Friday, August 16, 2019

Curation

If you weren't on social media last week, and why would you since it's the waning days of summer, you may have missed the latest pop culture dust up. One that really has come to represent what pop culture fandom has become these days. It all started with this tweet:

Mikey/Samwise/Rudy/Bob and an otter? This might be my closing argument.
Almost immediately Pop Culture Twitter went into crisis mode. Asses were in the air and lots of salt was thrown in the air. People were furious. And initially, I was one of them.

This isn't Sean Astin from Stranger Things you sweet summer child, this is Mikey From Goonies. How dare you? You are ruining my childhood...wait, what?

I despise the weaponization of that phrase by fandom. And it's only a small part of the growing problem of fandom in general. Fandom has become a toxic entity. What used to be a warm, comfortable place where you could hang out and interact with people that love the same things you do has become a place where you have to defend what you love, why you love it and if you deserve to love it at all. There's a dangerous degree of curation in every fandom that is slowly but surely turning back the clock to the days when you couldn't say out loud that you loved Star Wars without derision and scorn. (There seems to be a small, but very loud contingency of people that deplorably want the clock turned back on everything, but this isn't a political blog, so I'll just leave it at that.)

Too many people in fandom seem to want their respective fandoms to be insular and consolidated. There should be tests and requirements to "join" a fandom, like we're all joining the Water Buffalo Lodge with Fred and Barney. You have to be a "real" fan, something I've never understood and is annoying. (Ask cosplayers, especially female cosplayers, about that.) Don't you want a wide, all encompassing group? Don't you want lots of people to interact with and talk about the thing you love? I do. It doesn't seem people want to do that. (There's also a long planned post on ownership coming from me soon that's been rekindled by the dust up from the Wheel of Time TV show cast announcements.) Fans want to curate. Fans want to gatekeep. Fans want to keep people out and it makes no sense to me.

I understand that to a lot of fans, being a fan of something frequently meant that you were an outcast and that fandom gave you a comfy place. Those fans around my age led a relatively isolated life within our fandom. If someone said they liked something that was "geeky," you were on guard. Were they mocking you? Were they going to turn this around and make fun of you? This was my entire teenaged years and even now to some extent. If you told me that I'd be at a bar with friends talking about a dragon queen and a night king, I'd stare at you as if I had no idea what you were talking about out of fear of being made fun of. Few things on social media have floored me than the head cheerleader from my high school liking several of my Star Wars posts on Facebook. Did that mean she liked it all along or is she a recent convert? Frankly, I don't care. Welcome. And that's the way it should be.

Fandom shouldn't be insular. It shouldn't be curated. If you love something, love it. And we, as fans, should be welcoming. There are no "fake" fans, we're all real fans. I've been guilty of this. I've side eyed the kids with New York Met hats and Matt Harvey jerseys in 2015-16. I've rolled eyes at young folk that talk about the Prequels with a degree of reverence. But at some point, I stopped. I want more fans to join my fandom. Come on over. Ask me questions. I'll do my best. I became the Game of Thrones expert at work, posting on Facebook that I'd be holding office hours the Monday after episodes to talk. (The Red Wedding was a big day for me as a counselor.) To the head cheerleader, if you have questions about some of the minutiae of Star Wars fandom, let me know. Or maybe you can tell me something I didn't know.

As for Sean Astin, fans, can't we just recognize him as a possibly under-the-radar pop culture icon for almost forty years? He's played FOUR iconic film characters....FOUR. How many actors can say that? We're talking characters that their fans LOVE, that are all phenomenal performances that impacted countless creatives like myself. True, Sean Astin will always be Mikey from Goonies (LFGM, by the way), an iconic character that most of us wanted to be when we were kids (though I was more a "Chunk" than Mikey). But to a lot of others, he's Rudy, a tough as nails, hardworking kid that followed his dreams. To a large majority, he's most remembered as the resilient, brave and loyal Samwise Gamgee, who really was the hero of the saga of the One Ring. And now, to a new generation he's known as Bob Newby, a kind, decent and generous man that was the original "nerd" in his hometown that became a hero in his own right for the woman that he loved. That's a pretty good resume for an icon. If you aren't tearing up at half of those videos, I contend that you may be one of the lizard people. I didn't mention his long career as a voice actor or his performances in notable films like Toy Soldiers, Encino Man or 50 First Dates. From everything I've read, Sean Astin is a decent family man, hard working actor and enthusiastic labor rights activist. He and I share the same birthday, two years apart.  There are worse things to be than a part of his fandom, no matter what the entry point.

