Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thoughts on Fahrenheit 451


I have a confession to make: I've never read Fahrenheit 451. In fact, I'm pretty shamefully unversed in the classics. I mean, I've read some thanks to college and high school, but I also spent not a small part of my college half-assing things. In fact, I literally beat Plants Vs. Zombies by playing it every day in my British Literature class.

Which is actually a great jumping off point for talking about Fahrenheit 451. (Couldn't you have just left it called The Fire Man, Bradbury? It'd be so much easier to spell.).

The novel imagines this futuristic dystopia where people have stopped reading or thinking about important things. Instead, they prefer to fill up all their time with mindless, shallow television programs, or stuffing their ears with little devices that pump noises into their heads in lieu of dealing with the crushing silence of not being engaged with some electronic stimulation. A world where people drive everywhere and nobody goes for walks anymore and those that do are considered strange and suspect. A world where people that think about life and the implications of those things are looked at as strange and eccentric at best and untrustworthy and dangerous at worst.

So...totally fiction, right?

So, the idea that Ray Bradbury eerily predicted much of where our society has gone is not a new idea. Yes, there are superficial similarities we can point to--like earbuds and ipods are similar to the seashells, and the walls of TVs aren't much different than the number of TVs in our homes anymore. It's true that, as John Green pointed out in a Vlogbrothers video, you can watch an episode of NCIS and not be sure if you've seen it before just like Montag's wife watches programs and then moments later can't remember what she watched.

To me, though, there are much more interesting things about the book.

For one thing, the unthinking, callous way that people behave strikes a chord with me. There's a moment where Montag is walking in the city--on the run--and he very nearly gets run over by someone driving a car. At first he thinks it's the authorities come to run him down like a squirrel in the road because he's carrying a book--which is against the law. But actually it's just some assholes that saw some weirdo walking and thought, "Who walks anymore? Let's see how close we can get to him."

I've experienced this. If you're someone who likes to go running, walking, or biking, you've probably experienced this, too. There's something about being in a car, something about being surrounded by the most advanced safety technology in human history, about having the force of several thousand pounds of steel and rubber at your disposal that makes you feel entitled, that makes you feel separate, other from those squishy meatbags.

I'm not saying that people that drive cars become sociopaths, but I've also been on my way to work and got caught behind someone on a bike and thought, "Oh, just get over so I can go around. I have PLACES to go!"

I've also been on a bike and had giant vehicle rocket around him, mere inches away from me.

And it's not just that. People have a way of rationalizing so much. If we look at history, World War II was a huge moment in our country's--in the world's history. It affected everything. But we've been at war with the Middle East nearly constantly for nearly 15 years. Like, they actually, literally declared war in my life time. And while I can say that we've all been affected by it, the war is a thing that you catch in glimpses on those public TVs in breakrooms and fast food restaurants that are playing one news channel or another. People don't really follow the progress of the war. It's just background noise.

In the same way that, in the book, they announce that they're going to war, and people idly discuss it as if it's nothing at all, as if they won't be affected by it at all. War with whom? Against whom? We never find out. It's just war. Even the thoughtful, educated people talk about the war as both "before" and "after" before it's even started.

War appears to be so constant that nobody even bats an eye at it.

On a technical level, one thing that I noticed about the book is that for the first half or so, it's written in a very sparse style. It's mostly dialog with very terse descriptions of actions. Not much setting, not a lot of worldbuilding. Lots of things left unsaid. It's only later, after Montag begins thinking, begins really paying attention to the world, that the book starts gaining more description. Even more so, toward the end of the novel, when he's fully separated himself from the life that he once knew, the book becomes almost overwritten as he ponders on every blade of grass, shake of leaf, and lap of water. It was such a subtle and great tool to reflect the state of mind of the character and his changing world view.

I can't say that the book was one of my favorite books. The characters were very simplistic, and it often felt like a cynical crank's thinly veiled rant about The Way Things Are. Additionally, not all criticism is the same, but Bradbury treats it as such. The Fire Chief, at one point, mentions all the minorities that get upset because one thing or another is offensive to them and how that, too, led to the watering down of everything. But black people being mad that black characters are all "Uncle Toms" is not the same as people being offended that a character cursed in a book, and the fact that Bradbury treats them as the same is ridiculous. (And I know it's Bradbury and not just the character because Bradbury makes the exact same points in an afterword in my edition of the book.)

But at the same time, there are parallels that on my darker days, I can see. We're all seeking distractions--it's why countercultural ideas like "phone free meals" are springing up. Every second that we're not engaged feels like an eternity. Why would I want to sit for fifteen minutes in line with nothing to do when I could be playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds or whatever cell phone game is popular now?

Ultimately, I think the novel is a worthwhile read, at least to get people thinking about the importance of thought and engaging with our world complexly, but I also think that means engaging it critically as well and recognizing that just because the book is classic doesn't mean it's infallible.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Making the World a Better Place

My wife and I are going through a touch of a life readjustment. Things aren't so bad now that we've cut some of our costs and moved into a cheaper apartment, but in many ways we're returning to where we were 5 years ago, when we first got married. Finding myself living in an apartment that is almost exactly like the one we lived in when we first got together (only mirrored) has had me thinking about the past a lot. I realized recently that my perspective has shifted in a lot of ways since then.

When we were in college, when we were just starting out, there were a lot of things that we did that we have moved away from over the years. We had thoughts and ideas that, as we moved into a real house and got real jobs, we thought about less and less as we tried to make our way in the rat race of real life. These things were small, but they were our way of trying to make the world a better place.

We used to try to donate money to charities.

We used to use those reusable shopping bags.

We used to recycle (or try to, anyway).

We used to try to eat healthier.

Somewhere along the way, I feel like I lost some of that in myself. I became so concerned about carving out what I thought of as a successful life for me that I stopped caring about being a successful person--and a successful person in my definition is someone who tries to live in a way that reflects his values.

I'm not such a hippy that I'm going to, like, start making my own toothpaste or some such. But I want to try to make more of an effort to, in my own small way, make the world a better place.

I've been taking Crystal Light and a water bottle to work rather than the bottled sodas and teas that I was taking because I want to start cutting down on the liquids that we buy. Liquids are extremely heavy and result in a lot of carbon emissions to ship them. If I can cut down on the amount I'm buying, in the smallest way, I can try to reduce my carbon footprint.

In the same way, I'm going to continue walking/biking to work as weather permits. This will help us save gas, which will save us both money and reduce the amount of fuel spent.

I've purchased a reusable shopping bag. We used to have a ton of them and we kept forgetting to use them. Well, I only bought one, but if I can build the habit of using it, I'll get a couple more and start doing my grocery shopping like that to reduce our plastic waste.

I'm trying to cut down the amount of meat--specifically beef--that I eat. This is both healthier, and again, better for the environment.

This isn't world changing stuff. I'm not going to stop eating beef and wake up to the effects of climate change suddenly disappearing. Nor do I want to be that person that makes others feel crappy for their life decisions. But these were small things we used to try to make the world a better place in our own way. And going back to our more humble beginnings has me thinking that maybe we can get back to that. And this time, as we build up our careers once again and build toward a more financially stable future, I'd like to remember who I am and keep these things in the forefront of my mind.

I'm going to be looking for way to make the world a better place. Little things that I can do throughout the year to try to make a positive impact on the world.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Project For Awesome '15

It's that time of year. Get the breakdown here, then get your donating fingers ready.

'Tis the season for some giving.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Friendship

 photo from bekassine...'s Flickr
Friendship is weird to me. I mean, I'm not a robot, I understand both why we have friends and I have the desire for friends and companionship. But still, the act of making friends is not one that comes naturally to me.

All my life, I've been very quiet around strangers. I do not do well with coming up with things to say. Small talk is something I'm atrocious at. I'm grateful that nerdy things are currently in vogue because it means that I'm more likely to mention the latest Marvel movie and likely get some kind of response from people, and based on what the person says, I'm able to gauge just how much I need to reveal that I know about those franchises.

