I’m a little overwhelmed

I’ve come down from the writing high. Or maybe it wasn’t a high. Whatever it was, I’ve come down, and I was all set to just casually, leisurely enjoy writing for awhile.

I’m in a dangerous place today, though. I was once again reminded just how little I know. I’ve been writing fan fiction in the Night Vale universe, but that universe is suffused with the occult and horror and other things that I have honestly never really been that interested in, and as such have very little knowledge of. And Night Vale is a very smart work generally, filled with allusions I know I’m missing.

Sometimes I can accept my ignorance, or rather, accept that I have a lot to learn and am capable of learning it. But sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, that I know so little, that I’m a failure. Today is tipping toward being one of those times.

Today’s episode was emotionally draining. It’s left me somehow restless and numb. I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I don’t want to write. I want to just…recover.

But if I don’t write, I will break my streak, and I don’t want to do that either.

I’ll write. I’ll write something. Maybe it will be really short, but it will count.

And then I’ll try to figure out what the hell I seem to be yearning for.

Cecil and Carlos: Best love story ever

Cecil and Carlos shirt designed by Melissa Shaw
Cecil and Carlos shirt designed by Melissa Shaw

Last November, I fell head-over-heels in love with a relationship between two fictional characters.

I’d been listening to Welcome to Night Vale off and on since the beginning of 2014, mainly in binges during long car rides. It was November when I finally caught up on the series, experiencing the major arc of 2014 all in a rush. The story was incredible, the expert culmination of two years of plotlines. But what stuck with me most was the blossoming relationship between a radio host and a scientist, played out gradually, naturally, beautifully. I had to go back and listen to the entire series again. (And again.)

When Carlos comes to town in the very first episode, Cecil says, “He grinned, and everything about him was perfect. And I fell in love instantly.” At that point, I honestly never imagined it would turn into a relationship. I figured maybe everyone in town would fall in love with Carlos, the beautiful stranger…that it would just be another weird thing that happened in Night Vale.

(It turns out that even the writers didn’t know Cecil and Carlos would become a thing. It just…happened, organically.)

Cecil’s apparently one-sided crush continues, mentioned here and there throughout the first year of episodes. In episode 16, Carlos calls Cecil for the first time, and Cecil breathlessly tells his radio audience, “Guess who called me this weekend? Carlos!” It’s adorable and funny and a little sad, because you get the impression from that episode that Carlos has no interest in Cecil at all. We have only seen Cecil’s perspective at this point, so we have limited data, but Carlos has been pretty focused on science, ignoring Cecil’s flirting, and he’s always turned down Cecil’s requests to get together. This time he asks Cecil to meet, but it’s about something he’s investigating. So when Cecil says “It’s just coffee, but maybe it’s more! Maybe lots more,” it’s played for humor, because obviously Carlos doesn’t think it’s a date.

We don’t get to hear that coffee non-date, nor the resolution thereof. In fact, we don’t hear about Carlos again for quite a few episodes. Cecil mentions scientists generally in the interim, and maybe one of those scientists is Carlos, but we don’t get any more rhapsodizing about Carlos until episode 25.

If Cecil was upset about the coffee thing, he’s over it now, dreamily describing how wonderful Carlos is and pointing out that it has been exactly one year since the scientist came to town. Cecil plans to give Carlos a trophy to mark the occasion. The one-sided crush humor continues! But then it’s turned on its head at the end of the episode. After surviving a life-threatening situation, Carlos asks Cecil to come meet him. “After everything that happened, I just wanted to see you.” We realize he’s been running from his own feelings, and it is all ridiculously romantic.

This is where a lot of stories end. Happily ever after! But not this story, and that is why I have fallen so hard for it. We get to experience Cecil and Carlos’ first date. We then get little windows into their relationship—Cecil still adores Carlos, but now there are comments like “lovely Carlos, with his perfect teeth and hair and penchant for sometimes chewing a little more loudly than is preferred” (episode 30) and “Carlos says he would like to study it, but that he promised to make a certain person dinner, and he has to learn how to put other things besides science first. Some of this realization might have come with help from those around him” (episode 31) and “I grabbed my phone to tell Carlos that if I didn’t make it home tonight, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him or didn’t want to watch a documentary on special scientific graphs, or was too obsessed with my job to relax and enjoy a good meal and some television” (episode 38).

These examples let us see that they’re negotiating their relationship. They have their irritations with each other, but they’re committed to being active participants in their love story. They’re compromising and thinking about the other person’s needs. The entire plot of the live show episode “Condos” (available on iTunes; I highly recommend it) was built around Cecil and Carlos realizing that perfection is unattainable, and that they wouldn’t want perfection anyway.

