An Extremely Chilly Take

I am late to the party, I know. Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog came out very nearly ten years ago, and the window for timely analysis is long, long past. But I was listening to the soundtrack in my car the other day, and something crystallized for me.

[SPOILERS for a ten-year-old movie ahead. Also content warning for discussion of violence against women, which is also kinda a spoiler for Dr. Horrible in itself.]

I was never satisfied by the ending. There was a lot of eyerollery at the time about Joss Whedon’s predictable pattern of brutally killing off beloved characters, and I’m sure that was part of it, but it never entirely resonated with me. I mean, it’s a tragedy, that’s the whole point, right? Captain Hammer is functionally destroyed, Penny is dead, and Billy has the emptiest victory imaginable. I was annoyed that Penny really doesn’t have much in the way of agency in the plot, but that wasn’t quite it, either.

What I realized the other day was this: it’s not how this particular story goes. It’s wildly unrealistic, and the show doesn’t give any explanation or justification for why. That’s why the ending doesn’t work – it’s not the ending that I know  happens.

Come on, folks, you all know the tune. Sing it with me: shy, nerdy, yet wealthy and privileged white man can’t get a woman to go out with him. He can’t bring himself to communicate directly with her about it, but still takes it incredibly personally when she dates the openly interested and unmistakably flirty jock. He gets mad and acquires some deadly weapons, singing all the while that “you’re gonna die”.

Who is he singing to? Not Captain Hammer.

No, he doesn’t go after the perceived-higher-status male rival. He goes after the woman, and possibly any other women who happen to be nearby. Penny’s death, in the real world, is intentional. It is in fact the desired outcome, however empty and remorseful Billy might feel afterwards. It happens all the time – to the point where I could probably link every word of this essay to a different incident in the US since Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was released.

And the show does not address this even tangentially. Honestly, even a few lines hanging a lampshade on it might have made a serious difference in how I read the ending. As it is, it just feels to me like it was made by people who sympathize with Billy to the point where they refuse to acknowledge just how toxic and murderous that mindset really is.

I’m entirely sure someone else, at some point in the past ten years, came up with this analysis and I’m just duplicating effort (and I’d love to see other essays on these lines, if you have them!) But man, it was a relief to figure out what had been bugging me for so damn long.

The Joys of Homeownership

At the beginning of December, Alex and I bought a house. It is a lovely house – a dome house, which is unusual and suits us, and a well-loved, one-owner, handcrafted sort of house, which has been mostly a delight. Everything is very thoughtfully designed, I have a dedicated office that is not in a closet for the first time in twelve years, and our split sleep schedules no longer mean we each have to spend four to six hours of the day in perfect silence. (The apartment we were in previously was… small.)

But, you know, it’s a house. Houses generate to-dos. I spent the first weekend in the house sanding off the horrible dark-beige faux finish in the master bedroom so I could prime it with some heavy-duty odor-killing stuff because the previous owner smoked. A lot. In the bedroom. And the woman we bought it from was a widow – her obviously handy husband has passed away ten years ago, and it’s pretty clear that no one has picked up a screwdriver here since. There are a lot of little things.

Today’s chore was to measure the… cat door? Elf hole? Portal to Narnia and/or the reading nook? in the master suite so that I can build an actual door for it instead of wedging a piece of foamcore against it with a footstool. (The elderly cat is living in solitary splendor in the master suite, and the rambunctious boys are forbidden from pestering her.) It is nine and a half inches by 22 and a quarter inches. I really, really don’t understand it. But my to-dos are much more interesting these days, at least.

The Year of the Werewolf

It’s been a hell of a year. I don’t even wanna talk about the global situation, but even for us personally, we moved, re-established ourselves in an entirely new place, had a number of pet medical scares (the cat’ll be 18 this year, too!), sold my condo, bought a house, and moved again. It’s been great for us even as the stress of the rest of the world has ratcheted up. (And, to be clear, it’s been great for us in part because the cross-country move put us in a much more stable position to deal with everything else.)

