Monday, January 30, 2012

MSTs of Brilliance, Part One: Who Left This Here?

I've been dithering for a good long while on what to write for my first "offical" post--should it be light and funny? Deep and thoughtful? Boring and pretentious? But finally I decided to go for a kind of background thing; something that really explains me. It should be about the one thing that's shaped me, molded me, hell, turned me into my present self, the thing that's influenced my thoughts and tastes, my aesthetics, my humor and my thinking for the last fifteen or so years.

Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Everybody has Their Show. The one that speaks to that part of their mind that was sleeping, all unawares, until The Show came and woke it up with lights and colors and sounds and music. Ever since the dawn of human civilization, when our barely evolved ancestors crouched around the hard-won fires in their caves, our Astroprolithicus brethen had a favorite story/cave painting/Look I Can Make A Shadow Mastadon On The Wall. In ancient Greece, a hopeful tragedian's take on Electra siezed the heart and wine-sodden guts of some Bacchian festival goer. Medeval Japan produced a Kabuki play that threw on the lights for some rice harvest celebration attending shopkeeper. In the bowels of seventeenth century London, a music hall act somewhere hit a fourteen year old scullery maid full in the face with a wave of gold. In a two story house in 1949 Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a radio play made the spine of a twenty four year old father of two clench in recognition.

Everybody has Their Show.

Mine came into my life about two hundred years ago; when  I was but a young and hopeful theater graduate moving to Seattle with my freind C, who had just gotten a job at that Microsoft company we'd heard so much tell about. We drove up in his car, ready to set the world on fire.

Microsoft may be a word-bestriding behemoth that has dictated how we interface with every aspect of our world for the last thirty years, but they treated their employees/slaves right. One perk of the velvet cage was a month's rent free stay in one of their thousands of employee housing condos. The idea was that a person could get settled into their work, learn the layout of the city, and not try to start a new job and search for housing all at once.

It was very kind and generous of them and all, but. A few things.

One, I don't drive. Never have (my driving phobia is legendary.) And even if I could, C's car was the only car. He needed it to get to work, so I was in a condo in the wilds of Issaquah and at the mercy of a bus system I could barely navigate. Plus, I had no real way to search for work until I had a better idea of where we'd be living. So every day I'd be clawing the walls or spending hours lost among various buses (did I mention my period started once while I was sitting in a bus shelter in the middle of nowhere, soaking my jeans to the knees with blood? MY PERIOD STARTED. IN A BUS SHELTER. SOAKING MY JEANS TO THE KNEES WITH BLOOD.) Then C would come home, exhausted and stressed out from basically starting his first major venture of his adult life, to find a young woman bouncing with boredom, rage, and terror, and having the same basic demeanor of a hamster on really strong crack.

This did not do much for our relationship.

And then, one day about three weeks into this saga of extitential Issaqhahian dread, something happened.

One perk of the velvet condo cage was cable, and late one afternoon, desperate, bored and trying to find something, anything to waste some time with, I came across...well...I had no idea what the hell it was.

It had a movie. It wasn't a movie, it had a movie. And in the right hand corner, three shadows. One looked human, but the other two...well, I didn't know what the hell they were.

The shadows were talking. More precisely, the shadows were riffing.

For those of you who missed the last two decades and change, riffing is mocking/funning/satirizing a piece of pre-existing media. It's mainly done with movies, t.v. shows and commercials, but tumblr has proven that the still image is certainly up for grabs. The humor of the riffing is entirely subjective. But the right riffing will leave you to laugh, laugh, laugh until oxygen debt creates flashing lights and pretty colors all along your peripheral vision, while in your thoracic cavity a big, fluffy dahlia of delight is opening--the shocked realization that you have, entirely accidentally, found your tribe. The ones that understand you.

That's what happened to me.

