First Person vs. Third Person

Who uses a typewriter?
GIS for “writer” is pretty boring, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Well, first of all, I’ve never liked first person shooters. Bioshock Infinite was a remarkable experience, but more in spite of its mechanics, not because of them. Compare that to Uncharted, which I — oh, that’s not what we’re doing? Well.

The novel I’m working on, The Breakers, is my primary mental focus lately. I have a new opening, which better fits Mira as the lead character, and I’m working my way through what I had written out for the plot and seeing what, if anything, can be transferred over. I don’t want to just take Adam and Mira and swap them, and I don’t want to take a story that was written for Adam and instead have it be for Mira, because both of those are being dishonest to the characters. If I’m going to do this right, and I am, I’m going to start fresh and go scene by scene and figure out how I want to do this.

I’d written down my intended opening line and taken the time to be quite happy with it when I realized how I wrote it. As Adam, the opening line was third-person narrator. As Mira, first-person narrator.

I don’t know why.

I’ve started reading Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series again. Those are all in first-person, but I only started that yesterday at lunch, and I wrote the initial line for Mira yesterday morning. I’ve been doing the Icewind Dale/Hakuoki LP on Broken Forum, and much of that is in first-person, but I don’t do that to the point where it’s all I write. Also, I am thirty one years old and most certainly a guy, and not seventeen years old and also a girl. So one would think I wouldn’t default to first-person for someone so markedly different from myself.

But I did, and if it happened that easily, then I should let it happen. It’s got its pros and cons, and it’s going to be critical for me to keep them straight.

Pros to First Person Perspective:

  • It lets the writer, and therefore the reader, get more into the mind of the character.
  • It becomes easier to guide the reader’s emotions. You’re not telling the reader that they should feel a certain way, you’re just saying that the protagonist feels a certain way.
  • It lets the writer play with keeping information from the reader that could otherwise be apparent with a third-person omniscient narrator. (Think of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, a smart fellow in his own right, but with little chance of keeping up with Holmes himself. A third-person narrator might show more of what Holmes is doing, thus limiting the impact of the reveal at the end.)

Cons to First Person Perspective

  • The writer’s perspective is limited. You can’t show anything that the viewpoint character doesn’t see. That includes the villain scheming in his ivory tower, the window opening silently downstairs, or the bad guy sneaking up behind her in the night.
  • The writer’s method of storytelling is limited. You can’t show anything that the character doesn’t see, but you also can’t tell a story in a way that the character wouldn’t tell it. If your viewpoint character is a simple and straightforward type, you can’t start using flowery language to describe things. If your viewpoint character is a talented musician, you need to take that into account in how he or she views the world around them.
  • The main character needs to be likable. If the reader is going to spend a few hundred pages inside someone’s head, it needs to be someone the reader doesn’t want to strangle by the second chapter.

Mira’s character isn’t one that’s alien to me; she’s resourceful, witty, idealistic, overly optimistic, and very comfortable around people. She’s perfect for a dialogue-heavy story, which tends to be the types of stories I write. But she’s different from my other characters in a few ways; I haven’t written an adept musician before, I haven’t written a young character without some level of baggage in quite some time, and to address the elephant in the room, I haven’t written a female lead before. But I’m looking forward to meeting those challenges, and it looks like I’ll be doing so and getting as far into her head as I can.

So I should probably get back to it and stop writing this blog, then.

The Hero’s Journey Shouldn’t Discriminate

I like it when I read something that gets me thinking. I like it when I read something that makes me ask questions, even uncomfortable questions.

I like it when I read something that makes me ask uncomfortable questions of myself, even if I wouldn’t qualify that process as enjoyable.

Sady Doyle wrote an article about the JK Rowling series that wasn’t, In Praise Of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger Series. Miss Doyle spends the article praising Joanne Rowling for not writing under an androgynous-at-best penname, for writing a series starring a female protagonist who uses her intelligence and is rewarded for it, who isn’t the Chosen One and isn’t looked down upon or ignored because of it, for writing well-rounded female characters who all stand out without being stereotypes… and you probably get the point. Her followup, The Further Adventures Of Hermione Granger, gets into her reasons for writing this.

