A Remedy to Media Desensitization
After the Game of Thrones episode with Sansa’s ‘deflowering’, I decided that I needed to take a break from “gritty”, “edgy” programming. A cultural shift is happening and there seems to be nothing on the table that we cannot discuss or see anymore. I’m a strong supporter of the freedom of information, artistic-expression, and choice. That said, I worry—and personally suffer at times—from the overwhelming sensationalism that surrounds certain media. I understand why it is important to accurately portray violence and evil—I have often written divisive, dark material myself. Still, I feel that an over-immersion in this type of content separates us from the humanity that we need to objectively view and tackle rigid gender roles and issues of sexuality and violence. Live too long in the darkness and darkness is all you know. Sometimes it’s easier to just turn off my brain and watch something mindless, instead of having to worry about furthering—or dismantling—negative social constructs with the material I’m watching. I look to laugh. I look for something that doesn’t tax mind or morality.
A hearty serving of brain-pap was what I intended to feed myself when my partner and I flicked on Netflix the other night. While scrolling through our options, I saw a still of Jane Fonda grimacing at Lily Tomlin and was immediately intrigued. “Grace and Frankie,” their new show is called. I didn’t read the synopsis—I rarely do, even with books. I knew that there would be tomfoolery and hilarity with this duo. Grace and Frankie has a kind of magic to its casting and delivery that’s as rare and unexpected as the scent of vanilla while standing knee deep in a fly-buzzing quagmire of manure—my analogy on the current state of crass programming that gluts our media. I rarely, if ever, watch situation comedies. Only that’s not what Grace and Frankie is, entirely, and you realize that right from the opening sequence where all four of the major characters are introduced: Grace (Fonda), Frankie (Tomlin), Sol (Waterston), and Robert (Martin Sheen). The four are at a restaurant. First, only Grace and Frankie are present and we can sense their forced pleasantness around the other. They’re really only acquaintances on account of their husbands who work together. Said husbands, Robert and Sol, arrive for dinner; they’re nervous and fidgety. The men almost immediately come out to their wives, professing their love for one another. They have been involved in an affair for decades.
At this point, there are a number of ways in which a comedy tackling social issues of this depth—homosexuality, infidelity, trust—could go horribly off the rails. However, through the power of the performances and a passable script (which gets better as the show matures), the actors guide us through a great betrayal and shattering of relationships, and build something quite remarkable from the pieces. Reviews have been mixed on Grace and Frankie. I’ve read a few blurbs on the show’s ham-fisted characterizations but I’ve never found that to be the case. In the many episodes of Grace and Frankie that I’ve enjoyed, I’ve seen the show deal with addiction, ageism, unfulfilling sexual patterns, death, and of course all of the foibles and disasters that accompany the whole “our husbands are gay” quandary. I like how the writers and actors make less of a fuss about being gay and more of a fuss about the betrayal. That’s why people are usually angry when someone comes out—they think they should have known, they blame or project themselves into the situation. I enjoy how the show slowly paces the long process of healing between former partners, and interweaves that with the budding, beautiful friendship of the titular characters.
A show can’t do or be everything, and you can only impart so much wisdom through twenty minutes of comedic drama. I can forgive the show’s failing of not being life-altering satire. What Grace and Frankie does right, however, is to show human relationships at their most flawed and vulnerable, in a digestible way. You see, it doesn’t matter what the message is if people are too offended to heed it. Grace and Frankie shows people who have hope. It shows people who are old and still beautiful (inside and out). It has a number of lessons for us to learn if we are willing. Also, you get to see Fonda tripping balls on painkillers and peyote juice in the very first episode. That alone is worth the price of admission.
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Feast of Fates
Four Feasts Till Darkness #1
Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, her world changes forever. Their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. As she attempts to understand her newfound abilities, unbidden visions begin to plague her—visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.
With Morigan growing more powerful each day, the leaders of the realm soon realize that this young woman could hold the key to their destruction. Suddenly, Morigan finds herself beset by enemies, and she must master her mysterious gifts if she is to survive.
