A few weeks ago my husband sent me an article that he’d stumbled across in the New York Times and thought I might enjoy. The article is about William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, and how his career has grown and changed throughout the decades of his very long life. Zinsser has been many things: student, soldier, journalist, novelist, professor, editor, jazz pianist, and that’s naming only a few. And now, legally blind and 80 years young, Zinsser has embarked on yet another career: mentor and writing coach for novelists and journalists struggling to succeed in the difficult world of publishing.
I found this article incredibly inspiring. There are few people in this world who can truly call themselves masters of any one career or trade, let alone become leaders in many fields over the course of their lives. Zinsser has approached each new opportunity in his life with passion and determination, but also with the curious attitude that when one thing inevitably passes, another opportunity will, also inevitably, arise. I’ve heard people say “When one door closes, open a window;” I think Zinsser might say “When one door closes, open all the windows in the house, plus air out the basement and the attic and poke your head in some wardrobes to see if Narnia is hiding inside.”
*Author’s Note: the below post contains mild spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of the modern Doctor Who BBC television show.
Now, before I dive right into all the reasons I love Doctor Who, I should say that I’ve had people telling me I should watch Doctor Who for years now. I would always brush these people off with a “Sure, sure, one of these days” comment while inwardly laughing at the very idea that I might enjoy such a thing. I think my resistance stemmed from the fact that when I was very young I watched a few of the 1970′s era Doctor Who episodes on PBS and they scared me silly. Seriously scary. Nightmare inducing scary. I remember one particular episode where extremely tall mummies ran around strangling people with their concave chests.
But I finally caved, and started watching from the beginning of the modern reboot, with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. I am now halfway through the 10th Doctor’s stint. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, I give you…
10 Reasons I Love Doctor Who
1. The camp factor. Even as a child, I realized that Doctor Who was pretty campy (not that that made it any less scary). The special effects were, to put it kindly, primitive. I remember one particular episode where a lizard alien stumbled on his entrance and you could see the zipper of his costume coming undone. The modern Doctor Who uses much more sophisticated special effects without trying to make the show something it’s not.
2. It’s British, and it knows it. Nearly every episode contains some kind of cheeky reference to British culture, class divisions, history, or linguistics. Not to mention that fact that despite the TARDIS being able to travel anywhere in space/time, the Doctor and his companions spend a majority of their time on Earth, in the UK, usually in London.
3. Daleks. God, the Daleks are scary. But part of me wants to chain one up in my basement and teach it how to love. Exterminate.
4. There are no real laws of physics. The science in Doctor who is incredibly soft. The shows frequently bends the laws of physics in insane and unexplained ways, and when the Doctor does bother to explain something scientific it’s usually techno-babble designed to entertain the audience more than anything else. On top of that, even when there is a “law” of some kind, it is invariably bent or broken sooner or later. Some people might find this irritating, but I love it. So many science fiction shows or movies get bogged down in the hard science while missing out on the important stuff.
5. The companions. Let’s face it, the Doctor has a soft spot for pretty girls. But he also likes his companions tenacious, intelligent, brave, and fun. So far (and I’ve only met a few of them) none of the Doctor’s companions have been brainless arm-candy whose only purpose is to act the damsel so the Doctor can save her. No–he’s chosen witty, deep, courageous women to accompany him on his larks across the galaxy. And that’s a preference I can get behind.
6. Hilarious and amazing aliens/future humans. The Face of Boe. Slitheens from Raxacoricofallapatorius. The Ood. Tree people and cat people. Oh, and in one recent episode I discovered that when a cat-human hybrid from the future mates with a pure human, they have kittens. No, seriously. Kittens. I don’t know who comes up with this stuff, but I adore them.
7. The sonic screwdriver. Can I get me one of these? From opening locked doors to performing medical scans to deactivating killer robots, this thing is truly a multi-purpose tool.
8. Meta humor, running jokes and recurring references. Oh, where do I even begin? Doctor Who fans know that something bad will always happen on Christmas Day, and Bad Wolf refers something more than a fairy tale. There are catchphrases: “Fantastic!” and “Allons-y, Alonzo!” And, of course, let’s not forget: “I’m the Doctor.” “Doctor who?”
9. The TARDIS. A 1960′s era small blue British police-box disguising a gigantic alien spaceship designed to travel through time? And that flashing light on top? And that iconic noise? WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?!???
10. The Doctor himself. Who is the Doctor? He is so many things. A madman in a blue box. The last Time Lord. A true outsider, alone even when surrounded by people. He is fiercely protective of those he cares about, but cruel to his enemies. Intelligent, eccentric, spirited and resourceful, the Doctor roams the universe fighting injustice, tyranny and exploitation. He is not human, yet his humanity is his greatest weapon in the endless war against evil spanning space and time. He wears many faces to the outside world, but his one true identity is a horrible secret, buried in the ruin of a once-great civilization.
Also, he’s pretty cute. Maybe I’ll tie him up in my basement and teach him how to love.
Are you a Doctor Who fan? What about the show do you love? I’d love to hear your comments below!
My father is a sailor, which meant that for most of my life he was off at sea for long stretches of time, usually four months or more. And when I was little, four months was an incredibly long time. Practically a lifetime. Goodbyes were always difficult when it came time for him to rejoin his ship, but I remember one particular time when I was seven or eight when my dad’s departure left me particularly upset. The whole family saw him off at the airport, and when he hugged me he must have noticed that I was blinking back tears. After a moment’s consideration my dad reached into his pocket and handed me a quarter.
“There,” he said. “Now, whenever you feel sad about me being gone you can look at this quarter and know that somewhere in the world, I’m thinking of you.”