(An aside: I've learned from experience that if I just unleash the firehose that is my knowledge of random trivia, I can intimidate and shut down those conversations with the average person right quick. So, gauge and adjust.)

That said, the act of getting to know people is incredibly uncomfortable. You know when you see two animals fighting, and they're just circling each other, feinting every now and then, but not charging, gathering intel on their opponents reflexes and such? That's sort of what it feels like when I try to get to know people. There's so many things I'm aware of--to what kind of politics do they ascribe? Should I curse around them? How religious are they? Do they like comic books? Movies? Reading? What kind of movies/books/music?

I don't want to go on a rant about something I saw on The Daily Show and find out that person is a very staunch Republican--not because I can't be friends with Republicans, but because I don't want to offend the person right out of the gate. Same with cursing. I curse a lot. Like, a lot. So how much is this person comfortable with? A smattering of "damns" and "hells"? Are they cool with the f'word, but not cool with "goddammit"?

This is all trivial stuff, and while I crosses my mind, there are other things that I'm much more aware of. Such as that awkward silence that just happened: was it because they didn't like the thing I talked about and are just being polite, or was that just a natural lull in the conversation. Did they not hear me just now, or are they choosing to ignore that particular lane of conversation? Are you getting tired of talking to me and looking for an exit?--Maybe I should exit first to save them from being held up by my lack of self-awareness? Did exiting that conversation just offend them because it looks like I'm trying to rush them along, like I don't have time for a conversation? I actually don't have time for this conversation right now but I don't want to be rude and cut this person off

GAAAAAAAH *static, short, cough, splutter, ded*

My wife and I have recently been trying to make more friends--or at least acquaintances--with people from work, and I find myself going through all the usual steps that I do with friendships. The friends that I have know that I'm a constant worry ball of anxiety, and they've come to accept and understand that about me, but I can't throw all my crazy onto new people. You gotta ease them into the crazy. So, even though after every interaction I want to email them a list of apologies for things that I'm fairly sure were stupid, I don't. Because that would be crazy.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Exhausted

You know that feeling that you have whenever your movers cancel an hour after they were supposed to arrive so you have to rent a moving truck nearby and rope your brother into moving because you already moved all of your utilities into the new place and if you don't move today you basically won't have all of the beloved necessities that make life worth living so you end up spending all day hauling every heavy object in the world until 1 AM and then still get up and go to work the next day because you don't have another day off for several days?

I have that feeling.

Basically: I'm tired.

More intelligent stuff at some future point.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Health Meters

Image from Pixelartmaker.com
So my wife and I finally finished Jessica Jones and I really want to talk more about it in relation to Daredevil, Supergirl, the MCU, and the DCU, but I don't have time for that today because that will take a lot more work and research than I have because I'm still moving. (Although, I will be done soon--tomorrow in fact!)
Today, I want to talk about health meters.

Health meters have been an important aspect of gaming pretty much since its inception. A very quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that they were used in video games as early as 1983 with the stamina meter in Punch-Out. However, what's interesting to me is the progression of the health meter and its usages.

Sometimes the health meter was a bar--like in Mega Man or Robocop vs. Terminator, or Earthworm Jim. Sometimes it was a series of heart, like in Legend of Zelda. But the basic function was the same: measure how many hits you can take before you die.

What's interesting to me are the games that didn't use health meters: Pac Man, Donkey Kong, the various Mario games. Those games, and many like them, involved perfection in order to complete the games. You played the game over and over and over and over and over, many infuriating times, until you were able to complete the level perfectly. And then you did it all over again. The point of those games is to eliminate all mistakes until you can get through the levels seamlessly. The levels get increasingly difficult to match your skill, but it still comes down to how well you can memorize the level, improve your reflexes, and master the game.

Games with health meters seem to imply something else. They're not about perfection, but rather, they're about the experience. True, some games with health levels are punishing and almost as difficult as the games without health meters, but the point stands that getting hurt once didn't end the game like it did when those barrels hit Mario in Donkey Kong. You have a little wiggle room.

Especially interesting to me is how we include items in the game that will replenish our health meters and allow us to progress further than if we were simply given a finite amount of health and expected to beat the game (or level) with just that amount. It's almost philosophical to me--it acknowledges that we all need some time to recharge, something to replenish our health levels. We all need to heal.

I've been doing a lot of recharging lately. Focusing on moving and working as hard as I can at work and making preparations for the approaching holidays has me feeling a little worn, and I've found myself seeking comforting things to give myself time to rest, to recharge, to complete another level tomorrow.

If it seems like life is getting too difficult for you, try to take the time to refill your health meter. Whatever your health pack is, whether its a first aid kit, candy bar, potion, watching a beloved TV show, remembering to take your medication, or reading a favorite book, you deserve to take the time to take care of yourself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Time for Happiness in 4 Minutes

Remember "Gangnam Style"? Flash in the pan pop song from a few years ago that people have all but forgotten?

Please find below one of Psy's newest songs, a song as catchy and with a video as ludicrous as "Gangnam Style." This song is called "Daddy." As in, "Hey, where'd you get that body from?--I got it from my daddy."

A K-Pop song celebrating...dad bods essentially.

Put this in your earholes and your eyeholes, please.


Monday, November 30, 2015

JESSICA JONESSSSS!!!!111!!1!! GAAAAAAAH!!!!!1!!!!!11!ONE!!!

Photo from Wikipedia
Okay, I was going to try to post more thoughts about moving and about living in places and what that means to us as people but instead I'm going to geek out about Netflix's new show Jessica Jones because GAAAAAHH JESSICA JONES AKDJF;AJTEIAOJFDAJF;!!!!!!

So, Netflix has shown itself to be the place where gritty, dark dramas from the Marvel Cinematic Universe go to rest while the movies and ABC Shows are generally lighter fare.

I really like Daredevil a whole heck of a lot. The fight choreography was some of the best I've ever seen. Every blow felt brutal and real and painful, and I loved the complexity of the characters. The fact that the show was, at its core, about gentrification (among other things) is pretty frickin' crazy. That we can use the story of a man with super senses that dresses up like a devil (or, a ninja, at least) to beat up bad guys to tell this amazingly complex tale about crime, poverty, and the sticky and complex nature of how city development affects those things is pretty incredible.

Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin was fascinating. He wasn't the bold, cackling comic-book villain I remembered from watching the 90's Fox Spider-Man cartoon. He was quiet. He was sinister. He was also, at times, very sympathetic. There were times where he was saying his lines with such a look of sadness and pain on his face that you wanted to hug him--or you would want to if you weren't afraid he would decapitate you with a car door.

Jessica Jones continues that fascinating method of using the inherently ridiculous medium of comic books and their tropes to tell a fascinatingly complex story.

While Daredevil felt heavy, like eating a giant bowl of homemade mac and cheese, Jessica Jones feels lighter and more easily digestible. That's not to say that the show is some light, airy exploration in nothing, just that we've been watching this show for about a week and we're almost done. We watched 4 hours of it yesterday. In one sitting! We couldn't help it, the show was so good, the mystery so tense, and the characters so compelling that each time Netflix would bring up the countdown for the next episode, we found ourselves saying, "Yeah, sure. One more."

One more.

One more.

And it is incredible.

The great thing about Jessica Jones is that, at least as far as I can tell, there has not been a single moment where the show has objectified used Jessica as an object for the male gaze. I admit, it's hard for me to confirm this as I am male and have a gaze and therefore that gaze is inherently flawed. But the only time my wife and I debated over a shot was one shot of Jessica climbing a ladder that was shot from below. My wife thought it was an ass shot for an ass shot's sake, but I would argue that that shot was not about Jessica's ass but about highlighting the cramped, dark space she was cavalierly throwing herself into--as she so often does.

