Monthly Archives: August 2015

Fifteen Favorite Writerly Feelings

A while ago, Hank Green of Vlogbrothers (a youtube channel he runs with his somewhat more famous brother, author John Green) did a video on his fifteen favorite feelings. He did it because in part because videos like “fifteen things that annoy you” were commonly requested, and despite their popularity, they always left him feeling bad. He wanted to do a listy video that was positive. It actually was a very popular post as well, and since then some other people have borrowed the idea, like Malinda Kathleen Reese of the Google Translate Sings videos. (She runs song lyrics through Google Translate until they screw up, and then sings them dramatically. It’s wonderful.)

I’ve liked all these videos, so I decided to steal the concept for my blog. I’m doing two versions; one here that is specifically writing themed, and one over on The Brunette’s Blog for more general good feelings.

  1. Getting a new idea. There are downsides to this one. Sometimes my brain is overrun with unwritten stories. Sometimes I’m struggling with a story and the arrival of a new idea seems timed specifically to tempt me away. Still, that flash, that “what if?” followed by myriad implications that make my heart pound with scripturience… it’s the whole root of the reason I write, and even if I have too many stories on my roster, it’s nice to be reminded that one thing I will never run out of is inspiration.
  2. The sense that there is a story hiding in something. Often, before getting a clear idea, I feel drawn to something; a piece of music, a person, a picture, a scene. I feel like if I let myself be open to it, a story will unfold to me. According to Better Than English (and I’m not sure how reliable that site is) koi no yokan means the feeling that someone is going to inevitably fall in love. This is like that.
  3. The moment when slow, plodding writing becomes quick and easy writing. The best cure to writer’s block, as many writers will tell you, is to write. There’s a scene in Finding Forrester (a flawed white savior movie, but still very good) where Forrester, an established prize winning author, gives Jamal, gifted aspiring writer, some of his own work to start him typing. He says the mere physical act of writing will get Jamal’s own ideas flowing, and he’s right. The blank page is terrifying, the first few sentences clumsy, the first paragraph agonizing, and then suddenly it’s all a beautiful dance in which time and the outside world completely disappear.
  4. When I listen to my characters and they tell me something brilliant and unexpected. It can be such a struggle to surrender control of a story to the characters, but without that I can’t get this, and this is the coolest thing.
  5. Reading or watching something so good, it gets me excited about writing all over again. ‘Nuff said.
  6. When I observe something that I don’t think I’ve read about before. When I was a kid, my family went strawberry picking every summer. One day, I plucked a strawberry and, instead of putting it in my box or eating it right away, I took a moment to really look at it. I noticed that, if I stared directly into the flesh, I saw glitter. I saw that same glitter in every other strawberry I looked at that day, and I looked at every one I picked. Strawberries sparkle in the sun. At the time, the observation made me sad. I had never heard anybody speak about this before, and being the only one to notice it made me feel lonely. Now, I realize that it’s a blessing. The world is so full of strange and beautiful and sad and incredible things, it will take all of human history to notice it all. To notice something new and to share it with the world is one of the best jobs of the writer.
  7. When I give my readers something I don’t think is that good, but they love it. Giving my writing to somebody else to read is scary, and I’m always prepared to hear that I utterly suck. It’s such a relief to find out that I don’t, especially because all my regular critics are people I trust to not spare my feelings. Speaking of which…
  8. When a reader has a criticism and I realize I know how to solve it. Not only do I often hear that my work is quite good, the criticisms I get are less “you are awful and should give up immediately,” more “there are some fixable issues here, here and here.” It’s wonderful to replace that overwhelming dread with a sense of control.
  9. When somebody gets exactly the reaction I want them to get from a story. Obviously the best of the three possible reactions that my alpha readers give me, but the others are pretty great too.
  10. When somebody’s advice on writing gives me a brand new perspective. I like studying the art of storytelling, and one of the coolest things is that there’s no one right way to write a story. There’s just different strategies that are better or worse for different aspects. It’s always fun to discover there was more to learn.
  11. When I find a simple, clear, reliable source on a topic that is hard to research. Writing research is hard to do, simply because of the oddity of the information writers might look for. Even Google can’t always save you. Sometimes, when I come across a good source on rare topics, I don’t even care if it’s something I’m currently writing about. I’ll just gobble it up for future reference.
  12. When I have a terrible experience, and a little voice in the back of my head goes “you can put this in a story someday.” I’ve always thought this is one of the great consolations of being a writer. No matter how awful life gets, if you make it through, you can write about it. Remembering that always gives me a feeling of power over my adversaries.
  13. When a new use for an old abandoned concept appears. All writers have the ideas that they loved, and were used up in stories that didn’t pan out. Sometimes those include your favorite ideas. Luckily, the really good ones tend to be resilient. If one story gets trashed, they’ll crawl out and find their way into something else. When they do, it’s like starting a scary new job and finding an old friend already works there.
  14. When I’m watching quietly with my writer’s glasses on, and I’m struck by the beauty and variety of the world around me. Part of my brain is always writing, but sometimes I’m specifically focusing on the world around me as a writer. I’m trying to notice things. Sometimes what I notice is simply that the world is really, really cool.
  15. When somebody likes a blog post. Hint, hint. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Josh and the Big Wall, Part 2

