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.




Monday, May 13, 2019

So, That Was...Something

As the resident "expert" Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire expert to some people in my life, the last 24 hours has been a little like the brilliant "Election of 1800" from Hamilton as people seem to be waiting for me to weigh in on "The Bells." It's likely me overestimating the importance of my opinions to the people that agreed to be my friend on Facebook. So, here's my Royal penny.

First, let's get this out of the way....it's highly unlikely there is going to be any kind of universally satisfying ending to the show, even if the writing was a little sharper than it is. There are too many fan theories and wannabe fantasy writers out there trying to second guess that nothing is going to be as fulfilling as the ending we have in out own mind. I am one of these wannabes, but I've gone into the last two seasons with a complete open mind without trying to figure it out. I want to be surprised and then, maybe, think about how I'd try to do it.

Initially, I wasn't sure what to think about the episode last night. Both this week and last week's episodes made me feel this way. I wasn't sure how I felt, going back and forth on how I felt about the episodes. I know that I was stoked and it was some spectacle with some amazing moments in it and some real head scratching moments. For this post, I'm going to focus on "The Bells," which I think I liked more than a lot of people did, especially now with some distance from it.

I was critical last night of the writing , but there were some things, upon reflection that actually make a little more sense now and are pretty consistent with what has happened so far. (I'll openly admit that I read a few online reviews and discussions that helped me with this. io9's is pretty good.) There were some tweaks that could've been made in the writing that wouldn't have made Dany the monster she became, but it's pretty clear now that was the intent all along was to show that she was in fact a monster. At first, it felt like this was another example of the writers choosing to have a character do something incredibly out of character for the sake of plot. (I'm looking at you WALKING DEAD.) But looking at it a little more carefully, Dany's reaction is perfectly in character. This was her plan from day one. The throne isn't hers because she deserves it, it's hers because IT IS HERS. I think the issue is that for a long time now we've viewed this as Dany the "good guy" vs. Cersei the "bad guy" and this is the root of the problem. We assume her behavior is inconsistent because we've been rooting for her to succeed for a while. The problem arises in the pacing. The last two seasons have moved too quick and take away the impact of all the things that got Dany where she is now: driven completely mad.

Not to say all the writing was consistent. The opening of the battle was a prime example. That literally should've been done last week. It was too easy and almost an afterthought. Dany shredded the scorpions and the Iron Fleet in under five minutes.  All that rigmarole over the Golden Company and it all meant nothing, though Drogon blasting through the gates was incredible. Why did she wait? It undid everything that was done last week and not in a good way. There was no tension. No purpose to it other than to maybe show off something cool then "fridge" a significant character of color. That was really lazy writing. There was some decent writing too, and some of these opinions might not be well received but I stick by them.



Let's talk about Jon Snowgaryen, because I think there are some consistent things happening here. He's the best candidate for being king for one real reason: he's a pretty mediocre white dude and he has no ambition whatsoever, which is what seems to work best in Westeros. He's proven to be a good leader. He's got enough charisma for people to follow and he knows when he can and can't handle things beyond his scope. He is a shit general. But that's consistent too and that goes all the way back to the premier. Jaime tells Ned that he was raised to be the warrior, not the lord of Winterfell. When his brother dies, Ned has to fill that role but never seems comfortable with it, which is why the north kind of flourishes with him as its lord instead of the "lusty" Brandon Stark. Jon was raised as the bastard son of a lord. He was never going to be a lord but was always going to be a warrior, whether that was with the Night's Watch or standing by Robb's side. Mormont saw his charisma and ability to lead from the front as a warrior, so made him a steward, which helps him in the logistics of preparing for the Long Night. His being so overwhelmed in the city is completely consistent.

The razing of the city was a terrific callback and reminder from whence Dany came including the flashes of green wildfire that was Aerys's "nuclear" option during Robert's Rebellion.

Now comes the aftermath and how they are going to wrap this up. I have no guesses, but I'm imagining Sansa figures significantly.

One more thing before I do some random thoughts. If this entire season isn't an indictment of the "pantsing" school of writing, I'm not sure what is. A few days ago, someone posted a long Twitter thread about how this was all caused by GRRM's "gardener" approach of writing. The pantsers, many of whom go long times between writing projects, were up in arms over the accusation. I'm the first to admit there's more than one way to cook a goose, but if you're writing a massive, multi-volume epic fantasy, I think some kind of plan helps.