So, look, fans, be more open to "new" fans. Stop curating. Welcome people into the fold, because as Samwise Gamgee said, "...there's still some good in the world and it's worth fighting for."


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

G.I. Joe: A Real Literary Hero

Writing really is like playing with your G.I.Joes.

Or your Barbies.

Or your Star Wars figures.

Or your Disney Princess dolls.

Pick your property, it's all the same.

Reading Keep Going got me thinking about this. One of the key ideas that Austin Kleon states is that "your real work is play." I've said this before and it got me thinking about G.I. Joes.

Growing up I was obsessed with G.I. Joe. I collected the figures, calling KayBee Toys after KayBee Toys to make sure they had the latest figures or vehicles. I would wait excitedly for the third Friday of the month when my dad would bring home the latest issue of the GI JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO that my grandfather had bought for me at the corner store. I've recently been rereading the collections of the original Marvel run. One of my earliest influences was the Marvel run. There's a post about the nostalgia of it, but I may save that for one of my 99 Inspirations posts or the nostalgia posts I've been talking about for months now. This is where I learned the importance of plot, characterization and conflict. The little plastic recipe card holder filled with the file cards went everywhere my figures went. I'd plot out the latest missions, sticking close as I could to what the file cards described. I was a stickler too. I was a big believer in sticking to the canon. I still am as a matter of fact.

Roadblock would've been amazing on Chopped.


From those Joes, I moved to live action role playing as we navigated the woods and vacant lots of Shirley, New York. Usually playing war, mimicking what we'd done with the Joes earlier. Looking back, considering our proximity to Brookhaven Labs, it's a wonder that I didn't come up with Stranger Things. I was the scenario creator. (Any friends reading this, feel free to refute this. Memory is a funny thing.) I assigned roles. I created basic plots and let the story where it went, taking input from everyone. (I think I would've done well in a writer's room.) I always remember playing the scientist. Or the heavy machine gunner. Or the ranger. And in the end, that's what we do as writers. That's all creating fiction is: playing with action figures.

I've talked about how in a lot of ways, telling stories might be embedded in our DNA while watching my kids playing. It really doesn't matter the genre, from action/adventure to romance, all we are doing is playing with imaginary people, just like we did when we were kids with articulated 1:18 or 1:6 scaled human shaped pieces of plastic. The only difference is that we are using our own, custom made figures that inhabit our endless mindscapes.

Stories are important. Isn't that one of the things we learned in the final season of Game of Thrones? The Night King wanted to kill Bran because he had become the Three-Eyed Raven, the collector of all the stories of humanity. Without those stories, there is no humanity.

So keep playing with those action figures/dolls, humanity is depending on it.

Go Joe!



Monday, July 29, 2019

It's A Process

Sunday, I wrote this in my notebook:

I shouldn't be writing right now. There's a thousand things I need to be doing. So, I'm going to do them for a bit.

I wrote this Monday morning:

That was a mistake. I had an idea for something I wanted to write, sat down to write it and wrote what I wrote above instead. I don't know if it was a complete mistake to do this, but I did. Were the two or three of the thousand things that needed doing that I got done more important than the fleeting idea that was lost in time, like tears in the rain? It doesn't feel that way.

I've spent much of the morning trying to mentally recreate that moment from yesterday afternoon so I can try to piece together what I wanted to write, but it's not happening. I'm frustrated.

It's not that far from the truth.
It could be the venue. Yesterday, I was at my house, starting in the study before working myself to the front window to watch the kids outside. This morning I'm watching different kids, in summer school. I'm perched on an uncomfortable steel stool behind a long science table in front of the room. One students is demanding that another "Shut the f**k up and stop talking s**t about me" while another, having walked in an hour late, answers an important phone call and can't understand why I've asked him to leave.

