Why Am I Hiking through Washington?

Hopefully, by the time this post is published, I am already hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington. I can not be 100% certain that is the case, because shit happens, and I scheduled this post way in advance.

Anyway, why am I doing this?

It’s not for the beautiful scenery – if I just want to see beautiful scenery, there are much easier ways I could do that (though the scenery is a lovely bonus). Ditto for the exercise.

Well, first of all, I’m curious. I am curious what it’s like to go backpacking for more than a month. I’m curious about the state of Washington, which I’ve never visited before. That’s one of the reasons this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail appeals to me more than the Sierras – even though I’ve never gone hiking in the Sierras, I have in fact been in the Sierra mountains when I was a little kid (and I passed through the Sierras by train last winter). I am curious about what the Pacific Northwest is like (yes, I’ve been to Oregon, but I never went north of Eugene before – I’ve mostly been to southern Oregon, which is more like California than the Pacific Northwest in terms of climate).

I also think the idea of crossing all of Washington without visiting any cities is also really cool (I’ll have to pass through Seattle on the way back home since I will only be allowed to re-enter the United States by land or sea, but at least during my first visit to Washington, I won’t ever go to a town with more than 600 residents – assuming everything goes according to plan).

It’s also been years since I’ve been in a real alpine climate (except in a train). I look forward to being in an alpine climate again.

I’m also drawn to the people and culture of the Pacific Crest Trail. I want to visit the trail towns.

However, there is more. As people who follow my blog may have noticed, I am drawn to the idea of pilgrimage. ‘Pilgrimage’ is associated with religion, but in my reading about the Shikoku henro pilgrimage, I’ve learned that even ‘religious’ pilgrimages can have many secular elements, and many pilgrims are drawn to the pilgrimage for non-religious reasons. A journey like this, when one withdraws from one’s familiar environment to plunge into a completely different environment, can foster a heightened experience which can be used for personal development. I definitely am planning to try this with some meditative exercises.

Part of me does not like withdrawing from my day-to-day life at all (in fact, one of the reasons I think I will never do a thru-hike of the PCT or other 1000+ mile / 1500+ km trail is that I do not want to withdraw for such a long period of time). But less than two months? I think I can do that. And while I don’t want to withdraw, I also like some of the benefits. For example, my internet access will be EXTREMELY limited while I’m hiking, and I look forward to that. While the internet has brought many good things into my life, I think occasionally disengaging from the internet is good for my mental well-being.

I also hope that this trek will make me more resilient. Not so much physically – I think any physical benefits will go away shortly after I end the trek – but maybe I will pick up a few useful skills and, more importantly, I hope to develop non-physical forms of resilience.

And, if I am going to be completely honest, I am resisting the aging process. Yes, I know I am still less than 30 years old, and yes, I know that many older people go hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, and I know that I’m not being graceful about the aging process. I reaching my physical youthful peak when I was in Taiwan, and I know I will never completely return to that state. But I don’t want to quietly submit to the process of physical aging. I want to go on this trek to remind myself that, even if I am no longer at the peak of my physical youth, I still have a lot of my youthful vigor, and I’m going to use it damn it!

Oh, and I’ll reach Canada. Hopefully – shit could happen to stop me from reaching that destination. Sadly, even if I reach Canada, I probably will only stay there for a week, but hey, I’ve never been to Canada before, and staying in Canada for a week is better than never going to Canada ever, right?

Being Terrified by the Unfamiliar

I have never felt classic culture shock – the type which goes in stages such as ‘honeymoon period’ ‘frustration’ ‘acceptance’ etc. (some models of culture shock have four stages, some have five, but they tend to be similar). The closest I came was when I lived in Mountain View, and I’ve even told a lot of people that that is when I felt classic culture shock, but now I think … if so, it was a really mild case of culture shock. I think at this point, I had been trying to fit my experiences in Mountain View into the culture shock model just to find any way to relate to the idea of multi-stage culture shock.

I recall, about six months after I moved to Taiwan, I was talking with another American, and she said ‘oh, you haven’t felt culture shock yet, but you will, it will hit you.’

In the three years I was in Taiwan, I never experienced anything like the four-stage or five-stage models of culture shock.