I’m a novelist-in-training, let’s say. Popular Anarchy is a book I wrote, stared at, and ultimately shelved for a rewrite. I’m partway through that rewrite, though I would be lying if I said I was proceeding well on it. I have another book that I’m working on in the conceptual stage, somewhere between world design and outline. It’s called The Breakers, and I’m really excited for it; I’ve got a good set of characters, I think the world is interesting, and I’m pulling from different inspirational sources to make sure I don’t write the same thing again. A little more Romance of the Three Kingdom Hearts, let’s call it, instead of The Occurian Candidate.

The Breakers has taken up a lot of my mental energy. I’ve put about twenty thousand words into my outline, and another ten or so into the world design document. Most of it is stream of consciousness rambling, which is how I outline things, so it’s not like I’ve written a short story about my world so I don’t write an actual novel about it. But there’s a bit in that document where I’m figuring out my protagonist, Adam Harper. I like Adam — I think he’s an excellent main character. He’s got flaws, strengths, an interesting set of friends, two of whom are also important characters in this book, and a family that factors heavily into what’s happening here. I’m proud of the work I did on him.

I never even considered making a woman my main character.

I’m mad at myself. In the midst of all this 1reasonwhy stuff that has me so up in arms, in the midst of me playing games ranging from JRPGs to Japanese visual novels/dating sims, in the midst of me raging at gender inequality and outright misogyny, I’m unconsciously enforcing it in my own work. There’s no excuse for this. I had a female character, Mira Jersic, designed long before Adam, but she was a supporting character in Adam’s story. Putting as much work into her design as I did didn’t make up for the fact that she wasn’t as important as Adam. The background work and extensive questionnaire I completed from her point of view didn’t mean anything if I put a ceiling on her level of import for no reason other than “a guy should be the main character.”

I’d like to say that there wasn’t anything sexist in my thinking on it, but honestly, I don’t know. I just looked at these characters I’d already made — two women, one man — and decided I needed a different main character. The character I made was male. Maybe that’s completely innocent. Maybe I was balancing things out. Maybe I was thinking of a specific story that only a guy could tell. But there’s nothing in my outline about that, and there’s nothing in the story I have outlined that is the kind of thing that can only be experienced/told/for a guy.

So I’m changing it. I don’t care if it takes me more time, I don’t care if I have to scrap stuff, and I don’t care if it’s harder. I’m swapping Mira into the lead role and starting over with The Breakers. I don’t know how different it will end up being, but I’ll gladly find out.

Tuesday Morning Roundup

Virtual Monday is the best kind of Monday; I’ve got a head start on the weekend. What did I do with a three-day weekend free of obligations?

I played Asura’s Wrath to completion. I had no desire to play Asura’s Wrath from reading previews; it was only when I watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look that I realized this was a game I desperately wanted. I plan on talking more about this later on today if time allows.

I finished Hajime Saito’s route in Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. That remains a fantastic game, and of the four routes I have heard about or played myself, I think the ending of Saito’s path is the most satisfying.

I also finished Theft of Swords, the first book out by Michael J. Sullivan. I also plan on talking more about this, but I liked this a great deal and think it’s worth continuing. Keeping a handle on my spending is the only reason why I didn’t pick up the rest of the series.

I spent a lot of time indoors this weekend on account of it being 94 degrees out. This upcoming weekend is supposed to be much nicer, so I’ll need to think of a good excuse to keep playing a ton of games.

The Perils of Celebrity Game Writing

As most everyone following the games industry knows by now, 38 Studios, the developer behind this February’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, laid off all of its employees after failing to make a single loan payment to the state of Rhode Island, after borrowing $75 million and asking to borrow more to pay back the first loan.

The first post I didn’t finish on Loading Screen was a non-review of Amalur, because I lost interest in writing it after I lost interest in playing it. I still don’t have much interest in writing an Amalur review, because frankly the game’s not very good. It’s not very bad, either. It’s flat, uninspired, and after the first few hours you’ve seen everything you’re going to see. It’s a set of very pretty hallways with fun and energetic combat that never grows or changes. I lost interest in it before I even got to the second area tileset.