It could be the action. I was reading Austin Kleon's Keep Going and had just finished the chapter titled FORGET THE NOUN, DO THE VERB. I've reread the chapter, twice, and nothing's clicking into place yet. It's frustrating because the idea was good enough for me to be thinking about it in the abstract nearly 24 hours later. But instead of writing it down when it was fresh in my mind, I went and cleaned the kitchen instead. A kitchen I'm going to have to clean again when I get home from school this afternoon.

Was what I wanted to write a reaction to the opening paragraph of the chapter? "Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work."

No. I don't think that's it. It's a thought I've had. It's a thought I lived. I always think of the character Lyons from Fences. August Wilson describes him as being more caught up in the idea of being a musician that in the actual practice of the music. I think I was stuck in that for a long time. I talked about being a writer, but wrote very little. But I don't think that was what I wanted to write. It was something else.

Did I want to talk about doing things in my notebook that aren't for public consumption?

No, I do a lot of that. It's something I do want to talk about, but that's not it either. That's been in my head long enough that  it's little more than a cool ember. It's not something that's burning or scratching to get out of my brain. They'll be time enough later for that.

Was it something about the quote "Your real work is play?"

 Wait, the threads are weaving together. Something about my dreams of doing tie-in or adaptation work. Star Wars. Dungeons and Dragons (though they don't do novels anymore). Any TV or movie expanded universe. Comics (I not so secretly dream of getting to do the novelization for the recent WAR OF THE REALMS Marvel event.) It'd be just like playing with my Star War or G.I. Joe figures.

Ahhh, there it is. I've got it now. I'll be back with that post. I wrote this sentence down in my notebook, it's likely the first sentence of my next blog post:

Writing is a lot like playing with your G.I. Joes when you were a kid.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Hide And Seek But Not Hide And Seek

Once again I found myself outside with my kids, observing them play. I'd rather have them playing outside than glued to a screen inside. And I've been loving it. Kids should run, scream and laugh. And the kids in my neighborhood are doing just that.

They've been playing a wide assortment of games, including one called "murder mystery." I prefer to be the observer rather than any kind of participant, so I don't interact at all. I sit in my chair on the porch and read. Or pretend to read and listen. So I haven't asked them the details, but as far as I can tell it's a fascinating variation of hide and seek, not unlike the game we played when I was a kid called jailbreak.

We all know what hide and seek is, right? I don't need to go over that one. Do I? I mean it's in the freaking name. It's simple. Basic. But we aren't all simple and basic. We want variety.

Where are the kids? Hiding, of course


Growing up we played a version called "jailbreak." It was team hide and seek. One team of hiders, one team of seekers. If I remember right (if you're reading this and remember, please feel free to chime in), there were more hiders than seekers. One central location was the "jail" where those caught were held. It was a porch, a street light or one of those big green phone company boxes. (Those were the best.) Those caught could be rescued if one of the hiders rushed the "jail" and yelled, "Jailbreak." Then everyone would run. This meant one "seeker" wasn't a seeker at all, they were a guard. That was the worst job. I was the fat kid that couldn't run. Guess who was the guard?

Before the game started, specific boundaries were established. Boundaries often depended on how many players there were. I can never remember a game of less than fifteen kids. We recruited younger brothers and sisters and drew from the entire surrounding neighborhoods. We had epic games of several dozen kids that spread over the entire development. Our games were often centered around the Tugaw house. It made a perfect jail because they had a relatively large, wide open back yard. It was hard to jailbreak that back porch.

I was a better hider than seeker. I could hide for a big kid. No way I could outrun anyone.I can remember hiding in the bushes of someone's house and them coming out on to the porch and not getting caught by the hiders or the homeowner. I can remember people getting caught by surprise because they were too busy making out to notice someone catching them. (I was especially jealous of them!) I can remember almost suicidal, bold bum rushes to free teammates.

Flash forward to the other night. My kids are playing the latest iteration of "hide and seek." They call it "murder mystery" and, as far as I can tell, it's an interesting game. Not quite as expansive as our "jailbreak" their twist is vastly different, no one knows who is "it." In their version, there's a "game master" who picks who is it, though they worked around this by putting slips of paper in a pail and picking them out, not telling what the paper says. One person is the "murderer," one person is a "detective" and the rest are "innocents." (I love that they are called "innocents.") I couldn't quite figure out what the "detective" did in the game besides hunt the "murderer." The "innocents" just had to hide from the "murderer" while trying to convince the "detective" they weren't the "murderer." This is complex stuff for kids aged 6-12. I couldn't follow all the nuances of the game and I don't want to ask out of fear of them being aware that I'm watching them.