So many fictional “love stories” are dependent on the feeling of love enduring “naturally”—that is, without any effort on the part of the participants in the relationship. In those stories, the appearance of any new attractive character puts the relationship at risk. The Night Vale writers actually play on this trope in episode 51, making it look like Cecil might have competition for Carlos’ affection. Cecil and Carlos are talking on the phone, as Carlos is now trapped in another dimension referred to as the “desert otherworld”. Carlos casually mentions someone named Doug; when Cecil asks who Doug is, the call drops. Later, Carlos explains that Doug is apparently important in this world and describes how Doug saved him from falling rocks, and this goes on just long enough for you to start thinking Oh no. But then Carlos says how worried he was that he’d lost his only connection to Cecil when he dropped his phone, that he doesn’t care about making friends in the otherworld, “and the only person I truly care about isn’t in this desert anyway.” The entire Doug thing was a genius troll by the writers and I loved it.

As the storyline with Carlos in the desert continues, a lot of fans have grown concerned that Cecil and Carlos’ relationship is in trouble. I am not one of those people.

Carlos has asked Cecil to stop using the word “trapped.” We don’t know why, but he wants to spin it as though he is there by choice. However, he still hasn’t found a way to get himself back to Night Vale, or to get Cecil to the desert, so obviously “trapped” is still a valid descriptor. Cecil has a lot of trouble with this, but he does his best. In the meantime, Carlos, who had been bad about getting distracted by science and not contacting Cecil, has now apparently been calling (and Snapchatting, and whatnot) regularly. Both of these examples show that Cecil and Carlos are making their relationship a priority.

Obviously, I would love for Cecil and Carlos to be in the same dimension again, but I don’t think their separation spells doom for their relationship. These guys are committed to each other. Everything we’ve seen demonstrates that Cecil and Carlos aren’t depending on some magical outside force to keep them in love with each other. They are choosing, every day, to love each other.

And that is why I’m in love with their relationship.

Wonderfully unexpected

Recently I posted a bunch of Welcome to Night Vale art prompts on Tumblr.

The first one was simply this: “I need a picture of Carlos putting his lab coat on Cecil’s shoulders, please…someone…” I didn’t know if anyone would even see it, let alone reply, but Sisaat, one of my favorite WTNV fan artists (their style is just so dreamy and beautiful!) took the idea and ran. (“okay so this is turning into a comic for some reason so it might take a while and be sloppy, but it will happen,” they posted.)

Cecilos fanart
Carlos putting his lab coat around Cecil’s shoulders, by Sisaat (fansbyproducts)

And here it is!

I don’t even know what I expected. Maybe I was thinking it was just cold out and Carlos was offering his lab coat for basic warmth. But this…this is so sweet, yet sad. I’m just overwhelmed by how a random request I tossed off one day became this absolutely gorgeous artwork, this amazing little story.

My next post in this vein was a list of ideas, starting with “Carlos in Science Goggles.” This post was actually reblogged by popular WTNV fan blog sexybaldwin, so now I keep seeing artists fave or reblog it. An artist called classynerdpot responded to the prompt “Carlos giving Cecil a traditional, careful shave with a straight-edge razor.” You can view that one here. Again, not at all what I was imagining–to be perfectly honest, I was thinking of this scene from Skyfall–but oh, isn’t this funny and cute? I love it!

I wonder if anyone else will draw any of my prompts? It’s so exciting!

This experience makes me miss the Anime-Manga Roleplaying Network. Writing was so much fun when I had other writers to respond to and plot with. Other people have such interesting ideas. They see things I don’t, go places I never would. And then I can build on that, and so on, until we have something amazing.

I need to find someone to work on a project with, I think.

[Update: Carlos in Science Goggles!]

Gender-swapped Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale logoI’ve long been fascinated by the idea of gender-swapping—taking a known story and flipping all the characters’ genders, changing as little else as possible, and seeing what happens. It’s an intriguing intellectual exercise. Does it change our perceptions of the characters? Of the story? Do we start to feel that the story is unrealistic? How and why? Ultimately I think it’s a great way to poke and prod at our own subconscious biases.

Welcome to Night Vale makes for a very interesting gender-swap subject because, unlike many mainstream stories, it is already so progressive. We’ve got a diverse cast of characters, with people of differing gender, sexual orientation, skin color, culture, ability, and more. What happens to this rich cast when we swap everyone’s gender? Anything?

