My brand new literary magazine is now accepting submissions. They’re looking for poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and art. Check it out and submit your work!
I like to think that I am not what you would call a fearful person. I like to think that, but I like to lie to myself.
Okay, so I run screaming from every wasp I see. I think being stung thirty-five times at the age of ten gave me that right. My gut-dropping, appendage-tingling fear of heights on the other hand, I have no such excuse for.
People are afraid of heights for a damn good reason: falling off of something tall is going to smash your brains. The terror that we feel when standing on a balcony at the top of a tall building is self-preservation; we have been hard wired to avoid dangerous situations and being up high is one of them.
But then why is everything that happens up high so much fun? There’s a reason that skydiving is on almost every Americans’ bucket list. The same reason that the Ferris wheel is the most popular ride at every fair, adventurous vacationers inevitably seek out something to bungee jump off of in any country they find themselves in and the phrase “I’m on top of the world!” means that you’re in the best possible situation.
Being on top of stuff rocks. So for me, shaking violently every time I was more than ten feet in the air was a problem. I had shit to do and my fear was getting in the way.
It made sense that the best way to getting over something was to just do it. Suck it up, as every high school gym teacher ever would say. So I did it. Oh boy did I.
Have you ever seen that ride at the state fair, the one that looks like a giant construction crane? They strap you into a harness horizontal to the ground, lined up next to three of your closest friends or, if none of your friends are insane, three strangers. Either way, they’re about to see you cry. When you’re all strapped in, they power up the crane and start reeling you in. The pulley slowly rewinds and inch by inch, the ground falls away. It takes about three minutes to get to get to the top, which is about 180 feet in the air.
So then you’re there. You can see for miles, to the edge of the fairground and beyond. There’s nothing under you for 180 feet except a nylon strap cinched around your belly. And somebody’s got to pull the cord.
That’s right. This isn’t one of those ‘wait until the carnie pushes the button’ kind of rides. If you want to plummet in full-on belly flop towards the ground at 65 miles per hour, you’ve got to pull that ripcord yourself.
I’ve done this ride twice and both times I cried at the top and begged my friend (different friends each time) not to pull the ripcord. Both times they laughed manically and pulled it anyway. And then, the plummet. The first five seconds is the definition of terror; I am downright shocked that I didn’t wet my pants. I feel like I have to nervous pee just thinking about it. Seriously, it’s the worst. Free falling straight toward the Earth, coming closer and closer to a crowd of people laughing and applauding while I scream my vocal chords to shreds is not my idea of a good time.
I was sure I was going to die.
And then, it caught. Right at the last second, when I’d already made my peace with God, the rope caught and we swung. The swing took us up almost as high as the crane had but it was an entirely different feeling. The pressure of the rope on the harness made all the difference; the last minute of the ride was a blast. And that’s why I did it twice, even though it seemed to be making my fear of heights worse.
So, at this point the only thing I knew was that swinging was better than free falling. Good solid information but I would choose to ignore it.
A few years after the state fair incident, I was in Costa Rica.
Before I left for Costa Rica I asked people who had been there before what I should do. Every single one told me to go zip-lining. At this point, it had been so long since I’d put myself in a heights-terror situation so I had no trouble convincing myself that I was over my fear. Not to mention that I was a twenty six year old in an undergraduate study abroad program and had a little something to prove. So when the big day came, I was a psyched as anyone.
We strapped on huge orange harnesses and helmets and stood in tight circles, talking loudly about how excited we were. I didn’t really start to get scared until I started up the stairs to the first line. They felt like gallows steps. There were two people ahead of me but they were clipped in and gone too fast. There was no time for hesitation. The employees of the course grabbed me by the harness and yanked me forward. They clipped me in and pulled on the carbineer to test it. “Lift your legs,” one of them said. I did. They pushed me, and I flew.
Whoever designed that particular zip-lining course knew what they were doing. The first line was long but low to the ground; my feet hung a foot above the undergrowth. The next line was higher and the next line higher still. I got to ease into the height and it really wasn’t so bad. Plus, there was no free falling. Win-win.