So, random thoughts:

  • I thought the Hound-Arya scenes were just right. Again, they were scenes I was a little peeved at about at first, but then thinking about them, it was the last bit of decency left in Sandor Clegane: he saw what could happen to this young woman, the person that she could become and decided that he was the one who had to stop her from doing it because he is what she would've become. And deep down inside, in the end, the Hound was a victim of abuse. It did nothing to diminish what Arya has managed to do, it just turned her from what would have been a life that was not meant for her. (I for one can't wait for the all female Westerosi senatorial guards, called the She-Wolves)
  • Good, God, if NOTHING else, the CLEGANE BOWL was totally worth it, from beginning to end it was just savagely beautiful. And I mean beautiful. 
  • Jaime Lannister really is the "stupidest Lannister." He's the rich jock that made good because of Daddy's connections. And his ending was just as fitting, buried under tons of rock. 
  • As much as I wanted Cersei to "get it," there was something appropriate about the way she got it. Almost like this wasn't her story to begin with.
  • Grey Worm: another example of decent writing, but not on the surface. He's a disciplined soldier that follows orders. He's also a character that found something he never thought possible: love. And lost it. Again, we go back to fridging as a story device. 
  • One major issue: funny how the Dothraki were almost all wiped out until they needed someone to show "savages" in the capital. Again, this show does people of color so wrong. 
Upon review, this was better than I thought. Agree? Disagree? 

As for me, I'm starting the bones of my Epic Fantasy I Wasn't Going To Write and let's see if I can plan something decent, learning lessons from this. 

One of those lessons? I don't think anyone really wins the game of thrones. 


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Where Was My Friend With The Selectric Typewriter?

A few months back I got on a podcast kick and listened to a lot of Jeff Pearlman's TWO WRITER'S SLINGING YANG and Marc Maron's WTF PODCAST, focusing on writers. I love listening to writers talking about writing. I don't care what kind of writing, it's just great listening to people talk about their process and insightful. But I also get bummed out. One of Maron's podcasts is still sticking with me: his interview with Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin is a writer I admire a great deal. I've had some of my dialogue compared to his. The interview was riveting, yet I walked away with a vague melancholy that's been gumming up the works for weeks. (It's not the only reason this is happening but it's nothing I want to write about publicly right now.) Sorkin told a story how he was a struggling actor in New York City and a friend asked him to hold on to his IBM Selectric typewriter while he went out of town. In a moment of loneliness, Sorking started typing dialogue and never looked back. It's a great story, especially the way he tells it. But I'm still thinking one thing all these weeks later:

WHERE WAS MY FRIEND THAT NEEDED ME TO HOLD ON TO THEIR IBM SELECTRIC TYPEWRITER?????



Success is heavily reliant on the support we get. Sorkin talked about his friendship with William Goldman, who became a mentor. I didn't have one of those. I listened to another WTF Podcast where Seth McFarlane talked about his career and how so much of it hinged on the support of his parents and the people around him.

I thought back to when I was younger and the support that I received. It didn't feel like it was much, but memory plays tricks on us, altering things, moving them around for new information while repressing other things only to have them bubble up on a random February car ride home from work. Yet I still don't remember a lot of support. I didn't have a mentor. I didn't know a lot of writers around me. (Much of this was during the pre-Internet days.) I knew that my closest friend fully supported me, yet he didn't have a Selectric kicking around. I had a few ex-girlfriends that saw my writing as a waste of time. (Hence the reason they are exes, I suppose.) Kim doesn't entirely understand this writing thing, but she supports it and that's all I need.

I've talked about things like this before. I've made my own decisions and I'm where I am because of me. And I like where I am. I look at the two men I wrote about and the lives they have. Financials aside, I'm not sure. Sorkin's divorced with one kid. McFarlane is a notorious bachelor. I love what I have. I think of the SIMPSONS episode where Homer gets our of debt and quits the nuclear plant to become a pin jockey at the bowling alley, complete with him burning a bridge. When things fall apart with the arrival of Maggie, Mr. Burns puts up a sign that Homer turns from "Don't forget, you're here forever" into "Do it for her." It's a touching moment and one that I live every day. I don't know if I'd trade all the days I've had with my family for a modicum of success that either of those gentlemen did. I'm lucky that I have the support that I have now and maybe this was the path I needed to take to get there.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Few Thoughts on AVENGERS: ENDGAME (Spoilers)

What a week for nerds, huh? "The Long Night" and AVENGERS: ENDGAME in one weekend. It's pretty amazing. I wrote about "The Long Night" already and that was important enough, especially for me, considering how important the novels GAME OF THRONES is based on are to me. Last night I went to see ENDGAME and it was phenomenal. Not perfect, but pretty darn close.



Let me preface what I'm going to say here with this, I didn't particularly care for INFINITY WAR. I know I'm in the minority and I didn't hate it, but I didn't think it was as good as other people thought it was. It was a terrific spectacle, but that was all it was. I mean there were moments, but for the most part it just didn't land the way I hoped that it would. ENDGAME more than made up for it, in the opening scenes alone.

I mean, who didn't want to climb into the screen and hug Hawkeye?

As a guy that loves epic, this was terrifically epic while staying personal on so many levels. Scott Lang wanting to do what was right. Tony Stark reluctant to change because he basically got everything he wanted but realizing that it wasn't going to be that simple. Natasha Romanov becoming the leader she always was. Steve Rogers being Steve Rogers. Bruce Banner coming to peace with the monster. And Thor properly mourning his mother while crumbling under the burden of failure. I thought they spent just the right amount of time with each character and finishing their arc.

