Friday, November 16, 2018

Happy Holidays y'all and have a great rest of 2018.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, so I'm going to sign off my blog until the first week of January for Insecure Writer's Support Group. Until then, have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Maybe I'll actually get some writing done.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Season 7 of Game of Thrones already established that the White Walkers don't stand a chance against an army that knows its Achilles heel.

HBO announced that Game of Thrones is coming back for its final six episodes in April 2019. That being said, I've been rewatching the episodes a little bit at a time over the last few months to catch up a friend who stopped watching (life happened) back in season four. It's been a good refresher, especially where I think my theories of the Great War lie. For a while now, I've been thinking that there's just no way that the dragon-slaying Night King and his minions could ever be beaten. They bring a lot to the table, what with an ever expanding army of undead that rise from the living who are culled in ever-increasing numbers on the battlefield. However, the actual White Walkers are few in number, and apparently, all you have to do is kill the Night King and everything just dies. This plot device happened in the penultimate episode of season seven, when Jon Snow (attempting to capture a wight to take it back to King's Landing), was forced to use his Valyrian steel sword to end a White Walker who was leading a band of undead through a ravine. When the White Walker exploded into ice, all but one of the animated zombies also perished.

"Why do you think that happened?" someone asked Jon Snow. He replied, "Maybe that White Walker animated them. So when he died, everything he animated perished with him." Or something like that; it's not a direct quote. So that's the Achilles' heel of this whole plot. You kill the Night King, and the game is up. Sure, he's an obvious "Boss" within the rules well-established by video games, but could he stop a hundred dragon glass arrows? Could he best someone of Brienne of Tarth's sword ability (or Jon Snow's) wielding a Valyrian steel sword so that they don't get to cheesily unmake every weapon that you use against them? I think not. So kill that one guy...and the whole war is over. In modern terminology, if you sack the quarterback the game ends instantly.

So really, the White Walkers don't stand a chance. Imagine having the best army in the world but if you took out one leader who was always present on the battlefield, it was just game over instantly. Even with an ice dragon and an army of twenty thousand zombies, that just seems like really long odds. I wouldn't want to be on that side of a war. It's putting all your eggs in one basket, and it's just going to end up really bad for the White Walkers. This is especially true given that the Night King likes to strut around in the open with no shield or tank or anything. He just walks around, and he oftentimes can be found on a hill overlooking the battle. Could you paint a more obvious target on someone's back? Here...I'll place my most important piece that is the person who controls everything out in the open on this hill and he's just gonna stand there and make badass faces without any concern for shelter of any kind. I realize that in season 8, he may be on the back of a dragon which is significantly harder to get to, but Daenerys could always ram him with one of her dragons and when he fell off then all you'd have to do is shoot him with a hundred dragon glass arrows. If any one of them touched him, it's over.

So there you have it, unless something incredibly stupid happens, we already know how the Great War is going to be resolved. You are all welcome :).

Friday, November 9, 2018

Why are Sabrina watchers asking real life witches and satanists what they think of the show?

My friend Meg got me to watch the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina with her this last week. If you haven't watched it, the series is like the hybrid baby of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, A Norman Rockwell painting of small town America, and the movie Mean Girls. I thought it was clever, threading the needle with its plotline that somehow managed to give the audience room to sympathize and actually like the protagonist without compromising on the darkness and actual evil associated with Satan worshipers (in the town of Greendale). The fact that it exists alongside Riverdale (a CW series) is even more interesting, because it makes magic a completely plausible plot device. Not that Riverdale needed magic to be interesting...but that it takes place in a world where Harry Potter could actually happen opens up a ton of storylines beyond the old "teen angst" baseline where a lot of similar tales go to die.

However, since I read Facebook at least once a day, I've also discovered that I know people who are also watching the show, who like it, and who are asking real life witches and Satanists (whom they know) to weigh in on its authenticity. Why is this happening? The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a comic book, just like Archie and Jughead is a comic book. No one I know has ever asked worshipers of Thor and Odin (yes they are around and they still exist), whether they are offended by their portrayal in a Marvel movie. It's kind of got me flabbergasted. Who cares what any of these groups think? It's fiction people! Comic books are their own intellectual property, and I don't think anything in them demands the approval of real life organizations on how they are portrayed. The following is a message that many people are familiar with already:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Does no one but me not understand the difference between fiction and reality? On second thought...please don't answer that. I forget that I live in a world where I know a woman who buys colloidal silver online because it's cheaper that way, and it's a "cure" for all the myriad things that ail you.

I can answer my own question, because I know how people are. For example, I suppose in the end, that people just want a reason to discuss something and asking them to weigh-in on something like a popular t.v. series is like raising them up onto a pedestal with the words "Subject Matter Expert" engraved upon it. For a day, they get to pretend that they are Neil deGrasse Tyson, asked to weigh-in on the scientific inaccuracies in the latest Hollywood Blockbuster (only in this example it is Satanism and Witchcraft). And don't bother to try and tell them that they share more in common with a snake oil salesman than they do to the famous astrophysicist. It's not a good way to make friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

For the November IWSG I'm talking about the importance of improv as a component to creativity.

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group day. If you aren't signed up for the blog fest, you can go HERE and sign up for it. Looking over my notes for this monthly event, I see that the co-hosts for the November 7 posting of the IWSG are Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman. If any of you happen to visit here during the event, then please make yourself at home :) Now...onto housekeeping. 

The November Insecure Writer's Support Group question is this: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

Well, I'm more aware of how "pantsing" plays a role in just about anything and how stories can come together by assimilating a lot of different ideas into a pot, kind of like a good chili can have lots of different ingredients. And what I mean by "pantsing" is simply "writing by the seat of your pants." Normally, I'm a plotter, tediously doing so on paper, and then trying to find a direction to take characters. But willfully following inspiration points on the spur of the moment can lead to some really weird and creative areas of a story. And I actually think I've gotten kind of good at spotting when other authors are doing this kind of thing.

For example, (and I say this full well knowing it can never be proven) J.K. Rowling has said that she planned the snake Nagini being a maledictus and having this huge backstory of once being human (that is coming to light in the new Fantastic Beasts movie) all the way back when she was writing the Sorcerer's Stone. However, I'm skeptical of this. I think she came up with the idea much later and thought...hey...this is a thing that I didn't have planned but it totally could fit into this narrative and people will hail me as a genius. You know what? I'll just claim that it happened since the beginning. Yup...I planned it all.

And my response to that is an eye roll and something along the lines of, "Ooookay...yeah...sure you did." And we'll just leave it at that. Who knows? Maybe she actually did have it all planned out. I'm just sayin' seems unlikely.

Anyway...pantsing and improvisation is as important a part of creativity as just about anything else. And that's what has evolved in me since I began writing.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Leviathan Wakes has a good reminder in it from its authors who admit that it took a village to bring the thing to life.

This weekend I finished the first of the novels in the Expanse series entitled Leviathan Wakes. Aside from it being a real page turner, I also discovered that the author, James S.A. Corey, is actually the pen name for two individuals: Daniel Abraham (a fantasy author) and Ty Franck (George R.R. Martin's personal assistant). Aside from being obviously well-connected, the writers acknowledge that the book took a village to make. In their thanks of gratitude are their agents, editors, people who took formation in the book (and yes they include George R.R. Martin), a few writers of the Futurama series, and a bunch of beta-testers.

What's remarkable about this is that it serves as a much needed reminder to me (and it should be a reminder to all aspiring authors out there): to spin a tale that's truly incredible you're going to need help. Very few of the awe-inspiring writers breathed life into their creations by being alone in a room with a typewriter. So network network network, if writing is what you want to do. Find connections, and then stretch yourself and find more connections. If you can get connected to someone that is important in the industry then you need to really invest in those connections to get everything blooming. It's just like putting fertilizer on your flower beds. Yes, things will grow in the beds all their own, but the ones that get amazing care are the ones that always look spectacular.