Part One here.

One of my favorite philosophical questions is the Euthyphro dilemma. Its from a story, told by Plato. Socrates asks a man named Euthyphro what is moral, and Euthyphro declares that morality is what is loved by the gods. Socrates responds by asking whether they love morality because it is moral, or whether it is moral because they love it. Either way feels like a trap. If the first one is true, it erodes the moral authority of the gods. It suggests there is some higher standard that they must bow to, and makes Euthyphro’s first answer incomplete. The second one, however, seems even worse. If morality is only good because God happens to prefer it, there could easily be alternate worlds where God decrees rape and theft and murder moral. Christians apologists often bemoan the moral subjectivism that they think would inevitably follow an atheist’s perspective, but the compare “genocide is okay when God says it is” to any brand of secular humanism, and see which one sounds more subjective. To me, letting morality depend on God’s say-so is just making it subjective from his perspective, and removing our ability to question his subjective whims. At least with human moral subjectivity, I can question nihilists and the like. I can still reject their morality, and if my empathy driven sense of right has no objective grounds, theirs is no more so.

Christian philosophers often solve this dilemma by stating that God is synonymous with morality, that he is the higher moral standard from which all goodness emanates. This is a logical solution, but when combined with the Old Testament God you end up with some tricky questions. Was it really moral to condone rape and genocide? There are multiple solutions, including believing there was something special about those circumstances, rejecting Biblical infallibility, or simply accepting that its a question humans might not have an answer to, and for the purpose of this post I don’t really care which one you believe in, with one exception. Those who believe that their religion gives them a right to dictate my actions, that its imperative to outlaw homosexuality, to censor books I read and write, to forbid me from living a psychologically stable life as my preferred gender, they tend to believe that morality is whatever God says it is, that he is never wrong, that he has never changed his mind and that the Bible is infallible. In essence, they pick the second prong of the Eurythpro dilemma. They say, whatever God declares moral is moral, no matter how wrong it seems to us, and you must never question him.

That is why I am tackling this message. I do not think it is benign. It is, on the contrary, the root of all conflict between fundamentalist religion and the rest of us. I do not think its okay to decide that on one day genocide was okay for no better reason than “God told us to.” I think we need to cultivate our own moral judgment, and question that order. I’m not that picky about where that questioning leads you. You get to make up your own mind, as I sure don’t have all the answers for you. Both of us, using our best judgments, will each still be wrong about some things, and that’s okay. I just care that you don’t let the claim of authority trump your judgment.

