Twilight: The Tao of Phil

Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their in-class lab assignment and are now making the most awkward small talk ever.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to discuss the most important character in the pages of Twilight, a person without whom the story could not have taken place: Baseball Phil.

   “Why did you come here, then?”
   No one had asked me that — not straight out like he did, demanding.
   “It’s . . . complicated.”
   “I think I can keep up,” he pressed.
   I paused for a long moment, and then made the mistake of meeting his gaze. His dark gold eyes confused me, and I answered without thinking.
   “My mother got remarried,” I said.
   “That doesn’t sound so complex,” he disagreed, but he was suddenly sympathetic. “When did that happen?”

I've been watching True Blood recently on HBO, so my first thought when I reread this passage was that it's a good thing Bella is talking to Edward and not Bill because if it were Bill listening to this apparent tale of woe, poor Baseball Phil would have been dead before the conversation was over. Partly out of a misguided desire to make this beautiful, unearthly, and utterly delicious creature happy again, but at least as much out of a selfish arrogance that compels him to remove annoying and unnecessary things from his life as quickly as possible.

My second thought was that as bad as Edward is -- an unrepentant murderer who revels in vigilantism -- he's actually pretty mild compared to the woobie wuvly vampires in the True Blood series, most of whom I can imagine easily taking out the entire white-bread Cullen clan. My third thought was unfiltered sadness as I realized that as unhealthy as the Sookie/Bill relationship is, it's still so much better than the Bella/Edward relationship because -- at least so far -- Sookie isn't all hey why don't you turn me into a vampire so that I can never see my friends and loved ones again, mmkay?

True Blood will ruin Twilight for you all over again, I tell you.

Ahem. Sorry. Back on topic. Bella spills the beans to Edward that she moved up to Forks -- her literal hell on earth -- because her mother married Baseball Phil. We're meant to take from the text that no one has asked Bella this outright and that Edward is the first one she's told this to: look, the romantic leads are bonding! But I can't believe this can be true.

We've already discussed how Bella's parents' silence on this issue is perplexing bordering on neglectful: Bella's mother has remarried, and Bella has become quiet and withdrawn, finally announcing -- not asking -- that she is going to move in with her father in a town that both she and Renee hate more than anywhere else in the world. Let that sink in for a moment: Renee left Charlie largely because of her hatred of Forks. She hasn't (apparently) set foot in the town since then. She knows that Bella shares her hatred of the town and has (apparently) supported Bella's demands that Charlie see her in California for the last several years of visitations. Yet when her daughter flees to this hated town in the wake of Renee's marriage, she doesn't once ask if Phil has hurt or upset Bella.

Charlie, too, has been singularly uninterested in asking about his daughter's happiness and safety now that a strange man lives in the same house as she. This obtuseness goes beyond Twilight's insistence that S-E-X does not exist in the minds of the main characters and edges into inanity and parental abandonment.

I can accept, however sadly, that Bella's parents care so little about her that they haven't bothered to ask her why she moved up to Forks, but I simply cannot believe that no one at school has asked her directly. Jessica is clearly described as a chatter-box, Mike has been attentive and solicitous in asking her about her opinions on the weather, Chess Club Eric has been inquisitive and personable, and Jessica's cadre of nameless friends have come and gone through several lunch periods by now. It is impossible that no one has said so what made you decide to move up here to the sticks, eh? That's what we'd say down here in the South and I have it on good authority that Northerners are at least as direct as we in these matters.

So I cannot accept that all the high schoolers in Forks are shy violets and mild-mannered gentlemen unwilling to breach Bella's delicate privacy by inquiring what caused her to move mid-school year to their fair town. Therefore, I have to assume that Bella has simply been ignoring people when they ask her -- possibly she is too caught up in narrating to hear them.

Nevertheless, Bella's opening salvo in this "complicated" explanation is to toss out Baseball Phil and Edward is understandably sympathetic:

   “Last September.” My voice sounded sad, even to me.
   “And you don’t like him,” Edward surmised, his tone still kind.

This is actually not a bad leap of logic to make with Bella being so obviously sad: it stands to reason that her flight to Forks might stem from a strong dislike of the newest member of the household. Bella will tell Edward that he is wrong and that "Phil is fine", but I have to think that at least on some level, Bella probably doesn't like Phil, or at least is ambivalent about him.

We aren't told a lot about Renee's dating life prior to Phil, but I imagine that before Phil came along, life was mostly just Bella and Renee. Bella mentions in text being extremely close to her mother, and also mentions that Bella has been handling the finances and the household scheduling largely by herself for many years now. Phil, as the new man in Renee's life, has taken over these household management duties, and -- curiously -- we hear very little of Bella's opinion on this particular situation.

Does Bella feel relieved to be able to escape from the tedium of household budgets and dry cleaning schedules, or does she feel upset at being stripped of her important duties and the one major way in which she has been relating to her mother all her life, as caretaker? Probably both. This raises a question in my mind about Bella's motives in fleeing to Forks: is she seeking her existential self up here in her quiet birthplace, or does she harbor fantasies of taking over the household for Charlie and fulfilling the same caretaker role for him as she held for Renee?

   “No, Phil is fine. Too young, maybe, but nice enough.”

I find this statement interesting. The various Twilight wikis out there confirm that Bella isn't pleased that Phil is "too young" for her mother, but they don't give a solid reason why. If Phil is taking over responsibility for the household budget and Renee's dry cleaning schedules and car tune-ups, he isn't "too young" in the maturity sense -- indeed, he sounds "older" than Renee herself.

