The joys of borrowing and renting

Somewhere along the line after I became a Grown Up, I stopped going to the library and decided I had to buy books that I wanted to read. I’m not sure when this happened. I was always library-girl in grade school. My first part-time job was in the public library.

In fact, I decided that the public library had gone the way of the dinosaur, because it had in many towns I lived in as an adult. Or you couldn’t find anything there worth checking out. Or if you did, it sat on your desk until its due-date and you had to take it back unread.

Plus, I decided that if I was going to go to the trouble of reading a book, I wanted to have it on my shelf like a trophy for All To See. “See, I read this.” Problem is, I got books on my shelf that I bought and then never read. Most of them are gone now, I sold them for a quarter of the price I bought them for when I realized I’d never read them.

So all this talk of Harry Potter and other book recommendations on the board and here in LJ land got me itching to read. That, and I have NOTHING on my shelves anymore that I haven’t read or actually really intend to read. It makes riding the bus abysmally dull. But I go to and hesitate to put anything into my shopping cart; after all, what if I buy this and don’t read it, too? Or what if I buy it and don’t like it?

Honestly, when did I cave in to the international capitalist conspiracy to make me part with my hard-earned money? Hey, you corporate suck-pigs, it’s mine and you can’t have it!!

So yesterday I snuck out of work early and went to get myself a library card. They do have functioning public libraries in San Francisco. Makes sense; this is the last bastion of liberalism-isn’t-a-dirty-word in the United States. Or perhaps the last bastion of home-grown socialism. Pass the bean sprouts while I tighten the straps on my faded Birkenstocks.

I didn’t actually find any books at the library yesterday. By the time I got my card, the library was closing. They can’t have decent hours anymore because everybody else in this country doesn’t want to give their money to the government. Well, maybe for bombs, but not for books.

Well, fuck ’em all, this is the age of the internet, and I just spend a glorious hour in the on-line catalog for the library seeing what they had in science fiction and fantasy and gay and lesbian fiction. Yee haw! Books, books, books. I’ve noticed, however, that everything that interests me is in the “Teen Center”. OK, so my idea of entertainment shows that I am permanently stuck in adolescence because I never really had one. I was a big fat no-life nerd in High School. OK, not fat. Why do you think “Buffy” interested me when it first came out?

So now I have my library card and a list of books to locate before I go on vacation. Is it horribly risky to take library books with you on a plane to another state? ‘Cause I’m thinking of hauling my netflix DVDs there, too.

This netflix thing is also big fun. I do feel guilty about not patronizing my corner Mom-and-Pop video store. But for $3.80 for every rental, it was bleeding me dry! I figure with netflix, I have to rent 5 movies a month to make it as expensive as the corner store, but through the magic of DVD, I am discovering TV shows I’m too cheap, er, I mean frugal to spring for digital cable to see: Queer as Folk, Six Feet Under, Oz. I’m catching up on shows I don’t get around to watching on cable because they come on every friggin’ day and they never are at episode 1 season 1 when you need them to be: Dark Shadows, Babylon 5. Ooh, and reliving Space: 1999!

So this is fun. And when I get a life in the Real World, I’ll be sure to let you know.


So last night’s big fun was going down to the Castro theater and seeing “Laughing Matters” at the G&L film festival. Lynn is friends with the producer and her L.A. contingent, and invited me to the before-screening party, but Gloria and I were shoveling down dinner at Fuzio’s and by the time we got to the theater, they wouldn’t let us inside.

So we stood out in that blasting arctic wind for 45 minutes waiting for the previous movie to get out. I hate winter. Oh, right! It’s June! Don’t let deevalish fool you with stories about how pleasant the weather is in this town. It has been friggin’ freezing lately. I have this theory that the true cause of global warming is that all the cold air everywhere in the world has concentrated off shore above Ocean Beach and is now blowing through the streets of San Francisco.