I really want to do these reviews in a way that is fair. I don’t want to be one of those vitriolic reviewers who looks for things to criticize, for the sake of stirring up controversy or having something to say. When I think something is good, I call it good, and when I have conflicted feelings, I spell out the conflict for you rather than pick a side. There are many reasons for this, but not least is this; when I come to a story like this, and I get ranty over a beloved children’s story, it will be clear that I am not doing this out of some vendetta against the Bible. I am disturbed by this story, and the more I think about it, the more disturbed I am. As a child, I was told a story of genocide, but it was sanitized beyond all recognition. As I grew older, piece by piece of the real story was given to me, so gradually that as I transformed this innocent story of slushie fights and irate French peas into one of blood and terror, the gory truth still had, to me, an air of innocence and moral clarity. The invaders were the good guys. The oppressors were righteous, the God who commanded this slaughter just and benevolent, and the victims faceless and nameless.

Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Josh and the Big Wall, Part 1

This episode  opens with a letter from a kid who was told not to beat people up, which he thinks sucks, because sometimes other people are mean and he just wants to give them a pounding. Scary kid. Larry and Bob turn this into a lesson on why its important to follow God’s directions even when you don’t want to. That way this kid will understand that no matter how much he wants to punch people in the face, he shouldn’t, because God doesn’t condone violence.

So they tell the story of the destruction of Jericho, where God commands the Israelites destroy an entire city and slaughter its inhabitants.

Interesting choice, but okay.

Now, understand, when I say slaughter, I don’t even mean a slaughter by ancient barbaric Biblical times. Back then, at least there was a decent probability of women and children being spared. The elderly and sick might not be killed. Even some fighting men might be taken as slaves. This isn’t good, but it’s a non-death alternative. Not so with the Israelite conquest of Israel. Because God doesn’t want his chosen people contaminated with other religions, they are commanded to kill everyone. Joshua 6:21, NIV; “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” One family is spared; that of Rahab the prostitute. See, she heard some stories about God that freaked her out, and she said, “hey, if I help your spies out, can I not die?” And lo, they said, “sure, I guess, why not?”

Okay, I had issues with this episode. Its not that its a bad episode. Like most Veggie Tales fare, its witty, goofy, well paced and full of catchy songs. It also happens to be focused on the moral that, more than any other, gives me issues with my Christian upbringing. The episode explicitly tells us, from the opening scene to the end and all through the middle, that we must always follow God’s directions, no matter how scary, unpleasant, or hard to understand.

It also bowdlerizes the crap out of the whole genocide part of the story, which means one of two things. The first is that the creators thought about how if small children like me heard that God commanded the slaughter of so many, we might question whether he was the good God they were marketing to us, and not believe in him. The second is that they themselves never thought of the people who the Israelites slaughtered as actual human beings. They never bothered to consider the story from their point of view. I do not know which explanation bothers me more.

You know, there’s too much ranting to do on this piece. I’m just going to get through the rest of the episode, and save part two to get into the complexities of the Euthyphro dilemma.

So anyway, the story opens with Larry playing Joshua, heir to Moses, about to lead the Israelites into Israel. They actually arrived in the area about forty years ago, but they’ve been sitting out in the desert as a punishment. Punishment for what? Well, after they arrived, they sent some spies into the Promised Land, where they observed that the people who lived there were kind of large and strong and well fed, compared to the exhausted Israelite people who had been wandering in the desert for years. This scared them. So God gently reminded them of all the things he’s done for them and gave them a miraculous sign to reassure them.

No, sorry, actually he punished them all by making them sit out in the desert for forty years, where there was hardly any food and also a lot of them died without ever getting to live in this land he promised they would get to live in. Because they were tired and exhausted and scared.

Veggie Tales, being lighthearted fare for kids, introduces this with a lighthearted song about how all the Israelites are so excited to leave, on account of being really, really hungry.

Upon entering Israel they run straight into Jericho, which is manned by snarky French Peas in intimidating hats. Clearly this will not do, but the Israelites aren’t exactly equipped for a siege. God gives the Israelites the directions to march around the city for seven days and then on the final day blow their horns and yell. Then he’ll knock the walls down for them. Yeah, the walking doesn’t have any direct causal effect on the walls. Really God just wanted to watch them tap dance a bit before he did anything.