So how much younger is Phil than Renee? How old is Renee, for that matter? If she was 20 when Bella was born, she's 37 now. Phil plays minor league baseball for a living, so should we assume he's in his 20s or early 30s? If Phil is, hypothetically-speaking, 25 years old, then how does he feel being married to a woman 12 years his senior with a daughter 8 years his junior? I myself am married to a man 12 years my senior with a daughter 8 years my junior, and it's a little odd sometimes -- I'm too young to be her mom and a bit too old to be a proper older-sister/best-friend. How does Bella feel about having a man almost old enough to be a college-boyfriend in her house? It's actually a shame that Edward doesn't ask.

   “Why didn’t you stay with them?”
   I couldn’t fathom his interest, but he continued to stare at me with penetrating eyes, as if my dull life’s story was somehow vitally important.
   “Phil travels a lot. He plays ball for a living.” I half-smiled.
   “Have I heard of him?” he asked, smiling in response.
   “Probably not. He doesn’t play well. Strictly minor league. He moves around a lot.”

I humbly request that someone explain why a minor league player would "move around a lot" more than a major league player, which would seem to be the indication here. Do minor league players get traded from state to state every year and therefore have no permanent residence?

The more we hear about Phil, the more interested I am in how he and Renee met... and what Renee was thinking. Does she plan to keep her permanent residence in Arizona, with Phil coming to live with her in the off-season? That seems awfully independent for a woman who depends as heavily on others as Renee seems to do, but I have to think that some couples could make this work pretty flawlessly. Or is she planning to sell the house and go on the road with Phil? If so, what was the plan for Bella? Bella is seventeen and not to far from graduating, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect her to move out, go to college, get a job, and so forth, but it doesn't seem like anyone actually sat everyone down and talked this out. The Swans fail communication forever.

   “And your mother sent you here so that she could travel with him.” He said it as an assumption again, not a question.
   My chin raised a fraction. “No, she did not send me here. I sent myself.”
   His eyebrows knit together. “I don’t understand,” he admitted, and he seemed unnecessarily frustrated by that fact.

Here's a question: has Edward's "gift" of telepathy completely handicapped him for normal human interaction? It seems strange to me that someone could live over 100 years and not understand basic human nature. I can think of very few people who would answer his statement with a meek yes, I was sent here and I had no choice in the matter -- even if the statement is true and we're in some kind of Dickensian world where teenagers are "sent" away from the family, human pride is going to compel most people to deny that they had no choice whatsoever in the matter.

Furthermore, the concept that Bella might want to get away on her own shouldn't be so alien to Edward that he's biting his lip and straining forward trying to invoke his Telepathic Power of Telepathy. Is it really so astonishing that Bella loves her mother so selflessly that she might exile herself up to Forks? Is it really so strange that Bella might just want to get away from the honeymoon sounds wafting up from the downstairs bedroom nightly? None of this is rocket science, Edward.

This is especially odd given that Edward will later note that every so often Rosalie and Emmett will strike out on their own for a while before returning to the Cullen clan. Does telepathic Edward really not understand that sometimes couples need to get away for awhile? Does he not understand that good families try to understand and support them in fulfilling those needs?

   I sighed. Why was I explaining this to him? He continued to stare at me with obvious curiosity.
   “She stayed with me at first, but she missed him. It made her unhappy . . . so I decided it was time to spend some quality time with Charlie.” My voice was glum by the time I finished.
   “But now you’re unhappy,” he pointed out.
   “And?” I challenged.
   “That doesn’t seem fair.” He shrugged, but his eyes were still intense.
   I laughed without humor. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you? Life isn’t fair.”
   “I believe I have heard that somewhere before,” he agreed dryly.
   “So that’s all,” I insisted, wondering why he was still staring at me that way.
   His gaze became appraising. “You put on a good show,” he said slowly. “But I’d be willing to bet that you’re suffering more than you let anyone see.”

And now I'm going to make a confession: this passage irks me. I would feel so much sorrier for Bella if the text didn't keep dwelling on how gosh-darn saintly and suffering she is. As it is, I just want to point out that 99% of everyone on earth has life way dang worse than Ms. I-Hate-Rain Bella. And I don't like that about me.

There's something to be said for understatement in literature. From a certain point of view, I do feel sorry for Bella. I feel bad that she had what was most likely a pretty rotten childhood -- it can't be easy running a household from a young age for a codependent and helpless mother. I feel bad that her relationship with Charlie has been a source of pain instead of comfort, and that her father doesn't communicate with her, buys her gifts without understanding her needs and tastes, and spends summer vacations with her where the entire vacation revolves around his wants: his fishing trips, his jaunts to the reservation, his pastimes and hobbies.

I feel bad for Bella as a teenager. She probably doesn't have a rich social life what with her home life being such a strain on her time and emotions -- certainly, we never hear about any friends left behind in Arizona, and the only friends she acquires in Forks are superficial relationships built around her minor celebrity status as "The New Girl". She's at an age where it's time to start thinking about the future -- college? job? -- but she seems so mired in depression that no real thought has been given to any of these things. Her mother no longer has any use for her, and the only way she can feel loved and validated is to fling herself into the role of "house drudge" for her emotionally-distance and regularly-absent father in an attempt to recapture her role as caretaker for a parent.

All of this legitimately breaks my heart. Poor Bella. Give her a hug. But then S. Meyer comes barreling out of the gate with how Bella is putting on a good show but she's suffering so much -- so much more than she lets anyone else know. She's a gosh-darn saint and she's determined not to let anyone else be inconvenienced by her pain and suffering. And that's the point when I, as a reader, rebel at being swat about the head with all this overwrought awfulness and just want to say: Oh please.

   I grimaced at him, resisting the impulse to stick out my tongue like a five-year-old, and looked away.
   “Am I wrong?”
   I tried to ignore him.
   “I didn’t think so,” he murmured smugly.

Edward Cullen is over 100 years old. He's seen lifetimes of sadness and horror. He's had constant mental insight into the thoughts, pains, and memories of every human he has every been near. It's impossible to imagine that he has not, at some point in his undead life, been in the room with a Holocaust survivor or a Vietnam veteran or any number of survivors of tragedies and massacres.