And then we got to a platform with no line leading off of it. Instead the man at the top clipped me into a line that went straight down. “Jump,” he said, and pushed me off the platform.
I was on the ground in an instant but my arms and legs had pins and needles for two minutes afterwards. It got worse from there. Two lines later I came to the top of the tallest tree I’d ever seen, growing on the edge of a valley. Once again they pulled me forward, clipped me in, checked my carabineer, and said, “Lift your feet,” before pushing me off.
The way I was strapped in, it was as though I was seated on a chair that was speeding across the widest part of a jungle valley. I hung onto the rope like an umbrella and looked around, smiling like an idiot.
Something that you need to know about my fear of heights: like all thoughts, we have the ability to box up a fear and put it aside. My fear of heights was something that I kept boxed up as often as I could. As I sailed across the valley in a seated position, with something to hold onto, the fear was manageable. It was like a feral cat that I had managed to trap inside a box; it was definitely in there, but I was in control of the situation.
The next line re-crossed the valley. They clipped us in by the backs of our harnesses and sent us flying like Superman over the rain forest. This was a little too much like the state fair; I was parallel to the ground, with nothing to hold on to. I think I hugged myself the entire way. The cat almost got out of the box on that one but soon I was being unhooked on the other side. I was going to make it.
We walked to the next and last clip-in spot; something called “The Tarzan Swing”. It was optional and about half of our group chose to stand at the bottom and cheer the other half on. It would have been perfectly respectable for me to say “you know what? This isn’t for me, thanks,” and walk away. But I couldn’t do that. Why? I honestly have no idea. I’ve always been the type of person who needs to be involved, right in the mix, every time I can. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble actually but this isn’t the time to delve into my psychiatric problems.
Everyone who was doing the swing waited in a clearing that had been carved into the side of the valley. A metal gangplank that was about three feet wide and had a handrail on either side extended out over the valley. There were six other people waiting and I let them all go ahead of me. One at a time they walked down the metal runway, got clipped in by the two guys waiting at the end and jumped. Their screams, loud at first, would quickly fade to a whisper.
Then I was the only one left. I had to go or walk down to where everyone waited. So I put one foot in front of the other and ended up on a swaying, three foot wide platform 200 feet above the forest. The two men at the end clipped a carabineer to my harness. The tension from the rope yanked me to the edge of the platform; my knees pressed against a low metal gate. One of the men bent down to open it… and I stopped them.
“I can’t,” I said. “Unhook me, I can’t.” They undid everything and I tried not to run back to solid ground. When I got back there were seven more people from my group and a German mother and son waiting to go. The son said to me, “It’s okay, I’m not going either. No way.” He gestured to his mom. “She is though.”
“You are?” I asked her. “Wow. That’s brave.”
“Why not?” She asked. “We’re here, why not?” I didn’t have an answer for her.
When she walked down the catwalk a few minutes later she did so without hesitation. When the gate opened, she jumped. She let out a long whoop on the way down.
I hung around the loading area while everyone else went and more people showed up to wait. Eventually I was ready to try again. I walked down the catwalk again but this time, when the ground started to fall away underneath me, I closed my eyes. I shuffled forward until the two men at the end grabbed me by the harness and pulled me forward. I felt them clip the rope at my waist and I felt the tug of it pulling me forward. I heard the man on my left say, “step forward” and when I did, I felt the top of the gate against my knees.
And then it was gone and the platform under my feet was gone and I was falling and screaming. I gripped the rope in my hands and I screamed. I opened my eyes just before the rope caught me. Just like at the fair, the swinging was the best part. Even so, when I got to the ground I was crying, laughing and shaking, all at the same time.
After it was over I was glad that I had done it. The horror of jumping was better than the shame of refusing and I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had turned down the chance to have a once in a lifetime experience in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest. But afterwards, my fear of heights was worse than ever.
Fast forward one year (almost) to the day. My boyfriend and roommate had both joined a rock gym; something that I had always wanted to do but fear had always stopped me. So they went a couple times and every time, they came home with these shit-eating grins on their faces. All they could do was rave about climbing. Finally I got fed up with myself. I wanted to climb, it was just this crippling fear that was stopping me. But fear is nothing in a controlled situation like climbing; with all the safety precautions in place, fear in a climbing gym is downright irrational. Or so I told myself as I stepped into my harness for the first time.
