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.