Refusal to “Live in Fear” of Covid19

Are there oreos in your cupboard? Do you want there to be? Do you know the difference between these questions?

Most denialists are walking gish gallops waiting to happen, but one common bumper sticker catchphrase they fall back on sheds a lot of light on what is fundamentally wrong with their epistemology.

There’s seemingly always some variation of, “I refuse to live in fear.”

But here’s the thing. Deciding what you want to be feeling about a topic is not actually an approach to learning the facts about it. Motivated reasoning is a thing for everyone and nobody is totally immune to it, but denialists freely encourage and endorse it.

They don’t need to learn things, if learning those things would maybe make them feel a way that they suspect they won’t like feeling.

The fact that we associate fear with weakness and failure to be an adequately macho individualist hero is a separate problem. But even if denialists had healthier relationships to the full range of emotion, if they’re using what they want to feel as a way to determine what is factually true, their worldview is still fucked. Just… less fractally so.

They’d still have no tools for learning other than what, from an uninformed distance, they’d prefer to feel. Even the things they got right would be by accident.

“I’d be excited to learn there are oreos in my cupboard. That sounds nice! Therefore there are oreos in my cupboard.”

No??

Shave and a Haircut

I found poetry I’d written, posted to my drafts on Wattpad. Why did I do it lol

If I were a toon, this would be easier.
My feelings could escape however
whenever
as whatever
they needed.

When you tell me nobody has called you adorable since 1999
but in 2000 I started carrying a torch for you and never stopped
I cannot prove you wrong.

Tamping the secret down inside
this well-worn bottle of mine
resistance of compromising confidences is unconscious
I cannot speak of this
but that’s all right,
because I cannot speak this.

As a secondary measure my body
gives way to strange impulses
it wants to split open and
spray joyous trilling organs from its cracks,
raining candied memories in your lap.

If I were a toon, this would be easier.

Autistic Apology

Apologies are not useful. Learning is useful. Some advice on how to spend your energy and everyone else’s on the part of the exchange that pays its rent.

This post is going to be a little more personal, but hopefully it’ll be a useful window into how someone’s autisticness can change basic social needs.

I don’t really have any interest in apologies. Most of the steps of a “good” apology are entirely irrelevant to me. Expressing remorse? I don’t care; that’s no use to me. Asking forgiveness? First of all, I am not obligated to forgive anything and secondly… useless. The actual words, “I’m sorry” aren’t useful either.

“I’m sorry” is a great way to pacify someone who is upset without actually investing thought or effort in understanding, let alone doing better. And when “I’m sorry,” isn’t a conscious attempt to manipulate someone into putting their feelings away… they can be a result of a trauma reflex, the reflex to abase oneself to stave off disproportionate consequences. To show suffering so that hopefully it’ll be deemed adequate suffering by whomever is in a position to add more suffering on top.

This is also, to the person impacted by a screwup, entirely useless. (Worse than useless, if it turns into reassuring the person apologizing that actually everything is fine and they’re fine and nothing is wrong.) It’s primarily useful to abusers who want/need to see suffering in my experience, and to be entirely blunt… fuck those people. Suffering doesn’t actually have inherent value. How much someone is hurting is an entirely separate matter from whether they are going to do better.

So if none of that is useful to me, what should people do if they realize they’ve done something that’s… well, that wasn’t ideal. What should they do?

Accept this new information exactly as you would accept a new effort-saving way to do something in Excel. “Ohhh that makes sense. Thanks!” or to be even more informal, “Oh shit, good call, thanks.”

That’s it.

If you are going to add anything, you can do a comprehension check. Make sure you actually understand what someone is suggesting you learn, instead of assuming that the lesson is probably just that you are garbage that everyone should just exile to Cancelvania. It’s okay to be curious about how something you did may have caused harm.

Time for a fun tip! Get excited, because it’s good. Imagine this in a weird font atop those random gross images that show up in chumbucket ads at the bottom of websites:

One weird tip to grow from social mistakes!

Codependents hate it!

