Category Archives: paradigms

You Knew What I Was When You Picked Me Up

This is the Deathstalker scorpion. It can kill a man. Also, "Deathstalker." Most awesome name of anything, EVER.

I try to remember the scorpion when I’m going about my daily business.

You all know the story, right? I wasn’t aware until I started looking into it, but apparently it’s really, really old. Like, third-century-B.C. old. So, back in the third century, before Jesus was all water-into-wining and whatnot, people were talking about the scorpion and the frog. Or sometimes, the scorpion and the turtle, but I’m going with frog, because frogs are softer and easier to injure.

And yet we never fucking learn.

In case you didn’t click above (and LISTEN YAHOOS, I look at my clicks, and I notice you are not clicking, and that is just SO SAD, are your clickers broken? Is it the fact that, like my brother says, you all have one hand? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?) I will tell you the story of the scorpion and the frog. But, Amy-style, because listen, what’s not better, Amy-style? Very little, is the answer.

Once upon a time in a kingdom nowhere near the sea, there lived a frog. The frog was a damn dirty hippie, all “peace love DOPE!” and shit, and hopping along all willy-nilly and probably dropping acid or whatever damn dirty hippie-frogs do, I don’t know, whatever, wearing frog peace-beads and stinking up the joint with frog-patchouli or some such nonsense. One day, Hippie Frog decided, “Duuuude, I think I’ll swim over this here river, see what’s on the other side, maybe they got some better grass, you dig?” So he got all ready to do so, and a scorpion came up to him.

“Dearest frog, with your lovely scent of, oh, what is that, patchouli? How utterly delightful,” said the scorpion. “I am a very poor swimmer, being a scorpion. Perhaps you, as a frog of many talents, one of which being superior aquaticism, would be willing to give me a ride on your back across this wild and woolly river?”

Hippie Frog, even through his dope-haze, was savvy to this jive. “Whoa, wait a minute, you’re a SCORPION,” he said. “I know what will happen. I’ll get halfway across the river, and you’ll sting me and I’ll die. You can’t fool ME, scorpion-dude. I wasn’t born YESTERDAY, you know.”

The scorpion nodded sagely. “Well-played, Sir Frog, well-played indeed. Yes, it is true. I, as a scorpion, am known for my fearsome stinger. Yet, it would not behoove me to sting you while we were crossing the river. We would both perish, if I were to do that; so, you can see, you have nothing to lose, and only my friendship to gain, by assisting me in my traveling task. I promise your safety, my good man, on our mutual river crossing. On that you have my word as a scorpion. My, but those are lovely beads, did you get them at that precious corner headshop run by that psychoactive toad?”

Well, Hippie Frog so wanted to be helpful. And the scorpion had a good point! And he had PROMISED! And what if, after the river crossing, he and the scorpion could become friends? It would be like a little project! He could win where everyone else had failed! It would be epic! Songs would be sung! Stories would be told!

“Hop on scorpion-friend,” the frog said. “Let’s get to swimmin’.”

So Hippie Frog started swimming, his head full of dreams: oh, the friendship he and his BFF the scorpion would have! The picnics they would go on together! The inside jokes they would crack! The double dates they would venture out upon! People would be so jealous of such a close friendship; even more so, because the frog had been brave, and had won over the scorpion. Hippie Frog knew that everyone said the scorpion was bad news, but that was just idle talk, nothing more. I mean, seriously, dude! This was going – pun most definitely intended – SWIMMINGLY!

OUCH. SHIT. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT.

“Um, scorpion-dude, did you just sting me?” Hippie Frog asked, his head starting to get fuzzy, his arms and legs starting to fail in their perfect froggy breaststroke. “Why? Why? You promised. YOU PROMISED!”

“Ah, yes, that I did,” the scorpion said, and Hippie Frog thought he even seemed a little sad as his eyesight started to go and they both started to go under. “But, Sir Frog, I’m a scorpion. You knew that, going into it. It’s in my nature.”

Now, this story’s been told in a variety of ways, and in a variety of places – the movie Natural Born Killers (LOVE), the movie The Crying Game (remember how we all tried not to spoil that for each other when it first came out? Aw, weren’t we all so cute, pre-interwebs?), the movie Skin Deep (no idea what this even is and don’t care enough to research it) and Star Trek: Voyager (sorry, not a Star Trek person, but I’m sure someone reading this is and remembers it from there.) I, oddly enough, first heard it in a sermon in church, so you know it was a long time ago, before me stepping foot into church would mean me going up in a pillar of flame. Yeah, I know. I have no idea what it was referring to, or how it tied into God or whatever. I just remember listening to the story and thinking shit, but that explains a lot, yo.