There were hiccups, though I thought the seeming disregard of the standard time-travel movie tropes was brilliant. The references to every time travel movies were funny, well-times and completely deconstructed. "So Back To The Future is a buncha bullshit" is such a terrific line and only Paul Rudd could deliver it that well. And actually Rudd is a highlight of the first half of the film. Scott Lang is the heart of the film and Rudd's frenetic, over his head  performance adds a level we haven't seen in these movies. The Avengers are highly trained and/or talented people. Ant-man isn't. In many ways, he's us. And that's why his character works. He's clever enough to figure out how to fix what's going on, but knows he's in over his head. I only hope I'd be wise enough to do what he did.

Banner and Rocket nearly steal the movie, especially in the first half. (Really the two halves are two different movies and work so well.) Professor Hulk is outstanding and Ruffalo really has been and always will be the best Banner. Rocket it Rocket and there's a really weird (and good) chemistry between he and Nebula in the film as they basically become one half of the "galactic Avengers." And I loved the Nebula arc.

I really thought Nebula was betraying the group, but was thrilled to see that it was nothing but network problems. Nebula had a nice arc and Karen Gillian was terrific at playing the two aspects of the character.

The "Time Heist" section of the movie was just brilliant. It was everything that it was supposed to be, from Natasha's sacrifice (I'll get to that in a minute) to how awry things go for each of the characters. Seeing Professor Hulk "smash" was hilarious and the whole "America's ass" bit made me laugh out loud. (It was equally important to Cap's characterization...that's not something he would've said pre-snap.) DadThor was amazing and, as someone said out on the Internet, will be the hot adult male costume of the year. Again, I don't care about how fast and loose they played with the traditional time-travel "rules." There was enough hand-waving for my concerns to go away. (I'll get to that in a minute.)

As usual with the Avenger movies, the handling of female characters was an issue, though seeing Pepper Potts as "Rescue" was bad ass. Captain Marvel was criminally underused and I had wanted her to be a bigger part of the resolution.

The final battle was amazing. Just pitch perfect, frantically kinetic and thrilling from beginning to end, it was thrilling. If you didn't get chills when you heard Sam's voice in Cap's ear, I weep for you. If you didn't feel something when Cap picked up Mjolnir, I have no time for you. Thor's genuine thrill that Cap was "worthy" was moving. Then came the moment we've been waiting for since we first heard of the Avengers Initiative, Cap's announcement of "Avengers...(pregnant pause)Assemble" was climactic.

Running the Gauntlet through the gauntlet was incredible. From T'challa to Spider Man to Captain Marvel and her personal Amazon guard, the sequence killed it. Tony' sacrifice was foretold but it was pulled off perfectly. Steve, seeing the happiness that Tony got with his post-snap life defies it all and stays in the past with Peggy. He got his happy ending. (Knowing that Bucky had Falcon helped.) Really, just a classic that rivals JEDI for the best conclusion ever.

A few random notes:

  • Doesn't it feel like the movie could've been four hours longer? I mean I want to see Nebula and Rocket as the Galactic Avengers and Okoye basically running Africa would be amazing. Rhodey chasing down Clint? A buddy comedy with ThorDad, Korg and Miek as Valkyrie basically runs New Asgard (that'd be a great story...who'd they convince to allow that?). We could do three movies (and I hope that's what they do) of what Captain Marvel's doing. 
  • You can't help but feel like the folks at Marvel wasted Bradley Cooper, though he's amazing as Rocket. 
  • Let's talk a sec about Rocket...what a great character. The loss of his "family" shakes him to the core and he's all business while retaining some of his Rocket ways. Like I said, the chemistry between he and Nebula is great, though he has great rapport with Professor Hulk too. 
  • RDJ is amazing. He's broken in this movie and looks sickly. And I think that's a wise decision. He should be broken. And it's his family that redeems him. The funeral is heartbreaking and is loaded with some of the best callbacks in the movie.
  • They've set up about 20 alternate universes, haven't they. Okay, maybe not that many, but enough: Loki with the Tesseract and Cap's life with Peggy. Can you say X-Men? Miles Morales? Fantastic Four? (Denzel Washington as Reed Richards...please, please, please) Next Phase here we come. Or at least the animated WHAT IF? show (please use the animation style of the STAR WARS shorts!!!)
  • When OldCap gave Sam the shield, I literally squealed. Loud. I can't wait for the Winter Soldier and Falcon television show. It's going to be amazing! 
  • You can't help but wonder if the director of "The Long Night" could've learned something about a battle scene from this movie. 
Marvel has mastered the "shared universe" concept and this was the pinnacle. It's going to be hard for anything to top this movie in that regard. I almost feel bad for the rest of the "Summer blockbusters" at this point.

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Few Thoughts On "The Long Night" (SPOILERS)

Almost twenty years of fandom came down to one 80 minute episode of television. An episode that has had people gnawing fingernails and nervously fretting over the fates of their favorite characters since the episode was announced in early March. This was going to be THE episode. And I don't think it let down in the least. It wasn't perfect, but damn it was well executed and something of a masterpiece. It's the afternoon after now and I wrote the bulk of this in the morning, having separated myself from what I watched and read a few well-done reviews of the episode to add my two cents, which, let's be honest, it about what my thoughts are worth.