Anyway, I also want to say that it is not my intent to diminish the accomplishments of the solo artist out there, because I truly admire your toil. I tip my hat to you, dear writer, because what you are trying to do is walk the most difficult path that there is. It's like playing a video game and selecting "Nightmare mode" right off the bat while those who do have "villages" to draw on are on the easiest game setting. And if you don't have a village? Well, sometimes life just hands you lemons. I've gotten handed plenty of lemons so I feel your pain at having "citrus overload". That's why I spend most of my time reading what other people have written and not even worrying about my own particular village (which honestly has always resembled a wilderness hut somewhere above the Arctic Circle).

Oh, and if you haven't read Leviathan Wakes and love science fiction space opera, I highly recommend it. It took a village (with some big and connected names) to bring this thing to market, and yeah, it shows on every incredible page.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The what color is this dress meme was the canary in a coal mine for how Americans are no longer on the same page about anything.

Do you remember that online viral picture asking whether the dress was blue and black or if it was white and gold? It sparked a heated debate that seemingly overnight had people (from coast to coast) weighing in with vastly different opinions on the color of a dress. I saw white and gold; my friend saw blue and black. At the time, this was a funny phenomenon, and it made people aware (perhaps for the first time) that when someone looks at a thing, that they may not see the same thing that another person sees. Looking back on it, I think it's the perfect allegory for what's happening today in our country. None of us are on the same page about anything; we're all seeing different things.

The problem is that most people have a cognitive bias that applies what one "sees" as an experience and it makes that person think that others near them are experiencing it the same way. In my daily life, I interact with a huge and diverse group of people, and I know that most do not share this same kind of experience. So, I'm in a kind of privileged position to see it. For example, in the span of a single day I literally heard the following from very adult persons that I engaged with:

1) "I believe that, in the future, everyone will have vaginas and that's how my politics work." Mmm...okay...there was no context to this statement but its scientifically and factually wrong. Imagine how this person must see the they even see the same color of blue that I see? Why would everyone have vaginas in the first place? Is this person mentally ill?

2) "Finding common ground is a useless endeavor." context. Just a statement made to me in passing. But on this one, I actually responded with, "That's kind of cowardly, right? I mean...what are you really trying to say? The way you've worded this allows you to avoid responsibility. What's the alternative to common ground? I'll answer that for you. It's having nothing in common, which means violence and war, right? Are you ready to start killing? Are you ready to say, 'I want to give up compromise and just eliminate those who disagree with me?' No? Hmm, then I guess things aren't as dire as you think they are. I guess you'd probably start trying to find some common ground. Just sayin'." Imagine how this person views the world...are they afraid every hour of every day?

3) "Racism is as plain as two eggs, one white and one brown. Crack them both and you get the same insides. It's that simple." isn't that simple because some people see green where I see blue. Everyone is getting educated differently. Some people believe in science while others believe in magic. Some people think that leprechauns and the devil are real things. Some people believe that curses thrown by a witch are actual magic. Some people believe that haunted houses are real. So when it comes to racism, there's what science has to say between races (which does resemble the egg metaphor) and then there's all kinds of other stuff that people believe is just as true as what science has to say about the matter. When you try to tell them different, they say, "Fake news." So it's been my observation that it doesn't matter whether a thing that someone believes is true or not. It is the "belief" itself that is responsible for ALL THE DAMAGE,  and it's oftentimes the thing that you can't correct with education because the idea is set in concrete.

4) "Virginity is a myth and a social construct." Hmm...okay...only it isn't. It's a word that describes a person who hasn't had sex yet.'s a social construct, however, so is language in general. We need to communicate, right? And as for a myth?'s real. You're a virgin until you have sex. Seems pretty cut and dried to me. we have a person who can't even agree that the definition of a word that I can look up in a dictionary does not (in fact) have that definition. Okay...this is a "I see blue" and the other person goes, "What a brilliant shade of orange." Yup...not on the same page.

5) "Ellen DeGeneres is giving away $500 million...a million dollars to 500 people chosen randomly on Facebook. All you have to do is hit 'Like,' hit 'Share,' and type 'OMG' in the comments." Skeptical of "if it's too good to be true it probably is" I looked at the person's Facebook. Right off the bat, it was spelled "Ellenn DeGenrees," which is a gross misspelling. And the video attached to it had nothing to do with any of this giveaway. The pictures of fancy cars and stacks of cash also had nothing to do with anything. They looked like stock photos. I said, "This is fake. You are sharing something that's fake and trying to get other people to do the same." The reply, "I'm such a fool." And then there were tears. I didn't expect this. What is going on in this person's head that my merely pointing something out like that caused tears and for her to say, "I'm such a fool." Why couldn't she see what I saw?

All of this reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel. I think that homogeneity for a long time allowed people to be on the same page for a lot of ideas and it was easier for us to find common goals to work toward. But none of that exists anymore. I'm not here to say that this is good or bad. Rather, I'm here to say that I see all of us marching toward a future where agreement on anything is going to become increasingly difficult. It's like we were all building something and then we got cursed and none of us speak the same language anymore. Or here's another analogy: everyone suddenly decided they wanted to "supervise" and there's no one left to do the actual work. So now everyone is just wandering away from all of the previously established goals (and there aren't really any goals to begin with because no one is capable of making new ones), and we're all frustrated because we cannot even communicate because words don't even have the same definition anymore.

It's strange, don't you think? least it's strange to me. Who even knows what you're thinking.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Fairy Godmother still bitter over being used by Cinderella takes her anger out on Puritans in Salem in the latest Legends of Tomorrow and it was wonderful.

Warning: this post is very spoilery.

Last night's Legends of Tomorrow was awesome. As in the heading above, a fairy godmother who was still bitter over Cinderella (and girls with a princess complex in general) decides to offer her services to a girl living under Puritanical rule in old Salem, Massachusetts. And by help out, I mean using her magic to rain fire and brimstone down upon all the girl's enemies and then kind of goading the girl on so that she can use her "wish-granting" powers to much more satisfaction than manufacturing glass slippers (which apparently are terribly uncomfortable and bad for the feet). Additionally, John Constantine just can't send the fairy godmother to Hell either (for tampering with the timeline), because the fairy godmother must first be rejected by the girl or Constantine risks sending both the fairy godmother and her charge to Hell as a package. As that's not what heroes do, they need to figure out what the girl Judith needs and then see if they can meet those needs using the significant resources of the Wave Rider and all of their talents so that Judith eventually chooses to release herself from the care of the fairy godmother. Fun, right?

I don't think I'm understating this when I say that Legends of Tomorrow is the gift that keeps on giving. As far as all of the CW shows go (Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash), Legends of Tomorrow is my favorite. It's just plain campy fun, and it always surprises me. Last week's episode had a unicorn with a rainbow mane and tail running around the famous 1969 Woodstock concert killing stoners (and then eating their hearts because unicorns all eat human flesh) until the Legends put a stop to this (with cameos of Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin along the way). This week's episode had a Disney-esque fairy godmother (complete with songs that put Ray in his "oh so happy" place") protecting a young girl whose mother was accused of being a witch in the Salem witch trials of the 1600's. The contrast between costumes (Puritan pilgrims versus everything else) just makes for pure hilarity (as does all the glitter and sparkles). But despite all the fun in last night's episode, I still had thoughts (of course I did which is why you read this blog):

1) Why did Nate never consider turning into a superhero made of steel (like he does) to show his father that supernatural things exist? This seems obvious to me, but instead he goes looking for evidence of magical things. Which leads us to...

2) How could Nate speak pig? It was really cute that he could communicate with Ray after he'd been transformed into a piglet, and it set up the super fun transformation when Ray suddenly became a man (completely naked in Nate's arms) in front of his dad. They got bonus points for not flinching even once. Yay! It's refreshing to see gayness embraced so whole-heartedly by a show like this.

3) Beebo Blox needs to be a real game like candy crush or something similar. The episode where Beebo destroyed the huge demon that ended last season has to be one of the best season finale's I have ever watched.