If you’ve ever seen one of those memes that suggests thanking people when you might reflexively apologize, that applies here! If, “sorry I’m late,” can become, “thank you for your patience,” then “I’m sorry I did the thing,” can become, “thank you for saying something.” Of course you have to actually mean it, you have to actually want people to tell you uncomfortable things.

Aside: Yes, you have to actually want it. I know that it’d be better for all of us to just never make a single suboptimal choice, and it’s easy to say that that’s the actual practical desired outcome of every interaction. But it’s not possible and as a benchmark this is only useful as a tool for self-punishment. Here are your real options.

  1. Make suboptimal choices and have to learn a new thing about them.
  2. Make suboptimal choices and have nobody dare to tell you, and learn no new thing.

You have to actually want option 1. If you can only grudgingly acknowledge that 1 is better you suppose, practice reminding yourself what your real options are and which one you prefer. Write it on your mirror if you have to; I don’t care how you do it as long as you do.

Once you have solidly consciously decided that it’s better to know unpleasant things so you can maintain a certain standard of behavior for yourself, it’ll be easier to thank people who trust you enough to actually engage with you in that way. They are helping you learn. The lesson may suck, but they’re still opting to be useful to your learning process instead of just writing you off. They are giving you the opportunity to practice your actual values and priorities. Thank them. MEAN IT WHEN YOU DO.

I know that for a lot of people, swapping in, “Oh that makes sense, thank you,” for the ritual of self-flagellation is going to be less satisfying. It’s going to feel too small a response to a wrongdoing. If this is you, please remember: your misery has no inherent value. You do not need to preserve it or perform it or induce it. Misery and being better are not actually causally linked; I’d argue they aren’t even correlated.

As an autistic person, I don’t care about anything other than what’s actually going to happen to the pattern of our interactions. People say a lot of nonsense for a lot of reasons other than its accuracy, and I’m done pretending to believe all of it just because it’s impolite to consciously know how much of it is nonsense. I don’t care about hearing the words, “I’m sorry.”

I’m not pointing out an area for improvement to hear, “I’m sorry.” I just want it improved. I’m not rejecting an apology to be terse or mean or unforgiving or punishing. I just literally don’t care about anything but how things are going to be in the future. If things improve, the conversation is over and the matter is closed.

I guarantee you that as an autistic person I am aware that we are all social works in progress. We are all going to do things that we don’t realize in the moment are beneath our standards for ourselves, and we are all going to have to choose whether we learn from those situations.

Go write down somewhere that your actual options are for people to tell you uncomfortable things or not to tell you uncomfortable things. Your wish for there to simply be no uncomfortable things is a silly trap you are locking around your own foot and you can just not do it. Know your real options. Either you learn and do better or you don’t. Everything else is just noise.

Feel free to be very suspicious of anyone who “needs” to see your misery over a thing you did that in retrospect you could have done better. Your misery has no inherent value; only your continuing evolution has value.

If instead someone helps you learn that you hurt them, they are investing in your evolution. Appreciate them. Thank them once you do appreciate them. They took a risk being real with you and they deserve to know it was and will be a safe thing to do.

That’s how you use a screwup to rise in the esteem of whomever you hurt. That’s how you use a screwup to learn. “I’m sorry,” doesn’t do the work; a genuine, “thank you,” absolutely can.

Fitting into Autistic Culture and Values

Autistic people learn allistic norms. Allistic people, with their allegedly superior Theory Of Mind, should have no problem with ours, right? ….Right?

First off, I’m going to use identity-first language here and not person-first because being autistic isn’t about having a condition; it’s a kind of brain wiring that creates a culture. This is why, for example, we don’t say “person with Deafness” when we mean “Deaf person.” Because being Deaf and being in a Deaf community is not the same as being in the broader world with a condition.

If you are not personally autistic and you want to argue with me about this, please instead look up “identity first language” and deal with your feelings about that yourself.

ANYWAY

A lot of people don’t really understand autistic culture, or why people who thrive in autistic culture would find broader allistic norms so profoundly traumatizing. Personally I think that autistic culture has fixed a lot of the problems in allistic culture that harm everyone (allistics included). But I suppose I would, because I’m autistic, and I see a lot of what allistic people train and traumatize each other into as being totally unnecessary.

