dreadedcandiru2: (Indignant Candiru)
The other reason we'd have to endure Elly screeching about the unfairness of life even if we were actually dealing with 2017 conditions is that even if she were actually to be told to stay home, she'd assume that she was good to go anyway and still end up stuck in a ditch like a fool. This is because while she's got an all-weather car, she's a some-weather driver. Almost every time she has to go out in inclement weather, something untoward happens. Either she loses traction and slides into a ditch or she ends up leaving her car outside in freezing rain because she expects her houseguests will read her mind and let her have the garage.

The problem is that one cannot tell her this about herself because she doesn't like being told what her weaknesses and flaws are and never has. What John ends up doing is ducking arguments he knows he can't win and letting her find someone else to blame for her unwillingness to learn from the past. Good thing there was a teenager under the roof up until the early part of this decade. Otherwise, Elly might have to face having to retake her drivers' test to see if she actually can still cope with roadway conditions.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As you know, I've long had the suspicion that the reason Elly is overwhelmed by her seemingly endless housework and the reason John wonders what she could be possibly doing all day is that in the words of the Engineer from Team Fortress 2, she just ain't doing it right. This is where the nasty little phrase 'moving the dirt around' comes into play because it looks to me as if she doesn't quite understand that she's doing most of her chores wrong. She might sweep porches furiously but she doesn't do much else. The reason that I mention this is that I've long suspected that the reason she does mounds of laundry every day is that just as she buys poor-quality sheets that don't last long, she never bothered learning the boring and inefficient trinity "whites, lights and darks."

What I mean by that is that I think that she's like her kids and John in that she just fires every damned thing into the machine all at once in order to save time. No amount of explaining that this could cause colours to run and no amount of imploring her to actually read the labels on the clothes to see what cycle to put them on or what temperature water to use can deflect her from ruining clothing by being a nitwit. This leads to her trying to fix her failures by failing even harder. The end result is a paranoid and angry mess who never learns from her mistakes.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
The interesting thing about Elly's indulging Thelma by playing her silly game is not that she knuckled under and bought more cards than she wanted to after shooting her mouth off about how silly people were being. We know that Elly always caves when it's too much trouble to enforce a decree or when she might have to totally humiliate herself forever and be forever lesser in a person's eyes by having to apologize to them. What's interesting is that she still assumes that people have to wait for her to keep up and are extra-bad people for insisting that she move at their pace. She doesn't see the presumptuous and silly idiot we see. She sees herself as being the victim of terrible people who want her to never express herself because they're mean and unfair.

This is a recurring problem when dealing with Elly. I remember the job search that began with her assuming that the librarians never really liked her at all because none of them were willing to do the right thing and quit so she could still have an identity that wasn't "useless and anonymous housewife who will never get her due recognition in this life"; when she tried putting her name in at Philpotts, we saw a woman with not much experience in retail be impersonally dismissed because she didn't meet their needs. They had no strong feelings about her one way or another but the nitwit simply had to take it all personally. Just as the bingo people want to run over her because they hate her and want to wear her out because she can't throw her weight around like a dumb bully, everyone who expects her to pretend she believes that she's just an ordinary person who doesn't get to stomp around like Godzilla are monsters who want her to never laugh or speak or be happy or be paid attention to. Small wonder that one of Marian's last thoughts was most likely a wish that Elly would some day grow up.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
Of course, there IS a rather sizable problem with that delicious little scenario in which Elly's ignorance of Georgia is publicly exposed. Since the Pattersons live in something a lot like the real world, we have to contend with the fact that it's pretty much a given that it's falsely assumed by everyone involved (especially Georgia) that Elly actually does know what her sister-in-law's birth name and profession actually are. Such a scenario would occasion Elly's being baffled by Michael's off-hand comment about now, no, they aren't going to drive to Montreal to get the family discount and wondering which relation on which side is an audiologist in Montreal. This might tempt her to ask Phil about the problem but, well, she's still vaguely upset that she couldn't glom on to the damned pump organ to talk to him.