I watched two people climb before I clipped in. I decided to climb around low to get used to the feel of the harness before I got too far off the ground. Really what I wanted to do was get used to falling.
When I was four feet off the ground, I jumped. The rope caught me and I dangled in front of the wall.
“Get back on,” my wonderfully encouraging boyfriend said.
I got back on the wall, climbed another two feet and jumped again. Then I did it again. I got about halfway up the thirty-foot wall when I asked Charlie to take me down. I felt a little better; every time I felt the panic rise I had jumped off the wall. Every time the rope caught me I was reassured and the panic subsided. The key was to nip it in the bud.
I was on the ground for about two minutes before the people I was with decided that it was time for me to do a “real” one. For those of you familiar with climbing ratings, it was an 8.6, an easy one in the corner.
Don’t look down, right? Not that easy. But every time the panic started to rise, I’d let go. When I felt better, I’d get back on the wall and keep going.
I almost gave up. My arms were tired, my hands were sweaty and I was extremely close to completely losing my mind to terror. And then I looked up. There were two holds between me and the end. It was either get there now or go back down and have to start again in a few minutes. I found somewhere to put my foot and I stepped up. I took another step and I was there.
I wrapped my hands tightly around the final hold, thrilled and nauseated with terror. I knew how high I was and even after all of my test falls I still wasn’t sure if I trusted that rope. Letting go was the hardest part. When my feet hit the ground I was almost crying from the adrenaline but ten minutes later I was back on the wall.
The fear wasn’t gone right away; it would come over me when I was halfway up the wall or reaching for a tricky move and I would have to fall back onto the rope to reassure myself that I was safe. But after that day, I was hooked. I climbed four times my first week and by the end of it I never needed to test fall.
For a month, I climbed as often as my body would let me. It immediately became a sort of meditation for me, a separate place where my mind and body could work together to solve complex problems without distraction from other thoughts, needs or responsibilities. But the fear wasn’t totally gone. It was boxed away and growing dusty in the attic but it was still there.
I grew comfortable climbing. I felt safe in the hands of my belayers and when I did have moments of panic they felt far away and could be ignored. But I still hadn’t tried the auto-belay.
An auto-belay is just what it sounds like, a spool of rope that catches and belays you without the help of another person. Besides bouldering, it’s the only type of climbing that you can do at the gym alone.
My favorite time to climb was between noon and three on weekdays, when I get restless and need to take a break from work. I work from home so it can be hard for me to relax there but I soon discovered how restorative it could be to climb with nothing but 90’s music for company.
Everyone that I usually climbed with was busy during normal business hours so I ended up going alone a lot so eventually, the auto belay had to be faced. The way that the auto-belay catches you is different than with a human belayer. The person below you can see if the rope is loose and pulls it tight as you move up the wall. This way, when you fall, it catches you right away. The auto belay operates with a little less precision and lets you free fall for a few feet of slack rope before caching you and escorting you to the ground.
The day that I took it on, I knew that I was ready. I’d been climbing for over a month and it was time to face my fear. I hooked myself up and stepped back to check out the route. I didn’t have a lot of technique yet so I was only partially sure what I was looking for but I planned out my first four moves and stepped up to the wall. I boxed up the fact that I was on an auto belay instead of a rope. I focused on where to put my feet instead.
I got nervous. Halfway up, I jumped off. I went again and instead of making a tricky move and risking falling, I let go. I went twice more and kept letting go halfway up.
My arms ached and my hands were cramping. I sat down for the first time since I’d stepped up to the wall with the rope still hooked to my harness. I forced myself to rest and for ten minutes I did nothing but stare at the wall.
I tried to think as logically as possible. I knew that the auto belay was safe; it had caught me plenty of times at half height and it would catch me at the top. And the spot on the wall where I had been getting stuck had no shortage of holds; I just couldn’t see them through the fog of my fear. I’d done plenty of harder routes than this one. The only thing to do when I got stuck, I decided, was to look for the next hold. It would always be there.