David Tennant's villain is very different from Kingpin. Where Wilson Fisk was quiet, intense, Tennant's Kilgrave is loud, brash, charming. He's not a cackling comic book villain either, and you eventually learn stuff about his backstory that makes him somewhat sympathetic as well, but it does start to raise interesting questions.

There are a lot of women, and the show is stronger because of it. And a thought that kept coming to me was this: David Tennant's character is one who gets everything he wants because he can control minds. All he has to say is for you to do something, and you will do it, and want to do it. And, in some ways, this comes across as a great metaphor for men--particularly white, straight men. 

While the metaphor is exaggerated, obviously, I'm fairly certain it's not by accident that the white, straight, male villain can easily get whatever he wants with very minimal effort. The world is his oyster. Meanwhile, he is directly responsible for many horrors in a lot of people lives, especially women and people of color. And much of this destruction appears to be, if not accidental, at least done without thinking. 

There are a few moments where I feel like Kilgrave is being perfectly genuine about the lack of evil in his intentions, and that was more horrifying than the flashy, big, evil teeth gnashing. Because the implication that our blind spots and lack of perspective and understanding can cause us to sew harm in other people's lives is one that I think we should all think about.

Actions have consequences, and many of those consequences will be unnecessary. So when you do something, and it causes someone harm, even if you didn't mean to cause that harm, it was still caused. And you still did it. So what do you do with that? Ideally, you apologize, and try to learn from the situation, to avoid further unintended consequences in the future. But that is hard to do, and when the intentions are good, it can be difficult to get over your feelings of "I meant well" and truly accept that your attempt at good made something sucky happen. But how you deal with those situations, when they're presented to you, I think, define who you are.

Also: GAAAAAAAH SUCH A GOOD SHOW OMG WE HAVE LIKE 3 EPISODES LEFT AND I MUST FINISH IT GAJKFJDIAJTADAFJDAKLFJDKAJGADFJGDLKAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cupboards: Not Bare, but Neglected, or The Petrifying Pantry


As you may have heard lately, my wife and I are selling our house and moving to an apartment in order to save money. Some of my posts have sounded a bit maudlin about that, and I don't want them to, so today I wanted to tell you about something kind of gross and hilarious: our cupboards.

Now, I don't mean to say that having cupboards are gross or hilarious--they're just, y'know, cabinets. But in the process of trying to reduce the amount of crap we have to move, we've been going through all of our stuff and trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible. So, we started going through our cupboards and refrigerator looking at all the stuff that we could get rid of by donating or throwing out.

We're not generally in the business of wasting food, but we're also not in the business of donating spoiled food to folks in need, so the throwing out is somewhat necessary.

At one point, though, we began to realize that some of the stuff that we had hidden away on the very highest shelves, and the very furthest reaches, was...shall we say...past its prime?

It was when we found some food from this time last year that we decided to make it a competition to see who could find the oldest food.

My wife took an early lead with something from October 2014.

I quickly pulled ahead with something from May 2014.

We were in a dead heat after that, going back a few days at a time. And then

BAM!

My wife finds something from 2013.

The very old food on the table grew into a pile, the food in the pantry dwindled, and my heart started to sink that my wife would win this one.

But then it happened:

I found a package of food from May of 2012.

VICTORY!

We also found a vast majority of food that was still very much good and that we are going to be donating as it's stuff that we just don't really want but that seemed like a good idea at the time.

This makes me think, though, about how available food is in America vs other places, and how lucky we are to have such easy and ready access to so much food. And while we were having this silly game, I also felt guilty that we had so much wasted food. Part of it is the weird layout of the cabinets in this house, which results in some weird blind spots where things were put to get them out of the way and then forgotten, and part of it is because, as shameful as it is, we would buy things that sounded good at the time and then think, naw, I actually don't want that afterall.

One of the things I'm going to work on in the new place is making sure our cupboards stay well-stocked with essentials, but also that we cycle through and use our food so that we can avoid these embarrassing food purges.

One of the ways I want to keep my house cleaner, in fact, is by trying to do bi-annual clean ups where we go through and donate any clothes/stuff/food that we don't want anymore. This way we can give back to people without wasting stuff.

I think the most important thing to take away from this post is: I WON! WHOOOOO!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I Have a Lot For Which to be Thankful


It's late Thanksgiving where I'm at, but still technically on the day, so I wanted to post some thoughts honoring the day.

I have a lot for which to be thankful this year. Even though I had to work on Thanksgiving, and even though we're having to sell our house, and even though money's tight this year as we head into the Christmas season, I can't help but feel extremely hopeful and positive about everything. It's been a hard couple of years, but I feel really good about the stuff that we're doing to try to turn things around.

So, here are some things I'm thankful for:

I'm thankful for my family. That includes my wife and my dog, who both love me and are there for me when I need them. But it also includes my brother, who I've really enjoyed getting to know all over again since he graduated college. It's been great to see the kind of person he grew into. I like that person. I'm thankful to my mom and grandparents for always being there when I need them, and for always managing to find a way to help when necessary, even by all logic they shouldn't be able to.

I'm thankful for my friends. I don't have a large number of friends, which is why I'm so grateful for the friends I have. They're all great people, and there's nothing like staying up too late talking with folks about whatever the fuck, whether that's politics, or the weird implications of the world of Pokemon. They're the type of friends that will offer to help you work on your car when you need to replace the stereo, or that will bring you a bunch of Thanksgiving leftovers because you had to work through the holiday.

I'm thankful for my job. I'm not sure that I've ever worked a job that I actually liked. I hated working in all the fast food places I worked at, but I assumed that was just because they were shitty jobs. But I hated teaching, and then I hated my next job. I worried that it was just me. But the place I'm working at now is wonderful. The people are all super supportive, and the work is fun and challenging. Plus, there's plenty of room to advance.

Lastly, I'm thankful for how things are working out, so far at least. It looks like things are lining up in an unexpectedly advantageous way. I'm not used to things going my way, so my guard is still up, and I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But still, things are going so well that I can't help but breathe a little easier.

And that's my list. That's what I'm thankful for. Our Thanksgiving celebration is delayed since I had to work today, but Saturday looks like it's going to be full of fun, and games, and other exciting things. I'm really looking forward to it.

I hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving, if you're in the US, and if you're not, I hope you had a great day anyway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I Have a Lot of Crap

One of the things you start to notice when you're slowly gathering everything you own into a pile and deciding what to keep and what to throw out is how much stuff you inevitably accrue over time.

In some ways, I'm better off than some folks because my wife and I have never been the type of people that feel the need to buy a bunch of useless knickknacks, although that's not really because we're taking any sort of stand but more because we are incredibly lazy/forgetful people, and we almost always forget that we bought stuff. In two years of living in our house, we have yet to fully pull the trigger on either the "fat chef" motif of the kitchen, nor the "movies and cinema" motif of the living room, despite buying a few things to fit both of those themes.

A lot of the stuff that we've acquired were things that I was REALLY INTO for a brief period of time, only to have that interest wane or evaporate entirely. (My brain is sort of weird, and gets all obsessive and globby on one thing for a period of time and that's all I can think or talk about, and then POOF it's gone and I'm onto my next new obsession.)

In spite of all of that, we still have lots of weird decorations and thingamabobs that just sit on shelves and take up space. And part of me looks at all this stuff and thinks: do we really need all this?

Just as an example: I have, to be scientific about it, a metric fuckton of books. In fact, and this is completely true, when we hired movers to move into our house, one of the movers said that my giant tub o' books was actually the heaviest thing he had to move of our stuff--and he actually picked up and moved both our washer and our dryer inside without a dolly.

I mean, he moved them separately. He didn't, like, stack the washer and dryer on top of each other or carry one under each arm or anything. Bust still, the fact that he was able to carry my full-sized washing machine but found it difficult to carry my tub o' books says a lot about the number of books I have.

