Episode 28: Alice Isn’t Dead (And Neither is Keisha nor M… not yet anyway)


(Music starts)

            I’ve got a joke for you…Why did the chicken cross the road? (Music cuts) Because it can. Because it has free will and a sense of agency that we can’t constrict. It’s the chicken’s life. Let it make its own choices. Geez. Don’t be so judgy. You know, maybe the chicken wouldn’t approve of you listening to this podcast? How about that? Hm? What if the chicken turned it around on you and started judging your decisions? Hm? Not so fun. Is it?

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            I’m guessing you think you know what this review is going to be about. Because I hinted at it in passing during my last podcast medley episode… If you missed it, I had said that I’d been holding off on doing an Alice Isn’t Dead review (despite my love for all things Night Vale Presents) because I was waiting for the novel to come out, which had been announced by the start of this podcast. So obviously, the novel now out, so now must be my time to shine, right?

            Well, you aren’t wrong. That was the plan. But even the best laid plans run awry hopefully in the best possible of ways.

            Let me explain. Yes, the book has been out for a little bit of time, and I have had a chance to read it. So I should technically be able to scrape together some sort of a review, right? However, hastily it would be. You’re right, but I don’t want to just throw something together. For something more substantial and overall better, the type of thing I want to put into this podcast, I need to do a couple read-throughs of the book. I got through it one, and that’s where everything starts to come undone. See, I enjoyed it enough to carry it with me to work and let it sit on my desk where a cute person at my job saw it, asked about it, and apparently liked the idea of a story about a lesbian truck driver crossing America in search of her supposedly dead wife but finding a bunch of other terrible things along the way.  And…. Yep, I immediately handed it over. I'm either going to get a relationship (romantic or otherwise) and/or a reason to no longer like this person. So that's going to work out somehow.

            Until then, here's a discussion of the podcast. Sorry not sorry? I mean I have a lot of thoughts about this audio drama, and maybe you’ll be interested in them.

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            Hi. It's M. Welcome to Episode 28.

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            Today, I want to talk about Alice Isn't Dead, an audio drama from Night Vale Presents, written by Joseph Fink, performed by Jasika Nicole, and produced by Disparition. Yep, great team. And like I said to coworker and in my third podcast medley episode, it's the story of a lesbian truck driver who isn't great at making her deliveries on time because apparently her dead wife isn't dead, so now Keisha wants to find her. But you know, work-life balance and all that. It's a hard thing to find. I mean, I'm failing at it in my own special way.

            And okay, maybe that whole opening was a bad idea because it makes it seem like this entire episode is a hastily thrown together after thought, and it's not. I was going to wait for the novel just because it gave me some sort of time marker in this weird space that I’m making this podcast in. I genuinely love this show, but on the other hand, I don't know what I'm doing when making my show, so problems. Or almost problems. Depends on your standards, I guess.

            Here's the thing. I genuinely love Alice Isn't Dead. But considering what I've said in the past about my weird relationship with the horror genre, that might surprise you because Alice Isn't Dead has strong horror elements that you get hit with fairly early on. With these pieces of information in mind, you might think that I dropped Alice Isn't Dead after a couple episodes. And while, I don't think you're wrong for thinking that, the whole is greater than the sums of its parts, and our relationship with the media that we love is the best example of this. There isn't just us and object. To keep this description simple, there are other variables at play and—most importantly—there's the interaction therein.

            I could probably talk at length about all the different things that might have influenced me to push through and make it through the hurdles as they rose up to greet me. But there's not enough time in the world for that, and it's actually that sort of mind set that pushed my unbridled enthusiasm onto an indie podcast and away from my friends and family, but that's neither here nor there nor something for anyone other than my therapist to deal with… If I am to be completely honest.

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            But here's the main and most relevant reason. Like I said in my Within the Wires review, Welcome to Night Vale has come to mean so much to me that I can easily put my trust into its creators enough to give anything they work on a good fighting chance. But, on the other hand, this isn't to say that I support them blindly as in signing myself up for what would essentially be a lifetime subscription to everything they ever make ever. I'm not taking it that far with any creator I like either.

            That sounds like a paradox, I’m sure. I think we live in a “you’re either with someone or against them” culture, and I do understand how we got there and why that type of mindset is so attractive. But for me, it’s never really clicked in my mind with what I understand the world to be. Not to seem egotistical, but I just can’t shake what I perceive to be the reality of the situation, however painful it may be. And yes, it does sting a bit considering how desperately we need to feel connected to other human beings in some form and how easy these connections are to find in online culture and online creations. But really? No matter how much we love a creator, we really don’t know or support the person they actually are. At least, I don’t. I’m only supporting the person they present to me. It’s just that this presentation is supposed to represent them or goes by the same name. Art is an act of carefully calculated disclosure, and so is being an artist. Or existing as a person. An artist may reveal certain whims or tendencies in a fair amount of detail, and together, this artist and I will share in the observance of this other creation of theirs: of this reflection of all they are, a sort of smoke screen they can hide behind. But this screen is not them. And that’s the unacknowledged truth we share but mutually try to ignore as long as possible.