4) It's weird that the Legends don't get paid for doing the work that they do. I never thought of it before, and I'm glad they brought it up in this episode. Nate didn't even have enough money to take his dad out to dinner, but now he's got a salary and will be working for the Time Bureau. I think that's a good place for him.

5) Mick and John Constantine...this is going to continue to be fun. I love that they butt heads in sharing the same space. However, it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Legends of Tomorrow's got a great thing going on in that it doesn't take itself too seriously.  And there's always this point: I think there's too much darkness in the world already. We all could use sparkles, rainbows, and a song or two, right? I'm going with "Yes" for this one.

Monday, October 29, 2018

I think there's another reason as to why Portland and Vancouver are the most depressed cities in America.

Citation: This article HERE.

When I visited Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago, there was a sign I saw that said, "Keep Portland Weird." I imagine that the sign is an acknowledgement that the liberal utopia and its surrounding area have a population of those who want to feel connected to others, whether or not that connection is actually affordable. It also (and repeatedly so) is rated highly as the most depressed city in America (Portland and Vancouver) because these sister cities deal so much with this particular mental illness.

So, I started to ask, "Why is this?" Science and statistical studies point to its dreary overcast weather as being the source of depression. And I think nearly everyone gloms onto this fact and then, because an answer that is reasonable has been presented and seems to be the case, no further questioning is partaken. In other words the answer is: gloomy weather makes for gloomy people. There you have it, done and done. But I think that it may be more complicated than that, and I'm basing my hypothesis on people who I've known all my life.

I come from a small town, and I moved to a larger one some ten or so years ago. In that time, practically all of the depressed people I knew...people with little or no job prospects that used weed and drugs to hide from reality as long as possible...all moved to the Portland area with ideas that moving to this place would somehow make everything right in the world. Of course, this didn't happen. They were depressed in super conservative Idaho Falls, Idaho, and they are still depressed in super liberal blue city of Portland/Vancouver. Why they thought a change of scenery, being surrounded by trees and forests, and having moss growing on everything with the smell of rain and rotting wood, would make any difference in their lives is beyond me. Sure, many of them moved there so that it would be easier to access drugs so that they could continue to deny that their lives have turned to absolute crap, because they'd rather be socially connected than work a back-breaking job for low wages. I understand that totally.

After all, what is the American Dream? No matter how you define it, I think the dream has at its core the idea of having friends who aren't financially stressed sharing good times and noodle salad with each other and just relaxing...all the time...relaxing in nice houses, with nice furniture, good food, kids who are well cared for maybe running around here and there...and all of it is somehow paid for magically like the situation comedies that sell this kind of thing. In this dream, you don't have to have actual skills to have a good paying job. You don't have to be able to do advanced math or anything that makes your brain hurt and takes everything that your brain has to give, leaving you exhausted at the end of a shift. You just have to have average (meaning everyone can do this if they apply themselves) intelligence and be able to do what everyone else can do, like cook while following a recipe in a book (ooh so special), paint, drive, or have opinions on decorating. Instead, what naturally would fill your day if you had all the time in the world is "your skill." For example, "if I had all the time in the world, I would do pottery." Or, "If I had all the time in the world, I would write poetry because that's a skill and it makes me happy." And that's the driving motivation: to be happy. That's all that matters. Only none of these things pay anything because everyone (yes there is some hyperbole here) can do them.

There is no slave driver making you work a back-breaking job where you spend the majority of your life in a warehouse or in a call center (where you are forced to take 200 calls a day). No, in this dream, there is work-life balance which provides enough free time for jogs along a clean river front (because everyone is into recycling), where you are all home at 3 in the afternoon (when you went to work at 9), and where a day's work is writing something profound on a blog or in a reputable magazine while networking with people who look fresh because their jobs shovel money at them for all their bright ideas. That's the American Dream. Oh and everyone in this dream eats organically sourced, local food coupled with only the best coffee, and works a thirty hour week to squeeze in concerts and visits to food trucks where life is as vibrant as the fall colors on the leaves. The thing is, all this stuff costs a lot of money, and most of the jobs in the U.S. do not provide that kind of income to afford this lifestyle. It doesn't exist, and it never has. Additionally, most people are not smart enough, nor do they have the means to be entrepreneurial with enough success, to purchase this lifestyle.

This twisted version of the "American Dream" is even so pervasive that its given rise to poverty snobbery. I have people who come into my home (who couldn't afford to rub two nickels together) who, when offered some Folgers coffee from my coffee maker, turn their nose up and say, "I'll have a cup and thank you, but I need to teach you what real coffee is." Like...what the hell?

I've told these people, "I know what 'real coffee' is and I like this stuff. If you want 'real coffee' then you're welcome to it in your own home. But don't go and pretend that you know any better than me, because you don't. It's an opinion, it's flexible, and just because my opinion of what's good and what isn't differs from yours does not mean that I'm somehow in need of an education from you." Each person I've said this to has never returned to my house and has pretty much unfriended me on Facebook. I don't mind at all, but I'm not going to be lectured to by people who (in particular) have no business giving others solicited advice on how to live.

So here's my point to all of this (bringing it back around). There's something about the Portland/Vancouver area and the Pacific West in general which sells this "weird" idea of the twisted (and many are in denial on how unaffordable it actually is) American Dream to depressed people who are unhappy with their lives (many who are in states like Idaho and Utah and Montana, etc.) And depressed people are buying it in droves. They think that, "all I have to do is pull up my roots in this crappy small town where I live and move to a place where there are towering pine trees, moss on everything, and it rains all the time, and life is going to be so much better." They think, "Hey, if I live in a place that is known for its natural beauty, then my life is totally going in the opposite direction...always up." The decision is probably fueled by an active cognitive dissonance...the idea that, "Hey, the reason I'm living in poverty in this deeply red state is because of the politics. If only I moved to a blue state, all that would change." Only it doesn't change, and the reason that they are living in poverty has nothing to do with the politics at all, and the people who are in denial of their problems find that they just get amplified when they move to a place where the cost of living is sky high. And please don't get me started on how many people who live in poverty, DO NOT REALIZE that they are poor. They think they are middle class, which is absolutely not true. Again...denial of reality, which is a completely different topic than this one.

I guess what I'm saying is that Portland and Vancouver are frequently listed as the most depressed cities in America, and the reason that is cited (the most) is due to the gloomy weather. I offer a counterpoint: that they are the most depressed cities in America because they are physical manifestations of actual Hope for people suffering from depression, and these people gather there by the thousands. However, this "Hope" is a huge lie. In a way, its like the promise of bad fruit. It looks great while its hanging on the tree, luscious, and juicy, but once you bite into it you discover how bland and mealy it actually is. But by that point, you've made the move and probably spent all your resources to get there (that you had), and are now stuck in an area that has you priced out and where "your skills" are not valued.

Of course, all of what I've written above is just opinion. I have no scientific studies, and I am not a social scientist. However, I'm not blind to what's going on, and I've known an unusually high number of people who moved to the Portland / Vancouver area because it was their life's dream. They all have one thing in common: they were clinically depressed before they made the move. And that makes me ask, why is living in the Portland area so appealing to depressed people?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Smallfoot delivers a few great messages to its audience in its cleverly written screenplay.

I watched Smallfoot with two friends on Wednesday evening. This Warner animation offering had a kind of brilliant screenplay. Warning: Spoilers ahead. It took the whole Bigfoot legend and turned it 180 degrees by telling the story from the sasquatch point of view. In particular, Migo (who is friendly) and lives in a village with other friendly Yeti's, engages in a lot of ridiculous activities at the whim of the "stone keeper," who is a kind of ideological leader. But unbeknownst to the yeti, their "stone keeper" has been keeping the entire population of Yeti purposefully ignorant of the way the world works by having them learn and memorize information on stone tablets while simultaneously encouraging them all to bury any questions they may have.

