Martin Crieff, unlikely role model

Sometimes I get annoyed at fictional characters who always seem to win.

It makes sense. We’re set up to root for the protagonist, and their success is cathartically satisfying. In sports movies it’s a cliche: the plucky underdogs win the big game against all odds. And it’s fun to watch people do things they’re good at. But cumulatively, it means that lots of stories get written about winners… and that can get wearing when you’re a real person who doesn’t succeed at everything. Where are the stories for the also-rans, the second fiddles, the losers?

Well, a story about someone who fails at what they try to do is either going to be a tragedy or a comedy. Possibly both; look at Peanuts. It’s all about failure: all the crushes are unrequited, Lucy pulls away the football, the Great Pumpkin never comes. Even Schulz’s punchlines have a melancholy bent.

Then there’s the more comedic end of the scale. When I first thought “Isn’t there a character who’s just not very good at the thing they really want to do?” I realized immediately that I knew that character, and it was Captain Martin Crieff.

If you don’t know who Martin Crieff is, he’s from a delightful radio sitcom called Cabin Pressure. He wants very badly to be an airplane pilot… and he is, but not a very good one. It took him seven tries to get his license, and even then he can only get a job working for free for a company in dire financial straits. And he has a certain general Charlie-Brownishness about him as well, especially when compared to his suave, competent first officer, Douglas. Martin losing games and bets to Douglas is a running joke, as is Douglas being mistaken for the captain whenever they meet someone new.

The thing is, though, Martin doesn’t let failure stop him. Even at the point when most people would have quite sensibly given up. He has a speech about it in a late-series episode when he applies for a new job, and the interviewer has asked what his greatest weakness is. Martin’s first answers go badly (including the old chestnut “I’m too much of a perfectionist”), and finally he says:

D’you wanna hear one you’ve never heard before? I’ll tell you one that I guarantee you have never heard before… My biggest weakness as a pilot is that I’m not very good at flying aeroplanes.
I mean… I’m good enough. Like the sim said, I’m adequate – adequate to the task. But I… I don’t do it easily. It’s not second nature to me. On your scale of one to ten, if one is the bare minimum of competence, I’m… about a four. And I used to be a one – no… I used to be a zero, and then I took my C.P.L. again… and then again… and then I was a one, and then a two, and then a three, and now I’m a four. And I’m not finished yet. And that’s why you should employ me. That’s why you’d be lucky to employ me, because if you’re not naturally good – if you can’t rely on just knowing how to do it like Doug… l-like some people can, then you have to… well, you have to be a perfectionist, actually – and I am one. And that’s why even when you’ve turned me down, I’m gonna keep on applying – because flying is the perfect job, and I won’t settle for a life where I don’t get to do it.

– Martin Crieff, “Yverdon-les-Bains”

And that’s why this post is called “Martin Crieff, unlikely role model.” Because if Martin’s weakness is that he’s not very good at his job, his strength is his growth mindset. He believes he can get better at being a pilot, and he works at it, no matter how hard it is or how slowly he improves. Douglas might be the “winner” to Martin’s “loser”, but he doesn’t voluntarily work hard at anything, and his confident exterior hides his own insecurities. Douglas is good at a lot of things, but he puts too much stock in appearing hyper-competent, even if he has to resort to deception to maintain that appearance.

And then there’s Arthur, the cheerful idiot steward, who’s good at almost nothing but doesn’t really mind. So I suppose you could call him an even unlikelier role model: someone who doesn’t need to be good at anything to be happy exactly as he is.

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Not queer enough

Sometimes I feel like an alien.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can be empowering. When I started to realize I might be asexual, and what that meant in a society so obsessed with sex, I liked to think of myself as an extraterrestrial anthropologist, observing the mating rituals of the Homo sapiens. If I was a different kind of creature, then there was nothing remarkable about not wanting sex. And I could be a cool kind of alien, like a Time Lady. Much better than being a human who just didn’t quite get it.

There was a particular social group I used to run with where everyone was… loud… about their sexuality, and I felt awkward and prudish because I was uncomfortable with all the sex talk and sex jokes and raunchy drinking games. I wish I’d had the anthropologist idea back then; the reframing might have helped me.

I wasn’t out as asexual at the time, because I hadn’t figured it out myself. A lot of people in that group were queer. I wonder how they would have reacted if I’d come out.

I hate that I have to wonder that. I hate that expressing ace pride on Twitter during Pride Month brings the aphobic assholes out of the woodwork: people who are queer themselves, gatekeeping and rules-lawyering whether aces should be allowed in the Queerness Club. I hate that those people can get in my head and make me doubt.

I’m a mostly-het romantic asexual. In other words, I can pass for straight like nobody’s business. I can pass so well that I passed to myself for 23 years, because the difference wasn’t enough to matter… until it was, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So I’m very vulnerable to accusations of “not queer enough”. I hesitate before going to queer meetup groups, because am I? Am I really?

It’s isolating. It’s worse than feeling like an alien. I’m stuck in the middle: different, but not really different, or not different enough to count.

I’m trying to fight that feeling. I march with an ace group in my local pride parade. I go to those queer meetups, and I’m so grateful to the people who have welcomed me when I questioned my right to be there. Because if other queer people validate my kind of different, maybe I don’t have to feel like an alien at all.

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My First Album

This year was my first crack at FAWM (February Album Writing Month) and I had a blast! A few of the songs may go up in the Filk section later, but for now, until FAWM scrubs the site for next year, you can hear my album here: https://fawm.org/fawmers/robotkitten/

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Two half-episodes for the price of one

Just caught up on last night’s Supernatural, and I have to say, I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did. (Spoilers follow, but mostly for this specific episode unless you’re very behind on the show.)

On paper, I was all set to love this episode, because it was pitched as what the people of Lebanon, Kansas think of the Winchesters, and I love the Outsider POV trope. That’s one reason I always liked the Henriksen arc, where the FBI was hunting Sam and Dean–because from the point of view of law enforcement, hunters absolutely would look like serial killers. So sure, let’s see what the good folk of Lebanon think of those weird guys in the classic car who swing through to buy groceries, whiskey, and alarming quantities of ammunition.

The execution let me down, though, and I think the problem is that it was trying to be two episodes at once. “What do the people of Lebanon think of the Winchesters?” and “John is accidentally summoned from 2003 to the show’s present” are both perfectly solid pitches for an episode of Supernatural; I just don’t think they should have been the same episode. Both halves felt underdeveloped. We barely got to know the townspeople at all, or see much of what they thought was up with the Winchesters. And John had barely arrived before it became clear that he had to be packed off back to the past again. Not to mention, pulling John out of the timeline should have had huge ripple effects on all the cosmic-scale events Sam and Dean had a hand in. This was hinted by the appearance of Zachariah and the new timeline’s Castiel, but there just wasn’t time to engage with the full repercussions, which could easily have filled a whole episode.

I like the idea of both the stories this episode was trying to tell. I would happily have watched both of them in full. But getting the bare bones of each one without room to fully develop either was disappointing.

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Birthday and post-Arisia

Happy 30th birthday to me! I spent my birthday weekend at Arisia, so I got to do something fun even if I didn’t really have a party.

If you’re finding this from the link in my Arisia program bio, welcome! In particular, if you’re one of the people I directed here because you requested the lyrics to my song contest entry, here you go.

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