The end result of her discovery of who Georgia really is and what she does would thus not cause her to reflect on her living her life in a fog of incuriosity and willful blindness. If she should comment on the fact, it would probably be assumed that something she's known for years had slipped her mind because she doesn't usually have her hearing checked. This means that we're dealing with a relatively benign version of a phenomenon that will cause all sorts of mischief: Liz finally being told about the wedding for heart and the one for show. As I've said before, she'd be less angry at taking part in a scam and more angry about being 'deliberately' shut out by people who thought that she knew what was going on. In this instance, we'd be dealing with Elly wondering if she was losing it when she never had it to begin with.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
The interesting thing about John's seemingly nasty and demeaning comment about how Elly simply isn't used to working is that despite the fact that he's meant to be a typical male chauvinist pig who simply cannot or will not understand that the Ellys of the world work themselves half to death providing him with a nice home to go to at night, the plain truth of the matter is that Elly really isn't a good fit for the labor force. While I have covered this before, the current "Elly Patterson, Comically Inept Dental Assistant" arc adds a little bit more depth to my original essay on this subject.

What it adds is the fact that she thinks that she's doing more than she actually does because she brings the same character defects that ruin her as a housewife to the table when she goes out into the world. Bear with me as I list said flaws:


  1. Poor Time Management Skills: From what I've seen of Elly when we actually do see her at work, it's sort of obvious that the same sort of disorganized behaviour that makes her into a catastrophically inefficient tornado of failure at home causes her to horrifically over-complicate a simple procedure and turn it into an exhausting struggle against her own cluelessness.

  2. Lack Of Focus: It's not much of a surprise that Elly has the same angry scowl using office equipment that she does when she's manning a sewing machine because both phenomena require something she lacks: the patience and clarity of mind to deal with exacting procedures.

  3. Poor People Skills: As her biting into a phone book because she didn't get the fawning praise she wanted reminds us, we're dealing with the same tetchy, easily angered and sort of clueless hot mess when she's behind a counter as she is when she's cooking Cheapie Weenie Casserole.

  4. Brittleness: Lynn's comment on how she took something that wasn't actually personal personally and was right to do so not only explains why it is that Elly can't handle any sort of disagreement at home, it also explains why any sort of perceived slight is punishable by the sort of huffiness we saw when John was wrong for not slowing work down to stroke her stupid ego.

  5. Hunger For Praise: Most of the reason why Elly's a poor fit for the domestic life is that she seems to need a ticker-tape parade for every little thing; this makes her a poor employee and worse boss because she's a shining mark for any huckster who can butter her up.

  6. Imperfect Knowledge Of Her Surroundings: Her being fired from the library tells us all we need to know about her, I should think. We and Connie knew that she was the tent-pole character in an arc about the human cost of government cutbacks; she still thinks that she lost a popularity contest and that Sue and Monique are laughing at her behind her back because she's too stupid and blind to know what's going on around her.

  7. Lack Of Stamina: The same person who wishes that she could somehow or other drop her kids off on someone forever because she finds motherhood boring and unproductive wound up selling her business to someone who wanted to work because being in charge hurt too much.



It seems to me that the reason that Elly's disastrous ineptitude and stupidity is somehow magically not her fault is that she's the creation of a woman who got fired from any number of jobs because doing what she was told when it was boring was as unfair an imposition as not stopping a complicated procedure to reassure her fragile ego. Since Lynn is a poor fit for the working world and seems to have found steady work under the control of people who expected obedience and consistency a soul-draining and exhausting chore and since she thinks that everyone thinks just like her, it's obvious that any sort of real work is clearly a death sentence.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
The irritating thing about this arc is that the following quote Robert Heinlein put in the mouth of his long-lived superman Lazarus Long percolated up from the depths of my subconscious mind:

Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.

While this, of course, is an unnecessarily harsh thing to say about the Mike and Elly Pattersons of the world, there is something of a kernel of truth in it. Where Heinlein would deny them and Lynn the classification 'human being', I personally would insist that they not be called 'adult.'

This is because we are dealing with a woman who not only thinks it's funny and cute and charming that people have to pay her an allowance because she's too creative and special to be limited by such trivial and annoying concerns as having enough money to live on when it's clear to her that as soon as she gets any sort of cash, she's compelled to spend it immediately, she also thinks that being told to consider a future where the money dries up is something so scary and wrong, she thinks that the normal human response is to bawl like a five year old being told that she missed dessert time. There's a word for someone who refuses to look out for herself but insists that others keep her from slowly starving to death in a pile of her own filth and that word is "child."