First, on Facebook last night, I made seven predictions. I'd love to say that was by design since we're dealing with the Seven Kingdoms, but it was nothing more than a lucky coincidence. Here were my predictions, which I'll deal with at the end:

  • I think the "dead are already here"/crypts concern is a feint. Something happens in the crypts, but I don't think it's what we're all think it is.
  • I don't think as many people are going to die as we think. I think they'll be a gratuitous death of Stark Soldier 1 or Eryie Soldier 2. 
  • Arya's up to something. 
  • I think Pod or Brienne die, but not both.
  • I can't help but feel like Melisandre plays a role in the battle. 
  • I can't help but feel like we get an unclean resolution to this plotline.
  • Cersei is involved somehow.
As for the episode itself (which I was 45 minutes behind on because my son wouldn't sleep...sorry Mara for shushing you via text meassage!), it was intense and brilliantly executed. I know that it was dark and difficult to see. I wound up turning off all the lights to watch it. But in the end, it didn't bother me at all. I think the lighting was a deliberate choice. We saw what was important when we needed to see it. Everything else was shown exactly the way we needed to see it: confusing chaos. It was actually pretty consistent with the way the show has approached other huge battles like this one. 

The writing, directing and editing were really good. Like I said, this wasn't flawless, but it was damn good. I'd love to see the script for this episode. Dialogue was sparse (30-40 lines, maybe?) but when there was dialogue, it was punctuated the importance of what was being said while more than occasionally offering us a respite from what was going on. Clegane's complete meltdown was terrific and a shout out to Hudson's "Game over man" and Sansa and Tyrion's conversation in the crypt were a sweet juxtaposition to the carnage happening above them. But as was a motif in this episode, Arya stole the dialogue cake with her "Stick them with the pointy end." I literally Horshacked when she said it.

Starting the episode from Sam's perspective was brilliant. In a lot of ways, he's our surrogate. We know where he's coming from. Most of us aren't soldiers or great fighters and I'd like to think most of us would stand in line to face the enemy. Sam is one of the best written characters on the show and John Bradley was made for the role. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Sam (for obvious reasons) and I still do now. 

The charge of the Dothraki with the fiery swords winking out one by one was just stellar. The whole scene was visually stunning. It was such an obvious choice and just ramped up the tension as each light winks out one by one until we are all just Jaime staring in disbelief. 

There's some justified criticism over the way the Dothraki and Unsullied were handled in this episode. It's bothersome to see the only characters of color sacrificed in the manner they were, especially considering the way they were treated by the Notherners in previous episodes. I suppose there's an argument to be made that it made sense for them to be where they were on the battlefield and the Unsullied were the only ones with any coherent battle plan that worked, but in the end they were little more than fodder and sacrificed for the sake of the "good" white people.

And to that end, Jon Snowgaryen is a SHIT general and he better find some help for the next 3 episodes. (What did Robb Stark say about winning battles but losing the war?)


The scenes with the dead wandering Winterfell were amazing. You go from this massive, epic fantasy battle scene of carnage and destruction to a quiet, delicate game of cat and mouse in the suddenly claustrophobic halls. The use of horror film conventions continued when the Night King raised the dead while stalking Bran. This was straight out of The Walking Dead or World War Z and it was creepy as hell as it extinguished all hope we may have been feeling. 




A note on some of the deaths:
  • Dolorous Edd: Bummer but I wasn't shocked. Sam's reaction was perfect.
  • Lyanna Mormont: We all wanted this little spitfire to survive and she was the first real "Nooooo" of the night. She was such a revelation and a brilliant character. The story of Lyanna the Giantslayer will be told every night to the Briemund babies for generations to come. 
  • Jorah Mormont:Totally expected, even money bet. As Vanity Fair (!) pointed out, the Mormont words are "Here we stand." Both deaths fits that. 
  • Theon Greyjoy: In fitting with the theme of redemption that has become a prevalent part of the show at this point, Theon arc has been such and important part of the show, the ending was both sad and satisfying. 
So, my predictions? Let's see how I did:
  • I was wrong about the crypts, but it was cheesy. There was enough tension in the crypts and they accomplished enough with the sounds of the battle above and the soldiers pounding on the door telling them to open up was more than enough. 
  • I was dead on about character deaths. It was just a gut feeling that this was going to be intense enough without characters we love dying. 
  • Arya wasn't initially up to something, but she came up in the end, didn't she? (What are the odds that she winds up on the Throne with Gendry, a Baratheon, at her side?)
  • Pod and Brienne both made it. 
  • Let me come back to the resolution.
  • Okay, all Cersei wanted was elephants and even the Night King couldn't provide those!
As for the unclear resolution, I still think it's unclear. Sure, the previews seem to imply there's some rebuilding and celebrating, though Sansa seems to be doing a lot of glaring in the preview. There seems to be a remnant of sorts of the army (Maybe Jon is off recruiting help...the Dornish? The Ironborn? The Manderlys in White Harbor?) There has to be more to Bran's arc. We've spent so much time talking about the Three-Eyed Raven, why would we just abandon that? 