And that was only one of the books. I had at least one other, and possibly two--I can't remember exactly, tub o' books, admittedly smaller but no less full.

My personal library is an eclectic mix of genres, styles, and subjects--especially recently, as I've become much more interested in nonfiction. But still, sometimes I look at my shelves of books and think, "I'm probably never reading most of these books ever again. I should just get rid of them to make room for more books." But then I look through the stacks and find that--NO I JUST CAN'T WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS YOU MONSTER???

And so the books stay. And grow. And overtake the house.

Featured: unpacked books part 1

Featured: unpacked books part 2
I managed to bite the bullet this time around, when faced with the harsh reality of a dramatically smaller living space, and gathered up two boxes of books to donate to Goodwill. And yet? The shelf is still full. In fact, at this point in packing, the big gray tub o' books is completely full, and my bookshelf is still full.

The tub goes above her knee. It's, like, mid-thigh on her.
This is true of movies as well. I have three boxes full of movies, and this was after the Great Movie Purge of '11, wherein I got rid of a bunch of movies, TV show seasons, and video games to get enough money for two tickets to see both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Winnie the Pooh--two movies my wife reeeaaaally wanted to see.

All full of movies/tv shows.
And I still find myself going over to the movie shelf and going, "Wait...didn't I used to own that? GAH! STUPID! WHY DID I GET RID OF THAT??"

And none of this counts the extra furniture that we got over the several years of living in houses that we seem to have gotten mostly to...fill up the empty rooms we rarely used.

All of this packing and moving has me realizing how much wasted space we really had all this time. I mean, our house wasn't particularly big, and yet we still had an entire room that we only stepped into probably 10 times in the entire time we lived in this house. And we had a similar situation in the last 2 houses we lived in. And my friends--until they had a kid, at least--had the same situation.

What did we use that room for? To fill with crap that we didn't know what to do with. It was like that junk drawer that everyone has, only this wasn't a drawer, it was an entire room.

Anyway, those are just some of the weird places my mind went as I packed today.

Do you have a lot of useless crap? Do you decorate your house? If so, with what?

Also, do you have a room and/or drawer of useless crap that you don't know what to do with?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Rise and Fall of a Cookie Empire



I have a story to tell you.

It is a story of power. Of madness. Of reaching the dizzying heights of success and then watching those successes collapse asunder like a house of cards.

I saw someone on Twitter, I believe it was @davefaceless, tweet about a game. It was a simple, silly little game called "Cookie Clicker." The conceit of the game is simple--click the giant cookie, get a cookie.

I decided to see how I could get the number and started clicking ferociously until I got about 1000 cookies. I stopped after that because I was afraid of breaking my mouse button. But then I noticed that, in fact, the makers of the game had ways around that. You could buy clickers and Grandmas to make cookies for you.

Intrigued, I bought a couple. But it was still very slow. I realized I could click alongside those add-ons and generate even more cookies. So I did, although slowly, and I continued to purchase more clickers and Grandma's. I eventually realized there became other things as well. Farms you could purchase that grew cookie trees. Industrial plants to manufacture cookies.

I became obsessed. I had to purchase more add-ons to make more cookies. But all the add ons cost cookies. So to purchase more add-ons, I had to make more cookies faster. It was a vicious cycle. The more add-ons you purchased, the more expensive they became, and the more slowly you were able to gain enough cookies to buy the next add on.

Clicking cookies was the worst way to generate cookies, not only because it yielded the least cookies, but also because I didn't want to break my mouse clicker over a stupid internet game.

Much better to find additional hacks and add-ons that others had created to auto-click. And wouldn't you know it? People did.

I added one of the add-ons onto my Google Chrome and let the game auto click for me, setting the clicking function as high as I could. I started letting the computer run all night, waking up 7 or 8 hours later to a massive yield in cookies, which I would then nearly decimate buying more add-ons.

The add-ons became more ridiculous. Gathering cookies from space, from other places in time via time machine, and from other dimensions. I even began battling Santa Claus, revealing his true form as an Elder God of horror and despair.

I spent nearly two weeks coming home and obsessing over my numbers. One day, I realized that to get more add-ons, it would take entirely too many hours to get more cookies. So I just added a bunch of cookies to my pool with a hack that just dumped cookies--no generation required.

At this point, it wasn't even about the add-ons, or the cookie generation. It was about the awards. I needed to to get all the achievements. Once, I even wiped out my entire cookie empire and rebuilt it from scratch--which unlocked two achievements.

But one day, I came home from work and sat down at my computer, watching the buzzing, moving, flickering images of Grandmas and cookies and milk sloshing, and I realized that I had done everything I could do. There was no thrill in the cookie game anymore. I had reached the top.

I got rid of all traces of the cookies and their production methods, then deleted the game and its add-ons.

Part of me remains conflicted. Who knows what cookie empire power vacuum I created by simply walking away from the game. At one point, indeed, the game confirmed that all of existence was made of cookies. Every molecule. Every atom.

What had I done?

But I knew, for the sake of my family, for my future, I had to walk away.

God help those left wanting in the wake of my absence. I hope, someday, they will forgive me.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Outrage

I haven't been on social media in a while. I've been almost completely off Twitter, and I've been avoiding Facebook pretty strongly as well. Part of this has been due to being very busy with the whole money/work/house thing. But honestly, I started avoiding those places before that, and I didn't even realize it.

I try very hard to be a good person. Like, I'm an asshole. I'm sometimes inconsiderate. I'm sometimes cranky. I frequently would prefer to do the easy thing instead of the thing that I know is better to do. For example: last night I made macaroni and cheese for a food day at work and soup for dinner. And when I was done, even though I knew I should, I didn't clean anything up. I just left all my trash and dirty pots and pans on the stovetop and the counters because I needed to unload the dishwasher before I could reload it and I was tired and just wanted to eat, watch TV with my wife, and go to bed.

I recognize these flaws in my character and I try to work against them. I try to be a good person, to stay informed, and to do the right thing.

What does this have to do with social media? I'm glad you asked, rhetorical representation of a potential reader that I'm using to continue the forward momentum of my blog post.

Social media has been a huge influence on how I interact and think about the world. If it weren't for Tumblr, Twitter, blogs, Livejournals, and even--to a lesser extent--Facebook, I wouldn't think the way I do. It introduced me to and shaped how I think about race, gender, sexuality, class, and a multitude of other issues. I'm not perfect, but social media has taught me tools to at least attempt to be more thoughtful when I consider a subject, and since I'm a white straight male living in a predominantly white area in the US, that's something that I needed to learn.

Once I learned about these types of issues, I couldn't turn a blind eye and pretend that I didn't know this stuff. No matter how much I loved Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, I can never look at it the same now that I understand the context of Einhorn's outing as the former Ray Finkle and how that plays into a long and nasty history and heritage of shaming trans folks for embracing who they are.

All that is to say that while I'm grateful to social media because it keeps me informed on a multitude of things I think are important, it also started feeling more and more like I was being crushed under a giant stone.

Or maybe a better metaphor: my mental well being was like a stone in a river--every day the constant stream of news about things being broken was eroding away at me.

There's two prominent sides when people talk about outrage:

1. There's too much outrage on the internet.

and

2. There's so much to be outraged about.

Generally, I think that people that complain about "outrage culture" are being disingenuous. It often feels like the people that are the most vocal about there being "too much outrage" are people who were caught being assholes and don't want to own up to the fact that they were being assholes. Sexist jokes, racist jokes, or just plain being mean.

That said, it's exhausting. I would get on Twitter and see people that I generally respect posting about yet another shitty thing happening, and I would think: "God, just one day can we not?" But then that makes me an asshole, you know? Because I'm a white dude. If I don't want to think about racism or sexism, I don't have to. It very minimally affects me in my daily life. There are people who don't have the option not to think about those issues.