This tendency Lynn has of thinking of herself as being too special a snowflake to be tied down by boring old numbers and tiresome logic and common sense manifests itself as her constantly being blindsided by things like the fact that Canada's insurance industry sees offering flood insurance as a license to ensure that by the end of business day, they'll go bankrupt as well as her thinking that having to pretend to run an independent bookstore is simply exchanging one form of thankless slavery for another. Trying to get her to see the truth would be like trying to make her understand the connection between her simply dumping the kids on other people at random and their habit of wanting to do the same.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
The interesting thing about the recent "Michael versus mathematics" arc is that we're not looking at Aaron's struggles with long division. What we're looking at is Lynn getting her bowels in an uproar because people who hate her want her to understand the numbers that were only invented to make her look foolish and ignorant. At one point, Rod had got fed up with having to dote on a grown woman as if she were some sort of infant who, given how she made a joke of the habit in public as if it were something to be proud of, delighted in her refusal to not be hopelessly dependent on others and flat out said that she has an active aversion to logical thinking. This sort of thing bleeds into the strip and takes the form of John understanding finances and Elly being so overwhelmed that she ends up selling the bookstore to the person who was actually running it in the first place.

The interesting thing about this is that we get to see the underlying problem when she bought Farley the squeaky toy and he 'oppressed' her by playing with the damned thing. The look of baffled horror on her face tells us that yet again, the last question on Elly Patterson's mind is "What did you think was going to happen?!" We are, after all, dealing with a woman who [livejournal.com profile] jjamele said thinks along the following lines:

"I gave my dog a squeak toy, and he made it squeak. I gave birth to children, and there were children in my house. I got married, and I had a husband. I drove a car, and I had to put gas in it. I lived in a house, and I had to clean it. All my life, these things keep happening to me. I do not understand."

because she thinks that someone creative like herself shouldn't have to live in a world where she has to do things that are unpleasant. You and I might see a woman who firmly believes that she should have been able to give birth and then drop the kids off on someone else forever when she got bored and go back to what she was doing before she got pregnant as an insane, lazy and selfish monster; she sees herself as being cruelly victimized because baffling things like having to live with the consequences of her decisions keep happening.

This is why she has an instinctive dread of mathematics. Mathematics, you see, herald in a horrible, cruel world of things unfair like having to raise the children you gave birth to even though it's boring and tiresome and you get called the bad guy and people expect you to do it without being thanked. They also herald in a world wherein husbands can tell scary stories about being dismembered and your refusal to face them without blubbering means that people can call you a stupid flake and get away with it. Since numbers cannot be pleaded with nor threatened or cajoled into changing what they mean to make Elly feel better about herself, she gave up on them long ago and let other people deal with them. The end result is that she's become as pathetically dependent on other people's good will to survive as her creator. It also lends credence to my theory that John and the kids conspired to get Liz married to Anthony because protecting Elly comes before personal happiness.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
The other interesting thing about the Elly, dental assistant from Hell arc is that we're reminded of the odd propensity the characters have of totally failing to quite understand what's going on around them. By that, of course, I don't simply mean the fact that she thinks that she's being insulted because a busy man doesn't have the time to say please pass this, that or the other instrument like he's sitting at the dinner table or her thinking that Phil is being a big baby because he doesn't want his career to die of malpractice. This inability to understand the fundamentals goes far deeper than that and it sort of defines who Elly is as a person.

What we're dealing with is the sort of inability to really understand the most basic processes that causes Elly to eventually translate what normal people would understand as meaning "You stupidly destroyed what you were working on because you have no idea what you're doing" into "You were right all along." This, I should think, is why she never understood that her old boss was trying to tell her that she couldn't afford to pay her and it's a lot of the reason why she's such a dubious mother and pet owner. To put it as simply as possible, Elly has never quite understood what the people around her are doing and why they do it.