There was nothing special about the coin. It was just a quarter, with George Washington’s familiar mug printed on one side and an eagle rampant on the other. No particular year; no particular mint. Just a quarter. But I treasured that quarter like it was made of gold. Not because of what it was, but because of what it represented: a brief, special moment shared with my dad. Whenever I saw or touched the quarter, I was reminded that my dad loved me and missed me too. Its power lay not in its monetary value, but in its symbolic value. It had become a keepsake, a talisman whose power was invisible to all but me.
As I’ve grown older I have collected many other keepsakes, objects that symbolize or spark a remembrance of a time now past. Most, like the quarter, have no real objective value, yet are nonetheless precious because of what they symbolize to me. A collection of long emails exchanged between my husband and me when our relationship was still very young. A much dog-eared copy of the Once and Future King given to me by a dear departed friend. A Claddagh ring my mom gave me when we first moved to Ireland that now barely fits on my pinky finger. Each keepsake recalls a time that, on most days, I have no cause to think of otherwise.
But keepsakes can also be less tangible. Singular moments can themselves be keepsakes of larger memories or past experiences. An off-hand phrase or comment that, though immediately forgotten by the speaker, I keep tucked away in my mind so I can occasionally take it out and admire it. A private glance shared between friends silently recalling some inside joke. A meal, a drink, a slice of cake. Like snapshots of another time, these brief memories glint like stars against the ever darkening landscape of our memories, totemic in their ability to represent experiences or memories now long gone.
A keepsake isn’t always a good thing, however. I know that I keep souvenirs of my failures and losses as well as keepsakes of love and happiness. Somewhere, tucked away in a box or in the back of a notebook, is the very first exam I ever took in college, on which I got an abysmal grade. Similarly, I sometimes hang on to memories of deep embarrassment or shame, or words flung at me in disappointment or anger. But, unlike that quarter my dad gave me long ago, these negative keepsakes do nothing but sour otherwise good memories, casting a dark pall over happier moments. They are the seeds of grudges and resentments, destined to fester if they cannot be purged.
At some point I lost that quarter that my dad gave me. I don’t know when or where, and when I eventually realized it was gone it didn’t really matter. Why? Because it had already served its purpose, and when it eventually disappeared I had learned other ways of remembering that my father wouldn’t be gone forever. Our keepsakes can act as positive talismans to help us move forward, but they can also hinder us, reminding us of pain or failure better forgotten. So treasure your keepsakes, both physical and intangible, but use them well, and let them go when their work is done.
Do you have souvenirs or keepsakes that symbolize past experiences? Are they positive or negative? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
With the whole world watching, a green-robed monk throws himself from the top of an ancient citadel in the center of the mountainous Turkish town of Ruin. But his death raises more questions that it could ever answer. What was he doing atop the citadel? Why did he stand for hours with his arms outstretched, mimicking the pose of Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro? And above all, why did he choose to end his own life in such a macabre and public way? Was his death a terrible accident, or a symbolic gesture?
For charity worker Kathryn Mann and her family, the monk’s death is a long-awaited omen promising changes and revelations the world over. For the ancient order of fanatic monks who have lived in the citadel for thousands of years, is it a terrible betrayal that threatens to unmask their deepest, darkest secret: the identity of their holy Sacrament, long guarded against the outside world. And for New York journalist Liv Adamson, it begins a dangerous journey of body and soul, the result of which will change her life and the future of the planet.
It is impossible to discuss Simon Toyne’s debut novel Sanctus without making certain comparisons to a very famous conspiracy thriller that is seemingly loved and loathed in equal measures the world over. Superficially, Sanctus seems to resemble The Da Vinci Code in both plot and structure. For instance, the novel begins with an inexplicable death shrouded in mystery but clearly portentous of things to come. Also like The Da Vinci Code, Sanctus involves a fanatical order of disturbed monks willing to torture and murder if it means protecting their secrets. But beyond the initial set-up, the resemblances to The Da Vinci Code quickly dwindle. In fact, I found Simon Toyne’s novel to be much more enjoyable than Dan Brown’s; better written and more imaginative, despite following a fairly hackneyed set of rules for conspiracy thrillers.
*Warning: Spoilers for all seven Harry Potter books and movies follow. If you haven’t read the complete series, step away from the computer. Also, what rock have you been hiding underneath?
If you haven’t read Part I and Part II of this blog series, I highly recommend you toddle on over and catch up before continuing with this one.Also, lest any of you read too deeply into my criticism and get all steamed up, let me remind you that I love these books and this is meant to be a humorous take on the Harry Potter universe, not serious literary criticism.
So, now that’s over with, I present to you the third (and final) absurdity in the Harry Potter books that I only considered as an adult…
3. Deus Ex Machina
Harry Potter is nominally the hero of all seven Harry Potter books. Obviously. But when you really take a long hard look at each and every triumphant moment in the books, it quickly becomes clear that Harry isn’t much of a hero at all. Not to say that he doesn’t have heroic intentions, but from a purely literary perspective, Harry isn’t even much of a protagonist. He is a generally passive character whose fate frequently gathers him up and sweeps him along at a brisk and dangerous pace. And Harry is absolutely a survivor, but a hero? I’m not so sure. Because nearly all of Harry’s successes in the books come down to one of two things: “other people” or “by accident.”
In the first few books–which solidly fall into the children’s lit genre–Harry’s characterization works. He is lost, confused, and ineffectual, bobbing along in a swift current made up of the history and politics of a world he doesn’t fully understand. He’s also eleven. And these sorts of “everyman” characteristics made it easy for child readers to relate to Harry, to put themselves in his shoes. He wasn’t supposed to be a hero yet–just the Boy-Who-Lived, someone whose destiny has big plans for them. But then the third book came along, and the fourth, and still an adolescent Harry lurked in mediocrity, relying on his friends and elders to support him through the trials thrown at him again and again.