1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty: Sunsets

I really started taking sunset pictures in 2005, the first year I had a dSLR camera. Here’s one sunset picture for that year, and every year since.

(Incidentally, tonight’s sunset? In the header image.)

The Big Idea: Cheryl Low

In Detox in Letters, author Cheryl Low thinks about magic, down the grimy, dusty details — and also gauges the limits of what magic can do.

CHERYL LOW:

The Crowns & Ash series began as an exploration of magic. Or maybe just a love letter to it.

All my life I have loved magical worlds. Embedded in the first fairy tales we heard growing up were the promises of wonder—that anything could be possible with a little bit of magic.

In the streets of the Realm, around the Queen’s Tower, people play out their long lives with boundless fashion, cake and tea for every meal, and elaborate duels, on a carousel of romance and intrigue. But none of it would be possible without magic.

Everything in the city is fueled by magic, from the lamps lining the streets to the cars driving down them. Factories take in barrels of raw magic to churn out a variety of charms, power sources, and drugs for the residents of the Realm. They’ve turned something once natural to them into a commodity—forgetting its origin and purpose.

Even the drug of choice, dust, is rooted in magic. The carnivorous pixies, a dangerous pest in the city kept back by the constant glow of street lamps, are lured into the dust factories and fed raw magic until they’re so full that their frail wings can no longer lift them off the ground. Then the pixies are strung up, roasted, and ground down into the fine, glittering powder known throughout the city as dust. It is rolled into cigarettes, sprinkled on cakes, and steeped in tea, keeping most of the residents lulled in a constant high.

But magic is one of those elements in a fantasy world that is as exciting as it is difficult. There must be rules.

As the creator, I spent some serious time figuring out how a city of magic-wielding, spoiled socialites could function without constant war in the streets. Even before the current Queen took the throne, the Realm was far from utopian. If anything, the residents of the fantastical city could always be described as passionate, not exactly good or evil, but something in between that tips daily from side to side. So, how do I keep them from snapping their fingers and destroying their rude dinner guests?

Limits. All power must have a limit, as well as a cost. It can make the impossible possible, but it can’t solve every problem. Limitations and real consequences make stories truly exciting. Even immortal creatures must have a weakness. Vampires and the sun. Werewolves and silver. Dragons and that one, fate-blessed hero.

In the Realm, magic causes just as many problems as it solves—maybe more. It has become their poison, clouding their minds just as their Queen has clouded the sky above. And as the people of the Crowns & Ash series relearn their history and their powers, they are forced to realize the dark source and inevitable boundaries of that magic. There are some things that can’t be changed with charms and spells.

I set out to make a world literally high on magic—breathing it and eating it and bleeding it—and I absolutely love this world. It is a thrill to write and a delight to share.

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Detox in Letters: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Whatever Digest, 9/20/18

Good morning! Let’s see what’s up.

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I posted the tweet above the other day about the recent contretemps regarding whether Bert and Ernie are a gay couple, which was prompted by one of Sesame Street’s former writers noting he always wrote them as if they were a gay couple, which in turn prompted but Sesame Workshop and Frank Oz (creator of Bert) to aver that they were not, which in turn made Twitter explode, because, well, Twitter.

I’m not going to speak to the main thrust of the discussion about whether Bert and Ernie are a couple except to note that this discussion is cyclical, and this is probably the fifth or sixth time in the last fifteen years it’s become a point of contention, so it’s not like anything around this discussion is new. What I will note is the number of dudes in the Twitter comments of the tweet above saying things like “They can’t be gay THEY ARE PUPPETS” with a smug “BAM HASHTAG MIC DROP” implied immediately after.

Which is, mind you, a genuinely stupid and thoughtless position to have. Puppets can be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any fictional creature, who can in turn be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any non-fictional creature. Fictional characters aren’t real, in the sense that they are independent of their creators (or at least, owners), but it doesn’t mean they aren’t imbued with characteristics.

Puppets are fictional creatures; puppets have characteristics. There’s no reason one of those characteristics can’t be “sexuality” and of course there are lots of examples of puppets having a sexuality, Kermit and Miss Piggy being the obvious contextual example. You can say Kermit and Miss Piggy can’t be heterosexual THEY ARE PUPPETS, but that’s not true (and also, no one does). The best you can say is that Kermit and Miss Piggy are not actual persons with their own agency, and therefore present only the characteristics given to them by those who operate and control them, which is true, and also a mouthful.

It can be truly said that Frank Oz, when he created him, did not think of Bert as being gay; it can also be truly said that at least one writer on Sesame Street, when writing Bert and Ernie, wrote them as a gay couple; it can also be truly said that the Sesame Workshop, at least publicly, doesn’t want Bert and Ernie to be considered as beings with sexuality at all. Importantly, however, none of this would be a discussion at all if, at the very heart of it, we (generally) didn’t believe that puppets could be gay. It looks like we do, and also, it looks like there’s a number of people so uncomfortable with the idea they they would rather subvert the entire thesis of fiction than substantively approach the concept of gay puppets in any way. Which is interesting.

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My note to Frank Oz that kids come out as gay no matter how much their parents conceive of them as otherwise has led some “wits” to say that from now on they’re going to say that all my characters are white, straight, cis Trump lovers, I suppose again with a “lol CHECKMATE” bit after that strongly implied. My response to that is: Hey, your headcanon is your own, so go ahead if you want to. Just don’t expect the actual text I write to support this view.

This does bring up the point that if one wishes to make assertions about characters, it’s helpful to have them supported by text or the idiom and context of the characters. Positing that Bert and Ernie might be a gay couple because of their genuine affection for each other and also their decades-long cohabitation at least makes sense, whether you agree with it or not. Positing that they are millionaire day-traders who secretly run a late-night fight club for other Muppets in Oscar’s sub-basement doesn’t. I mean, they might, you never do know, but there’s nothing in almost five decades of their on-screen lives together to support the hypothesis.

Let’s just say I don’t ever expect Sesame Workshop to ever post a tweet denying that Bert and Ernie consensually beat the crap out of Elmo and Big Bird in cathartic early-morning pummeling sessions. Some rumors (and headcannon) never get off the ground.

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Today’s hottest take on Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulting a woman when they were both teens: Maybe it was his evil twin! I’m embarrassed for both Kathleen Parker, who wrote this, and for America.

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After that bit of patent dumbassery, a cat-based palate cleanser.

Please enjoy the rest of your Thursday.