This sort of inability to really understand what's going on is, as I've said, akin to her and John's inability to make a connection between their baffling refusal to share their interests with their children and the fact that the kids don't share their interests. It's like how Curtis's dad can't understand why his son thinks work is the worst thing ever merely because he spends his free time wailing about how hard his life is and how the working man is the victim of all victims surpassing all others. In both cases, idiot parents are angry at children for stupid reasons because they don't understand that they're being stupid.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As we saw last Friday, Elly seems to have made a fetish of drying clothes out on a line like her mother did because, well, her mother did it that way and since Elly is all about getting a pat on a head, a cookie and praise and approval from the mother who raised her to believe that praising and encouraging children in any way would inevitably lead to their ruin, does so without understanding why Marian never used a dryer back in the fifties. To understand Marian's deal, we have to turn to an outside source: the parents from the comic strip Cathy. Every so often, they reminded us that they still use the handy little money saving tricks they picked up as children during the Great Depression; the underlying premise is "We know we look foolish but trust us....this'll all come in handy when the economy swirls down the crapper." Simply put, dozy little Elly didn't understand that when Marian responded to questions about just popping it into a dryer like on television with comments about getting the job done right that Marian really meant "clothes dryers cost a lot to buy and to run."

Ah, well. At least Marian was all about stretching a dollar because of her perfectly understandable fear that the post-war boom would go bust and leave her and the family to have to economize. Jim did a lot more damage instilling his fear of change in Elly because of the reason why. Let us start by his confessing that the prospect of women doing just fine without women terrified him half to death, factor in his resentment that television meant that he was no longer the sole arbiter of how his children were to see the world and end with his panicky shrieking about how any social arrangement that left women equal to him in the ability to break things off led to chaos, anarchy and one night and we end up looking at a man who feared the new technology because it meant that he, Jim Richards, could no longer parade around and act like he was the only person who could know things. Elly is thus not only the brainless imitator of a woman who would have gladly adopted new ways were she not convinced that the second after she did, the economy would collapse but also the panicky emulator of a vindictive jerkwad father who resents new things because he's obsolete.

Of course, even if Marian weren't a nervous cheapskate and Jim not a boorish, jealous dolt, Elly would still fear the new things because of that organic problem that I alluded to last month. As I said, the reason that she wishes that the stereo John bought her was a sort of music box that she could just turn on and off instead of the scary and bad thing with all those scary and bad controls evil, conflict-causing MEN stick on something that should be SIMPLE is to make life worse for busy mothers with no help is that her number-blind brain simply cannot handle complexity. Since there are too many knobs and buttons on her dryer, she prefers the line because the scary machine can't humiliate her by getting things wrong on purpose if she doesn't use it.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As we saw the other day, Annie tried to do something impossible and give Elly Patterson advice. As we've seen over the years, you'd have to be a miracle worker to give Elly advice and make it stick. I know that I make a lot of noise about how Elly is still very much a huffy, angry little child who deliberately confuses constructive criticism with persecution because she's too angry and frightened all the time to admit that people can criticize her without wanting to ruin her because they hate her. The problem is that this need to scream a shrill, defiant scream in the face of having her competence questioned is not the only reason someone who loves to dish out advice can't take it. This is because there are other standard techniques of advice-giving that don't work on her.

First off, it's always a bad idea to try to get Elly to compare herself to other people or to ask her to see things from their point of view. The blinders on her mind's eye leave her convinced that everyone in the world knows exactly what she knows and only that. The idea that there are things that she doesn't know or things that she's never experienced make as little sense to her as having to sympathize with people who do things that bother her. Since all perspectives are the same (hers), it makes no sense to her that other people might not react to things as she would.

Second, it isn't a very smart thing to ask her to keep her little victories to herself. The woman lives and dies for the approval of others. While this statement might seem to contradict the idea that everyone thinks exactly as she does and are thus as likely to look at her and see a fat, ugly, fat woman who is fat and ugly and unworthy of love and affection and acceptance, having everyone praise her for being thin and beautiful and loveable and worth love and happiness and good things means that for some reason, an evil, conflict-causing MAN has somehow gotten inside her and is lying about her. Telling her to not seek approval is telling her that she's never going to succeed so is a very dumb thing to do.

So is telling her to take things slowly. While she herself loves to tell children to pace themselves, she wants to be thin and gorgeous and worthy of having nice things and love and happiness that her ten pounds, thunder thighs, large rump (but NOT HER STOOPED SHOULDERS THAT ONLY MAKE HER LOOK FAT WHEN SHE ISN'T!!!!) deny her as soon as possible. The idea that things take more than five seconds to accomplish is a bad idea because instant happiness takes too long for a boomer imbecile like her.