One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that I’m increasingly unhappy contributing to the content economy of Twitter and Facebook. I’ve never been a consistent blogger, but I’m thinking I’m going to make use of this space a little more, possibly shift my cat pictures over to Instagram or something, and see how that goes. I just don’t really want to contribute to the success of companies who act directly against their users’ interests, and I have Thoughts about the way public social spaces behave when in the control of private business interests. I may even expound on those thoughts here at some point, like I’ve been meaning to for ages.

So I’m going to try to use this a little more like an old-school blog, where I record my various thoughts, goals, and accomplishments. If I make ten posts this year I’ll be proud of myself (I am not a good blogger) but it’s always been a useful mental exercise for me.

On that note, the first minor thing that I want to record is something that has been working fairly well this past couple of months – when I get up in the morning, I try to Do a Thing. Anything that’s on my to-do list, no matter how small – just a thing to push back against entropy. This morning I did two things! I retrieved the missing spring from the cheap curtain rod and installed it in one of the more random windows in the house, in preparation for getting actual curtains, and I applied thread and velcro to the cats’ window-shelf to keep the cover on more solidly.

So that’s a tiny bit of entropy defeated, and a good start to New Year’s Day. Hope all of you are doing as well!

The Alex and Devin Are Moving FAQ

Alex and Devin are moving! This is happening very suddenly, and we’ve decided to answer the obvious questions all in one place.

Where are you moving?

To a little apartment in Belchertown, MA, in the Pioneer Valley.

When are you moving?

Around the end of the year – we’re planning to be in MA as of approximately January 2, weather and logistics permitting.

Why are you moving?

For several reasons. One, where we’re living right now (in a Bay Area suburb) is VERY expensive. Due to a car accident last January, Alex’s back has been bad enough that she can’t work much, and we need to lower our cost of living. Also, the world has gotten alarming and we want to have more resources free to be a safety net not just for us but for other people – in our current situation, we can’t donate much money anywhere, and that needs to change.

The second reason is health insurance. Alex and Devin both have previously existing conditions – Devin’s arthritis medication is around $18,000 a dose. Currently, we have good health insurance, but if anything happens to Devin’s job, without the ACA, neither of us will be insurable. Massachusetts has said that if the ACA gets repealed, they’ll go back to their previously-existing state-level insurance exchange. We hope we won’t need it, but if we do, we’ll *really* need it.

The third reason is community. We’re not currently living in an area where most people are good at thinking about anything other than themselves and their pocketbooks. This isn’t the community we want to be a part of. We’re hoping we’ll find a much more congenial one in Massachusetts.

Why so fast?

Alex not currently working makes this a good time to disrupt our lives a whole bunch, and also a good time to reduce our expenses as soon as possible. Yes, moving is expensive, but we’re not putting away any cash on just Devin’s income where we are currently.

What about all the pets?

The elderly cat and aged dog (Dottie and Rhymer) are of course coming with us. The middle cat (Magpie) will be staying with Devin’s parents while we’re in the smallish apartment (and possibly forever, depending on how attached they get. They need a cat anyway.) We’ll be relying upon our youngest cat, Quill, as a mouser in the 150 year old building – murdering things is what he loves most, and he’s good at it!

But the PONY!!!

Magni will stay where he is for a little while, then we’ll board him at his breeder’s place in upstate New York, where he can run around a pasture with his relatives and be shaggy and happy. Alex currently can’t ride because of her back problems, but we both very much hope those will get resolved, and we’ll bring him the rest of the way.

(Skugga and Sol are Alex’s mom’s horses, and will remain with her, of course.)

Is this forever?

We don’t know yet. Alex is not looking forward to the cold; Devin already knows she dislikes it. Alex has lived in California all her life, and the northeast will be a big change. We’ve signed a year lease, so we’re giving it a solid shot, and then we’ll see.

I live near where you’re going and I want to hang out!

Great! We are looking forward to seeing all of our friends in the northeast. Drop us a line (Alex and Devin) and let’s make some plans!

I don’t live near where you’re going so I want to come visit you!

