grieving my lost baby rancor edition

Hi friends,

I’m going to try to ease up on screaming at you about state-sponsored censorship efforts this week, I promise. I just… struggle to find other things to talk about, honestly. 

[note from the future: I’m returning to the top of this incredibly long message after finishing it to acknowledge that, in fact, I had like 1500 words’ worth of other things to talk about.]

The Writing
Blergle blergle blergle. I’m hoping to submit to an epistolary horror anthology soon, and so I took a look at a half-finished draft I’d started for a similar call in 2021 that I’d abandoned because it got too complicated. I was pleasantly surprised to discover in 2023 that I genuinely think what I’ve got so far is an absolute banger.

Unfortunately, it’s still incredibly fucking difficult to finish. I’ve written a few listicle and email stories before, but this one involves all kinds of ephemera—emails, shopping lists, Instagram posts, diary entries, transcripts from class lectures, newspaper articles, etc. I think there’s a pretty damn good Pre-Raphaelite-themed ghost story under all that (Lizzie Siddal will have her revenge at last!!), I’m just more than a little nervous that it deserves a smarter writer than me. A.S. Byatt I am not. But we’ll see what happens.

I’m so good at promoting myself, right?

Let me do some honest self-promoting here and remind everyone that the newest edition of Frightmarish is out, and I have a guest witch in the pages (plus my first non-blog published nonfiction piece ever). It’s a very wonderfully witchy issue with none other than Baba Yaga herself starting the party, and you should get in on it!

The Reading
I finished Christi Nogle’s incredible collection The Best of Our Past, the Worst of Our Future this week, and thoroughly enjoyed every twisty bit of ontological sleight of hand. I was so glad to see she has a sci-fi collection coming out later this year, with another set for 2024, because I definitely want more. “A Children’s Treasury of Windows and Doors” is a barn-burner of a story, and was probably my favorite, although the opening piece “Unschooled” is a close second, possibly tied with a serial killer story I don’t want to name as such because it’s a fun one to go into not knowing.

I haven’t had much dedicated reading time lately, but it was a great week for flash on my Twitter timeline. Here are three I especially enjoyed:

The Watching
We watched the first episode of the third season of The Mandalorian earlier this week, and god help me, it looks like I’m about to share some opinions about the Star Wars franchise on the internet.

I’ve never minded Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back was and is my favorite installment, and Han Solo is basically heads on the Archetypic Characters Anne Has a Crush On coin (tails is Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula). I went to a midnight opening of The Phantom Menace in tenth grade, and it was pretty exciting to see the opening crawl (followed by a two and a half hour long period of bafflement, but now that I’m basically a prequel apologist in my old age, I won’t get too down on it). We saw The Force Awakens with my family over Christmas in 2015, and I thought it was fun, but that was about the depth of my involvement, and I didn’t see the next two in theaters. Basically, it was never a huge part of my life, although certainly pleasant and nostalgia-tinged.

But then, my four-year-old daughter discovered the franchise. And she discovered it over the sad, lonely holiday season of 2020. My entire household immediately latched on so hard to the Star Wars universe that gave us something like meaning in that pre-vax, not-at-all-peaceful-transfer-of-power time.

We watched all the movies and devoured picture and chapter book versions. We also basically lived in a constant state of Star Wars RPG. Sometimes my daughter starred as Luke Skywalker and my partner and I alternated as Obi Wan, Anakin, Han, Mace Windu, and Leia. Sometimes we were the bad guys (and I still think this was the more fun version of the game): Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Maul, and, charmingly, the rancor, which my daughter was epically taken with for a while. We’d pretend to be a mama and baby rancor going out to eat people, for example. Within a few weeks, I went from “Empire is my favorite SW movie” to “well, actually, Tatooine was the site of significant environmental degradation at the hands of predatory colonial mining operations” as something I might say in everyday conversation.

Around that time, we watched the first two seasons of The Mandalorian, and I loved it. it was such a fun new look at a world I was so familiar with, except in this version, it had narrative surprises and moral shades of gray. It felt grown up and creative and I was here for it. Until it crash landed right back into the Skywalker saga, and I resented that it had to involve bizarro de-aged Mark Hamill after all. It felt like something legitimately interesting got sacrificed at the altar of fan service.

[note: this also directly parallels how I felt about Wandavision.]

[another note: I know we need to watch Andor.]

[yet another note: I am not above fan service. See the three days I spent mainlining The Sandman TV show and shrieking in maniacal glee at every easter egg. I might have wept at the sight of Martin Ten-bones. Martin Ten-bones! On the TV! John Cameron Mitchell as Hal! Fucking brilliant!]

My daughter moved on after a couple of years, though. She still likes the characters, and there’s still plenty of Light Side/Dark Side pretend play in the house, but it’s not the red-hot obsession that gripped her over Christmas 2020. And now I’m the one left with this oddly intense soft spot for the entire goofy franchise, which truly gave us something to care about and enjoy in a really difficult time. It’s weird to have so much nostalgia for something that was primarily my child’s fascination in the first place, while she’s been able to grow and change interests without a backward glance (you know, like a healthy person, unlike her mess of a mother). 

And that’s why the first episode of the third season of The Mandalorian made me mad and sad by not entertaining me very much. It felt so paint-by-numbers to me and like no one’s heart was really in it. I’m honestly not sure that the third season is even objectively worse than the others, though. Maybe I’m the one who’s different, in a way I’m not sure is for the better. Maybe I’m the one whose heart isn’t really in a lot of my day-to-day life.

Or maybe I just need new stories.

I realize it’s not exactly mind-blowing or groundbreaking insight to suggest that there are problems with the kudzu-like way Disney has taken over the entertainment industry. I think what I’m trying to get at though is that it feels like so much American pleasure is a sort of desperate attempt to claw back enjoyment out of things we used to just like without needing or thinking about them too much while we do everything we can to ignore everything crumbling around us. We sit in drive-throughs for hours for our heavily marketed seasonal coffee drinks (you know what, I like the one that probably sprang into your mind, I’m not here to judge), we exhaust ourselves letting our holidays sprawl into marathon events, we consume the same stories, remakes, and reboots over and over again like we’re trying to sustain ourselves on the nutrition of yesterday’s stick of gum.

Are we okay? I don’t think we’re okay. Am I way overthinking a lackluster opening episode to the latest installment of a popular piece of IP? I mean, sure. Does my experience of parenthood often feel like trying to hold both grief for the past and the hope and terror of the future simultaneously and never knowing exactly how to name the resulting extremely conflicted emotion? Bet your ass.

Jesus. Sorry, everybody. Thanks for putting up with me. Moving on.

The Living
I had some very good shrimp tacos while sipping a very good Paloma this weekend, while spending time alone with my favorite person. 10/10 recommend.

The Murder Garden
Growing every day! My house is currently under siege by black ants, which at least means the babies are eating well.

You can see some leftovers in this picture: 

I transplanted a few ants from the colony swarm in my bathroom (y’all, seriously, it looks like an old-school timelapse NIN video in there, it’s bad) into the container garden of death. Judging by all the shut traps and stuck husks, everyone got lunch eventually.

Aw, go ahead, after slogging through me dragging nostalgic pleasures through a singularly navel-gazey lens, you absolutely deserve to take a break from the world and go watch Little Shop of Horrors, or at least “Feed Me” (fun fact: to make Audrey II look a little more lifelike, they sped up the footage in post, which means that Rick Moranis is acting in slow motion every time they share a shot, and it’s damned impressive).

Love you, and I hope your house is ant-free and that you have good evening thunderstorms wherever you are this weekend.

Keep up with me.

No promises.


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