There’s also the snake/girl version, which I actually like even more:

A girl finds a viper freezing to death in the snow. “Please,” the snake says, with its last breath. “Please, pick me up and put me in your coat. If you do not, surely I will die.”

The girl is afraid, and rightfully so. I mean, she’s not a honey badger. Venom would kill her, not just make her take a brief nap.

“I can’t, you’ll bite me and I’ll die,” she says.

“No, I would never,” the snake says. “I’d be eternally grateful to you for saving my life. Please. Please help me. You’re my only hope.”

The girl, who wants to be a good girl, always and forever, and you know, like girls do, can’t turn down a plea for help, because that’s just BAD and that’s just WRONG, scoops up the snake and nestles it close to her heart, and begins to walk home, so proud of herself for how giving and kind and righteous she is.

After a bit, the snake begins to warm up. After a bit more, the snake opens its jaws and sinks its teeth into the girl’s breast.

As the girl sinks to her knees in the snow, she cries, “Why? I saved you. I saved you. Why would you do this to me?”

Simply, the snake says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

I think of this story a lot.

I think of this story when someone tells me that the guy they’ve been living with for two years, who’s always been kind of a cock and always been kind of yelly is STILL a cock and is STILL yelly and it finally got to the point where they couldn’t take it anymore so they moved out and why didn’t he change? Why didn’t he stop being a cock? Why didn’t he stop being yelly?

Verdict: You knew he was a scorpion when you moved in with him.

I think of this story when someone says they were roped into an online scheme and got their entire bank account wiped out, and YES, it seemed like a really, really good deal, but they just thought, hey, I finally got lucky, for once! It’s my turn! It’s my time! And they heard horror stories from people who went through similar things, but they were all, IT WON’T HAPPEN TO ME!

Verdict: You knew it was a scorpion when you gave it your bank account information.

I think of this story when someone says they met someone who had a girlfriend, and they were the “other woman” for a while, and then he finally broke up with his girlfriend, and things were SO STELLAR ZOMG for a while, and they were SO HAPPY, and then he started being shady, and getting a lot of texts, and making these weird phone calls, and having to work late, and then he broke up with them for ANOTHER WOMAN.

Verdict: You knew he was a scorpion when you started sleeping with him behind his girlfriend’s back.

I think of this story when someone tells me that their heart is broken because they fell in love with someone who flat-out TOLD them they didn’t want a relationship, that it was just a friends-with-benefits thing, but they thought, “NO! It’ll CHANGE! He’ll fall in LOVE with me, once we’ve been doing this long enough! He’s just SAYING that! It’s what guys SAY!”

Verdict: You knew he was a scorpion when he straight-up told you his intentions for the relationship and you chose to ignore them.

Now, not every situation is a “you knew he was a scorpion” situation. Sometimes, the scorpions hide and lurk and they don’t announce themselves. Sometimes, you’re dating someone for a while and then BAM you find out they’ve had a girlfriend or wife the whole time. In that case, you DIDN’T know he was a scorpion. THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. However, now that you KNOW he is a scorpion, you cannot blame anyone but yourself for sticking around waiting to get stung again.

Or sometimes, the person wasn’t a scorpion the whole time! Sometimes, the person just POW! BECOMES a scorpion! It is not predictable, and again, NOT YOUR FAULT. But now you know. And once you know, IT IS TIME TO GO. Don’t beat yourself up; just pack your bags and hit the road, Jack or Jacqueline, you don’t need to be hanging around there waiting for the stinger to drop. If you do, you’re going to be sinking to the bottom of the river like that dirty patchouli-reeking hippie-frog.

The problem, as I see it, is that we, as a species, both men and women, like to think we’re special. We’re brought up (more so now, not so much, say, in my parents’ generation) that we’re all such special damn snowflakes. And, when presented with a challenge, or a project, or a “climb every mountaaaiiiiinnnnn”, or whatever, we want to be the one. We want to say, “Yeah, Jimmy was a total player, until he met me. And then I was THE ONE! And he totally calmed right down, and now he’s just the best family man!” Or “Jane was all career and dating when I met her, but once we got together, she’s all about being a mom and I mean, seriously, smokin’-hot, too, am I right? She’s ALL MINE and I am WINNING.” We want to be the one who wins; we want to be the only one who could tame the scorpion. WE ARE INDIVIDUAL AND SPECIAL AND UNIQUE DAMMIT.