I still adore Big Huge Games, though; Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends are among the best real-time strategy games I’ve ever played, and their work on Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties gave that game life it had long since lost in my library. There’s a lot of talent and promise in that team, and I hope the spirit of BHG lives on in whatever studio snaps up their people. I hope everyone hurt by this mismanagement lands on their feet quickly, and this is just a nightmarish situation that depresses me greatly. My ire is aimed solely at the celebrities involved with this game.

I don’t have any insight or valuable input into what happened with 38 Studios. I’m no insider, just a pretender. But I do think this article has something that I can comment on, as a gamer and a writer.

The passage of note is this:  “R.A. Salvatore, a fantasy writer who helped develop the games, is slated to receive $1.46 million from 38 Studios in October under the terms of a consulting agreement he signed with the company in 2007. He is also eligible to earn up to $5 million in royalties from sales of “Reckoning” and other 38 Studios products.”

That strikes me as a terrible waste of money, and for once in my life I’m not disparaging R.A. Salvatore’s writing. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s awful. Not Richard Knaak awful, but awful.) Salvatore added absolutely nothing positive to Amalur, and instead did a lot to bring the quality of the game down through his work.

Most NPCs in Amalur have anywhere from 5-10 bits of interest in their dialogue options, all with names like “Well of Souls,” “Tuatha,” “Darrenville,” “Elves,” what-have-you. Clicking on any one of those gives you fully-voiced unique dialogue about that specific item, specific to that one character. None of it’s any interesting or any good, except once. The one sidequest I did that felt worth my time was helping a man who accosted me in the forest. He turned out to be a wolf turned into a man by a prankster fairy, and he needed me to help him get back to his lupine state. His dialogue had some actual energy and humor behind it, and while I wasn’t blown away like this was the best thing in the history of videogames, I was sufficiently charmed enough to tackle this rather annoying fetch quest.

Every person in Amalur is an encyclopedia of useless knowledge, reciting facts about a history that’s completely irrelevant to your current adventure. You are run down in the street by names with no fewer than nine consonants every time you ask somebody if they know where the blacksmith is. With each person having their own dialogue, set up in two different UIs (some characters have a Mass Effect-style radial menu, some characters have an Elder Scrolls-style vertical menu, and even worse, some characters switch back and forth between them depending on their last line), the player is left wondering what lines are important and what lines are just background flavor. Salvatore said in an interview that he wrote over ten thousand years of backstory for Amalur to get the game world just right. It shows. And it’s all terrible.

I do want a rich and storied world in my video games. I play games primarily for the story — even the Warriors franchise has a great story appeal to me, thanks to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Sengoku era. But this is a game. Writing a game is almost nothing like writing a book.

I am not a great writer. I think I’m pretty good, but I’m not great. I hate to use an example from my own book — a book that’s not even out because I’m taking forever on the rewrite — but I want to use a passage from it to illustrate what NOT to do in gaming.

The Ember Forest, just south of Delenn, earned its name in the aftermath of the worst fire in the city’s recorded history. For four weeks the forest burned, with flames consuming miles and miles of the thick forest, from the western shore all the way to the eastern mountains that made up part of the pass in which Delenn sat. The fire survived the best of the city guard’s efforts, a group of magi from the capital, Kasilos, and a week’s worth of prayer during the height of its damage. It took a steady week of torrential rains to finally extinguish the fire, an act that the druids of Arcell were quick to claim credit for. It was through Arcell the Lifegiver, the God of Nature, that the city itself was spared, they said. Regardless of what saved the city, the forest was ravaged by the weeks of destruction. Even after the rain had fallen, the forest smoldered, with so many patches of red mixed with the ash that, from the mountain pass, it looked like the plains ran thick with lava.

The druids worked to restore the forest, and their rituals met with early success. The first plant life to grow after the fire had flowers that bloomed the same color as the flames. Either the emberbloom flowers took their name from the forest or the Ember Forest took its name from the flowers, and scholars argued both sides for years.

“Huh.”

Scholars also disputed the cause of the blaze. Some pointed to other instances in Khazair’s history, claiming that forest fires are a common occurrence, and to have one of this magnitude was just an unfortunate coincidence. Others pointed to the reports that metal was found near the southern end of the forest, melted almost beyond recognition. They argued that the metal matched the stock used for the holy symbols for Scinterra, the Goddess of Fire, and that this must have been the work of a violent sub-sect devoted to one of the lesser gods. They backed up their assertions with cultist propoganda found in Delenn that spoke of “Cleansing by Fire” and other loaded statements. The sect never claimed credit for the fire, and the investigations never led to a suspect. Delenn authorities closed the case with the cause listed as natural.