            I have reluctantly accepted that I don't know or can't ever know what's behind the curtain that is this alter ego, as it were, or that this thing I am looking at could be and probably is fleeting, but that latter bit okay. Permanence is a human notion we’ve never learned how to properly practice, largely because so much of what goes into it is entirely out of our hands. So I will enjoy what I have while I have it. As long as my favorite creator can maintain the smoke screen before me, I will enjoy the show. Simple but potentially unwise as that is.

            In so many potentially unnecessary words, I think that's why when it came to Alice Isn’t Dead I pushed forward. Because, I trusted this creative team and had no reason to think that this moment had passed. And this suspicion seemed to be proven true just from the atmosphere of those first few episodes. I mean the exact horror elements of Alice Isn’t Dead are the ones found in Welcome to Night Vale but they kind of are. Just in a more extreme form. If you squint hard enough.

            There was enough of a creative consistency between the two podcast that I could manage to get through the initial repulsion. I could see the common thread. In the same way that I could see one between Within the Wires and Welcome to Night Vale, but that's an indepth conversation for another day. (Pause) Or maybe I can give you the short hand now? I mean, it's all things I've said before in other ways. Both address something along the lines of the unique dignity of people regardless of the circumstances around them. That the world could quite literally be falling apart, but still, we can care about one another. And we can forge strong connections even when connections are deemed to be the enemy of progress.

            Alice Isn't Dead addresses another side of that coin while also raising the question of how creators like Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink who clearly fit together perfectly could somehow end up collaborating on podcast? Like is the universe really that kind? Because it usually isn't. At least, in my experience.

            Here’s the thing. Alice Isn't Dead isn't so much about community like those other two shows are. There’s elements of that in there, sure, but no part of the human experience can ever happen in a strict bubble, so that’s to be expected. At the heart of it, for Keisha, she once had a community, and it was pretty great, but that community has come apart. For Keisha, whatever community she once had has completely fallen away, and she's just trying to make do now. Except she's not trying to make do. For a while, that was the plan, but it wasn’t a good enough plan. It didn’t give her what she wanted, at least. And now, she's charging ahead. In a giant truck, taking the roads most of us want to avoid.

But it wasn’t always this way…

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            Alice was the social one. Alice was the steady one. Alice was the strong one. Alice was the planner and the doer. Alice gave Keisha direction. Alice was the driver in their relationship. Alice kept the world going. That is, until she supposedly died. Then there was seemingly nothing and no direction. Or that’s how Keisha felt. Then came the emptiness. Then came the time when Keisha struggled to cope with the empty void left in Alice’s wake, when Keisha was doing little more than just going through the motions.

            But Keisha isn't like that anymore. Keisha is quite literally in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that would terrify some people. Certainly me. Maybe her. But regardless, she’s directing it wherever she feels compelled to go. Not necessarily where she’s told to go. But she’s not a computer program. She’s a person with free will and the ability to exercise it. And while it makes her a terrible employee, there are conspiracies that make part irrelevant. It’s like nepotism but somehow worse. And nepotism is pretty bad.

Despite it all, though, she’s getting by. Like only Alice could.

But she’s not Alice. She’s Keisha. And she’s a force to be reckoned with.

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            This is the thread that links Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. This “gripping onto some sense of control against overwhelming odds.” It’s not something we can easily do. Especially when things get hard. Things fall apart sometimes, though. In lesser or greater ways. That’s so much of what happens in Night Vale. There, you are powerless. You are weak. You are a pawn at the mercy of so many different conspiring forces. And yet, you might fall in love with a scientist who just happens to have perfect hair. That’s always a thing that could happen. And you could always try to pursue this interest even amidst the realization that time isn’t real or whatever it was Carlos is trying to tell you, you aren’t paying attention as diligently as you probably should have been considering you are the main hub of all information for your desert community. But you know, let’s… let’s cast that aside for now it is what it is. You’ve made your choices.

            You still have the ability to make choices. You can still drive your own life. Even if the road isn’t great.

            Sure, it wasn’t that strong of a thread. But it could bear my weight. Largely because I was more than willing to do quite a bit of the work. After all, this made Alice Isn’t Dead the sort of story I genuinely needed.

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            As with so many of the love affairs between a person and their favorite story, I identified strongly with Keisha—both for who she was and who she is trying to be now. Keisha is anxious and unsure. She’s more likely to go along with something than she is to recuse herself, never mind push back. That is, only for things that are morally neutral or where morality is completely irrelevant, of course. Keisha does have a strong moral compass. Stronger than most. She values what is right and ethical. But herself? That’s a completely different matter.  


