Category Archives: friends

A new year’s wish

It’s been more than a year since I last posted here¹ – meaning that once more, I’d returned to blogging only to fall away from it entirely after a short pulse of intense productivity, a rush of wordiness that I now see lasted less than four months in toto. I always feel a desperate need to apologise for this kind of abandonment. Even while I still realise on the purely intellectual level that this is my own blog, my own intellectual property, and I can develop it (or, in fact, not) as I myself choose, I suppose where the frustration and guilt lie is within that last word: choose. For the fact is that I didn’t choose, and indeed have never once chosen, to step back from blogging: never with even an infinitesimal grain of intent have I ceased writing my thoughts down in this form, and the protracted periods of complete silence have usually been because I have too little energy to give to the task of spilling my mind onto (digital) paper.

¹ Sounds like the beginning of a poem.
It’s been more than a year
since I last posted here
and I’m sorry to cause any boredom.
But I’ve been rather ill –
not in body, but will –
and so as for the gaps, just ignore them.
me, just now

But for the moment, I don’t particularly feel like talking about what caused me to fall away from this practice. That’s something for my next post, I think. Instead, I’d prefer to talk about what brought me back. It’s the beginning of a new year, for one; even though I’ve never particularly cared for the idea of the New Year’s resolution – although a nice idea in principle, it almost always seems that the resolution is a promise to oneself made less out of determination and more out of societal obligation (“it’s New Year’s, I should make a resolution”) and consequently disintegrates more often than not before the month is even out, never mind the year it seems a handy opportunity to do something I’d intended anyway, which is to say, returning to this blog I’d previously abandoned. The last twelve months or so have been extraordinary in so many ways that I’ve so desperately wished to share with those I love: some good, some bad, but all interesting, even if sometimes that falls into the preserve of the apocryphal curse so often wrongly attributed to the Chinese, may you live in interesting times. And several of my friends, as well as my partner, have been encouraging me for some time to begin writing again, too. Even if for no other reason than to keep opening myself up and expressing my thoughts in a tangible form, to help me steer clear of the retreat into my shell that depression and anxiety make altogether too tempting, I think they’re right: I need to keep writing. And more than that, I still want to keep writing. Without wishing to sound arrogant, I’d like to think I have things to say, and even if few others read these little posts of mine, even if one person gets some degree of enjoyment out of them, then that’s enough for me.

It seems appropriate, then, that my first new post concern the New Year that’s now upon us.

In Ubykh, the name of the month of January is Çr’en [ʈʂ’ɜn]. (Only half of the traditional month names in the Ubykh calendar are still known: in addition to January, there’s Xen ‘December’, Abhğhagie ‘February’, Psıbığu ‘March’, Ğeleç’iefımze ‘April’, and K’uırk’uımze ‘June’ – which last is also used for July. This means that I have no idea of how an August-born person like myself might go about discussing my birthday in Ubykh. But I digress.) January’s Ubykh name is the adverbial-case form of an old-fashioned noun çr’e [ʈʂ’ɜ] that means “front”: that is to say, the “front” of the year. The more modern Ubykh way of referring to the front of something is the compound çr’efe, which not only refers to the front of something in a purely spatial sense,  but also steps up into the fourth dimension and refers to what is in front in a temporal sense as well. Some cultures, perhaps most notably the Aymara of Andean South America, spatialise time in a manner that opposes ours – that is, they conceive of the past as lying in front of them, and the future behind. Cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez suggests this deeply fascinating model of Aymara time may be connected to the presence in the Aymara language of a grammatical device called evidentiality, which requires a speaker to accompany every sentence with a marker that tells their listener how they learned the information in that sentence: specifically, whether or not they themselves saw it happen. The logic is that what is known, seen, evidenced, is the past; on the other hand the unknown, the invisible, the merely inferred, is the future. The Aymara are in a small minority in this sense, though. For the Ubykhs, what lies in front of us – just as for English-speakers – is the future: it is what is yet to happen, what has not yet taken place, and towards which we’re inexorably travelling. But the root çr’e in Ubykh also has another meaning. It’s also an adjective that has an array of positive meanings, including but not limited to ‘good’, ‘pleasant’, ‘kind’, ‘honest’, ‘nice’, ‘high quality’, and ‘noble’, and in this function, it forms part of several idiomatic phrases that Ubykh-speakers would often use to express good wishes or pleasure or happiness: çr’ewq’egiı ‘welcome!’ (literally ‘you speak good[ness]’), wışuwe çr’eşıx ‘take it easy!’ (literally ‘may your matter[s] become good!’), wısxieçr’e ‘you are my friend’ (literally ‘you are good to me’). Indeed, in its adverbial form – i.e. çr’en(ı) ‘well, in a good manner’ – it’s also part of the most beautiful sentiment one can hear in any language: çr’en wızbyen ‘I love you’.

Now, Zarquon knows I’m not normally one to fall so hard for the etymological fallacy. But in this instance, in this January, this month at the front of a new year, the emotional and deeply irrational part of my brain can hardly help but feel a certain degree of optimism from the uniquely special polysemy of this single Ubykh syllable and its derivatives. So welcome back to my blog, and in the spirit of every meaning of Ubykh çr’e(n), I’d like to wish all of my friends and family, and also you reading, a happy New Year whose January is the beginning of a new future, a future of goodness and ease and love for us all.

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Why superheroes anyway?