“Well, well.”

The Ember Forest’s recovery from a decimated wasteland into its current, thriving state is a testament to the power inherent in both the magic and the people of Quintana. Before the disaster, worshippers of Arcella and Narkend regularly clashed over theological issues. The druids argued that worship of the Goddess of Death placed too much importance on just one aspect of the natural cycle of life. The mages of Narkend felt that the druids focused too heavily on the big picture, foregoing individual concerns for the “circle of life” they so often referenced in their research papers. Yet, after the fire, both groups worked hand in hand to return the Ember Forest to its previous splendor. The works the druids accomplished could not have been done without the rituals Narkend’s mages cast over the land, using the forest’s own death to bring about new life. Descendants of that group, both in lineage and in philosophy, still travel Khazair and the rest of Quintana helping with disaster recovery, calling themselves Eternal Life. They serve as a testament to what is possible when the people of Quintana embrace their differences, instead of stand rigidly by their doctrine.

“Hmm.”

Chamber sighed, and lowered his book. “That’s the third time, Dante.”

The redhead riding beside him shifted in her saddle and looked at Chamber, eyebrows raised in a good impression of surprise. “Third time for what, Chamber?” she asked him.

“Third time you’ve made some little noise like that.”

“I can’t say I have any idea what you’re talking about,” came her innocent reply.

“Oh yes you do,” he retorted, riding closer to her. “You do this all the time.”

“You’re probably just hearing some noise in the woods,” Dante said, indicating the forest around them. “It really could be anything. Maybe you should be more alert when we’re traveling through an area this dense.”

“I don’t know what you have against me reading when we’re riding somewhere. What is it?”

That’s not bad. That style works very well in writing, because it lets me present something interesting — the area in which the next few chapters will be taking place — in a way that tells you more about the characters in those chapters, namely that Chamber is a reader and Dante likes to annoy him to pass the time. That’s a scene I can build from, and introduces character traits that will be important later on, and failing that just add more to the characters themselves. It also means that if the trees start throwing fireballs at people later on it’s not completely insane. (They don’t.)

If I were to try and establish this kind of history in a videogame, I wouldn’t. I straight up would not even try. I may have all that written down in a world-design document, it may be important for the history of the world and how everything evolved, and it may mean a lot to me. But I would show a forest, perhaps have a character mention its name and fire off one line, maybe two, and then I would keep going. It’s writing for a game, not a novel. In a novel, I, the writer, am important. In a game, you, the player, are important. I need to stay the hell out of your way while working to heighten your playing experience.

Games writing is not novel writing. I cannot emphasize that enough. Every time I hear that a novelist is working on a game story, I cringe and prepare myself for the worst, because games writing and novel writing have made for some terrible bedfellows. Amalur is one of those. Salvatore’s philosophy for using that 10,000-year history was to make sure he crammed it in everywhere in the world, because he’s R.A. Salvatore, he wrote the Drizzt novels, let’s make sure everyone knows just how great a writer he is.

Obelisks cover the game world, each one telling you some story about the world as you play, like the audio logs in Bioshock. But there is no lead-in or explanation of why this is important, and the first area’s obelisks are a rather twee song by a would-be folk singer about a lost love of the gods. There are either eight or ten obelisks per area, and each area takes hours to explore if you are chasing down all 150 sidequests per area (and I do not recommend doing this). You may come across Obelisk Six days after you found Five, and have completely forgotten why an old man is singing to you in his Children’s TV Show voice. But since each obelisk gives you XP, you’ll be loathe to pass it up. Since R.A. Salvatore wrote it, he was loathe to cut it, so it’s in.

The Elder Scrolls hides its historian goals inside books, books that are entirely optional to read and do not offer any serious game advantage to those who elect to read The Lusty Argonian Maid versus those who decide that slaying dragons sounds like a better use of their time. The worldbuilding is done in such a way that you learn about the world by finding things in it. When you walk into a dungeon and find bandits painting the walls in body parts with one dead troll between them, but streaks of blood leading further into the dungeon, you know exactly what happened there. You also know what you’re going to do about it — you’re going to go kill that surviving troll and hope that he’s sitting on treasure, and not something else far worse hidden far below.