I was so jacked, that I didn't wind up going to bed until almost 2 this morning. I was literally shaking during portions of the episode. I also walked away pretty bummed. I fancy myself a writer of epic fantasy. There's no way I could write a battle that amazing. (I still have to finish Wheel of Time, where the final battle took 81k words to tell.) I've got time though. I can work on that skill, right?

Anyway, it was another iconic episode to an iconic show. It doesn't seem that long ago that talking about epic fantasy in public earned long side-eyes and people taking three steps back from you.

As for things I never thought you'd be able to talk about in public without scorn, I'm going to see Endgame Tuesday, so I'll have thoughts about that then.

In the mean time, there's only 3 episodes left. And I think I know the title of one of them...THE CLEGANE BOWL!

Friday, April 26, 2019

My Students Think I'm A Serial Killer

Too many times when I write about school it's negative. Part of it is that writing is a form of on-the-fly therapy for me. It's easier and cheaper than paying someone, that's for sure. Writing gives me a chance to reflect and react to what's happened while helping me "clear the chamber." I thought I'd change that around a little bit today and talk about something that happened in my class that was pretty positive.

I have a pretty good rapport with my students despite myself. I'm big. I'm loud. I'm abrasive. To some, I'm remarkably (and inexplicably) intimidating. I can be overly demanding. I preach a degree of independence that many of them aren't prepared for. I praise begrudgingly, a product of my own upbringing that I'm working hard at changing for the sake of my own children, who respond vastly better to positive reinforcement than negative. However, once they "get me," they are almost always all in with what I'm doing. Sure, I still frustrate them, but as time goes on it is more of an amused frustration on their part at my own foibles and my exasperation at their's. I've joked with one administrator that I'm an acquired taste that isn't usually appreciated until a year or two later. This week that connection felt really strong.

We're doing a second research paper in class. My students need the practice, especially considering so many of them intend to go to college in the fall. Their first research projects were mostly mediocre, occasionally good and largely horrendous. (At least the ones that were actually submitted...what were you DOING in the library? Wait, that's another blog!) Inspired by the story behind Jeff Pearlman's brilliant FOOTBALL FOR A BUCK, students are allowed to research whatever the want, however they want. Yes, I'm opening a Pandora's box, but I think the students need the help.

As part of my introduction to the unit, I talked about two things that I'd recently researched: knives and how to tie knots.  My first period, a relatively quiet, intelligent and kind of nerdy group, said nothing, but certainly side-eyed me. My next class, a more vocal, rambunctious group, didn't hesitate.

"Yo, Z, that's super creepy," one announced alongside a chorus of affirmations concerning my sudden interest in knives and knots.

"No,no," I said, more nervous than I would've liked as the realization dawned on me. "It's only because I was cleaning out my shed over break."

"Z, you just made it creepier," another student said to uproarious laughter. I lost the room. And I was okay with that. There was a joy in listening to the students detail how they now had it in their mind that I was some kind of serial killer. They proceeded to ask really good questions, which I've been told is the sign of good teaching.

"What's in your shed that you need a knife for?"
"Z, who's watching your kids while this is happening?"
"What do you need to tie up in your shed?"
"Why knots?"
"Where is your wife?"

I only made it worse while explaining that I needed a new knife because I hid my previous pocket knife from my niece, who had found it in the basement, and couldn't find it. I needed it because I had several "person-sized" cardboard boxes in my shed that needed breaking down. Questions turned to good-natured but harsh ribbing about me potentially being a serial killer. (I mean look at my white board, for crying out loud):

All that's missing is a cipher....

Moments like there are part of teaching. What did my students learn? I'm not sure, but for a few moments, we were bonding, laughing and talking about how funny language can be. Three days later, students are still asking me if my new knife came (it did) and was I having any luck taking care of my "boxes" or if I'd learned any new knots. I smiled. Maybe I'm getting through. I mean it's almost May.

For now, this is Zodiac speaking.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Implication of Explicit Contrarianism

I lost my temper with a student today.



This isn't so unusual, though when you work at a place where you are told to suck a dick or eat an ass on a regular basis it becomes harder to do than it used to. It happened during an unnecessary classroom discussion and there is a part of me that feels guilty that I lost control. Another part of me is just bone weary at this point.