But Edward Cullen pronounces Bella's situation -- leaving her mother to the glamors of a minor league baseball player's life while she herself travels up to the rainy and sometimes cold state of Washington -- to be a tragedy of human suffering.

Oh please.


Kit Whitfield said...

Part of the problem, I think, is that Bella doesn't 'put on a good show' to us. She complains pretty much constantly, which makes it much harder to see her as a stoic. Not just because we don't get the 'show', but because someone putting on a good show usually has to put a certain amount of thought into doing it. We're none of us as opaque as we like to believe: if we're constantly thinking about how unhappy we are, we tend to look unhappy. A person who puts on a positive front is likely to be having thoughts about making the best of things and changing the subject to something more positive and distracting people from asking them painful questions and generally speaking making an active effort. To put on a really good show, we need to some extent to put on a show to ourselves. 

Bella, on the other hand, dwells on her unhappy thoughts even to the exclusion of listening to a word that anybody Edward will have seen her with is saying. It's just hard to buy that she's putting on a good show. She might be keeping quiet enough about her unhappiness that an incurious person - or a person who doesn't want to hear that she's unhappy - could safely ignore it, but the good people of Forks are portrayed as positively curious, so that's hard to believe. 

If it was believable that she was putting on a good show, then Edward commenting on it might be genuinely touching. I think the problem is that he's giving her credit for something it's hard to believe she's actually doing. A good show takes work, and Edward's compliment feels like undeserved praise. 

Also, isn't it a bit extreme to say a professional baseball player of any league 'doesn't play well'? Even a minor league player has to be pretty darn good. If she was a baseball fan, such purist standards might be understandable, but she doesn't seem to be. It feels less like a description and more like a jab. 

chris the cynic said...

Here's a question: has Edward's "gift" of telepathy completely handicapped him for normal human interaction?
You would think that it might.  If he's never needed to ask these kinds of questions before, he might be utterly inept at it*.  If he's always known what people were feeling in other ways, he might be completely incapable of picking up normal cues.

Also, from Edward's perspective, she probably does put on a good show, she's the first person he's met whose pain isn't being broadcast to him.  Unless everyone else has exclusively happy thoughts, Bella is the only person Edward has ever met whose complaints are not being broadcast to him.  (Assuming that I'm understanding his mind reading powers correctly.)


*One wonders if what we're seeing from him is what he would ask himself (silently of course) while sorting through the information gleaned from someone else's mind.

depizan said...

And once again, we hit on ways the books could have been much more interesting.  Though authors are often lazy with telepathy - I'd love to see stories in which having telepathy was that kind of disadvantage.  I imagine a telepathic species or group would vastly prefer face to face interaction to letter writing (or the phone, internet, and equivalents if we're dealing with modern/future settings) because of what they'd be missing that they're used to having.  But a telepathic species or group would probably have no concept of privacy (or a very different concept of privacy).

 I don't think I've ever read/seen a story that really took the concept of a telepathic culture all the way.  Mostly they have the lone telepath (from the telepathic culture) among the normal folks and while there might be some loneliness for the telepath and "get out of my brain!" from the non-telepaths, other differences are never discussed.  Or authors throw in telepathy as some sort of random gift and don't really think it through, or only half think it through.  (Though I must say, I actually think it makes sense for Edward to be facinated by the one person he can't hear think.  Except that Meyer didn't think about what it would really mean to hear everyone's thoughts for 90 some odd years.  For one thing, it makes the idea of going to high school over and over sound even worse.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Kit, apparently Phil is just full of prat-falls to come -- his incompetence frequently prevents Renee from visiting Bella at crucial plot points. Poor guy -- Bella should just be impressed that he can walk across a room without tripping!

Chris, that actually makes sense that the "good show" is to Edward, not us. Edward probably doesn't even NOTICE facial expressions anymore...

depizan, I agree that a truly telepathic society would be a great story. Douglas Adams did a quick chapter around one in Restaurant at the End of the Universe and it was deeper than most telepath books. Amarie, that is so good it's almost depressing. Now I feel bad for Bella after all. :(

Hannah M said...

Yeah, it's been said here, but Bella *doesn't* put on a good show. If nothing else, she's constantly sullen - hardly the sign of a happy person. Also, unless she's the most brilliant actress in the world (and she says somewhere in the books that she's a bad liar) there's no way her constant mental belittling of everyone around her doesn't leak out into how she treats them.

It makes me think of that episode of 30 Rock where Liz tells someone she's always really supportive of Jenna's work even when it sucks, and we see a flashback montage where she enthusiastically greets Jenna after each performance. Then, later, we see the same flashbacks from Jenna's point of view - and all of Liz's comments are condescending and insincere. I can't help but think that's how Bella comes across whenever she hangs out with anyone who doesn't have supernatural powers - although she (and Edward, apparently) both think she's the first.

Amarie said...

 Oh, no!! Ana, don’t be depressed! I could be wrong, you know! D:  And, as far as Edward’s paradoxical wisdom-ignorance goes…I kind of agree with a little bit of what Kit, Chris, and depizan said. You’d think that Mrs. Meyer would see [yet another] opportunity to answer an interesting and uneasy question; how does one deal with an ETERNAL life as a telepathic? Yet, it’s immediately ruined before she’s even gotten past the foreshadowing. It just-to be uncharitable-fails so hard.  I think it’s honestly just a poorly utilized plot device by Mrs. Meyer. Through Edward, we don’t see Bella’s situation as dysfunctional, but good. Bella is good because she ‘suffers’ for her parents. She is good because she ‘puts others before herself’. She is good because she ‘sacrifices’ her own happiness without a single thought to the consequences. Hah. But, I see yet another appeal of Twilight that makes it so extremely popular: the language used is so melodramatic and hyperbolic. Now, the situations themselves are quite trivial (i.e, Bella is ‘suffering’ by exiling herself to Forks). Or, they’re incredibly dangerous, but dealt with so simply and quickly that the audience almost never feels an imminent sense of danger; we barely even care about what will happen to the characters. It’s all so predictable to the point that you just lose a sense of having a plot. But, that’s where the language comes in; especially where Edward and Bella’s ‘relationship’ is concerned. I think that Twihards use the language as a defense…and it’s not very hard to see why. The ‘I can’t live without you’, and the ‘You are the most important thing in my life’ feel so absolute and true that we never question WHAT or WHY they say these things to each other, as Kit said.

chris the cynic said...

