My friend's son, H, stayed with us last week. He’s obsessed with all things Marvel, and his mother gave us permission to watch some of Thor: Ragnarok with him. You know, special treat, stay up late, see Thor shake his hair out of his ponytail a lot and lose his hammer.
At one point H looked up at us and asked, “But is Loki a good guy or a bad guy?”
I was tempted to whip out some fanfiction and go through all the tomes of creative work that have tried to answer that question. But the poor kid is still in pre-school, so I kept things a bit simpler. “Sometimes he makes good choices, and sometimes he makes bad choices,” I told him. I waited for the follow-up, but H became engrossed with an action scene. The conversation died there.
Then John McCain passed away yesterday, and the question of what makes someone a "good guy" or a "bad guy" is on my mind again.
John McCain has always been, from my perspective, a heroic figure fraught with complication. He was a war hero who was far, far braver than I could ever have imagined being. He put forward bills and government policies that I often admired and supported. In a political era where so many people seem unable to put the good of the country above their own power, he was frequently willing to do so. And, possibly most importantly, he was almost always able to work with those of other parties and other beliefs.
But there were also times when he seemed to make choices that were more in his own interest than the interest of the country. There were moments when he made choices that certainly hurt people, all in the name of supporting his own career or keeping his party in power.
Here I could start waxing poetic about how there are no good guys or bad guys and it’s all a matter of perspective, but I don’t believe that for a second. That type of thinking has always brought dangerous consequences to humanity. There is objective, moral truth in the world. Some choices Loki makes are objectively good, and some choices are objectively bad. Some choices John McCain made were good, and some were bad. Some choices I make each day are good, and some are bad. None of us are all one or the other, and none of our choices are exempt from being held to objective, moral standards.
Today I am very sad that John McCain is gone. I do believe he acted out of good intentions far more often than he acted out of bad or selfish intentions. When we look at the history of his record, that record reflects that he was a “good guy” more often than he was not. And I like to think that’s the measure we’re all judged on at the end. None of us will leave this world with perfect records. But what will our balance sheets look like? Which column will stack up higher? Loki will get to work on his balance sheet throughout the course of Marvel’s existence. (Unless Avengers: Infinity War never gets a sequel.) The rest of us only have a finite amount of time to work with. None of us will ever make all the right choices, and none of our heroes will either. But John McCain’s record shows, I think, that he was worthy of many of the capes people have placed on his memory.
RIP, John McCain. Thank you for working across party lines. Thank you for fighting for this country in ways most of us can ever imagine doing. Thank you for reminding us that we all must grow out of the phase where we see “good guys” and “bad guys” so that we are able to see people for their individual choice and moments--for their actions taken and not taken. Thank you for all of the incredibly difficult actions you took on behalf of others during your life.
I hope John McCain, like Thor and Loki, gets his own sequel someday, somewhere. In fact, I hope all of us do.
Here come a few more book suggestions from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account. We've covered poetry, some nonfiction, and a few serious 80s throwback covers. My big rec right now is actually a movie--the Netflix movie of Jenny Han's book TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, which just came out this past weekend. Lana Condor is amazing in it, and if you are also a rom-com lover you cannot possibly be disappointed by this film. You're welcome in advance.
I definitely have the right friends in my life because no fewer than four of them shared the Cards Against Humanity call for contributing writers on their social media feeds this week. That’s right: if you’re witty enough, Cards Against Humanity wants YOU to create funny-and-potentially-inappropriate cards for their collection. They’ll even pay you to do it.
Obviously I was tempted to apply. Who wouldn’t want to get paid forty dollars an hour to make jokes about Greek yoghurt? Sounds like The Life.
There’s just one problem: I’m not actually all that funny.
This has become abundantly clear as I’ve been working on edits for my latest novel. The last three or so rounds of revision notes have all come back with the same notes over and over again in the comments—all from different people, I might add. Make this funnier! Add humor here! This line needs to be funny!
Gee, I keep thinking. I thought it was.
I’m fairly certain my husband is the only person on the planet who consistently appreciates my sense of humor and laughs at most of my jokes. It should be noted here that his sense of humor is just as bizarre and misunderstood as mine, and sometimes he tries to tally how many of his students actually understand the jokes he makes while he’s teaching. I do the same thing…and neither of our numbers are ever all that high. Basically, we spend a whole lot of time laughing at each other’s jokes to make up for the fact that other people aren’t.
Normally I’m not bothered by the fact that my sense of humor is about five steps away from everyone else’s. Editing this manuscript is the first time where I’ve actively worried that my inability to make jokes others find amusing may hurt my writing career. I can’t write angsty novels about people in deep dark pain for my entire life, after all. I’m not George R.R. Martin.
It’s not that I don’t hit an occasionally good punchline in real life or in my writing. It’s just that funny doesn’t really come naturally to me, and the things I do find amusing tend to hinge more on the sarcastic or punny. Sometimes this works. It’s just not working in my current manuscript, apparently.
(Sidenote: any other 80s children remember when Paula Danziger used to write entire novels in puns? I blame her entirely for my humor problems. Apparently if you binge-read too many puns in your tween years it permanently affects your sense of humor.)
So! I’m on an active quest to become as funny as I think I am. I’m planning an intensive study regarding which of my jokes do get laughs and which do not during the upcoming school year. (I’d apologize in advance to all my students, but the bad jokes were going to happen either way, so this really won’t change anything.) I’m going to pause my recent Dr. Who obsession for a moment—because I don’t think British humor is going to help me curb my sarcasm—and cue up more Melissa McCarthy on Netflix. And I’m going to apply for the CAH job. Not because I think I’ll get it, but because more practice can’t possibly hurt at this point.
And, naturally, I’ll keep writing blog posts that I think are hilarious. If my history is any indication, you won’t think they’re nearly as funny as I do. But you’re still reading this one at 583 words in, so maybe there is some hope after all.