Monday, January 26, 2015

Goals

License Attribution  Some rights reserved by laffy4k
This year has been rough. Granted it's only the first month, but still, things have not improved from October, November, December...they're still pretty rough. Each time we put out one fire, something else seems to flare up. It's frustrating and dispiriting. 
I don't mean to be down. I mean, I have a house, I still have a job, we're keeping pace with our bills so far. We're not in the worst position in the world. But it is still difficult.

But we'll get through it.

 The way I've been trying to handle all the rough times of late is to focus on the things I can control. That really comes down to how my wife and I treat ourselves outside of work, and my writing. So I've put a lot of thought into ways to eat as healthy as possible while sacrificing the quality of some foods for price. I've always been working on my writing three times a day.

One thing that has me happy is I have two stories that have been redrafted and are nearing workshoping, which means I'm getting nearer to submitting them. Will they get accepted? I dunno. But I'll keep trying. I'll submit both of them everywhere I possibly can. Meanwhile, I'll get to work on more writing.

I'd like to have something published by the end of the year. Just one thing. It would be great if this were the year.

Ah, but see, that's not something I can control. I catch myself thinking it from time to time, and it is a Thing I would like to happen. But I can't MAKE an editor decide to buy my stuff. I mean, not without crossing into some dark Annie Wilkes territory, and no one wants to see me do that...again...  So instead I've been focusing on what I can control: utilizing my time to write more frequently, and really pushing myself to improve as a writer.

The one thing I'd like to figure out how to do is work in more reading. Last year wasn't a very good year for reading, and I'd like to stay on top of my game. That said, that's one plate that's made of shatter-proof material, so if it falls, I'm not terribly concerned.

I don't have specific resolutions in mind. I'm not in a place where I want to see failures spelled out for me if they don't work out. But I do have vague goals that I want to work toward. And for now, that will do. That won't give me a destination, but it gives me a road sign to steer me in the right direction.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Marvel Reboot


License: Attribution Attribution Share-Alike Share Alike Some rights reserved by pikawil100
Of the Big Two, Marvel is my preferred house. On the whole, they are by far the most entertaining when it comes to superhero books, with the most diversity and representation in solo books, and with the best movies. Plus they have my favorite superheros: Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Man. Good God, y'all. They've got such GREAT books.
And it appears they're rebooting their universe for the first time in 60-ish years. This is monumental, because so far EVERYTHING that has happened (more or less) has been in continuity. Every bad story choice. Every sexist depiction. Captain Marvel being raped by her own space/time bending son/lover? Yeah, that's still in continuity. Spider-Man sacrificing his marriage by making a deal with the devil to save his elderly aunt from a goddamned gunshot wound? Still in continuity.

DC reboots their universe every few years or so--in fact, they're doing it again, sort of, this year I believe. But Marvel has never really felt the need to, probably because they don't really have many prominent alternate universes like DC does with their Earth 2 stuff. I'm a relative comics n00b, so if I'm wrong about that, oopsie. However, I'm aware of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, I'm aware of Earth 2, and because DC seems to be the house where creativity goes to die (mostly), they just keep bringing back the same ideas over and over again.

This Marvel reboot could work to simplify and smooth over the extremely complex Marvel Universe, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I'm a little worried that this is all just to shove the comics to line up with the Marvel movies, but even there...there's some choices they made in the movies that I think are honestly superior to the comics.

BUT we've got some worries here for me. Ms. Marvel? Captain Marvel? Storm? These are books that I love. I desperately want them to continue in basically the same format after this big reboot. Don't fuck this up, guys.

And what about Spider-Gwen? And Silk? Surely they won't cancel those already, right?

Some other worrisome things?

They've only just changed Captain America black and Thor to a lady. Most of us comics fans knew these changes were temporary, but I read a compelling argument online for keeping these changes, and I agree. Even if Cap isn't Sam Wilson, what if Steve Rogers was? Think how interesting his WWII backstory could be if you added race to the mix?

The article that I read worried that the reboot would serve to revert most Marvel characters back to WASPs, and, yeah, I gotta say, I'm worried about that, too.

This reboot has the potential to be absolutely awesome. Cutting out some of the fat from the years of backstory could provide an easier jumping on point for new fans, could maybe result in some great solo titles, and could hopefully result in significantly fewer crossovers and events. Keep that shit down to every two years or so, eh guys? 'Cause I've not been reading long, and I'm already tired of that shit.

This reboot also has the potential to be a bungled, squirming shit mess like DCs new 52, which featured some great titles getting lost in the deluge resulting from DCs weird fetish with the number 52. Amethyst being cancelled was a goddamned shame, as was the handling of Static Shock.