I feel obligated to give you all this link of the French Peas singing before dropping slushies on the Israelites’ heads.

There isn’t much of a plot; just the Israelites being tempted to give in and go back and being urged on because God’s way is always the best way (if you exclude the perspective of invaded peoples, of course). There is enough clever dialog to make this work without being boring. In the end, they do the trumpeting rendition and, the way the animation is done, the walls explode kind of like popcorn, which I liked. Standing in the rubble is nobody except a few French Peas who run free, leaving the Israelites to complain about how bad the dust is for their contacts. People being driven from their homes is funny!

Bob and Larry wrap this up by reiterating to the kid that God’s plan is always right, and you should always do what he tells you. They don’t add that there’s totally a precedent for God’s way being “murder. A lot. Basically commit genocide.”

Beautiful Characters

I just came back from a party I went to, mostly to keep my extroverted boyfriend happy, but I ended up having a good time. There was a guest there who I hopefully didn’t stare at too much. I’m bad about staring at people. I blame it on being a writer; often I notice things about people that trigger some writerly thoughts. There’s something about the way they are dressed or carrying themselves that gives me an idea, and I want to stare to imprint the idea into my head, to fully process it, sometimes even to consciously understand what is unconsciously appealing about them. Of course, at the same time I  don’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I keep finding my eyes drawn to them when I’m bored, catching myself and looking away in a way that I’m sure people notice. In this case I felt particularly awkward, because she had vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a condition where certain patches of the body lose pigment over time. The  extremities and face tend to change first, so it’s very visible. It’s occasionally associated with more severe diseases, and can cause some stigma and insecurity, but in and of itself, it isn’t dangerous, nor is it contagious. What made drew my writer’s eye wasn’t the vitiligo itself, but the fact that she was very pretty. And I don’t mean pretty despite her vitiligo, or would be pretty if not for the vitiligo. She had vitiligo, and she was pretty, and I was trying to figure out how to describe that.

See, I’ve realized that prose has done a seriously terrible job of handling body positivity, and I don’t think it’s gotten enough finger wagging for that. Most of the criticism ends up directed at visual media, but I think in a way prose can be more destructive, and often is. The typical approach to describing characters is to declare them lovely, plain or hideous, and then offer up a list of traits that support the author’s claim. As a result, thin and blonde becomes officially beautiful, fat and freckled become officially plain, and highly unusual traits, like vitiligo, don’t get to exist at all unless the author wants an ugly character. It encourages people look at themselves like they are unassembled puzzles, and the bits writers have declared unattractive automatically outweigh the officially attractive ones.

That’s not how people actually look. Real people are composites, not only of their physical features, but also of their personalities and attitudes. Often, a larger than average nose or a scar or a rotund waistline occur in a person who, as a whole, is very good-looking. Furthermore, that’s not always the case that removing that trait would necessarily make them look better. So it was with this woman. She had light brown skin, with the area around her eyes and nose white like a raccoon’s mask in reverse, and she had a pleasant smile and soft dark eyes, a light pinkish-purple top that went well with her black hair, and she was pretty.

Visual media at least has the ability to show us people as a whole, and let us make up our own minds. Where a book would just state that Lupita Nyong’o is unattractive because her skin is too dark and Adele is unattractive because she is fat, a picture can’t hide the truth that both of these women are utterly gorgeous. I first realized this when reading a rant on how Emma Watson was too pretty to play Hermione, who was supposed to start out very ugly, and of course this was a sign of cinema giving us unrealistic standards of beauty. Hermione is described as having frizzy hair and buck teeth. Emma’s hair looked frizzy to me, and her teeth… I couldn’t really tell. Teeth have to be pretty dramatically deformed to be noteworthy, and Hermione’s parents were dentists. They would  have taken care of anything worse than a slight overbite, which is often cute. Honestly most ten year olds are cute. It’s how they survive to puberty; they have faces that make adults go “awww, let me feed you.” The critic got it backwards. The movie was honest, and the book was giving us unrealistic standards of ugliness.