Here’s what’s possible instead, if you do things the way autistic people learn to do them amongst ourselves. Here’s some of what you need to do to interact smoothly with us, and to benefit from the norms we are building for our own survival.

Briefly:

  • encourage interest and expertise
  • be honest about your needs
  • be receptive to honesty about our needs
  • assume we are asking questions because we want the real answer
  • ask questions because you want the answer
  • choose your words with conscious intention, and assume we are doing this for you
  • trust what we tell you more than what our body language may seem to be saying, or what the implicit meaning would be if an allistic person said it. We aren’t saying something carefully calibrated to take a certain form on the other side of your mental filters, so that you end up transforming what we said into what we want you to understand. We will say the thing we want you to understand. Any transformations you apply to it are transformations you applied to it. We say what we say.

The long version:

Much of what we do that makes allistic people uncomfortable falls into the broad category of making oneself vulnerable in ways allistics have been punished for being. We have been too, but hiding our loves or needs or questions costs us a lot more. We can be your opportunity to take a break from this costly pretense. You might like it! Being emotionally vulnerable can be good for you!

Vulnerability can also be dangerous. Having our loves and fears be obvious makes us low-hanging fruit for manipulative behavior. Abusers can learn our levers and switches especially efficiently. This is how ABA works, incidentally, by weaponizing our joy and fear to train more compliant and convenient property for whomever is perceived to own us. A lot of autists probably have trauma around being “allowed” to love or fear things openly, so we try not to reproduce it in our spaces.

Importantly: Some things are legitimately harder for us to learn. That’s just a thing. A lot of them are mostly harder to teach to us if you aren’t prepared to answer questions about your starting assumptions or values.

It’s been my experience that we have difficulty learning subjects in disconnected pieces. To understand a tree, we need the concept of its forest. This may be why we seem to learn in sudden giant leaps. We were learning the whole time, but it’s only when we can place our knowledge into patterns that we feel like we know any of the constituent pieces. We just need enough data points to solve for the pattern, and that’s why we ask so many questions. If we care about what you have to teach, we will look for the gaps in our idea of it, hunting for the vague or seemingly contradictory places on our map.

A good thing to remember is that if we aren’t asking you questions, we probably don’t respect you as a source of answers. I know that in allistic society, questions are seen and used as attacks. From us they are trust. We are trusting you with our map of the universe. Be as trustworthy as you can.

Tarot Spotlight: The Light of the Sun, Star, and Moon

A lot of cards prominently feature light as a Symbolic Element. The Hermit has a lantern. The Sun and Star get their own whole cards. The Tower is being hit by lightning. The Moon borrows light and uses it for its own purposes.

Light can bring clarity, but it behaves differently based on where it’s shining and how gently or harshly.

The Sun is warmth and easy joy for a lot of people, the kind of uncomplicated sincere unselfconscious happiness that a lot of us have drilled out of us as children. This is why there’s a child on a horse on the RWS version. This kid is out here, entirely naked as kids sometimes are determined to be, but contrary to what we’re taught… this happy and sincere and fully embodied kid is getting places. Growing out of who they are wasn’t necessary, nor was hiding anything. The most complete and sincerely-rooted version of themselves can also ride the always-symbolically-relevant horse, just as they are.

There is a caution here sometimes.

The Sun is a very vulnerable card, because sincerity is vulnerable. Being willing to be seen is extremely vulnerable. Being willing to pursue things as yourself allows other people the opportunity to form opinions about it, and other people’s opinions can turn into problems. The Sun is not just carefree and innocent; it’s very brave. The Sun goes unprotected by shade or shelter, choosing to be seen for its whole self rather than hide behind defenses.

Not everyone can be The Sun all the time. Sometimes, there are more important things than being accurately seen and understood. Honesty is a risk, and we can’t always take that risk.

The Star is less glaring, and to me implies an external source of guidance or support, tailored to your circumstances. It’s a glimpse that things are changing for the better, or perhaps most of all that YOU can change them, without the overwhelming detail coming down on you like a load of obligation bricks.

