to drown myself wittingly or not [notes]

Unhitched chapter notes …

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I was given a challenge by a fellow writer who happens to enjoy fluff. I am not a lover of these things, and as such, I do not write or read fluff. Can you tell? That said, I took (AO3′s) Purple_Girl’s challenge because I will never get better at something by avoiding it. With some brainstorming, I decided to add my take on a classic “fluffy” scene and incorporate it into my fic. Note that all the images below are just so this doesn’t end up being a huge block of text.

So let’s look at what fluff actually is.

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The legit 4 seconds of “fluff” in the whole show, and I had to edit it so you didn’t have to look through Bryan Fuller’s puke filter of sadness.

Fluff (n.) is fanfic without angst. But it could be any pleasant, feel-good story. The focus is not sex, but displays of affection between two or more characters, whether their relationship is romantic or not. It may also indicate a mood piece with warm, uplifting descriptions. WAFF is also used to describe fluff (an acronym for Warm and Fuzzy/Fluffy Feelings)

That is not Unhitched. Unhitched is angst and probably hurt/comfort and the only thing warm about it are Hero’s hot hands and burning eyes. But you can’t write solid angst, at least not with the story is as long as Unhitched. You need some softer moments to give readers a mental break. So this brings us to:

TAFF (n.) an acronym for Twisted and Fuzzy/Fluffy Feelings. Usually used to describe angsty or dark but occasionally romantic fics.

TAFF would more accurately describe, for example, the sex scene in Boulder in chapter 5. Rocket was trying not to obsess over the organs in the tub and starts crying while they fuck for god’s sake; it can’t be fluff; hurt/comfort maybe or TAFF, as I said.

As for this chapter, I was determined to add a non-angst fluff scene. Obviously, I didn’t do the entire chapter fluffy because that would feel horribly out of place. But I took the fluff trope of “looking longingly and romantically into each other’s eyes” and Unhitched it instead. This is what Bryan Fuller calls a long romantic eye fuck …

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… and we all saw how that ended.

My scene in Unhitched … I’m sorry, I can’t get that GIF out of my head. Let’s scroll past that and take a look at the beautiful lake that I set as my background while I wrote this chapter. It is serene …

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Ah. Much better.

My scene in Unhitched is brief but intense, and I love how it developed which is why I based the chapter graphic on it (you will see it later or have already seen it posted with the update).

Moving on to the meat of the chapter. Like the last chapter, I chose another piece of literature to focus on. This time Hamlet.

Why Hamlet? Because Hamlet is the grandest of literary enigmas. Every time we see him in the play, he is changing. His opinions change, he is torn with indecision, he is morally suspect and guilt-stricken. He is an amazing character and here is a better summary from Cliffnotes:

The paradox of Hamlet’s nature draws people to the character. He is at once the consummate iconoclast, in self-imposed exile from Elsinore Society, while, at the same time, he is the adulated champion of Denmark — the people’s hero. He has no friends left, but Horatio loves him unconditionally. He is angry, dejected, depressed, and brooding; he is manic, elated, enthusiastic, and energetic. He is dark and suicidal, a man who loathes himself and his fate. Yet, at the same time, he is an existential thinker who accepts that he must deal with life on its own terms, that he must choose to meet it head on.

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Anyway, if Hero is the Cheshire Cat, Cowboy is definitely Hamlet in this crazy little fic, so I explore that with what Cowboy says and thinks by drawing parallels to the same verbiage and rationale that Hamlet uses throughout the play.

HAMLET
Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ
Then is the world one.

HAMLET
A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ
We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET
Why, then, ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.

Hamlet believes Denmark to be a prison, so to him, that’s all it takes for it to become one. He doesn’t need outside forces telling him what his truths are. He will believe his own truths. Cowboy feels similarly about his own lot. In fact, he draws the prison comparison a lot in previous chapters. But in this chapter, he focuses on his own personal truths and no one else’s:

I finally relax enough to close my eyes and just drift. This feels far more like basking than what Hero accused me of doing. I can bask in total silence, floating in a cool, clear lake. I’m not a blood-thirsty murderer here, but I’m also not a high school teacher. I’m not a perverted savage with a penchant for ass-fucking any more than I am a shamelessly devoted husband – unless I believe myself to be either, neither, or both. I could think myself good or evil, but I don’t. I’m just a body floating in nothingness … until my head bumps into something, and a darkness falls over my face, forcing me to open my eyes.