When my arms felt better I stood up, chalked up and got on the wall. I knew the bottom half well by then and I moved quickly. When I reached the spot that I had been unable to get past, I just kept moving. I found somewhere to step and I stepped on it. I was right, the holds were there, all I had to do was focus on finding the next one.
Again, the end was the hardest part. I grasped the top hold with both hands and, as panic began to build in my gut, I pushed off the wall.
The fear was gone instantly. I rode the belay down with a grin the size of Montana on my face. Ten minutes later I was at the top of another route. That time, I turned around and looked down before I pushed off the wall.
I’ve been climbing for about three months now and my fear is gone. So far gone, in fact, that a couple of weeks ago when I reached the top of the hardest bouldering route I had done so far, I swung off of it without checking out my landing. You don’t use ropes in bouldering so when I let go, I fell. Unfortunately, I fell at an awkward angle and sprained my ankle. Quite badly actually, I’ve been on crutches for three weeks. But I don’t feel bad about it. For one thing, I completed a route in two tries that took my boyfriend about fifteen to get. And for another, I now know for sure that I am not afraid.
Even when I was falling, in those long, stretched out seconds when I knew I was going to land wrong, I never felt afraid. Even now when I remember that day, all I feel is pride.
Fear is a prison and I am free.
In two days a group of ordinary people will embark on an extraordinary adventure. They will abandon their families, shirk their responsibilities and quite possibly stop bathing altogether on the journey to becoming novelists. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month is primarily a support network that encourages, promotes and inspires those among us who have been afflicted with that very special type of insanity that drives a person to write fiction.
Maybe you’re thinking about joining them. You might be thinking about how good it would feel to spend the next month Doing Something. Or maybe you’re tempted by the idea of spending a month living in an alternative reality. Maybe you’re thinking about the motivational aspect, how November is really just a chance for writers to take a second shot at a New Year’s resolution. A deadline does work wonders for productivity, after all.
This will be my first time participating in National Novel Writing Month so I’ve been doing a lot of research and planning. I love a solid game plan.
In order to reach the minimum word count of 50,000 participants will need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. The rules of NaNoWriMo stipulate that all writing must start 12:01 AM November 1st but that doesn’t mean that you have to go into November with a blank slate. There are a few things that you can be doing in the next two days to get prepared that don’t involve writing.
1. Find Your Starter
In baking, a starter is a bit of bread dough that’s saved from every batch. It is already fermenting when the baker adds it to the new batch of dough so it activates the yeast and the dough rises.
A good story starts with an idea. Since you’re going to be spending the next month wandering through this idea you want to make sure that it’s something you’re excited about. If you don’t already have an idea like that, read through your notebook until something snags your attention. It should really hook you. Maybe you’ll read on but then your eyes will wander back, reading over the name or the sentence again. That wriggling lively idea is just begging to be written about. And that’s it. That’s your starter.
Character is an excellent starter. There are plenty of shadowy characters in every writer’s notebook, indistinct and unformed, waiting to be written into being.
2. Meet Some Of The Characters
If your starter was setting or plot related, take some time now to think about the characters who will live in your book. It’s easy to assume that the first character you think of should be the main character but try coming up with a few rough characters before you make your decision. Think about the story as it would be told by each of your characters; maybe write a paragraph or two to see what it would be like. Take their perspective for a test drive. A story changes dramatically when told by different people so give some serious thought to this.
Spend some time thinking about names as well. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and coming to a total stand still when the only name you can think of is Roxette. Roxette is the right name for some stories but definitely not for all of them. Name with care.
3. Make A Bubble Chart
Or write out a list or use refrigerator magnets. However you do your best thinking down on paper (or fridge), get ready to do it. Because what you’re going to do next is make a story map.
Sit down with a blank piece of paper or document and casually start to think about the story. Write down the first thing that comes to mind be it a place, an event, a person, or an object. Then connect it to something else. Follow wherever your thoughts take you, writing down everything you’ve been thinking about your book, filling in you story’s family tree.
I like to do a bubble chart because it only loosely connects the story leaving room for flexibility and change. However you do it, this is a good step to do a day or two before writing starts; I’ll be doing mine today.