I don't remember the episode (or "ep", as we old hands call them), but I do remember staring first with bemusement and then open mouth bellow laughing at the screen, as the three shadows spewed out quip after quip that turned that forgotten B movie inside out, upside down, and shook entertainment from it like a bully shaking out a nerd's lunch money from his pockets.

About twenty minutes later, C came home. Curious about why I hadn't been hovering at the door to rip his arms off with my neediness, he came over to the couch.

"LOOK!" I shouted. (I'm always one for the subtle.) "LOOK AT THIS! IT'S BRILLIANT! I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS BUT IT'S BRILLIANT!"

"Oh yeah," said C casually after a moment or two. "I heard about this. It's that Mysterious Science show or whatever. They make fun of movies."

Well,  C may have had it much more together in every Really Truly Adult catagory than I did, but he was wrong.

He wasn't factually inaccurate; That Mysterious Science Show does make fun of movies. But it's so much more than that.

It's a show that layers smart funny at a dizzying speed--juxtaposing Sophocles with fart jokes, Satre with horrible puns, Madame Curie with songs about pants. It's a show that, the more you think about it, should never have had the room to exist in the first place (A two hour comedy show? That makes fun of terrible forgotten movies? With PUPPETS?) let alone run for ten years. It's a show made in Minneapolis, for Christ's sake, that managed to be hilarious, insightful, and sly without ever succumbing to post modernist nihilism "crap on everything" self-hate. It's a miracle.

And I know it's just that, a miracle, because like all miracles, it appeared when I needed it more than I had ever needed anything before. And like all miracles, it didn't solve all my problems, it just showed me a way to a new state of mind about my life, a club that had been waiting for me with nametag and open arms, a new way to be.

I've got a lot more to say about my favorite miracle, but I'll let the story be for now--on a couch in a furnished condo in Issaquah, with a young woman desperate for some kind of ground beneath her feet, staring at a cable tv show starring a man and two puppets, having her life saved.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Well, here we are.

I've resisted blogging for years, simply because I am completely and thoroughly intimidated by all this newfangled technology. I grew up in the early eighties, when the idea of  "home computers" was just beginning its transition from scifi dream to complete new reality, and the terrifying first wave of "home computers" completely freaked me out.

You know how computer engineers have certain mind set that allows them to write code, build working computers out of tinkertoys, and start Microsoft? I do not have that mindset. At ALL. And so the first personal computers, built by geeks and used to impress other geeks, made no more sense to me then trying to read the future in a flight of birds. It didn't help the first programming languages like BASIC held no more than a passing and superficial resemblance to any language a regular human being might conceviably use. Programming early computers may have been a dream pasttime for some, but for me it was as if Sysiphus had been assigned something even more arcane and pointless then all the boulder-rolling.

Luckily for me there are way more people like me than MIT trained programmers and such, so "user freindly" was quickly shot up the Need  To Do list for the computer creators. So now I have a laptop and can find YouTube and do all the regular things this thing is apparently good for--up to a point.

I still get puzzled and dismayed by things like GoogleMaps. I can't grasp the whole "save a file" thing half the time (I understand it how to do it on my computer but not on another system). I can't understand this "embedding" business.

Not only that, but I am the kind of person who for some reason makes technology hate me on sight. This laptop? It's destroyed two hard drives so far. I hadn't done anything to it--it sat on my desk and suffered my going to Cute Overload a lot, and that was pretty much it. But of the two otherwise identical laptops my husband and I bought two years ago, mine is the one that overheats, burns out, loses the screws that keep the screen on... you name it.

So before you wonder why a forty year old woman is still answering phones at a pizza company, remember that not everybody can just surf this wave of the future, kids. Some of us flail and sputter in the surf, wiping sand from our eyes and wondering if that flitting shadow is perchance a shark. Not everybody's as lucky as you.

(Oh, and I majored in theater. I'm pretty sure that's the other reason I spend my working life asking "so, pepperoni on both sides, then?")

But, as long as this present computer doesn't go up in a puff of smoke, I guess I can keep trying this  blog thingy. Here goes.