I'm going to keep my fingers crossed because Marvel has been taking steps to make their publishing house more interesting and awesome, and I would love it if that continued. So hopefully they don't sit on their own balls is what I'm saying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cook Up Some Stress Relief


As I've mentioned previously, we don't have a lot of money for, like, well...anything entertainment-wise. It's all down to the wire here. One of the things that we had to cut way, way, way back on is eating out. Basically, we don't eat out anymore (excepting extremely rare circumstances).

Obviously, if you're used to going out to eat and you need to cut out, there's only one option:

You have to dig up the people in the cemetery in your backyard and use their dried jerky flesh for sustenance.

Wait, what? You don't--? Nevermind.

If you don't have a cemetery to raid for the sweet, sweet taste of corpse jerky, you probably cook.

And so I've been trying my hand at cooking. I like it. A lot.

It all started when Netflix added a bunch of episodes of Good Eats. I had never seen the show, and I was instantly hooked. The show was strange, like a cooking Bill Nye (or maybe Beakman's World?). The science of cooking given in plain English, with practical tips, and funny to boot.

My wife had high-blood pressure for a while and got put on a low salt-diet temporarily, and we learned that processed foods have astronomical levels of salt. In addition, they just don't really taste all that great.

But you can't go making every single thing from scratch. If you have a job, it's just not practical. So it's a balancing act of finding either  decent quality premade things to use for shortcuts, or things you can make from scratch relatively quickly.

There's something about cooking that's very soothing for me. I know cooking is an art form, and I know there's a certain level of creativity that comes with it, but...I don't have to think about cooking like I do writing or work. I just switch into autopilot and fly about the kitchen assembling delicious treats. The act of combining all these various things together into something new is very fun, AND you get deliciousness at the end.

An interesting thing I've noticed, though, is how out of touch even the most down to earth chefs are. It's like they forget what the average American can afford, either monetarily or time-wise.

For example: I am absolutely not willing to spend $200 on a single pan. I do not care. No. That's absurd.

I'm not willing to spend $100 on a knife. I don't care what the "quality" is.

I notice the same snootiness to a lot of food ingredients as well.

It's something I've read a little about, but would love to read more.

In the meantime, this new hobby has really relieved a lot of stress in a pretty stressful time. I'll try to post some recipes around here when I get the chance.

PS - If you have any recipe suggestions, hit me up in the comments!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dirt Road

When my wife and I were in college, both before and after we were married, we didn't have much money. I mean, the town we lived in wasn't exactly a bustling metropolis or anything, but still, what little there was to do, we didn't really have the money for.

So we drove.

We drove all over the city, exploring every back street and alley we could find. We drove through residential areas and oohed and aahed over their picture perfect street names. We drove through poorer, rougher areas and took note of the state of the houses, the streets, the cars. We drove past what I'm fairly certain was a crack house. We drove past essentially hidden business that had us both scratching our heads over how they managed to stay in business buried so deep in the city.

Since we've been having financial troubles here of late, we can't afford to do much. But our car gets decent gas mileage, and gas is, for the moment, relatively inexpensive, so we decided to take up the ol' bindle and see what we could see.

License: Attribution Attribution Some rights reserved by chatblanc1
This is a bindle, in case you were wondering. The stick/package thing, not the furry, animal thing.
In the southern US, you can't really spit without hitting a civil war battle ground, so obviously we found some of those. We also found a teeny tiny cemetery buried in the middle of a wooded area just outside of the city. The date above the gate said something like 1887. It looked like there were fifteen headstones, max.

We didn't find many hidden-treasure business, which I was slightly disappointed in. We did find a lot of hidden residential areas, including a mansion at the end of a dead-end road with acres of land surrounding it. Just nestled in the middle of the city.

The lines between "city" and "country" can be very easily blurred in Arkansas. Way more than once we came to a T intersection where turning right would take us into the city proper and turning left would take us instantly into wooded, overgrown areas and/or pastures with cows and goats and chickens.

On one such turn, we realized we were on a highway leaving the city and decided to turn off on a random road. This random road was paved, but we quickly came to a point where there was a rinkydink dirt road branching off to the right. I turned down the dirt road with no hesitation.

I grew up in a very small town. I used to laugh at Smallville because they portrayed it as SO SMALL, but the population on the city's welcome sign said, "25,000." That is roughly 20,000 more people than were in my hometown. I grew up driving through and hanging out in towns with 300, 200, 100 people in them. I'm comfortable on dirt roads.

As we were driving down this dirt road, we seemed to be getting further and further from the city. We found fields of cows--really not uncommon--but it was fun to see someone was keeping goats and ducks as well.

Then, I saw something in a field. I had to stop and take a picture.


I had so many questions. How long had the car been there? Did it belong to the family that lived there and owned that field now? Or had it belonged to a previous owner and the family just didn't move it? Did someone plant that tree intentionally, or was it just a crazy accident of nature, where this single tree managed to find just the right conditions to thrive inside the shelter of a rusted out old car?

