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

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)
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!