I recently read Pacific Crest Trials by Zach Davis and Carly Moree, which talks about how to psychologically prepare for long distance thru hikes (i.e. hiking over 3000 km on foot). Though it does not explicitly link the mindset of thru hikers to the culture shock models, it seems to be describing something pretty similar. They even use the term ‘honeymoon period’. And it makes sense that adjusting to life on a thru-hike would be like adjusting to life in a completely different culture. That is, first of all, it is a different culture (hiker culture is very distinct), but also, even though most people who do thru-hikes in the United States grew up in the United States, and some people do them in their states of residence/origin, life on the trail is really different from life at home, even if one’s home just happens to be a trail town (a trail town is a town near one of the trails frequented by thru-hikers – for example, Big Bear City in California is a ‘trail town’).

An example of how life is different is, even though most hikers carry watches, people generally do not live by the clock when they are on trail (unless they have to go into town and be there when a post office is open or something). Water is generally only available once every few miles (or less – one might sometimes travel 20+ miles between water sources, depending on which trail and under what circumstances). Food – well, a little foraging is sometimes possible, but generally food is only available in towns. I could keep going, but I think you get it by now that life in trail!United-States is different from life in most of the United States.

Anyway, so if I don’t go through classic culture shock, what do I experience?

I remember, when I was a girl, I dropped something on a sidewalk near my home. I wanted to go back and fetch it. My parents told me to go by myself to fetch it. I had never walked outside without adult supervision before. I was astonished that my parents thought it was okay for me to go outside by myself. Yes, it was my neighborhood, so the odds of me becoming lost were practically zero, and though people occasionally get murdered when they are outside in my neighborhood (in fact, IIRC, there had been a murder on the very street where I went to retrieve whatever I had dropped), the odds of myself becoming the victim of a violent crime were really low. But since I had never done it before – I had it ingrained in my habits (at that age) that I do not go outside without an adult – I was really nervous and terrified.

Nowadays, if you suggested that it would be a bad idea for me to go outside on my own without the supervision of my elders, I would be baffled. I’m a freaking adult right now, I don’t need to be escorted just to walk around my own neighborhood.

That is the pattern I experience. When I am thrust into an environment that is too unfamiliar – especially if I am alone – I experience terror.

I experienced the terror in Taiwan – twice, once when I first arrived in Taiwan, and the second time, when I moved to Taoyuan City. I liked the idea of moving to Taiwan when it was far in the future, but when it became imminent – and then it happened – I was frightened. It was the first time I had ever been outside of the United States by myself, and I had no return ticket. What made me stick with it – both staying in Taiwan and staying in Taoyuan – was that those decisions were difficult to reverse. That made me tough it out until the terror passed and I had adapted.

By contrast, when I hiked up Ishizuchi in Japan years later, I had read about how scary the ascent to the highest peak is (in fact, most hikers do not go to the highest point because it is so scary). When I got there I found … much of the path is a slanted uneven rocky scramble, with a sharp drop of hundreds of feet on one side – and it did not look that scary to me. I had done so many hikes with similar (or more extreme conditions) in Taiwan, that the final scramble of Ishizuchi felt familiar – it even gave me a sense of nostalgia. In short, I was not scared of that slope because it felt familiar to me.

This is me in Taiwan (yes, I am the person in this photo). Specifically, this is me at Wuliaojian.

Last year, I went on three section hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail. On none of those trips did I complete my planned itinerary.

One time, my choice to quit was very sensible – there was a heat wave (temperatures over 90℉ / 33℃), and the next section of the trail was steep, uphill, exposed to the south (i.e. very little shade), and all of the water sources for the next 14 miles were dry. I have ZERO regret about quitting at that point. I still want to hike that section, but I want to do it when it’s cooler and the water sources are actually sources of water. Besides, I had already hiked over fifty miles during that trip.

But the other two times? It wasn’t due to trail conditions, it was because I was not prepared for the psychological shock. I’ve read a lot of hikers can get through the beginning of the hikes on the ‘honeymoon’ euphoira and the psychological shock hits them later, whereas for me, it seems the shock is front-loaded.

