Why I Stopped Reading The Walking Dead

I picked up The Walking Dead a few weeks ago out of a burning curiosity to know why some find the zombie myth so entertaining. As someone who has little interest in blood and gore (eating shrimp with the eyes still attached literally makes me squirm), I knew this would be out of my comfort zone, but I had to find out. Apart from a visceral (pardon the bad pun) morbid fascination with the idea of the decaying body separated from its soul, I could not understand. It seemed too easy to chalk it up to the ease of entertaining the masses. There needed to be something more than mere macabre to this new national obsession with zombies. I mean, I still remember when zombies were the things you shot at in those awful, cheesy video games.

The Walking Dead (TWD), as does many other popular postmodern serial works (e.g., Game of ThronesBreaking Bad, Mad Men, etc.) dwells on the futility of life and morality. It’s an old theme, really, one that goes back to at least Ecclesiastes.  I did not expect an uplifting, inspirational, Pixar movie experience. Neither did I expect it to be entirely devoid of glimpses of humanity, hope, or perhaps even love. Even if this turned out to be the bleakest thing I’ve ever read, something needs to keep the readers coming back issue after issue. My experience with that other popular book-turned-TV serial, Game of Thrones, assured me this would be the case. Even when Martin kills off yet another beloved character, he gives you another one to root for. Sometimes these characters even have happy things happen to them once in a while.

The only glimpses of humanity are always in the characters’ rear view mirrors. What TWD does differently than other zombie myths is to focus not on the terror and gruesomeness of the environment, but on the terror and gruesomeness of human nature.

Relatively early in the series (#15), two young girls are found butchered, their heads severed. The rest of the survivors react by going on a witch hunt, eventually discovering a serial killer among them. All of them want to execute the murderer immediately, but Rick, their group leader, protests vehemently and refuses to allow it. He insists that killing one of their own will lessen their humanity. Yet only nine issues later (#24), Rick takes a calculated shot at an untrustworthy fellow survivor during a clash with the horde, hoping that no one will notice. When his transgression is uncovered, Rick becomes angry with the group. He rationalizes that he had no other choice, and that his earlier decision not to kill was wrong.

No one is coming to save them. The time for hoping for a rescue has passed. They will never again drop their kids off at school, go to the grocery store, grab coffee at Starbucks, or, as Rick puts it, “follow every retarded little rule we ever invented to make us feel like we weren’t animals.” He continues: ” ‘You kill–you die.’ That was probably the most naive thing I’ve ever said. The fact is–in most cases, now, the way things are–you kill–you live.”

Adapt and kill, or stay the same and die. The survivors, by doing what was necessary to survive, have become savage like their environment. Rick goes on:

The second we put a bullet in the head of one of these undead monsters–the moment one of us drove a hammer into one of their faces–or cut a head off. We became what we are! And that’s just it. That’s what this comes down to . You people don’t know what we are. We’re surrounded by the dead. We’re among them–and when we finally give up we become one of them! We’re living on borrowed time here. Every minute of our life is a minute we steal from them! You see them out there. You know that when we die–we become them. You think we hide behind walls to protect us from the walking dead! Don’t you get it?

The Walking Dead 24 - 20-21

 

 

Rick concludes his speech on a full two-page splash, half his face in light and half in shadow. He proclaims the survivors’ affinity with the undead beings around them. Yet his dark speech is only the beginning in a series of words and deeds that progressively uncover the violence animal hatred inside.

About thirty issues and countless dead bodies later, both human and undead, Rick kills a trio of rapists when they attack his son Carl (#57). The thing is, he does not just kill them–he slices them up into unrecognizable shreds–and he enjoys it. Rick’s companion Abraham, who witnessed the event, observes that “You’re never the same. Not after what you did.” Rick agrees and admits that “this isn’t the first thing to chip away at my soul until I wonder if I’m still human. Probably won’t be the last.”

In the following issue, Abraham and Rick exchange stories about the lives they took in order to protect their loved ones (#58). The conversation is both a mutual confession and a rationalization. If it wasn’t obvious before, Rick’s opinion of himself and motivation for existing make themselves clear:

You and me–our switches flipped. We’re doing whatever it takes–whatever it takes to survive and to help those around us survive. The people without the switch–those who weren’t able to go from law-abiding citizens to stone-cold killers…those are the ones shambling around out there–trying to eat us. We do what we have to do. It doesn’t matter if we can live with ourselves…as long as we live.

The scene ends with Rick and his son both weeping over their lost humanity.