Finally, never use self-deprecating humor on a literal-minded dullard like Elly. The Elly of 2014 is still angry at the John of 1982 for getting Ted's directions to his 'humble little cabin' wrong but she's also still angry at Ted for 'lying' about its condition because she doesn't see that the Elly of 1982 was so damned stupid that she made an idiotic assumption owing to an inability to process sarcasm. Trying to jolly Elly into a good-natured acceptance of the certainty of set-backs isn't going to work because her brain tells her that Annie is admitting weakness.
dreadedcandiru2: (Default)
It seems to me that I might have been a bit harsh on Elly assuming that she'd slacked off on her studies and married John so as to avoid facing the consequences of ignoring the Evil Dean of Students and his unfair letters about 'academic probation' and 'taking her studies seriously'; that's because [livejournal.com profile] forworse reminded me of a way in which Elly's finally getting her First Year English this year makes sense. It could well be that she was actually enrolled in something called a Bachelor of General Studies program because, well, either the English program was full up or she needed to fulfill a requirement that her high school in Vancouver didn't allow for. I should think that when she and John got married, she was one credit shy of getting her BGS; that's what last year's course was for and, well, she's slowly but surely picking up her BA in installments. If this is the case, she won't be the first sixty year old to have a BA dated 2011 hanging on her wall and she won't be the last. She also wouldn't be the first person to not mention a degree she didn't think counted; my guess is that if Mike, Liz or April ever discovered that she had a degree anyway, she'd tell them it was little more than a glorified high school diploma and talk about how her current studies were the ones that actually counted. The odd thing is that if I had to guess as to who finally reminded her that she was out of excuses and had to honor her parents' memory by getting that degree, I'd say it was the same evil-conflict causing man she thought told her she couldn't have an electric can opener ever because he (having never realized that she was lying when she said that she only wanted practical gifts) had actually bought one for Christmas. Granted, this would have been touched off by an awkward conversation that had him ask her two awkward questions he should have picked up on earlier. A man who could read people's body language better would not only have picked up on the fact that her absence of a degree made her feel unfit to be his wife a lot sooner; then again, he's also the same dolt who'd be blindsided by the realization that April had picked on her mother's strong subconscious wish to somehow erase the unneeded third child from history. Given John's slow thought processes and stubbornness, he'll be in his early seventies when he finally gets it through his thick skull that his youngest wasn't a spoiled little princess after all; he'll be seventy-five and dealing with a wife who's still fending off the dreaded question 'Now what?' when he admits that he was a selfish jackass when he said that his children owed him for a moral obligation. As I said before when I speculated on the future of Elly Patterson, Mature Student, we can thus look forward to an indeterminate future wherein the answer to the question "Now what?" is that Elly can stop complaining about how her family interfered with her schooling and start complaining about how little time she has to enjoy it.
dreadedcandiru2: (Default)
To further our look at how Elly is transfixed by the fear that her life is being lived in vain because she does so in relative anonymity, let's re-examine one of the things that she's most ashamed of: never really getting anywhere academically. Trying to figure out what went wrong is fairly difficult because she doesn't share details as readily as John; he admits to having to fight for every passing grade he got in life because he has no incentive to lie and doesn't think that he's ever had anything to regret. To him, it was an uphill battle between common sense and woolly theorizing which he won.

Elly, on the other hand, is purposely vague about her career as a student. Granted, we have learned certain things despite her need to keep us in the dark; we know that she finds it hard to pay attention in class and tends to be easily distracted so it's not hard to see why her own grades were probably fairly poor. What we don't know is what, if anything, she planned to do with her Bachelor of Arts after she got it. It seems to me that she probably believed that as soon as she got her degree, people would be falling all over themselves to employ her; any anecdotal evidence that suggested that she'd either need to further her education or settle for an entry-level position in an unrelated field was most likely dismissed out of hand as being the jealous rantings of haters.