I do not like admitting this publicly on my blog, because it runs counter to how I see myself – or rather, how I wish I were. I like thinking of myself as intrepid. These experiences do not give me the self-image I want.

Well, when something is hard to do, and you want to get better at it, it’s sometimes a good idea to TRY AGAIN. And that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m going to attempt another section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Specifically, I plan to hike from Barrel Spring (it’s literally just a spring near a road – it’s four miles away from the nearest town) to the border with Mexico.

It will be a backpacking trip unlike anything I’ve tried before. I’ve never hiked through a desert before, so yes, I will carry a lot of water, but at least the slopes are fairly gentle in this section, and because I will go south, I will hike uphill on the northern (cooler) slopes. Also, I’ve never had to deal with temperature swings of 25-90℉ (-4-33℃) within 24 hours while sleeping outdoors, so that will be interesting. I look forward to the novelty and challenge, while I am also aware that I might not like it at all.

For some reason, I am fixated on the danger of rattlesnakes. This is bizarre because Taiwan has snakes which are deadlier than rattlesnakes (most rattlesnake bites will not kill an adult human, even without treatment – Taiwan has snakes whose bite kills any human who does not get timely treatment), and the Taiwanese venomous snakes do not even warn you of their presence with a rattle, and yet I was never scared of them. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised in a culture which fears ‘hundred-pacers’, whereas I was raised in a culture which fears rattlesnakes. Rattlesnake bite is far from the most common reason why hikers need medical evacuation in this section (the most common reason is dehydration – which, thankfully, is preventable with good planning), but it’s still what has grabbed my imagination. Oh well, hopefully my paranoia will at least make my odds of being bit by a rattlesnake even lower (and yes, I have a plan for what to do if I do get bitten by a rattlesnake). What I’ve read is that many hikers freak out when they first see a rattlesnake, but after the third or fourth time they encounter a rattlesnake, it’s much less terrifying.

So, why am I doing this hike if I expect it to be uncomfortable, and suspect I may hate it? First of all, there are my ego issues (described above), but if that was all there was to it, I would stop myself because there are easier ways to address ego issue. I am also really curious what it is like to hike in a desert, and even if I never do it again, I want to know what it feels like. Furthermore, I am fascinated by hiker psychology, and while one can learn about hiker psychology just by reading books, it’s not the same as first-hand experience (in particular, a book cannot tell me how *I* will react in certain conditions). I also hope that, maybe, just maybe, I’ll gain a little mental resilience which I may need later in life. Finally, I enjoy hanging out with the type of people who hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and the best place to find them is, obviously, the Pacific Crest Trail.

Why am I posting all of this on my blog. Remember how I mentioned the book Pacific Crest Trials, about how to psychologically cope with the trail? One of their recommended techniques is to tell everyone, and to announce your hike on your website, so that peer pressure will help you get through the tough parts. I’m trying this technique right now. I’ll see if implicit peer pressure will help me deal with the psychological shock better than before. But I’m not sure it will work, since most people I know think that hiking a hundred miles through desert mountains is so far out there that they aren’t going to think less of me if I do not complete the hundred miles – even my parents, who are calmer about this and find it less impressive than anyone else I know, wouldn’t hold it against me.

We Are All Barbara Yung

A photo of Barbara Yung.

Recently, I read the article “Making Athens Great Again”. Though it’s been a long time since I’ve immersed myself in Ancient Greek literature, it is consistent with what I remember.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken up the study of Classical Chinese lately, which means I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately pouring over Chinese texts written over two thousand years ago (though, because I am not proficient in Classical Chinese yet, I read it slowly, and thus have not read a large volume yet). I can tell, based on what I have read so far, that the writers of the late Zhou dynasty through the Han dynasty were concerned with a lot of the same issues as the people of ancient Athens – the brevity of human life, how to make human life matter in spite of its brevity, the possibility of doing something that matters so much one is known even after death. The ancient Chinese did not always have the same answers as their Greek contemporaries, but they were grappling with some of the same philosophical issues.

Reading all of this stuff thousands of years after these people wrote down their thoughts adds a whole other dimension to this discussion of whether people can do something which matters so much that their names will be known long after their death, and whether this does any good. The fact that Socrates is still so well known thousands of years after his death is a statement in itself.