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As if rapists weren’t a horrific enough threat, the group encounters a group of cannibals that attempt to pick them off one by one. Rick and the others respond by mutilating them and then killing them, one by one (#66). At the end of the issue, Rick laments his savagery and mourns over another lost piece of his humanity. Thinking that he is speaking to Abraham, he admits that if Carl knew all the violent things he had done, he could not look at him. When he is met with silence, he turns around only to see that Carl has been standing there this whole time. With tears, Carl confesses that he, too, has killed and kept it a secret.

And that’s why I stopped reading at issue #66. The world of The Walking Dead is about as bleak as it gets, but not because of the zombies. Rick Grimes has concluded that humanity and existence are mutually exclusive, and so he chooses existence. Personally, I believe this is a false dilemma. But even if I suspend my personal beliefs and go along with the story, I cannot see how Rick’s choice adds up to anything other than despair and and descent into a near-animal state. If an event does not end in literal blood and guts, it ends in tears. But even the sorrow is a dead end; there is no repentance, no reformation, no resolution–no change at all, really. The characters are just as empty and static as their undead counterparts. That is the point that Kirkman, Moore, and Adlard (the series’ creators and artist, respectively) are trying to make.

I realize there are over 60 issues of TWD that I haven’t read. Perhaps there is some major event that overturns everything in the first 60 issues. Something tells me that isn’t the case, though. For now, I have satisfied my curiosity. I still do not understand what some find so fulfilling in following the lives of fictional people who act as if they are already dead. The only reason I can think of is that for many, Rick’s beliefs mirror their own–namely, that, pushed to extreme limits, people decide that mere existence is more important than any meaning to existence.

Perhaps that is what keeps people coming back. They hear the echoes of a truth they believe, though the truth is a dark one. When there is no center to living, living itself becomes its own center, and inevitably collapses in on itself.  For myself, I do not and cannot believe that is the case. So I’m not sorry that I find more enjoyment reading Amazing Spider-Man or Astro City. Some may dismiss such titles as cheesy or unoriginal, but they too ring with truths, and more meaningful ones at that. And that is the reason I always come back to them.

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Contrast review

I’ve been more than a little obsessed with noir lately — listening to old Sam Spade episodes, rewatching Veronica Mars, watching Bruce Timm’s Batman series, rewatching Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, etc. Perhaps it reflects a growing cynicism. Anyway, I picked this game up when I heard it combined art deco noir with a storyline that (gasp) features a young girl (Didi) and a female acrobat (Dawn) as the main characters.

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Contrast is a puzzle platform game by Compulsion Games set in Paris in the 1920s (vaudeville Paris, not like Hemingway Paris). The props are a bit stark, but the overall design and color scheme accurately represent the limbo-like state you find yourself in as Dawn. The gameplay combines both 3D and 2D platforming, which was actually fairly easy to get used to. Dawn shifts between 3D and shadow (2D) versions of herself to travel through otherwise impossible paths.

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The set design and music create an artsy, whimsical atmosphere very different from other platforms I’ve played. However, the plot is the most original element Contrast possesses. Though technically this is an adventure story, the stakes are not as high as saving the world, or even life and death. You’re simply a little girl interested in reuniting her broken family. So while you may not feel like a conquering hero, you do get to empathize with your character on a much more identifiable, realistic level.

There were one or two visual bugs, but nothing major. I never got stuck, which is something I’m paranoid about (DON’T MAKE ME START THIS LEVEL OVER JUST ‘CAUSE YOU MESSED UP THE PHYSICS!!!). The entire thing took me only 8 hours, and I was able to gather all the “collectibles” (pieces of paper that tell tangential but helpful bits of the story). Definitely worth a few bucks if you like artsy indie games.

Reading: What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey; Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (again)
Listening: My Head Is an Animal, Of Monsters and Men
Watching: Veronica Mars (again), The New Adventures of Batman season 2, PopulaireWho Framed Roger Rabbit? (again)
Playing: Final Fantasy VIIContrast

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first time pumpkin carving

Halloween was never a big holiday to my family. I think we went trick or treating once or twice, only because my mom finally decided that asking strangers for candy didn’t necessarily mean celebrating the devil’s holiday. I went as a cowgirl but somehow never got to the next step of pumpkin carving. It looked way too hard and gross for someone with my low level of spatial ability and impatience with messiness.

My work presented a pumpkin carving contest, and for some reason this year it sounded like an appealing challenge. Let it be known that the joke is not my own idea, and that I actually stole it from someone who stole from someone else. But easy and funny are a good combination for a first time, right?

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Step 1: Cut the lid.
Extra challenge: Complete carving with only one tool.