4. One True Sentence
Ernest Hemingway’s advice for those with writer’s block haunts me.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
This quote tends to pop up on the edge of my mind all shiny and golden when I’m staring at the blank first page of a new story and starting to panic. The first sentence is always the hardest. So in the last couple days before NaNoWriMo, think about how your story wants to start.
Try out a couple of different approaches. A few ideas for how to start:
- In the middle of a scene
- Description of a person/place/object
- Journal Entry or Letter
There are tons of exercises and prompts on the Internet so do some searching if you need help getting started. The important thing is to sit down on the first day with something to put on the page. If you start with confidence that will carry you a long way through the month.
5. Manage Your Expectations
It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you start NaNoWriMo and to clarify what you’re hoping to get out of it. There will be discouraging days and there is a strength that comes from being prepared.
In order to “win” NaNoWriMo you’ll need to complete 50,000 words in one month. That is just long enough to be considered a novel by a some publishers but it is much more common for publishers to accept novels closer to 70,000 words in length; you may want to add some length after the month has ended. More importantly, writing 50,000 words in a month is likely to produce some loose writing and, to quote Hemingway again,
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
When the month ends, you’re still going to have work to do. Be prepared to edit like crazy, add scenes, characters, whatever the story needs. You can (and should) take a break from it though. Take a couple days or a week away from the book. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t write, you should always write. Just write something else for a few days and return to your novel with fresh eyes.
I hope that you are all thinking about stories and getting as excited as I am! NaNoWriMo is going to be rigorous, it’s true, but think about what we get to do this month. We get to make up a world, give birth to a new family, watch detailed events unfold in a whirlwind of creative release. We are writers. Our job is magic.
This review is also posted on Goodreads.com.
I received this copy of Sweet Thunder as part of a First-Reads Giveaway.
Ivan Doig knows Montana. While this was my first adventure with the Western wordsmith, his reverence for the state that is fondly referred to as “The Last Best Place” comes through with every word. The novel captures the sense of rugged romanticism that has always characterized Montana. Living is tough out there and you’ve got to be strong to take it. But if you can survive, it’s all worthwhile.
The novel is set in Butte, one of the ugliest cities that I have ever stepped foot in (or, more often, driven straight through). So it is a testament to the power of Sweet Thunder that I came away from the story thinking of Butte in a kinder light. The Butte Public Library plays a prominent role in the story and I find myself wanting to visit Butte again just to see it.
The story itself is interesting and quick. The characters are just that. Characters. Slightly stock feeling and I kept waiting for someone to start bouncing around on their toes, fists up saying, “Why I oughta.” Luckily they stopped just shy of that. The progression of events is somewhat predictable but entertaining all the same. The ending is a little too clean for my liking but you know, sometimes that’s okay.
They’re here! They’re here!
Well, some of them. With more to come!
What in the name of Ray Bradbury am I talking about? Two months ago my boyfriend and I packed up our lives in Portland, Oregon and moved to Tucson, Arizona. When we were planning the move we decided that the most cost-effective way to do it would be to just take the car and anything we could fit into it. With the two of us and our 95 pound dog, there wasn’t much room left over.
To be honest, I am amazed at how much we were able to fit. And it felt good to whittle down our lives to only that which was really important. For me, 95% of that was books. But pre-move, my book collection was pretty huge. I sorted through my three shelves (cried more than once) and ended up selling or giving away 305 books. I kept about fifty.
It was a sad, sad day.
But along the way I had a stroke of genius. What if, instead of just donating all of my beloved books to Goodwill (or to my literary friends) what if I sold them to a bookstore that would allow me to shop online?
Powell’s Books is an absolute wonder. If you live anywhere near the Northwest, you’ve probably heard of it and if you haven’t, they’re worth the trip from wherever you are. Their flagship store is a three story wonderland that takes up an entire city block. They have an unparalleled sci-fi/ fantasy collection and every department has a mix of new and used copies.
Not to mention that they will buy used books and if you take payment in store credit (which can be spent online) instead of cash, they’ll give you 50% more. They bought about 100 of my books and I walked out with almost $300 on a gift card.