The Sun shows all the details. The world is blasted with the unforgiving glare that shows every part of it for what it is, and so are the people in it. The star is more like, “just wanted to remind you that there is a forward, we’ll talk about specifics later, xoxo”

It comes after Tower for that reason. After lightning has hit something you relied on, the last thing that’ll reassure you is GIANT FLASH OF OVERWHELMING LIGHT! HOPE THAT HELPS!! FOR GOOD MEASURE IT WILL ALSO BE LOUD!

instead it’s “light can be safe, take your time and we’ll hang out soon”

The Moon is a different illumination, in that it sort of…. doesn’t illuminate very much? You can see more, but not necessarily in a way that brings clarity. Moonlight tells you where the deep shadows are but does not dispel them. A lot of the destructive potential of water is there too, in the scorpion sort of sneaking out from the symbolically important river.

Personal discernment and judgment become really important when the Moon shows up in a reading. The Moon paints hazards vaguely, often just shrouding them in a vague dread, and you could avoid the worst of them if you avoid all of them. But can you?

I hope this makes it a little easier to see why it’s not enough to say that light is a symbol for revelation and guidance. There are types of revelation, and times for guidance, and those specifics matter.

The Secrets of Sphagnum

For the past few centuries peat bogs (or mosslands as we call them here in Lancashire) have been considered god-forsaken wastelands, impassable ‘by man or horse’, ‘too dry to farm, too wet fish’. Drained and excavated they have only been valued in so far as they provide land for farming and peat for energy and…

The Secrets of Sphagnum

Appreciate the complexity of moss! Appreciate it!

Tarot Spotlight: Pages and Knights

Pages and Knights are probably fairly easy to read for people who treat face cards as representations of actual individual people showing up for emphasis. Pages are kids, Knights are frequently freshly-adult fellas, and that is that. I don’t read them that way, so here is an alternative perspective that may help if you don’t get much use out of things like gender symbolism.

Pages

Pages just got here and they are so excited. I don’t read them with any particular gender, just as a phase of the journey of each suit’s topic. They’re… a level of expertise in each subject area, I suppose.

In the RWS, the Page of Pentacles has a pentacle they are holding up, and you can imagine it as the Ace of Pentacles , only the hand it’s in is theirs. You can see more than you could in the Ace, their whole arm and body and even where they are. It’s having the seed that the Ace represents and also understanding its context in a way that promises to be actually useful.

The Page of Cups has discovered introspection and empathy. They may not be extraordinarily skilled with them yet, but they are invested in figuring it out. They’re going to introspect to the best of their ability (no promises) and figure out other people’s feelings as best they can too (no promises).

The Page of Swords has found a new analytical framework, a new Theory of Everything, and they are going to apply it to absolutely every single question they encounter for a while yet. They are rigorously stress-testing this approach and its assumptions, which is a step that should never ever be skipped. They will eventually need to read another book though.

The Page of Wands has found their agency. They can impact things! Their choices matter! They may not know quite what they’re going to do with their new stick but it’s real and it’s theirs and that means when they know what to do, they’ve got something to start with.

Knights

The Knights have done a little bit of theoretical testing and are moving on to applying the principle of their suit. They have the enthusiasm of the Pages but with a level of inertia that will sometimes serve them well and sometimes not. They are Pages on horses, and they are on their way to… well, hopefully somewhere.

The Knight of Pentacles in the RWS has a horse that is standing and not rearing or running or getting up to any other shenanigans. This Knight is examining their Pentacle, making sure they really knows what its deal is before they tuck it under their arm and haul ass into the sunset with it. They’re a Knight so they need to move, they need to, but their inertia is the inertia of a body at rest. They need to come to a decision and get into motion.

The Knight of Cups has figured out that intuition is important and has a role and a purpose and power and it does things! The Knight of Cups will order their entire life around a dream they had three years ago, and this is tremendously powerful provided they pick the right dream.

The Knight of Swords has learned that it’s important to be sharp, to be decisive, and to break things when necessary. This Knight has learned that that which can be destroyed by the truth deserves to be, and might be actively hunting for new things to destroy with their truth. Their last few swings went super well so they are just going to keep swinging and hopefully their momentum will carry them in a direction they chose.