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Step 2: Scoop out insides and save seeds for eating. Mmm…

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Step 3: Trace the stencil. Yes, I drew it. Yes, I had a reference. Yes, I am way too pleased with myself that I can draw straight lines with slight curves.

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Step 4: Whew, haven’t made any big mistakes. Time to carve!

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Step 5: Look over, clean up. Surprise, it looks like it’s supposed to! Also, challenge successfully completed.

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So cute. Wonder who will win?

And the whole time, I had this video playing in my head.

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my life at the moment as an RPG

Oh no! You’ve been attacked by BUGS!

     -10 HP + POISON

Use item: BENADRYL

POISON status removed.

Uh oh! BENADRYL inflicts SLEEP

     -95% STAMINA drain

Use item: COFFEE

     +50 STAMINA

! COFFEE grants HASTE!

Do you ‘GRADE’
Or ‘WATCH NETFLIX’

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Why It Sucks Sometimes Being a Single 20-Something in the Church

 

I left church today wanting to go home and cry. For someone who cries all of four times a year, this is kind of a big deal. I just asked a simple question, but the answer I got made me question my commitment to church for a few moments.

 

I’ve been attending my church for a few months and am finally making a real effort to “get plugged in,” as they say. I freely acknowledge and confess that because of various life factors (grad school, new job) and my own selfishness I’ve been dragging my feet on becoming an active part of a church. But no more. I believe that part of following Christ is regular, intentional fellowship with brothers and sisters in a community setting. It is both a commandment and a joy.

I started trying to get involved a few months ago when I joined a Sunday night small group, which was one of the only groups I could attend regularly because of my Starbucks schedule. I showed up every week to hang out with a group of 10-15 others, and it was great. It was led by a couple with grown children, and the other members were around their age, plus one couple roughly fifteen years younger. So I was definitely the youngest in the group by a quite a few years, but I didn’t mind. After all, we gathered to talk about what we were learning in our walks, and that alone creates all the common ground you need for a church small group, right? Anytime we discussed our spiritual lives, I didn’t feel the age difference. I did feel it, however, whenever the subject of families or children came up — which was quite often, since everyone in the group was either married or had children. Every time one of the other members talked about kids or children, many of them would look at me, as if what they were talking about related to me directly. I would also get comments like “Oh, you’re so young,” or “You remind me of my daughter.”

They were probably right. I don’t blame them for seeing me like a kid. I guess I am a kid to a 50-something. But I didn’t want to be seen as a kid. I wanted to be seen as an adult. Perhaps not an equal in all respects, but at least for the purposes of our small group, I wanted to be an equal. After a few weeks of attending, though, it became clear that that would probably not happen.

I liked everyone in my small group, and was very blessed by their kindness and encouragement. I hope in some way I also added to their lives. But after prayer and time in the Word, I decided to seek out another small group, one composed of people in their 20s or early 30s (if it existed at all). I planned to continue getting to know people outside of that age group through the church’s homeless ministry. 

Just to be clear, I don’t really get to see a lot of people my own age on a daily basis. I have made a few friends at my Starbucks, but it’s not the same as finding friends at church. All that binds us together is our relative freedom and mutual dislike of ornery customers. At my university, I am one of the newest and youngest adjuncts. Not a bad thing, since I get to learn a lot from the more experienced people around me. But when they go home to their families or can’t hang out because they have to take their kids to dance lessons or soccer practice, it’s hard not to feel lonely. 

 

Today my church held their annual small group faire, where all the small group leaders set up tents labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc., and help you find a group to belong to. I wandered over to the Monday one because Mondays are one of only two free evenings I have. I introduced myself to one of the men and asked him if he knew of any small groups that had mostly 20-somethings. His response went something like this: “Yes, we do, but before I answer your question I want to encourage you to find a group that’s more diverse. I’m 46 and we have 30, 40, 50 year olds in my group. You should find a group like that so you won’t be too insulated.”

I did my best to hide my reaction. I know he only meant well. But when I heard that I felt like a thirsty man asking for water, only to be told he should go eat food. I waited for him to finish describing his group and then finally answer my question (“…but yes, we do have younger small groups, just talk to so-and-so”). I politely told him that I had been part of a more diverse small group but was just wanting to try something different.

I had intended to check out the other tents, but after that brief conversation I no longer had the will.

On the drive home, surprised by my intense emotional reaction, I began questioning my approach. Was the man right? Was I being selfish by wanting to be in a small group of people only my own age? Why would he even respond like that? Is my lifestyle so selfish that I can’t even see the need to avoid doing church with people my own age?