So this afternoon my dear friend and I were jawing at length about a wide range of topics, as we’re both wont to do – I have a dreadful habit of digressing from an original subject onto a sequence of tangential topics, each one related to the last but altogether forming a flimsy daisy-chain that can take a conversation parsecs away from the original subject. And she has a habit of letting me do so. (One of the many things I’m grateful for in my very best friends is this tolerance of my ridiculous digressions.) I’m not entirely sure how it is our conversation came to alight on the topic of superhero movies in particular, but such was the subject we found ourselves nattering about. Part of the conversation came from my personal state of had-it-up-to-here-ness with the fulminant rash of superhero movies that have erupted all over the Western cinema over the last ten years. If it’s not a Batman film, it’s a Captain America film, and if it’s not Captain America it’s Spiderman, and if not Spiderman it’s Thor, or the Hulk, or Wonder Woman, or Superman, or the Green Lantern, or Deadpool, or Aquaman, or Iron Man, or some ensemble cast outing in the form of the Avengers, or the X-Men, or the Justice League, or the Suicide Squad, or the Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m not against any individual one of these superheroes as a storytelling vehicle – indeed, I’m quite the fan of the X-Men film franchise in particular – but I suppose I’m feeling rather inundated by the mêlée being waged between Marvel and DC in the last few years, a clash of titans in a duel with the chosen weapons of superhero films at ten paces. Recent cinematic releases that have piqued my interest or caught my fascination have been relatively few; the last few films I saw at the cinema were Star Trek: Beyond, The Hateful Eight, and (though not by specifically my selection) Kung Fu Panda 3. Trailers for the upcoming science-fiction offering Arrival (such as this one) are also spectacular and particularly tantalising – admittedly, I do love me a good alien invasion film, and the promise of a linguist as main character, combined with an examination of the challenges of establishing meaningful contact with an alien species and a hefty dose of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, seems a wonderful opportunity to mix good sci-fi with good hard science and philosophy in a way that one doesn’t see very often in cinema these days.

But I digress again. You’ve really got to get better at stopping me from this. Where was I? Superhero films. Yes. Well, my friend and I were discussing this societal outbreak of superheroism in the cinema, and considering what the appeal of this broad genre is to the masses, if it’s not simply about cashing in quickly and effectively on firmly-established franchises – with the release of Doctor Strange later this year, even Marvel alone will have been behind no less than 21 films in the last five years – or about allowing filmmakers to engage in scenery porn on the grand scale, à la Michael Bay, while not concerning themselves too deeply with the telling of a complicated or rich story, also à la Michael Bay. (And to be honest, I do suspect both of these factors are in play nevertheless. The irrepressible grinding of Fróði’s mill, churning out gold aplenty for its owner.) At first, I joked with my friend that people watch superhero movies to get a kick out of watching awesome people be awesome in someone else’s face, or watching the overcompensation of broken people (as most superheroes are in some way or another – Deadpool’s scarring, Batman’s daddy-and-mummy issues, Superman’s isolation as a Kryptonian among humans, the Green Lantern trying to recover from a disappointingly shithouse first movie). But then the thought hit us that perhaps the brokenness is a truly important aspect of what many people relate to in the superhero genre, broadly construed. Maybe there are some people who go to watch purely for the wacky shenanigans or for particular characterisations; for Bruce Wayne and Alfred’s repartee in various Batman incarnations, for Sir Patrick Stewart’s honey-gold baritone or Hugh Jackman’s irreverence in X-Men, to fawn over Bandicoot Crumplysnitch Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange.

(To disappear onto another tangent for a moment, what is it about Bumblewump Cambrian that people are so desperately enamoured with? He’s certainly a good actor, it’s true; his portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game was wonderful, I thought, and while his Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy was a little too campy to hold a candle to the Sméagol of Andy Serkis – whose failure to garner even one Oscar nomination for the role is, I believe, the greatest shame in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Busticle Candygram’s dragon was nevertheless well portrayed. But still, I’ve seen roles in which his acting left me cold, such as his Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness – or should I say, Star Trek II 2: Electric Boogaloo. In fairness, although I was grateful as always to see more tlhIngan Hol depicted on screen, fuckin’ J. J. Abrams and his fuckin’ lens flare are partly to blame for that for doing a blatant Wrath of Khan retread that neither needed to be nor should have been done, and even with great direction, Ricardo Montalbán is a hard Khan to follow. But the Khan of Into Darkness was a cold, implausible, cardboard cutout of a villain. Ultimately, I just don’t see the extraordinary actor in Bulbasaur Charizard that puts him so far above the rest. I’m sorry to all his fans for that. Anyway.)

But instead, what we came up with was a more serious idea: perhaps there are many people that go to superhero movies not to be entertained by watching awesome superheroes do awesome-superhero shit, but to watch broken people rise above their brokenness and use those very qualities that set them apart from society to do what they can towards making life better for the very society that they are separated from. This is one of the reasons I love the X-Men franchise so much: it’s focused very firmly on serving as allegory for people who are different, people who are ostracised for being strange and bizarre and threatening and dangerous, but who still work hard at using their peculiar set of talents to make the world a better place not only for those like them, but for all people. Do some people go to superhero movies for precisely this reason? To take their brokenness and their damage into the theatre and use them, subconsciously or no, to relate to the hero? To help them relate to the possibility that their own brokenness and their own damage may become a source of their own strength as well, if they can learn how to harness it? I can’t say that I know the answer to this question, but it strikes me as a thoroughly intriguing possibility, and gives a new perspective – that I hadn’t previously given thought to – on the value of the superhero movie as entertainment.