My intentions were to make it last. To use the card to buy books as I needed or wanted them. That did not happen.
Over the course of the last week I spent the entire thing. And you know what? I am damn happy about it. I didn’t end up re-ordering a single book that I had before but I did get an eclectic mix of science fiction, literature, classics, non-fiction, reference and inspirational books. I have been anxiously awaiting the crazed knocking of my cross-eyed mailman for days and today, the first box arrived.
Its contents were as follows:
The Windup Girl– Paolo Bacigalupi
On Writing- Stephen King
2013 Writer’s Market (Yes!!! So incredibly excited about this one)
A Short History of Nearly Everything- Bill Bryson
What If? Exercises for Fiction Writers- Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
The War of Art- Steven Pressfield
The Eye of the World- Robert Jordan
Letters to a Young Poet- Rainer Maria Rilke
And folks, that’s not all. I have four more shipments coming. This is better than Christmas, I kid you not. And I’m not the only one who gets to enjoy them! Each and every one of these books will be getting reviewed on the RedInkling. I know it’s a little strange to review books that have been out for years but I’m doing it anyway. And I’m calling it The Ravenous Reader Reviews, so when they start to come up you’ll be able to check out all of the reviews by just clicking that category in the side bar.
I am so excited! And I am psyched to share my Ravenous Reading experiences with you. I’ll keep you posted as my collection grows and if you want to chat about any of the books I’m reading, drop me a line. My second favorite thing after reading books is talking about reading books. Happy reading Ravenous Readers!
Did you know that Stephen King has published over fifty books? Fifty full length novels or stories. And FIFTEEN of those have been turned into movies.
I had never read and of his works until last year when my best friend finally talked me into reading the Dark Tower series.
“It’s not really Stephen King-y,” she said. “It’s not really that scary (this was a lie) and it’s really well written.”
So I picked up the Gunslinger from the library and from the first brilliant line, I was hooked.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
This has to be one of the best first lines of all time. Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? Is he chasing the man in black or just following his trail? And WHAT are they doing in the desert?
Come to that, what desert are they in?
That simple, twelve word sentence had me asking five separate questions, all of which desperately needed answering. One short month later, I was finished with the seventh book.
(Note: At the time I didn’t know about The Wind Through The Keyhole and as of yet, I still haven’t read it. It is on order though and should be here in a few days!)
I loved the series. Roland was such an amazing character and I fell in love with he and his little family of misfits. But after I finished the series, I still didn’t feel any need to seek out King’s other works.
As you can see from my friend’s “not Stephen King-y” comment, we had some biases. And to be honest, these biases came from a pretty pretentious place. I was a creative writing major at the time and spending most of my time writing or reading about writing. I had developed the idea that in order for a book to be any good, it had to have taken years and a part of the writer’s soul in its creation.
So when I looked at the Stephen King shelf in the bookstore and saw his 50+ books, what did I see? A man worse than Voldemort who had split his soul into 50 pieces. I thought that anything he wrote must be cheap and poorly written because he had obviously whipped each book out in an afternoon.
And my love for the Dark Tower series did nothing to change that perception because it took King over twenty years to write those seven wonderful volumes. I assumed that all of his care and talent went into those works and the rest was just garbage.
Well, Mister King, I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry that I skimmed over your section in the bookstore for twenty seven years. I am sorry that I never watched any of your movies besides The Shining. I am sorry for you but most of all I am sorry for myself. Because of my pretentious preconceived ideas, I robbed myself of years of wonderful reading.
You see, I just moved. And in the move i had to get rid of most of my books. So when I got to my new home in Arizona I happily accepted a couple boxes of books from my boyfriend’s parents. The told me to keep what I wanted and donate the rest.
Many of them were not my taste but I put them on my empty shelves as placeholders until I could get some that I really wanted (I just ordered about 35 books online, they should be here any day! I’ll keep you posted.). Among them were two Stephen King books, The Shining and The Running Man.
I should have known what was going to happen, but I didn’t see it coming. One day, I got bored. I sat and I stared at the books on my shelf waiting to feel the heart-to-book lightening bolt that I let guide all of my reading decisions. My eyes skimmed over the Shining and…I felt something. I gave it a second look. And there it was.