Today I spent a few hours coming up with a list of gender-swapped Welcome to Night Vale character names. I believe names have meanings we learn intuitively but don’t necessarily recognize consciously; keeping that in mind, I tried to come up with names that gave me a similar feeling, or names that etymologically had the same or similar meanings. I did not mess with non-gendered characters like Alisha or the Glow Cloud.

In many cases, I didn’t feel that switching the genders made much of a difference. In others, it was harder to imagine gender as being irrelevant. For example, changing Michael Sandero into Michaela suddenly turns the Night Vale Scorpions into a women’s football team. This underscores the real-world “truth” that no one cares about women’s sports…apparently not even in Night Vale. (Let me know if I’m mistaken. I can’t remember an example of a women’s sports team in Night Vale, and a quick search of fan transcripts isn’t turning anything up.)

Here’s the list of gender-swapped characters, and my reactions to the swapping.

  • Cecile Gertrude Palmer
  • Carla the Scientist

So far, so good.

  • Steph Carlsberg
  • Cecile’s unnamed brother, married to Steph Carlsberg
  • Johnny, Cecile’s nephew (son of Cecile’s brother, stepson to Steph)

This is interesting, but not problematic. Johnny could be selling cookies (or something else) for cub/boy scouts. I don’t think anything in the story particularly requires these characters to be male or female.

  • Elle Harlan

I think “Elle” is a far prettier name than “Earl,” but it feels similar when spoken, which is why I picked it. In this gender-swap version I guess Elle would have to be a girl scout leader? And it is a little striking to have a female sous chef and a female executive chef at a premier restaurant. In western culture, as soon as a job becomes a prestigious profession, it suddenly seems to be dominated by men.

  • Karen, radio host for Desert Bluffs

Creepy, creepy Karen.

  • Dan Cardinal
  • Terrell Flynn

Now this is interesting. Two of the show’s big heroes are now guys. Does it feel less heroic for the Intern Who Lived and the adolescent resistance leader to be male? I’m thinking of Cecil’s speech about Tamika, where he goes from calling her a “girl” to a “woman” to a “human being.” How would that speech have felt if it was “boy” to “man” to “human being”? Is it different? Is it necessary to point out that a male is a human being, or does it seem silly, as “male” and “human” have been synonymous for so long in western culture?

  • The woman we all believe to be the sheriff of Night Vale

Does being a woman make the sheriff less weird or imposing? (I don’t think so, actually.)

  • The Woman in the Tan Jacket

This reminds me of the Observers in Fringe. (The Observers really pissed me off, especially in the final season.) Like the Observers, the Man in the Tan Jacket is a strange visitor of default gender (male). When we think of a generic person, we think of a male, so making the visitor in the tan jacket female is very interesting to me. The show actually did something like this with the Woman from Italy, but of course, she hasn’t become a recurring character (yet?).

  • Lorne Mallard, StrexCorp executive

Given Kevin and Lauren’s interesting dynamic—Lauren was supposed to be Kevin’s boss, but he seemed to have some sort of power over her—I’d love to see this gender swap, and see Karen really creeping Lorne out.

  • (Former) Mayor Patterson Winchell
  • Intern Maurice
  • Jane Peters, you know, the farmer?

I don’t really have any comments on these three…swapping their genders doesn’t seem to do anything to the story.

  • Heidi McDaniels, literal five-headed dragon

I like this, if only because Hiram is such a fun character and it would be really neat to see a female version. I’m not seeing anything particularly gendered in his story though.

  • The Faceless Old Man Who Secretly Lives in Your Home

Somehow this is far creepier to me than a Faceless Old Woman. But it’s creepier because it feels sexual. I don’t get a sexual vibe from the Faceless Old Woman. I suppose western culture has primed me to expect predatory men.

  • Old Man Joe and the Angels, all called Erik

You know what’s funny here? I have no problem thinking of the Erikas as being male or female or genderless, but having them all named Erik makes me assume they are all male. I don’t think gender-swapping Josie is a huge deal, though. (“Joseph” would be the Desert Bluffs counterpart.)

  • Liddy Lenore, out on the edge of town

There may be different connotations to a woman who lives out on the edge of town versus a man who lives out on the edge of town, but in general, I don’t think there’s anything about Larry Leroy that demands maleness. (Also, I was really pleased when I chose “Lenore.”)

