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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Brown Girl Dreaming, Zelda, and Some Pretty Deep Sh

If someone had taken that book out of my hand said,
You’re too old for this maybe
I’d never have believed that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me had a story. - Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

I'm going to get to the book eventually but there's a thing I can't stop thinking about and that thing is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You guys I am very late to this party, but party it is. The kind of party I was never invited to because to me parties were just an excuse to have your mom buy soda and chips and do the same thing you did with your friends every other weekend except without the soda and chips. We did not have girls at parties, for example. Oh my goodness no. Or music or disco balls or whatever.

On TV parties seemed to consist of groups of attractive people standing around in small clusters in a living room while music played and people made out in the multitude of bedrooms that are in the house that belong to apparently nobody. That's not the kind of party I'm talking about, either. Breath of the Wild is like the kind of party that lasts several days and outrageous things happen but somehow every one of those strange things was supposed to happen and you can't imagine life in a universe where it did not happen.

I've lost the thread when talking about parties. What Breath of the Wild does is make me feel like a kid again, which is apparently the only goal my entire generation has anymore. Check out the mall sometime and you'll see. Everything is throwbacks to my childhood. It's hard not to be a narcissist when it genuinely feels like the entirety of modern commerce is aimed directly at you.

Look at this hallway, for example. You probably can't read all of the titles, but in one hallway in the movie theater we have a screen showing a Justice League movie, two showing a new Star Wars movie, and a Thor movie. 

Adult me to teenage me walking out of Batman and Robin, sure that another comic movie will never be made and already grieving the disaster that was the Star Wars re-releases with the special 90s era computer graphics shoehorned in: hang in there

I used to collect these pink little wrestler action figures called M.U.S.C.L.E. I had no idea at the time, but apparently they were based on a Japanese Manga. I just thought they were awesome. Like so many awesome things (like hair), they went away as I grew up.

That is until my generation got careers and our own kids and (some of us, not me) ended up with a lot of disposable income.

So those are back. So are Garbage Pail Kids and Terminator 2 action figures and a Funko Pop for every. thing. that. ever. happened. The only thing I'm really missing to make it complete is for someone to sell me something embarrassing I can wear to really show how middle-aged I now am- WHAT IS THAT

OK, does that cup come with green slime in it or instructions on how to make it? What was that Nickelodeon green slime made of, anyway? Of course the internet knows. According to Marc Summers, at least, it's vanilla pudding, applesauce, oatmeal, and green food coloring. I wish I'd looked closer to see if we're dealing with a liquid, a solid, or a plasma here.

I've got more of this, you guys. I take pictures of it every time. Remember how bad Saved by the Bell was? It was so bad. Of course I need a Bayside jacket.

This is another aside. I recently ran into an old friend and my wife was asking about him. The closest thing I could come up with was to compare his group of friends with a group she knew in high school. "Oh," she said. "They aren't popular, but everyone likes them."

She summarized everything wrong with high school, and perhaps humanity in that one sentence. Of course that's what popular means, and yet it did not. Popular has nothing to do with how many people like you, and everything to do with who. It is the hyper elite group of kids who very few like but everyone envies. They're like bitcoin. They were popular because they were popular. In retrospect, such an existence must be terrifying in its fragility. What if everyone suddenly realizes this house of cards is built on a foundation of lies? The Bayside kids were regularly manipulative and terrible, and left a trail of broken spirits and ruined lives in their path on the regular. If Zach Morris were a senator now, we'd be calling for his resignation.

Obviously we don't really like this stuff, because most of it was demonstrably bad and arguably damaging to our very psyches. No. What we want is to feel like kids again because when you were a kid a lot of things were possible that we've since realized were bald lies. Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, basic human kindness, a president who you would actually be excited to meet in real life who would not make comments about your weight before giving you candy. As adults we learn that these things do not, in fact, exist. Like, when you're a kid, who's to say that dragons don't exist somewhere. I mean, dinosaurs are real. The only difference between a pterodactyl and a dragon is the fire thing and the fact that pterodactyls are famously and severely allergic to gold. 

