Today’s story is remarkably haunting: a giant, tangled moral conundrum with no easy answers.
The Arbitrage Of Moments
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 12,168 words
When you have so little, and another has so much, it’s easy to justify theft. The more precious the commodity, the easier it is to tell yourself you need it more than they do. And what is more precious than time?
FROM THE CURATORS: This story is nothing if not thought-provoking — and fittingly, it spurred one of our liveliest debates during nomination. One line in particular (you’ll know it when you read it) was remarkably polarizing. “(That line) literally made me put my tablet down for a minute to think about how correct its speaker was,” Horizon said. “Any story that forces you to stop and reflect like that is doing something very right.” Chris disagreed: “I cringed at (that line), but there’s too much here I like to get caught up on it.”
Overall, we were impressed with the story’s compelling premise and the wrenching dilemma of the cast. “The character actions … and emotional reactions rang true,” Chris said. “I liked the subtle horror and mystery of it,” Vimbert said.
Read on for our interview, in which GAPJaxie discusses when not to use changelings and reveals the inherent contradictions of Rarity.
Give us the standard biography.
My life has been a little odd. Growing up, I was a bit of a child prodigy—I enrolled in college (Wake Forest University) at age 12 to get my degree in physics, then did Areospace Engineering at Cornell and Business at Dartmouth. I’m working on a 3D printing startup right now which has been a lot of fun, though I wish it left me more time to write.
Going off the beaten path can be rough though. Growing up, I was so timid and socially nervous I couldn’t hold so much as a short conversation with someone I didn’t know. I took almost a full year out of college for stress-related nervous disorders. I’ve had a lot of problems with depression, although that’s been better recently. Cliche as it sounds, all that stress is what drew me to pony in the first place. I don’t think MLP helped with my depression, but it was something that made me smile when there wasn’t a lot else that did, and I kept with it after.
I was a fan of MLP since the start of Season 1, but I didn’t start writing until well into Season 2. I got started with fics as part of a bet with a friend—we were each going to write a short fic and see who got more faves and views. When I started, I’d planned to just win the bet and move on. Fanfiction had never been my thing before that, and I didn’t see a quick bet changing that.
What actually made me stick with it was the community. My primary editor, Pav, is an amazing guy, and through him I met a lot of other bronies I’ve become good friends with. The MLP ficcing community is amazingly supportive—editors are helpful, criticism is constructive, and you feel like your work is given a chance. It’s more than just another internet community, and the rewarding feeling I get from that is what drew me deeper into pony writing.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
The Great and Powerful Jaxie created his handle through a process of such creative might and artistic depth that you could not hope to comprehend its subtleties.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Rarity. While I love all of the cast, the contradictions inherent to her character give her a sense of real depth and nuance that makes her stand out from the rest. She’s the Element of Generosity and proves it every day, but she can also be greedy and self-absorbed. She’s deeply concerned for others, but in the heat of the moment is easily swept away by vanity and pride. Much more than the rest of the cast, she feels like somepony trying to become something, instead of just fitting a role she was born for.
What’s your favorite episode?
Lesson Zero. It’s a close call—Winter Wrapup, Suited for Success, and Magical Mystery Cure are all up there—but Lesson Zero is our first real moment since the pilot of Twilight being humbled, and then growing as a character as a result. Much more so than other episodes, Lesson Zero was a problem created by Twilight’s flaws as a character, and she had to overcome those flaws to resolve the problem. The lack of easy resolution and long-term character building that resulted are icing on the cake.
What do you get from the show?
The lasting appeal of MLP for me is what I think of as “The Rejection of Cynicism.” A lot of media these days is either deeply cynical or insulting to my intelligence, with very little in between. The end result is an environment where you feel like trying to see the upside of a situation is foolish at best, or childish at worst.
MLP is different. It delivers an undeniably positive message without feeling condescending, patronizing, or artificial, and that makes it special to me. It creates a world full of memorable, likeable characters, who do the right thing and save the day, without reducing them or the story to two-dimensional cutouts. In short, MLP shows you that sometimes, seeing good things happen to good people can actually be worth watching.
What do you want from life?
To make the world a better and happier place for my having been in it. You wouldn’t think that meeting me—I’m very ambitious, a bit gruff and to the point, and certainly no flower child—but for me, the measure of a person’s life is how much their presence brightened the world.