Do we need all these additional rules and variations? I don't know. Maybe it's part of our need to tell complex stories and it's just inherent in our genes. Whatever it is, it's better than sitting in front of a screen.

At one point while they were playing, I was doing something that required going into the shed. Yes, that shed.  The kids were arguing about who was the "murderer" and mischief got the better of me. I turned the corner and bellowed, "I'm the murderer!" while brandishing a hatchet. They squealed in terror and delight.

I hope their parents don't think I'm a serial killer like my students.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

June Got Away

It was Sunday morning. I just finished breakfast, switched over the laundry to the dryer and put a new load in the washer. The lawn needed to be mowed and Cooper had a baseball game later in the day. Natalie had a birthday party. It was a pretty typical Sunday in our house. As I sat at the dinner table, sipping my chai with Cooper at my side, I pulled out my notebook and wrote. I intended to blog more, but somehow the month got away from me and there was only one entry. I tried to figure it out.

Seniors began their yearly, "Oh shit, I need to make up 9 months of school work in 17 days!" mode. I went to three Syracuse Mets games. Yellowstone started on TV and I'm complete obsessed with "Netflix" Good Omens. I'm finishing up Stephen King's The Dark Tower, which I have many, many thoughts about. (To be fair, I'm listening to the audiobooks in the car.) I'm plugging away on The Blackest Heart, a terrific epic fantasy that is just as dense as it is huge. I'm also reading a fascinating book about dinosaurs. I worked a lot on a requested rewrite, so that took up a massive amount of time. I started a new project while sending another to a few trusted readers, including one that described the book as "miles ahead" of anything I've written before. (I'm kind of freaking out about it.) I'm clocking in about an hour and a half of writing a day. I want to get that to two. I've also actually written every day. 

This is where I stopped to mow the lawn. I like mowing my lawn. I bust my father-in-law's chops about his obsession with mowing his lawn ("Nick only mows his lawn on days that end with Y."), but I understand it. It's the same with snowblowing. I like putting in my earbuds, listening to music and just doing something mindless. It's good thinking time. Ways to untie narrative knots, think of new story ideas or think through an idea that was merely in early gestation. 

I finished the front lawn. I can remember breezing through this lawn and the neighbor's lawn with no trouble. Now I'm sucking down a Gatorade after doing half the lawn. To be fair to myself, Cooper had a baseball game and needed lunch. Kim had taken Nat to her birthday party. I listened to my late 80s/early 90s ski club book writing mix. I was a sappy, borderline melancholy teen.

I have some ideas about what I want to put in this space. I have an essay about fan entitlement that I'm not ready to write yet. I want to write about The Dark Tower, but I have to finish it first. I have a few ideas I want to write about summer, including a post on "Summer" songs and one that focuses on one of those blue-light bug zappers that still hasn't solidified into something worth putting into words. I've been looking back and reading the The Legend of Drizzt books by R.A. Salvatore so I can write about nostalgia (there's a great passage I copied from one of the books that is a perfectly amazing point about nostalgia) and compare it to the way I felt about my Dragonlance re-read a few years back. That's not ready yet either. I have some reading to do. I copied a few passages from William Golding's writing books and I want to talk about those too. He has some great thoughts on writing. (No, duh.)

A writer in the wild.


Now, it's Wednesday and I'm done with school. Grades are done. Keys are handed in. Reflection is written. (One of my good friends at school thought it was amusing that I take writing the reflection so seriously.) I'm writing this entry having completed all necessary end-of-the-year tasks. Tomorrow and Friday I have professional development to replace two of the snow days we missed. I'm okay with that. It sucks that it'll be two days away from my kids, but I think they'll live since they'll be poolside while I'm learning next gen ELA standards. 