Morigan took the bracelet.
“I accept your offering.” The Wolf’s face lit and she thought that he would leap at her. “Yet first, I have a request.”
“Anything, my Fawn.”
“I would like to see…what you are. The second body that shares your soul. Show me your fangs and claws,” she commanded.
Perhaps it was the steadiness of her voice, how she ordered him to bare himself as if he belonged to her, that made the Wolf’s heart roar to comply. He did not shed his skin but for the whitest moons of the year, and even then, so far from the city and never in front of another. In a sense, he was as much a virgin as she. With an unaccustomed shyness, he found himself undressing before the Fawn, confused for a speck as to who was the hunter. The flare of her nostrils, the intensity of her stare that ate at him for once.
I have chosen well for a mate. She is as much a Wolf as I, he thought, kicking off his boots and then shimmying his pants down to join the rest of his clothing. No bashful maiden was Morigan, and she did not look away from his nakedness, but appreciated what she saw: every rough, hairy, huge bit of him.
He howled and fell to all fours. Bones shifted and snapped, rearranging under his skin like skeletal gears. From his head, chest and loins, the soft black hair thickened and spread over his twisting flesh. His heaving became guttural and sloppy, and when he tossed his head up in a throe of agony or pleasure, his beard had coated his face, and she noticed nothing but white daggers of teeth. Wondrously Morigan witnessed the transformation, watched him swell with twice the muscle he had possessed as a man, saw his hands and feet shag over with fur and split the soil with black claws. Another howl and a final gristle-crunching shudder (his hindquarters snapping into place, she thought) signified the end of the change.
Her dreams did not do Caenith justice. Here was a beast twice the size of a mare with jaws that could swallow her to the waist. Here was a monster that had stalked and ruled the Untamed. A lord of fang and claw. The birds and weaker animals vanished, knowing a deadly might was near. Around her, the Wolf paced; making the ground tremble with power; ravishing her with his cold gray gaze; huffing and blasting her with his forceful breaths. While the scent of his musk was choking, it was undeniably Caenith’s, if rawer and unwashed.Morigan was not afraid, and was flushed with heat and shaking as she slipped the bracelet on and knelt. She did not flinch as the Wolf lay behind and about her like a great snuffling rug and placed his boulder of a head in her lap. No, she stroked his long ears and his wrinkled snout. A maiden and her Wolf. Soon the birds returned, sensing this peace and chirping in praise of it. And neither Morigan nor the Wolf could recall a time—if ever there was one—where they had felt so complete.
Four Feasts Till Darkness #2
As two queens plot each other's destruction, a small band of adventurers continues its quest for the knowledge needed to defeat the mad King Brutus and his unearthly parasite, the Black Queen. Their search brings Morigan and the Wolf to the perilous forests of Alabion, where they and their companions will face the darkness of their pasts-and discover equally dark destinies.
Meanwhile, far from Alabion, the queens of the East and West continue their deadly dance. One seeks a relic of great power, while the other puts her faith in a mix of military and technomagikal force. Both are aware they have a slim window of opportunity to settle their power struggle-after all, Mad Brutus's recent defeat is at best a setback. The mad king is already amassing a new army of soulless husks in the wastelands of Mor'Khul.
Unknown to the great powers struggling for control, a father and son wander those same wastelands, scavenging what they can as they weather Brutus's gathering storm. They too have a role to play in Geadhain's fate-a role which may just provide a last remnant of hope.
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“My queen, it grows late.”