The Knight of Wands needs to do things for the sake of doing them. They know forward momentum and they know stasis, and stasis scares the everloving shit out of them. This Knight needs a quest. This is good, because a lot of quests urgently need a knight! But at the same time, a Knight and their horse will both need rest, which means doing things that are not strictly quest-related. Getting going after those pauses is the challenge of the Knight of Wands.

Summary

Pages have interest and drive. Knights have whatever inertia they built up as Pages, but haven’t developed great discernment or control yet. Both have a lot of sincerity and a lot of energy to offer whatever they’ve set their sights on.

May 2021 Linkdump Post

Things I enjoyed reading recently!

https://dontcallthepolice.com/ An excellent resource for the things we’re taught to call 911 about, but really would be better handled without law enforcement involvement.

Bonfires and Revelry: Pagan Primitivism https://godsandradicals.org/2016/10/12/bonfires-and-revelry-pagan-primitivism/ Really appreciated having someone on this site address some of the major problems with primitivism (which can be summed up by pointing out which specific human lives primitivists consider particularly expendable).

Sensory Processing is Only Half the Story: Movement Differences in Autistic People https://neuroclastic.com/2021/03/14/sensory-processing-is-only-half-the-story/ More reasons why treating autism as a series of irritating behavioral choices we make out of pure sadism to martyr our parents: it’s not just our inner experience that differs (though it does). It’s the way our brains and bodies form and execute our intentions. And that is not actually something that can be obedience-trained out of us.

Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments https://www.nature.com/articles/srep40700 We’ve been saying forever that neurotypicals refuse to meet us even 1% of the way when interacting with us, so of course our connections stall out at 99% and never complete. Here’s more data to suggest that we may actually know some things about our own life experiences.

Cottagecore, Colonialism, and the Far Right https://honisoit.com/2020/09/cottagecore-colonialism-and-the-far-right/

In Obesity Research, Fatphobia Is Always the X Factor https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/in-obesity-research-fatphobia-is-always-the-x-factor/ Also noteworthy, because it seems to always need to be said: being “healthy” isn’t actually what defines a whole person either.

Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind. In three decades of advocating for prison abolition, the activist and scholar has helped transform how people think about criminal justice.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/magazine/prison-abolition-ruth-wilson-gilmore.html

The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/31/the-answer-to-police-violence-is-not-reform-its-defunding-heres-why Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing was a major read for me, so I wasn’t surprised to find great articles too.

The Crumple Zone: Partners Who Bear the Impact https://poly.land/2017/06/22/crumple-zone-partners-bear-impact/ Good piece about how the polyam community highlights the broader problem of emotionally-skilled or reliable people being objectified as convenient relational meatshields.

You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide https://philome.la/jace_harr/you-feel-like-shit-an-interactive-self-care-guide/play/index.html For when the problems are heavy enough that you can’t also carry the burden of figuring out how to solve them, here is a good way to outsource that mental load and still get the solutions.

Things I still want to read

We Do This Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba. Waiting for this one on audiobook, because I absorb nonfiction better that way. For folks who like viewing the words: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1664-we-do-this-til-we-free-us

Cursed White Supremacy Walking Tour 2017

CW: chattel slavery (antiblackness, human trafficking, descendants of traffickers still making money off it), my mother being a smug horror movie waiting to happen

So this is simultaneously the spookiest thing that has ever happened to me, and the unpleasant spiritual experience I begrudge the least, because I think you will agree that all of these responses were entirely proportional and frankly pretty generous.

So in 2017, my mother went on a trip to Savannah, Georgia, to do one of those Haunted Savannah For Tourists walking tours. She was so excited! And she told me I should come join them! I knew, just knew, when she said the house was beautiful that they were going so far as to stay in a goddamn plantation house. This is the exchange we had via text.

She told me, “LMAO!!! I will lol”

She clearly thought I was kidding. My best friend’s first comment when I told her about this was, “she gon die” She didn’t die but… Well. Please enjoy these screenshots of the update I gave my friends on Discord.

Long screenshot of a Discord conversation

I did stop having thematically-upsetting dreams and inexplicable sudden injuries after I went outside to leave some food and apologize. I think I said something to the extent of, “I don’t know what she is doing down there, but I’m sure it’s awful, and I am really sorry.” What else can you even say?