He’s letting his pent-up “Hamlet anxiety” temporarily go so he can bask in silence. But let’s not forget that Hamlet didn’t just think Denmark was a prison. Words serve as Hamlet’s greatest prison. He overanalyzes and examines every nuance of his life until he has exhausted every angle. Who else does that? I’ll give you one guess. You got it.

This causes Hamlet to be indecisive and confused by his own mind. He frustrates himself with his inability to make clear and rational choices. This is what makes Hamlet such a compelling character! He is human and as such acts irrationally, he gets confused, he makes poor decisions and says the wrong thing.

This is another running theme in my story, Cowboy’s constant pressure to choose. He has to choose routes, food, whether or not to attack, what room, what to say, what step to take, where he’ll drive, will he run or not? Hell, he can’t even decide if he wants to use the word sexy to describe Sin in his own damn head!

There are a million little decisions that he feels never work out, which gets discouraging. He even has a roulette wheel in his head that he spins just to take the pressure off himself when he has to make a huge decision.

Meanwhile, Cowboy looks at Hero and guess what? Hero makes few, if any, decisions. Hero has no complicated process to decide anything, and everything he does seems to work out and cause him no anxiety at all.

There are subtleties here and in other chapters, that show you just how deep this runs in my characters. Hero asks Cowboy a ton of questions: how he feels, what he wants, what he prefers, where he’s going. Cowboy kisses first, he initiates sex (though Hero does prompt it by telling him that he wants him) but Hero then lets Cowboy reject him if he wants. Hero even stops before ejaculating, waiting for Cowboy to nod before allowing himself to indulge. He gives Cowboy every option so the man can choose the best one for himself without influence. Cowboy power bottoms for their first time having anal because he gets to stay in control and Hero gets to watch what he does.

This is not so much Hero catering to Cowboy, but rather Hero enjoying the unpredictability of Cowboy’s behavior. Hero doesn’t live like this. He can’t make these crazy impulsive decisions. He is stuck in this rut of believing that the world at large will take him where he needs to go. This is correlated to his past which will be revealed later. It is also in stark contrast to the way Cowboy lives, feeling responsible for every tiny fucking thing. This is why book/show Will cordons himself away from society. He can’t take that inundation of social interaction. He can’t take the pressure and that feeling of responsibility to be “good” and “normal”.

Hero asks if Cowboy wants help in Boulder and only acts when Cowboy agrees. Hero makes his own decisions, sure, but he relies on his environment to show him what decision to make. Cowboy, on the other hand, feels like life only moves forward when you move it yourself and that is a Herculean task.

This seeming indifference that Hero has toward life, is mind boggling to Cowboy and it feels like Hero is trying to control him (forcing him to make all the decisions), which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Back to Hamlet:

HAMLET
… O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables,–meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.

So in Will’s mind prison, he makes a similar comparison … Hero is this villain in his head. He calls him “the murderer” in the last chapter, comparing him to himself, “the only decent person in this dark triad”. He also alludes to Hero being the villain that he needs to keep an eye on. But then he looks up at him from the water:

Those moving lips smile a lot more than I do, but if I recall correctly, I’m quite funny according to him. In my head, I can hear his low scoff and snicker, and I find it infectious, so I smile up at him for no reason. His mouth stops moving and he smiles back, and I can now see that his eyes aren’t black, or red, or empty – they’re amber and bright, and they’re finally realizing that I’m not listening to a damn word he’s saying.

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He’s literally seeing Hero in a different light and from a different angle. This is my “fluff” or TAFF as I mentioned earlier. It’s Hero and Cowboy ogling one another while naked in a lake. Cowboy sees him as this smiling villain, a confusing enigma, a Cheshire Cat, if you will.

Will’s rumination (and new view) brings me back to color saturation (which I mentioned in my previous writer’s notebook post). Remember seeing the Wizard of Oz for the first time? Your mind is used to decoding black and white for the first half hour and the boom! You get hit with a wonderland of color. That was the direction I went with this chapter. Things are colorful and lush after their orgy. The sky is bright and open. The lake is cold but relaxing. He wants to fish. He wants to bask. He is literally turned on by all of this freedom from pain and choice but also the smile of the man he just called the villain of this story.