It also has a humbling effect on the way I think about my own times. On the time scale of thousands of years, the United States of America does not seem as significant as it does in my usual modes of thought (which is on the scale of minutes-thru-decades).

So, in the context of all that, where does Barbara Yung fit in?

A few of the people reading this blog recognize the name Barbara Yung (or recognize her Chinese name, 翁美玲). However, I am guessing that most of the people reading this do not have the foggiest idea who Barbara Yung was.

So who was Barbara Yung? She was a very popular Hong Kong actress – to this date, she has a large fanbase. Barbara Yung is so famous that it was reported in (Chinese-language) news when her mother died in January, 2017. Barbara Yung rose to fame due to being cast as Huang Rong in the 1983 TV adaptation of Legend of the Condor Heroes, and even though she continued to star in other TV shows, she is still most strongly associated with the character Huang Rong, just as Emma Watson is most strongly associated with the character Hermione Granger. To this day, there are still many Barbara Yung fans out there, people who felt that she touched their lives in a good way (here is an example of a fan tribute music video). She is more famous than most people will ever be, and she has arguably had a positive impact on more people than most people ever will.

Barbara Yung in her most famous role as Huang Rong

I’ve seen some episodes of the 1983 adaptation of Legend of the Condor Heroes. Overall, I think it’s overrated, but Barbara Yung is one of the best things about the show. If I ever go back and watch more episodes, it will be mainly for her. She captured how vibrant and spontaneous Huang Rong is.

Though I am not attached to any of the TV adaptations of Legend of the Condor Heroes, I do have a personal attachment to the Condor Trilogy (which is obvious to anyone who has followed this blog for a long time). I remember that reading about Huang Rong’s death in third book in the trilogy made my tears come out – and most fictional character deaths do not bring out tears in me. In the novels, if my calculations are correct, Huang Rong is about 70 years old when she dies.

Barbara Yung died when she was twenty-six years old.

If we measure how ‘good’ a life was by its length, then Barbara Yung clearly got a short end of the stick. But if we measure how ‘good’ a life was by fame and positive impacts on others, then Barbara Yung did really well. She is known to hundreds of millions of people.

But there are still billions of people who have no idea who she is. And she is best known among people who have watched 1980s Hong Kong television, which is less popular among younger generations than among generations which were alive during the 1980s. Two hundred years from now, Barbara Yung may be so obscure that she will be hardly more famous than the average person who lived in the 20th century.

There are also many people who are more famous and/or had a much greater impact on the world than Barbara Yung: Yu Gwansun, Jeanne d’Arc, Anne Frank, Malalai of Maiwand, and Princess Zhao of Pingyang, among others. You know what all of those names I just mentioned have in common (aside from the fact that they are all female, which was actually unintentional on my part, and that they are all from Eurasia)? They all died before their 26th birthdays – i.e. their lives were even shorter than Barbara Yung’s. I think all of those people will be remembered even after Barbara Yung is forgotten, but for how much longer? I do not know.

Thinking in terms of millennia – and if we are bringing Socrates-era Athens and Han dynasty China into this, then we are talking in terms of millennia – how much do any of these people matter? I think it’s safe to say that, even on the timescale of millennia, Princess Zhao of Pingyang matters because she’s already been dead for over a thousand years and she is still a famous person. Jeanne d’Arc will probably still be famous a thousand years after her death. For the others, it’s harder to predict.

What about in terms of tens of thousands of years? From the perspective of someone ten thousand years from now (assuming humanity is still around – I think there will probably still be humans ten thousand years from now, but extinction within the next ten thousand years is possible), I might as well have lived at the same time as Barbara Yung, even though there is no overlap between our chronological lifespans! Also, from the perspective of people ten thousand years from now, the difference between Barbara Yung’s level of fame and impact on the world and my level of fame and impact on the world will not matter at all.