  • Morgan Wallaby, who was born as a grown woman’s detached hand

Ah. It would be interesting trying to characterize Morgan’s looks—in the show, Megan’s manly hand-hair is mentioned, but what would you say about a woman’s hand without falling into the trap so many children’s videogames do—putting a bow on it or something? A woman’s hand doesn’t naturally have an identifier like nail polish. And you wouldn’t expect a pre-pubescent boy to have manly hand-hair. In fact, a young boy’s hand might not look so different from a woman’s hand. So what would be the signifier? Maybe just that the hand looked older than a child’s hand?

  • Tammy Williams, owner of the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex
  • Tilly the barber

These are fun, but ultimately I don’t think they reveal any gendered stereotypes. They work pretty well swapped.

  • (The former) Martha Vanston

Aha. Now here is a problematic one. Marcus Vanston’s big thing is going around naked. There are extraordinarily different connotations when a woman does this. It would be fun to explore.

  • Naaz al-Mujaheed
  • Michaela Sandero and her father Florent
  • Malique Herrera

Here’s where we get the women’s football team.

  • Big Ricki, owner of Big Ricki’s Pizza
  • Lenny Hart, editor of the Night Vale Daily Journal
  • Mickey Nguyen, owner of Dark Owl Records
  • Sammy Sultan, president of Night Vale Community College, who happens to be a smooth, fist-sized river rock
  • Simon Rigadeau, a transient living in the recycling closet of the Earth Sciences building at NVCC

I’m not seeing any big issues with any of these swaps.

  • Rey, the voice of Night Vale’s numbers station WZZZ

Would making WZZZ’s voice male take away some of its “credibility” as a victim? Would he be less sympathetic to the audience, not being a “damsel in distress”? (I think WTNV’s audience is more sophisticated than that, but it is an interesting thought. Would we have a subconscious aversion to hearing a male voice in that kind of distress?)

That pretty much covers the major and notable characters. There are plenty of other characters, but they’re not as important to the storyline (again, yet). There are a couple of interesting things I thought of, though. Making Sylvia Wickersham into Silvio Wickersham kind of gives the character a Marcus Vanston vibe (rich person doing whatever they want). And what if we turn the “Shawns” from sales into “Shawnas”? Does that make what happened to them more stomach-turning?

Here are a few more names, just for fun:

  • Sullivan Thurgood, publicity director for the Night Vale Medical Board
  • Rhonda Singh
  • Former mayor Daniel DuBois
  • Dab, a sentient patch of haze
  • Dion Creighton, treasurer of the PTA and father to Joss
  • Emile Munton, director of the Night Vale Zoo
  • Francis Donaldson, the tall man with green eyes who manages the antiques mall
  • Leonora Burton, former host of Night Vale Community Radio
  • Joy Eisenberg, dinosaur expert
  • LaShawnda Mason, executive chef at Tourniquet (again, a gendered profession)
  • Marcel LeFleur, head of Night Vale’s tourism board
  • Vincenza LeFarge, head of vigilante squad Grab ‘Em and Sack ‘Em (kind of a gendered profession too, eh?)
  • Trent Hidge, staffer during Mayor Winchell’s tenure

What do you think? Does gender-swapping the characters of Welcome to Night Vale tell you anything about your conscious and subconscious thoughts and feelings? Has anyone else done anything with this idea?

(Many thanks to the Night Vale Wiki for its list of characters, and to Lia and aimlessglee for their episode transcripts, which I have imported into Evernote for reference.)


It occurs to me belatedly that I didn’t consider the Apache Tracker. Actually, I thought of him pretty early on, realized that swap would be fairly complex, and put it off for later. And then forgot.

So, the Apache Tracker. I honestly don’t know enough about Native American culture to figure out whether or not “Apache Tracker” could be “properly” used for a female character. “Properly” is in quotes because of course the term “Apache Tracker” is purposefully misused for this guy. My issue is, I’m not sure if having a female Apache Tracker would add a completely different element that would change the story or the meaning of the character, in terms of what the words “Apache” and “tracker” mean.

I do think making the Apache Tracker female would add some intriguing nuance to the statement the character is making about cultural appropriation. “That white guy” is a fairly standard (dare I say it) strawman for racism, but “that white lady” has some additional connotations. Women aren’t privileged in the same way men are, but white women have privilege that people of color of any gender don’t. Feminism also doesn’t always have a great track record when it comes to people of color. The white male Apache Tracker gives me a generic, ignorant cultural appropriation vibe. A white female Apache Tracker, though? I start to have feelings of betrayal. As someone who straddles a line between privilege and oppression, someone who knows what misogyny feels like and yet has been treated the way human beings should be treated, she should know better. I find myself far angrier at her than I am at the canon Apache Tracker, who just sort of makes me shake my head and laugh ruefully.