For one, they believe that a gong needs to be rung by slamming one's head into it in order to get the great glowing snail to march across the sky each day. In another instance, they believe that their mountain is an island riding on the backs of giant yaks that are beneath an ever-present bank of clouds which effectively conceals any view that the Yeti might have of the world at large. And of course, the Yeti's are in complete denial of the existence of humans whom they call "smallfoot." And then one day, Migo runs into an actual "smallfoot" who crashed into the mountain while piloting his plane above the clouds. The smallfoot gets away, and sets off a whole adventure for the race of Yeti who call this mountain home.

There are a lot of themes to unpack in this movie. Yes, it's cleverly written and funny and the animation is top-notch with great performances by Zendaya, Danny DeVito, and even LeBron James (all voice actors for different roles in the show). What I wasn't prepared for going into this, however, was how an entire race of yeti living on a mountain would continue to go on being ignored by the modern people who obviously call this world home. And the movie answers that to great effectiveness by revealing what I wrote above: that there has always been at least one Yeti (the stonekeeper) that knew all the stone tablets were lies, but he kept the lie going in order to keep his people safe. You see, the first encounter between yeti and people didn't go all that well. According to their records, the people thought the yeti were monsters, attacked them, and almost wiped them out. So they fled into a mountain where people couldn't follow, and then created a machine that would spit out moisture every day to keep the fog bank swirling at a certain altitude around the mountain.

The telling of this story suggests many things to me: 1) It's important to question everything that an elder tells you is written in stone and has always "been this way" since anyone can remember. Books, especially those books that dictate rules on how one should live and which questioning of those rules is discouraged, are particularly suspect. I think we can all come up with an example of one such book that does exactly this that millions of people believe in without questioning. 2) Living a lie and hiding in a closet (or cave) and denying the truth about yourself only harms society. Integration and being proud of who you are and looking for allies among those who are different from you is a much healthier approach. It's also a way to build trust with those who are challenged in trusting you to begin with. 3) Sometimes the original intent behind a reason for doing things is forgotten, and it's important to identify when this happens so that people can revisit that intent and see if it is still applicable to modern times.

I really enjoyed Smallfoot; it has great music, good humor, and some really powerful messages about what it means to belong, and how we shouldn't be afraid of people who look different than us. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Some people choose to have children for the most selfish of reasons and I find it fascinating.

Billy Joel singing "We Didn't Start the Fire."
As I've gotten older, a bubble has popped that insulated me from the myriad reasons of why some people have children. I used to think that two people who loved each other got together, got married, and kids just kind of happened as a natural progression of their relationship. Then this got amended when (at some point) I realized that kids sometimes arose that were unplanned or for that matter, unwanted by certain parents. Fair enough. That's a tragedy but it all made sense. But now I've come to understand an entirely different reason people have kids, and I gotta say, it's really baffling. Here it is: some people are having children because they don't have a good personality for making friends, so they get around this by literally "making friends" and calling them "family."

This is absolutely the oddest thing, and it's striking in that it never works. A person who has a personality that is incredibly toxic (due to narcissism or some kinds of mental illness) is going to drive those children out of their lives when they become adults and have the ability to choose. And I've seen this happen over and over and over. I've seen people who are unloved or feel unwanted figure out a way to have a couple of babies because sex is easy and bam, they've got someone obligated to them that they can exert 100% control over for 18 years (the need for control probably arising from some primal fear of abandonment). When I realized that this was a thing, I literally had a "WTF" moment. Not only is it bad for children in general, but it is a flagrant disregard of a certain message promoted relentlessly by our society.

What is that message? That there is someone for everyone. This simply isn't true. There are a lot of people out there who don't have a "someone" or an "anyone." There are a ton of lonely adults in our modern world...people who no one really wants to be friends with much less partner with...and people who are unwanted. They exist by the millions, and it's not a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" type of thing that you can solve with just effort. At least that's the way it seems to me. Sad, right? isn't fair. But I think (as a society) we do a disservice by ignoring the fact that there is NOT someone for everyone.

Do I offer any solutions to this? Nope. I'm pretty apathetic about people who make selfish choices. As long as they don't infringe upon me, I generally don't care. It's just not the hill I choose to (proverbially) die on, and trying to correct it seems an awful lot like trying to push the tide back with a broom. But what I am interested in is pointing out that I see this phenomenon occurring, and I find it interesting. It's in my nature to gape at something and say aloud, "are you seeing what I'm seeing? That's so messed up!" For example, I know a person that has done this exact thing, and I want to say to her, "Did you have children because you feel alone and just wanted to 'make friends' that were obligated to love you and would never leave you?" But I already know what she'd say, so there's no point to it. I'm pretty sure she'd own up to exactly that, and then she'd just shrug it off as a " was an option so I took it. It's a free country, right?" Fair enough, but it's really weird.

And I have so many questions regarding this choice. How does that child ever learn what a healthy relationship is? As the child grows, is the parent going to allow the child to make friends knowing that it will make them jealous? Could domestic abuse arise out of this choice that the parent is making? Will the child have a higher percentage chance of becoming a psychopath? Not that any of this matters because it is what it is, right? There's not anything that anyone can do about it until actual crimes are committed and then prosecuted through the courts of the justice system. Such is life.

As a man that has no children, I'm continuously stricken in the variety of ways that adults seem to weaponize them for their own selfish ends. It's no wonder that our society is a bit messed up regarding this issue. Maybe it's like that song that Billy Joel sang back in the early nineties/late eighties called "We Didn't Start the Fire." The choices that many people make start fires that just burn on and on and on.

Monday, October 22, 2018

King Kelson is a remarkable hero in a bunch of Deryni books written by Katherine Kurtz and his allegory is relevant even today.

This is a drawing of the character Kelson Haldane by artist Jenny Dolfen. It's pretty
good and you can see more of her work at her website HERE. I think my vision of him is
slightly different (as is going to be anyone who reads this series). I'm not a big fan
of the way the nose is drawn, but to each their own. 
I came late to the show with Katherine Kurtz and her remarkable Deryni series, which probably hit its apex following in the late nineties and has declined in popularity ever sense (but who can say for sure as overall book sales have declined for authors on the mid-list of big publishing houses in the last two decades?). The earliest of these books came out around the time Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws were in theaters on first-run releases, so yeah, they've been out quite a while. Her world, which is an almost identical one to our own, even borrows the landscape of Wales for its maps. It does (at least) rename cities and landmarks with fantasy names similar to how Piers Anthony borrowed the map of Florida for his Xanth novels. What I find most remarkable, however, is how she kept pretty much everything from Catholicism (including such things as Judas, Jesus Christ, religious rituals, titles, prayers, saints, and the idea that suicide is an unforgiveable sin). I'd always wondered how this could possibly work and be good? I felt that anchoring a fantasy series too much in actual history would come across as awkward. But it doesn't. It feels natural, and I'm kind of addicted to reading these stories.

The main character in most of the books I've read is the twenty-sixth king of the fictional kingdom of Gwynedd who goes by the name Kelson Cinhil Rhys Anthony Haldane, and he's basically King Arthur, but with a more modern fantasy spin. For one, he's very young (in the books I've read he goes from age 14 to 17), he's the most handsome boy in the kingdom, he's got the biggest heart you could ever want in a person, and he's got a genius-like intelligence to him. Oh and he's also Deryni, which makes it so that he can use the magic system in this world, which is pretty much this: mind-reading for truth including a play-by-play of actual events seen by witnesses downloaded into his brain, the ability to communicate with other people who share his magical bloodline over great distances, and the ability to deflect the occasional arrow or two with great concentration. They aren't spectacular by any means, but it turns out to be awesome for storytelling. These books are about politics, about the struggle of power between religion and monarchy, and about the complicated medieval system of marriage and alliances that joined this house to that house and gave claim of certain lands to heirs (through bloodline). People are killed regularly in these political games in a variety of ways, the worst of which is the fate of being drawn and quartered (which was described in gruesome detail).