Also, when we are talking in terms of tens of thousands of years, the different between a lifespan of 26 years and, say, 91 years (the lifespan of Barbara Yung’s mother) does not seem like much. It happens to matter to me personally a great deal whether my own lifespan will be, say, thirty years or a hundred years, but that is because I am living in terms of years and decades, not tens of thousands of years. I certainly do not feel, emotionally, that there is much difference between a human dying at the age of three weeks old and a human dying at the age of ten weeks old.

On a time scale of a million years, we (that is, myself and everyone who reads this blog) are all practically indistinguishable from Barbara Yung.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Well, the conclusion I draw is that trying to have one’s name known long after one’s death is a futile goal – no matter what I do, I will eventually be forgotten, and I do not particularly care whether I am forgotten just years after my death, or whether I am forgotten tens of thousands of years after my death. I do care about having a good impact on people, but one can have a good impact and still be totally anonymous. Furthermore, I think doing my best is a much better goal than trying to be extraordinary (maybe I might end up being extraordinary anyway, but that’s not the point).

I sometimes do get caught up in and upset by petty bullshit, because that’s how my psychology is set up. However, when I’m collected enough that I can pull out of that, reminding myself of the vastness of time helps me understand that petty bullshit ultimately does not matter.

I do not know how long I will live, though I probably will not live to be a hundred years old. However long or short my life ends up being, I’ll try to make the most of it.

Clearly, I have been recently reading parts of the Zhuangzi (one of the most influential works of ancient Chinese philosophy), since its logic seems to be slipping into my thoughts. To quote the Zhuangzi, 莫壽乎殤子,而彭祖為夭 – (Mandarin pronunciation) “Mò​ shòu​ hū​ shāng​ zǐ​, ér​ Péng​ Zǔ wéi​ yāo​​” – “There is no one more long-lived than a child which dies prematurely, and Peng Zu [who supposedly had a lifespan of 800 years] did not live out his time.”

It’s the 5-Year Anniversary of This Blog Already?

Yep, this blog is 5 years old.

For once, nothing important is happening in my life on January 4-6. It started in 2011, when I left the United States on January 4 and arrived in Taiwan on January 6 (crossing the international date line meant I never experienced January 5, 2011), and then on Janury 6th, 2012, I started this blog, and then on January 6th, 2014, I moved out of my apartment in Taiwan, and last year, I quit my job on January 6th, 2016. I guess nothing particularly interesting was happening in my life on January 6th, 2013 either. Or January 6, 2015. What will happen next year on January 6th?

For the first year of this blog, it was super obscure. Now it is, well, not in the first tier of ‘asexuality’ blogs in terms of prestige and popularity, but certainly in the second tier (at least among ‘asexuality’ hosted on WordPress/Blogspot). This blog has gotten as much attention as it has primarily because it’s been regularly updated for years, and I have posted close to 400 posts by now, and during all of that time and with all of those posts, there have been more opportunities for readers to stumble on something that interests them.

In fact, this is now one of the oldest continuously updated ‘asexuality’ blogs around now which hasn’t been rebranded/relocated (which I find incredible, since I still tend to think of this blog as being ‘new’). I’ve been to pull this off mainly because I’ve set up this blog in such a way that I do not need to put in too much effort to keep in consistently updated, which means I can keep it going even when I am busy or have unreliable internet access, and I don’t get burned out.

This blog is part of a cohort of ‘asexuality’ blogs which started in mid-2011 thru mid-2012 (the most famous of these blogs, of course, is The Asexual Agenda. One of the most prominent blogs of my cohort, A Life Unexamined, retired in 2016. Jo made a much deeper contribution to asexuality blogging than I ever did, and I pay my respects to her blog as I wish her good luck in her future endeavours.

Will this blog last another five years? If a) I am still alive five years from now and b) I continue to have a sufficient level of internet access and c) this blog doesn’t become too expensive (I have a free WordPress account, but under certain scenarios I would have to switch to a paid account, and though unlikely, it is not impossible that I might have to pay more than I am willing) I expect that this blog will be around for a 10th anniversary.

What Am I Looking for in ‘Asexual Fiction’?

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog lately, you are aware that I have been posting a lot of reviews of ‘asexual fiction – you can get links to all of the reviews here and here (except this one, which isn’t on any list yet). This is way more asexual fiction than I have ever read before.