Amazingly, we figured we'd hit a dead end and have to turn around at some point, but amazingly, the dirt road ended up connecting to a nicely paved and maintained road. Left took us to a series of mansions and massive houses built on the side of this mountain, the road a twisted, tilted spiderweb of intersections and loops. Right took us back to the city proper. From dirt road, woods, underbrush, leaves, rocks, and wild animals, to pavement and brick buildings and school zones in one turn.

I don't really have a point to this. I just wanted to write about a nice day that I had with my wife. But I guess, if I could suggest something, I'd say if you have the opportunity, go explore the place where you live. You'll find some fascinating things.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 Favorites

License:  Attribution    Some rights reserved by Alberto OG
I'm having a hard time building up to blogging much. I don't have much to talk about and I was almost completely offline for almost two months, so I don't have much news I can comment on. Since money is low currently, I can't really talk about movies or comics because I haven't seen or read any in a long time. And I performed rather pathetically on the reading front this year, with only 12 read in the WHOLE YEAR--Jesus what did I do with my time??

On top of all of that, I have this general mmmmbllllleeeerrrrrrrrgjkdlajgdafdafjkldaldieaveajiaeila feeling. I think that's a German term. Those Germans, always saying what English can't.

Anyway, since I'm still having trouble with blogging anything with any real enthusiasm, I've decided this is my "Fuck it. Here are some things I liked. Look into them if you want." Very little commentary or analysis because mmmmbllllleeeerrrrrrrrgjkdlajgdafdafjkldaldieaveajiaeila.

Okay?

Okay.

BOOKS

1. The Cormorant - Chuck Wendig
It's Chuck Wendig. It's Miriam Black. She's always great. Read this.

2. The Explorer - James Smythe
Very Twilight Zoney. I don't necessarily want to spoil the book but an astronaut is the sole survivor on a spacecraft that is drifting into space. Then things get worse. Thrilling. Dark. Great.

3. How to be Black - Baratunde Thurston
This book is hilarious. It's also a sometimes painful look at the relations between white people and black people. Read it. Learn from it.

4. The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley is so goddamned talented it almost makes me angry. This book is action packed with one of the most inventive alt-world settings I've ever seen, and if that weren't enough, she packs the book with gender-binary defying individuals, people all across the sexuality spectrum, and a twisty, tense, plot. Makes me want to throw my writing racket down a la Jon Hamm in 30 Rock: "This keyboard is a fart. And SHE CHEATS!"

5. My Soul to Keep - Tananarive Due
An African inspired horror novel. What if you could never die? How would living through the ages affect your ability to relate to your fellow man? Is that a gift or a curse? Tananarive Due has me hooked and someday when I have two coins to scratch together, I'd like to read the next book in the series.

6. Revival - Stephen King
It's Stephen King. That should be enough. But if it's not: batshit Frankenstein homage with a little splash of Lovecraftian...sorta. It's one of King's best horror novels in a long time.
7. The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines - Mike Madrid
I knew a lot of the information in this book before going in. Even still, I learned a lot, and seeing the trends and character choices for various female characters contextualized was both eye opening and rage inducing. Smart, accessible, and often very wry.


COMICS

Before money became a thing only heard about in songs and legends from the days of old, this was my pull list. I recommend all of these as they are consistently fantastic and, unless something has changed since I last heard, it's BULLSHIT that She-Hulk is being cancelled.

1. Storm
2. Captain Marvel
3. Ms. Marvel
4. She-Hulk
5. Sex Criminals


MOVIES

Below are my favorite movies I saw this year. Not all came out this year. I just saw them.

1. Pontypool
Fantastic and trippy. A zombie-like virus is transmitted through words--hear the wrong word, and you're done for.

2. The Slanted Screen
A look at the history of Asian actors on screen. Very enlightening, and often very sad.

3. Inequality for All
Honestly, although this film tried to be uplifting, it was very depressing. I already knew on a surface level a lot of this, but, like the superheroine book above, seeing it all laid out was eyeopening.

From Google: "Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich discusses the grave economic and social consequences that may result if the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen."

4. Oculus
One of the best horror movies of the year. Fun, trippy, mind-freaky. With smart characters, no less.

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fun follow up to First Class.

6.The Caller
Great. Tense. Surprisingly dark. Very fucked up. This was an unexpected gem I stumbled across on Netflix.

7. Edge of Tomorrow
A fantastic sci-fi movie with a very unique concept. It's a shame this didn't do better. As far as big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movies goes, this should have done gangbusters. The time-loop concept was used smartly, and the characters were all compelling, even Tom Cruise.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy
If you haven't seen this, I don't know what's stopping you. One of the most fun movies of the year.

9. Gone Girl
I loved the book. I loved the movie. Dark, twisted, and leaves a lot to chew on after watching.

10. Big Hero Six
Probably the most fun movie I watched this year. Fantastic. I loved this movie. Very much a spiritual successor to The Incredibles. I want this to become a franchise.