Queen Lila was about to address the enormous man casting his silver-hued shadow over her as Rowena. But no. Her sword was gone and neck-deep in espionage with the master of the East Watch, and a hammer named Erik was her guardian these days. What sad eyes the man had, more black than blue—as morose as those of an owl perched over a graveyard. She could see them glinting from beneath his darkened visor. Rarely did she spot the hard, hidden handsomeness of the man—his black hair, broken but appealing face, and stubble crisscrossed in scars. Come to think of it, aside from the moment his naked, scorched self had abruptly manifested in a cindery puff within the Chamber of Echoes some weeks ago, she hadn’t seen him without his helm. He was hiding then from the absence of his king or another private torment. She had been staring at him rather unabashedly for quite a spell. The sparkle of fiery colors off the immaculate polish of his pristine armor hypnotized her. His voice snapped her out of her trance. How quickly evening’s shroud had fallen.
“Time has escaped us,” commented the queen.
Erik gently led her from the bedside she attended. As they passed the hospice’s cots and floor pallets, the hands and voices of the wounded reached for her. Erik watched the queen’s remorseful looks and the aching way she touched the feet of certain sufferers or the backs of weeping kin. These days she was cold and ruthless in her judgments within the palace. She had become a steel queen to stand metal for mettle against the Iron Queen rising in the East. In these particular confines, however, where the faltering breath of the ailing made the air humid, and it was thick with the stench of eucalyptus poultices and incense to mask the rot magik would not heal, the queen’s mask cracked or was simply cast off. Genuine pity replaced it. She had come here each day for the past fortnight since the storm of frostfire had struck Eod. “The day of ruin,” the people called it—when first the skies were bare and then suddenly forked with red lightning, spitting shards of ice and arrows of flame to the earth. None of sound mind could have prepared for that wailing apocalypse. Thousands were killed instantly. They were boiled inside tarry craters the earthspeakers were still working to fill or entombed in buildings that could not hold against the storm’s wrath. The injuries were uncountable, and they were still being reported. Those with only singed or frostbitten flesh dismissed the pettiness of their wounds and carried on with tourniquets and grimaces. Others had to be scraped from streets or, if mauled but living, extracted from rubble and taken to a growing encampment of emergency sites erected near the palace. Here was where the queen always found herself once the details of war, supply lines, allies, enemies, and stratagems had worn her patience to a snappy disinterest. Somehow in these miserable hospices, the queen seemed peaceful, albeit sad.
Time and again Erik made one-sided conversation as he guarded his new charge—he never managed to say these words. You blame yourself for this or for my kingfather’s fate. You see these sins as your own. You feel the weight and needs of this entire nation upon yourself, and what a terrible weight that must be to bear. You are not alone, though, my queen. As adrift as you might be, I am here. I shall be the rock you need. I have made a promise to the great man who speaks to us no more.
The night he had appeared so rudely at her side, she held him and told him she could not sense the king anymore. The icy flame of Magnus’s soul had gone as cold as a forgotten hearth.
“What does it mean? What does it all mean?” she’d sobbed.
She was without her lover and partner in eternity, and he was without his father. They were agonizingly alone. Only on that night did she cry for the king and never since—as far as Erik had witnessed. He and the queen did not speak of their grief again or further pursue the reality that the Immortal King—missing and utterly quiet in his queen’s mind since the battle with his mad brother in Zioch—was quite possibly dead.
At the hospice exit, Queen Lila stopped so suddenly that Erik almost elbowed his liege. With what Erik perceived as a speck of wariness, she half glanced over her shoulder, and her gaze swelled wide with fear. She was staring at something behind them. Erik looked as well and reached a hand to his weapon. However, he saw nothing aside from the rows of squirming sufferers moving on their bloody, sweat-soaked cots like man-size maggots. What horrible times these were.
“Have you forgotten something?” he asked.
Queen Lila wished she could explain the hairs that prickled on her neck or the chill of Mother Winter’s mouth that blew the humidity from the chamber, but no one else seemed to feel it. Most of all, she wanted to find a less hysterical explanation for the shadow—tall as a mountain, black, and somehow bright—that hovered in the corner of her eye. She would not turn around and look at it. She could not. She was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would involuntarily scream. What do you want, shadow? Why do you haunt me? Why do you come to me in dreams?
“My queen?”“No. I need nothing more,” she answered curtly and moved ahead, trembling.