“On into the void he flies, unafraid. There is nothing in mere absence that can cow him. Or loneliness. Or the lack of maps and charts. For he is his own path. And he sees by his own light. We watch him from a great distance. From a vantage point no less subjective, no less absolute. And so it’s hard to tell whether he imposes himself on the emptiness, or becomes it.” — Mike Carey, LUCIFER
“You are what your creators and experiences have made you, like every other being in this universe. Accept that and be done; I tire of your whining.” — N. K. Jemisin, THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS
There’s a part in my favorite series where the new god of the universe, Elaine Belloc, asks the devil for advice. He refuses, instantly, and tells her to trust her instincts. He says, “Be absolute. If mercy’s your aim, be relentless in your mercy. Be yourself until you bleed.”
There’s something romantic about how pragmatic the Lucifer of Mike Carey’s series is. Yes, he uses people like tools and discards them, but among all the characters of the series, only he never lies; only he is consistent; only he is absolute. His elegance and composure are nigh untouchable, and in the dark world the comics portray, the audience can only envy him that.
I do not want to be like Lucifer. He hurts people more than he needs to, and while he may be, in this series, a creature of pure will, I cannot be. He is a sociopath, and an exaggeration of an ideal — individualism stretched to such excess that the individual requires its own, separate universe to be truly satisfied.
On the other hand, he’s brilliant, stubborn, elegant, untouchable, and gets what he wants. One of the other angels may be the archetypal artist, but Lucifer is his greatest subject. He is the epitome of action, the trickster disrupter. He is irresistibly and inimitably unique, and interestingly enough based on another of my favorites, David Bowie.
When Lucifer leaves the universe, he says goodbye to Mazikeen, his lover and right-hand-woman, last, and tells her he wants to go into the void alone. He gives her his power, as a “union” between them. She rewards him with a scar to remember her by, saying that he can’t leave everything behind, and that if he erases that scar it’ll only prove him a coward.
He keeps the scar, of course. Pride.
On the other side of the spectrum, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, features a god of chaos so formless that when presented with a new person, he will change to reflect them. For the first part of the book, our heroine views Nahadoth’s face as a succession of faces, constantly shifting under her eyes, until finally it settles on the face she will find irresistible, a face summoned by her own fears and desires. Who he is from day to day changes completely based on who is in his presence — he may be tender or vengeful or both within only a few minutes, all depending on the thoughts of the people that surround him. His character recalled to mind a quote I’d seen on my seventh grade classroom wall, “Choose your friends wisely, because you will become them.”
Later in the novel, when our heroine complains to Nahadoth that she has so little choice in her own life, he tells her that she can’t determine what she is any more than he can. Like him, all she can do is choose who will shape her.
I wonder, often, to what extent we should compromise with other people. Should we walk through the world as impervious and absolute as islands? Or should we, like redwoods, rely not on the depth of our roots in the earth, but on the other roots that intertwine with ours to hold us up?
Everyone’s got an opinion. Season One: Thor says you can change your fate, but you can’t do it alone. Luis McMaster Bujold argues that all wealth is biological.
I suppose if there’s any kind of consensus it’s that first, we need other people, but they have to be the right people, and ready to give us what we need from them. We’re humans, and we need traveling companions, but only those that pull their own weight. Nothing against everyday compassion, of course — but a bulwark of love against the world is a different thing. I know people who show compassion, again and again, to people who hurt them, because they believe it’s the right way to live. My issue with this isn’t the compassion shown, but the fact that they continue to keep them in their lives. Compassion should be shown to everyone, but connection isn’t a right but a privilege.
My second point would be that there’s a great deal of difference in caring about another person, and caring about what other people think. With regards to the latter, I’d say we could all learn to pick and choose a bit better, whether among people or advice.
Alright, practically, I think the way to live with others is this: take the best care of yourself possible, and do it well. Make enough to not only live but be comfortable. Care for your body, your mind, and your heart. Dress in a way you enjoy. Travel, and when you are home, make your home the one you’ve wished for. You will meet companions, and the right companions will be the ones who make you more like the self you want to be. They will be brave, compassionate, curious, and loyal. If they hurt you or lie to you or bring you down, then part from them gently but firmly. If you do change course because of what another has suggested, do it only because they pointed out a better way to where you wanted to go, never because you think that is the way you should be going. Only you get to decide where you should be going.
And yes, I lean towards the independent side, and those of you planning lives with another or planning to have children will probably err more towards the side of compromise. But in an ideal world, for me, the greatest romance isn’t moving towards another person, but choosing to take the journey together — I’m quoting someone, but I can’t remember who.
In summary: Trust yourself; be absolute; be yourself until you bleed; and be careful when choosing those who may shape you.