We don't really want to hold Nintendo cartridges or our old TMNT Party Wagons again. We want to believe in dragons again. No amount of plastic stuff made poorly in China with terrible box art will ever make that happen. I'm sorry to break it to you, but I also think I might be saving you a lot of time and money and freeing up some shelf space on which you can put your children's drawings or pickleball trophies or whatever it is you decide to do with your free time now.

What I'm saying is that Breath of the Wild makes me believe in dragons again. When I was a kid the first Legend of Zelda came out and somehow fulfilled every promise made by that gold cartridge. It was chock-full of secrets that we shared with one another during recess, a bunch of indoor kids crouched in the shade so that our pale, pale skin wouldn't burst into flames. I didn't have a Nintendo, so I played at my friend Billy's house, probing around in the world for secret passages and lighting bushes on fire. There's nothing that has captured that feeling until the new one. Oh, and also it has dragons.

This post isn't about video games, though, that's just where I could go with it because I couldn't figure out what to write about and realized what sweatshirt I was wearing.

It's this one.

What it's really about is Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of childhood. I realized that my posts have been super political for the last, oh, year or so for no reason that I can really think of. I could definitely go there again here, because Woodson grew up black in The South. All of that stuff is in here, and I don't want to downplay that. I'd be deeply ashamed if she read this post and thought that my main takeaway from her brilliant book was to talk about a video game with a white male protagonist.

Ms. Woodson, I'm delighted and amazed that you are here, and I want to thank you for the many and deep conversations I had about race and inequality with my kids while reading them your book.
We all have the same dream, my grandmother says. To live equal in a country that’s supposed to be the land of the free. She lets out a long breath, deep remembering.
I've talked about the subject a lot on here, and plan on talking about it more. I also think that Brown Girl Dreaming transcends that topic and explores so much more. Woodson writes with astonishing clarity and memory of childhood, which was filled with many wonderful and beautiful moments.
The empty swing set reminds us of this--
that bad won't be bad forever,
and what is good can sometimes last
a long, long time.
The entire book is written in free-form poetry, which may sound exhausting unless you read it out loud. It forces a rhythm that sounds real and authentic. My kids listened intently when I think they could have easily zoned out if instead it were prose, a form which Woodson is also pretty great at. It also reminds me what's fun and scary and traumatic and sad about being a kid. Her brother suffers from lead poisoning, her grandpa rocks with her on the swings and she helps him garden, her uncle brings lavish gifts until one day he goes to prison instead.

Woodson suffers from something like dyslexia. She has a hard time immediately understanding words, instead reading the same stories over and over until she can recite them from memory. Maybe this shapes her ability to write her own verse and poems. One day her teacher calls her a writer, and she realizes it's true. 
It's easier to make up stories
than it is to write them down. When I speak, the words come pouring out of me. The story
wakes up and walks all over the room. Sits in a chair, crosses one leg over the other, says,
Let me introduce myself. Then just starts going on and on.
Here we go, and I want you to hang on tight. The Legend of Zelda's lead designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, said that the inspiration of the game was based on his own explorations as a child in the woods near Kyoto. The dungeons were based on his childhood home, which he thought of as a maze with identical paper doors. Miyamoto wanted to feel like a kid again, so he made something that wasn't an exact replica of his childhood, instead he created what his childhood felt like.

The developers of Breath of the Wild wanted to make something that brought back the feelings the first one did, the kind of thing that led to children again sharing hints on the playground, so the director had the designers come up with a 2d version of the game that mimicked the original. The result wasn't just a nice new coat of paint on the old game, but something entirely new.

When Jacqueline Woodson approaches her childhood, it's with spare freeform poetry. The writing is simple and unadorned, but uses a very advanced technique. You can watch someone who is a master with words put herself in that old place. Using the words she knew as a young girl, she forms them into patterns where every letter is slaved over and every break in the sentence structure designed. Like all incredibly difficult things, it looks effortless. Kind of makes you think there is magic out there still.