Speaking of unfair and evil commentary from people who just don't get how hard her life is and how she should be given a free ride, my gut tells me that John's need to be Mister King Dentist Man was not why Elly's bid to get that degree she'd hoped would miraculously give her an identity not dependent on a man collapsed. I tend to believe the executioner of her hopes was a letter from the Dean of Students telling her that the University looked at her spotty attendance, poor work and general disinterest in post-secondary education and stated that the Board of Regents took her as seriously as she took her classes; it thus seems likely that Elly got married when she did not because she wanted to take a break from her studies to support John but because the university kicked her out for being a party girl who failed every course she had because she wasted her time playing guitar for draft dodgers. John is thus best interpreted as being the moral equivalent of a man who marries an immigrant so she can apply for a green card; it was either marry him or return home and admit to squandering her parents' money and her scholarship on stupidity. Another interesting thing is that, well, the courses John suggested that she take at night school which she rejected out of hand might have actually led her to a real career and the public identity she craves. Look, for instance, at Annie; she parlayed a night-school course or two into a genuine career. 

Come to think of it, that could be another reason that Elly tends to avoid Annie of late; it could well be that one of the last strips in [livejournal.com profile] aprilp_katje's webcomic Foobar is indicative of how Elly really feels; since Annie did things on her own initiative and stuck to them, she has the career and the public identity Elly believes should be handed to her for being alive. What makes things all the more darkly comic is that Elly does have an identity that isn't dependent on her family that she's not aware of; she started out being known as the glorified temp at the library and is now known as an inept failure of a bookstore owner who resigned because she had to deal with customers and suppliers.

To be fair to her, however, there is another impulse driving her to do something that she's not really suited to do: the need to please her parents; since she's sort of poor at reading between the lines, she doesn't quite realize that what most disappointed them more was not that she quit school to support John but that she came up with excuse after excuse as to why she couldn't quite seem to pick things back up at a later date. Yet again, her need to avoid what she spuriously believes to be the cataclysmic results of too much candor made her life a misery. If she'd been honest about how post-secondary education wasn't for her, they'd have understood; heck, Jim told her to her face that her happiness loomed larger in his mind than all the sheepskin in the world. His being a guy about it didn't take 'cause of Elly's love of feeling bad about things that she shouldn't but he did try to inject some sanity into the martyrdom party.
dreadedcandiru2: (Default)
The recent arc featuring Mrs Hardacre reminds us of something I covered once before: Lynn's blinkered vision of the education system. What seems to be going on here is that Mrs H has selected one discipline problem (in this case, Michael) as her Project Of The Year; what this entails is that she lavishes attention on him while ignoring students she doesn't see as having some sort of ill-defined potential. She is thus, as [livejournal.com profile] howtheduck said, the template upon which Liz's career as a teacher is based. Why is it thus, you ask? Simple; Lynn doesn't seem to value learning for its own sake. Her notes make it quite clear that she was something of an anarchic pain in the arse who thought the rules didn't apply to her; she boasts about being a defiant, stubborn and ignorant jackass who wouldn't listen to the mean, ugly people who were yelling at her about things she didn't need to know or didn't make sense. It doesn't matter if it's math, English or any other subject; she wants to have a pill to take to become instantly good because she hates the idea of having to work for things. It's sort of stupid to decide that you don't have to learn to punctuate sentences properly or learn basic mental arithmetic because you don't like your teachers and think that you have better things to do with your time than sitting in a classroom but this sort of failure of the mind seems to be something shared by all Foobs. We also have to contend with the fact that the Pattersons are as dumb as they are mean. It would be an act of charity to call them merely inept as students; Mike cannot wrap his tiny mind around ratios, Liz needs to take her shoes off to count to twenty, Elly can't balance her checkbook and John hates to read books that don't have pictures in them. About the only one who actually seems to have good study habits is that picky-faced Martian. Since Lynn has an ax to bury in the skulls of the people who she tormented out of wanton malice, she ascribes the need to penalize children for being inept, lazy, stupid and more interested in playing the fool to ugly old men who want to abolish childhood.
dreadedcandiru2: (Default)