I didn’t hear of anything unpleasant happening to my mother (other than being seen hitting on Paula Deen’s son), but her best friend who went with them on the trip, the one who was having such a great time laughing at me, got home and had multiple areas of her life collapse inside a week. I am still not sure if my mother noticed the timing, but well… she notices what she wants to notice. This was her chatting to me about the state of this friend’s life all of a sudden.

screenshot of an iOS conversation

I warned them!

Now, on the one hand, this sucks because this is the only one of my mother’s friends I like. On the other hand, it sucks because I was definitely not intending to get my mother off the hook for all this nonsense behavior. Like I said before: entirely proportional.

But the moral of the story is, show some goddamn respect to the accumulated suffering of generations of human trafficking victims that is the foundation of our entire history as a nation. Or else. Don’t fuck with dead people. Especially don’t fuck with these dead people. If minimal common decency isn’t enough of a motivator, maybe fear will get the job done. Are you a white person going out of your way to benefit from the legacy of chattel slavery? You’ll deserve what you get.

Ragnarok is for the Kids

Loki’s kids deserved better and sometimes I get upset about it!

I originally posted this on Medium back when that was the thing to do, but I think it should be here.

I’m transcribing a series of FB comments I made when someone asked me to elaborate on why I disagree with Gaiman’s portrayal of Hel in his book Norse Mythology. I’m recalling a lot of details of my primary sources off the top of my head, so if there are errors in my recollection that’s where they came in.

Content Warning: Gaslighting, kidnapping, separation of siblings, gaslighting, child abandonment, gaslighting, psychological torture, physical torture, GASLIGHTING, Odin is even more awful than he gets credit for and I want to fite him

So, anyway. Gaiman wrote a book about Norse mythology and one thing he got right is that Freya would have plenty of reason to have a perpetual long-simmering hatred of Loki in particular but also EVERYONE more generally. This is because people keep showing up and making wagers with the Aesir and demanding her hand in marriage if they win, and the Aesir keep AGREEING and assuming that it’ll be fine because it’ll all surely work out fine. He got it right that she would be furious a lot and that the Aesir — despite their dudely ability to constantly forget how pissed she’ll be — quickly backpedal in Oh Shit Mode when active Freya anger is starting to happen.

This was good. So. Credit where credit is due: good ol’ Uncle Neil has demonstrated a base-level understanding of the fact that women are allowed to be angry when their autonomy is disregarded.

So we come to his telling of what goes down with Loki’s kids by Angrbodha. See, he’s got his Good Wife Sigyn (the one everyone knows about, who ends up crouched by his side catching snake venom in a bowl to keep it from falling on his face, and having to occasionally run and dump it out, and earthquakes are him writhing in pain during those brief periods when she can’t be there to protect her husband). But he’s also got a secret ice giant wife on the side.

Nobody finds out about her until Odin starts having bad dreams about getting eaten to death by a wolf, and his investigation leads him to consult the Norns (a community of event-makers, many of whom are explicitly just going to ruin lives, and that’s why bad things happen to good people! some Norns are just mean) and the well of knowledge where he left his eye and his friend’s head and in general pulls out all the stops to figure out just how big a deal this is going to be. The answer is: THE WORST OF ALL BIG DEALS. THE END OF DEALS. And of course, like all problems they aren’t depending on Loki to solve (and many that they still are), it’s his fucking fault somehow. So they get the Aesir surveillance state (also known as Odin and his fuckin birds) to watch him and he goes to visit his other wife. Tada! Loki is happy! That can’t be good. Something must be done.

Some of the Aesir go to visit Angrbodha to see what he’s been up to, and there are these kids playing there, all together because they’re siblings and they’re cool with each other. There’s a puppy, a snake, and a girl or half a girl or possibly a half-corpse, but at any rate, these are evidently Loki’s children with Angrbodha. The Aesir take the kids back with them like that isn’t FUCKING HORRIBLE and here is where I start getting upset with Neil Gaiman for downplaying this as merely some Grecian-style self-fulfilling prophecy shenanigans and not the destruction of a family and the deliberate gaslighting and abuse of children, up to and including straight-up psychologically destroying one of them. Because lemme tell ya, Neil’s version reads like what an adult would have seen happening, not what I saw reading it.