I don't have a conclusion. I'm terrible at endings. It could be why I have so much trouble finishing a project. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Driveways: The One Time Social Center Of The Universe

Earlier this week, my son asked me to go outside with him and play catch. So we did. Except for the creaky knees, throbbing veins in my ankles and inability to bend on my part, it was all very Norman Rockwell. After we tossed the ball around, he decided he was bored and wanted to ride his scooter instead. I sat on the porch watching him and the neighborhood around him. A little backstory is necessary.

About a year and half ago I bought the house I grew up in from my parents, so I'm raising my family in the house where I was raised. Not much has changed about the neighborhood. A lot of the same neighbors still live here so it's probably weird for them to see the same kid that was always in trouble or up to some shenanigans is now playing the part of parent. 

So, I'm sitting on the porch watching my son and the neighborhood, three cars cars came down the street. One right after another followed a little later on by a third. This is unusual because our street is at the end of the development and isn't a thoroughfare. All three cars had the same destination, across the street and a few houses down. The house where my friend John Anzalone used to live. When the third car showed up, someone came out from inside as the driver got out. They were both young men. (I assume, I've reached the age where anyone under the age of 35 looks 17 to me)  And they just were hanging out, talking, one leaning against the back of his car. I didn't eavesdrop, but I've been where they are. Standing in the driveway, talking about what young men talk about: girls, cars, music, sports, where they were going that night or over the weekend. I've been there. We've all been there. It's just a different driveway.

Not bad for stock photography. 


The Tenshaws. The LaDukes. The Cases. The Hartmans. The Kellys. The Wolffs. The Montos. Grandma Toni's. The names change. The driveways change. The years change. The topics don't.

I can in my mind's eye remember conversations, scenarios and crises created and averted in those driveways. When we were younger, games were created and played. Pictures drawn with chalk. It was often our first boundary. As we got older, the driveway became more. It was neutral ground. It was the starting point and the ending point. There were first kisses. Last kisses. Questionable make-out sessions and the inevitable getting caught. Things thrown at one another, both physical items (my legendary "Z" hat was flung at me several times) and verbal grenades. Break-up. Questions asked and answered. New cars admired. Old cars complained about. Everything. And sometimes nothing at all. And that was the beauty of it. And the power of it. No text messages. No phone calls. Just showing up to shoot the shit with another person about what's going on in their lives. And my neighbors were fully engrossed in it. For a moment, there was a 90s vibe to my neighborhood and it made me happy.



Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sticking The Landing

Well, it's over. One of the most significant epic fantasies/ television shows/ pop culture phenomenons has ended. (Okay, look, I know there are prequels and spinoffs and all the stuff, but let's stay focused people!) Endings are hard. Really hard. And it did so in a way that many of its predecessors has done before: filled with controversy and disappointment. Think about how many shows haven't quite stuck the landing. (Aren't we still a little salty over THE SOPRANOS?) Before I discuss my opinions, which is why you came here, let me get something off my chest.

As someone else suggested, Sam should've looked at the camera like Jim Halpert.


You don't get to write the ending.

You can hate the ending. You can love the ending. Worst of all, you could "meh" the ending. But you aren't allowed to write it.

If you could, I'd be writing about it and we likely wouldn't know one another.

There's a fine line in this rant. We've reach the point in this society that you aren't allowed to love something, just defend it. Everyone feels they are the righteous one and their opinion should be the prevailing one. Don't believe me? Search THE LAST JEDI on YouTube. There are some people that have entirely too much time on their hands. (Says the guy writing a blog post about GOT that tweets almost incessantly.) There are a lot of manbabies still stewing about that. (There's a forthcoming blog from me about the idea of the "Mary Sue.") Anyway, I'm digressing. Back to my point. Just because you don't like something, doesn't mean I am wrong. And just because I love something doesn't mean you are wrong. That's something we're all getting wrong.

I'm not saying we shouldn't critique or criticize. I would encourage it in fact. But don't plant an implacable flag in a hill. It's rarely worth dying for, trust me. There's plenty of things I don't like and I try not to criticize. Don't get me started on THIS IS US. Or A MILLION LITTLE THINGS. Or anything that Rachel Hollis or Nicholas Sparks writes. Most "bro" country? TEEN MOM? My wife is glaring, I'm sure. But I try not to die on that hill anymore. It's a vicious cycle.