I'm of two minds about the utility of telepathy for cheating in high school.  (I'll get to why I'm thinking of that later.)

On the one hand, I could see it being used to see what everyone else thinks the answer for, along with their reasons, thus allowing someone to learn the material better than anyone else without doing any of the work.  You wouldn't even necessarily have to show up all the time, you just show up at the test and everyone dredges everything they've learned out of their minds in hopes it will help.

On the other hand, I can see it being a serious detriment with the telepath simply wanting to cry out, "Shut up!  Shut up!  Everyone stop fucking thinking!" Quieter: "I can't hear myself think."  *Sobs* "Please make it stop."  Not that they'd actually say that out loud, if they did they'd be branded insane and who knows what would happen then.

Presumably telepathy would be like ordinary listening, with some people able to zero in on just one thing while other people can't drown out the cacophony.  Most people would be somewhere in between.


That's about school work because earlier I was thinking about Edward's prowess as a student and wondering if  there might be more behind it than practice.  (I could be wrong, but I don't get the impression that telepathy is something he suffers from so I'm guessing he'd be experiencing the first scenario.)

You could apply similar ways of looking at it to everything else.  From the lucky telepathy always knowing what's going on, tuning in when he wants and tuning out what he doesn't want, to the unlucky telepathy constantly bombarded by thoughts and feelings that can't be tuned out.  It would be especially bad the telepath had a problem, like depression, that made the bad stand out in excess of the good.  Imagine having all of the discomfort, sorrow and pain of a high school dumped on you with nothing to balance it out.

On the one side you'd have the person who is a master manipulator because they know exactly what you're thinking and feeling and have experience in how you react to things when you're thinking and feeling this way.  On the other side you've got someone who's horrible socially because they spend their spare time hiding from people in search of quiet and they have trouble carrying on a conversation with the constant distraction of a thousand screaming brains.

I would also wonder about the possibility of someone on the curse end of the spectrum losing themselves.  Something along the line of, "Wait?  Did I think that or was it someone else?"  "Do I really like Bella, or is this attraction due to the fact so many of the other guys like Bella and their thoughts keep on running through my head?" "Which one of these voices in my head is mine!?"  ("Probably the one that just had that thought.  Quick, what did it sound like?")


Uh, what was the original topic here?  Baseball?

Loquat said...

Here's a question: has Edward's "gift" of telepathy completely handicapped him for normal human interaction?

A story I read once concerning telepaths had something like this as a minor detail - the main character had been a telepath all his life, and so had never really learned how to read body language or facial expressions. Unfortunately, the author didn't do much with that, aside from a brief scene where the main guy was under the influence of a telepathy blocker and found out he was crap in bed without his telepathy to tell him how his partner was reacting.

DarcyPennell said...

Hi Ana! I've been catching up on your Twilight series & I love it! You make me want to watch the movie again -- strictly Rifftrax of course!

I'm thrilled that you mentioned something I can comment on this time: I'm a fan of my local minor league baseball team and the players do tend to move around more than major leaguers. Those who don't get traded will get sent up or down as their stats improve or, ah, what's the word for dis-improve? Or due to injury, or sometimes a player gets sent down through no fault of their own, just to make room for a rising star. Any number of reasons. Each organization has teams for the A, AA, AAA and major leagues, each in a different city. The teams tend to stay in the same region of the country, and sometimes are quite near (the Yankees' AA team is on Staten Island) but they could be some distance (my team in NC is the AAA affiliate for Tampa Bay).

That said, it was really unfair for Bella to equate minor league with playing badly! There's a wide range of talent in the minors. Phil could be a struggling A player who can barely catch a ball without dropping it, or he could be a AAAer who holds his own against major leaguers. (I haven't read the book so I have no idea!) It's a pretty cold thing to say about a new member of one's family. Then again, Bella may blame Phil for her self-imposed exile, and in general she views everything through coal-colored glasses. So it's not out of character for her to dismiss him like that.

Amaranth said...

depizan, if you want to read a story that deals with telepathy in an interesting way, you should check out the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. It's almost kind of a Mark Twain style frontier story with a sci-fi twist. All the men are telepathic and none of them are very the main protagonist's starting-out problem is a combination of keeping his own thoughts private and shutting out the nasty thoughts of all the men around him.

Also, the Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld has a telepath in it, and her ability is nothing but a nuisance most of the time. She drowns it out by walking around with headphones blasting.

Kristy Griffin said...

"For example, relationship wise, your mother is your first girlfriend and/or your father is your first boyfriend (depending on your gender and sexuality). Communication wise, you either witness quietly compromising and planning at the kitchen table…or yelling and breaking things in the living room. Problem solving wise, you either witness in-depth organizing and more planning…or breaking down and crying on the couch. "

Oh goodness... y'know, that's scarily accurate.  It occurs to me that most of the worst, screaming, knock-down-drag-out fights with my husband occur when I'm trying to fight/argue with him the same way I would with my father (and, y'know, because he's NOT my father, it fails.  Miserably.)

Other than that, I was really only commenting to say, I'm glad I'm not the only one to feel that way about Vampire Bill...

Ana Mardoll said...