When you’re in the middle of a project, job, or endeavor, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, but I always stop at the end to do a little mental accounting of how what I just did is going to impact the world. I try to list everyone whose life will be improved and whose life will be made worse, and work out what I could have done to make things turn out just a little better. It can be a little stressful, but in the end, it’s well worth it.
Why do you write?
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, and the MLP writing community is very supportive, so the answer would technically be “because it’s fun and all my brony friends do it.” That doesn’t explain why I write complicated, artsy things like Arbitrage instead of Twixie shipping fics (OTP) though, so I suppose I should add, “I like seeing myself improve as a writer.” I enjoy the challenge and am always trying to be a little bit better.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Be your own harshest critic. You need good editors who are willing to be frank with you, you need to listen to their advice, and you need to try to improve based on that advice, but in the end, the standards you set for yourself are what matters. The second you say “my writing is good enough, that editor/reader is being overly picky” you have stopped improving as a writer.
For those unfamiliar with the word, arbitrage is a financial term regarding the buying and selling of commodities at the same time; it can also mean ‘arbitration’. What, in your words, is the “arbitrage of moments”?
The intent in the title was the first meaning—to buy a commodity and then immediately re-sell it to a different party for a higher price. It was meant to reflect the idea that exactly the same commodity can have different values to two different people.
The commodity, in this case, was time. Time was taken from Twilight to give to Tick Tock, and in the end, taken from Tick Tock to give to Twilight, but net value was gained or lost in that exchange. Twilight lost years off her life that she could have spent with her friends, and her relationship with them is now twisted and damaged. Tick Tock on the other hand gained a few more years of life, while Twilight lost only an infinitesimal fraction of her immortal life span. Both of them would argue that the time was of more value to them than the other.
Why did you pick Rainbow Dash to be the romantic interest?
Process of elimination. Applejack was out because she was the point-of-view character. Rarity was out because she’s too emotionally and romantically mature to feel like the innocent, loving creature who Tick Tock has hurt. Pinkie Pie likewise was too over the top for the role. That left Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, and of the two of them, I picked Rainbow Dash because I saw her reaction as more nuanced—flipping between grief and rage instead of just being emotionally crushed to the point of being insensible.
Acceptance seems to be a big theme in this story. You have Big Macintosh and Rarity telling Applejack she needs to move on, versus Tick Tock’s inability to accept death with grace. Can you tell us more?
Tick Tock’s inability to accept death with grace was always the focus of the story, but during the writing process it gradually shifted from being explicitly a character flaw, to more of a grey area. While Tick Tock is clearly afraid to face and accept death, that fear drives him to do things others would never be capable of, ending with his cheating death—if only for a few years. More and more, this grew to define his backstory, until he became a character who spent his entire life accepting his lot, and the events of the story are his final attempt at rebellion to reclaim what he’s lost.
Acceptance is a theme of Arbitrage, but the story was not intended to make any firm statement on if acceptance is a good or a bad thing. Characters urge Applejack to accept what she cannot change, and in the end, she does—but just like with Tick Tock, that acceptance costs her things she might otherwise have been able to hold onto.
To make a story about a pony impersonating another, most authors might use a changeling in the villain role. What prompted you to use a regular pony?
It’s not special when a monster does something monstrous. I used an actual pony because I wanted it to be explicit that Tick Tock was not a horrible creature at heart—just someone driven by circumstances and upbringing to do a terrible thing.
Tick Tock as seen in his journals leads a very normal life. Applejack even calls him “a boring pony”. What went so wrong with a pony so normal, who even wanted to do “the right thing”, to lead him to such a destructive action?
The desire for it all to mean something. Tick Tock is a pony who came to the end of his life and realized that none of it meant anything—not even to him. All his time and all his effort were wasted on ponies who never amounted to anything. He made himself miserable for the benefit of others who never appreciated him, and who will not miss him when he’s gone. Tick Tock didn’t want to be an immortal alicorn—he just wanted to be appreciated. That’s a powerful desire that can drive people to do amazing or horrible things.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’ll make me sound like a pretentious writer, but I was never happy with Arbitrage. It was a side project during my other fic, Siren Song (which is much better in my opinion) and the protagonist of Siren Song is a lot like Tick Tock in many ways. Both of them are designed to be sympathetic characters despite their monstrous actions, and both of them have a host of personal emotional issues that drive them to those extremes. I always felt that Siren Song was the better of them though, and Tick Tock failed to really break away from her formula.
You can read The Arbitrage Of Moments at FIMFiction.net.