Anyway, we finally get into the movie, which is actually a pair of shorter documentary films about lesbian comedians, both cracking-up funny. Then I meet up with Lynn to go to this after-screening party at a downtown hotel.

Lots of schmoozing with the L.A. types–producers, a couple of the actual comedians featured in the film, their entourage(s), and of course a few local San Francisco movers and shakers. Free cocktails. But of course it’s Sunday night, a work night, and there isn’t going to be any late-night partying for me.

Gloria didn’t go to the after-screening party, she had to catch a plane to New York this morning to go on her QE2 cruise to England. She asked me if I wanted a copy of the “adult cover” version of the latest Harry Potter while she was in London. I told her I’d rather have the first book (seeing as I haven’t read any of them), and that I wouldn’t mind having a copy that says “Philosopher’s Stone” instead of “Sorcerer’s Stone”. Americans are such peasants!

Taking the red pill

The Matrix starts out with intriguing promise: you know exactly where it’s going–Neo’s world isn’t real–but that’s cool. You want to see what they’ll do with that, especially after Morpheus says to him,

“You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind.”

Then he wakes up in that vat in the “real world” and it’s so chilling!

After that, the movie falls into a familiar ennui-filled post-apocalyptic sci-fi mode that is broken only by action!packed moments of gratuitous violence. The basic premise behind the future world is incredibly lame–machines harvesting people for energy? Puh-lease. There are much more efficient ways to create energy. This was something someone made up at the last minute to have an excuse to keep humans locked up in virtual reality.

The philosophical quandary the movie’s premise turns on is also nothing new. It’s a contemporary spin on an empiricist brain-teaser that’s been around since the 17th century–“just because we can sense things with our five senses, does that make them real?” Philosophers call this “problem of the external world”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Normal Again“, in which Buffy is shown switching disorientingly back and forth between the story world we’ve come to know on the show where she is a small-town superhero, and another life, in which she is institutionalized and only imagines she’s a small-town superhero, did a better job of driving home that philosophical dilemma and its existential horror.

The one genuine truth to come out of this movie is the absurdity of our socially constructed reality. When I was a teenager, I had this fantasy that I suddenly fell and found myself looking back up at my life as if it was a play on a stage. At that moment, I realized that everyone around me, including myself, was an actor playing a role. Suddenly I didn’t know what was real, what was genuine, what was “really me” or “really you,” or if asking for genuineness was even meaningful. You see, unlike The Matrix or “Normal Again”, there is (probably) no conspiracy of machines or demons or other sinister Others creating a false reality for us: we do it to ourselves. We create social rules and mores, roles and constructs for each other, and we create them as individuals for ourselves. And we do it because we’re programmed by nature and nurture to have this deep need for a solid “reality” to live in.

That’s why Normal Again demonstrated the philosophical “problem of the external world” better than The Matrix. Because when Cypher says he wishes he’d taken the blue pill, you know he knows he’s accepting a lie. He wants to live a lie, and it’s made quite clear in the universe of the movie that the world create by the machines is the false world. Buffy is never quite sure which world is the real world. Both worlds–the world of the Sunnydale superhero, and the world of the asylum–are presented by the narrative as in some sense products of her mind and her conflicted needs. Not for Cypher. In the narrative of The Matrix, there is a real world and a fake world in the absolute metaphysical sense, and neither is a product of his needs and wants, he simply chooses one over the other due to his needs and wants.

Buffy, on the other hand, must make a choice between the superhero world and the asylum world without knowing which is “more real” in an absolute metaphysical sense, if either is. Both are presented as “created” out of her differing needs. The demon in the episode merely makes them come alive for her via magic. And in the end, when Buffy makes her choice, it is a choice between which is more real to her as an individual choosing the way she wants to live, as an individual choosing the way she wants to think about herself.