            Which is me in a nutshell and with a better narrative voice. Yep, that’s pretty much all of my problems boiled down to their core elements. I don’t know how it started. No one really knows how a more docile strain of character commandeers the soul and sends it toward the rocks. (Pause) That’s probably a needlessly poetic way of putting it. But I don’t know what else to say. Just maybe that I should say something. Some of us just tend to be more quiet and anxious even if we have so many other parts to us that we could lead with. It never works out though. Or, I guess, there are so many pieces competing for center stage, it’s hard to know what or why anything takes the lead, particularly when it’s the things about ourselves that we don’t like.

            And that’s probably not something you want to hear about or really care about. People become who they become, and the how isn’t so important. On one hand, there’s genetics involved. On the other, there’s the environment. It’s a whole process of sorts. And 99.9% of us have absolutely no reason to worry about it. And most of the people who do have chosen to make a career out of it. Hence why they need to be concerned. The rest of us in that small fraction of that percentage…. I don’t know what our problem in.

            I guess it’s in my nature to want to explain myself. But that’s something I understand a bit better. It’s this weird hybrid of assuming you think I’m wrong but still having some shred of confidence that I know what I’m talking about and assuming that if I can just explain myself everything will be fine. This is more simply known as anxiety. Also known as I don’t feel comfortable in my skin but feel compelled to try, knowing that there is no other choice but failure is still somehow an option.

In my mind, it doesn’t fit right, and I don’t know how you expect me to do anything until I fix it. Because this is a pretty important issue, don’t you think?

            That’s just a perception, though. Really, there is nothing wrong. Everything fits. You’re just hyperaware of the things that don’t line up in a supposedly perfect fashion or as perfectly as it does for everyone else. And you want them to. You need them to. Especially when it comes to people you are in love with. Or genuinely love in a more genuine sense. Or anything like that. (Pause) And that can create some problems. At least for me.

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            I’m good at being in love. Not good about doing something about it. It’s unfortunate that there’s a difference in there, but I’m not the controlling force of the universe. Nor do I want to be. But I can sacrifice for someone. I can do things for someone, to make them happy. I can set aside my selfish desires for someone else’s benefit. I’m compassionate and empathetic. Or so I’ve been told. But I do feel confident that I can be a good partner to someone.

            But taking that first step is so hard. And I just know—like I know that I need air to breath or that I want to be a good person—that I will mess up the act of declaring one’s love or pursuing one’s love. That’s just in my nature. It’s like the destinies of the chosen one genre: it’s a fate that’s practically written in someone’s genetic code. Of course, I have nothing to prove that. There’s no prophecy surrounding my epic failure. There’s no telltale mark on my body, and there’s no religious figure pointing me out.

            It’s just something that I’ve decided is true. It’s a belief I practice as ardently as one does any other religious creed.

            It’s easier that way. In some ways. To decide that you’re going to fail gives you a justification to not try at all. Which is what I was or am really after. On one hand, it’s just easier to go through the motions. I wouldn’t need to think or try or plan or invest too much of myself emotionally if I’m not the one leading the charge. And as an added benefit, I’m not going to lose too much no matter what happens. I never put anything on the table in the first place. And even if I do manage to lose, somehow, it’s not my fault. So no need to beat myself up. No need to punish myself. And even, no need to be angry. There’s no need to feel anything. Inevitability strips away the emotional resonance of any moment. And ultimately, there’s something protective in that. But on other hand, it isn’t how life is meant to be lived, and I know this. But hey, there’s a lot of things that we do that are in no way ideal. That doesn’t make it okay. It just means I’m not the only person at fault.

            However, in most cases, something has to give. Either us as a whole or this more passive nature. I know I’m at a crossroads right now, but that doesn’t mean I know what I want to do. I know what I need to do, but that’s a different story. That’s Keisha’s story.

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            And I guess in some ways love is supposed to be the answer to that. Or it can be. Which is something I talked about in the last episode. Love is the thing that pushes us to be better, to push through our boundaries and limitations and overcome them. But in some ways, we have to let it. Keisha lets a realization about her supposedly dead wife push her forward into the driver’s seat whereas I don’t know what is pushing me along right now. Why for the first time in the entirety of my time, I am actually spurred to act. Which I did last week. In a way that I’m pretty sure will leas or has already led to some sort of implosion. I’m not sure yet. I won’t know for a few days. On the other hand, my anxiety is pretty sure, but I shouldn’t let it get the right of way. I should plan for the future, but I don’t know how.

            It’s just easier to let things happen. To let them come to you. If I hadn’t succumb to the urge to make a grand but indirect declaration of love, then I wouldn’t be suffering right now. But I had to do it least I be pinning over the same person for years like I was for V.

At some point, you have to get answers. Even if you don’t think you’ll like them. And that was true for both me and Keisha, but Keisha reacted differently.

            I know I need to do something. I know this. However, I don’t always practice it. It’s a hard thing to practice. Or at least, it’s a painful thing to practice. No going back, though. Not on my current love interest. That isn’t possible.

            But the horrors of the driver’s seat have made themselves abundantly clear. What I don’t know is how Keisha can stay in it.

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