In Amalur, there is one surviving guy who is willing to tell you his life story and every detail in his day that led to him coming down the path to this cave with his friends, where they were suddenly set upon by a troll — trolls, incidentally, have a terrible fear of fire stemming from how they were cursed ten thousand years ago by Agartha, when she came down from Old Murkenville — that’s the village where two of the gods were born, Agartha and Morwen — sisters, they — fair as a summer’s day, pretty as a lark, ’til one day they went a-dancing right outside the Hillside Park…

The Dawning Of A New Era (or something like that)

Blame “Baba Yetu” for this idea, because it’s entirely too inspirational to start the day.

I turned thirty last week. It’s a big, scary, round number, the kind of age that comes with raised insurance premiums, midlife crises, and then raised insurance premiums for the car purchased to combat the midlife crisis. I spent my birthday money, a portion of my tax return, and the overall present roundup on the kind of video game haul my younger self would be salivating over: a Playstation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and about seven games. This could be a sign that I am not taking thirty well, except this is basically how I treat any money I come into after filling out the savings account, and I did so here, too. I’m always like this.

That ridiculous influx of new video games may make this next proclamation fall a little flat, but it’s still one I’m holding to. I will not purchase another video game or piece of DLC this year with money I have earned from a paycheck. There is plenty of stuff I want this year; Gungnir and Growlanser are looming threats this summer for my all-time favorite portable system, the PSP, and then there’s Assassin’s Creed 3 and Bioshock Infinite this October, not to mention Guild Wars 2 if that should come out this year. I want all of these video games, and since E3 hasn’t happened one can only imagine what I will come out of that conference desperate to own.

But if I want them, I have to earn it. And to earn them, I have to publish something. I’m about ninety-five percent certain I’m going to take Popular Anarchy the self-publishing route, but I don’t know a whole lot about that. So I’m going to see about publishing a few things between now and then; a few short stories, perhaps another genre under a pen name, whatever else comes to mind. I’m going to learn more about self-publishing in the process, and I’m going to document that here to shamelessly promote whatever it is that I write.

Most every writer shares a dream, to be able to support themselves and their family on their writing. I’ve got that dream, but I also know that’s a long ways off and to get there I have to, y’know, do something. This gets that started, and if my writing can at least support my hobby, I’ll be happy.

Anyway, I’ve got work to do. If I’m going to get to play these games, I’ve got words to put down on paper. Soon as I stop watching these Guild Wars 2 preview videos…

 

Popular Anarchy And A Lack Of Excuses

I finished the outline for PA’s rewrite, which means I am officially out of excuses for not writing it. I’m trying to think of some; I’ve been helping train a new employee here at work, I have a pretty crucial run of sessions in Final Fantasy Omega that require a lot of work and investment, I’ve started playing tennis again to get back in shape, I’m reading more books lately, I’m playing in a Dominions 3 game with wargame expert and Dominions 3 manual writer Bruce Geryk (and he hasn’t killed me or called me a communist yet, so I think I’m doing well), I’m writing a Hakuoki game diary for Broken Forum still, and I’ve been following the NFL pretty close as free agency is going to be underway in about ten minutes and my favorite team, the Redskins, traded all of the draft picks in the eastern seaboard for Robert Griffin III.

I’ve written a book before. This is rewriting Popular Anarchy for the second draft, which comes with some pretty major changes, but the fact remains that I have done this before. I wrote a book, complete, from start to finish. It’s not like I can’t do this. I know I can do this. I’ve done this. But it’s still surprisingly hard to get started again.

But there’s nothing else for it. I have to get working on it or it’s not going to get down. No one’s going to write this for me, and no amount of hand-wringing is going to do this. Starting tonight, I write.

Right after I finish The Last Story.

On Marriage

(Editor’s Note: Something else that I wrote, this time July 1st, 2009, posted on the other blog. I used to rant a lot — A LOT — and while I had grown out of that phase by this point, occasionally things would happen to draw me back in. As you can see here, Ms. Loh’s column triggered that relapse, and I decided to vent about it on the Internet like anybody else with a broadband account. Much to my surprise, the link at the bottom of the post still works, though I haven’t re-read her original article because I don’t have time to be irate this morning.)