Since we're not entirely done with Elly's attempts to pretend she's working towards a degree after all, let's remind ourselves why she isn't all that good a student. As we're going to see when she picks it up next fall, she's not only as prone to losing focus as she is in regular life, she seems angered and frustrated not only because she has to deal with questions that don't have the answers "Yes" or "No" but by the heavy workload that her unfair teachers burden her with. If she could take a pill that mean that she'd be good at things without having to put in any effort, she'd be happy as a clam; that way, she wouldn't have to strain her eyes looking at small print or listen to awful people who tell her that she could do better in school if she were to wear eyeglasses and look stupid and ugly. Okay, I'm reaching with that last one but it does make a certain amount of sense to presume that Elly's problems might stem from the fact that she can't see very well; she does squint a whole lot when she sews and does her writing so she might have spent most of her life trying to duck going to the optometrist. Not, of course, that it stopped her from sending Liz there or that she cared how anxious Liz was about that; since she didn't have to go, she was fine with it.

dreadedcandiru2: (Default)

As I said earlier in the year, I'd half-way expected that one of the signs that we were getting close to the end of the new-ruin era would be an extended sequence that depicted the resolution of the writing course arc. At the time, I'd thought that her family would present an active hindrance to her alleged ambitions; since they'd have been revealed to actively conspiring to hold her down out of selfishness and malice, Elly would have a legitimate reason to own Michael's literary horses. Given what we know of the characters and what we're seeing know, it's safe to say that that prediction seems somewhat implausible. The reason, of course, is that Elly simply does not have it in her to write; she talks a good game but at the end of the day, she'd rather make excuses for not being able to write than actually fail and acknowledge that she's not good at something. It's like how Lucy Van Pelt, who couldn't catch a baseball if you were to walk up to her and put it in her hand, blamed the Sun for her sucking at baseball. The similarity Elly has to the more established fussbudget doesn't stop there, of course; just as Lucy blames the blockhead for things that aren't really his fault, Elly will blame her family for her own sloth and ineptitude. The problem, of course, is that her children are the most gullible twits to have crawled out of the inkwell; just as Liz tells everyone that she came out of the womb seeking to mess with Mike because Elly said so, the Delicate Genius has been brainwashed into thinking that he has to isolate himself from the world in order to be a successful writer because his failure of a mother dreams of castles in the air.

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In a recent blog entry, [livejournal.com profile] howtheduck noticed that Lynn left a fairly large gap to be bridged before she can go to straight reprints. That's because she used a lot of the strips that surrounded the "Connie goes to Montréal arc" last year and thus cannot use them now. It seems to him that what she will do is to fill that in with strips that show us that Elly, despite being talented and wanting to do well in night school, will have her ambitions curtailed by an outside influence. Given that we're in for an extended arc that "shows" us that her not paying attention to Mike leads to his getting into mischief, it's clear that she'll be forced to scale back her goals because of him. This, as I said before, sort of colors what we will see later on; Michael will be seen as a sullen and more enduring obstacle to her hopes and dreams and thus a more appropriate target for her revenge than John. In the fullness of time, she'll own every last horse he has to pay him back for what he's doing in the here and now. The second bridging sequence will appear some time in the last few days of March as John and Elly get ready for the parents-teacher conference that will probably lead us into the era of straight reprints. After that, Elly will decide that she'd rather not buy a new electric can opener because it costs 'too much' only to turn around and bellow at John because he bought a stereo with his tax refund and we'll be back to where Lynn should have started over in the first place.

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As we've seen, Elly's imaginative capacity is severely stunted; this is because she's fairly narcissistic and has trouble coping with people who are not exactly like her and with unfailiar situations. Since it's next to impossible for her to empathize with someone else owing to her inability to step inside their minds, she makes the odd assumption that in a given situation, they should want what she would want, know what she knows and do what would make her the happiest; this means that she seems to never have the right answer to the question "What did you expect would happen?" as the following examples will attest:


