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.