We would love that! We’re planning to bring the cot, and the comfy chair might be even nicer to sleep in. If that’s doable for you, let’s talk! We love seeing our people, but Devin is a rabid introvert and we’ll have to space visits out so she doesn’t eat anyone.

Paradise Revisited

Or, You Can’t Cross the Same Water Twice

I spent last week at the Viable Paradise reunion, the first one ever held. In many ways it was fantastic – the staff was great, seeing fully a third of my class and many of the other VPers I’ve gotten to know over the last three years was awesome, and Martha’s Vineyard remains lovely. But while it was billed as “Paradise Regained,” I think that’s not something that’s possible for cave-beasts like  me.

I am a serious introvert. I spend nine months of the year seeing people other than my wife once a month, maaaybe twice if it’s on non-consecutive weekends. Then I go to a handful of conventions over the summer, see all the people I can handle, and retreat again. That’s been working fine for the last few years, but this year I’ve been feeling more and more stressed at events, and the reunion helped clarify why.

One of my planned coping mechanisms at Viable Paradise proper was to be as unremarkable as possible. I wore my dumpiest clothes, didn’t speak up much in groups, and tried to be friendly without being super noticeable. (This did have an unfortunate, albeit temporary, dampening effect on my courtship of my now-wife Alex, who was a fellow classmate.) I needed to avoid managing too many intense group interactions, and I succeeded in that.

VP remained pretty unbalancing, but it was mostly for other reasons. I was in an unsteady emotional place going into it (a friend had just committed suicide,) and discovered some unanticipated triggers on-site (I’ve talked about my relationship to music before,) but also was not terribly insecure about my writing – I knew it wasn’t yet great, but it was ok, and I was getting better. So I was off-balance, but not in the way that it seemed like the workshop was totally set up for, so I just… coped.

I wasn’t thinking about all this, going into the reunion. I was expecting it to be a nice social time, a chance to see everyone and enjoy the lovely location, lighter scheduling and comfortably established friendships. So I was super surprised when a) it sent me into introvert shock almost instantly, because everyone could see me, and b) I discovered I had left all that emotional baggage on the island, never expecting to come back for it.

The place was the same, but all of my relationships had changed. There were thirty or so people I knew and wanted to chat with, half of whom I wanted to spend serious quality time with. There were instructors who had become con friends who were again sort of but not quite instructors, and that was weird. The staff were *entirely* at various points on that not-peer then peer and now kinda-not-peer spectrum. And, ironically, the lighter scheduling meant I had to keep making choices about what I was doing – choices I was completely unprepared to handle.

And I didn’t handle it super-well.  I spent a lot of time hanging around the edges of things, trying to pretend no one was noticing how off-balance I was. I took some long walks. I remembered why people drink at cons. I realized that some discomfort at other events over the summer was due to the same exact thing, rather than bringing the wrong sleep meds or whatever.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I got lots of time with people I really wanted to see, which was great. I remembered, sitting in the music room, how raw I was around music the first time I was here – and also realized how much the SF music scene has allowed that to mostly scar over. Laura’s still gone, but… still not gone, in that same weird liminal way that I never did write a successful story about. And I do love this community.

I’m a community manager, a long-time professional one, and one of the traits that allows me to  do that particular kind of emotionally intense work is a persistent avoidance of getting too deep into a community. I like that extra bit of distance – always accessible, always informed, just not quite in the thick. It’s where I’m comfortable. The individual relationships that I choose to build are what bridge that distance and keep me connected, even as my personal twitches keep me a little bit apart.

So when I looked up at the bright moon over the water as we sailed away, I realized that, while VP changed my life in many marvelous ways, it’s gone. It’s over. And that’s ok. I am in a great place in my life, I’m at peace with myself, and the internet-friends/con-friends/occasional-houseguests thing is actually a much better way for me to participate in this community than a super-intense mass weekend in person. And it’s something to consider, as I look at next year’s travel schedule – maybe I need a few more trips to visit specific friends and not quite so many conventions.