  • The current arc is an example of this; what Elly clearly expected to happen is that the teacher would download the ability to write and the inspiration needed to express herself into her brain like a computer transferring a file. This, as I said yesterday, was owing to the assumption that any skill can be learned simply by following a set of instructions; the fact that she had to practice writing over time to get into the habit and had to have something to say came as a nasty shock.
  • The constant discovery that a six year old boy likes such things as playing in the dirt, rude noises, loud games, gross-out stuff, sports, running, jumping and talking loudly instead of sitting very quietly and not doing anything like she would if she were in his place is, as evidenced by her responding to it by looking as if she had seen an unusally bloody fifty-car pileup, fairly traumatic.
  • During the rare periods that she does try disciplining her children, she's always traumatized by the knowledge that they resent it; this leads to her pulling her punches when she should be trying to be consistent. The end result is that her need to be liked makes her life worse.
  • This also explains why she never quite got the knack of pet ownership; since she can't imagine herself as being a life-form that cannot understand any more of spoken language than the tone of a speaker's voice and can't wrap his shaggy mind around what causation is, she can't realize that Farley will never want what she wants because he can't think like a human being or know anything more about a situation than that the human is angry again.
  • It even explains her flaking out when it comes to childproofing; as I've said before, she seems to think that since she herself would not drink drain cleaner, swallow a tack or stick a barette in a wall socket, her children would have her knowledge of the risks and not do so either.
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It’s not simply Elly’s refusal to admit that she doesn’t actually like the idea of writing that ensures that she’ll blow off the course she’s taking now only to repeat the cycle until she finally purges the need to be literary out of her system. Her lack of any real imaginative capacity and ignorance of how things actually work has led her to believe that learning to be a writer is similar to learning how to cook tuna cardiac-arrest casseroles and greaseburgers with extra bacon; instead of following Connie’s ham-fisted suggestion of simply writing things, Elly sincerely believes that she needs a degree of some sort to prove to the world that she’s allowed to be an author. The odd thing is that she had to wait until the jerk publisher of the Valley Voice decided to guilt trip her into working for free to part-way disabuse herself of this Tab-A-into-Slot-B way of thinking; since she got her name in print and even got her Elegy for Broken Washing Machine published, she got her literary itch scratched and was able to stave off the desire to go back to school for a few years….whereupon the cycle repeated itself. Where Elly strays from the path of common sense is by making the assumption that a writing class will do more than teach her technical skills; the woman who whined about the insanely high number of essays required by the last course she took doesn't seem to realize that she not only needs to practice in order to hone her skills, she also has to have something to say in the first place. No course can make ideas appear where none exist. As an example of that, I'd like to talk about something I saw on a late-evening walk a few weeks ago; it was overcast for most of the day but in the last hour or so of daylight, the sun appeared through breaks in the clouds as it started to clear up. I like when that happens because the angle of the sunlight shining on the cloudy eastern skies made it look as if the trees, leaves and houses weren't being illuminated solely by the Sun. It was as if they had an inner light of their own that was waiting for that moment to shine. This thing that I don't have a name for doesn't last long because the clouds always recede in a few minutes but it is something that makes me feel good. Elly would look at that and simply see that she needed to pester John about raking up leaves.

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Here's a question that's bothered a lot of people and deserves a good answer: if Elly wants to write so badly, why doesn't she just shut up and write? It's not as if she really needs a degree in English in order to express herself; if she wanted to write as badly as she said she did, she'd simply get out there and do it. It seems to me that her hiding behind the wreckage of her academic failure is simply her way of avoiding having to admit that she doesn't really want to write at all; she got it into her head that she should be a writer but simply doesn't have it in her to create anything that isn't whining about how being a suburban mother with poor time management skills is the worst fate ever. From what we've seen, she seems to have been designed to do endless loads of clothes, give her children questionable advice and cook fatty foods; getting her to admit it and and feel good about being what she is is an impossibility owing to her other feature: the need to complain and garner sympathy.

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As I said a while ago, Lynn seems to want to make Elly's being forced to quit the class into a horrible twist of fate that deprives the world of an eager and talented writer. The reason she's doing so is to show the world how hard her life would have been if she had not had the opportunity to share her point of view with the world. The method by which she's going to inflict a Batiuk-like catastrophe is by reusing a motif we saw in the "Letters from Elly" phase of Coffee Talk. As we all know, she was trying to pick up First-Year English only to miss a few classes because she got sick; since she couldn't keep up, she let things slide and quit the course. At the time, we thought little of it because of the questionable nature of the letters; since her having to give up something she wants because she's sick is about to be canon, the effect I expected her quitting to have on the straight reprint era will be magnified. I should think that John might try to put his foot down because of an exaggerated, unwarranted and hypocritical-looking concern for her well-being; since it will take him decades to figure out how much this hurt, he gets to look far worse a man than he originally did.

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