The lightening bolt was faint, but it was there. I pulled the dog-eared paperback off the shelf, plopped down on the couch and read the whole thing. The next day I read The Running Man. And now, here I am. A full blown Stephen King addict. Better late than never, right?
You hear a grinding of gears, a far off moan of something that might be bagpipes or out of the corner of your eyes, you catch a glimpse of a gangly man in a blue suit, running as though the fate of the Universe depended on it.
It’s the Doctor. And this time, he’s come for you.
Impress him with your wit, Hand him his screwdriver at a key moment and you’ll be off, whirling through time and space in an impossible blue box.
Fail him and you’ll be left behind, lonely and ashamed. The worst bits of humanity encapsulated in flesh.
But what about those who do everything right? Those beautiful humans who are so brave and so true that every viewer feels a measure of guilt as they run through their fleeting lives with passion and grace; aiding the Doctor in any way they can while we sit on our couches dreaming and eating ice cream.
The first of these is Renette. Madame Pompadour. The beautiful French girl in the fireplace. Although already accompanied by Mickey and Rose it is obvious that the Doctor wants to swoop up little Renette (and then bigger, gorgeous Renette) and show her the stars. And he tells her as much at their last meeting; after she has braved years of clockwork men plotting her death (not to mention the every day perils of the French court). The Doctor tell Renette de Poisson to pack her bags and pick a star. But then, like he does, the Doctor gets the timing wrong and fails to return until after her death.
Renette de Poisson was brave, and quick-witted, the epitome of companion material. Yet she was left on Earth to live out her life as a mortal, dying of a mortal disease without ever seeing the stars.
The second of those unjustly left behind was Sally Sparrow. If anyone deserved to be whisked off to the stars and beyond it was Sally. In the span of twenty four hours she lost her best friend and a very intriguing new man to the weeping angels and instead of crying, giving up or becoming angry, she soldiered on. Sally Sparrow unlocked a forty year old message from the doctor, destroyed the weeping angels (well, some of them) and restored the TARDIS and its owner to the present time stream.
And what does she get? A ‘thank you very much.’ An ‘aren’t you grand.’ And she is left behind.
Sally Sparrow is arguably one of the most interesting (and definitely most beautiful, although I’m glad that this doesn’t seem to matter too much. They aren’t Bond girls, thank Jeebus) of all the women who aid the Doctor in his quest to alleviate guilt and boredom. Especially contrasted to Martha, the companion du jour.
Martha may be brilliant and gorgeous but my GOD is she boring. I can’t be the only one who was desperately sick of her puppy dog worship of the Doctor by her third episode.
(Side note. I’m re-watching Doctor Who as I write this; season three, episode twelve to be exact. I was thoroughly engrossed in writing when I realized that the Doctor was shouting, ‘We’re on a planet at the end of the universe and you’re busy blogging?!’ Well yes, yes I am. And since no one in the show is currently blogging, am I wrong in thinking that he’s talking to me? Excuse me while I go outside and listen for the wailing of an interstellar parking brake.)
Well, I’m still here (sadly) and I’m not the only one.
The final unchosen companion may not be an obvious choice.
Wilfred Mott is Donna Noble’s grandfather. The innocuous, red capped stargazer is present in the Doctor Who plot line for almost as long as Donna herself and he does much to endear the audience to the brash Ms. Noble. He stares at the stars every night. He believes in magic, in space and in the impossible. Every single day of his life.
Wilfred Mott is a man after my own heart.
We stare at the stars day after day and refuse to give up hope even when the years pass without so much as a common supernova. Wilfred Mott and I have looked into the void and we hope beyond hope that something brilliant is looking back.
Yet we’re the ones left behind.
The Doctor chooses his companions seemingly willy nilly. When he finds himself alone he plucks an intelligent mind from the human populace, endears himself to them and proceeds to change (ruin?) their lives. He has no more control over who he takes with him than we have over which continent we’re born on.
The Doctor is flying through time, clinging to humans like life rafts. And I’m not sure that he always grabs the right one.