DarcyPennell, thank you for the information about Minor League players! That's very helpful, and clears up a few questions of my own. I'm so glad you commented! :DKristy, you are definitely not the only one -- Work Friend and I both agree that Bill is boring. He can't help but be in such a colorful and amazing cast -- he'd be fine in any other setting. ;)

cjmr said...

Being the daughter where step-father is 12  years younger than Mom and only 8 years older than daughter can be particularly frustrating.   Especially if he wants to be a Dad to you and you've dated men his age.

I'm glad I live 600+ miles away.

Sue White said...

“I don’t understand,” he admitted, and he seemed unnecessarily frustrated by that fact.

"Unnecessarily frustrated", what does that mean?  She keeps saying things like that.  He's probably frustrated because she hasn't answered the question.  I don't understand her motivation either. 

Will Wildman said...

I have all sorts of issues with the whole idea of telepathy anyway, but they kind of come together in a coherent theory, I think.

Discussions over on slacktiverse/slacktivist confirmed ages back that people have very different thinking structures - some think very much in words, some solely in imagery, some in abstracted taggable concepts like an org chart, and obviously a whole lot of mixing all of these things.

Telepathy as expressed in media tends to mean 'everyone has a running monologue in their head narrating what's happening to them right now'.  (Except on The Listener, where it's often flashback-based.)  I have the vague impression that Midnight Sun indicated Edward has the same sort of monologue-receiving telepathy?  But that suggests that anyone who doesn't think in grammatical sentences would be blank to him.  If he really does pick up the thoughts of everyone except Bella, then he should be getting some people's thoughts in audio, some in print, some in slideshow, some in movies - Edward's telepathy should feel like having the most ungainly PowerPoint presentation in the universe running permanently in his head.  (Does he pick up other people's dreams?  When he's hanging out with Bella's bedroom at night, is he staring really hard at the moonlight on her hair in the desperate hope that it will drown out Charlie getting chosen to judge the 2004 Sexlympics?)

If he really does pick up thoughts from everyone except Bella, then it should be deafening, unreadable, a mass of disco-shamingly-dazzling rainbow noise.  I could readily believe that after a couple of decades he would learn to cope with that, to just let it be background noise that he does not notice.  (I'd like to think I could do that, but most of the time, especially when I'm trying to focus, I am The Most Easily Distracted Man In The World.  (I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer to contemplate the evolution of divinity and vulgarity among the Caravaggisti hey is that a rabbit?)  But in that case, I'd think that being around just a few people would be even worse - if you've got a thousand voices talking at once, they blur together; three people talking at once is brain-breaking.

Dav said...

In this passage, Edward reminds me of something like ELIZA - I almost expect him to reply "And how do you feel about sending yourself to Forks?"

It's mirroring, but without comprehension, like a magic 8 ball or bad phone psychic.  Doesn't *everyone* feel that "[they]'re suffering more than [they] let anyone see"?  It's empty, because it's bullshit, because Edward says that to everyone because he doesn't have to listen to anyone.  He can get people's thoughts/feelings better than they can express them.  (Alternately, he is just a really sucky communicator, and ten years ago, Conrad threw a bunch of self-help books at him, and he learned to make "I" statements do active listening, but he was never very *good* at it, and never had to get better.)

I would love to read/watch a series where the vampires are internally the age they should be - a bunch of vampires who are also little old men/women but in 20-year-old bodies would be a hoot.  Especially little old men/women who grew up in the Depression.  Would they swing dance?  Would they play shuffleboard?  Would they pour bacon grease into a coffee can on the stove every morning?  Would they try to pour cherry pie down their "peers'" throats while criticizing their weight?  How fundamentally creepy would it be to have a teenager that created other teenagers like people two generations younger?  I want to watch this SO MUCH - basically, a Freaky Friday with my grandparents and great-grandparents, as played by a couple cute young things. 

chris the cynic said...

If he really does pick up thoughts from everyone except Bella, then it should be deafening, unreadable, a mass of disco-shamingly-dazzling rainbow noise.

I don't know, I think back to a conversation we had on Slacktivist on the ability to listen. Stick some people in a crowed cafeteria or movie theater or whatnot where everyone's talking and they have exactly zero problem hearing only the conversation they want to hear.  Do it to me and I'll hear some of every conversation and make sense of none of it unless I put in a real effort, even then parts of other conversations will absolutely intrude and distract me.  Some people, I think, can't even do that much.

I'd think that telepathy would be like that, with a wide range of ability to cope with the mess.  Some should have no problem, others would be constantly hindered.

And now all of a sudden pinball wizard is in my head.  Your ability to use your telepathy would depend on how well you can tune out the lights a flashing, the buzzers and the bells.  If you can tune it out so you just see what this person is thinking and just hear what that person is thinking then it's really useful.  If you see it all and hear it all and can't sort it, you're screwed.

Two possibilities occur to me.  One is that a telepath would never have to worry about assuming everyone thought as they did.  They'd know that some people were visual, some auditory, some abstract, some whatever.  They might only be able to think in their own way, but they'd have a lot of experience with other people's ways of thinking.

The other is that a telepath might be limited only to experiencing their own way of thinking.  A visual telepathy might assume that people with very little in the way of mental imagery were just deficient someone whose thought process is limited to their inner monolog might only hear other people's inner monologs and thus completely miss the fact that amazing non-verbal things are going on in someone's brain.

They might not realize that other people thought in different ways and in fact be convinced everyone thinks the same way because they can hear/see/whatever what other people think and what they see is always like like them.

Returning to the first possibility for a moment, if the telepath can experience thoughts they are incapable of producing I'm wondering how that might influence their behavior.  I could see a real sense of inadequacy if someone else has an awesome way of thinking.  I could also see choosing to be around people based not on their likability but the likability of their thoughts.  (Sure, he's a bigot and an asshole, but you should see the imagery he produces, the vibrant colors, the impossible perspectives, it's amazing.)