The main struggle in these books is also about those who have access to this magic (Deryni heritage) and those who are common and cannot do anything wondrous. Religion of course is at the forefront of the decision-making around this issue, almost in universal condemnation of the magic as a dark influence granted by Satanic powers. It stands in hypocrisy to itself as many of the priests, bishops, and arch-bishops in the church of these books have some kind of Deryni ability. Additionally, a long-dead saint by the name of Saint Camber, was a full Deryni, and he pops up all the time to aid this or that in the visions of his faithful. So its essentially an ongoing allegory of those who are different, being outnumbered by those who are not. And Katherine Kurtz is not unbiased in her representation. Anyone reading these books (if given a choice) would want to be Deryni. The magic just lends itself by granting that "extra edge" that allows the Deryni to continuously win and overcome challenges created by the raving bigots who are dead-set against them. But being in good sport, the Deryni do not abuse the power that they attain. When they rule, peace, tolerance, and goodness are promises kept to those who call the lands of Gwynedd their home.

So what do I find so fascinating about these books? It's a long list. The dialogue is glorious (you can hear the Scottish and Irish-inspired accents), the plots are cunning and intricate, the stakes are always high, and the details can be stomach-churning where the villains of the story are concerned. I love that the protagonist, King Kelson, has such a strong moral compass. He's an incredible hero for being such a young boy, and (though he's in possession of remarkable emotional intelligence) he's also ruthless when he needs to be. In the books I've read so far, he gave each of his enemies a second chance. When they betrayed him a second time, he did not give them a third and executed them without batting an eyelash.

There is also weird romance, and I want to acknowledge that this kind of medieval romance has its kind of rapey undertones that the author doesn't shy away from. I imagine that it must have been like this in the War of the Roses or other eras of history. For example, in a lovely scene in one book, Kelson decides to marry a princess who is his hostage. She's from a land that is in open rebellion (the forced marriage was an attempt to squash that rebellion). He didn't want to marry this person, and she didn't want to marry him either (imagine marrying your family's enemy). But Kelson knew that if he married her and got an heir from her, that it would save countless lives. So the young king tried his best to fall in love with her, and to court her, so that she would fall in love with him. It was romantic in a desperate sort of extremely forced way. And in the end, both of them hoped (idealistically) that the whole marriage wouldn't seem like a prison sentence. In other words, Kelson wanted his bride to give herself willingly to him on their marriage night. It sounds weird but Kelson was after consent (of all things) by getting the princess to either ignore or forget the gun that was literally pointed at the back of the princess's head.

Of course, it all seemed to work in grand literary style. And why shouldn't it? Kelson is the handsomest boy in the kingdom, and he oozes charisma. Plus, he's the king so he's got so much wealth and power that it's blinding. And there's the added bit that he's young and fresh and kind and every maiden who wasn't the princess was madly in love with him. Talk about peer pressure? However, it was not meant to be, because this princess's younger brother (who was also a hostage and meant to give his sister away for marriage) murdered her during the wedding (he drew a dagger and slit her throat as she said her vows). The excuse for doing this was to keep his bloodline pure of the Deryni-tainted Kelson. Kelson was heart-broken and executed the brother (of course), but it was a really touching scene to see both of these teenagers taking steps to thwart an all-out war only to have it ripped away. And inevitably, war did come and it was awful. Thousands died, women were raped by the hundreds, men were killed by the hundreds, children were butchered, there was mass starvation, and so on and so forth. Katherine Kurtz isn't afraid to get her hands dirty in showing how a kingdom comes together (by force if necessary).

Finally, the most intriguing thing about these books is how well they hold up over time. The allegory of the Deryni and the non-Deryni struggling against one another is not lost on me, nor is the idea of keeping one's true nature in the closet to avoid persecution. It seems to be a timeless trope, relied upon not only by Katherine Kurtz, but the X-Men comic books and movies, Harry Potter (muggles and non-muggles anyone?), and dozens of other similar tales. In fact, there are times when I think that the stories that evolve around struggle are the most interesting tales that humanity has to tell.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

This week I learned how stress affects us all and how domestic abuse is more insidious than many people realize.

On Wednesday of this week, I attended our annual meeting at work. It was easily the best annual meeting we've ever had. This year, the venue was great, we had great food catered for breakfast, lunch, and a snack. And the breakout sessions with professional training options was very informative. For example, in the domestic violence seminar, I was fascinated to learn that there's an entire spectrum of abuse (only a small portion of it is physical). A lot of emotional abuse comes from simply "displaying things" without verbal context to create fear in the victim. An abuser might put a shotgun with two shotgun shells on the bed. Nothing is said; it's just lying there in the open. An abuser might use threatening looks or they might control the money/be very controlling with money. There's emotional abuse like gaslighting and isolation...think of a partner saying to another partner, "I don't want you to see or talk with that person anymore." And there's "shaming behaviors" too.

I learned that there are also three stages to domestic abuse: the honeymoon phase, the abuse phase, and the aftermath. A victim can move through all of these stages really quickly, and it's cyclical, meaning if you don't catch a victim in the aftermath period when they are seriously considering making decisions to keep them safe, they can slip right into the honeymoon phase and are then beyond help. As an example of this, the advocate that was teaching us about her career in law enforcement said that she's literally been awakened in the middle of the night and was on her way down to the police station when she's stopped for a cup of coffee. In that twenty minutes--that little extra time that she took--the victim (who was at the police station) went from the aftermath period to the honeymoon period in her own thought processes.

So when the advocate arrived, all she got was, "I don't need your services. I talked this over with my partner, and they admitted that there's been stress at work and with the children and we've decided to go to Disneyland on a vacation and they're going to get treatment. It's wonderful. A family vacation is just what we need. So goodbye." The advocate said that she was shocked by this particular statement, and wanted to say, "This won't work, and you are going to get yourself killed." But she cannot do that, because when someone is in the honeymoon phase, there's no reasoning with them.

Interesting, eh? Another thing I learned about was witness tampering, which is in Law & Order all the time, but is rarely prosecuted in real life. An example of witness tampering is when an abuser shows up at a victim's home (there might be a restraining order that is being violated) and they make an emotional plea. "Hey, I apologize and I know that I did something wrong, but we don't need to involve law enforcement, do we? It's something that we can handle. Let's talk this through, and I assure you I'll get help. Just drop the charges. I love you and would never do anything to hurt you or the children." The advocate says this happens all the time, that it's a felony offense, and it is very rarely used by the prosecutor. They just "let it go" because the paperwork and the legal system is already incredibly labyrinthine. If the victim decides to quit pressing charges, the whole thing collapses on itself like a house of cards.

Another seminar that I went to involves stress and how it affects the body. The speaker talked about how stress used to serve human beings to help keep them safe. For example, if a lion or a bear came out of the woods and started to run you down, the stress response sent all of your blood to your core, boosted your energy output, and thickened your blood so that any wounds you might sustain would clot more easily. It's a fight/flight response, and it's there to try and keep you alive so that you survive the day. With the advent of our modern society, much of these things are no longer threats. However, we are more stressed than ever before, and it's ruining all of our lives.

Stress can come from anyplace. It can come from work, from an argument, from living in poverty, from fear of an intimate partner, or from something as innocuous as an email or working too many hours. When we live with stress that long, our bodies don't know any different. Our bodies think, hey my body has been involved in this epic bear fight for an entire week. So it shuts down systems to focus on survival. How does this affect us? Quite a bit actually. For one, our bodies store fat in our torsos during stress, so we become obese. Second, our immune systems stop functioning. Anyone ever get sick on the first day of a long awaited vacation? It's because your immune system isn't working and you caught a cold because of it. Then it takes your entire vacation (a relaxation time with no stress) to feel better only to be beaten down again by returning to your job. It's the vicious cycle of the modern world. Third, we lose empathy and become selfish.