We are reading The Great Gatsby. It's the first time I've taught it in a few years and, in addition to being one of my favorite books of all time, it's one of my favorite books to teach. As part of today's lesson, students were required to read The Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness the write a response to it and discuss whether they agreed or disagreed. There really isn't an argument for disagreeing with the theory, especially considering the context of the lesson. But that didn't stop one student from raising his hand with a question, though it was more of a comment than a question. He didn't agree saying that there was nothing in the text saying that Sam couldn't afford the boots except for his own unwillingness to save in order to buy them. I then attempted to explain that it's implied in the text. He turned it around to make completely unrelated, made up and absurd implications about the text. ("But her emails!") I further explained that one of the difficulties his generations has (get off my damn lawn) is that they are unable or unwilling to understand implication and subtext. There is a necessity for everything to be explicit. (See the ongoing debate over The Last Jedi.) The discussion wound up slowly eating itself like a verbal Worm Ouroboros. Exasperated, I explained that he was just being a contrarian. He looked at me with a puzzled look and I explained that he was just arguing for the sake of arguing. In other words, he was just being a dick. He took offense to this though I think it was more about being told he needed everything in a text spelled out for him.

Cleverly, he turned that around on me saying that the sign someone has lost a debate is when one person insult's the other's character. From a certain perspective, he may have been right. Class time was bleeding away and I was taking far too much time away from the needs of other students to engage in this roundabout that was going no where. I'm all for vigorous discussion in my classroom, but this wasn't the time to play devil's advocate for the sake of playing devil's advocate, especially when there is an obvious disingenuousness to it. Having been the person that will throw a verbal hand grenade for the sole person of agitating a situation, I eventually saw what he was doing. And I walked right into it.

I usually don't allow this to happen but it certainly felt like this kid was just trying to poke the bear. And waste time. I'm a tangent taking type of teacher and said student took full advantage of it to spend a chunk of writing time to run around in circles to overcomplicate a simple concept just to go against the grain. And I lost my temper.

For a moment, I felt bad about it. Until said student, with a straight face and no irony, asked if he could be excused from the assignment because he didn't have time to finish it. I made sure I was explicit this time.



Monday, April 1, 2019

The Return of the NAFL, Part 2: The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

A few months back, I made a post about how Jeff Pearlman's brilliant FOOTBALL FOR A BUCK inspired me to revive an old pastime I had involving a fake football league I used to run. I reorganized and started up the old league, then set it aside, until this past week after finishing an interesting book that's got me thinking about it again.



I found Robert Coover's THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION, INC., J. HENRY WAUGH, PROP by accident. (Isn't that usually the case?) I was looking up Fictional Sports Teams on Wikipedia, (yes, Friday nights aren't what they used to be) and I came across an entry for Universal Baseball Association. I'd never heard of it and went immediately to Google. The book was hard to find and thankfully the New York Public Library had a Kindle version available. (If you live in NY and don't have a NYPL card, go get one...now. Seriously, I'll wait.) It was a riveting read that I couldn't put down and had me thinking about it when I was forced to put it down for reasons beyond my control. In some ways it was a bizarre parallel to the novel's main character. To him the real world was nothing more than an inconvenience to the imaginary world that he had created on his kitchen table with some laminated charts, a notebook and a few sets of dice.

Henry is an aging accountant that lives alone in an unnamed city. (My head canon has it as the same city as the movie SEVEN.) He spends his day trudging away as an accountant for the ominously named Dunkelman, Zauber and Zifferblatt firm while his free time is occupied by the Universal Baseball Association. Based on a self-created, complex Strat-o-matic-esque paper and dice game, Henry runs the entire eight team league by himself. Based loosely on teams from the earliest, pre-integration days of baseball, the league is the focal point of a massive, elaborate universe that rivals any epic fantasy world I've experienced.

Layered, complex and vivid, Henry's world is more than just numbers of paper. The scope is massive, fifty-six years of baseball, from the Hot Stove (Blue Season) to the championship all collected in a narrative he calls the "Book," a collection of everything from league documents to newspaper stories and features. He's created dozens and dozens and dozens of well-rounded characters with complicated backstories that we follow as the narrative weaves in and out of some kind of Walter Mitty-esque reality. I found the story of the UBA more riveting than the one Henry was experiencing as he descends into madness over something that happens in the game. One of the players, a promising rookie pitcher with pedigree and personality is killed on the field in a freak accident that Henry rolls. He knows it's going to happen and doesn't alter the results, even though as the creator of the game he could. The death of this player slowly erodes Henry's sanity.

It's easy to dismiss. Who would be that affected by the death of a fictional character? I present Ned Stark, Charlotte, Lenny Small, Artax, Sturm Brightblade, Old Yeller, Leslie Burke...I'll stop. You get my meaning. Now imagine that you had the ability to stop that death from happening and chose not to because you are a stickler to the rules. (There's a Ned Stark's honor parallel here that I could make, but don't feel like it.) There's also some intense religious/creationism motifs going on. Henry is God to his world and you can't help but wonder is there a guy at a kitchen table playing a dice game about our world somewhere. The book was really good, especially if you are a sports fan and I think it's a must for a baseball fan.

Baseball always lends itself to the written word It could be the sport's longevity and its reliance on words to express the story of the game, both verbally or written. Even now, in what could be best described as the twilight of baseball, books about the sport are still popular. Whether that's because of some sense of nostalgia or the mythic nature of the sport's past, I don't know if I'm smart enough to say.