I'm also reminded of a scene in "I, Jedi" where the title character is undercover on the wrong side of a space battle and ends up looking into the head of one of his mentors.  What he sees is thinking on a level he can't manage.  (Even being able to see into his opponent's mind he still only barely escapes.)  What I'm remembering is that he never really things, "I should try that," because it's completely beyond him.  He watches the thought process in detail and yet could never reproduce it himself.  He could never even come close.

chris the cynic said...

Other thing that I've been randomly thinking about:

A couple weeks back I was trying to think of why an immortal would repeatedly go to high school.  The best reason that I could come up with tied back into this:

Would they swing dance?  Would they play shuffleboard?  Would they pour bacon grease into a coffee can on the stove every morning?  Would they try to pour cherry pie down their "peers'" throats while criticizing their weight?

A teenager (or even an older young adult) whose tastes, attitudes, and language are ten or twenty years out of date would be strange.  A teenager who is 50 or 100 years out of date would set off every weird signal from here to the ocean.  Going back to school could serve a necessary resetting function.  It wouldn't automatically make one cool, but it would at least give the tools to make it so people don't think, "That 20 year old sounds like my great grandfather," which would be a good thing if one were attempting to blend.

I wouldn't recommend going to high school full time, but maybe every few decades it would help just to be exposed to that changing part of the shared culture of the generation you're pretending to be a part of.  On the other hand, maybe it would be less painful to just go to college.

One potential advantage of starting young is that it gives you longer in a given life, eventually you're going to have to abandon your life when the fact you haven't aged becomes more and more inexplicable, if you start out a few years older than the youngest age you can pass for then that's a few years less you have in a given identity.

On the other hand, it's a few years you probably wouldn't miss much.  Especially since I'm guessing that most 107 year olds (that's Edward's age right?) aren't really interested in dating high school kids.


Anyway, I ramble.

sekushinonyanko said...

Sookie Stackhouse constantly refers to her telepathy as her "disability" and complains that people often think she's crazy because she smiles when she's nervous and is often too distracted by the cacophony in people's heads to hear what they are saying out loud. It's also shown to be a disadvantage when dealing with creatures whose minds she can't read (like vampires) because she has never successfully been lied to, thus has no understanding of what it would be like to have someone say something untrue, believe it and later have it revealed to be false.

High school kids' thoughts would have to be endlessly boring and repetitive. Sex, sex, angst, class, sex, sex, insecurity, class, angst, sex,...on and on and on.

Will Wildman said...

High school kids' thoughts would have to be endlessly boring and repetitive. Sex, sex, angst, class, sex, sex, insecurity, class, angst, sex,...on and on and on.

In the circumstances, we have to assume that Edward would be picking up on a huge number of fantasies specifically involving himself and/or some number of his 'siblings', too, since they all combine The Dazzle with being forbidden fruit.  I'm pretty sure even without a supernatural thirst for blood, I'd want to murder everyone after a couple of weeks of that too.

Ana Mardoll said...

 Ooh, Will, that is both thought-provoking and squick. o.O

People tend to be pretty uninhibited in their thoughts since, you know, they're private. If Edward gets shirty about people fantasizing about Bella, how does he feel about the Rosalie/Alice fantasies? This on top of the fact that Edward prides himself on his vigilante days and doesn't consider them with much remorse... I wonder how many "hunting accidents" happen in the Forks forests?

sekushinonyanko said...

Maybe the Cullen's stick to themselves due to a crippling inability to tolerate excessive amounts of high-school aged people. They'd rather get dad to go kill them a girlfriend to stare at in the cafeteria than socialize.

Kadia said...

If that were true, why not leave high school for good? Most people who hate high school go because they have no choice; the Cullens could do literally anything they wanted and they choose to go to high school. If it's that unpleasant, they could leave and be anything. Corporate moguls, chess champions, doctors, lawyers, superheroes, bank robbers, stockbrokers, soldiers, mercenaries, hunters, private eyes, college students, baseball champions (give Phil a run for his money) college professors, international spies... sure, some of this will take some time to set up but when you're immortal and have eternal youth time isn't a big deal, is it?

chris the cynic said...

I think the eternal youth would be a hindrance in one's career as a non-bankerobber/non-superhero.

A college professor who looks like a 17 year old is probably going to be ok given the right credentials.  A college professor who looks like a 17 year old 10 or 20 years after getting the job is going to arouse suspicions.  Especially among people who studied for years along side them when they were getting certified to be a teacher because those people will know that the vampire hasn't changed at all.

I'm suddenly imagining this exchange:
"We have to leave, the locals have caught on."
"But I just got tenure."
"Sorry, we have to go."

That said, I don't think the problems inherent in looking like a 17 year old would mean you'd have to be in high school.  (As I said, the only explanation I could come up with, and it is flimsy, for an immortal to repeatedly return to the crucible that is highschool is to reform themselves into someone who doesn't seem to be a throwback from decades past.  That and it might be a good foundation on which to build a new identity.  Problem is, both of those would apply to the much nicer practice of going to college.)  It does mean that eternal youth, when it's stuck in teenage youth, might not be as useful as it sounds when trying to become a lawyer/doctor/baseball champion/[I'm suddenly imagining someone laughing in the private eye's face when they find out this apparent teenage kid is the "detective" that wants them to hire him].

My parentheticals have grown larger than my non-parenthetical text.

aravind said...