Think about this for a moment. It is biologically impossible to have empathy with another human being when you are stressed. That part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex responsible for empathy, gets shut down. Without empathy, we start to lie. If this kind of thing happens over and over and over in our society, then we become a sociopathic society with no empathy that is inherently selfish, i.e., what we are seeing a lot of today. The guy didn't really offer any solutions to the stress problem, but was merely focused on pointing out how stress affects all of us, and for us to be vigilant when we feel stressed so that hopefully we can seek help to deal with it before it becomes a serious problem.

After the day was over, I started to think that I'm glad I have a job that creates very little stress, and maybe there's hope for me to deal with my weight issues by embracing relaxation techniques combined with mindful eating.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I wonder if AMC even realizes that The Walking Dead has jumped the shark?

My interest in The Walking Dead has really declined. The fact that this is Rick's last season also may have something to do with it, but I think franchise fatigue (for many) is starting to set in. For one, the show seems to have run out of ideas. The next villains in line after the Saviors are called The Whisperers, and these are just crazy people who walk around in the skin suits made from zombie flesh so that they can exist simultaneously inside huge herds. Just think of the earlier episodes where people used zombie guts to keep the undead from noticing them, and you've figured it out. Second, the show just experienced its worst ratings, which is telling in and of itself. It's weird that Norman Reedus has been signed to a huge contract with the creators of the show saying that this thing could go on for another ten years and could also transition into movies.

In a way, they seem tone deaf to a quintessential part of The Walking Dead: without Rick to bookend the story, and after killing off Carl last season, the show as a piece of mythology is pointless. It shows that the show isn’t actually about anything. It's essentially "stream of consciousness" where each episode is just a story of someone's life until it isn't about that life anymore because they died. I's really no better than reality tv only with zombies without its bookends. I may watch the remainder of the episodes in this season, but I seriously don't know how this show is supposed to remain interesting with the only plot points being 1) zombies exist, 2) We can build medieval technology like windmills, and 3) there's always some psychotic asshole that tears everything down making us vulnerable to number 1.

It's also weird that they publicized Andrew Lincoln leaving the show. He's gone as of episode five, so everyone has kind of "checked out" of this thing. I figure he gets killed by either zombies or a villain in a zombie skin-suit (read "Whisperer" above).

We live in a strange time for storytelling. Steven Spielberg has remarked that film makers these days don't seem to want to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The new model appears to be this: make season after season until people are so bored with it that they stop caring.  I prefer the model where you have a story, no filler stuff, and it has a clear beginning and an end.  Then again, I am not entirely sure I’d think the same if I was a TV exec.  Those guys live in a world where money is the one thing that matters, and if it was my job, who’s to say I would be any different?

Money kind of ruins everything that's good. However, as a caveat, I think that it would be hard to let go of something that (not too long ago) was the highest rated show in its time slot. I respect Game of Thrones so much more than The Walking Dead, because it has an actual end, and no amount of money is going to change that. The entertainment industry could use a long moment to reflect on itself and find some integrity like in Game of Thrones. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Why did Disney choose Guy Ritchie to direct Disney's live-action film of Aladdin?

The first teaser trailer for Aladdin is online now, and I was surprised to learn that the director is Guy Ritchie. When I learned that, it made me cringe. As an influential Hollywood director, Guy Ritchie is a kind of "rags to riches" story, and just to be clear, I don't hate his movies. He worked his way up from the bottom, having dropped out of secondary school and then he went to work in a low-paying job for a film studio (which eventually became his big break). The kinds of films he's done on his IMDB official filmography include Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

So how would I categorize his directorial style? That's a complicated question, but I'm going to try and answer that in the paragraph below.

Guy Ritchie puts hard-hitting fast-moving action sequences into his shows. They are typically violent and bloody, hand-to-hand combat...and where guns are concerned you want to think of the phrase, "gun kata," which is best pictured as a kind of martial art only with guns involved. He also uses Quick Jump cut sequences, which Ritchie leans on to show a character performing an action that isn't important to the plot, but is useful for building context for understanding the character. Ritchie also ignores a traditional exposition in storytelling by beginning mid-stride, and it's up to the audience to catch up. He also uses vibrant and memorable characters. Sometimes they are over the top, like Brad Pitt's Mickey O'Neil, who is a hot-headed Irish boxer who is purposefully difficult to understand. Last (but not least) Ritchie tints his films. The Sherlock Holmes movies have a blue color purposefully overlaid on the film stock (it was used in another movie called Man of Steel) and it washes out color and makes things appear cold and hard/unforgiving.

So all of these things work in some instances, but they don't work for me in others. Do I think Guy Ritchie is the right director for a musical like Aladdin? No I do not, and I think it's going to be really weird. Will Smith as the Genie might work (His comedic timing in Men in Black is pretty good). And the fact that I've always loved the ancient story of Aladdin means that I'll still go see it (especially just to see the Cave of Wonders), but my expectations are already low. Why did Disney go with Guy Ritchie? Do they not understand their own intellectual property? If Aladdin features any of Guy Ritchie's signature style, I think it will woefully miss the mark both in the terms of diversity as well as storytelling.

Friday, October 12, 2018

I'm betting that Sarah Paulson's character in Glass is a master villain who controls and manipulates people.

I'm pretty excited to see M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, and when the second trailer dropped, I got even more so. There was a time when I swore I would never give M. Night anymore money. But I'm also a forgive and forget kind of a guy. However, knowing as much as I do about movies, it makes me think that (especially today), it's particularly easy to cut a movie in such a way as to make a super interesting trailer when the movie is anything but. I don't think that's what's going on in this case.

For one, there's a proven track record of excellence. Split was a worthy follow-up to Unbreakable which is a kind of masterpiece, because it dared to be so different in a genre awash with classic superhero movies. So how could Glass not be an equal and worthy capstone to a trilogy that ultimately stars James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, and Samuel L. Jackson. That's some quality casting right there. So having watched the trailer (which I'll link below) here are my thoughts.

Sarah Paulson's psychiatrist character is also a villain, and she's probably the major villain to complete the other two by adding someone to the mix that has the power to manipulate or control others against their will. David Dunn (Willis) is going to be immune to her power, so he'll have to face off against three villains in the climax of the movie. I predict that they'll defeat Sarah Paulson's villain character by teaming up, and that Elijah Glass will open up a computer file of all the doctor's work, showing that she has experimented upon and controlled dozens of people with abilities, and the movie will end with him knowing exactly where all of these people are.

Of course, this is all just an educated guess. This movie is going to be so much fun in January (a month that is usually devoid of anything remotely interesting). 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Aquaman is a hated character among my nerd friends so I bludgeoned them with puns when the five minute trailer dropped.

Last week, the five minute trailer for Aquaman dropped, and it got me really excited to see it. But it was also a goldmine for irritating my friends (who hate everything D.C. and absolutely will not see an Aquaman movie). Because "raving" about it would invite all kinds of attacks that I wasn't in the mood to fight off, I used as many puns as I could grab, and it elicited a few chuckles instead. So here I am to "pun"ish you with them. Feel free to borrow any of them if you like :).

"The length of the new Aquaman trailer seemed fishy, but it had an ocean of content."

"Did you sea it?"

"I think everyone that goes to it will have a whale of a good time."

"There's a wave of positive enthusiasm coming out of Comic-Con. I surfed some of the reviews."

"Jason Momoa can coast on his perfect casting."

"Does anyone want to shell out for a ticket?"

Anyway, I hit them with like eight of these within a minute. My most critical friend, Jake, just rolled his eyes (he truly hates DC movies). As far as trailers go, I think it's pretty good as it just shows most of two really specific scenes and what goes on in them. You get to see Black Manta shooting lots of eyebeam rays, and some pretty cool destruction as well as some humorous elements courtesy of Jason Momoa's comedic timing (he's kind of playing Aquaman like a big dumb jock in parts). It seems to have worked for Chris Helmsworth (as Thor) so why not?