We like a project, we like a fixer-upper, because then we can say we did it, we fixed it up, we can take pride in having done that, we can be the winner, it is ours now. And we like to be the ONLY one who could do that.

Thing is, it blows up in our faces, more often than not. It’s an effing scorpion, you idiot. It’s not going to calm down. You’re not the Scorpion Whisperer. I mean, I suppose there’s a chance you MIGHT be, but that chance is pretty remote. Like, snowball-in-hell, melting-all-over, isn’t-this-just-like-the-worst-mess-you’ve-ever-seen remote.

I’m totally a victim of this. I’m not going to lie and tell you “I AM TOTALLY ABOVE ALL OF THIS SO LISTEN TO WHAT I SAY I AM THE BEST THING.” Nope. I’m not always the most SYMPATHETIC to the people who pick up scorpion after scorpion, but I’m a victim of it too, sorry to tell you. I’m not Superwoman. I like a project. I like to win. I get sucked into bringing the scorpion across the friggin’ river time and again, I’ll admit it right up front. Just when I think I recognize the scorpion right away, the scorpion changes and comes at me in a different scorpion-disguise and I’m all “HEADDESK! OH, YOU STUPID TRICKY-ASS SCORPION.”

But I try to remember the scorpion. I try to tell myself, listen, THAT IS A SCORPION. Because if you pick up a scorpion, there really is no one to blame but yourself. You can’t blame a scorpion; that’s its nature. Here, I’ll give it to you in all-caps, set apart from everything else:

A SCORPION IS GOING TO STING YOU.

Whether you’re a hippie-frog or a girl with a snake in her coat or a grown-ass woman, you’re going to get stung.

Solution: watch out for the scorpions. If you listen, they announce themselves. Then get the hell away from the scorpions.

Seems simple, but isn’t always. Your stupid heart often gets in the way. But I promise: you’re better off not carrying scorpions across the river or snakes in your coat. The outcome is kind of already determined for you.

I mean, except if you’re a hippie-frog, then maybe you deserved it. Patchouli is the worst.


The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

I have a problem.

What do these names have in common?

John Bender
Chuck Bass
William Pratt
Damon Salvatore
Heathcliff Earnshaw
Gabriel Gray
Logan Echolls

If you say they’re all fictional characters, well, yes, you are correct.

If you’re reading the list and you’re seeing a correlation between some of them, but you don’t know who William Pratt or Gabriel Gray are, would it make any difference to you if I added their more commonly-used nicknames to the list? Here. Here is an amended list. Just for you.

John Bender
Chuck Bass
William “The Bloody” Pratt, a.k.a. Spike
Damon Salvatore
Heathcliff Earnshaw
Gabriel “Sylar” Gray
Logan Echolls

Better?

(And yes, I realize that Heathcliff, not actually being an Earnshaw, doesn’t ever get the surname, but the list looked weird if he only had one name, like Cher or Madonna. And also, I’ve always assumed he was Mr. Earnshaw’s bastard son, and therefore very much an Earnshaw, and also therefore, making his relationship with Cathy ever-so-much-more disturbing, if that’s even possible.)

Yes, they’re all fictional characters. 

They’re also all complete dicks.

And I’m completely in love with all of them.

I have an addiction to the anti-hero.

Not just the anti-hero, either. The dickiest dick of an anti-hero, that’s the one I want. The one that would sell out his own mother and kill your sister and sleep with your best friend and eat all of your Teddy Grahams AND NEVER EVER BUY YOU ANY TO REPLACE THEM OR APOLOGIZE FOR IT.

There are heroes, there are anti-heroes, and there are these kind of guys. The Byronic anti-heroes. The broken ones. The ones that have been so scarred by something in their past that they’re never going to be any good or at all trustworthy but maybe, just maybe, you can be the one who fixes them. You can be the one person that uncovers the treasure, that unearths the jewel hiding behind the grime and filth, that reaches in and fixes what’s been broken and they’ll be loyal to you, and only you, for all time.

In fiction, it’s easy to see what’s so compelling about characters like these. They’re a hell of a lot more readable/watchable than the boring heroes or even the less ambiguous anti-heroes. They’re evil. They do evil things. But if they were just evil, they’d start being boring. We keep coming back because they have hidden motives, they have a rich interior monologue, and every once and a while, a bit of humanity will peep out of their dark places.

Bender will torment a bullied student, but then tell the story of how his father burned him with cigarettes.

Logan will force homeless men to fight for money, but then be forced to walk to the closet to pick out the belt that his father will beat him with that night.