Perhaps he is right. When I go home, I usually cook dinner for one. I work out to build health and self-confidence. I make career choices to increase my satisfaction with life. My thoughts are not taken up with how to please a husband or take care of my children. On the other hand, I love sharing my food and do so at almost any opportunity. I know that if I am more comfortable with myself, I can be freer to help others feel more comfortable with themselves. I chose this career path so I can help others express themselves better with words.

I ask this honestly: am I and others like me too selfish? I would like to think that if God told me to get married and have a family, I would. But presently I’m fairly certain that he wants me to do what I am doing. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe I have confused my own wants with God’s wants. If this is so, may the Spirit convict me.

Or is the church failing single 20-somethings in some ways? Are the specific needs of younger singles being neglected by expecting them to blend in with couples and families? If this is so, what can I do? What can we do together? 

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Ep. 5: No one told me adventure would be so lonely; Ep. 6: Delayed gratification never felt so good

[I’m starting to realize that my posts are turning into bad-news-good-news formulas. Perhaps this was not as creative as I imagined it to be . . . ]

Well, I’m here.

The final (overdue, BLARG) paper is turned in, and Christmas and New Year have pretty much come and gone. Now that I’ve run the first lap of grad school, I understand the race a little better.

It seems like things you anticipate for so long happen often do turn out like you expected, only not in the way you expected. And if I may dare to mix academics with personal life, as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Coverdale1 says, realized dreams always wear the clothes of homely reality.

  • I knew grad school would be hard. It would be more reading, more thought, more discussion; but I was ready for all that. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would be from a totally different and sometimes opposite approach to what I preferred. I’ve kind of mentioned it before, but there seems to be a strong suspicion of aestheticism in favor of a more political/cultural approach. I’m probably describing this very poorly, so let me give a more concrete example. The 18th century lit class I took combined both British and American literature that was representative of either the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Instead of focusing on individual authors, we flitted around from excerpt to excerpt. We read only three novels, two of which were popular literature of their time. Now I understand the purpose was to break down the traditional canon of what is known as British/American Enlightenment/Romantic literature in order to get a bigger picture of what people were actually thinking then, but I am not really interested in the development of thought among the masses. I guess that makes me elitist. Somehow I don’t feel bad. I get the importance of studying culture. We need to know where we came from. But if we study only the “humdrum” literature of whatever time period, then “humdrum” is all we’ll ever be.2

    All that is to say that I don’t know if I will ever learn to rise above old-fashioned aesthetics when it comes to books. I love the beautiful truths that artists weave into language, words, symbols, characters, and stories. Training my mind to think politically is hard because it’s not fun to me. But it is important. I hope the next semester will prove easier now that I’ve dealt with all the firsts.

  • Moving to a new city, especially a bigger one, is also not easy. Sometime later I will rant about all the things that are different about southern California. It sounds funny to say it, but the thing I miss most about Salem is what little of geek culture that’s filtered down from Portland. In Portland, it’s cool to be uncool. Here, it’s just uncool. And I’m the only Northwesterner I know here. Most people seem to be around here, the farthest within half a day’s drive. So I guess I have a good reason to bond with other out-of-staters. But building a social network from scratch takes time. I’m not complaining — I mean, I knew this was how it was going to be for a while. I’m looking forward to getting more settled in here. But I’m going to miss familiarity in the meantime.

***

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be done with finals. The last paper was delayed by two weeks because of my underestimating how long it would take me to write a 15-page research paper. It feels so wonderful to not to have to read a single word.

In the bigger picture, though, it always feels wonderful to know that I’ve completed a full semester of something that I’ve been looking forward to since the end of my senior year of college. It was a long three years, and despite the difficulty that grad school is and will continue to be, it’s worth it. I don’t want to do anything else, unless “anything else” means becoming a rich writer overnight. But even then I think I’d still be looking back. I’m obsessed with learning.

But the thing I’m most excited about: conquering my fear of creative writing. I’m looking forward to writing the stories I need to write. I know the journey’s only just beginning, but I’m ready.