Honestly, it's kind of refreshing to see DC take on the other heroes like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Without even knowing too much about it, I'm also rather excited for the Flash movie to come out at some point. I know that Batman and Superman are both moneymakers for Warner Brothers, but I'm kind of sick of both of these heroes. They have been explored ad naseum, and it's fun to see other things in the spotlight. It may be where D.C. begins to find its strength. Maybe we'll see a Dr. Fate movie someday or perhaps a Teen Titans live-action movie.

If you haven't seen the trailer, give it a look below:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Lets explore a little psychology on writing and how it feels great to be in control of everything for this week's Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Here we are once again at the first Wednesday of the month. And most of you that visit and comment on my blog know that it is time to address the question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group page.

October 3 question - How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

Interesting questions and very psychologically-based, don't you think? Hmm. It calls to mind the old idea that none of us are ever in control of the things in our lives and that a feeling of control is just an's a structure that our brains maintain to keep us from slipping into madness. Maybe? Maybe not? What do you think?

So I'm going to ask you to allow me to go on this thought tangent for just a moment before I get back to answering the question from the IWSG.

I suppose most of us feel to greater and lesser extents that having control of one's life is desirable. But if I were to follow my brain down this particular rabbit hole of psychology I end up with something entirely different than an answer to the above question. For example, I've started to believe that some people want to give up control of their lives, especially the old and the disabled. It's not helpful at all for technological apps to be invented and then shoved in their face for them to learn how to use just because it saves time for the caregiver. "What? I don't want to learn that?" "I don't want to install that?" "Why is everything so hard?"

Some people actually want to be waited on hand and foot because they are exhausted from life and have no desire to learn anything more. THEY ARE TIRED. tired. One example of this is an old person paying money for something. To a caregiver they might say, "Just take the money out of my wallet and pay for that thing." But nowadays we can say, "You use your cell phone to check Facebook so I know that you can use that technology. You need to download this app that allows you to pay someone electronically and do that. I am no longer going to be your hands to fetch money from your wallet when you can do it yourself. Huzzah! You have been liberated! I'm going to go hang out with friends now!"

But does the old person feel liberated? Nope. They feel like they've just taken on another burden of "being independent." Some people I know personally (who are old) say, "Being independent actually means 'you get to do all the work or you get called lazy, which may be accurate but it's how I feel. I don't care that it's something I can do. I don't want to do it anymore."

In a nutshell, "I no longer want control of my life. I want someone else in charge of it." That sentiment...more or less. What a poisonous idea in a country that wants everyone to stand on their own.

Anyway...I let me answer the question at hand:

I find that I tend to write a lot more than usual when I've been affected by trauma. So, it is most definitely a coping technique. Sometimes, I work this same trauma through fictional characters, and the whole story becomes a kind of "catharsis" for the feelings that I have pent up inside of me. And yes, sometimes writing helps me through frustrating periods of life, because I feel like I can exert control over the story when it eludes me in reality.

I like control. I'm not to that point where I want to relinquish it. And writing makes me feel like I can control everything, so that makes it awesome.

Did that answer the question? More or less?

Thanks for visiting. :)

Monday, October 1, 2018

The ever evolving ways in which Dungeons & Dragons tackles gender.

I've played Dungeons & Dragons almost since the very beginning when it came out in the early eighties. If you are at all familiar with its pop-culture influence, then you've probably seen it in the Netflix series Stranger Things as well as in big budget blockbusters like E.T. or other films that have boys playing games with each other. In the beginning, the games rules were just black and white photocopy sheets that came inside boxes with colorful fantasy art on them and weirdly-shaped dice made of plastic that chipped (because it was cheap stuff) as it was used. You also had to fill in the numbers with a white crayon so that you could see them better.

Back in those days, there was a cursed magical item that mean Dungeon Masters would inflict on players within the game who were involved in operating a "character." And to explain the mechanics of this tabletop rpg, I'd like you to think of it as a fictional character in your favorite book brought to life in a living story, and you may understand the appeal. The Dungeon Master would create a world for your character to live in and give him or her challenges (back then there were no non-binary folks). The cursed magical item was called a "Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity," and it was pretty awful. It looked like any other kind of magical "belt" that you could stumble across in the world, and most of these things bestowed fantastical strength (a prized virtue for being able to do the most damage and be the instigator of heroic feats). But sometimes you donned one and it was this cursed item. The effect was instantaneous and virtually irreversible: your character would switch sexes and you'd become the opposite of what you were.

For a game that was played mostly by children, this was heavy stuff and a great source of ridicule for the victim. Most DM's that I knew quickly realized they'd crossed a line (when they'd given out this kind of item) and reversed what had happened to the character in remarkable ways. And it's this struggle to deal with how important gender-identity actually is, that I find fascinating about characters in which people are extremely involved.

In the modern edition of the game, 5th edition, the "girdle of masculinity/femininity" is just simply gone. I looked for it in my Dungeon Master's Guide last night and couldn't find it. And maybe that's a good thing, but I started to wonder why. Maybe someone at Wizards of the Coast (the parent company of Dungeons & Dragons) realized that "gender" needs to be taken seriously, as does transitioning from one to the other. And maybe (in the end) it is too big a topic for tabletop RPG's to deal with in an official stance, by providing a "cursed" item that inflicts a gender change.

I did see one iteration of this item about ten years ago in a previous edition of the game. Renamed the "Girdle of Gender Change" it now offered options that were random depending on a dice roll. The wearer could end up as a non-binary person, stay the same sex, or turn into the opposite sex. But even this was probably not enough to cope with our ever-expanding definitions (as a society) of what gender actually means.

To give you a clue (in case you don't know) in the modern world we now have 26 different sexualities and 39 different genders/sex. The complete list is HERE. It's a fascinating read, and I understand why a troublesome item such as a "Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity" is no longer something that one should even have as a magic item. And even if it were still around, could it still carry the "cursed" moniker without offending someone?

For what its worth, tabletop roleplaying games have come a long ways to tackling gender and sexuality. The new module called Curse of Strahd features a vampire in it that swings both ways just in case male to male would fit better in a story than the traditional male to female. You also frequently run into npc's who are clearly either the same sex and in a relationship (or are clearly mixed race). And you even run into gender swapped characters, who have had surgeries to become something that they were not born into or have embraced magic to accomplish this. None...and I really do mean none...of this was around in the eighties. Along the way there have been foibles, enraged parents, upset players, and people who just didn't know how to deal with this item, much less the gender identities of characters being played by people who wanted to participate, but who also wanted to feel included.

I never would have thought back in the eighties when I was a person with far less worldly experience that gender is/was as important as it is. But I suppose my first introduction to its importance came through a tabletop roleplaying game. So maybe, even after all these years, it just might be one of the best vehicles for people to come to understand it better and appreciate gender in all its diversity.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Dark Phoenix movie doesn't feel earned but there's still a chance it will be good.

The trailer for Dark Phoenix dropped yesterday. Although it's good, and I'm already committed to seeing the movie in 2019, it seems kind of awful to tap such a good villain in a movie with the rights to the X-Men being transferred to Disney. Being part of the larger MCU, the whole Phoenix saga thing could easily be the next Thanos build-up for a universe that loses its original Iron Man, its original Captain America, and its original Thor (their contracts are up if you didn't know).

Of course, Disney (with the rights) could go in a completely different direction and recast all of those characters. That would probably be best anyway because the X-Men have been through a number of similar plots to the point that I have X-Men fatigue. Fatigue isn't good for long franchises, and it takes a real effort to breathe life back into them. Marvel proved it could totally do that with Spider-Man so maybe it can totally do it with X-Men as well. They just need to have really good casting and good writing and lean on the characters in the greater MCU that remain popular with fans.