In my teenaged fantasy, I imagined myself superior to those around me because I fell off the stage of life and saw it in all its absurdity. I could see “reality” on a different level than those around me. Unlike them, I didn’t buy into the necessity of the social constructs. I was Neo, choosing the red pill. Yay, me. Now I understand it’s a little more complicated than that. Taking the red pill, seeing the basic non-necessity of our conception of the world, is only the first step. If there is a proper way to conceive the world, who knows if we are even capable of having that conception? We may just have to settle for building a new construct to live in. And that demands choices.

But if, like Morpheus and his gang, we do discover the proper conception world, we still have to live in it, build in it, create it. Cypher was unhappy in the “real world” because it was all fighting, a daily grind of bad food and fear of being caught. Was that “necessary”? Could they have built a better life for themselves in the “real world” than they did?

In so many ways, reality is a choice. So easy to say. But not easy to put into practice. Most of us just end up “taking the blue pill”–accepting the socially constructed world we happen to live in as unavoidably “real.”

Mini LJ meet!

It was officially a Bay Area board meet what with my hokey little “ATPoBtVS” sign and all, but there were several LJers there–masqthephlsphr, of course, and dherblay, deevalish, and cwx.

Pics of this grand event can be found here and here.

Good food, good wine (can’t speak for the beer myself), good Buffy-ific conversation, good company. See deevalish‘s description of the event here.

Enjoyed hanging with dherblay and cwx afterwards as well.

And thanks to d’H and his mom for the ride home!

Good yummy garlicy left-overs for today’s lunch.

See everyone in Vancouver tomorrow!

The weekend

Guernville was beautiful. More beautiful than I remember it. Last time I went up there was years ago and I pretty much stuck to the same woodsy campground the entire weekend because all I wanted to do was sit by the fire and write. Wasn’t into listening to the women’s music divas like my camping companions at the time.

So I didn’t get to see things like Armstrong woods back then, which is where I went hiking this weekend. Some hiking trails! All up hill, but when you finally get to the top, it’s totally worth it. Trees stretching on for miles. Green. Birds. Peace, until the other hikers come tromping along. I thought I was in shape from all those San Francisco hills, but I had to stop every ten feet and take a breath.

I actually did stop in a few places and journal as well, like old-fashioned journaling with a pen and a piece of paper and a nature-inspired attitude. Very peaceful. Nice. Shady. Surrounded by tall trees on all sides. Not like the city where I don’t even live close to any parks, and even if I did, if I went walking in them, they’d be full of joggers and you’d still hear the sirens wailing a few blocks away.

I so wanted to get away from all that. So needed to. When I was growing up and went camping, the middle of the woods, surrounded by pine trees, crunching brush underneath my feet, the scent of dust, that was the only place I truly felt peaceful. Spiritual. I wanted that back, so even though my friends and I were camping in a busy little rustic “resort”, I drove miles over to the Armstrong woods to be alone and commune with the redwoods. They really are red.

I wish I could say it relaxed me. Maybe it did, for brief seconds at a time. But I wanted the tree canopy and the exhausting climb to leech the tension out of me until I was bled dry and it didn’t. I’m in the woods and I’m not feeling what I want to be feeling. What being there did do to me was make me realize that I’m wound up like a top. Like a top that’s read to spin out of control into a relaxed, slack state, except that I can’t seem to do that. In the city, you expect to be wound up, so you stop noticing it so much, but in the forest, you expect to relax, and when you can’t…. you notice.

And I don’t even know why I can’t. Work, yes, webpage, yes, novel, yes, friends, yes, maybe I’m just doing too much. I had the feeling if I’d stayed in the woods a few months doing exactly what I did over the weekend–nothing, reading, walking, eating, nothing, star-gazing, book-store browsing, nothing–then I’d finally unwind. But there’s this thing called life, and it’s heavy and thick and full and it makes demands.

Today I finally have an appointment with that sleep specialist. After three plus months of waking up in the middle of the night and putting myself back to sleep with chemicals I finally am going to talk to someone about it.

Short work week this week, board meet Weds night and then it’s off to Vancouver. Very little will get done other than those things and maybe that’s for the best.