First of all, the explosion of asexual fiction in the past two years (2015/2016) blows my mind. I am pretty sure there is at least 10x more novels featuring explicitly asexual characters now than back when I started this blog in 2012.

For a long time, I would have been really happy with just a character coming out and saying ‘by the way, I am asexual’ without incorporating asexuality into the story in any deeper way. Part of this was just that there was just so little representation in fiction that I was ready to take what I could get (as long as it was not toxic).

Even now, I think I would still be happy for a character to come out and say ‘by the way, I am asexual’ if it is in a story which I do not expect to feature asexuality at all. Asexual representation is still so thin that, when I am not fiction specifically for asexual content, the chances of me finding it in the fiction I’m reading are slim. Thus, it’s a pleasant surprise (again, assuming it’s not handled in a bad way).

However, when I am reading something specifically because it is ‘asexual’ fiction, and then I find that asexuality is only once or twice and does not have much bearing on the story, I find it a bit disappointing. If it led me to read a good story I otherwise would not have given a chance, it is still a net positive, and I do want more “by the way, I’m asexual” stories to exist. It’s just not what I’m looking for in ‘asexual’ fiction.

I think my standards for ‘good’ asexual representation have gone higher. Even as recently as two or three years ago, I would evaluate how a story presents asexuality much less critically than I would now. That is partially because, now, I have read quite a bit of asexual fiction, so I’m not exactly starving for asexual content in fiction like I was before. It’s also an effect of having been involved in asexual blogging for years, which makes me think much more critically about asexual topics than I would have otherwise.

Does that mean I’m looking for stories which would hit a ’10’ on the asexuality content scale? Well, I would like to read such a story, since I have never read any original fiction which would hit a ’10’ on the scale and I’m curious. But curiosity aside, that’s not what I’m really looking for either.

I think, when I read something marked ‘asexual fiction’, I’m hoping for a story which is in the mid-rage of the asexual content scale – 4 to 6. I want stories which contain meaningful reflection on what being asexual is like, while still having a plot which is to a large extent being driven by something else.

Some Thoughts on What I Like and Don’t Like in Fictional Romance

Generally, when writing all the reviews of asexual fiction I’ve been doing lately, I try to avoid reading reviews written by other people so that what I write reflects more purely what I think and feel about the story. I sometimes make exceptions (especially if I was on the fence about buying a story in the first place, and looked at reviews to make the final call). However, after I wrote this review of The Painted Crown, I decided to go to Goodreads and see what other people say.

It turns out, all of the other reviewers have very different opinions from mine. Now, that’s partially because this story was just released, and most of the people who would have read it this soon were probably already fans of Megan Derr’s writing. I, on the other hand, had never read anything by Megan Derr before, and I read this so quickly because a) I had pre-ordered it and b) I was excited about reading a 70,000+ word story about asexual characters. Over time, as more readers who are not fans of Megan Derr’s writing post reviews, the range of opinions may grow wider.

The comment which most struck me was this:

However, the slow burning love between them is very rewarding. I love how the tension between them drove me quite mad and I needed them to kiss so very, very bad.

As anyone who read my review knows, I found the ‘slow burning love’ the opposite of rewarding. And I cannot think of a single time I have ever “needed” fictional characters “to kiss so very, very bad” – not just in this novel, in *any* story.

So I was thinking about it. There are some fictional romances I have enjoyed a LOT, but I cannot think of a single example where I enjoyed watching characters develop romantic interest in each other. Sometimes, when characters are developing romantic interest in each other WHILE something really interesting is happening, it works for me, but it is due to the really interesting thing that is happening, not the ‘budding feelings’ of the characters.

The romance stories I do like are about characters who already *know* they have strong feelings for someone (even if they have not quite pinned down what those feelings are), and are trying to figure out what to do about those feelings. An example of a romance I like is Viola/Orsino from Twelfth Night, or What You Will. We never see Viola fall in love with Orsino, she simply declares (to the audience, not any other character in the play) at the end of Act I, Scene iv, that she wishes she could marry Orsino. Then, during the play, we watch her deal with those feelings. Also, I enjoy Viola/Oliva because that pairing is clearly doomed and inspires me to eat popcorn.