Reading: Faith of the Fallen (Sword of Truth #6), Terry Goodkind (should probably get back to War and Peace as well…)
Listening: Kaleidoscope Heart, Sara Bareilles; select Glee songs, especially Gwyneth Paltrow’s amazing cover
Watching: Veronica Mars seasons 1 and 2; 30 Rock season 4; Glee season 2; Bones season 6; Love Actually; The Chinese Connection (aka Fist of Fury)
Playing: Diablo 2 and Legend of Zelda! (my goal is to beat Zelda before spring semester)

1 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance
2 Christopher Brooke, Jane Austen: Illusion and Reality

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Ep. 3: The Bursting of the Bubble; Ep. 4: Persevering and Dreaming Are the Same Thing

A lot of the reason I left Salem was because I felt I needed to get out of the “bubble.” I have lived a relatively sheltered life; I was homeschooled in a socially confined environment until junior high; in junior high and high school my only social circle was a suburbian Baptist church where 50% of the families either homeschooled or privateschooled; in college I attended a Baptist college (now university) with a student body of just under 1,000 (it’s closer to 1,100 now, I believe). Then for three years I lived and worked in Salem, Oregon. It may house Oregon’s capitol and the Oregon state fair, but other than that, nothing happens in Salem. I don’t think I will ever get over the fact that in Oregon’s third-largest (or second-largest, depending on who’s counting) city, you can drive 10 minutes one way and end up in farmland; 10 minutes another way and end up downtown; 10 minutes another way and end up among affluent neighborhoods; and 10 minutes another way and end up in a sort of middle-class suburbia.

Maybe I just do it to myself — or maybe I really just can’t survive for long in my native pond — but I have always felt a discontent that I was “missing out” on something by not residing with the world at large. Anyway, long story short, I chose to go to grad school in southern California, less than an hour from L.A.

Nearly every day I wake up, look around my room, and think “I’m in effing California.” I was astonishingly comfortable with my Salem life. Now, many days I waver between two main thoughts: doubt — “I think REALLY differently from pretty much everybody…can I really make it here believing the things I do?” and trust — “I DO think really differently from pretty much everybody…but I can be openminded without abandoning what I believe, and I need to do this in order to get to where I really want to be” — which is inspiring people through literature and writing, and maybe even provoking a little joy in them as we learn.

I see my academic experience as a microcosm of the bigger experience of what it means to be a Christian in a not Christian world. Like I said before, maybe it’s just part of my nature to seek tension and paradox. But already I feel pulled in two different directions. Academia demands that I think one way. Much of Christian culture (though not necessarily Christianity, as I see it) demands that I think another. But this just causes me to ask why the two can’t find more places to agree. To put it simply, I love Jesus and I love books, and a lot of other things; but I frequently feel frustrated by what seems like closedmindedness from both sides.

I freely admit that there is much I don’t know about academia, and maybe it’s not as difficult as I think. After all, I’ve been here only two months. Perhaps what I feel is merely the new feeling of being in a minority for once, and as of now I find it uncomfortable. I also know I need to not be afraid of others disagreeing when I share my opinion, because we’re here to discuss and explore, not arrive at a consensus.

[Here comes a bit of confession, so if you’re not into that stuff, I suggest skipping two paragraphs down.]

But back to the bigger experience of being a Christian in a not Christian world. As I grow more conscious of the differences between me and the culture around me, I also grow more conscious of how I often fail in living what I believe. My thoughts and deeds are not always of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). On the contrary — they are often arrogant, inconsiderate, selfish, and impatient. I am not a perfect person, and I do not intend to pass myself off as such. I only want to love God and others — which is harder than it sounds. But God willing, I will learn to do better and better.

* * *

A few weeks, a few words, a few people, and a little (or a lot of) sheer perseverance can make a lot of difference in perspective.

When I last blogged, I felt bogged down by homesickness and fear. It’s not that I don’t feel both of those now, but I have other things to feel too. Relying on Christ for my deepest relational needs isn’t always easy, but then again perhaps no other teacher teaches better than Necessity. And He has given me enough people here to have fun with, work with, and encourage.

One of the biggest encouragements has been the positive response to my writing. I honestly didn’t expect it, but it happened, and now something has set itself into motion. The more I reflect on it, and the more I ask myself what I really want to do with my life, the more I get only one answer: write. And I think I will…no matter the cost. For anyone that knows me and knows how much I loathe and fear failure, this is a big step. Trying your hand at something so delicate and subjective means losing control over your ego. But then I remind myself that Jesus holds my value, and really, I have nothing left to lose.

Who knows, maybe soon I’m going to encounter another and more difficult challenge, and I will feel differently. Right now, though, I have enough inspiration to take the next couple steps. Could it be more? Yes, always; but it could always be less, too. But I will choose to be content with what’s in front of me.

Reading: War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; Faith of the Fallen (Sword of Truth #6), Terry Goodkind
Listening: Tiger Suit, KT Tunstall
Watching: Daria season 1;  30 Rock season 3; Glee season 2; Bones season 6
Playing: …nope…something had to go…

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