So I get caught in a loop of obsessively reading and trying to stay up to date with every instance of shittiness because I feel like it's my duty to be extra vigilant because of my privilege. But I also kind of start to hate everything.

I don't know how to be on social media and not follow those people that talk about these important things. If I don't, I feel like I'm trying to bury my head in the sand. If I do, I get depressed and start to feel like I'm drowning.

Even writing this post is a conflicted activity to me. What right do I have to complain about how any of this makes me feel? This is very much making other people's problems my problems and somewhat making these issues about me. I get that. That is part of the problem.

If you're the type of person that cares about these types of issues, how do you find balance between staying informed and masochistically bearing witness to the horrors of the world like some sort of social-media based version of The Giver?

Anyway, don't worry, I'll post something funny soon. This has just been on my mind a lot lately.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Housekeeping

Hello, everyone. Long time no read, right?

This blog post is like a robotic maid from the year 2062 in that it's all about some housekeeping.

So, I disappeared from the internet for, like, a while. It's because life, as it so often does, blew up. If you were following me on Twitter earlier this year, you probably saw my posts and sort of desperate attempts to gather any sort of income because I had just been laid off.

I was laid off from a job that, frankly, I kind of hated but desperately needed because it paid really well--at least for where I live. Losing that put us in a really tight spot, obviously, so I was desperate to find work anywhere doing anything.

Since then, I've found a job that I really, really enjoy in spite of some screwy scheduling and generally being very hectic and stressful. In fact, it's sort of weird, but this is the first job I've had that hasn't made me actively angry and sad.

All of that sounds great, and it is, but there was a downside. My new job pays way less than my previous job. So we've since run into some financial trouble. After a lot of soul searching, we've decided we need to drastically reduce our expenses, which included selling the house that we bought and lived in for almost two years.

It's definitely sad. We had a lot of dreams when we bought this house, a lot of plans that we were making that got put on the back burner when money became such a limited resource.

Renting a house would mean substantially higher rent than our house payment, so we've been apartment hunting instead, which will mark the first time we've lived in an apartment in 5 or 6 years. That means getting rid of a lot of stuff that we've accrued over the past several years because we're substantially reducing our living space. 

As sad as it is, we're also kind of excited about it. The rent payments are quite a bit less than the house payments. We won't be tied to any particular place. I won't have to mow the lawn anymore. I won't have to worry about the cost or aggravation of fixing things that may break around the house. So in many ways this is a positive change.

So far at least, things seem to be working out okay. I don't want to jinx it because there's still plenty of places where things could turn, but someone made an offer on the house--which we accepted--and we have an apartment opening lined up in about 2 weeks. If all goes according to plan, our house will close in about a month and we can close the book on this chapter of our lives and fully commence our fresh start before Christmas. That is a crazy fast turn around, and I'm so, so, so, so happy that things seem to be working out so well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they continue to do so.

In related news, I'm super glad we found a place that we can move into because the alternative was living with my brother in his one bedroom apartment until we found something. I love my brother. But three people sharing a one bedroom apartment would be a tad of a strain. We asked him about moving in if we couldn't find a place and, while he agreed, it was pretty obvious that he was reaaaally not excited about it. And I don't really blame him. I wasn't either. It would've turned my commute to work from 10 minutes to an hour, and my wife's commute even longer as she'd have to drop me off and pick me up since we only have one car. 

Having a place before Christmas almost means that I can hang up my Christmas decorations! My tree can go up!!! Yaaaaay!!!!! CHRISTMAAAAS!!!! AAAAAAHHHHH!!!

So that's how things are going right now. It's been highs and lows for a couple of months, but it looks like things might be turning around in a very unexpectedly pleasant way. Fingers crossed that that continues.

P.S. Can you tell I've been binge-watching the Vlogbrothers? Because I've been binge-watching the hell out of some Vlogbrothers.

P.P.S. I kind of hate that I had to use "that that" in that last sentence. Curse you English for your confusing and ridiculous constructions!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Motherfucker, I'll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The sirens start up. The world is all deafening screeching and flashing red lights. The scientists look at each other from inside their hazmat suits. They don't have time to move before the glass doors slide shut, sealing them in.

"Sorry, gents," says the man at the controls, twisting the ends of his handlebar mustache nervously. "You know how it goes. Protocol and all that."

"But, Steve, we're not the ones in danger!"

The man with the handlebar mustache turns and cries out in terror. Writing Wednesday stands in the doorway, wreathing in a sickly yellow light. It moves toward the man.

What I'm Reading

I'm still making my way through Aftermath, and still enjoying it very much.

I usually have about eleventy billion books going at the same time. So while I'm listening to Aftermath, I'm also reading Kameron Hurley's Empire Ascendant. I'm super glad I preordered the book last year, as, even though I didn't get it finished before it properly came out, I have the eARC on
my phone, which lets me read it on my lunch break at work. It's also great.

Honestly, though, I'm hunting for something somewhat spooky to read/listen to for the remainder of the month. It is October, after all. If I have some money when I finish up Empire Ascendant, I'm tempted to pick up Bimiangus by J.B. Rockwell, or Voice of the Blood by Jemiah Jefferson.

I'm also thinking about getting Night Film on audiobook with my latest Audible credit. Or maybe something by Sarah Pinborough.

Like I said...eleventy billion books.

What I'm Writing

I had a great couple of writing days over the weekend. Got around 5000 words on Werewolf Bar Mitzvah: SPOOKY! SCARY! The book is now around 33,000 words, which is exciting. Replotting the book really helped me hit my stride again.

I also added a sinister ice cream truck that plays terrible Kidz Bop-style covers of gospel songs. Can you imagine anything more terrifying? Because I can't.

I have another day off coming up here eventually, and I'm going to try to get more words down, then.

I think I like rewriting more than writing, weirdly enough. I can riff off myself and get more interesting stuff than the stuff I come up with initially.

What Else I've Been Up To

As I mentioned yesterday, the wife and I went to a corn maze over the weekend, which was tons of fun. Then we met up with my friend, Brooke Johnson, and played a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. And then we played some more of Risk: Godstorm. But we can never finish a game. We always start them too late, ha ha.

In the meantime, I've been trying to watch as many horror movies as I can this month. I can't commit to one every day as I just don't have the time. But I can do at least one per weekend, and probably two a weekend or so. So we've been watching movies. I'm going to write a post about that here soon. I love spoopy movies. I'm such a sucker.

Speaking of spoopy: CRIMSON PEAK COMES OUT SOON AND I HAVE EXCITES!

Unrelated to all that: I've also been interested in trying to learn some programming, but I can't think of any free time I have to set aside to look into it/learn it. I'll have to make the time, I suppose, if I really want to learn it, though.

And that's my week in a nutshell. How was yours?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Beware He Who Walks Behind the Rows

Over the weekend, my wife, my brother, and I went on an adventure.

For a few years now, my wife has wanted to go to a corn maze and a pumpkin patch. Two quintessentially autumnal experiences. Between bad timing, laziness, and lack of funds, though, we never got around to going.

That changed this year, however. My wife was determined to go to a corn maze. And because we live in a really nice area, there were several to choose from. I was only slightly disappointed that the maze we chose did not have "punkin chunkin'," but it did feature pig races. (We didn't actually see the pig races though because I live in the south and that kind of shit is HUGE down here.)

There was a sandbox that was filled with corn. It was cute to watch the kids romp and play in it, even if I was confused why anyone really cared. There were hay bales stacked on top of each other making a giant pyramid with a tunnel through it the kids could play in. There was a hay bale maze. There was live music. There were tractor wagon rides. There was also a petting zoo.


I like this guy because he was watching people walk to and fro in front of his pen and eventually he decided, "Fuck this noise, I'm taking a nap," and flopped his head to the side as shown above. He looks like he's enjoying that sun, too.


There was also this little tyke, who was just chilling on the stairs. I like to think she's surveying her kingdom. Like, "yes, I will rule all of this. Watch me."