As I tried to avoid staring at the woman at the party, I realized I wanted to talk to her about this. I wanted to ask her if she had ever read a book with a character who had vitiligo, and how she would want to be described. I wondered whether it would make her happy to hear that I thought she was pretty, or uncomfortable; as a trans person I know many people are are uncomfortable hearing certain parts of themselves described in a positive light, and I wonder if that’s a gender dysphoria specific thing, or if it applies to other stigmatized traits. Every way of framing this sounded awkward to me, so I never asked. Instead I’ll address the question to the internet.

To anyone who is reading this, think of some part of yourself that you think a book would blindly deride. How would you feel, if you read a book with an attractive character who had that trait? Are there ways that could be described that would make you feel uncomfortable? Are there ways that would make you feel good? Do you think books have affected how you think about your appearance?

Reviewing VeggieTales as an Atheist; Lyle the Kindly Viking

This is the third episode on the general topic of not being greedy (fourth if you count The Toy That Saved Christmas, which I’m saving for Christmas). I remember this episode not being my favorite as a kid, so I was curious to see what adult Lane’s reaction would be. This one is specifically about sharing, and just as Bob and Larry are announcing the topic, Archibald runs up to them, begging to have a chance to run the show. He points out that Jerry and Jimmy Gourd got to run a show, so why can’t he? Bob and Larry clearly aren’t comfortable with this, but they decide that it would be pretty hypocritical of them to announce that they’re about to teach kids to share and then, you know, not share. So Archibald gets to take over the show.

A while back I found this article about teaching kids to share, by a Mom who had become critical of it. It’s actually really well reasoned. I recommend checking it out, but the essential point she makes is that insisting that kids share all the time is just teaching them that they are entitled to things that don’t actually belong to them. Or, if you’re like me and my sister, that when other entitled people are insisting they have a right to things that are yours, you are a Bad Person if you don’t let them. Now, I don’t think kids should never be taught to share. I think sharing can also be about learning to play cooperatively and value time spent with friends over material objects, and those are important lessons. What I do think is that there is a balance that must be achieved, that we need to teach kids how to share, but also about setting up appropriate boundaries for themselves, and to respect the boundaries that other people set up.

So how does this episode handle that balance? I think they’re already off to a bad start. Larry and Bob have a right to do their show their way. They set it up, they go to the work every week, and they can’t just start giving that up to anybody who says, “ooh, me, I want a turn!” This is especially a big deal if the person taking over isn’t going to be respectful of what they set up, which Archibald isn’t. His whole aim is to make VeggieTales more “classy,” which… it’s not bad that his tastes run more Ted Mosbyesque than the rest of the cast, but it is bad that he actively looks down on what everybody else does. If he doesn’t like how they are doing things, why doesn’t he go set up his own show?

Anyway, this is one of those two for one shows. First Archibald tries to put on a production of Hamlet, which doesn’t have much to do with sharing, but luckily his assistants, Jean-Claude and Philippe, screw up and instead obtain a script for Omelet, a conveniently sharing-centric parody. The play follows the dilemma of Omelet, prince of the starving country of Denmark, who is about to consume the last eggs in the kingdom, but people are telling him he should share. It’s not actually stated whether there is an overall food shortage, including non-egg foods, or whether the only food available to the people are their eggs. Now, the point I’m about to make is kind of pedantic for a kid’s show, but in my defense this occurred to me as a kid. They could have shown Omelet having lavish feasts while his people are starving, like how King George wanted Thomas’s rubber ducky even when he had a literal closet of them. They also could have shown him passing a few starving beggars in an overall adequately fed kingdom. Instead Omelet is about to eat his namesake dish, made from exactly three eggs, after there will be no more food in the kingdom. At that point I say go ahead and eat, because you’re dying along with everybody else and splitting that last omelet will help one, maybe two other people live for like an hour longer.