Sandra Tsing Loh wrote a column for The Atlantic on June 22nd, 2009, titled “On Marriage: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The subtitle, as it appeared on MSNBC.com, was “Author Sandra Tsing Loh is ending her marriage. Is it time you did, too?”

No, Ms. Loh, it is not. Honestly, you shouldn’t have either. Or, and this is more likely, you never should have gotten married in the first place.

In Ms. Loh’s article, she explores the reasons behind the split. The catalyst, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was Ms. Loh’s affair, though she couches it in far more flowery language.

I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. I don’t generally even enjoy men; I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. Cataclysmically changed, I disclosed everything. We cried, we bewailed the fate of our children.

When you strip out the five-dollar words and the Ivy League-educated writing, what she is saying is that she broke her marriage vows. This happens in many relationships, more than it should, but many couples are able to get past it and continue growing. Would Ms. Loh be one of those?

No, she would not.

…I realized … no. Heart-shattering as this moment was — a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history — I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in “Against Love,” and as everyone knows, good relationships take work.

Ms. Loh quits instead.

She goes on to say that she would continue to do the tasks she had always been doing, “like so many working/co-parenting/married mothers” do, and she lists out a number of acts most parents will recognize; picking up her daughters from school, taking them to doctor appointments, and the like. But in this passage, she strays down a few tangents, like “I can earn my half — sometimes more — of the money,” and “I can drive my husband to the airport; in his absence, I can sort his mail,” and “I can make dinner conversation with any family member.”

Ms. Loh, you will please excuse me if I do not submit your name to President Obama for a medal of honor. What I see in that paragraph is a sense of entitlement and haughtiness about your place in the relationship. Why do you emphasize that you are making more money? Why do you stress that you are able to “sort his mail,” as if this is some tremendous hardship but you, God bless you, will push through and manage? Why do you feel that making dinner conversation is some remarkable achievement? This is nothing to be lauded. This is basic human existence.

But please, Ms. Loh, do go on.

Which is to say I can work at a career and child care and joint homeownership and even platonic male-female friendship. However, in this cluttered forest of my 40s, what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, even with the Oprah fluffery of weekly “date nights,” when gauzy candlelight obscures the messy house, child talk is nixed and silky lingerie donned, so the two of you can look into each other’s eyes and feel that “spark” again. Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

Oh come now.

Now, Ms. Loh, I will admit that I cannot understand all of the particulars of your situation. I am only 27 years old, after all, and I have been married merely nine months. But I don’t need to be in your age demographic or your position in life to deconstruct your statements. Your tone gives your opinions away, even as your words attempt to obfuscate your meaning — you don’t care and you don’t intend to care. The dismissive phrase of “Oprah fluffery,” the wording of the “messy house,” and the emphasis placed on your “staggering working mother’s to-do list.” In your opening paragraph you stated that you cheated — not in so many words — and yet here you have already retreated behind your sandbags of workload and age groups, hardening your defenses against any blame.

So no, Ms. Loh, I do not see your point. There are many couples that do get through this period just fine, working together and relying on each other. But I’m interrupting you, I’m sure you have a point you’re working toward. Please, continue.

Sobered by this failure as a mother — which is to say, my failure as a wife — I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?

It’s generally considered improper to write out laughter. Use your imagination.

Again, Ms. Loh, you hide behind your excuses. You say you failed as a wife, but you sneak that out behind a primary failure as a mother. And your journey towards enlightenment is nothing more than a poorly-disguised attempt at self-vindication. Your marriage has failed, so it’s not your fault, it’s marriage’s fault! How did I miss that? You cheated and your marriage fell apart, and the reason you decided to quit on it was because you saw the light. Remarkable.

I will gloss over the next few points. Ms. Loh proceeds to blame failing marriages on the United States of America, religion, and the lack of nannies. Americans attend more church than anyone else in the western world, and agree with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” less than anywhere else in the western world, yet Americans have the highest divorce rate. I find this a little strange, because when I think about those statistics, I wonder why people who think that marriage is outdated have much better success with it than Americans do.