There were also piglets. Look at this. LOOK AT THIS!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW CUTE THIS IS??? CAN YOU EVEN COMPREHEND???!!!


This was the pattern of the maze that we walked. There were actually two mazes. One a "mini maze" that was about an acre in size for the kids. The one we walked was about three miles worth of walking. It was several acres. It was gigantic. Fun, though.


This was my view for about two hours. We were actually surprisingly good at this. We wound up getting through the maze relatively quickly. We only got lost once where we wound up doubling back on ourselves, and that was literally at the last fork. If we'd taken the left instead of the right, we'd've been out. But we didn't listen to my wife because we were convinced the different colored ribbons we kept seeing a few rows away was the final section. It was not. It was, in fact, the mini maze.  Oops.

Of course, the entire time I was walking, I kept making Children of the Corn jokes. And The Stand jokes.

"We wants you, too, Malachi. He wants you, too."


We also stopped by the pumpkin patch to pick up a few pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns/roasted pumpkin seeds.

Speaking of: I need to make a pumpkin pie soon. Mmmmmm.

By the way, here's a baby pumpkin!


Isn't it cute? I totally saw a baby watermelon about the same size, but I didn't think to take a picture of it.

So that was our weekend adventure.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writing Wednesday: I Could Liken You to a Shark, the Way You Bit Off My Head

Cue intros are for people with time. Let's do this!

What I'm Reading

Image from Goodreads
I just finished Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon not too long ago. Now I'm listening to the audiobook for Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. Unsurprisingly, it's great so far. Surprisingly (to me at least) it's also one of the most well-produced audiobooks I've ever heard. The Star Wars theme played as the narrator read the credits. There's sound effects and mood music throughout the book--dramatic John
Williams high-brass during battles, lower, quiet score during dramatic scenes. Blaster sounds, bleeps and bloops of droids and space tech. I saw a few reviews that didn't like that, but it feels almost like listening to a radio play to me, except it has the full narration of the book. It's great. I definitely recommend picking up the audiobook if you like what I just said.

If you don't, or don't like audiobooks in general, I still recommend picking it up, as the story is very good so far, and it's nice to listen to a story that actually deals with the immediate aftermath of blowing up the second Death Star and what that means for the people of the galaxy.

And the MRAs and homophobes hate it. Which, while not the ONLY reason to support a product, certainly helps, ya know?

What I'm Writing

Still plugging away at Werewolf Bar Mitzvah: SPOOKY! SCARY! Remember when I said that I was pushing ahead in spite of recognizing the massive work that needed to be done with the beginning? Well...I couldn't stop myself. I didn't go back and rewrite the whole beginning because I don't hate myself, but I did go back and re-outline the A plot. Now there's drama, it's messy, there's conflict and more than just two characters and a handful of NPCs expositing at them. And I can continue to write now with these changes in mind so I have less I need to work on later on my redraft...theoretically. We'll see how that plays out.

When I actually get this draft done, I think I'm going to write a post about what my process was for this first novel. For my own records at the very least.

That said, I still haven't topped 30k because I haven't written like I've been meaning to. Part of this can be chalked up to a rough bit of time at work lately, and part of it can be chalked up to me being a lazy sonuvabitch. I mean, I'm trying to be all forgiving about missing days of writing if I don't get around to it as long as I'm making some progress--and I am making SOME progress, even if it's not on word count--but at the same time, I didn't write last night because I was going through my Amazon wishlists and removing stuff I don't really care about anymore and moving items around. Then I watched some Dragon Ball Z: Abridged. See? Lazy.

What Works for Me

Outlines. I didn't realize how much I lock up when I don't know where the story is going, but I move so much faster and feels so much more comfortable when I'm not wasting my time writing stuff I know is junk--describing scenery in every minute detail--until I get an idea of what I'm wanting to say. I get there eventually, but with my limited amount of time writing in the evenings (and mornings sometimes) I don't have the luxury of meandering here and there. By the time I find my thread and run with it, it's already time to go to bed. So: outlines, because without them I basically sit on the ground with my hands held aloft going, "What do now? WHAT DO NOW???"

What Else I've Been Up To

We went to the drive-in last weekend to catch a "horror" movie double-feature. It was M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit and then Joel Edgerton's The Gift.

Image from Wikipedia
The Visit was awful. It felt incredibly lazy at every step. And it featured a white teenage boy freestyle rapping in the way that you would imagine white, middle-class teenage boy's would rap.

The Gift was an absolutely fantastic movie, right up until the last 20 minutes or so where a plot twist/big reveal was so horrible, manipulative, and disgusting that, for me personally, it ruined the movie. My wife ended up liking the movie way more than I did. As much as I loved the first 2/3rd to 3/4s of the movie, that last bit ruined everything else for me.

Part of my issue--not all, but part--is that about halfway through the movie, the woman that the movie is focusing on stops being the main character. It's really similar to Hitchcock's Rebecca, you can almost feel when the camera detaches from her and starts focusing on her husband. But where Rebecca is really good, The Gift tries to make me feel sympathy for horrible, horrible people that I did not give a shit about by the end.

Anyway, sorry to get negative there.

On the positive front, I'm eagerly looking forward to watching The Final Girls, which it looks like is going to be On Demand this weekend, so we'll probably give that a watch at some point.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Mind Your Own Biscuits and Life Will Be Gravy

After being away for nearly a month, it's time for a new WRITING WEDNESDAY!

What I'm Reading
Image from Amazon.com

I just finished Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Cresent Moon. At first, I liked it a lot. And then, about halfway through, it went from, "I'm really enjoying this," to "OMG I MUST FINISH PUT THIS BOOK IN MY BRAINHOLES AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH YYEEEEEEEESSSSS."

The book is amazing, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel.

In the meantime, I've just started Myke Cole's Shadow Ops: Control Point. I'm really enjoying that one as well.

What I'm Writing

I am currently about 400 words shy of 30,000 words in Werewolf Bar Mitzvah: SPOOKY, SCARY! Just like this blog, I took a bit of unintentional time off because while I love my new job, it's also very stressful and very busy and the schedule isn't always predictable. When I did actually have a few days off in a row, I was out of town celebrating my wife's birthday.

As I'm writing, I'm already aware of some big flaws. I don't think it's the young writer "omg, this is poo poo Imma quit" type of thing. But I have two plots going, and while plot B is interesting, dynamic, messy, and human, plot A feels like it's very by the numbers, doing things to advance the plot. For now, I'm just rolling with it because I'm afraid to go back and revise before I finish. I've never gotten this far in writing something before, so I'm committed to getting to the end. But I'm already coming up with ways I can improve the book on my second draft.

What Works For Me

Being happy? I'm working at a job that, for the first time in my working career, doesn't make me miserable. Even though I'm making way less money than I was at my old job, I'm actually happy. I like the environment, and I like the job.

It's interesting how significantly your mood can improve when you're not spending your days hating every single moment you're not at home. It takes a significant psychic toll.

It's also possible my mood has improved because I've been getting a bit of exercise in by biking to work. I've learned that, of all the land-based exercises, biking is the one I like the most. I hate running with a fiery passion and doing it felt like the worst kind of masochism. But biking? Maybe it's because I get to go farther, faster, and see more, but it's just infinitely more enjoyable to me.

I mean, don't get me wrong, my baseline self is still "couch slug." But it's nice that I've found some exercise that doesn't make me want to set myself on fire to avoid it.

What Else I've Been Up To

We're currently still plugging away at Friday Night Lights which I really enjoy. I think my wife thinks I don't enjoy it because I have very passionate emotional responses to things happening on screen, but I do really, really enjoy it. Don't really like Coach Taylor, though. I mean...I guess he's okay, but he's pretty much constantly putting football over things that it seems most normal humans would say were more important.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.
That said, if you ever want to know what it was like living where I did growing up, especially my outside-the-US friend, just watch Friday Night Lights. I didn't live in Texas, but that show is like a snapshot of my adolescent years. Sometimes it's so accurate, it's a little scary.