Oddly, I generally buy the ‘love at first sight’ trope. That may seem odd for an aromantic asexual like me, but the thing is, I sometimes have felt a strong personal connection to people as soon as I met them. It wasn’t a romantic connection, but it does not feel ridiculous to me that people could have a strong romantic connection to someone they’ve just met. And in practice, thinking about stories I like vs. stories I don’t like, I strongly prefer the “fall in love at first sight” trope than tales of “slow burning romance” – the “first sight” trope conveniently cuts out the part of romance stories which I am generally least interested in.

Maybe this is why I’ve never been able to finish reading Pride and Prejudice. I really don’t care whether Elizabeth continues to be prejudiced and Darcy continues to be proud.

Another kind of romance story I enjoy is where the protagonists have a relationship which would be interesting even if it were non-romantic. I can enjoy the interesting non-romantic relationship without needing it to be romantic at all, and if it turns romantic later in a way which fits the story, well, I can often continue to enjoy the ride (caveat: if it is going to turn into a romance, I’d like it to at least be heavily foreshadowed in advance – I don’t like getting 80% of the way through a story, thinking about how lovely it is that a woman and a man were able to work together without it being romantic, only for it to suddenly become romantic at the end). An example of this kind of romance story is – if you have been reading this blog for years, you can probably guess which example I am going to cite – Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ. They knew each other for years before they became lovers, but their relationship as teacher/student was interesting in it’s own right (and very abusive – at one point Xiaolongnü threatens to kill Yang Guo because she thinks that she is dying and does not want him to outlive her) and would have continued to be interesting even if their relationship had never become romantic.

Oh, and I also tend to enjoy trainwreck romances like Viola/Olivia mentioned above.

However, what most boggles me is the “I needed them to kiss so very, very bad” part. Why are people invested in whether characters who do not already have romantic feelings for each other develop romantic feelings for each other? I can understand being invested in whether two characters who are already in love with each other manage to have a happy romance – I can get invested in that too – but wanting people who don’t already have those feelings for each other to have a romance together? That does not compute for me.

Consider my experiences as an aromantic woman. I have never wanted to enter a romantic relationship. However, countless people have told me that I ought to have a romantic relationship, that it would make me happy, that it’s inevitable, blah blah blah. Therefore, I feel that telling any living person who they should have romantic feelings for is extremely rude, and even with fictional characters, I find it unpleasant. Just to be crystal clear: when dealing with fictional characters, rather than real living people, I do not think people who enjoy ‘shipping’ or whatever have to stop doing that. However, it is still something I do not enjoy.

So how does that tie back to my reaction to The Painted Crown? As always, I did not mind if the protagonists never had romantic feelings for each other indefinitely, therefore there was no ‘tension’ for me in that. Okay, I was invested in innocent children not getting hurt, however nobody objected to the marriage, and the protagonists did not seem to have any significant struggle with that, so that was boring.

That is not to say that such stories about people gradually falling in love with each other are bad or wrong or anything, it’s fine for the readers who do find it appealing. It is just something which is not appealing to me.

The Turning Point of Growing Older

I am not sure when I passed this point, but now I am sure I have passed the point where my body has attained its peak vigor, and that the future will only bring bodily decline. I still pass as very young – some people still think I’m a teenager when they first see me – but my body does not feel as young as it used to. My body today certainly does not feel like my teenage body, even if some people think I look like a teenager on the outside.

I still feel very youthful in my body – much more youthful than I will feel in the future, I am sure – but I am also aware of accumulated wear and tear in a way I was not before, and instead of feeling ‘eh, it will probably go away’ I feel ‘oh well, it will probably just get worse’. I suppose there are lifestyle factors which, if changed, could make me feel more vigorous, but that’s the thing – if all else stays constant, my body is now in (currently slow) decline.

It is like when my father says that he is ‘old’. He’s passed the point where he can convince himself that he is middle-aged – he identifies as old now. He’s still in good health – in fact, it’s probably partially thanks to his genes that I still look so young (my father has also looked far younger than his chronological age for most of his life).

It’s a reminder that life is short, and that I better do important things now, while I am still alive.