I admit I don’t really understand the nanny bit. She states: “My domestic evenings have typically revolved around five o’clock mac and cheese under bright lighting and then a slow melt into dishes and SpongeBob … because yet another of my marital failings was that I was never able to commit to a nanny.” This seems to be primarily more misdirection, blame placed on society because she felt it would be seen as exploitative.

Ms. Loh now has Girls’ Night dinners with her friends, in her divorced person’s “oddly relaxed” schedule. In setting this scene, she labels a number of marriages, the Romantic Marriage (“Think of those affectionate 80-somethings in convalescent homes, still holding hands.”), the Rescue Marriage (“…partners who fit each other like lost puzzle pieces, healing each other from mutual childhood traumas.”), the Traditional Marriage, where the man works and the woman runs the home, and the Companionate Marriage, where both husband and wife have a career and they handle all the tasks together. She asks what type of marriages we have now, in the 21st century, and then introduces us to her friend Rachel. Or, more correctly, Rachel’s house and her husband’s cooking.

Picture a stunning two-story Craftsman — exposed wood, Batchelder tile fireplace, caramel-warm beams, Tiffany lamps on Mission tables — nestled in the historic enclave in Pasadena dubbed Bungalow Heaven. Rachel, 49, an environmental lawyer, is married to Ian, 48, a documentary-film editor. They have two sons, 9 and 11, whom Ian — in every way the model dad — has whisked off this evening to junior soccer camp (or drum lessons or similar; the boys’ impressive whirl of activities is hard to keep track of). Rachel is cooking dinner for three of us: Ellen (a writer, married with children), Renata (violinist, single, lithe, and prowling at 45), and me. Rachel is, more accurately, reheating dinner; the dish is something wonderfully subtle yet complex, like a saffron-infused porcini risotto, that Ian made over the weekend and froze for us, in Tupperware neatly labeled with a Sharpie, because this is the sort of thoughtful thing he does. Ian subscribes to Cook’s Illustrated online and a bevy of other technically advanced gourmet publications — he’s always perfecting some polenta or bouillabaisse. If someone requests a cheeseburger, he will fire back with an über-cheeseburger, a fluffy creation of marbled Angus beef, Stilton, and homemade ketchup. Picture him in bike shorts (he’s a cyclist), hovering over a mandala of pots that are always simmering, quietly simmering. To Ian’s culinary adventurousness, Rachel attributes the boys’ sophisticated taste buds — they eagerly eat everything: curry, paella, seaweed, soba noodles. My own girls are strictly mac-and-cheese-centric (but I’ve been told in therapy not to keep beating myself up over the small things).

Never have I seen a more blatant attempt to meet a word-count limit.

Ms. Loh’s friends commiserate about their marriages. Rachel, the one referenced above, says that she is now considering divorce because she never has sex anymore, along with some other reasons.

“Ian won’t have sex with me,” Rachel says flatly. “He has not touched my body in two years. He says it’s because I’ve gained weight.” Again, we stoutly protest, but she goes on. “And he thinks I’m a bad mother — he says I’m sloppy and inattentive.”

The list of violations unfurls. Last week, Rachel mistakenly gave the wrong medication to the dog, a mistake Ian would never make. She also forgot to deglaze the saucepan and missed the window to book the family’s Seattle flights on Expedia, whose chiming bargains Ian meticulously tracks.

Rachel sees herself as a failed mother, and is depressed and chronically overworked at her $120,000-a-year job (which she must cling to for the benefits because Ian freelances). At night, horny and sleepless, she paces the exquisite kitchen, gobbling mini Dove bars. The main breadwinner, Rachel is really the Traditional Dad, but instead of being handed her pipe and slippers at six, she appears to be marooned in a sexless remodeling project with a passive-aggressive Competitive Wife.

I would agree here that Rachel’s husband appears to be a jerk from this telling, but I don’t see anything here that screams out “Divorce him!” Has anyone heard of marriage counseling in their elite subdivision?

But enough about that, let’s go here.

Of the four of us, Renata has the fastest-thrumming engine, as evidenced by her rabid in-the-moment sex-tryst texting (“omg he flyz in 2nite on red i @ 2 am!!!”). One imagines a string of men toppled behind her in ditches like crashed race cars. “My problem is, I’m a dopamine freak!” She waggles her hands in the air. “Dopamine!”