Spike will stalk and kill people in the bloodiest fashion imaginable, but then remember people mocking him for having a crush on a popular girl when he was young.

And you can’t hate them. You can’t, because you see that humanity, and it softens you on them. You just know you could fix them, if given the chance. You see how loyal they are to the few people they let in behind their very high walls and you love them, despite their wrongdoings, no matter how bad they are.

The problem is, this doesn’t hold true in real life.

Let’s take Heathcliff. I assume most of you have read Wuthering Heights, either on your own or as an assignment for a class, or watched one of the million movie adaptations. In case you haven’t, or need a refresher, here you go:

Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaw family, and is supposedly a gypsy child (but it’s slightly hinted at that he might be the bastard child of Mr. Earnshaw, which makes for a much better backstory, in my opinion.) He falls in love with his foster sister, Catherine. Catherine and he have a tumultuous relationship, which is characterized by mental and physical abuse on both sides. When his foster father dies, his foster brother forces him to become a servant to the family. Catherine decides she wants to become a lady, and begins hanging out with a higher-class family and spurns Heathcliff, who is now her servant. She marries into the higher-class family despite loving Heathcliff, because he is too low-class for her. He is obsessive and furious and there is a lot of hitting and throwing and such. He runs off, makes a lot of money in shady ways, comes home rich, and seduces Catherine’s sister-in-law and marries her as revenge on both Catherine (who he knows still loves him) and her husband. Catherine is furious and dies not long afterwards in childbirth. Heathcliff abuses his wife in every way possible, for the simple reason that she isn’t Catherine, yet she still loves him completely. He then, over the years, continues to get revenge on everyone who has slighted him, while obsessing over his dead lover, by playing their children against one another. Eventually he dies because he is haunted by Catherine’s ghost. 

This isn’t a very good recap, because it leaves out the simple fact that, no matter what Heathcliff does, and no matter how awful he is, and no matter how he treats the people around him (especially the women) like pawns on a chessboard, HE COMES ACROSS AS COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED. I don’t know how this works but it totally does. I have had a crush on Heathcliff and his obsessive love for his possible half-sister since I was twelve. No, it’s not a crush. I am head-over-heels for Heathcliff. I read it, and the intelligent part of me KNOWS what a dick he is, but the stupidly romantic part of me is very squishy and foolish and thinks “I WANT SOMEONE TO LOVE ME LIKE THAT.”

Here’s the problem.

I had a Heathcliff, once. I was young, and it seemed very romantic. Phone calls at all hours. Declarations of love after knowing one another for a few days. Threats of bodily harm if we could not be together forever. But come to find out, there’s nothing romantic about dating a Heathcliff. Heathcliff, whose passion and fury seem very good on paper, in real life, is scary. Really, really scary. Restraining-order scary.

You do not, under any circumstances, want a real-life Heathcliff, or Damon Salvatore, or John Bender. They are broken. YOU CAN’T FIX THEM. They have to fix themselves, or get professional help for the fixing. Maybe, once they’re fixed, they’ll be up for public consumption again, but until that day, they are off the market. Don’t even try to fix them. It’s a losing proposition. You’ll just frustrate yourself and you also run the risk of getting seriously hurt, in one way or the other, in the process.

I walk the fine line of loving my fictional anti-heroes and keeping away from anyone who shows signs of being this person in real life. There’s nothing inherently bad, I suppose, in loving the fictional anti-hero. Like I said, they’re a lot more watchable/readable. They’re richer, fuller characters. I am bored to tears by the traditional hero who swoops in with motives pure as the driven snow to save the day. The reluctant slacker anti-hero, drawn into service without any desire to be there, is a little more interesting but not much. I want the twisty anti-hero. I want a backstory full of shadow and substance and a character molded by forces that did not have his best interests at heart. I want a nature versus nurture struggle. I want a twirly mustache and a big black hat hiding a heart of gold.

The problem is when you let that bleed over into real life.

In real life, even when I think that’s what I want, I now know it’s not. I know what Heathcliff really looks like, when he steps off the page. A petulant child. A broken pouting bully. Someone who wants to take everyone around him down with him. I don’t want that or deserve that. I’ve had that. I did my time with that. No more of that.

Things are always prettier in fiction. I’ll keep my anti-heroes there, where they can wreak havoc safely for my entertainment purposes. I’ll stick with my fictional dark and twisty guys. I can close the book or turn off the television when I’m done with them. A twelve-step program (“Learn to love the bland! Learn to embrace the safe!”) probably wouldn’t do me much good. I’m not ready to give them up quite yet.

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