Beyond that, I've been semi-forcing my wife to watch Dragon Ball Z Kai. I recognize that, honestly, Dragon Ball Z is kind of a terrible show. But I love it so much. And I don't know if I could ever watch the original again--not just because the pacing is horrible, but because it would take waaaay too long. But Kai? Dude, that show almost moves at a bullet's pace. Fights feel like they have actual weight and stakes. The dialogue isn't so much filler and bullshit. It actually gets to the point--at least, better than the original. There are still some things about it where the pacing is a tad off, and a few places where cutting the B-story actually hurt the show.

Example: they cut the Z-Fighters training with Kami and Mr. Popo while Goku ran snake way. They just cut to them every now and then for about ten seconds. Because of that, we don't get to know those characters in this show. So when some of those characters start dying in the fight against Vegeta and Nappa, my wife didn't really care because she hadn't seen the previous show, so she didn't know diddly shit about these characters.

Also, about a week and a half ago, we went to go see Kacey Musgraves in concert in St. Louis at The Pageant for my wife's birthday. My wife love Kacey Musgraves, and finding out there was a concert on her birthday? Well, hell, we had to go, y'know? And it was awesome. She puts on an amazing show. Here's one of my favorite songs by her below if you're interested:


And that's really all that's going on at Casa de Nerdish this week. Maybe I'll post something special once I top 30,000 words. Or maybe I'll wait until I hit 50k. That's a pretty awesome milestone.

Til next time!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Goodbye, Stewart and Colbert, and Thank You

Stephen Colbert, left, and Jon Stewart close the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear on the National Mall on Oct. 30, 2010, in Washington, DC.
(From CBSNews)
 WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES
The day that this goes up, Trevor Noah will be taking over The Daily Show. This is a historic* occasion and there's a lot that's already been written, both about Noah being the first black host of The Daily Show and the second black late night tv host on right now, and about Jon Stewart's legendary run.

I wanted to write about The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and what those shows meant to me.

I graduated high school in the 2006-2007 school year. Dubya was still in office, and I remember most people I knew were terrified that if Bush didn't win reelection, as one person put it, "the Muslims are gonna take over without firing a shot." In fact, I remember Bush's reelection particularly because one of the seniors came into my 10th grade Geometry class to rub Bush's win in our teacher's face. 

I didn't realize she'd been rooting for Kerry. I don't know why learning she supported the Other Side was so strange for me. Surely I understood that not everyone agreed on everything. But, much like encountering a new fruit for the first time, it was strange to actually come across someone that thought differently from (I assumed) everyone else. It changed the way I viewed her from then on--not necessarily in a positive or negative way, just different. I guess it forced me to view her more complexly.

Looking back, politics was one of those things that I wanted no part of, but had been steeping in without realizing it. I had no strong political leanings of any kind. The one time I'd mentioned something even vaguely political in the 6th grade (when Dubya was elected the first time), someone I knew disagreed with me so strongly that I'd decided the entire thing wasn't for me, especially if it generated that much anger. So it was a strange decision to start watching a political comedy show.

I think I started watching The Daily Show because of my senior AP Government class. I loved the show right away. Jon Stewart's irreverent take on the news was mind blowing stuff to a relatively sheltered Arkansas white boy. Stewart disagreed with basically everything that I'd been raised to believe at that point. The culture of my entire town was so homogenous that seeing him openly mocking these ideals--frequently pointing out their hypocrisy--was mind blowing.

All my life, I'd been taught the news was just facts. I'd been taught that news media was a "reliable" source for research. Yet here was Jon Stewart demonstrating that the news could be just as biased as any other old asshole on the street.

I watched some Colbert out of curiosity, but I didn't really like it. It didn't click with me the way Stewart did. I much preferred Stewart's cheeky take downs to Colbert's satire.

At the same time that I started watching The Daily Show, we were learning about the political spectrum in my AP Government class. To illustrate this, my teacher drew a line across the board. At the far left end, she put our AP Literature teacher. At the far right end, she put her own name. In the middle left, Bill Clinton. In the middle right, Dubya. She numbered the line at various points, then passed out a test that would tell us where we fell on the line. It was a short test asking us to rate our agreement with statements on a scale of 1(completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree).

My number put me at the far left of the line, almost matching our AP Literature teacher's score. Since I had no real strong opinion on any issues, this surprised the hell out of me. If the test was to be believed, I thought about things much differently than any of my friends or family members. Even my best friend disagreed with me on a lot of this stuff, falling on the right side of the line.

My government teacher, for some reason that I still don't understand to this day, started letting me bring recorded episodes of The Daily Show to class. We'd watch and discuss the episode. It was during one of these discussions that she mentioned that Colbert was a pretty funny parody of Bill O'Reilly. Curious, I went home and watched an episode of The O'Reilly Factor, and that's when it all clicked, and I finally understood Colbert.

I remember when Colbert and O'Reilly appeared on each other's shows on the same day. My government teacher told me to record both episodes and bring them to class. We watched the Colbert part of O'Reilly's show, and then Colbert's episode and discussed bias and what we thought about what each had to say.

College, as should be a surprise to no one, was an eye-opening experience politically. Despite loving The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I still wasn't very political. I felt a little guilty about it, but I basically thought "politics" was too big. There was too much history. It was too complicated. It terrified me. And it sounded so depressing. Why would I want to think about this stuff?

I watched The Daily Show's live show coverage of the election results over at my friend Brooke's apartment. Although I was elated by the results, I hadn't voted for Barack Obama. I hadn't voted at all. I thought that I didn't know enough about either candidate to make an informed decision. I'd been leaning Obama, and had even gotten into arguments with family members about him, but disagreeing so adamantly and completely with my family was scary. I was worried I'd somehow missed some important information. Why else would I disagree with everyone back home so much? Maybe I was just scared to suddenly have my own opinions.

Both shows continued to help me make up my own mind during Obama's presidency. I started to realize that not only was the news biased, but it would often out and out lie. I realized that part of the reason misinformation was so easy to spread was because people weren't informed in the first place. I started to realize that manipulation and lies could have real and lasting results on policies. Remember the Obamacare death panel lies? Remember that people actually believed that?

I learned about media, about bias, and about how to argue--both shows had evidence-based argument deconstruction down to an art form. But I'm most grateful that they taught me that failure comes from both sides. Stewart and Colbert just as frequently pointed out when the left was false and hypocritical, when they fucked up. I'm grateful that twenty-year-old me had the reminder that both sides could and did fuck up and deserved to be called out.

It's probably a little silly that I'm going on about these two shows at such length. But I strongly believe that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert helped many people from my generation understand our place in our current political environment. Post-9/11, the way the media and the two political parties engaged with the general public changed. Colbert and Stewart were frequently a lighthouse in a fog of misinformation and manipulation. In many ways, they taught us how to think. They taught us to question everything--even them.

While Stewart seems to have moved on, I'm very glad that Colbert is still around. And honestly, his new show is even better than his old. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Colbert without his persona, but Colbert is able to engage in an even deeper and richer way than before, and he's bringing many of the values I hold so dear to a new and broader audience. Possibly to the next generation.

I'll be checking out Trevor Noah's new show on Tuesday when it goes up on Hulu. I'll be nervous. I'll be anxious. And while I know he won't replace Jon Stewart, I hope that Noah will continue The Daily Show's legacy of cutting through the noise and asking you to take a moment to think and question what you've been told.

_______________________________

*A historic, that's right, I wrote that--"an" has no purpose before "historic" if you pronounce the "h" like a normal human being. If you're Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd, you get a pass, but c'mon. The people saying "an" and then pronouncing the "h" is just silly. The "n" in "an" is to provide a consonant to bounce from in speech instead of trying to pronounce two vowels in a row, such as "a apple" which would be hard to say. Fight me on this! I dare you!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RIP Wes Craven: 1939 - 2015

Photo From: Wes Craven's Twitter Account
Wes Craven needs no introduction. He created Freddy Krueger. For a generation of people, that was THE boogeyman. The man that haunted our nightmares.