As for the NAFL, I've been playing with a revived version the last few months with an eye for using it for something, though I couldn't say what. I don't have a game, I just sort of make up the results. I never had the attention span for Strat-o-matic. I'm not clever enough to create a game of my own. I'm not much of a video gamer. I like the power of controlling the narrative, so that's what I'm doing for now. I'll have to come up with an alternative at some point but for now, it has been a great way to avoid my social networks, so if nothing else it's worth it. For now, it's for some weird entertainment, though I'm seriously thinking about ways to turn this into something...I just don't know what to call it.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Barad-Dûr Of Paper

This is my bag as it stands right now:


It's what I need to do in the immediate.As you can see it just about doubles the entire history of the first three Ages of Middle Earth. Unlike the last time I lamented about being behind, I'm not working on something-not really at least. And like Barad-dûr it looms over my shoulder with everything I do today.

I'm a piler. A colleague that I worked with in my classroom years ago noticed it and found it incredibly frustrating since she was so organized and a micromanager. We're talking planning a class almost down to the second. However by the end of her time working with me, she was using piles. I'm not saying it efficient and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but it mostly works for me. I think that it's purely psychological with me. A pile can be visibly measured. You can always see how much you have left and how much you've gotten done. It's a decent metric. I also know that piles are the domain of your average hoarder and that scares me. However, I am a notorious purger. I can't help but wonder how many smart ideas and notions I've thrown out in the midst of a purge.

To be fair, in that pile are three print outs of LABORS, PICTURE and what's done of the present project, which has stalled. I hate the title and that's honestly part of the problem. A project isn't real for me until it has a name that I like. It needs something else, though I'm not sure what exactly it needs. I need to give it a once through, just for continuity sake. LABORS had a rewrite request that I sort of put on the back burner because said agent was between agencies and that's not the case anymore. There's a blog post about my own self-destructive tendencies but this isn't it. I decided now is as good a time as any to dig in. Plus, getting some distance from the present project might be good for me. PICTURE needs attention to. I think PICTURE has loads of potential and is a good story, but I need to do some research first.

I frequently mention doing research and I'm not always talking about the way we think of research, even though there is some of that in what I am talking about. I generally don't read or write thrillers and I feel like I need to study up on the genre to grasp what I need to do for the story to really work. I also have a new. "younger"idea that's been niggling at the back of my brain that I want to get to. But right now the Barad-dûr stands in the way. It needs to come down before I can do anything else. My students need these papers back for their next project and I'm leaving to go out of town tomorrow night. The heat is on.

Maybe instead of writing this, I could've worked on the pile. Nah, this was a better use of my time. Tonight, like Sam and Frodo, I'll attempt to destroy this Barad-dûr. Instead of destroying a ring, I'm going to take it down brick by brick or paper by paper.



Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Reluctant Tradition

Today is St. Patrick's Day. It's kind of a big deal here in Syracuse. We have a long Irish tradition. I mean we have the only right side up traffic light in the world. (The green of the Irish above the English red.) It used to be a big deal to me, but not so much anymore. Things change as they do.



I have pretty decent memories from St. Patrick Days past. Good memories. Pints of green beer, shots of syrupy liquors and time spent with friends. Working maintenance at Wegmans, clocking out at 6 then sprinting home to meet my best friend to eat my mom's corned beef and cabbage then consuming copious amounts of green beer. Luckily, I've never had matching green vomit to match that consumption. The time we got kicked out of Club 37 in North Syracuse defending the honor of a girl and I was home by 11:30.  Look, it sounds corny but the dude grabbed the girl by her face. Honestly, thank goodness there were no cellphones or social networks back then. All we had were disposable cameras. But the constant was my mother's corned beef and cabbage.

Something you need to know about me. I don't like corned beef. I can't tell you why. It's never appealed to me. And I despise cooked cabbage. It makes me gag even writing about it. That being said, every year, on St. Patrick's Day, I try to make sure I eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. It's not out of some obligation to my Irish heritage but because of my mother.

Mom made a big deal of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. It has roots in her relationship with her mother. I'd always try to make sure that I was in her kitchen to sit at the table and have my corned beef. Always the same plate: the meat, some carrots, potatoes and a few pieces of heavily buttered rye bread. No cabbage because there are concessions I'm not even willing to make. For each bite of corned beef, I'd take a bite of the rye bread. Never putting the corned beef on the bread, it's two separate bites. If I wasn't able to be at her table, I'd make sure that I had corned beef and cabbage somehow. Then each year, when I finished, I push my plate away and I would literally say, "Alrighty then, I don't have to do that again for 365 days."

For the last few years, I've prepared St. Patrick's Day dinner. Not always on the actual holiday, but I'd make it. We're talking the whole nine yards. I prefer brisket to round (when I finally get my smoker, there will be a long post about my initial attempt at smoking a brisket), cabbage (despite my disgust), red potatoes, carrots and rye bread. The only thing missing would be an ice cold Killian's Red because my kids aren't fans of me consuming alcohol.

I do all of this for my mother. It's not out of any sense of obligation or pressure. It's not out of some commitment to my Irish heritage. Mom doesn't ask me to make it, I just do. I think it's just a connection I have with my mom and, by proxy, to my grandmother.