Also, Disney should negotiate new contracts with Downey, Evans, and Helmsworth...those guys are pure gold when playing the now iconic characters we've seen them in for some ten years now. If you haven't seen the trailer yet for Dark Phoenix, it may be worth a look. I've included it below for you. It may actually be good too, but to make Dark Phoenix truly worthy it should involve a huge universe as big as the Avengers movies. Dark Phoenix destroys suns like they were pieces of candy and can melt Professor X's brain like he was a drooling idiot with a sippy cup. She is power incarnate and all of the villains we've seen in the X-Men are nothing compared to what she eventually becomes. Knowing all this makes me feel like there hasn't been enough build-up to this to feel truly earned. Seeing Jean Grey give off some light here and there and some foreshadowing of the crisis of this dark side to her soul just hasn't been satisfying enough for me to declare: we are ready.

So seems like a money grab. But that's what studios do sometimes. It takes a truly disciplined hand to play it slow. After all is said and done, Disney has played a slow hand for years and has shown remarkable discipline and restraint to just allow all these stories it's been seeding to converge in the unrivaled spectacle of Thanos unleashed. Warner Brothers (the DC universe) and Fox (the ones who used to own X-Men) just never seemed to get that. They were always too rushed to keep putting out product with no regard as to whether it ever made sense with anything that had been released before by any other director.

At least Snyder's soft reboot seemed to make sense now and pave the way for Dark Phoenix to have a decent chance at being good. I much prefer the new cast to the old cast, although I kind of miss Patrick Stewart. He was a perfect Professor X. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Latest Trailer for the Crimes of Grindelwald dropped yesterday and it's left me with a dozen questions and few answers.

The latest (last?) trailer for the second Fantastic Beasts movie dropped on the internet yesterday. It had a big surprise in it that caught me off guard. The surprise is that Nagini, the snake that was Voldemort's final horcrux (and also his seemingly ever-present companion animal) was once a woman. Some people leapt all over this and asked Rowling if Nagini was an animagus. Rowling (of course) clarified it all on twitter with this:
I had no idea what a "maledictus" was. It looked a lot like word (or letter) salad, but someone had to know. So this is what I found via my friend Sasha:

"A maledictus was a term used to denote a female individual whose blood had been cursed from birth, and eventually would lead her to turn into a beast. What manner of beast it might be was entirely dependent on the type of curse they had been afflicted with. The curse, which can be passed down from mother to daughter, can affect a whole family line."

And then my friend Geneva added, "Blood malediction also shows up in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Astoria Malfoy, who is Draco's wife and Scorpius's mom, is also a maledictus." I didn't know any of this because I haven't seen the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, nor have I read the script. Geneva also reminded me that Harry Potter himself once served as a horcrux so anything can be one.

J.K. Rowling also tweeted out that she had been sitting on this "secret" as to what or who Nagini actually was for some twenty years now, so it isn't a recent development and she knew about it before she started writing the very first book (probably). Maybe the idea formed shortly after, but in the end she'd sussed it out nonetheless.

So what does all this mean? It's interesting for sure. Here are just a few of the questions I have:

1) Why did we never see Nagini as a woman in the prior movies? One answer that came from friends that seems acceptable is that the curse had run its course by then and permanently transformed Nagini into a serpent. Fair enough.

2) Does that mean Voldemort and Nagini were in a relationship? Answer: It's obvious they had some kind of relationship. If it was romantic then that adds other implications like...

3) Did Nagini have children with Voldemort?

4) If they had children, then did they have babies who were maledictus as well?

5) Does Nagini then have the ability to cast spells and wield a wand? A little research from reading an article on Entertainment Weekly's website revealed that Nagini does not (in fact) possess a wand.

6) Did Newt Scamander collect Nagini? I found out (with a little research) that Nagini is a member of the traveling Circus Arcanus where she puts on a very convincing transformation act for muggles. So she's basically a side-show person. The actress that plays Nagini, Claudia Kim, said that Nagini wants to stay a human being and she can transform from human to snake at will. Yet due to the blood curse she knows she will eventually become a snake forever. Nagini is also friends with Credence Barebone, who ran off and joined the circus after wrecking havoc in Manhattan in the first movie (he also transforms into a thing).

7) Did Newt Scamander give Nagini to Voldemort? If so, why?

8) If it's a curse then, does that mean Nagini was cursed by an heir of Salazar Slytherin? Or..

9) Is Nagini the heir of Slytherin?

10) Could Harry Potter's ancestors have cursed Nagini's bloodline?

11) Could Voldemort be Nagini's son?

12) If it was an ancestor of James Potter and Voldemort fell in love with Nagini, then maybe Potter's ancestors were the instigators of all the racial hatred that boiled over in the timeline of Harry Potter himself. Which makes me ask: is the whole Harry Potter story then simply one of revenge? Is Voldemort a tragic anti-hero seeking revenge for turning his beloved into a snake and then having his own magic backfire on him?

I'm sure that some of these things will be answered with the upcoming film, but it doesn't stop me from asking questions.

Crimes of Grindelwald drops November 16. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

What it's like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder.

I have obsessive compulsive disorder, but much like autism, there's a spectrum on how it manifests. For me, I become obsessed/compulsive with cleaning, with fictional characters, with inventory, with random thoughts that never seem to end but just cycle and cycle and cycle for hours (and even days) on end. I can close my garage door, turn a corner, and then have to circle back just to make sure it's closed. I can check a door two, three, or four times to make sure it is locked. I can wash my hands over and over. It's a strange thing.

In my day to day life, if someone leaves a mess in my house, I am compelled to clean it up no matter how exhausted I am. If I start to draw something, I can become obsessed with it. I lose so many hours concentrating on one thing that I forget what time it is and a whole day flies by and I work myself to exhaustion. I can become obsessed with fictional characters and write and write and write until I reach a point that I hate all of it and just need to step away for a long time in order to feel right with the world again. But it's difficult to reach that stepping away point. My brain tumbles over and over on thoughts for seemingly no reason...details that plague me until the wee hours of the morning.

If something stands in the way of my obsession I can become irritable or even angry. It's difficult for me to let things go. For example, if I went on vacation, and the thought that I might have left the stove on somehow enters my brain...and I didn't know anyone that could go and check for me that it was turned off to reassure would ruin my whole vacation. That one thought...that one thing...would destroy any fun that I could possibly have. My mind would turn on that one detail to the point of...obsession. Insane obsession.

Having OCD means that I am the butt of jokes. People snicker around me that they can just leave something messy, because they know I will eventually have to clean it up. I am compelled to do that. People will take advantage of me at work because they'll automatically assign the management of a huge database to me because they know no one else will do as good a job because I will obsess over each item. They don't care that it's stressful. The easier jobs will go to someone who doesn't have O.C.D., who has shown that they are "normal" and in other words...don't really care and won't do a good job because (again) they don't care.

Living with obsessive compulsive disorder means that people who do genuinely care will tiptoe as if walking on eggshells around you. They know if they mistakenly put something out of place that it will bother you. That you will have to correct it, and your compulsion to correct them makes them irritable because no one likes being corrected. But you can't help it.

Like most mental disorders, there are good things about having obsessive compulsive disorder. I'm very organized. I can find records that go back decades because I know exactly where they are. I manage money well (almost to a fault). I could tell a person exactly how much something cost or how much they were spending on a certain thing because I keep track of it on spreadsheets. Over time I've tried to break my obsession with perfection. I had a dent in my wall that I filled in with spackel but didn't paint for over a year. I did that on purpose. Every day I looked at it as a challenge not to cover it up. It was a challenge to myself: I dare you to leave this glaring mistake on the wall for all the world to see. Leave it there and don't fix it. Let its imperfection be a contribution to your home.

Chaos bugs me. Before I started writing this blog I was out in the yard raking up all of the leaves that blew on the grass from the neighbor's ugly towering poplar trees. Now there are a few more on the lawn, and I can't stand them. So even though I'm tired and just want to read a book, I'm going to go outside and pick all of them up. Every single one, and then throw them in the garbage.

Some people say living with obsessive compulsive disorder is a good thing. It's not. I wish my brain was normal, and I wish it didn't obsess on things. But it does, and that's just the truth of it.