So the Aesir are traveling with the kids. The girl’s name is Hel, and nobody knows her deal except that she’s a totally decayed corpse on one side and apparently normal on the other. Disconcerting, but okay. Dealable. The wolf pup Fenrir is definitely just a puppy, but he gets harder and harder to feed because of how fast he’s growing. I think at some point he’s something outrageous like moose-sized, but he and Tyr are still hanging out because the god of victory is not going to worry about giant-sized pupper and pupper doesn’t have any reason to suspect any of this could ever go wrong because that is pupper nature. The snake Jormundgandr is also growing unmanageably fast, and its face is just so perpetually venomous and snappy and Danger that they end up tying it to a tree and like… binding its head down so that they can avoid the corrosive acid venom? Keep in mind, Jormundgandr was not causing any problems to Hel or Fenrir, so why the issue now unless it didn’t want to go with them? Yeah. Exactly.

They arrive to present these kids for Odin’s judgment that as everybody’s distant patriarch he’s decided he’s allowed to hand down. He just… throws Jormundgandr in the fucking ocean. Fuck your family, fuck your siblings, go do the rest of your growing up in total isolation you weird dangerous snake. And that’s how Jormundgandr ends up out there so big and long it encircles the world!

So Odin turns to Hel. In Gaiman’s version Odin straight up asks if she is dead. They have a little conversation about how she isn’t dead, but she likes dead people better because they’re respectful to her, whereas the living always treat her with revulsion because of how she looks and her manner. But dead people just interact with her like she’s a person, so they’re easier. Having now gotten to know Hel a little bit, what kind of environment makes her happy and would allow her to thrive, Odin appoints her the ruler of the underworld so that she can be in charge of all those who died Normal People Deaths. This makes her happy enough that we get our first smile out of her! (Albeit only on the living side of her face.)

Except I read a translation of this scene, and Gaiman added in this ENTIRE conversation to make this seem like some kind of agreement they came to as though out of all three children, Hel is the one that Odin decided to single out for paternal concern and favor. WHAT? Out of all the generations of people who have died, Odin selects only a few that are worthy to kill each other forever while he watches and the rest are literally his fucking discard pile. If they didn’t die in a fight, they died “dishonorably.” Their deaths are “shameful.” We have no reason to assume that he would consider responsibility for his dead people trash pile to be some kind of favor. IMO he threw her away just like Jormundgandr: a throwaway girl slogging through the responsibilities for throwaway ghosts he never gave a shit about from the start. Because lol she looks dead, get it? GET IT? lololololol

And Fenrir. Oh god. Fenrir still doesn’t realize anything is wrong because puppies are just so fucking naive.

He is still hanging out with the Aesir, because obviously! People! They feed him! Yeah!

They keep challenging him with “feats of strength” and being soooo impressed! when he keeps succeeding! every time! These feats of strength? All of them are testing himself against heavier and heavier chains. By this point my heart was already sinking. He’d break out of one and they’d all pretend to be so proud of him, so he’d be proud of himself and proud that they were proud. And they’d go behind his back and freak out that he was so strong, and try to forge something even more powerful that would be able to bind him forever.

Eventually they went to the dwarves, who make all of the totally awesome artifacts everybody has, and the dwarves produce what looks like a delicate ribbon because when you are making magical shit it doesn’t have to be physically imposing anymore. They take it back to Fenrir. They make their usual big deal about how they found him another test to see how big and strong he’s gotten now.

He takes one look at that ribbon and starts to realize. He tells them, essentially, “Nah, that looks kinda artifacty to me.” But they hit him with that heavy peer pressure. “Are you scared of a little ribbon? Look how little it is.” “No! But seriously, guys, what is this.”

Eventually he agrees that he’ll try the ribbon, but only if someone will reassure him that they’re definitely going to be pals and let him out if he’s finally hit his limit this time. He wants someone to put their hand in his mouth and trust him like he’s trusting them. Tyr volunteers.