It’s worth re-emphasizing that this wasn’t overall a bad experience for me, or one I regret. The reunion was well-run, welcoming, and totally worth the trip. I crossed the water, and then I crossed back over, and I’m now completely convinced I ended up on the correct shore.

Facing the Music

I went to my first-ever voice lesson yesterday.

People who’ve known me for a while will be shocked at that. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t embarrass myself in front of strangers by doing something badly that I desperately want to do well. Even though it makes my music-loving, theater-background fiancee Alex sad.

This has been true since elementary school, at least. At my second-best friend’s ninth birthday party, she decided she wanted all of us to sing songs to her from The Little Mermaid, audition-style. I believe I sang “Under the Sea”, and I thought I did pretty well – remembered the words, nailed the accent. The birthday girl, however, dismissed me with a casual, “eh, not great.”

Ever since, I’ve lip-synched to “Happy Birthday”.

In my early 20s I worked for several years as a volunteer roadie, webmaster, merch seller, and general band-aid to an Austin folk-rock musician. She was the real thing, a charismatic, confident performer who made her living by her art, and I desperately wanted to be her. I did everything I could to make her like me, in the hopes that her confidence, her talent, her aura would somehow infect me. Spoiler: it didn’t. Instead, I made rather a pest of myself and invested way too much of my self-esteem into being liked and respected by someone who didn’t particularly like or respect me. And I didn’t do any of the things that would have actually made me more like her – learn an instrument, take public speaking classes. Learn to sing.

Finally I got wise and left that scene, and stopped going to live music performances almost entirely. And then, ten years later, I found myself a wide-eyed newbie in another circle of people I desperately admired. Late one night, the guitars came out, and my God–it was the same damned guitar, a jumbo Taylor. I had to hold it together. I like music – no, let’s be honest, I *love* music. It’s a synaesthetic trip for me and I adore the way the colors and the beats and the voices all blend. I couldn’t tear myself away, but I couldn’t join in because I know my voice is “eh, not great” at best, and I didn’t want to ruin things for people who are having fun, and oh my God I want to impress those people and I still can’t.

It happened again at a convention recently. (The science fiction community is super into folk music, ironically enough.) Some of the same people were there, and I realized something as I hyperventilated in a corner after the music stopped. These people? They actually like me, and respect me, and want me around. They’re actual friends. And, just like Alex, they want me to do fun stuff with them, and singing together is fun. Even if I’m not all that good.

So I said fuck it, and Alex found us a voice teacher, and you know what? I can match pitch tolerably well, if I concentrate, and I have a bit of vibrato going on. I performed possibly the least-competent-ever rendition of “On My Own”, and it was kinda fun. My throat is sore today, but we’re going back next week. And at the next con, dammit, if I know the words, I’m singing them.

Changing Names

You may know me as something other than Devin Singer, and might be confused and unsettled by this change. Don’t worry! Here’s a little FAQ to explain things.

Q: Why Devin Singer?

A: It sounds nice and is a pretty color. Also I want to be known as the King of Cacti from now on.

Q. Why change it? “Jeremy Preacher” sounds epic.

A. It’s the Internet Handle that Ate My Life – it was never intended to be a pen name and it’s got two issues. One, “Jeremy” is unambiguously male. I don’t mind a bit of genderf*ck in my life, but I’m a cis (if butch) woman and it tended to confuse people. “Devin” is closer to neutral. Two, it sounds Christian, and I’m not. Not even in the “raised some flavor thereof but is now not religious” sort of way. I was raised Jewish, and my religious beliefs have never involved Christianity at all. So moving away from it made sense.

Q. What about your professional reputation?

Devin Singer is a pen name for fiction writing. New profession, new reputation! Besides, I’d be a pretty poor Online Community Manager if I couldn’t handle a wee name change, wouldn’t I?

Q. I know you as something else. Should I call you Devin now?

A. You are welcome to call me whatever you are accustomed to calling me, although you are also welcome to switch to “Devin” if, like certain other parties, you never liked “Jeremy” anyway.

Q. What does the “L” stand for?

A. I haven’t decided! I needed something that Gmail had available as an email address, and L was acceptable.