolled past it countless times. It wasn’t just a town South of Auckland that I was incredibly reluctant to visit. It was sought after. People wanted it. And I remember another thing. The book.

My friend Aimee has a book which she is extremely protective of. Her book on Hamilton. It has, of and on, sat on her desk at work for over a year. The way she touches it resembles a caress – as if she’s checking that it still exists. The first time she brought it into school she had held it out to me like Rafiki holding Simba. All that had registered was that this book was special to her for some reason. I had listened to my friend, more than once, talk about this show while she held the book to her and I had not heard a word. My mind had skulked off to other corners. I was not present.

Pop Culture Happy Hour recommended the cast album. So I listened to it – on shuffle at first, which I don’t recommend. The temporal dissonance of the non-linear Hamilton could probably stand as a metaphor for my entire association with the musical.  I did it in the wrong order. I wasn’t entirely sure who lived or died. I thought Burr was the hero. I had missed something essential.

Then I learned how to turn shuffle off on Spotify and it displaced The Mountain Goats as my favourite music to run to. I listened to it again and again. On loop. Non-stop. 

But I still had one more realisation to make. This was not the realisation that I had been a bad friend by passively dismissing interests, although this was important to attend to. No, this came back to the city in New Zealand of the same name.

I’m really glad I never said to anyone, “Did you know the guy who composed the music for Moana is from Hamilton?” Although, if I had, the same ambiguity that had confused me, may have saved me.

This was a fact that I had learned at the NZ premier of Moana, an ultimately hollow spectacle of blue light and drums despite the really good kapa haka. Lin-Manuel Miranda was there, I think. He was interviewed, soundbite style, beforehand. Perhaps I had been distracted by the children who were waiting for the film to start. I thought it was mean to make them wait and I was anxious that I had forgotten my bike lights and would be riding in the dark because it had gotten so late. Or perhaps it was because I had kicked over my complementary popcorn and was not sure that I’d picked it all up. I felt bad that there was so much free popcorn. I also felt relieved that I had kicked it over because this meant that I would not eat a carton of food that I did not like. But still, I had wondered why more of a fuss hadn’t been made of him. This was a guy from New Zealand who had written the music for a Disney feature and they were doing bits with actors!

I wondered later, too. Multiple times. A guy from Hamilton, I thought. Wow. Surely that’s as big a deal as Lorde, I’d thought. The idea was entrenched. That’s why, even after becoming a fan, it still took me months to fix that last misconception, to bring it into line with my new understanding.

Now, of course, I see Hamilton everywhere. I see Miranda’s influence in students’ poetry. Smug allusions pop. I see it in my past. Memories of conversations make sense now, even if my past self remains impassive and unmovable. I recall my ex-husband measuring his work ethic against Hamilton’s. Although, this could be a false construction. He did always work like he was running out of time.

This leads to an obvious line of self-doubt. I wonder what else I am not paying attention to. What else I am missing. What new humiliations of misinformation I have in store for myself. But I also think about Ruby under that sign, looking backwards and upwards at once, and get the sense that there are people who will tell me. And, eventually, I might listen.

Otter-dogs 86: In ellipsis

I have been reading about time in narrative fiction. According to Genette, the maximum speed of a narrative is ellipsis or omission. This, of course, got me thinking about whether the omission can be part of the narrative or not. I guess if it matters. A narrative entirely of omission would not be a narrative at all. Ellipsis can only be recognised in context.

All of this is potentially really meaningful but I decided, instead, to make a sex joke.

Otter-dogs 85: I’m me

A friend said to me recently that point of view is the single most important question in storytelling. That wasn’t at the top of my mind when I wrote this, because I do have a long history of being frozen by the idea that I will never be anyone else, but it must have been simmering there underneath the surface, waiting to merge with other ideas for it came back to me just as I was uploading this. Comics, for me, don’t hold as much power in the point of view department as other mediums. I don’t think, for example, that we become Peter Parker when reading a Spider-man comic, no matter how compelling the first person banter-narration-voice-over is. We are positioned on his side, sure. We get slightly more insight into his world, but we don’t really get to be him in the way that we would if he was in prose form. Maybe a comic happens more outside of our head then. I guess, in that sense, comics are more like the experience of reading a play than a novel.

Partly the comment about being stuck in our own point of view comes from re-reading Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. She calls her dreamhunters who can perform dreams in multiple points of view, “novelists”. This got me thinking about whether novels can provide a true immersion in a character’s point of view, like, perhaps, a dream can, or whether we are still ultimately ourselves when we read. I think our self is always there. My self is. Lurking.

Otter-dogs 84: Uninspiring

There’s a bit in Garden State, a bit that if you have seen the film you probably remember, that was my first-contact with the manic pixie dream girl type. Natalie Portman’s character shows us what to do when we feel unoriginal. We should stand in a spot and make a sound that we believe has never been made before. This should be complemented with whatever body contortions we think are least likely to naturally occur. This was the bit when the character of Sam lost me. She won me back later but at this point, setting aside the fact that artifice tends to annoy me and lying more so, her conviction that this was all that one needed to feel original was ridiculous. For one thing, she couldn’t know for sure that her collection of particles hadn’t done that thing, in that place before. I am willing to concede that it was highly unlikely that they had unless you consider time as happening all at once and she is still doing that ridiculous thing and always will be. And, of course, Natalie Portman, the actress may have had more than one take so if you are watching with that sort of cynicism the scene reads as somewhat accidentally meta. Surely, though, being original is more than mechanically working through a new action.

In any case, feeling de ja vu about something you actually do everyday, and know you do everyday at least twice, seems to me to be an absolute failure of the human mind. It is like taking the wistful wonder out of the world. It’s like the opposite of inspiration. It’s what Natalie Portman doesn’t defeat in Garden State. It’s what she highlights. And, oh boy, is that feeling a dark pit.

Otter-dogs 83: I’m taken with you

I became alarmed, a while ago, with the phrase “I’m taken with you”. I began to have images of mutually assured abduction, as if by saying the phrase you were implicating someone else in relinquishing agency, whether they wanted it or not. What if they didn’t want to come too? Now they had to. It was done. A magic spell of language had been employed and these people were leaving. The fun I usually enjoy when interpreting an idiom literally became fraught with images of a very specific alien who did not want to test or torment but wanted to watch some sort of real-life romance. Although, as far as I can tell, these beings who take us, whoever they are, are not intrusive voyeurs. Still, I am vary of invoking them, as benign as their actions seem.

None of this made it into the comic.

Otter-dogs 82: Ironic fun

A friend said to me, quite a while ago now, that ironic fun sounded like something the otter-dogs would discuss. It took me a long time to sort it out in my head and I’m not sure that I quite got there.

Otter-dogs 81: I hope

I realise that the title of books doesn’t usually go on the back but I really wanted to create the idea that one of them had moved on to the sequel (and I might have changed who was speaking half way through and confused myself about who was reading what).