You can guess what happens. He’s stuck. The other gods cheer. Tyr gets his hand chomped off when Fenrir realizes that his new friends and family have been fucking with his head this whole time. He knows this is some Odin-scented fuckery and promises that he’s going to eat the almighty fuck out of the Allfather and you know what? Then he’s going to eat the fucking MOON and the SUN and Fenrir is just really upset at the world in general. The Aesir have enough of this and use a spear or a sword, I don’t remember which, to stab his mouth propped open so that he can never bite down and close his mouth. And the saliva from his mouth is where some river or other comes from! Yay.

At this point I was pretty much ready to eat the moon myself because these gods are shitlords. The only one I have any sympathy for is Tyr, because while he behaved horribly, the injury he’s carrying around sort of puts me in mind of the huge part moral injury plays in combat soldiers’ PTSD; what messes soldiers up the most isn’t being shot at, it’s knowing they’re doing hideous shit and knowing no matter what else they could ever be, they will always be the person who did it. Tyr has the tiny scrap of bare decency to be injured by this. Someone should be.

I felt a little better because of how Hel interacts with them the next times we see her. Here’s the other reason I think Gaiman is wrong about her interactions with Odin when she was exiled. She doesn’t ACT LIKE someone who appreciated her assignment. She acts like someone who kept her mouth shut to bide her time.

When I was a kid, small acts of resistance were all I really had to keep me remembering who the real enemy was and that I hated them and I was right to hate them. They kept me focused, kept me from blaming myself or getting lost. I learned later that this is actually an interrogation resistance technique: continue resisting in small ways, regardless of how effectual it is, to remind your brain that you’re supposed to be resisting. Otherwise it really is possible to forget.

I think about this a lot when I think about Hel.

She has a small role in another story about Loki totally ruining someone else’s life, and actually managing to kill them. If you know the story of Baldr, this is that one. The broad strokes are that everybody loves him so much they tried to make him effectively unharmable, which upset Loki just on principle. So he managed to get Baldr killed just BECAUSE.

The gods (not just the Aesir, as I think Baldr is Freya’s son, and therefore his parents are Vanir, and not as garbage) send an emissary down to Hel’s realm. Now, she has fully gothed this place out. I mean, COMMITTED to this theme. She named her knife and bowl Famine and Hunger respectively, and named her bed Sickbed. And in Helheim they are all set up for a huge party because Baldr is coming! What a great stroke of luck to have someone so famously great come to live with them! The emissary asks Hel to please please please give him back. Everybody misses him, everybody is crying.

Her response? “Prove it.” Gaiman adds some dialogue about how he’s the greatest thing that’s happened to her realm, probably ever, and it’d just break their hearts to lose him. But in my opinion it is probably riiiiiight about here that the gods are about to realize they actually HAVE NOT been on perfect terms with Hel this whole time. There’s just been no need for them to know it.

But the emissary isn’t the boss of this realm; she is. *sad trombone* Who made that rule! Oh, it was Odin, when he shipped her down there. *SAAAD TROMBOOONE*

The gods decide to give it a go, though, since honestly their odds are actually quite good. They manage to get every single thing, living and unliving, to cry for Baldr by explaining the situation. Except one. Some bitter old giantess refuses. “Let Hel keep what she has,” is all she says. Even KNOWING that this has to be Loki, the emissary can’t do anything. Because even if it’s Loki, it still means the conditions weren’t satisfied.

And if Hel and Loki had coordinated this, we’d probably be told so at the end. Norse tales are heavy-handed like that. So my reading is that Hel saved up her time until the whole world’s hearts were breaking and only she — with the power she’d mustered by the unfair rules of someone else’s game — could fix it all. And then she dangled a tiny bit of hope, because of all Loki’s kids, I think she inherited the scheming. She had to know Loki wasn’t going to cry for this dude.

Hel was a good little underworld goddess until they wanted something badly enough. Then the gods realized they’d given her power. And according to one source, at Ragnarok they’ll realize they gave her an army. According to the Prose Edda, she’ll bring it up behind Loki, and that’s when she’ll see her brothers again, when they all end the world.

I have never been so ready for any religion’s end of days in my fucking life.