In the end Prince Omelet decides to share his eggs with the kingdom, after sharing with a friend and discovering that sharing feels good, and then someone points out that there aren’t enough eggs for everybody. The problem is resolved when they discover that there are actually plenty of eggs, but the people had been using them as ping-pong balls. So the problem was never that Omelet won’t share, it was that his people were idiots.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this short. There were some funny Shakespearean jokes. Mr. Lunt is forced to play Ophelia because of the tradition of male actors playing women, and says, “I think we’re gonna get letters about this.” There were lines like, “Alas, poor yolks. I’ll chew them well, Horatio.” It did have that Veggie Tale charm. That said, it was pretty far from their best effort.

After Omelet comes the title story. Archibald has them perform what he thinks is long lost play by Gilbert and Sullivan. At the end it’s revealed to be a pop-up book by Gilbert Jones and Sullivan O’Kelly. Ooops.

Lyle, played by Jr. Asparagus, is part of a community of Vikings, but doesn’t like raiding and pillaging. So instead of going out with them, he stays home making potholders, and then, when the Vikings give him a little bit of their loot for him to get by on, he takes it back to the people they’ve robbed. Which… that’s not actually sharing. Sharing is when something is yours, and you let somebody else use it. The Vikings are stealing, and he’s returning what was rightfully theirs all along.

One day, the Vikings catch him, and Olaf, the chief Viking played by Mr. Nezzar, uh… I’m trying to frame what he does as anything other than attempted murder, but I don’t think there’s anything else you can call it. No, seriously, they’re on their boats, there’s a storm, and Mr. Nezzer Olaf coldly and deliberately sabotages Jr.’s Lyle’s boat. His intent does not seem to be for Lyle to survive having learned a valuable lesson. It’s pretty dark for Veggie Tales. The monks throw him a life preserver, which is supposed to be a moral lesson in how sharing means you make friends who might help you later… except then the Vikings are also tipped overboard, and at Jr.’s insistence the monks save them as well, with the line, “I’m pretty sure God wants us to help everyone, not just the people who are nice to us.” Naturally, the Vikings are all repentant after being saved, and vow to be kind sharers instead of thieves forever after.

This bothers me. Not that I think the monks should have just stood by and let the Vikings die, but I also have issues with how easily the Vikings go from thieves who are at the very least willing to murder to model citizens. I’m trying to think of what the monks should have done instead, and I can’t come up with any answers, I think because this premise was just wrong for a kid’s show. Raiding and murdering are kind of a big deal. They place this whole conversation in a realm where “share your toys” doesn’t really apply. If they wanted to talk sharing, they should shown, say, a selfish kid who doesn’t get to participate in the community of nice kids who all share with each other, because Selfish Kid won’t let anybody else touch their toys, ever. Then Selfish Kid tries trading a toy for another one, and suddenly realizes that sharing is a great way to make friends.

This goes back to my earlier point about how you need to balance lessons about sharing with lessons about boundaries. I think one of the big pitfalls of the way I was raised is the lack of emphasis on my right to erect boundaries when it was appropriate to protect myself, both physically and emotionally. I actually know a lot of people who suffer from a kind of Perpetually Guilty Nice Person Syndrome (which I will hereafter call PGNPS), where we have to treat others nicely or we think we are assholes, but if we ever assert our right to things like privacy or our time or to be treated well, we worry that we are being The Worst Human Beings EVER! That mentality leaves a person pretty vulnerable to predators. This episode, where somebody who was willing to take life threatening actions against you is your new best friend minutes later, and the monks are treated as bad for having misgivings about people who repeatedly harassed and terrorized them, is a great example of one of the ways I was taught PGNPS.

That’s why I am taking a kid’s morality tale so seriously. I agree with the implicit premise of Veggie Tales; that the stories we tell affect how we live our lives, and that the stories we tell children can have an especially powerful affect. I think it’s important to think critically about what messages we are sending, about when they apply and when they don’t. I don’t think it’s okay to teach kids that you should just roll over any time someone says they want to use your stuff, and I don’t think we should teach kids that we can just brush off and forget the actions of people who actively endanger our safety.