Then he brought us Ghostface Killer and showed us that sometimes the thing we needed to fear the most was the very people we knew.

Between Scream and several of the Nightmare movies, Wes Craven created a pantheon of horrors that would scare us forever. And that's not counting the ways he invented the horror genre with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes

We suffered a terrible loss today. Wes Craven was a talented, talented man. I can think of no one better that deserves a place in my nightmares.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Writing Wednesday: A Cornucopia of Opiates Have Flooded My Head

“Quite so,” Holmes answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently read my blog.”

“Frequently," I replied.

“How often?” 

“Well, some hundreds of times.” 

“Then what shall I post today?” 

“Well...I don't know. I haven't the foggiest.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. It's Wednesday. Writing Wednesday, Watson, you old sod."
What I'm Reading

I just finished a fantastic book by Sarah Langan called The Keeper. I'm a sucker for horror novels set in contemporary small towns. There's something about small towns, where everyone knows everyone else's business, where you're frequently cut off from the more populated areas. It's so easy for
something to go wrong and for nobody to know. It's how we manage to read so many news articles in which horrible or bizarre things are happening in little podunk towns nobody has ever heard of.

Langan's book was crazy good. Not only was the horror well done and the characters compelling, there was just enough off-kilter strangeness to make this book really grip you from the get-go. And about halfway through the book, everything you think you know about the story gets upended and you're left in awe as this bizarre, haunting, beautifully written tragedy unfolds in ways that are almost surreal at times. I plan to pick up the sequel as soon as I can.

What I'm Writing

Still plugging away on Werewolf Bar Mitzvah: Spooky! Scary! My overall word count is just over 14,000 words at this point. I'm still very pleased with it, and I'm waiting for that shoe to drop: it will eventually, I'm sure. But so far, I'm still very pleased with how the book is playing out. Still appalled by my actual prose, but whatever.

What Works for Me

Making sure I've made writing a priority. It's so easy to come home from work exhausted and, after cleaning, cooking, and whatever else I need to do, just want to veg out or go straight to bed. But making sure I park my butt in front of my computer and do at least 500 words keeps me going. Even if it's just a little, it still gets me ever closer to getting finished.

What Else I've Been Up To

I'm a huge dork. I'm just admitting that up front. I love the 90's sitcom Boy Meets World a whole bunch. It was a show that legitimately meant a lot to me growing up, and as an adult male I made the choice (along with my wife because she, like me, is a dork) to purchase the whole show on dvd when it was finally made available. We have watched those dvds probably 100 times at this point.

We were, naturally, very excited to hear that a spin-off/sequel/new stand-alone show, Girl Meets World was being made, which would follow the daughter of the main characters from the original show. The first season has been added to Netflix, and I'm pleased to say it's just as good as the original show is. Yes, it's a show aimed at 13 year olds. But it's got the same wit and charm the
original had, and it's often humorous to see the show very subtly reference the old show in various ways throughout the storyline.

One caveat: the pilot is just god-awful. Like...so bad. It's clunky, structurally all over the place. There's no clear story or direction. And it's so ham-fisted it's like some sort of genetic experiment went wrong and its fists were replaced with actual hams.

But after that first bad episode, which you could honestly skip and miss really nothing, the rest of the show is great if you like cheesy pre-teen shows based on old 90's US sitcoms.

To quote Eric Matthews: "I think I finally found my niece!"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Remembering Robin

Image from Wikipedia
Robin Williams was one of the most influential people of my childhood. I'm sure a lot of people can say that. He was our modern day clown prince. He was full of so much energy, I'm sure it was difficult for some folks to keep up with him in a conversation. It was that energy that I really responded to.

I didn't even know he did stand up for the longest time. I always knew him from his movies. Movies with Robin Williams in them were movies I knew would make me laugh, and I watched them over and over and over again. And as we both grew older, he started not just making me laugh, but making me think and feel.

Some of the movies I'll list below may be of dubious quality, but I have great memories watching them and I'll defend them because, dammit, not everything has to be cynical and sarcastic. If that's one thing that he did better than anyone, he was never cynical. He always struck me as genuine.

1. Aladdin

I love Aladdin to this day. It has problems, and I recognize those problems. But it's also a action-packed adventure that features the greatest wise-cracking sidekick to ever grace the screen in the Genie, it also features my favorite villain. I watched this movie so much growing up, I have it memorized almost word for word. Watching that movie now, it's words and images have made surely permanent grooves in my brain, it's almost like listening to a beloved song--I can tell when things will swell and fall, and I can even sing along.

2. Good Morning, Vietnam

I didn't watch this one as much as a kid, but it was one of several films in which Robin's unconventional and unexpected energy and joy would was used to fight the cynical and needlessly serious powers that be. While some of those later films occasionally danced into schmaltz to get that across, this film, in my opinion, works perfectly. Robin's inappropriate jokes and lack of respect for authority provided a bright spot to Americans stuck in a dark situation with no light. And, it painted the Vietnam war as more complicated than a simple Us vs. Them story. It even showed that sometimes joy and optimism simply isn't enough. And those are good lessons.

3. Mrs. Doubtfire

As a kid from a divorced him in which his father was...less than he should have been, this movie was huge to me growing up. It was probably more influential than I realized in helping me cope with what my parents were going through, and looking back, I probably watched this movie so much because it let me imagine that I had a father like Robin--someone so dedicated to his kids that he'd do anything, including adopting a disguise, in order to be in their lives.

4. Final Cut

Robin seemed to go through a period where he was interested in expanding his role. Having done dramedy type roles in the past, the early 2000's featured a lot of darker roles, including this little sci-fi film. Robin plays a character that's in charge of editing someone's memories into a final slideshow to honor the life of the person. The film  makes a lot of interesting points about how everyone has dark moments and how we tend to romanticize people in death. You see the main character dealing with seeing various people doing pretty bad things from their own point of view, some way more than others, and he still manages to craft a lovely, happy final remembrance, which begins to raise ethical questions. The movies is brilliant and is probably one of his most underrated.

5. Insomnia

While One Hour Photo was the first "dark" Robin Williams movie I saw, Insomina was probably my favorite (next to Final Cut). Robin Williams plays the straight up bad guy in this movie, playing opposite Al Pacino, who plays a detective that goes to investigate a murder in Alaska, but begins experiencing mental issues when his sleep pattern is disrupted by the perpetual daylight of the north. Robin showed that he had some heavy acting chops when he wants to, and reminds us that he really is more than just some silly man that can make us laugh. He can also scare us.

Honorable Mention: World's Greatest Dad

This was a weird movie. Unlike his other comedies, which were generally pretty family friendly and warm-hearted, this one is a black, black comedy in which Robin plays a pretty bad person. He's a dad (obviously) with a obnoxious prick for a son. When his son accidentally kills himself while trying out some crazy masturbation fetish, Robin decides to cover up his son's death by staging his death as a suicide and crafting a fake note for his son to have left behind. Things spiral out of control when he suddenly starts getting tons of attention, popularity, even fame. This movie was hilarious in the most unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways. It's probably not for everyone, but it's certainly one that deserves a look.


There are so many others that I didn't list: Jumanji, Hook, Patch Adams, etc., etc., etc. Most of Robin Williams's life was dedicated to reminding us that even in the darkest of times, sincerity, joy, and childlike wonder were the best approaches. Even though he dipped into asking darker questions here and there, it means quite a lot that he kept returning to those themes consistently. He was a massive part of my childhood, and as silly as it feels to say this about someone I didn't know, I do miss him. But I makes me glad to know that he's always there when I need my day brightened.