(SPOILERS for Torchwood, TW for murder, rape, child abuse)

I think Torchwood is honestly the only TV series I've encountered that's consistently shown humans to be psychologically and socially out of their range when telepathy is introduced to situations. Tosh and Owen are, in a sense, big damn heroes for respectively stopping a murdering spree and seeking some sort of justice for a rape with the aid of temporary plot-induced telepathy. It comes at a price though - Tosh can't handle suddenly hearing some one on the street recalling childhood abuse and Owen is clearly having seriously difficulty because with his form of temporary telepathy he's confronting the person he felt doing the rape and murder, not was told to be a rapist and murderer. It's a bit like surfing through the trigger warning-less and disinclined to self censorship sections of the internet. Not everything is awful, certainly, but there's little to no warning about when seriously damaging stuff comes up. For the best case scenario of people lucky enough to walk into those situations without previous awful experiences and with clear opportunities to walk out, it's still unpleasant to say the least. And that's not even considering if the telepathy is like the one Owen had - experiential, almost empathic, where he relived certain traumatic memories. 

Likewise, the brief glimpse we get of the telepathic species that temporarily gave Tosh telepathic powers was interesting - it's implied that there's constant social instability, where social groups more or less constantly kill others for the slightest thoughts of disloyalty or hostility. There's a clear differentiation from the more co-operative humans, but it's not elucidated how much of this is caused by their telepathy as opposed to other differences. 

Orion Anderson said...

You could also go the Naked Sun route:  If Telepathy has a short range, the telepathic race depends on radios for ordinary social interactions.  It would be madness to try to teach a class in a room full of 30 students' thoughts, so everyone stays home and listens to a lecture boradcast.  Being in the same room as someone else becomes a gesture of intimacy and Moral Guardians complain that YA fiction is increasingly willing to depict TEENAGERS MEETING IN PERSON.    

Ana Mardoll said...

Orion, you deserve some kind of prize for the best application of an Asimov world to Twilight. Naked Sun would be a perfect solution to the telepathy problem.

depizan said...

There's a simple solution to the problem of looking 17 - learn the art of make-up.  Granted, that works better for the women of the group than the men of the group, but surely they've got the time to figure out how to make themselves look both older and natural. (It would also help with the sparkling problem.)

And that's assuming that a seventeen year old from the past would look like a modern seventeen year old.  I can't help feeling that the harsher living conditions of the past would make them look older than their "age" to modern eyes.

Ana Mardoll said...

And dezipan, that's a great point about the Cullens appearance... Shouldn't they be shorter than their model description would imply? Pretty sure folks were shorter 100 years ago...

Will Wildman said...

You know, I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone point out makeup as a potential solution to the sparkleitis, but now that it's been said, I despair for vampirekind.  That is perfect and it should be obvious.  Sigh.  In terms of the harsher living conditions of the past, I assume that was fixed by the way being vamped instantly turns you gorgeous and white.  (And I've always kind of pictured the Cullens as shortish, for no particular reason.)

I can only assume that the Long Arm of the Volturi is what keeps vampires from getting jobs as government agents.  Sure, maybe the Cullens are apathetic, but somewhere out there is surely a vamp or two who could work out some kind of secret arrangement that would give them all the luxuries they could want in exchange for occasionally eating an enemy of the state?

Ana Mardoll said...

but somewhere out there is surely a vamp or two who could
work out some kind of secret arrangement that would give them all the
luxuries they could want in exchange for occasionally eating an enemy of
the state?

This is yet another one of those "now I'm going to go cry because Twilight could have done that and didn't".

Has anyone here read "The Forest of Hands and Teeth"? I thought it had GREAT potential as a zombie novel, but the author didn't seem to agree and kept wanting to focus on her Midsummer Night's Dream love rectangle. Twilight is beginning to feel that way to me: lots of potential, utterly wasted on a wan love story.

JohnK said...

That's not necessarily true. A lot of times we think that people in the past were generally shorter than people nowadays, but average height has actually bounced up and down in different regions in different centuries. It's largely tied to economic and environmental circumstances -- richer, healthier people were taller than poorer people, people in consistently warmer climates were taller than people in colder climates (mainly due to better access to food) people in rural / farm regions were taller than people in crowded urban areas (largely because of food and also because urban areas were great places to pick up a cool new disease or two). I'm not actually sure where the Cullens were all originally from but if they were in the right circumstances they could have been just as tall as modern humans.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, John K, for pointing out that it's More Complicated Than That. I must remember that. :D

I think we only hear about Carlisle's birthplace and I'm not in a place where I can easily google at the moment. Maybe someone else can oblige us?

Brin Bellway said...

Rosalie's family was rich even in the Great Depression. I doubt she was lacking for food.

depizan said...

According to wikipedia, Edward was born June 20, 1901 in Chicago, IL, and died at 17 of the Spanish influenza, Carlisle was born in London in the 1640s, and died (age not mentioned) of vampire, Esme was born in 1895 in Columbus, OH, and died at 26 of jumping off a cliff, Alice was born around 1901 in Biloxi, MS, and seems to have died (age not mentioned) of vampire, Emmett was born in 1915, and died at 20 in Gatlinburg, TN, of bear, Rosalie was born in 1915 in Rochester, NY, and died at 18 of assault, Jasper was born in 1843, in Texas, and died at 20 of vampire.

Why do they keep going to high school again?  Two of them are too old, and none of them should be too young for college.  It also raises questions about why there isn't more tension in the household regarding who gets to pretend to be an adult - and parent - and who doesn't.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, dezipan.

And now: OMG "mother" Esme is 26?! I guess it makes sense from a time period point of view, but... 26 is not very old in modern terms.

Now I want an Esme fanfic where she takes a womens lib class and realizes that playing mommy to a bunch of 100 year old adults isn't all that fulfilling.

I may be reading too much in, but I do feel Meyer fetishizes youth too much. The Bella "aging crisis" is coming...

Loquat said...

I seem to recall Juliet's mother being 26 or 27 - and her father being middle-aged, with the age difference being a factor in the mom messing around with Tybalt on the side. And, of course, Juliet was only 13, way less mature than even the youngest of the Cullens.

