Friday, July 20, 2007

What to Do

Before I get started, the previous post has been tweaked a bit. I'm much happier with it now.

On Tuesday I take the Bar, which is probably all the warning this blog is going to get. I was going to write a much more emotional stream-of-consciousness post on the subject, but I had the good fortune to talk it over with Thayet before I did anything so silly (not silly because acknowledging your feelings is silly, but because it's silly to post such things on a blog before talking them over with my closest supporter).

It's been an unpleasant experience. Well, it is an unpleasant experience, since it's not over. And I'm not at all sure that I'm going to make it.

"Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?" said Scrubb.

"I don't know about that," said Puddleglum. "You see, Aslan didn't tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he's up, I shouldn't wonder. But that doesn't let us off following the Sign."

It wouldn't be so bad if I could convince myself that the Bar is a worthy opponent. But I just can't.

"I can't!"

"Aslan believed you could ... and so do I."

What I mean is, it's just so large. But that's all it is. It's like an army of conscripts led by a drooling idiot. It wouldn't be so bad, I suppose, to lose to professionals - or even to lose to amateurs led by a great general. But this ... it's just some great bloated thing. It's large and broad but intellectually shallow. Losing to the Bar (when I imagine it, as of course I do) feels less like being beaten and more like failing to conquer. It feels (to put it another way) like losing to myself.

"I thought you would be grand and terrible! I thought you would make us grow up, make us accept knighthood's duties and sacrifices. This is just mean - you're a nightmare device, bringing bad dreams to people who want to help others!"

And besides the sheer indignity of losing to such an inglorious foe, I feel robbed by it as well. I miss my friends. I miss the made-up glamor of arming in tails. I miss having a good church. I miss going out on dates. I miss cooking. I miss grocery shopping. I miss art. I want to dance again. I want to learn Irish on Monday nights. I want to play games and watch movies and be thrilled again with the beauty of it all. I want to tell stories again.

"Ye want. Ye want. 'Tis something different ye're learning here."

Instead I have furtive retreats to Azeroth so I can stumble back to my books and pretend that I'm training well, and snatches of the Iliad read at night, and movies stolen from study time. Not that World of WarCraft doesn't have art, and the Iliad is nothing but art, and Transformers thrilled me with the beauty of it all. But everything has happened under the shadow of this idiot foe, this Bar exam.

I find the sequentiality of my brain working against me here. It's just so big, and there's no way to knock it down. There is always more studying that one could do, and I chastise myself for being soft - for needing to drop into the familiar mastery of my druid, or to conjure the plain of the Troad, or slip into that strange trance that holds childlike wonder and film critic side by side in tension. For that matter, why can't I think about something else when there's an unfinished task still? Weakness, weakness, weakness all!

Another trudged with heavy thoughts
Until he disappeared from view,
To ruminate on what he'd done
And punishment, as was his due.

There is an insidious kind of elitism at work here. As I've remarked before, real combat isn't like the finely balanced game theoretical puzzles that developers love so much. It's messy. You fight what you face where you face it with what you've got in whatever shape it's in. And at the end of the day, it doesn't much matter whether you lost to a disorganized rabble or to a "worthy" opponent. The willingness to present an unfair fight is what sets apart a simulation from a sport - or real life from a game. The ability and desire to win an unfair fight (whether you hold the advantage or the disadvantage) is what separates the martial from the game theoretical.

"Well," answered Zim, "suppose all you have is a knife? Or maybe not even a knife? What do you do? Just say your prayers and die? Or wade in and make him buy it anyhow? Son, this is real - it's not a checker game you can concede if you find yourself too far behind."

"But that's just what I mean, sir. Suppose you aren't armed at all? Or just one of these toadstickers, say? And the man you're up against has all sorts of dangerous weapons? There's nothing you can do about it; he's got you licked on showdown."

Zim said almost gently, "You've got it all wrong, son. There's no such thing as a 'dangerous weapon.'"

"Huh? Sir?"

"There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men. We're trying to teach you to be dangerous."

My goddesses have ever had this martial spirit. Did Alanna the Lioness give up for no better reason than that the fight was unwinnable? Did Cimorene, or Keladry, or Honor Harrington? Did my sweet one refuse to win because what stood between him and victory was ignoble?

"Look, young Trebond - what did you think studying to be a knight was about?"

My life is full of duties fulfilled and unfulfilled. I have a duty to do my best. I have a duty to be prepared for anything. I have both done and not done that duty. I have a duty never to complain. I have a duty timely to complete every one of my tasks no matter how many there are or what they are. I have both done and not done these duties.

And, because I am a lawyer, I have to ask: what are the consequences of failure? There are consequences, of course. Large ones. But one thing does not change: keep going. Don't stop. This is both an artistic and a martial statement. As Xenophon said (and when has my Xenophon ever stopped because life was unfair?), "Now for it, brave sirs; bethink you that this race is for Hellas - now or never - to find your children, your wives; one small effort, and the rest of the march we shall pursue in peace, without ever a blow to strike; now for it!"

Keep going.

"You mean," said Lucy rather faintly, "that it would have turned out all right - somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?"

"To know what
would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that."

"Oh dear," said Lucy.

"But anyone can find out what
will happen," said Aslan. "If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me - what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."


antilles said...

nabterayl, you'll do more than fine, with all these quotes and stories to guide you!

Natalie said...

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, old friend. But it's good to see your comment anyway.

Lara said...

these are good thoughts, sweet boy. that's not to say they are pleasant, weighing down upon you as i'm sure they are. merely that it is sometimes good to wade through our mind this way, and find that determination at the end.

i have no doubts but that you will succeed. the form that success takes does not concern me - i know it will come.

Blue Rose said...

We will be praying for you! May the Lord give you peace that transcends all understanding. We all have confidence in you!

Twilight said...

I'd like to add a quote to the list, if I may.

"Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?"
--C.S. Lewis

antilles said...

i was not being sarcastic in the least! i was inspired myself, reading your post.

ps just got back into azeroth myself for a spell (no pun intended)