In preparation for writing this, I put up a Facebook post asking people what they didn't like about the finale. I'm not going to refute to the ones I disagreed. Almost all of it is legitimate criticism and it's the way they felt. I had some suspicions and some theories, some were proven correct, others not.

Let's address one thing first about the whole season. And last season too. The pacing was terrible. If anything ruined the ending, that would be it. D&D were done with this. I know this feeling as a writer. It's not an excuse, it's just reality. And it sucks for us. Everything felt rushed, causing a serious drop-off in quality. (I'm not going to go through a recap of previous seasons where the writing was atrocious!) It felt like these episodes were written hastily with very little story editing. It was almost like someone was doing an adaptation of an adaptation. But there were enough shiny moments for this season that I can sort of...sort of....forgive them.

So, I liked the episode. A lot. It did a lot of things I like to see in an ending. Things I think are important to endings. It tied off loose ends. It left us with a bittersweet sense of hope. That things, in general were going to be okay. Was it perfect? I don't know if that's the word I'd use but it worked really well. I predicted the time jump, though we get no sense of how long that time is. Enough for Jon Snow's hair to get all frizzy I guess. So, some comments:

  • I like clean endings and this was clean. It was fast and more than a little sloppy but in the end it did what it was supposed to do.
  • The noble's council was equal parts fun and frustrating. The exchanges between the characters is brilliant. I liked Tyrion's speech. It made sense that he got the speech. He's your best character, you give him that speech. The laughter at Sam's suggestion of democracy was appropriate and he sort of got his way as Westeros moved towards a Holy Roman Empire/Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth/Ventian/Dutch model of monarchy. (One I've used in my own writing.)
  • Sansa shutting down Edmure. Just a great moment that felt very "down with patriarchy" moment. A mediocre white dude being told to sit down by a strong woman was great. (Granted they undid that by letting Sansa's pot smoking brother take the throne.)
  • The entire Small Council meeting was great. It gave every character a chance to shine and, as Patton Oswald said, it was the most hopeful thing that this show has truly given us. Yah, Bronn wants more brothels, but he also wants to see the budget that Davos wants to spend. They all agree for the need for clean water and are ready to work to that goal. And every character is something that hasn't been before: most are from humble backgrounds. A sell sword. A smuggler. A female knight. The only (and disgraced) son of an ancient house is the Hand and has defied the odds. 
  •  There was a lot that didn't make sense at times and I think that there were things that got cast aside or honestly forgotten (there's a great series of memes about this very thing) but there was nothing monumentally out of character or inconsistent. Except for the one thing that mattered. 
  • Let address it since I haven't. Yes, Dany had to die. Again, pacing. If we'd seen the descent over a period of time, I think a lot of people wouldn't have felt strongly about this. Her idea of "freedom" had obviously become about her ruling the entire world and being the "mother of the world." We've heard this from tyrants before. 
  • Jon Snowgaryen's action was the just right thing for him to do. Yes, it's out of no where and somewhat out of character but I had no issue with it. It does some things that are noteworthy and important that goes back to that prickly Stark honor. Between him doing something a son of Ned Stark would never do to Drogon's reaction to Dany's death. Makes you wonder how intelligent is a dragon? Can he tell that Jon is the last Tarygaryen? Is that why he doesn't kill him and melt the Iron Throne down into slag? 
  • And yes, I know, Gray Worm vs. Jon Snow trail by combat would've been awesome, but neither character worshipped the Seven, so it wouldn't work-a small consistency that people miss. 
  • Jon going to the Wall was a cheap out. The Unsullied were going away and were there enough Dothraki in Westeros to make that a big deal about it? He could've served on the Small Council. Or was their a concern about him being Targaryen?
  • Why didn't Dorne or the Iron Islands declare independence too? One of the frustrating inconsistencies in the episode. 
These are one man's thoughts. I'd encourage you over to The Wertzone that did a great job of making a lot of really good point about this entire season. I thought this seasons was rushed and imperfect but it did a lot of the things I wanted the final season to do. 

Now here's where I'd encourage you to check out my epic fantasy series SEASONS OF DESTINY, which should be on the second even third book by now. But I can't. Because I made a bad decision. But that's a story for another time.