Didn't one of your earlier posts place Carlisle in his early 30's?

Silver Adept said...

Motherhood in earlier times came earlier - a lot earlier. The kind where "my grandmother, who was 13 at the time she married my grandfather in the mid 1900s" (admittedly, also needed a judge's approval to do so, but the child that was coming sort of gave compelling reasons) is pretty normal a little while earlier (and without needing the judge's approval).

Once you had the monthly visitor, you were pretty much ready for childbirth. And could have been married earlier than that.

As for Edward and the most awkward small talk conversation ever, it seems out of character for Bella as a teenager to have flounced as epically as she did regarding ball-player Phil (and yes, people in the minors do move around a lot, either by being called up, sent down, or traded to another farm team) and then become exceedingly tight-lipped about the reasons for her move. And how much she hates Charlie.

Although, since S. Meyer seems to be using Edward in this case to espouse the virtue of Silent Suffering (which is something that women are supposed to do), this out-of-character-ness suddenly snaps into harmony with the rest of Meyerian didactisism.

Ana Mardoll said...

No, yeah, I mean... I get that Esme's age is time period appropriate, but...

I guess I'm just banging up against the question of why they keep going through this family charade. It's odd enough for a family to have 5 teenage adoptees without them ALSO all being suspiciously hot AND dating each other AND the mom and dad look like they're in their late 20s, early 30s.

They're practically guaranteeing that people will remember them: why? So Esme can play mom to a group of 100+ year olds who are not dramatically different in age from herself?

Again, it seems like the perpetual college student model would work better for ALL of them. They can all pull off a 20-something age, and the high turn over at college will work in their favor - my college had a couple of guys who'd been there forever (7th year seniors, we called them) and no one thought it was odd.

depizan said...

Worse, there's no reason why they couldn't have gone the perpetual college student route.  All Meyer would have had to do is set the story in a college town and make Bella a college freshman.  Getting accepted to a great school in a climate you don't like makes a hell of a lot more sense than what we do have.  If she wanted Bella to have a connection, she could still have her estranged father living in the college town and offering up his place to stay instead of the dorms.

Ana Mardoll said...

*head promptly explodes*

That is SO much better, dezipan. I would much more sympathize with "well, I REALLY want to go to this school, but I hate the weather" Bella than "my mom is remarried and so I guess I'll be a martyr" Bella. At the very least, college is for 4 years (on average) whereas Bella really only has another year of high school so all the Forks moping seems a bit over-done.

It wouldn't work, of course. For Bella to go to a specific college (despite the rain), she'd have to have life goals. And Bella can't have those, can she? It would ruin the story that Meyer wants to tell. You can't dash off for sexeh meadow gazing time whenever you want when finals are coming up due and I've got to finish this term paper or my GPA will tank.

Gelliebean said...

College would have made for a much, much better, much more reasonable alternative....  But then, you wouldn't have Bella's whole "make me a vampire now now NOW before I turn 18 and become an adult and all decrepit and stuff OMG do it NOW I don't want to be older than Sparkleboi!"

Dav said...

But Bella has probably read all the assigned reading for her English Lit class, and already knows how to write, and probably had AP Biology already (although she can't test out for some reason).  I mean, it's not too hard to set something up similar academically.  Of course, the scene where Bella gets her first essay back and it's a D because she didn't follow the assignment is probably not included. 

And college students do have much more schedule flexibility than high school students, although most of my profs would never give credit to Edward's pitiful "camping trips" in the middle of term. 

I kind of love the idea of Edward perched creepily in Bella's dorm room in the approximate 2 square feet of space between her roommate (Jessica?) and Bella.

Ana Mardoll said...

Hmm. I had a girlfriend in college who had debilitating migraines. She got out of class for those, although the make-up work was awful. (The Cullens could handle that, though, surely.) I remember visiting her one time with her blinds shut tight and the room as dark as possible because the sun hurt her so much. 

Dav said...

Sure, weather-related migraines are a good idea.  I have them, although mine're more related to barometric pressure than light per se (but they often correlate).  And come to think of it, there's no reason the Cullens have to be *good* students; a 4.0 GPA isn't necessary or even particularly desirable from their standpoint - they're better off as BC students, so a bunch of skipped classes isn't necessarily the end of the world. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Good point! We keep thinking of the Cullens as great at everything, but being crappy college students WOULD help their story. They could be pretty, rich, and yet not devoted to their studies at all -- as long as they walk a fine line and don't get expelled, they could milk a good 10-15 years out of a single college. And if they're paying cash for the privilege to attend, the college isn't going to ask a lot of questions. 

Dav said...

The college certainly won't, although if it's a small campus, it's probably smart to move on a little faster.  But any of the large state schools?  Yeah.  And college gives you a chance to milk the weird fashion options, as well.  I don't think full-on airbrushing is a possibility for a high school student, but it's less weird as a college student, along with cloaks and funny hats and headscarves and clothes that are clearly inappropriate for "normal" people yet interesting. 

And I don't think the Cullens have much of a sense of humor, but I find it hilarious that the potential vampire disguise might involve thick makeup, a cloak, and cultivated eccentricity.  So they'd end up looking like Dracula from Buffy, basically.

Gelliebean said...

@ Dav: I'm giggling now at the thought of a college student vampire, having to pose as a hard-core vampire fangirl goth even though she'd rather be wearing hippy-bohemian flowy skirts and flipflops.  :-p

Loquat said...

Hell, if they went to a college with a substantial eccentric-hipster population, they could probably get away with hanging on to some old-fashioned habits too. Swing dancing is still reasonably popular, and I'll bet they could start a shuffleboard revival if they looked cool enough playing it.

Ana Mardoll said...

I have to say, I'm deeply intrigued by the idea that Edward's bad behavior stems from a desire to get Bella to stop bombarding him with mental worship thoughts...

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