So Cowboy basks and relaxes. And he has his own take on this second half of Hamlet’s “To be …” soliloquy:

HAMLET
… To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

Hamlet waxes on and on about suicide, basically wondering why men fear death when they have no idea what it brings. Life is inherently shitty and yet we fear the unknown even more, having no idea if it’s better or worse. Cowboy’s betting on better because he perpetually teeters on the verge of suicidal depression himself, and thinks:

If I drift to sleep in this ethereal peace, all the better. I’d welcome both dreams and drowning at this point, as both provide the mind with the greatest of reveries. There can be nothing on the other side to fear since life happily provides us with the worst of bodily torment. If death brings the destruction of the body, how bad could it really be?

Of course, Cowboy forgets about how much mental anguish could be waiting for him on the other side, but as Hamlet says, why fear death when we don’t know what it brings? And … “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” he says, and this will come up later in Lousiana.

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This Hamlet inspired still from the show was brought up by a member of my Hannigram FB group. Very “Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull” even though Hannibal is Hamlet here. Will’s head would be to Hannibal a physical reminder of the finality of death.

So the boys fight (leaving Fluff-town and entering the outskirts of Angst-ville):

“I was trying to get to know you,” he says. “ You brought up the girl. When I heard your twitchy little voice on the radio, I just said hello. There’s no mystery here – no malicious intent. I was offering to help a friend. You’re obsessed with being dramatic, Cowboy. You’re touchy. Makes me wonder why you’re still here.”

“Touchy?!” I scoff. I am not touchy!

“You pick fights faster than I can squelch them.”

“Oh, of course. I forgot. You’re the one in control. I’m just an unpredictable bomb ready to explode, and you’re keeping me nice and stable, right?”

“You’re doing it right now,” he says.

“Doing what?!”

“Looking for excuses to hate me. You’re at odds with yourself, and you’re taking it out on me.”

This is basically Hero declaring, “The lady doth protests too much, methinks.” Why is Cowboy sticking around if he’s going to keep throwing Hero’s villainy in his face? Cowboy will eat Hero’s suspicious food, accept his help committing crimes, and fuck him to boot, all the while being sure to tell him just how wrong and horrible he is. Way to have DOUBLE STANDARDS, YOU BOOB.

Crisis of conscience activated!

But then, after Hero pushes past him and walks away, Cowboy reflects on all this and his role in their predicament and spins that roulette wheel …

I kind of want to dive back in the lake. I kind of want to run away. I kind of want to curl up into a ball and pretend this whole conversation didn’t happen. But that would be the coward’s way out, and I’m not feeling particularly cowardly at the moment. I could go pick another fight – he never did answer me honestly about Junebug – but that just makes me the victim of his little mind games, a touchy drama queen who can’t let the past stay in the past. It strands me out here at his whim and mercy, and that doesn’t feel quite right either. I’m now left with surviving this mess and just getting through it, morality be damned.

Hey, you growing up, buddy? Yeah? Well don’t get too attached to feeling hopeful, this is an angsty story after all.

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“Ophelia” by photographer Agnieszka Lorek

So he decides to rejoin Hero and asks what he was saying in the water when they briefly eye fucked.

“Ophelia,” he says. “I was saying you looked like Ophelia.”

“Hamlet’s Ophelia?” I snicker. Med school and a lover of Shakespeare … the mysteries abound. Ophelia, though … how cryptic. “Do I seem suicidal?”

“You purposefully drown yourself in thoughts and rationality, and that is a dangerous practice.”

“I suppose I should just stop thinking, then – less water to swallow.”

“Or, rather than a dog, be a shark – then it doesn’t matter what you swallow.”

I huff out my amusement and release a pent-up, nervous sigh. If only it could be that easy … become a shark by simply believing that you are one.

To be or not to be … a shark.

Oh Cowboy, make up your damn mind. What tis nobler, fool? Are you a blood-thirsty murderer, a high school teacher, a perverted savage with a penchant for ass-fucking, a shamelessly devoted husband, a dog … perchance a shark …

Oh boy, those choices are back. Hero knows what Hero is, but Cowboy … well, Cowboy has his own idea of what kind of man he wants to be … he just has no clue how to be it.

If you enjoy my writing, please consider dropping me a comment here or, if applicable, on AO3 or by supporting my hot beverage habit on Ko-fi. Thank you!

—joanielspeak
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