Continuing the motif of me gleefully playing host to family functions at my home, we had St. Patrick's Day dinner last weekend. Despite a malfunctioning CrockPot, it went off without a hitch, complete with my proclamation of being done with corned beef for the coming year. But it was not meant to be. I'm having it again tonight. At least I'm not preparing it. I'm sitting here typing this up and watching THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, so maybe that's going to be a new tradition. It could be worse. 

So, Erin go bragh, if you're going out tonight be smart and safe and may you get to Heaven a full half hour before the Devil finds out your dead.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Few Thoughts On Captain Marvel (SPOILERS)

I went to see CAPTAIN MARVEL last night and really enjoyed it. Is it formulaic and kind of tropey? Absolutely. Is that a bad thing? Not even a little. Formulas and tropes are tools, if used correctly with the right twist, they are terrific. Twenty-one movies in, Marvel isn't going to fiddle too much with what works and does it very well with CAPTAIN MARVEL. While it's no WINTER SOLDIER or CIVIL WAR, it's a solid, middle of the pack entry. If you've seen my rating scale before (which I'm in the process of updating), that's not a bad thing.



At this point in the MCU, these movies are almost impossible to be considered stand alone, but it's done well enough so that you can watch it with little knowledge of the "world" at large. That being said, it does a lot of what it needed to do in the entire arc of the MCU, especially considering the events of INFINITY WAR. I wasn't a huge fan of INFINITY WAR. It was a terrific spectacle with some great moments that was intensely lazy at times when it shouldn't have been lazy. But that's for another time. CAPTAIN MARVEL was a rollicking good time with load of great action and comedy. As a guy that says all his genre work takes place in some version of the 90s, the 90s nostalgia was an added bonus.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is actually the first Marvel movie I watched in the theaters. I went out of my way to go because of the uproar around the movie, mostly because of the fanboys that had issues with it, from those claiming that a 120 pound woman couldn't do what she did to a 220 pound man (yet totally bought the 220 pound Steve Rogers stopping a helicopter from taking off) to those that railed against star Brie Larson's calls for more diversity in the media. It's so annoying. Shut up, go away, no one cares. We get it you incel freaks. You only want to see big, strong me doing big, strong things. Good for you. I want to see heroes being heroes...and Captain Marvel is fits the bill.

A few random thoughts:

  • The Stan Lee tribute was beautiful and the cameo was even better. It goes beyond meta and actually leaves some questions about the universe as a whole.
  • The first act is clunky but not so much that it makes it unwatchable and it's no less clunky than other Marvel films. 
  • Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson have incredible chemistry. I want to see a buddy cop movie with them in it. 
  • Brie Larson is charisma defined. She oozes it and I loved it. 
  • The de-aging of Samuel L. really worked....Clark Gregg not so much. 
  • The 90s nostalgia is worth bringing up again. It's fun and really adds something to the film.
  • Ben Mendelsohn has become the go to villain these days, but he's terrific in this as Talos. It shows his range in the film, playing the character as this ruthless general at the beginning then transitioning to a man just trying to survive at the end. 
  • Let's talk briefly about the Skrulls. I don't like that they made them "good guys" in this. I get that they were supposed to be the bad guys in GOTG and they replaced them with the Kree because Marvel didn't "own" them for the films. The Skrulls are supposed to be villains and knowing the MCU pretty well at this point, you kind of knew the Kree were up to no good.
  • Jude Law always fascinates me as an actor. I loved his John Watson in the Sherlock Holmes films and he's perfectly duplicitous in this. You knew from the first time we see him that there is something off about him. 
  • The prestige that these films have gained is interesting to me. Think about it. Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas and John C. Reilly all took roles that could've been played by much lesser actors. Same for Annette Benning. Benning was one of the weaker parts of the film. She wasn't bad, but her presence didn't work the same way it did for the others. 
  • Another reviewer, and I'm too lazy to look, pointed out that they regretted wasting Glenn Close in GOTG because this was the role for her! It got me thinking about missed opportunity. You can't help but think that Marvel feels like they wasted Bradley Cooper on Rocket. That thought got me thinking about how we missed out on a John C. Reilly Rocket and that makes me sad. (I'm all in on starting a Denzel Washington as Reed Richards movement.)
  • Soundtrack was the most fun since GOTG. For movies about space people, the Cosmic Marvel movies have the best music. Think about the fun Star Lord and Captain Marvel are going to have exchanging mix-tapes. Plus, a fight scene to I'm Just A Girl. Outstanding.
  • Goose. That's all. (Though I honestly wasn't crazy about his role in Fury becoming Fury.)
  • I had to look back and figure out how they got the Tesseract. There's been that many movies. 
  • The first credit scene actually gave me the chills. Seriously. I said I wasn't high on INFINITY WAR, but I literally got the chills when Captain Marvel said, "Where's Fury?"
So, go see it. It's fun. Unless you don't like seeing a female superhero kick ass. Then go back in your basement and do whatever it is you do.