“Helen Fisher!” Ellen exclaims, pointing at her.

Ms. Loh, your friends are idiots.

Ms. Loh goes on to explain that Helen Fisher wrote a book explaining hormones that lump people in to four categories; The Negotiator, the Builder, the Director, and the Explorer, who is tied to the dopamine that gets Renata all foolish, as seen above. Explorers are attracted to Explorers, and Builders to Builders, but Negotiators are attracted to Directors, and vice versa. One of Ms. Loh’s friends slaps the book and exclaims that her problem is that she’s an Explorer married to a Builder.

Here’s the problem with this idea; it’s too neat and simple. Dropping people into four categories and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works is no less stupid than lumping them into twelve categories based off the Zodiac and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works. It allows you to look at someone as a preconceived label, not as a person. It’s too easy to then dismiss any problems as that elusive “incompatibility” instead of actually working through a problem and solving the issue.

A running theme in this article is the avoidance of any kind of “work” on a relationship. Upon being asked if he wanted a divorce Rachel’s husband said no, saying they must show discipline and work at the marriage. At that, Ms. Loh adds the parenthetical comment “again with the work!”

Ms. Loh posits that “it’s clear females are dissatisfied,” saying that more and more divorces are being initiated by women. She then paints a remarkable picture, and I would be doing it a grave disservice to not present it in its original form.

If marriage is the Old World and what lies beyond is the New World, it’s the apparently stable men (comfortable alone in their postfeminist den with their Cook’s Illustrated and their porn) who are Old Worlders, and the Girls’ Night Out, questionnaire-completing women who are the questing New Worlders.

Ms. Loh continues to state that women get a bum deal, being told to “work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones that schedule ‘date night,’ only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, ignored.” She presents a few modest proposals, the first of which states that high-revving, sexually-frustrated women could have two men, the “postfemininst” male doing all the work in the house, and the fun-loving boy toy on the side to play around with. This is due to the fact that rekindling the romance is “biologically unnatural.” The children should be raised in a tribal society, from 1-5 years of age, by the woman and her female kin, with men coming by every now and then to provide sex or put up shelves. Then, once that is done, push the children off on the father, or the “superdad,” so the Type A woman can then work and presumably run around with her aforementioned boy toy.

In closing, she states:

In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage — or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Ms. Loh, I will not follow your advice, because I must consider the source of the advice. In this case, the advice is coming from a biased, self-righteous, sanctimonious fool.

From the beginning of your article straight through to its conclusion, you dodge, duck, sidestep, and avoid the true issue; according to your own writing, you are the reason this marriage failed. It was not society, it was not latent feminism, it was not America, it was not God. It was not a roaring fireplace or a screaming child. It was not macaroni noodles and a talking sponge. It was not level shelves and a travel schedule. You, Ms. Loh, are the reason. You failed. And here I am not pointing to the affair, because couples can and often do work through that kind of transgression.

You failed, Ms. Loh, because you quit. You gave up. You took a look at your marriage, shattered primarily by your own actions, and you decided that to fix it would have been too hard. Yes, you disguised this as well, claiming biology, society, and other excuses that have no bearing on this. You failed and you gave in. You betrayed your husband’s trust, and decided that because of this, you would not try to restore the marriage.

And what have you taken away from this? A horrible sense of entitlement. You refuse to take responsibility for anything that has happened. You are so full of yourself, so overflowing with confidence, that you believe that it is the world that is wrong, and you, you and your little nest of harpies, you are the ones that are correct. And what’s more, you drag down all women with you. You claim it is the woman’s right, that because you are women you can take this stand. Men are the stodgy idiots blundering about the Old World, while the intrepid explorers, pushing boundaries, exploring new lands, filling out questionnaires — filling out questionnaires! — are the New World. Your audacity astounds me, Ms. Loh.

In closing, Ms. Loh:

Your marriage is over, and despite your best efforts, you have only yourself to blame. You are a failure, a quitter, a coward, a fool, and an embarrassment.

It’s a shame your ego will never let you see it.

-Matt Bowyer

(The link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31452178/ns/today_relationships/ )