Inside Out’s Defense of Sadness

Last weekend I went to see Inside Out, finally. Pixar movies are generally good, but this one was more than just good as a story. A lot of stories claim to be out to teach kids important things, and often this is somewhat true, and even more often it’s the writers puffing themselves up or advertising themselves to concerned parents. This story actually teaches kids about their emotions, in a way that isn’t cloying or condescending and is genuinely fun.

Spoilers ahead.

The story is about Riley, eleven year old girl, goofball and hockey lover, who has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco and having difficulty adjusting. But Riley isn’t the protagonist. She’s the setting. She’s a genius loci, inhabited by her own mind, which includes imaginary friends, little mental construction workers and, running the show up at headquarters, her emotions; Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness.

The protagonist is Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, whose goal is to keep Riley happy, all the time. She bosses the other four around quite a lot, which mostly works out well. She does what good bosses do. She delegates, lets everybody do the job they are best at, and tells them all what a great job they are doing. And all the emotions do have jobs. Disgust manages Riley’s sense of style and hygiene. Riley stays healthy and socially acceptable because of her. Fear warns Riley about dangers. Anger helps Riley stand up for herself when things aren’t fair. They are dedicated to taking good care of her.

The only trouble is that Sadness seems a little out of place. Joy doesn’t know what purpose Sadness serves, so she mostly tries to avoid letting Sadness do anything, which of course makes sadness sad. Of course, everything makes Sadness sad. If Joy tries to remind Sadness of gleefully splashing in puddles, Sadness will think about boots slowly filling with cold water.

During the move, Joy’s inability to understand Sadness leads to a crisis. Things keep going wrong and Riley misses everything from back home, but Joy keeps stopping her from feeling sad. But not feeling sad isn’t making Riley happy. It just makes her frustrated and confused. Eventually, Joy’s interference causes both Sadness and Joy to get lost in the recesses of Riley’s mind. They have to cooperate to get back, while Anger, Disgust and Fear have to manage Riley all by themselves.

One of the interesting aspects of the film is that Joy seems to know how to manage Anger, Disgust and Fear because she can make them happy. I think this works because they are all  proactive emotions. They all seek to have some clear effect on Riley’s life. When Riley avoids doing something gross, Disgust feels good. When Riley takes precautions, Fear feels good. When Riley stands up for herself, Anger feels good. Joy likes making people feel happy, so she can work with all of that, but Sadness doesn’t have a concrete mission. Sadness’ function is mostly to experience, which actually makes her more like Joy than any of the others.

We feel angry, disgusted or afraid in service of some concrete survival oriented goal, but happy and sad exist mostly for their own sake. The movie does make a point about how both connect us to other people, how sharing in somebody else’s pain or pleasure is something we need to do in order to have genuine relationships. Joy is great at connecting with people when things are good, or she can make them good, but she’s terrible at empathizing with their pain. Sadness is much better at that. But the movie also does something interesting; as a result of losing Joy and Sadness, Riley becomes in danger of losing her ability to feel entirely.

Controlled only by Fear, Disgust and Anger, Riley is constantly reacting in a situation where no reaction is appropriate. Like all kids in the middle of a move, she doesn’t have control over the situation, and the most productive thing she can do is accept her situation. She can’t do that without processing it. Without Sadness, she isn’t able to mourn her loss, just as without Joy she is unable to find the bright side. She keeps reacting and reacting until she turns herself numb. I think it’s an incredibly, tragically realistic depiction.

By making Joy’s character arc revolve around accepting Sadness’ role in Riley’s life, Pixar shows kids that it’s okay to feel sad when things suck. It gives them a framework to understand something that is hard to accurately explain with words. It accomplishes all of this without a clunky speech or “state the moral” moment. That is exactly what good stories with a point should do.

Go see it, guys. Quick, before it leaves theaters; if it’s too late put it on your wishlist for when it comes out. Just go see it.